Keeping the Writing Going
Ten Tips for staying on the right track.
1: Work Space: If you are one of those writers who can’t work around noise or activity, find yourself a special place and close the door. It might be a small desk in your bedroom or any other place in the house that’s unoccupied during the time you want to write. Perhaps you have a garden shed that fits the bill perfectly. Well, it was good enough for Roald Dahl who had a small hut built in his house orchard and from which he created his many children’s tales, now considered to be classics. You may not have a garden shed, of course, or the funds to build one, but human nature is such that if you really really want to do something you will find the ways and means. It may even be that you need to get up an hour early each morning and write at the kitchen table when everyone else is still asleep. If you live on your own then, probably, none of this is a problem. And if you are a budding J.K.Rowling, you most likely can write anywhere at any time.
2: Time: Some writers say they can only write at specific times. It might be because of the hours they work at their job, or family demands, or visitors calling by in the middle of a critical writing session; maybe because they are studying and time to write is limited. There are so many different scenarios so it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer but, as I mentioned above, human nature will find a way to achieve what the heart desires. Just keep trying amid all the circumstances and things will finally fall into place.
3: Writing Helps: Nothing beats a good hand-held thesaurus and dictionary . Yes, there are these aids on the internet but, surprisingly, to those who grew up with a computer or two in the house, not everyone has one. Besides, there is something about the `book.’ Most writers I know, would NEVER EVER relinquish their tattered old dictionary/thesaurus for its online counterpart, no matter how quick and easy the latter might be to use. So keep one on your desk, table or bookshelf, (if it’s a bit of a tome to lug around, purchase a small one to take with you wherever you go). I’m certainly not decrying our beloved MS Toolbox, I am a great fan of it, but you don’t always want to be racing back to turn on the computer when a simile pops into your head and needs to be analysed.
4: Exercise: This is so important. If you stay behind a computer, or write constantly into your journal without any breaks, you will go stale. There is no disputing the health benefits of walking, stretching, and even just leaving your writing place for a few minutes to sit outside and have a cup of tea, or wander around your garden. Personally, I don’t believe any writer can turn their nose up at this. Our bodies need to move to stay supple and our minds need stimulation to continue to be creative and quick. Both will benefit from a good brisk walk and, if you’re not up to that yet – if you are more of an occasional stroller – you soon will be with a 30–40 minute stretch-out once or twice every day. The fresh air in your lungs will invigorate you and, when you sit back down at your keyboard, or pad and pen, you will find yourself more stimulated and thoughts that may have been blocked will quickly relax and release.
5: Reading: Writers read. To continue to write successfully, or even to begin, you need to read what others are writing. Writers can easily become isolated, there will always be periods of time when we are working to a fast approaching deadline and want little to do with outside company. That is fine, writing and deadlines are what we are about, but remember that interaction with others must also be borne. Books are marvelous for this – they are a form of escapism, learning, and people and place watching – all tremendously important for individuals who spend many solitary hours pounding away at their masterpieces. After all, life is about people and we can’t write about them if we constantly avoid them. So read, read, and interact as much as possible and this will help to keep you on track.
6: Write Regularly: You must write something everyday; or at least every day that you are physically able. Things happen, there’s no getting away from that, but if it’s humanly possible, write something even if it’s just a note in your diary. Okay, a shopping list…but make it creative! If you truly want to become a writer you will learn to climb over the stumbling blocks because, if you don’t, there certainly won’t be a published book at the end.
7: Notebooks: One example of a committed `journaler’ is the very famous and hugely successful Richard Branson. I don’t know this for certain but I’d take a wager that, if asked about the keys to his success, his answer would include his prolific journaling activity. So if a tremendously busy businessman can keep a regular diary, surely someone who calls him or herself a writer can do the same. So take a notebook with you wherever you go; keep another on your bedside table – for those late-night inspirations. If you don’t write it down when you see, hear, or think it, more than likely you will forget it. It will slide to the back of your memory bank never to be heard from again. So write it down.
