Tag Archives: writing

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award 2014. And Seven Confessions about Me…

Woo Hoo!!! I’ve been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Amazing!

As you’ve probably noticed by my introductory sentences, I’m absolutely chuffed to bits to be chosen by novelist Sandra Danby. Please click here to learn more about Sandra and about her writing and her novel, Ignoring Gravity. I’ve visited her blog many times, and in my experience, there’s always plenty there to inspire you.

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I’m inspired all the time. By the things I see, hear, touch, read in books and magazines, and watch on television. I’m inspired by countryside, and cities, and beaches, and sunsets.

Inspiration is in everything we see and do.  It's a path to something better.

Inspiration is in everything we see and do. It’s a path to something better.

I’m inspired by humour, and bravery, compassion and kindness, by dedication and tenacity, the innocence of youth and the ravages of age, as well as the beautiful and, sometimes awful, random events around us. Inspiration is everywhere, rousing and firing imagination and emotions.

But the thing I find inspires me more than anything is other people’s talent.  I’m always astounded by their abilities, what their imagination creates and melds together. It motivates me to do the same. It triggers my memories and spurs my senses. It produces a need to channel those everyday experiences and sensations into something that others can share. You know that feeling when you encounter a piece of art or theatre or writing that moves you, or makes you think about something in a different way? That’s the effect I want my writing to have on others. To produce that ‘Ah yes’ moment. ‘That’s how it is.’

So, it was a real honour to get nominated for this – that somewhere along the way, I may have stimulated or motivated someone else to write, or simply given a person hope or ideas to work with. The most encouraging aspect of creativity is that everyone can have a go, and with time and practise we all get better. There’s nothing more inspirational than that, is there?

Before I divulge any further (more disturbing) information about myself, I’ll list the rules for the award:

As a nominee, you must:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.

3. Share seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated. 

5. Optional: follow the blogger who nominated you, if you don’t already do so.

 

Okay, so here’s seven facts about myself. I hope you find them interesting.

1. Though I never originally had a desire to get married or be a mother, I now have a husband and two daughters (which just goes to show how life can take you on unexpected journeys.)

Who are these two children and why are they with me?

Who are these two children and why are they with me?

My daughters were born six years apart, and are very different in personality and outlook, though both are very single-minded. Sometimes being in the house with the two of them can be… er… tempestuous to say the least, but on the whole, I love that their characters and interests are so diverse. The eldest goes off to university in September 2014, the idea of which has left me slightly bereft. Though I have always encouraged her to be independent, I am now considering packing all of us into her suitcase before she goes, and seeing if we can get away with living in her room – in a box under her bed.

Lucy and Rosie and parrot

I wanted the parrot…

 

2. I grew up desperately in love with musicals and old films, as well as the actors in them.

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Doris Day, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Munroe, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacClaine, Tony Curtis, James Stewart, Jack Fonda, John Wayne, and so many others (as you can see, it’s a long list). I had childhood crushes on them all. They captured my imagination, enchanted me, and absorbed me in a different – magical – universe. (My love affair with film still exists to this day, and yes, I still get a little obsessed with the likes of James McAvoy, Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling). After I’d finished watching the shows, I’d re-enact them – alone – in the living room, with a burning desire to relive the magic moments over and over. I played out the individual characters, changed the intonations of my voice (in my mind, I could be man, woman or child, though if I’m honest, I was disappointed I didn’t have the gift to change my height, or the colour and style of my hair), stamping around the sofa gesticulating wildly, and using a cushion (cringe) for the more romantic moments. Sometimes I’d record the soundtrack of the movie on my cassette recorder, and woe betide anyone who scraped a chair, opened a door, or coughed while I reproduced the programme in its auditory form. After, I’d lie on my bed, listening intently, reassimilating the experience, allowing my imagination to relive the whole theatre of the thing over and over again. I’m sure it’s this obsession with re-creation that developed my obsession with writing today.

 

3. I live in Littleborough, which is a Lancashire town on the edge of the Pennines and the border of West Yorkshire.

240px-Church_Street_in_Littleborough

As far as I am concerned, it is the wettest place in the UK, unless, of course, you decide to relocate to the middle of the North Sea. I have lived here since 2003, which is the longest I have lived in any one town since I was a child, so I can only assume I like being permanently damp. As well as my husband, and two children, I live with a very smelly, drooling and toothless, grey-faced boxer dog, Fudge, and an arrogant tabby cat, Boris, in an old converted wool mill. It is possibly the coldest house known to mankind, and in winter, I live permanently in fleece pyjamas, gillet, dressing gown, thick socks, furry slippers, scarf and hat.

wrapped-up-warm

The entire ensemble is finished off with a brown blanket and sometimes a hot-water bottle. The postman is so used to me opening the front door in my eclectic (odd) costume, that he hasn’t blinked an eye in years. In the winter months, getting out of bed and dressing is an interesting experience, and the phrase ‘BRACE YOURSELF’ often comes to mind.

