Friday, 25 May 2012

Tiny salmon swimming in a stream

Tiny salmon chasing that impossible dream.
Tom Green, Road Trip.

I'd like to make an announcement.

I've decided that, after today, I'm never playing the lottery again. I have tonight's Euromillions ticket nestled in my purse. It'll be the last chance I ever get to win the lottery.

How many hours have you spent wondering what you'd do if you'd won? I've spent hundreds, possibly thousands of hours in enjoyable contemplation. 

I'd wake up early, have a detox tea on the balcony of my mansion as I watch the sun rise. I'd start the day off with a massage and facial, whilst I mull over which gorgeous outfit to wear, or which recipe I want to try out in my massive, country-style kitchen (complete with island and dual cooker... sigh) for that evening's dinner (if we're not dining out, that is).

As I feast on breakfast, I'd go about my business, dealing with practical matters and philanthropic duties. I reckon that would take me up to around 8 or 9am...

Then I'd close the door of my writing room and get to work. Aside from a brief lunch, I'll continue to write until it's time to get the dinner on. Then I'll spend the rest of the day with my loved ones.

I'm not a particularly extravagant person. I'm one of those geeks who enjoy frugality and planning ahead. Yes, it's out of necessity, but I'm glad for it. It's become apparent that I don't need the lottery to obtain my highest level of happiness.

I need to write books to obtain my highest level of happiness. The country-style kitchen and mansion will just have to wait until the publishing industry have decided to pay me my billions. *sigh*

In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for sipping on my detox tea and watching the sun rise from my office window. I'll continue to shop in Primark for £2 dresses and categorise my recipe searches to "budget-friendly". Most importantly, I just need to get my head down and write.

If I were to buy two Euromillions and two lottery tickets a week, I'd be spending £312 a year to enter a contest in which I'd have a 1 in 14 million chance of winning. How can I even entertain those odds when I refuse to believe I'll fall into the category of the 1 in 8 women who get breast cancer in their lifetime?

A lottery win could enable me to give up the day job and write for a living. But so could persistence with my writing. Call me naive for thinking it a possibility, but why the hell not? There's plenty of full-time writers out there (of who I am sickeningly jealous), there's no reason I can't be that too one day.

The money dress will have to wait for now...

In other news...

Although I vowed never to be a slave to word count again, I'm still eager to get this second draft moving along. I have some time off work at the end of June, and would like to have Draft 2 done by then.

I have 29 days from now to redraft 36 chapters (I know it sounds excessive, but murdering my darlings will happen in Draft 3). I'll update you on my quest next Friday. Things might be looking frantic by then!

Have a lovely weekend, everyone. x

Friday, 18 May 2012

Remember who you're writing for

A first draft means different things to different authors. The author who works on eight drafts per novel may consider a first draft to be a sketchy outline or structure of the story, whilst the “pantser” (that word is really starting to irritate me) may consider it to be the first attempt at a full manuscript, before they attack it with a red pen.

Me? I'm somewhere in between. I have my (very detailed) structure outlined on Scrivener, and lots of scenes (or scene descriptions) written out. I consider this my first draft.

My second draft, which I'm currently working on, entails writing my scenes and chapters in a more polished fashion; with more panache.

So eager to write well, I've studied endless fiction writing critiques. I thought this would stop me from being exposed as the blatant amateur that I am. I've been reading other writing blogs and forums, whereby people offer critiques of a first chapter or scenes.

I witnessed other writers' work being torn to shreds. Whether rightly or wrongly is irrelevant. The result of absorbing all the “feedback” left me somewhat paralysed with inadequacy. Would my writing meet the same fate?

With this, I realised my proposed audience had changed in the process. I was no longer writing for the reader. I was writing for an unidentified, contemptuous critic, their red pen filled with my blood.

Feeling somewhat despondent, I consulted my trusty bookcase filled with books that passed the (seemingly endless) tests on their way to publication; books I've enjoyed reading. How did these authors write their scenes and chapters, eh? How did they find this holy grail?

Reading through the pages, the realisation hit me: most of these books (some bestselling) would definitely fall victim to a critic's red pen.

