‘I could never write a book, I just don’t have the patience’
‘How can you possibly think up an idea that can stretch out for so long?’
‘I’m just not creative enough…’
‘How many words?!’
These four questions and statements have probably been experienced by all writers at some stage in their careers, whether first-time aspiring authors testing the water, or hardened veterans.
Sure, writing a book is difficult. If it wasn’t, then even more people would be attempting to write them. I predict that of the people who proclaim they would ‘love to write a book’, 10% actually manage to make a start. I’d be surprised if 2% of those same people stuck with it to the conclusion. It’s no easy feat.
But, all is not doom and gloom, fellow writers! If you can come up with a few solid ideas, and run with them, then you’ll find that it is the conception stage that is actually one of the trickiest of the bunch, the writing itself easier as a result of thorough consideration. I’m going to focus on question two from the ‘generic writer/general public chit-chat’ comments above: how to conjure up an idea that is both intriguing and worthy of your exploration.
Firstly, my biggest piece of advice is to plan. Throw any idea that comes into your head down, in a few brief words. ‘Man kills bus driver’; check. ‘Man kills bus driver who turns into a parrot’; check. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, let your inner critic have any say in this process. The second you decide that one of these ideas is ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’, stop the process, take a break, and make yourself a cup of tea. You want to have a list of ideas and scenarios, as ridiculous as they may be, to choose from later. No filtering now. Filtering at this stage is restrictive, and you’ll never get going. Our inner critic is a hard one to please.
This leads to the second process: the decision. Have a look through your list of ideas. Does the one about the vicar in a mid-life crisis catch your eye? Then note it down on another piece of paper. Throw a few more scenarios around. How old is the vicar? Who else is in his life? You want to interview yourself, about a book you haven’t yet written. Difficult, but this stage usually exposes any glaring errors with your idea. If you can’t answer basic questions, then how do you think you’ll be able to write tens of thousands of words about it?
Make sure you pick something you’re interested in too. Remember, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in this world, so if you couldn’t give two shits about a zookeeper’s search for a missing lion, then don’t touch it.
If you’re really struggling for creativity, then don’t panic. Have a read of a daily newspaper. Note down a few headlines, combine names, words and settings. Sure, a financial report about the state of the economy and a feature piece on the types of birds migrating, or whatever, sound somewhat bland on their own. But combined… a flock of monster-birds with a grudge against the capitalist system? It could be a new masterpiece of Stephen King proportions! A modern day epic for the Occupy movement to embrace, with its rich metaphors and deep allegory! I’ll let you have that idea if you want to explore it, though. I don’t expect to be revisiting it any time soon.
Speaking of Stephen King, he provides some good advice in his book, On Writing. He suggests that the writer should merely ask a question, and think of a scenario. My own example, that led to a short-story, was, ‘What would a woman do if she killed her husband and hid him in the cellar?’ The short-story ended up growing into an intriguing beast. However, I would question this method when applying it to novels. Although I agree with Mr King on many levels, I would argue that writers need a solid plan in place before letting their imaginations go wild. Sure, think up a scenario akin to the one I just suggested, but make sure you follow all the other steps to see just how much juice is in its creative tank. Also, feel free to ignore me. Look at the sales of Stephen King and my sales, and you might just have your answer. Different things work for different people, though.
Regarding planning, I’d like to use next Wednesday’s workshop to focus on the steps to take when you have what you believe to be a solid idea for a novel.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment. Feel free to leave comments or feedback either via the comment box below, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Or don’t. I’m not going to boss you around, promise. I look forward to chatting to you again on Friday about What We Saw. I’ll be talking about my ‘week off’ from writing, the early stages of the cover design, and launching a certain competition. Let’s just say that if you’ve ever fancied your name immortalizing in print, then Friday may be your chance. I hope you like and share. I mean, like TO share, of course. My bad. I share. I mean, I swear.
Some advice collected from:
Wolff, J, 2007. Your Writing Coach. 1st ed. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
King, S, 2000. On Writing.1st ed. London: New English Library.