Favourite and Least Favourite Questions About Writing

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and so it’s the Insecure Writers Support Group.  Oh dear, oh dear, I’m not feeling secure at all at the moment.  Having finished The Novel last October and sent it to beta readers, I’m not sure what to do next.  Common sense says I should start submitting short stories to various mags and emags, but… I haven’t done that sort of thing for a long time.  Any advice, please, for a writer who hasn’t subbed a short story for three years, because she’s been writing a novel?

The optional question this month concerns favourite and least favourite questions people ask about writing.  Surely, the worst question, for a non-published novelist, is, “Has it been published?”  Grrr.  The second worst must be “Am I in it?” and “Will you put me in it?”  The best sorts of question are any asked by people who are truly supportive and interested.  As I reported in a previous post, I once delayed coffee-time for the committee of the (British) Association of Christian Writers by getting carried away talking about The Novel.


Body Language – Can You Feel It?

Girl showing different facial expressions
Gestures Non-verbal Language Collage Body Language

The radio advertising jingle for Amazon at the moment is Can You Feel It?  by The Dance Music Jar.  Writing body language so that readers can feel it is, in my opinion, is bloody hard.   Dialogue also,  although I can hack dialogue.  I will work it and work it over and over again, until it feels and sounds right for the character, his/her mood, accent, language skills and general take on life.  But, when it comes to descriptions of any kind, I’m always impatient, wanting to move the story on… which is why, I suppose, is why I skim over them.   (I think to myself I’ll fill in that bit later – but that never works very well.)  To some authors,  drawing us into a particular scene and setting by sharing how it feels/looks/sounds/tastes seems to come naturally.  Grrr.  And again, grrr.

When writing body language, how many times do characters frown, raise their eyebrows, shake their heads, smile, ball their fists, shake their fists.  When I read other writers’ work, I know I’m not the only one to struggle.  Not so LJ Ross!

Over the last few days, I’ve been immersed in LJ Ross’s Angel, a DCI Ryan Mystery.  This is the fourth book in the series but the only one I’ve read so far but I’m sure I’ll borrow more.  As you know, Dear Reader, crime fiction is by far and away my favourite genre (even though I know, as certainly as I’m sitting here, that I could never write it).  The DCI Ryan Mysteries are police procedural fiction; there are no private detectives around these days (unless you count Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotwse).  Some things about Angel didn’t work for me:  all police characters being referred to by surnames, even the females, left me confused as to which gender they were and unable to picture them; occasional telly paragraphs justifying protagonists’ actions and viewpoints.  However,  LJ’s depictions of body language are bang on every time – original and meaningful and succinct.

  • MacKenzie (aka Denise, female) was…warmed from inside out.  (I can feel this!)
  • He leaned forward slightly, linking his long fingers loosely atop his desk.  (Good use of props (the desk), reminding the reader about the setting.)
  • His mouth moved as if he were about to say something… and ...
  • eyes whipping back round, unable to control instinctive reaction.  (Building up, anticipation!)
  • They stepped… into rain… found their clothes plastered to skin in seconds. (The plastering I particularly liked.)
My son-in-law, who is a potter, tells me that, when he has to draw/model a subject, he studies it closely and intensely, and I’m sure that this is also a good method for writing body language.  It’s all graft, watching people, what they do with their heads, arms, legs etc, and writing notes.  Also, about having time to do this and not being embarrassed to take out a notebook in a public place.
Sorry to be posting something a bit like a book review on a writing blog, but nobody was reading my book blog, Dear Reader.

Five Objects in My Writing Space

I’m tempted to write my computer five times over, but that’s not quite true.  After a huge amount of thought, I can announce that my writing objects are:

  • My computer.
  • My riser (cushion between my knees and my laptop, so that I don’t have to bend my head quite so far to see my screen and thereby make my RSI worse than it is already).
  • My mobile.  (I’m not wearing a watch at the moment and I’m one of those people who has to know the time all the time, so I need to see the clock app.)
  • Tea mug (hopefully full, probably empty).

    Cup of tea
    My favourite cup.
  • Apple cores.  (Some writers consume biscuits.  I try not to.)

Am I allowed to mention my cat?  (She’s not an object, though.)

One of the things I enjoy about writing is the lack of clutter, as compared to doing work-work (paid work), where I’m required to have bits of paper all around me.

You may ask where my research and my planning is.  Answer: research is my computer, on Internet Favourites and on Evernote and planning (for my next novel) is on an Access database.  I have to confess that planning for the novel I’ve just finished was all in my head.

Today is the first Wednesday of the month and therefore Insecure Writers’ Support Group day.  This month, we’re asked to write about five objects around us when we’re writing – hence the post above.  If you feel insecure as a writer (who doesn’t?), do join us.

Hello From a Stranger Writer

Or should I say – again – Hello from a Bad Blogger.

Has this woman not been writing?  Does she not care that her blog views will go down the pan?  The answers are not really and not at the moment.  Over the last few months, health issues have dogged our family, AND I’m working far more hours than I intended.  (How many times have I written the last bit?)

