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Writing. It’s the thing that turns words on a page into an experience, an emersion of which worlds are created, battles are fought, love is found, murders and mysteries unfold and transport the reader to world beyond their own.
I have loved reading since being a young boy, and I remember when I was in primary school, I would often borrow the horror books from the school library and spend time reading them at home, captivated and enthralled by the tales of fear and mystery which those books would conjure inside my imagination, yanking me by the collar and holding me in its world until the final words had been read.
From this, I felt that wonderous sense of determination and desire of, ‘I can do that.’ And like many other readers that have felt this wish, I did nothing. For many, many years, always carrying that desire to see my name in print, to have the world, the story, that was scraping at the back of my skull to come spilling out onto the page.
So I bought a laptop, or a pad and paper and a whole bunch of pens, and I would write stories, the first thing that came to my head, and work them through and build on them, for a grand total of an hour, and then hit the delete button or screw up the paper, leaving that unfinished manuscript or short story in the trash can, never to be seen again.
Well, if you want to avoid the mistakes and pit falls I made, then keep on reading. Since 2019, I have self-published two novels, one novella, and two compilation of short stories and novellas. How did I do it? Well it wasn’t easy, and it took a long time and a lot of effort and struggle. From not touching the manuscript for months at a time, to finally making head way with it and then losing it all because I hadn’t backed it up, leaving me screaming to the literary gods that laughed down on me, throwing ink wells and worn book spines at my crying face.
Below are a few of my most important tips for you to look over and hopefully follow. Enjoy –
Caveat: these tips are my own personal working strategy. They are what work for me, and no, I’m not going to tell you that you can write a full-length novel in a week, or become an overnight best seller. I will not tell you that the first draft of your story will be any good, and that it will be any more valuable than toilet paper (but it has just been 2020, so that could be a good thing.) Nor will I tell you that there is a secret formula to writing which is kept secret from all, until now. But what I will tell you, is that my tips work. Not only do they work, but they have been crafted and tested to make sure that they work. It boils down to this: if you want it, you will go for it, no matter what.
You will get frustrated; you will want to hit the delete button and never look at that damn thing again. And if you do, no one will care. Nobody will wonder about the story that never got written, nobody will remember the person that gave up. It will only be you, and only you, that still has that unfulfilled childhood dream in the back of your mind, wandering to the grave wondering, ‘what if I would have just stuck it out? Gotten to the end of the story? If I would have just kept on going, what stories, what characters, what worlds could I have introduced to a reader, that sparked that sense of wonder and imagination which drew me into reading in the first place?’
Think you have what it takes to write a book? Then without further ado, cast your curious eyes over my short, yet congruent, tips and tricks on writing that novel you so wish to start –
Point one – Write the fucking book.
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That the first tip on a blog post on how to write a book, would be too (you guessed it), write the fucking book! Yeah I know, you’ve read a million of these tips and posts on the subject and they ALL have this tip in them near the top or at the very top of the list. That’s because its there for a reason. You have to write words, a lot of them, and often, to write a story. You have to write, but it’s not as simple as that, because if it was, you would have done it by now. Right?
Creation is 90% of showing up. And the way this is done is by habit, not by willpower. The brain does not want to do that which is uncomfortable. It takes resources. It takes effort and time. Liken it to brushing your teeth in the morning. You get up, make your bed (if you don’t, why?) and then you wander downstairs half asleep, fire up the kettle and make your morning cup of ‘pick me up.’ From there, you surf social media for a while (or longer) and you make something to eat. When done, what’s next? You shower and brush your teeth. Now, you don’t brush your teeth because you want too, or because you feel that you have too, you brush your teeth because it has been engrained in you to do so. It has become a habit, and through this habit, you have established something into your daily routine. And if you didn’t do it, you would notice and you would feel that craving to complete the task which you haven’t done that day.
Now, liken this to writing. You don’t have to do it, and by god you will not always want to do it, but you need to build it into a routine. How you do this is up to you, but I find it easiest to do if it is built alongside something which you do most days, if not every day. For me, its when I take my son to school in the morning. I will take him to school, then I go the gym, and after I get home and have gotten changed, I make a coffee, put some music on, and then I crack on with the work until I have hit my word count for the day.
