My answer was to this was making the switch from primarily writing horror to writing children’s books. It was a bit of a gamble but I’m so very glad to have taken the risk. The question got me thinking though. The word ‘daring’ really stuck out. Is anything we do as writers that is daring? Well yes, of course there is. But there’s more to it than that. There is a lot of bravery involved in writing and I think that is something not many of us hear about enough.
The truth is, every time you put words down you are exposing a part of yourself. Showing a piece of your soul and inner being that you wouldn’t normally let the world see. But more important than that, there’s a good chance you are showing those parts to yourself. Most of the time you will do it without even realising. It might be until you start the editing stage that you start finding little messages to yourself. Something that your reader might not fully understand, but to you they reach deep inside.
What we write is more than just a tale. It is more than prose and characters. It is our inner selves screaming at us something that we may have been refusing to hear. Listening to what it has to say takes courage. Allowing yourself to understand even more so. That is the bravery of the writer. It is your voice, your passion and your courage.
A question that regularly comes up amongst new writers is: “How do I find my voice?“
It’s a tricky one to answer. Your voice is unique to you and you alone. But like anything else, it will take time to find and develop. I’d say most, if not all of us start out by emulating our favourite authors. In my case my very first influence was James Herbert. Later I found myself moving towards a style more inline with the prose of H P Lovecraft. This is fine, this is good as by doing so you will learn by looking through the lens of those particular authors. But at the same time you will not be telling your story. You will be telling a story through another persons voice.
In my case it was actually my Lovecraft phase that really drove this home for me. While he is undoubtedly the father of modern horror (and one of my favourite authors), his work is from a very different era. It doesn’t work for a story written today. You have to keep in mind that language is a living breathing thing. It grows, changes and evolves over time. As an example, 500 new words were added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2020 alone.
Now this time I spent writing in that style was by no means time wasted (check out Flight of the Damned). Any time you spend writing is time well spent as it will add to your knowledge and experience. And that entire time, your own voice is developing even if you don’t realise it. You will slowly find yourself combining elements from those different authors. This is where the growth really happens. It will happen out of necessity. Necessity you say? well yes. Imagine writing one of the fairly standard sex scenes that Herbert always puts in his books. I love his work but these scenes always have a cut and paste feel to them so any will do. Now, try and write that in the style of Lovecraft. It simply doesn’t work. So it is important to learn how to take these two conflicting styles and make them work together.
Suddenly you find yourself writing in new ways. In ways no one else has written before. You are no longer copying a specific style. You aren’t even combining separate styles. Now you are writing with your own, unique voice.
Like a lot of things in our craft, it’s about adapting and growing. Every word you write is a step in the journey. And like all journeys through life, our experiences are what really add to the whole and help us grow. Remember that writing is a journey with no destination and half the time the map is upside down.
One of the most important jobs we have as writers is to make sure that we grab the readers interest right from the get go. The second, of course, being that we keep that interest throughout. But without that initial hook, the latter becomes redundant.
So how quickly do you need to get that hook in?
Some schools of thought say it should be the very first sentence. That’s when you need to grab the reader. Personally I’m not a big fan of this method. Yes, your opening line is important, but should you rely on that one sentence to carry the burden of everything that follows? In my opinion it’s too much pressure. It also increases the chances of the dreaded purple prose.
We all know that one. It is probably one of the most derided openings in the history of literature.
My own preference is that the first page should be the hook. Maybe even that entire first chapter or the prologue if that is how the story is structured. But that first page will allow you to set the feel of the prose. You can go into more detail and give your audience a richer insight. What we want them to do is to want to look beyond that opening. To turn the page and become invested. You can have the greatest opening line ever penned but if the rest of that page doesn’t match up to that standard, they will lose their interest very quickly. A narrative is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, no one turns the page after the first sentence.
You have the space to build your opening. Use it wisely.
What’s the first rule of writing your first draft? Don’t edit while you write. Just get it down, no going back and forth.
Well screw that, I’m a rebel and thats just what I’ve been doing today. And it really drove home how the “Rules of Writing” really just a guideline. I mean who actually decided on them?
It is something people seem to get a bit hung up on though. I see it a lot in writing groups, writing guides and anywhere that offers advice to struggling writers. The concept of just get it written and worry about edits later is good advice but remember it’s not set in stone. You can write however you want.
Today is a prime example. Sometimes an idea will come to mind long that will change the flow of the narrative. It will be a good idea, one that takes the story into new territory. But there’s a problem. It contradicts a large portion of what you have already written and you get a large, gaping…
*Cue 1950s horror scream*
So what do you do? Do you just leave it and wait until the first edit? Or do you go ahead and do a rewrite? My advice is to ask yourself a few questions.
How big of a change is this?
Are you on deadline?
Can the story go ahead without an immediate change?
Will you remember to make the change?
If you decide to wait, will you really be able to fit it in properly?
This last one is the most important. What you don’t want is to have your manuscript finished and then have an early chapter that feels shoehorned in. Imagine yourself as the reader. Will it seem obvious that it was a late edit? Will it disrupt the flow?
We all read here and I’m sure we all hate when a sudden interruption happens. Personally it’s made me put a book down in the past.
