So How Are Things Going, Hmm?


So, if the last few years has taught me anything it’s that writing is more difficult than…um… solving a 4d Rubik’s cube. Or building a computer processor with a broken soldering iron and a pound of un-spun wool, or circumnavigating the globe in a rubber inner-tube. There are many similes I can use and they will all be inadequate for the job (as you may be able to tell). My current level of progression is testament to all of this. Let me summarise my last four years, since I started this self-learning experiment.

At least a million words have been set to paper (or onto the screen and saved to disk for the most part) and numerous notebooks covered in inarticulate scribbles, inelegantly organised and piled in dusty corners. About fifty apps have been utilised in a vain attempt to be productive and to organise yet further notes, most discarded (see previous post). I have developed a routine for writing that requires a goodly portion of my free time, and I find myself pondering upcoming scenes whilst doing my day job, buying groceries, driving around, making coffee. Everywhere and when, in fact.

It is almost as if writing with the intent of creating a work of fiction has changed the way my brain works. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that four years later I have not produced anything worthy of consideration for potential publication, and only completed two actual projects (both of which are, frankly, naff) has no bearing on the fact that the decision to write is the best thing I ever did. It gave form to what my mind craved.

I have to say, I am in perpetual admiration of proper authors; those people that have the focus, application and intelligence to create book after book, crafted and thoughtful as each one is (in the most part). No, in fact I am jealous of them, an envy that drives me on to write yet more gubbins until ONE DAY I create something of which I am proud as punch to call my own work of genre fiction. It will happen one day, but I tell you this, each and every day is a struggle to better myself and to–one day–join their ranks. I know I can do it. I have to.

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Distraction and Apps…Where I went wrong


I love apps. There’s no getting away from it, I love apps. The reason for this is twofold; firstly I am a nerd (or is it geek?) and have totally bought in to all the tech associated with iphones, macs, and so on, so I love this stuff. Secondly, and more important, is that, for the aspiring author, they are a distraction. That is the key.

If I were to list the apps that have crossed my path, sheltered under the umbrella of ‘writing workflow’, it would be embarrassingly large. So here goes…

  • Scrivener
  • Byword
  • Ullyses
  • Storyist
  • Adobe Story
  • Textilus
  • Word
  • Google Docs
  • nValt

So that’s just *some* of the writing apps. Associated with those are the myriad note-taking apps…

  • Simplenote
  • nValt
  • OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Pocket

And in further association, there are the general apps that become wired into all the rest…

  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • iCloud Drive
  • Box
  • Mindnode
  • Aeon Timeline
  • Photoshop CC
  • Illustrator CC
  • Lightoom CC
  • IFTTT
  • Workflow
  • duet

And these are the ones that I have currently. I have acquired and discarded about the same amount, though I struggle to remember them so I won’t bother listing them here.

So, a lot of distraction going on. You have to realise that most of these apps require some significant investigation to get used to, and I have put in the learning time on nearly all of them, under the misguided assumption that ‘It will help me be more productive’.

Hundreds of YouTube tutorials and a thousand ‘How To…’ websites later I can confirm…they did not. Don’t get me wrong, I still use a lot of these apps (such as Byword and markdown, with which this blog post is written) but–and here is the rub–I don’t really need to.

If I have a message to get across about all this, it is that there is too much emphasis on workflow and organisation. If you want to write, just WRITE and stop thinking you need a bundle of digital assistants to do so. If you feel the urge for an app, read a book.

Wrestling with an idea…


M_Id_389095_Wrestling_in_OlympicsThe gods of ingenuity are capricious bastards, at least with me. They send an idea to me half-formed and leave me to it, letting me go through months of agonising re-writing as I try to find the golden nugget that I am absolutely certain lies within it.

This happened to me a few months ago. I had an idea for a story that came as I was doing some other bits of flash fiction. Excited (as much as I can get) I set upon writing, fleshing out the idea and giving names to people and places, adding oomph to the background, doing some much needed world-building. All was good.

Then I reviewed what I have done and found myself unhappy with the results so I started again, thinking, foolishly, that only a tweak or two is needed. Then I re-read that, and decided it needed re-doing….and the cycle began. Ten thousand words are discarded as another written in its place. And another. For bloody months!

I have found that wrestling with an idea is a process that seems without end. The curse of the writer is that he is never entirely happy with his work, which leads me to the real rule that I need to consider: At some point you just have to stop re-writing and get on and finish something.

The good part is that all the re-writes and wrangling have helped codify your world of imagination, and the practice is a necessary part of it all. Without that practice the idea doesn’t have a chance to form itself into something genuinely interesting and unique. It turns out that the job of a writer is to agonise, which is fine…I can take on such burdens if the result is an idea made real.

