Happy New Year! It’s been a few months since my last post, what with NaNoWriMo and the festive break, but I’m back with my first post of 2019. Today I want to talk about that age-old thing, writer’s block.
Whether you’ve been writing for years, or you’re new to the craft, you’ll almost certainly have heard of writer’s block. You’ve probably even suffered from it, to some extent. And if not, then you most likely will at some point in your writing career. (Sorry!)
Laini Taylor, author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, and the Strange the Dreamer duology, just posted a great thread on Twitter about one dangerous misconception about writer’s block. Click below to read the full thread.
In the thread, Laini opens up about how challenging she finds the writing process, and how rarely the words just flow out of her without resistance. So, if you’re battling writer’s block or find writing really hard work, even though you love it, you’re not alone. Even the greats like Laini Taylor (I mean, have you read Strange the Dreamer? Perfection.) hit a wall with their writing at times.
Writer’s block can manifest in a number of ways: you might struggle to find the right words, or it might feel more like performance anxiety – the fear of not being good enough may stop you before you’ve even started. It can hit you at any time in your writing career, whether you’re sending your first draft off to beta readers – finger hovering over Send, paralysed with fear – or you’re publishing your twentieth novel and worry it won’t be as well received as your previous works.
The important thing to remember is that it will pass. You will write again, you’ll find the words, become inspired and have moments of flow. But only if you KEEP WRITING! Push through the blockage, persevere and write even when it’s slow and painstaking. Even if you cut half (or more) of what you wrote while blocked during editing, it’s a necessary process that will help you break through the blockage, and ultimately become a better writer.
We won’t always feel inspired, sometimes writing will feel like pulling teeth, but the key is to keep at it, keep working on your story. Writing, like any job, is hard work, and whether it’s your career, your side hustle, your passion or your hobby it won’t always be easy and fun. You’ll stumble sometimes, hit a wall and struggle to climb over it, but the only way you’ll finish your novel, type those two little all-important words, and ultimately publish your book, is if you don’t give up.
One of the methods that lots of writers champion is free writing, opening your notebook and filling a page or two each day with whatever comes to mind. You can use a prompt if it helps you to get the pen moving, but there’s absolutely no pressure for the words you write to turn into a story, or ever be seen by another human being. You don’t even have to read it back yourself if you don’t want to!
Whatever you find helps you to break through the block, just remember you’re not alone, there are probably a thousand other writers going through the exact same thing at the same time. Why not reach out to the writing community online for some friendly encouragement? Twitter and Instagram are great places to start, just use the hashtag #amwriting and you’re sure to get a fair few responses from your fellow wordsmiths! And don’t forget to share your tips for what helps you when you’re blocked, we all need a little advice sometimes so add your voice to the conversation, you never know who you might help.
Hi folks! I’m a little late with my post this month, but as it’s the last one of the year (anyone else doing NaNoWriMo?), it’s better late than never!
This month I wanted to look at one of the most important parts of any novel, because as we all know, first impressions last. Lots of writers spend hours (days, weeks, etc.) agonising over their story’s first line, usually after the rest of the novel is written and edited – first drafts are always messy, and if your original opening line survives the cut then you’re some kind of writing legend.
There are a few ways to tackle the first line, but whichever way you decide to come at it it needs to be gripping and compelling. You want the reader to immediately need to know more so they continue reading. The stronger the first sentence – the more intriguing the introduction to your story and characters – the longer your readers will stick around. And ultimately, we want them to stick around until THE END.
Meet and greet
Possibly the most common way to start a novel, especially if you’re writing in first person, is to introduce the reader to your protagonist. Rather than a bog standard “Mary was sixteen with blonde hair and blue eyes”, you need to give us a detail about your protag that makes them unique and leaves us with some questions so we’ll keep reading.
“Mary was sixteen with blonde hair and blue eyes, according to the wanted posters”, makes us wonder what Mary could have done to make her a wanted criminal, especially at such a young age. It also gives some clues as to setting – wanted posters are a pretty rare sight in this day and age, so we might be travelling to the wild west in this (very rough) example.
