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Writing Workshop: Starting out as a writer

Writing Advice from Glen Kohler

Let’s start with the most important piece of advice that you will ever be given as a writer: Good writing depends on practice. Like any other hobby, the more practised and conditioned you are, the better you perform. At one point we have all had to deal with that terrifying confrontation with the blank page. We have all had to find a voice to carry our thoughts, feelings and ideas with flair and eloquence. The blank page taunts us. What if it comes out wrong? What if what we write can be construed differently than we intended it to be? What if our writing comes across as childish or naive? What if we can’t actually write? Suddenly we are remembering all the great works of literature we have read. We have lots of ideas and little confidence in our own ability to express them. What is the point? Everything has already been written before. It has already been said. The pages and pages of words, the characters, the settings, the ideas that drove us to write begin to shrivel up and wither away. The whole project seems pointless, impossible and the once burning desire to write becomes little more than a dimly glowing wish.

The only way to overcome this problem is to write. We are all familiar with the concept of an athlete hitting the wall. The blank page is a our wall. To break through it, you must write. Get some material down on paper, however rough and ready. Start with notes, a few fragmented paragraphs, half sentences, push through the stuttering and you will find yourself writing whole sentences, paragraphs and pages. More often that not, the first hurdle that a writer has to overcome is their own self-consciousness about the process of writing. This hurdle can take a few pages to clear. Think of it like an old car that hasn’t been run for a while. Initially the journey will be start-stop and the car will shudder and shake under the strain but eventually it will get itself into a routine. A little oil and a bit of care will ease the joints and the repeated action of the crankshaft will push the pistons and make them slide a little easier with each rotation. All writers need to be prepared for this. One of the worst things you can do is convince yourself that you will write a masterpiece on your first try. You are engaging with something unfamiliar and, take it from me, you won’t be winning any prizes for your first efforts.

If you are serious about being a writer then you will need to learn your craft. It may seem pointless but you should start out with simple things. I recommend you try something you are familiar with, like the face of someone you are fond of and see on a regular basis, the last phone conversation you had, the discussion you had over a few drinks, your favourite television show, band or song. Give yourself a subject and write about it. Try not to stop or correct yourself. Just write for five minutes on that subject. Just generate a few pages, a few hundred words.

Then, most importantly, read it back to yourself.

This is possibly the hardest part of starting out as a writer. The first time that you read your own work is, in many ways, like the first time that you hear your voice on a recording.

Do I really sound like that? Oh, I didn’t know.

You might be embarrassed. You might be disappointed. It is important that you don’t stop or allow this initial encounter with yourself to put you off. This is a rite of passage for any writer. I was once told that good vocal recording, either speaking or singing, requires you to listen to your voice over and over so that you can learn to control and improve your pitch and delivery. The same is true of writing, so to speak. You need to learn to read through your writing. You need to be able to identify those sentences that can be improved, expanded on or even cut. This is how you will develop a sense of your own fictional style. You will only have the confidence to write a story when you have a sense of your own voice. It is only through writing that you will find that voice.

Your voice should be similar to the way you speak, a little more structured and polished perhaps, and it is as unique to you as your fingerprints. Voice can be interpreted as perspective or personality. It is not to be mistaken with stylistic effect which is a skill you can develop. Something that you wrote a few years ago should still sound like you now because the personality of the work, your personality, is unlikely to have changed dramatically over that time. It can be difficult to appreciate this without input from other writers which is why creative writing groups can be very useful for new writers. If there isn’t a group near you, or you don’t feel ready to take that step, consider your bookshelf or those in your local library. Every one of those books has a unique voice. They are all clamouring for your attention. They have their own accent, cadence, interests and points of reference. Don’t try to emulate those voices, you need to develop your own language and find your own stories. That is how you find your own fictional voice.