You have to nourish that spark, fan the flames, ignite that conflagration, but be aware that it is not a quick process. If you ever claim to have had an idea fully formed, not needing an age of pondering to get right, then I am both annoyed and utterly jealous of you. Thankfully, I think those types are probably unconscious plagiarists!

Until next time, y’all. Be good…

Frustration, the blank page and nothing to read…


I have never been one for lacking anything to write, a trait that has kept me occupied and more than entertained on many an occasion. It has always been gratifying to be able to rely on my previously immutable ability to churn out something imaginative without much prevarication. However, I appear to have come up against a blank page. The dreaded writers block. It is alarming!

There is no solution to it other than continuing to write, no matter how bad the results. The fact that what I produce is unconvincing, all my prose riddled with self-doubt, and each premise utterly banal and derivative is of great concern. I await an epiphanic moment with increasing desperation.

It is not lost on me that I have not been reading much lately either. In almost every piece of advice about writing that I have ever come across, the instruction to READ, READ, READ is always in the top five.

So, if I have a strategy for writers block it is this: Read more, write into the wind.

Now, I’m off to find a novel I can get my teeth into, and hopefully the creative juices will flow as a result. Any recommendations gratefully received!

The state of affairs…


Hello, halloo, bonjour, um, bien venue? Regardless of the salutation, I realised that it has been MONTHS since I updated my blog, preferring to spend time doing anything else entirely, out of a misplaced sense of apathy. Or, if not misplaced, certainly un-heeded…

But here I am, loyal readers, with an update on this blog’s tagline: ‘HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS AS I FIND OUT JUST HOW HARD IT IS TO WRITE A BOOK…’

Featured imageI have not stopped writing since I last blogged, and I finished my Foxytale’s first draft. I sent it out to some (initially) willing beta-readers, and the comments back were not either multitudinous nor plenty, but there was feedback enough for me to get settled in for a big re-write, talking into account the comments made.

It’s an odd process to follow, I found, but it has helped iron out flaws I obviously did not notice from beneath my subjective blanket. I’m only 22k words into the re-write, and already there have been some fairly significant scene changes, some plot wrangling, and some harsh deletions.

I continue at a snail’s pace, but as I always said, this was why I started all this in the first place. You don’t get better without painful years of grind. These are those grinding years, unfortunately. I remain, however, un-deterred in my mission.

As for other writings, I have three fantasy ones stuck around the 100k word-count mark. I have not binned them, just taken a break, much as I did between Foxytale re-starts. I find I am better able to be objective given a few months to forget the good lines…

Beyond those, I have any number of one-two-chapter beginnings written, for any number of fantasy/contemporary/Sci-Fic potential books. It’s all about the grind, today!

It would be a lie if I were to concede that I have allowed a few non-writing days to creep in, but I have determined that it would be best if I knuckled down again. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be published… Stranger things have happened, you know…!

PS Check out SCENE!, my creative writing series I did on here, now collated in one place to make some sense...Here. Enjoy!

The drudge bit cometh…


searchI’ve recently found myself increasing annoyed by people starting a sentence with a “So”. It irks the bits of me in which the grammar nazi resides… And like Starling asked Hannibal Lector, “But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself, Doctor Lector?”

The answer in no. That is why I need beta-readers…

So…

I’ve finished a sixty-thousand word first draft of a contemporary little mystery novel, barely more than a novella, and a radical change in genre from what I’ve been toiling with for the last two years. Set in Yorkshire too, I call it…hesitantly…The Foxy tale, and it’s about a treasure hunt.

So (!) I need beta-readers. Hence this whimsical appeal, which is part of a larger campaign to get my progeny critically read.

All I ask is that you are willing to try to read it, voluntarily if possible, and offer any impressions, ideas, suggestions, confusions, incongruities, or just tell me you didn’t (or did) like it. I am trawling for objective analysis by someone with the chutzpa to help a fella out.

PDF, MS Word, Kindle etc, any format you please (thank you Scrivener)

Wow…appealing does NOT come naturally to me…

So as a tempter, here is an excerpt for your consideration. The intro passage, in fact. If you think you could read something like this (but nearly two-hundred pages), then let me know. I’m not precious about it…!

Paul “Foxy” Foxe sees himself as a man for whom being cynical isn’t so much a point of view as a religion. His best defences against the many injustices of life were his stoic indifference, a belief in Karma, and a tendency to bury his head in the sand at the first sign of confrontation. If you want to witness sparkling discourse or the product of a keen literary mind you are best served  going to the library and persuading a librarian to swear at you in Polish, but if you want a quiet life and predictability, Foxy is your man.

