Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Some Novel Advice

I've always found novel writing to be a burden, I'm a short story guy at heart. I've got to the stage of my 'career' when I can write the first draft of a short story in a few hours in one sitting, and usually editing is just a couple of re-reads with a few words changed here and there. Only occasionally does anything have to be extensively re-written or altered. But novels are different beasts - they need time to be written and they devour that time. I've posted before about my completed novels - and at that point only one, "Moon Beaver", had been published - but I'm happy to report that I recently signed a deal for two crime novels through Telos Moonrise, the first of which should appear early in 2014. And I'm almost halfway through a third crime novel, "People I Know Are Dead", which is turning out pretty well I think.

So given this flush of recent success I thought I'd share some tips on how I wrote my novels in case any of this luck will rub off on the reader of this blog. Good karma, and all of that jazz. It might also be timely for those considering starting a novel for NaNoWriMo.

1. Have a title. It's essential for me - whether writing a short story or novel - to have a title before I begin otherwise I can't think about the work at all. A title is the coat-hanger to hang your story on.

2. Don't write every day. This flies in the face of popular opinion, but just as you would have a rest day from a day job so you need a rest day or two from the novel. That distance helps it to breathe, but even so you should...

3. Think about it constantly. I was reviewing my day's writing whilst washing-up a few evenings ago, and just tugging on those threads made me realise the novel knew how it ended even before I did. If I hadn't been thinking about it, I might not have realised it. Think about it as often as you think about your life because whilst you're writing it is your life.

4. Don't make excuses. As I said, I'm a short story guy, if the time is right I can have a completed story within a couple of hours. Two hours is easy to find. Several months to write a novel is a heck of a lot of time to create, especially if - like me - you're the father to a 17 month old and a 14 year old, you work 6 days a week, you like to eat and sleep occasionally, and you sometimes freelance outside of your normal day job in the evenings. I could easily find excuses not to write, but I don't. And - as it follows - I have written.

5. Write at work. If you can. I appreciate not all jobs are conducive to this advice - although there will always be lunch breaks - however if you can write at work then you're being paid to write. Kill two birds with one stone. At work I've written three and a half novels and three novellas. Two of those novels are my forthcoming crime books and two of the novellas have already been published. Don't jeopardise your job, but if you can write at work do it. This also means you don't have to write when you get home and just need to flop out.

6. Plot only the basics. I know some writers who write such a detailed synopsis of their novel that they might as well write the novel itself. That doesn't work for me, and for those of you who also struggle with that concept I suggest you don't tie yourself to it. I begin a novel by putting the title, and then a handful - and I mean no more than 3 or 4 - ideas underneath it. I then start writing. As I write, as and when other stuff pops into my head I add it to the notes under the novel. That way the notes are in the same file. I delete them as they get used. I never have more than ten notes running at any one time. A novel is an organic beast, not a scientific experiment. Treat it as such.

7. Don't ignore your muse. Sometimes stuff wants to pop into the novel that you never considered even in your wildest dreams. Put it in there. You don't know it yet, but your subconscious is aware of the relevance. Run with it. Your wildest dreams will become your reality.

8. Write the novel for yourself. It's important to have the market in mind, but don't write for the market. If you do you'll have a stilted novel with no life in it. Write it for yourself. If you can't enjoy it then no one will (although that doesn't mean if you love it everyone will, you - at least - must love your novel or it will show).

9. Ignore this advice. Seriously. Well, kind of. If you need advice on writing a novel then you're not ready to write the novel. The novel should birth by tearing itself out of your chest with superhuman force leaping into a sports car and driving dangerously along mountain road s-bends. If you need advice on it then you're not ready for it. You'll develop your own natural style that doesn't need to mimic others.

10. Don't ignore this advice. Might seem contrary but re-read my suggestions and see how they work for you. Take something from it, but don't use it as template. Just be aware of this advice. Find your own way.

11. Break the rules. I mean, who would have 11 bullet-points? That should be ten, or lucky seven, or at least an even number. Right? Nope. Don't be straight-jacketed by anyone or anything that's gone before. Fly with it.

Feel free to share if you enjoyed this. Then get writing!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Malayan Tapir

As regular followers of this blog are aware I have a certain fondness for animals of the long-snouted variety. Who wouldn't? I've tried to seek out some of the more extreme examples for previous posts, but those are becoming thin on the ground so I'm falling back onto one of my favourites, the Malayan tapir.

I used to have one of these as a toy animal back in my youth and I prefer the black and white markings to those of the other three varieties of tapir. There's something more honest, more other-worldly, about it somehow. See what I mean:

There's some interesting stuff on wikipedia about how the long snout has been accommodated: They have a large sagittal crest, a bone running along the middle of the skull that is necessary for muscle attachment. They also have unusually positioned orbits, an unusually shaped cranium with the frontal bones elevated, and a retracted nasal incision. All of these modifications to the normal mammal skull are, of course, to make room for the proboscis. This proboscis caused retraction of bones and cartilage in the face during the evolution of the tapir, and even caused the loss of some cartilages, facial muscles, and the bony wall of the nasal chamber. That seems quite impressive to me.

The facial structure is even more impressive when viewed face on, although it does lose the elongated look, of course.

Perhaps the above photo is a little unkind, because they are a quite beautiful animal. Young tapirs of all ages have brown hair with white stripes and spots, but it's the monochrome adults which I prefer. And regardless of their overall cuteness, the predominant reason for including them on this blog is obviously the desirability of the elongated proboscis. I mean, just look at the length of that snout!

(Tapirs can be hired out as double-barrelled shotguns)

Friday, 4 October 2013

Editors Have Feelings Too

My blog today is brought to you by my partner and Fur-Lined Ghettos editor, Sophie:

I've been editing Fur-Lined Ghettos for two years now and have never received a vile email. Until today.

As a writer, I know how hard a rejection can hit. You put your heart into your writing, pluck up the courage to send your work out, wait months to hear back, only to get the standard 'thanks, but it's not for us' email. It hurts.

But, I also know it's subjective. One editor's opinion doesn't make your writing any less valid. Of course you shout profanities, though I have never, and will never, send an email out of anger.

It is neither polite nor professional.

As with many zines, Fur-Lined Ghettos is a labour of love. When it comes down to it we don't have the money to publish it, the time to read submissions, or to typeset it. But we struggle in the rare spare moments we do get because, for us, it's important to put out a print zine featuring writing we enjoy. Writing we know already has a limited platform.

So when I get a simple yet harsh 'fuck you' after I've politely rejected someone it hurts, a lot. I cried.

It's a shame that people are capable of being so heartless, and so thoughtless, when we're in the same boat. We're all artists trying to positively change the world. There is no place for hatred.

But thanks, I'll get a poem out of it.