#MondayBlogs ‘Write from the heart’ #WritingTips @BathFlashAward #FlashFiction

I was recently browsing the Bath Flash Awards website when I came across an interview with this edition’s (March-June 2019) Flash Fiction Award Judge, Christopher Allen. You can read the whole interview here.

It was the final question and answer that has mesmerised me all weekend. I quote the question and answer here:

  • Any final suggestions for writers entering our award?

Yes. Write from the heart. Edit it and edit it and edit it. Have other people read it. Ask them if it has an emotional impact. Did it make them feel something? Write something you think the world needs.

****

So much advice in so few words, a true ‘flash answer’ to a complex question.

My thoughts on this priceless and concise advice:

‘Write from the heart’

Inspiration is entwined with emotion. Whatever we write should spring from passionate feelings about an issue. That’s an easy one to fulfill. Most of us write stories about people, places and events that are meaningful to us.

‘Edit it and edit it and edit it’

First drafts are necessary, but also messy and too long. Most of us need to ramble to ourselves to get to know our characters and understand their thoughts and actions, and yet those ramblings need to be carefully edited, more than once, thus the repetition, before they can be shared with readers.

‘Have other people read it’

We all know and appreciate the invaluable task of alpha and beta readers, friends, agents, editors, proof readers, and an array of generous and professional people who are usually acknowledged by authors in their books.

Ask them if it has an emotional impact. Did it make them feel something?

Words need to go beyond an aesthetic use of language in order to make an impact on the reader. It’s not only about organisation, expression, wording, pace, and grammar, but about the inspiration and feelings conveyed in the writing.

Write something you think the world needs.

Finally, the most important attribute which distinguishes good writing from outstanding writing, the content or message of the text.

Is there an intention beyond entertaining readers? And secondly, is the idea worth writing about? Do readers need to know or think about the characters or issues in your flash/novel?

Christopher’s answer is great advice for writing, a haiku, a birthday card, a flash, a letter, a short story, a novella, a novel and everything else.

If it’s worth writing, it’s worth doing it from the heart.

My twenty-word flash conclusion:

Write with passion about a meaningful issue, edit, aim for emotional impact, edit, share and test, edit, publish. Start again.

And now, let’s finish that flash/novel and start the next one…

 

 

 

How to Write a #Novel #MondayBlogs

How I write: A Descriptive (not Prescriptive) account of my Writing Process

A. Mulling: The Creative Phase

Before I actually start my formal planning, laid out below, I’ve been thinking of my novel, talking to my characters, and outlining loosely, for months, or even years…

I’ve ‘seen’ what will occur, how it will begin and end, and I’ve run through the main events in my mind. I also have plenty of handwritten notes, some scenes have been written or outlined, and I have plenty of ideas, which I need to organize in some way, otherwise my writing becomes too erratic.

I soon realized I needed to give it a shape I can visualize as a whole and handle in small chunks.

This is the organizational method I’ve found has worked for me in my three novels.

B. Organising: A Three-part Outline

I love Vonnegut’s quote:

Vonnegut

Basically, Jane gets into some trouble, then she get’s into more trouble, and finally, she gets out of it… or not?

I divide my novel in the following three parts:

Part I or Exposition:

Jane gets into trouble.

Including Plot point one, also referred to as the tipping point or the inciting incident, which sets the action going. The reader will find out where and when the action takes place (context), what the book’s about (genre), and who the main characters are, and what they want. The main character will suffer the first major onslaught.

Part II The Story Unfolds:

Jane get’s into even more trouble.

Then comes plot point two, where the story starts to unfold and something happens to change direction or add to the crisis, leading to the climax, where the events move faster. Conflict is in the open. Secrets revealed. there is no turning back and the main character is in another or greater, complex dilemma.

The Final Outcome or denouement:

Jane gets out of trouble, but… not completely… yet (because I’ve written a trilogy). 

Many types of novel, such as romantic, mystery, suspense, or detective, will have a happy, or satisfactory ending for the main characters. Other types of novels such as what is referred to as literary fiction, may have a more sombre or open ending. My novels include both types of endings.

