Part 2 of writing skills : Writing tools

So after part 1, you have an idea for your novel. Great! Now you’ve just got to write the darned thing.

To help with this process, there are several tools that you will need to use. No, we’re not talking hammers and chainsaws here, although I’ve used props at times. I’m talking about tools to help you to write and to produce a book that the reader can follow. I’ll list the tools that I find important. Don’t start your masterpiece just yet!

Tool 1, The writing environment.

This is vital and as varied as the personalities of the writers. Some people say that they must have absolute quiet and isolation, while writing. Others, like myself, are not too concerned about the need for peace. I have always liked to work with a bit of music in the background. For me, this rhythmical sound, pitched at the right volume, tends to blot out other sound that would distract me. I can write for a few hours with five CDs playing and only notice the music when it stops!

When I’m in the zone,I can even blot out the sound of my daughter playing and the TV being on in the room. This can be harder, though. You’ll need to find what works for you.

Some people work in a garden shed, a study, an attic room. I can’t write anywhere in the house. My favourite place is sitting on the couch in the living room. I can also quite comfortably sit and write in a doctors’ waiting room. I feel less comfortable in a library.

The point is, if you don’t feel comfortable, try somewhere else until you do. If you don’t get this right, you won’t produce your best work.

Tool 2, The medium.

No, we’re not discussing psychics or seances. Here I’m looking at what you use to write with. Don’t despair if you can’t use a word processor to write directly into a program like Word. If you can, then that is a big time-saving advantage. Personally, I can’t. I think part of the reason for this would be my poor typing skills, but it’s not all of the reason. Somehow, I feel at ease with a pen and a piece of paper in hand.

Dictation programs : a word of caution.

I’ve also tried Dragon Naturally speaking, up to the latest release 12. The developers claim better than 99% accuracy. That may be true for some, but it isn’t for me. I’m a lad from Northern England and I have a distinctive accent. I would say that i get close to 99% accuracy from the software, but some words it simply will not learn. I gather that people with Southern English accents and American accents do much better. however, let’s say you’re lucky and get 99.2%. Sounds good? I don’t think so. In a longer novel, such as I write, at around 150,000 words, this amounts to 1,200 errors. Not only this, but the errors are harder to find using a spelling and grammar check.

If I mistype the word ‘clean’ by clipping the wrong key, it may look like ‘clesn’ or ‘c;ean’. The checker will find this easily. If a speech engine gets it wrong, it may type ‘lean’ or ‘clear’. Let’s put these words into a sentence.

Correct : Bill was a clean and tidy sort of man, not to say meticulous.

With speech engine error : Bill was a lean and tidy sort of man, not to say meticulous.

Substituting the other error also gives rise to a sentence that will not be detected for spelling or grammatical errors. both are not at all what we wanted to write! This means that proof reading is very difficult to do…it may still be missed.

Try dictation software if you like, but I won’t be using it in a hurry. Another niggle is that you have to teach the things anything not in the built-in dictionary. This includes all of your lovely made-up names and imaginary creatures! Worse, I had to teach the thing how to swear. Being politically correct, the designers don’t include a single fu**ing swear word!

The internet and libraries.

Invaluable. So you have your idea and it is going to be set in Egypt. Research the place, the language, the weather, how long the days are…everything. Write it all down in an ordered fashion that you can quickly access. Bring up pictures of places you are writing about, so that you get it right. If you’ve been there, add all of your feelings about the place…noises, smells, attitudes.

Don’t think you can get away without this research if you write sci-fi, as I do. You just need to research other things. You’ll want to write accurately about star types, distances between stars, binary star systems, planetary atmospheres.

Know your subject!

Your experiences.

Use your own personal experience of life..it’s what makes you individual. Use your senses. Study things in detail, even as you are out shopping, or taking a stroll. Use all of your senses, so that you can describe things in a vibrant fashion. I even act things out, when I’m writing, often in front of a mirror. that way I can see what my response would be to the situation my character is in. It feels daft at first, but after a few times, you’ll be dodging sword strokes like a ninja warrior and lifting invisible heavy blocks like Marcel Marceau!

In the next section, we’ll actually think about starting to write…phew!

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