Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Much as I love books, there is one genre that is sure to get me running for the hills.  Two little words with a hyphen between … I’ll whisper them …


how_to_lose_friends_and_alienate_people_ver5Maybe I’m being unfair – I mean the idea of helping yourself is definitely, in my metaphorical book, A Good Thing, but there’s something inherently grotesque (in that same book of mine) about a genre that contains a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People (or, as I’d call it, How to be a Manipulative Douchebag).

Another ‘winner’ in the self-help world was ‘recommended’ to me by a librarian in senior school.  I think I was about 12 or 13 and already known in the school library as a more advanced reader and, it would seem, as unpopular with guys, so of course(?!) she pulled this monstrosity off the shelf and suggested I have a read: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.  Really?  Yeah, really.

Apologies to any fans of John Gray, but I can’t tolerate any book that can say “Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished” and makes these weird generalisations about men and caves and women and waves, and, as if that wasn’t vomit-worthy enough, then says “we are unique individuals with unique experiences.”  Well, first off, for the latter, you get the No Shit Sherlock Award.  And, more importantly, which is it?  Are we individuals or these generalisations that John Gray pedals throughout this self-help schlock?

Breathe, Clare, breathe.  Sorry, as I was saying, me and self-help books aren’t on the best of terms and I’ve firmly avoided them since the Men are from Mars debacle.

Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt the need for a new book now, so I hit up my local Waterstones, which is alarmingly close to my flat.  (Seriously, if I were considerably more agile, like those parkour-types, I could probably walk, run and jump across rooftops to get there.  Instead, I tend to walk down the road.)  The writing section is stocked fairly well, but most of the books of any interest were ones I already have.  I saw Coach Yourself to Writing Success nestling between some other how to write books and instantly dismissed it as one of those.  A self-help book.

But somehow I still bought it. Coach Yourself to Writing Success

The other day, I posted about my own experiences of spending far too much of my life not writing and instead worrying about writing or avoiding it altogether.  And perhaps thinking about all that opened the doors for me to consider Coach Yourself…, because ‘life coaching’ is a phrase guaranteed to raise deep and immediate distrust in most Brits.  And, gasp, Bekki Hill, the writer of Coach Yourself… is a life coach.  Truly, the planets must have been aligned and Venus in retrograde, with the Halls of Hell blanketed in snow (or something) for me to buy that book, but I did.

And I’m glad I did.

Hill’s book is kind of a careers advisor, best friend and therapist all rolled into one.  She asks some tough questions and speaks honestly, without any rubbish about cleansing auras, loving yourself or how anyone is like a cave.  Her writing style is down to earth and I think that’s a large part of what encouraged me to actually do most of the activities in the book, rather than dismiss them as unhelpful mumbo-jumbo.

That’s all very well and good, I can hear you saying, but we want results, what were the results?!  Well, I’m more productive with my writing than I’ve been since I was a child, before The Fear slithered in.  I’m more positive about the whole process of writing.  I’m procrastinating less.  I’m writing every day.  I’m much more mindful of my thoughts and attitudes towards writing in general and my writing in particular, as well as my wider writing goals.

Coach Yourself… gets you thinking about and identifying your true writing dreams and ambitions – it acknowledges that ultimately, some of us might be clinging on to writing when it’s someone else’s expectation or dream for us or perhaps it was a childhood dream that isn’t something we actually want anymore.  And that’s OK.  What’s the point in chasing a dream you no longer want?  This books helps you work that out and work through it, if it turns out writing isn’t really your ambition anymore.


Horizon: It's an experiment, honest!

Horizon: It’s an experiment, honest!

If it is still what you really, really want (Spice Girls quote not intended), Hill helps you map out how to achieve your writing goals.  Part of getting there is working out what’s stopping you, which Hill helps you do before talking you through how to get past that blockage.  In particular, she has some great techniques for increasing your positive thinking, which in a strange act of synchronicity was also the subject of the episode of Horizon shown around the time I was reading Coach Yourself…: The Truth About Personality.


It turns out, as both Hill and Horizon tell you, that while you might be a pessimist, more prone to negative thoughts than positive, and this is actually visible in the way your brain works (really, watch this episode of Horizon, if you can), you can still teach your brain to be more positivePositivity can be taught.  That’s something of a revelation for me – I probably tend to see a lot of negatives out there and in myself, and not always to my benefit (and both sources acknowledge that negativity is vital in protecting us from certain situations), but I figured that was just my way of thinking and always would be and that was that.  I didn’t know how to change it; I didn’t know it could be changed.

Turns out it can.  And that, my friends, is perhaps the greatest idea I’ve encountered in a long, long time.

