One of the great advantages of eBook publishing is that even a first time novelist can now access a global market without difficulty. EBooks are just as easy to download in America, Canada and Australia as they are here in Britain. However, this has definite consequences which we writers need to bear in mind. Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill have all commented on the confusion that arises in the differences in our use of language on either side of the Atlantic.
We fiction writers are sensitive people – we live on our emotions. We create characters and, if we want to make them to be real for our readers, we see the world through their eyes. We put our protagonist through all kinds of misery. One problem after another. If we didn’t there would be no story. The more we experience our character’s pain, the better the writing will be. We train ourselves to feel the grief, the despair, the anguish. Is it any wonder that we fall victim to a certain level of despondency when life hands us a bad deal? Life is never fair. I like to claim that I’m a glass half full person, trying to see the best side and count my many blessings, but there are times when I don’t succeed.
Writing a novel is a totally engrossing occupation. For the last year, ‘Blood Hits the Wall’ has been my obsession. As we writers know, writing is far more than sitting at the PC and getting the words up on the screen. It becomes something that occupies the greater part of your day. The characters and the scenes constantly play out in your mind even when you are busy doing something else entirely.
Rewriting is a lengthy process. Once the first draft is complete and the numerous rewrites analysing plot, characters and pace have begun, your head starts spinning as you rework sections in your mind. You reach a point when you’re not sure if that great extra clue or nuance is still in your head or if you have already altered the manuscript itself. Whole scenes get moved around to provide a more logical unfolding of the story line. This means a careful check that it does not result in references to events that haven’t happened yet because you’ve moved them later.
Novel writing has always evolved. I’m not talking about changes in fashion – the prevalence of Science Fiction in the 1960s, the rise of the Fantasy Novel, the misery memoirs, the Vampire novel and the Dystopian novel. Each decade popular fiction embraces a new genre. My belief is that today’s writers are adapting their writing style to ensure that their novels meet the changing requirements of the eBook. For many novelists, especially indie writers, eBook sales far outweigh physical book sales and an increasing number of novels are only ever published in eBook form. Writers cannot afford to ignore the demands of the eBook. Continue reading
Readers often identify the main protagonist in a novel with the author, especially if it is a series character.
I’m guilty of that myself. One of my favourite writers is Zoe Sharp. Her main character, ex-Special Forces Charlie Fox appears in the first novel Killer Instinct teaching self-defence but in the later novels she works as a bodyguard. Ever since I first met Zoe, as I read the novels I can’t help picturing Charlie as Zoe. The two have much in common. Charlie is a gun-toting maverick always jumping on her powerful motor bike. Amongst her hobbies Zoe cites “fast cars (and faster motorbikes) and target shooting.” I’m not sure about the maverick bit, but she and her husband did build their own house in the Lake District. At one of her talks, she mentioned that in the process she managed she cut off the top of her finger. When her husband rushed over she put out a hand to stop him with the command, ‘Let me see how the blood drips.’ The things people do for their art! If you’ve never read a Zoe Sharp novel try Roadkill and you’ll see what I mean about bikes! Continue reading
I find it difficult to believe that only a month ago I was languishing just beyond that halfway point, some 45,000 words into the novel. It was like wading through treacle. The ideas wouldn’t come and every sentence was an effort. The writing simply refused to flow. My ‘soggy middle’ blues were the worst I’ve ever experienced – or so it seemed at the time. It had taken me six months to reach that point, but it was the two-month long break that followed that I blamed for my sorry state as those who read my last blog will know. From the responses I received after it was posted, I know that my experience is far from unique.
Looking back, I realise that break was no bad thing. Distance can make the heart grow fonder because, after a few tentative steps, I’m now racing to the finish.
To Plot or Not to Plot
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that no two writers write their novels in the same way. The biggest differences are between the meticulous plotters who plan to nth degree taking months to write 40,000 word summaries with details of each chapter and scene and those who see writing as a journey – writers who start with a sentence or two and see where it leads them. Talking to many of my writer friends, it appears most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
We’ve all experienced it – the novel progresses reasonably well then life gets in the way and things grind to a halt. It may be a holiday, an illness, a family crisis or a major upheaval such as a house move. It’s not just our time but our whole preoccupation that’s focussed elsewhere. It’s bad enough trying to get back into the writing routine after a relatively short break but when things stretch out into weeks and months the greater the effort needed to find the enthusiasm to get back to work. That’s what it is – work – hard work and suddenly we find more and more excuses to hold us back.
The situation is compounded if the break happens around the time of the ‘soggy middle’ – the mid-point crisis when our enthusiasm for the novel has already begun to waver. That point when you have great doubts about the whole enterprise. The characters lack depth, the plot is going nowhere, the spark has gone and the language laboured and uninspired. The daily word count drops dramatically. Writing is no longer a joy. It reaches the point at which, to quote George Orwell – ‘writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness.’
Though we writers may write principally for our own pleasure we would all dearly love to be read more widely and for our work to be enjoyed by strangers – thus establishing our work has some merit. That first time someone you have never met is prepared to actually pay good money to read your work is like reaching the dizzy heights of Everest. The climb was hard going, the temptation to give up powerful, but the reward exhilarating. You have reached a converted goal.
Writers are an insecure breed
As I was reading Margaret James’ article about courage in April’s ‘Writing Magazine’ this morning, I had to stop and highlight the phrase, “As a standard-issue insecure, and borderline paranoid, author, I’ve always felt writing fiction and putting it out there was akin to taking your clothes off in public.”
I’ve just come back from a great weekend at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. I confess I am something of a junkie when it comes to writing conferences and festivals. Why? Because they are FUN! They may provide an excellent learning experience, the opportunity to network with other writers even agents and to rub shoulders with favourite authors and some of the big names in the literary world, but I love them because I always have such a great time.
Over the years, I have attended writers’ get-togethers at the Winchester Conference and the Writers’ Holiday plus a couple of Avon courses. I’m lucky that my home town of Swindon runs what has now become a two week literature festival, and the Cheltenham Festival is also within easy reach.
Fire your enthusiasm
I first went to Winchester some fifteen years ago and when I got back home, I told my non-writing husband what a great time I’d had. When I eventually stopped gushing and he managed to get a word in, he asked if I planned to go again the following year. I thought for a second or two and then replied only if I could earn the money to pay from it by selling my writing. That was the beginning of my determination to be a real writer. To produce something that people who didn’t know me would be prepared to actually pay for. Continue reading
My aim is always to write a novel in a year though things never quite work out like that. During the actual writing stage, I’ve always keep a record of my daily word count, but this year I started writing the latest book on January 1st. An excellent opportunity to get myself organised and set goals for the whole year.
MAKE YOUR GOALS SMART
Adopting the SMART principle, a realistic daily word count for me is around 500 words. Allowing for life (holidays, social events etc) getting in the way as it so frequently does, I’ve set myself a target of 2,500 words a week – 10, 000 a month, which meant I should be able to write a first draft in 9 months which should be easily doable. True, that only gives me 3 months to redraft, get feedback and publish – a tall order, but I’ll deal with that when I get there!
Many of my friends write 2-3,000 words a day. That may well be possible if you have already spent weeks, even months drafting a detailed plan and much of the time-consuming research, but that’s not the way I work. I know my main characters – tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones – the country where I set the story and have some idea of its theme and where I want to end up. For me, the fun is writing to find out what happens. Yes – it means I write slowly, frequenly discarding whole passages when a better idea comes along and I need to research as I go along, but after 9 completed novels, 6 of which are published, it’s the way I work best. Continue reading