Get this and dozens more poems in MINE: BODY & SOUL.
So, you’re writing your opus, or a series of short stories, or an epic poem. How can you make it as good as it can be? How can you let your readers get so lost in the piece that finishing it feels like discovering a new love and an old friend, all at once?
Give these tips a try. I had to learn them all the hard way, but they most definitely work…
Let It Breathe
You’ve just finished a first draft that has left you in a breathless whirlwind. You feel fantastic. Of course you do, and you should, because you’ve just created something wonderful. You’re desperate to share it with the world.
Don’t you dare.
Not just yet.
That stack of pages, those lines of verse, those frolicking clauses and fictional marvels are just as exhausted and buzzing as you. That means they’re not thinking straight. They’re the headless chicken we hear so much about. They’re lava, nowhere close to cool enough to touch.
Leave them be. Put the pages away. Close your laptop for a few hours, or better, a few days.
Walk, run, read, listen, watch, screw, laugh, and love, and put this new creation out of your mind, just for a while.
Then, when you’ve refilled your energy reserves, take the project out of the drawer and look at it with eyes that feel like they’re seeing it for the first time. Let your new project be the old friend you haven’t seen in a while. You’ll notice how they’ve changed, but you’ll love them all the same.
You’ll see where the roughest edges are. You’ll see what you can lose, and what you can expand upon. It will make your second draft – and there should absolutely be a second draft – be that much easier to get into shape.
The Pudding Is In The Proof
You can’t make a delicious cake without the right ingredients, and you can’t make a masterpiece without the right steps, either.
One of my failings is haste. Sometimes I’ll write a poem directly into an image app or Photoshop, a quick musing that tickles me, and I’ll pull the trigger to fire it off into the world without a moment’s hesitation. And then, after it’s been retweeted, liked, shared and commented a few times, I’ll notice there’s a glaring typo in it, or a superfluous repeated word. For that split-second I know the reader will be thrown out of the piece.
I’ve done the same with blog posts, and I’ve published books that, while I was convinced I’d caught every minor error, I’ve picked it up, flicked it open, and seen a glaringly obvious blunder on the first page I come to. Occasionally, somebody who is deep into one of my books will drop a discreet tweet (and bless them for that) saying ‘There’s a spelling error on enter-page-here’.
It’s embarrassing, dispiriting, and it’s entirely preventable.
Proofread your work. Seriously.
Like a famed speech-giver extolling the virtues of sunscreen, I cannot stress this enough.
Proofread. Your. Work.
Proof it, and get other people to do it. A bunch of them. People who know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’. People who can see where your tense shifts from present to past and back again, all in a single sentence. Folks who pay attention to things like clothing, like eye colour, and that nut allergy you mentioned on page four that didn’t rear its head when your protagonist dipped into a bag of dry roasted on page ninety-two. You need your Grammar Nazis and your continuity-sticklers. Arm them with a fine tooth comb, and let them search for the nits amongst your pages.
Once you’re entirely sure, it’s one hundred percent proofed and perfect… proof it again.
Know What The Story Is – But Not Necessarily At The Start
The best stories are about something.
That doesn’t necessarily means a lot of things happen in them, although that’s very important too.
It means they have themes, and motifs, a heart, and a point.
Harry Potter isn’t about magic, or wizards. Sure, those things are in the story. But it’s about friendship, about growing up, about being brave in the face of the vagaries of the world. A story of love between two strangers may really be about acceptance, or discovery, or coming to terms with the past.
Your story could be about love, or life, or memory, or friendship, or passion, or betrayal, or all of the above in one glorious and exciting tale. As the writer, you need to know what these things are.
You can know when you start, you can find it as you go, or even realise it at the end. Just know it.
Once you know it, go back and see where you can make these themes stronger, how you can create cohesion in your future drafts. Trim away what the story isn’t about, to show off what it really is. That’s not to say your story can’t meander into new territory, but be wary of trying to cram too much ‘about’ into one place.
Save some for your next wonderful story.
So – writers and readers – do you agree or disagree? Do you have any of your own advice for how to make sure your book is as good as it can be? Let’s hear them below.
Cameron Lincoln. 2015.
The heat is oppressive, and we’re driven inside seeking the solace of shade. In the stifling atmosphere of the kitchen you pour yourself a glass of water, sip the icy nectar to slake your thirst, but I have other plans.
My shadow casts on the wall as I approach; you are dwarfed, and have no time to prepare. I press against you, the bare, moist musculature of my chest against your back, my arms enfolding you, guiding the tumbler away from your lips and angling it with care. You anticipate the splash of mercurial water across your neck, your bikini-clad breasts, but it’s still a surprise when it comes.
You slip your finger into my open mouth and I close my plush lips around it, sucking, tasting the salt of your sweat, and your hands cup my breasts, tracing through the rivulets of water that washed away the natural gloss my pores provided. The cleanse will not last, for nature has shown her fiery mood today, and my own body responds in kind to your touch.
I want to sweat for you, to slip against you like oil, skate against your skin. I grind the cheeks of my buttocks against your shorts and feel you, all ready for me; you watched me bask in the glow of the sun and could not contain yourself. I know it’s all for me, and it makes it all the more a delight to feel.
Your tongue trails my shoulder, leaving a wet wake through the beads of moisture on my flesh, and you end the trail on my neck with a sharp nip and a lingering kiss.
