The P.O.W.E.R. Process: One Way To Climb the Novel-Writing Mountain

As writers we spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out the best way to write our novels. Over the years I have probably spent more time on process than I have on actually writing. I’ve learned the hard way what doesn’t work, and have picked up a few gems along the way. I’ve combined what I’ve learned into what I call my P.O.W.E.R. Process for getting a novel written.

Ponder

brainP is for ponder. For the few of us who have an amazing idea pop into our heads all at once that we can flesh out into a seven book, eight film and multi-million dollar franchise this might seem easy, but for the rest of us it can be quite a challenge. This is the time given over to ideas, brainstorming, and giving free rein to our imagination.

The difficulty we face as adults however is that we are taught to question our dreams and put a dampener on our hopes and aspirations. For many of us our inspirations have been quoshed with a healthy dose of realism.

Let’s do an experiment. Take a sheet of paper and fold it into eight. In the top left-hand corner draw a house, then top right do another house. Again in box three and again in each box until you’ve drawn a house in each box.

Don’t read on until you have done this.

I said no cheating!

What do your houses look like? Are they pretty much all the same? Children who are asked to do this exercise will often get really creative with it. They may draw a tree house, a boat house, an igloo or a teepee. The average adult will draw a series of box houses rather like those seen across the newer housing estates in Britain. (Thanks to Chrissie Hall for sharing this with me).

As you sit down to ponder what you would like to write, don’t be afraid think outside the box. At this stage no one else is going to see it anyway so you can be as fantastical as you like! Indulge in this stage, have fun with it; it is as important as all the rest.

Outline

story plottingI used to look at this word and say ugh. I never liked the idea of planning my novel out in great detail before I began to write. I felt it robbed me of my spontaneity and creativity. I now know two things: I can get creative about planning, and if I’ve put this work in I can write with more freedom because I’m not worrying about blind alleys or pot holes along the way.

I’m not going to tell you how to plan. There are a plethora of books, blogs and podcasts that can do that. My only advice to you is to find your own unique way of doing so. Take what you find useful from others and leave the rest behind. Whether you plan in a linear fashion or through a series of mind maps it doesn’t matter so long as it works for you when you refer back to it as you write.

One thing I will share is that it can be multimedia. I’ve found video clips of accents on YouTube that match the tone of a character’s voice, images that reflect their appearance, templates for characters, scenes, plotting etc that I now use regularly. I interview my characters as I find it easier to hear their voice when I do and they sometimes reveal little nuggets I never knew about. Get creative about planning and find a way that works for you.

Write

WriteDun dun dun! If you’ve got this far then you’re in a very strong position. You have a destination, and you have a map. Now you can begin your journey. This is the point where you can get really creative (remember the house exercise?)

The wonderful thing about having a destination and a map is that there’s more than one way to get there. You can include blind alleys, pot holes and cliff hangers because you ultimately know where your character is going. She won’t get lost. You can take your time to enjoy the scenery or you can rush her to that finish line at breakneck speed. You could even have her journey in a yellow submarine if the mood takes you.

If you have given over enough time to ponder and outline then the only thing which will get in your way are your own demons, or what Melissa J Hayes calls her ghosts. If your ghosts are haunting you as you stare at the blank page or screen I highly recommend you watch her TED Talk. She’s on your side and she has a fantastic way to inspire you to exorcise those pesky blighters.

There is no right or wrong way to get the first draft written, no magical daily word count, location, amount of time or brand of coffee that will get those words on the page. You just have to do it. What I will say is that the more you do it, the easier it gets to keep going. Our writing muscle is like any other, it needs exercise to build strength and stamina.

Edit

Elements of StyleI actually love this stage. I love it so much that I want to do it in every other stage preceding it, especially during the writing process. DON’T DO IT! Have an edit box in the same way some families have a swear box. If you catch yourself editing when you shouldn’t be, put a quarter / 50p or some other coin in the box. You’ll soon learn to stop it! You could give the money to charity. I don’t recommend you spend it on yourself. That would make me want to edit more!

Editing by its very nature is methodical and left brain. But I get excited about it because it gives me the chance to learn new words when I’m repeating myself, swot up on grammar books (I have a long way to go in that department), and hopefully polish my script until it, ‘shines like the top of the Chrysler Building,’ (brownie points to whoever knows that quote!).

I do recommend a very useful tool for this stage. If you don’t already have a copy grab yourself “The Elements of Style,” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. It’s brilliant and makes me wish I paid more attention to dear old Miss Case at school.

Release

palms with a grain of wheatOnly when you have gone through each stage above are you in a position of power to release your work to others. If you do not yet have an agent or publisher this is when a couple of beta readers come in handy to give you honest feedback. I’d normally say don’t pick family as they tend to be biased cheerleaders but my own mum loves grammar is is meticulous about detail so is a fantastic beta reader. I have another friend who is a voracious reader and whose opinion on what makes a good story I value. She is my other beta reader.

After I get my feedback from my beta readers I do more edits. Then I step away from the manuscript and put the pen down. I can do no more. It’s time to sent it out to people I don’t know. Whether you choose to go to traditional or self-publishing route I wish you much success as you release your words to the world. My only advice to you is persevere, don’t give up, start pondering the next book while you release the first. Your stories are important. Stay true to yourself. You can do it. All power to you. Have fun.

Liv

Apps for Writers

Scraps of paperFor the longest time I lived my life surrounded by scraps of paper. Whenever a thought would come into my head I would scribble it down using the back of receipts, napkins, and even the back of my hand. I then progressed to notebooks and still take one everywhere to this day. I say one, what I actually mean is over a dozen in various bags, in the car, and around the house. When I want to find a thought, an idea or a scene I’ve scribbled it can sometimes take me ages to find it.

Then I started using notes on my phone. This helped a bit, but I still found myself actually hand-writing anything of length because whilst the phone keyboard is great for knocking out tweets it’s a little tedious for anything beyond the length of a Limerick. I still have the problem of multiple things on multiple mediums and never easily accessible at the right time.

I finally started to investigate apps for writers. There are a multitude out there with various features and strengths and weaknesses. After reading what other writers thought I finally settled for Scrivener and began working through the tutorial.

Not being the most patient of people I kept wanting to jump ahead so created a blank template alongside the tutorial and began playing around with it as I went. I did the shortened version of the tutorial but can always refer back to it for more info if I need to.

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What is it about writing apps that make them so useful and appealing to us writers?

1. You can use the app across all your devices

This is providing you have the same operating system on each, so as an Apple fangirl it works perfectly for me with my iPhone, iPad and Mac Book. I only had to buy Scrivener once, and have downloaded it on all my devices. Then, using Dropbox, I can access everything I have saved wherever I am with any of the three devices. Brilliant!

2. Scrivener allows you to use multi media

The files and folders you create within a given project can be everything from plain text to videos. If you saw a  picture of someone who looks like your character you can add it in the research file. If you watched a video on a location in your book, again it can be added easily. If you have a random thought while waiting at a bus stop you can add it to the binder from your phone within seconds and come back to it later while sipping on a large coffee in front of your laptop. Everything is there and it’s easy to find.

3. Templates

First there is the main template – manuscript, e-book, poem, screenplay etc. There are plenty to choose from and you can also create your own. Then there are the templates within the binder itself.

There are two main templates that come in a manuscript – the character outline and the location description. However you can make templates of your own (I recently made myself an editorial calendar for this blog using the table format), and you can import templates that other Scrivener fans from across the globe have created. You can also copy and paste other templates from other mediums such as Google Docs. The list is endless in terms of the types of templates and files you can create and then use again and again.

4. Compiling

I don’t know about you but when I write my first draft I sometimes find that I need to add scenes, delete scenes, and move scenes around. If I work from just one text file this can be a laborious task. If I write from a series of separate chapter files I can get confused when it comes to putting it all together and formatting it properly. The good news with Scrivener is that it does it all for you. You just click and drag everything into the order you want it to go in and then Scrivener collates and formats it for you. Amazing!

As I’ve only been using Scrivener for a few months I still have loads to learn about it. What nifty tools have you found? Do you use a different app? Are you a paper purist or a tech embracer, or something in between? Tell us what you think!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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I could not believe my luck when I randomly checked on the booking site and found there were tickets available for the Harry Potter play. Some clever person had calculated that it would take all the Harry Potter fans in the world one hundred years to see it. That’s without people going more than once. Needless to say I snapped them up while I could!

IMG_0546When the tickets arrived it felt rather as if I’d won one of Willie Wonker’s golden tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it was really happening. I decided to make a day of it and booked to have dinner at The Ivy in between. This was going to be a day to remember.

As I made my way to my seat I was amused and delighted to see so many people dressed up for the occasion. It is perhaps a testimony to the power of J.K. Rowling’s creation that I can look into the eyes of someone wearing a Ravenclaw tie and see a kindred spirit. It is equally interesting that I’d prefer to be served by a Hufflepuff than a Slytherin when buying merchandise.

The Palace Theatre is deceptively intimate, belying the grand Victorian exterior. From row I of the stalls I had a perfect view of the stage and the seats were really comfy – a good thing considering how long I would be sitting there!

The lights went down for the beginning of Part One and I found myself once again transported to the Wizarding World. I had read the script on the day it came out so I knew the plot but that didn’t detract in any way. It took me a while to get used to different actors playing parts I had grown familiar with through the films but once I had figured out who was who it was plain sailing. The drama built and built to a brilliant end to Part One. The time just flew by – literally.

