As I mentioned last time, this will be the final part of this series. I’ve enjoyed sharing these great writing exercises with you, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed them – and that they’ve helped alleviate some boredom during this challenging time.
I’m giving us all a break, there’s a bunch of things to try from this series. There will be more, sure enough, but I don’t want to offer subpar ideas. Once I find a good one, or I’m shared a good one, you’ll have it here.
What you need: A story you’ve already written, or one you have permission to use for personal exercises.
This is an interesting, and sometimes challenging exercise, but it is a great way to try out different mediums of writing. It’s probably clear to everyone that I like prose. Constructing a story, describing events, scenery, characters and their interactions, developing plots – it’s what suits me the most.
There are plenty of other mediums, such as poetry and script, which have great histories in storytelling for different purposes. The way these stories are adapted for their needs is interesting, and can often lead to subtle differences, if not big ones to fit the medium.
Beyond that, new ways of telling a story have emerged. They might not be recognised by the literary critics but for the purpose of developing your skills and stretching your creativity, they can be great to explore. These include blogs, tweets/social media updates and even image-based updates.
Take a story you’ve written in one medium, or one you have the permissions to use in a personal capacity, and re-write it again in different medium, such as a poem, script or blog format. See what’s missed, or what’s needed, when you compare the two.
Mix it up: Tell the same story across multiple formats. Do it once as prose, again as poetry, and a series of blog posts. Once all are done, you’ll see exactly how the different styles work, and maybe how they can work together.
Retelling a story
What you need: A story told in a different form, a movie, TV show or stage performance.
A lot of films are based on, or released with, a book, which is a very long story to whittle down to a couple of hours or so. A lot of these are details which are present in scenery, characters, settings and items but dialogue and action are a different matter.
Whether you know a film or TV show inside out, even if you’ve read the accompanying book, a great exercise is to watch that film or episode and write it down on paper (or type it on screen). It’s a great way to recall details and events that matter, as well as find out what you miss. This can help you when writing original pieces as you have an idea what you might be missing.
I’m not suggesting you write a full novel here, but a couple of thousand words translating what you see or remember can reveal interesting details about your writing style and interests.
Mix it up: Watch the film or show first and do this task from memory, rather than at the time of watching. You can expand it to computer games, poetry readings and songs, too.
I wonder if there’s more to do with this, or an easier way to collate them. Let me think on it. If I come up with a better way to share these exercises, I’ll be sure to let you all know.
It can be hard writing all the time when things are so
unstable. I know some people who love that uncertainty, and to a point I do,
too. However, I do like a little stability. I like to know I’ve got a job or
can get one. I like to know I’ve got money to keep a roof over me and food on
my plate. There have been times during this adventure when those things haven’t
been so certain and it’s then I find it hard to sit down and write.
I spend too much time thinking about things that aren’t
writing. Life problems, you might say, in a sense.
Of course, everything is a wave. There are highs and lows.
Now that I’m on a rise, I can think clearly and put everything in perspective.
Sure, I can write a blog post or a short story at random
times but for a larger project, like the novel I’m working on now, I like a bit
of a stability. Which leads me to…
Getting into a routine
One thing I learned at university was a routine. If I could
write at roughly the same time of day (or night) each day then it’d be easier
for me to get into the flow and get more done. That has worked for me in the
past, but I do like having a set space to work from, which isn’t easy when travelling.
When you get regular hours at a job, then it becomes easier
to get that routine going. It might be worth writing at the same time even if
those times vary through the week. It’s training your mind to know when it’s
time to be creative and work, and that 9-5 mentality is exactly the same.
Seeing other people’s success
This is a double-edged sword but when you see friends and
colleagues doing well, you feel happy and want to support them however you can.
Then comes the jealousy.
It’s not that they’re better than you, but they have
something of market value then. That just means you have to think about your
ideas and what’s out there now. It also means you need to keep trying. Don’t compare
their journey to your own, just focus on doing what you do best and do it well.
One day, it’ll come to you.
Yes, I’m also telling myself that. We all need to hear it at
The occasional pep talk
I’m grateful for the friends I’ve got who keep me going when
things look hopeless. A lot of these are writers in similar situations to
myself, and I’m more than happy to return the favour. We’re all still young in
the grand scheme of things and it’s nice to get a little bit of encouragement
amongst all the rejection we get from publishers and agents.