In most of life Foxy is average. He is twenty five years old, just short of six foot with a rash of spiky black hair, scarily piercing blue eyes and the sort of beard that looks like he’s forgotten to shave for a week. He has a girlfriend named Nat. At three months the relationship is still new, but there are musings that she wants to move in. This means that she still has this belief that she can “change” him, as her mother and sisters tell her she is honour-bound to try and do. But she is only a month or two away from the crushing realisation that Foxy is a force of nature. There is nothing on this Earth that can change Foxy, at least short of CIA behavioural modification, and there’s little of that in rural Yorkshire.

Nat is bright, breezy, light, loving and bubbly. She likes rubbish pop music, romantic thrillers and TV soaps. She believes in God, which Foxy has wisely said nothing about. She appreciates artwork and real literature – the Jane Eyre kind too, not the Stephen King kind.  That she is going out with Foxy is one in the eye to logic and common sense, and is a keen affirmation of the truism that opposites attract.

Or, rather, that is only one reality. In the other he is going to ruin her innocence and leave her the husky, dried out shell of bitterness and regret that she will inevitably become, no matter how hard he tries to stop himself. Of this he is depressingly certain. It has happened before.

Nat is has been away, visiting her parents in Ireland for a couple of weeks, and is due to return tomorrow. Foxy would have gone too but for a number of puerile, vapid excuses why he had to remain at home and not spend two weeks with a bunch of strangers for whom the fact he was English was seen as a punishable crime. These last weeks of freedom from obligation were bliss –  a state of mind that had left Foxy as belligerent, unapproachable and grumpy as usual. He would hate to admit it, but he is better when Nat is around.

Let the torrents of help-wielding commenters come….

The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks


From the Alagaunt sister-site, fantasyfictionreviews.wordpress.com. Enjoy!

Fantasy reviews

blindingknifegoodreads

The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

As the old gods awaken and satrapies splinter, the Chromeria races to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe. But Gavin Guile is enslaved on a pirate galley. Worse, Gavin no longer has the one thing that defined him — the ability to draft.

Without the protection of his father, Kip Guile will have to face a master of shadows alone as his grandfather moves to choose a new Prism and put himself in power. With Teia and Karris, Kip will have to use all his wits to survive a secret war between noble houses, religious factions, rebels, and an ascendant order of hidden assassins, The Broken Eye.

What I liked…

I suppose I had better state that this review is more for the series –Lightbringer – than just The Broken Eye, as I read all three…

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5000 limericks…


statistics2Presuming there are about thirty words in a standard limerick, I have so far written the equivalent of five-thousand – that’s 5000 – limericks in my latest attempt at writing.
I’m not bragging, it’s just the only thing I can think of to post about, which does not bode well for my blog in the long run, in all honesty.
Still, five-thousand limericks is not to be sniffed at. That’s a lot of rhymes. Makes you think.
So I guess this is a progress report.
With so many words done you’d have thought the story would be well under way. It would be a reasonable man that expected you to be in the meat of the tale by now. You’d be wrong. My lead character (indeed, the POV) has been problematic. It feels very much like I’m trying too hard to demonstrate the character’s growth, and as such am losing the pace. Not that pace was ever an imperative, but it’s never good to drag the story’s arse through the mud. The incidental (ie non-POV) chars are worryingly unremarkable and I have the awful feeling that, if I ever get to the end, I will need to re-write whole bundles of chapters (bundles being the collective noun for chapters, as all know).
But, Zen-like, I forge ahead, still enjoying the progress. A friend of mine said this week that they could never try to write as they’d just not know what to write, which struck me as quite shameful. If you don’t trust your imagination enough to make stuff up, then what the hell is going on? You have probably finally lost your inner child, and you are fully justified in mourning.
Well, post done, I’m off to do other stuff.
J

Writing tools – a review of apps I use


writing

After two years forging a fairly inaccurate furrow through the field of attempted writing, I thought it might be time for me to do a little review of the myriad ways in which a writer can avoid actual writing by playing around with apps. Or, if I want to be a little more constructive about this, a review of the apps that have helped me and that I use often in the pursuit of writing nirvana.

