Tag Archives: quotes about writing

Advice on writing a 2nd draft?

In about a week’s time, I will print out the full first draft of my novel. My red pen will at the ready.

But then what?

Having not seen the first half of the novel for months, I’d like to read the entire thing straight through (as a reader would do) to get a feel for the full flow and rhythm of the story. But I’m also going to want to note down any clear changes that are required as I go along.

Maybe I can just underline or asterisk every amend that I spot – and then come back to make detailed notes later.

Or perhaps I should make proper notes as I go along as it’s important to capture my thoughts immediately. After all, I’m never going to be able to replicate that first read through.

So, my fellow writers… aspiring or pubished… I’ll take any advice you’ve got to chuck at me. Bring it on…

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Mission: First Draft. Complete.

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“Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.”

Nicholas Sparks

Joy, relief, apprehension, excitement, yadda yadda yadda.

It may have taken a little longer than anticipated but Draft One is complete. You can’t see me but I’m lying on my sofa having just done a little celebratory dance (picture this: flailing arms, lanky legs pumping, shoulders jiggling. I always stay classy).

Written by hand, in pen, on paper – and transferred to my computer every 30 or 40 pages. Written in a form of free verse that I believe in 100% but still doubt my ability to pull off. But most importantly, written.

I once wrote a post in which my main words of wisdom were: ‘If you want to be a writer then write.’ That’s advice worth following – but recently I’ve struggled. As I got close to the end of my first draft, I started looking for a new job, then I got a job, and it’s a busy job, and my focus shifted, and I wanted to write but I didn’t write, and I didn’t blog, and then I said to myself ‘If I want to be a writer then I need to write’, so I wrote, and now I’ve finished my first draft, and it feels good.

But there are no laurels to rest on. I’m already looking forward to the second draft – to the re-writing. And trust me, it’s going to need some serious re-writing!

For now I’ve put the manuscript away. It’ll stay locked up for 3 or 4 weeks…. ready to be looked at with fresh eyes. I can’t even remember the last time I saw the first page so at the moment I’m mostly just hoping it isn’t completely shit.

And in the meantime I have two other projects that I want to devote some time to – so they’ll be getting some love and attention.

Just time to reminisce with a pointer back to my first ever blog post, which was an early excerpt from the novel.

Now, for one more arm flailing dance…

Stuff that inspires me: #4 Beasts of the Southern Wild

At the start of this week I went for a job interview. The final question put to me wasn’t exactly what I was expecting: what was the best film I’d seen in the last year? I didn’t pause; I didn’t have to think; it was an easy choice. Beasts of the Southern Wild is actually the best film I’ve seen in a few years.

Miraculous and magical are the words that most readily come to mind. I’m guilty of over-using the phrase ‘like poetry on the screen’ for movies that I love but, in this case, I think it’s absolutely justified.

The setting is the fictional community of The Bathtub, which is clearly a hall-of-mirrors reflection of the population that lived on the edge of New Orleans during the floods. It’s a bleak, derelict, backwards corner of society and is home to the tough-as-nails Hushpuppy, who survives in a mystical world that exists largely in her own head, and her dad, Wink. As they struggle to survive, we become as intimate with nature and as confused about the boundaries between reality and fantasy as Hushpuppy – but the film is never anything but brilliant and beautiful. And despite having a dream-like quality, it feels grounded and authentic thanks to it’s stunning novice cast.

Everything comes together here. The soundtrack (by Dan Romer and director, Benh Zeitlin) reflects and drives the film. Whenever I now listen to it, wherever I am, I’m transported to a different place… back to Hushpuppy’s world.

This film is touched by genius and I’d urge everyone to see it.

(Go on, click above for the trailer)

Authors who look like their writing: #5 Will Self

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This edition of the series was nominated by Mame from http://writemybrainsout.wordpress.com/I’m always up for taking suggestions so please shout if you want to nominate an author to be featured.

“What excites me is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions.”

– Will Self

When I lived in Stockwell (South London) I would often pass Will Self, cycling with his kids, as I made my way to the Tube station on the way to work. Self is one of those ‘famous’ people who I could feel proud about living round the corner from. If he lived there, then it was clearly an area fit for creative types who bucked against the establishment and forged their own unique path. In addition, his writing gave the impression that he might just be a little unhinged. Excellent. Yes, this is someone I was happy to share a neighbourhood with.

He’d be so happy to know that.

But it’s the writing that makes the man – and I do believe he exudes the way in which he writes. He takes the everyday and twists it. He perverts it. He exaggerates the absurd and often ties it up in fantastical and surreal worlds. He’ll satirise pretty much anything and he’s happy to make you squirm. And that’s an author I want to read.

Book review: Canada by Richard Ford

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I’ve never written a review before but I just finished reading this brilliant, masterful book on the train home and wanted to share some of the love.

The novel is narrated by Dell Parsons, who looks back at the experiences of his 15 year old self in a small town in Montana in 1960. The bare bones of the storyline can be summed up in the opening passage:

“First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”

I’m a big fan of Richard Ford but the plot of this novel is probably the strongest he’s written in terms of page-turning. However, if you’re looking for a thriller then you’ve come to the wrong place – as engrossing as the plot is, it’s less important than the writing itself.

This was the book that inspired my series of posts about authors who look like their writing: at the time, I called Ford’s style elegant, languid and wise. Sometimes, writing this beautiful can give the illusion of being wise and full of insight – but there’s no illusion here… every page is full of a rich voice that feels as if it may be teaching you something new about the world and the people who live in it. That’s not to say that you need a dictionary to get through the book. It’s that Ford uses language so simply to do such complex things that is his genius and, for me, his only equal in this regard is Cormac McCarthy.

Canada is a novel about the strange turns that normal people’s lives can take, it believes in looking forwards and seeing what’s in front of you instead of always looking for hidden meaning in what’s already gone, and it understands above all about human fragility. As you can tell, I would absolutely recommend it. I find it impossible to read a book like this and not be inspired… well, partly inspired and partly accepting that I’ll never be able to write quite that well.

Why aren’t novels illustrated?

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This may seem like a ridiculous question. But calm down everyone… clearly, the words in a novel should paint a far more vivid picture than any illustration ever could. That’s exactly the point-of-view that I’d normally argue: it’s sacrilege to even consider putting pictures in novels! Novels harness the power of words, they’re not picture books… yadda yadda…

But… would the right sort of illustration enhance some novels?

Of course, illustrators can be great artists – we can all recognise that. But we’re only allowed to appreciate illustrations if they’re in childrens’ books or in comics.

The closest we tend to come to an illustrated novel nowadays is in books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which illustration is used intelligently to help us gain insight in to the mind of the protagonist/narrator: a map of a street, a hypnotic pattern from some fabric, a scrawled doodle. Maybe this is the furthest that an author can push illustration without the risk of producing something that’s seen as more of a novelty than a serious novel.

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Both of those books were critically acclaimed and hugely popular – I love them – it can work when done well. And they aren’t alone: The Giro Playboy by Michael Smith was called “A British beat classic for the 21st century” by Esquire, and The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall created images out of the words themselves. What I’m interested in is whether a more ‘straight’ form of illustration can still be effective – or is it just completely unnecessary in a novel?

Is there a middle ground for the right book? Perhaps a hybrid of a traditional novel and a graphic novel? Whaddya think?

Any suggestions of books that have actually done this successfully?

The brilliant illustrations at the head of this post are from:
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Takes From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller