Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How too RIGHT a proper bo0K !

The internet is awash with advice, instruction and "rules" about writing books. Much of it adhered to by many aspiring writers, all of it ignored by myself.

In the following waste of your time, I will offer some tips and an insight into the way I, myself, write. And as some of you, who are so desperate for entertainment that you read this blog on a regular basis, will know, I've sold one or two books over the past eighteen months (unlike some of the advice-givers out there).

1- You will need (in no particular order)
a) A brain.
b) An imagination to go with the above.
c) A pair of working lungs and a pulse.
d) Some form of contraption with which to write. I, personally, use a folding computer with buttons.
e) Lots of spare time. This phrase is in the past tense because when you begin writing, the 'spare' part disappears.

Okay, so you've checked every item off the above list. If you only have one working lung, this should not inhibit your writing ability, so don't let that put you off. Although certain amputations may be a hindrance to your end goal.

 Next, you will require a story. Many people in the fabled land of Amazonia will tell you to plan out your storyline in meticulous detail, planning each chapter before you even begin writing. They suggest 'character sketches' so you know exactly what your heroes and villains smell like, and what colour underwear they don on any given day. Hmmm...bollocks. In my humble opinion this is a surefire way to end up with cardboard characters, unflinching and reacting strangely to situations as they arise. A character writes the story alongside you. Their moods change, even their opinions, as the story progresses and fills out. So to have a rigid preconception of every character is a no-no. Okay, let's say Mr X is tall, muscular, with black hair and a missing ear, but that's where I leave it. I know, roughly, the part he plays in the whole affair and I want him to tell his story, to evolve throughout each scene and glass of red wine.

There must be a beginning, middle, and end: Fair enough. I suppose there has to be, but I tend not to know the middle part. Sometimes the end isn't exactly clear, either. In fact, I usually don't even know where to fucking start! Each book I write begins with an idea. A vague notion of ... let's say: "A man's wife and daughter are murdered. The killer gets off. Man wants revenge. Uses social media to hunt down killer's friends and family." And that's it! So what I do is put pen to paper, fingertip to button. I know the story starts with the protagonist's family being murdered, so let's get on with that. After all, there's probably a week's worth of writing there alone. As I write, I think. I see the characters taking on their own form and personalities, and this influences the next set of events, and so on and so forth. I once tried to plan a book chapter by chapter, but it went arse up after chapter 1. So I returned to the organic method of writing: Make it up as you go along.

I've said it before on this blog, as have many other writers: If the author doesn't know what's going to happen next, how can the reader?

Don't write for writing's sake. I hear of so many self-published authors who cut swathes from their books during editing, sometimes two or three chapters, sometimes more. And my question is: What the fuck were they doing there in the first place? I would rather spend a couple of days not writing than bash out ten thousand words of utter crap. When I edit my books, I'll be lucky to delete a couple of paragraphs, and these are always highlighted in red, meaning I wasn't too sure about them to start with. But usually I end up adding around 5,000 words to the story as a whole. Clarification, enhanced description and maybe filling in a plot hole here and there. In my opinion, make every word count. Having said that, if you then submit your book to an agent or publisher, they may well say your book is too long and it needs to be trimmed, chopped, or even halved. Writer's block isn't really writer's block, it's a period of time when you have to pause, take a step back and actually think about where you're going with this. If you've come to a roadblock, it's because you've got lost and driven the wrong way. Reverse! For God's sake don't just keep ramming the barriers hoping there's something good on the other side.

