Uncategorized

My Mum Might Read This…and Other Issues With Writing a Sex Scene

In theory, I have no problem writing sex scenes. The first story I wrote that got any recognition was about a girl having sex with a guy she just met, in a disabled toilet, at her aunt’s funeral. I am not squeamish. But that’s literary fiction. That’s when sex serves a purpose, to show the breaking down of walls, or the attempted escape from reality. Sometimes it’s symbolic of trying to feel alive. I can write sex scenes when they’re symbolic.

Image

But when I first started writing The Last Word, I had to consider what level I wanted to write at, in terms of sexuality. I’ve read a lot of really explicit stuff, and I’ve read things that fade to black. I tried for somewhere in between. The truth is, sex is weird. It’s a lot of strange mechanics and actions that are difficult to write about, because you have to imbue some sort of passion and emotion. If you’re just writing ‘then her hand goes here’, that gets to the point, but doesn’t make the reader care. Some of the best sex scenes I’ve read come from really old novels, where the build up is the most important thing. And I think that’s true of chick lit too- sex is the pay-off for many chapters’ worth of sexual tension. If you write a book where your love interests are at it before they’ve even interacted at all, well, I’m not really interested. 

 

I suppose that’s a female thing, that we want sex to mean something. That’s a generalisation, but in terms of readers of chick lit, I’d say it’s a safe assumption. Sex should be passionate and engaging and emotional. I couldn’t resist it in this book, that it should become symbolic again. All of my female characters seem to have trust issues, and sex is a form of trust. Letting someone in, being vulnerable, all that character development comes from sex scenes. Plus, I think we have a duty as writers to show what sex is really like. I remember as a teenager watching that Britney Spears movie, Crossroads, when they fade to a sunset after she kisses this topless guy, and thinking: this is clearly not what a first time is like. Doesn’t mean there can’t be love or passion, but awkward and uncomfortable are two big contenders there. And it can be funny, and strange and you can sound different to how you do normally.

 

One of my biggest peeves with Fifty Shades of Gray (of which I have bazillions) was that Christian Gray went from being all stiff upper lip, very ‘proper’ dialogue, to all ‘yeah baby’ in the bedroom. Your characters are still your characters in the sack. Don’t revert to stereotypes just because they’re boinking. Which is clearly not the biggest problem with that book, but was something that jumped out at me.

 

So, I did have trouble, writing the first few sex scenes, and as I got more confident in them,  I explored different situations. Some of them worked, and some of them had to go. One in particular involved such an awful play on words and a reference to oral sex that I actually shouted ‘oh gross’ when I read it through in edits, and scratched it through in red pen five times.

 

Who are your favourite writers who deal with sex scenes, what do you expect from them, and how do you find writing them?

 

Advertisements
Uncategorized

Ten Things Writers Need to Know To Keep Upbeat

  • Yes, your current WIP might be rubbish right now. And that’s okay. No-one shits gold. Give yourself a break, keep plugging away at it. Rubbish written down is better than genius never created. You’re doing something, keep going.

 

  • Someone, somewhere will like what you’re doing. There is something for everyone, people are varied and random and have all different tastes. This is not to say you shouldn’t edit, or work harder, or be humble. But trust that if you like it, someone on this massive planet probably will too.

 

  • This brings me to the third realisation. People who are worse writers than you have publishing deals. They have agents. They occasionally create million dollar franchises based on moody teenage vamps or bondage. Some days, this can be depressing. Seeing five star ratings for something that makes you want to bang your head against a wall can be difficult. But flip the argument- if they can do it, you definitely can.

 

  • 50% of writing is marketing. If you want to get anywhere you need a solid understanding of blogging, twitter, readers and how to reach people. Do I particularly like that it works that way? Nope, but times are changing. If you’re writing, talk to people who might become readers. 

 

  • 50% of writing is ACTUALLY WRITING. Yes, social media matters. So does online presence, author profiles and all that other stuff. BUT, you are a writer because you write. There is no point having a great following, with people eager to read your stuff when you have nothing to present to them. That’s just a waste of great marketing.

 

  • Stop talking about your work. No, okay, I know that clashes with number 4. Reveal bits, ask questions, put up quotes. But your WIP is In Progress for a reason. I know talented writers who have been talking about the same book they’ve been planning to write for years. If you’re not writing it, eventually someone else will come up with the same idea. So get to it. The more you talk about it, the less you’re focusing on it. Writing is internal- keep your work safe until you’re confident in it.

 

  • Talk to other writers. Not necessarily about your work, but about your process, about how you find writing. Hell, sometimes you don’t have to talk about writing at all, but finding someone who shares that passion is important. I love having friends call up to discuss a plot point, or texting a writer friend when I’ve finally fixed a developmental character issue. It’s nice to be part of a group.

