#MusicTherapyThursday #JessieWare #WildestMoments

 

I’m just starting what I hope will become my next novel, and one of the first steps for me is to build a soundtrack that creates the right emotions for the story.

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I go back to this soundtrack over and over as I write, as I find it helps me to keep the emotional feel of the story consistent.

I wrote about the playlist for my first novel, ‘Not Thomas’, in the post ‘Music to Make Me Cry’

My next playlist is quite different. This is one of the songs on the soundtrack for my latest writing project:

#JessieWare #WildestMoments #musiciwriteto

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Getting Started on a New Writing Project #WritingTips

Getting started on a new writing project

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Well, I can procrastinate no longer – the time has come for me to sit down and begin writing what will hopefully become my second novel.

I think I can hear my editor muttering “about time too” 70 miles away in Aberystwyth, and I don’t blame her. I’m a very slow writer. I need to have the story straight in my head before I’ll consider typing even one word, and percolating a story isn’t a quick process, well, not for me anyway. 

My first novel, Not Thomas, lived in my head for ten years or more, and it was fully formed before I began typing it up. My next story has been growing for around two years – so not very long, relatively speaking. It feels a little soon to begin typing, if I’m honest. 

And it’s a long, long time since I began writing a new novel – 16 years, to be precise.

I started Not Thomas in 2001 and wrote it incredibly slowly (my About Sara page explains why it took me so excruciatingly long) so I’m just a little bit out of practise. To help remind myself of all the things that are good to think about right at the start of the creative process, I thought I’d make this the theme of my blog for the next month or two.

So, to ease me gently into writing novel #2, here’s my first tip to myself for starting a new project:

Get a new notebook or two.

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I write very little long-hand, preferring to type straight onto my laptop, but I couldn’t be without a large A4 notebook. For me, it’s the very first thing needed for a new writing project – after getting the story all sorted in my head and ready to go, that is. And honestly, it’s not just an excuse to buy beautiful stationery – although buying beautiful stationery is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a starting point, somewhere to commit ideas to paper, and get them out of my head.

I write my synopsis in one notebook, chosen especially for the project, usually spring-bound, so it’ll stay open all by itself on my kitchen table. I also use this notebook to jot down sentences that come to me in random fashion, character sketches and anything else that occurs to me when I’m cooking, washing up or writing something else. As I don’t tend to type up in order, I can just flick through the notebook to find inspiration and a section of the story to write about. 

And the little notebook stays in my handbag, so when I’m out and about I always have somewhere to jot down my thoughts.  

So that’s my starting point. I’d be really interested to hear what preparations you have for starting to write a new novel. What are your must-haves? Are you a procrastinator like me, or do you just dive right in? Drop me a line and let me know.

Diolch yn fawr and thanks for reading,

Sara x

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Finding that writer’s voice – and losing it again

If, like me, you’ve attended lots of courses on creative writing and read stacks of self-help books on the subject, you’ll be well used to the phrase ‘finding your writer’s voice’. It’s that one thing every writer simply MUST do.

But what’s never clear, when you’re new to writing, is exactly how you do it. A writer’s voice seems something elusive at best, ethereal at worst. It’s enough to stop the faint-hearted at the first hurdle.

I have to admit, it’s taken me a long time to find a comfortable writer’s voice. I set off on this writing trek many years ago, via a creative writing course. And then another. And another. They were wonderful and pretty addictive. They were the ideal place to test out ideas with other people just starting out on their own writing journey too (sorry for using the ‘j’ word there).

Looking back at some of the early pieces I wrote for those courses, I realise that I made finding my writing voice harder than necessary. Instead of simply writing freely, and despite the advice from my excellent tutors, I was often trying to copy a formula.

At one stage, I was quite attracted to writing short stories for women’s magazines. I’d had a couple of poems accepted by one of the popular publications, and the prospect of being paid to write short fiction was very appealing.

Sadly, my attempts at writing uplifting stories were pretty dire. I did send off a couple to the magazine that had accepted my poems, and to some other well-known publications too. But while their replies were politely encouraging – “enjoyable but not quite what we’re looking for” – I didn’t have the know-how to work at improving the stories, and so I soon gave up.

Reading those attempts after many years have passed, I can see plenty of problems with them. An obvious one was that I simply wasn’t writing as ‘me’. I was trying to use a manufactured writing voice, and the stories suffered as a result. Forcing a voice just doesn’t work.

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So how do you find that elusive voice without forcing it? Well, another of the reasons those stories were rejected was because I hadn’t done my research. I’d read a few stories in women’s magazines but I hadn’t read anywhere near enough. It was more than a bit presumptuous to think I could write an acceptable story without immersing myself in the form beforehand. I thought I knew the formula so I could just go ahead and write. Very wrong.

I didn’t have the dedication to read enough short stories to improve my ability to write them. That says to me now that I was barking up the wrong tree all along. I was looking for my writer’s voice in the wrong place. And perhaps I’d have found one, but it wouldn’t have been mine.

When I gave up trying to write those short stories, I discovered I quite enjoyed writing for children. As a teacher and parent, I was reading lots and lots of children’s books anyway, so when I stopped to think about it I already knew the kind of writing I wanted to emulate. Once I started concentrating on children’s stories, my writing voice began to form naturally.

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I started to write stories about children too, and in those stories my central character was a little neglected boy called Tomos. I was much more comfortable writing about him than trying to write uplifting stories for magazines. I had found my topic and, as with my children’s books, the voice came naturally. Finally I understood what it meant to ‘find your writer’s voice’.

