99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all) #7. Really love and trust your partner.

 A loving heart is the truest wisdom.
– Charles Dickens

Once, when a succession of publishers rejected one of my early, yet-to-be published masterpieces (The King of Cartoons), I slid into a deep slough of despond (maybe even a Slough of despair).

I’d been sure this was the one. I had fabulous endorsements for the book from two fantastic, award-winning writers, Michael Marshall Smith and Graham Joyce – but the publishers, as is their right, disagreed. One American publisher was downright hostile (I think it was because I renamed New York, Old York … ‘that just would not happen‘, they said, even though the book was absurdist sci-fi … you’d have to read the book, believe me there was a good reason).

 

 

This hit me hard. I’d spent a lot of time in the states. Travelled through 26 states. Had great times there and met wonderful friends.

This rejection derailed my writing for a long time. Made me doubt myself. Made me second guess publishers. My book of future story ideas suddenly seemed like a book full of nonsense. It was pointless.

It was my partner – now wife – who helped me to find a way out of this spiral of negativity, by pointing out rule #4 – Don’t Use Criticism As a Razor.

Not everybody will like what you write,” she said. “If it wasn’t by you, I wouldn’t buy it. It’s not the sort of book I enjoy. And even publishers have subjective tastes with a genre.” I’m paraphrasing – her advice was much sharper, but you get the drift.

Sometimes it’s only those closest to you that can tell you the truths you need to hear. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and write! Or as the late, great Ray Bradbury put it: Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build our wings on the way down.

 

& Why you should ignore this golden rule: Don’t.

Up next: Write like a Stephen King style writing machine!

99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all) #6 You Absolutely Have to Make It On Your Own

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
– Harlan Ellison

After all the plotting and dreaming after all the deliberation and procrastination; you have to write your short story, your poem or your novel.

You can solicit advice, gather feedback, you can even hold a focus group and sit around the fountain of inspiration to see if you get wet – but in the end, you need to sit down in front of that blank page and make all the decisions – word by word, sentence by sentence.

Most importantly, you have to know why you’re making those decisions. If you don’t know why your protagonist wants the Seventh Sword of g’Neth, why she needs it, your reader will sense this and lose interest very quickly.

You need this certainty, this bone deep understanding, before you start sharing your manuscript with test readers. If you aren’t at that point, if the story isn’t strong enough to share, how will you be able effectively respond to criticism? It’d be like erecting a tent using only half the poles and guy ropes and then criticising the manufacture of the tent when it blows down in a gale.

Even worse, as you try to erect the tent after the storm has passed, you might be tempted to forget trying to work out how it should go up and just follow somebody else’s advice. You could still end up with a functioning tent, but if somebody asks you why the guy ropes are rigged like this or you’ll be able to say is because they told me too. Effectively it’s no longer your tent.

I think that is enough tent metaphors for a Friday morning. To be honest, my only experience of camping is at festivals when my tent is more at risk of drunken revellers tripping over the guy ropes rather than storms real or metaphorical.

I’ve real experience of this. In my early days as a writer, I met a TV commercials director who was interested in making the move into feature films. He planned to start out with a short film and was interested in adapting one of my short stories (The Mutual Pleasures of Brothers In Arms). I was flattered, and a bit overwhelmed by the process. We attended a prestigious short film competition at the National Film Theatre (a young Shane Meadows won with Where’s The Money, Ronnie? – the film was a hundred times better than any of the other competitors and you could see that he was going to be a success) and moved forward with our project.
I understand that film is a much more collaborative process than print fiction. Most directors will have a vision for what they want. You sometimes have to shape a film to suit the acting talent, or lack of. But we were working on a project based on an existing piece of work, not a fresh script, and at the start I had expectations of the script retaining some resemblance of the short story.
Slowly, scene by scene, it started to change and with those scenes went the story and more importantly, my understanding of what I was writing. I should have stuck up for what I thought worked, but I was young and overawed by a very confident and brash ad man.  I stuck with it. Rewrote more scenes. Added characters. Killed of some characters. Then he wanted to change the films name. I hated his suggestion and for the first time stood my ground. I told him his new title – Prism – sounded like a make of toilet cleaner. Our relationship suddenly went the way of most toilet cleaner – down the pan.
Lesson learned: I had stopped making decisions for myself and tried to fulfil a brief in a vacuum of true creativity. That was only ever going to lead to me creating a broken and crippled story. To the best of my knowledge,  I don’t think Prism was ever released.

& why you should ignore this golden rule: see the previous golden rule.

Next time: Really love your partner.

Graffiti Stories #3: Rethymno, Crete

Graffiti Stories #3: Rethymno, Crete

I stumbled across this street art on the side of a school in the labyrinthine back streets of Rethymno, Crete; streets mixing Greek, Venetian and Ottoman architectural influences alongside artisan’s boutiques, tourist tat and restaurant touts: “You from England? My cousin lives in Co-ven-tary! Very nice town!”

