Excuse me if I look a bit dishevelled

Or indeed if I’m smelling a bit sweaty.  You see, I’m still recovering from a month long bootcamp, and it’s been pretty hard going.  The instructors were hard taskmasters and there’s been absolutely no room for slacking, with daily targets and exercises and always the threat of latrine duty if you fell out of line…

But before you feel too sorry for me, I should point out that this boot camp was virtual and it was all about building writing muscles rather than doing press ups.  I joined an online community of writers called Write MAGIC a few months ago and last month I signed up for their April bootcamp.  We set our own targets, but the aim was to write every day (although four camp passes were available in the month) and post our word count (shiny new words or edited words) every day.

Still, it wasn’t for the faint hearted.  I’d committed to 1,000 new words every weekday, with 100 each Saturday and Sunday.  Some days that came relatively easily, and other days, it took a lot of effort.  I’d set myself a 1,000 words a day target before, but what was different about this was the support of the other bootcampers (and those fierce “instructors” keeping us all in line). 

Writing can be a very solitary experience and partly, it needs to be.  You need to be so much in your own head to write a novel, digging deep into your own thoughts, experiences and emotions to create a compelling world on the page.  But it’s also important for me to have company along the way, people to share with when I come up for air, people who understand – and sometimes, people who’ll crack the whip and shout encouragement.

It’s now May (not sure how that happened!) and I finished the bootcamp month, more than hitting my target, but I’m still writing pretty much every day.  Although it’s now editing rather than shiny new words that I’m working on, I feel much more prepared to lick my story into shape – all thanks to those fellow bootcampers and the scary instructors.

Beginnings, endings and soggy middles

January 27, 2021 Leave a comment

Where to start? The perennial question for a writer. Beginnings, like endings are notoriously tricky beasts. But then, the soggy middle is also a thing – or is that just me?

At the moment, it feels like I’m in all three places at once. As for so many people, my life has changed considerably in the last year. The first covid lockdown coincided with my being made redundant from the day job. I knew it was coming and I’d planned to take the summer off and then start looking for a new job in the autumn. My summer off didn’t quite pan out the way I’d planned…and it has stretched out further.

At first, I’d thought I’d have loads of time, to read and to pick up writing again in earnest. So in a way, although it was an ending, it also felt like a beginning. As it turned out, though, the pandemic and all its trappings turned out to be ruinous for concentration. And time started doing this weird thing of disappearing really quickly on an hourly or even daily basis, while dragging out interminably as weeks and months.

If it hadn’t been for my monthly crit group, I don’t think I would have done any writing at all. And as I have a completed draft of the YA novel I’m currently working on, even crit group submissions only really involved a spot of light editing. It felt like I was very much in the soggy middle.

So far, so doom and gloom.

As time went on, though, I began to think more about the current novel and I started to fall back in love with it. I did a whole read through. I made a bunch of notes. A couple of kind writer friends also did a full read through and gave me lots of useful feedback. I made an edit plan. It felt like a new beginning was happening. And then I procrastinated. And procrastinated some more. I’m an expert in procrastination.

But I’m also pretty good with deadlines. So I gave myself one. After the Christmas holidays, I would start editing. After all, I already had a shiny editing plan and loads of notes.

But I needed a bit more of a push to keep me going. I’m a member of the children’s writers group SCBWII and also a member of a wee sub-group of writers which keeps in touch online with the aim of keeping each other motivated. I can choose to share with the group my writing intentions and then it feels like I’ve made more of a commitment. Sarah, who runs the group, is also running three times a week Zoom catch-ups just now and it’s good to see some friendly and understanding faces and hear how everyone else is getting on.

And it’s worked! A combination of planning, self imposed deadlines, public commitment and friendly motivation from fellow writers has meant that I’ve worked steadily every weekday since the holidays. I’m working through my plan and currently steaming through a structural edit. The soggy middle is banished, and I feel like I’m now at the beginning of the end.

Categories: Uncategorized

Technology – friend or foe?

January 19, 2019 Leave a comment

When I first started writing, I wrote in longhand – I didn’t have any other option.  Then in my teens I got a manual typewriter and taught myself, after a fashion, to type.  In my late teens, I upgraded to an electric typewriter – with a corrector ribbon.  At the time this was pretty sophisticated stuff.  Word processors were just about beginning to be accessible to people at home, but I didn’t have access to one for many years. The first novel I wrote was typed up by my dad’s secretary and delivered to me chapter by chapter which I collated in a folder.