 

4. I spent two years as a holiday representative for a luxury camping company in France.

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Twice a week, I used to stand up in front of twenty families and lead a welcome meeting, and yet, I never got over my fear of public speaking. Later I became a primary school teacher, which bizarrely, is a job that also involves talking in public. In fact, that’s pretty much all you do. In the classroom, I never had a problem with this. However, my view on my sudden abandonment of my glossophobia is that kids don’t judge you in the same way as adults. Plus, they like it if you act like an idiot… and I do that a lot.

 

5. My first language as a child – despite being brought up in the UK – was not English, but Polish. For three years, I’d lived as an only child in a household of Polish speakers, in a wider community of Polish speakers. During this time, not one person thought to mention that we lived in England. Or that in this country, there was another language that everyone else used on a regular basis. They also forgot to mention that I might need it to function when performing ordinary day to day tasks in public. As it happened, I went to my first day at nursery unable to speak a word of the language of the country I was born into. Also, as my mother dropped me off that morning, she forgot to mention this fact to the staff. (To be honest, I don’t think she realised. When you’re bilingual, you slip in and out of languages so easily, you don’t realise you’re doing it. But anyway…) Obviously, when she picked me up later, she was met with consternation, and a genuine fear that I was deaf. Apparently, I hadn’t responded to anything that the assistants or children said to me that day, which was worryingly a sign of hearing impairment, or perhaps a learning difficulty. Yet, surely, this misunderstanding wasn’t the consequence of my mother’s oversight, but rather, a sign of their professional incompetance? I look back now and think: how did they not realise? Surely, in their line of work, an essential quality when working with children (both English speaking and not) is an ability to MIND READ? Pffft. Shocking. You just can’t get the staff.

(By the way, my lingual abilities were with me for life. By my twenties, I’d gone from being a fluent speaker of Polish in my early childhood, to pidgin Polish in my teens, to only being able to count to 20 and say a handful of random phrases in adulthood. Shameful.)

Strangely, on the same theme, some years later – by which time I was, thankfully, a fluent English speaker – there was another concern about my ability to hear; again in an educational establishment. This time I was sent for an auditory analysis because, as was my wont, I wasn’t responding as expected in class. As it turned out, my hearing was impeccable, but my propensity to day-dream meant I faded out the presence of the class teacher on a regular basis – usually for most of the day. What can I say? I was happy in my own world! And you won’t be surprised to hear, I’m still like that now.

 

6. During my childhood, I believed I had an amazing singing voice, until my parents selfishly ruined it by buying me a cassette recorder for my ninth birthday (please see fact #2). One day, in a bedroom solo-performance extravaganza, I belted out a show tune from Cats – ‘MEMORIES’ – in the style of Barbra Streisand. I could barely contain myself once the song ended – rewinding the tape, smug in the knowledge I was going to wow audiences world wide, unable to wait for my journey of fame to begin – only to play it back and, upon hearing myself, sit there in wide-eyed shock with my mouth open. For the first time since aged three in nursery, I was silent. Let’s just say the whole experience left me mentally traumatised and disappointed. I wasn’t the singing aficionado I thought I was. To this day, though I still dream of being able to perform an aria on stage, with audiences applauding me with endless standing ovations, I would never purposely torture anyone with my singing voice. In private though, it doesn’t stop me belting out a … er… tune. Though, nowadays, I am very careful about the volumes I reach. A few years after my Babs Streisand reality-check, I was singing in the bath when there was a knock on the front door.

Girl guide serial killer

My girl guide serial killer stage

I went downstairs in my dressing gown, to answer the door to our neighbour. She asked if my mother was in, to which I answered, ‘No, sorry – she’s out.’ The neighbour looked puzzled. ‘Are you sure she’s not in?’ she said. She peered into the house, looking directly behind me, where there was nothing but an empty room. ‘I could swear I heard you both arguing.’ Arguing? Gah!

 

7. I’m horrified by my age, and have always believed that I am a female Peter Pan figure. Until recently, I truly believed that middle-age only impacts other people, never me. Even to this day, I don’t feel like a grown-up, but unfortunately, my mirror, and my aches and pains tell a different story. As a result, I feel betrayed by the world, and want to know the way back to Neverland. Anyone got the directions?

halloween

Growing up? Too scary to contemplate! DON’T DO IT!!!

 

Here are my nominated blogs:

I love novellist EL Lindley’s blog.  She writes about all things now, with humour, wisdom and insight: men, women, friendships, crushes, education, even Morrissey… Anything you want an opinion on, you’ll find it here: ellindley.weebly.com

Paul writes about his experiences with writing.  His writing itself, and his procrastination: http://misterphipps.com

Penny Shutt writes amazing poetry, and blogs about how her experiences with therapeutic writing.  http://pennyshutt.weebly.com

On A Woman’s Wisdom, you’ll find reviews of a variety of books.  http://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com

Experience Stephen Thom’s speculative and metaphysical fiction here: http://stephenthom.wordpress.com

Sonya reviews books and interviews writers: http://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com

Cheryl writes serialised fiction to which she adds intricately detailed illustrations on: http://cherylmoore.wordpress.com and here is her blog with further writing: http://cherylmoorestoriesandpoems.wordpress.com/about/

I love the humour in this blog – something I keep trying to introduce to my short story writing, but somehow my themes are persistently bleak and SERIOUS.  One day I am going to write a character in the Skinny and Single vein: http://skinnyandsingle.wordpress.com

 

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Filed under Ideas, Imagination, inspiration

Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – Sunrise over Cappadocia

Here’s my latest story on the Storgy website. Inspired by the glory of hot air balloons in the morning sky!

