Happy New Year… But Spare Me the New Year Target-Setting

I don’t do New Year resolutions.  I have had enough of target-setting at work.

So don’t expect me, today, on New Year’s Eve, when I’m full of mince pies and Christmas cake and busy with family and social activities, to vow to eat less/ do a dry January/ join a gym/ read more/ do more in the garden/ spend more time with the cat… or even to do more writing.

Most targets at work are just bits of paper for your manager to wave in front of his/her manager.  So are too many New Year Resolutions.  Most New Year resolutions would dissolve in the fountain in Trafalgar Square (if we could muster the energy to get off our sofas, take a train to London and jump in).  Come the second week of January, we’ve forgotten about them (unless anyone’s joined a gym, in which case he/she will get an unpleasant reminder every time  receive his/her monthly bank statement).

What’s special about a new year?  If we’re serious about what we do, we consider what we want to achieve carefully and over a longish period of time.  We set our proper goals whenever, in any month, any week.  Most importantly, we give ourselves the necessary tools, because our goals are real and we believe in them.

Cartoon writerI am definitely not doing enough writing.  I’ve posted on ‘From Story Idea to Reader’ Facebook group that I want to finish editing The Novel. Also,  I know I should also be submitting short stories to likely markets.  But, as you know, Dear Reader, I’m visiting The Novel every Thursday (in term-time, anyway) and not submitting any short stories at all.  The tool I need is time.  So… I have got to think about ways to make more time to write.  This is not easy to get my head around and will not come quickly, seeing as a girl has to live as well.   And I want to do my stuff for church and the Association of Christian Writers.  I’m accepting entries for the ACW Historical Fiction competition at the moment, but I’m not promoting it in this post as the deadline is midnight tomorrow.

No quick New Year fix, I’m afraid.  …Maybe I should give up blogging.  It is very time consuming.

When my husband worked in the City, he used to buy the Private Eye annual every year and get it signed by Ian Hislop, in Waterstones.  Says my husband, “Well, Ian, another year.”

“Yes,” replies Ian Hislop.  “Another year, another pair of underpants.”

(And that’s a true story.)

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Writing Over Christmas

Take a break from writing to spend time with family, meet friends and celebrate.  That’s what romantic novelist and womag writer, Patsy Collins, is recommending in the From Story Idea to Reader Facebook group.  Too late, Patsy, I’ve already started.

My third favourite occupation (after writing and reading) is cooking.  Below is some of the food no family can do without over Christmas.

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Christmas cake
Christmas Cake, iced my son-in-law.
Home made mincepies, using my friend, Julie's, mincemeat
Mince pies using my friend’s mincemeat.

 

 

 

 

 

Stocking your blogger made for her granddaughter.
Granddaughter’s stocking.

Last week, I relearned all my needlework skills (from over twenty-five years ago) and made my granddaughter’s stocking.   By the way, ‘relearning my needlework skills’ included remembering how to re-thread my sewing machine.

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Two weeks ago I had to submit a modern author photo to accompany my article in Together  (trade magazine for Christian publishers). Presentation is everything these days.  Sitting at home in my own living room one evening, I took about ten selfies on my iPhone.  I always look terrible in photos.  I really am not America’s Next Best Model as I can’t smile to order.  I eventually chose this one.

Lesson plan for maths class
My lesson plan for my maths class.

Last weekend I was preparing for a learning observation – of a maths class.  Bear it in mind, Dear Reader, that I haven’t taught maths for ten years and only restarted after the October half-term.   I was going out of my mind with nerves.  Then the observation was cancelled due to snow.

So, I will do more writing after Christmas.  Really, honestly.   We all will, won’t we?  In that slack week between Boxing Day and New Year, whilst eating turkey sandwiches and left-over sprouts, you could have a go at the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) Historical Fiction Competition.  (I can’t.  I’m not allowed to because of being ACW Competitions Manager.)   You need to write a short story (word count 1200 words) set in or before 1970.  (This accords with the Historical Fiction Society’s definition of historical being anything fifty years ago or beyond.)  The deadline is 31 December 2017, so you really will have to write during mince pie time.  More information on the ACW website.

