By Janice Cumberlidge.
If you’re anything like me, you have a new idea for a story as often as you change your pants. Not only that, you also want to write them all. You might even start writing, but maybe lose your way or simply lose interest, so you stop, and start on your next big idea instead. This was my life until I joined The Ninety Day Novel course at the end of May 2017.
I’d been trying to finish a novel--not even a finished novel, just a first draft--for about 6 months, but always got stuck knowing whether my story was ‘good enough’ or knowing how to go from a few chapter ideas to a complete novel. In short, I didn’t have the confidence to follow through and finish the damn thing!
Desperate for help, I Googled something in the vein of ‘novel mentor’ and up popped Louise Dean’s course. Apart from the series of daily lessons and vlogs she provides, I saw that included was a monthly chat with Louise, where I could discuss...
"We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic." Gore Vidal.
In 2008, I was invited to the Galle Literary Festival to speak on conflict having published a work of historical fiction on The Troubles in Northern Ireland which detailed the Blanket Protest in the run up to the Hunger Strike.
For 'This Human Season' I had spent an year interviewing participants from both sides - the 'RA and the Proddies, been to the West and East Belfast on alternating visits, and sat with former prisoner officers, mothers, priests, and former 'soldiers' from either side including some of the most senior ranking members. I told the story of one mother and her son (in Long Kesh) and a former British soldier, 'looking after' her son as a prison guard in alternating chapters, one chapter female and Catholic, one male and Protestant. The book 'This Human Season' received kind praise both in...
1. At the core of every good concept is a paradox. (Find it, and you've got a story.)
2. Don't write for money. Don't write for free. In other words, don't write to make sure you can eat, but don't spill your words without getting paid for them. Making it your living is the best way to keep your standards high. Besides no one wants anything that's free.
3. A novel is best with one timeline for the main story, written in the present tense, narrated in the third person.Now we have that sorted let's move on.
4. 'The voice' is yours. Fix your mind on someone you care about and feel relaxed enough with to be yourself, probably someone dead, and talk to them. Sing your heart.
5. In the first chapter everything changes. It's all fucked up now. But remember, you and me both know it's going to get a whole lot worse for Mrs Wright or Mr Wrong.
6. Stop making excuses for not writing, like plotting or research. Do research late into the writing.
7. The plot...
Dear hearts don't be faint-hearted. It can be done. Don't be hard on yourself. Get your first draft down in 90 days so as to become acquainted with the story in a real sense.
I commend to you Mr John Steinbeck's good counsel:
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have...
It’s fun to write a book, isn’t it? What - it’s a mind-bending form of slow torture?
Then why does everybody want to do it? Okay not everybody, but many people, because when you conceive of an idea and become obsessed by it, there’s no escaping, and it becomes easier to write about than to avoid. That’s what happened after recent deaths of my family and friends, my parents ageing, and I’m heading towards fifty myself. Death seems inescapable.
Thinking about death is unusual for a cheery person like me, however I found that my thoughts were rarely gloomy. I thought along the lines of those having lived well being able to die well; I realised that my life has been a blessing in many ways, and why should my death not be also?
But what about people with terminal illnesses; those suffering from Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s diseases; from depression and dementia? Surely they would think very differently from my innocent simplification. What...
When I was living in New York in the late 1990's, in my early twenties, I wanted to be a writer. I was writing short stories and poems and thinking about writing a novel. I decided to learn as much as I could about the craft from writers themselves so when a great writer was in town, I was there. In those days everything was possible. I used to sit on the sidewalk downtown with my notebook and sketch in words what I saw passing me by which in New York was varied and bizarre enough to fill notebooks. A man riding a bike with an elephant trunk strapped to his face. A large black woman who has roughly whitewashed her body. These things moved me terribly.
Seamus Heaney came to read from his work and after the talk he gave I jogged up to him and asked him in my naive way - I was twenty five then - what it was all about, writing? He had kind eyes and a wry, bemused avuncular manner and he said to me 'It's all about starting and stopping and starting again.' I went to hear Annie...
'You can't learn to write.'
'There's no point in taking a course, you either can or you can't.'
'No one can teach writing.'
Who are these miserable cowards pissing on your parade? Are they published writers? Are they people who have given up? Are they tired of life or something?
You can and you will. I did and I do every day.
As with everything, you have to want to learn it, you have to love the craft of it, and you have to be prepared to put in time and practice, but yes we all learn to write. Even Hemingway.
Is a carpenter born a carpenter? Do we say about accountants that they were born with a gift for tax codes and cashflow? Do we say to our child when he or she says they want to be a plumber - sorry, you can't learn it mate you either can or you can't. No, we suggest an apprenticeship and they might want to take an interest in pipes and water pressure one day. Like a doctor might like to read a bit about how the human body works you know maybe...
Why are people so...
Of all of life's disappointments, one may be that writing novels is nothing like riding a bicycle. You don't learn how to do it, then jump on the old bike next time for another madcap downhill over the cobbles ride.
You have to learn again every time.
But it's very hard to admit that you've woken up and lost the magic touch. Sure, you're still good words. Sure, you still have a wry way of looking at things. Sure you still find people interesting. Sure you still have ideas and lots of them. But writing a novel is much than curiosity, talent or appetite, it has a rhythm of its own and serves up its own lessons as it will and novels are weird in the way they unfold so that it's only at the end of the first draft you know what it's about and can go ahead and safely write the first line.
A novel is the kid that won't tell the secret no matter how much you bribe it or theaten it. It's surly.
Every novel I've written I've had to learn to write one again, no less this time, but...
“You write in order to change the world ... if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” James Baldwin
James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time, Giovanni's Room, Another Country and Just Above My Head as well as essay works like Notes of a Native Son.
Born on August 2, 1924, in New York City, to a young single mother, Baldwin never knew the name of his biological father. In 1946, Baldwin moved to France. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background. "Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly...I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both," Baldwin once told The New York Times.
As a gay black man, fatherless, who chose to leave his country, he looked beyond the binary racial politics of 1950s and 60s...
Almost every one of my writers upon joining the Kritikme.com Ninety Day novel course tells me that plotting is their concern. They don't have that concern for very long.
The Novelry has a no nonsense approach to plotting. Stop it, and write.
My writers will find a great deal in the course that allays their concerns more gently than this, but in a nutshell that is what you need to do. You need to stop plotting and start writing. Let me explain.
Some writers do prepare an outline and some don’t. I think more writers across all genres don't prepare a detailed plot than do. It's a received idea that thriller writers must work to a plot. Yet even someone like Stephen King avoids plotting.
"I start a book ... knowing just two things: the basic situation and that the story will create its own patterns naturally and organically if I follow it fairly...and by fairly I mean never forcing characters to do things they wouldn't do in real life...For me, the first draft is all about ...