First up, an apology. I’ve been absent without leave, thanks largely to starting the novel. It’s consumed almost every thought and I haven’t been in a position to think about this place for a bit. This might be the case for a few weeks over the summer while I get a first draft down.
However, while I’m here, I thought I’d just mention something about books on the writing process and how they can hinder, not hurt, your own work.
I’ve read so many books on writing, and articles about the process of writing, I think they’ve all become a useless mush. Clearly, some are better than others, but I realise now I made the mistake of reading too many. For a start, they often contradict each other, or at least do enough to muddle the message.
Then there are the ‘rules’. It’s natural. You’re trying to find the magic formula to write your book, the one piece of advice or theory that will help structure your story. So let someone give you some rules, abide by those rules and BAM, you have a book, right?
Except, you read a book that says don’t introduce new characters after the start of Act 3, and then you read Olive Kitteridge and a new character is perfectly introduced 10 pages from the end.
Or, you read a chapter on showing not telling and then you read anything by George Saunders and realise telling is as essential as showing to pace your story.
I even once read a book called ‘How Not To Write A Novel’ – which was full of chapters of things you mustn’t do when writing a book. How ridiculous it was of me to read it. It had all manner of rules, to do with backstory, flashbacks, dialogue tags, paragraph lengths etc etc and of course, it’s all bollocks, because for every one of these rules, there are hundreds of successful books that take no notice of such prescriptive, limiting advice. That book was packed off the charity shop a long time ago.
There are exceptions. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a wonderful book on writing, full of truisms rather than rules, including allowing yourself to write a shitty first draft. That’s something I’ve had huge problems with. I’ve wasted so much time getting halfway through something and then allowing the inner critic to stall me, convince me it’s pointless continuing. I know now, better late than never, that you have to plough through that, get it written and don’t worry what it’s like. You can’t improve what you haven’t written, after all.
I’ve also taken a lot from Larry Brooks’ ‘Story Engineering’, which breaks down the structure for huge swathes of literature and storytelling through time. I use this as a blueprint, but in the end, it comes down to your story and your writing. If your writing is engaging, the reader will happily read it.
And so, the best advice? It’s all there, in the books you read and enjoy. Read them, enjoy them, love them. Then, if you want, read them again with a critical eye, breaking them down so you can apply some of the magic to your own work.
Anyway, just thought I’d pop my head back above the parapet and say sorry for my absence. I am beavering away and imagine I’ll be a lot more regular here at the back end of summer and heading into autumn.
Smile on x
P.S. I’m taking Kel to Berlin for four days for her birthday next week. If anyone has any advice for must-visit places/bars etc, please let me know. Can’t wait.
P.P.S I got my marks back for the first year of my MA last week and am now officially halfway to a first, which is lovely. Thank you so much to those who have given feedback on things I ended up submitting. I appreciate it so much.