Saturday, 2 August 2014

Making it flow and keeping it colourful

There are lots of rules for writing.

I know that because I keep seeing them all over the place. 10 rules for this and 10 rules for that. Lists put up by famous writers, and lists put up by people I've never heard of.

I know rules are good. I know they help to give you guidance and structure, especially while you're doing something that could otherwise be totally free-form and random, like writing. But does it really have to be so complicated? Do we really have to pay attention to so many rules?

I'm sorry, but I just can't make the effort to follow so many rules. I try to keep things as simple as I can when I'm creating my stories (and when I'm doing pretty much anything else for that matter). That's why, I've whittled my list of key writing rules down to two. Of course, I pay attention to basic grammar (as much as I know of it) but beyond that, I have two key rules that I follow:
  1. It's got to flow
  2. It's got to be colourful.
That's it. That's as simple as it is. Writing that flows and writing that's colourful. I'll try to explain it in a little more detail.

Writing that flows is easy to explain. It's like thinking of the story as a river, and the reader as a boat just setting off. From the very first word, it's got to pick that boat up and set it on its way as smoothly as possible. No bumps or obstacles, nothing that gets in the way of a smooth journey from beginning to end. Every sentence links to the one before it. Every character is consistent and clear. Every idea is logically developed. Once you start reading, from that very first word, the only thing you can do is keep on reading.

The other key aspect is colour. It's sort of like trying to paint a picture with words. Lots of words. Big words and little words. As great a variety of words as I can find. The idea is to make sure the reader "sees" the action as it happens, as if they're a part of it. I think the biggest compliment I get from readers is when they tell me that this works for them.

Sometimes, it's a bit of a compromise. Sometimes, you have to break the flow to ensure there's enough colour. Sometimes, you have to pull back on the colour to keep the flow. But all in all, the two elements work well in tandem. Putting them together is a big part of what makes writing so rewarding.

Anyway, those are my rules. I find that as long as I can stick to them, I'm pretty happy with what I produce. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Following my instincts

Writing is difficult, right?

I suppose I better say yes. After all, given that last week I wrote about how writing makes my brain hurt. Seems like I'd be a bit of a hypocrite if I then came out and said the complete opposite. People would start to think I made up these posts on the spot, just to fill in space on my blog.

Well, putting aside the potential truth of the last sentence, I do want to take a slightly different angle today. Writing still is difficult. It still makes my brain hurt. But, despite that, there are often times when it feels like an incredibly natural process. Words just flow out from my mind and onto the page.

At times like that, I begin to wonder if writing is more of an instinctive process. Sometimes, it works best when I don't think too much about it. And to be honest, I'm not particularly schooled as a writer. I haven't read a heap of books on writing, and while I have attended some classes, these have mainly focussed on workshopping material rather than the actual craft of writing.

Are people born with the skill to write? Is it something that just comes naturally? Whenever I think this might be true, I remember how much I've actually read. In some ways, reading a lot of books is the perfect learning tool for learning how to write. Every book (or at last every good book) has been a lesson in how to construct character, how to set scenes, how to deliver dialogue, and all those other aspects of storytelling. Over the years it's sunk in, helping me to become the writer I am today.

So if writing truly is instinctual, it's definitely a learnt instinct. It's from unconsciously absorbing the techniques for writing that you're able to then use them in a manner that feels instinctive.

And whenever I feel like it might be that easy, I get something back from an editor and see how much red there is on the page. That's when I remember that no matter how much I've gained from my reading, there's always a lot still to learn. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Writing makes my brain hurt

People think we writers have it easy. What a great job. You get to sit in front of a computer and make stuff up. Or maybe you recline on a couch with a piece of paper and make stuff up. Or perhaps, you sit in a cafe, nursing a cup of coffee and making stuff up.

Believe me, it couldn't be further from the truth.

Writing is hard work. And when I say hard work, I mean physically hard work. Ok, so maybe you're not likely to suffer a broken limb or a bad back (unless your writing chair isn't suitably ergonomic), but it's still hard work. How do I know this? Because when I have finished writing for the day, there is one part of my body that always hurts. My brain.

