Monday, 7 July 2014

Feeding your writing

It's been a funny couple of weeks, with my sister visiting  for a few days and various other commitments tripping me at every turn. I've written thousands of words in reports as part of my teaching job, and still squeezed in the very occasional and disjointed session on my work in progress. Blogging has had to take a back seat.

I'm very aware, however, that little gets done in the summer holidays. I feel anxious about that, but can only make plans to try to write.

Today I had a little boost; an article I wrote (for no fee) for a tiny, local paper has been published and a copy of the magazine was posted through my door. I felt quite proud of what I'd written, and I've been asked to write more for the next issue - I might even ask for payment now I've provided two articles to the magazine on goodwill.

However, I also have a mountain of reading to do, from the pleasure of The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden to a recommended book on plotting, which I will blog about in due course, and a stack of writing magazines that have been piling up by the door. A few hours spent on these will help feed my writing, too, I hope, and might be something I can still do with ease, even while we are away on holiday.

Finally, I've also just finished watching Breaking Bad, which was a lesson in suspense and pace, and hooks and tight plotting...or that's my excuse for watching it, anyway!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Writing Workshops

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to a writer's workshop. It's rare for the stars to align so that I can attend things like that - finding a babysitter for a whole day for four young children is hard enough in itself, plus it has to be local and affordable. This day was organised in a local library by Derbyshire's literature Development Officer, who sends out monthly newsletters by email to writers in Derbyshire, letting them know about opportunities like this one. If you want to receive her newsletter, her address is I'd recommend it - she also has details of writing groups, competitions and so on.

The writing exercises we took on were similar to ones I've done before at workshops, but that doesn't take away from how useful it is to focus your mind for a whole day on your ambitions, nor how fascinating it is to discuss what you've produced with others. For one exercise we wrote about a small selection of objects; the breadth of ideas was surprising - it's wonderful how differently minds work (and what a good job, too).

So here are the three biggest things I've brought away from it.

Firstly, the author who led the workshop, Emma Pass (who writes YA novels) talked about the structure of our plot and making sure that the obstacles our characters meet escalate in size. I was struck by this, as I think I may have failed at this in my current work in progress, so I'm going to be heading back to the post-its on that.

Secondly, when Emma talked about her journey to publication, I was astounded at the extent of rewriting required by agents and publishers, even after a manuscript has been accepted for publication. I knew that writers have to be prepared to rewrite and rework right up to the wire, but I didn't know that sometimes this involves major structural changes, such as changing endings or middles or getting rid of whole sub-plots. I'm chewing on this one. I'm not sure if it reassures me, that when I've done my absolute best, gone through rigorous rewrites and edits, had outside feedback, and finally have done all I can, that others will still help batter it into even better shape (which essentially I'd then have credit for!) or if the thought of all that rewriting, and the implication that you've not got it right even when you've done well is quite soul-destroying.

I'm going to take it as positive, actually. Anything that makes your writing better has got to be worth it, however painful and personally discouraging.

Thirdly, I brought away renewed commitment to those dreams of mine. It was a reminder to persevere, to make time for what I want; to keep on keeping on.

Oh, there was one other thing I brought away. I brought away copies of Emma Pass's intriguing novels. I'm looking forward to reading them - maybe you should buy one too!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Commitment to Writing

I just listened to this very interesting interview about writing with author AL Kennedy.

During the interview she talks about the need to commit one hundred per cent to the process, putting aside the fear of a broken heart when your work is rejected or 'not that good'.

It's an interesting insight into the mind of a successful and dedicated writer, and challenging, too. Do you really put sweat and effort into all your writing sessions, however short?

I remember writing one of my short stories for last year's challenge, and being gutted when it wasn't shortlisted because of the hours of polishing and the work put into crafting. Can I honestly say I'm working so hard on my current project, or am I dabbling in my comfort zone? Lots to think about!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Recipe for Trouble

I've read a lot lately about the use of photographs to inspire settings or characters. While writing my last story, I used to occasionally whip out my camera and take a few photos of places that seemed like they belonged in my story. So I was intending to do the same thing this time, aided and abetted by a fancy phone (much more subtle than the camera).

As with so many good ideas, it hadn't happened, and then we were in the park this week, and I saw a lady who struck me as being similar to a character of mine in looks. I wondered whether to snap a photo of her, and use aspects of her dress, especially, as inspiration. Luckily for me, with kids in tow, it was relatively simple to take a snap of her in the background of the 5 year old hanging upside down from the monkey bars.

