Today's wisdom-sharing guest blogger is the author of NAIL YOUR NOVEL--Roz Morris!
I look at other novels and films that deal with similar themes and settings. I'm a great fiddler. I can't look at something without thinking about how I would do it differently. So similar stories spur me to tackle the subject in a totally different way.
I also do oodles of research, which I find is a very creative process. Ghostwriting got me used to this, as I've often had to write in the guise of people who have had very adventurous lives. For instance, I've had to write scenes where characters fly planes - which I've never done! So I had to research that, and the techicalities suggested dramas that could happen in the story.
When I decided my litfic novel would be about a concert pianist, I knew that it didn't matter that my abilities on the piano are fairly basic. I befriended a concert pianist and asked him endless questions so that I could create the character and her life plausibly.
I also tend to set novels in places I have never been to, because researching them builds them in my head and suggests places that could be characters' homes, or provide the backdrop for a pivotal scene. If it is a foreign country there may be natural features (such as caves) or hazards (such as poisonous snakes) that inspire me with an important story event.
This research may seem like a lot of work. After all, I could set books in places I know and in worlds I am familiar with. But if I did, I fear I would run out of ideas quickly, as I don't have the kind of life that provides me with constant dramas (for which I am grateful)! I can't imagine that many people would be interested in an endless stream of novels about a fortysomething writer living in London, I don't have that many adventures. But with research, my imagination can go on great expeditions and the sky's the limit. (Or, in fact, not even the sky is a limit...)
On writer's block:
I certainly do get block, especially in the first draft. It's usually because I think what I'm writing is rubbish, or I've hit a blank in the plot and don't know how to sort it out.
My remedies are to prepare a lot beforehand so the blank sheet isn't really blank. Again research helps with this. Also I write detailed synopses before I start. Some people can simply start writing and turn out 100,000 words with no plan at all, but I can't do that.
Another remedy, if I feel I'm not writing anything worthwhile, is to put some music on. It might inspire me, or it may simply ensure I remain at the desk until the album is finished - but by then, I'll usually have come up with something. I try not to be too critical of my first draft while I'm writing, but instead concentrate on living the scene for the first time and writing down what comes to mind. But I'm a lot happier when I've got a first draft written and can start to shape it properly.
Writer's block is one of those things you have to not give in to. It's like doing any job - you might not feel in the mood one day, but if it's a day when you're meant to be at work, you simply have to get on and do it! This positive attitude has turned many a gloomy writing day into a day that was surprisingly productive.
What also helps is having great blogs to visit. I always start my working day by hopping onto a friendly site. It's like having colleagues who are going through similar trials to me. The jollying advice of fellow writers is a real help, especially as they've all got projects to get on with too. It reminds me to get my nose to the grindstone and do the job.
I've got a tool I've developed specifically for this. No matter how much of a mess my first draft is, this tool allows me to take control of it. Basically, I write a summary document of the entire first draft and assess the character arcs, plot points, pace, mood and timeline all in one go - and then I'm ready to attack the revisions with confidence. (It's quite complicated to explain, so you might want to look at my page about it.)
Going on submission:
Unfortunately, it's a waiting game. Particularly now, when publishers are being very cautious about everything they buy. Generally at the moment, if an editor hasn't said No, it's because they would probably like to say Yes or Maybe, but are waiting for a time when their company will allow them to start shopping for new work again. So no news is probably good news - although it's so frustrating to get no feedback. In a different market, if you were getting no answer from an editor it would be worth chasing, but right now if you put too much pressure on editors, you might push them into saying No for a quiet life.
Hang in there, is what I'd say. I'm quite optimistic, actually. I think that once the publishing industry has got over this very cautious period, they might decide it's time to be more adventurous in what they buy - which is possibly why so many of them are sitting on promising manuscripts.
Another piece of advice I'd give is, keep going. Always have a number of writing projects on the go. That way, you can let the selling process take as long as it takes without getting desperate and hassling people. Writing is a long game. If you can fund yourself through another book, then do it - because when you've finished it it's another one in the bank. But that's not easy.
The third piece of advice I'd give is to remind yourself that writing is a life choice. We do it because we find it rewarding, like a hobby, and if we can start to earn our living by it we're very lucky indeed. This is easy to forget if the business side seems slow, but there are a lot of people in the world whose jobs are not remotely connected with what they would choose to do on a day off. Writing's a vocation and a personal journey - I love learning more so that I can create books other people will cherish. So when progress in the outside world seems to be slow, I look at what progress I've made within the four walls of my study and how I'm developing my craft. And also what keeps me sane is the other writers I know - on line and in the flesh - who are in the same boat!
Thank you for sharing all your wisdom, Roz! Roz is a ghost writer and has both fiction and nonficition (Nail Your Novel) on submission and is agented by Jane Conway-Gordon in London.