Today I realised that I have been writing this blog for nearly seven years! The statistics tell me that this is post number 153. Writing the blog acts as an electronic journal and certainly helps to chart my progress along the grief/life highway.
Writing is a large part of processing loss for me. The act of committing thoughts and emotions to paper is a useful tool for anyone with a story to tell, and we all have one, don’t we? I am often asked questions around the process of writing so here are my top ten tips for today:
- Choose your writing media
Have a notebook or electronic device handy for jotting things down as they come to mind. Sometimes I have an idea for a topic and need to consider how to frame it. The physicality of committing something in writing acts as a trigger for me to work on a particular subject. I often make handwritten notes which might take the form of lists, then I move to the pc to research, expand and polish a piece. And don’t forget to read! – as I have quoted before, prolific author Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
- Organise your files
My system for writing both my books involved creating a number of folders on the pc. The main folder was dated and called ‘A New Book’ and the sub folders each contained a single chapter. There was an additional folder for references. Trust me when I say there is nothing more tedious than getting to the end of a long publication and having to go back to the beginning to reference! – and you need to ask for permission if you are quoting, say, from a newspaper article. It is so much easier to do as you go along. I had additional folders named for contributors, introduction and acknowledgement, as well as a folder into which I placed quotes which I might wish to use. My blogs live in a folder imaginatively named Blog Posts …
- Identify your Audience
Ask yourself, “Who am I writing for?” There is a certain amount of egotism in authoring. It can be a useful exercise to count how many times you repeat the letter “I” in a piece. Remember you are trying to create something that is interesting to your audience. You are imparting your knowledge and expertise plus/minus problem solving. The readers want to know how you can help them, not about how you can help you! This is especially important in grief writing, which calls for balancing your experience with others’ expectations for the future. Looking at reviews for other books in your chosen genre is helpful in refining down your key topics.
- Write about what you know
This seems obvious, but when you read a waffly article, you just know that it has been cobbled together through the author’s mastery of Google and/or Wikipedia. I could write at length about macro photography because it is something I have experienced, but I wouldn’t know where to start if I were asked to write about wedding photography. Similarly, I can express the feelings of being the mother of a teenager who died accidentally, but I cannot, and would not, compare that with the emotions wrought by the loss of a toddler.
- Identify the Structure
Structuring a piece of writing is, I think, key to its impact. Every story, whether it is truth or fiction, needs a framework on which to build; it is a skeleton to be fleshed out and clothed with words. My second book contains a certain amount of personification in that I represent hope, faith, light, resilience and joy as characters in the story that is my own personal grief journey. Knowing when to stop writing is as important as writing the first line. If a piece feels too long, it probably is!. Contributions from others offering different perspective are invaluable.
- Pick your Title
It is vital to have a descriptive book title that gives some indication to the reader what to expect from your book. This is particularly important when your potential readers will turn up a huge number of titles as they search the internet for key words. I was happy that no one had used the title Into the Mourning Light in 2014 or Living in the Mourning Light in 2020. Always check first!
- Knock out that Writer’s block
If you are a runner, you will know that some days you feel that you can run like a gazelle, but at other times your legs feel leaden. So it is with writing. There are wonderful times when my fingers can barely type fast enough to keep up with my teeming thoughts and I bash the characters onto the screen, unedited, just as they flow. The obverse side to this can be periods of stultifying dullness. I find the best remedy for this is to step away from any kind of pressured writing (ie a book or blog) and write stuff that ‘doesn’t matter’; it is what I call my light and fluffy writing. Creating fiction, poetry or descriptive writing often frees up other parts of the creative brain. Belonging to a writing group helps, too. Even if you are not in the mood to write yourself, hearing others’ work stimulates your own creativity.
- Edit, polish and proof *VITAL*
However particular you are, you will never be able to proof your own work to total accuracy. Using a professional proof reader is essential to avoid not just typographical errors, but repetition, use of weak words and dodgy syntax, for example. During the creation of my second book, I used two proof readers, because the book changed considerably between the time of the first draft and when it was nearing completion. It can also be very useful to have a select few people read and give feedback on some, or all your chapters when they are in their raw state. This is easily achievable through email or file transfer and this kind of pre-publication review allows you to polish your work. If a piece isn’t ‘hanging right’ I find that reading it out loud can tell me what I need to tweak. Knowing when to stop editing is tricky, but you develop a feel for this with experience. Share widely
Unless you are fortunate enough to be talent-spotted by a publisher or agent, you will have to do your own marketing. There are numerous ways to get the word out there, easily found on the internet, and having a social media profile is key to promoting your writing. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us to promote ourselves, but if you wish to sell your book you have to develop an authorial presence and this may mean putting yourself in the limelight more than is comfortable. Once you get some positive feedback, this becomes more natural.
10 Check out the Competition but Never Compare
Finding a niche in a saturated book market is no easy task but if you have focussed on the foregoing points, you should be able to bring your conceptual idea to printed fruition. It is easy to be disheartened by other writing and authors that you perceive as being better, but hold fast to your self belief! When you reach the point of publishing, you have come a long way since the concept of your book first came to mind. In many ways, publishing is a new beginning rather than a final stage. You have done all the hard work involved in writing and editing and you can feel a tremendous sense of achievement that your product is the best it can be. Be proud, be very proud. Keep marketing, maintain your writing profile and encourage reviews (something I am not very good at, but anyone is welcome to review my books at any time).
Happy writing, everyone!