Happy Christmas.  I doubt if I will have time to post next week.  I’ll be making the trifle.

Why Do We Write? (999th Post on This Subject – Possibly)

It’s the mention we want, I think.

One of my nicer tasks as Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers is to inform winners that they have won in our competitions.  First-place is awarded a book-token prize, and his/her story is published in Christian Writer, which is circulated to the ACW’s seven hundred members.  Second-place also receives a (smaller) book token, although third-place doesn’t, and the names of first-, second- and third-place are published in Christian Writer as winners.  What I find is, over and over again, that the most important thing to the winner is his/her story appearing in Christian Writer, not the book token, and, to the second and third-placed winners, seeing their name on the printed page.

This reflects the fact that very few of us can afford to write for a living.  Most of us have day-jobs or are retired,and this affects the amount of time, energy and head-space we can devote to writing.  Not a good thing.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get some sort of grant to write?  Take a look at the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writer’s Award, worth £10,000, for an unpublished writer.  You have until 13 December to apply.  (Thanks to Patsy Collins for this one.)

By the way – I have to slip this in – we have another competition, for historical fiction, this time.   All you need to do is to write a short story, where action takes place in nineteen seventy or earlier, and with a Christian element (perhaps a major character who is a Christian or a Christian setting, such as a church).  1200 words, please, and the deadline is New Years Eve.  Free to ACW (Association of Christian Writers) members and, for everybody else, £3 for first entry and £2 for second entry.  More information on the ACW site.  The prizes are £25 book token (first-place) and £10 (second-place).  And the winner will be published in Christian Writer.

Can’t think of any suitable pics for this post, so I’ve included some random flowers.  At least they’re pretty and autumnal/wintry.

NaNoWriMo Week 1- The Writing Brain

i’ve always known that brain exercise is as energetic as sport. Thanks to Cheryl Fasset for this one.

Catching Fireflies

I am sad that life and juggling work projects has interfered with my chasing NaNoWriMo this year. But, I am still here for moral support for all the crazy writers who took the plunge. And for those of you who have never tried it… It is a roller coaster that I cannot recommend highly enough!

This is Your Brain on Writing

Last June, an article with the same title was written by Carl Zimmer and appeared in the NY Times. It started, “A novelist scrawling away in a notebook in seclusion may not seem to have much in common with an NBA player doing a reverse layup on a basketball court before a screaming crowd. But if you could peer inside their heads, you might see some striking similarities in how their brains were churning.” And I was hooked.

I have never been athletic so learning…

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Resources for Writing Descriptions

I would answer No to both poll questions.  I find writing descriptions tedious, that they slow me down when what I really want to do is get on with the action.  When I’m reading, I often skip through descriptions.  When editing, I enjoy refining a piece of dialogue to get it just right for the character’s voice and, at the same time, to move the story on.  However, even I recognise – oh so reluctantly – that writing is much more effective when readers are shown how characters spoke, any hand movements, facial expressions and how they held their bodies, but, here I am, half way through a novel of characters who are all raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyes (or so it seemed to me).  If you are an editor or publisher, please stop reading now.  The Novel won’t be like it when it reaches you. 

I have found some resources to help writing descriptions.  I came across Descriptionari – a website where other writers post their favourite descriptions – accidentally.  To be honest, at first, it felt like cheating, like one of those pay-for-GCSE-essay sites, but it isn’t because what fits the Descriptionari writer’s context doesn’t fit yours.  Yet, it is so helpful to be able to analyse what other writers have written in similar situations.   I also find the Macmillan Dictionary Online Thesaurus  to be better than other thesauruses as it includes related words too.

Inevitably, I have also discovered, on the internet, many many articles saying, in so many words, ‘Don’t do descriptions’… and then told you how to do them.  These demotivated me.  As I put my computer down and picked up my book, wondering why all other writers could do descriptions and I couldn’t, I realised that the biggest resource of all was staring at me in the face.

