Hemmingway Was Wrong About a Few Things

Hemingway On SafariIt is customary to hold the great authors up as the sources of all wisdom in our craft and we can’t have a conversation about the greats and the wisdom they bestowed on us without bringing up Ernest Hemmingway. So, despite my status as a mere mortal I would like to raise a few objections to some of the facts that we now take for granted because a genius said them.

Keep in mind I’m not saying he was wrong, but I would argue that his advice was only right for people like him. He was a genius with a pen, but we are not all Hemmingway. The good, even great writers of our age are all very different people so what worked for him won’t necessarily work for us.

First of all, the first draft of everything isn’t shit. That’s so incredibly unfair and dismissive of one of the most beautiful things a writer can make. Yes, the first draft is often rough and messy but it’s full of great things. It’s full of half formed ideas, fledgling characters and silly throwaways that you put in just because they made you smile. Maybe those things will be built on in later drafts and maybe they’ll be removed completely but they are beautiful in their imperfections.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to treasure your first draft. You don’t need to overedit it, examine it or make it perfect but as you write it appreciate how wonderfully flawed it is. Your first draft might be the truest expression of who you are as a writer, with all of who you fear you are and all you hope to be included.

Supernatural-Authors-Montage1This isn’t just about Hemmingway either, it’s about all the greats. A lot of great writers gave a lot of very good advice but not all of it applies to you. People give advice based on what’s worked for them in the past and maybe it helped Hemmingway to believe his first draft was going to be garbage no matter what he did but that doesn’t mean that’ll help you. You can take advice from Stephen King, Shakespeare, Terry Pratchett, all of the above or none of them but the idea of idolising great writers until everything they say is unquestionable gospel is harmful to you as a writer.

Unless I’m wrong in which case feel free to ignore me too.

I’m not saying you need to trust yourself only, just pick and choose the advice that’s right for you. My first draft is my precious baby and building on it is an act of nurturing and love that I couldn’t hope to do if I really believed it was shit.

Oh, and don’t write drunk, even Hemmingway rarely actually did that according to his family. He drank after he was finished for the day or during particularly foul cases of writer’s block.

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Struggling with the Cursed Writer’s Block?

Believe it or not, but everyone has it at some stage of their writing career. Especially to me – sometimes things get in the way of life when I can’t focus on anything in my story writing, then I go check for cute animal pictures as a distraction. Let me tell you a few things that helped me through the stages of writer’s block.

First of all – Your path

Now I’m a writer who has to have a plan for their story. If not, then it ends up dead before it began. If you’re like me who needs to have this path set out for them then I strongly recommend for you to stop and read over your work. One of the major things about my block is because something is missing in the story or I could perhaps extend a part for another character that I forgot to include three chapters ago. So if your path is going in the direction of destruction and you don’t like it – cut it out and do it again. I know this is a painful process, but there’s still a chance you can reuse the deleted part for a future scene.

Inspiration 

Have you ever been in a place or heard a song that simply spoke to you? You could be inside a nice bar and an idea starts to merge in your head. Commonly, many writers get inspiration from their dreams. Ideas are born through inspiration and by watching or listening to the world around us, we can get bring life to an idea that has been dormant for so long. Most of my scenes are brought on by music, so perhaps if you’re struggling even with the music you have currently then you look up for something refreshing. I work best with instrumental music, as sometimes I’m listening too deeply with the words and I may accidentally write the lyrics instead of my intended part. So, my advice for inspiration is to go outside to take a break from your writing in order to get a better feel of new ideas.

Looking from a Different Point of View

Sometimes, even I admit that this is a little challenging. When I offer my work to read, there are plenty of people who care about me who are willing to sell their arm to do so in a heartbeat. The problem lies within your bond with other readers however. If the story isn’t good and readers are just saying that it is then it’s tough to be able to work from it. Yet if there’s honesty and it’s bad, then the critique can embarrass you and shy you away from the chance. I won’t deny it – it is hard to give your work to someone and get feedback, but my advice would be for you to ask the reader of what they think needs to happen. It is however, completely up to you whether you take their advice of the story as you have the final say.

