Archives for writing tips

How George Saunders writes

George Saunders “My room is flooded with family photos, there’s a desk, a printer and two guitars that I play when I’m stuck in a paragraph. I work with an obsessive quality, but I’m wary of the blandness that routine creates and my best work is only summoned by irregular habits. Part of me wants to go through life on autopilot. I have to lure out the crazy person in me who’s honest and intense.” [an interview with ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ April 1, 2018]  The idea of stopping to play the guitar, to free the moment, to throw off predictability, really appeals to me. I don’t have a guitar but I do have a Yamaha keyboard in my study [below], its daily presence reminding me of my adult vow to rekindle my childhood piano playing. Later in the same interview, Saunders says: “I do a lot of semi-physical things to break up the day, like service the hot tub or record a riff on the guitar to restore my writing focus.” This made me laugh out loud. I achieve the same effect with a trip to the supermarket, loading the washing machine or going to yoga. But when I stopped
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 34 Is It Red Or Is It Orange #writingprompt #amwriting

Two people. Two opposing views. Consider a pair of lovers, a marriage, or two lifelong friends. Each has one strong conviction, which the other hates. So far apart are their views on this subject that they would disagree simply on a point of principle. Unblock your writers’ block with this writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Write a short story or an exercise about contextual layers. Consider your couple. How could their polarisation affect a mundane squabble? For example, is this geranium red, or is it orange? Choose your two characters and their existing relationship. Decide on the conviction of each, and the opposing argument of the other partner. Establish whether they still love each other, or is their relationship fracturing? Now consider their domestic daily life. Choose an everyday irritation and make them argue. Start writing the dialogue, multi-layered; the spoken disagreement concerns the everyday irritation, the unspoken text is about their polarised opinions. Wind up the tension until one, or both of them, explodes. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cable Anonymous people Cutting down the trees for firewood What are‘ Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 112… ‘Affinity’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“3 August 1873. I was never so frightened as I am now. They have left me sitting in the dark, with only the light from the window to write by. They have put me in my own room, they have locked the door on me. They wanted Ruth to do it, but she would not. She said ‘What, do you want me to lock up my own mistress, who has done nothing?’ In the end the doctor took the key from her & locked the door himself, then made her leave me. Now the house is full of voices, all saying my name. If I close my eyes & listen it might be any ordinary night. I might be waiting for Mrs Brink to come & take me down to a dark circle, & Madeleine or any girl might be there, blushing, thinking of Peter, of Peter’s great dark whiskers & shining hands.’ ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters [UK: Virago] Amazon Click here to read my review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming And if you’d like
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Philippa Gregory writes

Philippa Gregory “What is so wonderful about fiction, especially if you write it as I do, in the first person, is that you are there. In a sense it’s not as though I’ve taken the history and given it to the reader. It’s as if I’ve taken the reader and put them into the history… If a historical novel is successful then the reader isn’t saying ‘Hang on a minute, I know this,’ or ‘I’ll look this up’, they are caught up in the narrative.’” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 5, 2017] All great novels take the reader and put them into a world, a world they come to care about. Writing tension into a novel about any historical event is a challenge, when the ending of the event is well known. Philippa Gregory has made an art of this but she also chooses her history cleverly. Many of her main characters are women whose history is not so well known to non-history buffs, even if the larger political events of the day are. So the tension does remain. Her remark about viewpoint is spot-on. The author’s choice about third person or first person is key to
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 111… ‘Reading Turgenev’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“A woman, not yet fifty-seven, slight and seeming frail, eats carefully at a table in a corner. Her slices of buttered bread have been halved for her, her fried egg mashed, her bacon cut. ‘Well, this is happiness!’ she murmurs aloud, but none of the other women in the dining room replies because none of them is near enough to hear. She’s privileged, the others say, being permitted to occupy on her own the bare-topped table in the corner. She has her own salt and pepper.” ‘Reading Turgenev’ from ‘Two Lives’ by William Trevor Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TWO LIVES by William Trevor #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qN
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Jeffrey Archer writes

Jeffrey Archer “I am not a writer, I am a storyteller.” [address to students in India, in November 2016]  Archer’s writing regime is ruthless. “I rise at 05.30 every morning and I write from six until eight. I take a two hour break and write from ten until twelve. I take a two hour break and I write from two until four. I take a two hour break and write from six until eight. The first draft usually takes about seven weeks, eight weeks. Every word handwritten.” By the time the book is finished it has gone through 14 drafts and he has spent around 1000 hours on it. “I wish there was a shortcut but there isn’t.” He has sold around 330 million books. His first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, published in 1976, is said to be based on his own near-bankruptcy. I find his writing routine both reassuring and intimidating. Reassuring because I have always been a worker, a doer. I like routine. And the fact that Archer’s books go through 14 drafts is not dissimilar to my re-drafting, though I don’t consciously number them. It is more a matter of them evolving.
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 32 Cutting Down Trees for Firewood #writingprompt #amwriting

