Tuesday, 27 January 2015

When you’re stuck …

Anyone who has ever written a novel will tell you it is easier to start than finish. I don’t think it particularly matters whether you plan meticulously or write in free fall, the beginning of a novel is always exciting and full of possibility. You write those first chapters with a head full of ideas and a heart full of optimism; of course you do, or you wouldn’t even get started.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time, thought Toby.
But then, a few chapters in, something happens; either the ideas dry up, or else they come so thick and fast you don’t know which way to turn. You probably do know how your story ends, but suddenly you have no idea how to get there. The phrase, 'I don’t where I’m going with this' is all too familiar, although what we should really be saying is, 'I don’t know where I’m going NEXT.' I’m not talking about a temporary brain freeze which can easily be resolved by a break from your computer, a cup of coffee and a little bit of mental space; I am talking about the kind of stuckness which jeopardises completion of the whole project.

If this resonates with you, my advice is to do just one (or all!) of the following…

  1. Remind yourself how your book ends. The ending – like the beginning – should be less complicated, and focusing your mind on your goal may help you to think of some ways you can get there.
  2. If you don’t have an end in mind, try brainstorming all possible scenarios (in a separate document). Writing anything is better than writing nothing and keeps those creative juices flowing in the right direction.
  3. Think about the next plot point – as opposed to the next ten or twenty plot points – and keep on writing. Subsequent plot points will fall into place as you free up your creative mind.
  4. Take some time out to focus on the main character. Write down a list of questions about their motivation, desired outcome, relationships, and actions. Try to ask open questions which lead to possibility and ideas, (for example, Where do you want your relationship to be at the end of the story?) rather than closed ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. (Do you want to marry a prince?)
  5. Tell yourself YOU CAN DO IT. This is likely to be a confidence issue. No one is making you do this, so the motivation must come entirely from within. It’s all too easy to think you can’t do it, but the bottom line is … guess what? YOU CAN.
  6. Carry on writing – which seems like a backward piece of advice when you don’t know what to write, but it’s not. Write through the pain. Write rubbish. Write anything. Write yourself a bridge from the Land of Stuck to the way ahead. As long as you keep on writing you’ll keep on thinking, focusing, creating, and eventually you will cross that bridge.
  7. If you’re feeling brave, ask someone else for suggestions. They might not have anything useful to contribute, but on the other hand, they might have that very shiny nugget which inspires you and lights the road ahead…
Above all else, remember that all writers reach this awful moment at some point in their writing career, where they cannot see the way forward. The only thing which separates you from them, is that they carried on.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

23 things to avoid

Here's another repeat posting from the now defunct Magic Beans Blog - because I am in the throws of editing and it's always worth remembering how NOT TO do it. 

  1. Weak words – got, that, stuff, really, went, was, had, things
  2. Passive sentences – EG Instead of the burger was eaten by the child, try, the child ate the burger. Instead of the boy was chased by a cow, try, a cow chased the boy.
  3. Wordy writing – EG Instead of she was eating, try, she ate. Instead of he was walking slowly, try, he dawdled.
  4. Superfluous adverbs (he said angrily, she walked quickly from the room)
  5. Vague words – seem, approximately, about, appear, look as if, roughly, more or less, give or take, almost, nearly
  6. Indistinct nouns – for example, instead of ‘flowers’ say roses, instead of ‘dog’ say spaniel, instead of ‘car’ say Ford Fiesta
  7. Adjacent sentences without connective tissue   
    Too much show...
  8. Repetition of words, sentences and ideas
  9. Over-reliance on show or tell (either can be tedious)  
  10. Blow by blow description of character movements 
  11. Failure to engage all senses, and relying on facial reactions and dialogue for effect.  
  12. Clichéd phrases, images, ideas
  13. Disorganisation on every level (sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter) 
  14. Lack of clarity
  15. No sense of place or atmosphere
  16. One dimensional, clichéd or stereotypical characters  
  17. Characters using each others names repeatedly when talking to each other
  18. Wooden, boring and/or irrelevant dialogue
  19. Reliance on dialogue to convey information to the reader
  20. Plot holes
  21. Abandoned plot threads or characters
  22. Coincidences that easily resolve tough situations
  23. Exclamation marks!!!
    ...or too much tell?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Raring to go...

Phew! Well that's another festive season over and done with... and if, like me, you are raring to get back to work, my advice is to set your alarm a couple of hours earlier than normal, get up and start writing. Don't stop to check your emails, look at your twitter feed or see what your friends did last night on facebook. Go straight to your seat of creativity (via the kettle) and write. 


Because I am reliably informed that the early morning is the best time to work. At this time you are most likely to be creative, focused and therefore productive. It is something to do with the frequency of your brain waves.  The brain has four different frequencies of brain waves:

  • Beta waves - associated with peak concentration, heightened alertness and visual acuity.
  • Alpha waves - associated with deep relaxation, and thought to be the gateway to creativity
  • Theta waves - associated with the twilight state that we experience fleetingly as we drift off to sleep and are strongly linked with creativity and intuition.
  • Delta waves - associated with deep sleep.
The most relevant of these to writers and other creatives are alpha waves, which appear when your eyes are closed and your mind is in a quiet state of relaxation. Usually this is between sleeping and waking.

When your brain is in an alpha rhythm state, the critical censoring function performed by your left brain is half asleep and the feelings and images from your creative right brain can more easily pass through the gate-keeper of your left hemisphere, unaffected by judgment, and into your conscious mind. 

Concrete thoughts, physical activity, sudden noise or light on the retina of the eye can send the brain out of alpha and into beta wave activity.

Since alpha brain wave activity is at its height when you first wake up, early morning bursts of creativity should be just what you need to kick start your new year of writing.