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Posts tagged ‘writing process’

Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing, by Andy Briggs

For this post I thought I’d give you a simple checklist of bad habits that writers can develop. Like most habits, it’s not always apparent that you’re doing it, so here are some warning signs to look out for.

1. Procrastination. This is the ultimate creative killer. The one that causes stress and makes you miss deadlines. Stare at a blank page and you are staring into a void. You have to type to get the words down, but to do that you need motivation. What tends to happen is emails are checked, then Facebook and Twitter, then perhaps the news and any other website I happen to follow – and before long I have wasted hours and it’s time for another coffee. The peril here is that the moment you make that coffee and sit back at the computer – you simply repeat the process.

2. Email. I could be midway through the most thrilling scene I have ever written and the moment my inbox goes BONG, I am yanked out of the story and straight into my email, burning with curiosity over who has validated my existence by emailing me. Usually it’s a piece of spam, which I’ll delete and return to the page. But that slight distraction suddenly propels me back to step 1, above.

3. Reading. When I open up the document I am working on, I may read the last couple of paragraphs to refresh my memory but I won’t read any more. If I read everything I wrote the day before then I will start finding faults, typos, or better ways to express myself and will immediately fall into re-writing syndrome. This is a writing tailspin that could end up costing you the entire day. Instead of looking at an increased word count, you have less than you started with because of your meddling.

4. TV. I know some people who work best by listening to songs. I can’t do that as the lyrics always distract me. Likewise, I can’t have the TV on in the background because my attention will always stray to it – no matter how bad the show is. I often find myself camped in front of the TV, pretending to write – but if I pay attention to what I have been doing for the last three hours I will find I have accidentally entered step 1 without realizing it. I prefer to write with movie scores on in the background. If I’m writing something fast and upbeat, I will but on an action-packed score. If the scene I am writing is sad and slow, I will find something melancholy to listen to. I find the music seeps into my writing and helps set the correct mood on the page.

5. Fact checking. I’m a big believer in research, but I will attempt to do it before I start writing the scene – otherwise I will be surfing the web for hours, or worse, heading out to the local library just to find a trivial piece of information just so I can complete the sentence.

Watch out for these insipid habits and you will automatically improve your writing and, perhaps, enjoy the writing process a whole lot more.


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Writing Teen Novels

Mistakes I’ve Made As A Novelist, by Bernard Beckett

The spark for a particular novel can come from many places and arrive in many forms. For me, sometimes it’s an idea that’s puzzling me and the writing of the novel is a working through of my own confusion. Other times there’s a plot element, a particular ending perhaps or an opening that intrigues me. Other times it’s a character. The trick is taking this starting point and weaving it into a successful and satisfying story. The trouble is that the path from starting point to finished product is not at all clear. There are any number of paths to take and the great majority of them will end in failure. This, by way of illumination, is a story or one of those failures – my novel Home Boys.

The starting point was unusual for me, it began with my father telling me the story of a man who lived in the same small town as him. The man in question had been sent out to New Zealand post World War Two, as part of the scheme meant to offer new starts to children whose lives had been ripped apart by the war. Like so many of the children, this man’s story was not a happy one. He was signed up to the scheme by an older brother and didn’t know he was on anything other than a day trip until the boat was out to sea. He ended up on a farm where he was essentially used as slave labour. I went and interviewed the chap and was captivated by his story, and by his resilience. In the way of his generation, he seemed to have simply shrugged and got on with it, and looking back, held no bitterness or regret.

My plan was to use the first half of his story (being put on the boat, ending up on the farm, then running away) and then fictionalise the rest. The trouble was, I didn’t exactly know what that rest was. And because I had such a solid start, there was an opportunity to start writing without really thinking about it. The first bits came easily, the character developed, along with the sense of place, and I figured I could probably just follow my nose from there and something would work out.

As I approached the point of departure into pure fiction, I began playing around with new ideas. Another runaway down the road becomes a mate and suddenly we’re into Huckleberry Finn territory. Feeling confident, I threw in some disturbing dreams (always a mistake) that hinted at the possibility of the supernatural. I brought back an Italian prisoner of war, who by strange coincidence (no worries, I’ll solve it later) reappeared and then, following my nose, ended up at a small fishing village and a love triangle at its apex. I think there was even mention of a mysterious cave in the bush from whence no man had returned. I was, it was fair to say, having fun. And the writing, for me, wasn’t half bad. I was enjoying getting the sense of time and place. It was the geography of my own childhood, I knew it well, and loved the challenge of getting that landscape into the paper.

In hindsight, I can see that I was absolutely seduced by the process of putting more and more balls in the air. The idea was that somehow I’d nail the catching as well, that they’d land in my hand one by one in a satisfying succession of plops, and I would bow to the standing ovation. I was caught up in the feeling the reader would also have, that somehow this mad mix of myth, dream, history, lust and coincidence was going to weave itself into an astonishing ending.

The trouble, clearly, was that I had no ending. I didn’t even have a feel for the what the ending should do, what the satisfactory completion of Colin’s character arc would look like. The book was coming to an end, the options were closing in, but there was no place to jump to that would tie it all up. At that point, what I should have done is taken a deep breath, gone back to the beginning and tried to work out what it was I was really trying to achieve. Instead I cheated and threw in a non-ending with the two boys sitting on the back of a truck, having hitched a ride, heading into the city. It was supposed to be symbolic, I suppose, but it was no such thing. It was just a case of not knowing how else to end the story, because this particular story didn’t have an ending, making it not a story at all, but rather a collection of ideas and events and people and places that I really loved writing about. Less a novel, more an extended creative writing exercise.

Looking back on it now, I still love reading from Home Boys, for exactly the same reason I enjoyed writing it. In my head, it’s hugely alive, maybe more than any other piece of my writing. As such it must be filed under ‘ones that got away’, a book where I got caught up in the telling and lost sight of the story.


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Writing Teen Novels

Dealing With Anxieties During The Novel Writing Process, by Monika Schroder

I just finished my last manuscript and sent it out to my editor. Now, during the long time of waiting for her response I try to relax and refresh my creative energy. But in the back of my head lurks fear, the fear that the editor might reject it, that the book is not good enough. While I wait for her phone call I keep myself busy with garden chores, long neglected errands and, after some procrastination, by writing these articles.

As I choose topics, I reflect on the process of writing and realize that this fear of being rejected is just one of the many anxieties a writer encounters along her journey. There appears to be another kind of anxiety every step of the way.

When I write the first draft I always worry if I will be able to finish it. While re-reading what I have written I often find it flat and bland and, by way of self-sabotaging, tell myself that it is no good and not even worth finishing. Then I have to remind myself that the first draft is supposed to be just that and a first draft will get better over the process of revision. Yet, I keep wondering, “Will this be good enough? Will publishers want to buy it? Will readers care?”

The only way to escape these worries without giving the project up is to push forward and to finish the draft.

But then there is the chaos of holding it all together. At times it feels as if I’ve lost control over the story. The manuscript becomes a ‘wild thing’ but the only way forward is to face the fear and to work on making the manuscript better. Annie Dillard describes this stage like this:

“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight… it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!’”

When, finally, the miracle happens and the manuscript is finished and an editor buys it, I feel elated and happy. For a while at least. Together with the editor and copy editors we perfect the manuscript and more than a year later they send me the ‘advance readers copies’. These handsome paperbacks look almost like the real book. I am glad to see them but another terror takes hold of me as I realize that the publisher is about to print the actual book and this is my last chance to make changes. Soon the text will be FINAL.

I call it ‘Galley Fright’ and, as with all the other fears, I am not alone but can find solace in the fact that other writers experience this as well. Eudora Welty, in a 1972 interview with Paris Review, said this about her feelings toward galley proofs:

“Proofs don’t shock me any longer, yet there’s still a strange moment with every book when I move from the position of writer to the position of reader, and I suddenly see my words with the eyes of the cold public. It gives me a terrible sense of exposure, as if I’d gotten sunburned.”

Yes, I also feel exposed when looking at the galleys, but I know I have to let it go and trust that, together with the wonderful people at the publishing house, I produced a good book.

Next, Launch Day comes - my book’s official birthday. This occasion is also filled with that bittersweet mixture of happiness and fear. Now my baby goes out into the world. How will the world welcome it? Will reviewers slight it? Will readers be disappointed? Will the world see right through me to the fraud I fear I am?

It helps me to tell myself that the reception of my book is out of my control. Whatever happens to it will happen. Instead of worrying about it, I try to turn my attention to writing my next book.

I soon worry if I will ever be able to pull it off, finish the story and make a good book out of it… and see above: the vicious cycle of fear begins anew.

Perhaps there is no remedy and these fears will always be part of the process. The only way to overcome these anxieties is to accept them, or even embrace them. I will carry on in despite them and I am able to convert the fear into excitement on most days, and find pleasure in the magical process of putting words on paper.


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Writing Teen Novels

My Novel Writing Process, by Carolyn Meyer

When I begin the first page of a new novel, I’ve already invested months in research, made notes on yellow pads, obsessed about it on my morning walks. I have a mental picture of my characters and I know in a general sort of way what they’re likely to be doing. I’m telling myself the story I hope will become a novel that teens will read fervently, talk about enthusiastically and love forever. At this point nothing is set in stone.

At first I’m talking to myself, describing the story: first she does this, then she does that, then he says and she says, then they do something else. But that’s not a novel, it’s a treatment – a story about the story.

Then comes the real work: turning the story-about-a-story into a sequence of scenes, each building on the last. In that first chapter I must also provide the teen reader with enough information to understand what’s happening. I approach the writing as though I’m making a movie, fully visualizing each scene. If I can picture it, I can write it and the reader will “get” it.

I decided to begin Cleopatra Confesses with Cleopatra’s long-absent father’s return to Egypt. I used a series of scenes and flashbacks to introduce principal characters and establish family relationships, as well as to create tension. The chapters are brief and the scenes move the story along quickly. Here’s how I structured the first chapter:

Scene 1: Cleopatra hears a commotion and goes out to investigate; a messenger brings news that Ptolemy XII is on his way from Rome.

Scene 2: Cleopatra visits her younger sister, plays her with sister’s pet monkey and her sister’s bodyguard is introduced.

Transition: description of Cleopatra’s older sisters, brothers and father.

Scene 3:  Cleopatra, in borrowed servants’ clothes, leaves the palace for the marketplace.

Scene 4 (flashback): Cleopatra with her father before he leaves for Rome.

Scene 5 (flashback): Cleopatra with her jealous sisters.

Then on to the second chapter, with scenes in the marketplace with Cleopatra waiting for father’s ship; then in the palace, dressing for her father’s welcome.

Total pages for first two chapters: thirteen.

Contemporary teen novels usually take place over a relatively short time – days or weeks, rarely covering more than a year. A teen historical novel may span years, even decades, and that requires tracking the passage of time in a way that keeps teen readers oriented. One strategy is to use the day or date in chapter titles, but the calendar in Cleopatra’s era was so confusing that I indicated the time in other ways: “It is the season of the Inundation, the time of year when the Nile overflows its banks….”, “In the evening of the first day as the royal boat drifts….” or “It is winter now…”

The structure of Cleopatra Confesses evolved as I added and deleted scenes; lengthened, shortened and divided chapters; and changed chapter titles. This process continued through successive drafts and revisions, as it has through all of my teen novels. It may be worth noting that I never get it right the first time but only through trial and error.


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Writing Teen Novels

The Process Of Writing My Novel ‘My Brother’s Shadow’, by Monika Schroder

It has been said that there are those writers who plan and those who “fly by the seats of their pants.” I am part of the second group and before I began working on my novel, My Brother’s Shadow, I only had a rough idea of who Moritz, the main character, was and what would happen in the story. I encountered a surprise in the first few pages. Moritz was telling his story in first person and used the present tense. Hadn’t I read in many books about writing that the first person, present tense point-of-view was difficult to write? My first two novels were told in the voice of third person omniscient narrators reflecting on past events, and I had no intention of changing from what I knew by writing in first person and in present tense.