So don’t worry about following “The Rules” to the letter. They are very much like the pirates code. Basically guidelines rather than rules. Do what works best for you and find your own style and way of doing things.
Everyone has heard of writers block but there is another malady that is less known outside of writing circles: Writer’s cramp.
Okay I may have just totally made that up but it’s a good analogy for what I’ve been feeling latley. Think of it like going back to the gym for the first time on over a year (something quite a few can relate to right now). Those mucles that you used to exercise on a regular basis have been neglected and they re not happy with the sudden shock of being put through their paces. You’ve maybe put on a few pounds since last time because it’s cream egg season and you have to get as many in as you can before they vanish again. So without thinking, you hop back on the treadmill and off you go. Five minutes later you’re being knifed in the ribs by an unseen gremlin.
Well writing can be very much like that as I discovered recently. The writing process can be very much like exercising. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the better your endurance. Spend enough time away though, your fitness level will start to drop down and you need to take a few steps back so you don’t do yourself a mischief. This is what happens after a prolonged bought of writers block. Like the one I’ve been going through for the past year.
The block finally shifted about a week ago after what was a pretty horrific dream. As awful as it was, this dream did grab my block by the throat, drag it into a dark alleyway and nick its wallet. The muse had returned and to be honest I don’t think she’s been taking her meds. So here I am once again writing. After two years of working on childrens stories, I’ve returned to my roots and started on a new horror novel. And you know what, I’m loveing every second of it.
Until the cramp sets in that is. Instead of being stabbed in the ribs like you would in the gym, this one punches you in the brain. Like right inside the brain. It all started like normal; a bit of research, make notes, plan things out, the usual. Then comes the day to start writing and get these wild ideas out of the meaty blob in my head and onto the screen. One sentence, then two, everything is going well and suddenly it hits you. You can’t remember how to convert those ideas into words. You can see it in your head but the pathways that go from your brain to your fingers are running on a go slow. What you have on the screen is not what you have in your head. All those bad habits you had trained yourself out of are coming back. Things like editing on the go and being able to filter out the 200 ideas that are all fighting for your attention.
So here I am writing for the first time in ages and I haven’t even managed to finish the prologue yet because the damn story keeps changing. And every new idea needs to be tied in with what’s already been written. It hurts but if you take it slow and steady, you can get back to that level of writer fitness before the block came on. Slow and steady is the key. If this ever hits you, the best advice I can give you is to let yourself work back up. Don’t be hard on yourself if the words don’t come like they used to straight away. You will get there again.
Over the years I have tried my hand at various genres. As most of you who have followed me since the beginning know, I have always learned towards horror and fantasy with a bit of sci-fi mixed in. Well that all changed about a year ago when i decided to change direction completely and have a go at writing a children’s story. I have the say, this is the hardest thing I have ever written. And you know what? I have enjoyed every moment of it.
But surely kids books are easy? They are just short stories aren’t they?
Yes they are short and that’s one of the things that make them difficult. I once attended a lecture at university where the professor said something that has stuck with me: “I wrote 10,000 words because I didn’t have to to write 2,000”. Never has that been more clear to me than now. When I write a scene in say one of the Guardian stories, I can go into great detail. I can get every nuance of every moment because it’s for a mature reader. Now imagine having to get that same level of detail in a fraction of the space to a younger audience. I had always read that children’s books were the hardest genre to get into. Not only is it a very difficult market but the actual challenge of the writing it.
Despite all that I think I’ve found my niche. I love it more than anything else I’ve ever written.
Now you will notice I havent said anything about the actual story. I’m leaving that for another post when things are a bit more polished. I am doing this in collaboration with my very talented best friend who has been a massive support throughout. She has some great ideas for things to make the stories more interactive. It’s a very exciting time.
I think the big take away for me from all this is to never be afraid to have a go at something different. You might just might surprise yourself. Take a chance and get that story out. Writing is about more than just getting the story out of your brain and onto the page. It’s about constantly challenging yourself. About pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. So if you find yourself in a bit of a rut, try something new. You never know what you might discover about yourself.
Recently I stumbled across some old word files containing the partial remains of stories I had written when I was teenager (oh so long ago). As I read through, happily trundling down memory lane, I felt as if something was not right. There was something missing in those early manuscripts. It wasn’t that the ideas behind the stories were weak, far from it. In fact I intend to revisit one of them in the near future (if Mr Brehaut is reading this; You’re going to be very happy 😉 ). It took me a while to finally figure out what was missing back then; Life experience.
Time and time again I have heard the words “write what you know” offered as advice to struggling writers. While I always thought it was good advice, I never really appreciated it until I looked back at my own work. Our writing is a reflection of ourselves, of the things we have seen and done. It can be a record of how we are feeling at a given moment in time. This is important not only for our readers, but also for ourselves. It allows us to look back and see how far we’ve come.
Of course we can’t get any of this life experience if we are constantly tied to our keyboards. I offer this additional piece of advice to the struggling writer. When you are struggling to find that next chapter or fill that big gaping plot hole, stand up and walk away from the keyboard. Staring at a monitor is not going to help. Get up, leave the room and do something totally unrelated. New ideas come from new experiences. If you have no new experiences, you will not be able to “write what you know”!