DiscoverWriting & Publishing

How to Write: How to start, and what to write if you don’t have any ideas

By Louise Tondeur

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Worth reading 😎

This book is a short guide designed to help writers overcome writer's block and develop the ideas that they need to write good fiction.

Synopsis

You can learn a lot about writing through direct observation from life, just like artists do when they work with still life, landscapes or models - and that’s what this book is all about. It’s made up of practical activities for you to work on as you go along, with minimum explanation. The book covers six essential writing techniques. Some of them - like character - are stalwarts. Some will take you by surprise because they’re not included in most Creative Writing books.

As a writer, I must admit that writer's block is seldom something that troubles me. Usually I have more than enough that I want to write about. Nevertheless, knowing a great many writers as I do, it is fairly common for people who write to struggle with knowing how to begin and with turning off that self-critical voice that wants to edit and improve before one gets started creating. While this book is certainly a short one, it offers a great deal of help and suggestions in giving the reader encouragement in how to come up with material for writing. The author consistently encourages writers to notebook, jotting down locations and jobs, feelings as well as discreet samples of dialogue from conversations and ideas for relationships that can help someone flesh out characters. To be sure, the author is aware that some of these activities can be risky (which is why she points out over and over again for the reader to be safe when going out for research purposes). That said, this book certainly gives reader a lot of help in coming up with a critical mass of material that allows a story to be well-written.


In terms of its contents, this particular book is a short one. After an introduction the author encourages writers who are presumably struggling with writer's block to loosen up to allow one's creativity to flow. Various aspects of loosening up, with regards to storytelling, writing in a personal notebook, exploring various ideas and places for inspiration, some extra suggestions, and designing one's own rhythm follow. After this the author discusses various aspects of rhythm that are important for writers, including the importance of storytelling and writing consistently. After this comes some suggestions on how the reader can add a sense of place to one's writing through the exploration of various places and observation as well as (polite) listening in. The author urges writers to read voraciously in order to improve their knowledge of useful and beautiful word pictures as well as a firm understanding of both character and dialogue. The advice seems directed most of all at those writers who wish to write prose fiction and possibly also drama, and provide enough techniques and suggestions that everyone should be able to find something that will encourage creative writing.


Having not read any of the author's other material yet, it is hard to place this particular book in context. That said, the author has written books on how to think like a writer, how to set goals and manage time as a writer, how to find time to write and how to get published as a novelist, all of which suggests that this book will fit in towards the beginning of this series in helping writers to get started. It must be admitted that the author has so far done a good job at providing a set of guides to help writers, and will likely increase these works along all steps of the process, including editing and perhaps even marketing one's books. If those guides are as full of worthwhile suggestions, tips and advice, they are likely well worth reading too for aspiring writers who are looking to get started in writing fiction. That said, even writers who are a bit more polished and experienced but who are having a rough patch can find some suggestions here to overcome the writer's block and maintain the habits that allow one to be a successful and productive writer.

Reviewed by

I read a wide variety of books, usually reviewing three a day, from diverse sources, including indie presses and self-publishing, and I enjoy talking about unfamiliar authors and introducing them to my blog audience.

Synopsis

You can learn a lot about writing through direct observation from life, just like artists do when they work with still life, landscapes or models - and that’s what this book is all about. It’s made up of practical activities for you to work on as you go along, with minimum explanation. The book covers six essential writing techniques. Some of them - like character - are stalwarts. Some will take you by surprise because they’re not included in most Creative Writing books.

Introduction

What’s this book all about?

I believe that you can learn a lot about writing through direct observation from life, just like artists do when they work with still life, landscapes or models - and that’s what this book is all about. It’s made up of practical activities for you to work on as you go along, with minimum explanation. Over the course of the book I go through six writing techniques that I consider essential. Some of these might take you by surprise because they’re not included in most Creative Writing books.


So, this book has six sections, each involving a different writing technique:

Loosen up

Rhythm

Sense of Place

Word Pictures

Character

Dialogue

Plus a section called ‘What Next?’


‘Loosen up’ involves warm up exercises you can use at the start of a session. You can also use them if you’re just starting out as a writer and you want some gentle writing exercises to help you get going. You can also use the ‘loosen up’ exercises to generate ideas or to deepen your work on a particular character.

‘Rhythm’ is all about the rhythm and sound of language as well as the rhythms and sounds in everyday life, and in particular places - so it’s also to do with atmosphere. The way written language sounds (out loud or in our heads) is often neglected in favour of the content of what we write. In every day life, we glean a lot of meaning from the way words are spoken. If that aspect is missed in the written word, the reader will experience it as inauthentic (and may not know why).

‘Sense of Place’ is about observing the details of the places we inhabit, so we can use them in our writing. When we’re writing creatively, we’ll often need to associate a place with a character, and particularly with the way a character is feeling, using something called the objective correlative. This section gives you some practical exercises to try without going into the theory.

‘Word pictures’ can mean more than one thing. A ‘picture’ you create on the page, and therefore in your readers’ heads, or a ‘picture’ you create in your mind’s eye, which you translate onto the page. It can also refer to images that use simile and metaphor, where you associate the thing you’re describing with something else. In this section you’ll learn how to create images on the page.

‘Character’ involves creating people to populate your stories, as well as noticing the details of the people around you – these can be incorporated into any kind of writing, including poetry. You’ll use direct observation from life here, as you will all the way through the book, but you’ll be noticing particular details about a person - a scar, the sound of their laugh, for instance - rather than trying to ‘transcribe’ whole personalities.

‘Dialogue’ is about listening to people speak, and trying to reflect that when you write spoken word on the page. Learning about dialogue helps you to practise your listening skills and to translate your observations onto the page. Again, this isn’t about transcribing actual conversations, or trying to butt in on other people’s business - rather we listen for interesting words and phrases said in public places such as buses and cafes, that could inspire a story.

‘What Next?’ has some tips on what to do if you’re hungry for more writing prompts. It also shows you what to do with the writing prompts you’ve designed for yourself as you’ve been working through the book.


Each section except the final one is made up of these six parts:

Short Exercises

Storytelling

In your notebook

Explore

Extras

and Design your own


Short exercises - these are designed to be done over a few minutes (depending on where they take you). Aim for 5 to 15 minutes per exercise.

Storytelling - this includes storytelling tips, and ways to use the technique to create or begin a story. This exercises will help you to generate ideas for stories, or they will help you to structure an existing story.

In your notebook – while you may well want to do all of the activities in a notebook of course, these are research and gathering activities. You’re treating your notebook as a place to collect material that you can use later.

Explore – these are topics or techniques you might want to research or explore on your own. Pick a couple. Use them to kick off an investigation into a particular subject or idea, or apply them to your writing to take it in a new direction.

Extras – these are optional extras. They’re techniques you can use to deepen your writing.

Design your own – I’ve explained how to design your own writing prompts in the section on rhythm. I invite you to create your own writing prompts as you go along, so that you have a set of powerful, tailor-made starting points to use later. You spend a day observing something in particular (places or people for instance) to provide source material.

What are these activities for? Mainly, they're designed to help you let go of the judgement and self-criticism that so often goes along with creative work, and to get some words down. That way you’ll get over your fear of the blank page and collect source material for yourself so you can play with it later.

Not all of the activities will be useful or will chime with you, although often the exercises outside your comfort zone end up being the ones you really need to do. Once you've done the activities the secret is in the redrafting! You can come back and mine the short first drafts you've created in response to these activities in order to create something longer or more finished.

For example, you might end up with a story idea, a bunch of characters you like, a dialogue you want to use, the start of a poem, a treatment for a screenplay or stage play, or some ideas for blog posts or feature articles. Most of all, I hope you end up with a regular writing habit - and that doesn't have to be every day, it simply has to be regular.

If you need help establishing a writing routine or finding a time and place to write, try '3 weeks to a writing habit' or the 30 day writing challenge or both, in my free ebook 'Find Time to Write'. More on that later.

About the author

I've published two novels with Headline Review: The Water’s Edge and The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls. In 2018 I published a short story collection called Unusual Places, with Cultured Llama. I self-publish guides to the writing process and lesson plans for drama teachers. view profile

Published on March 11, 2019

7000 words

Genre: Writing & publishing

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