“I have tried simply to write the best I can; sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” Ernest Hemingway.
I guess countless writers would like to write as well as Hemingway. Many have tried, few have succeeded.
In any endeavour this is an excellent maxim on which to base one’s activities. Always strive to do your best, sometimes you will surprise even yourself.
I guess one could also say that sometimes we get lucky and write really well. I would contend, however, that if we continue to strive to be better writers, and constantly and consistently persist at the craft, that we will improve. I know I have and my readers tell me so. My most demanding reader and critic is my wife; she tells me that I’ve improved out of sight in the last few years. That is encouraging, and it helps me to keep going – and keep improving.
“I would love to write a book, but unfortunately, I don’t have a pen.” (Unknown source – it came to me from a Facebook friend)
We might laugh at a saying like this, but for some people, any simple excuse is enough to stop them from writing. Some common excuses are:
- I don’t have enough time.
- The timing is wrong – I’ll wait until I retire.
- I don’t have a good computer.
- I don’t know what to write about.
- I’m too busy.
- I’m too tired after a day at work.
- I have nowhere where I can write.
- I don’t have a pen.
You get the drift?
Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.
If you want to write a book, you actually have to start putting words down on paper – or at least in the hard-drive of your computer. There is no other way. Books will not write themselves. (Someone reading this in my archives in 50 years time might be able to argue that point, but I won’t be around to defend myself.)
So you want to write a book?
Good. Now stop reading this – and start writing (but don’t forget to come back here tomorrow; I’ll be waiting for you).
- Writing a novel – articles outlining how I went about writing a novel.
- A writer’s virtues: patience and persistence
I’m struggling to write.
Now this is a common problem experienced by most writers. Over the last three months I have had many distractions which have kept me from the key board.
- Things like going away for several short holidays with family.
- Things like spending wonderful time with my grandson – and his parents.
- Things like catching up with family over Christmas.
- Things like celebrating my wife’s birthday with friends – it was one of the big one! (Ssssh – I won’t mention her age)
- Things like getting jobs done around the house that had been studiously ignored during the year.
Probably the most concerning, however, has been a deterioration of my health. Several things have made concentrating on my writing very difficult. This is where persistence comes into play. Over the last few days I’ve gradually pushed through the disappointments and difficulties and persisted with my writing. Sometimes it has been easy, sometimes very challenging.
As I see it now, my priority over the coming months will be to keep on steadily writing while being careful to pace myself and care for my health.
Where is my story going? Some thoughts about plot
A few nights ago I had a restless time in the early hours of the morning. I had been working hard on my children’s novel. I had written 400 words in the hour or so before retiring. This had drained me emotionally and mentally. I took a while to go to sleep; the mind was too active. Several hours later I more or less woke up knowing why I had been struggling with the story.
The story was going nowhere.
Sure-I had a vague idea of some of the plot. I knew the major events that I wanted to incorporate. I roughly knew where it was going and how it would finish. I just basically didn’t know how to get there.
In a flash of inspiration-despite the fog of being only half awake-I knew what the problem was. I hadn’t asked the protagonist some fundamental questions. (Hint from one of my lecturers: if you don’t know where to go next, ‘interview’ your protagonist. Thanks, Claire)
I needed to know the following:
- What does my character need or want above all else?
- What worries my main character? What is he afraid of?
- What or who is stopping my character getting what he wants?
- How will he overcome these obstacles and who can help him?
Once I had a clear understanding of the answers to these questions, plot ideas started to suggest themselves and the story became alive. The main character started to take over and I just had to take a back seat and let him drive the story. It’s exciting when that happens.
Plotters and Pantsers
Writers tend to fall into one of two camps, plotters and pantsers.
Plotters are meticulous planners. Plotters have an idea for a story and then plan, plan, plan. The read and research their theme and topic and revel in their discoveries. They draw up story boards and plan extensive character studies. They fill note books and sticky labels with all kinds of detail. For some of them, the research and planning is far more exciting and satisfying than the actual writing. I would imagine that crime writers in particular need this approach, or there will be too many loose ends at the end of the story. A very real danger in this approach, however, is drowning in a whirlpool of information.
Pantsers are almost the complete opposite. They have a great idea and rush to their keyboard and start typing, often with little regard for planning and really just writing by the seat of their pants-hence the name ‘pantsers’. Plot? What plot? Oh-that will take care of itself as I go along. The big problem with this approach is the brick wall that the writer rushes headlong into after three or four chapters. After the initial flurry of enthusiasm and inspiration, the writer suddenly comes to a screeching halt in front of that wall-what happens next? Often they have no idea where to go with the story. They don’t have a plan. There is no plot.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. I tend to be a ‘pantser’, especially with short story writing. With the shortened forms of fiction writing one can afford this luxury. With novels it is crucial to spend more time planning, researching, plotting and doing character outlines and so on. With my current novel I am trying to do more planning and plotting as I can see the benefits of doing so. It doesn’t come easily but I’m trying.
For a good discussion on the pros and cons of these two approaches see:
For more articles in this series go to Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal.
Writing while you sleep?
Now – there’s a thought! Wouldn’t it be ‘luvverly’ if you woke up each morning and the writing pixies had been busy all night on your keyboard? Sure to be nothing but fairy tales though.
Say – there’s another story idea – WHAT IF you wrote a story about pixies writing your story while you slept?
See – I’m full of ideas!
And pleeeeze – do not say I’m off with the pixies! That would be fairy insulting and damaging to my elf-esteem.
(Picks up large jar full of tablets. Looks at clock. Yes – time for my medication.)
Seriously folks – there will be times when you’ve been working hard on a story and you get blocked, or tired or just cannot see where to go next. In those situations it might be better to quit writing, get some good sleep and let your sub-conscious take over for a few hours. Then you can come back to the writing with fresh eyes, and a refreshed mind. Might just work wonders.