Wednesday, May 8, 2013

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL IN TWELVE STEPS: Getting An Education (#Five)

(This should probably be placed earlier, along with my notes about food!)
There are no hard and fast rules regarding education, yet there are many.

  • For starters, if you want to write novels, you should be able to read and write – well. I know, you didn’t need me to tell you that, and yet…
  • Of course, at some point in the process (like, at the end…) you might want to hire editors etc. but it pays to know what you are doing with words on the page before anyone else becomes involved.
  • Most people need to learn about words and grammar etc. via formal education.
  • This is so obvious as to not need repeating. And yet, it’s not true.
  • And yet, it is.
  • Some amazing people who do not communicate in the traditional way have dictated novels (okay, I’m not giving examples but there are some).
  • Some amazing people who are illiterate or semi-illiterate have dictated novels (okay, I’m not going to name names but there are some).
  • Some fab celebrity bios are written by ‘behind the scenes’ writers (not all, but some). Some of these peeps are being paid for their ‘story’ not their writing. Their stories are dictated by them. Their ‘life experience’ is, in the main, unusual; so unusual that it demands attention and publishing houses are eager to find these people.
If your ‘story’ hasn’t ‘happened’ yet and you are not famous you are going to be starting off by yourself.
You need to get a grip.
On a pen… and a piece of paper… or a computer… or an iPhone... you get the idea.

  • You need to educate yourself.
That may mean excelling at school or it may not.

  • It definitely means doing some research that wasn’t available just a decade ago.
  • Now you can surf the net for just about everything you need. You should do some research if you want to get published (more on that later). Trust me, you won't regret it.
  • You might be teaching yourself on the job or learning from home. You might be enrolled in school or college. You might have so much life experience that it all adds up to some serious ‘education’ but whatever you do, and whatever circumstances you find yourself in – you need to be educated about the world around you and the things you want to talk and write about.
So, an education of some description is a must.
I’m not going to be a snob about it. At the end of the day people are educated in different ways.

  • In this day and age, formal education, is, in the main, looked upon favourably, often as a privilege. Many people think it is a must. It is the one thing that no one else can take away from you and for that it must be praised.
  • But just remember Mark Zuckerberg. He invented FB and he dropped out of Harvard. That is an exceptional story, obviously. Many people would suggest he was a born internet genius.  
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged that many high school and university drop outs have been hugely successful in life.
  • But then, they are highly educated in their areas of expertise. Maybe that’s the moral of the story.
  • My advice: get an education however you think suits you. 
  • Pieces of paper are great. 
  • So is life experience.  
  • There is no substitute for the second one. 
  • The first can never be taken away from you... (nor can the second!).  


In a perfect world we all might have writing partners.
In this one, I like to write by myself.
For now.

  • I once wrote a screenplay with a friend. That was a lot of fun. I wrote a play script alone, that was also fun. Theatre, television and film is (even initially) a collaborative art so it’s probably more fun writing screenplays and theatre scripts with like-minded people.
  • Novel writing is so personal you can’t go wrong by working independently. I don’t have to mention it’s a good idea to make and keep some friends before, during and after the process. 
  • Of course, if you have a great partner, writing pal etc. go to it! A few good novels and

  • many great television series have been written with more than one person at the helm.

  • But be choosy as to the company you keep.
  • What’s that old saying about too many cooks? (*they might - and often do - spoil the broth…)

Also, a word of warning, if you want to be the star, if you want your voice out there in the world – sometimes you have to write your own script.
By now, you should have a piece of paper with ideas and or sketches scribbled upon it.

  • Look it over.
  • Do the words and or images on the page inspire you?
  • If they do, then you are ready to begin a plan for the first draft of your first novel.
If they don’t, get inspired and try again until you are satisfied.

  • And keep trying until you are satisfied those words or those pictures mean something to you.
  • When you have decided on a genre and an idea worth sticking with you can start to plan with more detail.  

