Friday, 25 July 2008

This Time Last Year ...

Good morning Racers,

Please, talk amongst yourselves while I fill the cafetiere and teapot. You all know each other don't you? Or do you? Are you on the outside looking in as I was just over a year ago?

After being drawn to Kate Harrison's book by the bud of fluffy cotton on the cover, I really enjoyed the story and I wanted to know more about the author. Kate had a tool box of advice for writers and also the race! I so wanted to join in but instead, stood for ages looking in and biting my nails. Everyone seemed friendly but they'd all achieved so much already - first drafts, agents contacted, novels and short stories published ...

At the time I'd been writing and rewriting the first three chapters of my novel for over two years. I was the queen of procrastination. Well, I sent a few inane emails to Jen and JJ, asking how to join and how to blog - all new to me then - and, with their help, I was here.

From then on, I felt I had to write to prove I was a racer. Even if that only meant writing my blog - somewhat irregularly, I know. I asked fellow racers lots of questions, got lots of answers and read so much about the craft of writing that I felt I was almost, well, a writer.

So if that nail biting, leg shuffling person is now you. If you want to write and note: 'you want to write' not you want to be a writer. They're two different things. Who wouldn't want to see their book in Waterstones but how many people want to sit in a darkened room, refuse invitations to socialize, get podgy from lack of exercise and then get rejected again and again? If you want to write, then join us. We'll give you as much advice as you ask for, and then some! My advice to you, the hesitant writer is this: Your main enemies will be guilt, procrastination and lack of confidence.

Guilt: Why should you feel guilty about a hour or two of 'me' time? You've given up East Enders and Top Gear haven't you?

Procrastination: You are very, very busy, I know but that's not your m/s fault or anyone else's. You have to find the time. I started this post at around 6.30am. 6.30am is not a nice time for a night owl. If I want to finish the second draft of my novel, I'll have to start at 5.30am. 5.30am is an evil, energy sucking time for a night owl. See, now I have to actually do that 'cos I've told you I will:(

Lack of confidence: Of course you're lacking in confidence, you're a writer aren't you? That's part of our job description and I don't know the answer to this one. If I did, I'd write a how to book and - maybe - get published.

So please, my fellow racers, can the new kid over there have your advice for getting started as a writer?


B said...

Hi Fiona et al. I'm still shy, but the meet helped. Maybe once I'm a fully fledged Racer that'll help too :)

Various things have helped me. I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again - Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Nothing much about technique; loads about having the right mindset and tapping into the subconscious.

Also, the OU courses A174 and A215 really helped me to realise that the technique can be learned... and that I'm actually good at this. I hope that A363 the next course will do the same.

And when it gets to the stage where you have something you've worked on and worked on and want to know if it's any good - email one of us that you've got to know in here and see if we'll read it and give you some feedback. Cas has done that for me, and it was really, reallyreallyreally helpful.

Work hard. It's hard work, this writing, but it's fun too.

I like this topic. I feel like I can answer without feeling a bit stoopid :)

Lucy Diamond said...

What a great post, I would have love to have read such encouragement when I was starting out.

My advice would be to join a writer's group or writing course. Having to turn up every week and read work aloud (eek) and discuss other people's writing spurred me on no end. I don't think I would have finished my first novel without that kick-start of support and expectation.

Kate said...

Lovely post, Fiona. I agree about the courses - OU is terrific - and the fact that analysing other people's work helps you learn tools for use on your own.

My own advice ties in with the comment I just left on Zinnia's thread - take time to find your voice and what you want to write about. Follow your own passions and preoccupations at first. I don't mean that you shouldn’t keep the market in mind, or conversely, that you should base all your work on your own life or friends. But you do need to identify what makes you unique as a writer, and what makes you want to write. Your own reading preferences are probably a big clue, but not always. Experiment with form, genre, tone (another plus point for OU courses which encourage this). Then after the first book is written, ask yourself whether you’d want to write something completely different or stay in a similar ‘world’/style/genre. The better you know yourself as a writer, and your strengths and what gives you satisfaction, the stronger your position when ultimately you approach agents and publishers. Nobody does this purely for the money – it’s such a lottery – so find your passion to carry you through the tricky times.


Leatherdykeuk said...

Find a routine that suits you.

I start every day with three poems - a cinquain, a haiku and a tanka - and post them on my livejournal blog. It sets my mind into a writing frame.

ChrisH said...

My advice is to follow Kate's advice above and on previous post! I would also advise you take yourself seriously - don't apologise for what you do. Keep writing - don't look at the first draft and think 'This is cr*p', it will come if you let it.

ChrisH said...

