So you have finally decided to write that story or book. Let me tell you all the things you need to do to not get to the end and fail at your task.
1) Keep re-working that first chapter. That’s write. Why go on to the next part of the story when you can spend all your time endlessly re-writing the first part so it becomes perfect. After all, it’s not like most writers end up cutting the first chapter/part anyway as they started the story in the wrong place, is it?
2) Make sure you have access to Twitter, Facebook, Messenger or any other social media. You need to be constantly updated on the latest cake picture and cat video. You need to lose yourself down the rabbit hole of messages. Social media is catnip to writers and should be engaged at every opportunity rather than actually doing any writing on your story.
3) Surround yourself with lots of noise. Why not put the TV on as well or a playlist with good vocals? Nothing works better to help you lose your train of thought when you are being constantly…
4) Make sure you drink loads. Have lots of tea, coffee or fizzy drinks. It easily breaks the flow if you’re constantly sipping and having to run to the loo. Also, adds a sense of urgency.
5) Play a video game. You know you want to. Just get to the end of the level and then you’ll stop. Well, maybe, just one more level. Oh, is that the time. I’ll do some writing tomorrow, I promise.
6) Keep re-drafting your plan. In fact, invest in lots of colour pens and sticky labels to add a bit of colour to it all. What about a character spreadsheet mapping out all the history and interests of all the characters? I know you won’t use any of it but preparation is key.
7) Read a few books about writing. Better safe than sorry. Best to learn the craft from a book rather than actually doing a bit of writing. Maybe attend another writing course. Better still, re-read this blog post until you have memorised it.
8) Stare at the page. Fill yourself with nagging doubt and hesitate. Tell yourself it won’t be as good on the page as it is in your head. Whatever you do, don’t begin. Don’t put words down. You’re only setting yourself up to fail.
There’s a condition that plagues all writers. If you come across a writer of any sort who says they never suffer this then they are a liar. It’s the Little Devil On Your Shoulder that whispers in your ear. Some psychologists call it imposter syndrome and writers may refer to it as writer’s block but I know better. It is an invisible devil that sits there waiting for you to write. Just as pen touches paper it begins it’s games. It tells you You Can’t Write. It laughs Call That A Sentence? It says Everyone Will Think That Rubbish!
My devil still pesters me despite kids secretly reading Wishbone Billy at night or having 5 star reviews on Amazon or receiving positive responses from my author visits. That devilish negative voice can be so loud. It stops you from writing anything. You procrastinate: watch junk TV, tidy the house, daydream. The pen lies still.
I am not the only writer to suffer the devil. Vivian Gornick, critic and journalist says of it: I would look at the words on the page – still do – and think, ‘This is so naive. This is so stupid. Who’s going to want to read this?’ It was even said of the brilliant Scott Fitzgerald of Great Gatsby fame that he fell into the devil’s hands after an estatic review from Gilbert Seldes. Poor Fitzgerald, after that every word had to be brilliant, every work deserving of high praise.
The devil by the ear attacks children too. I see it every day. It tells them they can’t write. It laughs at their efforts. Their page remains empty. Their teacher grows impatient. What can be done? We must fight against the devil together.
Pick up that pen. Strike a blow to the devil’s head. Tie it up with adjectives, smother it in similes, drown it in metaphor. Let your pen roam free. It doesn’t matter what you write. It can be as sensible or silly as you want. You can write. You’ve been writing since your first crayon marks in nursery. Each word deserves an ovation. That devil knows nothing. Kick it away!
This piece of writing waas brought to you care of one squashed devil.
Stories can start in a number of different ways. I’ll talk you through a few and you can pick the one you want to try or you could try them all!
DESCRIPTION: You’re probably familiar with this one. It’s when you begin your story describing the setting or main character.
EG: The house stood on the hill at the end of the street, looking over all others as it groaned in the wind.
DIALOGUE: You can begin a story with some speech but make sure it’s active and moves the story forward. A conversation about going to the park is not exciting unless there is something sinister waiting.
EG: ‘I hate you. And your mother stinks too!’ she yelled.
‘You just wait. I’ll get my own back on you Mary Jenkins!’ said Pete.
ACTION: You can drop your reader right into the thick of it by starting with some high octane action. But be careful to get the pacing right.
EG: The silver ship soared across the sky, lazers blasting at the saucer. The saucer dived, twisting and turning, engines screaming; it’s rear guns beaming.
NARRATION: This is when the author is setting the scene by speaking directly to the reader.
EG: Everybody knows that when children are asleep, the little popsie-fluffs sneak out from under the carpet and begin.
‘Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye.
You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken.’
– C.S. Lewis
Once you’ve finished writing your story don’t think your work is over. There is more to do. You have just finished your first draft. It is now time to do a bit of editing. How you do this is ultimately up to you but I have a tip if you find it difficult to spot errors in your work
The no.1 method is READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. Find a space; a nice quiet spot and let rip. Hear the flow of your narrative and dialogue.
Are there any parts that you found difficult to read? Fix it.
Are there any parts that just weren’t clear to you? Fix it.
Are there any parts when you wanted to stop reading and do something else? Fix it.
Are there any sentences that seemed to never end? Fix it.
Are there any parts where you are repeatedly repeatedly repeatedly repeating the same words/phrases? Fix it.
Are there any parts where a character is just stood still doing nothing for a while? Fix it.
Are there any settings you can’t picture? Fix it.
Are there any characters that only exist in name only? Fix it.
Your ear is your writer’s friend. Trust it. Use it.
I’m sorry to say but often spelling gets in the way of good story writing, along with handwriting. Parents panic about it, pointing out any ‘simple’ errors to their children. Teachers fret about it because it can influence Assessment scores.
This is bad.
By all this panic and fretting, you get very worried. You begin to believe that spelling and handwriting make a good story. That any story where it is a bit wobbly is not a good story.
When a writer is writing their story for the first time (first draft) there is only one thing they are worried about: getting to the end of the story. That’s right! You should only worry about getting your ideas down, following your characters as they go on their adventure in whatever world or place you have put them in.
That doesn’t mean writers ignore spelling, punctuation and that grammar stuff. It just means we check all that when we do a second draft. That’s a time to fix that.
Well, a published work should be readable. But you only worry about that at the very end. And you could always use a computer.
So stop worrying for now about that spelling and punctuation stuff. Sit down. Dream. And get that story down – to the end!
I am often asked, “How do you get all your ideas?” And I usually reply, “Thinking!” (Not really). It is a very important question to ask because without ideas you face the horror of the blank page! Da-da-dum. That’s the moment when you are sat at your table or lying on the floor or under the covers of your bed with a brand new piece of paper and a pen ready-for-action. Only problem is: your head is empty! What can you write about? You want to write something but what?
A good way to come up with ideas is to play the What if…? game. That’s when you ask yourself a series of What if questions until you come up with an idea you might want to write. You might come up with lots – so have a notepad ready.
Here’s what I mean by What if questions:
What if bananas hated being eaten by monkeys and decide to fight back to stop it happening?
What if my dad gradually turned into a gorilla?
What if I found a magical gold coin that could transport me anywhere?
What if killer cucumbers from space started to invade earth?
What if people disappeared when visiting the house at the end of my street?
I’m sure you get the idea. It doesn’t matter how daft some of the What ifs are as long as you let your imagination go wild and you jot your ideas down. Don’t think “I can’t write that, people will think it’s silly,” because the story is not theirs. You are writing the story so it’s your story so you can write what you like. You’re the boss!
Lately, I have been spending a lot of my energy attempting to be a Lord of Time and, like any possible Timelord, I have been getting to grips with time and their relative dimensions in space. Now, you might think this is a quite straight forward thing to do as a writer but you would be wrong.
1)TIME is always the BIGGEST problem. You may have a job, family (particularly the young lively sort), pets, clubs, homework or household chores that always seem to demand your attention at the moment you settle down to write. It is very difficult to get to write with any or many of these in your life. Some may call these excuses but I challenge them to write anything with a three year old vomiting on their pencil. So, like myself, you may find it better not to schedule a particular time but rather take advantage of the odd 1/2 hour – hour that may arise throughout the day. Instead of watching that TV, reading a magazine or book (yes, I did say that), write. Being a Timelord demands sacrifice.
Even snippets of 5 or 10 minutes can be effectively used. Not for writing great reams but for imagining, asking what ifs, or as I have recently done, to jot down a key piece of exposition that you may forget.
2)RELATIVE – best avoided. They tend to take over your life when they visit or fill your imaginative quiet with noise. At worst, they are vocal critics. If you get yourself a useful, trained one, they might be of use as a cheap editor.