I haven't decided yet whether to edit him out...!

The thing is, I did feel guilty doing it. It felt wrong because she didn't know (even though I will delete the photo when I've finished with it). I feel faintly guilty too that I'm not 'just' using my imagination...even though far more accomplished writers than I am have admitted using real people, in part, as inspiration.

I had visions of the woman in question (who did cast me one suspicious glance) storming over and accusing me of photographing her; wouldn't look good in court, would it? Though I'm pretty sure no laws were broken...!

I wonder if anyone else has used visual aids to plotting/writing? And what you think of snapping photographs of inspiring-looking strangers? Is that any more morally dubious than noting down their conversation in a notebook?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Planning for success

I started Slimming World a couple of weeks ago, having decided I really can't blame the extra stones on baby weight anymore.

 One of the things I'm really appreciating is the consultant's positivity and the way she tries to help everyone to plan for the week ahead. So far, I'm in the honeymoon period where nothing is going to impede my efforts, not even Cadbury's, but every week I've heard her saying to other people - "And how's your week looking? Is it going to be an easy one?" If someone says, "No, I've got my in-laws coming round and I always drink heavily to get through the day when they're here/No, I'm doing a sponsored chocolate scoff" or whatever, the lovely consultant says, "So what can you do to plan so that you have a successful week?" Others offer solutions or ideas too, and you can see people squaring their shoulders and heading out to face their week with a plan under their belts.

This week has been a bumpy one for me. The five year old vomited very publicly and dramatically during an open-air memorial service for my lovely headteacher (trying to scoop half-digested spaghetti hoops off the grass before any other child skipped in them is not a memory I want to treasure, but probably won't forget anyway). Then began days of sickness, diarrhoea and hissy fits if I tried to turn CBeebies off. ("This grown up programme makes me feel so ill, Mummy...")

If you have a small child, you'll know that you become fairly tethered to where your sick child is, especially if, like me, you have new carpet and you really need to catch every drop of escaping fluid. On Sunday night, when his vomiting was truly terrible, he and I didn't drop off until 6.30am, and then we only had an hour's nap, at which point we woke (more puking) and I realised the other kids were all now late for school.

Cue a few days of feeling insanely tired and trapped indoors.

I couldn't plan for that, not until I get my crystal ball, but I have managed to write a few thousand words anyway, tapping away at the laptop on one sofa while he lay on the other demanding drinks and snuggles at regular intervals. Now he's recovering and I'm at work, so we're both feeling brighter (though my Mum looked a bit wild-eyed when I got home).

But next week isn't shaping up much better. Most of my back-up people are on holiday, so it's going to be intensely hands on during the half-term holiday, trying to take the kids out, have friends round, and hopefully enjoying the sun if it comes back, without any support/adult company. On top of that it's report writing time of year, and I'll be pouring my creativity into thousands of words for that in the next two or three weeks.

So far, a list of excuses.

Now is the time to plan for success. What can I do to make sure I write anyway?

These are my ideas:
Get up earlier.
Split my writing time when the kids are sleeping half/half - spend 50% of the time on reports and 50% on my own writing.
Take my notebook to the park, and do some people watching and plot-cooking.
Treat myself to one afternoon at a playcentre and try to fit in some writing there.
Accept some refreshment time for me, and precious time with my kids. After all, they won't be little for much longer, and then I'll have more time, and will miss these days.
Aim to write for ten minutes every day, and accept that if that's all I can do this week, it will be seventy minutes I wouldn't have had otherwise.

Any other suggestions gratefully received!

How can you plan for success for next week?

Monday, 12 May 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I'm so excited to be taking part in the My Writing Process blog tour this week! Many writers and authors have been taking part, week after week, explaining their work and inspiration - last week was fellow parent/writer Dana at Celiac Kiddo, who blogs about family, writing and gluten-free living  - read her post here.

What am I working on?

Right now I'm trying very hard to focus all my attention on a novel that I began earlier this year. It's difficult as I'm a bit of a writing grasshopper - I know I prefer writing long fiction, but am dabbling in other things too. I just submitted an article to a non-paying market, which has boosted my confidence and added to my portfolio, but now that is done I'm back 'on task'. 

The novel I'm working on is contemporary women's fiction, and I'm rolling in Chapter Four of the first draft, happy as a pig in muck. I've not set myself a real deadline, but I hope the first draft will be complete before school's summer holiday. I find a lot of my writing habits revolve by necessity around the school year and how hard it is to write while refereeing four children...

