Tag Archives: Reading



You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You’ve finished your rough draft. It might be 20,000 words, it might be 50,000 words, it might have taken you four weeks, might have taken you months, it makes you want to lament the loss of your lifelong dream to become a writer because it’s awful. So far away from the sparkly, polished prose of your favourite authors; a primitive ancestor who shouldn’t see the light of day. No fear. Don’t bin it, don’t stuff it in a dusty drawer, almost every author who has ever existed has at some time been in the same situation. The difference: they rewrite.

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten,’ said Micheal Crichton. Louis Sacher says he did not become a good writer until he learned how to rewrite (both these inspirational quotes about rewriting plus more can be found here: http://www.brainyquote.com). Be prepared to work, be prepared to bare your soul, be prepared to be baptised by fire. Be prepared for the rewrite. This is where you build your house, only to knock it down, just to rebuild it again. Sounds crazy? It is. And it isn’t.

I find that after completing the rough draft, I  have connected with my book. I expect to have the foundation of the story, a skeleton which now needs to be fleshed out. Think of the rewrite as putting the internal organs in place, the lungs, the liver, the heart particularly; the aim is to identify the heartbeat of your book, the rhythm of the narrative, the arcs and peaks of the developing plot lines: beginning, middle and end find their places in the sequence of things. At this stage I don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation, vocabulary and technique, I try to get it right as much as I can during every draft, but it isn’t my main concern when I’m rewriting; more important to know what I want to say and find the best way to say it.

The rewrite is about fleshing out what has already been written, changing and improving along the way. I always begin by asking myself: What can I do to make the book better? I write a list, it will be different for each project because each book needs different things, but the basics are the same: conflict, jeopardy, character development, extra research, what needs to be removed, what needs to be changed and/or developed…Then I go through the list making the necessary adjustments. The purpose of this stage is to have a solid story foundation – is the pace right? Is the narrative engaging? Would I be better starting with Chapter 3 rather than Chapter 1? Should I cut out a particular character altogether because they aren’t bringing anything to the table? What is it I really want to say (or more likely, what is it my hero/bad guy really wants to say?). It’s a matter of sensing what needs to be strengthened, removed, altered, and having the motivation, determination and commitment to address the issues.

Check out this article by Matt Salesses for some great advice: http://necessaryfiction.com/writerinres/AMonthofRevision and remember, it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, writing, rewriting, etc. But the more drafts you work on, the better your story will become. I know my writing will never be perfect, but it is something I am happy to put my name too, and that is surely the best outcome.

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If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say the best way to become a better writer is to read, I’d have more money than I could ever hope to make through being an author. It seems to be the default response to the question: how do you become a better writer? I doubt many bestselling authors – or even vaguely successful ones – got that way by reading alone. I suspect they write prolifically.

Reading is like sitting in a classroom being taught to restore cars. In theory you know what you’re doing, but aren’t your fingers just itching to get on a screwdriver, hammer, or spray painter? Aren’t you dreaming about the smell of real leather interior over the dusty stink of a photo in an old manual?

Writing is the equivalent of being allowed onto the workshop floor, inhaling the stench of grease whilst your hand slides across the smooth, cool, freshly painted body, or stripping out the old bits that can’t be fixed and polishing up the rusty bits that can to a high shine.

Writing is the equivalent of being on the workshop floor, smelling the grease as your hand slides across the smooth, freshly painted body

Writing is the equivalent of being on the workshop floor, smelling the grease as your hand slides across the smooth, freshly painted body

Yes, you may make mistakes, but the hands-on approach has to be the best way to improve. You can always refer back to the study material when needed. Reading makes you a better reader, but writing makes you a better writer. Reading is important – very important – and fun, but there can be no substitute for time spent crafting your own words.

And never underestimate the power of having a qualification. I’m not talking about taking a course in creative writing, although this can be inspiring, but a proper qualification that also gives you something to fall back on if the writing doesn’t take off. I have learned so much from my BA(hons) in English Language and Literature that although I have always wanted to be a writer, I know now I can give it my best shot. I estimate that I must have produced upwards of 40,000 words in final assignments over the four years it took (not including the draft versions).

Anyone can be an writer, it’s true, you don’t need more than the inkling of an idea and the ability to string words together to forge ahead with constructing a book, but if you are serious about building the foundations of a long career, and care about what your readers are getting, you have to take the job seriously and invest time learning all you can about language and how to apply it to your chosen genre. This is best achieved by getting your butt down on a chair/or sofa/or futon if you prefer, and letting the words flow.

Reading lots of books isn’t enough. You have to write to get better at writing. Anything. Blogs; tweets; short stories; full length novels you end up binning because you know they’re so bad that’s the best place for them; reviews. All words are good. Work your apprenticeship but don’t think this is enough, even when you have your first, second, third, twentieth book out there, know you will still have much to learn. Be open to this. Writing is a beautiful thing. It deserves your full attention.

But that’s easier said than done, you might say, I’ve said it enough in my time. But where does the inspiration come from? Inspiration comes from everywhere. Music, television, photographs, people, quotes, books etc. It’s all about the story. I find something piques my interest, I can’t get the thought out of my head and over time it grows into something I have to explore further.

The flip side of this is that I quite often write when I’m not inspired. If you want to work as a writer for a living, you have to be able to do this. Stephen King said it best when he said: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (Stephen King, On Writing: A memoir of the craft). I think that sums it up. Sometimes inspiration is something you make happen when you sit down at the computer faced with a blank page and just have faith the words will flow and you will be able to edit them into something you are happy with. But that will only happen if you actually, physically, write.

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