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Six Lessons I Learned from Writing ‘The Last Word’

The Last Word wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first novel that became part of the literary world. It got reviews, it was tweeted about- it made me feel like an author. Here’s a collection of things I learnt by writing it.

You have to write something you’d enjoy reading. You need to write stories for you, things that you find engaging and exciting and fun. It comes through in the writing if you’re just following a formula for ‘What I Think A Book Should Be’ and not actively engaged in it. Also if you’re the audience, it’s easier to figure out what type of people will like to read your book, because they’ll be just like you!

Love and cherish your characters. You have to know them, know exactly how they’d react to things, and why they do the things they do. More than that, you have to love them. You have to really feel for them when you cause them pain, have to worry about them when you make them make terrible decisions, and root for them when they need to rally themselves. If you’re not on their side, your reader won’t be either. You need to be both a god and a parent- get them into trouble, but want to protect them too!

-No-one likes everything. There is no point trying to adapt your storyline, characters or themes to fit in with a current trend. There is no point trying to pick a catchy title that plays on something famous, when the story doesn’t relate. Don’t waste your concept on a cheap marketing ploy. Instead, work on creating a story that is coherent and you can feel proud of, and then when someone doesn’t like it (which will inevitably happen, even if it’s a work of genius, there will always be a critic) you can feel safe knowing you created something that was true to you.

Writing what you know is a rule for a reason. I’m not a journalist who fell from grace and fell in love with an editor. But I do know what it’s like to be a writer. I know what it’s like to be a twenty-something who’s worried about making ends meet. I stole some of my favourite memories and put them down on the page. Silly things, like watching Queer As Folk for an entire weekend, having Nothing Days, watching VHS tapes from the charity shop, those are things from my life, with my friends. When readers related to them, because their friends are like my characters, it’s this wonderful affirming connection, and it feels like you’re representing a part of yourself in your work.

Write to discover your stories, your characters and yourself. You don’t have to plot everything out in one go, it doesn’t have to be certain. You’ll often find when you’re writing that you discover new avenues, that things about your characters are ‘revealed’ to you as you go along. That themes develop, problems appear, and you can learn things as you go. Trust in yourself and your process. Don’t feel like you have to rush it.

-Have a message. This is hard to cultivate if you don’t think you have one, but it often comes from the last point. You’re saying something every time you tell a story. If the good guy beats the bad guy, it means there’s justice in the world. If the girl chooses the nerd over the typical hero, it means that true love is based on people truly connecting. Your story is going to have a message, so once you know what it is, make sure it’s something you’re happy to stand behind!

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The Last Word- Review Copies Available!

Incase it wasn’t clear how excited I am that my first Carina UK novel is coming out this month, let me express that clearly. EEEEEEP!

The Last Word is available for review on Netgalley, if you follow THIS link. Let me know what you think, and be sure to tweet at @almichael_ and @carinauk

 

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Tabby Riley’s online life was a roaring success. Her blog had hundreds of followers, and legions of young fans ardently awaited her every Tweet. Her real life was a bit more of a disappointment. Living in a shared flat in North London, scratching a living writing magazine articles on ‘How To Please Your Man in Bed’ wasn’t where she thought she’d be at twenty-six – especially when there was a serious lack of action in her own bedroom.

Until she was offered the job of her dreams on online paper The Type – and gained a sexy new editor, Harry Shulman, to bounce her ideas off. Tabby had previous bad form when it came to falling for well-dressed, smooth-talking editors, so no way was she going there again…ever! But had she got a little too used to hiding behind her laptop screen? Perhaps it was time for the real Tabby Riley to come out and have some fun!

 

You can also pre-order on Amazon HERE

 

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On Dealing with Not Being a Special Snowflake: How the desire for originality can get us down.

I’m on my third novel at the moment, and it’s the first one I’ve ever written under a contract, with a deadline, and expectations and all that jazz. Usually, I write because I fall in love with these crazy people I’ve been having conversations with in my head, but this time round, it’s a bit like walking into a room of people and thinking ‘I have to fall in love with one of you tonight, or I’m screwed.’ A bit like starting a relationship before getting to know the other person. Suddenly we’re curled up watching TV on Sunday nights, and I don’t even know what their favourite colour is.