Writing Small Projects

I know that not many people are a fan of changing topic so suddenly… which is why I included it as a small project. A perfect example would be a possible snippet of your story that has nothing to do with the main plot (A.K.A – fanfiction involving your characters). While I rely on this from time to time, this isn’t my most used tactic. I often do alternate scenarios or side stories of the characters I never use. It is a skill that I often enjoy and sometimes it brings me back to my story which is something that we all need sometimes.

~ Annalise

Annalise is the author of the Sacred Stone books

Visit Annalise’s bio here

My 10 Step Novel Writing Process

In my opinion the most important thing for an author is to have a consistent project process. This process is likely to be different between each author. This month I thought I might share my process.

Step 1: Idea Formation

Before you can start writing a story of any kind, you need to at least have an idea for what you’re writing. Formulating the ideas after first having them and working out if the ideas are viable enough to turn into a story. I often find that my ideas come from dreams. I then spend time the next day going over the ideas and stretching them until they become something more. Once I have worked out if they might work as story ideas then I move onto the next step.

Step 2: Research

After formulating my ideas into a novel/series idea I begin researching the topic and start building the scene for it. If the project is set in a specific time period, this means I need to research the time period, the way people dressed, the way they talked and the various social statuses involved with the time period. Through this research characters can be made and worlds created.

1_rdhhfkls-0l0xuzighwyzgStep 3: Storyboarding

After researching, I start storyboarding my ideas. Formulating a basic storyline for the novel at the very least. I am not much of a planner so I usually only start with a story premise and a few milestones. Everything else I leave up to in-the-moment creativity.

Step 4: 1st Draft – The Skeleton

This is the very first basic draft of the story. I do my best to make sure the general story gets down onto the paper. It doesn’t need to have fantastic character and story development as it is only me shovelling sand into the sandpit. I aim to have this draft at approximately 80,000 words which is more than what I expect my novel’s final word count to be. The word count is likely to fluctuate as the writing process continues.

Step 5: 2nd Draft – Major Storyline Rework

I usually leave the project for a few months before returning for this step. For the 2nd draft I completely rewrite the story, this time with the original draft on the same screen. Using the original draft I rework the entire novel and restructure the storyline to a point where the major plot points are better developed.

157195302Step 6: 3rd Draft – Minor Storyline Rework

Again I leave a bit of time between these two steps. Maybe a month though as we are only focusing on the minor points of the story and making sure the characters are well developed. This process usually takes three times reading through the entire novel to ensure everything is as it should be for the story to either tie up the loose ends and be over or to be tied up enough to be over but also loose enough to continue into the sequel. After this step is finally complete, congratulations you have a finished manuscript… But wait… you still have to edit it.

Step 7: 4th Draft – My Edit

Leaving the manuscript for a while is the best way to ensure you come at it with a somewhat fresh perspective. A fresh perspective is fairly important as otherwise it is difficult to spot grammatical mistakes. I am awful at spotting mistakes in my own work. But going over it yourself first is a good idea, that way you have at least tried to find the more obvious mistakes. Besides there are other people who are more than capable of editing your manuscript for you.

download (4)Step 8: 5th Draft – Editor’s Edit

So, you’ve now written your manuscript and have gone over it with editing in mind. Now it’s time to hand it over to a professional editor. I was lucky enough that I had already found Ouroborus Books by this point with The Stray so I was able to get Sabrina to edit my book as part of my publishing costs. But if you haven’t found your publisher yet this can be a bit more difficult. Have a look around your local area and even online for editors of your genre. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for an 80,000 word manuscript. But it is worth the money if you plan to self-publish. It might not get rid of all the errors, but it will definitely get an objective point of view and the editor will do their best to make sure your story is the best it can be.

