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Monday, 14 November 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Six—Beating The Curse Of The Saggy Middle....

This week marks the half-way point for everyone trying to write a novel in a month by taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016. Writing any book at any time is hard work, but around about now momentum slows. Authors hit a roadblock.  We slump against it, and so does our work. The Great British Bake-Off suffers the curse of the soggy bottom.  Writers live in fear of their manuscript having a saggy middle. Here are three ways to beat the block…

Bogart and Bacall in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep
Blast Your Way Through

Raymond Chandler wrote his best-selling crime fiction at high speed. He was a master of the all-action, snappy story. He said his specific method for beating any block in the type of book he wrote was to have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. I’m not suggesting you take Chandler literally, but throwing something unexpected into your fictional mix can kick-start your writing when you’re stuck. How would your major character react if they lost everything in a fire? Let them swing into action during a local disaster, or a national emergency. Remember, your fictional people aren’t only brought to life by the insights you give readers into their thoughts and actions. The way they interact with others shows us more facets of their characters.

It's a thought...
Tunnel Underneath

If you’ve read Part Five of Writing Your Book (you can find it here), you’ll know I’m a great believer in the power of dirty drafting. Let your ideas tumble out and capture them in a fast and furious stream of consciousness. There’ll be plenty of time to work on the finer points of your story in later drafts, but when you’re stuck at the mid-point of your story, try burying some treasure among your major characters. Dig down into the core of their being. Give them a phobia, a cause that’s dear to their hearts, an unusual hobby, or a tragic past. Forget about beating your word-count for an hour or so, and give yourself the freedom to have fun planting clues. Your iron-jawed Alpha male may never be blackmailed over his secret love for flower-arranging* in your final draft, but it would explain his appreciation of structural integrity and design.

*like many a samurai general, as your feral hero can explain with relish to his arch-enemy and potential blackmailer…

Go Over, Or Swerve

Warning: This method is an out-and-out cheat, so it’s only to be used in your first draft, when you’re really stuck. 

Abandon your work at the point where you're flagging, and type the words With one bound (s)he was free in centred, 20-point bold text. Then move straight on to whichever future scene in your story takes your fancy. You’ll be inspired, and the words will flow again. By the time you’ve finished your first draft and started going through your manuscript a second time, your subconscious will have collected your later ideas at the roadblock, ready for some remedial work. 

Whatever you do, don’t sell your readers short by using this third device  or anything like it in your final manuscript. They’ll be burning your book and flaming you alive online before you can say “…and she woke up to find it was all a dream…”!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Five—Getting Down And Dirty...

One of my three top tips in Part One of Writing Your Book is to create a “dirty” draft. This involves dashing off the first version of your book as fast as you can. 

If your writing time is limited, concentrate your creative energy on getting words down, rather than building images in your readers’ minds. The fun of doing that comes later, when you refine and polish your completed story.

Adapt the Pomodoro technique to help you squeeze every second out of your writing time. That is, set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes, write as fast as you can until the alarm goes off, then take a ten-minute break.

Don’t worry about adding details of your characters’ appearance, or your story’s setting at this stage. You’ll be going back over your work to add this later, along with research details, and spelling, grammar and punctuation checks. 

Getting your thoughts down in words in a high speed stream has some great advantages. You see real progress, fast. There’s nothing like a rapidly growing word count to feed your enthusiasm. Making a note of your daily word count is a real incentive to beat that figure the next time you sit down to write. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, feeding that figure into the community makes you part of the successful process.
http://mybook.to/HeartOfAHostage
“Let me have this one night with you, to remember...”
or http://bit.ly/2euCc60 (US)


The feeling of satisfaction is amazing. When you forge ahead, trying to do as much as you can in the shortest possible time, you carve straight through those nasty briar patches marked doubt and delay threatening to block the path of every writer. Think of an icebreaker ploughing through the Southern Ocean. Keep your head down, and keep going.

You’re never lost for words. It’s impossible to edit a blank page, but once you get something down in black and white, you can go back and develop your work by adding colour, detail and shades of meaning. Conflict drives the best stories, and its most reliable power source is dialogue between great characters. Put their emotions and arguments down into conversation. You can worry about the scenery later. 

The line of dialogue; ...let me have this one night with you, to remember... popped into my head as I woke up one morning. I built the story of Heart Of A Hostage around it by imagining how that conversation started, and how it would end. By writing that out as fast as I could, I made a commitment to write the book which has become one of my favourites. 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Four—On Your Marks, Get Set...


...and this is what you get after completing your marathon!
...Go!

November 1st each year fires the starting gun on National Novel Writing Month. Join up, and you commit to writing 50,000 words over the month of November (that works out at a shade under 1,700 words a day)

If you've read Part One of this series, (you can find it here), you'll know that making a firm commitment and telling other people what you're going to do makes it easier to succeed. Putting the news out there gives you an immoveable target, and spreading the word makes it harder for you to back out!