Weirdly, though, I couldn’t keep that voice. Very quickly I realised Tomos’s story would have more impact in his own words – and he was a frightened five-year-old who spoke in short sentences and used very simple terms. The moment I’d found my comfortable writer’s voice, I had to get rid of it again. I re-wrote my stories about Tomos and changed them from third to first person – I didn’t mind; I felt I had to keep writing in Tomos’s voice. The stories turned into a novel, and happily I’ll be having my pre-publication book launch for ‘Not Thomas’ this month.

I’m planning my next novel now, with the help of some lovely notebooks.

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Again it has a child as the central character – no surprises there – but this time that child is quite a bit older than five. Just like ‘Not Thomas’, it’ll be written in the first person. So will I be using my own writer’s voice? I guess I’ll just have to start tapping away on the laptop and see.

But it’s just occurred to me that maybe writing in the voice of a child is my writer’s voice.

Are you searching for your writer’s voice, or have you found it? What tips could you give a new writer to help them find theirs?

Thanks for reading – I’m working on finding my ‘blogging voice’ at the moment!

Please leave me a comment if you have the time,

Sara xx

(aka children’s writer, Wendy White!)

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ is published by Honno Press in paperback and on Kindle and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.

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My Three Book Rule

 

I always have three books on the go at any one time. I don’t mean I’m reading three novels all at once – that would be impossible as far as I’m concerned (although I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d find it a doddle). No, what I mean is that along with the one book I’m reading, I’m working on two others of my own – one on my laptop or with pen and paper, and one in my head. I always assumed this was the way most writers worked, but after chatting to quite a few over the last couple of years, it turns out there are as many ways to get a book written as there are authors. Anyway, here’s the process I use. It’s my three book rule.

Book One in my Three Book Rule: the novel I read for relaxation.
I know some writers don’t read while they’re working on a book themselves, but I simply could not live without reading. And how else can a writer discover what techniques do and don’t work in a novel? I read all sorts, but in the mix will be books by local and, more generally, Welsh and Irish authors, novels that have been recommended to me, novels that have been nominated for or have won prizes, and some by my favourite authors – Emma Donoghue, Colm Tóibíin and Rose Tremain, to name a few. There’ll be detective novels too, and Belinda Bauer and Ian Rankin are among my favourites crime writers. I usually read one and a half books per week – not many by some people’s standards, I know!

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Book Two in my Three Book Rule: the one I’ve already written and am now revising / editing.
This is the book that puts a smile on my face every day. I’ll have finished all the ‘creative’ parts of it and I’ll be tidying it up – thinking about grammar, sentence structure and whether bits need deleting or swapping around. I think of this as the practical part and it’s the bit of writing I enjoy most. There are rules to follow and rights & wrongs, and I find something reassuring in working to a publisher’s house-style.

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I know this will make me seem weird to many fellow writers, but it’s the part I love. I settle into my special writing chair, put my feet up and enjoy the editing process. Yes, working on Book Two is the best bit – and nothing like working on Book Three. Book Three makes me scared, and takes a long, long time.

Book Three in my Three Book Rule: the one that’s in my head.
This is the book that’s using up my imagination. It’s why I’m happy to be simply following house-style rules for Book Two – Book Three is absorbing all my creativity. Like all books, Book Three starts with an idea. That’s the seed that hopefully will grow into a full blown novel. I seem to get most of my ideas when I’m listening to music and I find melodies and tones in voices (rather than actual lyrics) can evoke characters and locations. So when I get inspiration, I tend to relate it to whatever songs or singers I was listening to at the time.

If I’m very fortunate, that inspiration will stick around. It’ll lodge in my brain and start growing. It’ll be just a sense of something to start with, a feeling, an atmosphere. There’ll be a character slowly forming. To help it on its way, I’ll make a playlist of the songs I was listening to when the idea first came to me, and I’ll play and replay it. (I’ll be blogging about my ‘Not Thomas’ playlist soon.)

I’ll think about the character that’s living in my head while I’m doing mundane things around the house or when I’m out shopping, and gradually that character’s story will grow. I won’t be able to explain it to anyone else at this stage. In fact, I won’t want to talk about it at all in case my imaginary character just turns and runs. But at some point, usually months and months down the line, the story will become solid enough for me to believe that I might just be able to write it down.

This is my least favourite part of the writing process, the bit where I have to test the story that was in my head and see if it can exist outside it. There are anxious days where I know I have to start writing but I don’t want to. If I start writing the novel only to discover it’s got no substance, then I’m back to the drawing board, hoping for another idea to begin percolating in my head. And you can never choose when that might happen – it could be years! But at some point, I bite the bullet and start tapping away at the keyboard. If the story is one that does survive being typed up, then months and months of writing start. Gradually I’ll begin to enjoy it and start to believe I’ll get to the end of writing the whole thing.

And eventually it’ll become the book I’ll be editing in my favourite chair, while – hopefully, fingers crossed & touch wood – another idea is percolating in my head.

But thank goodness for Book One in my Three Book Rule – that’s the book where someone else has done all the hard work and I just get to enjoy the end result. I really couldn’t live without it!

What do you think?
Do you have any book recommendations?
Can you read a novel for relaxation and write your own at the same time?
And does anyone else enjoy revising / editing their own work more than the creative part?
I’d love to know!

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.

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