Step 9: Final Draft

Usually after you get your manuscript back from the editor, it will be a marked-up version. This means they have gone through and made all kinds of notes, whether using the Microsoft Office Suite or pen to paper. It is now your job to go through the mark-up and make the changes. Most them will just be an instant yes to change. Others however may ask you to rephrase things or explain something better, more information. Either way, if you have any questions, follow up with your editor and they should be more than happy to explain their intentions. For this I recommend having an editor that uses track changes in Microsoft Word, otherwise the pen and paper mark-up is such a gruelling process and not one I look forward to.

Step 10: Prepare for Publication

After the entire editing process is done, it’s time to prepare your manuscript for publishing. If you have a publisher, they will complete this process for you. However, if you are self-publishing this can include cover design, manuscript formatting for different platforms, design choices, promotional items and events. Social media advertising. Pretty much everything you can think of that will help you sell your book. You want to be in everybody’s faces, but not to the point where your notifications get turned off.

~Amanda

Amanda is the author of the White Wolf Trilogy

Visit Amanda’s bio here

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I’ve just gotten back from a magical three weeks in Europe on the cusp of winter, and as soon as I finish this blog post and all my photos finish downloading off my phone, I’m switching off all other applications and opening my book draft. Sorry in advance for the short post.

I want to talk a little about the ways, both positive and negative, that travelling affects and influences my writing practices. While there are uncountable ways in which seeing the world opens my eyes to new experiences, other ways of doing things, exotic places and unexpected points of view for me to explore in my stories, it is also a simple fact that three weeks wandering the world is three weeks not working directly on the book. Some writers can write anywhere. They use beautiful notebooks, curl up in cafes and parks in stunning cities and let their pens flow. As much as I romanticise this idea and collect notebooks for this exact purpose, it doesn’t happen, because in flow-state I write too long, too fast and too intensively for my hand to keep up with my mind. I need a PC. I need a desk and my own space. I need my music and my drafting documents, which are on my PC, which is on my desk, in my own space.

47688195_2047288622031528_5060002057767878656_nSo a holiday from my life is also a holiday from my hobby. I think in a couple of ways this is a good thing. In one respect, I can’t feel guilty about wasting time not working on my book, because I physically can’t work on it. It’s out of my hands. All I can do is be in the moment of where I am, enjoying my holiday all the more, and spend my dull times – in transit or in lines, so many lines… – with my stories in my imagination, where I can’t write through my ideas but have to let them ruminate and reshape. This gives me more time to consider alternatives and how this could impact the storyline and my characters before I get home to write it down.

As mentioned above, a big way in which travelling affects my writing is indirectly through me. Travel changes a person. You see other ways of living, you see poverty, you see extravagant wealth, you see beauty in art and horror in battle-scarred churches. You fall in love with languages you’d not heard before and feel desperately vulnerable in cities where you thought you’d feel safe. You learn about historic poor choices and how these have echoed through time and been commemorated in monuments and rituals. You wonder how the world could ever have let these things happen and realise they’re not so different from what goes on today. Travel shows you patterns of human experience, similarities and difference all at once, and as a result you grow. It comes through in your writing as you mature and increasingly desire to explore these complicated elements of humanity. In my Elm Stone Saga, readers will have noticed the shift of focus from schoolgirl concerns in the first book to more political and ethical matters as the series progresses. This isn’t something I set out to do; just the natural process of a maturing author using my story world as a medium to explore the issues I’m exposed to in my own experience.

Travel also provides new settings. I fell hard for Prague the first time I visited the Czech Republic three years ago, and it found its way into the final scene of Unbidden. Years earlier, the first city I visited outside of Australia and New Zealand was Paris, and though I was sick and jetlagged and sixteen, I was enamoured of the tall narrow apartment we stayed in, with its tiny retrofitted one-person elevator and antique iron staircase railing and the uneven flooring and the narrow, cobbled street it was on. When I started writing Chosen just a couple of months later, it was this picture that came to mind when writing Emmanuelle’s Parisian home. Her scenes were later cut out or trimmed to make way for Aristea and Renatus’s storyline, but it was the place that provided the authentic details to that flash of inspiration.

