A writing progress update

I’ve been tracking my writing progress on the fantasy novel I’ve been writing in 2016, and as I’m working on it again now, I think it’s time for an update. Last time I blogged about it was in July, when I had 30,000 words written. I had to put it on the backburner then for a few months while I worked on LONELIEST.

October

I had some time to work on the draft again. At first I found it really hard to get back into, because I hadn’t really written any of it since May, and it felt very different. I think a lot of this was because I’d had feedback on the partial manuscript from both my agent and editor, and not all of it was positive. I was feeling very unenthusiastic about the whole thing. But I remembered how much I had originally loved the idea, so I fought through the DO NOT WANT feeling. I was really into it again by the end of the month. I wrote 20,000 words – and got to the end of the second arc.

I then had to stop to work on the LONELIEST edits again, and ended up by the start of November with 60,000 words.

December

As of this week, I’ve finished my edits and I’m back working on the first draft – and I’m so excited to finish it! In my head it was truly awful, but I read through it and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. I even got really mad at myself for leaving the draft at such a cliff-hanger, because I wanted to finish reading it. Damn it, past!Lauren!

I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the year. I’ve done all the hard work laying down the plot arcs, and now I just have the fun stuff to finish it off – battles and kissing. 😉

This is the first time I’ve used myWriteClub to track the writing process for a whole first draft, and it’s really interesting to look back on. Over the course of a year, I’ve written it in 5 pushes, averaging out at 10,000 words a pop.

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I have no idea if this is typical for me. It has felt a particularly difficult novel to write – especially the October session – but I have a feeling it’s always hard to write, and I usually just forget how painful it is.

So….I will let you know whether I actually manage to finish this book by 2017. Wish me luck.

For now, here’s my aesthetics for the novel:

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My …. writing process. Whatever that means.

So I was sent this ask on tumblr.

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I’m about due a blog post, so I thought I’d answer it here. (I owe you a June Favourites too – it’s coming, I promise.)

I don’t think I’d do a vlog like Alice (she’s is a lot better at that stuff than me) but I do give semi-regular writing updates here on my blog, so I thought I’d go back and compile them all and see if it gave any insight into my “writing process”.

A bit of background: I’m currently writing an un-contracted book which I’m tagging ghost house on tumblr. It’s a gamble to write a book out of contract, but I had the time and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so I’m doing it anyway. My publisher have said they want my books to be high concept sci-fi, so I don’t think they’ll be interested in it (it’s kind of satirical fantasy, or something – I pitched it to my agent as MISFITS meets SPACED.) but you never know! We’ll see what happens when I’ve finished it.

I started #ghost house in January, after I pitched it to my agent and she said she liked the idea. Here’s what I had to say:

January: 

January was a month of lots of writing for me, and lots of waiting. In publishing, you have to play the long game, and I’m definitely coming to realise that. I’m full of feelings about stuff I’m working on, but I’m not allowed to share any details about it for at least a few more months. BUT THERE’S LOTS OF EXCITING STUFF COMING UP, GUYS. I can say that, at least.**

(**Some of that exciting stuff was Another Together, my eNovella. Some of it is still to be announced, whooo!)

I started doing some research into early-90s internet use, which I posted about here.

February/March:

I spent most of February/March writing the first draft of Book 4, and I’ve just hit 25,000 words. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Twitter even got involved in naming one of the characters!

However much I love writing novels, though (which I really do) I wish I could pay someone to get the first 20k out of the way for me. It’s always AGONY. It’s so infuriating, because I know exactly what is going to happen, down to the minute, but I haven’t worked out how to TELL it yet. I have to write and rewrite and rewrite trying to adjust it until the right format and structure makes itself known.

It’s like chipping away at marble, then realising what you really need is a shard you chipped off, and having to glue it back together. FOR EVERY WORD. Basically: I’ve spent a lot of this month writing the same scenes five different times over, and I’m probably about to do it again. Wish me luck!

I also made a fancast of the ghost house characters here.cast.PNG

April:

I hit the halfway point in writing my fourth book this week too – hurray! I always get convinced I’ve forgotten how to finish a story about 20k words in, so I’m relieved to have remembered how it all works. It’s (hopefully) all easy going from here.

I’m so into it and it’s so intense and the characters are really being stretched more than any I’ve written before and I’M VERY HAPPY. I went through a couple of weeks where I couldn’t write at all because of stress/anxiety but I’ve got over it finally. Now I’m racing through it!! And I wish I could tell you what its abouuuuuut!