During the Second World War the Tiergarten, Berlin’s popular inner city park, was made unrecognisable as the trees were chopped down and used for firewood. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about wartime or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things:- 1 It is winter. There is no fuel to heat your house. You can go cold, steal, or chop down trees in a local woodland. 2 What are the consequences be? How will your family survive? 3 How does your choice affect your household? How do your neighbours react to your actions? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- These feet were made for walking St James Park, polite notice Between the train seats What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 110… ‘Jane Eyre’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.” ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Last Juror’ by John Grisham ‘A Change of Climate’ by Hilary Mantel ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xH
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 109… ‘Sea Glass’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite. The door is mackereled, paint-chipped – green or black, it is hard to tell. Above the knocker. There are panes of glass, some broken and others opaque with age. Overhead is a portico of weathered shingles and beyond that a milk-and-water sky. Honora pinches the lapels of her suit together and holds her hat against the wind. She peers at the letter B carved into the knocker and thinks, This is the place where it all begins.” ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis Read my review of The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SEA GLASS by Anita Shreve #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xC
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Elizabeth Strout writes

Elizabeth Strout: ‘I learnt a long time ago to just sit down and take whatever emotion was most pressing in me and transpose it into a character. Then the scene would have life to it, as opposed to feeling wooden.” [in an interview with ‘Culture’ magazine, part of ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper, April 30, 2017] Pulitzer Prize winner for Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout works at a dining room table covered in scraps of paper, with four different chairs. She always starts with a character then a scene. She writes in longhand. She never writes from beginning to end. Read my reviews of My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, both by Elizabeth Strout. Read more about Strout at her website.   ‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout [UK: Viking] See how these other authors write:- Mary Gaitskill Hanya Yanagihara Bill Clegg And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How #author @LizStrout writes via @SandraDanby #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2yW
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 29 At This Mark on the Pavement #writingprompt #amwriting

It began here… at this mark on the pavement. Where the grey pavement meets the brown pavement, just inches from the kerb. It was here that… what? Here is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbusterseries. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a confrontation in your novel. First, set the scene. Imagine the street, is it quiet or full of traffic. Is the pavement packed with pedestrians, or is this a side street, secluded, isolated. Have you walked here before? Are you rushing, hurrying to get to a destination? Are you lost? Are you wandering, filling in time before a dentist appointment? Did you take a short cut which led somewhere you didn’t expect? What is the time of day, the month, the season? Is it sunny or raining? What is the loudest noise you can hear, and how does this make you feel? What can you smell… diesel fumes, the heady perfume of jasmine from a nearby plant, a waft of Obsession from a passing girl? What colour fills your vision… blue sky, a passing red bus, red brick buildings, grey and glass office blocks, a circle of green in the centre of a roundabout.
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Some Points of View about Points of View… by author Claire Dyer

Welcome to novelist Claire Dyer whose third novel The Last Day juggles the viewpoints of three characters. Here she reveals how a change of viewpoint, between drafts, liberated the characters and energised the story.  “Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. It is a huge treat to be able to talk about points of view. One very kind reviewer recently said about The Last Day that ‘creating one authentic character is hard enough but to create three is remarkable …’ And I must admit that I loved every minute I spent in the company of all three people in the book, but I have to confess I didn’t plan the novel the way it turned out. “As I wrote, each person’s story evolved and, when I finished the second draft, my agent and I agreed that I should switch viewpoints so that Honey, who was in the first person, should be in the third, and Vita, who was in the third, should switch to the first person. This was a real labour of love! It almost sent me boggle-eyed as I changed every pronoun and every verb of their narratives. But it was worth it because, by
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 28 These Feet Were Made for Walking #writingprompt #amwriting

There are no two identical pairs of feet in the world. Picture someone’s feet and work out what they say about that person. Their age, their sex, their position in life, barefoot or shod, high heels or flat, boots or sandals, plain or embellished, plastic or leather, polished toenails or horny protrusions? Here is a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series to help your daily writing process. These are the feet of commuters in London. They are rushing, impatient, purposeful, late. If you have an existing character, simply think of their feet. If not, consider the circumstances of the photo and put a new character into the jostle and impatience of the morning commute to work. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Stairs to Who Knows Where Deckchairs Orange Railings What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 106… ‘A Month in the Country’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“When the train stopped I stumbled out, nudging and kicking the kitbag before me. Back down the platform someone was calling despairingly, ‘Oxgodby… Oxgodby.’ No-one offered a hand, so I climbed back into the compartment, stumbling over ankles and feet to get at the fish-bass (on the rack) and my folding camp-bed (under the seat). If this was a fair sample of northerners, then this was enemy country so I wasn’t too careful where I put my boots. I heard one chap draw in his breath and another grunt: neither spoke.’ ‘A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by JL Carr #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xo SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Nicole Krauss writes

