Saturday, January 12, 2008

12 Points on the 12th with Kate Walker

Starting out . . .

Some time ago, I was talking with Lee and we were discussing the possibility of doing something for writers on My Tote Bag. We discussed doing on-line workshops but weren’t sure of the take up for them. So we decided to test the water with a series of Writing Blogs, to see how much interest there is.

So, here I’m starting the first of the 12 Points on the 12th. This title obviously links in to my award winning 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, but the blogs should add to rather than repeat the advice and exercises in that book. So if you already have a copy of the 12 Point Guide, then these blogs won’t just repeat what’s in there – though they may cover some of the same ground.
What I want to do is to run this as I often run a workshop that I actually teach. So, in that case, the first session would be Getting to Know you.
So many people tell me that they would write a book if they had the time, that they could easily write a romance because writing romance is no problem at all, that they cold write a better romance than so many they’ve read. Oh yes, and they know all about romances and what they’re like- everyone knows that.

But if I ask for the title of the last romance they read – or the author – they are suddenly struck dumb, unable to think of anything. They don’t know if they want to write for Romance or Presents, or Medicals. And they have no idea what makes a ‘Modern Heat’ (in the UK) or what makes a Silhouette Special Edition different from a Silhouette Desire. They don’t even seem to know what they prefer, because they haven’t read enough. Romance publishing today is divided into so many lines, each with its own individual tone and style, so you need to know not just that you want to write romance but what type so that you can find that individual ‘voice’ that is truly yours.

So the start of a new year seems like a good point to pause, think, and take stock. Take stock of yourself as an individual and as an individual writer. What are your aims (other that getting published) what resources can you bring to the books you want to write – life experiences, studies, job experiences . ..

Why do you want to write? This may seem like an obvious question, but the truth is that publishing – in any area at all – is such a competitive field that there is no way I or any other tutor can promise you that you will be published, no matter how hard you try, how many classes you attend or books you read. So before we start out, you have to accept that if you’re only doing this to be published worldwide, make lots of money and become incredibly famous, then you’re not likely to find much happiness in your writing. But if you want to write because you have stories burning in your head, characters who talk to you at the most inappropriate moments – if you want to set out of this journey to enjoy the trip, rather than simply to get to the destination, then you’ll get a lot out of writing and learning to write the best way you can, no matter what the end result might be.

The other reason for taking stock of yourself is that no publisher, whether of romance or not, is looking for a copy of anything that has gone before. The romance world is not looking for a new Betty Neels, or another Penny Jordan, or Lynne Graham – they have those already. What they are looking for are not pale copies but fresh new individuals. In romance writing it is very difficult to be original – most plots have been done before - but you can be authentic. You can write in a way that is unique to you.So take a look at the best asset you have – yourself. What do you bring to your writing?

What are the experiences you’ve had – the jobs you know about, the places you’ve live, the people you’ve known. Even if you’ve lived in the smallest town in the most rural part of the country you will have met thousands of people already in real life- and many thousands more in fiction.

That’s another thing you need to consider. What are you like as a reader? What books have you read and loved – maybe read again and again, over and over? What books have lived in your memory long after you’ve finished them? Because the books you read, the ones you pick instinctively, and enjoy the most, tell you what sort of stories you most relate to – the ones you’ll probably be most likely to tell well.

If you can’t handle strong emotions and intense passions, then you’re unlikely to be able to write the intensity that a Presents novel needs. And if you have no experience of the world beyond a small country town then the sophisticated, worldly settings these books use are not likely to come easily to you. But those same characteristics that could be a problem for one line could be much more of an asset for a writer who’s aiming for the Romance line.

When asked what is the best advice I can give to a new writer – someone who is just starting out with the aim of writing their first novel – of any sort – my answer is always the same – READ.

Read, read, read – and then read some more. Read a variety of stories, from a variety of lines. See which ones appeal to you, not just as a story but because of the characters they contain, the places they’re set in, the tone of the story , the type of conflict there is between the hero and heroine. Read to see the differences between all the lines, to see which one seems the best ‘fit’ for you. If you’re aiming at a single title, learn the different ways and tones in which a story can be told – it’s not just ‘this happened and then that happened and then that happened. . .’ Make notes, and analyse, to see which line feels like ‘home’. That way, you’re creating a sort of writing map for yourself, so that when you set out on your own journey to create a fictional world and the characters who people it you’ll have a much better idea of what you can bring to your story as a writer and how you should think about writing it.

