Every Wednesday I’ll be sharing some hints and tips about how to improve your writing. These are basic things I have learned over the years, from writers websites, published authors and constructive feedback from friends, family and online pals.
There is an argument that fiction writing cannot be taught because it comes from talent alone, it is in your nature to be creative. Whilst there is some truth in that, even the most creative person needs to learn how to use their ability and make the best of their craft.
This week: Write your heart out & drown your inner Doubt Demon!
This weeks topic is all about writing with verve, spunk, guts, determination, rage, courage and above all passion! At the start of November National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo – will be unleashed across the interweb. I say unleashed because it is akin to opening the flood gates and letting a torrent wordy goodness pour across the arid plains of your Word Desert. Not only will this event let you cultivate a lush crop of fictional treats but also drown your Doubt Demon. Be gone foul pest!
“The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.”
Did you see the bit where it says: To write without having to obsess over quality.
That’s what should appeal to you all – write without fear of checking quality, without worrying whether it makes sense, just write what’s in your heart. It matters not one iota that you don’t think you’re up to the challenge, take a look at this list and see how many of these you can put a tick beside.
- #1 I’m not a real writer. I just blog. I can’t write an actual story.
- #2 But 50,000 words in 1 month, that’s just insane. I can’t do that.
- #3 I don’t know where to start.
- #4 I’ll probably start but there’s no chance I’ll finish, so why bother?
- #5 I’m too busy with my blog and other commitments.
- #6 This is for die-hard writers, not amateurs like me.
- #7 It’s all too much, I don’t have a hope in hell of competing with seasoned Wrimo’s.
- #8 I find it hard to get started or lose my way after a while, maybe fiction writing isn’t for me.
- #9 I don’t have anything to write about. My life isn’t filled with endless adventures like some people.
- #10 Writing is a lonely thing. I don’t have anyone to support me. Sigh.
How well did you score? Did you tick some or most or all? Never fear, I have solutions for each item on the list! If you’re reading this, dear blog reader, chances are you are a writer, you just don’t realise it. Let’s crack on and face our fears shall we?
#1 I’m not a real writer. I just blog. I can’t write an actual story.
If you blog, you write. It’s that simple. Let’s say you write a post about a shopping trip, business trip, birthday, anniversary, argument with a neighbour/friend/lover/criminal/salesman etc, at some point you must use your writing voice to put what you want to say into words. What happened may have been an actual event but the reader doesn’t know that, you could just be making it all up!
#2 But 50,000 words in 1 month, that’s just insane. I can’t do that.
You don’t have to write that much. The challenge is to start your novel, to get as much done as you feel you are able. If that means you write 5,000 words or 1,089 words, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that you used the NaNoWriMo way to get your idea kick started. You may look back at it some time later and find a spark of inspiration, something to work on. November is your time to get started. Finishing is way down on the list.
#3 I don’t know where to start.
Start wherever you like. The key is to start writing. Who cares if the start is crap? I’ve started many short stories only to find later on the start is pure garbage and I go back and change it. NaNoWriMo isn’t concerned with plot mechanics, grammar, spelling, character analysis, perspective and all that jazz. Start with a simple line like: The dog was handsome. Or: Mary was shouting like a howler monkey. Or: I washed my hair last night because it stank of barbecue. You see? Anything to get you going.
#4 I’ll probably start but there’s no chance I’ll finish, so why bother?
Finishing isn’t that important, not really. Starting is the big deal here. It’s like saying: “I’ll cook some dinner but it’ll probably taste like sweaty pig testicles, so why bother?” or how about: “I’ll start painting a picture of a nice house, but it’ll look like a 5-year-old did it, meh, I’ll give it a miss.” The fact is that the more you tell yourself you won’t finish the less likely you are to start in the first place. Stop putting hurdles in front of you to jump over, save one, the Start Writing hurdle. That’s the only one to look at.
#5 I’m too busy with my blog and other commitments.
Hey, I hear ya, dear blog reader, I’m a busy kind of chap too. I use my spare time effectively, even if it’s only 30 minutes. If the 50k word tag seems like a big commitment then just think of 500 words. There, that seems easier to accomplish, right? It’s about time management. If you truly want to write then set aside the time to do it. Trust me, regrets are a bitch. If you’ve got a house filled with busy children, flat mates or other people demanding your attention, make it known that once a day or once a week you are having a moment to yourself. Head off somewhere away from the noise and relax with your writing. Make that time count, even if you get 10 words down, head back to the fray knowing you have made a start.