Re-reading Kate's previous comments I just wanted to reinforce what she said about why it's important to find your voice. I once heard Jenny Haddon of the Romantic Novelists' Association give the advice, 'choose your rut carefully'. Yes, you might be able to write one novel in a set genre but can you write one a year after that? This is not said to put off new writers but to emphasise the most important advice of all which is to LOVE what you're doing. Okay, I'll get off my soap box now.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Write, write, write, and then write some more. Take a creative approach to birthday cards, emails, shopping lists. Use a notebook to write descriptions of what you see while you're in cafes, on buses, in supermarket queues. Write about what you smell, feel, touch, think, hear, believe, taste. Write about what makes you laugh, angry, sad, puzzled. Write about breakfast cereal or carburettors or underwear, but write. Practice doesn't make perfect, because there is no perfect in this business, but it is nevertheless essential.

CC Devine said...

Chrish is absolutely right - you have to love writing, love your story and believe in yourself to find the time to do it. Time spent writing is time that you sacrifice other activities/tasks to do sometimes to the detriment of your relationships with others etc. so you have to really want it.

Moments of doubt are soon overcome because fundamentally you believe that what you're writing is worth it - it's worth missing your favourite soap for, worth staying up late for when you're on a roll and buzzing with ideas and energy. It MUST be worth it if you're prepared to eat into precious time with partners, friends and family which is what you'll have to do at some stage.

Procrastination is inevitable at least as far as I'm concerned but as Leatherdyke said, you have to find the trick that works for you in order to get into that zone.

I've found writing blogs and various books very helpful. I dip in and out and take away tips and hints that suit me and my approach to writing. Absorb as much of the info that is out there and put it to good use.

Kate.Kingsley said...

Well, I still class myself as very much a fledging writer, but one of the most encouraging things I've ever read was from Hemingway (I think?!)which paraphrases as something like "I write 99 pages of shit to every 1 page of masterpiece". Reading that gave me permission to write utter swill, and then improve upon it, rather than sitting waiting for a perfect sentence to materialise out of the ether.

You *can* make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but you need the sow's ear as a starting point!

K.Imaginelli said...

Great topic, Fiona. My advice would be to do as Toni Morrison said she does and write the kind of stories & novels you want to read. As for process, the first draft is the fun part (for me) where you're just telling this story to yourself. So, don't expect a masterpiece, enjoy writing those 99pp of crap. When you get ready to revise, you'll be able to see where those masterpiece moments are and what needs to get cut out so you can build on them.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Excellent advice everyone, and great topic, Fiona.

The best advice I can give to anyone starting out as a writer is:

- Write. Even if it's only 1 pg. Even if it's only for ten minutes.

- Finish what you start.

- Don't let distractions get in the way of accomplishing the above two.

- Don't let other people's advice, comments, etc. get in your way.

There are so many things that can derail your writing, but if you're committed to the task, you'll get there. It may take a long time (especially if life only lets you write a page a day), but the end result is worth it. =o)

Graeme K Talboys said...

What they all said. Eminently sensible.

I have three rules.

I write every day (except my wife's birthday and our wedding anniversary).

I write at least 300 words on my main project every day. It is often a lot more, but that is my absolute minimum.

I read every day, as widely as possible (although I'm having a bit of a nostalgia fest at the moment).

Flowerpot said...

I second everything that has been said so far. Also try and find a good writing group - people who are better than you helps a lot and people you can trust. They will help you through the dark times and it's a good discipline to have to write something for a regular meeting. Best of luck Fiona!

Anonymous said...

Never give up. Whatever time of day it is, or night, write those ideas down. Read them back the next day and extend them. I do very much what Zinnia has described - notebook in my bag, writing about the sights arounds me and the way I feel.

CJ xx

Lane said...

As it's now evening and I have had laptop meltdown (but thankfully saved stuff) I will pour a small glass of red. Or maybe a large. Remember to back up people. Every day.

This topic has generated some great answers and I can only agree and nod vigorously to all of the above.

I would reiterate that you should write every day if possible.

Join a group, be brave and share work.

Experiment with genres/styles ( I love that choose your rut carefully quote).

People watch all the time and make notes about what you see/hear.

Listen to those who know more than you but always follow your gut instinct.

Don't get bogged down with 'how to' books. They can help but they can also stall.

Develop your own voice and don't try to emulate. It's your voice so don't be afraid to use it.

This is basically what everyone else has said but worded differently:-)

Thanks Fiona. Great topic.

Have a great weekend everyone:-)

Debs said...

Great topic Fiona and excellent comments as usual. Sorry to come in so late but my computer is determined to drive me insane, or the trojan that's inhabiting it certainly is.

I agree with all of the above and find that even though sometimes (like today, for instance) I wonder who I'm trying to kid thinking that I can write anything worth publishing, I just go to the shed, read yesterday's work and then carry on from there.

I gave up soaps a few years ago in order to make more time for writing and try and write every day.

I'm doing a correspondence writing course at the moment but think that the best help I've received is with advice from the other Novel Racers, people I've met through my blog and being a member of the RNA and attending their conferences.

Hope you all have a lovely weekend.