Beware of burglars. WTF? Seriously, it's all very well saving your work as you go along, and very admirable having a duplicate copy on that USB, which was still connected to your laptop when Barry the Smackhead from the Broadway Estate decided to pay you a late-night visit. But when you wake up in the morning and there's excrement all over your living room walls, your wife's granny's jewellery has been swapped for a gram of heroin, and the place looks like poltergeists had an all-night rave; the first thing you're going to see is the empty space where your laptop used to be..and the USB...and the book you've just spent six months writing. It sounds like paranoia, but it has happened before. Plus, I know Barry the Smackhead, and he's a bastard for dishing out one-star reviews, so be warned. On a more serious note, though. Viruses can cause the same distress (except for the excrement and jewellery, of course), as can corrupted USBs. So email the book to yourself. I have a backup email account, too. At the end of each day I email the Word document to both accounts. Think of it as storing it in a cloud. Okay, thanks to Barry, you have to buy a new laptop to continue writing the book, but at least you won't have to start all over again. Oh, and by the way, don't make the same mistake as I did with FBK1. Do not save various versions. For some reason I did and ended up publishing a totally unedited copy to Amazon. See the 1-star reviews for proof. This isn't an excuse . I actually did it, and when I realized (by which time it was too late) I considered cutting off various body parts.

Okay, so you've now finished your book. You're happy with it. Old Marjory Butterfield from number 11 has read it and says it's magnificent. You ask her for a list of spelling mistakes and other observations, at which point she suddenly remembers that she forgot to remember why she was reading the book in the first place. But she liked it nonetheless, bless her. This is where we face two lines of thought...

1- Many people are of the opinion that you should leave the book, and forget about it for weeks, if not months, before returning to it with a fresh mind. Now, this to me makes no sense. The book is fresh in your mind. The characters are still in your head, and I, personally, go straight back to the beginning and start editing. I read through each book three times. The first time - for flow. I read it as a reader would. When I spot errors, be they spelling, grammar or continuation, I don't stop, but merely highlight the offending passage in red. The second read through is a thorough check of the aforementioned problems. This stage took over a month for The United kingdom of Islam, and encompasses characterisation, tightening sentence structure etc. Then the third reading, by which time I inevitably regard the book as the most boring piece of shit imaginable, is another, slow read through, to catch the ones that got away.

2- With the advent of Amazon, everyone is a reviewer nowadays. Every little old granny and her oxygen mask thinks they work for the New York Times or The Guardian (God forbid) and what they'll tell you is exactly this: "Could do with a good proof reader," "Needs an editor!" And who the fuck's going to pay for it, you old bitch? Not you, that's for certain. With your sixty-quid Kindle and 10,000 free books stored up like a fucking squirrel waiting for the end of the world.

A picture of a shocked old woman 

Freelance editors are expensive, and sometimes as much use a Salvation Army charity collector outside a mosque. So what do you do? Well, you can distribute your book among friends, family and colleagues in the hope that they're a little less illiterate than yourself, or you can self-edit. I do this. I tell everyone that I pay an editor, but that's a lie. It was a get-out-clause for when I published Kingdom of Islam, I would then have some imaginary person to blame, but, as it turns out, I didn't need one. Almost 155,000 words of perfection. Even the great and famous Stephen Leather said it was 'written like a pro'. Maybe he meant a prostitute, I'll never know.

Self-editing is quite tricky and very time-consuming. I have problems with hyphenation, placement of colons and semi colons etc. but I get around it by researching some of the better grammar and writing forums online.  If I'm not sure about a phrase I've used, I'll close it in quotation marks and Google it. Thereby searching for the exact phrase. Be careful with this technique, though, because often the first pages which pop up are from fanfiction sites, and they're about as useless as you and I. But if you're confronted with pages upon pages from leading journalists, excerpts from classic books etc. You know your phrase is probably going to be correctly worded. This is also a good technique to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

I won't go into book covers. With today's downloadable free software, Photoscape for example, there's no need to have a square cover plastered with a 1980's font.

And that, as they say, is that! That's how I do it anyway. Cheap and cheerful. The worst thing you can do is to rush. I have in the past and paid a heavy price for it. There are millions of books out there on the market, and one more won't make a jot of difference, or put a penny in your pocket, unless it's the best you can possibly make it...oh! and try to be original.

I am by no means saying all the information out there on the I'vegotanopinionnet is to be ignored. There are plenty of useful sites, none of which I've visited, that will tell you how someone who has sold five books thinks you should write. And my advice is to shop around. You can take a little piece from each and put them together until you're happy with your way of doing things. can just do what the fuck you want!

This (unedited) blog is all 'in my opinion' and if anyone wishes to argue against my methods, please do so with someone who actually gives a shit.

Love you all.

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