Tag Archives: Writing Tips

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Share with me, what was the inspiration for your current novel? 

Happy Days – My Grandparent’s Farm In Wales
Me (far right), my sister and my two cousins.

Was it a dream? An incident that altered your life or the life of a friend? A trip overseas? Or perhaps a simple observation that, for some reason, sparked your imagination?

The inspiration for my novel – a children’s fantasy – was my grandparent’s farm in Wales. A place I spent much of my childhood and haven’t been back to in decades. A place that represents adventure, discovery, innocence and characters of such eccentricity I have to convince myself they actually existed. Writing the novel has plunged me back into those familiar surroundings, the old farmhouse, the mud-spattered yard, the stables with the wet noses of young calves peeping out, and their warm, sticky tongues as they suckled on my fingers.

By the way, I am really, really enjoying writing this blog.

Stephen King claims the idea for Misery came to him as he dozed off while on a New York-to-London Concorde flight. His dream was supposedly influenced by a short story about a man in South America held prisoner by a chief who falls in love with the stories of Charles Dickens and makes the man read them to him.

The inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels supposedly came from the sleeping giant profile of the Cavehill in Belfast, a 368m hill that looms over the northern fringes of the city.

A manor house in North Yorkshire, that Charlotte Bronte visited on a day trip, is long thought of as a likely inspiration for Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall, where Mr Rochester kept his mad wife Bertha confined in an attic.

It’s interesting – the spark, the birth of an idea that captivates us with such intensity we’re driven to invest hours developing it into the concept for a novel. Like a seed, we spend months watering it, nurturing it and encouraging it to grow. The roots, the branches, the rich, green leaves and fragrant blossoms that stem from a strong, solid trunk. And sometimes, unless you’re a meticulous planner, the finished product has morphed into a story that is vastly different from our original idea.

There are so many places we can draw inspiration from: Our childhood, an interesting relationship, an incident we witness or a place we visit, our local community, an historical event. Sometimes, it helps to sit down and brainstorm your ideas. Grab a notebook and pencil, retrieve to a quiet corner and allow your imagination to run wild.

How do you know if your idea is strong enough for a novel? You can read as many articles and blogs as you like, but I believe you have to go with your gut. If you’re passionate about an idea, your writing will be passionate. One question you can ask yourself – is this something I would want to read? Consider the question as an outsider. If the answer is yes, you have an idea that’s workable. And anyway, perhaps – in Jack Kerouac‘s words – ‘It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.’

Back to my original question – share with me, what was the inspiration for your current novel(s)?

Did I mention? I am really, really enjoying writing this blog 😉

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Filed under First Drafts, Inspiring Articles, WritingTips

Enjoy The Richness Of Your Journey

When the world says, “Give up,”                   

Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

~Author Unknown

As writers we’re often introverts by nature spending hours in the company of our own thoughts and imaginings. We’re quiet observers of life, reflective and frequently sensitive to feelings and emotions – of both our own and those of others.

So it’s ironic that in order to succeed in the brutal world of publishing we have to become shrewd networkers and dogged masters of rejection.

Time after time we’re barraged with the hopeless statistics of our cluttered industry.

Yet we keep going.

Because we share another common trait – we love what we do. We know how lucky we are because we’ve found something that keeps us alive inside when, we’re told, the world around us is dying. We’ve found a therapy to overcome our obstacles. A drug to alleviate our daily chores.

If you have the discipline, the insight and the determination, I believe you’ll make it. But in the meantime, enjoy the richness of your journey.

I’m feeling sentimental today. 

Gemma Flying High 

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Filed under Getting Published, Inspiring Articles, The Publishing Industry, WritingTips

Self-Doubt Be Gone! You’re Killing My Novel!

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“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  Sylvia Plath

I’m having one of those days.  

It could be the bleak, grey clouds, or the stifling heat that has sent my hair to soggy mayhem. It could be my lack of sleep last night, or the neighbour’s dog that’s been left outside and insists on whining about it. It could be any one of these things that has hindered my writing today. But I don’t think so. I’ve not written one word of my novel and believe me it’s not through lack of trying. I’ve spent hours staring at the white, blank space beyond the last full stop. I’ve read and re-read the last paragraph, stretched my fingers, clamped my head between my hands and pleaded for the next scene to present itself.  Yet I’ve achieved nothing, zero, nada.

No. I’m certain it’s because I’ve reached the Grande Finale – and I’ve plummeted into profound, floundering doubt about whether I can pull it off or not.  For starters it involves a battle scene and I’m not exactly what you’d call an expert in this field.  I’ve never swung a sword or shot a gun.  I can’t even karate-kick.  I feel inexperienced, unfamiliar with my topic and unwittingly out of my depth.

Yet it’s also more than that.  Once I finish I’ll want to cast it out to the experts, a sardine to sharks.  I’ll need their honest feedback that will be brutal and cruel.  They’ll despise it.  Advise me to wipe it, burn it, forget the whole miserable idea and seek a different profession using my hands, not my head, perhaps in a sausage factory.

I have stared at that page til my sight turned fuzzy. Switched to Twitter, Facebook, a quick hunt through the fridge – the page remaining as blank as my mind. 

