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!

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Voice control

I’m currently in a hotel in Brighton for a convention for the tv show Lucifer. These are some of the thoughts running around my head as I take part in the biggest social outing of my life so far.

I’ve written before about the voices in my head – for convenience I’ve named them:

Annie is my child voice. Annie wants to try all the things, go all the places, have fun, be loud. Annie is my favourite.

Betty is my parent voice. Betty is cautious, careful, quiet. She always wants to hang back, play it safe. I appreciate Betty’s concern.

Charlie is the one I hate. He’s the nasty one, always negative, always hurtful.

Many times, Charlie will gang up with Betty and hold me back. And it’s hard to accept Betty’s concern without internalising some of Charlie’s nastiness.

For example, buying presents. Annie says it’s fun to find something that shows I care and that the recipient would like. Betty will complain that money is tight and that I shouldn’t spend too much. Then Charlie joins in to say that I’ll either get the wrong thing, spend too much or they won’t want it anyway, so why bother?

I’m trying to listen to Annie more often, but it’s not easy!

But now, thanks to Lucifer, I have more voices to add:

Lucifer is on my shoulder saying you know you want to, why shouldn’t you do what would make you happy?

Ella says just think the best of everyone. You might bring it out in them.

Maze says self worth comes from within, bitches.

Dr Linda says you understand why you have this struggle and you can choose which voices to follow.

Dan says just take what comes and plough through regardless.

Amenadiel says it’s probably a test, so do your best and you’ll come out stronger.

And Chloe just rolls her eyes and says stop overthinking and making everything about you.

So between all these voices, I’m starting to find a better way forward.

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…!)

 

Determination

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?

 

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?

 

Running shirts

I’m about to go out running again, for the first time in weeks, and I’m hoping my knee will hold out. As I went through my clothes, sorting out what I wanted to wear, I realised that I have a whole load of running shirts, and that there’s a story behind just about all of them.

There’s my Paddock Wood Half Marathon shirt – the longest distance and longest race I’ve done to date.

My Brighton Marathon training shirt – a sad story, as I never got there.

My Beyonders shirt – a Facebook group where I’ve made many friends and find great support running. This shirt needs my name on, and then will become my race shirt.

My two-blue shirt – my current race shirt, and the first running shirt I used regularly.

My darker blue shirt – I ordered this from Amazon, and got grumpy when it took three weeks to arrive instead of three days.

My three parkrun shirts – 50 (red), 100 (black) and 25 Volunteer (purple). I earned those. I value them.

My Faversham 10k shirt – I have three altogether, but this is the only one in technical fabric. It’s also hi-vis, so gets a lot of wear.

My red Adidas shirt – bought to wear for a school sports day. It was a couple of weeks before I was due to leave the school altogether, and for the first time I felt part of a group, moving around, being active, laughing at the kids who decided they were too cool to join in, arguing with those who objected to my way of interpreting the rules.

Then there’s my long-sleeved shirts – one hi-vis, and one black. The black one is worn as an extra layer under a teeshirt during cold days. The hi-vis one was my first confirmation that I was an actual runner, who would go out running even when the weather wasn’t warm and pleasant.

My two vest tops – one bought because I wanted something to wear in summer. The other donated by my mother in law as part of a promotion she qualified for.

Finally there are charity vests – a reminder that I was supposed to raise money for a charity during my Brighton run. I’m hoping that some day I’ll be able to honour that commitment.

But first of all, I need to get back to running. Which is where today comes in. And my choice of shirt? Purple volunteer shirt. To remind myself that I’m useful to parkrun even if I’m not a fast runner.

 

 

I didn’t run the marathon

At some point last year, a load of friends from a Facebook running group were signing up for the Brighton Marathon. I can do this, I thought. I can be part of the crowd. I don’t want to feel left out. I want to run a marathon.

And so I paid a silly amount of money and put my name down for the race.

Then we got to September/October, when I ran a couple of 10k races within a couple of weeks, and my left knee started hurting. It hasn’t really stopped since. I’ve been attending physiotherapy, I’ve just started with an osteopath, I’ve run parkrun twice and ended up hobbling again each time, and with the knowledge that I could barely walk 5k, let alone run 42k, I finally deferred from the marathon.

So yesterday when a load of those friends were running, or attending to cheer the others on – some  nursing their own injuries that forced them to withdraw – I was doing other things around my home town.

I had a dream last night. I was in full military uniform (but that’s another story) on an assault course. We came to one of those obstacles that’s huge and needs a team of people to get you up. I looked at the others who were there with me, and I said I would boost them up. That’s great, they said, and then we’ll help you up.

And then they managed to get up, with my help and with the help of those already at the top, and they went on, leaving me at the bottom. And I just shrugged, because that’s the way it always is.

This disturbs me, more than I’d like to admit. Why does it always feel that my role is to support and help others, not to be helped myself? Is it just the result of being the much younger sibling, always left behind or dragged along reluctantly, trying to keep up? Or is it more than that?