Writing really does make my brain hurt. It makes me feel like my brain has been squeezed and stretched and poked and prodded in every possible way imaginable. And why wouldn't it, because while I am writing, that is pretty much exactly what is happening to my brain.

Sometimes, at the start of the day, I sit at my computer, waiting. I feel a bit like a swimmer at a pool, preparing to take that first dive in. I know that once I start, I'm going to be putting my brain under serious stress. I feel like I need to draw a deep breath before taking the plunge.

As soon as I'm in there, I can feel the stress building up. Sometimes, it feels as if I'm wrestling with the words, trying to force them into place. Other times, it's as if I'm trying to rip something out of the very air in front of me, or dig it out from the depths of my mind.

Either way, it's not easy. The more I do it, the more I feel like my brain is being tied in knots. The more it starts to throb, making me feel like my eyes will pop out and my head will explode.

By the time I'm finished, I know I've put myself through a workout. I know I'm exhausted, and my head will need a good, long rest.

I hope I've convinced all you people out there who think that writing is like a walk in the park. Writing is difficult, stressful, brain-exhausting work.

So if it's such a slog, why do I do it? Because, despite all the mental strain, it's still lots and lots of fun. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Far too selfish to be writing for the screen

I once did a screenwriting course.

Actually, I'm not completely sure if that's true. I once started doing a screenwriting course. I never quite made it to the end. I pretty much got halfway and then called it quits.

There were a number of reasons why I left the course. Partly, because of time constraints, particularly as it was around the time I first became a father. Partly because I didn't think the quality of the instruction was all that good. But the most significant reason why I decided I didn't want to be a screenwriter is because in the end I'm just far too selfish.

The logic behind this connection may initially escape you. Please allow me to explain.

Like I said above, I didn't think I learnt all that much from my two years in the course. However, there was one significant revelation. The film and television production industry was definitely not a writer-focussed industry.

As a writer working in the television industry especially, you were basically a gun for hire. If you made it - if you were one of the extremely lucky ones to actually get any work - you had to write for whatever shows you could get onto. The industry in general was run by the producers and the production houses. They were the ones who decided what got made. As writers, you just wrote out the scripts as required.

This would definitely not have worked for me. I like to be in control. I like to work on my own ideas, and develop them in the ways I would like to develop them. In short, I'm a selfish writer.

I reckon if I actually got some work, I would spend most of my time annoying everybody else in the production team, e.g. criticising the scripts, suggesting changes to plots, adding or removing characters at random. Would I have made myself popular? Not very.

I know in the US that's now not necessarily true, especially for TV. I know they talk about a golden age of television, with a new breed of writer driven shows. But here on the other side of the world, we definitely haven't made that step.

So I guess it's back to my books. Back to writing my story exactly the way I want to. Back to being a selfish writer. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Half yearly progress update

It's hard to believe that we've passed the halfway mark for 2014 already. Seems like a good time to review my progress so far and see how I'm tracking with my writing (and publishing) goals. So here goes:
  1. Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle - done and dusted. Was released on 19 May by the wonderful people at Evolved Publishing. And it's come up very nicely too, if I don't say so myself. Getting my first picture book published has been a real highlight.
  2. Magnus Opum - have been making slow progress on getting Magnus Opum ready for republishing by Booktrope publishing. Story has been re-edited and a new cover designed. At this stage, we're just down to final preparation, so hopefully we're only a few weeks away from release day. Watch this space.
  3. My YA novel - tentative title Through the Flame -  I've been making steady progress on this. The original goal was to have a publisher-ready MS by the end of the year. I've already completed a full rewrite of the original first draft, and am now five chapters into a second rewrite. So it's looking highly likely that I'll achieve that deadline with months to spare.
  4. Another published picture book - am in discussions with the people at Evolved for a follow up to Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle. Don't want to say too much at this stage but we're close to having an edited MS so I'm highly hopeful that I can have another picture book available by the end of the year.
  5. More picture book MSs - at the start of the year I set myself a goal of at least two new picture book MSs (to add to my already substantial pool). I've just completed one with the title Bella and the Blue Genie, so officially halfway there.
  6. My detective novel - tentative title A Fate Worse than Death - I was originally hoping this might be ready for publication by the end of the year, but with Magnus Opum taking longer than hoped, that's probably less likely at this stage. Again, watch this space.
  7. My dinosaur story - a companion piece for Flidderbugs that has been in my head for a while. I hadn't really planned on starting on it this year, but depending on how other projects go, there may be a chance. I'm hoping to have it ready to publish, maybe later next year.
 So as you can see, progress has been good, with a couple of major achievements. But still plenty of work to do. Roll on the rest of 2014. Let's see where we're at by the end of the year. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

