Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Fiction Writing: Plotting Versus Pants-ing

When it comes to writing novels, according to what I’ve read, and from what I've gathered from my own experience, there are essentially two approaches: the first is to plot your novel from the get go, i.e. create a plot overview, indicating the three acts and the chapters and scenes that will compromise them; the second is to write intuitively, by the seat of your pants as it were.

This is not to say that you can’t do both, but I think writers tend to do more of one than the other. I would say I fall into the second camp. Or at least I always had. With the short stories and novels I’ve previously written I usually had no idea where they were going from one writing session to the next. This has not really been a problem, except that I’ve had to make sure I have a pen and note book handy on the bedside table to make the connections between strands of character development and plot, when they come to me at two o’clock in the morning. As a matter of fact this approach worked very well with Leaving Town because of the nature (stream of consciousness) and genre (literary) of the novel.

However, I am now almost thirty thousand words into the first draft of a thriller (my first) and I’m sensing I’m rapidly wearing out the seat of my pants. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure if I don’t do some overview plotting soon my boxers are going to be on public display.

As what I’ve written previously have tended to be more literary stories, I’m now realizing that genre affects the approach you take to the work, or at least determines which approach is more likely to bring results (completion) in a reasonable time frame.

So whether you are a plotter, or a seat-of-your-pants-writer, I wish you luck. And suggest that at some point, particularly if you experiment with other genres, you might need to play for the other team. Even if it’s just off the bench (for the unsure this is football parlance, as in Barcelona FC, for a short period of time.)

Keep writing.

Monday, 18 July 2011

On Fiction Writing (and Reading)

Stephen King, in his excellent book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, talks about the importance of reading for an author. Specifically, he makes the point that if you want to write, you can't afford not to read. And, he offers a suggested reading list near the end of the book. What struck me when I first scanned this list was the variety of novels included.

It seems that a varied diet of reading matter is as important to an author as a regular (preferably daily) routine of putting pen to paper (or finger tips to keypad). Having spent a number of years collecting books about writing, I have noticed this point is made in many of them. And over the years a number of writers I have spoken to, or heard speak, have also mentioned the importance of reading.

If you are reading this and thinking that's pretty obvious, I agree, but I think that what's not so obvious, initially, is that reading as writer is somewhat different to reading purely as a reader—or it should be.

For a start, as a writer when you read, you need to be analysing, or at least taking into account, the way the writer has used language to take you on a journey. You need to ask questions: How have they have used the building blocks of fiction: words (especially nouns and verbs) and sentences (simple, complex, compound, fragments)? What decisions have they made regarding choices of setting, narrative voice (or narrative point of view), character construction and development, story and plot development, and style (including use of simile and metaphor)? What are the effects of these elements individually and collectively?

The writer’s decisions determine the quality and nature of your journey as a reader. And so it will be with the choices we make, so we need to be sure our choices are informed.

So read, read, read…

And keep writing.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Fiction Writer's Doubts

I recently had a conversation with a writer friend, who is working on his second novel. His first, a YA novel, was published a couple of years ago and has done well. Both in terms of sales and critical appraisals. He was very honest and told me he was losing confidence in his ability to complete his next book. And, he wondered, if the first one had been just a ‘fluke’.

I reminded him of what he’d achieved with his previous effort and tried to encourage him. Ultimately I’m sure he’ll get past this patch and write another great book. But what struck me was the crushing self doubt he was feeling.  

Even though I’ve read about ‘second book syndrome’ I'd thought that sort of doubt in your ability to 'just finish the thing...' was an affliction of the yet-to-be-published-debut-novelist (i.e. me), and that when you'd had some success in terms of getting a book out there, a lot of that doubt would lift like morning mist.

But not so.

Maybe self doubt goes hand in hand with writing. With any thing that involves putting yourself out there. And maybe that’s a part of what makes it so hard, and ultimately, so rewarding.

And maybe, it’s out of that conflict between self doubt and self belief that the whispers of creativity come.


Keep writing.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Why Blog When I Could Write Short Stories or Novels?

One of the reasons I was reluctant to start a blog, was that I thought, it's taken me this long (never mind exactly how long) to get serious about my writing, and, if I divert my energy into something else now, like a blog, I may find myself naval gazing online, instead of working on my manuscript.

But at this point I think setting up this blog about my journey as a writer, and hopefully helping you a little bit with yours, has had the opposite effect. And, I feel as if I'm actually taking another step in convincing myself that I'm serious about this path I have chosen. I think putting our goals and dreams out there, where they can be buffeted and damaged, is the only way (we and) they build strength, resilience and momentum.

I have a friend who at the age of seventy six recently got her first piece published—she's thrilled and now thinking about starting work on her first novel. Seeing her writing in print for the first time has given her the confidence to move forward.

And moving forward only takes little steps. One after another.

Keep writing.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Fiction Writer's First Post


And welcome. This is my first post. On this, my first blog. Which I’ve set up to chronicle my journey as a writer.

Already, over the course of the last two years (the period of time of time its taken me to complete my first novel—I’ve attempted three, but only one is at the point where it’s ready for submission), I've learnt a lot: from ways of improving and developing my writing, to information on finding and approaching literary agents, and writing an effective synopsis.

My other motivation for setting up this blog is to provide information and encouragement (two necessities for an emerging writer, along with discipline, commitment and self belief) to others who also dream of sharing their stories with the world. In future, I plan to add links to sites I've found helpful, share quotes I've found inspiring, and give updates on my own writing progress.

And I’ll try to share something useful (that I’ve found useful anyway) each post.

The first nugget of wisdom is to write as often as you can, preferably everyday. Even if you just keep a diary, as I did for many years, at least you’re building up those writing muscles. After all, you wouldn’t get off the couch after years of imitating a sloth and attempt to run a marathon, which is the sporting equivalent of writing a novel.  

Keep writing.