Saturday, 22 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #5 - Research

Research is something you need to do before you write, but it's also very important after you've written. If you want to take your writing further, by being published, you need to learn about the industry you're getting into.

If you're interested in pursuing traditional publication then research the agents or publishers you want to submit to. Find out which authors and novels they already represent/publish, find out what they're looking for. Follow them on social media, look at their website or blog and ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. That one is important enough to deserve all caps, trust me.

If you want to go down the self-publishing route, find out the different options that are available for print and digital publishing. Join forums, chat to people who have already been there and find out about their experiences. Look into the best ways to market your book without annoying everyone with constant spam - "You can buy my book here!"  "Look at this review for my book!"  "Here's another link to my book, and my Facebook page, and my Goodreads page!" - I see far too much of this on Twitter, and it has not yet persuaded me to buy a book. I buy from authors who interact.

But I digress. When I first started submitting work to agents, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, because I hadn't spent long enough researching the query process. My submission itself was awful and unprofessional, I didn't really know what genre my novel fitted into, so I'm not surprised I was rejected. Now that I know a lot more about the industry, I am confident that my next submissions will be a lot smarter, clearer and more professional. I can't guarantee I'll get an agent, but I've got a lot more chance than I did a few years ago.

Research takes time but, like editing, it's worth it. Better to spend a few weeks really getting to grips with what traditional or self-publishing is really about than to leap in blindly. The more you know, the more chance you have of being successful.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #4 - Editing

Once you've completed tip #1, the next thing to do with your manuscript is edit it. Some people like to dive straight in, whilst others prefer to put the novel aside for a few weeks so that they can come back to it with fresh eyes. Either way, it's an essential part of writing.

When I first completed a NaNoWriMo novel, my idea of what editing entailed was pretty narrow. I read through it pretty quickly, corrected any typos or grammatical errors, then sat back with a big grin on my face, mightily pleased with myself. What I know now is that was not really editing.

Of course, spelling and grammar are an important part of editing, but I don't often have many of those mistakes to fix - I'm not bragging, it's just one of my strengths. They are just the beginning, however. Editing involves looking at the whole story arc and deciding if the plot, pace and characterisation are all used to their best advantage. It involves looking at your prose and your dialogue, and deciding if your writing is as strong as it could be. To properly edit, you have to pick through your writing, turning over every sentence and deciding if you've expressed exactly what you want to express, or if there's a better way of doing it.

I took a self-editing course with the Writers' Workshop, which was really valuable. You don't have to take a course, as there are plenty of resources online to help you with editing, but it's really a worthwhile experience having feedback from professional editors and writers, as well as fellow amateurs. The most important thing is not to rush it - producing an excellent novel takes time and effort, as I have learned over the years. If you put in the necessary editing work, you will see results in time.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #3 - Reading

This is my favourite part of being a writer - reading. Ok, it can also give me a bit of angst about the quality of my writing, or lack of it, but mostly I enjoy it. If a person says to me, "I don't read", I honestly have no idea how to respond. That's like telling me they don't breathe.

A writer who doesn't read will not be a very good writer. I won't listen to any argument on that subject. Reading stimulates the imagination, the same imagination a writer relies on to come up with their own ideas. Reading also helps the writer to understand different aspects of writing, such as voice, characterisation and dialogue. It can help with grammar too.

It's important to read the genre that you write, although I like to read various others too. It helps to see the differences between genres, as well as the similarities. I don't just mean from a commercial point of view - understanding the market, etc - but from the point of development as a writer, too. I didn't really understand what genre my novels were until someone pointed me in the direction of similar books; I just wrote the stories that were in my head.

Basically, I just think you should read because, well, why wouldn't you want to?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #2 - Community

One of the best things that has come out of my personal journey as a writer so far is the community of other writers that I've met. Writing can be a very solitary pastime, so it's important to maintain contact with others who are going through the same process.

The forums on the NaNoWriMo site can get pretty quiet in the off season, but there are still plenty of people around to interact with on some of the boards. Personally, I love Twitter for interacting with other writers, and it's great for following a lot of published authors and finding out what they're up to. There are many other writing sites that have a community, including the Writers' Workshop.

For those who want to venture into the real world, most larger towns and cities will have a writing group who will meet regularly to share their writing or just to chat. Writing festivals and book festivals are also great places to meet fellow writers and book lovers, as well as to meet published authors and take part in workshops.

