Category: The Art of Writing

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Ever wonder how writers keep track of their chapters, as their books start to gather momentum? How do writers organise their drafts? How do they manage their hard copies? Should you keep everything you print off?

For me, it’s the magic of a simple coat rack. This is how I build my books. I hang the chapters in chronological order, starting at the right hand side of the coat rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Watching that coat rack fill up with chapters and fragments is fabulous! It is enormously satisfying to see those sheets of paper pile up as I edit hard copies. This is the fourth book I have written using this method. I bought this coat rack at the Santo Spirito market years ago. It was originally attached to the corridor walls of a nearby primary school.

By the time I’ve finished this novel there will be about 200,000 words hanging along this coat rack. The average contract for a novel is for 80,000 words. But after I’ve ‘killed my darlings’ (deleted what I thought was precious) and tossed unusable drafts, there will be at least 200,000 words of text hanging along that rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

My office is on the top floor of my house in Florence. Under the rafters. So this couch keeps me sane when reading through either my own drafts or text from the writers I mentor through the Art of Writing.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

As the winter months enclose us here in Italy, I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Sorry I’ve been out of touch but am going into my ‘cave’ (office) to hibernate and write now, so you can expect to hear quite a lot from me.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

What’s your system? How do you keep your chapters in order? Do you print them off and have a filing system that could give us an organisational idea?

Thank you too to Birgitte Brondsted at the Dusty Green Olive who wrote this lovely story on me and my office a while ago. Check it out here.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Overcoming Your Fear of Writing

Overcoming Your Fear of WritingWhy do we build so many obstacles to our creativity? Why do we let inner barriers grow and stop us from writing? We listen to our Bully Voice, we let fear win. Then we avoid writing. So often being with other writers helps us to break through the negative voice that lives inside us. Simply being with like-minded creatives helps us to believe that we are writers. We only have to write.

When away on retreat every voice, every writer’s voice, touches me. But this year one voice made me cry. In this Blog, writer Nancy Storie shares with us the story of how she broke free from her fear of writing. Here Nancy tells us how she has always dreamed of writing. How she has bought every book ever published on how to write, yet she has dreaded actually putting pen to paper. From a small farm in Texas, is a big new voice.

They have no idea how brave I believe them to be – nor how much I feel like a poser among them.  Some suspect by this point.  I see the bubble over their heads – why is she here?  Does she write or just talk about writing?

Overcoming Your Fear of Writing
Lisa Clifford and Guest Martha Ashby, Director of HarperCollins Commercial Women’s Fiction UK

Well no, I don’t talk about writing.  Hardly ever speak the word – writer.  I am not at a writing retreat, I am on vacation in Italy and just happened to be at the same agritourism where a writing retreat was taking place.  You will not find writer on my fb page. The word alone, whispered in the night, can almost send me into respiratory arrest. It is permissible today to have fears and voice them so I didn’t want the writing world to be left out.  I have adopted it as the object of my fear. 

I am an equal opportunity fearist. I fear not writing well, I fear not writing at all, I fear someone reading my writing.  I fear not being in control. I fear feeling stupid.

Overcoming Your Fear of Writing
Martyn Bedford

I have dreamed of being a writer and I have made great success out of researching How to Write.  If you want to know who’s written a book on writing, I can tell you.  In order to avoid taking any of their wisdom and actually applying it, I then read these writers novels to see if I believe they can really write.  Or if their writing career stalled and they wrote about writing to keep the publication deal alive.  And yes, I read the novels of writers who put on workshops before I sign up for the workshop. Sometimes, I have to read more than one work, just in case the first one was a fluke of success and the second or third one is a bomb.

I now have so many books from my research on how to write, and samples of the writing of those I have researched, that I had to buy a special cabinet to store them in.  The Writer’s Cabinet otherwise known as the “Vault of Knowledge Not Yet Applied.” I might mention that in addition to all the research on how to write and the samples of how to write, I also own a new pc, a new smartphone, a new tablet and a nifty wireless keyboard, all to assist in the writing that I am afraid to do.