There are all sorts of participation and milestone badges to achieve through NaNoWriMo as you work toward the goal of writing your book.  Fill in your profile on the NaNoWriMo site to link up with thousands of other authors. You'll find encouragement, and you can then pay it forward by helping others through their own sticky writing patches.

Any completed word count is a success story. If you achieve the ultimate and manage to reach the heroic target of 50k words, you're judged a winner. You get a fancy certificate, like the one above. More importantly, you'll have the satisfaction of proving to yourself you can stick with your project for a concentrated period of thirty days.

I find NaNoWriMo really useful spur to productivity. It gives me the motivation to start a project, and other members give me the support to continue. Why not try it this year? You can find out more at NaNoWriMo.org—sign in, and you'll be ready for Day One tomorrow!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Three: Author! Author! Audience! Audience!

Let The Fun And Games Begin...
Deciding who will be your audience is a vital first step.  It affects everything, from the tone of your writing to whether you’ll aim for publication, or write simply for the pleasure of producing a finished piece of work.  

ONE IS ONE 
If you write only to please yourself, your audience may be small, but you’ll satisfy one hundred percent of it.

Always write what you want to read.  Then you’ll write from the heart. That’s the quickest way to appeal to other readers, too, if you decide to expand your market. It’s a great help when the going gets tough, too. As long as you’re enthusiastic about your work, you can get through the tough times. 

If you really can’t face cobbling together any more of the Game Of Thrones fanfic you’re only writing in the hope of selling a million, your writing life will become a living hell (dragons optional).

Befriend A Bookseller Today...
TWO’S COMPANY
Identify wider markets using the same process you used to decide what to write. If you love your work, it’s more likely to be appreciated by people like you. Keep your ear to the ground at your place of work, and any clubs, societies and social media groups you belong.  You’ll discover the subjects, people and places they enjoy, and the authors they like to read. 

Pick up on what’s popular in your circles. Read the books that are recommended by word-of mouth, which is always the most powerful selling tool. You’ll discover how to pitch your language and style to appeal to your prospective readers. Make use of your local independent bookshop. Keep them in business. One day you might need them to sell your book.  

Join online sites like Goodreads, to discuss with others what makes a book enjoyable, rather than just readable. Check out the best seller lists to get a feel for genre and length. Become your local library’s best customer.  Read as widely as you can, and try writing in different genres to find out where you’ll find the best fit.

Do your research into all possible markets beforehand. Write your own book, but with half an eye on what has worked for other people.  When you get to the stage of trying to sell your book, you’ll be tapping into a ready market.


The end result...myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret
THREE’S A CROWD
This is where you head out into the wide, often dangerous waters of aiming to catch an agent, or a publisher. Once upon a time publishing houses had huge advertising budgets, and handed out advances like chocolate at Christmas. All the author had to do was turn up at catered events, sign a few books, and smile. 

Those days are gone. Now you have to be prepared to work every bit as hard at promoting and selling your own work as if you were self-publishing. That’s an option I’ll discuss in a future blog, but there are big advantages in being published by a firm with enough staff to take some of the responsibility off your shoulders. Writing is more fun than selling, but you’ll have to do a fair bit of that even if you’re published by one of the big international publishing houses.  These days, they’re risk-averse and won’t take an author on unless they can guarantee a return on their investment. 


If you follow my tips for researching your market beforehand, you’ll be ready to sell hard, and sell well.  

Monday, 17 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Two: Your Three Superpowers...

If you want to write a book, all you need is three superpowers. The first is imagination, the second is observation, and the third is determination. 

They'll see you through from the beginning to the end of any writing project, no matter how complex. Everyone has those skills, and they can all be honed and improved.

IMAGINATION
Once we leave school, our imagination is pretty much put on the back-burner. Revive the fantasy habit. Let your mind drift on your commute, and make notes on your phone. Do a bit of wool-gathering before you drop off to sleep at night. Keep a notebook and pen handy next to your bed, so you can jot down ideas that come to you in the middle of the night. You might think you’ll remember them when you wake. Chances are you won’t.

Some expressions you just can't put into words....
OBSERVATION
Train yourself to notice details. Watch and listen all the time. Readers are fascinated by the little things that inspire, intrigue or infuriate everyone. Listen to the way people speak in real life, and you’ll write more authentic dialogue. Try putting into words the expressions of people you see on the bus, at a wedding, or in a hospital waiting room. Snippets drawn from your real life experiences will help readers see things in a different way.

DETERMINATION
Einstein said; great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Creating a mission statement (see Part One of Writing Your Book) is a good start, but you’ve got to stick with your project right to the end. 

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and it’s exactly the same with writing. You’ll get such a buzz from creating your first few pages, it'll get you out of bed early, and keep you up late into the night. Elation at reaching the fifty-thousand word mark will push you on to the point where you type The End. 

Readers make the best writers—discuss!
It’s the tricky slack water between those points where you’ll need determination. This is where sharing your dream is important. Tell someone who’ll understand, and they’ll be there to cheer you on when times get tough. You’ll find it hard to disappoint them. That will keep you going. 

