So you want to be a writer – Just Do It

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Just Do It…

Part One

Getting started as a writer

Do you fancy being a writer of fiction? Have you got the new
notebook and pen – or do you have a new, but empty, folder labelled My Writing on your computer? Do you have
a few ideas of what you might write? Are you finding it impossible to get
started?

Procrastination – the old, obstructive enemy of even the
most experienced author. It might present itself as the devil on the shoulder,
taunting the writer with jibes about lack of ability and about wasting time.
Or, wily enemy that it is, it will often portray itself as a concerned friend.
It will respectfully present other priorities more deserving of the writer’s
time. Or it will insist that the writer is too tired to take up a pen or sit at
a screen. It will soothe the self-doubter, saying don’t put yourself through
this painful process – it’s not worth it – all that rejection and
misunderstanding.

I am a recovering procrastinator and my experience is proof
that even the most naive novice writer can beat the ‘P’ word.

I have wanted to be a ‘proper’ writer since I was at school.
I am now in my fifties – and it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve taken it
seriously. It’s true, I’ve always kept a diary and I’ve also written travel
journals about time spent in the Middle East, Africa and Australia. But it
wasn’t until 2000 that I began to write in a truly creative, imaginative and
sustained way.

Why did it take me so long? Well, you see, I had such a busy
life – professionally, and as a wife and mother – and, besides, ordinary people
like me couldn’t be writers, could they? It would be pretentious, delusional, and
ridiculous to even try.

But as the new century began, I kicked the procrastination
demon into touch. For me it was a brush with mortality that presented the now
or never ultimatum. Putting things off till tomorrow was no longer an option.
Yes, all very dramatic, I know, – but like Fay Weldon said recently in a radio
interview – too many people live as if they’re immortal. She didn’t mean we should
be morbid, but we should seize the day.

If you want to write, just get on and do it. Cliché warningthe longest journeys begin with a small step – cliché, but true. Therefore
if you’re contemplating starting out, start simple. Write a letter, a diary
entry, a short story, a first chapter.

Build writing into your day – like the gym session, the
meeting with friends, the dental appointment – find the time, even if it’s only
half an hour a day, or a week, or a month – and put it in the diary. Keep the
appointment with your muse and enjoy it.

And keep at it. Set about improving. There are various ways
to go about this. You could take a writing course, read a writing manual,
subscribe to a writing magazine, join a writers’ group – real or online.  I did all of these and all were helpful in
different ways.  Three specific things
worked especially well for me. Attending an Arvon Foundation residential
writing course got me started. My development as a writer continued when I
joined http://www.youwriteon.com .   Joining this online community led to
significant improvements in my writing and I now have a group of trusted
writing buddies as a result. And the deadlines provided by entering writing
competitions gave me goals to aim for and kept the indulgence in displacement
activities to a minimum.

Ten years on, I’ve completed one novel for adults and am
writing a second. I also have an outline for a children’s novel and I’ve won
several prizes. Although I’d explode with delight if it became possible to do
so, writing is not how I earn my living. I have a rewarding and demanding day
job and writing is how I spend my me-time.

Procrastination is no longer a problem because I can’t
imagine my life without writing.

It’s an escape, it’s
therapy, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating, it’s addictive. My only regret is that
I didn’t take it up sooner.

So, if you’re attracted to writing as a hobby – go for it. Kick
the ass of procrastination

Feel the fear, carpe diem and do it. Above all – enjoy!

In subsequent posts
I’ll be offering advice, in my exalted capacity as an expert novice, on
characterisation, plotting, settings – and anything else that I can think of
that I’ve learned that might be of use to complete novice writers of fiction.   

When the Muse Downs Tools Mid-Shift

The Muse
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System failure? No Signal? Use the Down Time.

You’re working on your latest novel. The plot, characters and setting are all worked out. Voice and atmosphere are established. It’s all flowing well – until that is, something causes the whole process to seize. It’s the equivalent of the blue computer screen or the ‘no service’ message on your mobile phone.

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It’s not writers’ block. You’ve still got ideas and motivation, but something is jamming the transmission from brain to page. The inbox is full but you can’t retrieve any of it.

It was a fellow writer, Cathryn Louis, whom I met on Twitter, who posed the problem. Cathryn (@CathrynLouis)  http://www.cathrynlouis.com made a plea, via twee,t for advice as to what to do when her ideas vanished  mid-sentence whilst working on her novel.

