Beautiful honest account of OCD to be shared.
32-31: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders to help you avoid them.
So what are you going to do as you wait for your standard rejection letter for your first book? – that is the most likely outcome awaiting you, resilience, a thick skin and time are essential. When I wrote ‘Hoofing It’ 18 years ago I was one meeting away from it being published by one of the biggest companies, so certain were the publishing house that it was going out they told me to get on with the sequel, which was harder than it sounded as it was set two years in the future (it is not a Science Fiction novel!). Then a: ‘no’, ‘not different enough for a first time novel’ and then… nothing. So you can see the line between success and failure is thin, and what makes a situation more stressful is when you’re not in control of it. Even if you do get published−it is no guarantee of success, just greater exposure. This is the major factor that is going to make you stop writing, or used to be 18 years ago, “Nothing is constant but change” –Socrates knew that way back when. “Rejection leads to lack of motivation, lack of motivation leads to less production, less production leads to failure.” −Yoda once told me in a dream! How do you motivate yourself? Belief is the simple answer−intrinsic belief. When I wrote my first book, once I had got my young children to bed and went and wrote until I was too tired to write any more. I substituted crap TV for writing. When I had finished my first ever draft the computer I was working on without any warning just crashed, I actually think it had a nervous breakdown, and I lost two-fifths of my novel! Yes, I had backed it up, well three-fifths of it. So I had to find the motivation to write the missing two-fifths, again! It is not the sort of mistake you ever make twice. (Email your finished book to yourself as well as backing it up externally). I found the ‘Big M’ (–not bloody McDonalds!), because I believed the novel I was writing needed to be written, and I believed some others might like to have a read of it as well. I cannot tell you as an individual where you will find your motivation from, but wherever it is you need to find it, because without it, you ain’t going to be a fiction writer. So…
32 Motivation/Not writing enough. These too things are really separate, but I will lump them together for convenience sake, and to avoid you feeling cheated. Motivation is something that if you are serious about writing should not be holding you back−‘writers’ block’ is a long way off and quite an abstract concept to you at this stage. What may well hold you back are everyday-life and time. As we turn around and around in life’s laundry there are many things that can get in the way. The important thing is to make time. If you are setting aside just Sunday mornings to write, it will take you between 20 and 40 years to finish the first draft of your book! Experienced writers take 3 months to knock a first daft out, and that is writing/editing full time, with all the research, plot and characters formed. You have to set time aside and stick to it, within reason obviously. Do you really need to see another programme about buying a house and then doing it up? A cake decorating competition, that by the next season you can’t even remember who won? A talent show, where the winners will be on a cruise ship within two years? Ad lots of infinitums! Which will make you more fulfilled−crappy tele or writing? We both know the answer. The last rung on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ladder, what a Buddhist might call ‘writing enlightenment!’ –Motivation for most writers comes from reading other writers. If the author that you are reading does not make you want to start tapping away at your keyboard immediately, try a different author. If time is short, make it count, plan before you start, edit the previous work as a warm up activity, this is what I used to do and it sets you up to carry on writing, especially if it has been a few days/weeks since the last time you tinkled the plastics.
Not writing enough should never be a problem at the stage you are at now. If it is, try writing a blog, it’s all the rage−that stream of consciousness may help.
31 Lack of variety within the book, vocabulary, sentences and style. Here’s the simple test, being realistic, are you a bit bored by your writing? (Take your nihilistic head off!). Would you read this book and the sequels? Variety is the spice of life (not chilli). You might not be able to give crystal clear examples of declarative/interrogative/imperative/exclamatory sentences, off the top of your head, but you know what they are, so use them to add spiciness. Vary the vocabulary to avoid repetition, but make the vocabulary match the writing style. Vary the pace and emotion with your writing. You will only learn this part of the craft from reading great authors and studying the art form.