In any case, I always make sure there’s another conflict or obstacle just before the end, to nudge the reader, so he/she doesn’t get too complacent!

C. Zooming in: Chapters

I plan ten chapters per part. This isn’t a strict rule for me, but it gives me a sense of balance and security, so I start with it. Some of my parts have more or less chapters in the final version.

chapter

My Chapter Outlines

I outline the chapter including the following points:
First I establish an aim. Why is this chapter here? What does it add to the plot or story?
I establish the narrator (POV), because my novels have various narrators.
I identify the other participants.
I summarize the main events, which happen or are discussed.
I usually write some of the dialogue.
I often add pictures.
I establish the research needed.

I write it all down often by hand, sometimes it’s typed, and all of it, including photographs, research notes etc., are all included into punched plastic filing sleeves, which I put into a ring binder, in consecutive order.

I never write chronologically. I write some of the events first. The ones I see more clearly, in no particular order and put them into the sleeve. Sometimes I start or write parts of chapters and return at a later date because the rest of the action will depend on other chapters, or because I can’t ‘see’ how it will continue, and I need to think it through.

I never sit and look at a blank page or screen. I’ve thought about and taken notes before I write, and if I ‘get stuck’ I get up and do something else. Sometimes I go for a walk and think about it, or I write another chapter, or I read something for inspiration, usually something by Dickens, or Jane Eyre (I could reread them forever!), or I just leave it and get on with the rest of my life! Sleeping on it often helps.

As I let the characters do the talking and listen closely, the story is alive and goes through many changes, such as, chapter orders, narrator, etc. I even scrap or merge some chapters, or realize I need another chapter I hadn’t thought of, etc.

D. The First Draft: The hard slog 😦

Lisa

Once my novel is all there, in bits and pieces, classified in plastic sleeves, I gradually type out the messy contents, again in no particular order, wherever my inspiration or mood takes me. I do this on a kindle template and make sure I back it up on my memory stick and at least two PCs.

When I finally finish my first draft, it looks decidedly messy, and there are some ‘gaps’ or incomplete chapters, but it’s all there, at last. So now I need to get back to it chronologically. I print it all out and make hand written notes to fill in the spaces, improve, add, remove, rewrite, etc..

This is the hardest part, but it’s also the most satisfactory, because when I finish I have a novel (more or less).

E. Second and Subsequent Drafts.

This is the point where I start setting up the publishing process.

I can upload my novel for pre-order, I have three months to upload the final version.

I contact my editor to book dates, cover designer, beta readers, and I start thinking about/planning a marketing strategy, and I apply for my ISBN.

Finally, I start panicking and working to a strict timeline, to force myself to complete the novel in 4-5 weeks.

I read it through again, chronologically and critically, to make sure it flows and search for inconsistencies, etc.
There is a lot of work at this stage, and I usually need to make changes or do some more writing.

When I’m reasonably pleased with the second draft, I reread it aloud, and make more, usually minor, changes.
This third draft is the point I usually send it to my beta readers and wait.

F. Tinkering

Hard writing

The novel’s all there, but there are lots of little things such as, typos, small inconsistencies, things which need clarification for the reader, so I tinker again after my beta readers’ feedback.

For example I changed the ending, by adding a final short scene, just a few pages, in my second book, due to my beta readers’ suggestions, and even eliminated a minor character, whom they convinced me was superfluous.

Then it goes to my editor, who makes some more suggestions, and I make some more decisions and tinker again.

My fifth and final version goes to my editor again for a second edit, which is really the ‘proof read’, because I’m not making any more changes at this stage, mainly to preserve my mental health!

I write my first draft in a kindle template, so I don’t need to do too much in the way of formatting, but it takes time to upload, check, and recheck the final version on Amazon.

G. Promoting and Marketing.

This actually comes way before now, at least four to 6 weeks before it’s published, although it starts happening nearer to the publishing date and after. It includes planning Blog tours, cover reveals, interviews, guest posts, and booking advertising spots on online sellers, contacting readers / fans (I have a few lovely, loyal readers who get ARCs), etc.

Sounds tough? That’s because it is.