I let a few people read the manuscript when I reached the halfway point (my mum, my brother, and my friends Sarah, Alice and Cat).

I also posted a book playlist here:

  • Red Right Hand – Arctic Monkeys
  • 400 Lux – Lorde
  • Born to die – Lana Del Ray
  • Changing – Paloma Faith
  • Monsters – Ruelle
  • The Whip – Locksley
  • Don’t Lie – Vampire Weekend
  • House Party – Sam Hunt
  • Fantasy – MS MR
  • Conqueror – Aurora
  • Walkashame – Meghan Trainor
  • Renegades – X Ambassadors

May/June:

Ghost House is going on the backburner for a bit while I work on other projects, like the copyedits for TLB. I’m hoping to get back into it in mid-September.

July: 

I got some feedback on Ghost House from my agent, who read the partial manuscript at 40,000 words. She said that the pace is wrong (I’ve focused a lot on character development instead of plot) so in a spare few days between other projects I went back and cut out about 10k, and shifted around a lot of stuff to make it read faster.

It’s now down to 31k, which sounds like backwards progress, but it reads a lot better, so I’m happy. I can’t wait to finish my other projects so I can really put my head down and finish the book! When I actually have some time I think I’ll get it done in a few weeks, because I know exactly what’s going to happen, and I always write the second half of books at about three times the speed of the first half.

And that’s it for now! You can see how I do in the future by following my word count updates on myWriteClub, if you want. Wish me luck.

Mining the depths of the internet

Inspired by Lucy Powrie’s video on Internet books, I thought I’d talk about books featuring the internet too. For me personally, books about internet culture are something I want so much and am never satisfied by. I am 23, and I can’t remember a time without the internet. I’m sure there probably was a time I didn’t use the internet (probably around the time Harry Potter first came into my life), but I don’t remember it.

Despite that, books rarely, if ever, talk about life online. There might be occasional references to Facebook, but they don’t actually talk about the internet. At least not as a vital, relationship defining form of communication, the way I use it. My friendships wouldn’t be the same without the internet. The way I speak to people, and the language and topics we cover, are completely different online to the way we talk in real life. The internet has a language all of its own.

It’s so varied and infinite and interesting and new. There are areas of the internet where things happen which you couldn’t even make up: otherkins, msscribe, 4chan/tumblr raids, the dashcon ballpit, 1D’s rainbow bears, horseebooks, jennicam, swatting, the Marianas web,  detective RedditorsGhostNet – I could go on forever.

The saying goes that all stories have been told hundreds of times before, but how can that be true when the internet is so young? There are so many stories which are beyond belief and which aren’t being told – and if you don’t go online you could live your whole life without knowing they exist.

People are so interesting and bizarre, and that is multiplied tenfold online. If this is how intense reality is, think what internet conspiracy theories writers could dream up!

One of the reasons I hear that the internet isn’t used much in books is because it evolves so fast it’s easy to get dated. References to Myspace in books from 2002 just seem embarrassing now, and I think that’s because those kind of books tend to approach references to the internet all wrong. They try to drop references in to be ‘cool’ and ‘on trend’. That’s all wrong.

The internet is increasingly becoming part of our history as a culture – you wouldn’t think of references to historical events in books as boring or outdated. It’s just a part of life, and talking about it captures that specific point in history. Mentioning Yahoo Groups evokes a very particular memory of the nineties, and just because it’s an obsolete area of the internet now doesn’t make it something which should be ignored.

I have never read a Literary Novel about a character going through a midlife crisis, who happens to have used usenet in his twenties in 1989. Yet that is a huge, important part of our culture. Why doesn’t it exist in fiction?

Give me the historical novels set online. Give me the thrillers set on Tor. Give me the YA coming of age novels where a teen is trying to reconcile who they are in real life with who they are on 4chan or on tumblr (or both). I want these stories, and they aren’t being told.


 

If you’re now desperate to read books set online, here are some recs:

Kiss me First | Fangirl | Radio Silence | The Girl in 6E | Gena/Finn | Ready Player OneMs. Marvel | Exodus | Counting Stars


 

In other news:

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I’m doing two events at Waterstones Birmingham in April, a historical fiction panel and an In Conversation panel with Alice Oseman! Details on booking tickets at the links.

