A regular writing habit

Your menu for March: My blog  follows on from the quote about writing every day; I’ve had a query about writing a synopsis; there are ten new writing prompts to try,  two more book recommendations and an article on the use and misuse of Sentence Fragments. 

Do you write every day? It doesn’t have to be a thousand words on your latest project! Although if it is, that novel will get written so much more quickly! And I don’t think Jane Yolen means that e-mail to your bank manager or the shopping list. But writing something connected with creative writing every day is a very good habit to get into.

            There’s a theory that to be good at anything creative or athletic, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice before really succeeding*. Using very rough maths, let’s say you’ve been writing for 30 years: that works out at one hour a day for every day of those thirty years (with perhaps a few days’ break). Doesn’t sound a lot, does it? But can you remember when you last devoted a whole solid hour to your writing?

            So often, particularly recently, my writing time gets divided into 10- or 20-minute bursts which isn’t great for continuity or flow. And I’m sure you all, with family and work responsibilities, can say you’ve been there.

            But I am certainly in agreement with that well-worn cliché practice makes perfect.

I’ve been running creative writing classes for the past 17 years and I can definitely say that I’ve seen a huge difference between those who do the weekly exercises, go in for competitions and are forever working on a writing project, and those who do sporadic bits of homework because they “just don’t have the time.”

            What it comes down to, I believe, is your desire. It really is no use saying you want to write a novel if you don’t put in the work on a regular basis. And by work, I don’t necessarily mean Hemingway’s 500 words a day. Brainstorming an idea; creating your plot points; character profiling; researching; blogging; all are areas of creative writing that will build up your skills over the days, months and years. Just like an elite athlete. Practice makes perfect.

Some authors who wrote every day: 

Arthur Conan Doyle     3000    “Anything is better than stagnation.”

Frederick Forsyth        3000    “12 pages a day, 3,000 words, 7 days a week. But it’s the research that takes the time. And yes, I have to force myself to write. Sounds ungrateful, I know.”

Graham Greene            500    “I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done, I break off, even in the middle of a scene.”

Ian McEwan                  600 “I am writing 600 a day and hope for at least a 1000 when I’m on a roll.”

Lee Child                     1800    “I write in the afternoon from about 12 until 6 or 7.”

Barbara Kingsolver     1000    “I wake early with words flooding into my brain. It’s a relief to get to the keyboard and dump them out.”

Happy Writing!

Linda

*That theory came from Anders Ericsson, a professor at the University of Colorado, who wrote a paper called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. His research was based on the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin who had studied violinists.

Inspiration – where does it come from?

February already! And how are the New Year Resolutions coming on?

Hopefully I can offer some help for this month: my blog below had ideas to get you inspired; the writing article is about suspense; my travel article introduces you to some feathered friends; there are 15 writing prompts plus three new competitions for you to try. Have a good month.

Some writers I know have so many ideas, they don’t know which one to concentrate on. Others are constantly asking what they should write about. We’re all different and we’re all inspired by different things.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For me, it’s largely places, particularly those with historical associations. I wander around castles, towns and villages thinking about the people who lived there. I can remember being particularly affected when visiting the incredible Roman amphitheatre at El Djem in Tunisia. Below the arena are the tunnels where the gladiators, prisoners and slaves waited before going to meet their fate. Just touching the walls they had touched was such an incredible feeling.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For others, it can be meeting a person or over-hearing a snatch of conversation or something from a dream. Taking a walk seems to be a popular way of getting your writing going: you’re away from your regular, domestic environment and suddenly an idea pops into your head.

In my classes, I frequently use picture prompts. (I think I mentioned the snooker-playing nun not so long ago.) And on one occasion last year, I gave one of my groups a selection of people-based pictures, all from different countries. I wanted to get them out of their comfort zone. Instead of basing their stories on their home environment, or a family similar to their own, with their own problems and conflicts, I asked them to do a bit of research about the people and the place they had chosen. Not too much, I stressed. Just a quick Internet search, I suggested, primarily to find appropriate names for their characters and a realistic conflict for that particular place.

And what a wonderful collection of stories they produced! Surviving an earthquake in Nepal; a girl defying her culture to become a Japanese cabaret dancer; elderly Mexicans waiting for a drug dealer; boys left in the rubble of the Amritsar riots; a rhino attack in Kenya; a miracle worker in South Africa and an honourable woman in Thailand. These will all be going in that group’s next anthology.

Then there’s another writer I know who’s taking part in a project where she was asked to write a story based on one painting from a particular artist’s collection. She researched the time and the place, created a wonderful character and made it all the more real by using just a taste of the local dialect. Wonderful!

Another writer finds she gets ideas when she’s doing laps in the local swimming pool: she’s created a whole new fantasy world, populated by mermaids and mermen – perfect!

My men writing friends are just as creative: one is writing a series of amusing stories about the cars he has owned; another is writing a book about a group of ramblers – not that his walking friends will recognise themselves! and another is researching the civil war in search of a character.

As I say, everyone has their own sources of inspiration. But you can always try others. Go on, take a chance, move outside your comfort zone, do some research and who knows what ideas may emerge.

Happy Writing!

Linda

January 2017 New Year blog

To resolute or not?

I am usually great at making New Year Resolutions. I like targets, with dates, to get me going and keep me on track. I like challenging myself (like NaNoWriMo – just the once!) and celebrating when the challenge is met.new-years-resolution-clip.png          This year? I’m not so sure. Daily, weekly and monthly writing targets I can cope with – achieving some, falling a bit short once in a while when Life gets in the way. But bigger, long-term targets I’m finding harder, especially when they involve co-operation and involvement from others.          For example, I’ve been trying to get an agent for my historical novel for the past two years.

  • How long do I carry on?
  • Do I do more editing on it?
  • Do I change the first chapter yet again?
  • Do I find yet another title?
  • Do I scroll through the Writers and Artists Yearbook again?
  • Do I carry on writing the sequel?

    Friends who have read the book say they are really looking forward to another – they want to know what happens to the characters they met and loved in the first book.

There are options, of course. I can remind myself that 16 literary agencies and 12 publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill before a small publishing house took it on; that J K Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury signed her and that Agatha Christie spent five years trying to find a publisher.          Then there’s self-publishing. The Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish 250 copies. It has now sold more than 45 million. I’ve started looking at the multitude of companies out there offering all sorts of help for all sorts of prices. I’ve seen and read many self-published books, some as good as any from a ‘big’ publisher, others that could at least have been spell-checked at the very least before being let loose on the public.          Whichever path I choose, I know it will involve a lot of time, effort and probably money. So my first resolution is to take a little more time before deciding on my major 2017 writing objectives! I’ll still set myself a deadline – the end of February. Until then, I shall carry on with daily writing, monthly blogging, my creative writing classes and my hobbies of painting, perfume and jewellery making. 2017 is certainly going to be busy!          But there’s one thing to do before setting new resolutions and that’s to take stock of what you achieved, writing-wise, in 2016. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What were your writing successes of the year? Don’t discount any achievement, however small. Entries into competitions (whatever the results); completing tasks set by local writing groups or classes; researching a new topic for a novel; trying a different genre; editing old stories; tidying your filing cabinet; starting a picture box. Make a list and see just what you DID achieve in 2016.
  • What were the biggest challenges to your writing during the year? Life will probably have got in the way at some point. But not finishing a project or getting stuck half-way through are problems that can be faced and solved in the New Year.

    So, start with your successes of 2016 and then you might get some ideas of resolutions for 2017. If you’d like to share them, please do – then we can encourage and motivate each other.

All the very best for 2017 and Happy Writing.Linda

A New Year and a New Page!

One of my writing friends suggested that she and fellow-writers might like to have a place to go to ask writing-related questions. Naturally these cannot be too specific to one person’s work but what one writer might be puzzling over, might well apply to others. So I’ve set up a new page and hope you’ll get in touch when you have a query. I’ve started with a few ideas about punctuation that several people have mentioned to me. Click here

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

December blog

December has just suddenly appeared and I know I’m late in posting this. My apologies. Life has just got in the way. This month my blog and writing article are combined – below; I’ve posted some writing prompts and new competition links, and I’ll try to add book recommendations and writing hints in the next few days.

            Most people have family responsibilities this time of year so writing does tend to take a bit of a back seat. Don’t worry about it. Just set some resolutions – five is a good number – once everything quietens down and I’ll be back in January with a new-look website and more ideas for the new Year.

Happy Writing!

Linda

The Writer’s Notebook

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s for my friends who give me notebooks at Christmas and birthdays. A writer can NEVER have too many notebooks. Really! I know I have a cupboardful already but the gift of a notebook, of any size, colour, design or style, ALWAYS makes me feel like writing.

            There’s something so special about being given a writer’s notebook: that ever so tiny crack as the book is opened for the first time and the spine is released; the smell of the pristine pages – like going into an old-fashioned bookshop! And then the thought of what I can use this particular notebook for – idle jottings, planning my latest project, research notes, ideas for my classes, the start of a blog, character profiles, overheard conversations, zig-zag plot lines……..

            I’m sure I’m not the only writer who finds it impossible to walk past any stationery counter – in supermarkets, department stores, pound shops and market stalls. I just can’t resist. I am drawn there “just to have a look” as I tell my shopping companion. But, inevitably, I end up with another notebook to take home, seduced by its stylish cover and empty pages.   

            Some notebooks just FEEL so good: ones with suede or leather covers; decorated with jewels and beads; embossed in gold. And ones that come from special places – from friends, writing buddies, holidays, days out.

            Don’t worry, I am in no way decrying the standard spiral-bound reporter’s notebook – how many of those have I filled over the years? If I see a bargain-priced pack, then that’s another addition to my over-flowing cupboard.

            There’s just one problem for me: writing something on the first page. I don’t want to spoil it. I know my handwriting’s deteriorated over the years and the first page is SO important. Do I use pencil, biro, fountain pen or roller-ball? What colour? Am I going to write sentences and paragraphs? Or will this be a book just for notes? And perhaps drawings?

            If I go to a workshop, class or seminar, I usually take a new notebook with me. The first few pages get used and the book is put away, waiting weeks or months before I look at it again and try to decipher my scribble, the occasional hieroglyph of shorthand plus personal abbreviations.

            I’ve tried other devices to make notes: different apps on my tablet and phone; and a whole variety of recording devices, from tiny palm-sized recorders to spy pens and watches. Most of the time I feel self-conscious.  I was once stopped as I walked and talked in a car park outside a hospital by someone who thought I was a doctor. Good disguise, I thought, for a future story.screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-10-37-41

            But nothing will ever replace the notebook for me. You may recognise some of the notebooks in the picture here, but please don’t think I have enough. Notebooks are just the best present ever for a writer.

            Many famous writers are known for their use of their notebooks:

  • Mark Twain had leather-bound notebooks made to his own design. Each page had a tab which he tore off when that page had been used so he could easily find the next blank page.
  • Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest advocates of the writer’s notebook, a habit he started whilst still at school. Later, he would sit in the cafes of Paris, often all day long, until inspiration struck. “I belong to this notebook and this pencil,” he wrote once.
  • Sue Townsend: “I’m spectacularly disorganised. I wrote my latest book in seven different notebooks scattered throughout my house.”
  • Quentin Tarantino: “My ritual is I never use a typewriter or computer. I just write it all by hand. It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationery store and buy a notebook and then fill it up.”
  • Possibly the most famous notebooks of all were written by Leonardo da Vinci. At first he wrote on loose sheets of paper, thousands of which are thought to be lost. But later he wrote in tiny leather-bound books that were tied to his belt, always at hand for his ideas, observations and drawings.
  • Will Self: “Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” 
  • J.K.Rowling: “The idea of just wandering off to a café with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for a while is just bliss.”
  • Hilary Mantel: “Insights don’t usually arrive at my desk, but go into notebooks when I’m on the move. Or half-asleep.”
  • Colm Tobin: “I write in longhand using disposable fountain pens on the right-hand side of the notebook for the first draft, then I rewrite some of the sentences and paragraphs on the left-hand side.”
  • Walt Whitman: “My little notebooks were beginnings – they were the ground into which I dropped the seed. I would work in this way when I was out in the crowds, then put the stuff together at home.”
  • Freya Stark: “A pen and a notebook and a reasonable amount of discrimination will change a journey from a mere annual into a perennial, its pleasures and pains renewable at will.”
  • A slight detour from Charles Palahniuk: “When I’m with people and somebody says a really fascinating anecdote, or fact, or phrase, I’ll write it on the inside of my arm. At the end of the day, I’ll take the very best things that are on my arm and I’ll copy them into a notebook that I always carry and only when the weather is absolutely terrible will I really key the very best of that notebook into the computer. At that point, it’s all sort of censored twice – only the best things go from the arm to the book and only the best things go from the book to the computer.”
  • And a writer who laments the advance of the digital age – Paul Theroux: “I can’t predict how reading habits will change. But I will say that the greatest loss is the paper archive – no more a great stack of manuscripts, letters and notebooks from a writer’s life. But only a tiny pile of disks, little plastic cookies where once were calligraphic marvels.”

 

Don’t bin it ….recycle!

Welcome to my November blog. My article this month is about starting your stories more dramatically – with action. There’s a new variety of prompts to get you going. And I’m recommending two books this month, both page-turners.

As I mentioned in last month’s blog, autumn seems to be a good time for new resolutions and a big tidy-up. So I’m quite pleased with myself that I’ve finally managed to sort, tidy and de-clutter all the files in my study. img_4363And before you tell me, I KNOW it’s a displacement activity from actually getting down to writing! But, now that it’s done, I’m so much happier to sit down at my desk in the morning and write, knowing that when I want to refer to something – books and brochures collected on holidays, newspaper articles from five years ago, handwritten notes of story ideas jotted down on anything at hand – I know exactly where I can find it.

It was certainly a revelation going through all my writing files. There were three boximg_4348 files of pictures alone – I’m a big fan of images prompting writing ideas but it’s probably time I dispensed with the snooker-playing nun that I inevitably produce for my creative writing classes. (But if you think it might help, here it is!)

Then there was the box entitled Writing Ideas: everything from newspaper stories that could make a Jodi Piccoult-type novel to snippets of overheard conversations in the supermarket queue.

I am one of those people who just HAS to buy a guidebook whenever I visit any stately home, museum, castle etc etc. I have boxes of them. But I spent a happy afternoon sitting on the floor remembering all the places I’ve been to.

And, inevitably, I came across the manuscript of my very first novel: started in the early 1970s on a TYPEWRITER on paper that is now much more than coffee-coloured. It was there, in a ring binder, together with all my research notes, some written in pencil that have faded to illegibility. That novel will probably never see the light of day again. I read through some of it and was alternately pleased and horrified. Some bits were quite good, but I felt like red-penning my way through all the point-of-view mistakes, the adjectives and adverbs and, I will admit, the clichés.

But throw it away? No, I can’t. 

That discovery led me to look at the very oldest files on my computer and again there was an abundance of short stories started but never finished, random paragraphs of ideas, exercises done on creative writing courses, some good, some not so good.

But I really believe that no writing is ever wasted. Some of those ideas might make it to a competition some time. That description could well find its way into my novel. And those exercises are definitely going to be recycled for my current classes.

The moral of this rambling – don’t throw any of your old writing away – it can be recycled.

A good writing friend has the perfect anecdote: she has just re-launched her first novel Girl in the Hat Shop. (Have a look at the Book recommendation page.) And this week on Facebook, she wrote: That scene that never found its way into the final draft? Who knew when I wrote those words (five years ago) that they’d become the first chapter of my next book? The message is don’t delete! Archive the best stuff. Nothing’s wasted.

 Happy writing!

Linda

ps Have you set up your own NaNoWriMo yet? You don’t have to join up to sign 1666 words a day! Set your own target, perhaps 250 words, for every day of November.