So far in my brand spanking new blog I’ve made several posts about my new novel and one observation. None of that is too constructive so I figure it’s about time for something useful.
So to start is my new series on the Rules of Writing. Over the years I’ve built up some ideas and tips and experience which I want to add to what’s already out there. I know there are plenty of guides on becoming a better writer, but each guide has something different to offer or a different slant on a concept, so hopefully you’ll find a few useful things in my series you can implement in your own writing.
So, without further preamble, onto Simon Stone’s Rules of Writing: How to Write Prolifically.
All writers want to be able to finish what they start. No one wants to read a story without an ending, or a book about 20th century aviation that only goes as far as the 1950s, or a biography about Elvis that doesn’t even get to That’s All Right Mama. As a reader, if you pick up a book, you expect to be able to finish it… at least, if you want to.
So why do so many writers (myself included) have a dozen or more (sometimes a LOT more) unfinished bits of manuscript tucked away in their drawers and harddrives that have never been completed?
There’s the obvious reason: They’re unfinished because they’re not all that good, because halfway through you realised the story was just a part of the huge learning curve a writer starts but never actually finishes.
But the other reason could be (and is in my case), that a work remains unfinished because you took so long writing each page, each chapter, each section. You constantly went back to sections to edit them, then read them again and edited them again, then left the whole thing for a few months after you lost steam, came back and, reading it though to catch up, began editing and changing again along the way… and on and on and on until finally one of the times you ran out of steam you never actually re-visited it again. Sound familiar?
What I’ve just described is, in itself, part of the learning process for a writer too. In my own case it took me a good fifteen years of trying to write about six different novels before I finally worked it out. Admittedly I had long breaks and juggled several careers and university in it all too, but it took a long time for me to understand how to start – and then FINISH a novel.
Once I realised what I needed to change I managed to write, edit, polish and have ready for publication three separate novels (each over 130,000 words in length) in the space of three years. And those three years also included full-time work, studying for a degree in physics, family commitments and some pretty time-demanding hobbies of their own. I consider that quite prolific.
So how did I manage it? I’ll explain by telling you what I don’t do when I set time aside to write:
I don’t pace the room with a pen in my mouth, thinking up the most profound, eloquent and jaw-dropping opening line in history. Maybe I should, but there are too many distractions and I’d probably end up playing my piano or watching TV before I realised it.
I don’t spend ten minutes beforehand in a yoga pose meditating to clear my mind. (Having said that I’ve never tried, so maybe that one works…)
I don’t drink and write. A drunk writer behind a fast keyboard has killed many a muse.
I don’t write a paragraph or two and re-read it to death until it’s lost all meaning and I’ve lost all objectivity and sanity – some would say I never had any. Sanity, that is.
I don’t (read try not to) get distracted by surfing the internet or checking emails or making a coffee after just five minutes of work. That’s sometimes a tough one.
I’ll leave the rest of the don’ts there but you get the general idea. So, here’s my first rule.
Important Rules of Writing Number One:
That’s it. Succinct, simple, to the point. Bleeding obvious probably. Except it took me years to work that out.
Don’t mess around wondering what to write and worrying that it should be something spectacular. Just get stuck in. And that’s the best advice I could give to any aspiring writer. Get on with writing. If you’re staring at a blank page and don’t know how to start, just start writing random thoughts to get the head and fingers going; more often than not it will trigger something off. If you’ve been working on your master novel and hit a brick wall, take some time to think, sure, but not too long. No story is perfect on the first draft, that’s where edits and re-writes come in. Try and get every sentence and every paragraph and every plot-point exactly right first time around and that first draft will never get finished.
Now I’m not saying don’t plan ahead, because you need to. Having a good idea where you’re going in your story is REALLY important, but that’s different, that’s a separate post all on its own. When it comes to writing your actual novel, just get on with it. As an additional rule, think about this:
Don’t look back at what you’ve written unless you need to check something plot-wise.
This is a life-saver for me, so it’s worth at least considering. I don’t look back when I write until the first draft is done. If I need to check something (the spelling of a character’s name or location or sub-plot) that’s fine, but I ignore the actual prose. If I see a typo I ignore it. If I see some really badly written dialogue I ignore it. The editing comes later. I force myself to leave it alone. It’s hard, but it helps me finish the first draft.
Okay, so there you go, that’s got me started. Hope that helps someone. Feel free to leave comments and tell me what I’ve missed.