Coincidentally, when I was doing a bit of clearing up at home, I found a copy of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (actually awarded to my father as a school prize in the 1930s).  As this book was falling to bits, I downloaded it on to my Kindle and I’m still reading it.  I know what you’re going to say, Dear Reader, that nobody reads The Forsyte Saga, but those people who watch the box-set are missing some of the most vivid word descriptions ever, of characters,  how they move, how they look, how they speak, how they react without speaking.

Soames looked very real, sitting square yet almost elegant with the clipped moustache on his pale face, and a tooth showing where a lip was lifted in a fixed smile. 

Oh What a Bad Blogger?

I’m being a bad blogger again.  I missed last week and, the way things are going, I’m going to miss this week as well, and, in seven days’ time, I’m going on holiday to Tenerife for a week.  So, here goes.  I’m exhausted, having just cleared out the garage today, and, as I’m typing, my cat is standing on my lap, pummeling it.  And the television is on; one and only husband has to watch The News.

So, have I been posting loads of book reviews on my other blog, Dear Reader?  No, I need to write about three reviews, one for Instant Apostle (which I will do tomorrow, honestly) and a couple for books I read a few weeks ago (whoops!)

Afternoon Tea at The Belmont Hotel, Leicester
Afternoon Tea at The Belmont Hotel, Leicester

Yesterday, I went to Leicester, to see some friends from school, many of whom I hadn’t seen for a very long time.  It was absolutely amazing to see them.  We picked up as if the intervening years hadn’t happened.  Who would have thought us lot of tearaways,  our school uniform skirts bunched up under our school belts and school hats folded into four, rim cut off and mutilated in every conceivable way, would be eating anything so ladylike as afternoon tea?  But we did, and it was very nice.  Afterwards, having put flowers on my parents’ grave, I wandered into town and took a look at the Clock Tower, and Leicester Market.  Years ago (not telling you how many), I sourced the material for my wedding dress in Leicester Market, from a stall called ‘Geoff the Pirate’.  £10, it cost.

Clock Tower, Leicester
Clock Tower, Leicester

I have been doing some writing over the last couple of weeks.  I even managed to write on the train up to Leicester and back.  I’m getting good at writing on trains.  I  don’t seem to be distracted by endless announcements, although other people’s conversations are more difficult to cut out.  I’ve been plodding away at The Novel.  Editing is such hard work.  Getting anything down, as per the Nano philosophy, is the easy bit.  Putting it right – no reps, punctuation correct, using the right phrase, the one that says just what you want it to, making sure you involve all the senses – all this is much harder… but, just when you think you’re there,  you think of an alternative – and much better –  way of writing the scene.  Next day, when you look at the alternative scene again, you see how that could be improved by editing… and so on.

The problem is I don’t seem to be able to see the minutiae until I start  what is really proofreading; this is all upside down, I know.  I should be getting the big picture right and then cross ts and dot is.  I’m sure that a proper writer would be able envisage his/her story much better and save himself/herself time.  Next time, I will do it differently.  (Says she.)

Now, I’m logging off.  I’m exhausted.

Pet Peeves In Reading, Writing and Editing

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IWSG badge

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, and it’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group day!  We are asked to write about our pet peeves in reading, writing and editing, so please allow me to have a really good moan.

Peeve 1 – Reading

I review – more or less – everything I read on my Dear Reader blog and it peeves me that no one reads my reviews.  It’s not as if no-one reads book reviews online because many other book reviewers blogs do attract interest, so, in an open and non-peevish way, I’m asking you, my fellow bloggers, what could be improved?  (This Dear Reader blog text here is a link, if you wouldn’t mind checking it out.)

Peeve 2 – Writing

No time.  (The really helpful and supportive Facebook friends who read the Facebook post generated by my last post on this blog will have heard all this before.).  The last time I did any proper writing, that is, of my novel, was on a train to Newcastle and back, on 8 July.  In the meantime, I’ve been working, seeing friends and looking after family.  Moreover, on Sunday, one-and-only-husband and I go on holiday to Ireland for ten days.  I love to see my friends and family, because, as I’ve said before, I’m not all writer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Another blogger (not known to me personally) has given up her day-job, but she, unlike me, is an established womag writer.   Dare I take the plunge?  No.  Could I partly take the plunge?  I’m plucking up courage.

