Posts Tagged ‘novel writing’

“Oh, you should write about (insert random event)…”

March 2, 2010 4 comments

Recently Bethany made a comment on one of my posts highlighting how this hated phrase (Oh, you should write about…) suggests that we writers are often confused with stenographers.  Oh, how very true.  Does this happen to anyone else?

Here’s the scenario:

You’re in a bar, enjoying your very first delicious gin&tonic (Tanqueray with cucumber, which came only after a fifteen-minute discussion with the bartender, where you had to explain that you know it’s Hendrick’s that’s supposed to be served with cucumber, but you really, really like Tanqueray with cucumber and couldn’t they drop a slice of cucumber into your drink instead of a lime wedge since you can see the sliced cucumber and it’s sitting right next to the sliced lime), when you mention very vaguely (because God knows you want to avoid the “Oh, I’m thinking of writing a book too…” debacle) that you are a writer.

Big mistake.

“Oh, really?”  comes the response.  “You should write about (insert random event that means absolutely nothing to anyone beyond the parties involved).”


Well, gee, thanks for the suggestion.  Since I am a writer, I MUST be all out of ideas.  I’ll get right on that.  I’ll just forget about that half a manuscript I’m desperately trying to finish while holding a full-time day job.  Clearly I should be writing a play-by-play of my day instead.

My gin&tonic is now gone.  Another discussion with the bartender ensues.

Halfway through this second drink I am usually able to casually say, “Oh, that’s a good idea.  Maybe I will.”

And maybe I actually will write about how pee rained from the office ceiling today (okay, that’s a bad example, as that was pretty funny), but chances are that it’s gonna be a lot lower on my priority list than that half-manuscript I’ve been toiling over for the last two years.

And sometimes it ends there, and I have a third drink, and all is well.  Other times, however, I get this:

“It’d make a great novel.”



No, it would NOT make a great novel.  It has to be fiction to be a novel.  And it can’t be fiction because it ACTUALLY HAPPENED.  It wasn’t even a good story.  I HAVE an idea for a great novel.  I’ve spent TWO YEARS trying to turn said idea into a great novel.  I have enough ideas.  What I need is to produce a great novel.  Believe me, you do NOT want to have a discussion about the difficulties of producing a great novel.  Or even a good-enough-to-be-published novel.

Lets discuss the merits of cucumber as a garnish for a Tanqueray&Tonic instead.


10 Fiction Writing Rules

February 28, 2010 4 comments

The Guardian posted a great article on 10 Rules for Writing Fiction, asking literary greats to share their personal rules of writing fiction (thanks to Nathan Bransford, who always seems to know everything about anything related to publishing, for this link).  It’s an amazingly varied list–testament to how the experience of writing is different for every writer.  I’m no Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, or similar, but I thought I’d do my own list here.

1 – Have something to say

2 – Say it in the way you would tell a friend a really important secret–no fancy prose.  You’re just telling someone you love something that means a lot to you.

3 – Be honest–resist the temptation to make your characters extraordinary human beings.  Make them human beings.  That, in itself, is extraordinary.

4 – Write about people you care about–create characters that you want to be around, and your readers will want to be around them as well.

5 – Make someone feel strongly–it doesn’t have to be joy.  It can be sorrow, hope, despair, terror, love, anything. We need to feel strongly.  It reminds us that we’re alive.

6 – Get writing–planning, thinking, talking about writing is all well and good, but if you want anyone to read it, you first need to put the words on paper.

7 – Realize this may never make you any money–still worth writing, in those spare wee hours of morning?  Good.

8 – Let someone read it–those hours spent following agent blogs, reading submission guidelines, re-submitting queries–those are all part of an effort to be read.  Yes, it’s personal.  Yes, it’s your soul on a platter.  You still need it to be read.

9 – Believe in your writing–maybe you aren’t good enough to do your story justice, but fretting about it does nothing.  It’s your story, so it’s your responsibility to write it, and to believe in it.

10 – Remember that you love it–we forget, sometimes, with all the stress of querying, editing, etc. that we love this.  We love, love, LOVE what we’ve created.  That’s the whole point.  Forget this, and you may as well give up and become an accountant.  The hours are shorter and the pay is better.

Why copywriting is a great day job for an aspiring author—No. 2

February 25, 2010 9 comments

Okay, this probably should have been number one, but here goes:


The more you write, the better you get.  Simple.

