How Many of These 12 Essential #Writing Tips Do You Use?

All writers – authors, bloggers, journalists, screenwriters – have writing tips that help them.  I feel these twelve are essential for all writers.

1. Write

It may seem obvious that writing is the best way to improve your craft,  but without deadlines, it’s easy to slip into the habit of not writing. I’ve recently picked up an old habit of handwriting something, however short,  in a notebook each day. Most days it’s not the only writing I do, but some days it is, and that very act keeps me in touch with who I am – a writer!

2. Read

Read anything and everything you can find the time to put your hands on. Listen to books or articles if it’s not possible to read. Reading is the second best thing you can do to learn how to write well. Check out my post on #Authors, an Infinite Resource. which shows how we have an endless resource from the world of books and authors in print.

A.K. Andrew,akandrew.com a Writer's Notebook,writing tips, books

3. Explore the World Around You

Inspiration can come in many forms, but most characters whether in fiction or non-fiction are based on real people, however larger than life we end up making them. So sit in a cafe and eavesdrop. Public transportation is a perfect way to overhear what people say, and if you’re lucky you might glean a few different accents too.

4. Embrace the First Shitty Draft

I love the phrase “First Shitty Draft” and first heard it from Catherine Smith , my tutor during my initial semester at my Creative Writing Certificate course at the University of Sussex, UK. It’s such an appropriate phrase and an essential part of the process. Just write the thing down before you do more than a cursory edit, otherwise you’ll slow the process and potentially lose your train of thought & interrupt the creative flow.

5. DON’T Share Your Work in Progress with….

…friends and family. Generally speaking , and there are always exceptions, I think it’s a bad idea. They are not going to give you impartial advice and if you’re unlucky may even become a negative influence on your self confidence.

6. DO Share Your Work in Progress with ….

… other writers. There’s a point where we need to write alone, and not be interrupted by other peoples views of what we’ve written. But after a certain point, it is good to get feedback from other writers you trust, and who’s opinion you value. These impromptu editors will be more and less skilled in the ability to critique. Jeri Walker -Bickett wrote a great post about The Necessity of Critique Groups which I recommend you check out. You will find at the very least a camaraderie about the process you are going through, and most likely the fresh eye your work needs.

7. Be Passionate about Your Work

If you’re not passionate about your subject matter it will show in your work. And for a novelist, it will be an unbearable long slog to get the book finished. So choose your subjects carefully if it’s anything but a short article.

8. Exercise

Writing is a usually a sedentary practice, and makes it even more more important for writers to get physical exercise. Murakami wrote a great book called What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which is mainly an insight into his writing habits. But exercise does a body good in many ways, not only your heart and lungs etc, but your brain, as well. Who knows what you might see on your morning walk? The other morning I saw a snake!

9. Don’t Give Up

It’s hard to finish projects sometimes – any projects actually. Garages across the world are a testament to unfinished projects. But it’s even easier with writing to say it’s not good enough or I’m bored, or it’s too hard, or whatever. Sound familiar? The world is full of people who have lots of great ideas, and lots of half finished manuscripts, short stories and articles stuck in a drawer or file gathering dust on their computer. Do you want to be one of them, or do you want to put your work out in the world? If so, don’t give up.

10. Write New Creative Work During the Revision Process

If you’re a writer, you’re going to spend a lot of time revising or editing. After all  “All writing is re-writing”. But if you’re a novelist you may spend years in the revision process. I think it’s important to write new creative work even during your big edit. It’s realistic if you stick with a short work – flash fiction, or a short story. It’s a very different skill set to edit than to write new work, so don’t get too out of practice with the latter.

A.K. Andrew, akandrew.com, writing tips

11. Don’t Become an Isolated Writer

I feel it’s essential to seek out other writers, not only to help with critiques, but also to not feel isolated. Find other writers where you live if possible and talk about your work, or problems that might arise because of it. Social Media is also a great place to meet other writers and I’ve made good writer friends through a variety of online groups. It’s another way of being out in the world, and hearing new voices, opening yourself up to new information and experiences.

12. Learn to Accept Criticism

This is absolutely essential for any writer who wants to have their work published. Not only as I mentioned, will you get constructive criticism from your critique buddies, but you will also -hopefully – get feedback from your readers, and not all of it will be positive. So develop a thick skin early on in the process. I was surprised how unnerving I found blogging when I first started, as it puts your opinions out into the world. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a lot of support from other bloggers. But I’ve made mistakes, and had a bunch of rejection letters from prospective agents for my novels too. You just do the best you can, change the work as necessary, and realise people will have different opinions to yours, which only makes life more interesting.