Once you’ve put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, you should try to write every day. Set yourself an achievable target. Don’t rush into that novel unless you are sure you can finish it. If you can’t think of anything to write then try choosing a concrete subject. Describe your writing workspace, the view from the window, a photograph that grabs your attention or a fictional retelling of a newspaper story. When you are doing this try to look for the important details and don’t overuse adjectives – when you are qualifying a noun make sure that your writing is benefiting from its use. If you find that you are overusing words then use a thesaurus or dictionary. Words are to writers as paints are to painters. You need to have words at your fingertips. This means you should make time to read from as many different sources as possible. Read fiction and non-fiction, novels, poetry, biographies, instructional manuals, magazines. If you come across a word that you don’t know then put it in a notebook and use it in your next piece of writing.

Notebooks are a key component of writing. If you don’t have a mobile phone or tablet then buy yourself a good quality notebook and a few good quality pens. Once you have somewhere to put your thoughts and ideas, go and sit in a park, a library, a coffee-shop, a cafe, a museum and write for an hour or two. If you can’t think of anything to write then use your surroundings as inspiration.

Remember that good writing is about practice and discipline. You want to be prepared, supple and articulate, and this will only happen if you get yourself into a pattern of behaviour that supports your writing. We have all had days when we have found it hard to pick up a pen or turn on the computer and these are the days that will matter most. If you have to trick yourself into writing then do it. I know writers who like to finish their work mid-sentence or mid-paragraph to help them get back into the train of thought when they return. Myself, I like to read the last two paragraphs of yesterday’s work before I start my daily writing. Writing creatively requires that you develop these little habits and behavioural patterns. As new writers, it is often easy to become obsessed with understanding how other people write, as if their behavioural patterns may shed some light on how to do it ourselves. These habits are idiosyncratic and may not work for you. Try them, by all means, but don’t become so fixated on becoming a writer that you forget to do any writing.

One final piece of advice, go easy on yourself. Don’t expect to write a whole novel in one sitting on your first try. If you get stuck in the middle of a piece of work, be prepared to set it aside and come back to it later. Make notes on your story, your characters or your setting. Though it may feel like treading water, they can be an essential step in the process of developing a sense of what you want to say. You can never be certain what will shake your story free and the added layers of character and setting should help make your narrative more immersive and convincing.

Article Copyright © 2016 Fever Dreams Publications. All Rights Reserved. Image credit:


5000 B.C. : Making Time to Write


A Writing Blog by Peter Bennett

In the time I’ve been running Fever Dreams I have often exchanged emails with aspiring writers. They frequently spend a great deal of time telling me about the great idea they have for a novel. They’ll inform me of the countless hours that they’ve spent in the library or online doing research, that they are convinced of the opportunities for a multi-book contract and media franchising options. They’ll offer to send me the 50,000 words that they have written to outline their masterpiece and request my feedback. In virtually every one of these circumstances I ask the writer the same question:

How much of the book is actually written?

Its usually at this point that the writer acts offended and seem affronted by the implied judgement behind my comment. Don’t be offended, at one time all of us have been guilty of this writing faux pas but here is the hard truth of the situation. Unless you were born wealthy or have family members willing to fund your writing, you probably have a job. If you are an adult then you may have a partner, children, housework, shelves to put up, walls to paint, car maintenance, shopping, the list goes on. We all lead busy lives, and the pace of our society is speeding up which will only make matters worse in future. Sometime it feels like getting a novel or even a short story written is an impossible task with everything else we have to do. How then, can we complete our masterpieces?

While I have spent many hours dreaming of a machine that can take my ideas and transform them into a workable manuscript (it was the inspiration for one of my short stories), the reality of the matter is that books and stories, sadly, do not write themselves. Many writers seem to think otherwise but the truth is that writing a novel or a short story requires one thing – you to sit your bum in a seat and write it. Posting on forums about writing or any other subject of interest, checking your social media, playing a computer game or any of the other time sink activities that we do with computers, will not help us finish our manuscript.

Let’s look at this objectively. I have a friend in Liverpool who is an aspiring writer. He works all day, comes home and has a few hours before his evening meal and again after his kids go to bed. He tells himself that he is going to use that time after his kids go to bed to write and so he throws himself on the sofa and mindlessly watches the telly until his evening meal. After his evening meal, he turns on his computer and checks his social media until his wife tells him to wash the dishes. He does this before returning to the computer and bashing off an email to me about how he’s never going to get his novel finished with all these distractions and vows to buy himself a dishwasher with his first royalty cheque. Then after discouraging himself thoroughly, he gives up for the night and swears blind that tomorrow will be different.

