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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 18-Sep-18 16:59:43

10 tips on how to start writing or drawing – even when you think you have no time to spare by Anna Davis of Curtis Brown Creative

Anna Davis is the MD of Curtis Brown Creative – the creative writing school from the major literary agency, which has launched the careers of 51 published novelists. She’s also a published author herself, with five novels to her name, and here she shares her best pieces of advice on how to kick-start your own writing or drawing, so you can knuckle down and get to work.

Anna will be joining us to answer your questions in the comments below this post on Monday 24 September from 8.45pm

Anna Davis

Curtis Brown Creative

Posted on: Tue 18-Sep-18 16:59:43

(58 comments )

Lead photo

Figure out the bones of what you’re working on, and what lies at its heart.

I first started writing novels as a footloose and fancy-free twenty-something, with no kids and no responsibility for anyone but myself. Looking back now, twenty years later, I can hardly believe the luxurious vats of time I was floating around in, and just how much I was able to produce.

But quantity isn’t everything, and neither is fresh-faced youth. Writing isn’t primarily a young person’s game. Experience, insight and – dare I say it – wisdom – enrich the work. And when you’re time-poor, you value your writing time more highly and use it more effectively. Here are some tips to help get you started:

1.Find your best time: many people write early in the morning – your thinking can be fresh at the crack of dawn before the day starts intruding. But maybe evenings, when the kids are in bed, will suit you better. If you can’t find the time to write daily, try to squeeze in a couple of hours at the weekend. However, little and often is better than long but infrequent. It’s harder to hold your project in your head with long gaps between sessions.

2.Just do it: if the blank page frightens you, try free-writing using prompts – there are loads online and something interesting may come of it. Then ask yourself ‘what if’ questions to tease out a storyline. Join in with our monthly writing competitions on Twitter - @CBCreative #WriteCBC – or if illustration’s your thing, our brilliant tutor Sarah McIntyre hosts daily Twitter drawing challenges on @studioteabreak. Keep a notebook, too – build your confidence by producing material, learning from mistakes as you go.

Know what your characters want, and what will stop them from getting what they want. This gives rise to conflict – and where there's conflict, there's a story.


3.Active Planning: i’m often asked how much planning you should do. I’d say figure out the bones of what you’re working on, and what lies at its heart – but write your way into the story before things become too rigid. You can return to your plan frequently throughout the writing process to put flesh on the bones. This process will also help if you get stuck.

4.Keep moving forward: don’t obsess over style, or worry about scenes that aren’t quite right. Fix problems at the editing stage with a complete draft in hand. If you’re fiddling a lot as you go, try writing longhand to freshen things up. For illustrators, Sarah McIntyre advises not to labour away on intricate drawings that ‘get all tight’. She recommends ‘doing some bad drawing’ to free yourself up.

5.Targets and deadlines: setting yourself small goals, such as a daily or weekly word count, can be helpful – as can self-imposed deadlines for completing a draft. But don’t give yourself a hard time when you miss targets – sometimes you need to reflect and let your back-brain catch up, and this can be more important than the word count.

6.End your writing session mid-scene or even mid-sentence: it’s tempting to stop when you hit the end of a chapter, but if you push forward a little way into the next section, you’ll find it easier to get going again when you settle back into work.

7.Get reading: if you want to be a writer, you must also be a reader. Read the stuff you love and books that are newly published to get a good sense of what’s out there. But above all, read.

8.Start with story: many writers spend a long time ‘setting up’ scenes and characters before they make anything happen. My advice is to get straight into your story, introducing your characters only when they have a role to play. In every scene, check that you aren’t starting too early and ending too late. We don’t need someone ringing the bell and waiting for it to be answered. Put your character straight into the room where the story happens. Get in and then get out again as quickly as you can.

9.Character motivation: be clear about your characters’ motivations. Know what they want – and what will stop them from getting what they want. This gives rise to conflict – and where there’s conflict, there’s a story.

10.Edit: polish your work to a shine. Print it out and edit on paper to spot things you’ll have missed on screen. And read it aloud to hear how it flows, particularly dialogue.

11.And a cheeky eleventh tip: check out our novel-writing courses at www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk, including our brand new courses for people wanting to write and illustrate children’s picture books. Most are online, allowing you to take part from wherever you are, at whatever time works best for you.

This guest post is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative

By Anna Davis

Twitter: @cbcreative

totalturmoil Fri 21-Sep-18 23:09:58

Wow this is amazing.
I think I can speak for a lot of us when I say I've always wanted to write .... hands up who else has? Maybe we could all write a line to help each other?

redshoeblueshoe Sat 22-Sep-18 00:06:10

As an author can you suggest how we can frame a question for a webchat so it doesn't get deleted ?

