I’ve got a great guest post for you today from Sara Alexi. It will be particularly of interest to writers as she is sharing her writing tips. I found it really interesting as a reader too. Sara’s latest book is The Other Daughter and you can order a copy online by clicking here. You’ll find find lots more information after the guest post.
They say that 97% of the books started are left unfinished. I can understand why that is; the process is not easy. I so often start writing a new book with such energy and enthusiasm that I am surprised, usually about one third of the way, when I suddenly run out of steam, believing every word I have written is twaddle and nonsense and I am ready to delete the lot.
What to do at this point? I could pile it up with the other 97% that will never get finished, and very often want to, but the pressure of bills needing to be paid tends to push me into finding another way of dealing with this stumbling block.
Normally when I am writing I never read back until I get to the end but if I get this ‘third of the way in stuckness’ and I am about to give up this is the only time I do allow myself to read through the whole thing (I only read through – I have a strict rule that I must not edit at this point, otherwise I would get stuck in to the edits and the rest of book would never get written!) Reading through from the beginning at this point, but as a reader rather than a writer, tends to make me realise that that my subconscious has had a hand in what has been produced and it is not all twaddle, that I really do have something to say, a character really does have something to express. The problem was not what had been written – what was wrong was the way I was looking at it. At this point I begin to see new depths in the story and as my fingers reach for the keyboard again I often find that I am no longer in charge. I have become a conduit, the book is writing itself and I must do its bidding.
This is how the middle third often writes itself, and usually fairly quickly. As I near the end I rise up from my ferocious tap tapping and have a little panic because the story line is almost complete and the word count is way too short.
A this point I tell myself not to worry, let it be a novella, all is well in the world and I slow down, I take my time, I enjoy the final finishing stretch. I tell myself if the reader has come with me so far, so surely they will see this tale though to the end and so I indulge myself, add details, revel in the writing the conclusion and more often than not the novella I thought I was writing decides it is a novel after all as the one chapter I thought I had left to write becomes two, or two become three and I luxuriate in wrapping up all the loose ends and the protagonist makes his/her own decision as to when the story reaches its final conclusion.
So, let me try and condense the tips and tricks and ways I use to write into 10 easy to follow points. (They are in no particular order)
- Breathe, slow down. We all rush about at such a pace that it is easy to sit down to write with the same frantic energy we use to do the weekly food shop, or rush around tiding our homes. So sit down and breathe. Pray if you pray, meditate if you don’t. Your subconscious mind knows more about what you are about to write than you do so listen to it, give it time; you are a conduit for your experiences. allow yourself to believe in yourself and let the book write itself as if in a dream.
- Detail makes it real. Let me give you an example. If in your story you have someone cooking and they are angry you can say, ‘She was in the kitchen cooking angrily.’ Or you could say, ‘The darkened skies prevent the light from penetrating through the kitchen window and the shaded bulb cast an orange glow over the table. The flour made gossamer clouds as her fist roughly pummelled the dough, mirroring her emotions. The table rocked, one wooden leg scraping the stone flagged floor. She paused to wipe a strand of hair from her face with the back of her hand, leaving a white smudge of flour on her forehead as she snorted, breathing in the yeast filled air.’ This second version says the same thing but instead of stating it the woman’s mood is described by the sights, sounds, and smells. But also there is room for the reader to contact with the character by the introduction of an action we are all familiar with – a hand across the forehead.
- When you get stuck look at yourself. Are you trying too hard? If so have you forgotten to breathe? Trust your subconscious, your brain knows what to write. Take a walk and remember that this story is not for you, and once written it has nothing to do with you any more. It belongs to the readers and it is they who need it. Give up your ego, give up your belief that you and your writing ‘should be better than it is’ and return and write.
- If it all goes wrong, celebrate. Take up your pen and seize the moment to observe yourself, how are you responding to the belief that it is ‘all going wrong’. What is your heart doing, does your pulse beat in your ear, your temple? Is one leg jittering? Have you turned to stuffing sweets or crisps in your mouth? Everything you are experiencing is detail for a possible future character, so make notes on it. You can also use this note taking in day to day life, for example when someone you have not seen for ages greets you on the street, when the man at the petrol station short changes you, every event you live through is worth observing. Note it all, take it all in and use it.