Hill’s book gives you some great techniques for how to do this and also addresses other specific issues she’s encountered in her years of coaching writers, such as Boosting Motivation (chapter 8), Increasing Creativity (chapter 9), Beating Procrastination (chapter 10, probably a chapter many writers could do with looking at, if my Twitter feed is anything to go by!), Finding Time to Write (chapter 11), When the Words Don’t Flow (chapter 12), Dealing More Effectively with Rejection (chapter 13) and Letting Go (Chapter 14).  Because of that experience with real-world writers, the book is packed with real life examples of writerly struggles and how they overcame them.

So what I’m trying to say is if you’re looking for a book that doesn’t tell you about the technicalities of ‘how to write’, but rather teaches you the survival techniques of ‘how to get writing’, then get your hands on Bekki Hill’s Coach Yourself to Writing Success.


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BIAM: First Day

Just to give you an idea of my first day’s progress: I got home from work just after 5pm, read today’s chapter in BIAM and read the last chapter I wrote for AT&Gw; I then wrote from 6pm until 8pm today, had an hour off for dinner and to call my Dad for his birthday, then I wrote again from 9pm until 10:20pm.  I didn’t find it nearly as difficult to get my head down and actually write as I thought I would and I’m really pleased to say that I wrote 2,327 words today!

That’s a pleasant surprise – I really thought I’d struggle to write 500 words today, considering it’s my first day writing in over a year.  But I just made myself sit and do it.  No excuses.  I didn’t let myself get up from the computer or go online, I had to write, even if I found it hard to write something scintillating or maintain my focus.

This was a slightly non-representative day as I finished work slightly later than usual (I’d normally be finished about by 4:30, rather than 5), but I also had nothing I needed to do this evening.  Starting next week, I’m going to be teaching an evening class on Tuesday nights and I’ll be learning at one on Wednesday nights, so that’s two evenings taken out of the week, plus I have another group activity on Monday nights, so I’ll really have to play catch-up on my Fridays off and at the weekend.

But anyway, yay for reaching my word count aim on the first day – may this be the first of many!

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Starting ‘Book in a Month’

Today I’m starting to use the Book in a Month ‘system’ that I mentioned the other day in my post about books on writing.

I’m planning to finish the first draft in the course of the next 30-40 days (I’m being realistic – it’s the beginning of the new academic year!), so I calculate that should be 70,000 words in total (I already have 50,000+).

So, if you want to comment on here or you know me on Twitter (@ClareTeaches) or Facebook, please badger me – ideally, I’m aiming for 2,300 words per day, which would be 70,000 over the month.  However, I haven’t written in over a year, so let’s see how my stamina goes!  I’m happy to build up my daily word count over the first week or so and take a little longer to get to the end.

I’ll be posting daily word counts on Twitter and perhaps weekly ones on here, so here goes!

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So somehow I missed this hilarious post showing the publishing process in GIF form (by the very publishing-savvy Nathan Bransford) until it was almost a week old, and I’m all

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Hello there!

I noticed quite a few people have started following JoaT, so I wanted to say a quick hello to my new readers!

Thanks for joining me here and feel free to chime in any time – I love hearing from you!

Also, a quick update on my writing – I’ve mentioned that I’ve been wrestling with some plot demons lately … Well, I don’t think I needed to worry.  I looked back over my plotting document (which has somehow reached 17,000 words – over-planning, moi?) and found that back when I wrote it, I actually did a much better job better than I thought – everything ties together and it all advances the plot.  Who’d’ve thought?

So, onwards with the writing!  Huzzah!

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I mentioned earlier in the week that I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately and I’ve already told you about the stories I’ve been enjoying.  This post will discuss some writing-related books I’ve consumed recently.

I’ve been wrestling with some plotting demons in A Thief & A Gentlewoman, which have stopped me moving on with the story.  Sometimes plot-doubts are simply us as insecure writers second-guessing ourselves … but sometimes there really is a flaw in our plotting.  The outline of AT&aGw has gone through a few changes, with a parallel plot added to increase complexity (and ensure it reached a fantasy-appropriate word count!), but coming back to the story after a break, I now feel that that addition has actually diluted what was a strong plot with an exciting climax.  So I’ve been focusing on books about plot to get some ideas for how to move forward.

I’ve already reviewed Write to be Published, which I loved, so I won’t go over that again, except to say get it!

I picked up The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing a couple of months ago as it has interviews with some interesting writers and articles on topics not covered by some of my more specialist writing books, and it seems like good value – a big chunky book for £10.

Plus, I’ll admit it, I like getting new writing books.

This is more of a dip-into book, rather than a read-straight-through (which is what I did with Write to be Published).  I’ve read or skimmed through a few articles and particularly the section on plot, since that’s what I’m working on at the moment.  It seems quite good so far, though not utterly amazing, however I’ve only looked at a few parts and I suspect it will become more useful as I dip into other areas.