I turned to the experts for inspiration.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”   Sigmund Freud.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”  Vincent van Gogh

“I found my first novel difficult. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s any more difficult than driving a cab or going to any other job, but there are so many opportunities for self-doubt, that you just kind of need to soldier on.”  Anthony Doerr

As writers we know that self-doubt is part of the territory, we have to wade our way through those murky waters.  We need to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses when the doubts really kick in.  Be creative and find ways around it.

I’ve been scouring the Internet to find the best advice I can to deal with self-doubt.  I found an article by Author and fiction writer AJ Humpage very helpful.  She says, ‘Psychologists believe self-doubt is borne from our childhood, usually from parents, teachers and peers telling kids that they aren’t good enough, they’ll amount to nothing. Eventually the child will start to believe it, causing them to doubt their abilities. These doubts are then carried through to adulthood. Most of our cognitive development and reasoning about our abilities is laid down through childhood.’

She goes on to say‘The more work you send out, the better the understanding you gain from feedback. It helps you develop your skills, improve your writing and gain experience. Most of all enjoy the whole writing process. You don’t have to be great all of the time because in reality, you can’t. Confidence breeds assurance, so keep sending, keep learning, keep developing and become a better writer.’ 

Tonight I plan to snuggle up on the sofa and watch Braveheart.  Just my notebook and me.  I shall draw inspiration from the tried and tested.

 

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Too much word play?

Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words.

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

So simple and yet so haunting.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated with a novel.  We have to consider scene, characters, plots, subplots, goals, conflict, tension, structure, dialogue, drama, resolution… Breathe. Rotate neck. Put kettle on. 

Yet there is something consoling about Hemingway’s six words. It’s often the simplest sentences that are the most evoking.  It’s about making every word count and scratching the redundant ones.  Part of writing well is the gift of arranging words to evoke image and emotion, so long as the writing contributes to the progression of the story.  When we become too lost in word play we need to ask ourselves whom we’re writing for – ourselves or our readers?

I revisited a few chapters of my novel the other day.  I try not to do this too often – I have to fight my restless fingers itching to edit and push myself forward (for me, editing is like sorting out my wardrobe.  Kill the clutter.  I feel cleansed and liberated).  I scrubbed two thousand words of pure descriptive genius that had absolutely nothing to do with the story.  I set them aside, in a file named ‘homeless’.

Stephen King once famously said, Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it break’s your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Elmore Leonard,  I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

But then this one,

Toni MorrisonYou rely on a sentence to say more than the denotation and the connotation; you revel in the smoke that the words send up.

Reminder to self – Create fire, make earth move and people weep, but make every word count.

Here’s my attempt at a six-word story –  

‘Congratulations it’s a boy. Not human.’

What’s yours?

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Filed under Editing, WritingTips

Finding Stillness

A friend sent me an inspiring article yesterday, ‘The Art of Being Still’ by Silas House.  ‘The problem is, too many writers today are afraid to be still.  I’m not talking about the kind of stillness that involves locking yourself in a room with a laptop, while you wait for the words to come. We writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened,’ he writes.

 It’s a wonderful thing when you read something that wakes you up like a cold slab of ice to the back of your neck.  This week, having flurried the kids away to school, I dashed back to my desk, rotated my neck, clicked my knuckles and began the final scene to my children’s novel.   I managed two sentences before the bleeping of emails distracted me.  Five sentences and the doorbell rang: my weekly fruit delivery.  Eight sentences and the revving of the postman’s motorbike delivering my mail.

 Three hours later, I had achieved ten sentences of my book, five email responses including agreeing to host a couple’s cooking class and, completely side-tracked, listening to a radio scam involving a prank phone call to Kate Middleton in hospital.   

Silas goes on to say, ‘I am nearly always in motion, but those who know me best realize that I am being still even in my most active moments.’  He is talking about using the world for our writing by observing the details around us.  We are constantly on the move, flitting from one appointment to the next: the vet, the accountant, the school principal, the kinesiologist.  Each appointment bringing its own new and varied headache of worries.  Yet to find the stillness Silas is talking about, we have to block all these distracting, mundane thoughts and focus on our writing.  The school principal could bring inspiration for a character, the kinesiologist an idea for a scene.  It’s about keeping our heads clear and our notebooks close.

This stillness should also be present when we do find the time to write.  In this fast, technical era, we are easily distracted.  I know of friends who cast their laptops aside, pick up their pencils and notebooks and take themselves to some tranquil corner of the house.  The soft movement of lead on paper, away from the tap tapping of the keyboard, enables them to think more clearly.  

There is a place I sometimes retreat to.  Just me and my laptop.  No Internet access.  No fruit deliveries.  A café, hidden within the grounds of a local plant nursery.  I hide under the shade of a young Maple tree surrounded by Snow Maidens and Magnolias, tapping away and lost to my novel, coffee after coffee.

Tip for the day – find that place that enables you to find your stillness.  Soak in the sounds and scents around you.  And write.

How do you find your stillness?

(To read Silas’ full article click here)

 

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