Thursday, 8 March 2012


Hello and Happy Thursday Dear Readers! Today, I'm going to tackle a bunch of questions that I got via email and which have been patiently sitting around, waiting to be answered, for a couple of months in some cases. Sorry about that - I hope the wait will be worth it.

First up, Alice says:
When I think of a sentence for my story, and it doesn’t quite fit in, I usually can think of a different way for the sentence to go. Problem is, usually, the verified sentence isn’t as *cool*/ *good* and I can’t *let go* of the original one. (I hope this is making sense) Is it just me, or do you have that problem to? 
This is a bit of a tough one to answer, Alice, because I'm not sure what you mean when you say that you think of a sentence but it 'doesn't fit in'. Why doesn't it fit in? Does it not mean what you wanted it to mean? Does it not make sense?

If your sentence doesn't convey the information that it needs to, or won't make sense to the reader, it doesn't matter how cool it is. You must let it go and write a sentence that WILL. But I'm not sure that's what you mean here. Maybe you mean that you feel compelled to fiddle with and rewrite sentences constantly, trying to get them perfect, but the sentences that you've fiddled with never feel quite as good as the original? This is a common problem.

My advice comes in two parts.

For most writers, what you're doing would be extremely counterproductive, and I would say: If you like your sentence and think it's cool, just leave it alone and move onto the next sentence. Don't get caught in a death spiral where you're going over and over the same sentences again and again, desperately searching for the perfect way to phrase your idea and unable to move on. While you're doing that, all the future sentences that need you to write them are dying from lack of attention. Just leave it. It's more important to keep things progressing in your story, keep the action flowing and characters acting. Making sure everything fits together perfectly and that your prose is smooth and flawless is mostly a job for much later on, when you've finished the book and then put it aside to gain some distance before revising.

On the other hand, maybe you're a perfectionist writer, and it's impossible for you to work that way.  You simply must feel that the sentence you've written perfectly conveys your meaning before you can think of the what the next sentence should be (like the lovely long-time commentor Isabel, or like writer Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch). That is also cool. It means that your drafts are likely to be things of beauty which require much less line editing than other writers work, although you may still need to work on seeing the big picture of your story. If this is the case, then you must accept this about yourself and stop trying to force yourself to write quickly and to 'let go' before you are happy with what you've just written. When you feel blocked and unhappy about a sentence, allow yourself the freedom to fiddle with it until it 'sings' for you, and then move on.

Either way is fine. The most important thing is that you do keep your story progressing until you get to the end. You can fix anything in revision except a blank page.

Onwards! The next question is from Eva, who says:
i really need some help with a book that I'm working on. It's a school project we do in 8th grade. We were allowed to choose whatever we wanted to do and I chose writing because I like to write- and then procrastinated for 3 months. It's due in early April and I only have 2000 words... I'm not sure if I want to just say it will be a short story or what, but I don't know if I will be able to get it done on time. Do you have any advice for getting a lot of writing done fast?
Oh, how I sympathize! I used to find myself in this predicament every time I had a school assignment. Because I did (and do!) love to write, just like you, Eva - but the moment that writing becomes 'work', something you MUST do, the fun sort of drains out of it and you lose your motivation.

You're not going to want to hear this, Eva, but the only way out of your predicament is through. What does this mean? Well, first read this post. Hopefully that will help. But you might need to move a little more quickly, and in that case, you're going to have to do what I did in with my GCSE English essay on Othello when I was fourteen. That is: give yourself a set start time (for me it was 13:00) and force yourself to sit down and write a fixed number of words (for me it was 500) each and every day until you get to the end. MAKE yourself do it. You can, trust me. It won't be fun, but it will get your story finished, and relatively quickly. And every day when that period of fixed writing is over, you will feel *so much better* that you might find, after a while, you're not having to force yourself anymore.

If you worry that forcing yourself to write will result in something that's not so good to read? Follow this link and read the answer to the last question there at the bottom, and relax. It'll be fine.

Next! Lauryn asks:
1. If i send you my story could you read it and tell me what you think
2. I'm 11 and i'm worried that no one will want to publish my story
3. DO I NEED AN AGENT every advice book I've read said i need one
4. will people be prejudiced against me because I'm young
Whoa. That's a whole bunch of questions there. Let me try and be as efficient as possible in reply.
1. Nope. If you want to know why, read this page on my website. But thanks for asking instead of just sending the story to me.
2. If you have written a book which is good enough to be published, your age will not count against you. In fact, being so young will give a potential publisher or agent an excellent way to promote your work and may make them even more eager to take you on. But your book has to be good enough first.
3. Read this link. It ought to make things a bit clearer as to how things work in publishing and with getting an agent.
4. See number 2. up there. Don't worry about that. Worry about writing something that you love and enjoy and believe in and which is good enough to be published.
Phew! Well, I'm pretty much exhausted now, so I'm going to call it a day. Happy reading and writing, everyone - see you next Tuesday :)


Jenni said...

Great answers :)

Terri said...

"You can fix anything in revision except a blank page." Love this!

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks Jenni and Terri :)

Isabel said...

Those are all really helpful tips! I've been stuck on writing for a while because of all my schoolwork and because I sort of lost my momentum when my story took a drastic turn. Now I'm a little more encouraged to keep pushing forward. :)

By the way I'm going to be away starting Saturday for a couple of weeks and probably won't be able to stop by here much. Hopefully I'll get a lot of reading done over break, I've been so behind on books!

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: Well, remember what I said before. You're not in a rush, and your schoolwork is very important too, so don't let writing become something you *have* to do. It's only worth it if it's fun.

We'll miss you, but I hope you have a good break and catch up on some fabulous reading :)

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