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….

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

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.

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!

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)


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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…