helencareybooks

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Archive for the month “February, 2014”

How do you learn to write?

inspirationIt’s a funny thing with writing, some people think they can just write without doing any learning at all and others feel they’re not going to be able to write successfully without doing an MA in Creative Writing at a top university.

Both approaches have validity. There are successful writers out there who have never attended a single writing course or read a How To book. There are also successful writers out there who have MA’s and PhD’s in English Literature and Creative Writing coming out of their ears.

There are also a lot of writers somewhere in between.

What there aren’t many of, I would suggest, is many successful writers who aren’t also voracious readers.

One of the first things I do when I start teaching my Novel Writing courses is ask the participants what they are currently reading. You might (or might not) be amazed by the number of blank looks I get.

Tip 1. So my first tip for wannabe novelists (or any writers, really) is to read. And not just books in your favourite genre, read widely and eclectically, modern and classic, thrillers and romances, literary and popular. And don’t just read. Analyse. Sometimes this is hard to do if you are swept away by the story, but that it just the moment when you need to stop and think to yourself, ‘Why am I so engaged? How is the author achieving this page turning power?’ (If you can’t stop, just treat yourself to one enjoyable read through, and then read it again to analyse!)

Tip 2. My second tip is to read some How To books, blogs and writing magazines. Some are better than others. Some of what you find will help you, some will make you want to jump off a cliff. But it all adds to your portfolio of tips and techniques.

Tip 3. Have a go. Until you have tried to write a novel you won’t really know what you find difficult and what comes easy. You might find you are a dab hand at story structure but can’t write descriptions for toffee. (Or, slightly more worryingly, in my view, you might be able to pen a beautiful, emotive description but be unable to create engaging characters or a compelling plot.)

Once you have worked your way through tips 1-3, then, if you feel the need, the moment may have come for (Tip 4.) a writing course. There are masses available, varying from practising writing exercises at a monthly local writing group through to full time University postgraduate degrees. Just make sure you choose one to suit your needs, and check that it is taught by someone who knows what they are doing and who has some kind of reputation.

Tip 5. Practise makes perfect. I was talking to a group of published writers recently and we all agreed that we had written about a million words each before writing our breakthrough novels. Don’t give in to the temptation to publish your first novel straight away, just because nowadays you can. Work at it, or preferably write another, and publish only when you have something that’s really going to make your name.

Good luck!

Look out for:
Robert McKee’s courses:
The Arvon foundation writing courses
Julia Cameron’s creative rekindling – The Artist’s Way
Bridget Whelan’s book – Creative Writing School
Writing magazine:

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Romance is in the air

Everywhere I go at the moment there are hearts and roses. Love is in the air and we might as well enjoy it. Some of us are lucky enough to have our own Valentine waiting for us at home (!) but whether we have or not, reading a romantic novel is another great way to celebrate!AOL0-600

As an author I am often asked about my favourite books and whether they have influenced my writing. I have always been a big, and eclectic, reader. My reading has definitely influenced not only what I write about, but also how I write it. I might add here how amazed I often am when I talk to other writers (especially wannabe writers) and discover how little they read.

I’m convinced that analysing how successful authors structure their stories, how they create characters and achieve that all important ‘page turning power’ is the best training a writer can have. ‘But I get far too engrossed in novels to stop and analyse them,’ people say. But of course it is exactly those extra-engrossing novels that we should be learning from – so read them twice! Certainly all the novels on my favourite romantic reads list below are ones I have read at least twice.

Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth – a very clever, beautifully written, literary novel set in Venice in three different periods of history.
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif – a sweeping desert adventure set in N Africa, wonderful writing and compelling story.
Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough – a big Australian saga about impossible love. Choose this for a long and engrossing read.
Eightsome Reel by Magda Sweetland – an intensely emotional sweeping Scottish saga.
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye – a hugely satisfying romantic historical saga set in 19th Century India, amazing sense of time and place.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer – a Regency romance with humour, elegance and style, one of her best.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller – if you are short of time, read this and weep!

My own books all have elements of romance in them too, Some Sunny Day is probably the most emotional of the Lavender Road wartime series. The Art of Loving is specifically designed to make you laugh and cry. And of course Slick Deals contains the enigmatically sexy Nick Jardine!
Enjoy!

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