Find a way to get out there and spend time with other writers, whether it's in the real or the virtual world. You'll learn from them, you'll make friends, and you'll develop as a writer as a result.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #1: FYS

Welcome to the first of my post-NaNoWriMo tips. I'm going to share a bit of advice based on things I've learned in the last few years. After the frenzy of November, it can be a bit bemusing where to go next. So, the first tip I have to offer is this: in the immortal words of Chuck Wendig, first up, finish your sh*t. (He knows what he's talking about, as you can see here).

It may seem like I'm stating the obvious, but the first thing to do is finish the first draft of your novel. I wrote 75,000 words in November but haven't finished the first draft yet, so that's what I'm working on this month. There are so many people on the NaNoWriMo forums who say "Oh, I really need to finish my novel from 2009...." - no no no no no. Finish it now. Don't start that new and exciting idea that's suddenly sprung up in the back of your head that is so much more interesting than this novel; get this draft finished first. By all means, write that idea down, don't let it escape, but stay focused on the task in hand until it's finished. You can't do anything with an unfinished novel, except complain about it being unfinished, and nobody but you cares about that.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


To everyone out there who took part in NaNoWriMo this year, I want to say a huge congratulations - regardless of how many words you wrote, you did something. You made a commitment to write, and you did your best to live up to that, which is the first important step on the journey to becoming a writer.

This is only the beginning. Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging some post-NaNoWriMo tips. These are all based on the learning curve of my own experience over the last two years. Now, I'm by no means an expert, but hopefully I can share a few bits of advice that I've picked up, often by making my own mistakes along the way.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A shower of ideas

Today I hit a milestone in the novel I'm writing - 50,000 words. As anyone who's familiar with NaNoWriMo knows, that makes me a winner. Of course, there will be a lot more words to come if I'm going to finish this first draft this month.

I attribute my success to my crazy brain and the ease with which it throws up ideas. Recently I've really noticed one time when my imagination really gets to work - when I'm in the shower. Yesterday I had a bath in the morning (I know you don't want to know about my daily ablutions but it's part of the story) and I didn't manage to write anywhere near as much as I had hoped to. Today, a shower, and the rest is history.

My theory is that when you're carrying out such a repetitive, regular task, it gives parts of your brain the freedom to turn off, or perhaps to work on other things. When I'm in the bath I read, which is a great habit for a writer of course, but doesn't help me in the same way that just switching off does. You don't need to concentrate on the method of washing your hair (I hope) so your brain can relax, put its feet up and enjoy itself for a little while. For some people, perhaps times like these provide answers to the crossword, or solutions for an issue at work, but for me it's all about writing. I always come out of the shower desperate to write something down so that I don't forget it, and invariably it puts me in a great mood for when I come to tackling my novel.

Has anyone had a similar experience? Where do your best ideas come to you?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

NaNoWriMo, or For The Love Of Writing

As I've said before, I'm not going to post about the pros and cons of NaNoWriMo - it works for me and that's all I'm going to say. This time of year, however, has become synonymous with writing for me because the first novel I ever managed to complete started life as a NaNo novel. That month reignited a passion for writing that had been gradually smothered by years of work and study - since then the spark may have wavered a little, but it flares up anew every November.

I'm an overachiever as far as NaNo is concerned - it's day 7 and at the time of writing I'm sitting just short of 33,000 words, more than twice the 11,666 that is par for this time of the month. I'm not going to guarantee the quality of what I've written, but the story is driving forwards and that's what matters. Ok, I'm a little competitive and don't like it when other people in my region get ahead of me, but also I want to get the first draft done while the ideas are still at the forefront of my mind.

The more I write, the more I love writing. I've been ill recently so don't have a lot of energy, yet I still feel like I want to run and jump and shout and sing about just how amazing writing makes me feel. I have a wide number of interests in my life, but nothing else gives me such fire in my belly that makes me desperate to be taking part in it. I will forever be grateful to the folk at the Office of Letters and Light who run NaNoWriMo, because now I honestly couldn't imagine my life without this burning passion.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Plotting and researching

It's nearly November, which means it's time for NaNoWriMo! There are plenty of blog posts about whether NaNo is any good or not, so I won't bother with one of those - suffice to say that I love it, and participating in NaNo is one of the highlights of my year.

This weekend I started plotting my new novel (using Scrivener), filling in scene outlines, making character notes and various bits of world-building. I began with a premise and some basic plot points, but by the end of the day I had a much more detailed understanding of my novel. My characters were starting to fill out, my world was becoming more intricate and the plot was taking shape.

The internet is a wonderful thing. I don't think I could write my novels without it! Of course, I'm prone to procrastination because of it, and some of my random ideas lead me into rabbit holes that waste several hours of my time, but it also really helps to stimulate my imagination. Everything from the adoption forums on the NaNoWriMo site to the results thrown up when I accidentally mistype something in a search engine - it all sets my mind working.