Overcoming Your Fear of Writing
The Art of Writing September 2017 – Nurture and Replenish Your Writing Skills

FEAR, my four letter word, has paralyzed my ability to put pen to page or fingers to keyboard. It has stalked me for years, moving to each new place I went, intruding on my solitude, haunting my sleep and robbing me of peace. It followed me to Tuscany. 

“Leave me be, I’m on vacation.”

“No you’re not, you are trying to write.”

“OK, I am, but this time is different. I have found a tribe of amazing women who have struggled with you too. These courageous women have silenced your hissing voice, defied your doubt throwing insults and ignored your multitude of distractions. They write. In spite of you.”

“Ahhh, yes, but I’ll be back to visit you some day.”

“Probably, but we will be waiting. And we have found Courage, which beats fear every time.”

Overcoming Your Fear of Writing

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

We had a 10 day holiday, just enough time to really taste the area around Nice, Cannes and Antibes. I chose Vence for our Air B and B home with a pool because it is only a 5 hour drive from Florence. My mother is 90 years old and I am always scared to lose airport access in case I have to leave Europe at a moment’s notice. So south eastern France seemed like a good choice. Easy to get back home if I needed to fly out quickly, yet we were in another country on holiday.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.Our Air B and B house was 2 minutes above Vence, which has a higher altitude than the lower lying coastal towns. The traffic to get in and out of Nice to Vence was appalling and took us way longer than anticipated. On a map it says 20 minutes but in reality there were road works and crazy holiday traffic. So a day at the beach in Nice involved a lot of traffic.

I couldn’t recommend staying in the Col de Vence (mountains of Vence) area highly enough. This time of year it is so hot in the southern beach resorts of Europe and Vence, and though not the most picturesque village in the region, it is COOL! It also has everything you’ll need. When travelling with five teenagers it’s good to be near a chemist, supermarket, medical centre, takeaway, news agency, thriving piazza with cafes and the odd pub/bar for the older teens to ‘go out’ to.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.From Vence we did day trips to:

  • Gourdon
  • Bar dur Loup
  • Tourrettes
  • Coursegoules
  • Saint Paul de Vence

The favourite for everyone ended up being Saint Paul de Vence.

A South of France, Provence Food Tour is essential and was probably the highlight of my trip. This tour by The French Way was fantastic – tailor made for the likes of me or any food nut. Marion, a lovely young lady, owns and runs the business herself and is passionate about everything to do with cuisine, wine and oil. I would drive 5 hours right now to be with Marion and her food again.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

We had a Provence olive oil tasting at Maison Bremond but unfortunately I had a wee tussle with the French ‘manager olive oil teacher’ because she was treating us like we were utter idiots so I told her. Marion had to intervene when I went on to say she was making me feel very uncomfortable. Anyway, the ‘manager olive oil teacher’ and I made up and became friends (sort of) but still, I would tread warily in that shop on 15, rue du Pont Vieux, Nice. Especially when she called out ‘Bonjour’ to a perusing American client who responded ‘I’m just looking.’ To which our French manager olive oil teacher indignantly replied ‘I am only saying Good Day, I’m not asking you to buy,’ with a roll of her eyes.

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.A Wine Tasting was also necessary. The wines are so different from our normally quaffed Italian wines. I thought it a good idea to also go as ecologically sound as possible and chose A Taste of Nice: Tour de France of Organic Wines. Sublime! And seemingly without a headache – does it get better than that?

A day on the water was also a good idea – to see the French Riviera from the sea is beautiful. Book early on this boating idea – it was really hard to find a place for 9 people with 2 weeks to go to arrival time.

By far the best food we had was in Mar sur Loup. If you want a gorgeous lunch in a leafy garden go to L’Ecole des Filles – set in the old village school. 380 av Amiral de Grasse, telephone: 04 93094020

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

I rather liked all those French beaches but my Italian husband was not enamoured. Frankly, I didn’t know what he was grumbling about as I couldn’t see any difference between the Italian way of beaching and the French way of beaching. Both require loads of umbrellas, lined up row after row with easy access to a café/bar, shower and any other kind of soothing beach amenity. Comfort being the name of the game at the seaside in both France and Italy. Probably the French recliners were shoved closer together, that would be the only real difference I could see.

If you have any tips to add to these, please comment below – I am going back to this area so would love to try your ideas. Thank you in advance!

My tips for a trip to the south east of France.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.One of the glorious things about living in Florence is meeting the most interesting people. I meet travelers, inventors, creators, inspirers, reporters and sometimes I meet someone who
is all of those things. Like Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe. I am lucky enough to officially announce that Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe, will join us for the September 10-16 Art of
Writing retreat.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.It’s a treat to announce this because it means that not only will our September writers have the opportunity to meet one of the loveliest girls but also to chat, drink, dine, bushwalk and generally hang out with Georgette too. She has much to tell us, Georgette. Every time I meet up with her I learn so much. Love that! Don’t you? When you chat with someone and find that you are learning and growing? Am feeling particularly blessed about this amazing group of women (and men!) that will join me this year in Casentino.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.Who would have thought? All those years ago, when I was 17 years old and a barmaid at the Red Garter in Florence. Who could possibly have known that gorgeous Florentine medical student would become my husband and the father of my two gorgeous babies? That 38 years and four books later, I’d still be here!

Life is a surprise. You never know what your journey is going to be.

I am eternally grateful to Florence and all that she has given me. And thanks to you too for being on this journey with me.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Why I need to talk my stories through.

Why I need to talk my stories through.Fascinating how some writers need to talk their stories through, while others need to keep their stories quiet. Every writer is different. One creative process may work for you but be completely wrong for me.

Talking recently with Martyn Bedford, author of eight books for Bantam, Penguin and Bloomsbury publishers, I found we had entirely different approaches to getting our stories down.

Why I need to talk my stories through.I like to talk my story through. Tell it to a friend. This approach has always worked incredibly well for me with friends often adding some fabulous twist or idea to the story. But more than anything, explaining the plotline helps me sort the story out, find the parts that don’t work. I’ll even go to writer friends with a character or plot problem and ask for their help.

Why I need to talk my stories through.For me, talking a story through helps me find the right words. Helps organize structure. Which is the most exciting angle to start with? Is this the most engaging idea? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been running through a storyline when I’ve been hit by the perfect phrase, a better approach, a lightbulb change of direction moment.

But for Martyn talking the story through doesn’t work. He is forty thousand words into the first draft of his new novel for teenagers and young adults, The House that Jacaranda Built. He dislikes talking about his novels-in-Why I need to talk my stories through.progress before at least one draft is completed. For Martyn his idea can go stale after being “explained” too many times before it’s written. Martyn will however give a sort of precis.

“I’ll just say that it’s the tale of a family that offers refuge to a homeless teenager who they find asleep in the doorway of their café, and the consequences arising from their decision.” That’s it. That’s all Martyn will say.

Different writing processes are intriguing. I love looking at how different methods work for different people.

One thing is for sure. There is always the risk that if you talk too much about your book you’ll never end up writing it. Make sure any talk is matched with words on the page!

Why I need to talk my stories through.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Let food carry your story forward.

Let food carry your story forward.When food is beautiful, drab, compelling or repulsive we can and should include it in our stories.

Food can carry a story forward. Not only the actual food, but the process of eating it, dining around it and/or sharing a meal. Food used in a social sense can reveal much about people’s relationships with each other. When you include a meal in your story, the possibilities are endless.

Enjoying or rejecting food and the company sharing it can be the focus point a scene needs. Writers needs scenes in which to reveal… and scoffing, or quaffing, can give us just the ambience and atmosphere we need.

Let food carry your story forward.Think about how often you’ve seen meal times in movies used to show how a family or friends relate. Or how often you’ve read a book where the pivotal scene was over the dinner table.

Here, Ruth Reichl in her book Tender at the Bone, talks about going for her first coffee in Italy. It’s not a food scene, but one written so evocatively that it made me think about how often coffee is now used as a scene setter for the story telling.