I rewrote the beginning in past tense but couldn’t force Moritz to tell his story in hindsight, so I stuck to the immediacy of present tense. The story is set in 1918 Berlin. I needed to convey a lot of background information. It seemed such a daunting task to introduce the reader to starvation and despair in Berlin as well as the anticipation of military defeat without the omniscient perspective of third person POV. In the first chapter I needed to set the stage, let Moritz introduce himself and his family, and find an intriguing ending to the chapter that would entice readers to go on. Moritz came to my rescue. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper he could read the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby inform the readers of my novel of the state of affairs in Germany in October 1918.  The newspaper became a vehicle to disseminate information about the setting without interrupting the flow of the narrative. In the first page of the novel, Moritz reads an official war report knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He also meets Herr Goldman, a journalist with the paper who takes a liking to Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfil his dream to become a reporter.  Moritz is able to tell the reader about the most pressing and newsworthy current events through his conversations with Herr Goldman. Apparently there was a way for me to write in first person, present tense and still give the reader a sense of the setting.

About half way in, the story took an unexpected turn and once again I had trouble letting myself deviate from my original plan. Moritz had met a girl who had completely flummoxed him with her wit. Granted, it was not so unlikely that a 16-year old boy would take an interest in a girl but I had not anticipated a romance.

I had never expected to write about young love. Now here was Rebecca, the smart daughter of a Jewish bookseller who attended the same political meetings as Moritz’s mother and sister. After their first encounter on the train, it was clear that they had to meet again. Yet the book takes place in 1918, so they wouldn’t go “all the way.” I was able to braid his discovery of love together with the story of Moritz’s relationship with his brother, who returns from the trenches a maimed and bitter veteran. Rebecca’s presence even gave me the opportunity for a hopeful conclusion to leave readers satisfied after Moritz’s intense final confrontation with his brother.

Writing My Brother’s Shadow has taught me to trust the process along the way. A quote by E. L. Doctorow showed me that I am not alone with this approach: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”


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Writing Teen Novels

My Novel Writing Process, by April Henry

I used to write books just for me. No publisher was waiting for them (although I certainly had the fantasy that once publishers saw the finished book they would fall all over themselves buying it). And the books were done when they were done.

I’ve had 13 books published in 13 years. Most are written under contract, which means they have a fixed due date. (Although I still sneak off to work on a ‘spec’ book now and then.)

My current writing process is now more like this:

  • One year before the book is due: I have plenty of time. And I deserve to relax after how hard I worked to get the last book done. I might make some notes and brainstorm a little… after I clean out the basement.
  • Nine months before: This plot idea is intriguing. The characters are starting to seem like real people. Maybe I should create a thorough outline… after I finish alphabetizing the spices.
  • Six months before: The outline is finished. This is going to be so easy. I should outline all the time! I’ll just take it step by step, like paint by numbers. The book is practically going to write itself now that I have all the hard work done. I think I’ll call my friend and go out for ice-cream to celebrate.
  • Three months before: Holy crap! This outline doesn’t work at all. And why do my characters keep doing things I never planned on them doing? This one guy was meant to be a secondary character but for some reason he thinks he’s the real love interest. And my main character refuses to do this one dangerous thing the outline says she should do. She says it’s a bad idea.
  • Two months before: I will never be done in time. Never. The only way I can do it is to write two thousand words a day, every single day. Didn’t manage more than three hundred today? No problem, I’ll make it up tomorrow.
  • Two weeks before: There’s too much blood in my caffeine stream. I’m writing like a mad woman. But I can do it. If I just give up on this sleeping thing.
  • Due date: There. Finished. Is it any good? I’ve read it over but, to be honest, I have no idea. I hit the send key. I really should celebrate. Or work on that other book that’s due. But how long has it been since I swept behind the couch?


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Writing Teen Novels

The Novel Writing Process, by Lish McBride

People like to ask the question, “How do you write?” Because, well, the writing process is a big, fat, mysterious beast that likes to hide out in the shadows. It’s not something you can learn through observation. You can’t wrap yourself in camo, drench yourself in hormone-emitting doe urine, and sit in a hunting blind waiting to make your move. If you were staring at me right now, you would just see me making faces at my laptop while occasionally hitting a few keys. Then I would make another face. Then I’d hit the delete button.

If publishing a novel is a lot like having a baby – and in many ways I find that to be an apt analogy – then the rough draft process is a lot like dating, complete with awkwardness and the soul-crushing worry that you will do everything wrong and die alone.

