I was having a conversation with someone the other day and we touched on the difficulty and the process of writing a novel. He asked about the amount of information needed and hinted on it being very difficult. Also he commented on how my spelling and grammar is not the best.
These are two very good points and it got me thinking. The process of writing a hundred thousand words plus novel is probably the most complex and complicated thing I have ever done.
It’s not just the start, middle and end thing but the main story ark and all the small story arks within them. Each novel has chapters that must have a protagonist and an antagonist. They must have intrinsic and extrinsic conflict with them selves and each other. Maybe even with many other characters as well. The chapter has to have a start middle and end, each chapter has to have scenes and those scenes have to have a start middle and end. This rule applies to the pages and the paragraph. Even each and every sentence has to have a purpose. If it has no purpose then it has no right being in the book.
Also the characters have to have profiles, people don’t realise that even though we writers don’t put the past twenty years of a characters life in the novel, they do have a life before the story. Thats each character has a whole book inside my head already. They have lived and had good and bad times before strolling into what ever situation that my storyline has given them.
Each novel has at least three main threads to it. And many more minor threads through out. And thats just the one I’m currently working on. I don’t know about other writers but I have one finished and thirteen unfinished novels and many more short Stories floating around my head at any one time.
All this is inside my head. Maybe I should say sorry for the times when I’m a bit forgetful or distracted. I have good reasons but I promise there not excuses.
As for spelling and grammar all I can say is if you ask a builder to build you a house he will get the bricks (for a writer his brick are the words) and place them all in order following a predesigned plan. The architect would have spent many hours and days drawing out his vision of a building and the builder puts this together. As a writer I don’t pretend to be a good builder but I’m a good architect. I can design the book and work on all the plot lines and all story arks, character profiles. But I may need a little help at time to put it together at the end. Please don’t forget the creativity and passion that I have poured into my prose. For my head is full of many lives, young, old, thin, and fat, Human, animal and alien alike. I have whole civilisations being created and being destroyed in my head. To say a writers mind is a busy mind is probably one of the most understated comments ever made.
I feel I must warn you, if your not a writer maybe this blog post is not for you. You may get something from what Im going to write but writers will appreciate it that much more.
Rejection is a writers burden to bear. We all suffer rejection in our lives. We can go to work and feel a certain amount of rejection each and every day. Only it’s short lived and often we brush it off as wit or someone being funny at your expense. And I say, so what, I probably do it to others as much as others do it to me. Life goes on. Only as a writer I feel our rejection can go a little further.
In most professions of art there seems to be a tough road that we must follow. A road of loss and pain which all the greats have walked down. some of the most famous being Vincent van Gogh and Goya and a more modern day star Amy Winehouse this is to name just a few of many. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not alining myself up with the likes of the above, just showing that great art seem to come from people that have had great pain.
So rejection plays a part in creating the art, and my art is writing. I have lost much in my life. More than some and not as much as many. When I look round at my fellow man and woman I see people who don’t see the world as I do, they move through their life with eyes closed and hear nothing of its beautiful sounds.
When I receive a rejection letter from an agent or a publisher it hurts. If you say it didn’t then you are fooling yourself and if that’s how you cope with rejection, then fine fool away. Only it doesn’t stop there, it took me over five years to write my first novel. And the one I’m on now I have been writing for a year already. I work full time and have a young family so time is my enemy and I just don’t have enough of it.
People can without knowing it reject us sensitive writer types simply by being nice.
You know when you meet someone for the first time and tell them your a writer is goes something like this-
You tell them your a writer, they think it’s great and tell you how they have a good idea and begin to share it with you. Then you try to explain that good ideas are plentiful and its not the idea that makes a writer but the commitment. They look blanked at you and ask you what your book is about. You reply with a fumbled pitch that takes all credibility from you which leaves them thinking your a fraud.
Now weeks go by and they will eventually ask how the book is going you say it’s coming great and go it to a boring rant about the currant plot because you feel they are truly interested and not just being nice. Then when you notice there face you stop and it’s many months before that person ask about your book. After a year( or maybe two) they ask again and are surprised when you still have the excitement you had before. But still you will manage to bore them and they will walk away thinking how can someone commite so much time into something that will amount to nothing.
And that’s the difference between a want to be writer and a writer. What we do is hard, each and every time someone asks how the book is it’s a kind of small rejection in its self. (That’s unless you answer is it’s published! Here have a complimentary copy.) All they do is remind you how slow and bad you are, but and this is a but with a smile on my face. If you want to be good you have to go through all this rejection.