Shocked, I read my well-worn pages with fresh eyes. “Look at that repetition! Look at that excessive use of adverbs! What godawful writing... how in hell did this get published?”

I'm sure there are plenty of you who have felt the same. You might even reassure yourself with it, telling yourself, "if they got published, this should be a canter for me." 

But I'll tell you what I told myself. In the words of Bob Marley: “before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean”.

Herein lies my epiphany. Those books are nestled in my bookcase for a reason. I enjoyed them immensely, once upon a time.

Books are written for readers, not writers or critics, even if they are stumbling blocks on the way. It may seem plainly obvious to others, but I'm not ashamed to admit I lost sight of this fact.

If you're thinking of becoming a writer because you love reading, you might want to re-evaluate that notion. Here's what I wrote back in 2011, in the honeymoon period of my writing endeavour:

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to read a book the same way again. I’ve been picking up on all sorts of things: how other writers switch scenes (some do it in the same chapter, some use a chapter per POV), how other writers deal with certain situations without making it look too contrived, and how well they manage to build tension, to entice me as a reader.  It's a writing skill I'm very interested in honing!
I've always immensely enjoyed reading, but it's different now.

Let me update this sentiment by adding that the pendulum swings both ways. You'll read some books that make you despair at the world of publishing. You'll think to yourself, “these authors must be friendly with someone in the industry. There's no way they've written 8 bestselling novels based on that guff!”

You might look at your own lovingly crafted manuscript and wail, “what's the point in continuing? My manuscript is crafted to perfection, but they won't want it, even though it's of a much higher standard than the work of those crappy writers.”

But what if these "crappy" writers just happen to be aware of the fact that readers don't care about adverbs? That they don't care about POV? What if they happen to know that the reader does care, first and foremost, about a fantastic storyline? That they do care if the love interest has perfect teeth and a dimple on the side of their face?

My mum loves to read. I love asking her about what she's read, finding out what she likes/dislikes about a book. Do you think she says, "I really loved the balance between dialogue and description," or, "I especially enjoyed the sensory description and inner conflict."?

Naw. She talks about how much she loves/hates the characters. She retells the story to me in her own words, using only the exciting bits that made her turn the page. 

So, the next time I balk at the type of writing I've involuntarily conditioned myself to despise, I shall remind myself of this: If writing for a reader instead of a critic makes someone a crappy writer, then I hereby declare myself a crappy (but happy) writer.

Let me end this post, by sharing the best music you'll listen to all weekend. Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog (later covered by Elvis). Happy Friday, people! x


Friday, 11 May 2012


Whenever I heard the word "freewriting", I would think of something akin to journal writing: scribbling down your innermost thoughts as soon as they pop into your head. 

But I didn't get it. Not until a few days ago, when I learned how to do it properly.

After spotting this excersize, I realised freewriting is not about coherent thought. I'm going to go all "hippy" on you for a minute and entertain the idea that freewriting is all about unclogging your subconscious, in order to make way for wondrous creation (say it with a grand, old man voice).

What I'm about to say next will probably go against the point of being a writer, but the thought of writing with such... lack of inhibition... it scared me. What if I just spouted out a load of crap? I'm a control freak; I like structure; I like order. This goes against my usual way of doing stuff.

But it works. Sweet Mother of Lucifer, it works!

I set my timer for five minutes, then started freewriting, using the word "hands" as a prompt. Next followed an accumulation of words that were in no way related to the word "hands". I just wrote without regard to comprehension, punctuation, spelling and, lastly (as you can see from the state of my writing), a complete disregard for neatness.

After what only seemed like a minute or two, my alarm was going off. Reading it back immediately, it was pretty surreal; as though someone else had written it. A lot of it made me think "where the hell did that come from?" but there were a couple of words or phrases that ignited my curiosity and made me want to explore further.

This is a perfect excersize for writing short stories. Or even getting into that writing zone I spoke about a couple of posts ago. 

A lot of people choose to freewrite first thing in the morning. I certainly couldn't do that during the working week. I just want to write for hours after doing this excersize, not travel into work and spend the day reading committee papers and drawing on maps. 

