Tuesday, 31 July 2012

You mean there are rules for writing?

Well no, not really. I mean yes, of course there are tips, things that help, things that are good practice. But rules? They're all made to be broken, at some point.

Anyway, I'm not going to give you my rules - who am I, after all? But I will offer some from other authors, famous authors, successful authors. You might like them. If nothing else, this might make a nice jumping-off point for you.

Here we go.

Thirteen writing tips from Chuck Palahniuk

George Orwell’s five rules for effective writing

Jack Kerouac’s rules for spontaneous prose

Stephen King's "Everything you need to know about writing successfully - in ten minutes"

And everyone else... including Elmore Leonard's famous ten rules, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, PD James, and more.


Ray Bradbury's 12 pieces of writing advice to young authors (thanks Mark)

Colson Whitehead's rules for writing

David Morrell's five tips for writing thrillers and more

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Time management for writers

Like a lot of writers these days, my primary bread-winning is done by something other than writing. In my case, it's IT. If I had to live on my income from writing, well, I would be skin and bones, and sleeping rough. Put it another way, my last royalty payment from Lulu was £4.54. I know. I tried hard not to spend it all at once.

So writing is a secondary activity, both in terms of time available for it and financial recompense. And if you throw a hectic family life into the mix, again something that many writers will have, then writing is further demoted, and becomes a tertiary activity.

How do you fit it in, then? How do you make time to write?

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert. I can only tell you some of the things that I do that enable me to fit some writing time in around everything else. Around life. I won't pretend it's always easy - if, for example, you have a job like mine that requires you to be in front of a PC all day then the last thing you want to do when you get home is fire up the laptop. But there's no other way of saying it - if you want to be a writer, you have to write...

Anyway, here are a couple of things that I do to make the most of the limited writing opportunities I get.

  • Carry a notepad and pen around. If the perfect line comes to you in the supermarket, at least you can capture it, ready to go when next you sit down in front of the keyboard. If you don't have a notepad, make use of your mobile phone - they nearly all have note-making, or even voice-recording, facilities. Equally, I use the phone's camera a lot to capture visual reminders of things I want to write about.
  • Make sure that notepad is next to you when you go to bed. I don't know about you but quite often I wake up in the early hours and something is just there, in my head, but if I don't write it down it's gone by the time the morning, and conscious recollection, arrive. Don't lose the moment.
  • As I've already said, it can be hard to face the PC in the evening, especially if you've spent the day looking at a work PC too. But really, that trash TV you're watching, is it worth it? I say watching but be honest, how often is the TV just on, and you're just sat in front of it for the sake? In the words of Why Don't You, maybe it's time to "switch off the television set and go out and do something less boring instead"? Bottom line? TV, much of which is junk, sucks your time. You don't need it.
  • If you can't be writing, be reading. It's the next best thing, so always have a book to hand, even if you can only dip into it for a page or two at a time. Read something challenging. Read something you admire. Read something good. I won't say good writing is contagious, but it is inspiring...
  • Make sure your writing space suits your writing style. If you like lots of natural light, be near a window. If you need absolute peace, close the door and turn the radio off. If you need space to spread out, sit at a proper table. There are no hard and fast rules on this, but you know what works for you, so make sure it's always available. If writing time is limited, you don't want to have to spend the first ten minutes of a precious slot setting up your work space.
  • Consider getting up an hour earlier. You'll feel bright and energised, and chances are the day's distractions won't have started yet. Seize the moment, and get some writing done before work.
  • And finally... writers write. Sometimes you'll be tired and lifting the laptop lid will be the last thing you want to do... but lift it you must. Yes, what you write in that frame of mind might be below par, not your best. But it's down. It's on paper. You've advanced your story. And you can improve it in the edit. Put simply, if writing time is scarce you have to take what chances come your way, however demotivated or tired you might feel at the time. If you don't, well, how serious are you about this writing lark anyway?

Some might say that the speed with which my novel-in-progress is, or rather isn't, growing suggests I should take some of my own advice. That's fair. As I said, I'm no expert, after all, and am as fundamentally flawed as the next man - I try to practice what I preach but it's not always easy, I acknowledge that readily. But anyway... these are some of the things that work, most of the time, for me. What works for you?