Getting started as a writer

Or what I know now that I wish I knew then (and what I’m still learning) as a writer.

1. Believe
Many new writers don’t believe in themselves when they get an idea that they want to be a writer. You have to doggedly hang on to that tiny spark of belief that you will be a writer/write a novel/collection of poetry/memoir, whatever you want to achieve and even when doubt sets in, hold on to that dream.

Also, believe in your unique writing voice. You notice this immediately in a group of writers reading their work. Every writer is different, just because you don’t write like everyone else, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. It’s your writing voice that comes across in your writing. And everyone hears this even if you don’t.

2. Learn
Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

Join a writing group to get support and feedback (and I mean support – if your writing group doesn’t make you feel supported, leave it, and find one that does). A good writing group has writing sessions that prompt you to write quickly without edit and usually read out the work in the group. Don’t be scared – the few rushed words you’ve written contain nuggets of phrases and ideas you might expand on or use in other works. Use the opportunity to release your voice when you read your rough work in a group – thank yourself for being brave when you do.

Read books on writing. You may not understand all the techniques or ideas being delivered but hey, they’re going in and they will come out in your writing, improving it.

Find a good creative writing course, one that gives you confidence in editing your work. If you can’t find a course, read about editing. Browne and King’s book ‘Self-editing for fiction writers’ is a good start. Read it a couple of times, or more, so every concept sinks in.

3. Write
The more you write, the more you learn about writing.
But also, the more you edit, structurally and line-by-line, the more you learn about editing and how to improve your writing.
Read your work out loud and you’ll hear when a sentence needs to be adjusted.

Keep writing, keep learning, and keep believing.

Character, Situation, and Plot

Building a story is more than Character or Plot. At the heart of it is the Situation that the main character is in before a plot can unfold (or needs to be developed if an idea for a plot has already been thought of). I heard somewhere that Alice Walker spent a year with her characters of ‘The Color Purple’ before writing about them.

The Seed
In the seed of an idea for a novel, both a flash of character and a smidgen of plot will jump into your consciousness. You can already imagine bits of your character’s situation that will lead into the plot.

The Growth
In order for the idea to grow, you must spend time developing/thinking about your character and the idea. And to build a solid plot, you need to understand the current situation, where the character is at the moment and the start of the story. If you are a writer that hates the idea of plotting a novel then chances are you already think a lot about your character and their situation before you start writing. Or you start writing hoping that you will hear and find your character as you write, and also find out where the story will go. First drafts are good for that.

The Simple Formula for a novel

Character + Situation + Plot = Novel

So by developing your character and their current situation, their ordinary world (as named by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey’), you can build ideas for the plot, if you haven’t already done that, and in turn create your novel.

Of course, you could have a fantastic plot idea and use that to develop a character and their situation to make the novel idea work.

The Character
Spend time with them, talk to them, imagine you are sitting next to them, and write down what they say to you. Walk with them, wait for them to speak or not speak, sometimes a character doesn’t speak immediately to you. Listen to them and write down what they tell you. It may not make sense at first but it is the beginning of hearing your character’s voice. And their situation plays into how they talk to you e.g. a character fighting with inner demons may say very little but when they do speak it may flow out in a torrent of words.

The Situation
1. Their World. Imagine the world your character lives in. Its planet, country, town, village, countryside, home, work.
2. Character’s Background – defining moments in their life and the decisions they’ve made because of them.
3. Their People. The people they interact with and how they behave around these people. Family, friends, work colleagues, all the people in their world.

Every character will view their situation differently. One might see their town as a nightmare, another may view it as amazing. Your character’s voice will also play in how they speak, what they think, how they view the world around them and details that one character will notice, another may ignore e.g. crumbs on a kitchen table may be viewed as cosy and familiar while another may see it as a mess and disaster.

Plant the seed of your character and their possible situation into your mind and let it build there. Come back to it by spending time with your character and letting their thoughts and words come out onto the page. Brainstorm or add your plot and start your novel.

Releasing some words into the world

Why do I fear stepping into the limelight and releasing my writing, my words, my voice into the world? I’ve delayed the launch of my novel ‘The Alien Eve’ from October last year and every step of the way I’m fighting with myself to just do it. Filled my time with studies, doing Nanowrimo for my fourth novel and getting a short story and poetry ready for another anthology but that’s no excuse.

I know it’s a good novel. Every time I’m proofing it, I find myself re-entering the world I’ve created and I’m once again there standing beside my characters, feeling their anguish, fears, joys, worrying for them. Until I catch myself and remember that I was supposed to be checking the novel, not reading it.

But it’s done. Complete. Edited. Proofed. Beta read. Proofed a few more times.
And still I fear its release.

Tonight, I going with a friend to see about a launch venue in one of the local pubs. I’m hoping to get a young female singer, perhaps two, to perform after the launch itself. There’ll be tapas and desserts so people can eat and drink and relax and enjoy themselves. A couple of speeches and a short (really short, one page max) reading. I know the attention span of launch attendees is tiny (Well, mine usually is, why inflict a long reading on everyone?)

And then I’ll look back on my fear the day after and say to myself,
‘Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’

Meet my character Blog Tour

In the eternal battle of character versus plot, I reckon no one wins. Why? Both of them are vital to a novel, and have to be developed together, because without either of them a story falls, meanders without reason.

Plot or situation forms and shapes the character and, equally, a character, their personality and background, will interact and think from their point of view to and about the situation and actions happening around them.

Three examples from my own work:
My first novel ‘The 13th Vision’ I focussed on plot with some development of my characters and the novel’s downfall? A too complicated main plot and too many subplots. And two parallel plot lines, one of which was not as well developed as it could be. I like the initial premise though so I’m working on a re-write.

