Week 16 | Your thoughts on… how to get the words down

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 16

This is a topic I touched on a couple of years ago and I must confess, my thoughts on getting the words down haven’t changed much in that time. I have a full-time day job and an active social and family life, so simply getting the time to write is tricky, let alone writing something of worth. The ten “rules” of the way I write are not a one-size fits all, nor are they set in stone, but they are what works for me.

Schedule and set targets

Terry Pratchett habitually wrote at least 400 words a day, and he published 71 books. That’s an astounding number, proving, I think, that regular writing sessions do more for progress than anything else. Now, hoping to be as prolific (and successful) as Terry, I tried the 400 words-a-day thing – and it didn’t work for me. But regular writing sessions and having a specific goal do work for me, my measures are just different.  This is why I have two writing “sprints” per working week, plus at least two hours of focused writing time at the weekend. Sometimes my writing partner joins me for these, and we use the app “Forest” to ensure our minds are on task. So, if your target is to write for ten minutes a week, or 3k per day, set your writing time and stick to it.

Use your “wasted” time

Most of my stories are written on the move. I commute a lot, so I tend to sketch out scenes and chapters sitting on the train. Some days I bring my mini-laptop, other times I use my phone or my notebook. I have literally written a 40k novella entirely using this method.
But it’s not just commuting that’s wasted time. If you’re prepared to write anywhere, you can jot a few sentences whilst you wait for your friend to turn up to lunch, or your partner to come out of the loo, or for that bus to turn up. It all makes a huge difference.
This doesn’t work for everyone. I know writers who have to be in the same place, in complete silence, for their muse to start speaking to them. That’s fine too. But if you can write on the move, do, because your productivity will go through the roof.

Do. Not. Edit.

OK. Perhaps I’ve taken this advice a bit too much to heart, as I’ve taken nearly a year to finish my final edits of Elder Throne. NEVER MIND. That’s my prerogative because I’m actually in the editing stages. I didn’t edit at all when I was in my drafting stage, and I feel this is important for productivity and authenticity of words. First drafts, for me, should be like spilling paint on the floor and telling your three-year-old to finger-paint a picture of you with it: messy, fun, and resulting in something that’s vaguely recognisable as the finished product. Yes, it might take a while to clean up, but the experience will be memorable and heartfelt. If you spend your life cleaning up every time someone drops a literary crumb on the floor, you’ll never enjoy yourself.

Always carry a notebook and pen

Be prepared. Inspiration can strike at any time and it’s much easier to act on it in the moment rather than try to remember it later. Note: Make sure the pen doesn’t leak.

Use Evernote (or similar)

If pen and paper isn’t your thing, I recommend Evernote. It’s an online memory bank, accessible by computer and by phone, and syncs up all your notes for your never-ending convenience. Seriously, give it a go.

Blow off steam

As important as getting the words down is, it’s also mightily important to know when NOT to write. We’re not machines, we need time to recharge. So go see that film, go hang out with friends, cuddle your bowling ball, throw your cat down the alley, etc etc. And, most importantly, don’t feel guilty for taking a break. You deserve it and, when you do come back to your story, you’ll have the benefit of fresh eyes and renewed energy.

Read plenty

An old piece of advice but a true one. As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Plus, who doesn’t love a good book?

Wear blinkers

Writers are an ambitious lot and everyone works toward and achieves their ambition at a different rate. Looking at what someone else is doing is rarely helpful and won’t help your own progress.
So don’t look at how many words someone else has written and think you need to write more. Don’t watch that 15 year old accept a 6-figure publishing deal and tell yourself you’re past it and it’s too late to achieve your goal.
Work at your own pace, with your eyes on your own stories. You can’t see where you’re going if you’re looking at someone else and, if there’s anything television has taught me, it’s that people who don’t look where they’re going tend to walk into lampposts.

Look after yourself

Akin to blowing off steam, this one focuses more on health choices. A healthy body means a healthy mind, and I know I focus a lot better if I’ve drunk enough water or exercised that day. Writers are typically sedentary souls and I’m no exception. What with writing being my hobby and my day job being chained to a desk, I spend most of my life sitting. Eventually, this makes me grumpy and I act out by eating junk food, which just compounds the problem.
I know not everyone is like me. Some people are completely on it: they have gym cards that aren’t thick with dust, and a fridge full of healthy nibbles. But if you are like me, make sure to get up out of that desk chair and / or occasionally not opt for the burger and chips for lunch. You only get one body, and you need it to write all those stories for you.

Have fun!