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Write about zombie cats & other writing tips

Over the last few months I’ve done a lot of events, and I always get asked for my top writing tips. I don’t really believe in “writing” tips, because as long as a story is compelling, you can break any rule and it’ll work (there is nothing wrong with adverbs, for example).

Most of the time writing tips can just succeed in scaring new authors, because they’ll be too nervous to actually do any writing in case they do it “wrong”. You can’t learn to write by reading handbooks and writer’s guides and interview after interview of writing tips from your favourite authors (however much we like writing them…) You learn to write by writing.

Outlining is an example of the danger of writing tips. Every time I read an interview with an author, the answer to whether you need to plan everything in advance changes. Some people say that you should plan every chapter, others say that you should just know the beginning, others the beginning and end….basically everyone does this differently. There’s no right answer.

If you don’t know what happens all the way through, I would just start writing it anyway. Your brain is going to be working away thinking about the plot all the time, so you might find that by the time you get there you’ll have the answer without having to do any work.

That’s what I usually do, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of night with the answer, but other times I end up having to postpone writing for a few days while I wrestle with a plothole, even one that I knew that was coming.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all part of writing. Just write, and you’ll get there in the end.

So, since writing works differently for everyone (and sometimes even differently for the same person, when writing different books), these are more rules to just help you get to a place where you can start writing your story. You can write the actual story however you want.


 

i. Always write about zombie cats.

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Source

By which I mean: write the book that only you can write. Don’t chase trends, because by the time you finish, edit, get a book deal, edit again, and finally publish your version of the next dystopian bestseller, the market will be oversaturated with them.

You can’t write with the intention of making money. You won’t enjoy writing the book as much, and you can’t predict what will become a bestseller anyway. Nobody can.

Instead of trying to play the market, just write the quirky, unique idea that only YOU can write, regardless of whether you think it will sell or not. Don’t worry about getting it published. Just write the book you love, and someone else will love it as much as you do. You want to find the editor and agent who loves zombie cats just as much as you do.

Write the book that you can’t sleep for thinking about; the story you want to share with everyone you meet, the one you want to keep just for yourself. Your love for your story will shine through, and that is what publishers are looking for.

ii. Don’t get bogged down in detail. Just get it done.

The most life-changing thing I’ve ever read about writing was the concept of the [TK] note: that instead of stopping writing to fact-check something on google, just leave yourself a [TK] note in the middle of the sentence and come back to it in the next draft, whenever that may be. It doesn’t matter. It will wait. The story is more important than the individual scene.

That changed the entire way I think about first drafts. When you first write a story, you have one goal. It doesn’t have to have perfect grammar, or be completely fact-checked. It doesn’t even have to have every scene or detail. All it has to do is exist. Everything else comes afterwards.

There’s no point spending months editing and re-editing the first two chapters until it’s perfect if you never write the rest of the book. In the second draft, you might decide the book would be better if it started at a different scene, and all of your perfect sentences and months of work will have been wasted. You simply can’t start editing a book until it’s done; until you can see it as a whole, and analyse it.

Just write the book. Leave it full of [TK]s and fix them in three months time. Give yourself permission not to be perfect. You wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon perfectly the first time you practised. Why would you expect yourself to be able to write a book? Take breaks to catch your breath. You’ll do better next time around the circuit.

iii. Read your genre. Read other people’s genres. Read every genre.

As a writer, you have to accept that everything has been done before. Many, many times before. There are no original ideas. At least, not if you stick to one genre. Everything that can been done in a detective novel has been done, hundreds of times before. There are no new twists.

If you mix genres, though – if you write about a detective on a spaceship, for example – there are endless things which have never been done before. Old, used tropes suddenly seem familiar and comforting in a new genre.

Read everything and anything. Mix and match. Inspiration strikes in the oddest of places.

iv. Engage critically with what you read.

The best training to learn how to write is not to pay for a Creative Writing course. The best way to learn is to read as much, and as widely, as possible. Think about your favourite books – what do you enjoy about them? What works? What doesn’t? Which sections do you find yourself skipping? Which scenes leave you breathless, unable to stop reading? See what works in books, and use it in your writing. Learn from the best.

v. Don’t live your life at a desk. Then you’ll have nothing to write about except writing.

There’s a reason that literary novels are mocked for always being about middle-aged English professors having affairs. It’s because people tend to write what they know, and what they’ve experienced themselves. So make sure your experiences aren’t all about sitting at a desk, struggling to write.

