Casting about for a good read? See if there’s something you fancy in this list.
People are always asking what my favourite book is. I don’t have favourites. At least, today’s favourite may not be tomorrow’s favourite. It depends on my mood, on my diary, on the weather, who’s around, what’s for lunch and what deadlines are screaming. I don’t often go in for the current hot bestsellers: I’m mulish and like to choose for myself rather than letting publishers’ marketing departments choose for me. But all these are tried and tested – you can rely on every one of them to fill you full of good words and satisfaction. What’s to your taste… that I can’t guess. But let me know what you’ve already read, and if you choose something you’ve not read before, let me know what you think. Are your favourites here?
You have all the gizmos and apps that a writer could ever want.
Your characters zap, your dialogue zings.
But you can’t get down to writing the actual, chapter-by-chapter, 80,000 word manuscript.
You want to, you yearn to, you’re excited about it… but you can’t find the time. You can’t find the motivation. HOW DO AUTHORS DO IT?
All published writers – authors, journalists, scriptwriters, dramatists – will tell you this unhelpful secret:
“Just apply your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard.”
Gee, thanks. But they’re right. It’s the only thing to do. So here are 14 ways to trick yourself, persuade yourself, bully yourself, cajole yourself into doing it. Try them all. See which works best, and stick to it.
Set the alarm half an hour earlier than usual. Get up, drink some water, have coffee if you want, then shake yourself all over and sit down with your laptop and start writing. Do this for half an hour every morning, and you’ll see the word count rising remarkably quickly.
Go to a book fair and get inspired. All those luscious books! Imagine yours among them. See your name on that book cover, imagine yourself signing books for an endless queue of fans paying good money for your story.
Enter a contest with a reasonable deadline. Give yourself three months to get the synopsis and first three chapters written. And a cracking title for the book (or short story). Three months sounds a long time, but believe me – it comes round scarily fast. Make sure you meet that deadline and get your entry IN.
Find an app that helps you stick to a schedule. For instance (NB I have no connection to these examples): Monday calendar or Unstuck.
Commit money to your book: commission a cover illustration or hire an editor.
Hang a treat above your head, like a chocolate bar or a bottle of beer, and allow yourself to grab it when you’ve written 1,000 words.
Meet up with a writing pal every weekend (at least) to compare notes, bitch about the writing life, laugh at yourselves, swap sob stories, and egg each other on.
Apply for a writing bursary or a grant – put a bit of pressure on yourself to meet the standards you’re set.
Imagine a very hungry monster outside your room, trying hard to get in and eat you. Every 100 words you write hurls the monster 100 meters further away.
Set this up with someone reliably fierce: every day that you DON’T write, pay that person some money – £2, €3, $5, 10 lei – to spend on something really annoying, like a cause you don’t believe in, or a film you hate. Or a scrumptious treat that you love, and can’t bear to see someone else eat instead. A bit of money might not seem much for one day, but that bit builds up very fast if you don’t write for a week. Ouch. That starts to hurt.
Agree with a friend (ideally one that suffers from the same problem) to swap chapters every week for constructive criticism, or at least congratulations on another chapter written. Failure can be its own punishment, or you can agree forfeits, like buying the other a drink, or lunch. Or a book.
Join NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is an American thing that’s spreading all over the world. It’s a plan to get you writing your novel, and challenges you to write 50,000 words or more in the month. Great scheme. November’s coming soon!
Go on a weekend writing retreat to get yourself started. After a weekend’s dedicated work in the company of other writers, you’ll be in the flow.
Create a local Meetup group for writers, for mutual encouragement, constructive criticism and reviews, commiseration and motivation. Promise yourselves something fabulous as a joint treat once you reach a certain threshold, like 40,000 words, or ten chapters, or three short stories…
Yes, I said 14, but here’s an extra tip: Start at Chapter 1 and go on to Chapter 2, 3, 4… Don’t jump around writing your favourite scenes – you’ll struggle to fill in the less interesting bits later.
One final tip: Don’t revise till you’ve finished the whole book. Every time you sit down to write (every day, of course – at least) read through yesterday’s work and continue straight away. Don’t rewrite anything – just keep going till you’ve finished. That’s the first draft. Put it away for a week or a month until you’ve forgotten exactly what you wrote. Then have a look and start revising. Rewrite as you go and you’ll never finish.
So, tell me – how do you motivate yourself? What gets you to the keyboard and the top of Page 1?
… wouldn’t drag me to… where or what? These wild horses are in the Carpathian Mountains, but they could be almost anywhere.
There’s a story here. The horses’ story? Told from their viewpoint, maybe? These horses share their space with bears and wolves, and have to survive winter temperatures that fall to -30C and below, with snow up to their bellies. How do they survive? Are they truly wild, or do they have a human protector?
Which is the stallion that leads the herd, and what threats does he face? Is there a younger colt who promises to snatch the leadership from him? Is there a battle for supremacy ahead?
How will the lives of these horses change in the next few months? How will your story unfold…?
It’s a steep climb up that hill… and what lies waiting in the barn? Who’s going to be ready for the surprise? Can they cope with the resulting events? Who’s going to be the hero (or heroine)? Who’s going to be too scared to move? Where can they run to?
The whole process of travel – on public transport, not in a car – is fraught with opportunity for storytellers.
Four flights and two train journeys in three days have made me think about the possibilities for mystery, murder, suspense and romance in the confusion of airports and stations.