Caroline said...

My advice is to write what you want to and not what you feel you should. My MA helped me and I'm sure that's true for any writing course.

There is such a fine line between being published and being unpublished, both need a product, a finished novel. So my other advice is to keep your head down, to write, to finish and not to give up - which I know is a huge oversimplification!


Anonymous said...

The first and most obvious piece of advice is to join the novel racers! We're a very friendly bunch, very helpful and not at all scary in my experience. I've even met some of you and it was a real boost to my confidence and enthusiasm. Even after I sobered up!

I would like to say that I've been writing all my life. In a way that's true and probably true for all of us. I've been writing seriously (ahem) since April 2007, when I finally finished a short story I'd been working on for about six or seven years. It's only 24,000 words! Something embedded itself in my brain after that and I've been writing ever since. I bought books on writing, joined some writing groups, including this one, and generally exchanged ideas about the craft.

I don't have specific advice for beginners, as I think different techniques work for different people. If I've learned anything in a year or so, it's that. I still feel like a beginner in many ways, but I also feel that I've learned a lot too. I didn't even understand what "show don't tell" meant at the beginning. Fiona can confirm that!

So, my advice would be: seek as much advice from as many sources as possible. Read a lot - see how the experts do it. Write a lot - you only get better with practise. Get feedback from other writers. Get feedback from non-writer readers. Read these blog comments and take note of what these good people say.

Right. I'm off to Wales for a writer's holiday...

ChrisH said...

Anwywhere near me, Captain Black? Hope you get lots of writing done anyway!

Anonymous said...

ChrisH: I'll be going here. Is that anywhere near you?

KAREN said...

I'm not a Fully Fledged Novel Racer yet, but am closer than I was this time last year. I would advocate finding writing blogs, reading writing blogs and starting a writing blog - it's great practice and the feedback is so motivating.

What Lane said about listening to those who know more than you but following your instincts, really resonated with me as I've allowed myself to be swayed in the past, and also about not letting 'how to' books stall you as that's happened to me too - trying to write in a style that didn't feel natural. You really do have to write what feels right for you. (I've said 'write' far too many times now.)

Paige said...

What a fantastic topic!

I agree with everything everyone's said above. But only you, as the new writer, will know which way to go. Trust your instincts. Go with what you feel.

Concentrate on one stage at a time. Sort out an idea, get the first draft written, then think editing,... then think about finding an agent and so on. Don't get too ahead of yourself.

Of course speaking to other writers is a godsend. Be in it in a writing group or if you're a bit shy at first, an online group. Forums, blogs, websites are every bit as useful. And of course the Novel Racers is one such group that is absolutely wonderful!

Don't put any pressure on yourself to perform. There's no strict time limit. Remember you have other things in your life other than writing so you have to become an expert at balancing everything.

Helen Shearer said...

I am way late as usual but I will be on time next week. I've decided. The problem is getting out of bed while it's still morning in the UK. By the time I get to work it's 1:00 pm in the UK and I have to wait patiently for a time when Nasty Boss isn't lurking so I can read the topic and respond. And Nasty Boss is always lurking so I can't,then by the time I get home it's Saturday in the UK and by then I'm late. Blah, blah, blah. It's all very dramatic, isn't it? Next week, I'll be up at 4:00 am. Promise. Thus ends the pathetic excuses portion of the show. Down to business.

My advice to the new writer would be this: Place arse in chair and write. It's really that simple. Write whatever makes you feel good. Indulge yourself. Entertain yourself. Write as much crap as you can churn out and eventually you will find your voice. And carry a notebook wherever you go because invariably, the brilliant ideas will hit you when you least expect them to and if you don't write them down they will be lost forever. We all think we'll remember them later and we never do.

liz fenwick said...

Don't worry Helen S you're not the last this week. I have been rising before five to finish the reworking of A Cornish House and then rest of the time has been with the kids.

With the reworking so fresh in my mind I would say to new writer. It's okay to write crap and then you work your bl**dy buns off making something worthwhile. Also don't be afraid to put some of yourself in to your work. Be passionate about it and let it show. Also don't stint on the emotion. It is a bit like opening a vein and letting it bleed on to the page - I forget what great writer said that but this week it has been true. this week I have been bleeding heavily - a transfusion maybe soon be needed :-)

wordtryst said...

Blogger wouldn't let me comment when I tried earlier, so here I go again...

Great advice above. I particularly like Helen's: "Place arse in chair and write." There's just no other way. Write anything you like, experiment with forms and genres, and don't even think about agents and publishers and such if you're just beginning. That's a whole other world, and in order to arrive at the point of marketing work you must have a body of work that's complete and polished to the best it can be.

I'd also add: Don't talk about it too much. Keep it internal and private for awhile since too much external input too early on can derail your confidence and instinct for your stories.

That said, everyone's path is unique. Find what works for you, and most importantly, write.