Born to Write?
What other writers say
Here's some pithy quotes to amuse and inspire.
"Thinking is the hardest work there is which is probably why so few people engage in it." Henry Ford.
"What no wife of a writer can understand is that a writer is working while he is staring out of the window." Burton Rascoe.
"Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away." Clarence Darrow.
"When I am dead I hope it may be said, His sins were scarlet but his books were read." Hilaire Belloc.
"One of the signs of Napoleon's greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot." Seigfried Unseld.
"Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good." Samuel Johnson.
"You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer." Margaret Atwood.
"I'd like to have money and I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have the money." Dorothy Parker.
"There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I am greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed." John Kenneth Galbraith.
"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." H. G. Wells.
"When I sit at my table to write, I never know what it's going to be till I'm under way. I trust in inspiration which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't. But I don't sit back waiting for it. I work every day." Alberto Moravia.
"A necessary part of a writer's equipment, is the ability to stand up under punishment, both the punishment the world hands out and the punishment he inflicts upon himself." Irwin Shaw.
"A novel should be an experience and convey an emotional truth rather than arguments." Joyce Cary.
"I have never begun a novel without hoping that it would be the one that would make it unnecessary for me to write another." Francois Mauriac.
"I write for the same reason that I breathe, because if I didn't, I would die." Isaac Asimov.
"Let's face it, writing is hell." William Styron.
"In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, in Australia you have to explain what a writer is." Geoffrey Cotterell
Good Writing - Death to Adjectives (by Val)
When a writer first said to me; "Try editing your piece by cutting out all the adjectives and you'll be surprised by how much better it reads."
It works. Try it yourself.
The worst adjectives, those you should never use in any circumstances, are those that qualify other adjectives. Take the simple "very." It sows doubt in a reader's mind. Take the phrase; she was very beautiful. Are there degrees of beauty then? What about; I'm very late. Would being ordinarily late have been OK then?
If adjectives are death, adverbs are double death. You don't need them, especially those defining adjectives. Really red - incredibly red - decidedly red. . . . just say red. Be specific, don't say red, say crimson or magenta . . Worst adjectives of this type are "really" and "literally." The first implies questions; "it was really hot" implies you are asking the reader to believe you. The second is never necessary. "I was literally knocked down by a car" means exactly the same as "I was knocked down by a car."
In a novel I read recently, the heroine mused to herself; "He certainly saved my life." Well, how does one uncertainly save somebody's life? Maybe one would be uncertain if the person was dead!
Adjectives are one of my pet hates. Others? "A friend of mine." What's the matter with "my friend"? Then there's "more and more people." Take "More and more people are adopting dogs." To say "More people are adopting dogs" would be better but "20% more people are adopting dogs" would be best, and far more authoritative if you are writing non-fiction.
The expression "people say" or even "we say" is always suspect. "We say the world will end tomorrow" implies everyone is saying it. I always want to add - "Who is this 'we'?"
Another un-necessary phrase; "It's a good idea to . . . " Example; "It's a good idea to give up smoking." All you need to say is; "Give up smoking." Think about it. Make your writing authoritative.
Do not say "I believe" or "I think" except in exceptional circumstances. If you didn't believe it was true, you wouldn't be writing it would you?
The word "authoritative" comes from the word "author." When you are writing, you are the authority, so state your case clearly and simply, and when you've done that, state it again.
"Reading about imaginary characters and their adventures is the greatest pleasure in the world. Well, the second greatest." Anthony Burgess.
Doing it by rules is just as important as for non-fiction writing. You need to decide for yourself in advance what your theme is (such as "True Love Never Dies") and you need to plot and plan. Don't be wishy-washy about this.
You may not believe, when you read a novel, that the whole thing was planned with military precision! It was plotted to sustain the action. All the characters were decided before the book was begun, their biographies were mapped out. The author sat down and wrote a chapter a week, "tweaking" along the way perhaps, however tired he or she was.
It's the writer's skill that makes the readers believe it was real and "the book wrote itself."
The plot and the characters feed off each other and are closely interlinked. For example, you cannot develope a character as a countryman who loves his farm and then have him suddenly decide to take up nuclear physics. Your characters must behave logically according to their slowly revealing personalities. This is why you have to know all about them before you start writing. You must know what the ending will be, which is why you must plot, and leave clues along the way; but the ending must still be a surprise to the reader.
"It's important that a novel be approached with some urgency. Spend too long on it, or have great gaps between writing sessions, and the unity of the work tends to be lost." Anthony Burgess
It's fashionable at creative writing classes at the moment talk talk about telling writing and showing writing. The former just "tells" and the latter "shows" the reader, by it's action, and the movement of the story, what is happening.
Have your characters say something to describe the scene, rather than describe it yourself. "It was raining" sounds dull; "Bloody rain again," said Fred, "where's the umbrella?" carries forward your story and allows further characterisation of Fred.
I remember being fascinated by Ernest Hemingway conversations. They continued for pages without any "said"s, or names. But we always knew which character was talking, because they spoke in a distinctive way. It's a knack you can copy by always having a clear picture in your mind of your characters, so you know exactly their unique way of expressing themselves. For example, a calm distant woman might say; "Thank you for the flowers." A gushing woman would say "Oh darling, how absolutely wonderful!" An absent-minded woman might say "Now, where did I put those vases?"
Have your characters describe themselves by their actions. Imagine two women chatting - "Oh, my hair's so wispy," says one, the second replies " It doesn't frizz in the rain like mine," and so on. By the time we come to the end of their conversation we've got no need for the standard description, like Eliza was tall and thin, or Bertha was rotund but cheerful. Don't TELL your reader, let your action SHOW your reader.
Many new writers try to enliven conversation by using synonyms for "said" - he wheedled, she hissed, he chortled, she whispered. It's distracting and ultimately boring. Stick to said and only use it if there's any confusion about the characters, especially in a three or four-way conversation.
Describe a scene by the actions of your characters. Instead of saying The cottage was small, have Deirdre and Fred having to duck to get in.
In theory adverbs describe actions, but delete the adverbs and show your readers by actions. Instead of "Deirdre ran desperately", say "Deirdre knew she had to catch that train and fear plunged through her as she forced herself to cover the distance . . . "
Don't tell your reader about the emotions of your characters, let them act them out, but don't overdo it. In historical novels I get bored with heroines who are blushing, or going white or having the blood rush to their cheeks. I have rarely seen these emotional reactions in everyday life. Be more subtle. Have Deirdre fidget, or get up to open a window, have Fred hesitate to touch her arm.
Be consistent or, check your continuity. Check your main character doesn't have brown eyes in one chapter and blue in the next. Stick to the first person or the third person. Make sure, if you are adding a dream or a flash-back, that your reader is aware of it. For myself, I'm old-fashioned, I don't want to tangle with literary devices like thirty year flash-backs to explain what the characters are feeling today.
I don't like a dramatic beginning which is called a preface and is an extract from the novel half-way through. This is supposed to grab the reader's attention, but why can't the first paragraph of the first chapter do that?
I like events in a novel to be chronological. I like a beginning, a middle and an end. I like the characterisation to become deeper so we get to know the characters as we go along. I want to begin to care what happens to the characters quite soon, certainly I want to finish chapter one with a curious desire to continue to chapter two. I like the plots and sub-plots to progress consistently right to the last page where all is tied up in one last sentence.
Well, one paragraph then.
The world of writing a book that will go on the open market and become a bestseller is fraught with dangers and one needs to develope the attitude of a professional writer.
This means always writing grammatically and with flair; always treating your contacts in a polite, professional manner, and doing all you can to learn your trade inside out. You're in a business here - your own.
However much your family and friends praise your efforts, if you want a wider market you have to work and work, and then work some more. Do your research immaculately and keep notes of your references so you can always prove your words.
Use the Internet to promote what you are doing, start a writer's blog, get yourself mentioned on Facebook, and so on. Write short articles about your ideas and send them to the relevant web-sites. If you are visiting a site, add a commentary somewhere, and make sure your blog is mentioned in it. Send the publicity round and round!
For an insight into today's publishing scene, the web site of Andrew Lownie, a Literary Agent, is particularly helpful, and frank. He tells you how to submit your ideas, and writes about the up-to-the-minute book trade and how it works. Click on the heading "Articles" on his site to read how other authors have "made it" and to find much worthwhile advice from them. It's a window onto another world! www.andrewlownie.co.uk
For a lively look at the American market, go to; www.worldwidefreelance.com
"The rules seem to be these; if you have written a successful novel, everyone invites you to write short stories. If you have written some good short stories, everyone wants you to write a novel. But nobody wants anything until you have already proved yourself by being published somewhere else." James Michener.
Everybody’s got a book in them somewhere, but don’t dream of sitting in café’s in Paris writing immortal words in a notebook between meeting friends and drinking wine. (Or on Fleet Street, London.)
Of course it looks easy. When we buy a book in the bookshop, we never think the original idea that sparked it may have taken ten years to reach fulfilment. The distance between the first sparkling idea and the finished - and published - book is a long journey.
