26 April, 2013

How to Keep Writing, by Lorrie Porter

I was lucky enough to stumble upon Lorrie about a month ago. She's an awesome writer with an awesome blog in a similar vein to this one, and I know you'll all enjoy her post as much as I did. Check out her blog for more great advice. Here's a post about how you should never give up. 

Even when...

Lorrie stood up and did this:

Being a fiction writer isn’t easy. It isn’t like other jobs. When you clock in to work at a factory, or a desk job, as an airline pilot or a bar tender, you know what you’re expected to do, you have a pretty good idea how to do it, and a confidence that you can.

Writing is different. I am yet to meet a writer who hasn’t doubted about their ability to write. We are plagued with questions: Am I any good? Can I do this? Am I wasting my time?

You may think the way to defeat these doubts is to improve your writing style, to immerse yourself in writing craft, to learn what makes a good story, and you’d be right. All of these things are important. But there is one essential quality every writer needs if they’re going to succeed and that is … their stubborn refusal to give up.  Ever.

Starting out as a writer, your refusal to fail keeps you going through each and every painful rejection. But surely, once you achieve the dream, once you get that signed publishing deal, you can let yourself breathe. Your book is going to be on the shelf at Waterstones. It’s all easy sailing from here, isn’t it?

In December 2011 I signed a contract with a small but reputable publishing house for two YA novels. The first book was due out in February 2013 and I had twelve months to work on the second manuscript. I did what any sane person would do. I quit my job and started writing full-time.

You’d think writing the second book would be easy, knowing the first had proved worthy and would soon be available in bookshops, but all the publisher had seen of the second book was a sketchy synopsis. What if they hated it? What if I couldn't repeat the magic? But when you have a signed contract, dwindling funds in the bank and a deadline looming, you have to knuckle down and get on with it. That stubborn refusal to give in can come in very handy.

So I faced the blank screen every day, and filled it with words. I didn’t know if they made sense, but it was only a first draft, and with first drafts you have to give yourself a break. I read books on writing craft, analysed texts by published authors, gleaned every grain I could to make my second book as good as my first. I had to have faith. I had done this once. I had to believe I could do it again. After all, I was an author now.

And then I got an email from my publisher. They’d been taken over by an American company who no longer wanted to develop their Young Adult list. My contract was cancelled, all rights returned.

I wasn’t an author any more. I had no job, no soon to be published book, no nothing. All I had was a completed novel no one seemed to want, and a ropey first draft of my second book. And I have to admit, for a split second, the thought went through my mind: Why am I doing this? Why don’t I go back to a job I know I can do, with a salary and financial security? But it was only a split second.

Because I have that essential quality found in every writer; I am stubborn. And I will not give up. I don’t know if I will succeed in my dream to become a published writer. But I do know this. You haven’t failed until you’re dead and even then you haven’t failed because you kept true. You wrote.

Whatever you believe in, it’s by act of faith you believe in it. And it’s that faith which keeps you strong, gives you purpose and helps you through the dark times.

Fight the fear. Keep the faith.

About Lorrie

In a fit of youthful enthusiasm Lorrie Porter graduated from University College London with a degree in Ancient World Studies then went on to qualify as a teacher in Classics. She loitered for many years in a solicitor’s office where she spent a lot of time staring out of the window. However, her fascination for dead languages and civilizations continues to thrive. She has recently graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with an MA in Creative Writing.

Lorrie writes fiction which embraces a dark and emotional aesthetic and is currently working on Cradlesnatch, a story about a monster who steals children. Her first novel, Fury, has wolves, bandits and other miscreants among its pages.

Her love of writing craft inspires her blog at This Craft Called Writing, and she can be found most Saturdays delivering writing workshops in and around Manchester and Cheshire.

Lorrie lives on a narrow boat with her talented husband and impervious cat.

21 April, 2013

13 Lessons Learned from Stephen King, and a rant by... erm... me.

For the full-sized picture, please click HERE. This is the largest I can make a picture in a blogspot post, for some ungodly reason.

I wanted to include it on the blog to offer some thoughts. I won't rant much. We're talking about Stephen King here, and his book, On Writing, is among the best of its kind.

All of these statements are golden, but there's one thing I'll say: DO NOT THINK OF THESE AS RULES.

Stephen King wouldn't want that. No good writer would. Nor would a good teacher. This is art, not math.  You will find your own interpretation and approach to every problem you face or lesson you learn.

So here's my nit-pick. He says "1st draft - 10% = 2nd draft."

No. Do not expect your first drafts to only need a snip. Unless you're already a very experienced novelist, your second draft will probably involve a great deal more work--quite possibly nearly a total rewrite in order to tighten the emotional thrust. Take it seriously.