Sunrise over Cappadocia

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

 typewriter love

‘Come here.  There’s sleep in your eye.’

‘Mmmm…That’s good to know.’

He leans closer, and with his fingertip, removes the offending article.  I can feel the softness of his skin as he takes the tiny haul from the corner of my eye.  He smiles, proudly, displaying the crustie, then kisses the end of my nose.  The room is draped in shadows, and the pale blob resting on his nail is barely discernible in the dim light.

‘How can you do that?’I say.

‘Why not?  It’s part of you.’  He wipes his finger on the side of the bed.

‘Gross.’

‘You wouldn’t do that for me?’

‘No way!’

‘Not squeeze the blackheads on my back?’

‘Absolutely not!’

‘Would you cut my toenails if there was ever a time I couldn’t reach them…’

‘You’d be lucky.’

He edges across the bed, so his face rests…

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Filed under Fiction, Short fiction, Storgy

You’re a god of writing. Or are you?

Talented writers? Are they born or developed? Some people might say, if you have to go on a course to learn to write, you’re never going to be any good.

Questions are often raised as to whether writers needs to do a creative writing course in order to learn the basics of good writing. The view many people take is that, where creativity’s concerned, you’re either good or you’re not, and if you fit into the latter category, no course is going to give you a talent you weren’t born with.

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Yes, we all came out of the womb knowing how to do this. It was very painful for our mothers.

This is pretty unfair. Some might even go as far as to say it’s downright snobbery. Obviously, there are many writers who are naturally talented. They seem to know without thinking, what constitutes a good plot, what image will be most powerful, how to create natural dialogue that delivers most impact to the reader. Writers like these have a natural capacity to write from an early age, and they develop their skills through sheer hard work. As a result, they have little truck with writing courses. Who can blame them? They did it all themselves, so you should too. However, the way I see it is, these writers also have a natural confidence that drives them, and not all of us are that lucky.

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Do not interrupt. Genius at work. Any noise will cause his head to implode.

When I started to write, (after years of procrastination, and gazing at books I loved, thinking ‘I can never write like that’. I was right – I couldn’t, so instead I learned to write like myself) my prose-style was initially so full of holes, an elephant could have fallen through. My inclination was to over-explain everything, and I also found that my love-affair with language created an over-elaborate and flowery effect that was off-putting for the reader. This didn’t mean I was a bad writer – what I had in common with more accomplished writers was a love of books, a love of words, and a compulsion to write, that gave me a great starting point – but I clearly had a lot to learn.

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Popular writing mistakes.

Joining a writing course made me realise that there is a type of ‘science’ to good writing (a science, however, that does not have a ‘one rule fits all’ formula. Writers all have their own styles that these ‘scientific’ theories should not inhibit, but should instead, work alongside). Some people are aware of this ‘science’ instinctively, but many are like me – they need to learn how it works.. Once I learned what constituted good writing, I could apply this knowledge, and my writing improved significantly (though even now, beyond the course, I’m still learning and improving, and happy to do so.)

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Weirdly, staring at all these scientific numbers and symbols isn’t helping to get my novel moving along.

But of course, be warned. Doing a course by itself will not make you a good writer. You’re not going to improve if you’re not ready to change. You have to be prepared to take on the advice of others, you have to be ready to work hard, and you have to be open to adapting your writing. There’s a phrase that purports writers as the ‘god(s) of (their) own work’. This basically means that, whatever anyone else says, you are CREATOR, and so any final decision-making regarding your story is up to you. What it doesn’t mean is: ignore what everyone says, and don’t change a thing.

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Don’t you DARE tell me what to do with my story!

Being a GOD OF WRITING means a writer should take any constructive criticism and use it wisely. The critiquer isn’t always right, but then neither are you. You should think about what you were initially trying to achieve in your writing and how the constructive criticism fits within that framework, then change your writing based around your own view and theirs. Sometimes your initial idea is not going to work, and you might just have to give up on it. Your story might turn into something else entirely (this happens to me on a regular basis). It doesn’t matter – creativity has no boundaries. So what if your story isn’t how you intended, as long as it works in the end? Remember, your reader’s enjoyment is far more important than your initial idea or your ego.

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THIS ISN’T HOW MY STORY WAS MEANT TO GO!!!!!! *head explodes*

Okay, back to some sanity.  In the next blog post, I will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the creative writing course, and the one I enrolled on in particular.

