My Story
Submission Time!
July 14, 2016
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ManuscriptIt’s that time of my life again people…submission time! After five previous submissions, over one hundred rejections and tens of thousands of wasted words, I hold onto the hope that this time I have something of quality. Hope isn’t the easiest thing to hold onto when you’re sending off submissions for a piece of work that you have spent a year to craft, only to have it rejected in less than an hour. At that point you do feel sort of crap. But that’s writing, that’s life and you just gotta pick yourself off, dust yourself off and try again…and find a punching bag to relieve frustrations, of course.

So just to recap. I started working on what I’m currently writing on December 22nd 2014. Two and a half weeks later I was accepted onto and online writing course with the prestigious Curtis Brown Creative. (Since opening their doors in 2011 their students have had a whopping twenty-two major publishing deals!) Anyway, I was accepted onto that and loved the course. Around the same time, I also took a creative writing module in college led by International award-winning short story writer Colin Barrett.

In January I submitted and was rejected which was possibly the best thing that happened to me because after that everything clicked. I finally understood what I was meant to be doing and how I could do it. I have spent close to seven months revamping this book, putting more care into how it links to the sequels (it’s supposed the first in a four-book series), fixing dialogue, tightening the plot, choreographing the fight scenes better and making sure the intended funny parts are actually funny.

I’ll submit within the next week. I have my cover letter written, my synopsis practically completed and I’m doing a final read through of my book. Oh, by the way, writing synopses is akin to trying to sculpt a block of marble into the statue of David using a rubber duck, dental floss and a novelty bobblehead of Churchill the dog. I guess you could say I find them difficult.

Why write this post? I’m glad you asked. In the event of a literary agent liking my work, they may well take a look at this website. This post is designed to give one or two extra details that I haven’t included in my submission. Hopefully it will also show how much I want this as a career. So if you’re read this Dear Sir/Madam (yes, you!), I hope you are well and would love to work with you. I’m not sure if this is what is known as breaking the fourth wall but if you give me representation, I will break down a hundred walls if need be.

This is like a submission within a submission…SUBMISSIONCEPTION!

Right, I’ve run out of ideas about what to write. Keep on trucking guys and hopefully I will have some good news soon. I started writing when I was fifteen and next month I’ll be twenty-three. This is book number five. It has been a long old road paved with more redundant words, corny clichés, poorly worded paragraphs and characters more wooden than Pinocchio than the works of E.L. James and Stephanie Meyer combined. With a bit of luck, this is where everything changes and maybe, just maybe, the start of my dream career.

Thanks for reading. If you want to indulge in more of these amazing/exciting/average/boring/what-the-hell-are-you-doing-writing-this-stuff articles (I will quite happily let you decide on that) then why not follow me on Facebook and Twitter? Or, y’know, don’t. Your choice.

 

Cheers,

Ian

What I'm Reading
What I’m Reading
July 2, 2016
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snoopy-readingThere’s a page heading on this website called “What I’m reading” which is entirely blank. Now, I know that you are all probably queueing up in anticipation to discover what I’m reading at the moment so, wonder no longer and I will reveal all!

Aside from the 79 books (please note that all figures used in these posts are prone to exaggeration) for my Masters, the constant re-reading and editing of my book (yes, that thing is still alive) and my newfound interest in investing (this boy has notions), I am slowly managing to squeeze in some normal reading.

The first of these is the first book of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. On a side-note, what an amazing TV show it is and if there are any young readers here, not to be watched until you’re eighteen kids! I’ve been reading it for about four months now and have managed a whopping two hundred pages. Hopefully when I get this Masters all done and dusted I will be able to do a lot more leisure reading.

I am also reading a second book, this one more apt for a children’s author and young person’s market. Book number 5 in the incredible Skulduggery Pleasant Series, Mortal Coil is the book of choice. Written by the incredibly witty Derek Landy I am quite happy to add these to my list of ‘go-to’ books for young readers, both girls and boys.

Anyway, this post was written to fill up some space on this website. I’m paying for the thing so I might as well put as much nonsense as I can on it. I know most people share and like articles on social media without actually reading them (except for mammy!) so if you actually did read it and you’ve actually made it this far, congratulations, this last paragraph was pure rubbish and I’ve wasted about a minute of your life.

If you would like to read more vaguely interesting articles, please feel free to like my page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. If not, then I won’t hold it against you…much.

About Me
The Story So Far
June 22, 2016
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Stourhead_garden(That picture has nothing to do with this post. I just threw it in there because it looks nice.)

I’ve been a little bit silent over these past six months or so but I have not been idle. I’ve been living the dream, making millions through investing, travelling the world, I went skydiving, swam with sharks, saw the Northern Lights, climbed mountains, traversed scorching deserts, hacked my way through dense rainforest, became a spy, learned how to cook world-class food and even mastered the art of magic.

And you know what the most impressive thing about all this was?

I did it all while asleep.

Now, the reality of the last six months has been far less glamorous or exciting though I will stand by my earlier statement that I have not been idle. I was, of course, studying for college which involved researching for my thesis, which I am now writing, writing essays, learning Ancient Greek and all that other jazz that comes with a Masters.

On the writing side of it I took a break of a couple of weeks to a month around January. This gave my imagination time to reboot itself and I cam up with a whole host of new ideas and am very excited about the changes I have made. I just finished reading through another draft of my work and hope to have it fully done in a month or less.

As for the future, I hope to move to Edinburgh in September. Why? I’ve never been there and it seems like a great city. I’d like to live abroad and have been saying the same thing for years. So currently I’m looking for a job over there, ideally in a bookshop but I won’t be picky. In other words, if there are any potential employers in Edinburgh reading this, I’M YOUR MAN!