I’m into character driven stories, incase you couldn’t tell. I want to know about people, how they tick, why they act crazy in certain situations. And usually, the situations arise out of the crazy character. Now, I find myself desperately searching for places to put these characters, searching for drama, making issues where there are none.

 Issues always come from your character. The way they act, or how they think, inevitably causes problems for them. That’s what’s satisfying. Taking your average joe and sticking them on a runaway train, well, that’s not appealing to me. Not unless Joe used to be a train driver, and hasn’t ventured onto public transport in thirty years, because his wife died after being hit by a bus. I don’t care if Joe’s a big damn hero, I want his actions to have effects.

 

And here’s where we get stuck: There are an unlimited combination of people, problems and situations. However, after a while, they all seem to become the same. And I find myself accidentally using names other people have used, or having parts of a similar backstory. Is it that I’m reading more of the genre, and accidentally picking stuff up? Or is it that we’ve adapted to finding formulaic texts comforting, because we secretly know how it’s all going to turn out?

A writer friend of mine always used to have this issue. He’d get halfway through a truly brilliant project, and then find out someone had already done something really similar. My response was always ‘but YOU haven’t done it, your voice has value, it might bring something different to the table’, but now I get how he was feeling. When you’re passionate about what you do, and it starts to look fake, it’s hard to be enthusiastic. So what do I do? Throw away this book and start again? Remove any traces of anything that’s been mentioned in previous books? No. Impossible. Our influences define us, even if they’re unconscious.

 

All I can do is continue to explore my characters, hope that within them, in their histories and quirks, lies the answer to the originality of my story. Yes, boy meets girl, some stuff happens, everything’s fine, there’s drama, they’re together. There’s a reason it’s a cliche. But hopefully, at times like these, we trust that our voice really does have something new to say, even if we’re not sure how to do it.

 
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Writing for Wellbeing: Using Metaphor

 

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Images are powerful things. The best writing is imagistic, powerful, visual. Since starting this course in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, it seems like I can’t express how I feel without turning to metaphor. There are some emotions that would take pages to untangle and analyse, but when associated with an image, can suddenly make our feelings clear. 

Like standing on an unsteady ladder. We feel worried, we feel nervous, we know we’re in danger, we’re continuing anyway. But that feeling? That specific feeling when you’re on the edge and you can feel yourself falling? Well, we may not have all been on a rickety ladder, but we can all understand what that means.

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Images are the best way to succinctly and clearly explain how you feel. There is a place for writing reams and reams in a journal or diary, exploring feelings and specific instances, but the use of metaphor explains just how powerful poetry can be when we’re trying to emotionally connect something.

 

Metaphors can’t really be forced. To push them is to somehow make them less encompassing. But next time you’re trying to explain a difficult emotion, see if you automatically use a metaphor. We use them so often now, without even thinking. And next time you do use one, write it down, explore it, continue it. 

 

Just as in English class our job was to identify those images and tear them apart, I am asking you to build them up. Embellish them. If you feel like a caged bird, what is the cage made of? What colour is your plume? What song do you sing? Where does the bird wish to go? Explore your image, because metaphors are a path to deeper understanding. We use them because it’s an easy connection- something in us identifies with that image, but by exploring it, we can reveal so much more!

 

 

A Reminder that my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet is now up and running. You can find details HERE and HERE. It’s a full day of writing tasks and discussion, guaranteed to leave you feeling thoughtful and uplifted, and hopefully with a collection of writing work you can feel proud of! Please do get in touch if you’re interested by emailing andrealmichael@aol.com

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Sacrificing Stability for Creativity.

 

We make a living behaving like children- creativity is the last vestige of childhood, it remains within a few of us, unhindered by bills and mortgages and the responsibilities of adulthood. We all have the potential for creativity, we’ve just forgotten it in the wake of more present worries.

Yesterday, my father pointed out to me that I would never build a life without a nine to five job. He said life is about sacrifice, and that the way to get a mortgage and a home and the nice things every adult wants, is to get up at an ungodly hour each morning, work at a job I hate, and then come home and enjoy the spoils.