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Filed under Creative writing, Writing, writing courses

All The Best Intentions…

Probably one of my most annoying traits is the inability to think before I speak.  I thought I’d managed to maintain some vestige of control over it where my writing is concerned. Until recently, when I discovered that, obviously I hadn’t… 

A while back, I asked a couple of writerly friends to critique a short story for me – Colin –  that I’d been wrestling with for ages.  You know what it’s like?  Sometimes writing is as easy as stuffing the contents of a can of Pringles in your face (or maybe two cans, right?), but at other times, the ideas in your head are frozen, like a type of stage fright, steadfastly refusing to make an appearance on paper.

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If only writing was always as easy as binge-eating.

Oh, come on – who am I kidding?  It’s not stage fright.  It’s constipation.  Pure and simple.  Rock-hard pebbles you have to push out with grim determination, that hurt like hell.  I’m afraid to say, I think I might even have that same pained, scrunched-up expression when I’m struggling with writing that I do when I’m trying to…  Er… possibly time for a subject change here.

I get this a lot (writing that doesn’t flow, not constipation.  I swear.  Please believe me), and usually when it happens I write the story regardless, ignoring the diabolical flow, hoping that eventually, it will all form a cohesive whole.  Though in this particular case, there was no ‘whole’ when the words were finally committed to paper: Colin was the writing equivalent of a drunk in a bar – jerky and incoherent.

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It’s best not to let your writing loose on people when it’s jerky and incoherent.

Anyway, I digress.  Back to my writing buds.

I knew them well – having done a few modules of a writing course with them – and understood that I could rely on them to be kind, but more importantly, able to pick out what worked and what didn’t about my, by now, hated short story.  In the past, I’d turn to them whenever I needed an honest opinion, and I knew they wouldn’t let me down.

Now let’s establish something here – something you may already know: one of the most important rules when receiving feedback is that you accept it without comment.  Even if you don’t particularly agree with the critiquer’s opinion.  I mean, as you’ve asked their advice, you have to accept it.   And, there’s a couple of reasons why.

Firstly, if you start trying to justify writing that needs improvement, you start to look like nothing less than an arse.  Yes, that’s right – an arse.

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Being an arse wouldn’t be so bad if only it meant being pert and shapely. I knew I’d get the short straw.

More importantly, remember the critiquing process is not just about you.  it’s hard for someone to give honest feedback, especially when they know a writer has put their heart and soul into a piece of writing.  And my two friends – let’s call them Ethel and Gertrude here, for the sake of argument – have given me lots of useful guidance in the past, helping to improve my writing no end.  The reason they’ve continued to help, is because I’ve accepted it without comment – simply thanking them, going on my way, and using the parts of their advice that I felt was relevant to alter my work.  Even if, at times, I’ve needed to have a little cry after.

So the rule for receiving feedback is:

Don’t comment.

I’ll repeat that again.  Do not comment.

Yes, I’ll say it louder in case you didn’t hear me.  DO NOT COMMENT.

women with her mouth taped up

Sometimes, when you can’t keep your mouth shut, only tape will do.

You know this rule now.  I know this rule.

In the past, I’ve followed it to the letter.  Even when I’ve really wanted to say something in my own (writing’s) defence.

But, unfortunately, not the time when I got the feedback to Colin.

Instead of my usual ‘thankyou, you’re so great – your advice has been a great help’, I took the list of adjustments – which I FULLY AGREED WITH – and decided to explain my thought processes for the writing as it stood.  I don’t know what got into me – I wasn’t arguing with their advice.  What I was trying to do was show my intention in writing it that way.  I don’t know, maybe I was embarrassed – I was used to having more creative success in recent times, and though I’d asked for their help (and needed it), there’s an element of pride being bruised when you’re told your writing needs so much improvement.  Anyway, all that happened was I ended up looking like an arse.  Did I tell you that you look like an arse if you respond back to criticism?  Here’s another reminder:

fat-thong-topless

Yes, I’m an arse for all the world to see.

But what was worse, Ethel was mortified.  (Gertrude was quiet on the matter, but God only knows what she thought.  Sometimes silence is more frightening than confrontation).  She apologised in great detail, thinking she’d hurt my feelings, and said she hadn’t meant to step over the line in her critique.

She hadn’t.  It was me.  I was an arse.

But I suppose there was a positive in the whole situation – it made me understand that the critiquing process is a two way thing: it’s not just about you trusting your reader, but also, about them trusting you.  Just as you need to feel safe in your creative relationship before you pass over your writing, they need to feel safe giving you advice, and understand that you’re not going to argue or nit-pick about the points they make.

So, basically, my point is, when you write, and when you ask someone to give you a truthful analysis of good and bad points, then take their advice, say thank you, and shut up.  That way, they might want to help you again.

I was fortunate because Ethel and I had already established a good relationship, so she understood this was nothing more than a blip.  But, in future, I’ll make sure I treat her with much more care.

That is all.

 

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Filed under constructive criticism, Short fiction

Storywriters of the World – Unblock and Get Writing!

As you may or may not know, I write for an online short fiction magazine called Storgy.  The concept of the magazine is unique – readers are encouraged to interact with the writing process by choosing each new story title via a poll.  The nine contributing writers then have a week to produce a story based on the winning title, so essentially, it’s written especially for the readers.  It’s amazing how different each work is, considering there is no variation in the title.

cropped-storgy2

Of course, each month I go through my very own unique torture, wondering how on earth I’m going to come up with a story in seven days, influenced by a title I’d be unlikely to choose myself.  This month’s winning title was ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’.

Relatively quickly, an idea developed, but I approached it with caution, as popular writing wisdom dictates that the first thing that comes into your head can be unimaginative or clichéd.  So, after dismissing my first idea, I spent the next five days pondering and cogitating until… well, actually… nothing.  I scribbled, I typed, but none of my scrawling could be described as a story.  Nothing gelled.  On paper, I had a title about a shotgun and not much else.  Pah.

That week, when I wasn’t frustrated by my lack of creativity, I did my usual things:

  •  I watched past episodes of Misfits, a series I’ve been aware of but never watched – WHY have I never watched Misfits? – and was distraught when loner Simon, and his girlfriend Alesha, left the series.  I was totally caught up in his superhero transformation/time travel storyline.  And yes, I do have a Superman fixation.
Misfits - I've always been a late developer.  I only cottoned on to Misfits when it was in its last series.

Misfits – I’ve always been a late developer. I only cottoned on to Misfits when it was in its last series.

  •  I worked in a primary school where they ran a dress-as-you-like day to raise funds.  Some of the younger kids came in fancy dress.  Also, during that week, some children drew my attention for various reasons: developmental, learning or social issues, or difficulties at home.
  •  I went for country walks with the dog.
  •  I read (and enjoyed) The Humans by Matt Haig, which relates the story of an alien being visiting Earth to assassinate people he sees as a threat to the future of the Universe.
Are you sure your husband is who you think he is?

Are you sure your husband is who you think he is?

All of these things happened as part of my week, without me giving them much thought or consideration – but at the end of day five, an idea began to crystallise in my mind about a loner who received the best Christmas present ever, and what happened as a consequence of this.

The next day, I sat and I wrote my entire story in one sitting.  Despite my worries, the week wasn’t wasted after all.  Yes, I may have struggled with words and ideas, but it was because my brain was busy, busy, busy.  It didn’t want to be disturbed; it had more important things to deal with – absorbing events around it and piecing them together with the title, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.

No, my story wasn’t about the things that happened to me that week, but I’d used aspects of each day to create my imaginary world.  Bizarrely, at one point, a memory of the fairy tale, The Little Match Girla story I loved as a childinfluenced me too.

Funny the things you remember that influence your writing.

Funny the things you remember that influence your writing.

You see, our brains enjoy grappling with a puzzle.  They like to connect and make sense out of fragments of information.  That’s why one method for releasing ideas when you’re suffering from writer’s block is to use a number of unrelated words to conjure up a storyline.  It’s a process which works in a similar way to what happened to me this week – though I made associations from the life around me.

My associations were made up of:

  • a shotgun
  • a child who is young for his age
  • a primary school dress-as-you-like day
  • Christmas
  • winter countryside
  • superheroes
  • space/universe
  • The Little Match Girl
superman

Some childhood obsessions you never grow out of.

Weirdly, these concepts all fit perfectly into a story.  Yet they came about, not by sitting at my computer, but by getting on with my ordinary routine.  (Although, having said that, sitting and staring can have its uses too.)

Writing is so much more than the physical process of writing itself.  It’s also about about moving away from the keyboard, doing other things, communicating, relating to others, noticing the finer detail, and absorbing the things you experience.

If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  Next time you’re struggling with ideas, or the story won’t flow, get up and go out.

Let your mind open itself to the world, and you’ll be surprised how quickly it will help you to perform your writerly magic.

Your brain enjoys working out a puzzle.

Your brain enjoys working out a puzzle.

If you would like to read my version of Bring Me My Shotgun click the link below:

Bring Me My Shotgun

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Filed under Ideas, Short fiction, Storgy, writer's block

Confessions of a First Time Novellist – Part Four

So, in parts 1-3 of ‘Confessions’, I’ve covered the pitfalls of writing a first novel, how to avoid falling foul of ‘writer’s confusion’ (that’s my own phrase, thank you very much), and how to stick to the target of completing your novel.

Today’s blogpost is brought to you with the collaboration of fellow writer Tom Benson, and the number 4 (that’s Part 4 to you).

With a little help from your friends

Recently, I approached Tom Benson, self-published author of Ten Days in Panama and Beyond the Law to ask if he had any useful tips for helping with the novel-writing process.   He said that, for him, making use of certain tools and ideas makes the whole concept of writing much simpler.  He passed on this list, which he produced during the writing of his novels, which I thought you might find it useful too:

*Make a simple timeline, whether it is set as days, months, years or whatever suits you best. A timeline combined with a synopsis is a real asset from beginning to end.

*Cast of Characters may sound obvious, but keep it handy:

    It will help avoid the duplication of names or similar sounding names.

    It will also help to remind if a character appears once for no good reason – get rid.

*Zodiac signs book. If you haven’t got one, it’s a useful tool for ideas on characteristics, personal likes, dislikes – and even star signs.

zodiac

*Baby names book. A good one will give a range of nationalities.

*The Yellow Pages is good for both names and trades/professions.

yellow-pages

*Body Language book. Say no more, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, fingers crossed.

body-language

*An atlas.

*Fashion Catalogue. In case you’re no good at putting together an outfit.  (Though remember, don’t describe too much of what your characters are wearing.  Your reader doesn’t care.)

*Be aware of the ‘chewing gum on the mantlepiece’. This is where the writer makes a mention of something, (like the aforementioned chewing gum), but it serves no purpose in the story, and is only mentioned in one scene. It could be a person, a vehicle, animal, anything. If it doesn’t serve a purpose – leave it out.

chewed gum

Big chewing gum on big mantlepiece (outside)

*Page Numbers from the outset. They work in your favour in two ways:

    As a navigational aid when editing on screen.

    As a navigational aid when you’ve printed off several pages or a manuscript for editing.

*Obtain a perpetual diary. You can use it to define any date with the correct weekday.

*www.historyorb.com is a great site for checking out information.

*Consider writing the beginning and end, then work on the rest. It may work for you.

*Know every detail of your main characters as if they were real. You won’t be telling everything, but you must know everything.

*If you intend to use a location in the past, double-check its situation/condition at the time.  I had to alter a date, because a meeting place I used was closed for refurbishment when the two characters would have met there.

If you want to check out more about Tom, his e-books are available on Amazon, or you can view his website at www.tom-benson.co.uk and his blog at tombensoncreative.wordpress.com.

From my perspective, I particularly like the idea of the zodiac signs book, the body language book, and the baby names book.  I spend too much time fretting about names, and gestures, and characteristics when I’m writing.   These are great tools which will surely help.  I’d also say that when you’re flicking through the books, they’ll also generate ideas for future characters.

So, stop distracting me.  I’ve got a novel to finish

My own novel is approximately half-way there, though I’ve got lots of concerns about how I’m going to tie up all the individual strands and subplots together.  It’s in my head – can I get it onto paper?  Will it all fit neatly together? I’m putting all that to one side for now, though.  The writing’s the focus.  Improvement later.

In the meantime, I hope that both mine, and Tom’s, experiences and advice will help you with your own novel writing.

I’ll let you know how I get on with the second half of my novel, which will (hopefully) be finished in December.

Watch this space.

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Great Advice by Roxane Gray (link): Eight Questions Writers Should Ask Themselves.

Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

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Confessions of a First Time Novellist – Part 3

Last week, I talked about how thorough planning can help the inexperienced writer to swim more confidently through the murky depths of novel-writing.   I also talked about the particular methods that worked and didn’t work for me, and where I might improve in the future. Today, I’ll take a look at some techniques that I found useful when trying to stick to my target.

WHAT?  5 o clock in the morning?  Are you mad?

Well, as I described in my previous post, my planning methods haven’t always been perfect, but the changes I’ve made have led to an improvement in my writing output.  Each day I’ve managed between 1000-1300 words, and I’ve maintained this for over a month now.

My system for achieving this was:

1.       To have a clear time for writing.   For me it is 5am.  Though it’s a struggle to drag myself out of bed, my brain isn’t fully engaged yet, so I don’t spend so much time worrying about the quality of what I’ve written.  There are also fewer distractions.  ‘Mum, can I have my breakfast?’ or ‘Where’s my tie?’ come to mind.

5oclock_3004

2.       To have a clear word-count for each day.  I actually gave myself a relatively low daily target initially (500 words a day), but found that I was exceeding this regularly, so my target now is 1000-1300 words.  Most days I manage 1300.   See what fits in best to your schedule.  Give yourself a realistic target and stick to it.

3.       To not worry too much about what I am writing, but instead to simply move the story forward.  If the story is in print, I can go back and improve it in subsequent drafts.

4.       To write a brief synopsis at the end of each writing session, so that I don’t have to churn through every word written when I’ve forgotten a detail.  I find synopsis-writing exceedingly dreary, but it does cement the story into my memory.

5.       NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, GO BACK TO RE-READ ANYTHING IN DETAIL, OR EDIT YOUR WORK.  Not until you have finished your first draft.  If you do, it will prove to be your undoing.  At the moment, I am clearly aware that entire sections of my story are weak, certain character’s behaviours are incongruous, and the plot is, at times, repetitive or doesn’t fit.  I’ll sort it out later (hopefully).  I know if I try to sort it out now, I’ll be taken away from my objective – to complete a novel.  So, if this is your objective too – DON’T GO BACK.

6.       If you have any new ideas to fit into the story while you are writing.  Note them down.  If you’ve gone too far in the story to include them, you might be able to fit them in on the second draft.  If your ideas are overflowing and you’re confusing yourself trying to include them in the plot, maybe you need to write another novel?

