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Your Nagging Voice

Ten daily dilemmas before breakfast

Every day every writer hears the voices. You chomp your toast and the voices chomp away at your brain making sure that the last hour contemplating your first positive action on your novel today goes swirling into the black hole of indecision. This is the role of the nagging voice.

Welcome to daily self-doubt that comes with every word you write. There’s an easy way and a hard way to do this. The easy way is to look to the advice of successful writers; see how they handle things because, after all, they’ve made it. The hard way is to realise that nobody knows a thing. Every single jot of advice ever passed down the line to us humble upstarts by the pros is contradicted by every other single jot of advice.

You’ve got to make it up yourself. So, here are ten nuggets of advice that come with their own contradiction already affixed. You’ve no need to choose between the two in each case. This advice is designed merely to knot you up a little bit more. Every morning.

  1. Dialogue or description? Should your characters talk a lot or do you propel the story with narrative? Is dialogue in there just to break up the page or make your characters come alive? Who should tell us what people are thinking? You or them? The omnipresent narrator or the individual voice?

  2. Physical or spiritual? Is it important that Frank had a walrus moustache and check shirt, a cracked front tooth and a daring comb-over? Does it matter if Gloria had green eyes? Does it really? Is your story about how they look or about who they are? Is there a balance?

  3. Share or savour? Some writers say you should tell you story to friends and family as it goes along – to get feedback - whether positive or negative. Others say it’s best to keep your story close, savour it yourself until the final full-stop and only then let it fly free or sink in the sewer.

  4. Here or there? You must have a beginning, middle and end. Ever found anyone famous who doesn’t say that? Is this a conspiracy or what? Think of some of the best books you ever read and think about how so many of them drop you in at the deep end, or the murky middle and only eventually drag you breathlessly back to the beginning for the revelation. Interesting huh?

  5. Write or wrong? Do you think everything you write today will pass your own quality control tests later in the week? Isn’t it just a wonderful feeling to know that you’re spending your entire day agonising over words, phrases and plot developments that you will trash on Friday?

  6. Relate or insulate? Should you get out more? Should you stay in more? Do you need to get a life or is it all comfortably there in your computer?

  7. Less or more? Many writers say that a good novel should open with a single character facing challenges which immediately engage the readers and earn their empathy. Too many characters can spoil a plot say these writers. A rich tapestry of interconnected people can, on the other hand, deliver a depth of opportunity that a simple approach may not necessarily deliver. More people, less action? Less people, more interaction? Loads of trauma affecting swathes or people. Two lovers in a café? One guy on a ledge? Well, it’s your breakfast, you choose.

  8. Words or passion? Is it better to try to intellectually engage your readers or just throw passion at them? Should you craft your language or your thought? One or the other? Both? Neither? Just see how it goes. It depends what you want because that’s what your readers will get.

  9. Plan or busk? Do you need to create a framework so that your plot doesn’t send you down dark, dead-end alleys you’d sooner not visit? Or do you create characters who take on their own life and do and say things you were NOT expecting? Do they control you or do you control them?

  10. Give it a go or let it go? So, carry on writing every day or just drop the whole idea? We all know the answer to that one.

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