Peeve 3 – Writing and Editing

Author's Cat Sitting by BookcaseMy cat is old, very timid and very loving.  She likes to sit on my knee, between me and the computer.   Actually, she prefers to stand on my knee between me and my computer, so I find myself stretching my arms around her head (one end) and tail (other end) to reach the keyboard and looking over her back to see the screen.  This is distracting when writing.  It also makes editing more difficult, because she sits on the touchpad; my computer is surprising responsive to her paws and bottom, highlighting and deleting whole passages at whim (her whim).

Generally, I am feeling very insecure about my writing at the moment.  A few weeks ago, I saw a flyer for the Mslexia novel comp; the deadline is in mid-September and, if shortlisted, I would have to have the whole thing completed by mid-November.  When I was on a roll, writing on trains to and from Newcastle, this sounded just about do-able, but, now, I know, it’s not.  Ditto, any possibility that I might do Nano again.  At this moment, I feel that The Novel and I are becoming shipwrecked.

In Train-ing

Can you write in public?

According to myth,  J K Rowling wrote the first ‘Harry Potter’ in a cafe, because she was a single mother and ‘too poor’ to afford to pay for heating in her home.  J K, didn’t you  end up shelling out more on coffee than you would’ve done on electricity/gas/oil, or whatever your heating ran on?   But I know how comfortable you get to feel in a coffee shop.  It’s the smell – of coffee -and the background buzz of conversation, of strangers who won’t ask you to do something, find something or switch on the television.

For NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) (which happens every November), Nano writers, mostly strangers to each other,  meet together in public and private places, not to socialise, but to write, all together, in silence.  I did that one Saturday afternoon, in a building whose purpose I never fathomed, two years ago, in Colchester.

Could you write on a train?  My friend, Wendy H Jones (of DI Shona McKenzie fame) writes on the train; as she lives in Scotland, she uses trains a lot, and has five Shona McKenzie books, plus several others, to show for it.  This last weekend I travelled to Newcastle, and back, by train, for the Association of Christian Writers Writers’ Day.  The speaker was David Robinson, of Searchlight Theatre, a comedic writer, and the Day was really informative and helpful – more about this on the ACW blog, when it’s my turn this coming Thursday.

I’m moving ahead of myself.  I had to get to Newcastle: it was four hours on a train heading north on Friday and five hours heading back south on Saturday.  So, having packed my smaller – old – computer into my overnight-acceptable-on-a-Ryanair-cabin case, I set it up on the railway carriage table in front of me.  Virgin Trains do support people who want to use computers, by providing three-point sockets beside every double seat, and also free wifi (although this worked only on my iPhone, not on my laptop).  Unfortunately, Dear Reader, the table in front of me was about the size of a child’s desk, and four of us – all women – sitting at it.  And there was me attempting to write one of the most complex chapters of The Novel, including an emotional love scene, with lots of groping and kissing.  I’m sure the woman sitting next to me was reading my page in Word.  I’d like to think that, in a few years’ time, she’ll count herself privileged to have observed a blockbuster in the making.  My friends, who had already arrived in Newcastle and were enjoying a curry, sent me Facebook Messenger texts about Girls on the Train, but, as I had to point out, that’s already been done.  Titles aren’t copyright, though.  Mm.

But, Dear Reader, I wrote.  I did second drafts of two chapters.  Away from home, and family wanting me to do things, I was able to concentrate, even  though the computer was feeling its age and I did wonder whether my work would get itself properly on to Dropbox.  (It did.)

Bringing a Little Sunshine, ACW competition
Attrib Christian Writer

One of the reasons for my going to the Writers Day was to launch the new ACW comp for comedic writing.  All you need to do is to write a sketch of (maximum) thousand words or a comic poem of (maximum) twenty-four lines, on the theme Bringing a Little Sunshine. The winning entry will appear in a future edition of Christian Writer (subject to possible editing). In addition, there’s a first prize of a £25 book token and a £10 book token for second prize.  Deadline 11 September 2017.   More information on the comps page of the ACW website.  So next time you find yourself in train-ing, don’t go off the rails.  Get writing for our competition.