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That made me sad. Mainly because that’s what he’s been doing for over thirty years, but also because lots of people still seem to have this skewed view of the self-employed professional.  

If you are not passionate about the process of your work, then of course you are going to be passionate about the spoils. But I am passionate about the work I do. I will sacrifice the chance at a mortgage, at having extra money, at extravagant holidays and expensive jewellery, just so I can do what I do. So what does that leave me, the realisation that, at least in my father’s eyes, I am not building a career for myself? 

 

Except, a career isn’t built on wages. It’s built on reputation, on success, on recognition, on improvement and growth. Now, of course, profitability comes into it, we need to survive. But the realisation I had was that it doesn’t take much to make me happy- a little flat, enough money for fruit, and the occasional gig or show somewhere, and the fact that I get to write, and I’m pretty darn ecstatic.

 

So, by living happily, am I ignoring my future? No. Everything I do works towards making my name synonymous with what I do. Towards earning what I’m owed, having the confidence in my abilities, building up the experience and knowledge so that I can be the best I possibly can. What is that if not building for my future?

 

My generation is not the generation of mortgages and marriages and money. We are the scroungers, the interns, the jokers, the survivors, and it will be that way for quite a few years more, I’d guess. But the building we do to our futures, the foundations that we are setting right now are in our experiences, our friendships, our loves and our losses. We are beginning to define ourselves right now, as artists and as people. We are always working on our future, no matter what.

So keep building, keep creating, keep dreaming. Because that’s what gets you through.

 

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Writing for Wellbeing in Barnet!

I’m very excited to share with you that my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop will be on Saturday 26th April, 10am-4pm at The Amber Lounge, Underhill Stadium, (EN5 2DN).

It costs £65 and includes a gorgeous lunch, as well as all the tea and coffee you can drink!

We’ll be using techniques derived from narrative therapy and autobiographical fiction to trace who we are, what stories we have to tell, and to have a greater appreciation for our own tales! Plus, increasing confidence and self-esteem by truly valuing the stories we’ve created!

For more info/to book, email andrealmichael@aol.com, or call Andi on 07708225688

 

 

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Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

 

 

As many of you know, I’m currently setting up workshops in Writing for Wellbeing, as I continue training in my MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. 

The Arts have always been accepted as having healing properties, it’s why art therapists and music therapists are so widely accepted in hospitals, hospices, rehab facilities, and why the arts are at the forefront of the health and wellbeing industry. But where have the writers been in this? 

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Writers are very often complicated people with complex lives and emotions, and putting things down on the page, whether as autobiography or as fiction, is a release from that. How about journals? As children and teenagers, diaries were encouraged as a way to share the thoughts that we weren’t comfortable or capable of expressing to the adults in our lives. Why is that any different now? Sometimes, we just need a space to address and accept the parts of our lives we’re not sure about, without judgement or comment. Writing is the simplest way to open a direct line with your subconscious, open up your feelings, and validate how you feel.

 

We all have stories of value, we all have moments that make us who we are. My style of workshops (and my style of writing) is influenced by ideas of fragmentation. We all exist in a series of moments, a childhood memory, a dream, a description of your mother’s kitchen, – our lives and our selves are made up of snapshots. They’re not necessarily in order, and you might not be the same person you were in those moments- but they’re still a part of you. 

Connecting to your stories through a fragmented writing process can bring a sense of calm, confidence, and a greater sense of self. It also allows us to be more empathetic with our ‘selves’. To look back and say ‘yes, I see why he/she made that decision, fair enough.’ To get some distance, some perspective, and look inwards with kindness.

Our lives are brilliant interweaving tapestries, complex and sustained narratives that are still growing and changing every day. Writing for Wellbeing, and working with fragments, can work a lot like therapy, helping us to break down the chunks, but to also take a step back and look at the bigger picture of who we are. 

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Sounds like a lot? It’s also fun! It’s brilliant to unearth those beautiful memories you thought you’d lost, to make up stories that make you laugh, to adequately and comfortably handle those stories that you never think about. 

If you’re interested in what Writing for Wellbeing can do for you, leave me a message here, and stay tuned for the workshop in April 2014, based in Barnet.