Tag Archives: writing tips

Back In The Room…

It’s good to be back!

I have taken time off from writing this blog to concentrate on writing children’s books.

It takes a while to create meaningful, exciting and engaging characters who jump off the page, climb up your nose and playfully mess about with your brain.

I shall be posting soon about some exciting new developments regarding my latest project – a series of  humorous books for six to eight year olds, with a Scottish twist.

As ever, what takes the time is getting something off the ground. Finding a publisher or agent who is willing to take a punt and develop your ideas is a slow process, with many hurdles to overcome.

A writer may know his or her characters and plot intimately but this knowledge has to be imparted to others – never easy. I have developed some clear methods that I will blog about in later posts.

I have also been busy painting in acrylics just to give me a counterpoint.

Art by Alan Dapre  Copyright Alan Dapre

Art by Alan Dapre
Copyright Alan Dapre

 

Staring at a blank computer screen day in day out is not healthy so I mix in a bit of staring at a blank canvas too. Going from one medium to another can alleviate blocks. I often come up with plot ideas while daubing on paint.

Every once in a while I will offer up tips for writers. These have come from my own experience. I will back each one with an exercise and quote or two. Hope they prove useful for you 🙂

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WHY WRITE?

Writing for yourself is a great way to begin. You will discover what subjects interest, motivate and challenge you. To write honestly you have to write from the heart, regarding the things you really care about. If you are creatively and emotionally engaged then your writing will reflect this. External critics will be kept at bay while you learn to master your internal one. Keep what you write private and you will be free to write what matters to you. Not having to impress others is a great thing.

EXERCISES:

-Write about a subject you passionately love or hate.
-Write about a personal secret that needs unburdening.
-Write boldly about a fear or hope for the future.

‘Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self’

– Cyril Connolly

‘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…

 

 

 

 

Writing for Children – helpful ideas by Alan Dapre

I’ve had over 50 books traditionally published in a range of genres. A few are plays for teenagers and younger children. Some are linked to characters on TV (such as Brum) and are joke, puzzle, activity and story books. Others are picture books or adventure fiction for school age kids. If you look at my website you’ll see examples.

While writing in a range of formats, I’ve seen similarities in my work – and my approach to writing. Here are some ideas that have helped me.

1) Read the genre you are aiming at. Immerse yourself in the relevant books. I used to think that my writing would somehow magically be diluted and weakened by reading the work of other writers. The opposite is true. I was able to pull their words and structures apart, agree (or disagree) with what I read, and get a sense of how the format worked.

I never felt like slavishly copying a certain style – I simply read so much that stuff filtered into my own writing. No man is an island and no writer can honestly say they have not been affected by something they once read.

2) Grow up surrounded by books. This is riffing a bit on my first point. Obviously you can’t go back in time and surround yourself with books but it really does help if you have had a childhood love of reading. Fiction, non-fiction, who cares. Just getting words into you is a positive benefit. Obviously, if you have been starved of this as a child then grab loads of second hand books, trawl libraries and steal from friends (well, ask nicely actually).

Get yourself a real feel for narrative and story, for text and picture layout. It’s never too late. Books gave me a fantasy retreat from some rather dire stuff that was happening to me in Children’s Homes. Books created amazing worlds that I could inhabit for a while. They energised and enthused me and helped me become literate, confident and, er, me.

3) Get empathy with how kids think. Watch and you will learn. The secret here is to listen to the way children talk and think. Resist the urge to step in – any interaction from you will screw the dynamic and truth of what you are seeing.

By hearing children converse you will become aware of the rhythms and patterns that children adopt. It will make your own writing sound more natural. Children tend to say only what they need to say. They may repeat phrases and rework their sentences as they speak – go with their flow. It’ll make you a better writer.

4) Love your work. There is no point writing something and getting all worked up about it before the ink is dry. I tend to write my stories in chunks then go back and edit. This can work but only if I know the plot, the characters and have got myself to a stage where I can write without fear. If I am too uncertain then it shows in my writing which gets edited to death. Best to write a chapter and edit afterwards than write a paragraph and edit that.

