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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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….

Writing tools – a review of apps I use


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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!

It’s not like me not to post for months, but there you go…


It’s nearly two years since I set out to bloody well write something, and I did. A quarter of a million words of a story that was not very good. Still, at least I did it. The plan was to carry on and try to write something better. That’s the part I’m struggling with. The header of this blog stated my intentions to post about how hard it is to write a book. The answer to this is two-fold. First, it’s not very hard. Just keep typing and eventually you’ll have something. Second, it’s f****ing unbelievably hard, so long as you realise how far you have to go and just how talented these published bastards are. It’s galling. Yet I am nothing if not persistent, and so I have not let it go. I write every day. Just not a lot of it is any good.

But that’s the point. Every day I think I get a little bit better. By the time I’m, say, a hundred years old, I will have written something I can finally be proud of. Hopefully.

Aaaanyway, the last few months have been pretty damned awful, but I’m attempting to put all that behind me because I suddenly feel the urge to blog again. Not that I was ever very productive.

 

Here you go. Simple post. Fin.

Gilbert Egg-Hound’s bendy tale – Part One


Brisbane-city-by-night-mt-coot-tha

‘…orrow morning, you scum-sucking, vilely useless piece of infected, foul-smelling discharge!’

Gilbert Egg-Hound was not a patient man.  Having slammed the phone down with the sort of force normally employed by officers of the West Yorkshire Police Force during ‘extended questioning of coloured gentlemen’ during the 1970s, he less-than-calmly walked to his chair.  On reclining and gazing out of the window, Gilbert’s mood began to lift.  From his office by the canal, Gilbert had one of the best views in the city – to the right rose the Corn Exchange (which couldn’t help but to remind him of a majestic single breast nestled amongst the largely phallic skyline) while the building sites, shops and alehouses of Briggate and beyond disappeared straight ahead.  Over to the left, in the distance was the Town Hall, mercifully obscured by the offices and suits of Park Row.

The Town Hall occupied a very particular place in Gilbert’s heart.  Fully to understand this, first requires you to accept the fact that, despite appearances, hearsay and reams of evidence to the contrary, Gilbert Egg-Hound is a man of heart.  A well-hidden heart, yes.  A dysfunctional heart, almost certainly, but a heart nonetheless.  Alongside the hate for his former wife, an obsession with pastry products and the unlikely, unrequited love for She Who Must Never Be Named, sat in Gilbert’s heart a fear and distaste for the Town Hall and its staff, rivalled only by the fear and distaste displayed by the citizens of Lincolnshire when presented with evidence of electricity.

As you may have surmised (correctly, I might add) by this point, Gilbert Egg-Hound is not the sort of man to fear anyone; he was much more the sort of man to be feared.

The Town Hall however, put the shits up Gilbert like nothing else.

It was 1986 and the World Cup was being hosted by Mexico. England was in the grip of its usual deluded, fervent hope that they were going to win, just like twenty years before.  While he wouldn’t call himself a football fan – and while he’d never willingly admit to getting carried away with the ecstasy of an assembled partisan throng – Gilbert was as susceptible as anyone to World Cup fever.  Having followed the matches at arm’s length so as not to appear interested, Gilbert’s reserve finally broke during the Argentina game.

He locked up his office and headed to the pub. The landlord had managed to appropriate, from somewhere, a television the size of a fridge, and had, with faith alone,  hoisted it high up the wall with a length of rope. Literally dozens of people sat and stood beneath it, peering at the action.  No-one had seen a television of this size before, nor have they done so since, a fact that is merely a matter of background.

Gilbert arrived in time to see a slo-mo Peter Reid being thoroughly embarrassed by a dwarf with a perm, so set to drinking.  Heavily.  Unable to get comfortable and watching England get, for want of a better phrase, done over by the Argies, Gilbert began to feel unbalanced.  After a few more tetchy minutes, it happened: The Hand of God.

At this point, nobody was one hundred percent sure what had happened.  That is to say, nobody was prepared to say what exactly had happened – a key distinction.  What is known for certain is that on the evening of 22 June 1986, four men were admitted to Leeds General Infirmary with wounds that seemed consistent with ‘being beaten by a large, blunt instrument wielded by someone with the strength of a bear’, according to melodramatic neurosurgeon Dr Noray Parmalat.  The other definite in this murky expanse of half-truths and fabrications was that on the morning of 23 June 1986, Gilbert Egg-Hound was released from the Central Police Station without charge, without his possessions, and with a hangover that would wake the dead then immediately kill them again.

An uncharacteristically chastened Egg-Hound shuffled towards his home, under the non-existent cover of dawn, the streets pulsating with the rhythm of his pounding head.  Luckily for Gilbert, the streets were as good as empty at this time of the morning, so he was able to theatrically vomit into a drain with relative anonymity.  Having walked what seemed like the the thousand miles to his house, Gilbert entered, locked the door and went to bed to sleep the sleep of traitors, whores and criminals.

