writing tips

Reading as a Writer and how it can help your work.

I don’t mean that as a writer, you need to read. That’s one of the basic tenets of writing. I read an article this morning that had a list of things NOT to say to an agent or publisher, and ‘I don’t read because I don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas’ is one of them. Not to say it’s not a fair point, I think we all have that worry, but it’s imperative you’re reading. You don’t ask a painter to create for an exhibition when they’ve never even stepped inside a gallery.

But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way you read. I’m currently in another of those ‘this is crap, this is so crap’ points in my work in progress (40000 words in, I should have expected it) and every line looks boring, or overdone, or slow. So I thought I’d go back to looking at some of my favourite books, and looking at how they do it. So I started reading as a writer. I looked at where she put the commas, how many times she used ‘said’. What the sentences in between the speech told us. I thought perhaps there was some sort of style or code to this author’s perfection. And what did I find?

Zilch. She uses said a lot. The sentences in between do the same that mine do. It’s not that fast paced, it’s just enjoyable to the reader to go on the journey, because the dialogue is funny. And that’s what I realised- when we write, we are judging our own work as critics of the language. We’re strangling the adverbs and looking at individual lines and worrying, worrying, worrying.

But when I read a good book, all those things become invisible. The ‘said’s cease to exist, because they’re just markers. The description translates directly into a vision of a character, I’m not sitting there wondering why she used a certain word, or commenting on the vocabulary- I’m too busy disappearing into the story!

Which tells me two things:

  1. I’m probably not as crap as I think I am right now, and I just need to buck the hell up.
  2. Some of the best writing is ‘invisible’ to the reader.

So happy morning all, I’m off to write some invisible words on the page now.

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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A Romance Writer’s Guide to Romance

Sometimes, when you write stories, life starts to seem like this weird symbolic thing, where everything has relevance. That guy you exchanged glances with at the cornershop when he was buying jaffa cakes, and you had a pint of milk, well, clearly, you were destined to see him again. The necklace you found after months of looking for it, signified an emotional change, and the feeling that you were going to get what you wanted. Raining on your birthday? Accidentally hit a guy in the face whilst twerking? Meaningful.

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The fictional world is one full of signs, so that when you look at the real world, you can tend to see where things are going.
And often, things that appear to be problems are really only different archetypes in storytelling. So here are the main things I’ve learnt about relationships from writing romances.

  • Passion matters. Attraction, desire, whatever- it’s important. In a lot of stories, we often find characters who don’t notice this attraction until halfway through the story. I personally think this is bullshit. If you’re attracted to someone, then you’re attracted to them. You can stamp down on it, but you can’t create it out of thin air. Chemistry only happens when you have the right ingredients.
  • Good partners listen. They explore what the other person is about. They have a basic curiosity about who and what this person is. Otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Always freaking ASK- if you think they’re being unfaithful, if you heard a rumour, if you don’t know how they feel. So many terrible story lines could have been avoided if the main character had grown a pair and just asked their partner what the hell was up.
  • The MOST BASIC of memes to avoid- You have an argument with your partner. You think it’s over. You’re heartbroken. You get drunk, fall into the waiting arms of whichever jezebel/boywhore you were originally arguing over. The next day they come around to make up, and you’ve fucked it all up. STOP DOING THIS, IT’S STUPID.
  • If you think you’re attracted to someone else, and you’re going to cheat, choose one of the following options: 1- stay away from said person until the attraction dies (chemistry fizzles when you run out of heat) or 2- break up with your partner. If you step back, you know where this is going way before you do anything.
  • If you overhear a conversation STAY TO THE END. Maybe they were being propositioned, maybe they were kissed but pushed the other person away, maybe they end up saying nice things about how much they love you. People and situations are complicated.
  • If you’ve had to stalk them or change for them, it’s not going to work.

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      Happily ever afters are built, not given. Work at it. Just because the book ends doesn’t mean the drama does!

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The London Book Fair

 

So, I was quite excited about my little trip to the LBF, especially as it was free (because I’m a student, and entrepreneurial!) and because somehow in my little head, I’d convinced myself it cemented my standing as a writer. But the truth is this, nothing cements your standing as a writer except actually writing.

Whilst the LBF is a big funfair of book activity, it’s mostly populated by CEO’s and Heads of Marketing. I desperately searched for anyone who wasn’t wearing a suit to connect with, but to be honest, it was a big hubbub  of activity for non-writers. And whilst attempting to be a creative entrepreneur, I will have to deal with people in suits, unless it’s actually to my benefit and I can learn something, there’s really no point.

So, the writerly lesson for today? Only do things that are going to further your writing- try every opportunity, exploit every angle, but ultimately it’s the literal act of writing that’s the important bit, the schmoozing and marketing can come after the fact.