I have finished The Novel.  Two lovely beta readers – to whom I’m very very grateful – are currently reading it.  Since then, I’ve written (a minute number of) blog posts for Write On and a couple of posts for More Than Writers the Association of Christian Writers blog).  And two sermons.  Titter ye not.  I’m an authorised local preacher at my church and putting together a sermon is very like writing.  The big difference is that you don’t need to (and indeed you shouldn’t) set down every word.  Instead, you should lay out your notes clearly, in such a way that you can see the main points and phrase them in the manner that occurs to you when you’re standing there in church.  I enjoy doing getting the sermons together and delivering them, even though it’s scary.

Entity Relationship Diagram of Blogger's Next Novel
You read it here first!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wasn’t attempting NanNoWriMo because, at the end of October, I hadn’t done enough planning for my next novel and, as I realise now, I didn’t have the emotional energy to launch into another novel.  Soooo, she, who usually pitches headfirst into all writing,  has started an intricate planning process.  I thought of building a database in Microsoft Access of my characters, so that I didn’t have to keep checking facts.  I would also build chapter glossary into it, I thought.  Being a technical IT bod, I started the database by drawing a ERD (entity relationship diagram) and a data dictionary.  This would be very simple, I supposed, just a few tables.  Oh no.  Dear Reader, I now have 12 tables and 14 relationships between them and I haven’t properly started entering data yet.  When I do try to enter data, I discover another fault in the design.  Developing this ERD is both challenging and satisfying. It appeals to different parts of my brain.  Maybe I needed to do something different.  Watch out for the best planned novel ever.  Hope I complete the planning by Nano 2019.

I’m reading The Murder of My Aunt (by Richard Hull).  They call it Classic Crime.  Great stuff.

IWSG: How Has Your Creativity in Life Evolved Since You Began Writing?

Time for the Insecure Writers Support Group again.  In my last post, I was writing about my disappointment in not being ready to do NanoWriMo this year.  Over the last few weeks, I have casting my mind back to 2015, when I did take part in Nano, how much I enjoyed it, how absorbed I was in the novel I was writing and how confident I was about the result.  This novel was going to be the best thing ever… well, one or two things needed sorting but… still.   As regular followers of this blog will know (because I have moaned about this incessantly), those ‘one or two things’ have taken me three years to sort out (along with work, family and other commitments) and, now, as I’m about to send The Novel to beta readers, I’m a thousand times less confident than in 2015.

This month, we’re asked if our creativity in life has evolved.  Like most writers, I was ‘writing’ in my head since childhood.  In the very early days, my inspiration came from books, then – with precocity which stuns me – as I moved into teenage years, I made a decision to stop reading so much and find my inspiration from real life.  I have done this ever since.  What seems to set off my imagination are dramas in my everyday life and in current affairs.

It’s no accident that The Novel is about the Polish trade union Solidarity and events in Poland in the 1980s.  At the time they were ‘current affairs’ that I read about in the newspaper and felt very inspired by.   The issue which inflames me at the moment (although too serious and too disgusting for writing material) concerns Asia Bibi, the Christian mother in Pakistan, accused of blasphemy and acquitted by the court but still in prison and not allowed to leave the country.   Various organisations are on the case and asking for your support – please read this petition and consider signing it.

Why I’m Not Doing NanoWriMo

Cat on cushions
My cat sitting on cushions, like Princess and the Pea. (I can’t think of a relevant image.)

Hel…lo.  You thought I’d disappeared off the blogosphere?  I know.  I haven’t been around for a while, too busy with Work (the four-letter-word) and attempting to finish The Novel.  Which brings me straight on to why I’m not doing NanoWriMo.

My fellow-writers will know all about NanoWriMo already, but, just in case you’re not one, it’s an annual online event whereby you can sign up to write a 50,000 word novel during the days of November, and post your words up on the NanoWriMo site.  All non-writers and sensible people are now crying ‘Whaaat?’ and ‘Stupid idea?’ and ‘That’s impossible’, but, Dear Reader, I’ve done it once.  In 2015, I managed to bang out my 50,000 words during the November, but the storyline was only half-done and I needed another three months to reach the end and, as you might expect, a lot of the text was not properly relevant to the storyline and/or badly written.   DR, I have only – in the last few weeks – finished editing that novel.  It needed two very thorough edits.  I’m now about to send it to beta readers.  Offers from more betas, prepared to read a modern historical novel, would be very welcome – please reply to this post.

Other reasons for not doing Nano:
  • Main one:  I have an idea for another novel, but I haven’t done enough planning yet.  I’m sure that I would produced a draft of my 2015 Nano novel requiring far fewer edits and restructures, if I had carried out more in depth planning, rather than listening to my gut absolutely all the time.
  • I have many short stories on my computer which would not be placed if I got involved in another novel.
  • Work, the four-letter word.   On 31 October, having done minimal planning (see above),  I thought I’d just prepare dinner, do the ironing, finish off some work and attend a church event… and then finish the planning.  Needless to say, I never got around to it.
  • On 1-2 November, I felt really ill.  OK, only a cold, but with a head fit to burst, burning sinuses and a throat full of rasor blades.  Good start, or what?  (Much better now, but not completely.)

