Almost 7 years ago, my father looked at me and said, “I’ll pay your bills and give you a monthly allowance while you live with me for a year so that you can write a book.” It was the most gracious gift I’ve ever received.
It would be easy to say that it was my dad’s generosity that launched my life as a writer, but that would not be true. I launched my life as a writer, and it happened many, many years before that when I made a commitment to writing as my truest way of being in the world.
There wasn’t a specific moment when that happened – no memory of standing on a pier by big water and dedicated myself to a life of worlds. Rather, it was gradual, an accrual of experiences and encouragements and self-awareness that came over time.
All of these moments and many more combined to be the puzzle of my own writing life. But it was that gift from my dad, the one that came with an obligation to him, the one for which I was accountable, it was that heavy, wonderful gift that drove it all home. No longer could I write this off as a side thing, no longer could I pretend it was a hobby that I would reach for years later when I miraculously had the time. No, now I had nothing but time, and I had no more excuses.
It was there in that year that became almost two with my dad that I learned three key things about living a writing life:
These three insights combined with a lifetime of loving words, the gentle encouragement that outweighed the discouragement that came in droves, and the simple fact that writing is the most fundamental way I make sense of and find truth in the world – these things are what got me started in the writing life, and they are, still, the things that keep me going.
Writer, my hope is that you believe in yourself enough to take the gifts of encouragement, time, and support that come your way from others or from yourself and weave them into the words you have living in you. Oh, I so hope that for you.
Love Letters to Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling is available from Amazon Australia here, and Amazon.com here, or try your favourite retailer.
I'm not big on doing writing courses, but this week I’m off to do some professional development for my writer life.
The Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival 2017 is on in Hobart and I’m off to learn more about writing. In fact, I’ve already started. Yesterday I attending a Creative Writing Masterclass (sounds impressive, huh?) and today a Travel Writing Masterclass is on the agenda. Great timing, I know! Tomorrow I’ll be going to a couple of sessions on Adventure Writing, and Story and Science.
The festival is only run every two years and this may in fact be the last. The current arts funding has been cut to the organisation that runs the festival, the Tasmanian Writers Centre, so the future looks shaky.
All the more reason to go along.
I’ve linked to the programme here, and I encourage you to have a look at what’s on offer—and that includes you readers out there! You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy the sessions.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
There are millions of people around the world who have a blog. Some post regularly, some rarely, and many blogs are started with enthusiasm, but die away quickly. Blogging is an easy way to write whatever you want, whenever you want, and publish it. You could write a personal blog, a professional one, a blog on a hobby or topic you find interesting, or use it as a way to share you travel experiences. While most blogs can be ‘found’ by others, the proliferation of blogs means you can write and publish in relative quiet, without the masses seeing what you do.
A word to the wise—anything you publish online stays online. Be careful what you post as it may come back and bite you!
How do you blog for free? Here’s a quick run-down on a few of the more popular sites.
Wix is easy to use. They have a drag-and-drop style editor (click on an element and drag-and-drop it onto the page) which makes starting your blog a quick process. One drawback I’ve read about is that once you get going, you can’t change the theme (the basic set-up and look) of your blog.
Wordpress.com (not .org)
WordPress is the most widely used blogging platform, but it requires a bit of a learning curve when you start. It has great flexibility and can adapt to fit your blog if you want to change or grow it. I’ve had a WordPress blog, but gave it away after becoming frustrated with the complexity of fixing a simple issue I had with the theme I was using. If you like a challenge, or know coding, then WordPress is worth a look.
Blogger has the might of Google behind it, so it is stable and secure. It’s easy to use and has several themes to choose from. It’s a good choice for the beginner. I’ve used Blogger in the past and liked it.
Tumblr is a micro-blogging platform meaning it’s designed for short posts such as images or a quick sharing of thoughts. It has great social media integration and is easy to use.
This website is on Weebly, so I’m biased. I moved to Weebly from WordPress and never looked back. It has an easy to use drag-and-drop editor, and the support tutorials are extremely good and simple to follow. The only real drawback with Weebly is that it doesn’t have an automatic follow function. If you want people to be able to subscribe to your blog, you need to set up something through a free email service (I use MailChimp). This is an easy process, but it means you have to set up the mail-out yourself, which is a little time consuming. On the other hand, if you’re not keen on being easily discovered and followed, this might be perfect for you. I could go on for ages about Weebly, but I won’t bore you…
There are many other blogging platforms out there and if you want to start a blog, I recommend you have a look around to see what would suit you best. Below are a couple of links you may find helpful:
The 14 Best Free Blogging Platforms
How to Choose the Best Blogging Platform in 2017 (Compared)
The Best Free Blogging Platforms
I’ve had times when I’ve finished a scene and then sat staring at my screen, not knowing what comes next in the story. The blankness can intimidate, but these are some of the methods I use to get the words flowing again.
1. What if?
Two powerful words. What if the hero gets drunk and undoes all of his efforts so far? What if the bad guy suddenly does something good? Think of something wildly unexpected and drop your characters in it.
A great way to gather lots of ideas is to brainstorm—either on your own, or with a friend or family member. Throw around all different ideas and scenarios and see where it leads.
A fabulous resource. Search for writing prompts, or go onto Pinterest and do the same. There are heaps and heaps of ideas floating around the internet and one simple sentence may give you the idea you’re searching for.