Like I said earlier I am not sure how you as an individual are going to find the motivation you need, but as Yoda said: “Try Not. There is do or do not. There is no try.” Do you really want to be that person at the party in a decades’ time that is still saying. “I’m going to write a book soon!”
Ian M Pindar’s latest books, under his real name are: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are on special offer http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Ian+M+Pindar He has another three novels out this year.
A M Homes, Atonement, Buenos Aires, Cloud Atlas, Darwin’s Shooter, David Mitchell, fault in our stars, France, Ghostwritten, Glasgow, google, Hull, Hull FC, Ian McEwan’s, Istanbul, Jean-Baptise Grenouille, John Green, John Niven, Judaism, Kill Your Friends, London, Manchester, May We Be Forgiven, Nixon, Palestine, Patrick Suskind, Perfume, Philip Roth, Roger McDonalds, Rugby League, Sheffield, Stuka, Sym Covington, The Beagle, Threepenny Stand, Tom Wolfe, Wikipedia
36-33: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders.
I grew up in the Westside of Hull. When I was young it was a thriving fishing port−the third biggest in Britain. The City divided down the middle by the river that gives it its name. This clear delineation also roughly sections the city into which Rugby League team they support−Rugby League−think chess with muscles, it is not so much a sport but part of the religious National Curriculum there. When I was eleven my Dad took me to see ‘our’ team−there was no choice, believe me. It would be like being brought up a Palestinian Muslim, and saying to your parents, ‘You know what, mum, dad, I might give Judaism a go!’ If the game was sometimes gladiatorial, the old wooden stand−The Threepenny, where I was plonked at the front was the proletariats’ congressional area; quite a lot of the amassed were trawler men. I did not know which to watch, the ‘hard men’ on the pitch, or the ones in the stand and their colourful industrial critic of the players and officials! Since that first day, I have not stopped following them. I know a lot about the team – ‘Hull FC’. I wrote a novel set in Hull and part of the book revolved around ‘my team.’ What I realised as I started researching players and games, was my memory was not as clear as I perceived it to be, and I had either forgotten some detail or remembered it incorrectly. So what’s the point Ian? Research is the point, even if you think you know it, double check it, and not just with Wikipedia−the Wikipedians are not always correct. ‘Do the Math’… and not just the singular, ‘Do the Maths’. More on research later. Let the countdown commence…
36. Not producing a synopsis, treatment and blurb. Do these as soon as you finish the first draft of your book, it will need several attempts and will not get easier the longer you leave it−you learnt that in school. The blurb on the back is like producing a poem; you need to whittle it down until succinct and catchy. The convention is to write it in the third person present. The reader should be asking themselves questions, you are trying to create a mood, intrigue and a feeling of desire to make them want to read the entire book. Write your synopsis first, this can give the plot away, it is a narrative summary of the novel (and anything else that you think is essential) – this is important as when you are writing to publishers they will nearly always ask for a synopsis. There is sometimes confusion between a synopsis−less than 3 pages and a treatment, which can go on for ever; this is more frequently used for pitching films.
35 Lack of a sense of place. I dislike over-prescription of places−we are all members of the global village, we know what most places look like, we have visited them through screens if not first hand, but when you are reading a novel you want to feel as though you are there, getting lost and having to unfortunately shake yourself back to reality. Great novels draw you in without you even noticing, you travel with the characters. More recently I remember being crouched in a ditch at the side of a field being attacked by a Stuka in Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’, wandering France as Jean-Baptise Grenouille in Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’, on board the Beagle with Sym Covington in Roger McDonalds, ‘Darwin’s Shooter’, I could go on. This is one of the reasons we love certain books, but not the only one, obviously. Draw your reader in slowly, evoke a sense of place subtly, ‘the ripe mangoes on the stall were swarming with flies.’ So much is shown without telling: it’s hot, tropical, unhygienic, populous, the fruit has not been sold, etc, etc. The reader is taking a first few steps with you, the narrator, into the market. A sense of place is not just location, but time as well. Sense of place is important in all novels but especially so in crime and detective fiction.