In no particular order (although Scrivener is definitely top!)…

 

1. Scrivener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php – Around £28 from the App Store

Scrivener screengrab

This is the writing software I now use. It wasn’t always the case. I spent a while writing in MS Word, Open Office, even Googledocs, but when it came down to it Scrivener was , I found, everything I needed, or what I could ever expect to use. The blurb, from the website…

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

It cannot be understated; this software is AWESOME, and I use that word reservedly at best. The list of options is incredible, and the ways in which it can help organise a draft is mind-boggling. There are criticisms, but only a few, but I have tried any number of alternatives (Ulysses, rWriter etc) and they are all inferior in one or a number of ways, to Scrivener. I wholly recommend. One downside is there is no tablet/iphone version, though we are persistently assured it will one day arrive. However, you can get past this in other ways – dropbox etc, as you will see later…

 

2. Evernote https://evernote.com/ FREE

Evernote screengrab

Evernote is a free online notebook that syncs with your devices, has loads of great embedded tools for clipping notes while you browse the internet, and, like Scrivener, a whole heap of options. Plus – and this is the best bit – it’s free. FREE! You can purchase additional features and storage, but I have yet to find the need. It’s just great for organising your notes. For instance, I have notebooks for non-writing stuff, for research, for images and so on. I have found this invaluable, especially because you can add notes wherever you are – through my phone or iPad, and it all syncs up. I could even log onto my Evernote through any browser on any computer and find all my notes there. Love it. Nuff said.

 

3. Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/home FREE

Dropbox screengrab

Quite what I used to do before Dropbox I will never know, and I shouldn’t really have to tell you what it does, because everyone should know.

Most importantly I can sync my Scrivener files in Dropbox and edit them on my iPad/iPhone with Textilus (http://www.textilusapp.com/) – a simple yet powerful text editor – and then it syncs right back with Scrivener when I’m done.

Storage is upgradeable (like with Evernote) but I’ve not even nearly got close to my limits, so all is good in this world. Ah…life in da cloud…

The alternative to this is google drive (like you’d bother) or iCloud (which is looking threateningly good), but in the meantime Dropbox has the answers to my needs. Now, if only it could get me to actually write…

 

4. Pixelmator http://www.pixelmator.com/ FREE

Pixelmator screengrab

In the perfect world I would buy Photoshop. But the world isn’t perfect and I refuse to spend that much on software, no matter how ace it is (and it is…I’m slap bang in the middle of a 30 day Photoshop trial and it’s flamin’ brilliant), so I turn to cheaper alternatives for my image needs. I have tried quite a few (Gimp, Artrage et al) and they all have their good an bad points, mostly that they don’t have the features of Photoshop, and although Pixelmator has this problem too, it seems the best of a free bunch. I managed to make a map of sorts, for the first time working out how to do it thanks to youtube tutorials.

It really helps in worldbuilding to be able to visualise your setting, and Pixelmator has allowed me to do this. It is a good app, especially because it is free.

 

5. Aeon Timeline http://www.scribblecode.com/ Around £28

Aeon Timeline screengrab

I think the best way to describe this is to let the blurb tell you all…

Aeon Timeline is more than a series of events on a never ending line. With Aeon, you can divide your timeline into logical groups, projects, or concurrent arcs. You can model the relationships between events and people, places and ideas. Aeon calculates people’s ages for you. And you can link your events with research material such as external files or images that can be displayed inside the application.

Worldbuilding is difficult. Organisation is required (and I am not good at that). Aeon Timeline allows me to make a timeline that fits with my own calendar, own rules (want fifteen days in a month, three months in a year? You can do it here). When it comes to wasting time, this is the king of all. It can also sync with Scrivener and organise your chapters into a visual representation of events. It is very handy. That said, it is not going to be for everybody, but it works for me.

There you have it. Some software that I use in my everyday avoidance of actual writing. That said, I’ve written over a million words in the two-plus years I’ve been writing seriously, so they aren’t as good as all that for avoiding work.

Happy writing, people!

Navel-gazing comeback post of doom


It has been a while since I posted on this illustrious and rather ‘meh’ blog of mine, but be assured it was not the blogosphere I was ignoring, but the entire world… So with that in mind I thought I would ease back into it all with a gentle summation of my recent scribblings…

navelgazingLet’s see…. Well since I last mentioned anything I have done fifty thousand words of a contemporary thriller-type story set in Yorkshire in the real world/present day. That was fun, but, as usual I lost focus, and the story kind of drifted into uncertainty. C’est la vie.

And then I started another fantasy effort, which is ongoing – sixty-five thousand words so far. But I have reached that same problem that I have always had in all these projects… indecision and doubt. Lots of it. Enough to railroad it all, I fear. But I am working on it…

Not so damned easy, this writing malarky, I have decided. You may quote me on that…

Hopefully this missive will get me back into communicating with the outside world – I have been neglectful of correspondence and contact because of some stuff going on in my life at the moment. But I a trying to resolve this and get my head back on straight.

Do you know what? I hate reading navel-gazing blog posts like these, so I’ll stop now and maybe post a bit of whimsy at a later date, if I can spare the creative oomph required. In the meantime, as the great man said…Stay shiny!