No perfect way for all

I’ve just finished reading On Writing, by Stephen King, which I reviewed on my business blog. I also attended an art class this morning at the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. In both cases, an expert was explaining how he does what he does; Stephen King explains his writing process, and what he feels is important, and my art tutor was demonstrating how he draws a portrait and different techniques that can be used.

I realised something as I watched the face gradually coming to life: every artist or writer has their own way of doing things. Stephen King believes plotting is clumsy and the story should develop organically. Other writers will insist on a tight outline. My tutor was putting smudges on paper that looked like nothing at all, and then gradually the face emerged from the chaos. Other artists will carefully plan and block out their drawing. I’m sure that everyone lies somewhere along that continuum between planning and what’s commonly known these days as pantsing.

But the one thing that the successful ones have in common is that they do it. They create art, or they write, or whatever it is they do, without worrying too much about how good it is, without fretting about whether they’ll be able to sell it, without feeling they have to.

The secret to art isn’t to work on one painting or drawing until it’s perfect; it’s to sketch and paint over and over again until the techniques are mastered and the lines flow easily. And the same for writing; it’s no good slaving for years over one novel, constantly rewriting the opening scene, or moving this section before that section and then back again, or searching for errors and clumsy phrasing; the secret is to keep going. Write a draft, leave it. Start another project. Leave that and return to the first, or start a third. But above all, don’t stop.

However you do something, the most important thing to do is actually do it, and not keep putting it off, or waiting until it’s perfect, or until you feel you’ve got the hang of it, or you’re ready.

As to the technique itself – you’ll work out your own, in time. And then maybe one day you’ll be telling others about it. Just remember to also tell them it’s okay to do it differently if it works for them!

And if you’re doing nanowrimo, why are you here reading this? You should be writing. Go get those words down. And after that 50k, there’s another 50k, whether they’re in the same project or a new one. And another, and another.


Your only real competition is yourself

And so nanowrimo begins for another year. Already at least one person has finished their 50k, others are boasting of their wordcount or complaining about writer’s block, and a large proportion of the writing community are bent over their keyboards or notebooks, hammering out those words.

I refuse to be intimidated by massive word counts, just as I refuse to be intimidated by those who can run fast. The finish line is the goal, and it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you get there. I’m making a conscious decision not to push on too fast with my writing. I have a few write-ins scheduled so far, one in the evening, one all afternoon and one all day, and I know I’ll get a lot done then. Apart from that, I’m aiming to go steadily, at a pace that can be kept up for more than the 30 days of nano.

I’ve read through and lightly edited today’s contribution, just to make sure I’m on track. 2000 words is a reasonable length of writing, which can be thought about and planned during things such as dog walks, and then put onto paper when I have time. It can also be broken up into two or more writing sessions during the day, and is enough to give me a cushion should there be days (as there probably will) when I can’t get much done.

Let’s see if my nerve lasts out, or if I’ll be panicked into writing binges, or if my plan goes awry and I end up off the signposted route and completely lost.

Good luck to all who take part in nanowrimo!


countdown to nano

It’s 24th October. Next Sunday, in exactly 7 days’ time, is 1st November and the start of nanowrimo.

I’ve done nano for several years. The first year, I got to the end and was really disappointed in what I’d achieved. The writing was fun, but it just wasn’t anywhere near usable.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot more about what’s involved in writing a novel. These days, I understand the role that a first draft plays, and for the past couple of years I’ve managed to keep working on my novel for the rest of the year. One, the Babies novel, is still in a pretty rough state, but I still intend to sort it out one day. Last year’s, Gods V Heroes, is in much better shape. It’s still not completely finished, but the structure is sound and it’s doing pretty well, having been worked on since last November.

So this year I’m setting out on my nano adventure with high hopes. I do intend to get back to GVH and eventually finish Babies off as well, but it’s time for a little fun and excitement in my writing life, and that’s exactly what nanowrimo promises.

This novel, Abandoned, is very different from previous novels, being more of women’s lit than fantasy or speculative fiction, and I’ve done extensive planning. I’ve worked out the main storyline, broken it down into scenes, put those scenes onto a timeline and created them in a scrivener project. I now have 35 scenes all marked out in sequence and waiting to be filled in. Aiming for between 1k and 2k words each should easily get me a complete first draft. Timing and ages are planned out (this novel, like Babies, features children whose age needs to be tracked), and I know how the two storylines interweave.

How does it end? I’m not completely sure. There are many aspects that I haven’t worried about yet, because there has to be some room for the story to grow and develop, but the main skeleton is definitely there. And once it’s finished, I’m hoping that it will be in a more solid shape because of the planning, and maybe this time I’ll be able to complete the whole thing in a much shorter timescale.

And now I just have to fill in the next 7 days somehow, possibly with further editing of GVH, until it’s time to set off on this new adventure.


New rules

I’m working to new rules. Instead of plugging away at my novel and getting frustrated by other projects that beckon, and then avoiding my novel and getting frustrated at the slow progress, I’ve decided to focus on quantity rather than quality. That nano message is taking a long time to sink in, but I reckon that if I focus on refining ideas and building them up, instead of working linearly with narrow focus, then by the time I’ve drafted out a few complete ideas I’ll have a lot more idea what I’m doing, more stamina for longer projects and a good base on which to build.

So I’ve currently got Gods V Heroes on the go and nearly at a complete draft, there’s my new nano novel coming up, there’s the romance, there’s a couple more fantasies in the pipeline and there’s always babies which is still simmering nicely and waiting for my attention. Not to mention a couple of non-fiction projects that are on the go. With that selection, there should be something I feel like working on at any opportunity.

Let’s see how many complete novel drafts I can create by the end of the year, shall we?


Reconstructing the past

I headed out to Whitstable this morning, to do further research on one of the workhouse families. I’ve decided that a short story based on the story of one of the children will form my contribution to an anthology of short stories my writing group is intending to publish, and I’m looking for material to flesh out the story and bring it to life.

I walked around the town, finding the house where they used to live, walking alongside the harbour, and identifying the school she would have gone to, and then went round the local museum and had a look at the local history section of the library.

As I walked back to the car, I passed a pub, which had a notice outside: “Back in 2015”. I’m guessing it refers to their live entertainment, but it felt strangely fitting, as for those two hours I’d been back in around 1880, and it felt strange to return to the present day.

As I drove home, I started musing about the difference between writing historical fiction and writing fantasy. In historical fiction, I’m trying to keep as true to the facts as I can, and weaving a story around those facts. I have a lot of flexibility, but within a very tight framework. It’s so easy to make a simple mistake with facts and instantly alienate a lot of readers. I’m also aware that I’m trying to fill in very large gaps – it’s one thing to imagine what she might have done on her way home from school, but I’m not even sure what she would have called her parents!

In one way, writing fantasy is easier. I’m creating my own world, and nobody can tell me that I’ve got my facts wrong. But in another, it’s the same thing. I want my world to be credible, and so I’m trying to think about how societies change and evolve. How do three very different races start spreading out and co-operating, only to have relationships break down and become hostile? How does a town function? How does a religion spread? How does intolerance show itself?

Admittedly, on some of those points I only have to read the papers, and the current world situation is definitely feeding itself into my novel. But that feeling of power, of deciding policy, is very real. And the feeling that it’s got to be close enough to the truth, or in this case at least A truth, is still very strong.

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning, and will be repeating the experience, with more time. In the meantime, I’ve got a new draft of my short story to get on with, and a novel or three to get finished.


Rediscovering my spark

It seems like a long time since I really felt that spark of excitement. I’ve been plodding along, making progress at times and then slipping back at other times. I’ve reached the point where I say enough is enough, it’s time to really turn myself around and start being more positive.

And yet I know I’ve been at this point before. I’d look back through the blog, but I’m sure I’d only depress myself further with the number of times I’ve declared myself at that point, only to slide back again.

So what’s the problem? Where has that spark gone? and how can I get it back?

I was doing okay until the end of May this year, when I broke the 30 min barrier at parkrun. Having done that, I slacked off, and after being unable to run while on holiday at the beginning of July, I never really got going properly again.

I ran a 10k race yesterday, and while it was by no means my worst performance, it wasn’t my best either. I’ve got slower again, and that’s probably not helped by the stone (14 pounds) I’ve put on since the half marathon I ran at the end of March. So while it was an okay performance, I really want to get that sorted and improve.

So, how do I keep going? I can only think that finding my inner spark will help with motivation. I’m thinking of making a collage or scrapbook of images that will remind me of what I’m trying to achieve. I’m considering making a list of things that contribute towards a positive feeling, and sticking it up above my desk as a reminder. I’ve ‘fessed up to my food and exercise monitoring websites and need to focus on those.

Above all, I need to ensure that I’m writing regularly and exercising regularly. Both will help with my mental state, and the exercise will help with my physical state. I have a selection of races coming up over the next few months, and I always seem to exercise better across the winter than the summer. Nanowrimo is coming up, and I’m trying to get into an appropriate mindset for that, with a nano project lined up plus another to keep me occupied until then. And of course there’s still Gods V Heroes.

As to that, the next stage involves really upping the stakes in the novel. I need to dig deep and find the strength to write strong scenes. Those scenes are what the story is about, in my head; about the in-fighting and hatred I see around me, and putting that into a fantasy context. I need to get out of this comfortable rut I’m in, where I seem content to curl up and go to sleep, and I need to get out there fighting.

Above all, I’m not competing against anyone else; it doesn’t matter how many novels others have published, or how fast or far others can run; it’s about pushing myself. About knowing that I’m doing the best I can, and not just sitting back relaxing, while complaining that others are achieving things that I want for myself. And all that needs to start now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when the cake has been eaten. Not when the race is over. Now.

How do you find and keep your spark?


Writing books

I have a vast collection of books on the topics of writing and editing. I’ve been writing reviews of them on my business blog, and it struck me that regular readers here might be interested in them too.

This is my latest review. There are previous ones available on there too. Some are designed to help you structure your writing, while others are there to help you strengthen the writing and improve your range of description.



Show and tell

We’re always being told as writers to show the action rather than telling. Sometimes that can be a struggle. Well, I’ve just watched the first few minutes of Unbreakable, and that’s an excellent example. It’s a movie, so they can’t tell you “the relationship between him and his wife was on the rocks.” Instead, they show in a series of scenes – he removes his wedding ring and tries to talk to a young lady. She tells him she’s married and moves away. He puts his ring back on. He walks out into the hospital waiting area, and his son rushes up to him, while his wife moves more slowly. The kiss is tentative, forced. They start by holding hands as they walk out, but the hands soon fall apart, as though feeling unnatural. Those scenes tell you everything you need to know about the relationship.

So maybe, next time you struggle with showing and telling, imagine watching it on the screen. What could you see that would get that message across, instead of just giving the information?

Screenplays and novels are very different media, but comparing the two, and considering scenes from one told in the other form, can be really enlightening.



A few days ago, I went into a local shop and spent £4.50. I handed over a £20 note and was given £14.50 in change. I looked at the change in my hand. I looked at the receipt. And I walked away, even though I knew that I’d been shortchanged.

It’s been bugging me ever since, and I’ve realised why. I was in the right. I’d been done out of something that was rightfully mine. And yet I didn’t bother doing anything about it. I just accepted it as the way life is for me.

Why do I do that? Why do I take whatever crap life throws at me, and just accept it as what’s due?

So many times I’ve taken what’s given without questioning. Without standing up for myself. Without considering the fact that the other person is clearly in the wrong. As though it’s my lot in life to suffer the poor deal, the lack of consideration, the carelessness of others.

I want to stop. But how? For a start, I can stop sitting playing solitaire on my ipad, while feeling miserable that all around me are finishing writing projects and getting them published. I can stop feeling envious of those who spend time drawing, while I play games. I can start considering what I have a right to, and take steps to get it, rather than waiting for scraps to come my way.

I find it hard to put myself forward, to claim I’m good at anything, to say that I want anything. In my mind, there’s always someone better. Always someone who needs it more. Always someone who’s more willing to yell for their own needs.

I need to make a stand. The only one who can change this is me. Although it means doing exactly what I find so hard.

Suggestions always welcome.


Training myself to plan

I’ve done a draft or two of Gods Versus Heroes now (it’s hard to count just how many, because I don’t get properly to the end before starting on the next one, so each one gets a little further through before I go back to the start).

I’ve done a rough nano draft, and I’ve done a more careful draft. Now I want to really pull it apart and weave the storylines together properly, rather than allowing them to come piecemeal. I’ve got seven main characters, each of whom has their own story arc. There’s the story arc of the guild. There’s the story arc of the world they travel to, and the story arc of our own world. I make that ten arcs to manage.

I was thinking just now of how hard it all is, and how I’m going to manage to go through this every single time. And then I remembered when I first went into sixth form at school. Suddenly, instead of having homework to be completed the next day or the day after, I would have up to a week to complete a piece of work, or I would have ongoing work to do, in order to keep up with class. I found it really hard to keep track, and to remember what had to be in when.

So I invented a new kind of calendar. I had several sheets of paper fastened together, and divided into seven sections. Each day I would tear off a section, to reveal the day for the following week. I used this for a few weeks, so that I could always see exactly one week ahead, and then I found I didn’t need it any more, because I’d started to think ahead.

That’s what I need to do now. Yes, I need to pull everything apart and really go at it laboriously, and it will take a lot of time and effort. But the more I work at it, and the more frequently I do it, the easier it will become, until I have the method sorted and I can put it all together much more easily.

I need to train myself into the proper way to plan. That’s all. It will come.