Monday, May 6, 2013


This part is so exciting I’m nearly salivating just writing the words.
First up, it’s easy to start junk food binging when you are writing. I’d try to advise against that. Have healthy snacks and food you like on hand. Try to eat healthy stuff, it keeps you alert. Save the junk food for when you just have to have it -  as a reward (maybe, although we all know food shouldn't be a reward but you know what I mean...) It’s good to try to eat the foods that love you back. But sometimes only the yumminess is enough. Your call.
You could have a reward system. I used to like that. Moderation is key!
For example, after you’ve finished, say, ten pages of your rough draft (assuming you've already outlined your plan-of-action) you might like to reward yourself with…er… some chocolate… or a nice apple… or some M&M’s. (A nice apple would be the healthy option but we are all human and sometimes we naturally gravitate towards the M&Ms... just don’t go stir crazy over sugar. It’s easy to do this when you are writing assignments and novels but a word to the wise: try to eat healthy. Your body is going to love you for it!)
Always try to make healthy food yummy… your call.
So, have your food supplies covered. Note: Have healthy options as well as treats (but only when deeply necessary or you may start only eating treats instead of healthy options and well, you know where that is leading us).
Drinks are important.
Stay hydrated with water. Also find something warm you like to drink (go easy on the sugar – or try to – but it’s hard, I know!) It’s just that warmth is comfort and sometimes words don’t love you back!
This is what I like to drink:
·         Tea with milk but no sugar
·         Coffee (caramel or vanilla flavored) upon waking (but I’m trying to give it up)
·         Water (instead of juice, but I prefer juice)
·         I’ve recently discovered chai at home – but I prefer the version I buy when I’m out.
When I'm working on a novel I like to eat:
Boiled or poached eggs or porridge with blueberries for breakfast. Sometimes I have toast or cereal.
I love salads, chicken or sandwiches for lunch.
I’d love to have a piece of cake for afternoon tea, every afternoon but I save it for a treat. Hummingbird cake and chocolate cake are my favourite types of cake. I also love cupcakes but I haven’t made any for a while…
I adore banana smoothies (& I love vanilla and chocolate milkshakes but I’m convinced banana smoothies are the vitamin dense milkshake option).
You might like to try:
(A* Healthy version)
·         One banana
·         Handful of ice
·         Two large dessert spoons of plain unsweetened yoghurt
·         Pinch of nutmeg
·         Dash of vanilla essence
·         Two teaspoons (or more to taste) of honey.
Put it all in your blender
Whip it up!
Drink icy cold with cinnamon on top

 (B* Other version)
·         One banana
·         Two scoops of vanilla ice cream (maybe just one if they are big scoops!)
·         Pinch of nutmeg
·         Dash of vanilla essence
·         Two teaspoons (or more to taste) of honey
·         Spoonful of sugar (to taste)
Put it all in your blender
Whip it up!
Drink icy cold with cinnamon sugar on top
I love this recipe so much! I hope you enjoy it as much as me:)

*A note on "other food". By this, I'm referring to the necessity to have a roof over your head and the basics covered during the period you want to write your novel. You may decide to do this over a long period (like, a year) and fit it into your normal routine. You may have a vacation between school or college semesters. You may decide to stay with friends or family and write your novel intensely over that period... if you are invited! You may still be living at home or in a place of your own... the point is, adapt to whatever your circumstances allow. Just make sure you have the roof, food and funds part covered (and the desk, chair and space.) It is a noble thing to work during the day and scribble by night. It is also great if you have your old room available to you to hide out for a month or two and get that novel draft done! But only if the peeps around you are supportive. If they are not, and you are old enough you don't need me to tell you it might be best to get a job, keep a job and write when you get the chance to do so. Better yet, if you have some funds set aside, give yourself a space to work on that novel, then you get to move back to normality when your writing is done. There is no metaphorical 'statute of limitations' on creativity. Some people take a year to get that draft done, some take a month. I believe, some, have done it in a week.... every person is going to be different. 

But getting back to reality...

Once you've got your smoothie (which counts as both your food and drink should you want to work through - though I'd advise getting up and stretching when you need to!), you should sit at your desk in your comfy chair and take a piece of paper and jot down your ideas. Your first ideas for your novel. Go to it, Lovelies! Tap into your creative energy. The sky is the limit - at first. If you like to draw, why not sketch some images also? You may draw a house or a character or the clothes they wear. It all adds up to an idea - who knows you might like to try a graphic novel one day (or straight up!) I hear they are hot, hot, hot.


·         This is a tricky one.
·         Some people like genre fiction: romance, action, dystopian, YA, sagas, adventure etc. Some people like to read literary work that defies genre.
·         There are new genres being created. Go to the store, go to the library and most importantly find out what you like to read. When you consider what 'genre' to write, do you choose one or does it choose you?
·         The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is an example of YA dystopian fiction that has never been ‘bigger’ but if you ask publishers they might tell you a new genre fad is on its way…
·         I’d be wary of following fads. Maybe not so wary of creating one!
·         Remember, by the time you start writing a specific genre, publishers are preparing to reveal a new ‘fad’. That said, I don’t think dystopian YA is a fad, I think it’s here to stay (just like reality TV…) although I’m not comparing the two… but when reality TV started to get popular, people said it would never last…
·         The answer to the question of what you should write is:
·         Most writers start off as readers. Readers know what they like to read and when they read, they have a sense of what they want to write. So should you.
·         Some of my favourite novels are first novels (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, for example & Harry Potter). Where would we be without the circus of dreams or Harry and his friends? I am very glad those authors didn’t shelve those novels indefinitely or give up in their quest to get published (assuming their publishing processes weren’t ‘easy’. JK Rowling’s was tough – her agent famously had to submit her novel to many publishers before it found a home.) Neither she, nor her agent, gave up. We are glad they didn’t!
·         Then again, they weren’t teenagers when they started and the writers I’ve just mentioned weren’t inexperienced, clearly, even though they’d reportedly never been published before. Both the writers I just mentioned had a good decade or more of learning and adulthood behind them.
·         That said some remarkable first novelists are teenagers. SE Hinton wrote The Outsiders in high school. The Outsiders is one of my favourite teen novels of all time.
·         So, there are no rules about when to start or what to write about and no one person ever knows everything.
·         You should be the judge of what you’d like to write about, in the beginning, at least. After you meet people in publishing, perhaps they might suggest something to write about in advance. They may even pay you! (Where are those people?). Just remember, once your work is out there, everyone else will be reading & maybe judging it…  So, make sure you’ve chosen a genre you enjoy and given your manuscript time to marinate before others read it and offer ‘advice’.


