Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Writing a novel - tips from an amateur

I've been writing my novel 'This Dark World' for about eight or nine months now, and have learnt so much about the process of novel writing in that short space of time. Obviously I've only discovered a microcosm of what there is to know about writing, through my university education and personal experience as a writer. Nevertheless, I think the knowledge I've picked up during my creative process is worth sharing, and will hopefully be useful to other budding novelists out there.

Don't be perfect - I'm terrible for redrafting before it's required. I could probably spend an hour or longer trying to shape a paragraph into perfection, rather than pressing on with writing. It's more time-efficient to keep going regardless of the 'quality' of your work, because redrafting can wait until you've got a finished first draft. I remember reading a quote from an author, who said that her protagonist could switch genders multiple times during any of her first drafts, but she wouldn't worry about it until she had finished, which I think illustrates the point that you need to just slogging on!

Start with the bare bones - This tip kind of leads on from the previous one. It can be really easy to include details in your novel which aren't necessarily relevant to the story, but help you as a writer to understand the narrative and your characters. Try to catalogue these particulars in a journal so that you have them to draw upon if necessary, but don't worry about adding the flesh to the skeleton until the second or third draft. For example, my first chapter of 'This Dark World' contained loads of detail about my protagonist and his environment, but didn't drive the plot at all. I therefore cut this chapter, but I still benefited from writing it because I can use those details when adding the muscles and skin to the text later on.

Generate inspiration, don't wait for it - It can be really hard to make yourself write when you're not in the mood, especially when writing doesn't have a clear/definite financial incentive at the it's conclusion! When you start your novel, you'll probably be brimming with inspiration and drive, but inevitably this will fade. Don't wait for the honeymoon period of writing to magically return; find ways to regenerate it. I often find that my favourite music, books and films can be good catalysts to spark my creativity, so listening to an album whilst I do the washing-up generally gets me in the right mood to crack on with my novel when I'm done! 

Use your time effectively - Achieving progress in novel writing is a difficult task if you aren't organising yourself effectively. I'm not just talking about making time to write - I'm talking about your whole 'life' organisation. Even if you're not in full-time employment or education, you've probably still got loads of different elements of your life demanding your attention. If these responsibilities aren't being addressed properly, you shouldn't try to focus yourself on writing. I say this because there is a real danger that you could turn writing into a sin, something you do when you should be taking on your higher priorities. Once everything else is addressed, find your best time-strategy to get your writing done. You may find it easiest to set aside a certain time of the day/week to write, or you may work best by writing whenever you get a scrap of time. Whatever approach you choose, make sure your family/friends/job/etc doesn't suffer for the sake of your art. At the moment I'm juggling part-time employment, job hunting, youth work and music responsibilities at church, freelance proofreading, spending time with friends and family and being a good husband, as well as writing my novel! It's not easy and sometimes I may fail, but if I can do it, you can too.

Chart your progress - It's really important to feel that you are getting somewhere with your writing, so that the task doesn't become a monotonous grind. Set yourself some targets and try to stick to them - but don't beat yourself up too much if you don't! Remember also that your word count isn't always the best indicator of progress. For example, after showing my incomplete first draft to a small publisher, I was advised to cut a large amount of my writing, so as to speed up the flow of my narrative, and to adjust some of my fantasy concepts. This was a bit soul-destroying, as it felt like I was taking massive leap backwards, but now I can see that even though I had to go from 26,000 words back down to about 10,000 words, the whole event allowed me to improve my story and the overall shape of my novel. Make sure you chart these points in your writing progress, so you can look back and see that regardless of how many words you have on the page, your idea has been growing and evolving.

I've been quite fortunate recently to be experiencing the twin blessings of time and inspiration, which has helped me make a lot of progress with 'This Dark World'. I've now written 20,315 words, which is about 43 pages of A4. This is roughly a third of target word length (50,000 - 60,000). I've separated my draft into seventeen chapters so far, which vary from being less than a page in length to being four or five A4 pages long. I've really been focusing on the 'bare bones' of the novel at the moment, knowing that the incidental notes can be added at a later stage. I'm currently writing a section during which Paul has to face a set of trials, each of which relate to taking up a different piece of the 'Armour of God'. These chapters have been fun to write, as I can let my imagination run wild whilst being inspired by the Word of God.

Click here to see a sample chapter from my novel!

Let me know if this has been helpful or interesting by commenting below or on my twitter/facebook page, I'd love to hear about any writing or other creative ventures that you're taking on at moment!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Mike Relm - Master of the Remix

These are a few videos by Mike Relm, a talented gentleman who makes very good use of movie/gaming clips to create some cool remixes. Check out his Youtube channel!