By doing this, you are removing the lure (and outright lie) of being ‘inspired’ to write. Its much easier to ‘feel like it’ and ‘do it’ when it is part of your daily routine. Make writing a habit gets your ass on a seat and the words crunching out. This will take time and effort on your part, but if you establish a habit through routine and association, then you will find it much easier to sit down at the desk and fire up the computer on the days you don’t want to.
I am sat at the computer, now what?
Now we move onto the next step: writing the damn thing.
So, you have put your music on, your hello kitty slippers are firmly nestling your toes and your coffee is steaming next to you, the warm roasted smell finding your nostrils. You open up the word processor and you stare at that blank screen, that abyss of artic white on the page waiting to be fed with words.
This, I won’t lie, is intimidating. It’s easy to procrastinate at this stage, not wanting to face that hungry white in front of you. We do this by going to social media, speaking to a friend, or suddenly you realise that stray cat from two weeks ago has left half a dead mouse at the bottom of the garden and its green bin collection day tomorrow. You will find something else to do other than what you have sat down to do, and that is caused by stress. It’s the stress of not wanting to do something which causes procrastination. You are stressed about writing, you are stressed about revision, work, deadlines and housework etc. So you find an excuse not to do it. Remember, the brain, does not want to be uncomfortable.
So, how do you overcome this?
I have spoken about a method I use called ‘Sprints.’ You can find it on my blog posts.
Now, I am a pantser, which means I write as I go. I do not plan my books, and no book or story I have written has ever had a plot planned out or ‘beats’ to sing along too. I admire those that can do this, but I am not one of those people. I cannot find myself working along a story line, because I either get stuck in the details of the planning and never actually start writing, or (more often) I start wiring, trying to stick to a plot, and end up killing the main character off in the first chapter or completely derailing my entire plot because the monkey on my shoulder goes nuts and want zombies to come out of the school basement rather than finding the PE teacher making out with the History teacher. You get the idea.
So, to move past this barrier of mental block, I use ‘Sprints.’ I do this by setting my phone to DO NOT DISTURB, and set a timer for fifteen minutes and five seconds. Five seconds to get ready to count down to write, priming myself, creating that state change from sedentary to active, and fifteen minutes where I do not check anything else going on in the world, and allow myself to completely immerse myself in what I am doing.
Sometimes, the words write themselves,. This is good. But often, it starts like pulling teeth. I might be tired, might not have the creative juices flowing that day, or I am trying to work through a difficult scene in the story and it is kicking my ass. But the point is, turn your phone on DO NOT DISTURB, set the timer, and crunch away for fifteen minutes and see what comes out.
I won’t lie, you will probably write utter horse shit to begin with, but that’s not the point. The point is to move the story along. Liken it to dragging a huge boulder along the ground. The first draft is the boulder, and you turning up and doing the work is you dragging it to the sculptor’s home. Sometimes you will drag it really far and sit back with satisfaction at how much you have moved that big colossal bastard that day. Some days however, you will have only moved it a few inches, and you will feel like you have not made any progress at all. But trust me, if there’s one thing that matters in this world, its inches…
But seriously, moving something huge like a boulder (getting one hundred words down or a thousand words down) even just a tiny bit, is still moving it in the direction you want it to head in. Keep turning up through habit and keep moving that boulder along the ground until you get where you want to be.
When the timer goes off, you must do something very important.
1 – You set a timer for five minutes, and you get up and leave the desk and do something else. This, like I said, is very important. You are having a break. You are leaving your work area. Do not sit there and stare at the work you have just done, or remain in the same place. Get up and move away. That way, you are conditioning your brain to associate the desk and the sitting down with work, and when you move away, your brain has time to think about other things and not be in work mode. That way, when your timer goes off an you have stretched your legs out and you have made a fresh coffee, you can sit back down for another fifteen minutes with a fresh head, and drag that boulder a little further.
Point two – Make Notes.
Now, imagine you get through to the end of the story and you sit back with happiness and contentment and look at the word count, the story and that huge smile of achievement on your face. Then, you realise your character names change frequently, the spelling of the names and places are wrong, in one chapter the character has blonde hair and brunette in another, or the family tree is more fucked up than the gods of Greek mythology. You can’t remember the date of an event and have to troll through the entire manuscript for a small detail, or you can’t remember if the characters prize underpants are pink with rainbows or blue with avocados.
