On Writing and On Teaching

I did two weeks full time supply cover before the Xmas holidays. All writing projects had to be put on hold. It is very hard to do a full day’s teaching, plus the work you take home, and then have the creative energy to do anything else.

It reminded me of a reference to this by Stephen King in his book On Writing. If you haven’t come across it, this book is a great read on the writing process by one of the modern masters of fiction. There’s a lot of autobiography in there as well. King was an English teacher for two years before he hit the big time with his first bestseller, Carrie. He already had a family by this time as well. In this passage he captures the sense of self-doubt you can get in this situation. It’s certainly something I can relate to:

 

‘The bigger deal was that, for the first time, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching…by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain. If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then. I could see myself thirty years on, wearing the same shabby tweed coats with patches on the elbows, potbelly rolling over my Gap khakis from too much beer…And of course I’d lie to myself, telling myself there was still time, it wasn’t too late, there were novelists who didn’t get started until they were fifty, hell, even sixty.’

 

In the end, King got his book deal and never looked back. He went on to write The Shining, The Stand, It, The Green Mile, Misery, The Dark Tower series…and more and more. If you want to know how he did it, On Writing is a good place to look.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Saw this at the pictures this weekend with the family. It is the first of what will be a series of films written by JK Rowling and set in the Harry Potter universe. In the UK the film was rated 12A. It was perfectly fine for my 10 & 9 year olds, who love the Harry Potter films. A younger girl behind us didn’t like it so much and got scared, asking to go home, so parents need to do some research first before they go.

Newt Scamander is the main character, played as a wide eyed innocent by Eddie Redmayne. An ex Hogwarts student, he arrives in 1920s New York with a case full of exotic creatures on a vague mission to release one of them into the wild. He finds himself involved in the US wizarding world, partly because a number of his beasts escape his case and cause trouble. He befriends a female wizarding detective and demoted Auror, Tina Goldstein; and a muggle, or no-maj, aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski. Scamander likes magical creatures but beyond this there’s not a whole lot going on character wise, either with Newt or his friends: the acting is average, so it’s a bit of a shrug of the shoulders character wise.

This is the same for the plot. Parents and kids alike found it hard to follow at times, not helped by the mumbling delivery. There are essentially three plot lines that weave together a bit awkwardly: Newt’s aforementioned missing beasts; a much darker story about a dangerous Obscurus roaming New York; the mysterious dark wizard Grindelwald is also on the loose. It sags in the middle and is a bit too long. The plotlines are resolved in a rather perfunctory way. The parents struggled to maintain their interest in all of this and one of them fell asleep – but the kids enjoyed it.

So, what else is going on? Lots of CGI monsters, of course – this was well done, I suppose, without being memorable. The kids liked the fantastic beasts the most. The 1920s setting, with the addition of magic, was perhaps the highlight for me. There was the usual Rowling humour, enough for the kids to enjoy, but few laugh out loud moments. There is also some love interest thrown in for those who require it.

All in all, it’s a little messy, but does enough to entertain as a family film. Rowling fans won’t be disappointed. My kids felt that it was on a par, in most respects, with the Potter films, which is high praise from them. It’s not, for me, a film for adults alone. One of those films where the kids will want to get the DVD next year and the parents might leave them to it.

Beta Readers and Editors

So, becoming a self-published author is turning into an interesting journey. I am learning about the industry all the time at the moment, largely thanks to the websites of other writers who have been kind enough to share their experiences and give a newbie like myself a leg up.

The ‘traditional’ way of publishing would involve landing a deal with a big publisher, who sees enough in your work to think they might make a profit with it. They would then use their in-house experts, such as editors, cover designers, publicists etc to get your manuscript up to scratch and your book marketed to potential readers. If you are self-publishing, you have to do all this yourself. This can seem quite daunting. Some of it you may need to pay someone else to do. This can be expensive. DIY can be empowering and, of course, cheaper. But if you DIY and produce something crap, you’re not doing yourself or your book any favours.

I am currently embarking on phase one of outside help, which involves improving my novel. To simplify more than a little, there are two ways in which you can do this. One is to ask people to read your manuscript and give you their feedback. The idea here is that you use said feedback to improve what you have written (rather than ignoring it all because actually what you have written is brilliant and perfect and they are idiots, which is my initial response). You can get family and friends to do this: if they are prepared to be honest – if they have the skill set to give helpful feedback – & if they understand the genre you are writing in. If you are not blessed with such people in your life, you can get strangers to do it. These people are often referred to as beta readers – willing to read your work and give constructive feedback. One option is for two writers to read each other’s material and swap critiques.

Method two is to pay a professional editor to look at and improve your work. With the growth of the self-publishing industry, there are plenty of professional editors about. There are a number of things they can do to what you have written, from a proofread correcting your written errors to an analysis of your story elements, such as plot and character. If you are going to spend any money on this, you should carefully research the options before committing to anything.

I am about to try both options and hope that the result will be a better first novel when I come to publish next year. Anyone interested in beta reading my manuscript, please let me know!

 

If you are interested in self-publishing, here is a list of some of those writer websites I mentioned who discuss the ins and outs of the industry.

 

PublishedtoDeath

ADStarrling

JaneFriedman

Creativindie

The Creative Penn