I’m very disappointed not to be doing Nano.  In 2015, doing Nano was exhilarating, posting up the words every day and writing away, knowing  (and feeling) other writers working around me.  I’m missing it.

Does Writing Help You Through?

iwsg300Today is first Wednesday of the month and therefore Insecure Writers Support Group day.  This month our optional question is:  How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something? (That’s two questions.)

Major life events, when they come, tend to take up all my time and prevent me from writing.  I recall, many decades ago, attempting to enter a novel for a major competition from the maternity ward, after having just given birth to my son.  My husband had to post it… and it didn’t win.   (I punched well above my weight in those days.)  Preoccupied with children, I didn’t write anything else for a long time.

The next question concerns writing through something, meaning (I guess) writing through pain or loss.  I know I’ve written on this blog that I can’t write when I’m upset or depressed, but I’ve been rethinking this recently.  During an acute crisis, I can’t write a thing, but, in the more prolonged difficult periods of my life, the ideas have come and writing has been my relief and release.   I don’t think I have written especially well at these times but I have written.

The IWSG is the place where we insecure writers release our fears to the world – or, to put it another way, offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic.  If you write, whether you feel insecure or you’re bursting with confidence, do think of joining IWSG, as the group’s site contains a lot of useful information, hosts anthologies and lists competitions.   Taking part in the blog-hop every first Wednesday of the month also puts you in touch with other writers and gets your blog seen.


Commoners in the Royal Family

Pink dahlias
Pink dahlias in the Dahlia Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge.

Whilst watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel last June, I became very irritated by sentimental comments about ‘breaths of fresh air’ and inferences that Meghan Markel was the first commoner to marry into our (British)  Royal Family.  How could they be so wrong and so ignorant?

Of course, the Duchess of Cambridge (formerly Kate Middleton) has no blue blood, but, then, she is discreet, restrained and sensible, so not of interest to tabloid newspapers.   But – for millennia – the Royal Family has attracted hangers on, social climbers and those with the eye to the main chance.   The Boleyns and the Woodvilles come to mind.   Also Wallis Simpson.

Elizabeth Woodville is generally regarded as being pushy and a bit of a slapper, but, being a widow without any means to support herself or her sons, it seems she was just dogged.  Legend has it that she sat under an oak tree, where she knew King Edward IV would pass, and pleaded for the return of her lands, confiscated in the Wars of the Roses.  Later, when she became queen, she obtained a papal indulgence for those who said the Angelus three times a day – the sorts of thing that all slappers always do.

Red dahlias
Red dahlias in the Dahlia Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge.

Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, came from a family on the make.  Her sister, Mary, was Henry VIII’s mistress for a short time and her father and brother were seeking out offices near the King.  In The Queen of Subtleties, by Susannah Dunn, we see Anne in super-bitch mode, a veritable Alexis Carrington, with an extra finger which she used, if necessary, to spook those who came across her.  He doesn’t understand what he’s up against.  When I’m good, I’m very good.  These are some of the remarks which Dunn has Anne say.  The author has all characters used modern parlance and modern idioms, so, as you can imagine, the dialogue is very punchy, and does not detract from the historical period.  She has drawn Anne Boleyn to perfection, an anti-heroine, breathlessly funny and clever, and her story is un-put-down-able..  (I haven’t finished Queen of Subtleties yet.)

Queen of Subtleties has two narrators, Anne Boleyn, and King Henry’s confectioner, Lucy Cornwallis, who is sweet and well-meaning.  Guess whose story carries me along?  As I’ve commented before, we are attracted to evil – aren’t we?

Yesterday, we went to Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, which has nothing to do with any of the above, but the dahlias were amazing – hence the photos.

Publishing? Don’t Shake the Boat

Time for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.  This month’s optional question has mined my writerly insecurity.  The question is: What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

  • Well, Dear Reader, as you know, apart from a few short stories, my breathtaking contributions to the world of literature are as yet unclaimed by publishers.  To be brutally frank, The Novel, which I would like to see in print or even in electronic form, is still unfinished.  I am getting through the editing slowly, but the word publishing brings me out into a cold sweat.  I will, however, try to answer.
  • When editing is done, I will ask people to read it.  One dear friend has already volunteered.  Anyone reading this who would like to read a bordering on historical novel based in the 1980s, featuring the Polish trade union Solidarity, is very welcome to contact me.  As I’m female and no spring chicken, I would particularly welcome younger readers and male readers.
  • After that, I will send the result of my endeavours to a professional editor.  Yes, I know, these cost, but I’m assured that it’s worth it.
  • I will attempt to persuade an established author to endorse my big work (having read it first, obviously).
  • I will try the traditional publishing route, having first obtained advice from my writer friends as to which ones are likely to work for me.
  • If I get no biters, I will try self-publishing, but the promotion work necessary for self-publishing terrifies me.

This evening, when I relax with Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, I shall attempt not to fall in despair.  McEwan writes so well, sets scenes and describe people’s actions so brilliantly.  My prose, my characters and my settings are nothing in comparison.