This week ‘The Truth About Celia Frost’ author, Paula Rawsthorne shares her thoughts on finding what works for you.
First thing to say is that we’re offering tips not rules as there aren’t rules that all writers should follow. One writer’s rules don’t fit all. So my tip would be to gather tips and ‘rules’ from the various writers that you admire (and some you don’t) and then see what works for you.
A few years ago ‘The Guardian’ ran a tremendous piece for writers. Following Elmore Leonard’s ‘10 Rules of Writing’ (which are included), they asked a host of brilliant writers for their personal 10 rules. Have a look at the results and be inspired.
The very process of deciding what tips and rules work for you can be thought-provoking, stimulating and productive. It can help you work out how you, as an individual, write best. Your approach to writing maybe very much influenced by your personality, so, for example, if you’re an energetic type, you may produce your best writing whilst jogging around the park and plotting in your head. If you are disciplined and thrive on routine, you may work best having undisturbed, set hours to write. If the writing process feels like pulling teeth, maybe you need to take regular breaks to chill by watching ‘Homes Under the Hammer’!
I recently stumbled upon a great programme on BBC Radio 4 – ‘The Invisible College’ Monday 4pm. There are only three episodes in total and I recommend that you catch them all on iPlayerRadio. These half hour, mini lectures by Dr. Cathy FitzGerald (who has a fabulously soothing voice) use advise from great writers and poets, dead and alive. We hear, amongst others, Graham Greene, Maya Angelou and William Golding talking about how they develop character, style, plot etc. It’s fascinating to learn about their different approaches to writing and their methods and attitudes towards their work. As you listen, certain advice may chime with you whilst you may disagree with others- but that’s good. It all helps.
If you’re looking for tips on whether you ought to plot your novel beforehand or just go with the flow, you’ll find plenty of writers arguing for one way or the other but you have to follow what works for you. So, for instance, I’m not a writer who just starts the novel and sees where it takes me. I write thrillers and by their very nature this genre tends to be tightly plotted, with intricate, twisting storylines. That’s why I find plotting essential and, luckily, I enjoy this aspect of writing. I’m a low tech kind of woman and I use a (real) cork board and revision cards to help work out my plot. I think of it like a crime investigation; trying to piece the case, clues and evidence together.
I write the bones of each scene on a separate revision card and pin them onto the cork board in sequence. I then spend time studying what’s on the board and seeing what works best; it can lead to shifting scenes around, discarding some, creating new ones, taking the plot in a different direction. I think that a cork board full of scenes can be a useful tool no matter what genre you’re writing.
However, even after I’ve plotted my story the beauty of creative writing is how the storyline and characters start to evolve once you get stuck into the writing. It’s exciting when you think you’ve got a scene sorted and then suddenly you realise there’s another, better route you can take it.
If you’ve got any thoughts or questions please feel free to leave a comment below. Good luck and keep writing.