The advantages of note taking

Peter Rey Blog - Note takingIdeas can pop into our mind at the most unexpected times. When this happens, our face lights up with a grin. We say to ourselves: that’s what I was waiting for, I must remember it.

But looking around for a piece of paper and a pen, or just even using our cell to record a vocal note seems a bit exaggerated. After all we do have a brain, we reason. So we make a mental note and go on with whatever we were doing before inspiration struck.

Now, it is certainly true that we have a brain. But it is also true that very often, when later on we try to come up with our mental note, we’re bound to discover our note no longer resides in our head.

It’s gone, vanished into thin air.

It is like with dreams. Just as when we awake we have only few seconds at our disposal to fix them on something tangible and lasting, also ideas have to be immediately taken care of. Especially creative ideas, the most elusive sort.

This is probably why Joyce Carol Oates is known to take a staggering amount of notes for each novel she writes. Sure, not all writers need to write as much notes as she does, but every writer needs to take at least some notes. Even very successful authors like JK Rowling and James Salter are no exceptions. Continue reading

How to write beginnings –3 simple tips

plane ready to take off

The first pages of your novel are the most important ones. How to write beginnings is an art and a necessity. You must have read such claims, or variations of them, at least a million times. This is so for a simple reason: it’s true.

In fact, as Les Edgerton says in Hooked, a tremendous number of possibly good and even brilliant novels and short stories never get read beyond the first few paragraphs or pages by agents and editors.

If you are indies and don’t have to deal with agents and editors you could be tempted to think you are safe. But agents and editors, for all their vetoing powers and, one would hope, good understanding of the dynamics of the market, remain basically readers.

As a result, first pages have to grab the attention of readers. Period. And they have to do so in such an effective way that after reading the excerpt of your novel your potential readers will be not just glad, but eager to part from their money in order to read the rest of your story.

In fact, pages and pages only reporting inane facts written down in a lifeless style aren’t going anywhere. Such pages can only accelerate the decision making process of our potential readers, and not exactly to our advantage.

After all, just as for a job interview we tend to dress more formally than for a night out with our friends, in some way we also know that our first pages have to be terrific. We just don’t know how to translate that vague word–terrific–into something more concrete.

However, although beginnings have to be organized in such a way as to tickle reader’s curiosity, they require the same basic elements of any other part of our works. Namely, flawless grammar, action, and pertinence. Continue reading

5 Novels to boost your creative writing skills

pencils - boost your creative writing skillsOne very common piece of advice we can hear about how to improve our creative writing skills has to to with reading. In fact, extensive reading in the most disparate genres lay the foundations for any writer who is serious about his or her work.

Indeed, reading helps a lot to develop a spontaneous feeling for the way good stories should be put together. But given that time is a precious resource, to maximize this illustrative effect we should try to focus our attention on the best books we can find around.

This means those books that can be thought of as real gold mines for us writers. Books so well written and engineered in each one of their components that we can read and reread them many times over, always learning new and interesting lessons about the art of creative writing.

Luckily, nowadays books are everywhere, and chances are that any book we choose with a grain of  salt will be at least to some extent useful. However, certain books are so well written and layered that it’s better reading one of them than a dozen of others.

Reading these books we can make our learning curve shorter, and nowadays this is always an important aspect to consider. More importantly, learning from the masters can also be a powerful way to spur us to really give it all when we write. But beware, this has nothing to do with being a perfectionist, and all with striving for excellence. Continue reading

How to jump-start your creativity

runners - how to jumpstart your creativityCreativity can be a capricious companion. At times I don’t feel like writing anything at all. I mean, although my head has been buzzing with ideas all day long, as the time of my writing session gets nearer, it seems to me that my ideas dry up and vanish into thin air.

Once upon a time, this used to piss me off.  But thanks to my stubbornness this is no longer the case.

Freewriting, boredom, and creativity

In fact, on such occasions I sit down at my desk and start pounding on my keyboard all the same. Only, as freewriting  suggests, I just write whatever comes to my mind, without trying to put the words together in any coherent way. I guess I could say I write just to loosen up my creative muscles. Continue reading

How to put genre in fiction to good use

how to put genre in fiction to good useWe usually think of Genres as categories of literature based on a set of established conventions. However, this is true only in part. Fashions change, and so do even traditions. Likewise, also the defining characteristics of any given genre are far from being set in stone. For example, in the 1960s, the increasing numbers of female authors who wrote SF led to a shift of the focus of the stories, that is, more emotion and less physics.

For sure, genres change because societies change, and the readers’ expectations too change in accordance. In a certain way we could say that genres embody the spirit of the times, and that’s probably why they so easily resonate with people.

Genres are pervasive also when it comes to writing advice. Indeed, it’s quite easy to come across suggestions of this kind:

Read all the books in the genre you want to write in. Know perfectly well the tropes of your genre. Choose a genre and stick to it. And on and on.

This isn’t in itself bad advice. But unfortunately it’s incomplete. Let’s see why. Continue reading