The book needs to be nursed through a confusing list of draft manuscript, finished manuscript, edited manuscript, lay-out, advance planning, proof-reading - the list is endless.
On the other hand, millions of writers have suceeded in doing it - and so why not you?
The first step is the hardest. People say;
“I always thought I would write short stories and get them published in an anthology.”
Just like that!
“I’m going to write a book about my experiences in the police force, but I haven’t started it yet.” A book may not become a best-seller but one thing’s sure, it won’t become anything unless it gets written.
“I wrote the first chapter of my great novel but haven’t had time to do any more.” Self-allocation of writing time can be tricky.
“I wish I could just sit down like you and write a book, it’s like writing money.” Well, not quite!
All these people considered themselves writers, but had not written anything so far.
Writing is like driving a car. Everybody drives a car but they don’t drive like professional drivers drive. Everybody can write a cheque or write an e-mail but that does not make them professional writers.
“You’ve got to do the mileage,” as Phil Collins said. He worked for years as a session musician, 40 hours a week, just learning his trade before he wrote the songs and music that made him famous.
And so the professional writer does his apprenticeship, his homework.
Many writers became writers after going to creative writing classes. Many had just short items published, articles, even letters to the readers’ Letters page. Many big names, now millionaires who have made their publishers and agents millionaires, wrote more many novels before the one which became a bestseller.
So let’s start
The difficulties of becoming a writer seem to be 1) getting started and 2) keeping going once you’re started; a bit like driving if you’re got a specific destination in mind.
To most of us, that destination is a published book.
Writing is a lot of work, often lonely work. And it takes time.
A beautiful girl who makes contact with an agent can become a highly-paid model almost overnight. But a would-be writer never meets a literary agent at a party who immediately wants to sell the book not yet written.
So you’ve got write your book, or at least have the chapters, plot and introductory chapters finalised. It takes time. Why not be business like and manage your time to get your book written?
Time management is the key
Here are three allocations of time that will get your book written.
1. Ideas and Notes time. Keep a notebook and carry it with you everywhere. You can get your best ideas while you are somewhere with no access to your computer, perhaps on holiday or shopping. This notebook bridges that gap. You only “work” for the odd minute here and there but you keep track of your thoughts.
For example, a riveting line for the end of your novel might be; “I’ll love you forever, darling.” Make a note of it in your notebook. Or, you might be thinking - I’m sure the Templars were at Douzens and what about the Temple in London? Make a note to do Internet research on these places. Then you won’t forget your brilliant insights.
And you feel in control, which is important for your self-confidence.
2. Construction of book time, perhaps an hour a week. During this time you write anything you need for your book that is not actually the book itself. It’s time for drafting out chapter headings, writing the outline plot of your novel, putting together a proposal to sell the book, to write profiles of characters in a novel for your reference, to note historical background for a non-fiction title, plus notes and references to go at the end of the book. Organisational work, in short.
Some writers compartmentalise their story. Everything about, for example, what the church thought about the Templars goes in a box, or in a list. Everything about their commanderies goes in another box or list. When you have got all the material and references together you’ve got the outline for each chapter of your book.
3. Sitting down at the computer writing time - the process of actually putting the immortal words on paper. Have your notebook beside you so you never get “Writer’s Block.” Start with half-an-hour a day and increase that within your concentration span and the demands of the rest of your life. The trick is, to do it every day. Then you will see your manuscript grow. A minimum of half-an-hour a day. Never think - I’ll catch up next week. You won’t.
The immensity of writing a book can be overwhelming - but keep going! Just do something every day and it will surprise you how “cleanly” it will take shape.
To re-cap; 1. The ideas notebook. 2. the organisation. 3. Creative writing time - half-an-hour a day minimum.
So let’s finish the book.
Most people can write their book within a year. But many find that they get run out of steam about half-way through. If your book has 20 chapters you’ll start to falter about chapter 9. But keep going! Around chapter 13 the home straight will be in sight and you will find the energy from somewhere to finish it.
Meanwhile, if you’ve been doing your “Construction of Book” time, you’ll have a super proposal and précis of chapters to send to a publisher, with a promise to provide the full manuscript immediately if required.
Remember Confucious and his advice to the gardener who said that there was no rush because trees took 100 years to grow?
Confucious said - “In that case, we’d better start today.”
PS Some writers wonder if their book is “good enough.”
Books, like life, are not a competition. It’s like saying that an orange is better than an apple, but both are good in their own way.
Think about what you want to say, and why it matters, and then just be yourself.