This post is definitely not about writing

I read some really useful advice for writers about blogging the other day. And let me tell you, if I ever see any advice about blogging, I'm sure to read it because, let's face it, I need all the help I can get.

Anyway, what this advice was suggesting was that I shouldn't be blogging about writing. I should be blogging about anything else I can think of to make myself seem interesting. This seemed like pretty smart advice, so I thought I'd have a go at it. After all, I am a really interesting person. I shouldn't have any trouble coming up with all sorts of ideas.

So, hmmmm, what to blog about?

How about fishing? I went fishing once, a long time ago. It was really fun. At least I think it was really fun. Actually, now that I think about it, it wasn't that great. I felt so bad trying to get the little worm onto the hook - like I was some sort of evil, vicious worm killer. And then, the fishes were all messy and squirmy and made a mess in the boat. Plus I got sunburnt from being out in the sun too long.

Okay, so maybe fishing isn't the number one topic I should choose for this blog.

I know, how about carpentry? When I was a kid, I did a bit of carpentry with my dad. We used to work in the garage (it never had cars in it 'cos it was always too full of other stuff). Sanding and sawing and drilling and nailing. I was never much good at it. No matter how carefully I aimed that hammer at those nails, I always ended up taking out my fingers instead. And anyway, I always seemed to end up spending most of my time on the sanding, which was just quite unbelievably boring.

All right, so maybe talking about carpentry isn't such a great option either.

This is turning out to be harder than I thought. Here I was, thinking I was a well-rounded individual with a variety of interests and a wealth of knowledge to share. Turns out, I'm scarily one-dimensional and don't know half as much as I think I do.

I think I better leave this post right now and go out to find some new hobbies to take up. In the meantime, I really hope you don't mind if I go back to talking about writing next week.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Anti-social? Who me? Well yes, actually

It seems these days that there's nothing more important than being social. With all this emphasis on social media and Facebook this and Twitter that, sometimes it seems like the worst thing anyone could possibly do is try to find any time away from the rest of the world.

There seems to be even more pressure on us writers. If we're not out there selling ourselves and our books, then we're definitely behind the eight ball. We have to be as big and loud as we can, after all how else is the world ever going to know about us and our wonderful, groundbreaking, earth shattering stories.

I hear all of that, and I'm doing my best. I can regularly be spotted shooting my mouth off on Twitter and Facebook. Even the fact that I'm doing this blog is a testament to that. But I have to say I find it pretty draining. Because, when it comes down to it, I'm just not the sociable type.

Sure, I'm not completely antisocial. I do actually have friends (at least I did last time I checked) and I do get out of the house to socialise (all right, maybe not that often, but I blame that on the kids). But, the fact of the matter is, given the choice of a raging, noisy party or a bit of quiet alone time, I'll often quite happily choose the latter over the former.

It's the quiet alone time that I really value. It's the chance to be alone with my thoughts. That's when I can recharge, and work the stress of everyday life out of my system. And that's the time when I can generate the ideas that I need for my stories.

Whether it's coming up with new ideas, or sorting out seemingly intractable problems in a work-in-progress, quiet alone time is absolutely vital. I would even go as far as to say it's the most important tool any writer can have. Sure, we may know about all the various writing methods and techniques, but without that quiet alone time, I don't see how you can ever put them into action properly.

So I guess that's enough of me being here for now. It's time for me to cut out and find a quiet spot. I'm sure real-life will drag be back at some point. But in the meantime, I'm off to be unsociable.