Tag Archives: on writing

Heartsong

This morning, as I lay approximately one-eighth awake wishing I didn’t have to get up and face a cold, dark day, I found myself thinking about a picture book idea. It involved a witch with an itch and a crooked wand, and it was (at least, to me) very funny. I created the story as I went, imagining the illustrations and enjoying how my witchy character grew more and more exasperated as things went on – and it was huge fun, even if I had to get up before I finished it.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

I’m not a person who wants to write picture books, particularly. Besides the classics, I haven’t even read very many picture books, and it’s something I keep meaning to remedy (the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen, in case you’re interested, is Journey by Aaron Becker, which should be checked out immediately by everyone). I think a good picture book is a thing so difficult to pull off that it’s practically impossible, and I feel it’s beyond the scope of my skills – but my mind still decided to explore an idea for one while in a hypnopompic state.

The reason for this? I love stories for children. I love them so much that I think about them even when, all told, my brain would rather be unconscious. I think about them even when I’m supposed to be grown-up and thinking about other things like bills and taxes and the economy and politics and other stuff I know nothing about. Yesterday, I was unwell – sore throat, fuzzy head, sniffles, and a serious case of the ‘OhPoorMes’ – and as well as taking plenty of fluids and as much rest as I’d let myself away with, I self-medicated with stories. I read Howl’s Moving Castle, just because there’s a scene in it where Howl the wizard has a cold and makes everyone suffer because he’s a crybaby. I feel better today, and I’m sure the paracetamol in the medicine I took made a big difference to the state of my health, but I know that reading did the rest.

Once, I met a lady who had written a book for children. She wasn’t sure what age range, particularly; she thought perhaps children from twelve and up, because there were things like war and slavery and family breakdown in her story (it was historical fiction). However, its word count was way too low for this age range, being more suited to children between five and eight. She was shocked to learn that twenty thousand words wouldn’t create a book long enough for her target audience, and even more shocked when I asked her what her favourite children’s book was. ‘I don’t read children’s books’, she told me, half-laughing at the very idea. ‘I’m more of a romance fan, myself.’ She paused, frowning slightly as she thought about it. ‘In fact, I really wanted to write this story as a romance about one of the older characters, and I’m not really sure why I wrote it this way,’ she said, looking confused.

And I thought: Why don’t you write romances, then? If that’s your heartsong, why aren’t you singing it?

I wouldn’t tackle a picture book not because I don’t enjoy them, but because I’m not immersed in that world. I’m not obsessed with picture books, with the making and creating of them; I’m not expert in the field (and if you think there’s ‘nothing to making a picture book’, then I invite you to try to make one). I love books for older children – they are what I read, what I love, what I admire. I haven’t read everything, because there is only so much money and time in the world, but I’d like to think I have a fairly broad exposure. Stories about adventure, and friendship, and challenging the odds, and fighting evil, and finding parents, and learning to live without parents, and learning what it is to be an individual, and how to trust yourself, are what my heart sings. That’s why those are the stories I write, too.

Writing involves a lot of different skills, all interconnected, but one of the most important is this: knowing what your heartsong is. Knowing how to be still and listen to yourself, and hear the whisper of the story that lies curled up inside you waiting to unfurl. It doesn’t sing with a very loud voice, sometimes, particularly if you’ve never tried to listen to it before, but it is there. If you can gently encourage it – and not drown it with thoughts like ‘I can’t write a story like this, it’s stupid/silly/inappropriate/unreadable/wrong‘ – perhaps you’ll be lucky and it will grow stronger, and clearer. Let it grow whatever way it wants – don’t try to force it to go one way, or another. Give it space and time and freedom, and allow yourself to astound yourself.

Read widely – particularly within the genre in which you’re writing, but not exclusively. Learn how stories work by reading how other people do them. Don’t write something in a particular way because you feel you ‘should’; write it whatever way it wants to be written. Become a reader before you become a writer. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t write to markets. Learn to listen carefully, particularly to yourself.