 

  • Check your ego. Ego is a funny thing when it comes to writing. You need enough of it to keep you going, but you also need to reign it in. Why? Well, for starters you become an arsehole who no-one wants to hang around with, but mostly because if you start believing you’re a writing genius, nothing you do will live up to your own expectations.

 

  • Think about why you started writing. Are you doing this just for the publishing deal? Or would you be writing anyway? Do you love what you do, does it relax you? Are you so wrapped up in your characters and stories that it brings you joy? If you’re only doing it to try and make a quick buck, well sorry Bud, this ain’t the life for you.

 

  • What would you do if you weren’t writing? If you packed it all in, stuck the WIP in a drawer, and never looked back- what would you be doing right now? Would it be as fulfilling? Would it change anything? Would it be creative? Give yourself some time to do these things, but hopefully it makes you realise that you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t writing.

 

Uncategorized

How to Write More in 2014

 

So, who made a new years resolution to write more? Are you working on new projects, or you just want to get yourself back in the habit? I’ve jumped into 2014 with the realisation that I have about three months (thought I’m desperately begging my publisher otherwise!) to finish the next novel. Now, considering I had absolutely NOTHING, I almost freaked out. And then I got writing. So maybe a little pressure is a good thing!

Here’s a couple of ideas me and some friends are working on to increase our writing this year:

Writing in a different environment. I work from home, and as much as I love it, things can get a bit samey. Some writers will tell you routine is key, and I’m not going to argue with them. But a different environment to shake it up can really get your writing going! Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, suggests going to a cafe to write. Make sure there’s comfy seats, it’s not crazy busy, and you’re actually hungry! Plus, if you’re taking up a table for a while, make sure you tip well! I went to Drink Shop Do in Kings Cross, which is my favourite London cafe so far. I went in knowing I wanted to write, and came out knowing my characters and rough plot! Inject some life into your writing routine! Plus, treating yourself to a decent snack never hurt the senses, did it?

Writing Together. My friend (and writer and blogger and publisher extraordinaire) Sara Veal and I have decided to have writing dates. We take turns picking a venue, sit together, write for a while, break and have a chat, write for a while, and so on. Probably until I drink wine and end up too drunk to write! Hemmingway, I am not. 

Talk About It… This is what I absolutely love about having friends in the same field. I can chat to my friend Louise Davidson (scriptwriter and drama genius) about what I’m up to, and she’ll get it! I got a text the other day saying she fixed a plot twist and felt like a genius. And I got it! Those little fiddly bits of writing, where you can spend hours trying to sort something really simple, can drive you mad and it’s great to have some support!

But Also Be About It… This doesn’t mean everyone wants to hear the whole plot of your novel. In fact, I’d avoid doing that. Firstly, because if you’re taking up a whole conversation with a play by play, no-one’s going to appreciate your company, and no-one’s going to buy your book! Also, it tends to make it a bit dry when you come to write it. So, share your enthusiasm, your progress, you irritations, but this is your story. If you’re not going to write it, there’s no point talking about it. Get to it!

Stationary- I don’t know about you, but buying a new notebook for a project really gets me excited! It took me forty five minutes in Paperchase to choose the right one the other day. #writerproblems

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself- Not to get all business-speak on you, but the problem with most excellent writers is that they don’t have a product. Talk the talk, blog, get excited, make contacts, look up publishers…but you need something to show them! Don’t make promises on what you think you can do- just do it! Lock yourself down and get going!

Read! I know a lot of writers who don’t read whilst they’re writing a book, incase it distracts them from their story. To each their own, but if you’re not reading fiction, then you should at least be looking at blogs, newspapers and just keeping engaged with the world. If we’re retreating into our own minds for sufficient periods of time, it’s good to get back into the world every now and then. Ideas come from within, but inspiration comes from the external world. The more you see, read and experience,the more you’re likely to get ideas!

Trust your process– You might not write every day. You might write when you feel like it. Some days may bring pages, others may have one great idea. If you know how and when you work best, trust that it works for you! We all work differently, and as they say, comparison is the thief of joy! Trust that you do this because you enjoy it, so make it enjoyable for you!

Image

 

 

I wish you all a creative and inspiring 2014! Please do follow my twitter @almichael and my facebook Author Page to keep up to date with the release of my ‘snarky chick lit’ novel The Last Word being published by Carina UK in the coming months! You’ll be hearing more about it soon! 

Plus, be aware of my East London Literary Festival Words With Edge

Uncategorized

Finding your Writerly Processes

Finding Your Process

In our writing classes this week, the inevitable discussion concerning how you write came up. People have been wondering about the ‘right way to write’ since people started writing. Hundreds of books have been sold telling you the ‘right way’ to do it. And I suppose even weighing in on this process means I’m telling you what to do.

I think whatever works for you is the right way. The only downside is that there’s a line between establishing a process that gets you in the right mindset, and setting up unnecessary barriers that encourage procrastination and doubt.

