NanoWriMo Writer Stuck

Christian Krohg - Tired - Google Art ProjectThe idea behind NaNoWriMo, I suppose, is to give oneself a writerly jolt and get on with The Novel, but I was generating so much rubbish that I reached the start-again phase very fast.  I have never written anything without having to go back and start it again phase.  Struggling to work up my word count, I was at my computer during the Ten O’Clock News, during the weather forecast at the end of the News… just a little bit more… and oh, whoops, it’s eleven o’clock.  When I went to bed, I found myself restless and generally too wired to sleep.  (For years, I have followed a ‘sleep hygiene’ routine of reading for at least an hour before turning in.)

I did spend quite a lot of time planning this novel, setting down on a database everything I knew about each character, where they lived, worked and went to school, but I have to admit there were many occasions when it wasn’t clear to me what characters looked like or what their mannerisms might be.  Everybody’s hair turned out to be brown and their eyes grey.  It was only after I started to write the chapters that I started to understand what characters really looked like, also the places where scenes took place.  Of course, what I should have done was to have updated my database as I was writing, but how could I do that and keep the flow of my story going?

I had attempted to write a chapter plan but failed miserably.  I have always found writing chapter or plot plans impossible.  In fact, I could feel myself stressing up as I tried.

So, I have written down lots of ideas, on a sort of textual moodboard in my notebook.  The voice was wrong:  I have written ‘flippant’ as a keyword for my main character.  I have also managed to jot down content for the first few chapters.

Meanwhile I’ve visited my daughter and family, my son is visiting us and this afternoon I made two Christmas cakes and a massive bowl of mincemeat, as well as family meals.  Cooking provides instant gratification.  However, I have had a writerly jolt and, although I have two solid days of work ahead of me on Monday and Tuesday,. Christmas is coming and I haven’t bought a single card or present yet,  I will get on with it.  Among my tasks ahead,  I have to submit two short stories which are hanging around and to find further destinations for The (2015) Novel.

You will be fed up, Dear Reader, with me going on about NaNoWriMo, so I won’t anymore.

Not Very Good at NaNoWriMo

Well, Dear Reader, here I am on 2512 words on Day 10 of NaNoWriMo.  Not good going, is it?  But I have been writing.  Oh yes, Dear Reader.  Since 1 November, I have written:

  • Agenda for Parochial Church Council
  • Pew News (weekly church bulletin)
  • Association of Christian Writers eNews
  • Blog post on the strangest thing I’ve ever Googled (see previous post) for Insecure Writers Support Group
  • Minutes for Parochial Church Council

And coming up next week:

  • More Pew News
  • Blog post for Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog.

So I’ve been writing away, as well as doing ordinary life, just the right sort of writing.  Or is it?  I’m struggling to pen my novel about women football fans.  I believe that all publishers think they want authentic, and this is (would be) so authentic it’s squeaky, but it isn’t jelling at the moment, not at all, but I’m processing all these other documents which people actually need and are going to read.  Other people I speak to say they can’t do these sorts of documents.  I can because I’ve honed my writing skills in fiction.  Thought for the day or what?

One thing I have achieved this week is the correct use of CamelCase capitals in NaNoWriMo.  So my week hasn’t been entirely wasted.  I’ve also discovered that all Nano participants, whatever their word count, are awarded 20% off a copy of Scrivener.  Do you recommend Scrivener, Dear Reader?

Strangest Thing Ever Googled?

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day.  This week the optional question is ‘What is the strangest thing you’ve ever Googled when researching a story?’  but I will write about how research makes me feel insecure as a writer.

You think you know the subject you’re writing about but when you start to put fingers to keyboard what you know is not enough.  Suddenly you find you need to know… this… and that… and when did that actually happen?  And what happened exactly?  I’ve just finished writing and editing The Novel, which is about Poland in the Solidarity period.  I thought I knew a lot about Solidarity, and indeed I did, but not the right things.  I had to keep checking back to my resources all the time I was writing.  Also I should have carried out more research about Poland in general terms.

For that book I had to research Polish forenames and surnames – repeatedly – and that is not really very strange.  I had to research Polish gestures and body language, and swear words.  I had to make myself aware of the degree of Polish swear words, what was really bad, what people said all the time (gowno – shit) and what you might expect your maiden aunt to say in a moment of exasperation (‘Cholera‘).  Now I’m writing about football, and I find I’m constantly looking up calendars for the years in which action took place.  (I’m not looking up the football top flight.  Farrington City FC is in League Two, Dear Reader.)  I spent a lot of time looking up calendars for 1980 and 1981 when writing about Solidarity too.  Is that strange enough?

However what makes this writer feel very insecure is those authors who research every aspect of their (fiction) book with a toothcomb, who visit locations the other side of the globe which feature only minutely in their story.  One author I read about researched weather in specific years in the middle ages.  Would we have known if she’d got the weather wrong, Dear Reader?  Whoops!  Is that heresy?  Such writers as these scare me death!