- This is the most important point. Do it. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just make plans for it. Sit down and actually do it. Writing a book does not come by magic, it happens through time at your desk. And remember your story is not an afterthought, so prioritise it, if not for you then for that one person out there that your story is going to touch – they need to read it.
- Don’t read over what you have written, don’t read back. I mean it, don’t do it. Do not do it! Ensure you do not sabotage yourself by becoming lost in editing before the final word has been written. You can read the last paragraph you wrote to know where you are, but unless you find yourself thinking of deleting the lot, then perhaps you can break this rule, but otherwise no editing, for me that is forbidden. Move forwards, always forwards at this stage.
- If you are bored writing then your reader will be bored reading. Make something happen, anything you like, anything that will entertain you. It is you story after all and you can make pretty much anything fit one way or another.
- Get an editor. Do not use your sister, mum, old school teacher, best friend or spouse. Get the best editor you can afford, it makes the world of difference. If you are worried that you cannot afford an editor then put a handful of change in a jar every day you write, and by the time you have finished this will have added up.
- Covers sell. No one buys the book and then looks at the cover – it is the other way around so make it good. There are lots of designers out there on the web, and it is worth getting a cover that does not look home grown.
- When you have finished upload your book and make sure you celebrate. As I said 97% of books never get finished. Yours did, and that is worth celebrating whether it sells or not.
And my final suggestion is – never let a bad memory get in the way of a good memoir. Happy Writing.
Thanks for that Sara – a truly fascinating piece.
The Other Daughter by Sara Alexi is a compelling and gritty tale, set amongst the wild moors and crooked streets of a Yorkshire Village, following one woman who finally untangles herself from the clutches of a painful past and a self-centred mother.
More than a decade after leaving home Dawn finds herself stuck in a dead-end job, in a rundown flat, while her sister has it all – the husband, children and prestigious job in sunny Australia. Their mum’s favouritism is palpable, and even as she has a terrible fall leaving Dawn to pick up the pieces, nothing Dawn does can live up to her perfect, absent sister.
But still Dawn persists with taking care of her ageing and fragile mum, until one day it begins to feel like the only thing standing between Dawn and her happiness is her mother’s continued, pitiful existence…
About the author
Sara Alexi is one of the top 150 most successful, self-published authors of all time; a prolific writer, she has written 15 books (and counting) in just four years, with book sales reaching well over half a million copies.
Remarkably, Sara is dyslexic. At school English lessons were a time of confusion, she found that books were indecipherable hieroglyphics and she was unable to enjoy reading and writing; growing up in a time when at a time when dyslexia was not well understood and little or no support was available. And so her artistic nature was confined to painting, an art form that she loved and would take her travelling around the world.
Despite her dyslexia Sara qualified as a psychotherapist and ran her own practice in Yorkshire for many years. In a casual conversation with a client, she discovered that Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and Hans Christian Andersen were all dyslexic, and Sara’s perspective changed. The world of fiction opened to her with this shift in perception.
Sara now spends much of her time in a tiny rural village in the Peloponnese, in Greece, where she is (very slowly) renovating a ruined stone farmhouse, whilst observing the Greek way of life and absorbing the culture, enriching her vision for both writing and painting.
Sara’s ‘Greek Village Series’ is inspired by the people she has met travelling, her time spent in Greece alongside her career as a psychotherapist; her writing provides a keenly observed, compassionate insight into people, culture, and the human condition, and is set around a charming rural Greek village
Predating the current refugee crisis in Greece by some three years, Sara’s debut novel, The Illegal Gardener, focuses on the immigration problems in Greece, and the clash of cultures that accompanies those seeking a better life in the West.
Follow Sara and find out more on her website, Twitter or Instagram
Twitter – @SaraAlexi
Instagram – @sara.alexi