If you want to be a writer, maybe consider studying something other than English at university. I studied Physics and Chemistry, and it was the best possible thing I could have done to prepare me to become a writer. I learn about things other than books and reading. I spent a year abroad. I became a rounded person, with things to put in books. Your laptop will always be waiting. Go on adventures too.

vi. Finished your story? Hide it away. Leave it there….until you can’t remember how it felt to write it.

Do not start editing a book as soon as you finish writing it. Do not! It will not work! You’ll find yourself knit-picking commas and adverbs instead of looking at the story objectively as a whole. Leave it until you can read it with a bit of perspective. You need to be detached enough to be able to cut out scenes without it hurting. Otherwise it’ll just grow and grow forever without getting any better.


Finally, good luck! I believe in you. Go and write about your zombie cats.

 

If you liked this post then you might also want to check out my list of excuses for not writing, and why they are nonsense.

You can find a rebloggable version of this post here.

Article for The Guardian: Scientific inaccuracies your favourite historical characters definitely believed

From smoking being good for you, to it being possible to turn metal into gold, have you ever wondered what Mr Darcy, Dr Frankenstein and Miss Marple would have accepted as plain fact? Lauren James reveals all here!

Mr Darcy
Mr Darcy (seen here played by Colin Firth in the film of Pride and Prejudice) would have surely believed that metals could be turned into gold if you tried hard enough. Photograph: BBC Photo Library/BBC

My first novel The Next Together uses the concept of reincarnation (and time travel!) to explore whether people intrinsically change just by being born in different time periods. The insurmountable barriers of time and space don’t stop my characters from falling in love with each other. However, being born in different points in history does cause some problems. In particular, they often have wildly differing opinions about technology and medicine, due to the current scientific knowledge of their time periods.

A character born in 1745 will believe different things about the world to one born in 2015 – such as how to treat a headache, or whether it’s possible to travel by flying. The same is true for every character throughout history, even those that are relatively modern. Miss Marple, for example, would have believed that smoking is healthy, something that was only disproved in 1948.

Miss Marple
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (seen here played by Julia McKenzie) would have believed smoking was perfectly healthy. Photograph: ITV Plc

It is inevitable that nearly all of our favourite characters from historical fictional would have accepted some truly terrible scientific inaccuracies as plain fact. Hamlet, born in the fifteenth century, would have insisted that the sun orbits the earth. This was only disproved fully by Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century.

Some of these hypotheses would be considered ridiculous to believe today – such as the idea that a fire element called phlogiston was needed to burn things, which seventeenth-century Don Quixote would have thought to be true. This mysterious element was only discovered to be oxygen over a hundred years later.

Lauren James: the insurmountable barriers of time and space don’t stop my characters from falling in love with each other. Photograph: Pete Bedwell.

It’s impossible to deny that Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy would have believed that metals could be turned into gold if you tried hard enough, but we can still imagine that despite his environment and upbringing, he would have upheld modern moral and ethical standards. We all want to think that our fictional faves secretly supported gender equality and an end to slavery.

Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara fromGone With The Wind, set at about the time that Mr Darcy was probably funding the research of fortune-seeking alchemists, would have believed that it was possible to spontaneously combust. The myth that you had to be constantly on your guard against the possibility of bursting into flames without warning was spread by Charles Dickens, who used it as a plot device in his novel Bleak House. In fact, as recently as the 1970s it was hypothesised that spontaneous combustion was caused by depression.

Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein, despite his creativity with reanimated corpses, would have believed that bloodletting cured illness, something which would horrify modern doctors. It was believed until the mid-nineteenth century that by collecting the blood of a sick patient the imbalance of their humours would be corrected, curing their illness. The existence of humours is another scientific inaccuracy, one that has been believed for millennia, maybe as far back as the time of Achilles and Patroclus.

In the early twentieth century, Sherlock Holmeswould have believed the atom was the smallest possible type of matter, and couldn’t be split further. Protons, neutrons and electrons were only discovered in 1917 by Ernest Rutherford. This atomic breakthough would have been read about with much interest by the detective.

While even the most admirable of fictional creations would have believed some pretty ridiculous things, I think we should be able to find it in our hearts to forgive them for this. After all, they are a product of their time. In future years we might also be mocked for our beliefs.

In February of this year, a new model made by physicists Ahmed Farag Ali and Saurya Das predicted that the Big Bang might not have been the start of the universe after all. The model suggests that the universe had always existed, long before the Big Bang. If this is proven to be accurate, the theory of a giant explosion “creating the universe” could turn out to be one of the scientific blunders of our generation.