What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?

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First Wednesday of the month and time for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that I need to have contact with other writers.  For years I hid myself away in my spare bedroom, writing to my own specifications and user requirements.   When I ‘came out’, by posting my work on an online writing site, I was gobsmacked by the sort of feedback I received, some of it obvious stuff and other things that had never occurred to me.  You see, I’ve never studied literature or taken the MA in creative writing, so there were enormous gaps in my skills and knowledge, which I am gradually filling with support from my fellow writers through:

  • online writing sites
  • writing groups (some online and some face-to-face)
  • subbing my work
  • entering writing competitions
  • blogging
  • reading writing magazines and online articles
  •  being with members of the (British) Association of Christian Writers.

I’m still no expert but I’m sure I know a great deal more about the craft of writing and the way the publishing industry works than when I was tapping away in my spare bedroom.  It’s taking me a very long time to get where I want to be, where I thought I was.   I want to finish my novel and get it published.  It’s a long haul.  It always was a long haul but it no longer seems impossible.

How Computers Affect Your Writing Style

Have you considered how computers affect your writing style?

I’m not talking about Word’s Autocorrect. Were corrected to We’re is very annoying, but can be proofread out, as can which instead of witch.   I believe computers affect how we construct sentences and paragraphs and the way in which we set down our stories.

When I first started writing, I wrote on lined A4, made a very few edits, then typed it on my cheap and wonky electric typewriter.  (No,  that’s not true.  Much of my juvenile writing was left – exactly as it was –  in red Sylvine notebooks.)  I always used to write in pencil, and, in my latter handwriting days, do a lot of rubbing out, until I got things right, but making corrections on a manuscript, on which I’d written on every narrow line, would have been well nigh impossible.  Those of us who visit museums will have seen initial manuscripts of some classic writers (eg the Brontes), with lots of little

Publisher's galley
Galley. Attrib Wikimedia.

corrections written above the text and in margins.  I recall, my father who wrote geography textbooks, in the 1960s and 1970s, being given long galleys (like a till roll only wider), and him making – very minor – correction marks in the margins.

During the same era, Claire Rayner was rattling off doctor and nurse stories straight on to the typewriter, presumably with no editing at all.  When Dickens wrote his great novels, he published a chapter in Household Words every week, then wrote the next chapter during the proceeding week.  No wonder some of his plot lines – particularly The Old Curiousity Shop – meandered.   I understand from my publisher friend that many writers still prefer to write by hand, and use the typing-up as a first edit, although, she said, it doesn’t work for her.  Nowadays I always type.  I like the clean page, clean, that is of all errors and alterations.  Typing comes easily, probably because I learned to touch-type as a new graduate.  (My father didn’t believe I’d ever get a job otherwise.)

Old computer, Microsoft PC, about 1995.
Old computer (attrib Flickr)

When we got our first desktop computer in 1996 (cost £1400, running the very first version of Windows 95 – wow, cutting edge stuff!), suddenly it was possible to cut and paste sentences around the page… and paragraphs… to move scenes from one chapter to another.  You could make those little changes with the backspace delete key, no need for the editor’s hieroglyphics – and we could make them over and over again.  We could alter the names of characters using find and replace , even change point-of-view (although I recommend care on this one.)

And how we edit!   I must have made a hundred edits just on this post.   Increasingly it’s become expected of us that every word on our page is perfect, adds something to character and progresses the plot.  You couldn’t demand that of someone writing by hand and having their work typed by a professional typist.  No wonder it’s taking me so long to write The Novel.  I’m the worst.  Whenever I open the document for my current chapter, I read what I’ve written and spend up to an hour making edits.  I suspect some are more pertinent than others.  How much is a story improved by ‘Marya says’, not ‘says Marya’?  I suspect that, to a large extent, I’m wasting my time, improving things that don’t matter very much… because I can.

I’ve more to say on this, but I’m leaving this topic for now, as I’ve rabbited on enough.