The human brain is incredible but flawed, and it can’t keep all the data it processes in its repositories. It has to cull, and specifics of place and experience are lost. How the buildings don’t quite line up, all built at different times with no standardisation, and the bicycle chained up out front has a twisted front wheel from being run over and still isn’t claimed after three days. How the rain drips through the hop on/hop off bus’s canvas roof for so long that a wave pool is generated at your feet by the movement of the vehicle and the headphone jack sparks a little so you opt to go without audio guide this time. How the wintry sun reflects off distant snow-capped hills or how the first view of Rome from the Palatine Hill took your breath away.

Because I can’t not write at all, and because I have all those notebooks I can’t write my stories in, I keep a travel journal for all those little details of place and experience. What I saw, heard, smelt, felt; my impressions, my associations, what I expected and what I learned. I keep the habit of diary-writing while I’m away to help organise my thoughts but also to give myself something to read later that isn’t Wikipedia or TripAdvisor. It’s hard to flesh out a place you’ve never visited – a challenge I accidentally gave myself when I first cast all my original Elm Stone settings. In future I want the descriptions to come from my own experience, to mirror what I saw and knew there, and I have several times pulled my journal off the shelf (it lives next to my home copy of Unbidden) to revisit my words from Prague. You can’t get that personal research from staying at home and working on the book, unfortunately, so while three weeks wandering the world is three weeks not working directly on the book, it is certainly not three weeks lost.

~ Shayla

Shayla is the author of the Elm Stone Saga

Visit Shayla’s bio here

Creation Evolution

Often people want to know how I get my ideas for books, or how I put them together with a few rough ideas. For this blog, I’ll tell you how my latest book came together.

I was listening to a true crime podcast and they were investigating a crime that happened 30 years prior. They hired cadaver dogs to search a forest in order to smell for human remains. On the way home I was thinking about the person who trains the dogs and if you were a serial killer, would you want those bodies to be found? I knew from other podcasts that sometimes the killers return to the bodies. If this person and their dog kept finding your bodies, would you be angry? I then thought, what if this person receives a letter in the mail, no stamp, no return address and it just says: “Stop finding my bodies.”

This was the initial start of a book idea.

In my last book I had created a detective I called Merlin Drake. He wasn’t a nice guy, but I liked his character. I thought I could explore his background more and make him a main character. I liked the fact that in the TV show Mr Mercedes, you got to know who the killer was in the first episode, rather than have to guess and it be revealed at the end. So, I figured I would introduce the killer very early on. Although this isn’t enough to write a book, there was a lot there to work with. I researched cadaver dogs and I wanted the trainer to be a woman who no longer did it, but still had the dogs. I skipped chapter one, and just left the heading, and moved to chapter two and introduced the dog trainer. I named her Bernadette Lawson, and her dog’s name was Breeze. Bernadette, or Ernie, lives out on her own and has a troubled past like Merlin.

So, what now? I figured she would say no to helping with her dog, as she had retired, but she likes helping others and giving families closure, so she agrees. I’ve written gore before, but I mostly write young adult fiction, so this would be a chance to really stretch my writing legs. I planned on bringing the reader in a few chapters with characters and introduce the small town; then, I would write a very graphic, detailed chapter that would make your stomach turn, then back to the nice chapters. I wanted to lure the reader in, then when they could barely stand it, bring them back.

A lot of the initial writing will start if I have a good name for the book. So, I was at the Ekka this year when we went and watched the wood choppers. I really like the book name ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and the meaning behind it, so I was looking for a name similar. After the woodchopping competition the announcer said something about the last generation of woodchoppers, and I remember thinking ‘The Last of the Woodchoppers.’ It’s a book name that’s interesting and not really related to anything until you read the book. I tried to keep it in my memory bank all day until I got home. Then I was lying in bed trying to remember it. I woke up mumbling ‘woodcutters,’ and went back to sleep. In the morning I woke thinking, what was the name again? Last of the Woodcutters? So that became the name of the book. I made the town have an old wood mill and that would be the place of the first murder.

