Blogging daily in August for my Ibiza Writing Challenge was incredibly rewarding.
It was a pleasure to go through old photos, choose favourite quotes, and connect with new friends. Massive thanks to all of you who liked, followed and joined in the conversation and inspiration over the past month.
I’d like to do something special to thank everyone who’s read the blog over the past month, so I’ll put it to a vote. Would you like:
A) Another article in the ‘How To Be Creative’ series?
B) A downloadable PDF of the highlights of my ‘How to Write Non-Fiction’ series?
C) My Top 5 Writing Craft Guides as a PDF?
Please vote in the comments!
As writers, it is easy to get caught in production mode. We study ‘how to’ books, read improving blogs, swot up on tips for creating better characters or shaping an eight-point plot. Thanks to the bounty of the internet we stand in the midst of a torrent of useful information that promises to make us better versions of our creative selves.
Yet… What does any of this speak of the love of words?
It is all very well to hone our craft, but it is paramount that we not lose sight of the sheer pleasure of reading that inspired us in the first place.
This week I binge-read books that are the literary equivalent of a three Michelin star meal: Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. About 1300 pages in total and lord knows how many hours of pleasurable indolence. Time I could have spent writing, studying, or planning a new project, sure, but — hell — what is the point of being a writer if not to slip the leash occasionally and romp in literary splendour?
Discipline, dedication and commitment are essential to writing. But so is wallowing in the delights of a delicious book. If you haven’t read either of the two novels mentioned, treat yourself, and do so post-haste. Or grab whatever tome you’ve been saving for a rainy day and rediscover the power and glory of great writing. The time you spend will be repaid amply in inspiration.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately? Share in the comments!
Wise words from writer Abigail Thomas on how to become a writer.
When I was a little girl I kept a notebook of my favorite poems which included, of course, Joyce Kilmer’s Trees, and a short poem that goes: Little drops of water/little grains of sand/make the mighty ocean/and the pleasant land/ under which I had written reverently in flowery script, How true. I kept diaries too and they were filled almost entirely with what we had had for supper: “Tonight we had lambchops and baked potatoes it was so good” and then when I got older I wrote “Oh I love him so much” more times about more boys than I can bear to remember. These were not the diaries of a writer in the making. But ever since fourth grade when I’d written a story entitled ”I am a loaf of bread,” I longed to be a writer. Then I grew up.
Fiction? Impossible. How did anybody do it? Who was I? I thought a real writer was different, part of a club nobody had asked me to join, someone who knew a secret I didn’t know. A real writer had something to say, something important, and I didn’t know anything that mattered. Worse, I couldn’t make a story come together in my head. Where to start? How to finish? My problem was I was trying too hard and giving up too quickly. My problem was I thought you had to know what you were doing.
Nonsense. You just have to start.
If you want to be read. Write less.
Short chapters are like Pringles — you can’t read just one. As a writer, you can use short chapters to keep your readers turning pages right to the end.
I discovered this recently reading two very different genres. ‘The Quiet Streets of Winslow’ by Judy Troy is a low-key literary whodunit; the second, ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys’ is artist Viv Albertine’s autobiography. What they have in common is snappy chapters.
The authors deploy the technique differently, reflecting in part the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Judy Troy has multiple narrators and uses short chapters to let them take turns telling pieces of the story. This has several advantages. It avoids point of view confusion, creates suspense, gives each character a distinct space, controls the pace and simplifies transitions.
Albertine arranges her short chapters around anecdotes or themes, creating a literary snapshot of her life. This works because it tells a chronological story without getting bogged down in the empty spaces of ordinary life. In non-fiction, short chapters guard against self-indulgence which builds goodwill with the reader (nobody likes the authorial equivalent of the pub bore rambling on after a few drinks).
Short chapters are not a panacea for poor plotting or characters, but they can make a huge difference if you’re struggling with pacing or point of view. The truth is, few readers have the time or inclination to sit and absorb long, complex chunks of text. If your chapters are like crisps — rich, salty and easy to consume — you’ll never be short of readers!
NB: Viv Albertine is signing copies of her book at Rough Trade in London on 18 Dec.