Tonight’s motivational tip for writers

So, tonight, to increase writerly productivity, I enlisted the help of my friends.

I set aside three hours of writing time and sent a message out on Facebook asking people to estimate how many words I’d write in that time. Whoever made the best guess would win a glass of beer / wine / other the next time I see them.

For context, it’s first draft time, which comes out quickly and without any polish. I managed to avoid distractions (apart from changing CD (Mahler and Prokofiev tonight), replenishing my glass of water, and occasionally popping back to Facebook to follow the betting).

Estimates ranged from the pessimistic 9 (from a writer!) to the optimistic 6000 (from an editor!), which probably gives an insight into why the writer / editor relationship can sometimes be a bit fraught…

As I said in my follow-up FB post, it was highly motivating to feel accountable to a group of people and to know that they were watching over me. Writing can be an isolated activity, so to have some people cheering from the stalls gave me a bit of extra oomph in breaking through a bit of deadlock. I’ll definitely be doing it again.

That said, I’ve set a benchmark now, so they might be expecting more next time. My arms are aching after three hours solid typing and my eyes are a bit blurry…. But I managed to pour out precisely 5224 words in that time. And, in the words of someone much wiser than me, that’ll do, pig, that’ll do.

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Blank sheet of paper time…

Forgive me, internet; it has been a while since my last blog posting. So settle back on your sofas, pour a glass of wine and let me ramble at you for a while.

Novel #1 is out in the ether looking for a publisher to adopt it as their own. It’s a fascinating process, in part because each little piece of feedback (aka rejection) gives you another insight into the process and into the minds and priorities of editors and publishers.

Letting go of Novel #1 has been tricky. I’m like a mother whose daughter has finally left home and, after years of arguments, I find that I miss her.

Pushing the metaphor a bit further, I guess I’m now pregnant with Novel #2. My plan was to tell you all about my process for starting something new. But it turns out I did this a few months ago (told you it was hard to leave one book behind and start the next). Here’s what I said:

I’ve been thinking about [it], dreaming a little, writing down little snatches of dialogue that as-yet-unnamed characters will say, mulling what each of them is really about. I like the looseness of the early stages of writing: finding pictures, pieces of music, historical reference, words, phrases, images and letting them come together in a slightly chaotic crowd. Then I’ll pick my way through them, seeing how they join together, drawing lines between one thing and another. The culmination of that is to get a piece of flip chart paper and draw lots of circles, arrows, stars, squares with words to describe key scenes, moments of character, moments of plot and a kind of sequence for the whole thing. By the time I sit down to start writing, I know broadly what will happen – though not every step along the way – and I could start to write at any point in the book (which is helpful if you start to get bogged down at the beginning of chapter 3).

The good news is: that’s what’s happened. It has taken a lot of mulling, dreaming, procrastinating, ignoring, scribbling, googling and wine, but I’ve now reached the flip chart paper stage. I need a few more arrows, a bit more clarity on major plot points and when they fit together, and to make some tough decisions about exactly how much angst, pain and tragedy I can heap on the next set of unsuspecting characters, but it’s definitely coming together. The one thing I haven’t allowed myself to do is worry about it. If you stare at the blank sheet of paper and feel anything like anxiety, then it’s never going to happen. Better to distract yourself with research, character development, jotting down idiosyncractic details (in this instance, I’ve learned a lot about Scandinavian folklore and I reckon I’d now be quite good at fishing) and generally just letting the world of the book build up around you. And if you’re still stuck, listen to some music: Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony, 4th Movement was my latest discovery and possibly the most dramatic piece of music you can imagine as your soundtrack.

I’ll keep you posted as things progress. In terms of timing: I’d love to have the first draft of this one blurted out into my computer before Christmas (all the dreaming about it makes the writing very quick…). And I’ll have comics news very soon for you too 🙂

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A new short story, just for you…

Two blogs in 24 hours: I’m spoiling you! After lamenting my lack of short story productivity in recent weeks, I asked Twitter to suggest a one-word theme for a story. Thanks to Kerrin Shaw, I have spent all of today thinking of the word “tremulous“. (No, really, thanks, Kerrin.)

Below: the story (which doesn’t have a title, so you’ll just dive straight in).

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All the latest news and views!

What news of the novel, you cry?

After all that editing (and all those moany blogs about the process), it feels like the novel is very nearly in a finished state. Soon, it’ll be time for it to leave home, head off into the world, phone up occasionally for a bit of money to pay the rent, and – hopefully, eventually – blossom into a successful and independent young wage-earner. Or something like that.