I think this is the most important one. Write for yourself. Write for the fun of it. Laugh at your own jokes, get swept up in your own plot and, most of all, enjoy the process of creating.

Week 15 | Recipes in your book

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 15

My favourite subject! I love food and, on one particularly hungry morning, I drafted this:

They’d reached the food part of the Market and the air smelled amazing. Everywhere Anna looked, a new, delicious sight reached her. There were huge barrels of hot honeyed nuts, stuffed pumpkins roasted with onions and potatoes, with tender meats being cooked beside them on spits. Freshly baked pies steamed from stalls on the left, every shape and size, and filled with apples and rhubarb and sugared pears. Fresh fruit was piled high in colourful pyramids, and mountains upon mountains of the strangest sweets Anna had ever seen. There were delicately baked biscuits in the shapes of leaves, iced all the colours of autumn. Sugar mice, chocolate hedgehogs and edible treats in the shape of every woodland animal huddled in sweet, tempting families. And there was bread, freshly baked and scenting the air with a sweetness that made her mouth water.

Food isn’t greatly important to my story or any of my characters (except Gourd Goodfellow), but I did spend a bit of time thinking about what kind of things faeries eat. Obviously, not being human, they can eat things that humans cannot, but below are two recipes that are suitable for both species (as long as they are prepared properly!): Continue reading

Week 14 | What, if anything, would you like to express through your writing?

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 14

I’m a firm believer in the whole ‘not every story has to have a moral’ concept, because I think children’s stories that are specifically written to teach children right from wrong tend to fall a little flat. When I was a child, I loved rooting for the small-time villains, or seeing my heroes angrily burst out at authority figures. I liked seeing them getting into trouble and, most importantly, having fun.

So, The Elder Throne doesn’t have a specific moral or cautionary tale to it. I like it better that way. However, someone can’t write a full novel without expressing some kind of opinion through it (or, at least, I can’t in this specific case). So, if I had to pick an idea that’s expressed through writing, it would be that there should be no limits to your belief in yourself. Continue reading

Week 13 | Your book is now a film. What will work well? What won’t?

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 13

Ah. The book-to-film adaptation. I suppose the most important thing to remember is that, if you’re fortunate enough to get picked up for one of these media transformations, you need to know what your priorities are. Changing a book to a film naturally means losing some of the detail only a book can provide but, at the same time, it can bring other aspects of your writing to life.

When Harry Potter was adapted for film, I remember being really excited to watch it, then watching it and being really disappointed because it wasn’t precisely how I imagined (I was a rabid 12 year old, forgive me). This is something I grew out of when I got older, and realised that a) you’re never going to please everyone and b) film has certain restraints and restrictions that books do not.

So…if The Elder Throne was going to be turned into a film, hm? Let’s see… Continue reading

Week 12 | Why a character speaks the way they do / unique slang

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 12

I spoke a few months ago about “Seelie Slang“, which touches on the odd phrases that are particular to the Faerie realm. However, one person who stands out in The Elder Throne as speaking strangely, even for a faery, is Madam Sage Begonia.

Mdm. Sage Begonia

Sage Begonia is the Head of the Knowledge Circle in the Seelie Court. The Knowledge Circle is a large department that holds everything from history to geography, to botany to languages of the world. Although Sage is well versed in all of her subjects, her particular strengths are history and languages. She is fluent in over 80 languages, including English, French, German, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, Goblinese, Hodpodgeon, Flitterwickish, Gaelic, Pictish, Spanish and Mer.  Continue reading

Week 11 | My favourite minor character

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 11

My favourite minor character in The Elder Throne, based only on what is known of them during the story, is Gourd Goodfellow. He is the only son and heir of Lord Leander Goodfellow, who is a power-grabbing suck-up. Lord Goodfellow’s one wish is the same as generations of Goodfellows before him: to marry his household into the royal family.

Gourd is Leander’s hope for a union, and he keeps trying to throw his son and Anna together. Gourd, however, is completely disinterested in his father’s ambitions. Instead, the sole focus of his world, his one, all-consuming passion, is pie.   Continue reading

Week 10 | Thoughts on Gardeners and Architects

Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>

Week 10

Some time ago (two and a half years ago, in fact), I spoke about the Art of Foreshadowing and touched on two different approaches to writing: Gardeners and Architects.

  • A Gardener is a writer who has a basic idea and ploughs into the narrative, letting the characters and plot change and grow as they write.
  • An Architect is writer who has a clear-cut idea of how their story will begin, progress and end, and knows their characters inside out.

Two and a half years ago, I would have told you that I’m most definitely an Architect. I would have also been very, very wrong. Continue reading