writing tips

Dinner Party Etiquette for Writers: No-one Cares About Your Novel

Don’t think I haven’t heard it, that glum sigh when someone asks what I do, and I tell them I’m a author. You know why the sigh? Because they think I’m going to bore them for the next forty five minutes with the epic tale of my latest masterpiece, pausing along the way so they can nod and tell me how brilliant I am. Then they’ll blandly say ‘that sounds really interesting,’ and I’ll say ‘well, it’s hard to explain but it’s better when you read it.’

Except I don’t do that, because it’s DIRE and AWFUL and no-one wants to interact with people like that. So normally I make a joke about being poor, and they make a joke about being the next J.K. Rowling (and I don’t go into a long rant about how she’s the exception to the publication rule) and we return to talking about the weather, or accounting, or something that isn’t my work. Easy.

I am a big fan of not talking about your WIPs. Or even outlining your novel. Even when people ask what it’s about, they don’t actually want a four page synopsis. They want an X meets Y approach: ‘Yeah, it’s like Indiana Jones, but set in space.’ ‘Oh, well it’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, but between McDonalds and Burger King employees.’

I often give the advice to keep your stories close to your chest, especially when they’re in progress. Partly, because I think ideas are precious, partly because I think that energy and passion should be channeled into writing them down instead of talking about them. And partly because I’m doing dinner party guests across the country a massive favour. It’s the equivalent of sitting there and talking about how your kids are the best kids ever for an hour. Except at least when that happens, you give other people the chance to but in and talk about how great their kids are. You can’t do that, unless you’re in a room full of writers.  And you can’t expect other people to know that’s what’s going on, so you’re going on about your epic fight scene (that you haven’t written yet) in chapter thirty four, and the woman next to you can’t exactly jump in and go ‘oh yes, my son Marcus has excellent swordmanship. He beheaded two goblins last week!’

The context doesn’t fit. And here’s some smart thinking- these people may buy your book if you remain that mysterious author who gave them a brief snippet of what you’re working on. If you’ve told them the whole thing, they’re not going to give a crap. Even if it is interesting to them, who buys a book when it’s been narrated to them all evening by someone who isn’t Stephen Fry?

However…yes, I will admit, there are moments when it’s good to talk about your work. What I’m talking about here is sharing your passions, talking about who inspires you, who you want to be like, what you want to achieve.

I don’t really talk about my books when I’m writing them, occasionally give a brief outline, usually about a sentence. But I’ve started talking about my research, the work I’m doing on my MSc, working with writing and body image, and eating disorders. When you’re passionate about something, and you’re learning about it, you want to share it, and suddenly everything becomes relevant. Whilst I’d still say reigning yourself in at dinner parties is important, sharing the seeds that have sent you on your path, the things that have inspired you in your work can often bring great connections and contact with people you never would have met.

So share your passion, your inspiration, your fire…just, don’t give away the ending. Because it may surprise you.

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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!

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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