The Brain, Fingers and Keyboard Symphony Orchestra

The blog of an aspiring author, wending her way from first draft to edit, and hopefully to becoming not only agented but published. Can I get an agent by the end of the year? I certainly hope so! My name is Amy Goodwill, and the only way to get this done is to sit down, shut up and do it. Brain, fingers and keyboard. Nothing to it... right?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Linear and Non-linear writing

I'm a linear writer. When I say that, I mean that I write from beginning to end of whatever I'm writing, each scene following the previous scene in time as you progress through the novel, and basically never write scenes out of order.

A lot of writers work the other way around - write whatever they're thinking about at the time, regardless of where it fits into the book, then put everything together afterwards, like a film director does.

Each of these methods is equally valid, and work for different people for different reasons. I find it easier to progress through my story and incorporate character and relationship growth if I know exactly where I've already been and what has happened before the part I'm writing. Others find it easier to write whatever is most vivid to them at the time, to get it down on paper as fast as they can.

Today I wrote a scene that belongs two books in advance to where I am right now. It had been haunting me for days, and all the time new phrases and images were coming into my mind for it. Rarely has a scene come on so strong of its own accord, out of sequence. And so I wrote it down while the fire was still in me.

It's something to consider when you're writing, anyway. You don't have to start at the beginning and end at the end. If you're stuck, jump to a part you know you can write. Or just do it anyway, if the inspiration comes.

Nobody but you will ever know which bits you wrote first.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A little about myself and my work

I realised today that I've never actually written anything of any significance here about the novel I'm working on, what sort of writing I do, that sort of thing. So I guess I better had, huh? I hesitate to write too much about it, but I'll tell you a little.

My current WIP is called The Night Tower, and is a fantasy novel which is hopefully going to be somewhere in the region of 120,000 words, rather than any larger wordcount. I have a quartet planned, of which this is the first novel, and I am about 90% of the way through the first draft. It has strong elements of romance and crime/mystery, and is character-driven rather than fantasy-driven, by which I mean that magic exists, but within strict limits, and is not the true focus of the story, but an engine by which it moves along.

I have finished a full-length novel once before, and many unfinished projects, which I hope eventually to go back to and rewrite better than they were before. I hope to submit to agents by May next year. I was aiming for this year, until I realised that my dissertation will be hitting me hard from September onwards, and the clash might sink both my ships. So, once my degree is finished...

Look out for The Night Tower on the shelves, won't you?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

TIHFU: something new I'm trying

So I'm currently reading through The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, and in the very first (introductory) chapter, the writer makes a point I thought was really good.

If you want to write about history and politics and mythology and belief, why don't you go and read the books you've never thought of actually reading, the ones that actually talk about all of that in deep and meaningful ways, that have survived for hundreds of years?

I mean, who knows politics better than Machiavelli? And who did mythology better than the Greeks? The more you read, the more you'll know and the better your writing will be.

Makes sense to me. I've always wanted to be well read, so why not make it now?

I haven't started on the books I bought yet, for the simple reason that I'm on a hospital placement right now in Devon practicing my future trade and kicking ass at testing patients. But once I get a chance, I'm diving in. Why not expand my horizons and see if that expands my writing, too?

Books I bought, for now:

The Qu'ran, english translation
Greek Mythology text (well regarded one)
The Prince by Machiavelli
A General History of Pirates
In the Company of Demons (Renaissance demonology, Key of Solomon, that sort of thing)
The Art of War by Sun Tzu

I think the guy at the bookshop must have thought I was nuts for buying that random an assortment, but I'm looking forward to reading these and moving on to even more. I just hope I don't expand my mind so much that it won't fit between my ears any more :)

Monday, 31 March 2008

TIHFU: Book Review (look, it rhymes!)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

I've read quite a few books about writing, and I have to say that this is potentially one of the most helpful and useful. I will quite cheerfully admit to having no idea as to how to go about editing my manuscript properly and professionally, and after the debacle that was the 'Editing' class I went to at the university (don't ask), this was a breath of fresh air. And, dammit, cheaper than that class was, too!

Browne and King not only have an engaging, easy-to-read style, but make their points clearly and succinctly, showing you the different options rather than just telling you (aha!) While they don't dive into the 'bigger picture' aspect of editing - as this would differ hugely between books - they do make many good points that will help with that, as well as fixing all the smaller problems that really niggle with readers when they're left alone.

Many published authors say that they sit with this book by their elbow whenever they start revisions, no matter how many books they've written and sold. I'm perfectly willing to do the same.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


Firstly, I would like to apologise for the long period of time since my last post. My non-electronic life got very busy this month, and so writing another entry for this blog kept getting put off and put off until it's been a shameful 25 days since my last post. I'll try to do better.

In that vein, what better topic for a post than procrastination?

Procrastination - the writer's biggest enemy

I don't know about you, but I'm a terrible procrastinator. Given a choice between two things, one of which requires effort and the other of which doesn't, I will, unfortunately, tend to put off the work and do the fun thing instead. Whether that's catching up on my email, or my internet friends, or surfing around google looking at random things, it's all too easy to forget to do any writing at all.

Hence the problem. How can you ever be published if you never finish writing the goddamn book?

