For me, writing isn’t the process of putting words and letters into the right order on a page. That only conjures the horrors of having a blank page to be filled with perfectly neat, grammatically correct prose. Writing is the creative process of building worlds and characters and then finding the words to tell a story.
The good news is; there are no golden rules, no perfect one way to write a story.
Finding out how other authors approach the process of writing is always fascinating, but what works for one person might not work for another.
If you love writing, then write and write and write some more and in doing so, you’ll find out what works for you.
Here are some writing tips that work for me…
1) Writing is being ready for a story…
The spark of a story idea often hits you when you least expect it. It jumps out of a newspaper article, an overheard conversation or maybe something you witness from the window of the train. An idea, like a bubble forming in a pan of boiling water, seems to swell with possibilities. It begins to grow and rise upwards as you ask the what ifs? and the maybes to see if the idea is strong enough to break the surface and develop into a full blown story.
2) Writing is dreaming
Most of the story happens in my head away from my desk. It evolves when I’m dog walking, driving or doing housework. I live in a parallel universe, inhabiting another world, becoming other characters. I have been known to hold two-sided conversations whilst walking the dog, or wielding a wooden spoon as a weapon as I cook in the kitchen. If you have ever been described as head in the clouds, away with the fairies, or on another planet, you are probably well on your way to becoming a writer.
3) Writing is researching
Depending upon your story, you may not need to do any research, but for my stories I have to do masses, which involves lots of reading, travelling and trying new things out of my comfort zone. It involves talking to lots of people too, and I find people are fascinating. Ordinary people have extraordinary lives, each one different, interesting and unique. Research keeps me on my toes too, learning new things and questioning my own values and beliefs, and the world around me.
4) Writing is drawing
In the planning stage of the story, I fill my notebook full of sketches. I draw characters and sketch out scenes as a storyboard. Drawing loosens up different parts of the brain and helps ideas swirl around before fixing them on the page as words. If I get writer’s block, I get out my pencils and draw.
5) Writing is living in your character’s skin
For me, whether I am reading or writing a book, the main character drives the story. Without one, there is no story. You have to become the character. You have to live, breathe and be that character. You must know how they think and how they would react in any situation, from meeting fire-breathing dragons to finding someone’s wallet on the floor.
6) Writing is writing
Yes, eventually I have to stop procrastinating in order to turn the ideas into written words on the page or screen. For me, this is the hardest part, trying to find the right ones to tell the story. But I can’t reach this stage until I know the characters. I have to be able to visualise what is happening before I describe it. If I can’t see it, I can’t write it.
I try not to worry too much. I now know that my first chapters will probably need to be rewritten, and so I don’t try to perfect the beginning, I just dive in and write. I try to write one scene at a time, about 1000 words a day.
I try to remember a few dos and don’ts that work for me…
- Don’t put backstory into the first chapter. Jump straight into the action instead.
- Don’t overload information…you’ve done lots of research, and now’s the time to pare it right back. You’re not writing a fact file or an information booklet. You have to use your found knowledge lightly.
- Do remember the main character’s emotional journey is as important at the plot. What have they learnt and how have they changed throughout the story?
- Don’t try to make the first draft too perfect…you might end up rewriting most of it anyway (see next tip).
7) Writing is rewriting
The first draft is like a lump of wet clay. The story lies beneath waiting to be carved out and defined. Sometimes whole chapters need to be rewritten or cut out completely. Sometimes it’s only by getting to the end of a story that you know how you want it to begin.
It can help to put the story aside for a while and come back to it later with ‘fresh eyes’, or a trusted friend can give feedback on your story and let you know if there are any plot-holes or if the characters are believable.
You create portals into other worlds. You can travel across time and space, and shape-shift into any being, and still make it home in time for tea.