4. Skip over that part
That’s right, I’m telling you to forget it and move onto a part of the story you do know about. When I do this I type something in capitals such as ‘NEED SOMETHING HERE TO LINK TO LATER PART’. Then I highlight it in bright yellow (I write using Word) so I can find it when I get an idea of what I need to write.
Okay, I’m not a fan either, but sometimes a walk in the fresh air can get those creative thoughts flowing again. It doesn’t hurt to take a pen and scrap of paper, or similar, so you don’t forget those ideas before you get home.
Pick up a book and stick your nose in it. Something in the same genre as your own story may be helpful in suggesting a way forward.
7. Forget about it
Get up and walk away. Do something completely different and let the mind wander. The brilliant idea might spring itself on you!
Doing research around the main topic of the novel can show you what needs to come next. Look at the location—is there something about where the story is set that triggers an idea? Is there a festival that happens in the town? Writing crime? Is there a legal or forensic procedure that needs to happen next? Even looking at pictures or reading about character traits can suggest where the story might go.
9. Change of pace
Change the pace of the story. If it’s fast paced, send your characters out for coffee. If the pace of life is slow and relaxed, then add drama and action. Mix it up.
Do you have any other way of getting the ideas flowing?
Story structure is the framework of the story, the order of events and the way it unfolds. There are many different forms this can take, but the basic form happens in four main stages: the beginning, the conflict, the climax, and the resolution.
The start of the story usually contains an explanation. It introduces characters and the setting, etc. Shows what normal life was before the conflict.
All stories have conflict of some sort. It could be anything from romantic conflict through to all out galactic war. This is the trigger for the story, the event that disrupts the normal, and what needs to be solved—the thing or things that need resolution.
This is the dramatic event that the story leads to, the height of excitement, the dramatic peak.
This is the final part, the solving of the conflict. I’ve read books that haven’t given resolution and they’ve left me annoyed and unsatisfied. Some authors may think this a good way of keeping readers interested in a series, but it’s not something I recommend. Please note – not all resolution has to be happy.
Of course, that is the basics. There can be minor climaxes, additional conflicts, and surprises.
Linear and nonlinear stories
Not every story starts at the beginning and works through in logical steps to the end. Those that do are referred to as being linear. Non-linear, of course, are those that don’t and the events can be portrayed out of chronological sequence (e.g. the use of flashbacks).
Whatever style you choose is completely up to you. So long as the story can be comprehended and made sense of, that’s all that matters!
You have a wonderful story idea and your characters are formed and set to go. So what’s stopping you? Why can’t you get started?
A blank page can be an intimidating thing. So much space waiting to be filled, but where do you start when writing a story?
The answer is simple. You start where you want to.
There is nothing that says you must start at the beginning of the story. The first thing you write can be whatever part of the story is uppermost in your mind at the time. For some this will be the start, but it can be hard to decide where a story actually begins. Do you open with action? Do you begin with a prologue that leads into the story? It can be daunting to start writing a story from where it begins.
When I wrote my first story I began with a scene that ended up being about a third the way through the book. I started with the one that was loudest in my mind, begging to be written. From there I jumped all over the story—back and forth as the ideas occurred. Once I’d written a large number of scenes I then shuffled the order to suit the plot, and then wrote the bits that brought it all together.
One trick I use to keep track of what has been written is to give each chapter/scene a descriptive heading such as ‘X meets Y and they argue about Z’. This helps when it comes to sorting out plot and filling in gaps. I write using Microsoft Word and using the navigation pane I can drag and drop the chapters/scenes into different orders if I choose to. The same would work for almost any process.
The other trick I use to get going is to imagine the scene in my head, or at least the first part of it. By doing this I can rework it before I get started, and once I’m reasonably satisfied I start writing. And once you start, it’s easier to keep going.
I know it’s hard to get writing at times, but if you sit down with an idea of what needs to happen, it makes it easier to get those first words down.
Have a question? Don't hesitate to ask. Alison
I sometimes get funny looks when I tell people I write. Most people are enthusiastic, or at least vaguely interested, but some seem…perplexed. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and maybe they give me that look because I don’t seem to them to be the kind of person who writes—I have a day job in payroll, so I guess they don’t see the writer in me.
There was a day or two when I dreamed about writing for a living, but I was lucky enough to forget about that pretty quickly. It’s few authors who can make a decent living on writing books alone and making up any shortfall is a lot of work from what I’ve heard. I self-publish, but only because I can and I want to not because I want to make money or write a best-seller. Being a full time writer is not an easy life, but if you want to do it, go for it, and my deepest respect to you!
My real epiphany came one weekend when I did an exercise of defining exactly what success in writing means for me.
If I can feel the euphoria of writing, then that’s all I want. And because I have a great job that pays well I can indulge the fun of writing.
Writing for fun gives more freedom. If you plan to publish your eye is always on that end goal, and no matter what you intend or how you proceed that goal remains. When you write for fun you can forget all the rules—and there are lots and lots of rules! You can change point of view as often as you want, you can use the same word three times in two sentences, etc., etc. When you write for fun you can just let the words pour out in any way they want to.
And you don’t have to be ‘good’ at it.
In my opinion, anyone can write. I’ve had people say to me that they couldn’t write, that they wouldn’t know how to. Can you think of a story? Can your imagination play it through? Yes? Then you can write. The story is there—you just have to let it out.
So write. Write the way you want to and enjoy!
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