Meet Matthew and Sarah
Are you desperate to find time to write? And anxious that your writing will be good enough, even when you find time to do any?
Meet Matthew and Sarah. Matthew, 22, is a computer programmer who lives in London. Like many people of his age, he likes fantasy and role-playing games and reads quite a few novels every month. But he used to be incredibly frustrated because both the reading and the gaming inspired him to create his own stories with characters and adventures that he daydreamed about - but hardly ever found time to actually transfer from his head onto the screen.
When he forced himself to write something it was usually late at night and when he came to read it back to himself the next day he was deeply concerned that the quality of the writing just wasn’t good enough: the characters seemed flat, and the plotline, though it contained some good ideas, looked derivative. If only he had more time! he used to wish - and if only he had the confidence to know that what he was writing was going to make readers gag for more!
Sarah was in a similar boat. She’s 24 and works as a beauty therapist in Carlisle. She made herself take an occasional weekend to write what she thought would be the new Young Adult craze, a series of stories set in a weird otherworld. But, although she made several attempts at a complete story, every time she looked it over it made her cringe. Too many clichés! Sometimes her plots wandered all over the place. How could she be sure that she wasn’t wasting her time?
Both Matthew and Sarah used to suffer from the Two Chief Problems faced by anyone wanting to be a writer:
1. How to find enough time to write
2. How to know that what they are writing is going to be good enough to appeal to readers.
There are several ways of tackling both these issues. The first thing to do is adopt a set of practices which will ensure that you are making some kind of progress each week, even if very little. These include every time you are waiting for a bus, sitting on a train, or are in between meetings, write on whatever device you are carrying around. Notes, ideas, chapter headings, insights. Sentences, poems, dialogue. Whole chapters if you get a chance.
As I have written elsewhere, it’s possible to write the basis for entire novels in this way, chapter by chapter, in the time that you didn’t even realise was ‘spare’. Try it. You’ll be amazed. And your writing morale will start to go up and up. You won’t forget those flashes of genius you had on the way home before you get to your laptop; you won’t forget that you even had a flash of genius. It will all be there in some form on your device.
Matthew came to realise that over the last 8 years or so he had probably let 10,000 hours slip through his fingers literally by not having something to hand upon which to record thoughts and ideas in the ‘invisible gaps’ in his life. He eventually managed to write almost an entire novel on his iPhone while commuting back and forth to work, but was still too embarrassed to take things further and actually try to get anything published.
‘I found myself living in this fantasy world and then emerging into the very cold and hard real world every time I wrote for any length of time,’ he says. ‘It seemed to me that I would never have the confidence to make the two worlds meet.’
But really and truly, the first issue - lack of time - has a great deal to do with the second issue: lack of confidence.
If Sarah had had confidence in her own work, she says, she would have made the time.
‘It’s very difficult to rearrange your entire life to write a novel if you are not sure about what you are doing,’ she says. ‘Look at all the social life, all the other forms of relaxation, all the other little things you need to do - how can you firmly put them all aside unless you are at least a bit convinced that what you are going to write is going to be any good?’
Sarah found that even a little bit of confidence gave her the ability to create more time.
‘Once I had developed a certainty that what I was writing was going to be well-received, I felt less guilty about devoting an entire weekend to doing it,’ she confessed.
Now Matthew has published his first short story and Sarah has submitted two novels to publishers.
What changed for both of them?
‘I came across this book, How Stories Really Work,’ explains Matthew. ‘I had read all kinds of writing guides before, but this one was different. This one undercut all the others with a simplicity and power I had never imagined was possible. Suddenly, all the books I was reading and the movies I was seeing fell apart right in front of my eyes. I could see what the writers were doing! And when I tried to apply the principles of the book to my own writing, loads of stress just fell away!’
Matthew found that he was writing faster and better because he knew what he was doing.
‘It was as though, before reading this book, I had been trying to build a house in the dark without knowing anything about building houses, the material involved, and without any kind of blueprint,’ he explains. ‘Now, equipped with what I had learned from the book, I was creating something workable and much, much better, without wasting time! I even liked my own stories better!’
Sarah agrees. She went one step further and purchased the e-course based on the book.
‘It was called How to Write Stories That Work - and Get Them Published! and it really taught me a lot,’ she says. ‘It took each chapter of the book How Stories Really Work and expanded on it so that, as I worked my way through it, I was creating characters and a plot that really worked, that didn’t wander. I knew where I was going with it for the first time. I was so excited that I kept jumping to modules down the line to see what was coming up! I’ve never done anything like this before and this was amazing!’
‘Then the course taught me how to edit and format the book and how to publish it!’
How would they sum up the book and e-course?
‘Totally transformative,’ Matthew concludes. ‘The book actually comes with a warning which says something like “You’ll never see stories in the same way again” and it’s true. But, far from spoiling anything, it’s powerful because you see what the great authors throughout history are doing and how they are doing it. Even stuff on TV or the web - you suddenly see things that you never saw before and you wonder why you never noticed them!’
‘And that means that you can replicate all of that in your own work,’ Sarah adds. ‘It’s all deceptively simple. As I did the course, the story that I wanted to write for years rapidly took shape right there on the screen in front of me, with no distractions or deviations. Every hour I spent writing I knew for sure I was turning out attractive material. It made such a difference to my writing, and, to be honest, to my life!’
Asked if they would recommend the book and e-course, both were 100% positive.