Okay, let’s just dive in. I’m assuming you’re here because you are (a) a parent and (b) trying hard to carve out space for writing in your life. Maybe you have other caring commitments too. You may very well have a job that eats up more than its fair share of your week, and you might have a spouse who expects to at least see your face from time to time. Plus, you need to eat and sleep (although that last one, if your kids are like mine… maybe not so much).
It can feel overwhelming. It is overwhelming. I know it is: I’m living it with you. But if you’re here, I’m guessing it’s because without having space to write, even just a little, your life feels… flat. Not empty — of course — but missing something. Like there’s a spark that you just can’t seem to light. And yet, with eight million conflicting demands and only twenty-four hours in each day, how do you justify prioritising something as de-prioritisable as making fiction?
An occasional series looking at the genesis of a story, from the initial spark of inspiration, through conceptual development, the writing process, and what happens next, with tips based on what I’ve learned along the way. In this blog, I’ll be looking at On the Brink, the sequel to my Arthur C Clarke Award-shortlisted debut novel Edge of Heaven.
In spring 2003, I was at something of a crossroads in my life. Circumstances had conspired to make it necessary to leave a job that I adored, and I’d been doing temporary admin work to pay the bills. I’d decided to go back to college in the autumn to study for a qualification in journalism, because I was still trying to find a way to write for a living and I’d had the grand total of one short story published in the entire history of ever, so fiction didn't seem like a viable career option just yet. But September was months away, and I had a whole summer to fill before that. And then I found an advert for temporary factory workers in the Netherlands, and I knew immediately that this was what I'd been looking for.
Dialogue. It’s an amazing tool for a writer, and often underappreciated. It’s also one of the most pressing concerns that students raise in my writing classes: how to use it, how to get it right, how to make it sound “natural.”
And it’s probably the most frequent formatting error I see as an editor.
For something that most of us do every day without thinking about it, we sure do seem to panic about the spoken word when it comes time to put it on a page. But, honestly, writing dialogue doesn’t need to be scary. Read on for five tips and tricks that will help you get it working for you and not against you, and then go ahead and make dialogue your best writing friend, as it rightfully ought to be.
An occasional series looking at the genesis of a story, from the initial spark of inspiration, through conceptual development, the writing process, and what happens next. You'll find related writing tips at the end. In this blog, I’ll be looking at Blumelena, my Bridport Prize-shortlisted short story.
One of the questions you never quite manage to answer to anyone’s satisfaction, in my experience, is the question of where the ideas come from. Generally speaking, mine just turn up when they turn up, generally prompted by nothing at all, and the onus is on me to find something to scribble on before they disappear . Blumelena was no different.
In my free ebook short story collection, To The End of the World and Back, I talk about how the concept announced itself, more or less fully-formed, as I was walking to work one morning. It was a decent stretch - around half an hour from home - and there’s definitely something about walking, for me, that connects with the creative part of my brain. If I’m stuck with a piece of writing, I will tend to go for a walk and let the rhythm of my feet work out the narrative knots as I go. In this case, though, I wasn’t looking for inspiration, but inspiration found me just the same.
So, the 2020s have been… less than optimal so far, really. (As a dystopian sci-fi author who released a pandemic novel in April 2020, it’s been quite the ride.) I’m going to start with my usual injunction to please be kind to yourself, first and foremost, in 2022, as I hope you’ve been kind to yourself throughout the past number of years, whether or not you’ve emerged from lockdown having completed all those writing projects you’ve been planning. Remember that the world is suffering a collective trauma right now, which doesn’t play well with creativity. So whether you’ve a brace of novels under your belt or you’ve been stuck on page 2 for the past eighteen months, please remember to celebrate any and all writing that you’ve achieved — because look at the circumstances under which that writing has been done.
With that said, if you’re looking for ways to encourage your word count to soar this year, here are a few things you could try.
There is nothing more intimidating to the creative process than a blank page. But, luckily, there are more than a few ways to un-blank it before it derails your writing time, and I'm going to share a few of them below.
First off, I want to push back against the idea that a writer, to be successful, needs substantial amounts of unbroken writing time. That’s just not the case. There’s also no truth to the oft-repeated injunction that you must write every single day. (I’m dubious of any writing advice that starts with “you must,” to be honest.) There are days when it is genuinely impossible to get any writing done, and that’s not because of self-doubt or deprioritising writing from your life as an act of you-can’t-fail-if-you-don’t-try: it’s because there are days when it is genuinely impossible to get any writing done.
Solidarity, word-count chasers: November is YOUR month. If you’re taking part in National Novel Writing Month this year, I wish you the very best of luck. I know writers whose novels have happened as a direct result of the accountability NaNoWriMo affords. (I also know writers for whom the format has the opposite effect, by the way, so, as ever with writing processes, there are no absolutes. If you’re not taking part, or if NaNo hasn’t worked for you in the past, please know that it’s not my thing either and keep looking for the process that suits your creative flow.)
I’m not one of nature’s extroverts. I became a writer, for heaven’s sake. My daily routine involves plenty of human interaction; it’s just that the humans with whom I’m interacting are people that I’ve made up and they tend to behave in ways that I, at least, find predictable. (Not always, but that’s another story.) I’m much more comfortable with the written word than I am with the spoken, and I tend to bravely run away from large-scale gatherings where I’m going to be expected to interact with other people. Not conventions, though. I make an exception for conventions. Conventions are great.
Once upon a time there was a writer who hated editing. (It's me. The writer is me. Bear with me; this story does have a point.) This writer had a completed novel manuscript that was sorely in need of an edit, and had roped in two excellent friends to provide feedback. Their feedback was insightful, considered, and incredibly helpful, and now that writer faced a new problem: she was going to have to put the feedback into effect. She was going to have to edit the manuscript.
So, she did what anyone would do and procrastinated. The house got very clean, put it that way. And when this writer was finally forced to confront the fact that the novel would not, in fact, edit itself, she decided to game her resistance: she entered the novel, partially edited, into the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair. The competition only required the first 10,000 words, which were complete, and the organisers would ask for the complete MS only if it was selected as a winner. But selection wasn't until December - three full months away. That was ages. Surely, the writer reasoned, surely she would have completed the edits by then?
Blog updates on the first of every month.