On longing

When I was small, I learned the hard way that if you’re waiting for someone or something, the way to make yourself thoroughly miserable is to keep looking out for them, focused only on their return, instead of getting on with something else.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a Bones fanfic, A Real Vacation, that aimed to provoke that same sort of emotion – in my story, Booth is shot and in hospital, and Brennan takes on babysitting duties for the weekend, living in Booth’s apartment, discovering all sorts of things about him as she moves around the place. I was aiming to really capture that feeling of learning about someone by their belongings, while all the time desperately missing them and building them up in your head.

So this weekend when thinking about the Lucifer Season 4 finale (any of my Twitter friends will understand how hard it was for me to type it that way and not as #LuciferSeason4!), I wondered if I could do a similar sort of story with Chloe and Lucifer.

So Picking up the Pieces was born (also available on AO3, but I’ve given the FF link as the Bones fic is only on the FF site).

There’s not much actual plot in there – I take an easy option to end it. I fully admit that. But the story wasn’t about that for me. It was about manipulating emotions, and seeing how far I could push the reader – and myself.

It didn’t help that I started writing it on the weekend when Tom Ellis, the actor who plays Lucifer, got married and so the whole cast went silent and dark on social media. All this pushing the emotions had definite bleed-through for me!

So if you’ve read either story, or both, I’d be interested in what you thought. Did I make you cry? Did I evoke the feels as I was trying to? To what extent did I fulfil my aim of exploring the character through his belongings and his friends?

 

Getting down to proper work

I haven’t done a lot of writing lately, because I’ve been focusing on developing my drawing skills. I’ve been posting sketches every day (yes, they’re most Lucifer-related!) on my backup Twitter account, @emmyWint.

But now I’m getting back to writing, and putting into action some of the lessons I’m learning from regular drawing practice.

At first, my drawings were crude, rough, quick, unfinished. Out of proportion. Trying to capture a single image.

As I progressed, I started to take more care, to find my lines were falling more accurately. I spent more time on my drawings, refining my work, checking via photos or tracing paper, trying to improve what I’d done. Now I still do some quick sketches, but they’re better drawn. And more and more often I’ll spend more time on them, polishing them up a little more, applying shading more carefully, adding a background, even adding in colour.

And that brings me back to my writing. After taking a few weeks’ break from serious writing, I find that I’m ready to tackle it again. And this time I’m more willing to focus down on each individual scene, to take the time to check my structure, and how each scene fits in, to see how each scene can be strengthened.

Yes, there are ways to improve your skills by study: reading how-to books, watching videos, analysing other work. But the only real way is to keep doing it, and to put into practice what you’re learning, and then to look back, assess your progress and do a little bit more.

And so I’m breaking down Life Lessons into scenes and chapters, and tracking the progress of each one towards the different story arcs. Where can I strengthen this scene by adding more? Which scenes are weaker? Am I developing a logical progression to each arc?

I can’t do it all at once, just sit down and write a publishable novel in one pass. I’ve done the quick scribble sketch – that’s how I completed the first draft. But now I really need to focus in on details, and spend time on each individual scene. It takes concentration, but just as you can’t start a masterpiece of a painting without preliminary sketches, and just as you can’t run a marathon without carefully training and building up your stamina, you can’t write a novel without regular writing practice and discipline. And you need to be prepared to step up to the challenge when you’re ready.

Wish me luck!

Another new year

I do seem to make a habit of blogging at this time of year, even if I don’t do it much during the year! Although having said that, I can’t find evidence of having done my usual check-in last year. What a slacker! In fact, I’ve been slacking generally on the blogging side. Time to fix that, I think.

So what’s happened over the past year? It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve mentioned Lucifer (the TV show) a few times over the past few months. That’s been the catalyst for a lot of changes over the year. It started with finding the progamme in December 2017. My obsession with it led to a productive few months of fanfiction writing, and to involvement with a group of wonderful people on Twitter. We met as we tweeted to focus attention first on renewing the TV show for a 4th season, then following the news that the network showing it cancelled, we turned our attention to saving the show, finding another home for it.

It was a roller coaster ride for five weeks, with twitter parties, TV interviews from the cast, rumours, articles… I learned who to listen to and who to ignore, and I focused on listening out for authentic news rather than reacting to scaremongering, and in the end the announcement came: Netflix bought the show for season 4 (and hopefully for subsequent seasons). Celebrations followed, and when a convention was announced, featuring cast members from the show and held in Brighton, only a couple of hours away from me, I bought my ticket within a few hours of them going on sale (which I’m very glad about, because the gold tickets were limited in number and sold out within 24 hours).