Nicole Krauss: “The only way I could write about these things was projecting them into the character of this old, isolated, charming but difficult man. I could express things that I simply couldn’t in my own skin, in my own life… I think that is what one is always doing as a writer. Not just self-expression, but something bigger than that, which is self-invention. In that process of self-invention you are expanding a portion of yourself… Writers are kind of like mockingbirds, in that they take what is interesting and shiny and useful from their own lives and they weave it into this tapestry that they’re making.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 19, 2017] I understand the mockingbird image, I prefer to think of myself as a magpie. I collect the glittering things, a word, an idea, an emotion, a photograph, and store them away. Perhaps more of a squirrel than a magpie, actually. Every now and then I turn out the contents of the tin – which is full of folded newspaper and magazine cuttings – and my old-fashioned index file – full of cards with sometimes a sentence or only one word written on them
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Jilly Cooper writes

Jilly Cooper: “You have to be very careful not to use real people’s names by mistake, as they might sue you if they behave badly in the story… I find it safer to use towns and villages for surnames.” [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, May 15, 2017] Like Jilly, I like to use a road atlas to choose character names. Other useful sources are books of baby names, plants, trees, astrology, astronomy, and a world atlas. To avoid misunderstandings, it is wise to avoiding using a name which belongs to family or friends. Here are some quick rules:- Use alliterative initials: Bilbo Baggins, Severus Snape. If you are writing a historical novel, make sure your chosen name is correct for the era. Check your cast of characters to avoid the repetitive use of first initials, and vary the number of syllables. Say the name aloud, remember your book may become an audio book. Check the origins of the name and root meanings. If necessary, change the name or amend character traits and background appropriately. Adapt a name by combining two elements, for example Burton [village] and colour [green] to make Greenburton. Keep your names realistic, add a John
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 103… ‘The Guest Cat’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.” ‘The Guest Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Couples’ by John Updike ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE GUEST CAT by Takashi Hiraide #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xk
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 25 Orange Railings #writingprompt #amwriting

There are three basic reasons for storytelling; the things which we write about and others want to read. Entertainment, understanding the world we live in, and escape. Sometimes if I am stuck in my own writing, I like to push myself to write about subjects new to me and explore unknown areas. This may mean taking a genre with which I am unfamiliar, which for me is horror, sci-fi, fantasy and military. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC prompt to help you explore your own unknown areas. If you like writing short stories, write something longer; if write long, try a flash fiction story. Consider this picture of an ordinary scene. An empty train carriage. Write a list of the everyday, obvious things about it. As many single words as you can. Now, alongside each word, write another list of opposites. Then add a third column, with the most exaggerated version of the second list of words you can imagine. Be experimental, take a risk. Now use the train carriage as the setting for a short story. Write in an unknown genre and allow your mind to explore possibilities in your sub-conscious. Don’t be afraid to be
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

#FlashPIC 22 We Are Watching You #writingprompt #amwriting

Today’s writing prompt is less about storyline and more about emotions. This is a useful trick if you are trying to get to grips with a new character. From the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC to turn into a flash fiction story. Perhaps about the surveillance society? Or a stalker? Or an incident at a railway station? As you carry out your daily tasks, consider how it would feel if someone were watching you all the time:- What would you do differently, and why? How does your body react to being watched – sweaty, feverish, twitchy? Let your mind run over the question ‘Who is it?’ Why is it happening? Are you guilty of something? Have you been mistaken for someone else? What emotions are you feeling: indignant, affronted, ashamed, guilty, bashful, frightened, aggressive? How do you want to react? Challenge? Run? Fight? Now in 20 minutes of free writing, write down everything you thought about. Single words, phrases, dialogue, stream-of-consciousness. Then use everything for a new character who is being stalked. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Hotel Corridor Red sign ‘Pedestrians’ Go! Clock What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to
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Categories: Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 99… ‘Couples’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“‘What did you make of the new couple?’ The Hanemas, Piet and Angela, were undressing. Their bed-chamber was a low-ceilinged colonial room whose woodwork was painted the shade of off-white commercially called eggshell. A spring midnight pressed on the cold windows.” ‘Couples’ by John Updike  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend ‘Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: COUPLES by John Updike #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qE
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.