3)DIMENSIONS can be important. You are probably best going for ample room for paper, pen, laptop/tablet (if needed). Most important, leave plenty of room for snacks and coffee. Sacrifice personal comfort if necessary for the sake of coffee. It is the fuel that drives a Lord of Time. With enough, you will become transcendental in your writing and won’t notice the cramped space in the cupboard you are working in. If space is at a premium, I suggest something stronger than coffee.
4)SPACE can be a problem. Unless you are extremely well paid or fortunate to live in a relatively empty house, finding a quiet place to lock yourself away can be a problem. Sometimes you just have to make do even if it is a breakfast encrusted dinner table or on an unmade bed or in a cafe or on the back of the trained relative. A useful tactic is to choose a location without a tv or wifi, or if this isn’t possible, one with an annoyingly poor connection that makes you go through ridiculous procedural form filling to get just 2 minutes online. You will then soon no longer be tempted by such diversions. Remember, being a Timelord demands sacrifice.
So there you have my secrets of becoming a Timelord and going onto future success at getting something down on paper (using the toilet doesn’t count).
Writing speech can leave you at a lost for words. It can be tricky stuff. First, you have all that problem of speech layout to get pass and that’s before your characters even open their mouths. Then, what should they say? And when should they say it? Tricky stuff.
So, here’s my first speech tip: Don’t get too bogged down in the layout and words instead of said (I know some teachers are obsessed with words instead of said and even do WHOLE lessons on it! But it’s not important. Many writers just use said). The most important thing is what your character is saying.
Having said that, it does help your reader if they can tell who is speaking and when. To help you get the layout right, then you could use my TEN RULES FOR SPEECH LAYOUT below. Before anyone says it (usually a writer or teacher), I know all speech is not set out like this. These rules are just a starting point so you can get going. You can play around with the structure later when you think you’ve got it. Let’s keep it simple at first. No space travel before we’ve invented the wheel.
Now the layout is sorted, let’s concentrate on the important fun part of what to say. Here’s when my second speech tip: Make sure your character has something important to say. Whatever you do, don’t just have them waffling away without what they are talking about moving the story on. Here’s an example of what not to do:
“Hello, Pete. What are you doing?” said John.
“I’m going to the park,” said Pete.
“Why are you going to the park?” asked John.
“To play football, ” said Pete.
“I might go too,” said John…..
Your reader is now gnawing in anger on the book, or worse has fallen asleep and is drooling, or even worse worse is an adult who has fallen asleep and is drooling all over the page and nobody wants to see that. Better to have no speech at all than speech like this. Instead, when your character talks, make it exciting and punchy but most of all get to the point. Maybe something like this:
“Hey, John, it’s Pete. I’m at the park. You got to come down and see this?”
“What?” asked John.
“I can’t tell you on the phone. You just wouldn’t believe me. Just get down here,” said Pete then the phone went dead.
The final and most important speech writing tip: Read your speech aloud. I know, this may sound a bit bonkers and a very embarrassing thing to do but it works. It makes your dialogue sound right. 100% guaranteed. If you don’t, there will be drooling!
So, here are those three tips again to get your characters talking:
Don’t get too bogged down in the layout and words instead of said
Make sure your character has something important to say
Read your speech aloud.
Children often ask me, “Oi, mister! Why do you have that onion on your head?! You look stooopid!” (says the boy with his bum hanging out of his trousers).
And sometimes they say, “How can I be a better writer?” and so I tell them the most important rules in the world.
Rule 1, I say, is READ.
Rule 2, I say, is READ.
Rule 3, I say, is READ.
Rule 4, I say, is READ.
By the time I get to Rule 100 they’ve normally wandered off. Odd.
Now, you’re probably thinking: well, it’s ok for you to say that but how do you know it’s the most important rules in the world and works?
Well, when I was school, in the age of black & white, I didn’t really bother to read much. Right up to Year 6. And if you tried reading one of my stories (usually about Snoopy going on adventures or aliens) you would have probably given up after the second sentence. Almost every word was spelled wrong and it didn’t really make sense.
How was this fixed?
I got the reading bug. I found a book I enjoyed and read it four times in a row! After that I began reading everything! Back of cereal packets, ingredients on packets, signs and posters, comics, newspapers…Soon I became such an addict that I held the World Record for the Worst Newspaper Boy Ever!!! I would read every different newspaper and magazine I had to deliver. I took so long people were having supper before they got their paper.
So that’s Writing Tip 1: Read, Read, Read to become a better writer!