My second novel ‘The Alien Woman’ – two fully formed characters Eve and Ben came out of this one and the novel was written from two POV’s. The plot? As before I got carried away with complications but when I finalised the decisions of how many subplots to use, the novel came together.

My third novel is ‘Things To Fear’ – The situation was formed in my mind and I worked with a character journal for a few days to get to know my character and then got straight into writing a first draft. This character came easily and whenever I get stuck on a scene, it’s usually because I’m fighting against going with what the character would do.

A bit about my character ‘Eve’ from ‘The Alien Woman’.

Who ‘Eve’ is and where she comes from is central to the story of ‘The Alien Woman’. This novel is set in present day and in a fictional south-east of Ireland.
‘Run. Learn.’
With two commands pulsing though her head, a woman is on the run at night in a strange cold world. She enters an empty shelter.
When he gets home, Ben finds her and lets her stay the rest of the night. By morning, he’s surprised at how fast her injuries are healing and lets her to stay in the house when she prepares to run again.
‘Eve’, as he calls her, doesn’t know where she is or how she got to this world. All she has are the commands coming into her mind. She doesn’t mind Ben calling her ‘Eve’, the last time she heard her own name was by the ones she loved and has lost. A new name may help her forget her past.

‘The Alien Woman’ is going through the submission process at the moment.

A big thanks to Andrea of ‘Harvesting Hecate’ for writing about me in her post about the character in her novel ‘The skin of a selkie’. Her post was part of a series in a ‘Meet my character Blog Tour’.

Here is the first writer I’d love to tell you about, J.C. Conway.

J.C. Conway
J.C. writes science-fiction, romance and fantasy stories for adults, young adults and middle-grade readers. He says on his bio, ‘I’m a fan of great fiction that stretches the imagination, probes the depths of the human condition, or otherwise illuminates the unknown or the misunderstood’. He’s a prolific short story writer and his debut novel, ‘Hearts in Ruin’, a contemporary romance, was published in May 2014 by Liquid Silver Books. His blog posts delve into a variety of subjects; science in space and archaeology, information on science fiction awards and events, and information for romance writers, among some of them.

I’ll feature other authors over time but for today, I’m going to pass the baton forward and I hope you’ll go over and visit J.C.’s blog.

The writer’s source

We are our writer’s source; the well spring from the conscious and unconscious elements of our minds. Our lives, our biology has fed into who we are, still feeds into us, every second of every day we are alive while we are awake and in our sleep from within, dreams remembered or not.

The minutiae of experiences we have had throughout our lives is imprinted into our brains; from what we may consider the mundane monotony or day to day grind, from childhood to adulthood, perhaps living in the same place all our lives, perhaps moving town, area, country, a wealth of formative and recent memories, the routines of life interspersed with unusual happenings, out of the ordinary events, anniversaries, celebrations, deaths, devastations and loss. All this has built a foundation of remembered and hidden memories from which our writer’s source is created in our minds.

Consider all that has influenced and shaped your writer’s source:

Our parents – their backgrounds and the effect this had on raising us, discipline, and our reactions to this.

Our interactions with other humans – families growing or shrinking, at school, after school, at work, every possible daily interaction we have with any other human being through our lives.

Our environment – every part of it from how the sun warms us, to the edge of the table we dig our nail in and make our mark, to the flavours of food prepared in childhood and what we try to make ourselves now we’re grown-up, to the hard mattress on the floor we sleep on that only becomes comfortable when we have to leave it in the morning.

Our learning to communicate – learning to talk, to write, to read, to create our own sentences.

The stages of our lives – pre-memory, infant, primary and secondary school, third level, the world of work, our own families (kids, pets, or none).

Our biology – female or male, the colour of our skin, the country of our birth, our economic circumstances, our beliefs or none, and the multitudes of ways that the society we were born in or live in tells us how or who we should or shouldn’t be.

We take all of this in, every second of the day whether we are conscious of it or not. Our brain processes and stores impressions, emotions, images, sensations into pockets of mind sometimes only released through writing (or therapy) to surprise or shock us when revealed.

When we write, we tap into this incredible vast source from within our minds, our brains, to create and what pours out of us onto the page, well, that comes from us, our rich, multifaceted source, our well spring, our writer’s source within created from every aspect of our lives, awake or asleep.

And all we have to do is find the words, from the languages imprinted within, to communicate what we want to say.

Writing and the human mind

‘…each of us who dares to reach in and pull out what is truly ourselves brings a new way of seeing into the world.’ Hal Zina Bennett, Write From The Heart.

Our minds are incredible. The power to learn and the power to imagine and create.
From birth, connection after connection is made in our minds of memories, conscious and unconscious. All this information from our bodies and our environment is pulsing into us and while it does our mind processes it and makes the best possible assumptions for us, for our survival, to make sense of the world.

Day after day, year after year, we accumulate an incredible amount of memories: images and sensations. Until one day, as the writer, we come to place the pen on the paper or fingers on a keyboard and unload one of the infinite things we have created in our lives through a sentence, a paragraph. A piece of writing springs up from the wealth of known and unknown (hidden from us, always in the background) knowledge within our brains.

In doing our writing, we reveal our uniqueness, gained through years of learning, conditioning, adapting, analysing, studying, being in this world and then released, tumbling onto the page. We create wholly from a vast source of impressions and information stored inside our minds.

The only constraint is the language – finding the right words to recreate our imagined worlds/scenes for our reader: ourselves or others. Words to make the dream or impression we want to recreate, to transfer from our minds onto the page so that a reader can journey with us when the writing is read.

The human mind is an incredible thing. Celebrate what yours is doing today in your writing. Realise your unique voice, your unique mind, there is no one else like you in the world, place your words on the page and create.