Useful tips for writing your book, making sure it doesn’t founder mid-chapter, and avoiding writer’s block –
Whenever someone stands before me on a stage to tell me how to write a book or screenplay, get fit, improve my romantic relationships or make a million dollars out of real estate, my first question is: What qualifications do you have for telling me this, pal?
Same with books that carry improbable titles like: “Why you need never grow old,” or “How to write your best-selling book in just 7 days.”
My reaction is, “So, are YOU not growing old?” “Did you write a best-selling book in just 7 days, and if so what was it called?”
Call me a sceptic, call me a cynic – “OK Stuart you’re a sceptic and a cynic” – but I think everyone reading advice is entitled to ask from what well of experience or expertise is it coming.
So here are my credentials, and you can put the value on them you choose, and thus on the advice I give you.
BOOKS AND SCREENPLAYS
I’ve had six novels published by mainstream (not self-published) publishing houses in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Turkey, Germany and Slovenia.
Apart from English I’ve been published in the following languages: German, Japanese, Turkish and Slovenian. Three novels have been optioned for movies. One of those, ‘Crossmaglen’ is currently in pre-production. Additionally I’ve written eleven screenplays, three of which have been optioned in Hollywood. Two were written under commission – that is a production company hired me and paid me to write each of them.
I’ve also had two what are called ‘Pocket Novels’
published in America, and I’ve got a collection of short stories published on Amazon Kindle. Precise details at foot of this article.
I’ve also written two non-fiction books, basically ghosted but credited autobiographies, one with a ship disaster hero, and the other with the ex-wife of a former world champion boxer.
In the 1980s I ghost-wrote two successful novels under the name of a writer who is now sadly deceased, but also now can’t sue me for revealing that I did. Both were best-sellers, and one was serialised in a British national newspaper.
I was also a reporter and foreign correspondent for more than 35 years. This isn’t a look-at-me exercise it’s meant to be a way of letting you know that I’m I have actually written and been published, and what I tell you here has been learned from hard and often bitter experience.
OK. You want to write a novel? You’ve got a great idea and you’re full of enthusiasm? So you sit down late at night, or get up before even the sparrows have staggered to the bathroom, you grab your notebook your laptop, maybe even your cute but eccentric old typewriter. And you start.
You write for several hours and you’ve got maybe ten pages. You then lose some energy and realize it’s a damned sight quicker to read a book than write one. You get discouraged. It’s like you’ve set off to walk to the Himalayas and hours later you’ve still not made it to the freeway on-ramp.
You put your work aside and even if you pick it up again the next day just a little of that enthusiasm has waned. And worse…you sort of, kind of, knew what the story was but as it’s gone along you’re stuck at some point thinking: Where do I go next?
Don’t worry, everyone has done that. I’ve done it and I’m sure Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy did it when they first started out. (I’m trying to give you a vivid example here not compare myself with those two greats).
It’s like building a bridge without a plan or a base. You start sticking stones or bamboo together or bits of steel, they stretch a few yards out over the river and then with nothing to support them and nowhere to go they either hang precariously or fall into the water with a resounding splash.
I don’t want to tell you what Basil Fawlty might have
called ‘the bleedin’ obvious,”
[Watch Fawlty Towers bits here]
but you need a plan, and you need a method. And you need to do as much preparation as possible before you even start writing.
THE PREP – AND GETTING STARTED
Here’s what I do and you might do if you wished. Sit down with a paper and pad, not a laptop, just some clear paper, a yellow legal pad perhaps.
Then, if you’ve got a title write it down. Ok, for this exercise let’s invent one…“The Road to Fond Rememberings.” (For the record that’s mine not yours, so hands off. My lawyer is not known as Jaws for nothing.)
If you haven’t got a title get one and quick, even just a working title. To get a title work out what your story is: for the sake of example it’s about a girl who makes it out of poverty in Philadelphia and ends up in Hollywood as a star.
So how about The Philly Girl. Or, The Road to the Hollywood Sign? Anything will do right now, call it Project X if you want. But write your title down.
Beneath it write this question: “What is this story about?” Then answer it. Yes I know you could do all this in your head but writing clarifies and reminds. What we write we remember, and of course have a record of.
The answer might be: “The story of a poor girl who makes it to Hollywood but CAN’T FIND HAPPINESS because she has forgotten how to love.” That’s my answer, YOU discover yours. Just one sentence: “A rogue nuclear scientist decides to destroy earth with a dirty bomb but he and the world are saved by the love of a good woman.” (Actually not a bad idea that. Kerching! Copyrighted. Beware of Jaws).
So you have your title and what the story is about. Now don’t worry, these are not the Ten Commandments written in stone for which you’ll be tortured to death if you should deviate from them. They’re guidelines. Remember that. They’re sort of rails on a bridge, or ropes on a cliff to help you hang on if you falter.
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BUY HIS BOOK HERE – We’ll Always Have Paris
STUART WHITE’S PUBLICATIONS
Stuart White is the author of the novels Death Game; Operation Raven; The Shamrock Boy; Kiss of the Angel; Til the Fat Lady Sings and The Valhalla Secret. His non-fiction books include, “Zeebrugge a Hero’s Story,” with Stephen Homewood, and “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide,” with Cynthia Lewis Foreman.
He also co-authored the novels, “The Lady and the Champ,” and “Rags to Riches,” with the late Pat Booth.
His Pocket Novels published in America include, “A GI called Joe.” And “The Visitor.” He has a 70,000 word long compendium of short stories entitled, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” for sale on Amazon Kindle.
His optioned screenplays include, To the Very Gates; To Kill a King; Black Jacques and Crossmaglen. He has also written on commission, “Death at Sea,” and “Art of the Warrior.” He is currently writing the supernatural cop TV series, Pendragon.