A few years ago I went on a writing retreat, where I frolicked, wrote, and generally had a blast. I also took notes and filed those notes away. I just re-discovered them and thought I’d post them, in case anyone finds them useful. Most of this is common sense or tips you would pick up early in a writing career, but I do think we often forget this stuff when we get caught up in the chaos of the Writing Process.
01. Getting Started
Authors discussed their favourite times to write. Many people agreed that harnessing the unconscious, open mind was probably the freest form—writing first thing in the morning before your brain has had chance to become distracted with the day’s schedule/what’s going on around you, or writing at night, when the brain is too tired to hold on to all the stressful, stuffy matter of the day (this is my favourite time to write).
A few of the writers also mentioned how difficult they found it to prioritise writing over other activities, when writing was all they really wanted to do. We get paralysed by fears, nerves and paranoia, but these are obstacles we need to overcome if we’re to make progress. Don’t overthink writing, just write.
Conversely, if writing always feels like a chore or you’re genuinely not enjoying it at all, it might be worth digging deep and asking yourself “Why am I writing in the first place?”
There are two types of re-reads you can do after you’ve finished your story. First, read it back as a reader, purely for pleasure, ignoring the mistakes and problems. This can help you see the bigger picture. Then, read through as a writer, looking for technical issues but also looking for things that work particularly well. This can help you get your head around the details. Observe all that you can. Be objective to begin with. Make side-notes, if it helps. And remember to take little breaks when you start to grow weary.
02. Writing Combat
This workshop didn’t apply to me so much as far as my current stories are concerned as none of my characters are engaging in physical battle (mental battle is a different story!), but it was incredibly interesting and exciting because we got to play with real swords, bows, shields, and armour (I had no idea chain mail was so damn heavy).
I learned that swords were often dug up from graves in Germanic wars. Chain mail was hand riveted and more of a rich man’s game—poorer folk would either have to dig up dead bodies and take it, or steal it from the living.
The best advice I took from this workshop: when writing battles pay attention to all five senses, not just sight, touch and sound. The smells and tastes would be vivid, too.
In anything based in an alternative reality, it’s good to set up rules and laws and boundaries before you begin writing, or at least early in the story. That way you don’t write yourself into so many ruts, or have to keep backtracking to change details and fix inconsistencies.
Study other cultures and their laws in real life, and take inspiration from them. Remember, countries have different levels of technology; not all countries are the same. This also goes for your fictional universe.
Figure out how magic and technology work—or don’t work—together early on, too. (← this is the one I’ve had problems with when writing steampunk fantasy.)
04. Keep Writing
Don’t be afraid to ask your characters questions. Get to know them like you would a friend (or co-worker). Questionnaires and quizzes can be insightful, if that method of character workshopping works for you (it doesn’t for everyone).
Ask yourself what your characters want. This gives them purpose, and gives you reason to propel them and the plot forwards. Once your character(s) have a goal, you can share that goal, which should help you to keep writing.