Believe in yourself. Isn’t that the most important thing of all that will help you continue your life as a writer?    ~   A.K. Andrew

What writing tips do you use?  What good one’s do you have that I’ve not listed? What have you found the best or most difficult aspect of being a writer? 

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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Do you Want to Start #Writing Like #Steinbeck?

John Steinbeck Photo,A.k. Andrew,akandrew.com,A Writers Notebook

John Steinbeck 1962

 

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the the film release of Grapes of Wrath so I thought it was appropriate to re-purpose this post. If you want to start writing like Steinbeck, then take a look at some of the things he found important and include them in your writing.
 “Learn from the best”

John Steinbeck’s writing methodology was stringent and meticulous. When writer’s you love talk about how they write, it’s hard not listen.

Steinbeck really wanted Grapes of Wrath to be good  – exposing the exploitation of people in 1930’s Southern California, was a story he thought needed telling. I re-read the novel a while ago, and the style blew me away.

It’s incredibly refreshing to read a book with such valuable social commentary that’s also just a damn good story. Part of its success lies in the fact that we live, eat and sleep with the Joad family. Everything is personal, so we care about what happens to the characters, and it allows us to see the injustice very clearly, without the point being hammered home. Steinbeck simply tells a story.

Below is part of John Steinbeck’s interview in the Paris Review*

(Please note: Steinbeck died in 1968. A lot of the quotes were compiled in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters and published in October 1975 by Viking. Hence the Paris Review article was not until 1975.)

The comments in italics are mine.

 ON GETTING STARTED
Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.
 1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish.

Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

This is the most important one & can’t be said too often. One page at a time.

 2. Write freely

…and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

 Don’t worry about anyone looking over your shoulder. Just get the work written. Good tip for all of us procrastinators.

 3. Forget your generalized audience.

In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

I’ve heard this before, and I think it’s an excellent way to keep yourself on track. You can’t write for everyone. So write for one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you

…and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

Rewriting – its all there is. But don’t be afraid to write non-sequentially. Sometimes one just isn’t in the mood to write about a dramatic moment, so switch gears and go to a section you do want to write today.

 5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you,

…dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

Tough to give them up isn’t it?

 6. If you are using dialogue

…say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Excellent tip. If you read it out loud it will sound strained immediately if it’s not working.

On my writers resources page I refer to his book Working Days, which is the diary he kept while he was writing Grapes of Wrath. (He wrote his first draft in 6 months BTW!). It’s a great book for writers if only to show how persistent one has to be to make the end product worthwhile.

Signature of John Steinbeck,a.k. andrew,akandrew.com a writer's notebook

Signature of John Steinbeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are these methods  you can work with? Do you have different ways of attacking the same problems?

 

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

 

Many Thanks!

 

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*Paris Review has rich resource material in their decades of interviews of famous people, writers included.

I first saw part of this particular interview in one of my favorite blogs www.brainpickings.org

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The Next Big Thing week 15: Interview with an Author

The Next Big Thing is an author’s Work In Progress project  from SheWrites. When I read Jeri Walker-Bickett’s  blog last week,  I immediately thought what fantastic questions for any author to ask themselves. So I was thrilled that afternoon, when Jeri emailed, and invited me to participate. A Big Thank You to Jeri.

What is the working title of your book?

Under The Bed’. It comes from the phrase ‘Red’s Under the Bed’, used in 1950’s America.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was set to write the sequel to my first book Radio Echo, catching up with the characters a few years after the end of WWII, but I decided to spread my wings as a writer, switched countries and found a completely different voice. The 50’s anti-Communist era in America struck a chord with me as part of the backdrop. In doing my research and seeing how widespread the effect of McCarthyism was, I didn’t want to focus on the more publicized Hollywood Blacklist, so decided to move cross country and settle my characters in New York.

 

Cover to the propaganda comic book "Is Th...

Cover to the propaganda comic book “Is This Tomorrow”‘ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction. Specifically mid-Century historical literary fiction. Set in both the early 50’s and late 60’s, makes it a tricky time frame, as some camps argue historical fiction has to be 50 years in the past. Other’s say it can be considered historical fiction if the time period – and its depiction – is at the core of the story. I think if the work involves major political or social events of the time and the character’s role in those events are interlinked, it’s historical.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ll let the two main characters in the novel comment on this.

