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The first writing workshop that I'm co-hosting in September, is focussing on how to Get Started on that book you’ve always wanted to write. I started mine so long ago that I’ve almost forgotten how I did it!
Thankfully we have Helen Cross leading us: who has been through the ‘starting’ process on many occasions. And although I’m sure that everyone’s experience will be different, a common thread running through is the need to be armed with some basics to make that first step seem less daunting, and to help keep us focussed. Helen will be giving us techniques and exercises to achieve exactly that. We recently asked Helen what advice and tips she would give to people who are looking to start writing a book:
‘Start by putting your thoughts, memories, ideas, anecdotes into words. Writing prose fiction is different to writing a diary or a letter, you are creating an imaginative landscape, internally and externally, and you should let your writing style rise to the challenge. Read your paragraphs aloud and consider what sounds best. As you get into a habit of doing this regularly, you will begin to identify your own writer's voice, a style of expression that is uniquely, and engagingly, you.
Then begin paying attention to characters - noticing and noting details about any forming in your mind. Try to write with concrete nouns rather than abstract nouns – place an emphasis on things rather than feelings. Tell me what a character wears and says but also how they smell and sound. A great help to you will be learning to eavesdrop, noting down snippets of revealing, funny or astonishing conversations. Travelling on public transport is good for this. When you have characters who interest you, begin to build their world: think what is happening within them as well as without. What is their problem and what could happen in a story as they start to solve that problem?'
Helen’s top-tip is to carry a notebook so that you can write things whenever they spring into mind – often those initial raw thoughts are the purest.
In my experience, I have found there are times when I am unable to jot ideas down, so instead I use my voice recording facility on my iphone, because, did you know – our short-term memory only retains information for three minutes. Three minutes! That's nearly as bad as the memory of a gold-fish - no wonder I’ve forgotten so many excellent one-liners!
I’m disciplined, so forming a writing routine was easy. I’m also self-employed, so I can keep at least one day a week free to write. I write either in my office, surrounded by photos, pendulums, pictures and post-its, or in my caravan out in the garden – depending on the weather! My cat is never far from me, and neither is a cup of coffee.
I sit down to start writing at around 10am, trying not to get side-tracked by social media. I’ll write solidly until lunch, and then do another hour before going out for a walk. It does me good to clear my head – and I’m never more inspired than when I’m sweating out in the fresh air!
Once I have an idea, I just need to get it out, so I could probably write 3,000 to 5,000 words in a day. Once I have the initial idea onto screen, I then start the process of editing. In a previous life as an overseas development worker, I wrote many many reports, and so developed a logical approach to managing a lot of words. When I received feedback on Spaghetti Head, from my first wave of readers, I felt overwhelmed by having to figure out how to make changes to 85,000 words without losing track. I sat down in front of the manuscript and stared at it, and stared at it, until I figured out the most logical approach.
I never write at weekends.
I find writing therapeutic – so I’m never happier than when I’m tapping away on my laptop.