The ropes of your hair drape between my fingers as I clench my hand and tilt your head back, savouring the gasp you release. I empty the last of the glass across your chest and imagine the water hisses as it hits the sun-heated floor. That is the last thing on my mind now; you are the fore, your taste and your scent, the wetness of your skin against mine.
My finger tips dive the plunge of your stomach to the cove below, seeking the hidden treasure nestled between your quivering thighs, peeling back the covering and cresting the moistening rise of your desire for me. You let me in and I find your most intimate pearl already waiting for attention. Your texture and your mewls strengthen the length that needs release.
I walk you to the couch and tip you across it, pinning you with my weight, the oily canvases of our bodies unified and one.
You are sensual, beautiful and caring so often, but I love when you are like this; animalistic and desperate. This is raw and right. I seethe as you arrive within my being, filling me so ably and thrusting to my core.
Your sweat splashes my spine and you steel yourself with my sodden locks. My flesh weeps with heat and exertion and you lap the tangy tincture away in slaloms of sensation. There’s silence but for the sound of wet flesh slapping and our primal, ragged breaths.
I tighten inexorably around you and I’m blinded by the heat of the moment when I howl my desire.
You shudder beneath me, every muscle twitching under your glistening bronze skin. You bury your face to mute the sound of your abandon and I feel you explode as I have done so many times before; a spray of natural mist coats my thighs and I cannot contain my own fluid delight.
I spill within you; a floodgate unhinged, pouring every drop in a torrent of intimate intrusion. We’re doused and drenched, saturated and stuck to one another by biology and lust. I cling to you as the final clammy inches of skin seal together. We’re a cocktail, mixed and blended, inseparable and complete.
The moisture cools but the heat remains, and I kiss the red welt I nipped on your neck, and forever refuse to peel myself away from you.
Cameron Lincoln. 2013.
The Peterborough Author Event organised by Hourglass Events and Orchard Book Club taught me many things. It also confirmed a few things I already knew. As part of the long come down after the event, I’m putting these thoughts in one place. Of course, your mileage will most certainly vary, but I hope some of them ring true – as a writer, an attendee, a blogger, an organizer. I’m using the ‘royal’ we and first person here – perhaps this is a disembodied wiser version of myself addressing the naive, green, scared individual that shuffled into a hotel ballroom in a pair of navy high-tops with a soul full of nerves.
- Relax. You’ve got this.
- A little humility goes a long way: you’re better than, and above, precisely nobody.
- You deserve to be there. So does everybody else.
- You can be you’re own mini rockstar for a day, but you’re back to being a pauper when you sit at that keyboard.
- Mystery is good, but a mystery unsolved is no satisfaction to anyone.
- You’ll still never be all things to all people.
- If they’ve read your book, you’ve already won. If they loved it, you won a little more. If they hated it, it doesn’t mean you lost.
- Say. Hello. Properly.
- There’s a fine line between looking cool and looking silly. Let it blur, until they’re both the same.
- Everybody’s a little nervous. Especially everybody.
- Give credit where it’s due.
- Give support where it’s needed, and extra where it isn’t.
- Tell stories. Hear stories. Work out why you love them.
- Write. Don’t talk about or think about, or talk about thinking about writing. Write.
- An exception to the above: think and talk about writing. Talk about it with people who love reading it, and people who do it. Learn how they do it, the physical putting down of the words. They may do it differently; they may to it in a way you haven’t thought of trying.
- You earned it, and they can’t take it away from you.
- Relax. You’ve got this.
I hope I never stop learning. I’m already signed up for the next Hourglass event in Leeds, UK, March 2016. Go and get your tickets by clicking the banner below… See you there!
What a difference six months makes. Or indeed, doesn’t make.
I took another look at this piece I wrote for the splendid Voella.com today, and realised I’d been falling into bad habits again. Between work pressures and my own scattershot mind I’ve lost focus and forgotten the joy of creation. 18k words on a new project was wonderful, when it came in one frenzied week, but that word count has barely risen since those many days ago. I want it to, so I’m going into hibernation for as much as possible. I’m swell, I promise you, just wanting to counteract this guppy-like attention span. I need to do some unplugging to find that sweet mojo again, to refill the reservoirs, and to finish the damn story. I believe the brilliant Warren Ellis calls it ‘murdering a book’.
Sometimes, completing a book is that great expulsion of a strange pressure that we like to dignify with childbirth metaphors but which is much more like wrapping the head of a giant tapeworm around a stick and slowly pulling all sixty feet of the bastard out of your back passage. Sometimes, like this one I just completed, it’s an act of perverse woodwork. You can see the shape of it in your head, but it’s not like sculpture, where the image is trapped inside the raw stone and needs to be revealed. It’s throwing up a whole weird rickety structure you only half-imagined, and then spending days and weeks screwing beading and architraves and batons and odd knobbly bits to the thing, banging pegs into slots you cut two weeks earlier knowing they needed something to fill them. And, finally, you’ve fitted every joint and groove, and you look up at the thing, and all you can say is, “well, it ain’t art, but it ain’t falling over either.”
Sometimes, “it ain’t falling over” is victory condition.
So, it’s time to make something that ain’t falling over, and keep from falling over myself. I’m happy, because I’m going to create something that wasn’t in the world before. I won’t bore with automated posts, but I’ll pimp this, because I want to see you there. My work’s there to find if you want it – on Twitter, on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and on my blog. Scroll down, dig deep, and look at what’s come before, and hopefully whet your appetite for some new stuff. My books are there on Amazon if you’re so inclined to give them a try – and I thank each and every one of you who does, who shares or likes or leaves a review.