Of course, you’ll decide to take the plunge anyway. How can you not? You’ll put on you’re best clothes, think of funny things to say, and get all excited – what will this book be like? Is it “the one?” Should you play a little hard to get? Then you ask your friends, the ones that really get around, for first date advice. Next thing you know, you’re out there and you’re taking the plunge. It’s everything you hoped. The conversation is sparkling and witty and the atmosphere is something out of a dream.

But then the next morning arrives and you wake up with doubts. You second-guess everything that you said. You over analyze everything said to you. Then you think that maybe the restaurant had rats and the food made you sick. So you decide to delete his number and go out with someone else.

This process of backwards and forwards continues for a while. And, just like dating, it sucks. Eventually, you will meet the book that you can really spend time with. It’s bumpy for sure, and you go back to those friends for more advice. Some might not approve of this new novel you’re seeing. They prefer their novels with different POVs or with a little more genre to them. And that’s okay. You know that this novel is the one for you and you’re going to spend the rest of your life with it.

The next thing you know, you’re in the delivery room holding a manuscript in your hands and wondering how you got there.

It’s a messy, weird, amazing process. Naturally, there are things you didn’t expect. There are a few tidbits your friends tried to explain to you that you really didn’t “get” until now, but that’s okay. You lose some sleep, you cry a little, and then you think maybe, just maybe, things will be okay.

And that’s when you start the whole process over again. Every time, it terrifies you. You worry that this time you’ll screw up. Or worse, the magic will fail you all together and you won’t be able to do it again. You worry that you are, in fact, a one-trick pony.

This is normal. This is also why some writers drink. (Which might not be your best option.)

And the worse part is that you’ll ask other writers for advice on how the whole thing is done and they all give you different answers. Or they just shrug because it’s kind of hard to explain.

Here’s the thing, friends – we’re not trying to be jerks by giving different answers. It’s just that different things work for different writers. Some write character arcs and story arcs for everything. They outline. They make character sketches and really get all the details down.

Others, like me, wing it. Though I have the ability to outline, it doesn’t work for me. For me, the process is one of discovery. It’s like being an archeologist. Sure, you have a few pieces of pottery and some scrolls. You know some of the story. But you’re not going to know all of it until you bust into that tomb and really look around. Then you steal some mummies. (That last part doesn’t really work for the analogy.)

I tried to outline once during the first draft of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. I spent a big chunk of time carefully mapping out several chapters…and then I completely ignored it. So here is what I do: I work scene by scene. I write toward that next step and try not to worry about the big picture. I listen to my characters. Often I’m writing and realize that my idea of where the plot is going is wrong. The characters tell me what they would do in the situation and it’s not what I had planned, but I listen to them and have faith that they know what they’re doing. I try to turn off my internal editor. Some pages will suck. Things won’t make sense, and there will be plot holes. Those things can be fixed in editing. Try not to worry about them. I have never once met an author who wrote a perfect novel in one draft.

If a certain process isn’t working for you, discard it and try something new. The same thing that works for one book might not work for the next. Be flexible. Listen to what other authors do. Try it their way. It might work. It might not. Basically, it’s trial and error until you find a groove that works for you.

Breathe. Have faith. (And never ask me for dating advice. I was terrible at it.)

Homework: Go to an author event, if possible. If not, read some of your favorite author blogs. I promise that some of them will write about their process. Write down some things that seem like they make sense to you and give them a go next time you’re stuck.


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Writing Teen Novels

On Getting Story Ideas (and Developing Them Into Finished Stories) by Diane Lee Wilson

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” That’s a question I frequently get from aspiring writers and one that, frankly, surprises me. Because gathering ideas is truly the easiest part of writing a teen novel. Developing them into a finished story is quite another matter.

Viable ideas for your novel are everywhere. Literally. If you maintain a keen interest and a sensitive ear you’ll find possibilities in a “human interest” story in the newspaper. In a conversation with a stranger. In an unusual photograph in a magazine. In a “throwaway” line from an old movie. If, as a writer, you’re truly alert to the bits of stories all around you then you will find more stories to tell than you have years to live.