I got excited about writing the serial killer. Mostly because I’d never done it and as a writer, it was something that would be challenging and fun (in a weird way). It wasn’t the book I intended to write next, but the chapters just started flowing out. I looked at all the side characters that had to be there to move the story along, for example other police officers, and thought I could examine those more. The Sheriff, who didn’t have a huge role, suddenly became very interesting. His father, I had decided, used to work at the mill and has a few secrets that he has kept his whole life.

I normally think of how a book will end and make that the flag I am heading for. For this one, without giving too much away, I thought of it straight away. Then, as the book started to take shape, I thought of an epilogue that may open it up for a sequel. I had been reading an address somewhere and misread it as ‘The Letterbox Fields.’ I thought that would be a perfect name for the second book. It’s now about 25,000 words. I have the next five chapters planned out and I’m aiming to have it done by early next year. If this all sounds weird, it probably is. The more you write, the more that muscle expands and opens up, allowing ideas to form and connect. Scary place.

~Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here

How to Start Writing

I’m going to start with what is, in my opinion, one of the most important quotes about writing.

“The worst thing you ever wrote is better than the best thing you never wrote.”

It’s a fact of life that the hardest part of being a writer isn’t planning, it isn’t even writers block or finishing. The hardest part is the starts: you have to start every stage, and gather up that motivation over and over and over.

This makes ‘how to start writing’ one of the questions I get asked pretty often.

Now I’m not talking about how to write words, that’s a matter of sitting down and pumping words out. This is about how to start on a project. That novel you’ve got in you.

So here’s what you need to get started.

Put Judgement Away

This is one of those things that’s both that simple and that hard. Judging yourself is the enemy of every writer, from the first timer to the seasoned professional. Some people can make a career of writing and still never get over it with each and every new story. The problem is that judgement is a vital tool, it’s how we ensure that we do our best work, but the fact is that the start of a story isn’t the time or place for it. This is the time and place where you get things done.

Start your work free of judgement, free of the fear that you aren’t good enough, because even if you aren’t right now you will be by the time the job is done. You can always come back and fix those problems in editing. There are several stages of rewriting and fixing where judgement can enter a little more into your process but in the early days you need to open yourself up to new ideas, not to lock them away.

The Right Amount of Preparation.

The right amount of preparation for a story is a question that’s hard to answer and mostly depends on the kind of person and writer you are. Some of us like to write out our outlines, characters and motivations, where others just throw their characters into the situation and let the story unfold as it may.

Chances are if you’re having trouble getting started and you currently have a document full of ideas and details then you’re the first type. If you’re the second type you’re ready now, I hereby give you permission to stop worrying and just do the thing. It’ll be fine.

For those of us who need to prepare, the trick is having enough preparation to get the work done, but recognise that there’s a limit to how much prep you can do before the work begins and you can always prepare more as you go. Go forth from a position of strength, not paranoia.

The best rule of thumb I can give is that if you can say that you know the plot, characters and setting pretty well that’s well enough for you to begin.

The Perfect First Sentence/Paragraph/Chapter

Does Not Exist.

It’s as simple as that. You cannot write the greatest first part of all time, and agonising over making something perfect before you move on means you’ll never move on. Settle for good, even settle for ok for now. There are several more stages where you can fix what’s wrong.

Get Excited!

You’re doing something awesome and remembering that is vital to the starting process. You’re doing something awesome and so often the start of writing seem like a chore. It’s important to remember that this is something you want to do. This is a good, exciting thing! So talk to your friends about it, think about or even work on the fun parts. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you’re going to get when the job’s done.

Writing is a labour of love, so remember to love it!

Go Back to Step 1

Yep. I’m sorry to say it but once you’ve done this and written the story you have to go all the way back and start a rewrite, then to plot edit, then to detail edit, each time with a little more room to get it right.

Don’t worry, after every start you get to enjoy the fun parts. It’s a good process with a satisfying ending and room to grow your craft and work. Every time you need to start you can come back here. Do your prep, stop judging yourself, get excited and go for it!