I’ve always loved comics and graphic novels and wished I was talented enough to make pages come alive with lines and ink. However, as we say in Derby – I can’t draw for toffee.

I once wrote a surreal, single page comic strip for a football fanzine but left the art to somebody else (imagine the FA hierarchy hanging from the ceiling like vampire bats, players grafting on extra legs all the better to win win win ….. it didn’t catch on).

I’ve come to terms with my inability to draw, but seeing what street artists create often leaves me feeling awestruck (and just a bit jealous). I suppose it’s artistry combined with the necessary guerrilla execution which fascinates me. You can’t get quite the same buzz as a writer, tapping away at your laptop.

99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all): #2 Don’t be too English

 

An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”.

George Mikes

 

 

Now, I’m almost preaching to myself. I’m English and I’ve been unable to avoid absorbing many of the traits that Americans, Southern Europeans, Australians, Germans … well, pretty much everybody else … finds amusing and bemusing about about us.

Examples:

  • If there’s a requirement to queue, I’ll do so in an orderly manner for as long as required and then thank you for the privilege.
  • I once had a fight at school and apologised for getting the other boys uniform dirty.
  • If you come barging past me at a gig, I’ll step aside and apologise for callously assaulting your elbow with my rib cage.
  • If I arrive at a revolving door at the same time as somebody else, I’ll invite them to proceed before me.

The last example does conjure up the image of two Englishman arriving at a revolving door at the same time and becoming locked into a politeness-feedback-loop, both endlessly inviting the other to proceed, mirror images, neither able to break protocol, slowly growing old, frail and succumbing to the reaper as an endless procession of people swirl past the sad piles of bones and moth-eaten clothes.

Which brings me (politely) onto the subject of being pushy. As we discovered in the previous post, with 2.4 million Facebook posts per minute, the web is no place for shrinking violets (or the shy of any other hue).

If you want author alter ego to have any visibility, you must be prepared to talk about your book and, more importantly, you have to market it. If you’re proud of what you’ve written, it’s been well edited and has a compelling cover, then why should you be shy about inviting people to read it? That’s why you spent all those hours bent over a laptop.

This doesn’t mean you need to create social media presence that is the digital equivalent of the market trader standing on a bucket yelling out ‘Pound for the lot!!’ while holding up a huge bowl of tomatoes. It means you have to be targeted and work to find readers who will enjoy your work and with whom you can build up a long term relationship. It means you have to build relationships where you are offering real value, extra content, worthwhile freebies and recommendations for other authors’ books.

It means you have to find a way to avoid being the skeleton in the revolving door.

 

And you should ignore this golden rule: all rules in moderation. If you try to move too far away from your personality you’ll come across as fake. Readers will see through the mask and that’s alienating

NEXT: Support Derby County Football Club and as a result befriend a Talented Film Director who’ll make a wonderful promo for your book.

 

Added bonus: I recommend you read this article by the late, great Douglas Adams (creator of the uber English Arthur Dent) for an insight into the peculiarity of Englishness.

99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (& why you should ignore them all) – Introduction

“All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.”
– Somerset Maugham

It’s tough being a writer. Whether you’re just starting out, are a successful published author with a deadline arrowing towards you, or a scribe somewhere on the spectrum in between trying to convert rejections into offers.

There’s a landslide of good advice and thousands of writing and marketing gurus of variable quality on the web, all promising to help you overcome the trials and tribulations of this occasional pastime/hobby/profession/addiction/nightmare (delete as appropriate).

This blog – 99.5 Golden Rules for Writers (and why you should ignore them all) – is my unsolicited contribution to this logjam of opinion.

I’m sorry. You really don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. But if you do, I can promise it’ll be part writing guide, part autobiography (some of which may even be true) and self-therapy for my own writing addiction.

I’m not going to show you how to write a novel, or reveal a secret that will make you a sqiillionaire; I’ll leave that to more talented blogganauts. This is my five year mission to boldly stare where no one has stared before … deep into the uncharted space of my navel.

Writers may find the odd useful nugget hidden away amidst my wittering (or at least nod in recognition when they recognise their own trials). Non-writers may learn to pity us poor scribes a little more and count their blessings that they haven’t been afflicted by the need to pen a novel, play, poem or screenplay. They get to enjoy the sunshine and then gorge themselves on box sets without feeling incredibly guilty that they are WATCHING and not WRITING.

This blog will be popping up on my website, Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads each Friday so there really is no escaping it should you choose to engage.

I’ll be back next week with Golden Rule #1: Don’t Read this Post.

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”
– Sidney Sheldon