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.
When I visit schools, children often ask me questions about being a writer and what it is really like so I thought I would attempt to answer some of the most common questions I am asked here.
Are you rich?
The answer is no. Most writers are not rich. The average yearly wages for a writer is £10,500 so that means most writers have another job as well, like me. Unless, you are super succesful like JK Rowling. Then you can write all the time. I’m afraid to say I don’t live in a big house and have twenty-eight cats. I have two and a goldfish.
Are you famous?
No. Very few writers get recognised on the street. The ones that do tend to have been celebrities before they became writers, like David Walliams. They were famous for something else first. Of course, there are a few exceptions like Michael Rosen, Roger McGough or Anthony Horowitz who have also been on TV after their books became well-known. I’ve only been recognised in the street once by a girl whose school I had visited. She yelled, “Look, there’s that writer who came to my school. He’s going into that house!” Otherwise, I walk about never noticed. I could be sat by you and you wouldn’t know.
What do you do when you write? What’s it like?
When I write, I take myself out of the house away from distractions like the TV, cats, fish, reliable internet and go to a place I call ‘the office.’ There I can get endless cups of coffee for just £1.25.
I settle down at the table, look at the outline of my book I’m currently working on, open up my tablet and keyboard and begin writing. I write using a programme called Scrivener which was specially made for writers. While I write, I usually listen to music without voices to cut out any background noise that may distract me and put me off. I might write non-stop for an hour or three. It depends how easily the writing is coming. As I write, I talk to nobody except my characters and imagined audience. They are my only concern.
Writing can be lonely. You sit by yourself, not speaking, not knowing if your writing is any good or worth reading. You just hope it is and carry on. That is why I am also a member of two Writing Groups. There, I share my work, find out what people think of it, if my jokes work, and talk about writing issues such as the best way to solve a problem with point of view.
Sometimes things are different. Sometimes I get to meet my readers when I am invited to a school to do a talk or run writing workshops. Then I get to share my love of writing and talk about books and we do some writing together. It’s great fun.
Have you written any other books?
Yes. Three others but they’re not published yet. One is for grown-ups, one is a kind of Tolkien adventure, and another is about an elf which I’m sending to Literary Agents. I am also working on another one at the moment.
I hope all this helps clear up the things I’m most asked. If you’ve any other questions, just ask in the comment’s box below.
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.
Pick your nose
Don’t get sneezy
Eat a bogey
Don’t get queazy
We’re going on an adventure
Across wide rivers with sea serpents
Through boggy lands where monsters hide
Two brave heroes with armour of foil
We’re going on an adventure
Across plains of racing dinosaurs
Pass cavemen crouching over fires
With our jam sandwiches in our packs
We’re going on an adventure
Under the three moons of Mars
Zooming across the planet on jets
Eating protein pills for energy.
Most writers have a favourite writing space where they like to write and I am no exception. It is a place where we find it easier to switch into writing mode and concentrate on the worlds we are creating. They are part of our routine and without them we can writing frustrating, full of distractions, a basic non-starter.
Where writers choose to write can be varied depending on finances, personality or necessity. Stephen King, the famous horror writer, in the early days of his career found himself strapped for cash and the only place he could go to was the cramped laundry room of his house next to the washing machine. Perhaps it was the whine of the spin cycle that helped him produce his book Carrie.
Mark Twain, the writer of children’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, didn’t have that problem due to the fame and fortune his books brought him. He had a private study built away from his house in the garden where he used to go after a good breakfast to write during the day. If he was wanted by his family, they would blow a horn to fetch him. I can just dream of having such a writing place.
Roald Dahl, the writer of so many great children’s book (and my favourite kid’s author) was more modest in his writing space. He used a shed in his garden with a favourite armchair and a space littered with objects to inspire.
Charles Dickens also had favoured pieces of furniture: a desk and chair. It was so important to his writing that he would often get it shipped with him if he was going to be away from his home for a while.
I don’t have the garden size or finances for a shed or study but do have a ‘work room’ where I have a computer desk and swivel chair. This was where I typed up Wishbone Billy from my notes every evening in 2012 but it wasn’t where I created the first draft. Here, is where JK Rowling and I are similar. Her early drafts of Harry Potter were written in a cafe, for, as she put it, ‘You don’t have to make your own coffee, and you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement.’
I equally have to be with an easy supply of coffee and the gentle bustle of people as they come in and out of the pub I work in. I sit at my favourite table, slightly apart from the main part of the pub, under dim lights, with free coffee refills aplenty tapping away on my Bluetooth keyboard connected to my iPad mini whilst listening to the gentle notes of The Poet by Bruno Sanfilippo (my go to writing music that always gets me in the zone). It is my writing place as I’m away from the distraction of daytime TV or easy access to the Internet – the internet at the pub is quirky at best so stops me from going down the wormhole of Twitter. Besides, it has the bonus that I can reward myself with a pint after a few productive hours of writing.
What’s your writing space?
The cat sat on the floating mat as it travelled over the pin-prick houses of smoky London. Unfortunately, the corner of the mat got caught on a cloud so the mat began to unravel,
bit by bit, until the cat was sat on only air.
The cat went splat!
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.