Dammit, man, it’s bigger than Crime and Punishment…


AncientTomeSmall

231,000 words, give or take a few hundred. That’s how it ended up. I started the process of writing my ‘magnificent octopus’ (to quote Baldrick) in May, but this story itself in the latter days of September, I think. Seven or eight months, over 130k words of dead-end scenes pruned, and a lot of pondering. Ridiculous, really, the lengths a man has to go to to write. And after all that, the end result is too big by an order of magnitude.

But just recall what my conditions were. Start something and bloody well finish it. And I did – well, a first draft anyway. Achievement, er, achieved.

It’s very much a first attempt at writing. It’s got plot holes, story-line cul-de-sacs, inconsistencies and is, basically, meandering. But I finished something, which offers me some hope that I can finish something else. I have learned loads (posted previously) and, I think, improved. Now it isn’t so hard to dredge a scene out of me. Now I can do one almost easily. That isn’t the problem. The problem is the ever elusive storytelling skill. That is the work in progress.

Still, if you read my ‘About’ page on here you’ll see that was the intention.

It is called ‘Apt’, and is told from the perspective of an indolent young man, and is about finding himself being forced into responsibilities that see him brought low. It is about how he changes himself to battle the realities of his world, and to save his home. He’s no hero, he’s not much of anything at the start, but in the end he finds the reluctant hero inside.

Sounds vague? Well, that’s because , (a) it is, and, (b) I am not sure how to describe it. I’m a ‘pantser’, not a ‘plotter’, so I really just go where the story takes me. If I was forced, I’d say it was a story about adopting responsibility and exceeding your self-imposed limitations. See…vague…

It is set in a fantasy world with no magic. There are no dragons or monsters, save the all too real mortal ones among us. I try to write stories featuring magic – I’ve even worked out one or two derivative magic systems, only to feel foolish writing it down. I don’t want to write children’s or ‘young adult’ stories, and whenever I try to write about magic it just makes me feel stupid. Not sure what that means…

Anyway, onwards and upwards… With a friend doing some editing on ‘Apt’, I am busy making changes, but I also have other writing irons in other writing fires, so lets see where that takes me…

Ten things I’ve learned (serious post)


ToDoList024[4]

Well, enough of the whimsy (though I do like it) because occasionally this blog has to at least touch on my writing once in a while – it is the reason it exists after all. I do this on the auspicious occasion of my hitting the 200,000 word milestone. Actually, it’s 199,837, but I know that if I set to it, this blog’ll not get posted on today, such is the extent of my ability to get distracted.

So, what ten things have I learned since I started doing this, some ten or so months back? Let me list the ways and means…

  1. Don’t be an arse and set off on something without at least a modicum of planning. It’s all very cavalier and exciting to write by the seat of one’s pants, but it makes for a meandering tale that lacks focus. Have an ending at least superficially scratched into the meaty grey mass of your brain. You may be lucky and find one on the way and change it, but it’s better to start with one and change than just hope a plot will present itself. That way lies madness and 200,000 words of dubious worth. 
  2. Find someone who is willing to read your stuff, and will unflinchingly support you and tell you how fantastic you are. It makes for good productivity. Saying that, also find someone who will criticise the arse out of it. For balance…
  3. Even if you can’t be bothered, try to write something everyday. Yeah, it may be rubbish, half-hearted, and eminently delete-able, but it becomes almost second nature, and words start to fly.
  4. Last thing at night, as you lay with your head on the pillow, just think about where you’ve left the plot. Imagine where it goes next. I swear, if you grant some brain-time to it, the ideas come. Write em down if you think you’ll forget. I don’t need to, I remember everything, as I’m sure I pointed out at the start of this post…
  5. You will doubt yourself. You will read what you have written and think, “That is utter shash”. This is normal. But dont stop. Re-write. The next point will help…
  6. Be brave. If you are assailed by the winged tyrants of doubt, then don’t hesitate to cut that whole thirty thousand words. If I was on a deadline I would perhaps think twice, but if, like me, you are just writing to get your story done, then don’t hesitate to chop the last three weeks work. I have found the discarded stuff still contributes to the whole, even if only in background or in clarifying the best way forward.
  7.  Read. A lot. I often find that while I am reading I get a sudden idea for my own work, usually utterly unrelated. I think it must be down to the imagination part of my mind being stimulated. It works for me, anyway…
  8. Have a rest from it once in a while, but don’t stop writing. Go off and start on something fresh – a new story in a whole new world, if that’s your bag. In doing so you will find, when you go back to your original work, you will have some new ideas. You will find yourself in a rut, probably because you are thinking so much about the story, and a change can give you that freshness when you go back.
  9. Have milestones. Mine have all been word counts. The trap to avoid is the not wallowing in your successes. I found myself at 50k words and just stopped, a bit dismayed over the distance to the next milestone, and inordinately proud that I actually got there. But then next thing you know…100k words, and so on.
  10. Get someone to proof read. Your eyes will just skip over the errors in your own work, no matter how careful you are.

Wow, that was harder to do than I expected. I should have done a top three. I’m sure I’ve duplicated some entries, too.

I think this is one of my rare moments of serious reflection. You should cherish it. Not even the barest iota of whimsy. It feels wrong. Like watching a monkey masturbate. You know it’s wrong, but the damn thing has such a funny look on its face.

Until next time…