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Category: About writing

Writing No-no's

There’s a lot of writing advice around that is bad — well-intentioned, but misleading. It usually results from people simply repeating what they’ve heard, and turning it into “a rule” that they then share with (or impose on) other new writers.

For instance how often have I seen new writers warned off this kind of thing:

Her eyes dropped to the floor.

No, no, the ‘expert’ instructs  gleefully. If you write this your reader will imagine eyeballs popping out of someone’s head and landing on the floor. You should write:

She lowered her gaze to the floor.

Nonsense, say I. It’s a metaphor. No reader with half a brain is going to think her eyes dropped out of her skull and landed on the floor — because clearly this happens all the time in real life! 

It’s just like saying “She flew to the window” or “He froze” or “He approached the door with leaden footsteps.”

They’re all metaphors! She didn’t literally fly — she hurried; he didn’t literally freeze, he went abruptly still; and his feet weren’t made of lead, it’s a metaphor to show how reluctant he was to approach the door.

So when you’re given writing advice — mine included— think about it, and decide for yourself whether to adopt it or not.

A snippet of Marry In Haste

My new book comes out on 2nd May! That’s tomorrow! Marry In Haste is the first book in a brand new “Marriage of Convenience” series.

Launch day is always nerve-wracking for me, wondering whether readers will like the book or not. Each novel has something for me to worry about — in this case it’s that the romance is a slow burn, rather than insta-love. The heroine doesn’t even appear for several chapters. Some readers don’t like that. Others do. But it was right for the book and for my characters, so I’ll just have to wear it.

The slow burn is because my hero, Cal Rutherford (who has just become Lord Ashendon) has a LOT to learn. I love Cal. He’s a soldier, used to snapping our orders and having them instantly obeyed. But now he’s having to deal with females, especially female relatives, and it’s not easy. Strangely, women and young ladies don’t respond well to have orders tossed at them. Who knew? Certainly not Cal. 

Here, Cal is telling his friend Galbraith, also a former soldier, about his difficulties.

“Remember that time when I was still wet behind the ears and they gave me that troop to command—most of them from the stews of London and only in the army as an alternative to being locked up in prison for God knows how long.”

“Lord, yes. Thugs and villains to a man. Scum of the earth.”

Cal nodded. “Trying to control my young sisters is harder than that.”

“Harder than commanding that riff-raff?” Galbraith gave a snort of amusement. “Pull the other one, Cal. I’ve seen grown men—hard nuts they were too—shaking in their boots when called up before you for some infraction or other.”

“Yes, but they knew I could have them flogged.”

Galbraith shook his head emphatically. “Don’t remember when you ever resorted to flogging.”

“I did once or twice—extreme circumstances.” Cal stared into his brandy glass. “But you can’t flog girls or even threaten it.”

Galbraith nodded. “Quite right, too.  Delicate creatures, females.”

“And soldiers don’t burst into tears at a—very mild—reprimand, or flounce from the room, or sulk, or look at you with big wounded eyes! Or ignore my—very reasonable—orders and go their own merry way!” 

There was a muffled sound from the chair opposite. Cal narrowed his eyes. “Are you laughing at me, Galbraith?”

His friend pulled a large handkerchief from his pocket, blew noisily into it and said with an unnaturally straight face, “No, no. Wouldn’t dream of it.” 

MARRY IN HASTE comes out May 2nd. I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s a universal link for e-books; otherwise shop at your favorite bookstore.

Writing Retreat

I’ve recently returned from my annual writing retreat — that’s a time away (in our case almost a week) with a group of writer friends, working. We’re all multi-published writers, but even so there’s an emphasis on professional development as well as producing words on the page.

This is our tenth anniversary as a writing retreat (I reported on the first one here  and over the years we’ve refined the process into one that works for us. Here’s the post I wrote while I was away on our 10th retreat.

I’ve had enquiries from time to time asking for more detail about how we run ours, so here’s my view of things.

Location
The first retreat, and all but one of our retreats have been beside the sea. There’s something about the sea and the salt air, the interface of land and water and sky, the constantly changing view and the endless rhythmic pounding of the waves, hypnotic and soothing and inspiring — it feeds our muse.

Another requirement for us is a range of affordable and varied places to eat nearby. We can cook our own meals, but a lot of people prefer to grab take-aways — Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Greek etc — or eat out in a group.

A room of our own
From the very first retreat, we decided this was important, as each of us needed a private space to write in. That’s not actually true for all of us, we’ve discovered — some write in bed, some in cafes, but for some a table and a private space is vital, so that was a priority.

Planning
In the weeks leading up to the retreat we start to toss around ideas for professional development. From craft-of-writing exercises (because we can all do with refreshing and honing our craft) to “the state-of-publishing” discussions, to discussions of books or movies, and the sharing of good writing books — we brainstorm ideas, come up with a schedule, and assign people to lead each session.  The leader doesn’t have to be an expert — just do a little preparation and lead the discussion.

Schedule
On the first night together we grab fish and chips and champagne (it’s now a tradition), and we plan the week.

Mornings are the most creative time for most of us, so the majority of us stay in our rooms, writing until lunchtime. Some go out for breakfast, some make it in their room (we have cooking facilities), some go for an early morning swim or a dawn walk, but we don’t meet as a group until lunchtime. And if anyone wants to keep working, they skip the lunchtime meeting.

We bring our own lunch to the meeting room and the first professional development session takes place.

Then it’s back to our rooms for more writing — or in some cases, shopping, swimming, walks, naps, whatever. 

In the evening we meet again for dinner — sometimes we go out as a group, but mostly we bring take-away or home-cooked and there’s another professional development session. And after that there’s wine and chocolate and lots of fun.

Some sessions/discussions we’ve had — in no particular order:
*  The changing face of publishing — always something new to discuss there.
*  Contracts and business matters
*  Theme
*  Subtext 
*  E-publishing
*  Movie watching and discussion
*  Plotting — sharing and discussing individual methods
*  Book discussions — of fiction, and of non-fiction writing books
*  Story collage
*  Our processes — how we each approach writing, and deal with problems that arise
*  Brainstorming – we brainstorm plots, story problems, and titles
*  Dealing with revisions —the approaches vary considerably.
*  Keeping the magic alive
*  Paramedic, medical and midwifery advice for use in books
*  How to keep the muse fresh and bubbling
*  Writing the back cover blurb
*  Tips for writing faster/better
*  Dealing with perfectionism
*  Dealing with editors
*  Visibility
*  Learning Styles
*  Meditation and exercises for writing health
*  Promotion and publicity — what works what doesn’t, what we like/hate
*  Planning a series
*  To blog or not?
And much more . . . .

We came together as an experiment — at the first retreat half of us had never met — but now we’re all good friends. We’ve gone down different pathways in publishing and it’s a constant journey of discovery and rediscovery.
We’ve already booked for next year’s retreat. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

PS — I would have included more photos, but for some reason WordPress won’t let me upload them, even though they’re all under 30kbs. sigh.