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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Normal service is resumed – sort of

August 4, 2016 4 comments

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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?

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

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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

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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.

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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).

Cliffhangers

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.

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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!

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Beware of caffeine overload!.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to conference I go

February 18, 2016 1 comment

Writing can be a lonely business.  For so much of the time it’s just the writer and the words.  I work mostly from home, just me at my desk with my laptop or my notebook.  The people I meet when I’m writing are all in my head or on the page, unless I venture out and about with my writing implements, in which case I will come across and maybe even exchange a few words with some real-life, live human beings in a local coffee shop or library.

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Sometimes I do have the assistance of a furry friend

And I do talk to other people every day – hey, I even live with some of the real-life variety (my family) and I’m not a complete writing hermit.  I do have a social life and even some paid (non-writing) work that involves interacting with people.  But I don’t often get to talk to people about the nitty gritty of writing.  I don’t have a work colleague at the next desk to chat with over coffee or moan about things when they go badly or celebrate with when they go well.  I do a certain amount of writerly chit-chat over social media, but it’s not the same as a face to face conversation.

Which is why it is so exciting to be going to a writing conference this weekend.  A whole weekend, devoted to all things writerly, spent in the company of other writers – people who will understand the trials and tribulations as well as the punch-the-air-with-delight moments of the writing life.  I am so looking forward to it.

It will be a great opportunity to meet up with people that I mostly know on-line and people I haven’t yet met.  We have a packed programme which will be looking at all sorts of different aspects of writing, but we will also have time just to chill out and chat and get to know each other.  I’m hoping to learn lots, be inspired and share my own thoughts too – maybe even discover some thoughts and ideas I didn’t know I had.

So I’m off to pack my bags now.  Excuse me if I whistle – heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to conference I go…

Don’t Annoy the Writer

January 22, 2016 4 comments

Sometimes people ask me if I ever base characters in my books on people in real life. Some people get really nervous around writers for this very reason.  They’re scared that the writer might put them in a book and that they might not like how they’re portrayed.  And it’s true that some writers have taken revenge on people by making terrible things happen to them in a story.

I think my mum might be slightly worried about this, because she bought me this mug for Christmas.

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Sneakily, you can only really read what’s on the mug when you fill it with a hot drink, because then the background changes colour.

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Ta-da! When the mug is filled with coffee, the words appear like magic.

I have put one real-life character in The Wishcatchers – but she’s only ever referred to and we never actually meet her.  Pupils at Corstorphine Primary school might recognise her, but shhh! Don’t tell anyone else.

In general though, I don’t put real life people in my books, even in a disguised form.  Many of my characters have bits of me in them or bits of people I know well or even have just met, but none of them are wholly based on a real person.  I might include events in my books that have happened to me or somebody else I know.  I might include bits of conversation that I’ve heard (or overheard) or use a way of standing or a habit I’ve observed, like shrugging or someone never quite coming to the point of what he wants to say.  But much of who my characters are and what they do comes out of my imagination.  I wonder what they would do if such and such a thing happened or how they would feel if someone said a certain thing to them.  My characters are a big mixture of things I’ve heard or seen or experienced, as well as things I’ve completely made up.

So don’t worry, I won’t put you in one of my books.  Although I can’t guarantee I won’t steal some of your words or one of you mannerisms…

The terror of submitting work

December 4, 2015 2 comments

Submitting work is like sending my only child out into a wolf-infested forest. In the dark.  Without a torch.

All right, so I’m exaggerating – but not that much.  When I send out a novel or a story, I’ve put so much into it.  It’s so much more than words on a page.  It’s part of me.  There’s so much tension between wanting it to be out there in the big bad world and fearing for its very life.  When I drop that brown envelope in the post box, or, more often these days, hit the send button on an email, my heart is in my mouth.  What happens to my story matters to me so much.

Sadly, it doesn’t matter to anyone else that much.  In fact, indifference is often the outcome of a submission.  So often I don’t hear anything back, not even a one-line form email rejection.  If I don’t hear back straight away, then it’s a good sign – it might mean that my submission is being considered. (After all, each time it took months for the work I have had published so far to be accepted.) But as the days stretch to weeks and then months, slowly I have to accept that this time I’m not going to get a response at all.  And that no response just means no.

But I keep on submitting because in my best days, I believe in the strength of my writing.  I believe it’s tough enough to survive the wolves and come out on the other side of the forest and into full view, where, if I’m lucky, the sun will be shining.