Tag Archives: tips for writers

‘It’s good to write badly’ – Writing tips from Alan Dapre

It’s good to write badly. Baldly, in my case.

Back in the noisy days of  typewriters I was indebted to a strip of white tape that I placed on the paper to strike out mistakes. This was replaced in time by liquid paper. Nowadays the computer Delete key is my friend. Though I enjoy drafting my ideas out on sticky post-it sheets, rearranging good ones and throwing away the not-so-good.

Writers produce their best work when they jettison unnecessary words, characters, narratives and ideas. I prefer to be ruthless and self-edit.

Working with an Editor is useful but can be painful too, reminding me of my TV script writing days where directors and producers would wreak havoc with a careful crafted submission. In TV, the editing process is not over until the final cut. Most of the writer’s vision is left on the cutting room floor, or in a computer’s trash bin.

The best publishers use Editors who work alongside writers to eliminate excess bloat – creating a flowing narrative that engages the reader. Bad ones take over – and might as well have written the piece themselves.

So I find it is in my best interest to get a story written and self-edited to a level where I feel bold enough to let it go. If it’s strong enough it’ll fly. If not, it will probably still benefit from a good kicking about.

I tend to write more than will see the light of day – best to have too much than too little. Writers need time to write themselves into a state of consistency. So there is always plenty of flab to cut out.

Giving birth to ideas allows them to take their chances. Sometimes it takes years for them to reach their potential. I once wrote ‘Kenny’ – a play about kids leaving a Care Home. It sat in a drawer for two years until it was dusted off, re-edited and sent to the BBC for their 1991 Young Radio Playwrights Festival. Happily, it became one of the winning entries and kickstarted my writing career.

It helps to write with no fear for half an hour or so. Then have a cup of tea or walk the dog, returning fresh to the work. Skim it and highlight the good sections and strike through the rest. Save the draft. Now delete the dross and save again. Re-read and tinker with any gleaming nuggets you have left.

Now for the hard bit. Look at the work as a whole and strike through anything that doesn’t fit. It may be your best line ever, but if it shouldn’t be there then it has to go. I find this tough. Very tough when I am writing short narratives for children’s picture books. Every word counts. If a word or sentence is out of place, out it goes.

Ouch.

stephen-king

Stephen King has this advice – ‘Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.’

bernard lepton, alan dapre, stranger in the home

Bernard Hepton, a great actor and a lovely bloke, once narrated ‘Stranger In The Home’ – my BBC Radio 4 monologue. Prior to the recording day, we were discussing a certain line – one that I considered to be of great emotional importance for his character.

‘I think I’ll just cut it out,’ he said softly. I asked how he would get the emotion across using the other, more mundane, lines…

‘It’s called acting, darling.’

Bernard gave my play more space – and that gave it greater emotional impact. What is left out is as important as what is left in.

This is true for actors, writers, musicians…dustmen.

A final piece of  advice from Stephen King – ‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.’

That’s what good writing hinges on…

 

 

 

 

Beating Writer’s Block – tips by Alan Dapre

Pesky apostrophes.
Writer’s block affects one person but we all know WB affects all writers at some point so maybe Writers’ block is more accurate.

So how to cope with it? Easy. Never pick up a pen again and become a hermit atop a wind turbine. Hmm, that might make you dizzy and fall off.

I have no block today just an inability to concentrate due to a wee two year old blocking her tin teapot with plastic George and Peppa Pig toys every two minutes.

So how do I overcome Writers’ Block? …

  • I open a drawer and pull out a random object and write about that in a style of my choosing. Breathless Mills & Boon prose about a stapler anyone?
  • I write a list of things I dislike about my main character – and that seems to always generate some positives and add balance.
  • I get away from my computer keyboard and use a pencil and some post-its – sticking ideas into a small notebook. You can always remove the rubbish ones the next day.
  • I sniff the way forward by imagining what the location of my story smells like. Throw in unusual scents to generate a sense of place.
  • I give characters and places a potted history – no more than a paragraph written on the fly. (Just hope that the fly doesn’t buzz off.)
  • I ask a question – ‘Why?’ and try to think of a situation that gives me an answer.
  • I write a verb and get the computer synonym maker to chuck new words out at me – a different or unfamiliar word may get the character talking or acting in a different style.
  • I turn on the TV and grab a headline (one that is positive) and think about my characters and how they would react to it.
  • I write a note for my character – the sort you’d find left on a fridge.
  • I revisit first lines from books in my house – and play with them. This is best done after a few pints.
  • I time myself and try to write 200 words in 10 minutes – anything. Best shred it after.
  • I think about what my character most needs at the moment. Then I try to get it down, jousting its needs with other key characters.
  • I flip the issue over if it’s a problem that’s stumping me. If a character is too dull I try to make them too interesting but going OTT.
  • I nick ideas from friends & family either by telling them I’m stuck, or by eavesdropping on their conversations. Amazing what you can pick up and play with – just don’t use real names when it comes to publication.
  • I use rhyme – forcing myself to think of simple rhythmic sentences and, often, a narrative will come. Whether it is any good is besides the point.

The idea here is to just get something down … to clear the blockage. If one thing doesn’t work, try another. And if that does not work then, er, do a blog …

Works for me!

**Updated 29th Dec 2013**