Write what you love.

Love what you write.

And let your heartsong burst forth, loud and clear.

 

 

 

Some Writerly Advice

Last week, the wonderful Elizabeth Rose Murray wrote this fantastic post on her blog. It was a compendium of her most popular posts on writing – the art, craft, graft and ‘secret’ of it – gathered from her experience as a successful writer, blogger and social media professional. Elizabeth is much further down the road to success (if there is such a thing) than I am, but she nevertheless asked if I’d be interested in compiling an advice post of my own, gathering together in one place some of my most read posts on writing.

I thought it was a fantastic idea.

Image: nickis.yourmarketingsystem.net

Image: nickis.yourmarketingsystem.net

When I checked my readership stats, however, a funny thing emerged. It turns out that my most read – sometimes, also, my most commented-upon and liked posts, though not always – were the ones which dealt with failure, disappointment, and how to carry on when it seems like a task too far. In a strange way, I am quite proud of this. I like to think that my musings on how to keep going when things get tough were an inspiration for others.

So, without further ado, here are some of my most read posts, grouped loosely by theme. I hope that they are helpful (some of them are quite old, so even if you’ve been following this blog for a while, they might seem fresh), and a reminder of how far a person can come. Just so you know: most of the stuff I worried about when I wrote these posts never came to pass, some of the stories I recount struggling with have subsequently been published, and every hard-won lesson I learned about editing, drafting and submitting has been vital in my journey so far.

When you feel like you’re not good enough, and the self-doubt is building up inside you:

Try this post, about how to distinguish between good and bad self-criticism, or this one about slaying the dragon of self-doubt.

When you feel like you’re running out of things to say, or you’ll never have a good idea again:

Try this post about how to respect your own idea-getting process (because you do have one, no matter what you might think). You could also give this one a go when you feel like your ideas are going to dry up forever – remember, ideas are everywhere you look.

When you feel afraid – of being read, of not being read, of being successful, of failing – or when you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing:

Try this post, which takes you through the fear I used to have about being read, back at the beginning of my writing career when I hadn’t published a single story. I have published several since then, and with every one the fear drains away a little more. You could also try this more recent post about how, sometimes, we feel like frauds, and how the fear of success can be a crippling thing. Or perhaps try this one when you feel unworthy, whether it’s unworthy of following your dream or of succeeding at it.

I can't resist using this image again...  Image: teamliquid.net

I can’t resist using this image again…
Image: teamliquid.net

When you do decide you’re going to start submitting, and you’re wondering how to go about it:

This post is about the importance of having a polished opening to the book you’re submitting to agents and/or publishers, and how it’s important not to overlook your first 10,000 words. You can check out this one, this one and this one when it’s time to write your pitches, synopses and cover letters, and the very best of luck to you. You can try this post here if you think you know better than the agents to whom you’re submitting, and when you’re tempted to chuck their advice in the bin and go for broke (not usually a good idea). You can check out this one when you’re wondering what the flippin’ point of editing is, and why you need to go over your work again and again and again. (Tip: everyone has to do this).

And when you’re dealing with rejection and disappointment – for, sadly, this is something that happens to us all – and you’re wondering how to keep on going:

Try this post, which – because it was written before I’d really experienced any disappointment – is a good way of mentally preparing yourself for the inevitability of rejection, and how to separate yourself from your work. You could also look at this post if you’re wondering why you’re bothering, and whether your voice, and your words, have any role to play in the larger picture. (Hint: they do). Finally, try this one when you’re a little further down the road of rejection and the ‘No thank yous’ have started to get a little more encouraging – for that will happen, too. Try to take the good out of every bad situation and the advice out of every ‘no’; it’s there. You just have to look for it.

And always remember the most vital advice of all: Get your butt in the chair, get the words on the page, and finish your work. Never give up. Tell the story you need to tell.

And when the world is ready, it will listen.

Image: lyndasgrainsofsand.blogspot.com

Image: lyndasgrainsofsand.blogspot.com