 

Writing because you HAVE TO

This doesn’t mean working to a deadline (although that works for some) but writing because you absolutely can’t not write at this very moment. This poem ‘So you want to be a writer’ from Charles Bukowski sums up his way of thinking about it.

I agree to an extent, about not writing for fame or congratulation or love. But at a certain point, we have to work hard at it, correct it and edit it. There should be a level of work at creating something brilliant. Charles Bukowski also had ‘Don’t Try’ written on his gravestone, so to be honest, there are moments when we disagree.

bukowskicharles

I’ve reached the point where I trust my own brain to know when it has to write. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting and just have to do it. But often if we don’t give ourselves the time or space to daydream and pick up a pen, we’ll miss the window.

 

The Beauty of Process

There’s a reason that people associate writers will coffee. Mainly because it makes your brain work when it doesn’t want to, but also because there’s a process behind getting a cup of coffee. Whether it’s clearing your desk, making a caffetiere, walking to your local spot, or setting out your favourite cup and saucer for tea, there’s something to be said for creating a ‘ready to write’ process. If you do the same routine for weeks before writing, eventually your brain will see the pink floral tea cup and go ‘okay, better get writing then.’ You’re creating a precedent. Also, associating writing time with ‘you time’, making it enjoyable and comfortable means you’re more likely to actually do it, instead of writing blogs about how to do it for other people, like I’m doing now.

 

images

Sacred Space

A lot of people are into this one. As above, if you associate a place with writing, that’s great and you’ll feel secure and comfortable. But what happens if you go on holiday? What if you do a residency or a writers’ retreat? What if you see something spectacular abroad and want to write, but don’t feel comfortable? Just as we must set up processes, we must also push ourselves to the edge of being awkward and unsure. We live in a digital age where everything is expected to be possible anywhere. The writer, with a pen and notebook always in bag, has had this advantage before anyone else.

Find your sacred space, but use is sparingly. Try writing in a coffee shop or a park, describe the people around you, absorb an atmosphere. Perhaps there’s a use for it.

writing

 

What are you writing when you’re writing?

The different processes will change if you are working on one specific project, or are still looking for inspiration or splitting your time between projects. In which case, if you’ve been working on a novel for a year, and all your notes and charts and character details are at your desk, stick with it. I completely understand after a long time setting up a process that it feels your characters live in that room and can’t explore outside until completion. But if you do find yourself lagging, changing it up is always a good option. If you’re working on smaller projects, there’s no reason you can’t carry your writer’s room in your head (or your pocket). Often working from home can be seen as ‘I’m available for you to talk to’ or as if you’ve got a day off. It’s worth escaping that environment when possible, putting yourself in a situation where you have to be up, dressed and out the house encourages productivity and energy. (I also find it’s better for my biscuit tin).

 

self

 

Ignore Other People (Yes, me too)

If something works for you, then it’s working. Don’t fix it. If you want to work more regularly, then perhaps you can employ some of these ideas. If you enjoy waking up at midday to write until 6am, then go do it! If you enjoy setting aside an hour a day with a cup of tea to revisit your stories, then do so! Writers are naturally competitive people when put together, and as supportive as your fellow creatives can be, we try to believe that our way is the right way. I was convinced as a writing student that because I wasn’t writing all hours, listening to free jazz and wandering wide-eyed into the night looking for characters, that I was probably a fraud. Here is the truth of the matter: a writer writes. If you are writing and you are committed to it, then you are a writer.

 

More Scribble, less Drivel

 

I’m personally trying to adopt the theory that how much you talk about your work should be proportional to how much you actually do. There should only be ten percent ‘talking about it’ and ninety percent ‘doing it’. Mainly because no-one cares. I say this as someone who is extremely nosey and wants to help people with their creative endeavours. But if you’re talking about what your minor character-who-only-appears-in-chapter-forty ‘s family history and how it relates to nordic folklore…honestly, no-one cares about the book you haven’t written yet. Mainly because if you’ve got the energy to be explaining it to strangers, you’ve got the energy to be getting on with it. Keep your story yours, until it’s ready to be unveiled.  It’s like being friends with a pregnant woman. Are you excited for her? Yes, it’s amazing. But do you want to be inundated with ultrasound pictures and baby name possibilities and all this stuff for something that isn’t even here yet? People will invest in your story (or your baby) when they arrive to speak (or be cute) for themselves. You should be creating a story that people will love because it’s good, not just because it’s yours.

 

 

So, I hope that helped those of you searching for your writerly identities. You can put down that ancient ceremonial vase and jumping around on one foot in an anti-clockwise direction now. Put down the bongo drums and throw away the roll neck jumpers. You can be who you are, and do what you do, and as long as you actually write, you are a writer. Whether you write at a desk, on your bed, in a coffee shop. Whether you type or write in expensive moleskines or scrappy pieces of paper. As long as you write, it’s working. So get going.