Word up, word up, join up for my new creative writing course online which will give you tons of tips on how to become a writer while trousering some crispy notes off you at the same time.
Okay, I admit, I’m exaggerating but from the intro you can probably deduce I’m not a big believer in the creative writing industry and all its offshoots.
Obviously, many best-selling novelists of this era have been to down this road and good luck to them but I can’t help but think most of them had a cultural appreciation of the world around them already (love of language, narrative methods, ear for dialogue) and the course merely enhanced and honed their credentials.
I don’t really believe that those without this basic hunger for literature and/or a creative urge at the outset are going to get very far in having a very fruitful career as a novelist. It’s not for those who aren’t prepared for the long haul and lots of heavy psychological lifting. And that’s without touching upon the beast we called rejection.
Which probably needs a whole blog to itself.
So it’s better if I just give an insight into my writing.
These are not tips, advice or a prescription for compelling manuscripts, they are merely a set of guidelines that work for me.
1. The first draft is all about momentum, rhythm and flow. Feel it and get it down, fast. Those crucial narrative leaps are vital because they have immediacy and texture. The redrafting process will then be long and painstaking – but don’t knock the first draft. I believe it’s still the most important period in the compilation of your story. It has energy and vitality.
2. Do the washing up. You’ll be amazed at how much clarity you get when doing the dishes. I get back from the school run (walking, if you must know) and dive into the dirty crockery with relish. The warm water fizzes into my hands and speeds up into my brain to illuminate the first scene I have to write in the morning. Once I get upstairs, the words whistle onto the page and I can’t keep up.
3. Have a loose idea of where you story is going. DVD on loop is crucial here (see The High Fives page), but I’m in agreement with George RR Martin who said some writers are gardeners and some are architects. Some like to plant a seed and let it grow, not quite sure how things will end up, the other has planned and plotted the whole building and knows pretty much where they’re going. I’m in the former category – like Mr Martin!
4. Have a notebook or smartphone with you at all times to write down notes. Ideas, scenes and dialogue can pop into your brain at ridiculous times and you’ll regret if you don’t get it down instantly.
5. Writer’s block is a myth. It doesn’t exist. What really happens is that you can’t arrange a scene the way you’d like. It’s sluggish, niggly and frustrating. The words are there but the arrangement isn’t. Generally, if you get away from the screen and do something completely different (have a cuppa, exercise, DTY FM etc…) and then come back with the grey matter refreshed, the prose will arrange itself in the right order.
6. Finish your novel. Do it. And start another one. The exhilaration of the narrative jungle is the sweetest thing for a writer. If people don’t like the one you’ve finished, you’re already knee-deep in the next one and rejection has faded into the distance.
7. Try and write a whole novel in longhand. I wrote Wacko Hacko like this and it liberated me from the chains of a chair and a computer screen. There is something sensuous about feeling the words appear between the white lines of a page through your pen. It felt like true writing. Still, had to type the whole thing up on my computer though.
8. Never give up. Ever. Make rejection like a booster rocket. Make it fire you up even more. If one agent doesn’t like your tale, another might.
9. The Inbetweens. This is, I believe, one of the most crucial things in a book, film or anything that has a narrative structure. It’s the gap between the end of one scene and the start of another. You have to make sure you don’t start your new scene too early. It’s perhaps one of the hardest thing to get right when you’re trying to get the furniture of your novel arranged properly. There’s a tendency to overwrite, set the scene too much etc…but once you start chopping and editing it again and again, a certain clarity appears. This is type of clarity and directness all writers are after.
10. Brain, screen, fingers, words.
11. Try not to be seduced by the Grubby Gift That Keeps Giving (that’s the internet). Unfortunately, a piece of research always comes up that needs clarifying (a name, a date, a piece of music) and you’re forced to go online. Don’t get caught in its gloopy clutches.
12. Don’t be influenced by the Tsars of Taste. Agents want this, publishers want that, no-one in the world knows what a reader wants at a particular time. Follow your passion, write properly and someone, somewhere will recognise you ability one day. If not there are many different ways to get your work out to readers. A reader does not care if a book is an ebook, conventionally published or self published – but they want a tale that wags. That’s all.
13. A Sliver of Electricity: I’ll end with this because I feel it’s the elusive ingredient all writers are looking for; it’s that connection, impulse or feeling we hope a reader will get when they read one of our passages, scenes or line of dialogue. Our favourite books, films, music etc.. all have a scene or moment we love. Why? Because it communicates something deep inside us. There is nothing greater for a writer than a reader feeling that magic, transformative connection.
So that’s my 13 hang-ups. I wanted to leave it at that unlucky number because writing is a messy business and you’re going to need some good fortune along the way… But I just wanted to add one more…
14. Kids. The myth is these little wonders make writing impossible. Famous writers’ sons and daughters have constantly complained about a ‘closed door’ policy leaving them isolated while the ‘artist’ bashes away in the study. I believe the opposite. Once you’ve changed nappies at dawn, dealt with spilt milk and suffered the umpteenth sleepless night, you’ll be gagging for the blank page or computer screen so you can start writing. You may have less time but it’s amazing how you’ll use it better.
So going back to my original point, a creative writing course – particularly one that relieves you of some hard-earned cash – is not going to turn you into a novelist. Sacrifice, hard work and cultural appreciation might – as well as landing a nice agent with good connections.
Just write, finish, redraft and publish. Don’t be intimidated by the Tsars of Taste and keep away from the gloopy clutches of the Grubby Gift That Keeps Giving.
Word up, word up, chin up, chin up. Hey presto, there’s a novel!