Rash editing can simply be masking your lack of preparation or understanding of the story or characters. If you ever think your work is rubbish then it will be. Be constructive and pull out what works. Look for the strengths. Print it off, go for a walk, come back and read it at arm’s length. If you think it is going nowhere then stop and start writing something else. The urge to get back to that piece of work will return.

5) Buy a load of sticky Post-It notes (other makes are, of course, available). When I have a story idea – be it a picture book or prose, I always start by drawing the main story arc. It gets me into the characters – and stops me from fussing too much with the plot.

I draw ACTIONS – nothing else. If a character is not doing something then they should not be in your story. Stories are about DOING. Post-Its can be easily rearranged, drawn over, replaced, etc. They are brilliant. You can do the same using virtual notes on your computer desktop or tablet screen. Trust me, it works.

6) Don’t get scared or defeated. Life for a writer is tough. You are always going to have knock backs. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent something to a publisher for it to be rejected but then that publisher comes up with a very similar idea not long afterwards. Part of me says it’s coincidence – it’s probably just bad luck. For every rejection send your stuff out to three, no ten, more publishers.

7) Your work is probably as good as the next man/woman. Who is to know why someone gets lucky and is published. It could be that they have written the best kids’ book EVER. Or  they were the best of a bunch and had approached the agent/publisher at the right time. I think the key is to build relationships. Get known as a hardworking, imaginative writer and your reputation will stand you in good stead.

I read rubbish kids books all the time. I roll my eyes and despair how something so awful could make it into bookshops. That’s life. It doesn’t mean your work is bad. Hey, we can’t all be at the right place at the right time.

8) Publishers don’t always know best. I’ve had books rejected by one publisher only for them to be accepted by another. Keep trying.

9) When you get rejections – and you will – channel your writing energy into new projects. Following a rejection, I resolved to take some ownership of some of my ideas and created my Wee Panda Bear Books – Cuddle MuddleWiggle Jiggle & Eggy Leggy. Out of despair comes creativity.

eggy leggy, wee bear, alan, dapre, panda
Eggy Leggy – Wee Bear Series

9) Be nice to everyone. A) It’s a nice thing to do and B) You never know who is on the way up. Publishers and Editors and Agents move about, get promoted,  lunch together, etc. Some may talk about you – most will not. But if you stick in their minds as that rude individual who needs a slap then you probably won’t be getting much paid work in the future.

10) Write. No, really. Write as much as you can. Don’t show it to anyone – just write. If you want to get involved in a Writers’ Class then fine. But be aware that your words will be filtered through the minds of others and you’ll probably start rewriting to please other people. Not a good idea when an idea is so raw it’s bleeding out of your ears.

By all means listen to constructive criticism by someone you respect who has just won the Nobel Prize For Literature. Personally, I’d rather just write my own stuff and see what happens.

When you write, magic happens. Doors open. People smile and the world is a better place. 

Good luck.

 

[If you want to use any of the above blog for non-commercial reasons then feel free to do so – but mention my full name. Link back to my blog please. Anything else? Simply click ‘Comments’ & drop me a line.]

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**

 

How To Write For Children – Tips by Author Alan Dapre

I’ve had around 50 books traditionally published in a range of genres. Can’t remember the exact number but some have been plays for teenagers and younger children. Other books tied into characters on TV (such as Brum) and were joke, puzzle, activity and story books. More were picture books or adventure fiction for school age kids. If you look at my website you’ll see examples.

Despite writing in a range of formats, I’ve been able to see similarities in my work and my approach to the books. Here are some of my thoughts – a helpful list rather than a definitive ‘if you follow this, you will be published’.

1) Read the genre you are aiming at. Immerse yourself in the relevant books. I used to think that my writing would somehow magically be diluted and weakened by reading the work of other writers. The opposite is true. I was able to pull their words and structures apart, agree (or disagree) with what I read, and get a sense of how the format worked.

I never felt like slavishly copying a certain style – I simply read so much that stuff filtered into my own writing. No man is an island and no writer can honestly say they have not been affected by something they once read.

2) Grow up surrounded by books. This is riffing a bit on my first point. Obviously you can’t go back in time and surround yourself with books but it really does help if you have had a childhood love of reading. Fiction, non-fiction, who cares. Just getting words into you is a positive benefit. Obviously, if you have been starved of this as a child then grab loads of second hand books, trawl libraries and steal from friends (well, ask nicely actually).

