There are many ways to get better at writing and the best one of these is to write. The second is to find the right path that gets you into the best mental and physical state to write. In a minute I’ll take a look at some ways you and I can “trigger” this creative mindset.
But, before that, as I love inspiring others to write as much as doing it myself, for this latest post I’ve joined the “Writing Process Blog Tour”. It’s a unique, worldwide event where writers share their ways of thinking, working and writing by answering the same four questions (I’ll get to those in a mo too, hold your horses!).
I was introduced to this tour by my friend and gritty Young Adult writer, eco-campaigner and self-professed “Green Mum“, Emma Greenwood. Emma and I met last year on an amazing Golden Egg Academy book workshop in Frome, Somerset, UK. I was blown away by the effort Emma goes to in order to “live and breathe” her writing. Check out her Method Writing on her blog here.
And now to the Four Questions:
What am I working on?
I’m finishing a new draft of my fantasy-adventure coming-of-age children’s book, The Pirate’s Potion. It’s a middle-grade novel about a shy, frustrated boy called Michael; he goes on a scary journey with a bunch of rag-tag pirates to find a potion that will save his sick mother. But to get the potion, he has to battle an evil sorceress hell-bent on revenge on his new pirate Captain friend.
I’m working with the truly inspirational wordsmith magician that is Imogen Cooper (Poison Boy, The Killing Woods, Threads, Muncle Trogg and hundreds of other books at Chicken House Publishers) at the Golden Egg Academy, to get The Pirate’s Potion on to the next phase of publication. I’ll be mentored by brilliant Branford Boase award-winning editor Bella Pearson (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Tender Morsels, The Child’s Elephant, Bog Child) from next month, which I’m ridiculously excited about.
Well, for starters, my new book is DEFINITELY nothing like a Captain Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean novel! The way I write in this fantasy-adventure/action genre is not just slam-bam, full-on “shallow” action (although The Pirate’s Potion does have plenty of that), but a more multi-layered approach to storytelling. One that gives children symbolic, magical-metaphorical, fairytale-like advice, messages and thoughts (wrapped up in the “removed safety” of a fantasy world) on how they might choose to live, feel and journey through their life. It differs from other pirate-y books because it’s laced with intelligence, it’s about growing up and becoming who you want to be, about friendship and – also – because it’s a bit of a warning about some of the sinister people that lurk in the world.
Why do I write what I do?
My writing is about drawing children into the reality of the emotions involved in life-changing events, delivering powerful punches and taking them along on a dark, fun, epic and often traumatic adventure (you know, where all hope is lost, but they try to get through it anyway). As far as I’m concerned, these things are all the traits life has and the kind of depth, joy and intrigue any story or book for children should have waiting between its pages too.
I want children to leave my story feeling as if they’ve travelled far, asked questions, uncovered mysteries, learnt a lot and – frankly – been made happy, sad, amazed, awed, energised and inspired by what they’ve seen and felt in their imaginations.
Different writers get into the so-called “zone” in many different ways. Whether you think the “zone” itself exists (it does, you just might not call it that), it’s important to be able to access your writerly voice in a way that helps you tell the best, most memorable stories. Admittedly, some days this voice – and the zone – doesn’t feel so easy or come so naturally, so this is when I use my own little path to get to it.
I help myself write by using external and internal “triggers” for creativity. This might sound a little psycho-babblish, but stay with me here. Because, for me, if I don’t have a quiet room, a movie soundtrack to listen to, my writing chair, a good view out the window (usually a garden), a lovely strong cup of tea and some custard cream biscuits to dunk [dip] into said tea, then the writing just ain’t happenin’.
(Non-UK readers: Sadly you don’t have the joy of a custard cream to help you write, please try the nearest “British” aisle in a suitable food store or eat a bowl of sugary custard instead. Alternatively click here for the best way to make your own.)
Alright, so I might sound slightly diva-ish here about channelling my writing, especially as I know some writers prefer working on a busy train or in a cafe, but I think that if you truly want to focus on creating something quality, you need your metaphorical security blankets and your triggers to help you along the way.