Am I holding myself back, when I let it happen and don’t scream and kick up a fuss?

Am I truly destined to be the one left behind?

Or do I need to learn to say it’s my turn, I need help now. I’ll help you, but I expect help in return as well?

I’ve now got the link to sign up to Brighton again, with a massive 20% off the price as I deferred from this year. I won’t be signing up. I think I bit off more than I can chew, and there’s no point in spending a fortune when I’m not even back running again yet, and don’t know when or even if I’ll be fit enough.

But I think I need to figure out what other obstacles I’m trying to get over, who can help me and whether I need to shout and scream over it.

 

It’s all in my head

I went for a run today. Tuesday is my long run day. So far, I’m only running about 10k, but today I wanted to try for a little longer.

So I covered 11k altogether. But the second half involved walking breaks, aching calves and ankles, twinging knees and a complaining brain. You’re not going to do this. You’re useless. You’re too slow. You’ll finish last again in your 10k next month, and you’ll be even slower than last year. How are you going to run a full marathon next year if you can’t even do 10k properly?

I heard that voice. And I kept going. Slowly. Taking walking breaks for my aching legs, and telling myself that it’s all helping them to get stronger; that even if I’m not ready now, I will be. That even if I’m last (again), what matters is that I do it, and that it’s another run in the bag. That the training, and the learning to overcome that little voice, is the purpose of the race; the race itself is the celebration of the achievement.

It’s the same with my writing. Whenever that little voice points out the number of books already out there, or say there’s no point in competitions, or that nobody wants to read my writing anyway, I just smile and nod and then keep writing. In the end, while it would be very nice to sell loads of copies and make people happy and become a successful writer, I’d settle quite happily for finishing a complete novel to a standard I’m happy with and then moving on. And any writing session I do helps that along.

So in the end, whether it’s my legs or my imagination playing up, the real problem is in my head, and that’s what I need to defeat. But one thing I do need to be aware of is the subtle temptation to do just enough to keep myself at that level where I’m unhappy with my performance, when just a little more consistent effort would bring about improvement, because that’s where the real motivation lies.

And to do that, I really need to beat that voice into submission.

 

Powering through

When I run, I know and accept that sometimes I’ll have a really bad run. Sometimes, I’ll end up doing more walking than running. Maybe my knee is playing up, or I’m overtired, or dehydrated. Maybe it will just be slow and the weather will be nasty. Maybe I’ll hate every minute that I’m out there.

Regardless, I know that if I power through the run, however badly it goes, my body will be that little bit stronger and my mind will have that little more staying power and experience to help me through the next bad time.

That’s where I am at the moment with my writing, too. I’ve come to a scene that I need to completely rewrite, not just edit. And it’s like walking into a brick wall. I’ve stared at the screen so many times, and then allowed myself to get distracted.

But I need to just power on. I know it won’t be brilliant. It will probably be the literary equivalent of a plank balanced across a ravine, getting me across from one side to the other just barely. But the important thing is that I get there, and can then move on again from the other side. At some stage I need to go right back through, with a thorough re-edit, and that’s the time to worry about the details. But not now.

I’m so near to the end of this draft. I can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Theoretically, after this chapter there are four more to write or rewrite, and then I’ve got a complete draft.

Then I can set this aside and work on Abandoned for a while. But I daren’t leave this one until I get to the end. And that means taking the bad with the good.

A lot of writing a novel is about stamina and persistence, just like running a marathon. Anyone can go out for a short stroll. Most people can stagger through 26 miles. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to get through the 26 miles and still be smiling at the end.

In the same way, anyone can string words together. But it takes a lot more to complete a novel. I’m determined to prove I have what it takes.

 

I have a strategy

I’ve worked out my writing strategy for the next few months, based on the fact that each year, each nano, I get a cleaner first draft. So I’m currently finishing off the action draft for Gods V Heroes, which was my 2014 nano novel. After over 18 months, I’m very nearly at the stage of having a complete, readable draft, covering all the action points of the plot.

Once I’ve finished that, I’ll move on to Abandoned, which was nano 2015. That one already has a complete action draft (as I said, I’m getting better at this!), so the next draft will focus on developing characters and settings much more, on top of the existing skeleton.

Once that’s complete, the plan is to do the same to Gods V Heroes, but at some stage there’ll be a pause for nano 2016, which I’ve decided will be Game of Life, another story looking at the borderline between games and reality, and revealing my entire life philosophy in the process.

After nano, that one will rest and await further attention while I continue with whichever of the other two is the current project.

There’s still the high school teachers’ romance novel and the speculative fiction about babies in the pipeline (although the latter is becoming less and less speculative and more and more possible every day, it seems!).

Will I have something ready to publish in six months? Unlikely, but possible. A year? Maybe. Five years? I sincerely hope so! And by that point, it should be not just one ready, but several very close to ready.