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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Are you a Successful Writer?

As I've mentioned before in my previous blog posts, I am hoping to write fiction after completing my second book. When I first set out to write my first book, I bought several books about the art of memoir writing and followed the tips given as best as I could. I also bought some books on writing in general and made sure I read a few books in the style that I wanted to follow.

Now I think it's time for me to begin that whole process over again but this time I'll have a whole new approach in mind. I want to write the very best book I can so I plan to read everything that I can possibly find. To be a successful writer I think you have to go through several processes first. The first one is to research as much as you can about the art, the second is to read books by authors who have already accomplished this. But I know there are many people who don't agree with this. Some people will not read any books about how to write novels because they are overwhelmed with the amount of information they give and they don't always agree with the advice that's in them. Other people say that you can learn to become a successful writer by just reading books by successful authors. As long as you pay attention to the story structure and the style of writing, you are more than half way to following in their success.

As always I am completely open minded here to both arguments and will try any other technique I think may be helpful. I do like to read books that I think I would like to write, but there's only one thing I am cautious of and that is subconsciously copying the odd sentence here and there. When you read something again and again you are very likely, in my opinion, to have those words come up when you're not actively thinking of them. Then you run the risk of mistakenly thinking that they are your own. To try and control this problem I will not read anything while I am writing. I will read before and after my latest work but never during.

So here is my plan of action:

1. I am going to attempt to write my first fiction draft before I refer to the 'how to write fiction books' again. Then I'll be able to see what my weak points are and what I need to work on more.

2. When I read my next fiction book for fun I am going to take more notice of the story and try to figure out how I would improve its potential weaknesses.

3. I will take one section of the book at a time and focus on that particular issue instead of overwhelming myself by trying to do everything at once.

I hope my plan of action here will help get me started writing a fiction book. What other ideas and tips have you found to work in your case? Please share


  1. Every time I begin a new story, it's like starting from scratch. I struggle at first, while trying to form a character with ... well, character. But then, at some magical moment, my characters start coming together and I begin to like them (or hate them.)

    I've found that having a basic outline of events helps me when writing. There are some who swear by outlining, and those that despise it. I'm in between. The outline helps me stay focused as I begin the story, but I allow my characters the ability to change the story as it develops.

    I've read your book 'Confessions of a Backpacker' and just know that your transition into fiction will be smooth. I anticipate reading your work.

  2. There are some things in this life you learn by doing: riding a bicycle, swimming, making love. You can read all you like about these things and I’m not saying that a knowledge of applied mechanics, Newtonian fluids and psychodynamics might not come in handy but you know what I'm driving at. Paul McCartney can’t read or write music and that never held him back. He even learned to play the bass “upside down” because he was using other people’s and couldn’t keep restringing them to suit his left-handedness. I am not a big fan of books telling you how to write fiction. I’ve never read one all the way through and I have no doubt there are a lot of writers out there who haven’t. They’re good for giving you ideas but the thing about ideas is that everyone has one. Do you remember Aesop’s fable about the two men and the donkey? If you don’t you can read it here. I’ve always said I won’t carry a donkey for anyone. Ellison finds an outline a help. That’s fine. I’ve never used one in my puff and I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not that kind of writer. The whole point in my writing is to see where things end up, to work things out on the way. I’m also not interested in plots; all my novels are character-driven. My feeling is that after having written two non-fiction books you will already have a feel as regards what is natural for you but you won’t know for sure until you slip into the thing whether you’re going to sink or swim. In addition can I just say that no two books are ever the same. You can start off with all the good intentions and plans you like but if the book wants to go in a different direction, as my last one did, best follow it and see where it leads. People talk about the “difficult” second novel. It’s true, the second is difficult but so’s the third, the fourth and the fifth and I’m perched on the edge of my sixth and I haven’t a clue. I feel like I’m right back at square one.

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  4. Laura, simply follow your heart and rest will follow!

  5. I have a very strict structure to how I write. Firstly I am the world's most detail book planner. I can plan a book for months before even attempting to write it. I want the plan word perfect. I want to know why the characters do what they do and how it all relates and flows together. I then do the first draft, it doesn't have to be perfect, but basically extending on my detailed book plan.

    I then do nothing for one week. Don't think about it. Don't do anything.

    After a week I go through the book. I tidy it up, I add detail, I cut bits and bobs. I then do a rough blurb. And then leave it for a week.

    I come back to the book and go through it a third time. Not much is usually changed at this point, but the odd error is picked up on and because I can read it I can spot bits that need to be tightened. I then re-write the blurb and do a mock up front cover.

    I then leave it a week!

    I then plan my next book. In great detail, which can takes weeks/months! I then go back and do the final version of the blurb, I do the final version of the cover and then I do one last read through of my novel. By this point your brain is in a completely different place and you will easily spot any tiny errors that might be left. I take my time, go through it slowly, and then the book is good to go.

    I have done this since before I was published (a few years ago) and my editors never had anything to edit, lol.

  6. Thanks guys for all your comments. I will comment again when I feel able to make a coherent response. I'm far too ill at the moment!

  7. Ellison: It sounds like we both have a very similar way of working. I, too, use as brief outline so I've got space to work around. I hope you enjoy my next book just as much as you did my first!

    Jim: Thanks for sharing the methods that work best for you. Just because you are different from Ellison and I, doesn't mean your books aren't high quality. I think it's very important for writers to figure out what method works best for them and concentrate on that, instead of worrying what everyone else is up to.

    David: No doubt that's what I'll end up doing anyway, lol.

    Simon: You again are a completely different writer from the rest of us. I'm glad you work really well in that method, I think it would drive me crazy, lol.

  8. Figuring out what method works best for you is a big challenge. Not everyone finds their method in the first or second book they write. You just have to keep practicing and hopefully you'll figure it out.

    I usually have to force myself to plan and outline, get all the backstory and history down, etc, because otherwise I'll just start writing with a basic idea and the story begins to ramble. So I do plan things out, but it's usually not super detailed. I leave parts a little open-ended because I always come up with good ideas as I'm actually writing - things I wouldn't come up with while brainstorming. If something's good enough, I might stop and see how I can work it into the overall storyline.

    That method can be good for a short novel, but not so much for a longer series.

  9. I think it helps to know the sort of writer you are, before you start, so it's easier to detect when you're going off course. Beyond that, I'd say 'get to know your characters well'!