Tag Archives: Stephen King

Diary of a Mad Writer: Week 1: FIRST DRAFT NERVES

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I want to share my favourite writing related quote. If you’re a writer, particularly a fiction author, you’ve probably already heard it. It’s from Stephen King: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/156272-amateurs-sit-and-wait-for-inspiration-the-rest-of-us). He also said: ‘Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones,‘ (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/stephen_king.html). I agree with Stephen King on both points. Inspiration is a fickle master (or mistress), one who comes and goes as he (or she) pleases and doesn’t always give up the goods. When I was writing my debut novel AFFLICTION, I would quite often sit down at the computer at 9 a.m, after the school run, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. Two full length novels and a novella later, I’m still doing the same thing. I’m sat here now, writing this blog post (firstly, because I really, really want to, I’m a writer after all. But secondly) because I don’t have a clue where to start. I’m at chapter five. I’ve managed to hit my daily word count target. I have more than a general sense of the story, and where it is headed. But as for how I’m going to open chapter five, or what’s going into it, I’m as lost as a blind rat on a ship she can’t remember getting on to. I have to force myself to get inspired, and I do that in a number of ways. Music is one. I have a playlist, a sort of soundtrack for whatever book I’m working on at a given time, and when I’m working on a first draft I often listen to several songs over and over again. I’m not particularly into music; songs I like generally spark an image or a feeling in me I can use to get the ball rolling. Presently, I’m listening to Milky Chance, Stolen Dance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX-QaNzd-0Y), and Vance Joy, Riptide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ_1HMAGb4k) My list ALWAYS includes U2’s With or Without You (my all time favourite tune) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmSdTa9kaiQ, and Hoobastank’s Inside of You (which is a rare ten out of ten too) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcSZ7deAHbw . When I want to get away from the computer I’ll walk my dog Nimue, a double-merle border collie who’s partially sighted and very active. I more than often leave the house with no idea what’s going to happen to my characters next, only to arrive back home with a clear plan of the following chapter at least. Walking and listening to music are my two top ways to force inspiration to cough up, with ironing and washing up close behind. So, yes, we do plonk our butts down and work whether inspired or not, but we also have our ways of whipping Inspiration into shape. I’d love to hear about other ways to get the ideas flowing. King’s second quote, about all books having lessons to teach us, particularly the bad ones, applies to the books we are writing, (not only the ones we are reading). It isn’t for me to say which category my novels fall into, certainly I’m never going to be one hundred percent happy with anything I write, but certainly, my first drafts are always rubbish. I used to scrap… a lot. Now I don’t. Those awful manuscripts, they can teach me a great deal, like how to commit to a story, how to fill up holes in plot points you could drive a bus through, how to sharpen my vocabulary and swap weak words for strong ones. Inevitably, I am always happier with my subsequent drafts and all because I stuck with it. Talking about books that can teach you a thing or two, this week¬† I invested in a non-fiction book: Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, by Nick Stephenson (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG). I have next to no budget either for marketing, or book covers etc, but this was money well spent (and it was inexpensive, less than a cup of coffee from Costa). I have implemented ONE of the points¬† – Keyword Strategy – and have already seen my sales increase. Finally, I subscribe to Joanna Penn’s (The Creative Penn, http://www.thecreativepenn.com) newsletter and learned about the Self-Publishing Success Summit, July 12th – 23rd. I’ve checked out the schedule and there are some great talks lined up. I’ve got my ticket, it’s free as long as you listen live or within 72 hours. http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com. Happy writing

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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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