Do you see the irony of his complaint? He has the time. He’s just not using it wisely. He would be better using his pre-meal time to write because he is less likely to be distracted or interrupted.

I have been studying English Literature and Creative Writing for the last few years. I knew that once I reached the end of my course I would be faced with an important decision: make writing pay OR get a job until I can make writing pay. Sometimes the demands of my studies were harsh and it was difficult to find time to write every day but I still wrote something every day. Many magazines and articles will tell you that the secret is finding time to write. This, in my opinion, is bad advice. If you look for time to write the you won’t find it. You find something else to occupy your time – the search for time to write, and while you are searching for time to write you aren’t actually writing. In fact, that time you are using to find time to write could actually be used to write.

My advice to you is to forget finding time to write and make time to write. How and when is down to personal preference. Writing is something that you will get better at the more you do it, and therefore, I recommend that you do it as much as you can. My personal habit was to get up first thing in the morning and write 5000 words before I had my first cup of coffee  (it’s the reason for the name of this blog) but everyone has their own individual way of working. I do my best work first thing in the morning or last thing at night but I have had to accept that my evenings are more subject to disruption.

Once you have made a window for your writing, the next step is to discuss the commitment you are making with your significant others. If you live by yourself then this is simply a matter of asking friends and family not to call around or phone you during this window. If you have a partner living with you then you will need to have a chat. Sit them down and explain how important writing is to you. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a whim. It’s not a pipedream that you’ll get bored with in a few months. Don’t sell it to them with promises of wealth and success. Make absolutely certain that you and your partner understand your dedication, commitment and drive to succeed as a writer and that this is not going to be easy. Trust me, having a partner who understands the pitfalls of publishing will save you many headaches in future. If you are like me then you won’t rest until you see your book on a shelf in a store, and probably not even then. So make sure that your partner understands that for as long as you are together, this is going to be something that you are committed to doing. Ask them for their support. You are going to need it.

Once they are on your side and understand that you are serious about this, make that time for yourself. You may be surprised what you can accomplish with as little as an hour a day. Get up earlier. Go to bed later, just remember not to let yourself get sleep deprived. Write on your lunch break. Modern technology means you can write on the bus or train during your commute. How and when you make that time is up to you but make it. Your friends and family should understand that you aren’t to be disturbed during that hour. It’s just as if you are at work, even if you’re sat with a laptop on your knee in the downstairs toilet or in your shed. No distractions. No phone calls. No social media. No quick trips to the shops. No cups of coffee or tea. You may be surprised at how many cups of coffee or tea you can make and drink in an hour as a means of not writing. This is your time. Your hour.

And after you’ve asked all your friends and family to give you this hour, you had better use it. You have an obligation to repay their support with manuscript pages. That means no internet. No forums. No social media. No games. No researching and telling yourself that it is writing. None of these things constitute writing. If they don’t add words to your manuscript then they aren’t writing. Writing involves one thing… adding words to your novel or short story.

It really is that simple.

As for results, the average short story is (depending on the publication and publisher) around 3500-4000 words. If you write for one hour then you should easily manage 500 words (and by that I mean good quality usable words – I spent a great deal of time working in data entry so I can knock out 1500 words in an hour without much effort but they aren’t necessarily quality words that will remain in my final manuscript). This means that a short story should take you about a week including non-writing and editing time. Similarly a novel could be a minimum of 60, 0000 words or much, much longer. If you write an hour a day then you should have a finished novel by the end of the year (365 days x 500 words = 182,500 words ).

So what are you waiting for? Make time to write today.

Article Copyright © 2016 Fever Dreams Publications. All Rights Reserved. Image credit:

Welcome to Fever Dreams Publications

Welcome to the new Fever Dreams Publications website. As you can see there have been a few changes but we haven’t finished yet. We would like to thank you for your continued support and ask you to bear with us while the redesign takes place. Rest assured that the next issue of Fever Dreams will be with you soon.

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