The same rings true for life in general, and those uplifting
feelings can transfer to other areas when we need them most. If you know a
creative and they’re a bit down, give them some encouragement and offer some criticism
to help. You might not be an expert, but you can appreciate it. Let them
explain some of their craft to you, let them feel like their skills and
knowledge is valuable.
Again, the same is true in life. Look out for people who
could use a little lift. Good things can be passed on really easily.
Looking back to how far I’ve come
It may sound a little cliché but it’s great to look back at
where I’ve come from – in terms of my journey as a writer. I look back at the projects
I’ve completed and remember thinking that I’d never be able to finish it.
These aren’t masterpieces by any means but compared to my
writing now, I can see how I’ve changed, how my style has grown, and it makes
me proud. I look forward to pushing on and seeing where I’ll be in the future.
Of course, hopefully that involve a published book or two
(or ten, maybe more) but the more I travel, the more I learn about myself and
there are always things to do and learn. Maybe it’s not what’ll happen but
until I know for sure, I’m going to keep trying.
We all have problems. Some are serious, some not so much. How big or problematic they are depends on our view at the time and with the passage of time, they seem to get smaller until we wonder why it bothered us in the first place.
That being said, some are more annoying than anything. They can be ironically funny, blindingly frustrating, facepalm cringeworthy or many other colour adjectives. Writers are no different. So, here is a list of writer problems. It’s not extensive or comprehensive but they’re all problems I’ve encountered (and not always solved) as well as those of other writers I’ve met and spoken to.
Hell, they probably apply to many creatives and professions – but you’ll have to tell me that.
Pets like getting involved
Not much to say about this one but any writer with pets will know exactly what I’m talking about – our lovable companions just KNOW we need their help.
I can’t deny it’s true at times, but when I’m on a roll and my dog decides to jump on me or my laptop, that’s more hindering than helping. Still, wouldn’t trade her for the world.
Feeling guilty over a lack of productiveness
I’m starting with one of my favourites. I like to take a break between big projects and drafts. It helps me put some distance between what I’ve just done and what I’m going to do next. It can be a week, a month or even a year – it really depends on the project and how drained I feel.
So, FREE TIME! That’s what I tell myself. I’ll catch up on my favourite TV shows, go to some gigs, tick off a few books in the ‘to read’ pile and get some gaming done. Actually, no. Very little happens because I feel guilty about not writing or editing! So, I find other work to do, whether it’s planning something new – or related – to the current project, doing some redrafting etc. It’s great but everything else listed above, well those piles, lists and such get bigger. Who knows when I’m going to get around to them?
Oh well, I keep up with Facebook…
The anticipation of feedback
I like to think that I’m pretty patient while waiting for feedback. I do understand that people are busy and have their own lives and things to sort. That’s what I tell myself and hope it conveys that way to others.
However, on the inside I’m screaming ‘READ THE BOOK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!’ every day until I get it back. Sometimes I can’t wait and I break my rule and ask. I feel guilty about that too. Thankfully, my writer friends understand that…I think…I hope!
The infamous writers block
I could write 1,500 essays on this subject. It. Is. So. Annoying. And frustrating. And has a particularly awful sense of timing. Countless are the times I’ve been on a great role and the one day it just stops. And I end up staring at a blank screen four hours searching for a particular word or phrase.
Sometimes a film, a show, a song, a book, a game, a word or accident can snap me out of it. Other times, I need a good sleep or swim to clear the head. Other times, I think it’s a way for the mind to tell us to take a break. Maybe to organise our thoughts or think about a problem – or just give us a rest. We’re not machines, we do need it every so often.
Knowing what you want to say without having the right words
Sort of related to the last point but how many times have you had the PERFECT idea for that scene or chapter that’s been bugging you for weeks but when you come to put it on paper or screen, you stall. It’s not a block because you know exactly what you want to say but it just won’t come out. Damnit.
This is a fantastic example of why redrafting is so key. I’m all about the flow of my work and stories but sometimes you’ve got to force past it and just get it on paper. The editing lets you find those parts and smooth them out to match the rest of the story. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear someone’s arms off when it happens, though.