For some of you this will be easy. Others will have a more difficult time deciding just where there voices belong. I know this from experience – in my 53 + titles, I have 12 that were published in Harlequin Romance, the others in Presents. I just wrote the first books, without any idea of targetting or aiming for any particular line. But I’m not naturally a Romance writer. I’ve been much happier, and much more successful since I focussed on where my voice really belonged – where I was writing my most authentic books.

So this month take some time to take stock of yourself as a person, as a reader and as a writer. You are your own best resource as a writer so get to know that resource really well. Start creating that ‘writing map’ that will show your where best to begin – and where you really should be heading. Avoiding false starts and wrong directions will save you a lot of time and heartache from rejections.

Questions? Comments?
I have a copy of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance to give away - together with my latest book, the Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife. Just post any questions you have - or tell me what book it was that made you feel 'I want to write like that!' What line are you really aiming for and why?
The more you join in the more I can direct my writing blogs to what you want to know.
And in the run up to the Harlequin Presents Instant Seduction Contest I'll be posting some other writing hints on my own blog so why not come along and take a look there too?


Anna Campbell said...

Hi Kate! As always, lovely to meet you online! What a fabulous post and absolutely fantastic advice. I don't know anyone who became a writer who wasn't a reader first. It makes sense that that's the way it works. I'd also suggest that you test the water across a variety of styles. Read the classics in romance (there are often lists of top 100 books on the Net or see what books authors talk about as influencing their writing. You'll learn so much about the genre by reading the books that have stood the test of time. There was something in those books that touched readers 20 years ago and is still moving them today. But don't just read the classics - read what's selling now! And read lots and lots of it. Actually, I think we're very lucky that we can curl up with a fantastic romance novel on a rainy afternoon and call it 'research'!

Anonymous said...

As always, Kate, wonderful blog. For me, writing offers me the chance to say the things that I've always wanted. It's a chance to right the wrongs, give characters a second chance and always provide that happy ever after. You mentioned voice in the blog. My strongest advice for anyone who is trying to develop their own voice is not to pay attention or try to emulate anyone else. Concentrate on your writing and you will that flow that will translate well into voice. Because I don't try to be the authors that I read I find it's easier to enjoy their stories. Just as I want anyone who picks up my books to be transported into the story and be oblivious to the actual words on the page.I look forward to the next point.

Estella said...

I am not a writer but was interested in what you had to say.

Michelle Styles said...

Oh Kate,

You repeated your excellent advice about writing like yourself!
That so helped me when I was first starting out. I can rememberthink well that's a relief as I can't write like Penny Jordan,Betty Neels or even Kate Walker, but I can write like me! Thank goodness they don't want clones.

I can highly reccommend your book as well!

Michele L. said...

Hi Kate,

What an interesting blog! I am a book lover! Have been ever since I was a kid. I have a huge library of books. Writing a book has always crossed my mind. I write reviews and have written many technical reports for my BS degree but never an actual story.

Reading your blog has inspired me to want to write something. I always think to myself though where do you start? That is the biggest hurdle to me. How do you start? That is my question to you. Are there different methods to use when you start to write? Or is there one tried and true way? Also, how do you come up with the plot anyway? I would think that is the hardest part of all!

It was wonderful having you here today!
Michele L.

Kate Walker said...

2nd attempt to answer this after my kitten pounced on my keyboard and erased the last one! I'm going to answer one by one so if she does it again then there is only one erased

Anna - it's always great to 'meet' you on line. I should tell you that curling up with a novel on a rainy day is going to be very common here - it's been raining and raining . . . York is flooded once again. It's a wonderful way to do research isn't it?

Nathalie said...

I think it great a lot of courage to be a writer... thanks for the post ;)

Lily said...

Like so many other people here, I am just a grateful reader... who just want to thabk you for your great books :)