This week, the 9th Celtic Classics Conference is being held in my college, University College Dublin, which means that there will be a lot of talks for me to go to and most of the best minds in Classics will be here. As well as this, there is another Classics conference in UCD at the same time as well as a third conference elsewhere in Dublin which began yesterday. I have been reliably informed that if an asteroid crashes into Dublin this week, then Classics won’t have any more lecturers.

Anyway, that’s all from me for today. I’ll be sure to come back with more updates and posts on Classics and books and whatnot sometime soon. Until then I’m going to hope this asteroid stays away because I really want to attend some of these talks.

My Story
The Writing Process – 9 tips on How to Submit to Agents
January 13, 2016
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SubmissionSo, submissions…fun, eh? Ok, so maybe not as fun as the dude in the picture would suggest. If anyone out there is feeling the pinch of having to draft and redraft synopses, are meticulously planning out their cover letters and has just been driven bonkers by the amount of submissions they have sent off then hopefully you will find solace in knowing that I’m in the same boat. I can’t help you but I do feel the same way.

Submitting is tough. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the point at which your work over the past six months/year/five years goes out on its own. And now that it has gone to the experts, it’s time to sink or swim. Are you good enough, are you not and so on and so forth. I’m submitting this week and my mother said “good luck, hopefully you’ll get lucky” or something to that effect.

The truth…I don’t believe that luck is going to help one iota in this situation. Sure you need an agent to bite so that they will request your full manuscript and then take you on as a literary client but really it comes down to one thing: is your book good enough.

I know that mine is, or at least the premise behind it is. Whatever agents think about how I’ve laid out the story or the decisions I’ve made in it or if the writing isn’t good enough and the funny bits aren’t funny and the exciting bits aren’t exciting and perhaps you had better think of a new career because this one sure as hell ain’t for you, I am one hundred percent convinced that the overall idea for the novel works.

If agents think it’s good enough and down the line I manage to get one and the book gets published then fantastic. If I don’t then there has to be a reason. Either I didn’t work hard enough or I didn’t work well enough. Since I doubt I can work much harder than what I did, the focus is then on not working well enough. In other words, I wasn’t paying attention to my story enough. It could flounder in places. It might be repetitive and so on.

Or perhaps it is good enough in its entirety and I will still get rejected and that means there is a problem with my submission. It sounds like a simple thing, to write a letter and a synopsis talking about your book but turns out to be anything but and now I’m going to provide nine tips on how to submit properly to give yourself the best chance at attracting an agent.

Make sure your work is as good as it possibly can be

Don’t send in unfinished work. Don’t send in unedited work. I posted a few days ago on the importance of editing and it stands to reason that if an agent receives unedited material, they will just reject it without a second thought. Polish your work. Make sure it’s complete and the best you can possibly make it.

Get the names right

When sending to an agent, the least one can do is get their names right. Research who you are sending it to and be sure to spell their names right. Don’t say ‘Dear sir/madam’ because that looks horrendous. If you want someone to represent you, take the time to show them the respect that you expect them to give you and spell their names right.

Don’t send a ‘Dear agent’ email

Following on from the last topic, don’t send an email stating ‘dear agent’. It is clearly a generic email that you have sent off to dozens of agents without ever considering who the agent is or what he/she does. It’s a big red flag to be aware of.

Follow submission guidelines

Submitting can be hard. Some agents want different lengths of cover letters and even have specific requests for what is to be put into those letters. Some want a synopsis that is three paragraphs long, others three-hundred words, a page, two pages…even more and so on. Then when submitting your sample of work they might want five pages, ten pages, three chapters, thirty pages, ten thousand words.

Whatever an agent wants, give it to them. Don’t decide that because the submission guidelines are too complex or too varied that you can just submit what you like. They’re there for a reason. They’re there because agents can get up to fifty and sometimes even more submissions a day and they need to make snap judgments on the works they receive.

Don’t gush or waste words

Right, so trying to be succinct and to the point in your submission is important. In your cover letter don’t gush about how wonderful you think your book is or how your mother loves it or how the psychic octopus who predicted all those World Cup matches correctly picked your manuscript out as being the next big thing. That won’t work.

What it will do is serve to annoy the agent you are writing to. The main things that will make an agent like you are having a well-laid out letter and a solid submission. If there are any writing courses you have taken part in or anything else about your life that you think is relevant to your book and will help sway an agent then include it. You can even give a couple of lines about yourself, but don’t waste words.

Also, don’t make grandiose comments about how your book could be the next bestseller or that it will fill the Harry Potter void left in the writing world. It is always helpful to pick out one or two examples of current book in the market to draw comparisons to but leave it at that. Once you say it is similar to such a work, that is quite sufficient. No need for overkill.

Don’t prove your writing ability in the synopsis

If you write in a Cormac McCarthy-esque style with little punctuation DO NOT replicate it when writing your synopsis. Agents want clarity and simplicity. If you’re a fan of long sentences with grand, flowery speech, forget it. This is very simply saying what will happen, when and who it will happen to. They want to know where the main turning points of your manuscript are and if you have identified them correctly.

Spend time on your synopsis

Writing a synopsis is like pulling teeth and I hope that this isn’t me shooting myself in the foot here. It really is a horrible thing to do. It’s something I wrote and edited and tore up and burned and threw out the window. But it has to be done. If there was a weak part of my submission I would honestly say it is the synopsis but perhaps that is only because I dislike them so much.

Don’t send the whole book

Remember what I said about submission guidelines? Yeah? Well do not, under any circumstance, send off a full manuscript to an agent unless they have requested it. And, if you do send one off thinking, “you’ll love it so I’m going to save you the time of having to ask me for the complete version” then good luck to you because you sure as hell won’t be getting any sort of response.