Not being able to stop the inner monologue
Maybe this is just me, but sometimes I wish I could switch my brain off. A CTRL+ALT+DEL function would be amazing. Simply amazing. Someone do this and I will love you forever.
I find this more when I’ve been writing for a while or working for a long time on a project; I just can’t stop. I know I’ve got work in the morning or an early start for whatever reason – or I’m supposed to be meeting friends or family or whatever – so I stop writing but that monologue is just going on and on.
The worst part is, whether I cave and get up or return to it the next day, the ideas are gone. Potential writing gold gone for good. That’s when the facepalm strikes.
The conflict of how to tell people what you do
All is good, you’re at an event, seeing some friends and there’s new people around. You strike a conversation and then they ask you one of the worst questions ever; ‘what do you do?’
Where to even start with this? I write words and hope it’ll make me money is one option. I tell stories sounds childish. A writer sounds hipster and clichéd. Aspiring writer makes it seem like you’re trying too hard. Author? Not a chance, not till I’m published. Usually, I tell people I’m working on a book. They’ll either be interested and ask more or they won’t. It’s a safe option but why is it so hard?!
Not knowing when to stop
This is another favourite of mine. How do you know when it’s finished? The amount of times I’ve done the final draft of something only to come back in six months and let my inner voice yell ‘WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, THINKING THAT WAS DONE?’ until I cave in and do another draft.
I’m not always convinced the new draft is better. Surely there’s a point where what you started with or tried to achieve has been lost through so many edits you have something new completely. Is it still one story or is it two? If I find an answer, I’ll let you know.
I saved the biggest problem for last. It is one of THE biggest hurdles any writer who wants to make a career out of putting words on paper can and will face – unless you’re incredibly lucky. If you are, don’t forget about this blogger/writer/Scot.
I’ve not explored this much compared to others but even what I’ve experienced I can liken to headbutting a brick wall over and over and over and over. And over. Repeat until brain becomes mush. Hunting down and acquiring an agent is much the same. And yes, I’ve headbutted a brick wall (a lot as a child and once recently to test out this experiment. It hurt. A lot) so take my word for it.
Any other big writer problems I’ve missed? Let me know!
Word counts. In school, we were told to do a page or two for our assignments. In university, it ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 usually (not counting the dissertation) but there seems to be a much more vague answer surrounding novels.
Over the years, novels seem to have gotten longer. It’s a strange sight; books are getting longer yet web content, which is a huge part of the digital space, is getting shorter – and being portrayed in even shorter paragraphs. The contrast here is interesting and e-books sit somewhere in the middle, not favouring one side over the other – although an e-book doesn’t have to be viewed online, it can be.
As a writer, project lengths can be a bit daunting, as well as throwing up some barriers to completing a project. I figured this was a good time to take a look at a few.
Does size really matter?
Let’s avoid the elephant in the room here and stick to the topic at hand (yes, I know what you were thinking – get that mind out of the gutter!) because there is no simple answer to this, even though it may look like it on the surface.
Is it worth writing more and more just to hit a word count that you or someone else has said? You run the risk of waffling; creating sections that have no relevance and will only serve to put readers off. Do that and your story may never be finished – and it can happen the same way with writing.
So, if you’re writing a story that goes on and on and on, is it worth breaking it down in the planning stage so you know what you’re writing and where each part ends, or should you write it and break it later? That comes down to personal choice, if I’m honest.
What matters more than a word count is quality writing and story-telling. The publishers may tell you differently, that they’re looking for certain things but then, what about self-publishing? Who makes the decisions then? The writer.
How important is it to consider during planning?
Very – and what I mean by that is don’t!
Every time I’ve tried to write something to a certain length, it hasn’t worked. It’s okay to have an idea, something to aim towards but if you fall short or go over it’s not a big deal. This isn’t being graded (I always hated that my essays had to be at a certain length, surely going over would be a good thing!?) so as long as it feels right to you, then don’t worry.
Editing and redrafting will help you cut down on parts that are useless or find gaps in the story you need to fill out so why worry about writing a novel that has 70,000 words?
I’m not going to post the lengths of popular or successful novels here. There’s plenty of posts out there for that and, as you probably know by now, I write sci-fi and fantasy mainly. Those novels can be a hell of a lot longer than other fiction novels but there are always exceptions.
