So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books

Some of my favourite books – I’d love for my name to be here one day. Don’t you want the same?

You poor, poor fool.

I’m just kidding. Kind of. Regardless of how old you are, where you’re from or what you currently do, you’ve got a burning desire to tell stories and that just isn’t being fulfilled right now.

Maybe you’re writing something in your spare time; novels, short stories, poems, scripts and such. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. Well, I can’t tell you I’m an expert on the subject since, you know, I’m (at this stage but if you read this years later I may be) not a published author right now.

What I do have are experiences, insights and tidbits of information that may help in some way. I’m going to share these with you here. They won’t make you a writer but if it helps you pick up that pen or open that word processor, I’m counting it as a win.

What a better way to start 2016’s blogging than this? Precisely.

You’re a writer. Deal with it

Not everyone has a problem with this but it can come up every now and then. Calling yourself a writer – or having someone else call you it – is fine, but actually feeling like one is something completely different.

Maybe it brings a sense of pressure to produce or do something. Perhaps you feel guilty because it doesn’t feel like a job or bring the same stability other careers do. Or, you might just find it frees you and you can relax at last.

Whatever it is, you’re going to have to deal with it. It comes down to feeling comfortable with who you are, maybe not your entire being but this aspect of it. It might strike early on or later, but just remember, you’re not alone. Proof of being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tolkien, King or Rowling – far from it. Just be yourself, write the way you want to and, most of all, enjoy it!

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s mind numbing.

Sound familiar? Then you’re doing it wrong. Planning your work is the first step of a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable process. I love writing books but at the same time, short stories and blogging are hugely enjoyable. Each needs different levels of planning and it’s different for everyone.

My novels need a lot of planning. I develop characters, settings, plots and subplots usually before writing anything (although sometimes I write little extracts that do or do not feature in the story later). Once I understand the world I’m writing in, I start. My plan is usually a list of points per chapter and I play connect the dot. Whether you storyboard, mind map (or whatever the PC term is for it now) or use audio notes, it helps keep you on track.

Short stories need less planning but just as much research. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. On the flipside, if you get a flash of inspiration, go with it and then come back to your plans later, then work out how to use it.

Writing is actually fun!

Yes! Yes, it really is. It’s the most enjoyable part of it, but if you’re doing this solely to make money, turn around right now and pick another career.

Don’t get me wrong, we all (those of us who choose this) want to earn a living as a writer but if you’re writing for money, your writing will suffer because it’s not what you want to do. People are smarter than you think and they can see through the façade, so write honestly, about something you like and are passionate about, and the success will come.

I’m a great believer in the best job is the one you love doing, day in and day out. If you enjoy writing, whether its books, poems, web content, blogging – whatever – you’ll write better, build a bigger and more genuine audience and achieve the goals you want.

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

It’s the ‘p’ word again – no, not publishing/ers. Pressure. It’s one of the biggest killers to any good story or project. If the pressure mounts up and you can’t deal with it, you’ll come across that infamous writers block.

I’m no believer in ‘writers block’ although I do use it as an umbrella term. There are a number of reasons why you might suffer from it. Pressure is one, tiredness and stress are others. A lack of focus or concentration, illness and many other factors can all stop you in your tracks.

Social media can be a big one. Too much time mindlessly clicking on Facebook’s timeline or Twitter’s newsfeed can destroy hours and days and – whoops – you’ve lost a week, then a month. That’s when the pressure builds. It’s a vicious cycle but if you put small steps in place to build a routine, you’ll get there.

Don’t get me wrong, some days you’ll write 20 words and others 5,000 but that’s okay. I try to write for at least one hour every day. The routine helps.

Find real feedback

This is tricky. Real, constructive feedback is essential to help you grow as a writer, and to develop your work. Other writers are great but they can often be busy. Readers are good but a reader doesn’t always make for good critic.

AVOID family and friends. They’ll have the best of intentions, no matter what you say to them beforehand, about what you expect and would like from them. You’ll get a “it was really good” or “I really enjoyed it” and that’s about it. Occasionally, you’ll dig and dig and dig and get a little nugget but it’s not worth THAT level of effort.

Find a writing group, in person or online – they exist everywhere. Follow the rules and be respectful. You won’t always like or agree with what they say but it’s for you to decide how to use that criticism. Throwing it back in someone’s face and going in a huff won’t help you and you’ll find feedback disappearing.

There are rules. Follow them or don’t – it’s your call

Every genre of writing has rules. So does every medium or format. Some people will tell you to stick to them at all costs while others will tell you not to worry and break them whenever you want. In the end, you have to decide.

It depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your writing, the genre, context and so much more – it’s why planning and research are important. It will help you figure out which rules to follow (if any) and feedback will help prove or disprove your decisions. Be willing to adapt to meet the story and expectations of your reader to an extent. It’s a very fine line.

At the end of the day, it’s your call.

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

However, it’s essential. You’ve written your book or script or poetry collection and you send it off straight away, so proud you’ve done it. Now you just have to wait for the phone to ring for hours on end with publishers offering you deals. Right?

Wrong.

You’ll make mistakes – spelling and grammar included, no matter how hard you try to spot them – and there will be plot holes, lines that don’t make sense to anyone but you. This is why you need to edit your work. Read it over and over and over again, and then get someone else to proof it as well. The repeat. Iron out those mistakes BEFORE you send it anywhere. It might take a full year to do this. Be patient.

Publishing, agents and rejection

There’s so much to say on this but you are going to face more rejection than you are success – at least, early in your career. The worst thing is, it’s not always just plain rejection. Sometimes you hear nothing at all in the months you’re waiting. It’s awful but that’s the way it is.

Get used to ‘no.’ It might be in a nice way but that’s what it is. Dust off and try again. It takes many, many tries to get someone to even acknowledge you. So many writers have what could be successful books or stories and give up after a few no’s.

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however. For more info on dealing with rejection, check this post out when you get a chance. It might open your eyes a little more.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

There’s so much reading you can do, from people like me to the ones who have done it. It’s important to remember that you’re not me, and you’re not them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else so don’t get caught up on an idea if it doesn’t work out.

That being said, it can’t hurt to know about what people have gone through and use it to help, if you can. I’ve started you off, or given you some encouragement (or maybe I’ve put you off entirely – sorry!).

Either way, it’s a long and hard journey ahead of you. Stick with it and you’ll get there. Honest.

I read this article recently, on how to smash through seven writing roadblocks writers come across at various times. It’s quite interesting and worth a read, either now or later.

Good luck!

“I’ll Try Anything Once…”

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

I’ve been distant again. Striking a balance between work, writing, blogging and living is quite difficult with my new role. I’m working on that but I’ve got a few posts lined up over the coming weeks so keep an eye out for those.

Today, however, I want to share a special experience with you all. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my favourite writers in my relatively short life – and I hope there are many more meetings to come in the future – but last Sunday (27th September 2015) I got to meet one of my all-time favourites.

And that, ladies and gents, is the fantastic Margaret Atwood.

What’s with the cliché?

It’s true, I used one. I don’t use them often in my writing, though I do have a love of puns and ironic clichés when I’m out and about.

How many time shave you heard someone say ‘I’ll try anything once’ but then the next chance to do something new they turn it down? Probably a fair few times. I’m guilty of it too, but I’m trying not to be – unless there’s a damned good reason.

This phrase, along with a number of others, is seen on motivational pictures, posters, memes, videos etc. That’s fine but how much impact do they really have now? There are so many of them – anyone can make them and share them online. ANYONE.

When it comes from someone you admire and respect, it hits home a little harder – and when said person is Margaret Atwood, who I have a huge amount of respect for and who has done so much, it encourages me to do the same.

Writing from experience

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? Well, other than telling you (without bragging – much) that I got to meet a top author, it’s also quite an important aspect of writing.

Can you write about romance without experiencing it? What about pain, heartbreak, excitement, joy and all the rest? Can you talk about death and the impacts it has on people if you haven’t lost someone?

In short, yes.

You CAN write about it but will it be convincing? Will your readers see through the bullshit or can they connect with it, empathise with the characters and situation and will they be moved by your words?

I’ve always believed you can’t write about what you don’t understand, and that’s why I try to do as much as possible, learn as much as I can and never stop growing. I’m not saying use real life examples but really stop and think about the emotions you’re trying to convey, the tension you’re building, and let your experiences guide you – and readers – through it.

You’ll get a much better response. Fiction is often an escape from the real world but think of your favourite characters or moments – how do they make you feel? That’s a good starting point.

Accommodating genres

Now, before you all scream the house down – this does work in genres. So you’re writing a fantasy novel and there’s a huge battle coming up. Sure, you’ve never been in that situation but would your characters be nervous (just an example)? Think to when you’ve been your most nervous and start there. Yes, you need to imagine beyond that but be consistent with it.

Never lost your loved one? Fine, think back to losing anyone – as hard as it is – and start there. Even a pet. Maybe you lost touch with a friend and regret it. There are always better places to start than making it up.

Even in historical fiction, you can find similar situations or occurrences that can give a starting point. If we all wrote the same thing, no one would be interested. That’s part of why writers are valued because it’s their take on something. It can be discussed, compared, thought on and a lot more.

It all comes from a small starting point. That flash of motivation to go further.

A great source of inspiration

Author events are always fascinating for me. Whether it’s a conversation, a Q&A, a signing, panel or anything else – it’s a great insight into another writer’s mind. What I’ve learned so far is that writers are weird.

We’re strange. Our minds wander off on tangents that seem relevant but often aren’t. We also need reigning in a little bit because we can get carried away at times.

This is great though, because you see the passion and love they – we – have for the craft. Sure, we want everyone to read our stories, to enjoy them, talk about them and such but in the end, I reckon we are driven to write.

There’s plenty I’ve done no one will ever see and that’s fine. It’s not all done for other people.

Kelley Armstrong

Unlike previous posts where I have looked at a specific series of books by an author, regardless of whether they have done more or not, this time I want to look at the author and the books and you’ll see why as you read on. Armstrong’s main series so far is the Women of the Otherworld, with two trilogies and two more adventure novels which could expand into a series in the future.

The Women of the Otherworld series is what first alerted me to a terrific author who hadn’t seem to hit the mainstream market yet. When Bitten, the first book, was released it was put under the fantasy genre and sometimes moved into the horror genre. It wasn’t until sometime later when a new genre, Dark Fantasy, was recognised and Armstrong, along with many other authors, found a more suitable home for their tales.
One of the greatest lures about this series is that we are not constantly following one character. We are introduced to Elena first and through her we meet Paige, and then Eve and so on. Elena is probably the most popular character and makes a return as the protagonist multiple times as well as a supporting character even more. It is even possible to say that the whole series could have focused around her and her life as a werewolf but to fully comprehend this world Armstrong created, I cannot think of a better way than to move from character to character in a logical way. This is done brilliantly.
All of her stories have been done in the first person narrative, to completely immerse the reader in the story and surroundings. That all her protagonists are female is not as big a deterrent as it may seem. There is obviously some bias but not in a derogatory way, it is simply what Armstrong feels most comfortable doing. There are several short stories from the point of view of male characters that deepen the depth of this series.
They are compelling reads and once you start the series, it will be extremely difficult to stop reading. I have had to wait for each release and each time it seems to get longer between each book whereas now the whole series is available for future readers to enjoy whenever they are ready.
The world is realistic enough but much of the focus lies on the underground world of supernatural beings. It is a very dark, gritty and daunting setting that we are exposed to right from the start of the series and each novel in turn. There are some strong images and feelings but little in the way of strong language or swearing. I will point out that there are some explicit scenes in the books. I admit that it was unexpected but on reflection and further reading it seems to add another layer to the characters and tensions that run throughout each story. These could be left out but without a replacement of equal emotional value, something would be missing from the stories and it could change what genre readers would put it under.
The adventure books focus on Nadia, an ex-cop turned assassin and her relationship with her mentor, Jack. There is a distance between them and everything they do with an underlying urge to bridge that gap and explore what could happen in a more intimate and evolved setting. The conflict of their jobs and adventures prevents this and we are left rooting for something that by the characters own logic, could never happen. While the two books stand-alone right now, there is still potential for more in these series and I would greet these eagerly.
It is interesting that so much of Armstrong’s books focus on characters and relationships. With a background in Psychology, it is obvious why this would appeal to her in her writing and why the characters feel so real, even in a fantasy setting but the seamless blend of this with plot and setting is fantastic and anyone who reads her books will be left wondering why this author has not become as popular as J. K. Rowling or even Stephen King. Unfortunately, the niche genre she writers in still has a representatively small following. This is growing everyday but it will take some time to get close to science-fiction and fantasy genres.
On another note, I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Kelley Armstrong a couple of years ago and it is amazing how little ego she has! My time at university taught me that a good number of writers have massive egos, most likely to help them prepare for the huge number of rejections they face in trying to publish a book. Much like Philip Pullman, it is the opposite with Armstrong and she took so much time in talking and engaging with each fan that came to see her that is a huge inspiration for how to act despite doing something you love every day. It was a fantastic night and one of my fondest memories.