So over the past few months we’ve followed BTS (behind the scenes photos and video clips) from the filming of season 4, and speculated wildly about the content of the new season, and in a few days I’ll be on a train to Brighton to meet cast and showrunners, and some of those twitter friends.

But the show has had a deeper effect. Having watched Lucifer playing the piano, I first dragged my keyboard out, and then a few months ago had the opportunity to take on a piano. So I’ve been practising regularly, and really enjoying getting back to music. I’ve got my guitar out again, but the piano seems to be the main focus.

I did several paintings of Lucifer characters, and while I haven’t had my paints out for a while, I’m still looking for the chance to get going again. In the meantime, I’m determined to draw more regularly.

I also took the decision around this time last year to try to be more adventurous, and travel a little more. So when a friend offered the chance to join her on a cruise, I said yes. It was a taster cruise, three nights on board, plus calls in to Rotterdam and Zeebruge. It was great fun, a fantastic experience, and has really whetted my appetite for more travel.

This does, however, lead me to realising that I need to focus on building up the business! So much of what I’d like to do involves having the money to spend on things. Business dropped a little over the summer as I had to turn my focus to family concerns – we had to clear and sell an elderly relative’s property – but now I am  determined to get back to working and building up the business to a level where I have enough money for what I want to do, without spending all my time at my desk and not being able to relax and do other things too.

The running side hasn’t been as positive – I’ve still been struggling with my knee, the operation seeming to have made little or no difference – but lately (again, inspired by Lucifer, and by the cast who are active in the gym) I’ve been focusing on general fitness levels, using the resistance machines at the local gym, swimming and still of course taking part in parkrun weekly. With the new village hall hosting regular exercise classes that are also covered by my gym membership, I’ve really noticed a difference in overall fitness. It feels strange and exciting to be able to do sit-ups, squats and (easy form of) press-ups!

I’m also a regular run director for our local junior parkrun, which has proved an interesting experience. While the responsibility can feel a little heavy at times, it’s also meant getting out regularly and making new friends, and that makes up for worrying about whether an event can go ahead or not on any given weekend!

So that’s where I am right now: looking forward to the convention in a couple of weeks, determined to continue to build fitness and strength and reach a better weight, and determined to focus on the business properly. I’m still writing, although again that needs more focus, and I want to build on my current music practice and art practice.  I also want to allow myself to have more contact with other people, since working from home can be rather limiting socially.

All in all, I’d say I’ve learned a lot about myself and life over the past year, had an amazing ride, and am looking forward to seeing what this year has in store (although the fact I hesitated so much about typing that last bit suggests I’m not completely confident…!)

 

Where did I go?

In my first job out of school, I was given the nickname Loopy, as they said I was a little crazy. I’ve been watching a lot of Lucifer over the past few months, and have been attracted to that sense of fun, that zest for life, both in the character of Lucifer himself and in the behind the scenes shots of one of the stars, Lauren German. Not to mention finding Miranda, another series featuring Tom Ellis from Lucifer. Now there’s another character I identify with, especially with the bursting into song at odd moments!

What happened to me? When did I lose that excitement, that sense of fun? When did I turn into someone who spends most of her time working or thinking about work, or zoning out completely? That person who’s so focused on what she should be doing that what she wants to be doing is usually overlooked?

I spent four years recently working in schools, one year as a trainee and three as a teacher. In all that time, the moment that stands out the most to me in terms of enjoyment was just a few days before I finished in school completely. The whole school spent the day on a softball tournament, with every child in the school supposedly taking part. Even though I was nothing to do with the PE department, as a form tutor I was expected to join in and referee the games, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, moving around all day in the fresh air, encouraging the kids, getting involved. Of all my time there, that was the moment I felt most alive.

And now I spend most of my day on my own in front of my computer, sitting at a desk, trying to earn a living. I feel guilty when I get up and move, even though it might be to take the dog out, or do housework.

And watching Lucifer and hanging out with people on twitter to talk about it, I’m remembering what it feels like to feel young, to get out and enjoy life, and I’m starting to really miss my old self.

So how do I get her back? What do I need to do, to recapture that feeling again? Maybe the first step is to make sure I take time out to explore what I do enjoy, and to rediscover that child inside me.

 

I’m no longer sure I want to publish

I find that lately I’ve really been questioning my intentions with regard to my writing. Don’t get me wrong – I love spinning a good story, and I love sharing my work. But what am I prepared to go through for that?

