Monthly Archives: February 2015
Stephen King is my go-to guy for great writing advice. His book On Writing is one of the most useful guides to writing ever published—and it’s an interesting biography too. In On Writing, King stresses that reading and writing are linked, that they are integral to each other. Reading and writing go hand in hand. And he’s right.
Firstly, reading offers a limitless source of inspiration for writers. I don’t just mean the characters and the settings and the plot twists that keep everyone’s imagination firing. I mean, particularly for writers, how reading another writers work makes you strive to better your own. There are some books that I finish, or sometimes just read the first page of and think “I wish I’d written this”. When I read top-quality writing—from King or Lee Child or Jo Nesbo or Derek Landy, or one of the other dozens of writers I admire, it stokes me up to better my own writing. It urges me to want to be able to write like that, to craft sentences and dialogue like that. It’s not copying, not even emulating, it just sparks an urge to get better, to improve your own work.
Then there’s the fact that books teach us things. I’m not talking about non-fiction, though some writing guides are very useful (On Writing), but fiction. This may be more common amongst writers, but a lot of the time I look at a sentence’s structure, or dialogue or description and think one of two things: I’m going to play around with structuring sentences like that, or writing sharper dialogue, or strike a balance in description. Or: That’s not how I want to structure a sentence or write dialogue or describe things. Reading offers clues to what to do, and what not to do—sometimes in the same book. If I’m writing something and I’m not sure about the pace, I look at a novel that handles pace well and see how the writer pulls it off. If I’m struggling with description, not sure where it’s necessary and where it isn’t, I look at book or a paragraph from a book that manages description well and try to see how the writer did it. Books are like an English lesson, the author the teacher.
The link between reading and writing is strong. If you do plenty of reading, not always, but in most cases, it’s a sure fire way to improve your writing.
I’m in my final year of University at Sheffield Hallam and i’m still not clear on what literature is.
I’m studying Creative Writing, but still we have to write essays and read plenty of books. Most of these books were written long ago and are considered classics, literature. But for almost three years, and before that in college, i wondered why these books were considered classics, why they were considered literature, and why most books written today–that i read anyway–are not. Why isn’t what Stephen King writes and Lee Child writes and JK Rowling writes considered literature? Some of King’s and Rowling’s books are considered classics, but not in the way Dickens books are, or any other of the dozens of writers whose books are studied in schools, colleges and universities. But why aren’t they? Why shouldn’t they be? Why don’t schools and colleges and universities study Lee Child’s work or King’s or Rowling’s?
Sure, in the early years of High-school and in primary school we studied books by Darren Shan and Robert Westall and Phillip Pullman, but why does that change as we get older? Why can’t we study Under the Dome in university, or Killing Floor or The Hunger Games? Just because a book was written long ago, does that make it a classic? That seems to be the case.
If we studied modern books, books that i (and i’m sure many other people) actually enjoyed, wouldn’t that lead to more engaged learning, and better grades? I know it would for me. I enjoy Dracula and Frankenstein and one or two of Dickens’, but for the most part the books I’ve had to study for University are painfully boring (entirely my opinion, though i’m sure i’m not alone). But they are considered literature? Why? And why doesn’t King win the Booker Prize– it’s certainly not because he isn’t a great writer. He is. A colossal writer. There is no doubt about it. Just like Lee Child and Jo Nesbo and dozens of other writers, who deliver first rate entertainment along with sharp, quality writing. Why is there work not considered ‘literature’? Is there a rule somewhere that a book can’t be considered literature, or a classic, or win the most prestigious awards unless it sticks to certain guidelines? Can’t a purely entertaining, well written book be considered literature? This doesn’t apply to all books. I’ll admit, there are some entertaining books that are considered classic literature. I just don’t understand where the determination comes in, or who decides whether a book is classic or not, whether it is literature or not.
There was a time when i just wrote when i felt like it. I didn’t sit down with a word count in mind and not finish until i’d met it. It worked, but not as well as i wanted. Some days, i didn’t feel inspired and so i didn’t write. I’d write in my head, plotting things out, creating characters, building words, but there was the odd day where i didn’t get anything on paper– or screen.
Stephen King’s advice came in pretty useful at some point. I don’t know where i read it, don’t know when he said it, but it made me realise i might be doing things wrong. King writes 2000 words a day minimum or he feels as if the characters go stale in his head, that he loses interest in them– i’m paraphrasing, but it was something along those lines. And i realised that there were times when this happened to me. So i decided i needed to be stricter with myself. A couple years back i set myself a target of 1,500 words a day, and i didn’t stop until i’d hit it. Sometimes i went over, well over if it was a good day, but i never let myself do less. It was tough at first, but then it wasn’t at all. The story flowed better, the characters and world seemed more real.
After a few months, my minimum word count for a day went up to 2000 and that’s what i keep to still. I can do over 2000 words a day, but i never let myself do under. And it gets easier and easier to meet that. Like any job, there are deadlines and rules to writing, and the minimum, set word count worked really well for me. It might be different for other people. Many writers only write when they’re inspired. Some set themselves crazy word counts. But 2000 words works for me. I get most of, if not all, of those words done in the morning. I start somewhere between 5 and 5:30 AM. Some people are morning writers, some afternoon, some evening and well into the night.
Does anyone else set themselves a goal for the day and not stop until they meet it? What’s your writing process?
It still sounds strange to say it, but I’ve achieved one of the goals i set myself as a writer (write 2000 words minimum everyday, find an agent, find a publisher) and found a literary agent. I started with a list of twelve or so agencies that represented the kind of authors and books who I read and who wrote books similar to me, and who were looking for the kind of stuff i wrote. Ella Kahn of Diamon Kahn and Woods was one of those agents. Ella was searching for historical fiction and fantasy for ages 9-12, which A Key of Blood and Blades fit, so Ella jumped straight to the top of the agent list. I sent out a cover letter and sample and waited. Days passed and I’d check my inbox at least four times a day, as many as six. Then I received an email from Ella asking to see the whole manuscript. A full manuscript request. It was an awesome day. I wasted no time in sending out the full manuscript. Then, after Christmas, Ella offered me representation and I didn’t have any doubt about my reply. But i had another agent reading the full manuscript. So i had to wait until they had finished and got back to me with their decision. But it didn’t really matter. I’d already decided Ella was the right agent for me. And I’m happy to say i’m officially signed with her and the DKW Agency.
I’m looking forward to working with Ella, hopefully for many years and books to come.
Check out the DKW’s website here: http://dkwlitagency.co.uk/