8: Talk and Listen: Wherever you and your notebook go, try and talk to at least one person. It doesn’t really matter what you talk about and almost anyone will do. Ask directions; call into the local dairy for the newspaper and chat to the owner for a few minutes if they are not too busy; say Hello to the person who passes you on the footpath – they might stop and chat for a moment, even if it’s just to say, `Isn’t it a lovely day.’ Every single conversation, no matter how insignificant and brief, holds the potential for an idea or a character. Listen and record it as soon as you are able. A good exercise, as soon as you get back home, is to sit down and write a character description of the person you have spoken to – they may be just the character you have been struggling to develop; or perhaps one you can use at a later date. So talk, socialise, record.
9: Continuity: Some do it differently (and successfully) but for most it is a good idea to leave revision until a later date. When you are writing your novel or non-fiction book, stay at it. Don’t keep going back and back, revising and revising – you are likely to never finish. The NZ Romance Writers have a competition every year called `Finish the Damn Book.’ The title is very telling don’t you think? It’s a fact that most writers begin with the best of intentions but many never complete their work. Why? Procrastination is one reason I hear a lot; perfectionism is another. So stay at it and write till you’ve finished; there will be plenty of re-writing to keep you happy later. At least the story is all there and you can re-write to your heart’s content – so long as you don’t overdo it and, in your quest for perfection, lose the `essence’ of what you have to say. So, go on, finish the damn book!
10: Mentor: Every writer (at least all those I know – and I know a few) needs someone to read their work. Be careful though, it must be someone who believes in your desire to write and genuinely wants to help. On the other hand they need to be a keen reader and able to give constructive criticism, which you also need to be able to take. No writer gets it perfect from the beginning, even the best most popular authors. So take criticism the way it is meant, to help you polish the manuscript you have worked so hard on, and get on with fixing it. Remember though, it’s important to explain to your reader/mentor what you need from them so they don’t mistakenly go off thinking they need to rewrite the book for you. If you can’t find a suitable friend, join a writers’ group. These clubs are made up of people just like yourself, people who love to write. Most clubs have members who will be delighted to assist in this way and, who knows, you may kick off a writing/critique partnership that could last for years.
One thing to remember; fiction is subjective. Readers who enjoy horror and thriller fiction may be completely disinterested in romance and humour. Some may love Maeve Binchy’s wonderful story telling but detest other writers of a similar genre. So don’t be offended if you ask a friend to read your book and they come back with all sorts of negative comments. Okay, so they hated every chapter, but say to yourself, ‘I am a writer and not everyone is going to love what I write. This is one person’s opinion and I am not going to let it stand in my way or pull me down.’
A true example:
For many years I was a keen reader of a certain British author’s books. I bought and read every single one as they were released and then, sadly, the author passed away. Sometime later I read the blurb of a book by another British writer and thought the `voice’ sounded similar so I bought it, anticipating a wonderful heartstring-tugging read.
To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. There is a saying that most, if not all, writers will be aware of. `Show don’t tell.’ Well this second author told a lot and didn’t show much at all. At no place in the narrative was I invited to develop my own perception of the characters – what they were doing and how, what they looked like, their personalities. What was even worse, I found myself being led through the story by the nose, at least that was how I felt.
However, to put this into perspective, the author is a much-loved top seller whose stories are adored by readers all over the world; readers who would probably walk over hot coals to secure this author’s latest book.
Maybe I was missing the author whose stories I so loved and read this author’s book expecting it to fill the empty hole in my reader’s heart, or perhaps I read it with the wrong attitude and didn’t give it chance. I’m not sure.
It’s several years now and the author is still churning out books, regular as clockwork; so I’m thinking there must be something I missed. This year I will buy another and, with luck, will change my mind. I hope so because there is an abundance of this writer’s work available and it will take a long time to run out of reading material. I will see how it goes.
It is the 26th of March now and on 1st April I fly to Europe for six months. How many sleeps is that till Christmas? 272
Update: It is now the 26th May and I am in Athens and loving the Greek weather and people. This time next week I will be preparing to fly to Germany. Sleeps till Christmas? 213
Note to myself: Soak the Christmas cake fruit early with a good splashing of rum or whisky and don’t forget to bake Santa’s favourite muffins…