Make your plan, and follow it. Use word counts, targets or thresholds as motivation to keep going, not as a way to stop.
What about short stories and other forms?
The key here is the word ‘short.’ I’d advise you to not abandon the tactic of planning and writing them without a specific count in mind. Just like with a novel, you could end up compromising on what you originally planned.
There are plenty of competitions out there, around the world and throughout the year, that ask for different lengths and genres. Writing for a specific competition is an option but you won’t be as invested in the story compared to writing it for yourself. Once it’s done, then look for where you could submit it to, if that’s what you want to do. That means you’ll always have an amazing piece of writing (in the end) that hasn’t been controlled by someone or something else.
Novellas, poetry and other forms all have other rules but in most cases, write first and edit later down to what you want it to be, or if you absolutely have to, to what it needs to be.
Remember, as I mentioned in my last post, writing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole process. Don’t ruin that by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to hit a specific target because someone else said so. You’ll regret it in the long run – unless it’s for a publishing deal, but that’ll normally come a little later in the process so write first.
I’m back – again! I lost internet access for a while, making posting the new stuff I let you know about last time a bit harder but I’m back now and kicking off as I mean to go on!
Inspiration is something we all need from time to time to get ourselves motivated. That’s quite a broad and vague statement, as the kind and amount of inspiration we need depends on the project or task at hand. As a writer, one who likes to explore different genres and mediums, I find that the inspiration I want, or need, changes too. It might sound obvious but how often have you thought about it to try and influence where the inspiration comes from?
Now is as good a time as any to think about it.
Inspiration comes from all around us
We take inspiration from everything, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Someone we meet, something we see, things we here and anything we do – literally, it comes from anywhere. It might not surface for a long time but there comes that moment, like a lightbulb being turned on above your head from a cartoon, where something clicks and everything makes sense.
At least, in that moment.
I take a lot of inspiration from the books I read, games I play, television and films I watch and the music I listen to, like countless other people. I find it hard to work in silence, I like background noise so there’s always something on when I’m writing but over the years I’ve found that if I’m in the mood or trying to write a certain genre or form, it helps if that noise matches that.
I’m not saying I have to watch fantasy to write fantasy, but there has to be something there that encourages me. If I’m reading (or watching) The Lord of the Rings, for example, it makes me want to work on something just as epic, even if it’s not a fantasy piece.
Turn up the music
Music is a big one though, and while I enjoy listening to a lot of different genres and artists (save a couple I’m really not keen on) it’s the lyrics that hit home the most. The music adds to the effect. Much like poetry, there are different meanings you can take from them. You can find out what the artist intended and what was behind it for them but everything like this is open to interpretation.
Recently I’ve been working on two short stories – neither of which is the one I uploaded a few days ago, The (Long Overdue) Journey. One is fantasy and the other is a bit more of a gritty realism piece. Music has helped me focus on both pieces but figuring out what artists and songs was a bit trickier.
For the fantasy piece, I wanted it to start a bit slower and slowly work into something triumphant, epic and uplifting. I’ve always associated the powerful vocals of bands like Nightwish, Delain and Within Temptation with this genre. The voices are powerful and the music adds to that but it’s the voices which I tune into. Watch or read any fantasy and songs are usually sung at some point but there’s no band with them. That makes the words the most powerful thing about them and there are three songs, all a little different, that helped me. These are:
I’ve included links to the best YouTube videos I can find so you can take a look/listen.
Does the genre or form change what inspiration you need?
Quite simply, yes. You may have your favourite go-to songs or films when you need a boost – I know a lot of people who run and work out have a specific playlist they’ll listen to for a good number of their sessions but it never works that way for me. I had so many different playlists it became easier just to change a couple around based on the projects I was working on at the time.
I can quite happily – to the bafflement and annoyance of others at times – listen to the same few songs over and over and over again while I take from them everything I need or want. This can be before I start writing and during it, even after at times. It really depends. I only do this through the initial writing/drafting phase. When it comes to redrafting and editing, I’ll generally avoid anything I used to inspire me while I refine it – unless I feel something is missing.
So, what do you think? Do you think about what inspires you for each project and act accordingly or do you have a go-to? I’d love to hear from you!