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

 I haven't set out to write something unique; I've just written about things that inspire and fascinate me. My work-in-progress (working title: The Web - I'm not great with titles) is about an ordinary life that derails, and focuses on family relationships and how they crumble or strengthen under pressure.

I have completed two previous novels which will probably never see the light of day, but there are certain recurring ideas in the three stories. I have used my local area - the edge of the Peak Park in all its beauty, diversity and wildness - as a setting, and children, family and motherhood feature prominently.

However, the story I'm brewing ready for next time is likely to take me exploring the world and is as child-free as an 18-30 holiday, so perhaps it's too soon to generalise. 

Why do I write what I do?

If an idea has grabbed my attention, and tugged at the corners of my mind for long enough, I can't ignore it anymore and the only way to shut it up is to write it down.

I think underneath the cynical varnish I must be a romantic. I like to believe that true love exists, that there is beauty in family and that there is always hope. So my novels explore a variety of issues, but I want to enjoy writing, and I like the escapism of being lost in another world (where, even if things look bleak, I can believe in a happy ending) and I hope readers will enjoy the escapism too.

How does my writing process work?

After (disastrously) flying by the seat of my pants twice now, which created unnecessary amounts of redrafting, I've planned meticulously this time. I'm also using Scrivener for the first time. Although Scrivener means that I have to stop sometimes to find out how to do what I want to do, on the whole the planning and the program are making it much easier to dip in and out in the slivers of time that I whittle off my day. 

After an idea has festered for a reasonable amount of time, and can no longer be ignored, I begin to think about the characters, and spend a long time trying to make them memorable.

Sometimes I get a very clear visual - almost cinematic - scene that comes to me whole. I was once walking home late at night from a boring committee meeting when I 'saw' another woman doing the same. The main difference is, the woman in my mind was being followed, and I knew immediately who by and what they wanted - although it was a couple of years later before I knew what motivated the mugger. Even then my main character was very different to me. I would probably scream and run if someone attacked me, but she is a bit of a wild-cat.

I write from start to finish, a little at a time, and this time I'm trying to do a little gentle editing as I go along, to minimise the daunting mountain of editing at the end. I might do a swift initial proof-read straight away, but this is more self-congratulatory re-reading of the manuscript than useful, and then comes rewriting, cutting, editing...and then proof-reading again. I usually sit and type on the sofa with the laptop warming my legs.

There's usually a lot of cutting to be done, as I battle verbosity non-stop...I hope I haven't been too wordy for you today. Now you know the way,pop in again soon - I always appreciate moral support! 

Next week the blog tour is stopping at the blogs of these lovely writers:

Karla is a freelance writer who writes content for websites whilst eating far too many biscuits. She lives in the Suffolk countryside & works from home, although she has her desk facing away from the window otherwise she'd spend all day looking at cows. Karla is a master procrastinator & spends too much time on Pinterest and Bloglovin' when she really should be writing. Check out her website too - I'm intrigued by the meaning of 'koalascribble'!

Ana Salote is a children's writer and dramatist. Her latest fantasy novel, Oy Yew, was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House Award. She is working with indie press, Mother's Milk, on the rest of the trilogy. She lives near Avalon and is inspired by 'all things counter, original, spare, strange'. 

C.C. Riley is a writer daylighting as an English teacher. Married to the man of her dreams with two obnoxious dogs, she spends most of her time reading, writing, and remodeling her home. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Dream State

It was one of those mornings. My alarm clock went off earlier than I remembered setting it, and I had the very rare feeling of being fully rested. Not one child had slid in beside me in the night and kicked me black and blue, or honked my nose, or huffed and puffed into the spare pillow. I felt awake and ready to face the day...and then I'm not sure what happened, except it involved a vivid dream and waking up to find we were now running seriously late.

Anyway, I've had chance to write the dream down now. It's not something that's figured highly in my creative process before, and I may never use what I scribbled down at lunchtime, but I had a definite sense throughout the dream that I was actually within a story. That sense is so strong that I will have to check that what I dreamed isn't some residual childhood memory of a book I once read.

The dream was only one scene, which posed many questions and could go in several directions, but the strangest thing for me was that the main character in it was a teenage girl. The story that would rise from it would have to be YA, not a genre I've ever written, nor been interested in.

So, who knows? Perhaps I'll one day revisit that page of my notebook and wonder why a dream struck me so forcefully. Or perhaps when my next couple of works are sorted, I'll find that I want to try my hand at that one...I'll let you know!