I found Monica Wood and James N. Frey’s articles on plot fairly helpful, though in a broad way of getting myself thinking about plot and encouraging my subconscious to start working on the problem of what is and isn’t working in my plot.  There wasn’t necessarily anything in these articles that I hadn’t read elsewhere, but this book would be useful for someone looking to get a one-stop reference for different areas of novel writing.  Like Write to be Published, it gives a broad overview and is a handy resource for having information all in one place.  I do prefer Write to be Published, though, as I found it more readable and like Nicola Morgan’s voice and her take on different subjects.

A couple of years ago a friend gave me a copy of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, as somehow he’d ended up with two copies (no, I don’t know how, either, but thanks, Darron!).  In light of my current issues with my WIP, I finally got around to reading it.  Again, I used a combination of skimming, dipping in and reading fully, since some sections were more useful to my current position than others.

Despite the horrible cover (sorry, I hate it!), I liked this one and have found it really useful.  It articulates a lot of things that we already know about plot and structure from being readers and consumers of narratives, which is helpful for clarifying that feeling of “I know this plot does/doesn’t work, but I’m not sure why!”

Bell does get a big obsessed with his own ‘systems’ (complete with acronyms – are you an OP or a NOP?) and it gets a little annoying reading repeatedly about “the LOCK system”.  He does also reference his own fiction fairly often, which I didn’t think was particularly great (sorry!) and in one instance was actually quite over the top when it was meant to be giving an example of downplaying emotion.  But if you can get past those minor niggles, then this is a very useful book for helping you think about plot, whether you’re coming up with one from scratch, or re-working a flagging one.

He includes plenty of exercises to try out and some handy appendices to help write your own back cover copy (a helpful part of the plotting process) and a checklist of key elements.  There are tips for generating ideas and fixing plot problems, as well as a great section on revising and rewriting, specifically focusing on plot.  I do recommend this as an excellent reference for your writing shelves.

Finally we come to a book I almost hesitate to admit to buying: Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.

Why the hesitation? you might ask.  Well, something about this book just seems a bit gimicky.  Maybe it’s that the writer encourages you to buy a fresh book each time you want to write using her Book in a Month (BIAM) system (what’s with writing books and their ‘systems?), or maybe it’s the very idea of a ‘system’ of writing (nevermind that it’s advertised as ‘fool-proof’ in the tagline.

But there was something that appealed to me about this book – perhaps it’s all the forms to be filled in (which is why she suggests you get a fresh copy for each novel you write, personally, I’ll be using photocopies of the forms!), which must have some sort of appeal to the woman who played ‘office’ and ‘teacher’ games extensively as a child (Complete with made up paperwork.  Yes, sad, I know!).

Anyway, I’ve read the preparation part of the book (that is, up to the point where you begin the 30-day programme) and I’m not regretting my decision to buy it.  Schmidt discusses and encourages you to think about all the excuses you make not to write or not to finish a manuscript, and the possible reasons behind those excuses.  She takes a psychological approach, looking at the ways we sabotage ourselves, reasons for resistance and methods of motivation, which is no surprise when you consider she has a doctorate in psychology.  I’d suggest keeping a journal alongside this book, where you can write about the issues raised and the questions posed – this has already helped me to feel more motivated.

Alongside this, however, she does address the writing itself and how that can prevent you from continuing.  One of my favourite sections so far is how she addresses the idea of theme and what it is you want to say with your story, explaining that sometimes the theme conveyed in a plot that isn’t working for you is a theme you’re not passionate about.  She helps you uncover your ‘writerly identity’ and visualise what it is you want to be known for as a writer, which helps you focus on writing the things that motivate you or, even, how to make an assigned piece of writing (eg, something outside of your usual genre of interest) more appealing to your own interests and passions.

There are some down sides of this book – for instance, she encourages you to write your first draft without any subplots to get the novel written in a month.  I disagree with this strategy as a good subplot will often tie in with the main plot of the novel, perhaps even helping the protagonist find a solution to their problems.  Also, the psychology-talk does get in danger of straying into ‘psychobabble’ territory sometimes, but there’s nothing to stop you from skim-reading!

So far, I’m finding this and interesting and useful book, which I plan to use to finish AT&aGw, once I’ve worked out the plot problems.  I’ll give more feedback when I’ve finished that!

What about you, what non-fiction have you been reading?  Got any writing book recommendations (or ones to avoid!) you’d like to share?

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OK, I think I might have found a new-to-me author to read: just check out this awesomely to-the-point post by Elizabeth Bear on women in fantasy fiction.  Couldn’t have put it better myself!

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