Why People Have Favourites

I always say that my favourite colour is purple.

It’s been purple for as long as I can remember. But I don’t own anything purple, and at work I secretly prefer the red mug. (It’s too late to admit the truth.)

If I stop to think about it, the truth is obvious: I don’t have a favourite.

How can purple be better than green or orange? While I prefer different colours in different contexts, no single shade stands out as supreme. So why do I cling onto my childhood answer instead of owning up?

Some writing advice I once read stated that in order to write believable characters, you need to understand them. You need to get into their skull. Write their diary entries. And list their favourites.

Knowing someone’s favourites is portrayed as an indication of knowing a person. But what does it actually tell you about them?

Perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way.

Discussing favourites is a conversation starter, a way to find common ground. And, in writing, it’s a way to discover what truly matters to your character.

The important question isn’t what their favourite colour is — but why.

Does your character love red because it reminds them of blood, or because it’s the colour of love? Does green make them think of deathly poison, or of newly grown grass? Pinpointing your character’s thought processes is the best way to get to know them.

And if your character turns out like me, and doesn’t have favourites? At least you know they’re comfortable with ambiguity.

My Top 9 Writing Posts

I’ve been traipsing down memory lane.

What started as a leisurely browse through my archives morphed into a thorough hunt for posts about writing. Once I’d found all my victims, what else could I do but pick out the best?

My Top Nine Writing Posts

  1. 11 Rules For Writing Fiction
    Before learning about characters and craft, there’s one BIG writing obstacle to overcome: finding the time (and motivation) to write.

  2. Putting Pen to Paper
    If you write with pen and paper, you’ll spend less time fussing over the first draft and just get on with it.

  3. Burn Out
    Everyone burns out – and this is where I admitted I had. The post still resonates on a deeply personal level; every time I read it, I feel reassured.

  4. How To Start Writing Again
    The secret to rediscovering the joy of writing is to manage your own expectations.

  5. 7 Ways To Start Writing Again
    If you’ve abandoned a story, how do you get back into the habit of writing?

  6. How To Find The Time To Write
    Ten ways to find 10 minutes to write.

  7. Plotting vs Pantsing
    What’s the point in picking sides?

  8. 11 Rules For Editing Fiction
    Editing is fun. It’s like scrubbing off the dirt from your novel’s little face. But where do you start?

  9. First Impressions
    If the first thing a character does is poo in front of the reader, the reader will think of him as the Pooing Character forevermore.

Clearly, the areas that I struggle with — motivation and productivity — feature the most in my posts.

While I’m not the most prolific of bloggers, it’s reassuring to realise that I occasionally produce more than dribble.

Share your best writing-related blog post in the comments!

6 Lessons Learnt From Writing My Second Novel

Writing Above Ground took four drafts, five different outlines, and several years.

But when I published it I thought: that’s it.

I’ve done it once, so I can do it again — and now that I’ve learnt 6 lessons from my first novel, the second time will be easier. Faster.

I was wrong.

For the last year, I’ve spent hours toiling away at Darksight. It’s the reason why I’ve been rubbish at blogging (and tweeting, and facebooking…). I wanted to finish the novel by August 2015. Then August came around, and I pushed the deadline to December. And now, mid-January, I’m still not done.

Sure, what I found difficult the first time is easier today.

But I’ve stumbled across a whole new can of worms…

So here is a revised list of lessons learnt from writing novels:

Lessons Learnt From Writing My Second Novel

  1. The first time’s the hardest — or is it?
    When writing my first novel, I didn’t know whether I could finish a novel. But I also didn’t have the pressure to outperform my previous work. In some respects, it’s more frustrating now that I know I can do it, yet am struggling regardless.

  2. Perseverance is key — and it’s harder alone
    The webfiction community helped me push on through the first draft of Above Ground, with no time to agonise over each chapter. With Darksight, I’ve opted to write it all offline — and realised how much harder it is without the community support (and pressure to post).

  3. It’ll never be perfect — but when should you stop?
    I rewrote Above Ground countless times, watching my writing style develop, thinking it would be perfect the next time. I have rewritten and edited Darksight much less, mostly because I’ve taken a lot more time to get it right the first time. I’m not sure which method is worse: in either case, I need to remember to let go.

  4. Outline, outline, outline — in moderation
    I pantsed Above Ground. The first draft was a mess, and I swore never to put myself through that again. With Darksight, after the initial splurge I sat down and outlined the entire novel. I tried different outlining techniques and layouts, used index cards and excel sheets, tables in Word and bullet point lists. I have barely had to rewrite or edit, but have I outlined the life out of the story?

  5. You get better at it — kind of
    Plot construction, pacing, character development? I get it. Being able to write a novel quickly without running into writer’s block, whilst juggling work and social commitments? On this front, I still have much to learn.

  6. You never stop learning
    And you’ll always want to be a better writer than you are today. Just don’t forget to look back now and then, and recognise how far you’ve come.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress…

My Writing Workspace

Where do you write?

After 9 years of living in London — and 8 house moves — I’ve learned to adapt quickly to new environments.

I have never had the luxury of a dedicated writing nook, but all my writing spaces have had three things in common: silence, solitude, and proximity to home comforts.

I’m not one of these coffee shop or library types. I need to be at home with both laptop and notebook — but where at home depends on my mood and needs.

If I’m not home alone, I write in my bedroom. It’s the one place where solitude is guaranteed, even if it’s not the most comfortable. I alternate between sitting on my bed and — when the urge to have a nap kicks in — on the floor.

In one of my previous houses I used to switch between writing on the floor in the kitchen (to enjoy the view of the garden) and the living room leather sofa (when I felt lazy).

But in my current place I have a TABLE.

Check it out:

image

My writing space

Where do you write?

Does your writing nook needs some TLC? Check out these tips on how to create an inspirational workspace.

How to Attend A Book Launch

Yesterday I attended my first ever book launch.

The book in question — not my own, sadly! — was the dark political thriller The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor. (You may recall he ran the writing course I attended).

Having never been to a book launch before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What is the correct etiquette? Must you buy the book, or not? What do you wear? Will there be alcohol?

How to Attend A Book Launch

  • To buy, or not to buy?
    While authors would certainly like everyone attending to buy the book, I doubt they expect everyone to — particularly if you’re hard up on cash and/or not interested in the genre. Don’t feel pressured into buying: the important thing is to show your support in whatever way you can.

  • Bring friends!
    The venue will look at turnout for the event, and will be more likely to invite the author back if he/she can draw a crowd. Round up your friends and/or partner and/or dog and bring them along!
    (Yes, there was a dog at the event!)

  • Promote the author online
    Another way to show your support is to promote the event online. You can tweet or blog about it, and even set up a Goodreads event for the launch. Anything that will spread the word!

  • Don’t harass the author
    Book launches are like weddings: everyone wants a piece of the action. The author will want to circulate to greet attendees, so be respectful and don’t hog his/her time.

  • Enjoy yourself!
    What you wear doesn’t matter. Take the time to meet new people, listen to the author’s reading and get your book signed. It’s not every day that you can browse a bookshop with a glass of wine in your hand…

Do you have any other tips to add to the list?

* * *

The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor

Washington_Lebor Yael Azoulay, the U.N. covert negotiator, had to kill or be killed when she went rogue in Geneva. Now back in New York, she is tasked with meeting the man at the dark heart of the American military industrial complex. Yael soon discovers a chilling conspiracy that reaches to Iran…and a dark secret from her past. The endgame is a devastating new war in the Middle East. But the closer she comes to the truth, the more she exposes herself to powerful enemies who neither forgive, nor forget.