34. Not enough research.It is not just technical books and historical novels that need research. This is where your Writers’ Group comes in handy; the vast amount of experience within the collective, especially the elders is invaluable−not everything shows up on Google! Just the other week a writer read a piece and several members directed him to Tom Wolfe, Philip Roth and John Niven−the latter being me, and more specifically: ‘Kill Your Friends’ which is in my top15 (soon to be made into a film−read it before, the use of a negative character that makes you want to turn the page is breath-taking− it was recommended by two friends, I had quick glance at it before I was about to go out and buy a weighty weekend paper, I did not stop reading for eleven hours, and I would not have even got up if my bladder and stomach had not poked me to do so−I exaggerate not). I tried making a Top 10, and it was so hard I settled on a Top 15. The fact the writer in question had never heard of John Niven, emphasis my point. Interesting in his following book, ‘Single White Male’ he obviously did a lot of research on literature, but used it sparingly.
Research to see how original your idea is, you could argue that is better not to do research, ignorance is bliss, isn’t one vampire book much similar to other vampire book? You will get compared to others, people like to pigeon hole, don’t you compare yourself to others, that’s arrogant−no one likes a show-off, and chances are you are not as good as them anyway.
33 Information dump: You have done a load of research, you’re feeling quite pleased with yourself, the temptation is to dump lots of it into the novel, you are not writing a non-fiction book, you will slow your narrative down and bore lots of your readers. Good examples of how to do this are A M Homes’ ‘May We be forgiven.’ The main protagonist is a Nixon scholar; the relevant facts are slipped in throughout and are related to the story-line. David Mitchell’s ‘Ghostwritten’ which has plenty of technical detail without going over the top−this for me is a better book than his ‘Cloud Atlas’, and John Green’s ‘The Fault in our Stars’, which could have had lots more detail about cancer, but it’s the human emotions that are paramount to the book.
See you all next week…and remember, sport is not war, unless you live in Hull, Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, London, Istanbul, Buenos Aires…
Both my latest books: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are FREE on Amazon Kindle this weekend 19-21 April. YES FREE!
books, carefully designed topless swimsuit, Catch 22, Christ the redeemer, craft, exclamation mark, help, Master Po, Moby Dick, patience, Peter Ustinov, possessive apostrophe, reddit, Sacha Distel, Saint Tropez, Ulysses, wisdom, writing
39-37: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves–this is not only the punch-line to a rude Panda/dictionary joke, it is also the title of the Lynne Truss book that was once immensely popular both sides of the Big Pond. It was obviously a shot aimed across the bows of incorrect grammar. She will be probably weeping over a decade on, as social media attacks grammar like necrotising fasciitis on crack. A friend was telling me recently of a relatively able pupil who wrote ‘b4’ in a piece of final GCSE coursework! I hope Micky Gove isn’t reading this, our very own P G Woodhouse/Alan Partridge/Dr Strangelove Education of State; he will have the Grammar Stasi wiring pupils’ eyes open like Alex in A Clockwork orange!
I mention grammar here as some Grammarians would have the possessive apostrophe at the top of the mountain like Christ the Redditeemer in Rio …
39. Possessive apostrophes: The ‘PA’ is the reason why greengrocers’ shops are reluctant to open! It might seem quite trivial in the scheme of other major things but it might be useful to know if an angry crowd are going to attack you−whether just one of them has a pitchfork or all of them? I suspect there may be a room at the NSA that monitors such grammatical crimes against humanity:
“This individual threatening ‘The Homeland’ is woefully unaware how many greengrocers own the shop.”
“That is no excuse Operative Grammarnoid.”
“We have just waterboarded him moments before Sir. There is a possibility it could have impaired his apostrophe placement judgement?”
“Still no excuse for poor grammar−lose his file Grammarnoid, when Amnesty International are on their lunch break.”