The Next Together

Is time travel possible? Should the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park really have been feathery, after all? Is Pluto a planet?

Only time will tell.

Read the rest at The Guardian website!

Why I chose to write in an epistolary format

The Next Together follows the various lives of Katherine and Matthew as they meet and fall in love throughout history. There are timelines in the recent future and distant past, and each time a mysterious being is tracking Kate and Matt’s relationship, and making sure they fall in love and save the world in every life….

Each lifetime is very different, so the book is made up of lots of interwoven genres – The Next Together is a historical drama, a conspiracy theory thriller, a science fiction adventure, and plenty more besides! Because of the number of different timelines, I thought the story needed something to tie it together, so that it didn’t feel like a collection of stories about separate people. I decided the best way to do that was to include documents and letters in the novel, as well as prose.

My characters Kate and Matt are the same people, but sometimes they are equals and sometimes they aren’t. In one timeline Matthew is Katherine’s servant, in another the opposite is true. This allows for a lot of variety in the way their relationship develops, so I wanted to make sure I kept an element of continuity throughout the book. I thought it would help to have something to tie these characters together – to each other, and to reality. I needed to make it clear they were the same people, regardless of the time period, or whether they are texting or writing letters in fountain pen.

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There’s something about the visual aspect of epistolary books – the documents, graphics and pictures – which makes it seem more real. It makes a story come to life. When you can see that a character has the same handwriting in 1745 or 2039, it adds a satisfyingly rewarding feeling to the story.

I also did a lot of historical research, and uncovered many newspaper articles and old diaries and letters, which really brought the periods of history to life for me. I wanted to recreate that feeling in the novel – of history being about real, flawed people, instead of statistics in a textbook. I wanted to bring the sense of humour and life I’d read about to my novel.

lauren-james-pic-2.jpgOriginally posted at the Dymocks blog

What’s my writing process?

A lot like this, mainly. With probably more eye rolling.

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I don’t have a routine, but I’m very picky about my working environment. The slightest excuse not to write and I won’t get anything done! I need chewing gum, a spreadsheet of my daily word counts on myWriteClub (to keep me accountable!) and lots and lots of music. I’m currently obsessed with Halsey’s album Badlands.

As for my writing process, usually I start out with an idea from a dream, or something I wake up thinking about. I’ll make a note on my phone like: reincarnation fic? and over the next few weeks I’ll be working out how it could play out in my head. I won’t write anything down for months probably, and I always start with plot, not characters.

When I decide to start writing it, I’ll type out everything I can think of about my idea and try and form it into a synopsis, like: There’s a girl who meets a boy in her first year biology lab and she knows his name and what his voice sounds like. Then I’ll probably leave it a while again, a few weeks or days.

Then I start reluctantly doing character development (I am terrible at this) (no really). I have now on four occasions got to the point where a new character appears and had to stop writing to decide what they are like, because I’d been putting it off for so long. It usually takes me two drafts to really understand my characters; until then I’m just kind of bemused by them. Once it clicks I can tell you everything and anything about them and love them like children.

Right now I’m writing a character and I’ve written 25k and all I really know about him is that he’s a softbro. We’ll get there eventually. The way I tackle my character development fear is usually via tumblr? Like I have very detailed book tags with all my character insp pictures: book one; book two; book three; book four; book five. I don’t know if that is useful to know or not. I just see a lot of stuff on my dash that reminds me of my stories. I know a lot of authors use pinterest for this.

I write chronologically and don’t let myself skip ahead, though I usually find myself waking up to write down lines and dialogue I want to add later.

I spend a lot of time messing around with formatting. I can’t just go into a word doc and write. It has to be Sitka text size 12, and I need page numbers and a title page and headers because ….I’m a good procrastinator.

I usually I have at least one epigram before I write a word (I collect too many epigrams. I have to cull them frequently.) It used to be single spaced but usually you submit in double spaced, and I’m used to it now. I find single too crowded.

My document usually starts as a plan, but this tends to be pretty aggressive and sarcastic and I don’t really follow it. I usually focus on the short term- I have a list of one-liners or dialogue from notes on my phone I want to include, so I paste that into the word document and write through it. It’s satisfying if I write in all my notes, I’m more pleased to have done that than if I wrote 10,000 words.