Don’t send random chapters

If an agent asks you for the three chapters, don’t send ten, twelve and twenty-seven, just because you think they’re the strongest. Send one, two and three. There is no way around this. If you think that you’ll be rejected based on those chapters, then you need to fix them. Whatever number of chapters or pages an agent asks for, send sequential work from the beginning of your work.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here or on Facebook by clicking here.

Happy submitting! (and tearing your hair out while you’re at it)

 

Ian

 

My Story
The Writing Process – 5 Tips for Editing Your Work
January 9, 2016
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editingMost people hate editing. Why? Because it’s slow, repetitive, tedious and every other adjective that is synonymous with boring. When editing you’re not making progress. When you’re the reader or the viewer, you don’t turn back for the most part. You don’t read a chapter of a book and put it down to discuss the themes and dynamic of that chapter, you move onto the next one and finish the story. It’s the same with movies. You don’t watch Die Hard (greatest Christmas movie of all time!) and pause it to analyse Hans Gruber’s lines. Editing is despised because it’s going back over what you know.

This is where I differ from most people. I enjoy editing. Writing four or five edits of the same work doesn’t faze me. The way I see it is that it’s just part of the process and in many ways, the most exciting part of the process because it’s when the manuscript starts to turn into a proper, free-flowing story. As you can probably tell, I am heaps of fun.

I’m going to talk you through my editing process for the manuscript I’m working on (another day of editing and I’ll be ready to start submitting. Very exciting!!!). Following that I’ll give five tips for editing. So, my work.

I started this manuscript over a year ago. As I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, it’s the project I submitted in order to be accepted on the Curtis Brown Creative Online Writing for Children’s Course. I finished it in June or July and then started editing. The big thing I realised from taking the course was that my style was poor. Very poor. I do wonder about the reason why I was accepted onto the course in the first place. Maybe it was because the plot had potential or maybe it was because I was the youngest on the course.

Anyway, I needed to change style. That wasn’t that easy to do. I tiptoed around it for a bit and then got back into college which slowed my progress even more. One thing I’ve come to realise is that why the mechanics behind academic and creative writing are largely the same, the results produced are completely different and the two don’t compliment each other all that well.

In mid-September I got the news that one of the students who had been on the course with me managed to get an agent. While it wasn’t a surprise given the quality of her work, it gave me a lift and I got back to writing.

The first thing I did was change the Point of View. Instead of writing in third person, I wrote in first person. My plan was then to go back and rewrite it in third person but I realised that first person worked so well, I stuck with it. If you can follow that paragraph, then kudos to you.

The manuscript has also grown from a standalone into a series. Both the change in number of books and Point of View can be worrying. It could show a lack of initial planning but overall I think it’s just a case of finding how the story works best through trial and error. Of course, it’s not good to make it into a series just to appease your ego.

So, I started rewriting in the first person and by December I had 20,000 words completed of my what was then a 75,000-word manuscript. My final essay was due on the eighteenth. I got it finished by the eighth and returned home to get cracking on with my writing.

I finished translating it into first person. Then I read it and made adjustments. This was a full rewrite. (I write on a laptop rather than by hand) I printed it off again. Read it. Made adjustments. Put it into the computer. Deleted five chapters and came up with new, better scenarios to replace them and edited and read and adjusted and so on.

It has been pretty non-stop since returning home and the amount of rain that fell in Ireland helped me since I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything other than write. I think it’s safe to say that what I have produced now is completely different to what I submitted a year ago. Funnily enough, today marks exactly one year from when I first sent in my submission for Curtis Brown Creative’s course.

It’s my fifth completed manuscript and the fourth I will be sending to agents since I started writing seven years ago. In other words, I have done a lot of editing. My tips? Keep on reading to find out.

 

You Have To Do It

Like I said, most people hate it. Even in college, people can’t stand the thought of editing a two-thousand-word essay. Tough. It has to be done to produce high quality work. A couple of years ago I told someone that I needed to do editing for the manuscript I was working on at the time. Their reply was, “I’d just get it right first time”.

See that isn’t how it works. If you’re writing 30,000 words, there are going to be mistakes. If you write more than that, then obviously there are going to be more mistakes. Grammar and spelling alone will be terrible. There could be elements that you want to change, whole chapters moved around and discarded. Characters exterminated. Plot holes filled. The initial writing is the easy part. It’s the editing that is challenging.

Also, imagine if that was true. Can you picture J.K. Rowling just flying through the Harry Potter series like they were nothing? It’s preposterous.

It has to be done. If you want to get published via the traditional route, it’s essential. No publisher or agent is ever going to accept an unedited manuscript. And if you decide to self-publish, no one will read it if reviews come back saying your work is difficult to read and clearly it hasn’t been edited well…or edited at all.

 

Be Tough

Don’t fool yourself into thinking your manuscript is the next best thing since sliced bread. It may well have the potential to be that, but after the initial write-up it’s probably not worth the paper it was written (or printed) on.

Don’t swan around thinking that every part of your book is perfect and sure, that chapter is a little slow and doesn’t progress the story in any way but I have a lovely description of how the petals float in the lake and how the rain sinks them and blah blah blah.

If you have to make excuses for a part of a book to stay in, then it may well not be right.

It’s difficult for some people to criticise their work because they realise in doing so they are criticising themselves. For bubbly optimists it must be damn near impossible. But it’s essential.

Develop a thick skin and cast a critical eye over your work.

 

Kill Your Darlings

I’m not talking about kill off your main characters, although that is good too. I mean really have a look at your favourite lines. It ties in with what I said above but if there is a line you love. A line so beautifully fluffy and poetic it rivals the greatest quotes from Dickens and Wilde and Hemmingway (people tend to include names like these to show they are intelligent and well-read…in actual fact I’ve never read Hemmingway and have only read a book and a bit of Dickens and a play and a book of Wilde’s. They just seemed to fit here) then it is probably useless.