Computer showing blank screen, just Chapter 1.
Computer showing blank screen, just Chapter 1.

Right now, I’m supposed to be doing NaNoWriMo.  I’ve subjected myself to the Nano torment.  I’m bluecity on the NaNoWriMo website.  Do ‘buddy’ me… and wish me luck.  At the moment I’m struggling to find the time to write.


Must Dash… NanoWriMo

Cat Sitting In Front of Blank Computer
(c) Wikimedia Commons

Well, Dear Reader, I’ve started on The Next Novel for NanoWriMo.  Not on Friday (1 November) when I theoretically should have done, because we were still entertaining the grandchildren. I started writing on my iPad on the train to Stratford (London) yesterday morning, and continued on the way back, for a longer stretch, helpfully facilitated by Greater Anglia Railways, by way of a late train which in turn caused me to miss my connection and to need to ask my husband to meet me.  By the time I had arrived home yesterday, I had achieved 1300 words, and after adding more at home later in the evening I reached 2000.  I should have been on 4000.

Writing late at night, or indeed using the computer at all, always disrupts my sleep.  Nano be blowed, I should’ve put my computer away, because I failed to sleep until 3am last night and by mid-afternoon today, after going to church and doing domestic chores, I was on my hands and knees with exhaustion.  I’m afraid to say that so far today (9.30pm) I’ve added only a few words, DR.  I have added a few because I’ve done the thing you’re not supposed to do in Nano, that is, I’ve gone back on what I wrote yesterday and edited.  I’ve been editing my previous Nano for 3 years and I’ve no intention – this time – of producing a draft which requires so much work, even if I don’t reach my 50,000 deadline by 30 November.

The Next Novel is about football by the way, about people supporting football, not playing it, women supporting it in particular.  I think it’s an interesting scenario and I hope I can make it work.

So onwards and upwards, towards the next thousand words.  I’m invigilating exams throughout the coming week.

NanoWriMo – Why Do We?

Dear Reader, I have just signed up to NanoWriMo.  Let’s put it another way, DR.  I have just committed myself, this twenty-seventh day of October, in the year two thousand and nineteen, to write a novel totalling 50,000 words minimum, during this month of November.  Am I mad?


I did NanoWriMo in 2015 when I wrote (part of) The Novel.  The Novel’s word count is 96,000 words (rather long, yes, I know) but I managed 52, 751 words during the eleventh month of that year.  I had to finish it in January and February 2016.  Nano was one rollercoaster of an experience,  but I’ve never experienced anything like it amongst writers in the way of support, encouragement and shared purpose. Heady stuff.

I’ve wanted to do it again, ever since.

In 2015 I had recently retired from full-time teaching, was looking around feverishly for part-time work and not finding any.  This year, I start off November as follows:  1 November with family… and that includes grandchildren; 2 November, with friends in London; 3 November, church followed by house-cleaning (even the most politically correct writer would find this necessary after grandchildren), then four days of invigilating for GCSEs.  In order to reach the 50,000 total, a writer needs to write 1666.66 words in every one of the 30 days of November.  I accept that, with such a slow start, I’m not going to achieve this but even a few thousand words is better than nothing.  I’m resolved that I will not – even though I am very competitive – put myself through unnecessary stress because of Nano.  I’ll just do what I can.

Football Attrib Wikimedia

This time my novel has the working title ‘The Beautiful Game’.  Yes, I know, DR, others have used this title used before me,  but it is only a working title and very appropriate for a story about women hero-worshipping footballers.  This one has its feet firmly embedded in England and in what I know (although all novels inevitably contain some unknowns).

Calling all novelists amongst you!  I need buddies on Nano.  If you are doing NanoWriMo, I would love to hear from you.  I am bluecity  and my novel is called ‘The Beautiful Game’.

Adding Editors to Email Contacts

Dear Reader, you may have seen this post before (last week).  I accidentally deleted it and am now restoring it.

Have you ever been asked by an editor to include him/her in your email app’s contact list at the time you’re making a submission? Have you – like me – thought this a bit silly? Over the top?

Sit back. I have a story to tell.

On 18 September I submitted The Novel to a well known Christian publisher, by email, and following their instructions to the letter. For the record they did not ask to be added to my contacts list. Dear Reader, for 6 weeks I heard nothing, not even an automated acknowledgement.

Wait, I thought.

Keep waiting, I thought. If they didn’t like, they would say so straight away (‘Not for us’ etc). And it’s bad manners for authors to pester commissioning editors.

Still nothing. I check the email address I used. I check the email is in ‘Sent’, not drafts. I also check Bin in gmail.