I find working from little tidbits like that can really help if I’m stuck with a scene, it’s like fic prompts.

Like: she sullenly refused to meet his gaze, sure he was laughing at her
“what kind of feeble response is that”
use phrase ‘monstrous rage’ hah

I just try and fill in the gaps between those ideas!

I have to have pictures of my characters before I can write them. I need to know what font their handwriting is. I need to know what their favourite slang word is.

I occasionally write out by hand, but I have to type it up pretty much immediately, and I usually waste a long time editing it instead of writing more.

Usually I listen to my book playlists. I can’t really write without music, but it has to be music I know really well. If I’m having a good writing moment I’ll be singing too. At the minute I’m listening to Brave- Sara Bareilles, Young volcanoes- Fall out boy, and High Hopes- The Vamps a lot. It needs to be upbeat because I type to the rhythm of the music.

My writing time is usually from 2pm-1am, but when I go to bed I’ll have an hour where I keep waking up to make notes.

I use a lot of italics and try to actively avoid adverbs. I dislike all caps dialogue. I try and think about what different media types I could use and work them into the story- letters, instant messages etc.

When I’ve finished I’ll share it with a few people and my mum and then put it away from two months before looking at it again.

How to handle writer’s block

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think that what we call ‘writer’s block’ is really just ‘thinking time’. Everyone needs to leave ideas to ‘ferment’, which can hold you back from writing for a little while. Sometimes writing isn’t always writing actual words on a page. Sometimes it’s just thinking really, really hard. Your brain needs time to develop concepts. Creativity isn’t something that can be forced.

For every book I’ve ever written, I’ve left a gap of sometimes up to a year between writing the first and second halves. Usually when I reach around 25,000 words into a book I lose all confidence I had in it. At that point I’ll lie in bed a lot and whine to anyone who’ll listen, and then I’ll do some of the following things, to try and get back on my feet.

Read more at the Hive book blog

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Everything You Believe Is Wrong (or, why I thought I couldn’t be a writer)

So, I used to love writing as a kid. I wrote stories about my dogs (something I think every author does, as a kid. Right?).

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Age 13

I wrote stories about my local park’s war memorial actually being a time machine space ship for vampire shapeshifter alien snakes (that old cliché, urgh).

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Age 11

But when I was about fourteen, I kind of . . . stopped writing. For years, actually. It wasn’t until I was at university that I started writing again. There are lots of reasons I stopped. Here are some of them – and why I was totally wrong about everything.

1) I’m too young to write anything good

All of the authors of my favourite books, the ones who were famous, were in their forties and fifties. So even though I really wanted to be a writer, I thought there was no point in trying until I was older. I thought that I had to get a lot more life experience before I’d have anything worth writing about.

I was SO WRONG. Everyone, of any age, has something worth saying! Especially when writing YA, which is aimed at teenagers, a young person is going to have so much to say which is relevant to their audience, because they are their audience.

2) Writers have to write all the time

I love writing, but to be honest . . . as a teenager it was never my priority. There were too many other things to do. I would write occasionally, but never out of habit – more just because I’d run out of other things to do and come across my notebook.

I thought that clearly, clearly, I didn’t care enough about writing to do it at a professional level. I thought that I could never write anything good if I wasn’t prepared to practice constantly. I remember watching an interview with Ian Rankin, where he said that as a kid he was so desperate to write that he would write in pencil on his bedroom walls. That was never me – I was never obsessive about writing. So I thought: clearly I’m never going to be an author.

But again, I was really wrong. Writing is 90% reading, in my opinion. By reading, you learn how to write. Read anything and everything and critically engage with it – think about what plots work, what characters are developed and which aren’t, what keeps you hooked and invested in the story – and you’re 90% of the way there already. You don’t need to write all the time to be a writer. But you do need to read all of the time.

Plus – if you’re always writing, you’re not going to have anything to write about, except a writer sitting at a desk staring at a blank word document! Get out of the house and have some adventures, get into trouble or go on a gap year. Then you’ll have something fun to write about when you get home.

3) I don’t read enough serious ‘Classics’ to be an author

I’ve always been a huge reader. I used to get library books out on my library card, my mum’s, my dad’s and my brother’s . . . and read them all in a week and return them to get some more. I read my local library’s entire Children’s section,and moved onto the Adult fiction. But. I didn’t think I read the right stuff to be a writer. I was never really into Classics, which were the kind of things I thought authors should be reading.   