If writing seems hard it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.’ William Zinser, author of, On Writing Well.

Why do writers write? Easy, because we can’t not write.

Hell

“It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing…” Robert Hass

In other words:

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” Kafka.

Monster

So, please don’t be a monster, keep writing and finish your novel!

How do you write your novels?

How to find time to write a novel, with help from Stephen King

I prefer reading to writing.

That’s only natural. It’s easier and more enjoyable to read. Someone else has done all the hard work and you just lap it up and enjoy.

No wonder my favourite moment of the day is curling up on my armchair with my kindle, preferably by the fireplace, with a cup of tea or hot chocolate 🙂

 

Fireplace

I work full time. I’m a wife, mother and grandmother, and I’ve managed to read over ten books in January. Nevertheless, as much as I love it, I have to stop reading so much because my time is limited, and I need find time to write, too.

Following Stephen King’s advice;
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

In his marvelous book, On Writing, (you can read some of the main points he makes in this article), King recommends writing a minimum of a thousand words, six days a week.

That’s between two and four hours a day, depending on how much you can write in an hour, which for me at least, depends on how much has been planned, handwritten, and thought out, before I start hitting the keyboard.

This cannot be done without setting specific goals, which King strongly recommends. (For more invaluable quotes taken on the craft of writing, check out Goodreads).

In any case, I’m going to strictly limit the amount of time I spend reading to no more than two hours a day, preferably just before bedtime, when my energy levels are lowest and I can indulge in a relatively passive activity.

I also need to log onto Facebook and Twitter, and write blog posts and read other blogs, because I enjoy it, and because it has become part of my writer’s life.

Again, I need to limit social media time to Twitter and Facebook thirty minutes twice a day, and reading and interacting with other blogs and bloggers, an hour a day.

That means I’ll spend the rest of my free time, which should be at least another three hours a day, finishing my second novel, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall.

I’ll have to sort out how I find the time to write my blog posts, too! Weekends perhaps?

In any case, I promise myself not to cut down on my writing time. I’ll have to sacrifice reading, social media, and other leisure time activities. Never writing.

King considers that the first draft should not take longer than three months.

I absolutely agree, even though I haven’t managed to get very far in the last six months! Oh yes, it’s all planned, and parts are written, but I need to get it together with lots of hard work.

Finally, I’ll take his last bit of advice: The only way to write is by writing one word at a time.

So be it! I’ll write one word at a time nonstop for two months until it’s finished. I’m giving myself two months instead of three because I’ve already had six months of planning, scribbling, and procrastinating!

My deadline is 29th March.

Wish me luck!

How do you find time to write?

 

Which books should writers read?

Writers need to read beyond our comfort zone, and branch out to embrace genres and styles we don’t normally approach, because otherwise we run the risk of becoming self-absorbed.

Reading works we wouldn’t normally consider widens our perspective, improves our style, and opens windows to other ways of telling different kinds of stories.

We need to reach out synchronically, to contemporary works, and diachronically, to works of other literary periods, in order to know what’s happening now, and what has been happening for centuries, in the literary world.

Last week I read three wonderful books, and I’m more than half way through a fourth, and although I’ll be reviewing each one separately, I’d like to share my general reflections with you, first, and explain how each book has helped me grow as a writer.

I started off by rereading a classic, which I make a point of doing regularly. They offer us so much intellectually and emotionally that we cannot ignore them.

Classics hold the origin and the substance of our language and thought, reading and rereading them is mandatory for all readers, writers and reviewers.

We are part of a literary heritage which we should honour and add to, by producing works which contribute to the quality and continuity of literature as a means of both describing and reinterpreting our world.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen, has always been one of my favourites, although sadly, this rereading (which will not be the last) has revealed some flaws, it still holds a special place in my literary heart.

 

When I finished Persuasion, I chanced to find a debut novel by Ellen Quinn, on Twitter. I looked at the blurb, a Regency Romance, so I thought it would be an ideal complement to Persuasion. I skimmed over the first pages on Amazon, and was convinced to give it a go. When I started reading, in depth, I couldn’t put it down!

