Midweek Writer-Rummage - Writing Advice

I’ve decided to give ‘Tuesday’s Tales’ a rest for a while, but I will revive it every now and again, when I have a story to share, or stumble across a fascinating real-life tale.

In the meantime, I’m starting another slot, which will focus on the ‘writer’ side of my life, basically the research and other things that I’ve gathered since I began writing.  This will include stuff that would normally have gone in the ‘Sunday Section’, except I’ve turned that into the dedicated ‘Week in History’ slot.

Today’s rummage has unearthed writing advice that I’ve found especially helpful …

Jane Yolen ~ “See the life by the roadside; the half-starved cats haunting the cathedral grounds as you gaze in awe at the cathedral; the soughing of the wind through the broken portcullis or the gannet spiralling into the ocean below … breathe, take time in your books to look about the landscape – outer and inner – because there is so much more to a story … let it take on its own life, not the life that you impose on it.

Ellen Datlow ~ “Read outside your field.  Don’t write to the market.  Write what you enjoy writing.  Hone your writing skills.  Think about those writers whose stories engage you, those writers whose work you admire.  Try to analyse what it is about their writing that does it for you.  Experiment; don’t get into a rut.  Write as much and as often as you can, and be persistent.  If you really want to write, you will find the time to do it.

Anne Michaels ~ “Pick a major historical event that will shape your characters and their relationship to the world around them.  But remember that historical events don’t just occur suddenly; they are borne out of a build-up of events.  Don’t be in a hurry to start writing – undertake extensive research and don’t worry about becoming entangled in the minute details.  If you are truly allowing research to sink in and being patient, the extraneous detail falls away.

Rose Tremain doesn’t agree with the accepted wisdom that states, ‘write what you know’, for what you know is finite whereas what you can imagine is infinite.  Instead she urges, “write about something you don’t know because maybe you’ll find in writing about it that you do know it…

In Les Edgerton’s ‘Hooked’, agents and editors implore writers to “never open with scenery!  Novels are about people, about the human condition.  We are looking for life.  In addition … we are looking for voice … the voice of the protagonist.  That is what drives a novel.  So give us the protagonist up front …

Over the years, I’ve taken on board all this advice, and found them to be most helpful, not least the one about not opening with scenery.  The manuscript that I’ve submitted to various agents originally opened with the weather, and I collected the rejections, one after the other.  After I changed the first chapter to concentrate fully on the protagonist, there was a little interest – an agent requested the full manuscript.  Then there was another request for a read-through … now I’m waiting ‘patiently’ to hear back from them.  Coincidence?  Who knows?  But I like to think that changing the focus of the first chapter made enough of a difference.