I used to work as a barmaid.  Loads of friends suggested that this should provide me with great inspiration for writing.  Nope.  All I gained working in a bar was an intolerance for the words “Oy, Luv!” and an affinity for gin.

Mixing drinks taught me to mix better drinks.  Writing teaches me to write better.

I often forget how lucky I am to have a day job that allows me to write every day.  Even better, it also provides the occasional opportunity to write something creative.  Pretty sweet deal, when I think about it.

Write for Your Life has a great new post on this here.

I need to do something extraordinary

February 23, 2010 3 comments

All writers must feel this.  I know I do.

I need to write a book.  I need it to be extraordinary.

I don’t need it to win awards.  I don’t need it to top the bestseller lists.  I don’t need it to earn me appearances on Opera or offers for film rights or honorary doctorates from fancy universities.

I do need it to mean something to someone. That’s all.  I need it to make someone feel strongly.

This says it better than I ever could.  I guess I just need my book to matter.

Why copywriting is a great day job for an aspiring author—No. 1

February 21, 2010 2 comments

Learn to deal with criticism

In my day job, if I write a bit of copy and the client comes back with something resembling “I don’t like this, please re-write it this (boring, not nearly as good) way,” I generally do it, because:

a) I have to assume—whether true or not—that the client knows more about his target market than I do, and

b) the client is paying.

So.  When I got a phone call from a potential agent currently sitting on my full manuscript, and she said something along the lines of “I like your manuscript but it’s not ready to go to market.  Could you develop the secondary characters further and cut the length by about 40k words? (How do you both develop characters further AND cut length?  How? How?)  Also, I’m not sure about this (super-awesome, my favourite in the whole entire story) character—perhaps you could cut him out?” I didn’t (quite) have a MASSIVE HEAD EXPLOSION!!!

Instead, I was able to assume that she:

a) was super-awesome to call and make suggestions instead of sending a form rejection, and

b) knew more about selling books than I did.

So.  I was able to re-write and re-submit.  And when I finally did get a (very helpful with lots of feedback) rejection, and actually did have my subsequent MASSIVE HEAD EXPLOSION!!!, I at least knew I had done all I could at that point in my writing career.  Plus, I now have an offer to submit future work from an (really lovely, super helpful) agent.

Copywriting would be loads easier if clients always liked what I wrote the first time, but I wouldn’t get much better.  The same is true of creative writing.  Bummer, but true.

“Oh, I’m thinking of writing a book too…”

February 17, 2010 4 comments

I hate these words. Here’s how it normally plays out:

I’m sitting in a pub with some friends, I’ve had one too many pints (or, even worse, too many gins), and I will suddenly have the urge to lay myself bare and mention—trying desperately to appear casual—that I’m trying to write a novel.

The pain. The heartache. The terror of exposing the innermost workings of one’s mind to the public.

“Oh, really?” Comes the casual response, accompanied by a shrug. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking of writing a book too.”



No, you have NOT been thinking about writing a book. If you had, you would not mention this in passing, with a shrug, as an afterthought.

You do not have a 120k word manuscript—now christened the “practice manuscript” due to lack of publisher—to which you devoted four years of your life sitting on your computer.

You do not have four printed, marked-up, FAT, dog-eared versions of said practice manuscript littering your current flat, your parents’ house, and your grandparents’ basement because you could not bare to throw out even ONE copy, no matter how many newer copies you may have.

You do not sit in front of your current manuscript—50k words in—and wonder if you are really mature enough to be writing this story—that you love, love, LOVE, more than any other story you have ever thought up—or whether you should wait ten years until you are mature enough to even begin to try to do it justice.

You do not wake up at night in terror, worried that your flat will burn down and your computer will be destroyed and somehow the three separate email accounts to which you have sent the latest version of your manuscript will all have simultaneously crashed and every cherished word will thus be lost.

You do not learn of the latest publishing industry news (Amazon/Macmillan e-book debacle anyone?) before you learn of the latest stabbing three streets down (I need to move flats). You haven’t spent your spare waking hours reading agents blogs, submitting query letters for critiques, checking and rechecking submission guidelines instead of doing what all this stress has made you really want to do, which is drink, drink, DRINK!

So. The correct response when some tortured, aspiring author mentions—casually, in passing—that he/she is trying to write a novel, is: “Wow. What’s it about?”

Don’t worry. Said tortured author loves, loves, LOVES his/her story way too much to tell you all about it in a bar. He/she will mention a vague plot arc and change the subject.

Which is probably what you were trying to accomplish in the first place.