Eventually I got my own computer and printer and now it’s second nature to start writing straight on screen.  I just open up my latest file and start typing.  It’s great for editing – the small amount of editing that I do as I go along, or the bigger edits that come once I have a first draft.  I no longer have to cover a handwritten or typewritten copy in illegible notes and arrows and a complicated system of numbered edits, that make sense at the time, but require much untangling later on.

And yet, I still do a lot of longhand writing.  Sometimes it’s because I’m squeezing my writing in to small spaces in my day when I don’t have my laptop with me.  But sometimes I choose to write longhand because somehow the words come out in a different way. There’s something about actually forming the shapes of the letters with a pen or pencil that makes me think differently and that can be more freeing.  What ends up on the page can often surprise me.  And then, when I type up what I’ve written, it gives me another chance to edit as I go.

Of course, technology can sometimes let you down. From the laptop that starts throwing up the “blue screen of death” error message to the system that crashes and makes you lose a whole morning’s worth of work.  Let’s not even think about the file that becomes corrupted… At the moment, I have no MS Word on my laptop.  For some reason, the programme refused to open.  I uninstalled and reinstalled it, but I’m still having problems.  I’ll get round to getting it fixed, but for the moment, I’m stuck with pen and paper – but you know what?  That’s still a pretty good way to work.

Categories: writing Tags: , ,

Pockets of time

November 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Are you still writing?  I’m asked this fairly often, now that I’m in full time paid employment again.  And usually my answer is, not much, I don’t have the time any more.  But that’s not true – there’s always time somewhere in my day for writing.  All I have to do is look for it – and grab the chance.

There’s that captive time, when you’re stuck somewhere for a specific length of time.  That can be really productive time, I find, because it’s finite and concentrated. I used to do a lot of my writing while my kids were doing activities – it’s amazing how much focused work you can do in the length of a swimming lesson.  I’ve even been known to write on the bus – it is possible, as long as you can decipher very wobbly handwriting and if you don’t get travel sick.

During my working day, I can usually carve out twenty minutes or so between mouthfuls at lunchtime.  Twenty minutes might not seem much, but it’s amazing what you can do in short bursts – and if you do them regularly, they add up.  Even five or ten minutes can be productive. In that time you could: start a mind map to get you thinking or solve a plot problem; capture an impression, a thought, an image, a tic, a snippet of conversation; edit a paragraph; write a sentence.  After all, you write one word at a time, one sentence after another, building paragraphs, sections, chapters…

There will always be things that you need blocks of time to concentrate on – reshaping a whole plot, drafting a synopsis, doing a continuity edit – but loads of writing tasks can be broken into small chunks.

So really, when people ask me if I’m still writing, there’s no excuse.  I should be able to reply, “Yes, every day.”  And for this month of November, my plan is to do exactly that.  Ten days in, I’ve done some writing every day but one, so I’ve started well.  All I have to do is keep it up…

Categories: writing Tags: ,

What came first, the character or the plot?

September 13, 2017 3 comments

It sounds like one of those chicken and egg situations, doesn’t it?  It’s hard to have characters in a story with no plot – that’s the thing about characters, they tend to do and say things and before you know it, they’re in the middle of their own story.  It’s even harder to have a plot with no characters.  I’m sure it’s possible – but not entirely sure it’s desirable.

Mostly, you need to have both.  But which comes first.

For me, it’s usually the plot that comes first, or at least a tiny smidge of a situation or a place or even an image.  It starts small and over time it rolls along, gathering extra bits of action or scenery or more images, like staticky bits of fluff that make it bigger and bigger. And then along the way, bits break off and form their own balls of plot or else they just fall off and blow away – and may or may not blow back again.  After a while, there will be words associated with this plot-blob, and the words will gather more words and there might be a bit of plot-blob control going on – a rough list of scenes still to come or things that need to happen.  And out of all this grows a book.

Or I might have an idea and an inkling of where it’s going and start doing a rough plan at or quite near the start.  I’ll write and shape and write and shape till I have a first draft and then the real work starts as I start bashing and smashing and chiselling it into a proper narrative.

I know that for other writers that the characters might come first.  That doesn’t usually happen for me.  I might have an idea of who’s in my story, but they’re not usually very well formed when I start writing.

And that’s one of the exciting things for me.  It’s almost as if I start writing to find out who my characters are.  It’s in the scribbling down of things that might happen to them, people they might meet, things they might say or do, that I slowly get to know them.  And then they start to have their own voice and think their own thoughts and become very real to me.  Often that’s when my writing really feels as if it’s taking off.

Where does your story start? With plot?  With characters? Or with something else again?