Keep in mind that you’re going to craft your story for a teen audience so focus on those themes or settings that will most appeal to this age group.

Now, how do you keep track of all these gestating ideas and which ones do you nurture first? For me, I always have a completely unedited “idea file” in progress. This manila folder regularly accumulates intriguing clippings, photos, and random scribbles on notepaper (often jotted down in the middle of the night when “brilliance” seems to appear). Most of these thought fragments have never blossomed into full stories. But sometimes a theme begins developing (a place in history or a particular character type, for example) and I’ll extract all this pertinent inspiration and assemble it in its own “story file.”

When I’m between projects I’ll also take the time to edit my “idea file”. If I’m no longer struck by the wonderful possibilities of a certain piece then it has lost its magic for me, and I crumple and toss it without regret. You don’t have to hold onto every single story idea; there are many, many more in the world around you. Trust me.

So how do you identify the best ones? The very best idea, the one to which you should apply all your energy, is the one you’re constantly turning in your mind, the one that makes you jump out of bed in the morning and want to start writing. It’s the one that lights the creative fire inside you.

As all writers know, however, self-doubt can creep in and all too easily dampen that fire. Maybe there’s another story that’s better, you begin to think. Maybe I should be working on that one.

Well, here’s where you have to balance inspiration with determination. Re-evaluate what got you started on this teen novel of yours. Do you still believe in that idea? If so, then dig down and find the determination to carry your idea through to a complete novel.

If you truly find yourself staring into the dark, though, perhaps it’s only temporary. Perhaps you need to put your story on the back burner for a while and let it develop at its own pace. I think most writers have several story ideas incubating at the same time. I, for one, always have two or three projects in various stages of maturation lined up behind the one on which I’m working.

Although I consider myself a fairly disciplined writer, even my project line-up can change. As an example: I have compiled research for an intended novel that now fills an entire file box. Relevant books have been acquired, notes organized, character descriptions fleshed out, even a few early chapters have been written. I like this story. I want to write it. But twice now, some other project has pre-empted my creative fire and assumed priority. Most recently this happened when I was reading a newspaper article and turned the page to find a striking photograph that I immediately saw as the climax of a story. At the same instant that I was acknowledging that “THIS is my next story” I was bemoaning the fact that I would once again have to set aside the story with the huge file box. Oh well. Hopefully I have enough years left in me to return to it.

Determination to complete a story can always be mustered, but inspiration, especially when it presents itself in full flame, should never be ignored. Follow your instinct.


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Generating Story Ideas, by SM Johnston

Don’t underestimate a daydream. For me, daydreaming plays an important part in my creation of concepts. Scenes flash through my mind, quite often like movie scenes with narration. It often happens while I’m listening to music – sometimes while at the gym or driving (and I have a forty minute drive to work so that’s a lot of time for story ideas to develop). Other times I get a hypothetical question pop into my head and my mind starts drifting off thinking about how that would work in reality.

For example, my short story Karma, which was runner-up in The Australian Literature Review’s YA short story competition, was inspired by the question “What if there were people out there who were responsible for ensuring karma was delivered?” From there I start running through a list of possible characters, their names, what they look like, how this subgroup in society is run. This imagination time is a perfect opportunity for world building.

Luckily, when I came up with the concept of Karma I was at my computer. Other times when I’m out I have to rely on writing my ideas down as quickly as possible. Notebooks are a writer’s best friend. Keep them everywhere. Admittedly, I have gotten odd looks when I’m scribbling my notes down like crazy in the gym shower room, but capturing those precious ideas is vital. Keep them in your car, next to your bed, in your bag and anywhere else you can think of. One time I had a really strong inspiration for a short story while listening to Pearl Jam and I had to keep repeating the words over and over in my head until I pulled up at my house and had the opportunity to get it onto paper.

Some writers have set play lists that help them get into the writing groove. Personally I have trouble writing with music on, but it definitely helps in the imagination process. I play a lot of Taylor Swift when I’m writing YA contemporary and shift to bands like Good Charlotte, AFI and Simple Plan when I’m delving into darker writing. Find your muse and play it loud.