#6 This is for die-hard writers, not amateurs like me.
Didn’t you read this bit?
To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
NaNoWriMo is aimed at amateurs. This is your time to shine! You can still be a die-hard writer, just be a die-hard amateur writer. So called “real writers” aren’t created in a factory as novel-writing robots. They were amateurs once too. Let’s not forget that there’s a long list of “amateur” writers who have had their novels published through taking part in NaNoWriMo, check out this page if you don’t believe me: http://www.nanowrimo.org/publishedwrimos
#7 It’s all too much, I don’t have a hope in hell of competing with seasoned Wrimo’s.
Competition is good! Imagine you’ve just written a chunk, slither, line, chapter – whatever, and you share your joy with the good folks on the Twitter feed #NaNoWriMo or #NaNoTeamIndy. “Hey folks, just written another X number of words. Woop!” Then you see someone else has written 4 more words than you. “Oh man. I can do more. I will do more. I’m off to do more!” Seasoned Wrimo’s are in the same boat, they want to share their happiness at cranking out those words.
If you don’t want to compete, don’t, it’s not really a competition, and there’s no prize for finishing with 50,000 words, other than recognition and that warm, fuzzy feeling at having accomplished something amazing! In your circle of friends, work colleagues or family, how many can say they’ve written a novel? How many can say they did it in 1 month? Okay, if you happen to socialize with a lot of writers, then I guess that rip-roaring speech falls a bit flat, but still, this is your novel so be proud!!
#8 I find it hard to get started or lose my way after a while, maybe fiction writing isn’t for me.
A problem with a good solution. See the Need a Kick start? section below for ways to get around this troublesome hurdle.
#9 I don’t have anything to write about. My life isn’t filled with endless adventures like some people.
It doesn’t have to be! The fact that you’re reading this means you must have some imagination. I know you do. Hey, I believe in you, dear blog reader! Take my rather dull day for example:
The standard non-adventurous day.
I woke up at 7am. Breakfast. Shower. Clean. Dressed. I drove to work, listening to the radio on the way. It was sunny. At work I stared at a screen until my eyes hurt. I helped people sort out their problems. I had a 15 minute break. It was cloudy by then. I did some more work and then drove home. At home I greeted the dogs, waggy tails etc. I ate a sandwich – ham and tomato with mayo. Then I watched a little TV, checked my emails and started writing this post.
How boring was that! Now I’m going to jazz it up with some outlandish fiction.
The fictional wonderful day.
I woke up at 7 and ate a breakfast of wild boar pate on freshly baked French bread. In the shower I sang “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah!” Dressed in clean ironed clothes I hopped in my humble car and drove to work. The radio was a buzz with my favourite tunes. I had my shades on and the sun was shining. It was going to be a good day. I spent my time solving problems, thoroughly engrossed in my work, and loving every minute of it. It was cloudy when I had my break but I didn’t mind, the cool breeze was a welcome relief.
By the time I finished work for the day I was pleased I had made a difference. On the way home I saw a man by the side of the road. He held a sign up, not asking for a lift, it simply said: “Smile & Be Happy.” I did. I was. When I arrived home I greeted the dogs, played fetch and laughed as they licked my face. For lunch I had a gorgeous tuna and cheese toasted sandwich, side salad and ice-cold glass of water. I watched a news report on TV where a reporter told viewers that everything was going to be A-okay after all. I checked my emails, taking time to enjoy every last one. Then I decided to share my happiness with my blogging pals!
Obviously none of that actually happened but all it took was a bit of imagination to give it some pep! It didn’t take much effort, I just thought about how my day could have been better. So you see, life doesn’t have to be wild adventures in order for you to write something interesting.
#10 Writing is a lonely thing. I don’t have anyone to support me. Sigh.
Some say that writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world. Um, yeah, maybe if you live in 1802 and write at a candle lit desk in a tiny windowless room with no company other than a one-eyed, one-armed teddy bear called Mr Ghastly. These days writing isn’t the lonely thing it once was. There’s a vast networked world out there right at your finger tips. There are forums galore, live chat, Twitter, blogs, social networks, Skype…oh so many ways to interact with like-minded folk. Think like MyWANA – We Are Not Alone and you’ll see that writers like you are never alone!