For me, a big part of planning a novel involves letting my mind wander down these pathways, finding new and interesting bits of information, investigating websites that are new to me or throwing strange ideas together to see if they work. It's so exciting, seeing a plot form in front of my eyes, out of such disparate elements! It's no wonder that this is one of my favourite times of year, because I enjoy this process so much, and it will soon be followed by the thrill of writing that first draft.

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm off to look up obscure alchemical symbols and see where that leads me...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Give creativity a chance!

I once heard someone say that the majority of people who think they have insomnia don't actually go to bed and try to sleep. This week I've wondered if the same thing applies to some people with writer's block.

For a couple of weeks now I've only had three or four new scenes to write to complete the rewrite of She Made Me, but it has felt like one of the most insurmountable challenges I have faced. Maybe there was a part of me that didn't want to finish it, because I know how much editing work will come next. I think the biggest problem, however, has simply been that I haven't sat down at my laptop and attempted to write. I've come home from work and thought "Oh I'm too tired to write," or "I can't think of what needs to happen in that scene". I've put off writing certain scenes, skipping over them because they're not quite clear in my mind, to the extent that I've left them until last. When thinking about them, I know what I need to write, but I just can't think it through.

In these situations, however, I've not put myself in a position that's conducive to writing. I've been thinking about writing whilst doing other things, things that have taken up a lot of my mind and haven't allowed me to think through the scene. But above all, I haven't actually sat my behind on my desk chair and attempted to do it. I haven't given the creative part of my brain a chance to come to the forefront and act. How is it ever going to get written if I don't open my laptop? How am I ever going to sleep if I don't go to bed?

Today, I sat down at my laptop. I opened the scene I've been struggling with, the scene that would finish this rewrite. I wrote. I finished it.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Healthy mind in a healthy body

I've not been well over the last two weeks. I'll spare you the details - it's nothing major but I've just felt a bit crap. Consequently, I've not written anywhere near as much as I wanted to.

I've seen writers on Twitter beating themselves up about not writing when they're ill - they've got all this time, they're doing nothing but loll on the bed or sofa, so shouldn't they be writing? My answer is "No!"  Or at least, not necessarily. When you're ill, you can't operate on the same level, your energy is being expended in different ways and your body is very busy fighting off the nasty little bugses that are attacking you.

Ok, it might sound like I'm making excuses - maybe I am! Procrastination is definitely my strongest skill. But there have been days lately where I've opened my laptop, stared at the screen for ages and nearly cried because my mind cannot stay on my novel. I'm doing all I can to help my immune system out and trying to keep healthy, but sometimes you just have to accept defeat.

Right, I'm off for a walk in the fresh air in the hope it will stimulate both body and mind!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Writing the novel I want to write

My writing has ground to a halt over the last week. The problem is, I've completely stymied myself by thinking about the sorts of things that "should" be in my novel - for instance, there is no love interest, no romantic storyline at all, and I wondered if I should add one in. Of course this then caused me difficulties because it doesn't fit with how I see the story in my mind.

There are people who will argue that you have to write for a market if you want to be published, but I know that will never work for me personally. Stories come into my mind unbidden, without any prior consideration of what might sell in a bookshop. As soon as I try to squeeze that story into a direction it doesn't want to take, it loses all sense of originality and sounds increasingly contrived the longer I try to force it. Yes, the novel might end up being more difficult to publish/market/sell, but I will at least have the satisfaction that I have written the novel I want to write.

There are a lot of YA scifi novels out there where the female main character only seems to become a rebel once she has a love interest - before that, she's happy to plod along doing exactly what society tells her to do. I want to write female characters who are strong, intelligent and are willing to take risks, for their own reasons. So who cares if my heroine doesn't fall in love with her male best friend? She has much more important things to worry about!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Sleeping, breathing, eating, reading

Reading is the best possible hobby anyone can have. Alright, maybe I'm biased. But that doesn't stop it being true.

Writers are always told to read as much as they can, and read books in the same genre as they write. Now, I don't need to be told about the first one. For as long as I can remember, a well-stocked bookshelf has been the most important piece of furniture in my house. There are certain bodily functions that we must perform in order to live - as far as I'm concerned, reading is one of them.

Recently, I was advised that my novels are most suited for a young adult (YA) market, rather than adult. That was fine by me, because as long as there is someone who wants to read what I write I couldn't care less how old they are. With that in mind, I've been having a look at the shelves where, hopefully, my novels will sit one day.