·         Space: Before you start, make some space. I don’t care where your space is but if you are seated, overlooking a beautiful view, chances are you are going to spend a lot of valuable writing time enjoying that view. That said, you want your writing space to be comfy, cosy and have room enough so you can spread out your notes and your laptop or computer out. I have a large, old dining room table but at the moment I prefer to work in a coffee shop that serves fab coffee and tea (and iced chocolates when I need them… oh, and vanilla milkshakes). I try to take some fruit with me, because that’s healthy.
·         Noise: Silence is golden, Lovelies (sometimes). Fix your noise issues: know how you concentrate best. When I am at home, writing by myself, I like some sound, but controlled sound. I like a cd or a dvd (not the news, because then I listen to it and not the TV because then I watch it) playing in the room. This background noise keeps me from listening to the birds tweeting, the neighbours shouting or cars in the street (neighbourhood noise is not pretty when you are trying to concentrate on your sentences, Lovelies). But that’s me – you may need noise. You decide that; just make sure you have it covered.
·         People: Sort out your peeps. You may want to tell the world you are writing a novel. That’s great – that’s your call. I would advise against it unless you know the peeps you are talking to are going to be supportive. A word of warning, sometimes even your best friends may doubt your abilities – that doesn’t mean you should. However, if you tell everyone (or anyone outside your nearest and dearest) there is pressure on you that you don’t need at the start.
·         Exhibit A: I had a very old and dear friend (I say had, remember) and he said to me when I told him about my first novel… ‘Wow, you’ve been working on that for ages… how long is it taking you to get that published?’  He was not supportive of me when the going was tough.  Your true friends should be supportive but don’t test the friendship too soon. Make sure you are selective about who you mention your ideas to, who reads your work, and when.
·         Let’s just say, in my humble experience, it’s better to keep the pressure off and TELL NO ONE until you are sure you are okay if you don’t get the encouragement you are hoping to receive.   
·         Your desk: Just make sure it’s the right height. Big is better. This process may start out small (just your laptop), but as your story progresses you are going to need a lot of space for notes, drafts, maybe even story boards… and other stuff.
·         Your chair: I can’t stress this enough. Get an office chair! I like one that is padded, comfy and swivel. Make sure it is the right height (and adjustable) for you. Trust me; your back is going to thank you one day. 


As my readers already know, I have enjoyed this remarkable biography about Marilyn Monroe - beyond words. But here is a journo who has put into words what this reader felt (by the way, I am currently up to the final part of this great bio). Here is the link Marilyn Fans!

And another link to a very informative review:


I am so thrilled to have discovered some Marilyn fans out there like me, who want to read everything about her. I have almost finished reading Lois Banner's The Passion and the Paradox (highly recommended buy it or borrow it but read it!) and am half way through The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (page turner!) and I'd like to quote the first part of a Yeats poem that Marilyn read aloud once. Banner mentions it on page 286 of my hard copy of her bio:

"Never Give All the Heart"

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

HOW DO YOU WRITE A NOVEL? (THREE: Story Arcs in classic novels: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice)


Okay, we all know a story should have a beginning, middle and an end. Not all stories or novels should follow a formula but many of the classics do (in a very disguised and sophisticated fashion).

With my 'modern teen classics' series I have the basic outline or story arc from the classic novels of Jane Austen: (Pride & Prejudice/Pride and Princesses & The Hotness), Emma (Popular), Persuasion (Truly) and Emily and Charlotte Bronte: (Wuthering Heights/ Wuthering Nights and Jane Eyre/ Anne Eyre).

These brilliant, classic writers created memorable, lasting stories that have been adapted in different forms by hundreds of movie makers, publishing houses and writers throughout the decades.

Are they formulaic? Jane Austen is in some ways, she's great formula but she had a formula all the same. The formula was the obsession of the day - a woman, single at the start, seeking her fortune in the form of finding the right man.

Jane Austen's stories have strong female characters, "hot" but difficult men (er, Darcy anyone?) and happy endings - in the main - marriages.

Emily Bronte was probably the least formulaic of the writers I've mentioned, in the sense that her main characters (Heathcliffe and Cathy) do not have a happy ending in the traditional sense. The story is also metaphysical and mystical which was quite unusual. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre only gets her 'happy ending' after an incredibly tough childhood and early adulthood. Jane Eyre is bittersweet - a lot has been lost before much is gained.

If I were creating an entirely original story I would keep these lessons in mind from these great writers: bold characters, a strong beginning, some action in the middle and a powerful ending. To create a story arc that other people want to read you have to have a real sense of what you want to write about, how the places look in your mind, how the characters speak and what they say.