There are two options: find a publisher to invest and publish traditionally, or publish your writing yourself. I know someone who’s currently going through the first option, and while I admire the energy and effort being put in to promote the book, it also terrifies me. I’m not sure I believe in myself enough and am confident enough to do that much promotion, and I suspect any publisher would expect it.

So that leaves self-publishing. And it worries me how many people will stick their work out there without any quality control, and how readers don’t seem to care in many cases. The end result is that there’s so much out there, and so much of that low quality, that it makes it very difficult to stand out. So again you’re back to spending all your time involved in self-promotion.

Where does that leave me? Not wanting to publish traditionally. Not wanting to self-publish. I’ve been publishing some fanfiction lately, which is back to my fun writing roots, and at the moment that’s where I feel most comfortable.

But fanfiction leads nowhere (unless, of course, you can come up with something like Fifty Shades of Grey, or other notorious books/series that started life as fanfiction). It is, however, a great way to practise.

The bottom line is that in order to improve my writing, I need to be moving forward, and that means actively writing and studying the writing process. I don’t have to write with an eye for publication, but feedback is useful.

Or I can focus on the editing side of the business and gain more experience that way. It’s easier to spot problems in someone else’s writing than in my own, and I know that the work I do feeds back into my own writing skills. I would also be helping to raise the standard of published work, and to develop the skills of other writers.

Have I decided to abandon the world of the writer and focus on the world of the editor? Maybe. At least, I’d say my priority is that way for now. On focusing on writing/editing skills rather than trying to complete work for publication. Maybe I’ll return to the idea of publishing further down the line, when my writing has matured further.

But for now, my writing will be considered practice. Just as a piano player needs to practise their scales regularly, and footballers will drill in particular skills, maybe I’m not quite ready to produce performance displays just yet.

 

The Beauty of “What happens next?”

Back in junior school, I remember having a student teacher for a few weeks. She would occasionally take lessons for our class, and one in particular sticks out.

She read part of the opening of The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, one of the Narnia books. It starts with two children running away, and leads up to them standing at the top of a cliff. There’s a struggle on the cliff edge, and one of the children loses his balance and goes “hurtling to the depths.”

The exercise was to write what happens next in the story.

Of course, being ten-year-old kids, we came up with a wild variety of answers, and none of them were particularly close to the original story. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that we’d taken the story and continued it in our own way.

I’ve never forgotten that exercise, or the sense of excitement that it brought. That suited the way my mind works – I love to take a part-story and spin my own version of the rest of it. Ask me to think of an original story, and I stare blankly. Tell me an opening and ask me to continue it, and I’ll keep going all day on different versions.

I guess that’s why, although I’m complaining loudly that the TV series Lucifer has taken a two-week break, I’m also excited: that extra time gives my imagination time to try to figure out what will happen next.

We had a previous break of the same size, and in that break I took the spoilers and synopsis of the next episode and wrote my own version of it. I’m seriously considering doing the same thing again. On top of the creativity and the fun, it’s really fascinating to take a situation and try to carry it forward, and then see how the professional writers do it. I learned a lot from trying to do the same job they do, and from comparing how I would imagine it on screen to how I need to write it on story version.

One of the beauties of Lucifer is that it is very much character-driven, with the case story filling a character need, which means it suits the way I write. Compare Lucifer with something like Castle, where there is an on-going character arc, but the case is the main arc in each episode. In Lucifer, the case always ties into the current state of the characters.

So I’ll get through the next 20 or so days the best I can, and hope that my imagination and creativity will make the time pass faster. And I’ll continue to play the game of “what happens next?” in my writing.

And as long as I’m actively writing, it makes it so much easier to take on board everything I’m studying about the craft of writing, and to work on my skill.

 

 

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?

Pros:

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.

Cons:

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?

 

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?

 

Annie’s Escapades

dsc_0385I have a new project! You can follow my progress on https://www.facebook.com/Anniehasfun/. Here I wanted to explain the thinking behind it.

I’ve already spoken about some of the voices inside my head, how there’s Annie, my inner child, Betty, the nagging parent, and Charlie, who’s basically psycho. Well, I’m fed up with hearing Betty’s voice, and Charlie worries me, so I thought it was about time I really listened to Annie. My intention is to use her as my focus for getting out, having fun and being creative. Christmas presents worked together to help out, and I’m looking forward to seeing just what Annie and I are going to get up to together.

For those who are interested, Annie is a Lottie doll. I fell in love with these when I first saw them. Her dog is Biscuit, and will join her on outside activities. Her cat is Pandora, and will keep her company on inside activities.