Midge: “I know Izzie said I was a pissy mess the other week, but I’m trying darling, I really am. Putting on a few pounds wasn’t a crime the last time I looked, but pudgy is such an ugly word. And these Chanel suits don’t buy themselves. I was a very successful business woman before the shit hit the fan. Life Magazine was always doing some article on Boswell Designs. Seems a lifetime ago now… like someone else’s life…. Er,… where was I?  Oh yes… The actress would  have to play a younger me as well wouldn’t she?  To do both roles justice,  I think Sharon Stone  would be marvelous. She’s got the same coloring too, don’t you think?”

Izzie: “Do you think I give a shit who plays me in the film? How hard can it be to write some crap poetry, and take a few lousy photo’s in the East Village?  [Takes a hit on a joint]. OK, fine. So I do care. I bet that skinny-assed  Girl With a Dragon Tattoo actress would could make a stab at being meYeahRooney Mara. She’d be good.”

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two women, a generation apart, each burdened by guilt regarding the death of a sibling, find their own lives in danger during the Vietnam era, when the older woman’s brush with McCarthyism emerges during their collaboration on her autobiography.

 

"A female demonstrator offers a flower to...

“A female demonstrator offers a flower to military police on guard at the Pentagon during an anti-Vietnam demonstration. Arlington, Virginia, USA” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will definitely look for an agent to represent me.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

 11 months.

 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I obviously wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to these authors, but I have certainly been inspired by them. These came to mind, each for different aspects of their content.

Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. This is one of my favorite novels and spans the narrators lifetime, who is in her 80’s as she is writing.The novel pays particular attention to the pre & post WWII years, but goes far beyond that in  encapsulating a number of different story lines as well as time lines.

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker. Well know for her incredible “Regeneration Trilogy” ,  this is a sequence to Life Class,  though it’s also a stand alone novel. Set during WWI, the novel is as much about the interpersonal relationships as it is about the era. However, the two are interchangeable and it is the societal times of the era on the life of the individual that, for me is the real correlation between this and Under the Bed.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. This is mid 20th century fiction, set during WWII. But Waters deals with the time frame in a very interesting way as she goes from finish to start.

 

 

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

After a friend told me about growing up with parents who were in the Communist Party in the UK, and what it was like as a teenager in the sixties to have your phone bugged, it made me think about the invasion of people’s privacy and what effect it has on them. Since 9/11 the invasion of privacy has became almost an accepted ‘right’ by Western governments in the quest to protect our freedom. CCTV tracks us constantly and emails are tagged continuously in the fight against terrorism. I questioned the end justifying the means. Eventually I decided to follow how anti-communist fervour has moulded certain key elements of American history, and chose to juxtapose the eras of the Vietnam War and McCarthyism, with 1969 being ‘present day’.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The novel blends the struggle of the individual with that of the bigger picture of the political events of the time. Can we as both individuals or as nations, learn from our past? I believe we can, and yet, as we know, history repeats itself. ‘Under the Bed’ explores how an individual’s lack of control over their fate can be in the hands of the government, even a generation apart. But ultimately the fight for survival and coming to terms with past mistakes is up to the individual.

Washington Square arch peace sign

Washington Square arch peace sign (Photo credit: holycalamity)

 

Here are the authors I’ve tagged for the project. Check out their websites and you’ll be able see their interviews posted there next week.

Claire Cappetta

Doreen Pendgracs

Hemmie Martin

Susan Cooper

Bridget Whelan

Sally O’Reilly

 

I’d love  your feedback on the interview, so do leave a comment below. Or post this blog to your favourite social media.

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10 Rules for Writing: Margaret Atwood

Every author has their favorite rules or ways of writing. Our work can benefit  from learning their process. In the same way it’s accepted painters  learn from the masters , writers too can learn from other writers. ( I wrote in more detail about this in the post An Infinite Authors Resource .) The writer doesn’t  have to be your favorite, but their work must be relevant. When you’re having trouble with a piece of work – your blog, fiction or non-fiction  – don’t reinvent the wheel or plagiarize, but  look at how someone else tackled the problem. For issues on social media, the internet or  websites, I’d go to  Sherryl Perry or Leora Wenger . If you want a slow build up of fear try Helen Dunmore‘s ‘The Betrayal‘. For a more ‘in your face’ scary scene maybe go to Stephen King.

Margaret-Atwood 19.10.2009

Margaret-Atwood 19.10.2009
By Lesekreis (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ¬essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

NB: Margaret Atwood’s rules for writing fiction, originally appeared as part of a feature in  The Guardian . I’d like to give a special thanks to Robert Bruce of  http://101books.net/ ( a fantastic site for book-lovers), who reminded me of her list in a recent post he did on Steinbeck.

