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.