Not useless as in the writing is poor, but it probably doesn’t fit. It could jolt the reader out of the action. It might be you writing yourself into the story. You love it so much you want it in the story but the story doesn’t want it.

Especially if you’re writing for children or young adults, don’t waste their time with exposition and pretentious rambling. They’re not interested. They want a fast-paced story that delivers.

 

Get The Dialogue Right

When it comes to children’s, MG and YA (I should just make up some acronyms now) the dialogue has to be good. Writing for adults is slightly different as you can get away with long, meandering passages of exposition. With younger audiences, as aforementioned, that is a big NO-NO.

According to various sources online MG or YA books should be 75% dialogue. I feel really sorry for the guy who had to figure that statistic out. 75% seems like an awful lot and I thought so too, but as I got into the habit of writing with dialogue, it wasn’t as far-fetched as first thought.

I remember seeing Derek Landy on Irish TV once doing an interview. He was asked what made his Skulduggery Pleasant series so successful and he claimed that his dialogue was very strong and witty. I read the books. Turns out he was right.

If you are struggling with dialogue and don’t know how to make it work, read his books. They are fantastic and really helped me to switch my brain on to writing engaging dialogue.

Spending time on getting the dialogue right is essential.

 

Have Fun

Enjoy it. I know I’ve made it sound like a lot of work but really it’s not that hard. It’s just looking at your work and being honest. And at the end of it all, you’re improving your work. You’re making it better and turning your story, the story you have dreamed up and nurtured, into something publishable.

Think of it in these terms: it’s the literary equivalent of all that New Year’s Resolution nonsense of “New Year, New Me” and if that doesn’t help, remember that it’s actually easier than changing yourself.

If you’re not having fun, your work will suffer.

 

Thanks for reading. I hope I haven’t made any errors in this piece, otherwise it’s a bit ironic to be writing on editing. If this helps in any way do let me know by dropping a comment in the box below. If you would like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Happy editing!

 

Ian

 

My Story
The Writing Process – 5 Feelings Every Writer Gets
January 5, 2016
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angry-writerThe reason for the lack of posts as of late is that I’m trying to push through with the manuscript that I’ve been writing for the past year. The Christmas holidays have given me the perfect chance to devote all my time to my writing and I’m hoping that I’ll have the editing and submission writing finished in the next week or two. Since I’m at that stage in my writing, I decide it would be a great idea to write about five feelings every writer gets while they’re writing.

 

Euphoria

This is a pretty obvious one. Whenever anyone embarks on a project, creative or otherwise, there has to be a feeling of excitement. When writing, that excitement is multiplied a thousand times over. You get the feeling your work is special. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to writing. You look at the people you have already had published bestsellers in then genre you are writing for and think that your work is every bit as good as theirs, if not better. You’re going to reinvigorate writing, you’re going to change the game, you’re going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Lemony Snicket or Suzanne Collins.

Enthusiasm is great. It’s essential. But past attempts and failures have taught me not to get carried away with enthusiasm. Sometimes it can blind us from the truth. You could have a wonderful idea for a book, only you’ve gone about it the wrong way but just can’t see it. There might be a scene you really like and you just can’t bring yourself to take it out of the book.

Writing something is no doubt euphoric but that is not always a good thing.

 

Despair

Why am I doing this? Why am I pouring so much time and effort into writing something and polishing it and sending it off when I know the odds are against me. I’m more likely to get a million rejections rather than find that one agent who likes me. (Please note that this is by no means a factual statistic)

My despair stems from college too. Being in college has given me a lot of free time to write but I then have to think about what happens when I graduate from my Masters. Do I move country? What job will I get? Where will I end up? What do I actually want to do? Do I do a PhD? Do I do another degree? There is a list about ten feet long covering the uncertainties of my future.

If what I’m currently writing is good and I get an agent and a publishing deal and everything is hunky dory, my life is changed. I no longer worry about those things. It gives me freedom to do what I want and go where I want without having to start over completely.

So, yeah, writing is a pain sometimes.

 

Total loss

Why am I writing? This is crap. It’s rubbish. No sane person would even write this because it’s so utterly useless.

When writing, you’re creating something new. Sure there is truth to the statement that there are no more original ideas, but it’s up to you on how to frame them, how to tell the story and so on. It feels akin to jumping out of a plane without a parachuted. For all you know, the idea is unsellable.

I reached this stage recently in my rewrites. I came across two sections of the book (in total they comprised about five chapters…not as bad as it sounds as my chapters are quite short), and I felt wiped out by the sheer stupidity of what I had written. Thankfully, I was able to change the scenes completely and make them, at least in my mind, work. I guess I’ll see soon enough if anyone else thinks they work too.

 

Acceptance

Acceptance is that moment where your kid goes off to college for the first time and you realise they don’t need you as much anymore. I’m only presuming…I don’t have a kid…and if I did they definitely wouldn’t be in college…I’m twenty-two.

When it comes to books it’s the moment when you’ve tortured yourself so much with edits and rewrites that you can no longer see straight and pretty much can’t interact in society and have a normal conversation because your mind is a jumble of words and paragraphs. At least that’s my excuse anyway.

So either you’ve made your work as strong as possible, or you can no longer look at it and have to send it off before your sanity finally departs from your body. I’d like to think I belong to the first group but I have a feeling it’s the second one that rings truer.

 

Wonder

The idea of writing is great. The feeling of having written is on a different level altogether.

Everyone wants to write. I’ve spoken to dozens of people who tell me that they would love to write a book and that they sort of have an idea and it would be great if they could get it onto paper one day and everyone would love it because it’s ground-breaking only they don’t have the time or they don’t have the commitment or their dog is sick and that means they have to look after him. Whatever the reason for not writing, everyone has an idea.