I thought if I couldn’t even read the ‘intelligent’ stuff, then what would the stuff I was writing be like?

BUT. You’ve guessed it . . .  I was wrong. You don’t need to read Classics. Not ever, if you don’t want to. They are interesting, in a ‘ooh, so this is the first time that method/technique/literary device was done’ but to be honest  . . . you can see a lot of the same stuff in modern literature too, which has built on centuries of groundwork done by classical writers.

Read whatever you enjoy, man.

The same goes for writing. Write something you love, and that passion will shine through in the book. If you’re writing a Serious Novel just because you think you should, and you don’t love everything about it, readers will be able to tell. (Plus, you’re more likely to actually finish writing something if you’re desperate to find out what happens yourself. Write what you want to read.)

4) My writing isn’t as good as in books.

I used to read back over my writing, and cringe at how terrible it was – full of errors and clumsy sentence structures and just plain bad dialogue. Especially when I compared it to the books I was reading, which had elegant prose and funny jokes and perfect grammar. (To be honest, I still do this now.) But you can’t let that stop you writing. Those published books have been edited more times than you can imagine. They’ve had teams of people going over every single word to make sure it’s perfect. At one stage, they would have looked exactly like your writing too. All first drafts suck.

5) Barely anyone gets published, so why bother trying?

Okay, firstly, past!Lauren, you have completely missed the point of writing. Writing is so much fun – you get to create your own worlds! You get to make up characters, and have them fight each other! Or kiss each other! Or fight each other and then kiss each other! Or kiss each other and then fight each other and then get really close to each other’s faces and accidentally start kissing again! Wait . . . what was I saying? [cough]

You don’t write to get published. For me, I write because I have an itch to read a book that doesn’t exist, and the only way to satisfy that itch is to write the book. I love writing (some of the time). I love it even if it never gets published. So it’s always worth writing – and actually, loads of people get published. Look at me!

Don’t let pessimism stop you from trying. Believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then nobody else will.

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.

Writing the dreaded Second Novel

My next novel, THE LAST BEGINNING, is a sequel to THE NEXT TOGETHER, and comes out in Autumn 2016.  I never even knew that THE NEXT TOGETHER would have a sequel until I wrote the last chapter. Then I suddenly realised that there was this whole other story I hadn’t told. I couldn’t bear to give up Kate and Matt.

Writing a second novel was a completely different process to my first. I wrote THE NEXT TOGETHER for me, because I couldn’t find the book I really wanted to read. I never thought about who else would read it. It was full of inside jokes to myself and silly asides that no one else would care about.

I wrote THE LAST BEGINNING knowing that not only would other people read it, but that it was definitely going to be published. That made it so much harder.

I was hit with Second Book Syndrome. I doubted myself. I had to stop myself from not putting things in because I was too busy thinking about what people reading them would think.

Plus, I used all of my best jokes in the first book. I threw everything I had – a lifetime of experiences and ideas – at THE NEXT TOGETHER. For a while, I was a bit stuck.

I got over that in the end – and I think my own self-doubt makes me a better writer. I’d be terrible if I was blithely confident in everything I wrote!

In every book, I find the first 20,000 words the hardest. That can take me almost as long to write as the rest combined. I’ll write and rewrite that about 3 times before I’ll carry on. Getting the beginning right the first time will save a lot of rewriting, I’ve found.

But when I eventually, finally wrote the first draft…. It was so much better that THE NEXT TOGETHER, from the beginning. THE NEXT TOGETHER was the first novel I ever wrote, I was learning how to write at the same time as editing it for publication.

It was a huge learning curve. I was only just figuring out the basics. The edits were huge and endless and I was making stupid mistakes, and writing lots and lots that was immediately deleted because I didn’t know what I was doing.

The second time around, I understood so much more about the plot structures of books. I saved so much time by making sure I knew what the novel’s structure would be from the beginning, before I started writing. That saved me a lot of editing time.

However, I’m still in the midst of editing, so I may be saying this a little early…. I’ll update you in a few months!

I do struggle with comparing the rough draft of THE LAST BEGINNING to the polished final version of THE NEXT TOGETHER. At times it feels like I’d gone backwards because it’s so bad in comparison. But I have to remember how much editing that has had. So. Much. Editing.

And one day,  hopefully very soon, THE LAST BEGINNING will be just as polished and prettied up and ready for people to read. Fingers crossed.

[dives back into edits]