Thoughts on Writing, by Rachel Hamilton
This blogpost has been written by Rachel Hamilton, whose children’s detective story, The Case of the Exploding Loo, will be out on May 22nd this year.
Given my first book isn’t out until May, I don’t claim to be a writing gnu. But I love reading other people’s advice, so I thought I’d share a few tips that helped me get my book deal:
1) APPLY BUM TO SEAT
I love bonkers foreign words and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Sitzfleisch’, a German word literally translated as ‘sit-flesh’, meaning ‘the ability to persist in a task through sedentary determination’. That’s my kind of word and my kind of writing tip. I may have the physical skills of a one-legged tortoise, but when it comes to sitting-down-stuff, I rule!
2) RESIST THE URGE TO THROW UP ON YOUR EARLY DRAFTS
It’s normal to be revolted by your own writing, especially in the early stages. You begin with dreams of literary prizes and multi-million dollar movie deals; and then you start churning out chapters that could have been written by a ferret with a fountain pen.
Fortunately, I had the wise words of Iain Banks to guide me:
“Writing is like everything else: the more you do it the better you get. Don’t try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing. Accept imperfections. Get it finished and then you can go back. If you try to polish every sentence there’s a chance you’ll never get past the first chapter.”
3) WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW
A common writing tip is to ‘write what you know’. Zzzzzzzzzzz. If you already know something, why spend a year of your life researching and writing about it? Far more fun to find something you’d love to know more about – like Brain Rays and spontaneous combustion.
4) FILL UP YOUR HEAD
Ideas come from the strangest places. Talk to people, especially odd ones no one else wants to talk to. Visit interesting places with interesting travel companions. Kids are good, but ask permission first if you don’t share their DNA. Read books, watch YouTube. Ask questions. Gobble up the world so it’s always inside your head.
Having said that, if your head is anything like mine, things will fall out again pretty quickly, so you might want to write that stuff down. The great thing about being an author is everyone gives you notebooks for Christmas and birthday so you’ll never run out of places to write.
5) FIND INTERESTING EYES TO LOOK THROUGH
Great characters aren’t great because of how they behave, but because of how they see. They let readers view ‘normality’ in a different way. I’m a big fan of celebrating crazy. I love kids with the will to be weird. Create a character who struggles to fit in and work with that character to create an original, off-beat vision of the world. Not only will you come up with something unique, you’ll also have a blast.
6) BECOME AN EXPERT TORTURER
Wallop your hero and/or heroine with a nasty dilemma right at the start and then keep on walloping. Make things steadily worse as the story progresses, because the best way to show someone’s true character is to put them under pressure and to keep on building that pressure, raising the stakes of the choices they have to make. A great character doesn’t have to be brave – I have a huge soft spot for reluctant and accidental heroes – they just have to have something about them that makes the reader care if they’re suffering.
7) JUST TAKE IT ONE SENTENCE AT A TIME
One of the best quotes I’ve read about writing is EL Doctorow’s:
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the thought of creating a whole book, but if you write one sentence at a time, you’ll soon have a paragraph, and then a chapter. And then, ta da, a complete first draft.
So go on. Write that sentence!