After you’ve written, you look back at the words you’ve written, ranging anywhere from thirty thousand to hundreds of thousands and you delight in the fact you actually did it.

But now comes the amazing part because the thought of actually being successful and getting an agent seems even more fantastical than what you’ve written. Dreams of walking into a bookstore and seeing your own book on a shelf for the first time take over and you cling onto the hope that it will one day be a reality.

 

Thanks for reading and while I hope to get back to posting regularly, I can’t promise anything. In terms of what’s to come, I still need to cover the character of Polyphemus in Greek Mythology and I will also be running another instalment in The Writing Process which will deal exclusively with editing and submitting to agents. If you want to follow me on Facebook you can do so by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.

 

Happy New Year,

Ian

My Story
The Writing Process – 5 Methods for Dealing With Your Ideas
December 19, 2015
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share_your_ideasThis will be the first in a series of articles based on my own writing process in the hope that you will get ideas on how to come up with ideas, structure them and then turn them into a written work. I have been terribly creative and given the series the title of the “writing process”. This first post will be on ideas and how to use them. I will not be discussing sources of inspiration in this post but I have covered them elsewhere, the link to which is here. I’ve used different approaches and you’ll just have to decide what works for you.

 

Think about it

When you have an idea, one that seems really great and fantastic and exhilerates you, calm yourself. Don’t get swept away in a tide of emotion. Don’t commit to paper. Just think about it. Leave it fester. Start thinking about the ways it could work. Jumping into something too quickly can leave plot holes or unfinished plans. Other times you act too soon and realise later on that your heart isn’t really in what you’re writing or you haven’t thought out the characters properly.

Thinking about it helps. Patrick Ness gives the advice that you should have a main idea and the only way to know if it’s good or not is if other ideas stick to it. Think of it like hanging flags on a pole. The pole is the big idea and the flags are the smaller ones that make it unique. As per usual, I’ll turn to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series as an example. The main idea here is the teenage detective. Then the flags are his relationships, his uncle, Yassen, the gadgets, the villains etc. (it’s ok if you’ve never read the books, it’s the same for any other book) Harry Potter’s main idea is a young magician and a wizarding school and Lord Voldemort. The smaller ones are the spells, the potions and every other wonderful thing J.K. Rowling managed to pack into those books.

Thinking about it helps.

 

Write it down

This is a no brainer. Write your ideas down. It is going to happen at some stage no matter what. It is more reliable than your memory because you won’t forget anything. The one downside to it is that if you write down every idea you have you might get swamped and having reams of ideas and possible plots right in front of you can affect your ability to differentiate the good from the bad. This is why I prefer to think about it first before commiting anything to paper.

And when I say paper, I mean paper. Don’t write your intial ideas on a laptop. By all means back them up on a laptop if you think they will be safer but laptops don’t give you the same freedom to jot down and play with ideas that a pen and paper does.

 

Write the first chapter

Between my third and fourth or fourth and fifth manuscripts, I am not quite sure which, I came up with a lot of different ideas. I thought of books for Young Adult and Middle Grade, comedies, horrors, thrillers etc. I was not sure if any of them were good so what I did was write the first chapter of an idea. For instance, I wrote something where the first chapter opened with paintballing friends and corrupt cops. I wrote it, decided it would not work and that the overall idea I had in my head was no good either. I did this five or six times.

The benefit I found from it was that it painted a clearer picture in my head. I was able to differentiate between good ideas, bad ideas and ideas that were simply ugly. It also helped in learning how to write compelling opening chapters, something which is essential to any book, especially when writing for a younger audience.

 

Write any chapter

I have never done this but it stands to reason that if you can write the first chapter, you can write the third or the seventh or the twenty-first chapter. Usually when I try to think of an idea I pick the opening, a major point or a couple of major points in the middle and I have a good idea of how the book will end.

So perhaps you’ve got an idea of a scene and it comes in the middle of the book. Write it first. See how it turns out. It should give you an indication of what your book is about as well as providing other ideas to work with.

 

Just go for it

Write. Write like you have never written before. A lot of people do this. They just have a basic starting point and run with it. They have no idea where the story goes or what is going to happen. All they know is that there is a story there somewhere and they hope to find it along the way.

The obvious drawback to this is that it does not suit the creating of complex plots since various intricacies and nuances have not been laid out prior to writing. Then again, that can all be done after the first draft.

 

Thanks for reading. I hope this was in some way beneficial. If you would like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and on Facebook by clicking here.

Until next time,

 

Ian

Myth
Myth of the Week – Narcissus and Echo
December 9, 2015
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NarcissusApologies for the lengthy silence and denying you of your weekly dose of mythology. I was busy writing essays and studying for exams while also battling with the terrible beast that is procrastination. I’m finished now but since it is exam week in UCD I would like to welcome all my new readers…the students who are desperately using my website as an excuse NOT to study.

I have decided to come back swinging with the myth of Narcissus and Echo (yeah, rock on!!!). This is quite an interesting myth because while the two characters existed in mythology as separate stories, it was not until Ovid wrote about them in the Metamorphoses that they were combined into one (or at least as far as we know Ovid was the first to group them together…there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to Classics). Actually, I believe the exam on the Ovid’s Metamorphoses module in UCD was on today so hopefully that went well for everyone involved and they will all, of course, be eager to read this piece. Happy memories…or not.

