Chloe Timms, whose debut novel The Seawomen is being published in June 2022, ran the first of our Writing Journey workshops. We caught up to find out what our young creatives got from the session.
What was your Writing Journey session about?
It was a workshop about how to create engaging and successful first chapters in a novel. We were looking at the key components to a great beginning, and how to hook a reader in from those very first lines. With so many novels vying for our attention, it’s really important that your first chapter makes a bold impression – especially if you’re hoping to attract the attention of a literary agent.
I spoke about some of my own experience writing first chapters, how dramatically the beginning of my debut novel changed and how creating that compelling first chapter was key to me securing representation and getting a book deal.
What kind of things did you do?
We did lots of interesting writing activities designed to stimulate ideas and to experiment with different kinds of openings. The early stages of writing a novel can be a daunting process, so we also looked at how to tackle fear and self-doubt. We also checked out examples of strong opening chapters to showcase what kind of things the writers could play around with in their own opening chapters.
How has your style of writing helped young people? How has it helped you?
I strongly believe that, despite writing being a solitary endeavour for the most part, the key to being a happy and successful writer is finding a support network of likeminded and encouraging writer friends. You can squirrel away writing all by yourself, but you have to learn through getting feedback on your work and responding to criticism. For me, one of the most important part of writing is learning from other writers.
Reading is also essential if you want to be a good writer. In my workshop, I used examples of other writers’ work to showcase what successful novel openings look like,
A big part of my personal writing process is keeping notes when I’m reading great books. If I read a passage in a novel with beautiful description of a landscape, or the fallout of a shocking reveal, or a fight sequence – whatever passage is done well – I take a photo of the page or screenshot it if I’m reading an ebook. I keep all of these fragments in folders to refer back to when I’m writing, not to copy, but as fuel to inspire me.
It’s particularly useful to find writers whose style really resonates with you so that when you’re having a day when the words aren’t coming out, you can let someone else’s words fire up your brain. If I want to write something with beautiful prose, I’ll pick up a book by Kirsty Logan. If I want to write something intense about ritual. I’ll read Sophie Mackintosh. For something strange and unnerving I’ll read Julia Armfield. Don’t be afraid of not being original enough or emulating someone else’s voice.
Writing is all about practice and the more you do it the more you will improve, so if you feel like you’re lacking in experience or aren’t the most confident of writer, the best thing you can do is read as much as you can and then write what most excites you.
Do you have any general writing advice for young people?
Read lots, find writer friends who are as passionate and as serious about writing as you are. Share your work and give constructive feedback to them too (you will learn as much from giving feedback as you will receiving it). Try as hard as you can to shut out your fears and doubts when you’re writing. When I started out (and still now) I have days where I feel like I am the worst writer in the world and the whole thing is a waste of time, but believe me when I say that every single writer feels this, the only way to feel better is to keep writing.
Your first draft will be terrible. Every single writer writes a horrible first draft, even the writers you think are geniuses. But if you have words on a page then you can always make it better. Hang onto any compliments you get from readers about your work, keep a note of them on your phone, and when you feel like the worst writer in the world go back and look at all the lovely, true things people have said about your writing.
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Don’t miss out on our next exciting workshops. If you’re 18-25 and not in training, education or employment be sure to take part in our Writing Journey sessions this month by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, see our Writing Journey blog.