At last, yesterday, I discussed the situation with some writing friends over WhatsApp. Most of them knew this editor (so did I slightly, which is why I’d targeted this publisher). ‘Oh, she’s really good, responds very quickly,’ they said.

‘…Making a polite enquiry after 6 weeks is hardly pestering,’ said one forthright friend.

So, tentatively and with no confidence at all, I penned an email to the commissioning editor. Then, Dear Reader, as I clicked on Send, gmail threw up a message saying along the lines that this conversation would have to be taken out is Spam. Er…? I had to send my email to the editor in order to go any further.

Well… then it all started to happen very quickly. Immediately came into my inbox an acknowledgement response from the editor (dated 19 September)… then her response to the one I’d just sent saying she’d acknowledged. Then… less than a minute after that, another email from her saying No. ‘Too niche,’ she said.

How embarrassing is all that? Authors shouldn’t pester, should they? Authors should not mess up on email, should they? (What did you use to teach, Rosemary? Not IT, was it?). Why would gmail take it into its head to spam desperately important email from an editor I really wanted to take the novel I had worked on for years?

I do know that, if I had put that editor into my gmail contacts, this would not have happened. A moral there!

So I have rejoined the ranks of The Rejected, the Novel Rejected. Obviously I’m gutted, although the writing friends I talked to on WhatsApp have been very supportive, suggesting other avenues for finding a publisher. As one said, ‘Welcome to the world of submissions.’

The Novel is about a British girl born to Polish emigre parents who travels to Poland and becomes involved Polish trade union Solidarity. It’s title is ‘Wodka or Tea with Milk’. Last night I searched for some Polish wodka with which to console myself, but there was none the kitchen cupboard. That must be significant in some way.

Busy Doing Nothing…

Cat Sitting In Front of Blank Computer
(c) Wikimedia Commons

I expect you know Bing Crosby’s Busy Doing Nothing song.  That’s how I feel at the moment.

Before I forget to mention it… today (13 October) I’m on the Association of Christian Writers blog More Than Writers.  I’m writing about Enid Blyton, whose books I read compulsively as a child, as did my son and daughter, and my six-year-old grandson loves having Noddy read aloud to him.  Having written the post on Thursday and scheduled it electronically on Blogger, I almost did forget to mention it… on Facebook and Twitter (as we ACW bloggers are asked to do).

Last summer I resigned from teaching for the second time.  Latterly I was teaching part-time only, but I didn’t realise – until I stopped  – how much of my attention and brain space working was taking up.  Suddenly I was waking up in the mornings with nothing to do… so I filled them up.  I cleaned my kitchen cupboards, did gardening and clearing out.  I found I needed to go out and meet people, so I attended two Pilates classes in the next village… only to pull a muscle in my side which has only just started to heal.  It has been extremely painful!

I’m too busy had been my mantra for too many years/decades.  I really did have too much to do.  I could not have taken on spring cleaning and de-cluttering jobs, and it was a good excuse for not doing any writing except The Novel.  I went through a time a few weeks ago when I felt depressed.  I was in the doldrums, doing nothing and seeing nobody outside my family.  I wrote a blog post entitled ‘The Doldrums’ which I never posted because, when I read it through, it sounded too self-indulgent.  One of the things about not having enough to do is that you overlook the things you should be doing – see above.  Not sure how that works, but it does.

However, I have started to drag myself together.  I have tidied up five short stories and submitted them.  So far, I’ve had three rejections (one for a story outstanding from a few months ago, second one The Novel and the third one of the five (above)) and one acceptance.  My story ‘Looking for Our House’ will appear in Cafe Lit tomorrow (Monday 14 October).  Well chuffed I am about the acceptance and gutted about the rejections.  At what point does a writer stop being upset and disappointed about rejections?  Can anyone tell me, please?

I am also preparing an anthology of short stories for Suffolk Writes, a scheme run by my local library service (Suffolk Libraries).  Every story you submit to them has to be converted into an ePub using Catalyst (free download).  A volunteer then reads your stories or novel and, if he/she approves them, your work will be uploaded – alongside proper published books – to Overdrive (ebook library).  I’m trying this out.

I’m also reading a lot of Ann Cleeve’s crime novels (Shetland series and Vera Stanhope).  I know it’s only light reading but I’m learning so much about writing descriptions, of people and scenes, and on characterisation.  Vera Stanhope herself is dynamite, with so many distinct character attributes.

So onwards and upwards.

Writers Who Do Not Read…

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ISWG badge

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day.  This month’s optional question is:

It’s been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don’t enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?  So…

If you don’t read, ‘all your ideas are new and original’.  Nope!  Your ideas just come from different sources:  television, the internet, songs you hear and what people tell you.   As a teenager, all my ideas of romantic love came from pop songs

Your writing is an extension of yourselfIsn’t it just?  A reflection of your narrow experiences and worldview.

