When Emma Dowson brought to my attention a book entitled Finish Your Book : How to finish your half written novel, my interest was instantly piqued.
Now to say that I have a half written novel would be pushing it. But I am trying to write a story that is close to my heart and has haunted me for a number of years. But it’s hard! I know this sounds like stating the bleeding obvious, and should any ‘proper’ authors stumble across this they will roll their eyes and grind their teeth!! Because simple the fact is so many people have ambitions to write but so few of us achieve it!!
So when I had the chance to read and review Lizzie’s book this felt think a perfect opportunity to see if my dream was a something I could achieve or just a fantasy. At this point I want to pop up with a slight apology; as much as I don’t want this review to be about me banging on about it my own attempts at writing, this book by nature will speak to different people in different ways. Everyone who reads it will see themselves at different stages, so any response is going to be personal, and I am afraid that mine is no different.
Finish Your Book gives you to the point advice about writing. It acknowledges that it is hard but encourages the would be writer to play with the process a little. Whilst there is a key and obvious emphasis on getting the essential elements of structure right; a solid beginning, middle and end, Lizzie introduces the idea of writing in a way that isn’t linear.
She suggests, for example, that if a writer is struggling with a scene, they might want to try writing another, one that is more vivid in their heads. This might reignite the spark of creativity, maybe even take the writer in a different direction or tell them something about their own characters that they hadn’t realised.
For me this was a wonderful moment! Because it is how I instinctively write. My story, partly based in fact, set in the First World War, has some very key vivid scenes which have always been in my head. After literally years of trying to write this story I always found the beginning was too shadowy and out of reach. So I started in the middle, with a pivotal scene that has always been fresh in my mind. But I constantly felt uneasy about this. I didn’t think it was what ‘proper’ writers did, somehow I felt a bit of a fraud. After reading Lizzie’s advice I felt justified and also empowered to carry on.
Another element of the book which really spoke to me was research! Writing a book set in a different time period enviably throws up all kinds of potential pitfalls. I know a reasonable amount about life in the Trenches, but my setting is more domestic, more rural, and I want to get it right. But I have fallen down the ‘research rabbit hole’ I literally have notebooks full of information about time, place and events but very little in comparison on paper. Lizzie again has sound advice; do enough research to get you going and look things up as you go along. Research should be an aid to your writing, not a barrier. Or in my case I suspect, something to hide behind!
Writing improves with practice, something that is often stated but something I all too often forget. Trying to carve out writing time each day is hard, but as Lizzie points out rarely impossible. She points out that even if you write 100 words a day, you keep your literary muscles flexed and maintain a focus. Any writing, she suggests, is better than none. If the body of your story is eluding you, take yourself off in a different direction. Write a short story, take your characters and write a short profile, or even blog. From my own point of view I know that since I have been blogging I have found writing is more of a priority in my life. It has given me chance to connect with so many other likeminded people and get some immediate feedback on my own writing and opinions. And it does put fire in my belly and make me want to create some original fiction of my own.
And reading and analysing other authors is something that Lizzie identifies as crucial to a good writer. Absorbing the work of others helps to us to understand how a well structured novel flows, to identify and take apart the creation of believable characters, to establish a sense of place and time. We learn by doing but we also learn by example.
Sharing your work I find is a really tricky step. Sharing my blog posts are one thing but actually sharing something entirely original and of my own making is another. I have begun to make some tentative steps towards this. Recently a lovely author, Katy Darby, as part of the Day of Kindness initiative, read and critiqued some of my work. She was supportive, helpful and honest. And Lizzie is quite clear we need more of this. She is a huge advocate of writing groups and writing buddies. The hunt is now on!
There is so much sound and useful advice to be found here, in what is a relatively slim volume. This review has certainly only scratched the surface . Lizzie Enfield has created a guide that can be referred to at any stage of the writing process but is particularly useful when you feel the pace begin to slow and the impetus start to fade. Highly recommended!