According to Ovid, Narcissus was born to the water-nymph Liriope and the river-god Ciphisus. After a while, Liriope took her child to the seer Tiresias who happens to be a well-known figure in myth. He is a prominent feature in Sophocles Oedipus Rex another myth I shall get to in time. Tiresias lived both as a man and a woman, having been transformed into a woman when he attacked two mating snakes with a stick. In his eighth year as a woman he saw the same snakes again, repeated the attack (I imagine with a different stick) and was turned back into a man. Juno and Jove (the Roman equivalents of Hera and Zeus), were having an argument about which sex gets more pleasure out of love. Jove claimed women did while Juno said men did. They asked Tiresias since he had been both a man and a woman and he sided with Jove. This didn’t sit well with Juno who ended up punishing Tiresias by blinding him for the rest of his days.

So, back to the Narcissus myth. Tiresias was consulted and his answer was “If he shall himself not know”. It wasn’t until his sixteenth birthday that the prophecy started to gain meaning. He was admired by all for his beauty but never loved anyone in return. Then a nymph called Echo took a liking to him. Echo could speak, but only had the ability to repeat the words to her. Juno did this to her because on many occasions when Jove lay with the nymphs (remember Zeus/Jove’s infidelities from the post on Zeus?) and were close to being caught by Juno when Echo would distract her by talking to her while the other nymphs could escape.

She sees Narcissus and falls in love. I know this sounds a little bit Disney prince and princess with how easy it is to find your soulmate but roll with it. The catch is she has to wait until Narcissus speaks first. So Narcissus says “Anyone here?” and Echo replies with “Here”. Obviously the name of the Metamorphoses suggests something is undergoing a transformation and here it’s the language. Echo, after a while, gets a bit over-zealous and runs out from the woods to try and throw her arms around Narcissus and kiss him. Narcissus ran away and Echo, as a result of being rejected, cried to herself so hard and for so long that she eventually used up all the moisture in her body and her body deteriorates until her bones turn to stone and her voice is all that is left of her.

Narcissus proceeds to mock her and just about everyone else he can think of. He is punished as a result and stumbles upon a pool where he sees his reflection. No prizes for guessing that he falls in love with himself. His name is Narcissus after all! (He’s like that person you know who takes about four hundred selfies every day and then insists on displaying them to the world by posting them all over social media) Narcissus tries to kiss the reflection and embrace it, which causes the water to ripple, and ruins the image. But Narcissus was so vain and so…well…narcissistic, that he refused to leave the spot and continued to stare at the reflection.

Narcissus also wasn’t the brightest bulb in the…bulb place…er, ya. He took a while to realise that the young boy he had fallen in love with was actually himself. It really makes you wonder how he had managed to go so many years without seeing his reflection.

Unsurprisingly, spending all your time staring at your reflection and never moving once to eat or even drink (and he had a whole pool of water right next to him) will lead to death. His body turned into a flower and even when he descended to the Underworld, he started gazing at his reflection in a pool of the River Styx. Pretty cool huh?

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post and for the next myth I think I will focus on the Cyclops Polyphemus who features in the Odyssey as a big, scary, man-eating creature and who Ovid would later turn into a rather comical caricature. If you want to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Until next time,

 

Ian

My Story
Six Key Characteristics for Writers and Why They Don’t Actually Matter
November 16, 2015
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Writer photoEver wondered if you’re suited to being a writer? Writing a book or story or poem seems to be a universal desire. Whenever anyone hears I want to be a writer they then come out with the line “I’d love to write a book” or “I’ve a great idea for a book”.

Here are my six key characteristics for writers…and then a big reason at the end why none of them matter.

Belief

So it seems obvious that to do anything you need belief. You have to be confident in your own ability and that this is for you. But belief also has to be present when you hit the ‘dark times’ of any project you’re working on. This isn’t ‘writers block’, that can be easily dealt with. Neither is it the moment when you realise that what you wrote on page 13 doesn’t fit in with the plotline you developed on page 70 which leads to a large rewrite and the scrapping of a couple of chapters.

The ‘dark’ moment you’ll get is when you doubt your ability as a writer. You start to wonder if you’re any good. You decide the last paragraph you wrote is rubbish and that any writer worth their salt would never stoop to such a lowly level.

Then you start to doubt the whole story you’re writing. Maybe it’s no good. Who would ever read a book about a killer mattress trying to be stopped a baby duckling detective named Fluffles? It’s during these moments you need to believe and remember that such moments happen to everyone.

As an example I’ll use Neil Gaiman, an internationally acclaimed author who has had success in everything from TV to Comics to Books. When he visited my college last year he told us that even he felt doubt and would ring his agent and say he felt useless and couldn’t believe he made a career out of this. His agent would reply, “Oh, so you’re at that stage in your process?”

It happens everyone. Just believe and you’ll be ok.

 

Perseverance

Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long arduous process. I remember saying to someone that I had to do about a months editing. They looked at me and said, “well if I was writing it I’d just get it right first time round so I wouldn’t have to redo it”. Huh? That was one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard…and I’ve heard a lot of them (and made a lot of them but let’s not go into that).

The one thing you have to understand when beginning to write is that if you want to finish a manuscript, it takes time. Then if you’re writing with a view to submitting and trying to get published, it takes even more time. A lot more time. For NaNoWriMo, where people try to write a novel in the month of November, apparently only 11% of people start the text they are working on.

But the main thing is not to give up. Every stumbling block, every plotline that doesn’t fit, every struggling scene…they can all be overcome with a good “never say die” attitude.

 

A thick skin

In writing, as in life, there will always be people who tell you that “you can’t”. There are people who will look for you to fail simply on the basis that they haven’t made it themselves. They’ll tell you there’s no point in writing; it’s so hard to get publish, you have to be really good at it, there’s no money in it, if it doesn’t work you’ve wasted time blah blah blah.

Yeah, great. I’m well aware of all the shortcomings of the career path I’m aiming for. But who cares? If we spent our time worrying what other people thought or getting upset at the smallest amount of criticism or dissension we’d never do anything.