Don’t be afraid to store plot bunnies either – that is story ideas that you may not be able to work on then and there. Jot down your ideas and keep them for when you’ve finished your latest project. It’s important to not stifle your creativity.

Your own life can also be inspirational for the story writing process. My short story Growth was based on my experiences with my dad dying of cancer. Because it was autobiographical, I could leave things as they were. But another story inspired by my experiences with Dad, a YA GenFic WIP called The Living List, is fiction, so I am taking a lot of my feelings from the experience and expression them in a different way. I spent a lot of time imagining what it would have felt like if I had of lost Dad as a teenager instead of as an adult.

If you want to hone your imagination skills, try looking for flash fiction competitions. They often have a picture or a few words as a prompt. They’re a great way to get your creative juices flowing.


SM Johnston bio page

The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's CraftMentors, Muses & Monsters  : 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their LivesThe Salt RoadAuslanderTo Ride the Gods' Own StallionAllegianceThe Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden)

Writing ‘The Malichea Quest’ Series: History, Science, Adventure and the Paranormal, by Jim Eldridge

After my first two blog posts about writing for teens, which were mainly “writing background” and “philosophy”, we come at last, fellow writers and readers, to a practical one: writing my latest book for teens (or YA book, as the trade calls them), “THE INVISIBLE ASSASSIN”, the first in my new series of action-adventure thrillers (with a “paranormal” undertone) called “THE MALICHEA QUEST”, published by Bloomsbury last month (April).

As I said in my first blog post, I don’t just write for teens, I write for all ages, from 3 to 113 (and for anyone who lives longer than that). So, when I first get an idea, I toy with it for a while, and then think “Who should this one be aimed at? Children? Teens? Adults?” And then, once I’ve decided that, I start to work out how to put that idea into concrete form.

In the case of “The Malichea Quest”, I was reading a book about censorship, and how the Church in about the 8th century destroyed all books that were deemed to be heretical, if they were written by non-Christian writers, or questioned the Church’s view of the world. Galileo was later to fall foul of this same orthodoxy when he proposed that the Earth went round the Sun, and not the other way around, as the Church insisted. This same orthodoxy continued well into the 20th century, with the Roman Catholic Church banning certain books, and the Nazis burning those books that offended them. This same attitude to “unorthodox thought” still continues in the 21st Century: ban the books and stop people reading them.

At the same time I read that in AD793 the Vikings descended on Holy Island in Lindisfarne off the east coast of Britain, and destroyed the monastery, and all the books in the library. As the library at Lindisfarne at that time contained most of the learning which scholars from across the known world had brought to the monastery in the form of texts and scrolls, all that knowledge and learning literally went up in smoke. These two acts in the 8th Century destroyed much of the scientific knowledge of the time. It has been said that if these two destructive acts hadn’t happened and the scientific knowledge had been allowed to spread instead of being destroyed, humankind would have been on the moon 500 years before we actually were.

And, as I read this, I thought: what if these scientific texts hadn’t been destroyed, but had been hidden for protection – and had remained hidden? (If you want to know more about all of this, then there is a page devoted to “The Legend of Malichea” on my website.)

Once I’d got the basic idea, I mulled over who might be the most receptive to this, and I felt that the older teen/YA readership would be. So, next: who was going to be my hero or heroine to tell the story of the search for the hidden books? If you remember, in my previous blog about teenagers, I said that teens, to a great extent, invent themselves, once they leave childhood. They create their own persona, their own identity. So what about taking this to its logical conclusion: a hero who has created himself because he has no family. He was abandoned at birth; then taken into care. He doesn’t know his genetic background, he has no family role models. He has invented himself. As a result, he has no apparent advantages – he comes from a very poor background, and he is dispossessed of family identity. But could that not be an advantage in itself? A young man who battles against his mysterious background, and the social norms, to creates his own life. It could make him emotionally tougher, a surviver.

And so Jake Wells, the 19-year old hero of “The Malichea Quest” series was born.


Jim Eldridge bio page

The Invisible AssassinPyramid of Secrets (My Story S.)Standing Alone (My True Stories)Death in the Desert (Black Ops)The LabQuillblade: Bk. 1 (Voyages of the Flying Dragon)The Spark Gap


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