You get the idea. Certainly if you are world building and you are making a series, it is vital that you make notes. You will thank yourself in the long run. I’m not saying you have to be meticulous or have every last detail planned out thoroughly, but simple things are a must. Below are some of the notes I make when writing stories-
As and when a character is introduced, I make a small note of them. Name, age, height, eye colour, hair colour and skin colour. Further detail can be added later, such as titles and intentions, but for now, that is all you need. You can build on the rest of them in the second draft (more info on drafting and editing in a future post).
As with the first point, make note of the place name, if it is a church, a monument, a settlement, and what size etc. Any key features you have mentioned, such as does the church have gargoyles on its steeple? Does that town have a harbour? Does the tavern have a hot bar maid? Again, the finer details can be planned out later. Don’t burden yourself with the finer details just yet, you have enough going on. You have a boulder to move remember.
Timeline of events – This one can be a little more overwhelming as you try to piece the events that have unfolded before you have concreted them, but it can be as simple as – John woke up, John went to the shop, John came home and took his pants off, Space monkeys invaded.
Make a note of the important things that you have come up with in the first draft. It’s important. They can be vague, not in too much detail at this early stage, but they need to be noted down. You’ll thank me in the long run.
Point three – Drafting and editing.
If writing the book was tough, then you’ll hate redrafting and editing. But, it is a very important, if not more important that the first draft. Let me break your heart a little here; your first draft will suck donkey balls. It will not be good. There will be inconsistencies (hence why note taking is important), it will be slow moving or be too fast paced. Characters will be 2D rather than 3D. Your plot will have holes and you will look upon it like a child that comes home covered in vomit and needs throwing in the trash can (I’m joking, but you get the idea.)
So we established that the first draft is the boulder, and the boulder needs to be dragged to the sculptor. The sculptor does not look at the rock and think it is perfect, or it can be sold right away. No, the sculptor looks at the rock as raw art, art in its primitive form, and they pull out their tools and they get to work.
I have below, made an order of what to focus on as you go through your draft –
Plot line –
Does the story make sense? Does the start match the middle, the middle match the end, and the end match the start? Are there sub plot lines that don’t lead anywhere? Such as a character going to the shop and buying a mars bar for no other reason other than they wanted one? Does it add anything to the overall story? Does a character add anything to story? If the answer is ‘No,’ then kill them off. Murder your darlings, kill those words, kill your ego. If it doesn’t fit, it shouldn’t be in.
Characters and speech –
Work on that speech. Make it come to life. Is it you speaking, or is it the character speaking? You don’t want the characters to just talk like you, otherwise they all sound the same. Make them their own people, make them 3D and not 2D. Give them wants, desires, intentions, and make it come through in how they conduct themselves and interact with the world around them.
Inconsistencies in the story –
We touched upon this before – characters appearances, plot lines, items and artifacts, the names of items and places. The list goes on. Make sure what happens at point A is reflecting of point B and C. This will become more apparent in later drafts and through beta reading feedback.
Spelling and grammar –
Make sure you read the draft thorough, out loud if possible, to establish pacing, dead words etc, and try to get ad many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors as you can, including spacing, paragraphs, full stops and capital letters, the names of places, gods, people, items. Make sure you use the right word for the right context, such as – Pallet, and palate, be and bee, or my favourite, waste and waist. You will miss some, and that’s okay, which is why we go over the draft a third time. Then, give it to a friend to read over, and go over it a fourth time.
Like I mentioned I have a blog post coming up more in depth abut editing and how to do this. There’s a lot I can tell you. But for now, the key points I want you to take away from this post are –
1 – Build a habit of writing.
2 – Write in short sprints
3 – Don’t be disgruntled if it isn’t going well or if the first draft stinks more than sewage left out in the sun. It is supposed to stink, its part of the process.
Drag the boulder to the sculptor. Little by little, haul that bastard until it gets to the end. Likewise, write and repeat over and over. Keep turning up, keep going until you get to type that ‘END’ on the bottom of the last page. Then, pull out that hammer and chizzel, and make that thing shine.
Until next time –
Thanks for stopping by. While your here, have you seen my books?