Reading both novels consecutively has given me plenty of food for thought about what constitutes a good novel, by 21st century standards, and how this conception has progressed over the last two centuries.

I enjoyed the challenge of reflecting on the similarities and differences between both these novels, and how these differences reveal who we are, and how we read and write, today, and how we did so two centuries ago.

I myself am writing a neo Victorian trilogy, so it also helped me reflect upon the similarities and differences between these successive historical periods, Regency and Victorian. The stiff Victorian clothing, aimed at covering every inch of the female body, contrasted starkly with Regency clothing which revealed a major portion of ladies breasts, as Ms. Quinn reminds us:

‘He wanted to groan as he took in the gown’s low neckline that barely encased her ample breasts.’

This would never happen in Victorian social events, because ladies breasts would be well-preserved from male eyes with plenty of silk, gauze, lacing, or other material.

I was able to ponder on this through Ms Quinn’s novel. Jane Austen, of course, had no idea how fashions were going to change, and wasn’t prone to describing clothes in detail, why should she? Her readers knew what they were wearing!

The new Victorian fashions were aimed at curbing sexual desire, promiscuity, and the liberal ideas represented in women’s attire, as well as promoting a renewed religious fervor.

I also thought long and hard on why The Seduction of Lady Phoebe  was such a great read, and Persuasion, this time, proved to be more of a struggle.

This led me to analyze what makes a good novel, for contemporary readers, but that will be the subject of another post.

The third novel I read is another debut novel, Death on a Red Canvas Chair by one of my new virtual writer friends and blogging sisters, Noelle Granger . Noelle has taught me how important it is to have a thorough plot with plenty of twists and turns, and how including the author’s valuable knowledge and expertise increases authenticity and interest.

The novel I am reading at the moment is the disturbing, yet beautiful, The Death of Bees,  another brilliant debut novel, by Lisa O’Donnell,  which was recommended and gifted to me by my best friend, Anna, a few months ago. I was not disappointed by Ms O’Donnell’s multiple narrators and tight hold on the surprising narrative.

The last two novels are set in contemporary New England, and Scotland, respectively. They are in no way related to anything I write, yet they have valuable lessons for me as a writer. Noelle has reminded me to tighten my plots, and keep the reader on her toes, while Lisa has taught me that traumatic events can be told with humour and feeling.

The four books have decisive, determined, and brave heroines, who easily bond with the reader. The first three heroines are good at what they do and lead relatively successful lives, and The Death of Bees, well, all the characters are flawed, perhaps too flawed to be likeable.

Reading these books has helped me realize I am attracted to imperfect characters who struggle with their weaknesses. Happy endings are satisfactory, but deep down, they make me feel there’s something missing or unfinished in the narrative.

Reading widely and critically helps me understand why I write the way I do, and it helps me identify what I want to achieve through my stories and characters.

How do I want my readers to feel? Satisfied? Happy? Challenged? Upset?

What do I want my readers to think about? Love? Happiness? The meaning of life, or lack of it?

I’m still exploring what kind of a writer I am, but reading other works helps me understand my own writing style, what I want to accomplish, and how I can get there.

What kind of novels help you grow as a writer?

 

P.S.

A special mention to Irene Waters, who contributed to the motivation to write this post, as a result of our exchange of comments on this subject recently. Check out her inspiring blog Reflections and Nightmares.

 

“Writing: often it is the only thing between you and impossibility.”

nothing can save you except writing.
it keeps the walls from failing.
the hordes from closing in.
it blasts the darkness.

This is exactly how I feel about writing.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful poem Michelle….

The Daily Post

Writing
often it is the only
thing
between you and
impossibility.
no drink,
no woman’s love,
no wealth
can
match it.
nothing can save
you
except
writing.
it keeps the walls
from
failing.
the hordes from
closing in.
it blasts the
darkness.
writing is the
ultimate
psychiatrist,
the kindliest
god of all the
gods.
writing stalks
death.
it knows no
quit.
and writing
laughs
at itself,
at pain.
it is the last
expectation,
the last
explanation.
that’s
what it
is.

Charles Bukowski, “Writing.”

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