And round about the same time, another writer and Twitter friend Nettie Thomson, (@NettieWriter) http://nettiethomson.com  put a post on her blog about ideas being like buses, i.e. all arriving at once after a long time of no-show. Nettie pointed out that it’s often the case that when you’re busy working on one project, ideas for several other pieces start to appear. Now while this is inconvenient and distracting, I suspect the phenomenon can be used to solve the sudden signal failure problem.

When you experience a loss of service, you need to divert your brainwaves elsewhere. Leave your subconscious to ponder away on the work-in-progress. Trick your brain by being busy doing other writing stuff, or, even – gasp – non-writing stuff.

Such as:

  • Write a piece of flash fiction. This is sprint rather than a marathon and is good cross-training for a novelist. Pick something you can see as your stimulus – the scissors on your desk, the desk itself, your footwear, an ornament on the shelf – anything… Set your word/time limit and go.
  • Write an opening chapter or short story in a genre you wouldn’t normally work in. So if you’re a writer of romantic fiction, try sci-fi for example.
  • Write a letter to a loved one – alive or dead – telling them what they mean to you.
  • Write a review of the last book you read
  • Write down your earliest memory – use all your senses to recall the time – perhaps write it as a poem
  • Go for a long, hot bath.
  • Go for a walk or a run or a swim
  • Dig the garden
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate

The above is far from being a comprehensive list, but I hope you get the idea. AND the above is NOT procrastination. You are a writer all the time – even when you’re not actually writing. Don’t beat yourself up when you take timeout from the work-in-progress.

Let your creative processors do their maintenance and updates without intervention or force from you. You’ll only cause a complete crash if you don’t. And total writers’ block may well ensue.

When it’s ready your system will reboot and you should gain access to all your files again. And in the meantime you can enjoy a spell of letting go and letting be.

Christopher Al- Aswad Award Winner

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The first ever winner of the Christopher Al- Aswad prize has just been announced. This annual award was set up by Dan Holloway at Eight Cuts http://eightcuts.wordpress.com and it is intended to honour and commemorate the life of a very special young man who died in July this year, aged just 31. Christopher set up Escape Into Life  a community where barriers in the arts and literature could be broken down. He was a visionary artist and writer. You can read the beautiful tribute to him on the Escape Into Life site. Make sure to read his poem ‘The Pleasures are Fleeting’ – heartbreaking and heartlifting.  And apart from reading the tribute, you’ll be able to see the poetry, pictures and collages created by the members and to read about the amazing Moleskine Project.

 The prize is “for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in literature and between literature and other arts.” And the inaugural winner is – Johanna Harness, the founder of #amwriting.

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Johanna describes #amwriting as an ongoing chat amongst a community of writers who care about one another. She likens it to a water-cooler. It’s a gathering place where writers can pop in and out during their writing day. There they can say what they’re writing or share concerns, blocks and queries about the writing process. It’s reckoned there are more than 2000 writers using the #amwriting tag.

But there’s more to the concept than the hashtag on Twitter. There’s a website http://www.amwriters.com On the site, besides an Amazon linked #amwriters store, there’s also the opportunity to view and apply for listing in the #amwriting directory.

Johanna is, of course, a writer herself and she also has a new writing blog (begun in June this year) at http://johannaharness.com/blog    Here you can read about her own writing – as an author of YA and flash fiction.

So, what are the barriers that #amwriting seeks to breakdown?

Well  – they may be barriers of the writers’ own making – writing so often involves self-imposed exile and a siege mentality. The solitude required by writers can be a blessing when the mood and motivation are high, but it can also leave room for self-doubt and feelings of isolation. Having a staff room of supportive colleagues to check into is something to be cherished.

The barriers may be between writers – we can be a bit of a precious bunch, can’t we – defending our own areas whilst dismissing those of others? The genre writers versus the literary, fiction or non, prose versus poetry, shorts or novels, traditionally published as opposed to independent, journalist or academic – we like everyone safely boxed in. We can be overly judgemental and hyper-critical – of ourselves and others. And, as for those who won’t/can’t be pigeon-holed – artists who write, writers who make films, poets who write music…The #amwriting mentality has no truck with any of that – if you write – you’re a writer.