AgathaRaisinDetra Sat 22-Sep-18 07:23:59

@redshoeblueshoe Maybe don't swear?

Madhairday Sat 22-Sep-18 09:49:44

Thanks for some great tips, Anna.

My question is about submissions and when to give up grin if you've submitted your novel to a load of agents and got some very complementary rejections and quite a few full MS requests, but it's gone nowhere from there, do you give it up as just one of those things? Write something else? Keep trying?

Thank you!!

Somerville Sat 22-Sep-18 10:13:59

Anna thanks for the web chat.

My question is about your “cheeky eleventh tip”. How do you personally square the ethics of an agency profiting from aspiring writers? It is clearly win-win for Curtis Brown; double your revenue stream so that as well as being paid by your clients when you sell their writing, you’re also being paid by aspiring clients to teach them potentially to improve their writing. But aspiring writers are being diverted towards it (by your own agents when submitting to them, like I was, or by marketing like your post above) when other agents, if they see merit, will sign them and then (for free) help them improve their writing. This is what happened to me, which is just as well since as a young widow at the time I never could have afforded the course which one of your agents recommended to me off the back of a full MS request and alongside multiple compliments about my writing.

Somerville Sat 22-Sep-18 10:15:42

MadHairDay
If you got full MS requests and/or personalised (rather than form) rejections then keep submitting, and start your next novel!

Witchend Sat 22-Sep-18 22:42:17

How easy do you find editing your book?

I'm finding editing far harder than writing smile and keep putting it off to write different things.

AgathaRaisinDetra Sun 23-Sep-18 07:08:47

Is the OP coming back to answer our questions?

Sorryshesgone Sun 23-Sep-18 08:14:23

Agatha the OP will answer the questions tomorrow night from 845pm.

gendercritter Sun 23-Sep-18 15:43:47

How do you personally square the ethics of an agency profiting from aspiring writers?

I just want to echo this question. I've done one of the 6 week Curtis Brown courses. Personally I got something from it but most of the other participants afterwards privately voiced they felt exploited and didn't feel they'd got value for money.

I don't doubt the longer courses offer something but there are a lot of desperate writers out there who are ripe for making money from.

I just wonder how much thought you've given to this issue. As an example, for your summer course this year you offered a scholarship spot on your 3 month, highly competitive beginner writing course to someone who had clearly already completed her novel, done a Masters in Creative Writing as well as having won an award for her writing. Did she need that 3 month 'how to write your novel' course? She signed a publishing deal mid-way through it so it looks like in fact it was just a way of you bumping the number of successes your school has had so you could lure more people in. She was going to succeed whatever happened (and good luck to her - the issue I'm raising isn't personal to her, it's with CBC and how much good you could actually have done with that scholarship)

I think everyone in the industry needs to be looking at this by the way. I also feel very negatively about some of the day long events where you pay £150 for a few basic workshops and a 10 minute slot with an agent which boils down to being useless. New writers are very exploited at present by this industry.

AlphaMama Mon 24-Sep-18 09:19:07

My problem is that I can't face writing at the end of a long day. Everyone says 'if you love it enough...' but I'm a mum and work full time - I'm knackered! Any advice for summoning your drive when you feel like you've used all your creativity in your day job that pays the bills? sad

LurkingElle Mon 24-Sep-18 09:28:33

Would you recommend that debut writers enter competitions - are you more likely to offer representation to someone whose work has been shortlisted for an award?

Madhairday Mon 24-Sep-18 09:30:22

Thank you, @Somerville - yes, that's kind of what I'm thinking. I have a non fiction book being published in a few weeks so just got to pull out all the stops for that, but then I will look at some submissions and getting on with the next project. I don't have a shortage of ideas!!

Agree too about the questions of ethics regarding the courses. I get the CB emails and am often tempted, though am priced out of them, but can see how many authors are pulled in. I'm sure there's some good stuff on them but it doesn't always sit quite right.

Lucysgoldenhair Mon 24-Sep-18 10:08:08

I have a few ideas for children's picture books but not a great illustrator. What do you think is the best way forward - should I try and find an illustrator myself? If so what's the best place to start? Or should I write my stories and try and find an agent before the book has been illustrated. I'm still a bit clueless on the process but would really like to develop the ideas.

sydneysideup Mon 24-Sep-18 12:50:44

Hi Anna

I have two questions! Hope that's ok.

Do you recommend using a blog to test the audience for your written work? Can this work in your favour or maybe against you when approaching publishers?