It builds good writing.
You will only find your style through writing many hundreds of thousands of words. Not till then will it be you and you will be good.
So when the next person asks you how’s the book coming, tell them it’s coming fine and thanks for asking. If they ask what’s it about? And this is the hard part that I fail to do so often. Tell them sorry but you have decided to not tell anyone about the book until you have finished. Then talk about the weather or there new house or the next new smart phone.
then when they hear about your book its the first time and its complete. You are free to talk about all the characters and plot turns because they have read it.
ps, This advice is manly directed at me, I am a failure when it come to following these simple rules. But I will make the extra effort and not keep going on about my books that is until I have finished then i will not shut up.
Please comment as Im always happy to receive them.
Wow September the 8th, I get to this part of the year and it brings to mind that the year is about to enter its fourth and final quarter.
My birthday is in just over a week on the seventeenth and although this once filled me with wishes and expectation when I was younger, it now makes me look back on the last twelve months and take account of what goals I have made. What I have accomplished and even more so, what I have not accomplished in the last year.
For one, I said I would have sent my manuscript out to an agent. And buy and large I suppose I did, only it keeps coming back complete with rejection letters. I wanted to start a new novel, Not a sci-fi but a crime thriller, and that is on its way. I’m at least a third of my way to finishing the first draft. I’m very excited about this one. Its fast and gritty, with honest characters that are filled with many conflicting values and principals. Its great to write about bad guy turned good and god guy turned bad. They say the secret to a good book is conflict, and inner conflict is even better it is also a great motivator.
Its no secret that I’m a great sci-fi fan but the crime thriller genre is a page turner for sure.
The novel’s called, “The Promise” it follows a father and a promise he made to his wife sixteen years earlier. He is bad guy turned good. The only thing is a bad life has a habit of coming back, wanting its flesh even when you have no more to give. The promise he makes is about his daughter who has just turned sixteen. She has no idea what her father once was, where he made the money they live by today. How will she cope with the idea of living off blood money?
I really do love this one, and I hope so will the agents and publishes when its finished.
In the mean time my other novel “Purple” is still out there awaiting representation so any up and coming agents fancy a read and I haven’t sent it you then please don’t be shy.
A friend of mine was on his annual holiday and by chance bumped into an agent at a hotel bar. The conversation moved on to my friend telling her that he knew someone who was trying to get published. (Thats me he is talking about, incase you were wondering.) She told my friend the same as every writer out there knows. They have many thousands of query letters and synopsis per month and it all starts with the query letter, if thats ok then its the synopsis and if their still reading then its the first fifty pages or so and if you are still in the running, then they request the full manuscript. And even then you are likely to be rejected. Its a numbers game, a mood game. For instance if the agent had a bad night and had had enough of sci-fi then the next sci-fi novel would not get past the query stage.
In the end you can have the best query in the world and a synopsis that would bring tears of joy to the eyes. A manuscript that any full time author would give his right eye for. Your query can still be binned at the first glance.
I try not to take this as a negative but to reassure myself that if I keep sending them out and keep writing more, then one day it will be my manuscript that the agent see’s, and that day they were looking for a manuscript just like mine.
I have made big improvements in my personal life, finically and emotionally. I look forward to what I have to come in this next year, who knows what may come.
Some writers only write science fiction novels, others romance and poems. Some only write non-fiction such as technical manuals on boats and cars. Some focus only on one genre and others on many.I think that when starting out like myself, we can get drawn into writing only what we know. But I believe we grow through what we write. We explore our selves while learning about others, discovering how people think. Interact with many and ask questions to even more. I know this is true because I’m like a child when first meeting someone with a different take on life. I just cannot stop asking questions.
So when it comes to genres, well I want to try them all. So far I have wrote a science fiction novel and a supernatural thriller. I am working on a crime thriller now. I have enjoyed writing every one and hope to write many more. With the books making the rounds i.e. The Shades of Grey Trilogy, I’m thinking of having a go at romance. As I see it, I’m just widening my writing horizons every time I write in a different genre. So lets not pigeon hole ourselves and write free.
Sometimes I think we can get so court up in the big full-on relationships of ours characters that it is possible to lose sight of the whole picture.