Alfred Hitchcock made the most of trains in several movies, and there is the glorious example of The Lady Vanishes. Arthur Haley’s Airport, milked the drama of air travel, and the spoof Airplane! and its sequels milked the comedy potential… to the very last drop. We already have a long list of travellers’ tales, but there is plenty of scope for the rest of us.
Love and death
Think of the numbers of people at any one moment in a big airport. Staff and travellers must add up to tens of thousands of people on the move; a clever murderer could kill and get away with it, even with the hundreds of cameras watching every twitch and grimace.
The romance of two people in transit, a fleeting encounter, infinite futures… the potential is limitless. An airport sees people from everywhere in the world; the poor and the rich, the celebrated and the anonymous – crossing paths in limbo, where so much is out of their control.
Airports are ideas factories. Ferries, too. The best time to watch is in the early hours, where travellers wait for hours, too tired to pretend, sleepy, out of sorts, too hot or too cold, bored and frustrated. One can spend happy hours dreaming up their stories, earwigging on their monosyllabic conversations, wondering what if and what next.
Next time you fly, give yourself extra time between connections to watch, listen and dream.
It’s always there. We all have it, in bucketloads. Getting at it is not always easy, as the previous posts showed.
I get too many ideas to handle, but when I try, or think about it, my imagination is shoved aside by the enemy to creativity – the rational left brain. The bit of our brain that thinks and analyses and keeps tight control.
How to free your imagination
Shutting up the left brain isn’t easy. It helps enormously to have someone else lock it out for you. Handing over control to them for a few minutes at a time, the left brain has nothing to do and your right brain can let loose and the damned-up torrent of creative imagination can flow straight from your unconscious mind – a deep ocean of rich inner life inside every human being.
Are you aware of what education is about?
We are taught from the cradle to control our bodies and our minds, to think and learn, to conform and perform to expectations. School, university and employment reinforces the importance of left-brain control. No wonder most of us end up thinking we have no imagination, or are not the creative type!
You can choose now
You’re grown up and out in the world. You can choose how to use your mind. I want you to realise that you’re not going to run amok and cause chaos if you let your imagination loose… And I’m sure you understand how good it is for your mental and emotional well-being to give your left brain a rest and exercise your right brain now and then.
Take a brain holiday
A change is as good as a rest… so change your mind (at least change sides) and get all you’d have from a holiday – fun, novelty, relaxation, stimulation, new sensual experiences. You come back refreshed and ready for new challenges. Fresh ideas, new directions, new possibilities, new opportunities.
1. The 10th anniversary of a murder. Woman was stabbed while walking to a restaurant to meet her fiancé. Man was convicted and put away, but it was the wrong man. The murderer goes back to the restaurant to celebrate his victory. Who else is there?
2. A woman invites all her exes to dinner on 14th Feb by telling them, in the Valentine’s card invitations, that she is dying. Who turns up? What happens?
3. A man hides a diamond ring in a fairy cake, puts it on a plate with six others, and serves it to his girlfriend as Valentine’s dessert. He asks her to choose. No ring, no proposal. How does she react?
4. I typed the date 14th Feb, by mistake, as 114th Feb. Made me wonder where it might be 114th Feb, and what St Valentine might be known for there.
5. An old woman looks out of the attic window on Valentine’s Day and sees a man outside the house; he has a dog on a string by one hand, and a huge bunch of red roses in the other. She rushes downstairs. Why?
6. There’s a Valentine’s Day competition running in CID, with a prize of two hundred quid for the fastest arrest. What’s it all about?
Plot v character
These are plot ideas. None of them grab me and make me want to know more*. Why is that?
For me, plot comes from character, rather than the reverse. I meet a character – see someone from the train, or bump into them in a cafe, or stand behind them in a lift. They catch my attention, and I start speculating. Who? Where? How? Who else? What next? What if?
As my festering imagination whirrs into operation I discover little things about them. They’re scared of balloons, or they make marmelade, or they have an aunt who’s 103. Each little quirk or quality pushes me off on another round of speculation until there’s a germ of a story. Often the story doesn’t make itself obvious until a second character turns up, either in reality, or in my head. An unlikely couple, or an all-too-likely couple. A line of dialogue, a gesture, their body language.
What’s missing from all those ideas is any real character. As such, they’re just ten-a-penny ideas which I don’t really care about. Characters, once alive in your head, will start kicking. All you have to do is follow them and watch the story unfold.
*Except I want the woman made to choose a cake to pick up the plate and shove the cakes into her boyfriends face – and make him eat the ring.
Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is hard to ignore.
So use it. Use everything – the romance, the excitement, the dread, the loneliness, the togetherness or isolation… all those powerful feelings and how they make us behave. Fiction heaven.
In sixty seconds, scribble down half a dozen story ideas revolving around 14th February. [I’ll do my list in a minute, and post it later.]
How easy was that?
Did you make the one-idea-every-ten-seconds challenge? I’d love to see your list if you’d post it as a comment…
If your brain froze and you couldn’t think of a single idea, then perhaps mid-February is the ideal time for you to spend a day unlocking your ideas factory so you never have a creative shortage again.
It’s the day to seduce your imagination. Give in to your creative urges. Make love to your Muse. Pull up those fictional wallflowers and plant red roses. Bare your breast to Cupid’s arrow and fall in love with your own imagination.
Whether you yearn to write passion-fuelled crime, zingy love stories, gothic romances, out-of-this-world fantasy, medieval bodice-rippers or heart-stopping horror, this is where you’ll discover the key to creating your best-selling idea.
Book now! Start your writer’s heart racing… make this your year.