Some days my writing flows and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved.  Other days, my characters don’t do what I want them to do, or the pace is all wrong, or I’m finding what I’ve written is dull (which usually means it is, and the reader will think so too). It’s hard to carry on, especially when you can’t think of where to start, or the words won’t gel.  Usually, however, once you start, even if it’s not perfect, the words are there and the story’s progressing.  Your novel’s not set in stone – it can be changed later.

tearing hair out

So, be strict; adhere to the rules you set yourself.  Find a time that suits you, set yourself a wordcount, don’t make excuses, don’t keep going back (for me, it’s another form of procrastination when I edit before the story is completed), and make sure you write a brief paragraph of each chapter as an aide-memoire.  Your chapter synopsis will hold your hand through the whole novel writing (and re-drafting) process.

And finally, rules are your friend.  Stick to them.  Above all, remember to be kind to yourself about your first draft.  It’s never easy for anyone, and if you don’t believe me, here’s a link to Austin Kleon’s blog.  He’s posted excerpts from John Steinbeck’s diary, which the author wrote while grappling with his novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/32462339668

Anyway, I’d love to hear from you about your first draft experiences.  What successes you’ve had, any pitfalls you’ve encountered.  Has your novel writing experience gone like a dream, or like me, have you spent many hours in despair, wondering who is in control.  Is it you or is it really the novel?

Novel and writer

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Confessions of a First Time Novellist – Part One

Image

Remember, remember, it’s NaNoWriMo

Yay!  It’s November.  The month when writers globally take part in NaNoWriMo.  And no, I’ve not lost my mind.  Or talking utter gibberish.

For those of you who don’t know – it’s National Novel Writing Month, where writers get their teeth into a story idea and bash out a novel in a month.  Although I’m not taking part in the challenge, I have now surpassed the mid-point of the first draft of my first novel – that’s 54,000 words to you.

In terms of writing endurance, it’s not been such a long journey – I started the first chapter on the 16th September 2013 and I’ve been writing virtually every day since.  If I keep up at this rate, I’m hoping to complete the entire first draft by the beginning of December (unless it ends up longer than I expected).  By posting this, it means I can’t back out.  It’s a challenge I’ve set myself, and you are all witness to it.

Now, you might say that, by pounding away at a keyboard every day, with no real regard to quality, my novel’s not going to be up to much.  And you’d be right.   You can be certain there’s no way I’d show anyone anything I’ve written up to now.  However, as I’ve been far more productive this time than during my first attempt at writing a novel – halting abruptly to an end at 14,000 words – I’m not in any rush to alter my method.  I still weep when I think about the energy expended on those  words – back in 2011 – for them to be simply locked away, abandoned and unread.

How hard can it be?

Looking back at my original attempt, there were a number of flaws in the methodology of my writing, which meant I was doomed from the beginning:

1.       No plotline – I was starting off without any real thought as to where I was heading.

2.       No character planning – I wasn’t thinking deeply enough about the characters in my story.  I also hadn’t considered how these things would impact events within the story, which led to confusion as I tried to untangle the jumbled mess.

3.       Too much exposition – I was constantly explaining instead of showing characters behaviours and motivations, which I was aware would lead to inevitable reader boredom.   This was because I didn’t know my characters well enough.

4.       Constantly seeking writing perfection – ie. going back to edit and re-edit instead of focusing on the story ahead.

5.       Forgetting what I’d already written – as a result, expending time and energy having to check and re-check the story.

6.       Failing to set a specific writing time – I was either constantly interrupted or found excuses not to write.  I could always ‘do it tomorrow.’

7.       Failing to set a specific writing target – if I had writer’s block that day, it gave me an excuse to stop.

8.       Getting too involved in a minor character’s story or point of view – sometimes the internal dialogue of my characters were extraneous to the plot.  I was constantly veering off at tangents, unsure of what was important (or not) to my story.

 

Practise makes… er… it better

The hit-and-miss/write it-as-it-comes method is probably why many of us, as novel writers, fail, unless we have particularly amazing memories, imagination and skill.  Some people are that lucky.  But not me.

After attempting a novel once, it took a long of energy for me to try again. In all honesty, I was disappointed with the way I handled it – I’m a perfectionist, and hate it when things aren’t right. So, basically, I gave up.  This time, however, the more pragmatic side of me knows that my first complete book is likely to be less than I want it to be.

Remember when you first wrote a short story?  It wasn’t that great, was it?  Oh alright, show off.  Yours might have been, but mine wasn’t.  I had to practise over and over to improve.  And I’m still improving now.

If I’m really lucky, my completed novel will be of a publishable standard, but it’s much more likely that it won’t be.  Is this a reason to stop?  No.  The next time I attempt to write a full length book, it will be a much improved experience, because I should have learned from my mistakes.

Not that I’m being negative – I’d love to be published.  But if I’m not, I’ll be following that age old adage… If at first you don’t succeed.

Writing a novel isn’t about half measures.  It’s about motivation, energy and commitment.

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So You Think You Can Write An Article?

