Friday 18 September 2020

When "How to" becomes "How NOT to"


All writers know that the more they write, the more they will improve. But sometimes this quest for perfection can prove to be a trap. Let me tell you my experience.

I have around 14 titles in the virtual world, but, like most writers, I am always looking to improve how and what I write. But sometimes, the quest to achieve this can stop you in your tracks. By which, I mean “how to write your book” books/articles/blogs/courses and the like.

After I had written 10 or so books and novellas, I wanted to try and refine my writing process. And so I began what has been a two-year journey to find that perfect method, and believe me there are thousands of self-help books etc. out there. This begs the question as to why there are so many. I am afraid to say that my cynical answer is that the authors of these books will probably earn far more from their self-help books than they do from their own creative writing because these books feed a need in authors to improve, but they also feed our inbuilt insecurity in our own abilities. I know that I could quite easily teach a 10-week writing course for students at my local college. And I also know that if I did so, I would earn so much more from that than I do from my crime books. 

The sad truth is, that after two years of searching for perfection, my writing has dwindled to a struggling nothing. Some days every word is like wading through treacle. It seems the more articles/books I read and try to incorporate into my writing process, the deeper the quicksand becomes. I have now called a halt to reading all these “improvement” books. And do you know why? Because I know how I write my books. I know what my process is, what works best for me.

After much deliberation, I've decided I must reacquaint myself with the way I used to write in order to be able to keep on writing – find again that wonderful joy in my craft I seem to have lost. I do not decry any self-help books and articles. And I think, even for the seasoned writer I now realise I am, they can prove useful for the odd nugget of information. But for me, they made me question my own ability to write and that is what has stopped me writing. 

I must find my old inventiveness, the one that isn’t lashed to a someone else's structure, but a structure that works for me. The problem writers have is that people can tell you but you can write until they are blue in the face. This is the same for many professions but especially the creative ones and, having been a serious singer for most of my life, I can tell you we creatives are all insecure creatures who don’t believe we can do anything well.

I have decided I am neither a plotter nor a pantser but a hybrid. Instinctively, I start with what-if? Then I find my characters and get to know who they are. I put them into my what-if situation. I already know what the end will be. In fact, after writing four or five chapters, my default was to write the last chapter. I will go back to that.

What happens between those five chapters and the end is, as I have often said, like a roadmap. I want to get from London to Edinburgh, but my characters decide which route I will take. I also use index cards to denote the towns – i.e. significant events - I must drive through in order to reach Edinburgh.

My objective is to publish three titles by Christmas 2020. Long Shadows is written and in process of being edited. Loyalty in Conflict has been messed about with so much in the past two years that I am now at the stage where I have ripped it apart and am rewriting huge tranches of it. The third will be the farewell George Pattison Mystery, where she marries her beloved Sir Edward Broome, but of course, there’s just the little matter of a murder along the way.

Next year I intend to start a new crime series set around the northern UK town of Guisborough. It will be crime with a paranormal element. It will also be very interesting to see how fast I write it going back to my method. Watch this space.


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