Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest author Debi Alper: A Writer’s Toolkit

Debi Alper is the author of the Nirvana series of thrillers set among the sub-cultures of south London. Her first two books were Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana. Debi has worked as a shop assistant, editorial assistant, data controller, book keeper, administrator, finance officer and farm labourer, among many other jobs, but she is now happy to be writing full time. She blogs at Debi Alper.

There are as many different ways of writing as there are writers, but I believe there are some items which are essential in any successful author’s toolkit.
  • Being a voracious reader. Some may say that writing courses are vital, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. But you do need to read books; obviously in your own chosen genre, in order to see what the rules are and whether you have anything fresh and different to offer, but also more widely. See what works and what doesn’t and then work out why.
  • A notebook and pen at hand at every moment of your waking day. I have three: one for my WIP, one for blog posts and one for the rest of my life. As well as mountainous piles of scrap paper with notes scribbled on them …
  • An endless fascination with people. I never use people I know as models for my characters, but that child on the bus … the woman in the queue at the supermarket … the man staggering along the road … What are their stories? Where are they going? What will happen to them when they get there?
  • A passion for words. Aren’t they amazing? What a rich and textured language we have at our disposal. Look at what you can do with words; what magic you can weave; see how one phrase or image works so much better than another. All we do is pick the right words and put them in the right order. Simple, huh?
  • A natural storyteller. I’m always weaving tales from my own history for anyone who will listen to me. The art of oral storytelling is not lost and is a vital tool. We should never lose sight of this oral tradition. Everyone has their own stories to tell …
  • The will to escape into a fictional world of your own creation. I couldn’t count the number of real life problems that have the potential to grind me down if I wasn’t able to retreat to fiction world where I can sort them out with comparative ease. Alternatively, my WIP can provide a safe haven where those problems don’t exist at all.
  • The ability to hang on in there … eg when the words just won’t come; when you just don’t know where your book is going; when the rejection slips pile up …
  • And to let go … eg when the characters you have created take over and insist your book moves in a different direction to the one you had planned. We use the creative side of our brain when writing a first draft and need to disengage our critical faculties and just let the story flow. It’s only when we get to the editing stage that we should bring in the other side of our brain ie the ability to deconstruct, analyse, criticise and, when necessary, kill those darlings.
  • A love of solitude. Or at least the ability to cope with it. There’s no getting away from the fact that writing is essentially a solitary activity.
  • Somewhere to share and let off steam. But we also need to be able to offload our frustrations and share the inevitable ups and downs of this writing life. Whether it’s a Real Life or online writing group, a writers’ forum or a group of like-minded friends, the key here is trust, both in their opinions and their discretion.
  • A willingness to live in poverty. Non-negotiable, I’m afraid. The harsh truth is that very few writers are able to make a living from book sales alone. Editing, mentoring and hosting creative writing workshops are all that prevent me being forced to boil old socks to make soup to feed my children.
  • A spark of insanity. Some may feel they have chosen to write; most of us believe we have no such choice. From all the above, it’s clear that a spark of insanity is an essential item in any author’s toolkit.
Debi Alper


Charles Gramlich said...

A very fine list. I agree completely with all of these, although I wish there wasn't a vow of poverty. Welcome to Novel Spaces.

Debi said...

Thanks, Charles. Nice to be here. Sorry about the poverty. It's not a vow as such, more a reality check. I wish it were not so, believe me!

Liane Spicer said...

Delighted to have you here, Debi!

Absolutely right on all counts. The poverty and insanity bits do resonate a lot, somehow... :)

Debi said...

Knew you would relate to those in particular, Liane

Stefanie Worth said...

Debi -- Welcome to Novel Spaces! I have to say that the love of words, people watching and insanity hit home for me. And my day job, while constricting at times, allows me to ignore the poverty aspect of the writing I love so much.

KeVin K. said...

Welcome to Novel Spaces, Debi.

Useful list, and spot on. Enjoyed your column.

Debi said...

Thanks, all. What a lovely space this is and what a fabulous group of like-minded people you all are.

Stefanie - there's a lot to be said for having a job that uses different aspects of your brain and energy, freeing up the creative side for the writing and meanwhile putting food on the table.