Examples of the Meet and greet opening:
“After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.” – Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.” – Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Flash forward openings give us a sneak peek into the future, turning the rest of the book into a sort of flashback, e.g. “Looking back, I can pinpoint the moment when everything went wrong for me, but if I had to go back, I’d do it all again.”
We’re used to the protagonist of a book surviving to the end, so this kind of opening isn’t much of a spoiler for their survival (alternatively, if your MC dies at some point in the story, you could spoil that here to instantly grip your readers, e.g. “It was an unseasonably warm day in January when I died.”).
However, one tip I’d recommend is to actually hint at the story’s climax, which comes towards the end of Act Two, rather than its conclusion. Throw your readers in at the deep end, and then drag them back to the beginning, but leave yourself enough room to tie the loose ends up neatly after your flash forward.
Examples of the Flash forward opening:
“I like to imagine there were more of us in the beginning. Not many I suppose. But more than there are now.” – The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
“I shouldn’t have come to this party.” The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
There’s a time and a place
Another popular way to open your novel is to ground your reader in its setting. You could do this easily if you’re using a diary or letter format, just write the date and location at the top right and get on with it. Or you can introduce your setting in a smoother way, such as, “July in Scotland wasn’t unlike February in Scotland, wet and grey.”
If your setting is a different country, or a fictional place with its own language you’ve created, you might throw in a word of the foreign language to let your readers know immediately they’re being transported to a far off land.
Examples of the Time and place opening:
“On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.” – Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
“The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.” – Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Shock and awe
Is there anything more gripping than a first line that throws you straight into the action? Some readers aren’t fans of this kind of opening, but when done right, we can learn a lot about our protagonist by being thrown into the middle of the action, at the same time as launching the story full throttle. Something like, “Lia sprinted through the trees, thanking whatever deity was watching over her she’d worn her running shoes this morning instead of her heels.” We know Lia’s a runner, probably agnostic, and she’s either running late or being chased – but we’ll have to keep reading to find out which it is!
Examples of the Shock and awe opening:
“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.” – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
“He was an easy mark.” – City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Some openings deliberately mislead the reader, allowing us to believe something about the protagonist or their situation that is later revealed to be not quite true, or that is put in a new context that gives it a different meaning. This can be a fun way to start your story, especially if you love a good plot twist and have a mind-blowing revelation in mind. (I’ll point you in the direction of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for an A* example of misdirection, despite it not featuring in the first line.)
I wouldn’t recommend outright lying to your readers, or tricking them to the point they feel deceived. Ideally you want the revelation to be a good, credible surprise rather than feeling like a plot hole or a mistake. Your readers have dedicated a lot of their personal time to reading your story, and (hopefully) they’re invested in your characters, so you don’t want to anger them with any deus ex machina style explanations or about-face turns. The art of misdirection is a delicate one, so beta readers are a must with this style of writing!
Examples of the Misdirection opening:
“I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I wouldn’t have imagined it like this.” – Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
“I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.” – Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Open a dialogue
Another common opening, albeit controversial, is the use of dialogue as the first line. Some readers prefer to feel anchored in context before any dialogue is introduced, at the very least so they know who’s speaking and why they should care about this person. But, like with every style of opening, when done right it can be used to devastating effect.
This method works well if you’ve included a prologue, or some kind of introduction before the main story begins, so your readers already have an idea of what they’re getting themselves into.
Examples of the Dialogue opening:
“You all know why you’re here.” – Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
“Beware the goblin men,” Constanze said. “And the wares they sell.” – Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Ultimately, there are a hundred different ways to start your novel, and only one that is right for your story. There are several opening styles that have fallen out of favour, such as opening with a dream or having your protagonist looking into a mirror, but trends come and go, and new twists on an old theme are always fun.
If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, leave your username in the comments and I’ll add you as a writing buddy! (I’m lyndleloo, by the way.) Best of luck with your WIP, I hope you smash your goal, whether that’s to hit 50k and win Nano, or your own personal target (with a six month old and a day job I’ll be happy to hit 20k!).
