A Novel Idea

Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Warning: Contains mild coarse language that may offend.

When I felt unwilling to put fingers to keyboard a couple of weeks ago (more writer’s avoidance than writer’s block), I turned to another writer for advice. More specifically, to another writer’s book about the craft.

I reopened Stephen King’s On Writing. I read it years ago, at time when I fancied the idea of being a writer someday, but wasn’t yet ready for what that actually means.

All I remembered from that reading was the admonishment against adverbs.

I had been giving myself a hard time mentally because of what I felt was imperfect prose. I’m on my first draft of my first novel.

I’ve read great literature. I have a degree in it and am pursuing a Masters right now. I feel suitably qualified to criticize my own work.

So I turned to an incredibly successful mainstream author for help.

You can’t imagine my relief when I came to this nugget in King’s book:

‘In the first draft, I’m telling myself the story. It’s the following drafts that I’m telling the audience.’

(I’m paraphrasing to avoid wasting the half hour it would take me to find the page number when I could be writing more).

I took this as permission to bang out the first draft and not worry about the fact that I know this will probably take many more drafts to pass my standards.

Today, passing my enormous bookshelf on the way to make another cup of tea, I noticed my motley collection of writing manuals.

I’ve actually stopped buying them. I’ve read enough now to reassure myself that what I most need is just to get on with it.

Here are some books that have helped me along the way:

  • S. King – On Writing
  • W. Strunk & E.B White – The Elements of Style
    A set of rules to make your grandmother sound positively uneducated. Short sharp smacks to the head. For example “Meaningful – a bankrupt adjective. Choose another…’
  • S. Stein – Stein on Writing
    Includes a formidable table of contents and an entertaining version of the Ten Commandments for Writers. Number 4 “Thou shalt not saw the air with abstractions, for readers, like lovers, are attracted by particularity.”
  • J. Wood – How Fiction Works
    Just a bloody good read.
  • J. N. Frey – How to write damn good fiction
    The Seven Deadly Mistakes address ways to avoid stuffing up your own writing life. These include timidity, trying to be literary, ego-writing, dreams, faith, lifestyle and failure to produce.
  • D. Gerrold – Worlds of wonder: How to write science fiction & fantasy
    I’m not sure I’ve actually read this – an old book mark was stuck at chapter two. The bookmark had a great quote though. See below.
  • R. Silverberg – Science Fiction 101

Let me know if you have great writing manual which really helped you on your journey.

My random book-mark quote find:

‘We are made whole /

By books, as by great spaces and the stars.’

Mary Carolyn Davies, Poet.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Advertisements

I’m not a starving artist, I’d never let it get to that stage. I’m also not flush with cash.

I’m of the belief that you do your best work when you’re not distracted by hunger, family dramas or daytime soapies.

Saturdays are splurge day. A recharge day which is not as frugal as the rest of the week.

It starts with a sleep-in. Strangely I need much less of a sleep-in since becoming a full time writer even though I’m working harder than I did in my demanding corporate career.

Next I have a real coffee from the local cafe. Smooth thick crema. No more than a hint of bitterness.

Saturdays are not all relaxation and rainbows (although yesterday I saw a double as the rain cleared).

I have to run the grocery gauntlet, but Connor does the heavy lifting, so it’s not so bad. In fact this weekend’s shop is likely to be the most enjoyable all year – A4 paper was on special. I now have a year’s supply.

Saturday night dinner is the most extravagant of the week. It involves a bottle of wine and a dish that takes longer than you’re prepared to spare of a weeknight.

Last night was grilled salmon with potatoes dauphinoise accompanied by corn and glossy green beans.

I can highly recommend the version in The fundamental techniques of classic cuisine by The French Culinary Institute.

We’re talking creamy cheese potatoes but more decadent than a simple au gratin.

This perhaps sounds like a fancy-smancy meal but it’s actually not that expensive. We go to the source for fish which means we pay at least a third less and it tastes amazing.

The Gruyère cheese in  potatoes dauphinoise makes the dish. It’s earthy and morish. In small quantities it’s affordable.

Similarly if you’re a meat-eating writer on a budget, don’t go the supermarket steak option. Make steak the special dinner it used to be. Eat it once a month and you can afford top-end happy cows.

If you don’t like food, I don’t see how you can be a good writer.

Good writers transport you into the character’s world. You can not only see and hear it, but you can smell it, taste it. Touch it.

Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume is an extreme example of this. The protagonist has a perfumer’s nose so the olfactory is heightened in description.

I once read Helen Keller’s description of being stuck in a tree as a thunderstorm emerged. She used her other senses to make us feel the texture of her fear.

If you allow yourself to fully experience life, with all of your senses you can capture those on the page.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

How could an aspiring author take comfort from the words of someone who drowned themself?

 Cautiously. Gratefully.

I was reminded of Virgina Woolf’s lengthy exposition, A room of one’s own, just the other day in an unexpected moment.

If you’ve only heard of the famous title or even the quote that to write a woman needs money and a room of her own, I urge you to read it in its entirety.

My partner and I live in a modest two bedroom apartment. We’re yet to have children so have the luxury of a shared study. Our two identical desks line one wall, only you wouldn’t realize they were the exact same desk at first glance.

Connor’s desk is clean. You can see the glass desk top. Everything is masculine black or silver.

You can’t see the top of my desk.

It’s hidden beneath a burgundy woven tablecloth that I bartered with a woman in Cappadocia for. You can’t see much of the tablecloth though. It’s covered in earlier versions of the first five chapters of my novel. There’s a scarf that I wore three weeks ago that somehow hasn’t made its way back to my drawers. Roget’s thesaurus hides under a pencil case stuffed with markers in every colour of the rainbow. A pretty trinket that my father gave me for my twentieth birthday is luxuriating behind a pile of books. Really, I’m lucky to fit a mousepad amongst all this.

Unfortunately or fortunately there’s no view from my desk.

I’ll write anywhere quiet. Libraries are great (free heating and no shortage of reference books). Other people’s houses are great (it’s not your washing so there’s no way your going to waste time cleaning instead of writing). Parks are a good summer option.

Noisy funky cafes are for the cool writers (or those who listened to their Sony Discmans way too loud when they were teens and can consequently never be distracted because they are almost deaf).  

Today it’s been grey and dreary. I didn’t even go for a morning walk. I’m not one to complain about the weather (except for last year’s dust-storms which were horrendous). In fact I love the rain. It was just a whole lot easier to write at home today.

On days like this, I do feel as if I have a room of my own.

Back to Woolf. Her phrase has been bouncing around my brain for the last few days. Connor and I were both in the study, doing our separate things. I finished my word count for the day and triumphantly shut down the computer.

You know, we’re doing a good job of sharing this space, but one day, we’re going to get you a room of your own.

I don’t think Connor was paraphrasing Woolf at that moment. It was more a virtual pat on the back. Kind of like the time one mum said to mine (I must have been three or four at the time but I’ve got a great memory for odd moments):

Your daughter is a good sharer, for an only child.

She meant it as a compliment as well.

Adults are like the stereotypical only child. It’s all about me. Let me tell you about myself (my blog is a case in point). Me me me me more about me.

Connor’s comment was an insight into most people’s (and most couple’s) sad inability to share.

I’m not holding us up as some perfect couple who never fight. We’re both stubborn with strong opinions so we’re bound to clash horns on occasion.

One thing we do really well is support each other. We both know what it feels like to draw blood towards a goal. We both know how much better that feels than being denied the opportunity to give something your all in the first place.

This study is important to us both. It’s a shared resource for individual and team goals.

I hope I can continue to share well, even as finishing times get later and patience is tested.

Someday, when I’m a successful published writer, I will have a room of my own. I’ll make sure he has one as well.

Here’s my favourite quote from A room of one’s own.

‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.


Advertisements

  • None
  • Violet: Thanks Alannah :) Apologies for not replying sooner: I'm finally catching my breath and the year is almost over!
  • Alannah Murphy: I remember your first post, way back when I had my old Here Be Dragons blog, and I am glad you are still writing. We all find out, sooner or later, ho
  • Violet: Good to hear that Aaron. Good Luck with your work.