We are told that when developing characters that we should make a personal profile, by giving each and every character there own back story. Basically a life before the plot. This is to give us (The writer) the ability to write from their (The character) life experience. Now this is good as long as you keep the exercise to the point of view characters. I say this because when I first started writing in a more than caesural manor, it was this that through me the most. Know one has ever told me that the least important the character, the less back story you need to create. Making a full and colourful life for all your characters will be fun, but I’m not sure if its necessary. To be clear I’m not the kind of writer that writes a full profile on any of my characters. I make them in my head and they stay in there. I was asked to explain this once and my explanation spooked me as much as it did the person asking. They said ‘How do you make these people up?’ my response was a few moments of fumbled thought and a few scratches of the head, then. ‘Its like there is a small room in the back of my head, where there are many little people. (I mean little people in my head) They kind of listen to what I want and when I’m stuck I hand over to them. They then spend what ever amount of time is necessary to make things work. I can be washing the car or cooking the tea but when they have finished working with the plot or character problems. I get an alert that things are ready to move. This normally comes in the form of that magic called inspiration. I stop what I’m doing and go find my laptop.’ Now the weird thing is that in my imagination this is what happens, a group of people live in my head waiting to help me when I am stuck on plot or character. Snapping into action when required.
Am I schizophrenic? I think not, I just have a good imagination. When you look at your own life and the complex relationships that are held there, you may see a kind of scale. First there is your close and most important relationship, your wife, husband, partner. These are the ones you know most. Then there are siblings, uncles, aunts, friends, work colleague and so on, the list goes on. What we have to remember is that when we interact with these people in the real world, we do so on a much different scale. Some people don’t get on with their mother or father. Some cannot be in the same room with there brother or sister. Some people place friendship far above the family connections.
Also if you give yourself such strict guides as character mapping, you can take the ability for a character to be lied to, or be manipulated by another, because you know too much about them. In life we fight to see the genuine within people but get it wrong more times than any of us would like to admit. By mapping every character I think its possible to take that ability away from your characters and make them a bit predictable. I would be very interested in your view on this, as I find characters fascinating and think its this that drives me to write.
Every now and then someone will ask me for advice or my opinion on something they have written. And I am happy to do so. With the caveat that I am a new writer myself and my advice is that of a new writer. You could ask why am I giving advice out in the first place. And that would be a question I ask myself each and every time. (Luckily I don’t do it often.)
I think we all learn and grow with many personal variations and tangents. That said I also believe that we are all the same and we follow a curve of learning that is quite unbending and unforgiving. With the odd exception we all learn the same way. Some are faster than others but the curve is the same.
We start at A and continue through to B and C finishing eventually at Z. If we live long enough to reach Z that is. Remember time is very real and we take as long as we have.
If I traveled back in time to talk to Shakespeare at the end of his life, I would ask ‘Have you learnt everything you need to know about writing?’ I bet his answer would be, ‘no’
You could do this to all the greats in all the fields of art and you would (with the odd exception) get the same answer.
So when I say I’m a beginner writer, I suppose I’m saying I have started my journey and except that I will never finish it, but isn’t the joy, in doing not finishing. Don’t you get the most smiles and satisfaction at the point when you have figured out the plot twist you have been waiting for. When you know your eventual reader will want to know more, but not why they want to know more.
I enjoy writing one word in front of another and seeing what happens. This all happens in the first draft, the rest is polishing or improving the work, bring it it up to standard. But the creative bit has been done.
So my advice to all that write is, to enjoy your muse, your inspiration. It’s what makes art, well art. If your rolling between the sheets with the long haired bottle of inspiration. (my muse has long hair and is female for that matter.) Lock the editor away in the box room or a small wardrobe for now. And enjoy the muse. She likes to feel special you know.
I’m trying to work out what the problem is with getting words on the page. It’s like I have thousands of words in my mind but when I start to write I get tripped up on the smallest of things. I can see where I want the characters in my book to go but when my fingers hover over the key board, I stall. It’s like someone has put a sheet over my head and I can just make out the details through the fabric, but only if I concentrate.
If I get up to put the kettle on for a drink or leave to do something simple like stretch my back. Then Wham, the sheet is lifted off my head and I see it all again. As soon as I sit my but down in the chair, then down comes the sheet. It would be fantastic if I could plug my mind into the computer, I would finish a novel a day.
I remember reading somewhere that writing a novel is like holding a hammer and chisel.
Before you is the complete story, but it’s encased in solid stone. Its my job as a writer to chip away slowly and mithodickly, uncovering the story that’s held within the stone. Always being careful not to damage the treasure inside.
I think that sometimes my arm is just too tired to Weald that hammer. maybe a day off is needed.