And once I’m in my little spot (which, by the way, was how amazing children’s authors such as Roald Dahl got into his internal creative place, see inside his writing hut here), I have some good tea and biscuits inside my tummy, then I feel relaxed and can pretty much sink into a different world – the world of the place, characters and story I’m creating at that particular time.
My writing comes quite organically, but even when I’m not really “feelin’ it” I can still write and get myself into the magical zone by using some of the above external relaxation techniques.
I also, and this is important too, need exercise every morning before writing. I find this really clears my head and gives me the space in it to begin creating. Around 25 minutes on the cross-trainer does it for me, or perhaps a walk in the woods or some kind of nature. (I may well get a dog in the near future to force me out into nature more often!)
Lots of writers like doing a “brain dump diary” first thing in the morning, where they write 5 – 10 pages of their thoughts (from dreams or from stuff stressing them out in life) to get the writing going. This doesn’t work for me; I feel like I’m cheating myself out of my real writing time. But, you know, whatever works for you is fantabulous.
So, after all this thoroughly un-philisophical writing process business, you may have got the distinct impression that my “getting into the zone” basically involves a lot of sugar and treating myself. You’d be right. But, you know, show me a writer and I’ll show you their 10 vices (at least) running constantly through their narcissistic brains.
To go a little more psychological here, I guess my writing approach could be seen as a bit like the Pavlov’s Dog conditioning thing – if I reward my brain with biscuits and tea enough times when I write, then eventually it’ll learn this “trigger treating” and go automatically into the zone when I start boiling that kettle and unwrapping the custard creams, i.e. making my writing faster, better and far more my own voice.
And it does happen that way, because all these external triggers have created internal creative triggers in my mind to help me build a solid path to doing the nitty-gritty of writing. Because, let’s face it, staying motivated whilst writing alone can be a hard thing to do, so I say little treats that help ease this job onwards are more than fine with me.
So what are your helpful triggers for your writing and how does your writing process work? Hmm?
Well, I’m handing over the Blog Tour baton to three more fantastic writers now who will share their thinking on this very subject on Monday 7th April. They are:
Antonia Lindsay lives on the South Coast and is very new to this writing malarkey. She has written her debut novel with obsessive zeal over the last 15 months, before which she never wrote anything longer than a school report. She is also a teacher because she needs money to buy food and wine, and real kids are almost as fun to be around as imaginary ones. Lindsay is currently tigger-bouncing as she has just secured agent representation with Amanda and Louise at LBA who are going to help her shape up her debut YA novel BREATHING SEA. When not writing she builds sofa-cushion castles with her two small sons, and sings and plays guitar at strange hours with much more enthusiasm than talent. The house adjoining hers has been vacant for sometime if anyone is interested. Check out her blog at Antonia Lindsay.
Andrew Wright I’m the writer of (and mid-wife to) a series of novels about a boy called Gareth who has amazing magic locked up in his head. I am currently working with Imogen Cooper at Golden Egg on the first of four manuscripts and am represented by Annette Green Literary Agency in Tunbridge Wells. With hard work, a bit of luck and some of Golden Egg’s fantastic support Sanctuary’s Loss (Book One in Gareth’s story) will be coming to a bookshop near you one day soon. My day job is Deputy Principal at Uckfield Community Technology College in East Sussex. I’m husband to Ang (29 years together!) and father to two strapping lads, Calum 15, Adam 13 (how the hell they go so big I don’t know – mashed potato!) and notionally in charge of two bonkers labradors called Poppy and Lucy. I write therefore I am and despite what my son tells me about being so low-res I’m pretty sure I’m an irredeemable geek. I read more than I should and when I’m not working, writing or being with my family I watch movies. Go to my blog.
Vashti Hardy is a teacher and writes for children and young adults. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Chichester University and previously studied on the Creative Writing Certificate at Sussex University. She has a special interest in how creative writing is encouraged in schools and the use of free writing and journals in order to stimulate and encourage young writers. Vashti loves being a member of the wonderful Golden Egg Academy where she is mentored by Bella Pearson, preparing her YA/crossover fantasy The Seer for submission in the coming months. Vashti’s blog is here.