Each writer will discover their own approach. For some, the first draft is only an attempt to pin down the story. Paul McAuley, who has been nominated for an award for almost everything he wrote last year (seriously, almost every short story, and the novel) said to me that his first drafts would get rejected from magazines, if he were ever fool enough to submit them. I suspect he was exaggerating, but his point stands. Work on your story until it is the best you can do, not until you think you can get away with it.

But here's the part where I get to sing Stephen King's praises again, and directly related to my caveat, too.

"Teach yourself," he says. Smeg right. Find your own interpretation of what anyone tells you. Learn by practise. Remember what Thomas H. Uzzell said about the average writer needing to hammer out around a million words before developing his or her own style. Write a lot. Read a lot. (Stephen King also says, "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time, and the tools, to write.") Keep doing those and you'll get there. The only expectation you should have is that if Stephen King or whoever floats your boat can succeed, so can you. Every book on your shelf is a monument to the fact that this is an achievable goal.

14 April, 2013

Can You Do Better than Others? by M.R. Jordan


Writer and editor M.R. Jordan on the arts of everything from nannies to camel jockeys, and finding 
and exploiting your own unique talents.

The plot to Supper Nanny is pretty simple. Supernanny comes in and implements the same techniques each week and then nails the parents to the wall for inconsistency and lazy parenting. Families are transformed. Part of the draw of this show of course is seeing the infinite ways in which kids can be horrible and a secret hope that Supernanny will finally meet her match. She never does. Perhaps this is due to tricks of the camera, but my time teaching ESL showed me the extent to which children are hardwired to please. This last part is an observation, but not important to this topic.

What is important is that despite using the same techniques for child discipline and nailing parents to the wall for years, Supernanny has no shortage of families who need their help.

Q. Why don't people just implement the techniques on their own? Think about this a minute before you read my answer.

A. Think about the question some more. No, that's not my answer, silly, but I know you're reading this a half a second after reading the question.

Do you want the answer now? Of course you do. Perhaps you're the kind of person who likes to know what other people think before forming an opinion of your own.

Keep thinking…

Okay, now for my opinion on this subject. It's not laziness or ignorance. The average person cannot watch a how-to video, read a how-to book, or watch Supernanny and implement those skills successfully. Give any child or adult who has never backed in their lies an instant cake mix and watch them struggle to follow the directions. Most people are hardwired to learn from other people. This is why universities don't just hand college students a book to read and expect them to know the contents of said book.

One of the things I can do that most other people can't is learn from a book, only a book, and nothing else but a book. I used a lot of words to tell you this, but I have, what I think, is a grand a point.

This is my strength. I'm using it to educate myself about marketing and business and Excel. Whether you are a writer, song writer, camel jockey or candle stick maker, you have internal assets at your disposal right now. Life lends itself to focusing on external obstacle and it's easy to forget our assets. Don't be the silly reality TV star who says "I think I deserve to win more than anyone else in the house," or "tribe"… whatever. Not a single person thinks they don't deserve to win more than anyone else. Think, instead, what asset you can bring to the table that others can't. Let's say you’re a camel jockey. It's a well established fact that camel jockeys have to be sequestered the night before a race. Otherwise they'll get so drunk, they will fall of their camels during the race. See * for more information about Sequestering camel jockeys to prevent consumption of copious amounts of alcohol syndrome. (SCJPCCAAS) Perhaps you can drink like a fish and stay on your camel. This unique trait gives you a unique advantage over all the other jockeys.

Do you have traits that others don’t? What are they? How can you use them in your pursuit of dreams?

* SCJPCCAAS: This is probably not a real thing, which makes me sad. The world would be more awesome if it was.

10 April, 2013

"Ya-hoooo!" and "Let's-a-Go!" (Nintendo fans will understand.)

Last Saturday I sent my novel's first palatable manuscript off to my agent!!!!




I'm pleased with myself, as you can probably tell!  This post will be riddled with exclamation points...!

I thought I'd share with you what I've been told. As promised, I'm going to yap about everything I learn of the publishing industry as I smash further and further through the battlements. (!) There's nothing ground-breaking thus far, but if I wait until I learn everything, we'll wind up with one long, hard-to-read rant instead of a series of single points, so in the spirit of a short story writer, I've made the decision to share.

I had three misconceptions when I sent my manuscript in. Four if you count the one that doesn't quite count.

The first is that I thought old-skool agents gave full editorial analysis of your work. Leslie told me she'd give a "reader's analysis", which is what I'd thought editorial analyses to be. Apparently, editorial analyses are quite in-depth, not just going into what the work could do better in an overall sense, but actually commenting paragraph by paragraph. That sounds awesome, and I can't wait.