“ ‘Is’ or ‘are’ on their lunch break Sir?”
“Would you like to test the new electrodes Grammarnoid?”
This seems a good enough reason for the Grammar Stasi to incarcerate people. It could also be used as a test for drunkenness by Highway Patrol Officers, as it’s just the same level of complexity as recounting the alphabet backwards or counting back in 7’s from 100!
Is there one greengrocer in the shop or several working as a co-operative next to each other?, that will answer the possessive apostrophe conundrum. There are simple rules to the ‘PA’ that if you don’t know, once you start writing, you will, as someone will point them out!
38 Overuse of exclamation marks (dashes, ellipsis & semicolons). What is an exclamation mark trying to achieve; shock, expletive, interjection, implied amused humour? Use them sparingly, overuse will grate on people and render them less effective when you want to create a more dramatic point−if in doubt, take them out. You may want to use them to show that the first person narrator is over-excitable or immature, but think carefully!
On a similar vein be sparing with dashes and ellipsis. A dash can be very useful to connect two independent clauses: The Grammarians arrived−they seldom shared smiles. Used to emphasis an emotion: “I love The Grammar Stasi−we were in the same class at school”, and in interrupted speech:
“I really can’t stand the Grammar St−”
“Can’t stand not to have them listening in and correcting any outrageous errors we may make Agent Grammaroid.”
“Yes, Sir, that’s exactly what I was going to say.”
A dash can also be valuable in a piece of first POV narration to reduce the number of the ‘I’ pronoun and therefore repetition.
Ellipsis are also useful in direct speech to indicate a pause without having to describe it:
“Don’t you just feel like some days you want to get a big bucket of Tipp-Ex and paint out all the possessive apostrophes, Sir?”
“…No I do not Agent Grammaroid.”
The ellipsis could go at the end of the first piece of direct speech, but it has a more dramatic effect to give the dramatic pause to the authority figure.
Semicolons are falling out of fashion. You often see contemporary realism authors ignoring them all together. I see a time when they will disappear; if I live long enough! Language is fluid innit?
37. Getting as many opinions as you can find. For every five people that say they will read your manuscript, I will wager only one will manage to get to the end–that is not because it might not be good or great, but because we all have busy lives’. Reading a book requires dedication, one of your major rewards for being educated and having a concentration span is the ability to read a novel. I have talked about the three most common started and never finished novels (Ulysses, Catch 22 and Moby Dick–oh you’ve read that have you, but would you have if you weren’t made to read it at school?). Here’s the other problem, people start and like you your book, but don’t finish it. Ask as many people as possible and gently poke them frequently (stop giggling–you’re supposed to be a grown-up). Value everyone’s opinion, even if they are not a fully paid up member of the literati, they may still point out aspects you have not considered as fully as you maybe should have. Such as text and asides that slow the flow or parts that are obvious to you, but not the reader: “Oh I must have missed that!” Ultimately it is you that has to make the final decision, especially if you are trying to be brave and deviate from the more formulaic, but you would be foolish not to take on board the advice of somebody who knows more than you do. What all this often boils down to is time and patience−you want to hold your book in your hand and dance around with it–but try and avoid the quick-step–what would Master Po say?
When I left my teaching job a friend gave me a card that read: “Take your time. To be in a hurry is to kill your talent. If you wish to reach the sun it isn’t enough to jump impulsively into the air.” –Peter Ustinov. She had read a first draft of one of my books, it was one of the best pieces of wisdom I have ever been given–“Patience truly is a virtue.” You don’t have to be Master Po to know this Grasshoppers!
Next week there will be no blog as I’m going to Saint Tropez on holiday (get me!)–I have a carefully designed topless swimsuit and I will be talking like Sacha Distel. If it makes you feel any better we are in a caravan!
Both my latest books: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are FREE on Amazon Kindle on the weekend 19-21 April. YES FREE!