Tag Archives: how to write

Finished – for now

I wrote two very special words today:

The End

At  1:30pm BST I completed the third draft of my book and for a few moments I sat in front of the screen, those two words glowing in front of me, giggling like a child. It has taken much longer to reach this point than first thought. Writing the first draft had been a joy, the culmination of a lifetimes worth of pent up creativity. Editing it wasn’t. It was only after having read it through for the first time that I realised just how shitty* it was and how much work I had to do. During the following months I felt like one of those victorian flower collectors, hacking through a dead wood jungle before glimpsing the odd hidden gem. Darlings were slaughtered as I discarded over 18,000 words and re-wrote the majority of the rest. I played around with the structure of the story and sharpened the dialogue until I metaphorically cut my fingers as I typed.

The third draft was more fun. I was able to enjoy the book, smoothing out rough edges and adding touches as I followed each character’s individual story arc. While honing the third draft, I realised how similar my writing process was to an old art program I sometimes watched as a child in the late 1970’s. The artist was an old man with a beard, who always painted with a palette knife, which seemed rather odd to me at the time. If his style was unique, so was his colour scheme; his paintings were made up by browns of all hue with the odd touch of black or white for contrast. At first, he would slap on the background, smearing oils across canvass with broad sweeps of his blade. Then, he would block in his main subjects: the outline of a house or (as was usually painted according to my memories) a horse. Finally, he would gently touch in the detail, picking out highlights with knife’s tip; the glint of an eye or shadow under fetlock. This is how I see my writing process (though hopefully with a broader spectrum of colours and a less equine theme). Some people start small and get broader as time goes on. I’m the reverse and for the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed adding those small touches.

So the book has been (or in some cases will be shortly) sent to my test readers for first feedback. It is the first time anybody other than myself has seen what I’ve written, but should hopefully reassure my wife that I’ve not been sitting in the office typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I’m both nervous and excited, because even though I’ve written a book, within the next few weeks I should get an indication as to whether I can actually write.

*Thank you Anne Lamott for this phrase, it helped a lot.

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The perfect age for writing

In the UK this weekend is Children in Need, a fundraising event for children’s charities across the country. It is a well loved televisual institution that has been running for many years, and receives the support of a large number of celebrities and not so celebrities to raise vast sums each year. For many people it provides a night of entertainment with the opportunity to do some good, but for one group of people it is a night to be feared: parents.

Now, I’m not saying that parents don’t agree with the aims of Children in Need, we do most definitely agree (have you noticed how I’ve suddenly become the spokesperson for all British parents), it’s just that over the course of the night there are many films explaining why money needs to be raised; sad, heartbreaking films, which for many parents are almost unwatchable. Before I became a parent, I would be able to watch Children in Need without issue. The sad films were sad, and would motivate me to donate, and that was all. Now, each case of abuse, each demonstration of neglect, forces a spike into my heart. As a parent you feel each blow, each act of neglect almost physically. You can’t watch the films because you transpose your children in the place of the children in need, and you can’t help but cry at how monstrous humanity can be. Myself, I sit the with tears running down my face (complaining of allergies to my wife), while at the same time wanting to hunt down each and every person responsible for the the stories I see, a tearful angel of vengeance, so to speak.

As these thoughts circled around m brain, it got me thinking about writing, and in particular: Is there a perfect age or level of experience for writing? Now I need to explain myself before I get accused of ageism. I don’t mean a perfect age for writing per se; what I’m wondering is if the is a perfect age for genre writing, and is it different for different genres? For example, many of the most successful crime or thriller writers (PD James, Tom Clancy, John Le Carre, Elmore Leonard) appear to be of a more advanced age. Is there something about that age (experience, the ability to see both the macro and the micro?) that gives them a better insight to the genre? At the other end of the spectrum, many horror and fantasy authors appear to achieve success at a young age (and then go on, and on, and on – don’t worry, I love the genre and am only jealous). Does the flexibility of their youthful minds allow these authors to create believable worlds and situations that draw the reader in (and once trained, allow their minds to continue in this vein)?

And if this is the case, what is the best genre for an early forties male?

Any thoughts?

I am a starter, but I will finish

When I first started writing my book I spent plenty of time reading blogs, articles, books, anything I could get my hands to help learn how to write a book. There is a lot of good advice out there (some of which has ended up on this blog) but two pieces of advice have stuck in my mind:

  1. Just write
  2. Finish what you started

This may seem obvious; write a lot because the more you write the more you learn and the closer you get to finding your own “voice” (which is important), but you also at some point have to complete what you are doing and let it go out into the wild. It’s very good advice, excellent in fact,

but

If you have ever had the pleasure of working closely with me you will know that I am a starter, not a finisher (I like to think that I’m an excellent starter, world class in fact). This doesn’t mean I don’t finish anything, I have worked hard for many years to make sure I finish what I’ve started, it’s just that it doesn’t come naturally to me. Now before you start worrying, this doesn’t mean that I’m about to go off and do something else. I love writing, I am hooked and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I will finish the book because:

  • The story deserves to be told
  • I love the story and I’ve put too much heart and soul into it to stop now
  • I love the learning process and I still have a lot of learning to do
  • I do not want to confirm to my friends that I am not a writer, but a marketing professional having a midlife crisis

There is only one problem, one tiny fly in the ointment. There is another story that has been marinading in the back of my skull for a while now and it has finally learned to talk. It has a seductive voice that whispers to me during those moments when my mind drifts (first thing in the morning, just before I go to sleep, when I am doing any domestic chore) and the voice repeats just three small words:

Write me instead

It doesn’t help that it’s a great idea (in my own modest opinion). It’s something that is very personal to me but should resonate with many people. It too is a story that deserves to be told, a story that is being written about in the media quite often but (in my opinion) not truly understood. However, it’s just going to have to bide it’s time. My current book needs to be completed first and hopefully I’ll be a better, stronger writer for it. Then, perhaps, I’ll be able to do the next story justice.

So, I stand in front of you all today (metaphorically speaking), to raise my right hand and say “My name is Dylan, I am a starter, but I haven’t started a new project now for 13 weeks and I won’t until I have finished the project I am currently writing.

Thank you for your support!

Excellent blog on writing – from an editor

This is just a quick blogpost to point you in the direction of my favourite blog on writing. I discovered it the other day and loved the combination of encouragement and chastisement contained within.
If you are in the process of writing a book, please give it a visit. It is well written, funny and very, very helpful.

The novel doctor

I hope you love it as much as I do. Just try not to let it distract you from actually writing.

Creative writing courses

My book writing has slowed a little the past couple of days while I look after my 16 month old who has his first case of man flu (which as any man will tell you, can be deadly). While this has temporarily slowed progress on my first draft, in the small snatches of time where he doesn’t need attention I have been able to do a couple of things that I’ve been putting off.
The first is more research on the more technical aspects of the novel. I now have at least a basic understanding of the technology behind In vitro meat and human growth hormone, a phrase I never thought I’d ever write.
Secondly I’ve been able to have a look at a couple of free creative writing courses. The two I am looking at are the Open University’s Creative writing – Fiction (also available online here – thanks Jo) and Creative Writing: A master class, both available on iTunesU which has always been part of iTunes but now been updated with it’s own app in the latest iOS 6 release for iPhone and iPad. I’ll review each in detail separately in later blogs but I really do recommend you to look at them purely on the strength of their many interviews with famous authors, all talking about different aspects of their craft. What comes across is that there are many different ways to approach writing and that you need to find what works for you. At the same time there are certain areas you need to think through carefully before starting off and each Author provides ideas to help you think each stage through properly. And they’re free! So what’s stopping you from having a look?

We have lift off

I couldn’t help myself. I know when writing a book you are meant to plan, plan then plan some more. Each character is expected to be rounded, with a full bio behind them so you are clear on what they would be likely to do in any given situation. The problem is, I want to write.

For the past 3 weeks I have been creating and developing my plot, looking at the key characters, revising and rewriting the plot, refining the characters, reviewing and further refining the plot until, frankly, I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to start. So I have.

I have started chapter 1 of my novel. I spent the first 20 minutes playing around with how exactly I was going to start the book and then I remembered some great advice I read by Neil Gaiman in his top 10 tips for writers of fiction.

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

So I set off and 3 hours later I am 2500 words into my first novel. What have I learnt?

  1. The first part of my chapter sets the scene and describes one of the lead characters, without literally describing him, while at the same time introducing us to the world around us. This I found incredibly hard to do and I’m not that happy with the results so far (but hey, it’s my first time and my first draft, what did I expect?)
  2. I found dialogue relatively straight forward and great fun to write. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to those that know me, I do like to talk.
  3. I loved the writing process and want to carry on. I know I am only 1 day in but this was my biggest worry.

So, 1% down, 99% to go.

And it started with a…..

… leap.

If you had have asked me a year ago what I would be doing in a year’s time, my answer would not be out of work and looking to write my first book. Sometimes in life you have a clear idea of what you want to do and where you want to go, other times you need a little nudge.

In my case, the little nudge came in the form of an unwanted (from my perspective) re-organisation at the company I’ve worked for for the past 25 years. I was told the role that I’d just spent the last year shaping into something that would be both challenging and interesting, was no more. My company wanted me to do an alternate role which would have been very exciting for someone but not for me. After a number of days of ranting and raving against the unfairness of it all I decided to look at the alternatives, one of which was taking redundancy.

It would be quite a change. I’d worked for the same company (well, with the same group of people, the owners had changed over time) since I was 16 years old. The thought of not waking up at 7:00 am, putting on a shirt and trousers and driving to an office to check emails and make phone calls, was quite daunting. What would I do?

The good news was that I would be given a good payout if I wanted to take redundancy, certainly enough money that there would be no need to rush back to work. At the same time my wife was just going back to work after maternity leave. What started out as a nightmare suddenly turned into an opportunity of a lifetime. I could have a re-think on what I wanted to do with my life, I was no longer constrained by having to earn a certain amount of money to support the family.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one involved in this. I’m very lucky to have an incredibly understanding wife who was happy to  support me in whatever I wanted to do, at least in the short term. We did the maths, looked at what it meant for our families finances, worked out we wouldn’t starve (at least not for a while) and I took the leap.

Before I started any new career I wanted to take a bit of time to try something I’ve wanted to do since school but life had got in the way, write a novel. So I have given myself a month to see if I have the skill, aptitude and more importantly desire to write a novel. This blog will be a document on whether I was successful or not. Wish me luck………