Saying au revoir to one novel means planning the next one. There are two concepts vying for my affections at the moment. Both of them will get their chance. I’m just debating which one to date first. For either of them, the process has already begun: I’ve been thinking about them, dreaming a little, writing down little snatches of dialogue that as-yet-unnamed characters will say, mulling what each of them is really about. I like the looseness of the early stages of writing: finding pictures, pieces of music, historical reference, words, phrases, images and letting them come together in a slightly chaotic crowd. Then I’ll pick my way through them, seeing how they join together, drawing lines between one thing and another. The culmination of that is to get a piece of flip chart paper and draw lots of circles, arrows, stars, squares with words to describe key scenes, moments of character, moments of plot and a kind of sequence for the whole thing. By the time I sit down to start writing, I know broadly what will happen – though not every step along the way – and I could start to write at any point in the book (which is helpful if you start to get bogged down at the beginning of chapter 3).

Comics – analogue, digital and coming soon

Last weekend saw me at Bristol Comic Expo, always one of the highlights of the comics calendar here in the UK. I had the slightly daunting honour of interviewing Arthur Suydam, an absolute legend of comic art, a descendant of some of the finest painters produced by the United States, and an incredible painter. In an increasingly digital world, it was fascinating to talk art and craft with someone who still uses a brush, some paint and a canvas to create all of his works.

On the digital front, my most recent blog for Pipedream Comics was published a week or so ago. In it, I explored the creative opportunities presented by digital comics. What is it that digital, and only digital, enables you to do as a creator? How might you change the storytelling process when you’re creating for a digital only environment? It was fun to write and I hope you find it valuable to read.

As for future comics: well, I’m DELIGHTED to have two scripts now safely in the hands of artists and artwork under way.

The Heart Which Makes Us is a graphic novel for the Unseen Shadows universe, focusing on forensic investigator Kathryn Monroe. Artist Aaron Moran is about 1/3 of the way through and his work is stunning – dark, twisted, scratchy, disconcerting. When you look at Aaron’s work, you feel that there is something going on behind the scenes, that there are psychological forces swirling on the page, that truth sits in the shadows and the depths.

Secrets of the Islands is also a graphic novel which will hopefully come out late 2014 / early 2015 from a well known UK publisher. Artist Verity Glass is a prodigious talent, with an amazing eye for colour and a magical style when it comes to expressing character and setting. She’s been a real help in developing the story, and I can’t wait to see how the artwork develops. Secrets of the Islands focuses on a soldier aiming to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder by returning to the site of battle. More than that, I’m not going to tell you. Not yet….

Short stories

All of the above has happened at the expense of short stories. I desperately want to get back to writing them – I miss them! So I’m going to look at the schedule – and the competition calendar – and try to get some momentum on the short and flash front soon.

Thanks for reading! More news as it happens….

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Conscious uncoupling, cubic zirconia and going to the pub: more thoughts about editing

In the past month, I have read the same book seven times. I have read it from beginning to end, from side to side, upside down and inside out. I have read it on my computer screen, I have read it on a Kindle. As I go to sleep at night, I know I’m pretty well going to be dreaming it.

Yes, sports fans, you’re right. I’ve been editing.

I wrote about editing a while ago and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. You can read the old blog post here. Six months on from that post: what new insights can I offer?

1. Editing is boring

Yep. It’s repetitive. It’s pernickety. It’s less interesting than playing the Dr Who 2048 game. Even if you’ve written the most transformative work of fiction since Finnegan’s Wake, you’re going to get bored reading your own words eventually.

2. If it’s boring the first time you read it, you’ve got a lot of work to do

The boredom threshold should kick in after a good number of read-throughs, and should be because you’re bored of the process not of the story. If you’re bored on read-through number one, you’ve written a boring book. Sorry.

3. Editing is essential

Your original draft is wordy, repetitive, full of illogical plot holes and misattributed dialogue, lacking in punctuation, messy, chaotic and probably brilliant. Editing fixes the crap so that the brilliance shines through.

4. It’s up to you to make editing interesting (or you will go mad)

If you simply read your book from beginning to end, over and over, looking for things to improve, here’s what will happen: the first three chapters of your novel will be magnificent. Immaculate, polished, every word a glinting diamond. Get to the middle and you’re flogging cubic zirconia. By the end, lumps of coal.

You have to edit every page as if it were the first. So chunk it up, start reading in the middle. Pick a chapter number at random, read that chapter forensically, improve, improve, then move on to the next randomly chosen section.

It’s also very dull to read the same book on the same screen – after Read-Through Number 5 last month, I transferred the draft to a Kindle. Suddenly, page breaks fell in different places, line spacing was different. I even shifted font a few times. Anything that makes the book visually different will help you to spot things that can be improved. I had actually switched to the Kindle thinking the book was done. Nope. No, sirree. #sigh

Read in different places, read at different times of day, read with a cup of tea or a glass of wine: do anything you can to make the process of reading your book feel like you’re experiencing it for the first time.

