Tag Archives: writing advice

Seed packets from Writers’ Greenhouse

My writing group, Writing at Rosy’s, met last Wednesday. After a discussion about how walking isn’t as good exercise as you think it is, we managed to move to a proper table and start on the task at hand. Which was to examine the Premise versus Plot seed packets we’d been sent by Writers’ Greenhouse.

The seed packets are a series of writing tools you can buy (very reasonably) to help certain technical aspects of your work. They are divided into exercises which you can do individually or in a group, though they are specifically designed to work in a group. I did the individual exercises last month on a train journey and thought they were good but I was certain they would benefit from a group discussion. And I was right.

The Premise vs Plot packet lets you ‘explore what makes novels great and the difference between premise and plot.’ Somehow Megan at Writers’ Greenhouse had managed to put her finger on one of main worries with my current writing and sent me a seed packet that promised to help.

We started by looking at what made certain novels great, and discussed our own favourites. I’d worked out that I liked characters and setting most in my favourite books – and that plot was of less consequence (except, of course, when I’m reading a crime novel.) For others among us, their preference was plot based. We all rated characters. The trick for me was then to work out how to convey a strong changing character in a novel that, for many, has little plot. I vowed to go home and painstakingly write out what happened in each chapter of the books I was looking at (Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido and Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo) which is essentially just another excuse to read them again…

This was important to me because I was feeling increasingly hamstrung by the book I’m writing, certain that I’d got a great idea and very little action. I’ve mapped out much of the book already – though scenes keep getting added as I think of them – and I wasn’t sure if I’d got enough, if enough happened, to make it a book and not just a good idea that needed some fleshing out. The premise v plot exercises were enough to spark conversation and debate. We all shared our current work – the ideas behind it, a bit more about how we developed these and what was next. It was also suggested to me that I was over thinking it all, which is certainly possible.

Once in a while, all you need as a writer is to sit down among people who understand that you’re spending a lot of time in your head with people who don’t exist. And that your self-doubt a consequence of all your internal wranglings. This chat was helpful and positive and inspiring and doubt banishing and more. What it also means is that I’ll soon find something else to get hung up on, but for now, I’m re-reading some old friends and working out why I love them. And I’m running back to my characters who are sitting patiently on Scrivener waiting for me to get past this.

The Seed Packets are available from Writers’ Greenhouse and cover a whole range of topics and areas for development. They have a simple but professional design and are easy to use. I reckon I’ll be grabbing a few more before this novel’s done.

Diary entry: a rainy Monday morning

The bus is late and the heavens, not content with soaking us for the last three days, have yet more rain to offer. I don’t usually work Mondays but I have non-negotiable training today and a trip to Birmingham awaits. When it turns up, the damp bodies and gloomy atmosphere make the crowding seem worse. I head upstairs, inadvertently step on someone’s foot (he apologises, as do I) and stand staring at a man who reluctantly moves his bag from the seat so I can sit down.

I left them behind at home, safe and dry in the warmth and light. As we pull away I am engulfed by a feeling of longing for them both. I wonder how mad he would think I was if I called him up, 10 minutes after I left the house, to tell him I missed them?

I walk fast to the railway station, marvelling at the number of women who thought it was sensible to wear ballet pumps or canvas shoes this morning. A generation with trench foot. Or perhaps they have webbed feet and don’t notice.

The train is blessedly not crowded. We scatter, one person per table, per duo of seats, and enjoy a feeling of relief that we’ve made it on time and can now relax for 90 minutes. But our reveries are interrupted by tinny music from a phone, no earphones. I look up, British to the core, glare my annoyance and go back to my reading. I look up again, a woman is also looking. She gets up and walks down the carriage.

She starts politely: “is that your phone ringing?”

“It’s music,” he says.

“Do you have headphones?” She continues.

“Why?”

“Well, it’s annoying.”

“What?” She suddenly looks very alone standing there and I am conscious that she is wearing a headscarf. For some reason I get nervous that something is about to kick off. I rise above my usual timidity and pop my head up.

“It is a distraction,” I say.

“Oh right,” he replies and turns the phone off. She sits down and I turn to smile at her and offer my thanks.

The view from the window does nothing to alleviate my feelings of separation from my girl. We pass a farm with a large flock of geese, grazing on the lawn. She’d love to see them. A woman leads a horse out to a paddock and birds fly overhead, forming a net rippling across the clouds.

 

Writing advice often mentions keeping a diary. This will be an occasional entry on this blog.