Answer: You can't. Nobody will publish half a book (unless, of course, you are F. Scott Fitzgerald, the book is The Last Tycoon, and you happen to die halfway through writing it.)

How do we fight against procrastination? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be poorly for me, at least at the moment. I'm working up to getting myself back into a routine of writing, but it's hard to get back on when you've fallen off the horse. I used to write 1000 words a day, minimum, and keep going until I had done it, because that was the discipline I set myself. And it worked. Now I've just got to do it again.

Try setting yourself a target for each day, no matter how big or how small, and just sit down and do it. It doesn't have to be wordcount - it could be time spent, for instance. Try setting yourself a target of writing for ten minutes every day. It's a small enough amount of time that you should be able to find it in there somewhere, and small enough not to be discouraging.

Let's try to battle procrastination. Let me know if you have any suggestions, too, as I'd love to hear them!

Now, where did I put that game...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Knowledge is Power

(or, at the very least, a potential plot thread)

Remember what I said the other day about how getting different experiences could be really useful for writing? That the more you experience, the more you can use?

It’s the same for knowledge. Who knows when that tiny tidbit of information might get you out of a tight plothole? Or even allow you to build something on it to make your story really work, really stand out and function healthily.

Most of us pick up these pearls of wisdom all the time, just by being human. Someone will say something on a chat show when you’re watching TV, or you’ll be reading a book and think ‘oh, that’s interesting!’ And your brain will squirrel it away like the efficient biological computer it is, ready to resurface when you least expect it.

I already knew what my character’s power was going to be – but why would it work like that? Turns out, I already knew the answer, from my lectures at university. I could supply the biological basis for it, and away we went. Not that I’ve actually written it into the novel, because their society doesn’t have our level of medical knowledge. They would have no idea what it meant. But I do, and it helps me to decide how it works in such a way that the character is much more believable, because I have set rules.

Similarly, I try to base all of my magic on genetics rather than random chance, because it gives everything a certain order to it that makes it more believable.

This applies to research you do for stories, too – don’t put it all in your story, but keep a lot of it running in the background, as it were, to keep everything ticking over smoothly. And for God’s sake don’t get rid of it – you never know when it might be useful in the future, either in a sequel or in another project.

The more you know, the less you have to work to find things you don’t know, or to fill in gaps with explanations, because they’re already at your fingertips. Awesome, huh?

Thursday, 28 February 2008


Sorry to everyone who got redirected here from my comment about the cellphone that runs on blood, somehow putting in the link and also putting my website address into the comment bar got mixed up and the one became the other... no idea how.

Didn't do it on purpose :(

Here's the real link:

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

You could call it work experience, I suppose.

One of my aims in life is to experience as many different things as I can. Go to different places, eat different foods, learn new things.

On the one hand, it's interesting. And on the other, it's a great way to help fuel your writing.

Remember 'write what you know'? Well, the more you know - the more experiences you have - the more accurately and fully you can write, taking advantage of your experience to deepen your prose for your readers.

I'm not saying 'go out and kill someone'. I am saying, if somebody says 'would you like to go to the races?' (this happened to me over Christmas) and you've never been, say yes. Go running in the rain with no umbrella! Eat weird food! Try on dresses you could never afford (Yeah, I know, you do this already :D)

Just go for it, and then put it back into your writing.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Writing Interpersonal Conflict

Crushing your characters’ most important self-concepts (Hit them where it hurts!)

Stories revolve around conflict. Without it, there is nothing to struggle for, to strive against; if Frodo had no trouble just wandering off to Mordor to dispose of the ring, how interesting could Tolkien have kept The Lord of the Rings? There has to be something to work with, to make the reader cheer for your protagonists, and urge them on despite all the obstacles in their path.

There are five classical conflicts accepted by literary theorists, though in modern times man vs machine has become the sixth. The other five are:

Man vs. Himself
Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. the Supernatural
Man vs. Society.

Interpersonal conflict revolves around the first two – man vs. himself and man vs. man.

A friend of mine has the unfortunate talent of being able, in the heat of an argument, to say exactly the worst possible thing she could say to whoever she is arguing with to make it really hurt. Whatever that person holds as their most important self-concept is where she’ll hit. Now, in real life, this is not much fun, to put it mildly. But in writing, you can use something like that to create major conflict between characters.

First, think – what is the most important self-belief your character holds? Is the fact that she knows she’s pretty enough sometimes to comfort her? Does he pride himself on being there for his family when they need him? And so – what is the absolute worst thing that could be said to them, to flay that open and make it sting?

What if someone turned around to him and listed times when he had failed his family, voice dripping with disdain and venom? How will he react?

If you can get your character to fighting with himself, then it’s going to take a lot to pull them out of it. Where does that take your story?

Interesting, isn’t it?

Thursday, 21 February 2008

What Publishers Want very important if you want to sell your work.

I was just reading literary agent Kristin's blog post No Vampires Please, in which an editor at Random House expresses a desire for sf/f novels that DON'T have vampires in them, and in which the heroine is not a soulless killing machine.

That's not to say that another editor isn't still in love with the genre. But if you were submitting to this editor, you shouldn't send her your Anita Blake lookalike.

Getting the right story to the right editor is very important. That's what a literary agent is for - knowing what the different editors want and like and are likely to leap on like rabid dogs. Putting the right story in the right place at the right time is the best way to get it published.