Do you already freewrite? Am I the last to learn of this phenomenon? If not, why don't you set the timer, give it a bash and let me know how you got on?

I've been doing it every day since, and I'm happy to report my first draft is now FINISHED! As Jay Z would say... on to the next one (draft, that is)...


Friday, 4 May 2012

Watching me watching you...

As my novel is set in Glasgow, I'm trying to figure out how I'd like to portray my city of origin.

Is there a better way to absorb the character of an area, than to plonk yourself right in the middle of it? I think not.

So, yesterday after work, I took my wee notebook to a bench to write about my surroundings. To do a bit of people-watching and eavesdropping, the way those real writers tell you to. My aim: to capture the essence that is Glasgow, in the month of May, in the year of 2012.

Now... if that bench was located in the leafy West End of Glasgow, it would be expected of me to have a notepad with me. The place is rife with Artistes, dahhhling.

There are other places, however, where notepad-scribbling is a bit of a rarity. Where it is even viewed with suspicion. Places such as the one I found myself in yesterday… Govan.

See those benches? I sat in the middle of them, with my wee notepad, and opened my eyes and ears. I felt like a bit of a weirdo, to be honest, but I persevered.

The place was bustling with people, out enjoying the sun. In Glasgow, the mere mention of sunshine makes all upper-clothing magically vanish from the male species. It brought out the exhibitionist in some of the Govan folk: they felt it appropriate to walk around topless as though they were swanning around a Spanish island; giving us all an eyeful of their pallid torsos.

In stark contrast, there were also masses of old people wearing several jumpers underneath their jackets, despite the blistering heat. They appeared to be making their way home, laden with grocery bags that weighed down on their weary arms. They looked tired from their wee day out at the Govan Cross Shopping Centre.

Once I stopped crying, I observed a woman in her fifties speaking to a young boy behind me. "Nine already?" she asked him, "Ah don't believe it! Happy Birthday, son." She handed him a package from the bakery she’d just come out of, "here's a sausage roll, pal. It's no' money, but it's better than nuttin'."

A man in his late twenties literally bounced past me. You’d think he had springs in his trainers. After almost colliding with a passer-by, he turns to him and says "Here, mate, will ye tap us a fag?" When guy responds that he doesn't smoke, the man continues bouncing along, then stops to pick up a discarded cigarette beef from the ground.

Meanwhile, two stray dogs were doing the rounds, looking for scraps, nosing their way through the bins.

Just before I decided to leave, I spotted a harassed young mother trying to instill discipline in her child, in the form of a reward system: “If ye don’t shut it, yer no' gettin a sweetie.”
People tell you to "write what you know", but, on days like yesterday, I wonder if that can sometimes defeat the point of escapism!

So, what did I learn on my wee jaunt? I observed that you get a heightened sense of community in places like this, compared to the more affluent areas. The people I saw yesterday all appeared to be complete extroverts; they had that "I just don't give a fuck" attitude that stuffy, uptight people could probably do with (in moderation).
They’re assertive, for the most part. They’re not blighted by insecurity over trivial matters, and  they have a directness which, given the right situation, could be quite appealing. These are all traits that some of my characters exhibit in the novel, so yesterday's excersize could only have benefited my work.

But where does my humble novel fit in in all this?

Despite feeling a deep sense of despair at the world (that's nothing new for me, right enough), I've definitely given my book a better chance of having an authentic feel to it.
Yesterday's "people-watching" excersize will be the first of many for this WIP. I find there's no better research than going somewhere and literally absorbing the area*, to go back and bleed it out on to your novel.
You can feel the surrounding, the atmosphere and its unique character, in my opinion. Fingers crossed it shows in my finished draft!

I'll tell you what, though, I now understand why so many people read and write fantasy novels instead...

How about you? Do you try to filter in your own surroundings within your WIP? Have you heard any crackers in your "eavesdropping"?

And, finally, should I be feeling so guilty over snooping over unsuspecting people? Someone please tell me I'm not a bad person!
*By the way, I'm not a stranger to Govan. I've lived there before and many of my family grew up in the area. It's just different seeing the place through my "writer eyeball", hence the new perspective.