Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Tuesday, 12 April 2016

HOW-TO ....... be a better writer Linda Mitchelmore

There can be few of us who are so gifted we don't need advice and tips from those who have gone before. The very excellent publications, Writers' Forum, and Writing Magazine, come out monthly but after a year or so all areas of creative writing have been covered and keeping every single mag takes up so much cupboard space, doesn't it? So, I prefer books. Real books, printed on paper that I can dip in and out of easily and which sit on a shelf over my desk to remind me how far I've come. When I first dipped my toes in the creative writing pool, my cousin, David, in Canada sent me STARTING FROM SCRATCH by Rita Mae Brown. At that time Ms Brown wasn't a novelist but now is. She has a way with words and although I no longer have this book (loaned to someone whose name I now forget and who never returned it) two bits of advice I've never forgotten is to be a decent 'writing weight' much as a boxer has to be a certain weight (slightly underweight was her advice actually) and that a glass of wine could help the creative juices to flow. I never, ever, managed to crack the first bit of advice, but I'm pretty good at the second! I came late to Elizabeth Berg's novels but couldn't get enough of them. I wanted to write like her - not managed it yet! So, when I discovered she had written a How-to book, ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: THE ART OF WRITING TRUE, I had to have it. It is quite wonderful. And if you don't know it, then buy one or borrow from the library. You will find out a lot about writing but also about yourself along the way.
So, I wrote the novel, with Elizabeth Berg's book to hand. And then came the dreaded synopsis. A synopsis is not a blurb was the, verbal, advice given by novelist friends. And agents vary in how long - or short - they like synopses to be. Anything from one page, single-spaced, to ten pages it seems. So the advice there was to check and see what is required and then give not a penny more, not a penny less. But how to write the darned thing? It is a very slim volume, but very sharply written and easy to follow, and I found Stella Whitelaw's. HOW TO WRITE AND SELL A SYNOPSIS excellent value for money. I've since bought it as presents for friends who want to be novelists and they've all benefited from it too.
Now then, much to my surprise I have been asked to contribute to How-to books myself. Before becoming a novelist I wrote and sold, and had published, quite a lot of short stories (still churn them out on occasion!) and it was that experience that Della Galton and Jane Wenham-Jones wanted for their books.
So, these are my go-to books if I need a bit of bolstering. What are yours?

13 comments:

  1. That was really interesting, Linda (and I can't wait for your writing advice).

    I'm not a great one for "how to" books, though maybe I should be. But I do have a favourite - Linda Edelstein's 'Writer's Guide to Character Traits'. I find it utterly invaluable in building my characters.

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  2. Thank you, Jennifer. I think this post might throw up all sorts of interesting tomes. One I forgot to mention, which I find invaluable, is NEW OXFORD DICTIONARY FOR WRITERS AND EDITORS ... a gift from a very dear friend.

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  3. Oh Linda you've touched a nerve here! I have a shelf full of How To books! My excuse is I can't get to workshops, conferences,chapter meetings etc etc! One of my favourite go to books when I need a kick in the proverbial to get writing is David Morrell's Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing and the aforementioned New Oxford Dictionary.

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    1. I'm sure you're not alone with a shelf full of How-to books, Jennie! I have an awful lot more than the ones I mentioned! Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Some great advice Linda. I've read some of these books but not the Eliz Berg which I will definitely look out for. As for the dreaded synopsis - I'm still no good at it even with the help of the book :(

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    1. Ah yes, synopses. The more successful and famous you get you don't have to do them - so someone very successful and famous told me - so that's something to hang on to!

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  5. Hello Linda, sorry I'm late this week but loved your post - always helpful to learn what others find useful and also a wonderful excuse to extend my 'how to' library! Both the Elizabeth Berg and How to Write and Sell a Synopsis have found their way into my Amazon basket, with Jennifer and Jennie's recommendations now on my Wish List! One I love to dip in and out of is Margret Geraghty's The five-minute writer - written in short, crisp chapters, it's easy to read whilst having a coffee or even that 'creative' glass of wine!

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    1. Ooooh, hope they are as much use for you as they are to Jennie and me. Ah yes, Margret Geraghty .... she used to do columns in Writing Mag, I think.... always liked her stuff.

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  6. Nicola Morgan has written a very good book on writing a synopsis. It's called Write a Great Synopsis. Only available as an eBook, though.

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    1. Is it just me? I find ebooks not that great for skipping back and forth looking at stuff. I'll look this one up, though, Mary.

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    2. I agree, Linda, a print book is much handier for looking things up. I know you can bookmark things on a kindle but I;ve never got to grips with it. However, I did find Nicola's book good.

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  7. My favourite writing book of all time is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamport - some instructions on Writing and Life. So much so that 'do it bird by bird'is a much-used phrase in our house. Brilliant post, Linda, with lots of useful information! P's - sorry it took me so long to come by...

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  8. Ps - that should read Anne Lamott. Spellchecker wins again :)

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