The scent of beans was so powerful we could smell it from two blocks away, the aroma growing stronger as we got closer to the cafe. It was a rich and appealing scent, and it pulled us onward and through the door. Inside, burlap sacks of coffee beans were stacked everywhere and the smell of coffee was so intense it made me giddy. Thin men lounged against a long bar, drinking tiny cups of espresso. The coffee was smooth and satisfying, a single gulp of pure caffeine that lingered on the palate and reverberated behind the eyes. I felt lightheaded.

What a great way to set up a pivotal scene – through coffee!

Let food carry your story forward.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The scribbles of a mad woman.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.I have notes everywhere. Handwritten notes on scraps of torn paper in the kitchen. Sentence ideas on note pads beside my bed. I have plot ideas on decrepit notebooks in my handbag. Characterization thoughts in A4 piles in the living room. Let’s not even go to the note mess in my office. Pieces of paper with line upon line of words. It’s quite depressing really.

Do the notes make sense? Most of them (to be fair). Will I ever use those notes in the book I am writing now? I don’t know. The notes, reminders, prompts and thoughts are becoming so out of hand that I will need a week dedicated to sorting them. They need to be transcribed.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.The trouble is a week sorting the notes means a week without moving forward. That’s always the temptation. JUST WRITE – you know, forget about transcribing because I need to write. Move the book forward. So the handwritten notes stack up and depress me.

However, writing an opinion piece for a newspaper this week, a completely separate story from the new book, ideas flowed into the newspaper piece from various bits of note-taking. Those scattered notes are all in my head subliminally. I’ve noticed that even if I don’t transcribe, something happens once the words are down. It’s as though the notes imprint on my brain anyway, so even if I don’t transcribe, they are there. They are hitting the page, because the light bulb moments have been recorded. They are no longer hidden but real.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.We’re supposed to be bower birds, us writers. Collecting realizations and moments. So it was with enormous relief when writing this newspaper story that I realized all those untranscribed notes are good for something.

So keep writing your endless Notes to Self. It’s about believing that some of them will be good enough to hit the page. And realizing that even if they’re not transcribed they are real, they are there.

But next week I really have to sort through my notes.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Find the right words, and learn how to keep them from getting away.

The right words, unique thoughts, perfect phrases, stunning sentence construction – why is it that they often come unbidden when you’re away from your computer?

It’s interesting how prose flows when you drive your car, take your shower, cook your dinner or hear a certain song.

Find the right wordsThere is something about doing something else that clears your mind and lets the right words come. Sometimes we sit at our computers for hours and labour over the right expression but it does not emerge. It seems as though our conscious mind is blocking the flow of our creativity and that once we step away from forcing it, that stunning sentence comes to us. As in, the right words or exciting ideas bubble up seemingly from nowhere when we are not concentrating so hard.

That’s why you must keep notebooks everywhere. Beside your bed, on the kitchen counter, in the car, bathroom, wherever it is that your ideas tend to come to you. It’s a personal thing – the arrival of that uninvited, yet most welcome thought. What’s not individual or personal is that it happens to every writer, the perfect thought can come unbidden at any time. A notebook in your pocket or handbag is not enough. Maybe you were transcribing and forgot to take your notebook with you. That perfect phrase will never come back again. Believe me; it’s best to write down your thought when it comes. Don’t think it will ever come back the way it did because it won’t. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Be sure to read my blog series From Notes to First Draft on then turning these notes into scenes for your novel! 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?

What's the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?Following up this week’s #WriteTipWednesday – What’s the worst thing that can happen? This train of thought can push your plot line through the roof. It’s something a writer friend taught me and it’s always kept me in good stead.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist? What are her/his worst fears? Can another character do, say or react in a way that pushes plot or character development further? Can the drama or suspense be twisted, advanced or established by imagining a nastier turn of events? Thinking like this, throughout your planning and plotting, can change a book from a good read to a great read.

What's the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?As your protagonist always needs something to overcome, needs to have an arc of change, thinking about ways to make that arc more arresting is essential.