Try out your superpowers this week. Imagine your perfect hero or heroine, and put them in your own situation. How would they cope with all the challenges of your daily life?

You can catch up with Part One of Writing Your Book here. To make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series, follow this blog by clicking on the "subscribe" button above.



Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part One: Three Top Tips To Get You Going...


Here in England, we're moving from summer (wet and cold) into autumn (wetter and colder). It's time to put away the barbecue and suntan lotion. Instead of retreating into a world of comfort food and early nights, why not use the long, dark evenings to make your dream of writing a book come true? Writing can be fitted into any spare moment. It's light, indoor work with no heavy lifting—and I'm writing a book is a better excuse for staying home than I'm washing my hair. 

You can make a start while you're curled up with a mug of hot chocolate in front of a roaring log fire*. What could be better than that?

PERFECT PLANNING
Like making New Year's Resolutions, deciding to write a book is easy to do, but tempting to abandon. Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Make it easy to succeed and hard to give up by formulating a mission statement.  State exactly what you want to do, and give yourself a time limit. Something like;

I will write a romantic novel 70,000 words long by 31st December 2017.

Write it out and pin it up where you'll see it every day. Put a pop-up on your phone. Talk about your ambition, and tell people what you're aiming for. It'll be easier to succeed if you're too embarrassed to back out. When your friends badger you for details, you'll have to be ready with news of your progress...or some creative reasons for stalling.

GET ORGANISED
Make time for writing. Commit  to getting up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later. Make a big thing of choosing the tools of your craft. All you need are the basics, but browsing round stationery shelves is encouraging and costs nothing. 

When you get to the stage of submitting your manuscripts to a publisher or agent you'll need a word processor, but don't let the lack of one put you off starting to write.You can make notes on phones and ipads, but nothing beats the anticipation of opening up a brand new notebook and writing those first lines by hand. Make sure you've got something by the side of your bed, ready to jot down the brilliant ideas that pop into your head overnight. Try and keep a dedicated space ready for writing, no matter how tiny. You'll need somewhere to keep your research notes, paperwork and books on the craft of writing. 

DIRTY DRAFTING
It's all too easy to get distracted, trying to decide whether you're a planner working out every detail of your book beforehand, or a pantster who makes it up as they go along. If you're all fired up and ready to go, just write. If your writing time is limited, don't use your creative energy on anything other than getting words down. Set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes, and write as fast as you can until the alarm goes off. I find writing out dialogue is a great way to make real progress, fast. There's nothing like quick results to give you a boost. Your characters come alive and once they are real to you, plot developments suggest themselves. This first, "dirty" draft gets you used to creating text. You then go back later and refine it, adding things like period detail, and descriptions of place. 

I'll be posting more hints and tips over the next few weeks. To make sure you don't miss any of them, sign up at the top of this page!

*If you're all-electric (or gas), just exercise your imagination. The comforting hot drink is pretty much compulsory, though.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Time, Tide And Technology...

This is Canary Wharf, in London's Docklands development. OH took this photo from the balcony of our hotel the last time we stayed there. We had a beautiful suite, with the Thames running below our windows, and a perfect view of the city. At low tide the shore was exposed, along with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam.

It was on that mud, just over a hundred years ago, that my grandfather's family scraped a living. In the early twentieth-century version of repair, re-use and recycle, they salvaged everything they could to sell on, or use themselves. They went everywhere on foot, and lived in conditions you only see in the film Oliver! nowadays. As a child, my grandfather was saved from his awful hand-to-mouth existence by the charity Barnardos, and later by signing up with the Royal Corps of Signals in the British Army.

Grandad wouldn't recognise the old place now. These days, Docklands is a place of high finance and expense-account lunches. Planes skim over the sight of his miserable early life every few minutes, on their way into London City airport. Nobody walks anywhere, unless they are so hard-up they can't afford public transport.  The National Health Service, together with networks of rules, regulations and safeguards should mean no family struggles as my grandfather's did.


http://mybook.to/MyDreamGuy
Find out more at myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
That's a relief, but with big gains has come at least one loss.  The only thing Grandad liked to remember about this early life was the community spirit. Everyone struggled to survive, but they did it together. There was always time to talk with your neighbours—if only to tell them the bailiffs were coming!

They used to say it takes a whole village (or in Grandad's case, warren) to raise a child. These days we have electronic babysitters, with screens instead of faces. With sipper bottles, onesies, adult colouring books and Haribo adverts, nobody has to grow up if they don't want to. There's no time to talk to anyone, and no need, either—if you're glued to Pokemon Go, nobody's going to disturb you.

It's a form of escapism. I'd rather lose myself in a book!

What do you think is the best thing about life today, and what's the worst? There's a copy of my feel good, light-as-a-summer breeze romance, My Dream Guy, for a comment pulled out of my beekeeping hat by midnight on 8th August. If you can't comment, email me instead! christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk