Plot or pants?

As I develop my writing, I’ve become more and more convinced of the benefit of planning a story out. A first draft without structure ends up as just that – a rambling mess. Maybe some people can write that way. Maybe as I develop further, I’ll be doing that part internally rather than externally. But right now I need to have the whole storyline laid out.

Then as I write, I add flesh to the skeleton, and that flesh might change the structure a little. That’s fine – it’s easy to adjust a plan. It’s not so easy to adjust a completely written draft.

I’ve currently become distracted from my novels into fanfiction, writing a complete episode of a TV series while waiting for the episode itself to appear after the winter olympics hiatus. For this, I developed the structure in Scrivener, with chapters and scenes. I wrote a short paragraph for what has to happen in each scene. In some cases, I discovered that other scenes were needed. In other cases, I had to go back and add to previous scenes.

Once it was all planned out, it was straightforward to build up the story. So the end result was that the start of the writing was slower than pantsing it, but once I started the writing part it went smoothly, with no nasty surprises as I write myself into a corner.

I’ve also developed an increased appreciation for show writers through this exercise. It’s incredibly difficult to write an episode with a complete story, including the character development of the regulars, a believable plot line and good balance between all, and above all keep it short and sweet.



Never enough

(This is my attempt to understand and rationalise my reaction to Christmas, so please forgive if it ends up ranting or whinging. Just consider it my pressure valve.)

It would start around September. Despite any alleged shortage of money, my mother would start buying anything she saw that “xxx might like”. If xxx was easy to buy for, lucky them – there was very little attempt to plan this out, to buy evenly, to ensure that people had the same number of parcels or the same value of presents – it was just pure chance if it worked out well.

This went on until the shops were shut and there was no more time to buy, all against a background of constant worrying that she hadn’t got enough.

And then we came to the day itself. With older siblings long gone from the house, that left only me to provide the appropriate responses to the pile of presents, and to keep my mother happy. My father, meanwhile, would stack his up and just watch others. When we forced him to open one of his, there would be an unemotional, “oh, lovely,” as he looked at it and set it aside.

After that, as they often both worked nights, they would disappear to their separate bedrooms, leaving me on my own, bored and lonely. That’s if they didn’t start squabbling.

Then the next day, my birthday, would become a better version of Christmas day, when my sister and her family would visit and provide all the feedback that I’d failed to provide the day before.

And so is it any surprise that the mere mention of the C word makes me stiffen uncomfortably? That I can’t bear the thought of trying to sort out presents? That I basically leave my wonderful hubby to do most of the work while I disappear under a rock for as long as I can?

Habits set in childhood can be very hard to break. Ingrained emotional reactions can be hard to overcome. And after all, it’s only once a year, right?




Okay, it’s time I got myself into gear. Whatever I want, I’m going to have to go out and get it. No one is going to hand it to me. So by a month’s time I’m going to fit into my running clothes a little better, I’m going to be at least walking parkrun, I’m going to have completed a draft of a new novel, I’m going to be in a proper working routine, with housework fitted in, and I’m going to be using my time more effectively.

How does that sound for a promise?


Finding a dream

This post, from three years ago, turned up on my “on this day” Facebook feed this morning. In it, I complain about not having found the one thing that inspires me, that I enjoy doing and want to work at.

I was thinking about it during my dog walk this morning. In the time since I wrote that post, I’ve been running my own business, and I think I might have found my dream.

The thing I most enjoy doing is taking a manuscript and applying the polish. Helping the author to work on the story, to make sure it works as it should. Looking for the best way to phrase things. Taking that manuscript and turning it into something suitable for print. Checking that document for any errors.

And writing instructions. Finding a task that people struggle with, and figuring out how to explain the process clearly, in a form that they can refer to when necessary.

So having figured that out, and started on the process of actually doing it (not necessarily in that order!), what’s the way forward?

Here, I feel that’s clear. Work on the training and accreditation that will give me and my clients confidence in my abilities, and keep doing it.

Yay, progress at last, I hope!


A visit to the movies

Yesterday eldest son took me to the local cinema. I haven’t been there for years, as we’ve been going to the big multi-screen cinema, so it was really nice to stay local for a change. The movie we went to see was the new My Little Pony movie. It might seem an odd choice, but I’ve mentioned before that My Little Pony is actually really big among a particular set of young adult males, known as bronies, and my son was eager to see the new movie.