Being a writer can be a lonely existence at times, especially if it’s your full-time job, so this month I thought I’d give you some tips on finding your tribe – those like-minded individuals who share your love of writing and will celebrate and commiserate with you, whatever the writing milestone.
Whilst many writers are introverts, needing time alone to recharge their batteries, there are also many extroverted writers out there who need social interaction to refill their cups, so I’ve included some suggestions that will appeal to both types.
First things first, blog hops are excellent for getting to know other writers and bloggers! Not only do they help you build a list of brilliant blogs to follow, they encourage you to interact with as many of your fellow bloggers as possible, building a real sense of community. You’ll make internet friends that might even become IRL friends! And you’ll learn a lot in the process, so you can’t really lose.
Suitable for both introverts and extroverts, as there’s a lot of interaction involved but it’s all from the safety of behind your computer screen, plus you can pick and choose when and who you interact with.
The main places you’ll find a big writing community are Twitter and Instagram, and there are about a million hashtags that you can start by searching, e.g. #amwriting and #writerlife. You can also find most of your fellow bloggers’ social accounts listed on their blogs, so you’ve got a ready made list of people to follow and connect with right there.
Again, there’s no pressure for introverts on social media – getting overwhelmed? Log off for a few hours. Don’t enjoy a particular chat? You don’t have to join in next week. Share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with, and don’t forget the gifs!
This one’s for the extroverted writers out there. If you’re happy to read your work out loud in front of a room of relative strangers and receive criticism to your face, then writer groups could be for you. You can search online for your nearest group, or head down to your local library where many writer groups meet, or post flyers on the notice board. Most groups invite published authors to speak about their work, their writing process and publishing journey, so you’ll learn something as well as getting valuable feedback from your fellow writers.
In my experience (from that one time I attended a group… #introvertsunite), there’s often a weekly (or monthly, depending on the group) theme on which you’re expected to write a piece, so it’s not all about your passion project, but that in itself can be a great way to broaden your range and practice using different styles. Plus, you’ll be meeting writers who live near you, so if you become firm friends with someone you could even ditch the group and start your own little writers meetup at your favourite coffee shop!
National Novel Writing Month is a fantastic way to connect with other writers, and there’s a good mix of activities to suit both introverts and extroverts. You can register on the website and track your writing progress, adding your writing buddies from social media and the real world. You can join your regional group and chat with local writers in the forum, sharing tips and advice. You can even attend write-ins and meet your regional group in person, if being surrounded by other writers tapping away at their keyboards gets your creative juices flowing.
If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo (have you been living under a rock?) it’s a month long challenge that takes place every November, where writers aim to clock up 50,000 words in 30 days. There’s also Camp Nano every April and July, when you get to choose your own target, whether it’s a word count, page count, or hours spent writing. You can join a “cabin” with other fellow writers, making it an even more interactive experience. And now you can use the Nano website to track your writing goals all year round!
If you’ve been around here for a while, you might know I entered Pitch Wars back in 2017 with my manuscript The Fair Queen. I didn’t get in, but that almost didn’t even matter, because I discovered a community of writers at a similar point on their publishing journeys who share their experiences and advice, boost each other up when they get knocked down, and celebrate each other’s wins on a daily basis. There’s such a sense of kinship and friendly support when you take part in pitch competitions – despite the fact you’re all competing, there’s no bad blood whatsoever. Everyone cheers everyone else on, there’s room for all of our books out there in the world, after all!
There are lots of pitch competitions on Twitter throughout the year, Pitch Wars even has their own pitch party on Twitter for those who didn’t get into the main mentoring competition, called #PitMad. iWriterly has compiled them into a handy calendar so you can plan your entire year around pitch competitions!
Getting into the competition is honestly just a bonus – OK, OK it’s a bit more than a bonus – but the greatest thing about these competitions is, you guessed it, the community! Take the opportunity to find some beta readers and critique partners, and build a support network of like-minded writer types who’ll be there for you on every step of your journey to publication.
I hope these tips help you to find your tribe like I have, I really recommend taking advantage of some of these brilliant opportunities to meet other writers and start building your own writer community.
Do you have any other suggestions for great places to make writer friends?