When not writing is still writing

July 17, 2017 1 comment

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog.  It’s been a while since I did much writing at all, to be honest.

At least, that’s one way of looking at it.

Looking at it another way, I’ve been writing every day.  Because writing doesn’t only happen when you’re sitting down in front of the laptop or when you have your notebook out and your pen poised for action.  When you’re a writer, everything you see and do and experience is potentially part of what eventually makes it onto the page.

That tic that you barely notice in the woman sitting across from you on the train might resurface in a completely different character in a completely different setting.  The way you feel when you catch that look your kids give each other that makes you realise they have their own sibling world that you can only ever be on the periphery of; that article you read about a council officer whose job is to arrange funerals for tenants who have no next of kin; that lobster creel you see sitting on the harbourside; that conversation you overhear on the bus.  Any or all of these might end up somewhere in a story.  And not just the next time you write – it could be months or years later.

I’m getting back into the way of putting pen to paper and fingers to keys at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that the time I have spent doing other things isn’t equally vital to my writing life.

That’s my excuse anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Writing life becomes real life

February 15, 2017 1 comment

Since going back into paid employment, I’ve had a lot less writing time. I’ve still been writing of course, because, well, I can’t help myself, I’m a writer!  But it’s been squeezed into smaller and smaller bits of time.

But this weekend, I’m off to a writer’s conference and I’m so looking forward to it. A whole weekend to concentrate on all things writerly. I love spending time with other writers. I always come away inspired or encouraged or comforted – or all three.

And I’ll get a room of my own for the weekend – plenty of time and space to think and dream and write. Not only that, but I’ve got a long train journey to get there – also perfect writing time.

I can hardly wait!



Categories: Uncategorized

Fast or slow?

November 10, 2016 5 comments

At the moment, my time for reading is much less than it was before.  Mostly I’m limited to a few minutes at bedtime.  I bought a few books at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August.  Normally, I’d have finished them ages ago, but I’ve still got one or two to go.

And that’s made me think about how I read.  I’m usually a fast reader, one of those people that are described as devouring books.  On holiday, I can easily average a book a day – I just get sucked in and keep going.

But because I have less reading time, I think I’ve slowed down.  Of course, it would take me longer to read a book these days because I don’t have my nose in it for very long each day, but I think I’ve slowed down more than that. Reading a novel at one sitting, or over a few consecutive days, is a very different experience from reading a chapter a night or a few pages at a time.  I find myself revisiting pages more often to remind myself of what I’ve already read.  But I also find myself taking more in.  I’m less likely to be tempted to rush to the end and more likely to lie ,back and enjoy the journey, savouring every word.

There’s much to be said for complete immersion in a novel, enjoying the feeling of being transported through the characters’ lives.  But there’s also a lot to be said for nibbling away at the story, bit by bit.  Maybe I don’t get the chance to feel completely full at any one time – but I get to linger over every tasty bite.

What do you prefer?  Fast or slow?


Normal service is resumed – sort of

August 4, 2016 4 comments


A month ago I started a new job.  The first salaried employment I’ve had for years – and the first full-time (paying) job I’ve had in even longer.  So things have been a bit different round here for the last few weeks.

But I’m still a writer.  I may have less time to write now – a LOT less time – but I’m still writing.  Because I can’t stop myself.  Because it’s such a bit part of me.  Because the words and the ideas just keep on coming.

And tonight I’ve sent off my first submission in a while.

So, normal writerly service is resumed.  Now excuse me, I have a synopsis to polish up.

Daisy bouquets and spontaneous applause

May 14, 2016 1 comment

This week I visited Davidson’s Mains Primary for some author sessions with the P4s and P5s.  I’ve done quite a few school visits over the years, but this week two things happened to me which have never happened to me before.

First there was a spontaneous round of applause after I read a chapter from The Wishcatchers.  I can’t tell you how lovely that was! And then, later in the day, before I’d even started my session, two girls presented me with a little bunch of daisies.  How wonderful was that?


Not only that, at break time I was offered chocolate in the staffroom.  Yum!


The rest of my visit went well too.  The P5s hung up some brilliant, nail-biting cliff-hangers (not on a cliff, but on a string instead).  There were some amazing ideas there, involving anything from escaping snakes to the sudden realisation of magical powers.  The P4s went to some very interesting places in their imaginations.  Some of them even travelled to other planets.  They also got really good at describing objects to each other – sometimes even without using any adjectives at all.

So a big thank you P4 and P5 at Davidson’s Mains Primary!  You were a fantastic audience and you made me feel very welcome.