If you are struggling with this and perhaps lack the self belief, then why not try to make it into a competition. When someone says to you that what you’re doing is pointless or tells you it won’t work, make a mental note of it and repeat in your head, “I’m going to prove you wrong”. Like they say, don’t get angry, get even.

Aside from critics, you’re going to get rejections. These will hurt. They will sting. They’ll make you feel bad because they are coming from experts in the industry and not the random fella from down the road.

While there is the chance they’re wrong, it’s a slim one. More likely your writing or your story isn’t good enough. Yet. Keep working at it and you will get better.

It’s a tough industry and having a thick skin is essential.

 

Focus

Writing a book is draining. Editing is draining. You need to be able to analyse what your story is doing and if it’s going wrong, how to fix it. For that you need focus. During your writing schedule, be that half an hour, an hour or seven hours a day, give your total focus to it.

For most things my focus isn’t the best. Whether it’s learning Greek in college, writing essays or just watching TV, my mind wanders. When I’m writing I could do it for hours on end. Whether I write for ten minutes or ten hours, I immerse myself in what I do.

The benefit of this is that you tend to pay more attention to what you’re writing, ensuring that there is less scope for a mistake leading to a major rewrite.

 

Capacity to be alone

I’m going to rank this above every other characteristic because it is very important. When you write, you have to spend long chunks of time by yourself. It’s quite an intense process because you’re thinking of different scenarios for characters and scenes, some of which are dark and upsetting.

I know people who tell me they can’t be alone. An hour by themselves would be torture. They feel isolated and bored. That’s something you can’t afford to feel with writing. You need to be willing to stay in a room by yourself with nothing but your thoughts and a piece of paper.

And like anything, you discover things about yourself in these moments, some good, some not so good. It’s important to accept and prepare for that before you start.

 

Creativity

Funnily enough, for me this isn’t as important as the other five but since no list seems complete without it I’ll discuss the merits of having a creative brain.

If you have the five previous characteristics, you’ll get the job done. If you have the five characteristics and creativity, you will be amazing. But there’s no point in having the greatest ideas if you’re never going to finish any of them. You could be sitting on a goldmine. You could map it out in your head from start to finish. It could be something that will revolutionise the writing industry but ultimately if you don’t have the steadfast dedication to translate it onto the page you’re a wasted talent.

People say there’s no such thing as an original thought nowadays. Everything that can be thought of has been thought of, all that remains is to combine those ideas in new ways. If that’s true then creativity does lose its merit a little.

Personally I’d prefer to see someone who will work hard with little talent to make their dream work than see someone with loads of talent get stunted at a mediocre level because they don’t have dedication to the cause.

 

Why they don’t matter

If someone reading this made a checklist and decided they had 3/6 of the characteristics, then they might feel hesitant about writing. If someone marked down they had 0/6 they would probably never write. But here’s the thing, there are no criteria. There is no perfect writer. People can wax lyrical about what you have to be like in order to make it to the top but it doesn’t matter because…

The most important thing is to write.

There are a huge number of activities, jobs and pastimes in this world and we can’t be good at them all. Some capture your heart more than others. You’ll work harder at others purely based on interest. You might have none of the above characteristics until you start writing and then realise you actually have all six.

So get some paper, pick up that pen and start with that great idea. It’s a cheap, private process that allows you to take part in the comfort of your own home. You can set the hours, the conditions and you’re not answerable to anyone.

No one knows for sure until they try.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post. If you want to follow me on Twitter you can do so here and on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Ian Brooks

My Story
5 Simple Sources of Inspiration and How to Use Them
November 6, 2015
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inspiration-signOne of the most useless pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is as follows, “inspiration can come from anywhere, it’s all around you”. Wonderful, tell me something I don’t know. It is a very obvious thing but the problem with it is that it doesn’t tell you how to use that inspiration, how to actually get inspired.

What are you talking about Ian?

Well I’m glad you asked…

“You see but you do not observe.”

The following words were spoken by the great literary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, to Dr. John Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia. To break down the statement, it means that Watson is seeing the facts, he just isn’t applying them in the correct way.

Many people say writing is a muscle and the more you work it, the stronger it gets. This is one hundred percent true. The same is said for critical evaluation but I’m yet to see someone who applies it to inspiration. Finding inspiration is basically critical evaluation for your creative side.

The reason some people can’t find inspiration or ideas is because they have given up dreaming and imagining regularly. It’s not that some people are wildly creative and some aren’t, it’s just that some people aren’t interested. It’s the same as any profession or interest.

What I’m aiming to do here is provide you with five different sources of inspiration but more importantly, I’m going to show you how you can harvest the useful parts to generate ideas.

 

The Weather

If you live in a permanently hot region such as the Sahara or a permanently cold region like Antarctica then I’m not so sure how useful this point will be. And if you are from either of those two places, what WiFi are you using? Must be great.

I’m from Ireland, a place where the weather is constantly changing. One minute it’s beautiful, sunny and all you need are shorts and a t-shirt. The next minute, there’s a deluge so heavy it would make Noah’s Flood look like Noah’s Puddle. People’s clothes suddenly transform into long trousers and coats of al colours and sizes. Umbrellas everywhere.

Of course while it’s useful to see how people react to the weather, I’m more concerned with the weather itself. As an example I’m going to use fog. A thick, heavy, blanketing fog. We’ve actually had this exact same weather in Dublin over the past few days. Coincidence, eh?

So what is the first thought about fog. Probably that it affects visibility and thus meddles with your golf game and makes driving conditions particularly dangerous. In fact, I’m sure if you asked someone to do something creative with fog they’d probably have a car accident. If that’s what you would do, stop. Actually, no. STOP. That’s better.

Fog will offer up opportunities that anyone looking for a story or inspiration should crave for. Why is it foggy? No, not because of atmospheric conditions, but because it heralds the arrival of something supernatural and terrible. Undead pirates, a massive hellhound, a Necromancer, those relatives that you hate talking to. That sort of stuff.

Or has the fog actually been created by something? Maybe it’s Sci-Fi and someone is tampering with the Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe they created a toxic fog. What does it do? Kills trees and plants but leaves your teeth lovely and white with a minty smell. Hey, I’ve no idea. Use your imagination.

Or what about the fog being an entity itself. What if it’s a creature? A deadly, vicious creature out to kill us all.

I’m sure you get the idea. The weather can provide great settings. It can also be a great way to introduce characters. The possibilities are endless.

So what’s the first thing you’re going to do after reading this sentence?

Read the next one of course.

 

Observe

I watch everything. EVERYTHING. Ok, maybe not everything. I do my best to keep my brain active and take in what is going on around me. Obviously that’s not possible 24/7 as the body gets tired but I still reckon I do a pretty good job of it.

And the beauty of it is that I don’t have to do anything. I just need to sit there. I don’t need to react, interact or do anything more strenuous than relax.

If I’m on a bus, I watch the people who get on board. I try and notice the difference between how people walk and how they interact with each other. Sometimes I’ll see a limp or something else odd in their gait. Other times I might see nothing at all. The main thing though is to watch.

Then I think up of identities for these people. I try to deduce (I suspect not very successfully…I’m no Sherlock Holmes!) where they’re going, what jobs they might do, what sort of personality they have and so on.

It’s a fun exercise in characterization, should inspire you to write better characters and is a being a great way to pass time on boring bus rides.

 

Have conversations

Talk to anyone and everyone. Sure it’s great to hear other people’s stories but I like to do it for other reasons. If anyone has ever spoken to me and I’ve suddenly thrown a oddball statement out there, it’s likely I’m testing you. I find it quite interesting how different people react to different statements and of course it helps to judge people’s character.

Something else I do when talking to people is analyse the conversation while I’m in it. I try to pick up on people’s tells. Where they get angry and sad or any other emotion. Inflections in the voice, nervous tendencies with the hands. Again, if you can do this you should be well on the way to being inspired to write better characters.

 

Books, TV, Film

Look at what is currently popular, take into consideration the things you like reading/viewing and maybe that will give you some ideas. Now, that doesn’t mean to say that you finished a certain young wizarding series and decide to create one of your own named Barry Blotter who just happens to be a wizard but doesn’t know it yet because surprise, surprise, his parents are dead! (a common technique for children’s and YA novels…the parents always get in the way so writers just, eh, kill them off. Hi mom and dad!)

Example: Anthony Horowitz is the father of the Teenage Spy genre with his Alex Rider series. He created essentially what was James Bond for kids and did a pretty kick-ass job while at it. But obviously others followed. Robert Muchamore, Joe Craig and Charlie Higson are just three names who have tried their hand at the genre since (for me none can top Horowitz…he’s just a fantastic story-teller and the books feel special to me).

So you can take a pre-existing idea and put your own twist on it. A lot of people get inspiration from already published work. All you have to do is identify what you like and then think about how you can improve it…simple.

Alternatively you can look for parts or scenes of a book or movie that you like. For instance, in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events there is a character called the ‘Great Unknown’. It presents itself in the sea as a Question Mark shaped object and we never figure out what it is. While unsolved, it leads to so many ideas and actually provides something to work a story around. Pick out a scene and fit the story around it.

Another could the Captain Jack Sparrow’s entrance in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. For me it’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, entrance of all time. It leads to so many ideas about where the character could go.

You can re-work a genre you’re interested in or you might just have a picture, an image you think is cool and you can work the story around that.

 

Music

This is my favourite topic and the reason I left it until the end. There’s nothing quite like a song that captures you mind, body and soul. One that you have listened to a thousand times and will listen to a thousand times more without ever growing tired of it.

Unfortunately, a lot of what is being produced today is just total rubbish. You’ll be hard-pressed to extract even the tiniest speck of inspiration from the generic pop and dance singles released all sharing the exact same backing track.

Why? Well it won’t help. You can’t feel it. Actually most music with words in it isn’t useful for that very reason. The music I’m talking about is without words and I wouldn’t be one to suggest trying to find inspiration from Classical either though it is an option.

Soundtracks. In soundtracks you’ll find the key. Soundtracks are created to fit different scenes and arouse certain emotions and feelings. If it’s a chase, the music is fast-paced. If it’s a sad moment, the music will be soft. If you sit back and just listen to the soundtrack without the movie, it might give you a whole new raft of ideas.

Here are a couple of suggestions to try that out. If you want something with action and pace check out Ilan Eshkeri’s Septimus from the movie Stardust and Two Steps From Hell’s wonderful track The Strength of a Thousand Men (I’m actually playing around with the latter at the moment trying to get ideas to fit it). If you want courageous and brave take Two Steps From Hell’s Heart of Courage or Trevor Jones’ Promentory from The Last of the Mohicans or even Arrival to Earth by Steve Jablonsky from Transformers.

I’ll stop with the recommendations but I’m sure you all get my meaning. Stick one of them on and sit back with your eyes closed. At first let the music get you into the mood it is trying to evoke and then wonder about the types of events that would fit such a piece.

This is working backwards, choosing score before the movie.

 

I hope that in this article I have helped a couple of you locate sources of inspiration and then gave you the tools to locate the useful bits within. Sure inspiration does hit some people like a stampeding hippopotamus but usually it’s something that can be searched for. You can find inspiration in anything if you look hard enough.

 

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and the link to my Facebook page is here.

Now, fly my pretties, go seek your inspiration,

Ian