Up until then, I was doing my best to read literary works, particularly those shortlisted for the Orange and Man Booker prizes. After all, if I'm writing for an adult audience, I should aspire to write in this style, shouldn't I? Thankfully, I was wrong. I liked reading quite a lot of them, but sometimes felt I was ploughing through just for the sake of getting the book finished. Wonderful as many of these novels are, they're just not what I want to read on a regular basis. Now, though, I've bought a few current YA science fiction novels and I'm thoroughly enjoying them: it's as if someone has finally given me permission to read exactly what I want!

This just shows how important it is to get advice from people who REALLY KNOW books and the current market in publishing. Feedback from non-writer friends has been good but not constructive. Feedback from writer friends has been constructive but not specific enough for me. Feedback from agents and an editor has truly hit home. I love to read what I love to write, and I can't believe I didn't make the link sooner!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Getting in the habit

Another piece of wisdom I took away from the Festival was this: write every day. No matter if you only write a bit that ends up being scrapped, just write.

Have I written every day since then? There was one day when I told myself I didn't have the time. I did, I just couldn't bring myself to think about my novel after a long day at work. Even though I wasn't writing, though, I made myself sit down and think about where I want this rewrite to go. I planned some character developments and wrestled with a plot point. Ok, I didn't sit at my laptop, but by the time I got there the following day I had something concrete to put into practice.

Until this rewrite is finished, I pledge to write every single day. Even if it's just one word. Even if it's a note to myself scribbled on the back of a napkin. This novel has the potential to be published, possibly even to be great within its genre, but it won't get there unless I take it seriously.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

My writing space

Another snippet about the post-Festival changes I have made! One thing that occurred to me on the train home was that I haven't felt comfortable writing since I moved into this flat in May. My desk was in the living room, although my laptop usually ended up with me on the sofa as ever-increasing piles of paper, books and other random items built up on the desk. Coupled with the proximity to the television, it was never a proper writing space.

On Monday I thankfully had a day off, so got to work creating a much better space for myself. I had very little in the spare room ever since I moved in, in the hope that I could attract a flatmate to help with the bills, but that doesn't seem to have happened. Now I've moved the furniture around and made a space for a bigger desk, and suddenly I feel positive again! Having a specific space for writing is all psychological, but that doesn't make it any less important.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Slash and burn!

At the Festival, I received specific advice about one of my novels from two literary agents and an editor, and one of the suggestions was this: make sure you know what you want from the story.

I think this has been one of my greatest problems with this manuscript - I haven't been entirely sure where I'm going with the story, or which part of the story is most important. On the train home I had an epiphany about my writing, realising that I have been including so much back-story in my novels that they have become a huge part of the novel themselves, to the extent that the story itself was getting lost. To that end, I have slashed my novel, removing all scenes that were purely back-story, putting only a few aside for part of their content to be salvaged.

This has left me with, at best, 35000 words. This is half of what I want the finished manuscript to be. I have a lot of work to do. But you know what? I'm excited! More excited than I have been about my writing for ages. And that's what counts.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Sensible blogging

One of the workshops I attended at the Festival was about blogging, led by Nicola Morgan. Nicola is an author and experienced blogger, who I first came across through her blog Help! I Need A Publisher! Her advice was clear, practical and invaluable, and has led me to rethink my own use of a blog.

Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the workshop because I was having a one-to-one session with an editor, but I still learned a lot from the half I attended. Some of the main points that I am taking away are these:
  • Have a clear, practical URL - I've gone back to using my name, as it's the simplest and most relevant option.
  • Stick to one subject - my last blog was a mixed bag, but this is going to be about writing and everything connected with writing.
  • Keep it positive and interesting - I'm a fairly upbeat person and whilst I can get a bit depressed and self-deprecating when it comes to my writing, I know nobody wants to read something that will make my depression contagious! They also don't want to read posts that are boring and so mundane that they put people off.
I'll do my best to stick to the last point - feel free to tell me off if I don't!

Back to blogging!

I gave up on blogging for a few months, but I'm back to it now after rethinking what I'm blogging about. In the past, I've had a non-specific blog which covered everything from Buddhism to writing, via food. Now, however, I'm going to stick to the one theme - writing.

I've just returned from the Writers' Workshop Festival of Writing in York, which was an absolutely incredible experience. I don't wish to be cheesy, but I can honestly say it was life-changing: I've returned home a much better writer, with self-confidence and an understanding of what I need to do in order to develop. Over the next few days I'll post about some of the things I've learned and how I'm putting them into practice.