Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What Inspires You To Write?

Yesterday evening, I took myself out in the cold and rain on a two bus journey across town (well the suburbs, really) to hear author Amanda Craig discussing her fabulous novel Hearts and Minds.

Amanda talked about what inspired her to write this book. Breifly, as you can probably Google the full story, she came across the real life stories of people that came into her own life and as she spoke to them she realised there was a world on her doorstep that she had not yet learned about. She went out and researched and interviewed lots of people and this is what helped her piece together all the intricate plot and storylines that went to make, in my opinion, a wonderfully moving read.
It occured to me that most of my inspiration comes from the real life stories that I know or have heard about. For example, my mother told me stories about her childhood in the Caribbean and coming to England in the late 50s. The stories always fascinated me and a whole saga of events sprang into my head about the 'what if's' that my mother's words inspired in me.
You must have heard it said 'write what you know about' and anything I didn't know but needed to know when writing the book, I took myself off to find out.
The best part about this sort of inspiration is that you can make your story credible, I believe, as it is based on something you know and experienced. But, like any writer or creative, you get to make stuff up! That's always the fun part for me. Just letting your imagination go wild but your story is grounded by reality.
Well this is what works for me. How and where do you get your inspiration from?
Whatever your answer - Happy Writing! And, if you're reading this Amanda (as if), thanks for a great evening!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Nailing Your Plot Lines

I haven't posted in well over a week. I had resolved to post every few days and I failed. I'm not beating myself up because it is with good reason. I've been getting myself stressed and confused by the plot lines of my latest piece of writing. It's a novel that involves lots of characters whose lives intertwine for various reasons and most of them will never know that their lives will be linked with another's in some way. Yes, whilst I know it's not an original idea, (what is these days)? the only way I'll win over any reader is to give it an original spin and that's what's been occupying my thoughts for days (and nights) on end.

I approached this story in a slightly different way to my first. I started plotting it out in a notebook first instead of just getting in there and writing like a mad thing. I've read so many tips about how to start writing a book and decided on this more ordered approach that so many writers say is essential. I was just getting myself tied up in knots and when I started making a shopping list in my notebook I just knew it wasn't working for me.

The problem was in the complexity of the plot lines. Keeping it engaging, intricate and keeping my readers guessing. But most importantly making sure that they won't be disappointed in the end. It took time but I think I've got it now. I just switched on the laptop and went for it. It's finally coming together.

The story has gone through a change in working title. Character changes from their description, names and jobs etc. Changes to how it should start and how it will end. It's all fitting together and I'm about 19,550 words in and enjoying it. I think that's when I know I'm doing it right. My characters tell me what they want to say and I'm only using the notebook to keep tabs on how things are working themselves out and not worrying about too much planning.

I'd be interested to know what works for other writers. How do you get into the writing process. Do you use the same formula each time or do you mix it up? Does your approach depend on what you're writing?

Happy(stress free) writing!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Meditate and Write Better - Count Me In

One of the blogs I follow is offering daily writing tips for 2013. As I'm a new writer, I'm in the business of taking all the advice I can get my hands on. The biggest message I'm getting is writing makes you a better writer but any extra tips will only help. Am I right?

Today's tip was about meditation and imagine my delight when I read this because guess who has just signed up for a beginners meditation course? Why me of course. I'm enrolling because I'm a bit of an insomniac. Haven't slept in 10 years (well not properly anyway) and tried all the remedies apart from prescribed drugs. No thanks.

This is my tip for today and looks like meditation might not only resolve the sleep issue but help the writing process too.  Read on.
Start Write 2013
with London Writers' Club
 Meditation: A great way to boost your supply of ideas and writing
Meditation has many benefits that are particularly relevant to writers. I practice Transcendental Meditation and often have ideas for books or chapters during or shortly after meditation. Problems I'm wrestling with are often solved. When I meditate, the ego drops away and ideas come if the time is right, so there's no 'writer's block'.
If I'm too tired to write, I meditate for 20-30 minutes, which gives me the energy I need to keep going. Try it yourself?
John Purkiss is the author of BRAND YOU

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Making Your Reader Feel

A tragic incident took place this morning in London. I'm talking about the helicopter crash in Vauxhall that shook the whole of London and took the lives of two people, leaving several injured, some critical. My heart went out to the families of the deceased and I was upset by the number of people hurt and realised that at that time of morning and because of the location, it could have been a lot worse.

Eye witnesses were interviewed, naturally. I haven't driven around that part of town for a while and I don't think I know of anyone who got hurt, personally, and yet I could picture the event and could understand how those eye witnesses felt.

It was all in the language they used. Simple, gut reactions from the heart. It was human and that's all it took for me to know what they were going through and how the rest of their day was likely to pan out.

The incident made me think about my writing and how effectively I relate situations in which I want to evoke emotions or reactions from my reader. Some writers might use metaphors, draw an elaborate scene with intrigue and build up. But if the moment I'm describing falls flat then none of the above was worth anything. The eyewitnesses were direct and to the point. They said what they saw, what they heard, what they were doing at the time and where they found themselves moments after the incident happened. No waffle, no flowery stuff.

The novel I'm currently writing needs to have that same shock factor in places and I worried about how I could deliver it best. Now I know. Keep it simple and I'm sure your reader will feel what you want them to feel.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Favourite Places To Write

Is there a place, it could be your office, bedroom, a coffee bar, where you get the best out of your writing?

Mine is my office. My desk overlooks a window and, depending on the season, I'm looking onto trees, a lawn and a few flats in the distance. Every now and then a person may walk by. This is the place where I can get my head down and really go for it and the ideal spot for me to edit my work and pieces for other people. Second place is my bed. Not ideal, I'm told, if you're an insomniac, as my bed should remain solely for the purposes of love making or sleep if I'm ever going to beat the insomnia that has plagued me for over 10  years. But I digress.

This weekend I'm away from home and I'm taking my laptop with me so that I can continue to write. I'm just wondering if I can do it. Can I focus and concentrate somewhere else? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, they say.

I never set a time limit or number of words I want to achieve per day or week. My way is just to go for it whenever the need takes me and if I don't have my laptop handy I make sure I have notebook tucked away somewhere. I have been known to jot things down on a car park ticket before now.

The challenge awaits. Let's see how I do.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Book - New set of problems

Well in my last post I talked about how happy I was to be sitting in bed, working on my latest novel blahdiblahdiblah. Still happy, but still faced with all the dilemmas of writing a whole book, even though I've written one that's about to be published, and another that I'm editing and wanting to send out there.

So I knocked out the first 5000 or so words of book no. three as a taster for my husband to read. I just wanted first impression feedback. I hand my work over to him with the usual guidelines 'read it as though you don't know me.' Good, huh? Never works. Came back positive but he says that after 19 pages, he really wanted something to happen. Yes, I say, that's where page 20 comes in.

Seriuosly, though, I like my idea but I reckoned that if this is my third book then it should be far better than the first and second and so on. So I'm not writing under the assumption that I know it all and that my third book will naturally be better because I've got more experience. I'm still taking as much advice as I can, am open to criticism and will work and work to write the best book I can.

Here is a handy set of tips I found by Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander.

10 Writing Tips from bestselling novelist Janet Fitch

1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

3. Kill the Cliché.
When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair.Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.

4. Variety is the key.
Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.

5. Explore sentences using dependent clauses
A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.

6. Use the landscape
Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

7. Smarten up your protagonist
Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

8. Learn to write dialogue
This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.

9. Write in scenes
What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next. Make something happen.

10. Torture your protagonist
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.
Wish you lots of inspiration and every delight,

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New Year - New Book

Towards the end of last year I got to the end of the third draft of my second book. A short story collection called The Long Way Home. It's a follow up to my first novel, Holding Paradise, which will be published next year by Indigo Dreams.

I got quite a taste for writing short stories whilst on a Creative Writing course and it was a refreshing change writing The Long Way Home after the intensity of Holding Paradise.

The short story collection is now with one of my readers so I'm able to get back on the keyboard with my latest offering. A few posts back I told you that I had an idea gathering dust in the depths of my Word files and couldn't wait to get back to it. Enthusiastically I clicked "open file", read the opening chapters and felt really disconnected from the story. I was surprised by how uninspired I was by what I was reading. I'd been dreaming up scenes for that idea as I ran along the Grand Union Canal getting my three runs a week workout. But I really felt nothing.

But, as it's me, and never short of an idea brewing for some kind of story or other, this seemed to lay the way clear for a new something brewing on the back burner of my imagination. So off I started. New Year, new book idea.

The working title is Breakfast. But it's not about food. Promise. Had enough of that over Christmas.

Breakfast is a six degrees of separation type drama that takes place within one square mile of a local area. The main point of focus is a cafe bar (hence Breakfast, I suppose). As the players come together, lives will be influenced. Lives will be lost, found but changed in some way. I'm on my sick bed as I write this. Contracted a second winter bug and not best pleased. But at least I've got Breakfast in bed.

Happy 2013 and a Happy Year of writing to you all!