 

For those who’ve started all right but are having trouble getting to the end check out ‘The Fine Art of Finishing’ on the Ouroboros blog.

~Robert

Robert is the author of the Laughing Man Chronicles

Visit Robert’s bio here

The Calling

I hate when books annoy me.

I don’t know if it happens to other writers, I’m sure it does, but books have a way of annoying the shit out of me. It’s like a cat meowing at you constantly until you feed it. I got asked recently how I write books. They didn’t understand how it comes out of your brain, through your fingers and into a full book. I didn’t really have an answer. It just does. It might be years of training, looking at the screen, plotting out points and chapters, and now it finally flows, or it might be something else. When I write, it’s like watching a movie that I’m in control of. Each second the character walks through the spooky, abandoned building, I’m right behind them, where the camera would be. I can picture what I’m writing, so I just describe what I see.

Where it gets a little weird is when something surprises even myself. I’ve often said, ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming.’ I don’t start a book unless I have vague idea of the ending. The beginning’s the easy part; the middle is hard, but important, and the end is scary. Scary, because finishing a book means the end of all those characters that you love and hate, the years of turmoil and sludging through the hard wall of writing, and then it finally comes to an end.

I used to plot in my head what the upcoming chapter was going to be about, and when I got time to write, I would think of a good opening line and then write until the chapter was complete. With the novella I’m currently writing, I’m trying to put words down every day. There isn’t really any time to pre-plot a lot of it, so I just wing it. That can be equally enthralling and nerve-wracking. There is a chapter where I wanted my main character to meet another character, who will appear later and be of significant help. I just needed to introduce him first. So, I thought, why not meet at a cemetery? I made her ‘stumble’ upon the graveyard, let her walk around reading some of the tombstones, then they meet, and he scares her, then they get talking and it’s all fine. There was something about this kid that I knew I wanted to keep from the reader until the last chapter or so. All this chapter really was, was getting the two to meet. I could have set it anywhere; the shops, a car yard, at school, at the mall, on the street… you get the picture. A cemetery gives it a good scene. How many conversations have you had with a stranger in a graveyard? Not many (I hope). So, it puts the reader somewhere different, then you can let the reader go on this introduction between the two. What are they gonna say? Are they gonna get along? Are we gonna see him again? These questions make the writing easier, as you have a lot of ground to cover in, hopefully, not many pages. It’s also a set up for later, so you know you’re going into the chapter hiding something up your sleeve that you will reveal, and it will hopefully pay off. Where do you start? Okay, what brings Main Character to the graveyard? She’s exploring the new house. Okay, good. Why is the kid there? He’s bored at home and can see it from his window. Okay, plausible. What’s the point of him coming back later in the book? He wants to see her again… done to death, something else… he wants to save her from something but doesn’t, that’s sorta useless then. Maybe he has some information that she needs to defeat something and comes in at the last minute to supply said information and helps save the ‘moment’. Okay, done. Everything else should flow from there.

Hey, whoa, you scared me half to death.’

‘Sorry, I just saw you walking and thought I’d come over and say hi.’

‘Do you often hang around in graveyards by yourself?’

‘I was gonna ask you the same questions.’

Mix dialogue with scenery description. What I do is add something at the end of each line, for example: ‘Do you know witches used to live in this area?’ he said, picking up a piece of broken tombstone and examining it. You shouldn’t use it every time, just now and again. ‘What time do you want to go?’ she asked, fitting the whole piece of cake in her mouth. Now you should have the plan for the chapter, what you want to accomplish, some tricks to writing and a general aim to your story. Once these things are done solid, you can’t help but want to get back to the keyboard. I often think of chapters while on the train and can’t wait to write them. They will generally remind me throughout the day, or week that they are there waiting. Over time this muscle becomes stronger and writing becomes easier and you become better. When the books call, I hope you answer.

~Mitchell

Mitchell is the author of Skellington Key, Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, and the Everdark Realms Trilogy

Visit Mitchell’s bio here