Support Your Local Writer

I was recently asked what was the best piece of advice I could give to anyone thinking of writing a novel. Obviously, the answer was ‘get on and write it’- but I quickly followed that up with ‘join a writing group’.

I took up writing when I moved abroad. Blogging about my experiences as we forged a new life in an alien land was cathartic and a lot cheaper than therapy.  When I returned to the UK I joined a creative writing class with the aim of turning my blog into some sort of book – either a self-help guide for other ex-pats or a work of fiction – an idea still on the back burner.

I’ve always been one of those people who’ve sort of meandered through life, as opposed to trail-blazing.  I’ve never been particularly good at sport, and I’m definitely not musical, or particularly artistic.  But when I first joined my creative writing class it was like – wow, I’ve found my forte.  It really was a revelation; to fit in and find something I was actually quite good at. Six years on from that first class and another two house moves later, I still regularly meet up with a small group of my fellow students – not in a classroom situation but socially. Occasionally we convince ourselves we’re having some sort of creative workshop, but most of the time we just chat and eat.

And it’s because writing is such an isolating occupation – yes you can sit in a cafe sipping coffee while you write, but you certainly don’t want to interact with the other customers –  a  support network of like-minded souls is vital.  When I’m in full-on writing mode I want an empty house with no interruptions.  But every now and then I have to come out of my cave. I still need people to bounce ideas off, to pick me up and push me on when I feel like giving up. People who understand the foibles of the creative process, who know how writing becomes a compulsion, a habit which has you leaping out of bed at midnight to scribble down a plot twist. People who know you don’t just put words into your book, you put your heart and soul.

So I just want to give a little shout out to my group of like-minded souls, affectionately known as the Harem – one guy, several women.  We don’t all write in the same genre, in fact Tania and Julia no longer write much at all, but Sally, Avril and Linda like their poetry, Anne and Ant write children’s books and Gill forges ahead into science fiction.  The important point is that we’ve all been there for each other, through the trials and tribulations, the agonies of rejections to the joys of publication.

Anne Wan and Gill who writes as B Random  have self-published, while Ant has a local publisher for his children’s stories about a magical wheelchair.

This is Ant at the book launch of his second ‘Whizzy’ book. And if you think the gentleman reading an extract from Ant’s  book bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain Belgium detective – you’re right! Some people have friends in very high places.  Check out how Anthony writes his amazing books here.

Writers really do support each other; there doesn’t seem to be a competition to do ‘better’ than anyone else – even though of course we all want our books to be bestsellers.  It’s a bit like the Great British Bake-Off when the icing hasn’t set or the biscuits fall on the floor.  Everyone rallies round and helps out.

The fellow authors I have met through the Romantic Novelists Association and my publisher Crooked Cat  have provided no end of useful advice and information. I feel I’ve made new friends, even though I’ve only ever met a handful of them in person. When I was an ex-pat I clung to other ex-pats because we had a common bond. I’ve discovered the same is true for writers. It doesn’t take one to know one – but it does take one to understand.

 

 

Flying By The Seat of My Pants

I’ve just typed The End on a first draft of a new novel.

When it comes to writing, I’m  a ‘panster’. I fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t start with a plan – or at least not a rigid, set in stone plan, or even set in a notebook or on a whiteboard plan. I don’t even have post-it notes, although they do come into play later on.

A panster starts off with an idea with in their head, and inevitably finishes up with something completely different on paper.

It could be characters, or just one scene, that ignites the spark.  Once I’ve got my characters, or at least the main protagonist and antagonist, I always know how the story is going to end – it’s just how the characters get there that needs working out.  It’s not until I’m several chapters in that I stop to take stock (or run out of steam).  Then I have to think – is this going anywhere? I might go back at this point, have a bit of a tidy up before deciding whether it’s worth continuing.  The best part of being a panster is when I hit the point where the characters I’ve created start talking to me, telling their own stories. That’s when I know it’s going somewhere – although not necessarily where I would like it go.

The trouble with being a panster is that it involves a lot of  jumping backwards and forwards. As a character takes shape, or a new sub-plot forms, I have to flit back to an earlier part of the manuscript and drop in a few clues. If I were a plotter I’d have dropped the clues in as I was going along in a orderly, organised fashion.  That’s when the post-its come in, by the side of my keyboard. I jot down new ideas as the story evolves, or scribble reminders to go back and insert a reference to a now vital scene.  Add to the chapter-hopping chaos, several mugs of tea, and the occasional glass of wine (I work in the evenings when home alone) and I end a with very cluttered work-space.  That wonderful quote ‘Creative minds are rarely tidy’ could be the family motto.

If I wrote novels that required detailed research, basically I’d come unstuck. I research as a go along. Setting stories in a contemporary time frame in locations I’m familiar with may seem like a cop-out, but the mythical ‘they’ always advise you to write what you know and it does make sense.

I’d like to be able to write every day but inspiration is not always forthcoming and sometimes life just gets in the way.

Having typed those magical words ‘The End’ writers are advised to sit on a first draft for at least a couple of weeks before picking it up again.  A second draft always requires detailed refining, and then there’s the third and the fourth…

First thing this morning I woke up with a brand new scene in my head, yesterday I decided another would work so much better if character A did this, instead of character B. Of course, if I were a plotter I would have known all this right from the start.

Hey ho, back to the keyboard.

500 Words

I’m not totally convinced hopping on the social media bandwagon is a good thing. Apart from the fact that I am by nature a reserved, private person who hates talking about herself – hardly a recipe for a prolific on-line presence – I’m now overwhelmed by a daily barrage of book reviews, success stories and literary advice.  
There is a lot to be said for peer pressure; I feel inadequate; I can’t keep up. I don’t do all the things a ‘proper’ writer should.
Write every day – this little gem of advice pops up on a regular basis. Of course I want to write 500 words every day, but sometimes real life gets in the way. I know it’s a lame excuse – I should make time; why not scribble away when sat on the loo? Why waste my life watching Pointless when I could be penning best sellers. I only have myself to blame.  Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who can only write when the spirit moves them. I also need an empty house, silence, and a frenzy of creative inspiration – none of which has recently been very forthcoming.
Be true to yourself –  another little gem currently getting me nowhere. Every writer has their own style; writing gurus always urge you to find your voice and stick to it. But what if that voice isn’t quite ‘commercial’ enough? Do I change? I know people like my style. I’ve won competitions writing in ‘my style’ so it must be good, yes? I recently turned down a publishing contract – it was nothing to do with money, I am definitely not holding out for big bucks, it was more about the binding longevity. Commitment-phobe? Quite possibly.  I’m a Virgo. I want everything to be perfect. Was I being too picky? Surely I could adjust my style to fit the format of that particular publishing house? The publisher obviously thought I could. But then my novels wouldn’t be the novels I’d written, I’d be losing control, I’d be losing my voice….
Everybody gets rejections – do they? Not according to my Twitter feed they don’t. It’s just one book launch after another. It’s hardly a morale booster, especially after my recent endeavours. I’d hate to be a teenager today.  At least I’m of the age where my phone isn’t permanently attached to my hand. I can switch it off. I can go for a day (or maybe even two) without touching base with social media to see who’s doing the equivalent of partying in Ibiza while I’m sat at home with tea and biscuits.
No! What am I doing? Sat at home drinking tea and eating biscuits? Off the sofa and onto the keyboard. Time to write those 500 words.

See! It works. I’ve just done them.
My kind of sofa – built out of books at the Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands