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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 12.25.09

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!

We Are a Muse

robert_graves
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.

ballet-jump
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.

the-terrace-at-sunset
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

birds-on-a-wire

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

No Ordinary World

angels

Do you believe that life is a three-legged stool comprised of body, mind and spirit? Or do you think the spiritual world is the stuff of imagination and fairytale? Even the biggest sceptics amongst us have probably had an experience where we thought of someone just before they called, or felt nudged to contact a loved one who later turned out to be in need. Regardless of how skeptical we may be there is no doubt that we live in an extraordinary world. Perhaps it’s time to tune in.

Entertaining Angels Unawares

In the summer of 1998 I went to the States to visit my grandmother who was dying of lung cancer. It was a particularly gruelling trip for me and by the time I returned to the UK I was physically, emotionally and spiritually spent. Coming back from the airport the train deposited me in the centre platform of my local station. A large suitcase by my side and a steep flight of stairs in front of me, I stopped to adjust my bags before beginning the ascent.

Out of nowhere a man who could easily have been seven feet tall walked up beside me, picked up my luggage, and strode up the stairs, two at a time. He didn’t ask which way I wanted to go at the top. He went right, to the taxi rank, and not left to the car park. I raced up the stairs behind him, hardly able to keep pace.

When I reached the bottom I look down at the case and up at the man to thank him and he had disappeared. There was nowhere for him to have gone. I said thank you to thin air. I made the excuse that I was tired and probably seeing things. I brushed the incident to the back of my mind and continued through to the front of the station.

Once there, I was greeted by a friend. Without a word he started to load my luggage into his car. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me that he had been shopping in the high street when God told him to come to the station. There he was offering me a lift home. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Talk about feeling carried!

I used to be a skeptic. Now, if someone were to ask me if I believe in angels, I would say I have seen one. No, he didn’t have feathers. That would have looked rather odd in the middle of suburban England. But he was very tall, he seemed to know precisely what I needed, and he disappeared into thin air.

What stories do you have of entertaining angels unawares? What experiences have you had that show this is no ordinary world?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy Who Do I Think I Am? Reflections of an Armchair Genealogist. 

The Joys of Journaling

Journaling

I kept a diary every day of my teens and well into my early twenties. I still have them, except for a six month period I tore out and burned over a boy. As I’ve been reading them a number of things have crossed my mind:

  1. They are nearly all about boys
  2. My emotions were all over the place
  3. They do mature as I get older – the voice changes
  4. They don’t have much detail in them about what life was like at the time
  5. They should never ever be published

This got me thinking about journaling today. Journaling can be good for everyone, but there is more than one approach. Here are some different journaling styles to consider.

The Emotional Journey

My teenage diaries fall firmly into this category. The journals chart the emotional development of the writer. They are of little to no historic interest and are extremely personal. Emotional journaling is cathartic. If you are dealing with complex emotions in your life I’d recommend giving this a go.

The Social History

My friend Leila Cassel had an aunt who kept wartime diaries. They are a brilliant and  insightful social history. Whilst they include personal stories about Mrs Jones next door, these tales are woven together with anecdotes about rationing, the Blitz, and life in North London in the 40s. They also contain something of a mystery. These diaries have inspired her to write a novel, The Girl in the Hat Shop, which is coming out in autumn 2016.

A social history journal is a gift to someone in the future. Who knows, an entry written today might provide the spark for a best-selling novel of tomorrow!

The Physical Journey

I have CFS/M.E. Unless you’ve had M.E. or know someone who has, it’s quite a difficult illness to understand. One way to explain to people would be to journal a physical experience of it. Others have done so with cancer, dementia, depression etc. All have been powerful and evocative testimonies that have gone a long way in spreading knowledge and understanding.

Aide-Memoire

Again, a more personal style, but with less emphasis on the emotional journey, and more on what you did that day. This is a fantastic journal if you are prone to forget things and want to be able to refer back. It’s also a great keepsake. When I’ve written diaries like this they are stuffed full of theatre tickets, shopping receipts, notecards from people, pressed flowers. These little trinkets act as memory-joggers and I have a fantastic time reminiscing as I turn the pages. I even squirted my favourite perfume, Venezia by Laura Biagiotti, on one page. I can still make out the scent today if I give it a good sniff!

The Writer’s Journal

Snippets of conversations overheard at the bus stop, descriptions of people, places and things. A writer’s journal is full of nuggets. They are literary collection boxes to be emptied and counted later. They are scribbled down on the fly rather than reflected on at length at the end of the day. What writer doesn’t carry a note book around with them?

The Blended Journal

The majority of diaries contain all of the above to varying degrees. There’s nothing wrong with a blended journal. There may be times in your life – particularly when you are grieving – when writing out your feelings can be healthy and helpful. If something significant happens in history – like the lunar landing, discovery of DNA, or the invention of the smartphone, then it adds spice to your journal to write about it. If you have broken your leg it would be odd not to mention it. Write those funny conversations down! Save those ticket stubs of films you really enjoyed. I’ve still got mine from the original Bridget Jones!

Above all have fun. I have bought myself some beautiful journals over the years and some great coloured pens. My only tip is don’t write in yellow. It fades into obscurity on white paper over time. Otherwise be bold. Who knows, your journals may help you let go of painful emotions, provide inspiration for a future novel, help others understand a misunderstood illness, aid you in remembering the good times, or all of the above. Let’s get started. What will you write today?