————————————————

I really love her dry sense of humor and sticking with the basics, like using a pencil, or your arm!  The rules could also apply to virtually any kind of writing.

OK, my turn…though I have made it easy on myself by only doing three.

A.K. Andrew’s Top 3 Writing Rules :

1. Write little and often. (Whatever  interpretation works for you)

2.  Always carry a notebook (paper or electronic). Odd words or thoughts come  at any time day or night and trying to rely on your memory to recall them is hopeless. I’ve learned how to write small groups of words in the dark, then decipher them in the morning.

3. Write what you enjoy. If you’re not enjoying the process, your reader will never be engaged.

What are your top 3 writing Rules?  (See I’ve made it easy for you too!) 

I’d love to hear your thoughts – and perhaps between us, we can come up with a really great new list of  10 Writing Rules.

Note: This will be my last post for a month, so enjoy the end of summer and I’ll see you back here near the end of September.

 

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Changing #Procrastination Creatively

Beachy Head by A.K. Andrew
Gouache on Card

Procrastination is the master of endless lists, even for things we supposedly want to do – I don’t have time, my artwork sucks, not enough room, too busy to focus, too tired, too________. You name it. They’re all valid reasons. Work, children, ill-health and a myriad of other things stop us from doing what we love. But if we love it so much why do we self-sabotage? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Anticipation creates as many reasons to stop as to start.  If you want to change procrastination, sometimes changing the way we do things creatively can provide a  solution to why we find it hard to pick up the tools of the trade. Shake things up and see what falls out. If you can’t do one thing do another.

I didn’t come to this conclusion by choice, but through developing Lupus, an auto-immune condition. I’ve been a visual artist for over twenty years, but  health problems started overnight almost thirteen years ago. My mobility was severely affected by joint and muscle pain, as well as fatigue. Creatively, it became a learning process of changing how to do things in order to continue doing what I loved.

Painting large canvases standing at an easel, now out of the question, became small works sitting down. Stretching my own canvases was impossible and pre-stretched canvases were initially traded in for flat canvas or paper. Oils became acrylics or watercolors, and long sessions switched to short ones.

Pacing myself is everything. At first I hated it. All of it. But I was determined not to give up. Then I found the challenge of being forced into new ways of working affected the creative process. The change became a source of creativity itself and I produced work I’d never otherwise have done. Procrastination was booted out.

More importantly, I also started writing. At first it was just a journal, but I read so much, I thought why not write? Illness jumpstarted my creative writing, but writing helped me through the process of dealing with my illness.  Synchronicity at it’s best. Writing can be a problem because of joint pain, but it’s something I can do in short bursts, more easily than getting out painting materials. I also use voice activated software when I need to.

Cat Doodle by A.K.Andrew
drawn in SketchbookX on iPhone

I’ve recently been re-introduced to computer art   by Susan Cooper* This has been SO fantastic and I’ve been painting on my iPhone. Now that’s a pretty small canvas! And the non-existent cleanup, leaves more energy for painting. Remember how much fun drawing and painting were when you were  child? Well it can be now. Right now. Whatever age you are. It doesn’t matter what it looks like – no-one’s  going to see it unless you want them to. It’s just fun to doodle. Instead of being bored on your train commute home, or waiting for a dental appointment, why not doodle on your phone or ipad?

For a  ‘painterly’ app, I’d recommend either ‘Brushes’, which is the app David Hockney uses, or ‘ArtRage’ which is a live simulation of the properties of real paint. Both are good for drawing too. At £1.59 for the app, you can’t beat it.  There are also lots of free apps to choose from. (SketchbookX & iDraw are two I’ve used)

 

City Summer Rain by A.K.Andrew
Painted  in ArtRage on iPhone

Blue Mountains by A.K.Andrew
Painted in ‘ArtRage’ on iPhone

We all have things holding us back from what we want to do, but I say if you can’t be a full time artist,  find ten minutes at lunch to write a few lines about a character, or make a sketch for your next painting. After the kids are in bed and you’re tired, jot down a few ideas, knit a few rows , think about what glaze to use in your next ceramic project. If you can’t do one thing do another – keep it small, think ‘different’ and you’ll be able to toss procrastination out with the garbage.

Illness has been a great teacher – I’ve learned to embrace change instead of fighting it, which leaves me open to try new things creatively, or use new tools. When procrastination comes knocking I look for different options. Are you ready to join me?

What draws you away from your creativity? Are there ways you can think of to break things down so that you can take smaller, more manageable steps?

Let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to do things.

 

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Flood by A.K.Andrew
Painted on iphone in ArtRage

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