Sunday, 26 February 2012

I ♥ Research

The school of thought which suggests you write about what you know is a school for fools. Yes, poor, joy-starved, innocent fools.

And I will tell you why. It is because writing about what you don’t know forces you to research, and research is quite frankly awesome.
The genes reunited party
was a sober affair

I’m not talking about general research - the sort of research you get from just living; the details of your everyday life. Say, for example the way your headlights shatter when you hurtle into the back of a stationery vehicle, the sick feeling in your guts from overdosing on chocolate ice cream, the joy of family reunions …  You know these things already; you pay attention to them because you are a writer, and you store them up for future use. This is what people mean when they say write about what you know.

I am talking about specific research; the sort of research you need to do to find out about something outside of your day to day life experience. You may already have a sketchy knowledge of your subject or you may be without a clue about where to start or what you’ll find, but either way you will have to unearth information from somewhere; books, real people (yes, scary I know), activity or by trawling the internet. There are no limits to what you can research apart from those self imposed limits of imagination and daring. 

And I love that.

I love it because every time I discover something new, I see the world through fresh eyes. Whether I am pre-first draft or half-way through the umpteenth draft, (because yes, research is ongoing) I have a new opportunity to be ingenious and inventive and to make my story fit in with the real world. It’s a challenge to my creativity, which is, after all, why I write in the first place. But there is also the joy of synchronicity - that moment when something you have newly discovered falls into place and fits so easily into your story, it’s almost as if it were meant to be.

Whilst researching my current work in progress, so far I have learned card tricks and illusions, the twelve signs and attributes of the Chinese zodiac, what shape footprints you get from a fox, how to bake tiger bread, how to avoid red-eye when taking flash photographs, how to adopt a baby and that cats do indeed play the piano.

And all of these things have not only enriched my life, they help me to develop, deepen and improve my writing. Plus, they help to immerse me in the world of my story and focus my mind.

If I only wrote about what I knew, I would soon get bored. 
All these amazing things out there would be missed. 
My life would be smaller.

So there we have it. Go forth and write about what you don’t know, safe in the knowledge that research is fun, and a challenge to your ingenuity, creativity and imagination.

Now, what have you researched lately? 

Friday, 10 February 2012

The curse of OUT THERE

You never know who
will buy your books.
In case you didn’t know, this being a writer lark is more difficult than it looks. It’s not just a question of writing great stories with perfectly formed characters, realistic dialogue, intriguing plotlines and properly researched back stories. It’s all about getting ‘OUT THERE’, and being noticed. (In a good way.) (Or so I am told.) Which stands to reason really. If people are going to buy your books, it might be helpful for them to know who you are before they invest hard earned cash in your product. 

Hence the blog.

blog   n. - A shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies. intr.v  blogged, blog·ging, blogs - to write entries in, add material to, or maintain a weblog.

Trimming and dyeing dogs
to look like endangered animals
is fun for all the family.
I wouldn’t exactly say this was a shared project (although I would welcome contact from ANYONE interested in dipping a careful toe into the blogging sea, thus avoiding the embarrassing scenario of flailing around desperately for topics to write about). And I wouldn't exactly say this was about my personal experiences and hobbies, because I am sure you don't want to know about them. 

But I was hoping to write something intelligent, every two or three weeks, about the whole delicious process of writing, editing and all things authory, whilst cleverly signalling to the world that I am more than willing to be OUT THERE - ready to sign on the dotted line of publishing success.

But after only three posts, I have discovered that being OUT THERE is even harder than being IN HERE, and I cannot think of a single inspiring, amusing, clever, sharp, beautifully observed or scholarly thing to write. The only things which leap into my mind, leap out again as soon as I put fingers to keyboard.

I am reminded of the time I decided to record my dreams. Someone told me I could learn a lot from this, and revelations from my inner psyche were to be my new creative starting points. It all sounded so easy; like the downhill path to deeper personal knowledge with artistic inspiration thrown in. I kept a notebook next to my bed and every day upon waking, I wrote down my (up until then) very vivid dreams, for later analysis.

But after a couple of weeks, what actually happened was that I started to have nightmares about losing the notebook, or the pen running out of ink, or worse, forgetting my dreams. My rich vein of inspiration and self- knowledge dried up, literally overnight, and so I gave up.

However, I am determined that will not happen this time. I will not be defeated by blog block.

Instead, I turned to Google and discovered that
a)      I am not alone with blog block,
b)      I am not the first writer to write a whole blog post about blog block, and
c)      Overcoming blog block is as simple as writing about it.

The genius,
Darren Rowse
It was Darren Rowse who gave the advice, ‘Think about a problem you had … and write a post that solves that problem.’ 


Within minutes, my problem was solved. And what is more, in the process of writing this blog, I have had lots of ideas for new blogs. So bear with me, I promise to return in a week or three with something intelligent and worth reading. But in the meantime, if you are a flailing, floundering or fledgling children's writer and blogger, and would like to join me on this journey to OUT THERE, please apply below.

Thank you. That is all.