5. Know when to stop

At some point, you can disappear up your own editing proverbial. Set a deadline. Have a plan. Stick to it. In your plan, allow time for completely ignoring your book and going to the pub. While there, you will be (a) having a lovely time and (b) subconsciously reflecting on your book. Time away from your book will make the experience of reading it again feel fresher and it will make you more likely to spot things that could be improved. But yes, when you’re satisfied, STOP and let the book live its own life – whether it’s going into the hands of readers, publishers, reviewers, agents or your other half. Consciously uncouple yourself from the book (thanks, Gwyneth). It wants to be read by other people. Let it go.Once you’ve let it go: guess what? You get to start on something new. You can unlock the creative, inventive, masochistic, obsessed, driven, frenzied, world-changing author within you and embark on a…. Ooh, a David Tennant. I’m getting good at this…

 

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Missing Elvis

It was pointed out to me today that I haven’t updated my blog in a while. The last few posts have been “novels and comics” updates, so it’s probably time to share another story with you.

This one’s called Missing Elvis. And it goes a little something like this….

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My new monthly column at Pipedream Comics!

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The lovely people at Pipedream Comics have asked me to write a column for them. Pipedream is the ultimate guide to the world of digital comics, so it’s both flattering and strange that they’ve asked a paper-and-print Luddite like yours truly to share her opinions. I’ll be writing for them on a monthly basis, so if there’s anything that you would like to know about writing, editing, publishing, printing, buying, selling or otherwise enjoying comics, let me know. Just don’t ask me about drawing….

You can read my first column, the provocatively titled Why I Love Digital Comics here.

And my second column – The Great Comic Convention Mystery (Or Why No-One Knows What to Buy and No-One Knows How To Sell It To Them) – is here.

I hope you enjoy them 🙂

 

 

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Flash, times three

Time passes, and my Elephant Words deadlines get sooner each week. I thought I’d post links to my efforts thus far, so you can have a peruse at your leisure.

The idea of Elephant Words is simple: each week, an image is posted. Writers then take it in turns to respond, with a story, a reflection, a poem, a joke. It’s a round-robin, so everyone gets to post an image and you move up through the week each time (hence, the deadlines really are getting sooner….).

Little Bird

Abandoned-House-b-1This image put me in mind of war. A burned out house set me off on an American Civil War path, until I noticed the contrails across the evening sky. That brought me into the 20th century and the war in the former Yugoslavia. From there, it was a case of wondering who had lived in the house and whether, perhaps, she still did. Click to read Little Bird.

Carter and the Blue Cow

Carter and the Blue CowNext up was this little gem. It took me longer than I thought to craft a story around this. My first instinct was to bring the cow to life as some sort of judgmental vegetarian alien: an object lesson that first instincts are not always right. I ended up with something more literal, inspired in part by the feedback loops which the connected world creates for us, as well as by a large colourful cow outside a front door. Click to read Carter and the Blue Cow.

And So We Carve

And So We CarveYou might need to zoom into this one to see her, but in amongst the pumpkin patch, there’s a little girl. This time, all the stories that popped into my brain were very literal – or related to a long-ago real-life trip to a pumpkin farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. (There were pumpkins. We went home. Short story.) A bit of dreaming later and reality was banished… you can read what follows by clicking And So We Carve.

Next week’s image gets posted on Sunday and I’m up on Monday…. I’ll tweet the latest tale and post a link up here too. If you’re on the Elephant Words site, have a dig around – there are some fab writers on there who’d love your eyes upon them 🙂

Happy flashing!

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A big elephant and a little bird

Thank to the lovely Nick Papaconstantinou, I am taking part in Elephant Words, an online writing challenge.

Each week, a writer posts an image on the Elephant Words site. Other writers then respond to it, through stories, recollections, poems, comics, whatever takes their fancy.

This was my first week, and I had the luxury of five days to think. Next week, it’s down to four. In a few weeks’ time, there’ll be a short breath between the image being posted and my story in response. The deadlines are heaven-sent as they’re making me put deadlines on other work that I’m doing (yes, that novel will be edited before ThoughtBubble).

This week’s image was tAbandoned-House-b-1he photograph shown here. You can see it in larger format at http://elephantwords.co.uk/category/elephant-pictures/

And here’s my response: http://elephantwords.co.uk/2013/10/10/little-bird/

I hope you like it!

*All image credits to the people who own the images, as listed on the original sites.

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Editing: dead darlings, flashers in the woods and someone stealing your shoes

So the blog has been a bit quiet for a few months, largely because (a) I was being a productive writer and (b) there was a heatwave. Probably more (b) than (a), but let me believe my own lies at least…

In the past few months, I have written a highbrow piece called Sentient Zombie Space Pigs, which has today received a very lovely review from John Freeman at Down The Tubes. I’ve also been compiling Vol 3 of Disconnected, our comic anthology of stories set in small towns – we’ll be launching that at the Comic Art Festival in Kendal later this month. And I’ve been discovering the joys of editing. Continue reading

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