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.


Wading through treacle backwards in flippers

April 19, 2016 2 comments

This is what it can feel like when writing isn’t going well, usually in that saggy middle bit of a new book. I know it’s going to happen – it’s happened with almost every book I’ve written.  I know I can get through it – because I’ve done it before. But knowing these things doesn’t necessarily help when I’m in the middle of the treacle-wading.  It’s especially tough when the treacle seems to last a really long time.

Just as well that I’ve worked out some ways of dealing with that treacle then.  And if these work for me, they might work for you too.  So here goes, my top tips for sweeping away that treacle and discarding those flippers.

Apply posterior to seat


Yes, really.  It sounds simple – just sit down in that writing chair, wherever it may be, and get started.  But as anyone who has encountered the treacle will know, it’s not quite that easy.  However, if I don’t sit down, ready to write, then I’ll never get through the block.

Trick yourself

This is one way to making it easier to get started.  I tell myself, “I’ll just open the document” or “I’ll just make some notes” or “I’ll just write for ten minutes.” Sometimes just getting started is all it takes to get the momentum going and I’ll be happily typing or scribbling away for ages.

Treat yourself

Bribery works wonders for me.  I promise myself that when I’ve written a certain number of words or edited a chapter or reached another short-term writing goal then I can have chocolate – even a chocolate button or too can be enough of an incentive.


Sometimes even the promise of a cup of tea will work (but I do know a group of writers who are also encouraged by a virtual St Bernard who runs the length and breadth of the country delivering an author’s favourite tipple in his trusty barrel).


If I finish in the middle of a scene or even the middle of a sentence, then I find it much easier to get into writing the next day.  I have an immediate job to do in finishing what I’ve started and that’s a great incentive to get going. I know this works for me – but it’s also a bit scary.  What if I don’t remember where my story was going when I come back to it? That’s why I often scribble cryptic notes to myself, so that I don’t lose the plot.

Make a date with your subconscious

When I’m really, really stuck I walk away from my writing. Getting increasingly frustrated with myself and annoyed with my book is not going to help.  But before I walk away, I make a date with myself.  I tell myself, for example, that on Tuesday morning at 10.30 I will sit down and start writing again.  I give myself permission not even to think about what I’m writing until Tuesday.  The thing is, my sneaky subconscious then gets to work without me knowing anything about it.  When I sit down on Tuesday, a solution to the problem will just flow out and I’ll be thinking “Wow! Where did that come from?”  It gets me every time.

Set goals – and go public

I’m one of those people who finds goals helpful.  I know not everyone does but they work for me, especially for writing.  I like to have fairly short term goals so that I can see where I need to go next and whether I’m getting there.  Setting goals for myself is one thing, and it does work, up to a point, but what is even more helpful for me is to go public with my goals.  I don’t mean that I go around with a loudhailer announcing my plans to all and sundry.  I have found that sharing my goals with a small (secret – sh!) group of fellow writers and posting regular progress is really useful for treacle-wading purposes.

Deadlines help too

Ah, I hear you say, but nobody’s waiting for your finished work.  You don’t have a deadline.  Me neither.  I don’t have a publishing contract at the moment and I don’t have any deadlines.  So I set my own.  This also works – but you have to believe in it.  You have to be strict with yourself.  And of course telling other people about your deadline is a help too.

Change of scene

If I’m getting nowhere at my desk, then I’ll unplug the laptop and go and sit in the sitting room or out in the garden.  Or I go to a local café with my notebook or a printout of my latest draft and work there over a coffee.


Similarly, it can help to change my method – to switch from typing to longhand or vice versa, or to read my draft aloud rather than just reading it silently. I find that any of these things tilt my perspective just enough to get a fresh view on what I’m writing and help me to see the way forward.

Avoid social media

Set aside specific time and space for writing and don’t be tempted by social media.  “I’ll just check Twitter” has a very similar effect on me to “I’ll just open the document” – ie I just go to check and then half an hour later I’m still on social media having a lovely time but not doing any writing.  So no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Youtube, whatever your own particular downfall is,  until you’ve done a chunk of work.

And that applies to blogs too – so why are you still reading this one?  Go on, off with you and get writing.  That’s what I’m about to do.

A Change is as Good as a Rest

February 28, 2016 Leave a comment

This week I’ve been turning things upside down.  Instead of working with words at my desk and working with yarn in the sitting room, I swapped things around.  I spent several hours in an armchair working on my latest novel – 50,000 words so far and very baggy and saggy, thanks for asking – and then I spent an hour cutting shapes out of home-made woollen felt.  (It’s for a top secret project, so I can’t tell you any more about it just now.)

It felt a bit strange doing things the “wrong” way round, but I needed a clear, bright space to do the felt-cutting and my desk was perfect, so it worked well for that.  It worked well for the writing too.  The change of place seemed to give me a boost and I got far more done than I’d expected.  The only downside was that being much closer to the kettle while I was writing meant that I drank at least twice as much tea or coffee as usual.

So there you have it, stepping out of your normal routine can be beneficial to the writer – just watch out for caffeine overload!


Beware of caffeine overload!.