I went along partly to support him, because I could imagine it’s not easy for him to walk into a cinema for a movie that’s aimed at young girls, but I also went along to enjoy the movie – I like MLP as well, and find that it usually does carry a message far beyond the pretty kiddie story you might expect.

So yes, I really enjoyed the movie, and I enjoyed the experience of the local cinema, which was rather empty – not quite a personal showing, but we were one of about four groups in there (and the only one without small girls).

But there was something else as well. As we watched the adverts, I found myself relaxing and thinking nostalgically of the time when I, too, played with playdoh or other children’s creative toys. I found myself really missing those days when I could just focus on doing something fun without feeling guilty about the time spent on it, or feeling pressured into making something “good”. When and why did we lose that simple pleasure of being able to just sit and play?

The movie itself was good, with the characters carried into peril and learning messages on the way, and I appreciated the inside knowledge my son provided, looking out for the subtle differences in the software used for the animation as well as enjoying the music and story. MLP carries such important messages about friendship and learning to trust each other, and being loyal and kind, that I found myself wondering whether the younger members of the audience were actually mature enough to really understand them.

Or is that when they are most able to take them in? When life is still new to them, when they don’t have experiences that try to tell them otherwise?

Whatever the truth is, I think life might be better if we could all sometimes just sit, relax, do something for fun and watch a kiddie movie.

Not entirely sure about the short cartoon shown before though! Although, if you start looking closely, that carried some pretty big messages too: sometimes a bit of fun can go too far and get dangerous. Sometimes we have to face danger to rescue those we love. Sometimes the danger can prove to be a lot less than we feared. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself and have fun. So maybe it was well placed after all. Let’s just say it beat a cat trying to catch a mouse who runs rings round him…


That time of year again…

It’s October. Nearly halfway through, in fact. And I know from experience that I write better in November if I’ve planned thoroughly beforehand.

So, am I doing Nano this year?

I’m currently without my laptop, as it’s been away for repair for over three weeks. The good news is that they’ve said that as it’s taken so long I’m entitled to a new one instead, so I’m waiting for a voucher to spend to get a new laptop. It would be incredibly difficult to complete nano without a laptop to sit with in the evenings and to take to meetups.

But once I get my new one, there’s that excuse removed.

So what are the pros and cons?


Every time I do nano, the end product is a little cleaner than the previous year’s work. My writing improves under the consistent practice. I remember, again, how much I enjoy writing. I have a real sense of achievement. I enjoy joining in with other writers, comparing word count, creating worlds, completely losing myself in the process. I end up with a novel that’s ready for editing and polishing.


I already have several novels at different stages of completion and they need focus in order to get finished. (But nano helps to build up a momentum and enthusiasm). I don’t have the time (but I have plenty of time for playing solitaire, or reading books). It’s hard work.

So is that it? Am I just work-shy? Or am I afraid to succeed?

I guess I’ll be spending the next week or so deciding on a project (there are one or two contenders, and I’m sure I can come up with something I want to spend a month on). And then I’ll be planning to spend my spare time in November putting that world into words.

After all, it’s only for a month, right?


Self sabotage comes in all forms

I’m starting to wonder just how much self-sabotage I do. How much I’m actually harming myself by not allowing myself to write, to be creative, to relax and have fun. The pressure seems always on to be working, earning, cleaning the house, walking the dog, and always so that other people (or animals) benefit.

Why can’t I allow myself regular time to write? Why can’t I remember that walking helps me as well and I deserve to have that break and time to myself? Why do I worry about housework instead of remembering that I actually like having a cleaner, tidier house? Why do I sit playing solitaire when I really enjoy drawing? Why can’t I remember that I contribute to this household in other ways than financial? Why do I only feel comfortable when feeling miserable and deprived?

In just under two weeks, I’m scheduled to have an operation on my knee. No biggie, but it will lay me up for a few days, and reduce my mobility for a week or few. And I know from experience that there’s nothing makes me want to do something more than when I can’t actually get on and do it. In the meantime, I’m finding it hard to focus on work, especially since I seem to have meetings of various kinds every day or evening for the next eleven days, so I’m here, there and everywhere physically as well as mentally.

So I’m going to aim to find my centre by ensuring I do things for myself during this next week. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to achieve this, but I do intend to try my best. Because I reckon that the more I allow myself to do things I’d like to do, the more enthusiasm and focus I’ll find for the things I have to do.

Wish me luck!


Rest in Peace, Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy was in Harry Potter. That’s what a lot of young people will remember him for.

But I will forever remember Sunday evenings, and Siegfried Farnon.

Sunday evenings were unmissable. I used to spend a lot of time with elderly next door neighbours (I’ve spoken about them before), and when I first knew them, they had only an old radiogram to listen to the Archers on. Then they got themselves a black and white TV, and All Creatures Great and Small became a regular part of the Sunday ritual – round there around 3pm, playing board games, dinner with them, and then watching TV before I headed back home.

The programme had an extra impact on me because it was about that time that I came across the books as well. Our teacher at school, in what would now be year 6, the year before moving to secondary school, would read us bits of All Creatures Great and Small, and I remember getting very upset because a boy in class had his own copy of If Only They Could Talk, the first book in the series, and I desperately wanted to read it. These were among the first books written for adults that I’d come across in my own reading.

I picked them up years later and looked at them, considering whether to share them with my children, and was astounded to see just how grown-up they were – no thought of reading something like that to 10 and 11 year olds these days!

So Siegfried Farnon, and Tristran Farnon and James Herriot, were all part of my childhood. Rest in Peace, Robert Hardy, and thank you for bringing Siegfried to us.


Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

I was cute when I was younger. I was a bridesmaid a total of four times, although for the first – for an aunt – I was too young to remember.

I did eventually have my own turn as bride, but nevertheless the phrase has haunted me: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

It feels as though the phrase describes my life: all those around me are signing up for races, and completing marathons. I signed up for a marathon, but never got there; injury stopped me before training had even started properly. And yet it felt as it was meant to be that way. That while others achieve, it’s my role only to cheer on the sidelines.

It’s the same with writing. While I work on my own projects, it still feels as though my role in the writing business is to help others with their projects. I edit, proofread, format, even help with structure, while my own projects never reach that final stage.

I’m still haunted by a book idea I had thirty years ago. It was a valid non-fiction book idea. I started out researching it. And then someone else published it. The book I was planning to write. How silly I was to think I could do it myself! (why is it so silly, though?)

In life generally, I seem to fall into that support role. Even while playing World of Warcraft, I heal, enabling others to do their jobs better without worrying about their health. I love the healing role, but it means that once again I’m following others around and helping them, while they charge in and get things done.

Sometimes it feels like my role in life is as a support act for others. When do I get to take a main role? Or am I doomed to always stand on the sidelines cheering the rest?

I guess it’s not so bad. We can’t all be huge successes, at the top of our field. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that a lot of my problem is self-sabotage.

But still, I’d really like my turn at some point.


Work hard, play hard

I’m just starting to appreciate the relationship between working hard and playing hard. It’s so easy to feel I’m chained to my computer, working, and don’t have time to be creative, but I’m discovering that if I do deliberately take a break and allow myself some fun time then I can return to the desk refreshed and able to work more efficiently than if I’d stayed here ploughing through. So it’s not just pleasant to take a break, it’s necessary.

It’s like the story of the two guys who started a new job chopping down trees. On the first day, one guy chopped down 10 trees, while the second did 5. On the second day, the first guy chopped down 8, and the second man 5. On the third day, it was 5 each. On the fourth day, the first guy only managed a couple, while the second again managed his five. The supervisor investigated, and discovered that the second guy was spending time each day sharpening his axe, while the first man was just focused on working, but as his axe grew blunt, he would work more and more slowly.

So now when I take a break, I refer to it as sharpening my axe. And sure enough, once I return, I can work efficiently again.

So how do I sharpen my axe? I have a list of things I want to spend time doing. Over the past couple of days, I’ve tried creating new clothes for my doll, Annie. I have my sketching and painting that I’d like to do. I want to have another go at making paper, now I have a greater understanding of the processes involved. I have a brand-new screen printing kit that I want to try out, if only I could come up with an idea for a design I want to print.

Then there’s the learning to be creative in other ways – book cover design, for example. More elaborate document layouts. And maybe one day I’ll even manage to get back to my programming projects.

Then of course there’s my allotment, which desperately needs time spent on it.

And there’s always my writing, which I found more enthusiasm for when I allowed myself to relax and play as well.

I’m tracking at least some of my creativity via my Annie’s Escapades page, and I’m hoping that by creating a list I’ll have something to turn to when I want ideas.

So how do you sharpen your axe?