Developing a writing practice is fundamental if your goal is to write a book. When inspiration strikes, it’s imperative to have some form of notepad or flat surface to scribble upon! I’ve been known to dash off at a moment’s notice when a genius piece of prose presents itself, writing on everything from envelopes to letters, to mobile phones. Strategically placed notebooks have helped! And as a semi-seasoned writer, I’ve learned not to fear that the idea-well will dry up completely. Usually, like a tap, when I turn up and turn it on … something pours onto the page. Having said this, I’m yet to find anything that encourages the flow of words more steadily or readily than writing in nature. Perhaps, it’s because I’ve always felt a certain oneness with the earth. Or maybe (owing to many years spent climbing trees, making dens and wading in rivers) it’s where I can most easily channel my inner child and let go … and just see what happens. If you wish to write poetry, then everything from the changing seasons to the sound and feel of the wind become meaningful metaphors. If your intention is to write a whole book, then there are countless settings in which to immerse the senses, unleash inner visions and set ink to paper … From purple stained moors and old whispering forests to gorge laden mountains and rushing rivers.
Writing a fantasy adventure novel had long been a dream of mine. Though, I have to admit, the thought of writing an entire book was quite daunting at first! In the beginning, thoughts such as the following ran amok in my mind … Would I be able to create a story that inspires me to keep writing until the end? Would I be able to afford the boxes of green tea that would help to fuel this new mission? Would I, as someone who loves the outdoors and begins to wilt like a flower without her fresh air fix, be happy sitting at a desk/table/bed for hours on end, staring at a laptop? Thankfully, what I soon learned was this – writing a book is far less daunting when in practice. This is because a book isn’t written in its entirety all at once. Instead, like real-life adventures … it's embarked upon in stages … completing each chapter one by one … until a satisfying end has been reached. Each chapter created becomes a mini-story. Completing each one is exciting and motivating. Green tea, as it turns out, is widely abundant and comes in many enjoyable flavours! And as for the story itself, well, that bit became far easier when I developed a habit of occasionally writing outdoors. Suddenly, I no longer had to imagine what the tree guardians would look like, or where the secret trails would begin. Instead, I found real trees—ancient and proud with roots like limbs, towering over riverbanks. And I sought out real and rugged trails, then followed them to see where they would lead … Taking in every strange sight and mysterious encounter as I went. In this way, writing a children's book became more than a challenge, it became an actual adventure. Soon after, the handwritten drafts began to form a cohesive tale, and a story arc developed. And in the end, an entirely new and enchanting world had emerged with everything from its own race of mysterious inhabitants, to its own landscape and vegetation, and even its own culture. But if someone had said to me on day one, that I would come to fall in love with every aspect of this imagined world, and live and breathe it … as if it were real, then I might not have believed them.
Something magical happens when we allow our imaginations to run wild and free. It makes the impossible possible and the imagined come to life before our eyes. And as an author and debut novelist, I’ve discovered that words always flow most abundantly when we write about the things that we love and that genuinely excite us. After all, isn’t that the goal of all life’s experiences … to follow our bliss? And to that end, and in my humble experience … there's no better place to write, than in nature.
To help you tackle the mammoth task of writing a book, here are some of my tips for developing a writing practice and creating a manuscript:
1. Make time to sit down and write. Writing every day isn’t essential at first. Instead, aim to writing regularly, to build your confidence and skills. Go to the places that inspire you. Use what you see, feel and sense to help form your words and sentences. Make writing fun, and it will motivate you to continue.
2. Try to get down a rough draft, without perfecting it. Trying to correct every spelling mistake can halt the flow of genius that is trying to come through you. The goal at the beginning is to get something down on paper. You can shape it into a masterpiece later. Think of it like training a muscle … The more you practice, the more you'll have to show for it and the more natural it will feel.
3. If you’re writing a novel or story, now is a good time to think about a loose story arc. Some people like to do this first, it’s all down to personal preference. As a visually inspired writer, I tend to see the scenes, then write them. But a loose story arc helps to drive the narrative and will ensure you have all the basic elements i.e. the beginning, middle and end. At first, you may not know how the story will end, that's okay, it will unfold as you write. It's useful, however, to have an idea of how you would like the story to develop — it will give you a goal to work towards, and help you to plot the key scenes. Later, you can add plot twists and conflict. And it's useful to know, that since ancient (mythological) times stories have generally followed a pattern. The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell does a great job of explaining this. What you do with that generic pattern, however, is what makes your story unique. Watch movies, read books. Observe how each story begins and builds, then climaxes and concludes.
4. Create character profiles. What do they look like? What kind of life have they lived so far? How do they dress? What kind of personality do they have? The more you know about them, the easier it will be to bring them to life and write character dialogue.
5. Do some research on the kind of world you are creating or writing about. What kind of language would you use in that world/environment/setting? What would you see there? Add these in, it will help the reader feel a sense of realism, as they enjoy your fictional story. It’s a paradox, but it works!
6. Next, pull it all together. Create your chapter titles (if you haven’t already). See how each chapter leads on to the next. Is it a complete story yet? Go back to your story arc/plan, is there anything important you have missed out?
7. When it looks like it’s almost done, start your copy editing and tidy it up. Go through the entire thing, chapter by chapter, or section by section, checking for one specific category of editing at a time. First, look for general spelling mistakes and missing words. Next, check grammar. Finally, go through all the dialogue and make sure tags are consistent and tidy. Be prepared for multiple rounds of editing!
8. Read your finished story aloud. How does it flow? Is there anything that needs to be changed or omitted to increase the pace? Is there anything that may not make sense to the reader and needs a greater explanation? Have you tied up all loose ends in the final chapters? Put it down for a week or two, and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. How does it read now? Make sure it’s the best that you can make it.
9. Print a proof and re-read. Then have someone else read it. If your book is for a specific audience, see if you can find someone who is from that audience to proofread it for you. Give them the first couple of chapters ... It will boost your confidence and provide valuable feedback. When you've poured every last bit of your creative energy into the book, it's time to have it professionally edited. This not only ensures that someone has gone through your book word for word, it will help to improve your own writing too.
10. This last stage is all about production. The two main routes to market are; independent publishing and traditional publishing. Independent publishing means becoming an author-entrepreneur and managing all aspects of the book's production and journey to distributors, as well as marketing and sales. Going down the traditional publishing path, will involve submitting to agents and publishing houses, with the intention of having someone do all of the above for you. Whichever path you choose, give yourself an enormous pat on the back (or do a victory dance ... whatever comes most naturally ... And in case your wondering, I'm in the latter camp) for finishing your book. Most people only dream of what you have accomplished. That's not only an awesome feeling, but you'll be an inspiration to other aspiring writers too. And then, prepare yourself for things to get even more exciting ... for there's no better feeling than knowing, that lovely people haven taken the time to buy your book and enjoyed reading it!
~ To my fellow aspiring writer – young, old and everything in between; the book in you, is hoping you say … YES!