In this blog post, I talk about an article I wrote for Readwave in August 2013 called Life’s Full of Surprises, Ain’t it?  I thought you might be interested in the processes I went through, and it relates in particular to writing a personal narrative.  If you’d like to read the article first, you can access it here: http://www.readwave.com/life-s-full-of-surprises-ain-t-it-_s12389

Hey you!  Yes you! Write something meaningful, and write it now!

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With no real experience in article writing, I went into a slight panic recently, when Readwave got in touch to ask me to write a piece of non-fiction for their website.  To be honest, this inclination to flap is a deep-rooted part of my personality, as I’ve gone through similar experiences when I started to write fiction, poetry, and later, my blog.  Once I maintained control of this hysteria, however – giving myself a good old metaphorical slap, in typical 1950s movie tradition – I managed to stop being such a sop.  I mean, my blog already meant I had an understanding of writing non-fiction  (I’d also written a million letters and emails in my lifetime, plus an array of essays at Uni.  They count, don’t they?)  All I needed to do now was to find a subject that I could write about with some degree of authority.

And that, I decided, was the key.

Be open, be honest… but be careful how you say it…

As I’ve already said, articles aren’t the kind of writing I’d usually tackle, but I’ve read a few, and I imagine that many require some type of research to back up a writer’s point-of-view.  But research takes time, and this article had a tight deadline (plus I had a limited word-count of 500-1000 words).  With little time to write or expand on a subject, I needed to focus on something in which I considered myself an expert.

It wasn’t a difficult choice.

For starters, there’s not much I consider myself an expert at.  However, there was something close to my heart that was just itching to come out; something that I’d touched on over the years with friends, but never actually written down.

I decided I wanted to concentrate on the early years with my younger daughter, who happens to have additional needs.

As disability and special needs are an emotional subject, affecting millions of people in myriad ways, sensitivity was crucial.  Yet I wanted to remain as open and honest about this as possible; to express exactly what our life was like, in my own voice, but without sentimentality or self-pity.

Be yourself… but don’t be yourself?

When you’re describing children in situations which are emotionally (and often physically) difficult, it’s easy to appear all ‘woe is me’ and ‘poor them’.  I definitely didn’t want that.  I wanted the audience to come on a journey with me, to understand – not rub my back and drink my tears.   I also wanted my daughter (and others in similar situations) to retain dignity, and not be an object of pity.

In the end, I found a solution.

I decided that, if I sounded as though I was addressing someone else in my writing, it would, in effect, remove me from the equation somewhat.  Essentially, making it less personal.  Writing in the second person (‘you’) distanced me from the subject matter.   Somehow, this made the situation easier to write about – I was describing my life as if watching it through a video camera; not as if it happened to me.

And how do I set out this thing?

Though the article had to contain the truth, it also had to be more than a simple anecdote. Otherwise, I was simply telling my story without any real purpose.  I needed to consider what my intention was, as well as what the tone would be.  In fact, it turned out that the planning process (for this particular article at least) had quite a few similarities to story writing.  For instance, like fiction, it needed a story arc, as well as a definite beginning, middle and end.  The beginning was obvious – the birth of my daughter and my attitude at the time.  The middle was the journey we went through, and the end, again like fiction, needed some kind of emotional shift, or some kind of change; preferably one that the reader could identify with.  I also felt that whilst humour wouldn’t be shunned from this writing, it shouldn’t dominate it.  Instead, I’d use it to reinforce important points within the narrative.

Another consideration was the structure of the piece.  Through blogging, I’ve found that titles and subtitles can be used as a brief overview of each section, which helps to guide the reader to understand what each passage is about.  However, they can also be used as a focus for any humour, breaking up what might, at times, be quite serious or dry reading matter.

Don’t write it now, put it in the fridge.

One thing I found of benefit was not writing the article straight away – in spite of the time limitations.  Of course, I noted down the initial idea immediately, later adding any further themes and snippets as they arose.  But

Part one of a bunch of notes I took before wri...

Part one of a bunch of notes I took before writing a Doctor Who episode article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

then I left it alone, letting the article’s flavours meld together, like a marinade on a piece of steak.  Allowing my idea to sit, meant that the initial flash of inspiration could marry with the other points and questions that the article raised.  So, when I eventually sat at my keyboard and blended my various thoughts together, it didn’t seem as much effort as it would otherwise.  I spent approximately two hours writing the article (better writers could have written it with more expediency, but I am constantly – and failingly – fighting the urge to edit as I go along).

Once I was satisfied with the end product, I put it to one side, before giving it one last edit, and sending it to Readwave.

I was surprised when the article immediately became an Editor’s Choice, and the positive feedback from my readers blew me away.

Like all my writing experiences, after an initial wobble, it was extremely fun to do. Next time I write an article (and there will be a next time) I’ll brave something that requires research.  I’m looking forward to it.

And I promise, I won’t go into a panic.

Probably.

You can read the full article here:

http://www.readwave.com/life-s-full-of-surprises-ain-t-it-_s12389

Have you got any experience, stories, or further tips and advice about writing an article? I’d love to hear them.

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