Writing Advice from Guest Author Nikki Kelly
I’d hasten to start this post by saying that I do not hold any degrees in English (or any other subjects for that matter!) In fact I have never studied English Literature or English Language beyond high school, and I’ve never attended any writing courses—just a girl with a dream over here!
But, where there is a will, there is a way…
When I began to write, I read various articles and posts full of tips and tricks about writing a novel, but ultimately I think that everyone’s process varies, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another…
Some writers plot and plan every last detail before they even begin to put pen to paper; these things might include outlines of the overall story arc, plot points and a detailed breakdown of each chapter. Some even produce index cards of characters’ histories, their physical features, their physiological and sociological makeup… These are the “plotters and planners” of the writing community.
Other writers prefer to tell a story more freely, and may literally just sit and start writing and see what comes out, in the hope that, a few chapters in, they might start doing this…
With bags of will, this is how I tend to work…
PHASE ONE: THE SPARK!!
I need a spark, something that inspires me!
PHASE TWO: HMMM… LET ME MULL THAT OVER…
Once I have the spark, I spend some time considering the worlds in which to place my characters. I explore the makeups of the worlds and the histories behind them. This involves a lot of asking – what, when, where and how. Of course, with your main characters, you may want to ask the “who” question: who are they now, who were they before, who do you expect them to become by the end of their journey… This is the phase in which I do much thinking.
PHASE THREE: PREMISE
I decide what my premise will be. Your premise is the point you are trying to make with your story. I’ve asked some writers what their premise was for a story and they have given me an entire paragraph worth of explanation; whereas I break it down into three points: character, conflict and conclusion.
So, for Lailah, the premise was:
Innocence, through a journey of self-discovery,
leads to acceptance.
Decide what your premise is and stick to it; everything in your story should be working to prove it! This was a key learning I took from an amazing book called How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, which provides a guide to dramatic story-telling. Of all the “how-to” books I bought, this was the only one I ever needed.
PHASE FOUR: TYPY-MCTYPY…
Now I start to write! I think if you don’t outline at all, and just throw caution to the wind, you may find you get stuck around chapter 5 or 6. Of course, if you over-plan, you may feel bored before you even start and not inspired to get the story down on paper! For me, there’s a happy medium to be struck: a little of both!
I am a creature of habit and I have a routine when I write. Before I sit down to type anything, first I boil the kettle and make up a large pot of tea (Yup, I am English!)
While I am doing that, I pop my headphones on and block out the rest of the world by listening to various songs. For example, if I am about to write an action sequence, I tend to listen to the Rocky soundtrack and bounce around the kitchen listening to “Eye of the Tiger” and “No Easy Way Out”! If I’m about to tackle a high-emotion scene, then an Evanescence record tends to find its way on repeat! And, of course, if I am writing something swoony, it’s a bit of body popping and twirling in the kitchen!
Once I’m sufficiently geared up, I head to my writing room. For me, this is where I feel most comfortable for a long sit-in. (I’ve tried coffee shops but they’re not for me, unlike Lisa Simpson…)
I always have notepads and pens to hand – and a jar of sweets, because I will need these a few hours in! I tend to write through the night, in part because old habits die hard – when I wrote the first book, I did so in my spare time, so I would write between 9 p.m. and 3-4 a.m. I also work this way because this is when silence descends; hubby and pups are sleeping, the neighbors’ kids aren’t screaming outside, and I’m pretty sure that this is when my muse is on shift! Again, everyone is different, and what works for me may be different from what works for you!
THINGS I REALIZED
I discovered that writing is the same as anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you get!
First drafts tend to be pretty darn rubbish! But don’t be afraid to write utter rubbish! Ultimately, if you have something down, you can go back, rework and revise, which is far more effective than staring at a blank page!
Your mindset—for me thinking of it this way, really helped: Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Your drafts are simply warming up your muscles, and knocking off the miles, before you reach the midway point where you revise, and then finally head into the last stretch of editing!
ABOVE ALL ELSE
Ultimately, and above everything else – regardless of the process you adopt and the habits that help – if you have a story to tell, don’t stop until you’ve told it!