So I said about dinner at The Ivy. This was a brilliant idea as it was but a short walk away and of course the service was impeccable. I didn’t feel at all rushed. I had just the right amount of time to enjoy a wonderful meal before coming back for Part Two.

IMG_0547I got the impression that there were even more people there for Part Two than Part One but I suspect it’s because everyone was queuing for merchandise. I’d already bought mine in the afternoon and you can arrange to pick it up later if you don’t want to carry it around. It certainly saved a lot of time so I’d highly recommend it.

Part Two itself was even better than Part One. It too flew by to the end and I couldn’t believe it when I found myself in the midst of the whole house who were on their feet giving standing ovation after standing ovation.

The staging was fantastic, the effects were brilliant, the acting was superb. There isn’t a single thing I would have changed about the whole production. I would like to give a special shout out to Anthony Boyle who played Scorpius Malfoy. Everyone in the cast was exceptional but he took it to the next level. I expect he’s someone to watch for the future.

You might be wondering why I didn’t go into more detail about the play itself, skipping rapidly through each part with scarcely a mention of what actually happens. Well, because I have sworn to #keepthesecrets of course. It’s like one of those unbreakable curses. If you want to know more than you will have to go and see it for yourself.

Liv

Hidden Figures

hidden-figures

Last night I finally got to see Hidden Figures, the true story of three African-American female mathematicians who played a vital role in the development of America’s early space program. It was brilliant. Here are three reasons why I recommend Hidden Figures to you:

It tells a good story

Any film which successfully weaves the epic and the intimate is a classic in my book. Hidden Figures is just such a film. The backdrop of the early days of NASA juxtaposed against the intimate tale of the female ‘computers’ is enchanting, gripping and provocative. Sure we know the outcomes of the space missions themselves, but this film is character-driven with fantastic performances from a stellar cast. It’s impossible not to root for Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Octavia Spencer, and Mary Janelle Monáe as they trail-blazed their way into the history books. I’d also like to give a shout out to Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Mitchell. She made me squirm and that can’t have been easy.

It makes a statement

Set in the midst of a segregated America where one lady had to run back and forth to a bathroom on the other side of the campus in all kinds of weather just because of the colour of her skin it reminds us all that it wasn’t that long ago that bigoted prejudices were the dominant way of thinking.

With tensions today rising globally between those that look like us and those who are different it is a poignant and timely reminder that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. The haunting legacy of that era is still with us today bubbling away under the surface and sometimes out in the open. We need to figure out a way to move beyond this concept of ‘other.’ We need to realise that to empower each other to excel and thrive is to empower humanity as a whole, for surely when we do so it can take us to the moon and back.

It made me laugh

The film’s disarming humour added a lightness and class to the performances that left me inspired, hopeful and happy. Need I say more? What more could you want from a day out at the movies? Why don’t you find out for yourselves…

We Are a Muse

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Robert Graves

All my life I’ve enjoyed being around creative people. Regardless of how they express themselves, something inside me comes alive when I’m in the company of writers, artists, musicians, dancers, actors and the like. They make me want to burst and express myself in a new way. They make me feel most alive.

My mum was at Oxford with Lucia Graves. A writer and creative in her own right, she is also the daughter of World War I poet Robert Graves, who is best known for writing I Claudius. During a number of summers we would go out to Deià, Majorca, and stay with the family. Robert was a magnate for creative people. Across the road from the houses, amongst the terraced olive groves and the sheep and goats with the clanging bells, he built a small amphitheatre. It was here that he would perform his poems. It was also the venue for plays put on by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company who happened to be spending the summer there. I will always remember the night I did the thunder sheet for the Tempest.

Then there were the dinners on the terrace, the chatter, the laughter, the candles flickering in the evening light. After clearing the table one night a dancer from the Royal Ballet taught us how to jump and spin our way across the flagstones.

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The Royal Ballet

Towards the end of his life Robert was sadly struck with Alzheimer’s, a particularly cruel illness for such a great mind. As I sat next to him one evening as the adults were in the kitchen washing up he gently lifted his hand and put it in the pocket of my big baggy dress. It was as if he had taken my hand and we sat there, an old, drooling man in a wheelchair, a young girl of nine full of hope for the future. This was communication on a level way beyond words.

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Terrace at Sunset

His wife came out to wipe down the table. She stopped and smiled and said, “if he’d been able, he would have written a poem about you.” Then she stopped some more and considered. “Wait, what I see before me right now is poetry.” That moment changed my life. It made me look at the world in a completely new way, and in that second I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I still surround myself with creative people. I go to concerts and hear incredible music, attend plays, visit galleries, read great books. All of these things and all of these people, along with fantastic sunsets, laughing children, and the moments like that on the terrace in Deià touch my soul, pump my heart, and revitalise my mind. These are my muses, what are your’s?

A Writer On Twitter

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When I first started my Twitter account in August of last year I didn’t really understand what it was all about. Being somewhat verbose I found it difficult to express myself within the 140 character limit that Twitter allows, and I felt rather as if I was shouting into an empty cave with only the echoes of my own voice to keep me company.

Then I discovered the hashtag #amwriting and realised that there was a vast writing community on Twitter who actually speak to one another. When you get beyond the incessant self-promotion and pleas to follow, follow, follow and buy, buy, buy, what you actually find are people just like you, sitting at their computer, sipping on their tenth cup of coffee, trying to create something out of nothing.

I started to interact with a few of these people, and began making some online friends. I created a list for them so that I could keep an eye on their tweets. I made a decision to start following other #amwriting writers and to do my best to get more people talking to one another. Slowly but surely people started following me back. I started to get excited about what was happening.

I don’t remember making a decision about how I would use Twitter as a writer. My posts are very much an extension of myself. They mainly contain wisdom, thoughts, ideas and prompts that help me in the writing process just as much as anyone else. I suppose I’m a community builder and writing enthusiast who likes nothing better than to see that spark of creative energy in others.

When I reached the one thousand follower mark I decided to plan my posts to go out throughout the day. I use Post Planner for this and it has really helped me think about what I am posting, when, and how often. This then gives me time to get down to the epic novel I’m attempting, and to write the occasional blog post.

I made a decision from the get-go that I would follow back pretty much anyone. My only exceptions are girls touting for business and highly offensive accounts that I simply don’t want to look at. I’ve also left my PMs open for now for anyone I am following. If things ever got out of hand that would have change, but right now I’m enjoying the dialogue with other writers and the sense of community that is building there. I don’t however follow on Facebook, Instagram and or any other social media platform, nor do I buy from someone, agree to review their books etc, on first message. I equate that to introducing someone to my parents on a first date. It feels all wrong, so please don’t do it! Get to know me first…

This week, my wonderful tutor from my recent writing retreat, Chrissie Hall, became my 10,000th follower. It’s lovely that this ended up being someone I have actually met, but it would have been just as exciting if it was a new online writing buddy. I now have four lists I manage, and have created a new prompt “Attention all Writers” to get people sharing about their writing experiences. From their replies I have been able to utilise the new Twitter tool called “Moments,” and am really enjoying the responses.

A number of us have also recently rallied around the hashtag #WriteOn as we are challenging one another to finish one piece of work by the end of the year. All fellow procrastinators and starters of multiple unfinished pieces are welcome to join in.

I have absolutely no idea where things will go from here but I am certainly enjoying the journey. If you are a writer on Twitter and use the #amwriting hashtag, feel free to give me a shout out. If you are new to Twitter and have no clue where to start, feel free to drop me a line and I’d be glad to show you the ropes.

Write On!

Liv

 

Denman Writing Retreat

 

I recently went on my first ever writer’s retreat at Denman College in Oxfordshire, England. Denman is owned by the Women’s Institute and offers a plethora of course for members and non-members throughout the year, including a number of different writing courses. The retreat appealed to me because I thought it would give me some quality time to write, away from the usual distractions of home. I wasn’t disappointed. The course tutor, Chrissie Hall, herself a published writer, was disarmingly brilliant at helping us strip away our fears, anxieties and confusion about what we wanted to do with our writing. She inspired us to unleash our creative energy and to share with and support each other. In just four days we had become family, forever invested in each other’s successes.

It’s amazing what can happen when a group of people with a common interest and passion get together. Couple that with an organisation with its roots in the Suffragette movement and you have an environment that is a hotbed for getting things done. That was definitely the case for me. My current WIP, a pre-teen novel about a girl called Mollie Price, was in the planning stages when I went to Denman. During my time there I was able to really flesh out my core characters, do a detailed plot analysis of the book, and finish a very strong first draft of chapter one. I’ve already begun chapter two, and shall continue work on that today.

We had lots of time and space in which to write, opportunities for one-on-one’s with Chrissie, and just the right amount of time to come together and share with one another. All this in beautiful surroundings, with a comfortable study/bedroom to retreat to if we chose to, and delicious food served by friendly staff.

I initially chose to write in my bedroom but quickly decided instead to work in the big teaching room with everyone else. I had my headphones on to help me focus, but the sheer energy of everyone working in the room together was an utter joy and definitely helped me to produce some of my best work.

I’m now sitting here, back at home with my headphones on, playing the same music I played on retreat, and it’s definitely reminding me of those feelings and helping the words  flow as I type. I’m planning on booking myself into the same retreat next year and may go to another in October on preparing your manuscript for publication if my current WIP has reached that stage.

The upshot of all this is that I would recommend writing retreats to anyone who can get to them. There is nothing like it and it will definitely help you progress with your work.

Write on!

Liv