Indigo Spider has set up a NaNoWriMo network called NaNoTeamIndy, just for this special event. I’m on Twitter most evenings, sometimes not for long (I like my bed at the moment) but there are others in #NaNoTeamIndy happy to offer support and encouragement to all have a go Wrimo’s who want to share the excitement of cranking out the words in November.
Need a Kick start?
So, that pesky #8 on the list bothers you, right? Do you find it hard to get started? Maybe you don’t know what to write about or you have an idea but can’t seem to get that first word or line out of your brain. Okay, no problem. Take a deep breath. Relax. Smile. Here are a couple of writing prompts that may inspire you to get those first words down.
The “What can you see right now” Prompt.
Look at your screen. Look to the left and the right. Look on your desk/armchair/kitchen table/bed. What do you see? What object in the vicinity has a story behind it? I’ll tell you what I can see on my desk to give you an idea. In fact I’ll even take a photo to show you!
These bits of tat are just to the left of my screen.
- An old cordless phone – Doesn’t work. I don’t know I keep it there other than to remind me that when I’m writing I enjoy not hearing it ring.
- A pewter tankard – My Dad gave this to me on my 18th birthday. I keep assorted pens in it. Every pen has a story, from the mundane BiC biro bought in Tesco to the pencil with an eraser shaped like a frog on the end.
- A bag of Skittles – Very tasty. I pop one in my mouth whenever I write something I’m happy with. Hmm. I’ll chew on one now.
- Morph – And my plasticine zombie fellow Zorph! I made him myself whilst watching Dawn of the Dead.
- Paddington Bear – Had him since I was about 5. He went with a lamp, matching duvet cover, curtains etc.
- Homer Simpson beer matt – A Christmas present a couple of years back. Sadly the dogs chewed up the other four so this is the last one!
- Assorted PC games – World of Warcraft in particular – fond memories of playing that game. There are a few DVD’s and zombie books there too.
As you can see by this simple example there’s a range of things in view that all have a story behind them. Think about what you can see around your screen, perhaps one or more have a story that you can use to start your fictional adventure.
The “One liner” Prompt.
Try these on for size as a way to get your story going.
- Mr Smith hated me more than the other kids in Art class because…
- My ice cream had already melted by the time we…
- When the ghost opened his mouth the last thing I expected to hear was…
- Jimmy loved ants. Not only did they tickle as they marched over his fingers but they tasted like…
- When the supermarket collapsed into the chasm, Kyle screamed for his…
- When Dave opened his Dawn of the Dead DVD case he saw a….
- The monkeys at the Zoo stared at Penny when she held up her toy…
- Water cascaded over the golden Buddha in the fountain like…
- Benjy raced down the street, a string of sausages trailing behind him like a…
- Dawn hated picture prompts but when she saw the photo of a dolphin kissing the little girls nose she knew…
- Just before the tree fell, a hundred apples rained over the ground. Jenny and Mack jumped for joy when…
- The old man sucked on his cigar then spat on the floor. “Ya’ll be stoopid or somethin?” he rasped.
- Greg was in love with Isabella but he could never tell her because she was already…
- I stopped in my tracks. The dark shape in the undergrowth was watching me. It wanted to…
And so on. I could write these all day. You get the idea? Anything will do to get you started. Ask yourself why stories open the way they do. Writers have to start somewhere so why not with any of those prompts above?
Okay, let’s try a visual prompt this time. Take a look at the images below. I reckon at least one will jump out at you and beg for a story to be told.
The “Photo” Prompt.
All of these images have a story waiting to be told. Why is the duck so huge? Where is the girl going up the steps? Is that one of those funny magic mushrooms? I wonder if that beach belongs to someone rich. Where are the two children running to, or running from?
There are many reasons not to write but when you think about it there are plenty more why you should. I’m sure it was Mark Twain who said:
Sing like no one’s listening,
love like you’ve never been hurt,
dance like nobody’s watching,
and live like its heaven on earth.
I’d like to add to those beautiful words:
Write like no one can read your words.
Create without fear of criticism.
Imagine your world where no one else walks.
Let your words flow like no river ever has.