When half way through Death in the Mountains, I hit a brick wall (my publisher said this often happens). Then it came to me. Mario had to chop beautiful Maria’s finger off! The story is true. In real life Nonna Angiolina’s finger was cut off when she stepped between her warring husband and brother. My book/story needed something shocking, halfway through to make it kick harder. Yes, this was one of the worst things that could happen. I could use that swinging scythe in Death in the Mountains, with seemingly just a small mention but with big impact:

A shadow seemed to fall over Maria. She worried her fingers inside the tucks of her dress and felt the warmth of the friction from her thumb as it massaged where her index finger had once been. The stump was smooth and shiny. Her mother had stretched the skin across the bloody exposed joint when she had run home from the wheat fields, Fiamma and Anna close behind, gagging with shock. Her sisters had seen her question Mario over his swigs from a hidden wine flask. They’d seen his hand come up as if to hit her, his face puce with rage. They’d watched as she’d thought to protect herself from his blow, only to see his other hand come up and his scythe slice through the air. ‘The sickle …’ she had sobbed as her mother dressed her wound, hushed her tight to her breast and rocked her back and forth. It had not been her intention to be dishonest with her mother then; the lie came to her lips when Mario’s silhouette loomed in the doorway. She’d recognised the threat in the hunch of his shoulders. It was as if his head were set too tightly into them, like a cork screwed into the neck of a too tight bottle that threatened to explode. She thought then that he was capable of killing her, should she tell their parents how she had lost her finger.

What's the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?So yes, ask yourself this phrase: What’s the worst thing that can happen? Or as you are wrapping up your storyline, what’s the best thing that can happen?

And by the way, Florence St Marks Cultural Foundation is holding a fabulous Publishing Day event on May 13. Agents and publishers will be present for a morning of questions and discussion along with an afternoon of private appointments to listen to your book pitch. Be sure to check it out here.

Also, to find out more, as it’s a really great opportunity for those with an idea or a fully formed manuscript to pitch, visit this great interview with Literary Manager and producer Marilyn Atlas here.

What's the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it’s finished.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.Yet another rewrite. My fifth and I’m told to expect more.

So I am working on a new book, as you know. It’s a novel – my first actually as my last four books were either creative non-fiction or non-fiction. The pages before me are fourth draft. The first draft was in third person and that didn’t feel right. The second draft became first person. I rewrote the third draft because the story needed big character changes and improvements. The text then needed a fourth draft to make it fit into a tight ‘thriller’ genre with a big suspense emphasis. This need to restructure the fourth time became screamingly obvious after a reread as I wanted to follow the rule ‘the story should turn about every four to six pages.’ Nowadays, if you want to sell, and sell well, you basically have to follow that rule.  

Now, after having shown it to a good friend who is also a top New York literary agent, the advice is that my new book needs, yet again, another draft. This will be my 5th draft and now the book will be in third person (again).

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.

Whining about rewrites will do no good. We write, that’s what we do. Again and again and again, changing, recrafting, improving, omitting, and adding. Part of being a writer is knowing that rewriting is compulsory. If you don’t want to rewrite – then get out of the game now. If you think what you’ve written is perfect and doesn’t need rewriting, you’ll never be published.

A dear friend of mine, on a three book deal with Little Brown, is on her TENTH rewrite. I have nothing to complain about.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.The more you rewrite, the faster you become at writing. I am a slow writer (no surprises there, you’ve only been waiting for this new book for about three years, or more) and I need to be faster. The only way I am going to write faster is by writing more. I need to rewrite, write faster and ultimately write better, without fear of the text being crappy. I can edit the bad bits out later. Right now I have to rewrite, then write more and faster.

Everyone has to rewrite, there is no way around it.

I totally do NOT buy into this (a tip I found on the internet) attitude:

Eventually, redrafting will just spoil the novel – there is a danger that the story you set out to write ends up so ‘surgically’ enhanced that it no longer resembles the original story – the intrinsic core of the story has been lost.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.I do not agree with this advice because fundamentally I am a journalist, accustomed to being questioned, subjected to Fact Finders, sub-editors and finicky editors who know what story they want and how it should be crafted. I bow to their expertise. I trust those with more experience than me. I humbly accept advice though do not automatically take it. If I see what they mean, I accept their advice.

But I know, after being in this game for my entire life, that I must rewrite. Again.

I agree with Michael Crichton, ‘good books are not written. Good books are rewritten.’

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

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