I'd also like to know about collaborating with an illustrator for children's books. Is it best to work alongside someone so the story and pictures evolve together, or to look for someone to illustrate work once the narrative is finished?

Buster45 Mon 24-Sep-18 14:10:04

Hi there,

I have done a sainsburys pregnancy test and it has got the blue line right and another faint blue line on the left which was very very faint within 5 minutes of testing but now 4 hours later it has also come on
much darker do you think im pregnant?

Somerville Mon 24-Sep-18 17:22:39

I’m not sure you’re on the right thread Buster grin

gendercritter Mon 24-Sep-18 19:24:17

grin

TheHatOfDoom Mon 24-Sep-18 20:32:46

Do you have specific things you think make a story work or does it vary depending on the plot/characters/genre? Either I’m stuck in a reading rut or books are getting more formulaic. As someone who wants to write a novel I’ve been debating that so was wondering what you thought.

AnnaDavis Mon 24-Sep-18 20:43:14

Hi everyone, great to be here, and thanks for your questions. It's my first time on Mumsnet so be patient with me ... I'll do my best to answer everything, but if you think of any questions later - or if I accidentally miss anything, you can always email me (or Katie and Jack, who work with me) on cbccourses@curtisbrown.co.uk - or tweet us on @CBcreative, and we'll try to help.

AnnaDavis Mon 24-Sep-18 20:45:07

totalturmoil

Wow this is amazing.
I think I can speak for a lot of us when I say I've always wanted to write .... hands up who else has? Maybe we could all write a line to help each other?

So many people want to write - and really the most basic and real difference between a writer and someone who talks about it is just that the writer gets down to it. It's never too late to start - and you can also join in on #WriteCBC - our monthly Twitter competition on the first Thursday of every month - it's fun and easy so do check it out

AnnaDavis Mon 24-Sep-18 20:50:23

TheHatOfDoom

Do you have specific things you think make a story work or does it vary depending on the plot/characters/genre? Either I’m stuck in a reading rut or books are getting more formulaic. As someone who wants to write a novel I’ve been debating that so was wondering what you thought.

Hi TheHatOfDoom, It really does depend - but I do think stories need great characters and conflict - both external conflict and internal - but there is so much diversity in novels that it's hard to answer that question in the abstract. There is no one formula, and personally I'm really glad of that. I don't think books are getting more formulaic - though it's true that there are distinct trends which result in lots of similar books being commissioned for a period of time, before the trend moves on. Arguably that's primarily psychological suspense thrillers at the moment (also called 'domestic noir' - but a few years back it was chicklit. There's always a great diverse range of books around but sometimes you need a really good book shop to find them, and be prepared to burrow deep.

AnnaDavis Mon 24-Sep-18 20:55:38

sydneysideup

Hi Anna

I have two questions! Hope that's ok.

Do you recommend using a blog to test the audience for your written work? Can this work in your favour or maybe against you when approaching publishers?

I'd also like to know about collaborating with an illustrator for children's books. Is it best to work alongside someone so the story and pictures evolve together, or to look for someone to illustrate work once the narrative is finished?

Hi sydneysideup, it can certainly work well to start out by trying out material in a blog. If the blog is popular, then it will certainly help you with publishers. If it's not popular, then it's best just to take the ideas offline and don't mention it in your approach to publishers. However, a blog is a very different beast to a novel (if that's what you're writing). You will need to work to transform your material into the distinct shape of a novel - beginning, middle and end, and to make sure it has a satisfying story. Re your second question, I think it can be great to work with an illustrator if you know or meet someone whose ideas work well with yours and if the two of you really fire each other's creativity. You can then evolve your material together. Alternatively you can write your stories and send them to publishers/agents, who might match you up with an illustrator if they want to publish your work. I wouldn't recommend trying to commission an illustrator for an already-written story as a cash-based commission. That rarely works out well for both parties ...

AnnaDavis Mon 24-Sep-18 20:57:45

Lucysgoldenhair

I have a few ideas for children's picture books but not a great illustrator. What do you think is the best way forward - should I try and find an illustrator myself? If so what's the best place to start? Or should I write my stories and try and find an agent before the book has been illustrated. I'm still a bit clueless on the process but would really like to develop the ideas.

Hi Lucysgoldenhair - this is quite similar to the question I just asked. It's usually better to write your stories and try to find an agent or publisher, who might then look to develop your work with you and match you up with an illustrator. I'd focus on getting the stories right if I were you - it can be complex to try to commission an illustrator for a whole host of reasons. But if you do meet someone who you work well with, then go for it (e.g. in a creative writing course or an online writing competition etc)

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