I have been asked to speak to a group of writing students in October and while they will be asking me questions about my writing journey I also want to put together some points for them to consider. This is what I have come up with so far.
To be a good writer you must read. Read what you love but also read widely in other genres and other types of writing to find out what you consider good and not so good writing. Read the much maligned historical novel which is linked to the romance novel and then read them too. A friend commented that my own novel Castle of Dreams was not a romance novel but a novel about love. Her comment resonated with me. Some years ago I wrote an outline for a tv series with a friend which was both historical and contemporary. I read other scripts and paid attention to the narrative voice. People from the past read longer more descriptive novels read these too. Read memoirs, debut novels, and online diaries. You will have moments of self-doubt when you reread what you have written (lots of doubts and often). It’s normal for a writer to feel this way. If you wait for the perfect time to write you won’t start.
For my research I read primary sources like diaries, letters and newspaper reports. I read books written about and of the period I am researching. Trove and Ask a Librarian at the National Library of Australia’s online resources are a valuable source of information. I use Google but online information can be inaccurate so be careful and check more than one source. I use my wonderful local library and inter-library loans for books I don’t necessarily want to keep on my bookshelf or cannot find, and also, I always read bibliographies carefully in each book as they are a source of more information on the subject you are researching and this is something I’m sure most writers would do.
An important piece of advice I received early in my writing career was to be disciplined. If you want to finish a novel or any other piece of writing it has to be a priority. Put aside time each day to write. If you watch television use the time to write. Limit the time you spend on social media. A page a day is a novel in a year. Have a professional attitude to writing. Set yourself deadlines.
‘There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it,’ says Gustave Flaubert.
‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table,’ says Diane Ackerman. ‘Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’
Writing is not easy so take the time to find inspiration in the common place and in everyday life. There is a poetic layer of life: look at things with a painters eye. Notice the variation of colour on a single tree leaf, the rainbow in a drop of rain when the sun comes out on a cloudy day, jeweled raindrops on spiders webs and the expression on peoples faces.
I always have a notebook with me. My notebooks are many: some tattered with age, some with exquisite covers, some the red and black chinese notebooks from the newsagent. They are different in size and appearance but they all serve the same purpose: to capture an exquiste moment in time. I also have notebooks to write my research notes in. By the time I finished writing Castle of Dreams I had ten notebooks of scribbled information that I had used in my story. For my WIP I have read a few books on WW1 and its aftermath. On three large sheets of butchers paper I wrote a timeline and described and named characters and wrote background information. I found the outline a little restricting so I’ve made detours but I go back to it for inspiration. And of course I have a new notebook!
I read somewhere the most important thing about writing is to write from the soul. I couldn’t have said it better.
Have a great week: writing, reading and finding inspiration in the everyday,