…instead of a mixture of you and another author.  As a very young and raw writer, with inflated ideas of my own abilities, this is what I feared, so I resolved not to read anything.  In fact, when you do put pen to paper/ fingers to keyboard, you inevitably write like yourself because that’s who you are, whatever book you’ve just put down.

how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don’t enjoy reading?  In practical terms, you have to read to know the market. On another level, you need to read to know how your readers receive the written word.  You also need to know what has been written before:  writers who don’t read will continually re-invent the wheel.

Wooden Wheel
Wooden wheel

The writing world at large could probably be excused thinking that Rosemary Johnson has suddenly become super-productive, seeing as I have submitted The Novel to three comps plus one Christian publisher, and submitted three short stories to comps and other destinations.  And there will be more to come!  Obviously, I’ve had no responses yet, except a rejection in respect of a story I’d submitted some months ago. (Gutted about that.)  You see, after spending months on The Novel, all the stories I’d written for my writing group, and older stories which hadn’t found a home, sort of accumulated, and now I’m putting them out.

Next month is NanoWriMo and I’m resolved to take part this year.  I’m currently reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott..  If what I’m going to write is ‘a mixture of me and another author’, my next novel will be very flowery indeed.

What I Learned As I Submitted ‘The Novel’

Pile of books
Copyright Commons, Pixabay

I liked to think I’ve been around the writing block, but when it came to submitting my novel I changed my mind.

As you know, Dear Reader, I started writing my historical novel, about Poland during the Solidarity period in the 1980s, for NanoWriMo 2015.  (NanoWriMo is about writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  Ridiculous?  Yes, of course.)  The emphasis in Nano is on getting your word count up… and up… and up…  Never mind the quality of your writing, if the characters or the plot works, or if you reach the end of the book.  Just get it down.  Nobody can see what you’re written.  The Nano organisers check only your word count.

Afterwards… you take a deep breath… then, unless you’re into novellas, you write the rest of the novel.  You take another deep breath… and edit it.  Dear Reader, I’ve been editing… on and off… ever since.  You change the bits that don’t work.  You improve the bits that do work but could work better.  You check details like characters’ eye colour.  You check that all plot-lines resolve.  By this time, you’re realising that writing a novel – something you’ve wanted to do from childhood – is the most complicated thing ever.  (Even more complicated than Brexit, Dear Reader!)

Then you check the text, for Spag, and omitted words (my besetting sin).  While you’re doing that, you find more bits of plot and dialogue that don’t work or could be improved, so you change them – then you need to edit the edits for Spag and omitted words.  By now, you’re wondering who on earth would want to be a novelist.

You write your synopsis.  Scary stuff.  Hopefully the storyline won’t unravel  as you synop.

At last you think it’s ready.  You’ve lined up a few competitions and a possible publisher.  You’ve got your text all ready.  You just need to email it to them as an attachment.

Very carefully you read the entry requirements for the competitions.  You’re used to doing this because you’ve entered short stories in the past and you know how important it is to get it exactly right.  Then you discover:

  • For one comp you have to post on to a text area online.  Ten chapters, 20,000 words.  Terrifying!  Does Chapter 2 follow Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 follow Chapter 2 etc etc?
  • Publishers and comps like Times New Roman.  Change all text into TNR.
  • Comp managers don’t want any identification in the footers.  Delete footers containing (c) and your name in 59 footers in 59 chapters.
  • Some publishers definitely do want the author’s name in the header or footer.
  • Oh and each comp/publisher wants different information in the header.
  • All comps/publishers want synopses but of differing lengths.
  • All comps/publishers require other accompanying documents eg  covering letter or a piece on why you wrote your novel… but never the same as the last comp/publisher.
  • Many comps/publishers require submissions in .doc or docx format.  You send them 59 chapters in Word in a zipped folder.  Later on… as you’re taking in the washing actually… you realise you should have combined all the chapters into one Word document.  You email the named person you submitted to.  She lets you resubmit – wonderful lady!
  • For most comps you need to pay through PayPal on their website and then quote a PayPal reference in the email with your submission.
  • When submitting to a publisher, it is recommended that you find out the name of the person receives submissions.  You go to the publisher’s website.  Anyone there with a nice title like Commissioning Editor?
Frescos at Bachklovo Monastery, near Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Frescos at Bachklovo Monastery, near Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Each sub took about a day.  I made the last one the day before I went on holiday.  I could have delayed my three of my four submissions  until the end of this month, but I couldn’t cope any longer with the stress of editing and editing and living with looming deadlines.  I’m so glad I submitted when I did.  Throughout my holiday, I suffered terribly from RSI and headaches, but it’s gradually wearing off now.  I doubt if any improvement I might have made in the succeeding two weeks would have affected my result.

Now I’m going to do some real writing, starting with this blog and some posts about Bulgaria on my neglected travel blog TravelOn.