Get yourself a real feel for narrative and story, for text and picture layout. It’s never too late. Books gave me a fantasy retreat from some rather dire stuff that was happening to me in Children’s Homes. Books created amazing worlds that I could inhabit for a while. They energised and enthused me and helped me become literate, confident and, er, me.

3) Get empathy with how kids think. Watch and you will learn. The secret here is to listen to the way children talk and think. Resist the urge to step in – any interaction from you will screw the dynamic and truth of what you are seeing.

By hearing children converse you will become aware of the rhythms and patterns that children adopt. It will make your own writing sound more natural. Children tend to say only what they need to say. They may repeat phrases and rework their sentences as they speak – go with their flow. It’ll make you a better writer.

4) Love your work. There is no point writing something and getting all worked up about it before the ink is dry. I tend to write my stories in chunks then go back and edit. This can work but only if I know the plot, the characters and have got myself to a stage where I can write without fear. If I am too uncertain then it shows in my writing which gets edited to death. Best to write a chapter and edit afterwards than write a paragraph and edit that.

Rash editing can simply be masking your lack of preparation or understanding of the story or characters. If you ever think your work is rubbish then it will be. Be constructive and pull out what works. Look for the strengths. Print it off, go for a walk, come back and read it at arm’s length. If you think it is going nowhere then stop and start writing something else. The urge to get back to that piece of work will return.

5) Buy a load of sticky Post-It notes (other makes are, of course, available). When I have a story idea – be it a picture book or prose, I always start by drawing the main story arc. It gets me into the characters – and stops me from fussing too much with the plot.

I draw ACTIONS – nothing else. If a character is not doing something then they should not be in your story. Stories are about DOING. Post-Its can be easily rearranged, drawn over, replaced, etc. They are brilliant. You can do the same using virtual notes on your computer desktop or tablet screen. Trust me, it works.

6) Don’t get scared or defeated. Life for a writer is tough. You are always going to have knock backs. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent something to a publisher for it to be rejected but then that publisher comes up with a very similar idea not long afterwards. Part of me says it’s coincidence – it’s probably just bad luck. For every rejection send your stuff out to three, no ten, more publishers.

7) Your work is probably as good as the next man/woman. Who is to know why someone gets lucky and is published. It could be that they have written the best kids’ book EVER. Or  they were the best of a bunch and had approached the agent/publisher at the right time. I think the key is to build relationships. Get known as a hardworking, imaginative writer and your reputation will stand you in good stead.

I read rubbish kids books all the time. I roll my eyes and despair how something so awful could make it into bookshops. That’s life. It doesn’t mean your work is bad. Hey, we can’t all be at the right place at the right time.

8) Publishers don’t always know best. I’ve had books rejected by one publisher only for them to be accepted by another. Keep trying.

9) When you get rejections – and you will – channel your writing energy into new projects. Following a rejection, I resolved to take some ownership of some of my ideas and created my Wee Panda Bear Books – Cuddle Muddle, Wiggle Jiggle & Eggy Leggy. Out of despair comes creativity.

eggy leggy, wee bear, alan, dapre, panda

Eggy Leggy – Wee Bear Series

9) Be nice to everyone. A) It’s a nice thing to do and B) You never know who is on the way up. Publishers and Editors and Agents move about, get promoted,  lunch together, etc. Some may talk about you – most will not. But if you stick in their minds as that rude individual who needs a slap then you probably won’t be getting much paid work in the future.

10) Write. No, really. Write as much as you can. Don’t show it to anyone – just write. If you want to get involved in a Writers’ Class then fine. But be aware that your words will be filtered through the minds of others and you’ll probably start rewriting to please other people. Not a good idea when an idea is so raw it’s bleeding out of your ears.

By all means listen to constructive criticism by someone you respect who has just won the Nobel Prize For Literature. Personally, I’d rather just write my own stuff and see what happens. When you write, magic happens. Doors open. People smile and the world is a better place. You can quote me on that.

These are my own thoughts. I hope you find them useful.

Good luck.

 

[If you want to use any of the above blog for non-commercial reasons then feel free to do so – but mention my full name. Link back to my blog please. Anything else? Simply click ‘Comments’ & drop me a line.]