Which leads me to number two: I have to wait. Leslie's first piece of advice was that I should leave the manuscript alone for about a month, and do what I can to distance myself from it. The wrong kind of excitement can kill a story. When Ray Bradbury wrote of "zest and gusto" he was referring to excitement about ideas, and writing when inspired. Getting excited about a deadline, and letting yourself fall in love with your own work, are both wrist-slap-worthy. The former boils down to impatience. The latter stops you from being able to distinguish "baddies" from "darlings" (see "Kill the Baddies, Not the Darlings" under Writing Advice).

So I decided to start another novel. I think an new project is the best way to distance myself. As is the fantasy of all younger siblings, having a new baby should be the best way to distance myself from the previous. Take that, Mario, you arrogant bastard.

Little brothers get Luigi.

The third thing, and the one that doesn't quite count, because I already knew, was that it's nowhere near over. There will probably be two re-writes with Leslie's help. Then there's waiting to see if she CAN sell it. Then there's the editorial process. Then there's awaiting publication and hoping the publishers don't go bankrupt or drop their department or anything else before the book gets published. I'll keep you informed about the process as I learn, so expect many more posts on the matter.

Whenever I tell my friends about finishing my draft they say something along the lines of, "That's great! When will it be in print?"

The most healthy professional response is probably, "I don't even know if it will see print yet, and I'm trying not to get my hopes up, so shut the f**k up." But we can't talk to our friends that way. I always wind up saying, "I'll let you know!" or "Hopefully one day!" at which they always laugh, thinking I'm just trying to sound charmingly humble.

It's good to get excited sometimes. Everyone says I should be pleased with myself, and of course I appreciate the enthusiasm.

The fourth thing I've learned, though, is that "pleased" isn't the right word. I want to share the feeling with you because it's like nothing I've experienced. It's not overwhelming relief or joy. It's not exactly worry that Leslie will hate it, either. I know the story doesn't suck, even if I'm not positive she'll love it. I just feel numb and eagre to write something new. I was supposed to take this week off. I certainly deserve a break, but I don't want one. I can only express this as the feeling of having something on my mind that refuses to articulate itself. "Numb confused happiness" is the most honest descriptive stab that comes to mind, but I honestly think Luigi says it best.

Note: when you select Mario he says, "Ya-hoooo!" or "I'm a-number one!" like the arrogant bastard he is. Luigi, always ready for a scrap, says "Let's-a-go!" which is roughly how I feel. Moreover, I believe Luigi's attitude is the correct one. He is the superior warrior, for he will always fight to improve, and arrogance will be Mario's downfall.

Exclamation points of all variety and connotation are springing around in my head (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and I feel ready to scrap, so... Let's-a-go!

06 April, 2013

Kill the Baddies, not the Darlings

This is actually something Scott Bradfield used to make me do. It was one of my first exercises, just to improve my awareness. He'd take a manuscript, slaughter the first page, and then we'd slaughter the rest together. Within a month my prose was clearer and my stories were shorter. Prose, I came to understand, is a conduit from reader to content. If something's in the way, return with a battering ram.


Things shouldn't just die because they don't serve some cold, logical purpose. It isn't a question of unnecessary words. That's a rather limited understanding. Scott was training my awareness, not stuffing me into a minimalist doctrine. Emotional effect is what you're going for in narrative. If you're thinking in terms of logic, you've got your eye on the bullet, not the target. And in editing, you're a kittie with your eye on the road, not the traffic.

It's usually true that being long-winded will distract your reader. They want to know what's going on between the characters, not how many adverbs you can fit into a sentence. But this does not mean you have to chop all description from your prose. Find me a best-selling, time-enduring novel that doesn't have some linguistic flare. You can't, even by trawling through famously pared back stylists like Chekhov, Steinbeck and Elmore Leonard. Theirs will just be carefully written and carefully placed.  (Note my writing "carefully" twice there for emphasis, although it served no logical purpose.)

Take, as an extreme example, a novel where we're following the POV of a loquacious struggling painter, who ineptly attempts to capture the beauty around him, which is his one true obsession. Let's say it's written in the form of a diary. Let's say that in the first chapter, you've done your job. The reader is in love with this character and his voice. He's loquacious. Strings of unnecessary pronouns and "ad-words" are part of his voice. This might be a harder story to make work, at least on the level of prose, but it's a telling example. In understanding a guideline you must always be aware of the exceptions. If you aren't, you don't understand the guideline.

"Kill the darlings" is good for students to hear, because the craft of writing is all about acquiring empathy with the reader. If you're trying to show your flare with words, you're focusing in the wrong direction. Beautiful writing, from the poetic to the stark, springs from empathy.

Note, "Kill the darlings" also refers to scene choices, and the same concept applies. Don't try to show how cool a scene is. Think of what the story needs from it. Then amplify, and it'll be a darling worth keeping.