Friday, 30 August 2013

How to be a Writer

For some time, I've been thinking about doing a "writing tips" post. Sadly, I don't actually have any writing tips, other than "avoid adverbs," advice I've clearly failed to follow in this opening paragraph (count 'em!)

Oh, and some guy I met in a bar once told me never to use the word."that".

So that's the end of that...aargh!

However, although I don't feel confident sharing tips about the writing process itself, I do feel I know a little bit about being a writer.

So here are my "how to be a writer" tips:

1) Write. Thinking about being a writer won't make you one. Dreaming of being a writer won't make you one. Talking about being a writer (even when very drunk) won't make you one. Blogging or tweeting won't work either. Only writing will make you a writer.

2) Be patient. Be patient with yourself--you won't be a writer in a few months, or even a few years. And unless you are very, very very lucky, you'll need to be patient with the publishing process. It may take a long time to find an agent or a publisher for your work. In fact, every aspect of being a writer requires patience--from waiting for feedback, to getting a response to a query or submission. Even the time between signing a book deal and seeing your book in print takes ages. So whatever you're waiting for (and there's always something!) use your time well.

3) Persevere. I once read that patience is the active form of patience, and I like that definition. It means never stopping, never giving up, moving forward even though you have no idea if you will ever reach your destination..

4) Be nice to yourself. I was going to say "be confident" but that's not always possible. Most artistic types lack faith in their abilities. But you can be nice to yourself by taking your work seriously, and by fighting the urge to self-critique when that's really the job of others. I say this as someone who once almost talked an editor out of publishing one of my short stories (yes, it's true), and whose acting teacher once said, "Jane, instead of telling us how crap your scene is going to be, why don't you just do the scene and let us tell you how crap it was."

5) Be nice to others, especially other writers. To be a writer, you really do need the support of colleagues who are in the same game, regardless of where you or they are on the "writing journey." I've never met any writers who've been unkind or unsupportive to me, and I don't expect to meet any. But, just in case any of you are thinking about becoming a condescending jerk or an arrogant git, I must advise against it.

6) Grow a thick skin. One of the benefits of being a writer is that, unlike actors or other performers, you get to fail in the privacy of your own home. The sting of rejection is felt at home, too, and nobody has to hear your pathetic sobs other than family members or close friends.

 However, this doesn't change the fact that rejection hurts, and that other distressing setbacks and disappointments can (and will)  occur in the life of a writer. So, leather up your hide and/or buy some strong armour. You will need it.

7) Rejoice in the many positives, whether that's breaking out the bubbly after getting a book deal, or eating some delicious cake after reaching a word count. Taking pleasure at the success of other writers also helps, even if through gritted teeth!

8) Learn to smile and/or chuckle amiably when people say, "So, are you going to be the next JK Rowling?"  

And finally...

9) Never, ever ask another writer about their current work in progress. It will always be the same as what you're working on, only much, much better.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Summertime and the Reading is Easy

I'm not "on holiday" as I don't technically have a job...

I'm feeling none of that "school's out" euphoria and freedom that summer brings to teachers (and students). There's no "got to cram a year's worth of chores/partying/travel into two weeks" for lucky, lucky me. 

But still, getting to "the end" of my WIP in mid-July means that I've been feeling freer than usual, and the past few weeks of summer have felt like proper holiday time. 

As old habits die hard, I've done what I've always done during summer vacations--I've gone on a reading binge.

I'm still on one, in fact.

What have I been reading this summer? Let's start with the birthday presents--

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes 

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 

Then are there are the "beach reads":

The Angel's Game and Prisoner of Heaven  by Carlos Ruiz Safron (both re-reads, but as I was in and around Barcelona...) 

The Paris Wife by Pauline McLain

The Victoria Vanishes (Bryant and May investigate) by Christopher Fowler.

When will Bryant and May be a TV series?   

There have been some shorter books, squeezed into a day's reading

Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

Joyland by Stephen King

I hope I like the book as much as I do the cover! 

And on my TBR pile are This Book Will Save your Life (A.N. Homes again) and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" by Maria Semple.

So, what do my choices say about me? 

1) I need a strong narrative.

2) I like genre fiction (historical, horror, ghost, mystery) but only when written by the very best. I struggle with thrillers, for example, because the writing is usually more Dan Brown than John LeCarre.  

3) I relish stories that have very specific locations (London for the Bryant and May series and the Mantel, Barcelona for the Ruiz Safron, though I wasn't at all convinced by the Europe of The Paris Wife.)

And finally...

4) There are no children's or YA books on my summer reading list...

Gulp. Sorry...

I've got a big YA TBR pile, so I can only conclude that as writing for young people is my "work", reading YA in the summer holidays feels a bit like work, too. 

As much as I love reading YA or middle grade, I don't seem to be able to lose myself as easily or completely as I do with an "adult" book. I tend to read more consciously, analysing structure and pace and language and dialogue--there is so much to learn from other writers! 

Of course, I'm learning from Hilary Mantel and Christopher Fowler, too, but it's a more immersive (if that's a word) and less conscious educational experience. But who knows, one day I may want to write a charming, exciting and literate mystery of my own, or even challenge the greatest historical (or any) novelist of her (or any) time...

But for now, I'll let them do the writing while I take it easy and have all the fun.

Happy reading everyone!