On the other hand the barriers may be between writers and their audience. We need to get our work ‘out there’. We need a network and we need outlets. The #amwriting community provides that too – the directory, the store, the support.

 And in case you’re not convinced about Johanna’s axe-wielding powers – I’ll let her words speak for themselves…

‘I don’t care if you write fiction or non-fiction, if you’re pre-published or published, if you’re traditionally or independently published, If you’re non-agented or agented, if you’re a blogger or a novelist or a reporter or a business writer.  *Pausing here to gasp for air*  I don’t care what you write or how you write it. I don’t care if you’re a planner or a pantster. I don’t care how much formal education you’ve completed. I don’t care how old you are or how long you’ve been writing, if you’re a newbie or a sage.  You don’t have to prove your credentials to be included.  You do, however, have to show up and write alongside other writers on twitter.  You have to say, “Here I am. I’m writing too.”  -And we say “welcome.”  That’s all there is.  It’s what we do.’

All the best and Slàinte Mhath to Johanna – and to all present and future members of #amwriting.

P.S. Johanna tells me she has plans to further develop #amwriting during the next year and she has agreed to do a guest blog here at Write Enough in December.

So You Want to be a Writer – Five Steps to Writing Heaven

First draft is just the beginning

1. So you’ve decided to be a writer of novels. You’ve maybe taken a class or a course. You’ve read a couple of  ‘how to’ manuals. You have an idea for a story. You understand about ‘character’,’ plotting’,’ setting’  ‘point of view’ and ‘voice’. You go for it and over weeks, months, years you get the story written. You write ‘The End’ and put it away for a month or so to let it ‘drain’ or ‘simmer’ – (pick your metaphor). 

2. Then you retrieve it. You share it with other writers, get feedback – and on this point I can’t recommend highly enough having one or two writing buddies. That is other writers with whom you have a mutually supportive, but above all honest relationship – people who will tell you painful truths like ‘get rid of that character, that plotline – they stink!’ Or who will push you to extend yourself when you need it and who will praise and encourage you when you deserve it. 

3. And finally you revise, redraft and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.  And now it’s ready to submit to agents and publishers, right? 

4. WRONG! Please, please consider getting your manuscript professionally edited. Word of mouth recommendation is best – as with most things – but if you can’t make contact that way, then there are professional bodies for editors  – in the UK the SfEP website http://www.sfep.org.uk/ is a good starting point – and they are worth investigating. Yes it costs money BUT you should see it as an investment – in yourself and in your writing. I can personally recommend my own editor, John Hudspith,  http://www.johnhudspith.co.uk  who also happens to be an excellent teacher of writing. 

5. THEN – take the editorial advice and rewrite AGAIN. Now you might just might be ready to seek publication.  

There are a lot of  ‘how to’ manuals out there – I list several on the ‘Writing’ page of this blog – but one of the best – if not the best – that I’ve discovered so far is one first published in 1934 – and still in print and that’s Dorothea Brande‘s book ‘Becoming a Writer’. 

See you in Nirvana aka on the bookshop shelf… 

The 3rd most beautiful bookshop of the world!
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Half Birthday

Six months now since ‘Change of Life’ was published. It hasn’t quite made it into the bestsellers  – I know! – How can that be? 🙂

Joking apart – I won’t know until the autumn how many copies have been sold, but it’s not about that – honestly it’s not!

It’s been great fun – seeing it in bookshops and on Amazon and getting lots of lovely positive feedback from readers – some of them haven’t even been friends or family. One of the most pleasing ‘crits’ was from the manager of a branch of Waterstones who got in touch to say how much she’d enjoyed it and that it was going on the shop’s recommended summer reads table. Cool or what?! And it’s lovely when people ask me to sign their copies or say that they’ve recommended it to others.

Mind you, not everyone is treasuring their copy or seeing it as a potential investment. The book has been spotted  in a local charity shop. I’m not sure whether to be miffed of chuffed – I mean recycling it is better than binning it isn’t it? Yeah, the donor probably enjoyed it so much that they wanted to share that joy…

I keep a copy on my desk and sometimes pick it up and stroke it or read a page at random just to remind myself that ‘I did this!’ Having it nearby when I’m writing helps to spur me on when the going gets tough with novel two.

So not a bestseller but I reckon it’s still something to be proud of – and if you bought a copy – thank you.