I’m Falling Further Behind

It’s an implicit expectation from you, the reader, that I’ll post an entry every Monday at 5pm. This means you should have seen it here yesterday, and it wasn’t. Since yesterday was a public holiday, it felt like a Sunday and it slipped my mind until after the due time. But that’s an excuse rather than a reason.

To this end, I owe you an apology and an entry, and I think an appropriate punishment for missing the deadline would be to would be to whip my own back with a knotted rope. I have, however, settled for making a second entry of at least 500 words on Friday at 5pm. Then I’ll update as normal from Monday of next week.

Last time, I promised to make a little progress on each of my outstanding works. Let’s go through them all.

“I can’t remember the last time I sent something away to a publisher”

On checking my submissions tracker, I found it was 23 February, or nearly eight weeks ago when I last send something away. It was difficult to find a publisher who was accepting submissions; I looked right through my usual sources, and most of the reading periods were closed.

However, I did find one publisher who would accept up to five poems. By coincidence, I’d sent five poems to another publisher in December who had turned me down at the beginning of March. With only a few minor changes, I was able to send them to the new place. Even better: my aim is to send away an average of one piece per week, and this submission brought me bang up-to-date.

“I can’t remember the last time I typed up something from my notebook”

It’s virtually a truism that inspiration strikes in the most bizarre of places; in my case, in McDonalds at 9:30am on a Friday. I found myself able to finish two poems – one of which I’d been struggling with for a while – and I typed them up later that day.

“I’m tackling Camp NaNoWriMo. … I have around half as many words as I should”

I’m not up-to-date with this, plus I’d increased my word target from 10,000 words to 11,000 as an extra challenge. I intended to write a series of interlinked stories, but I changed my project name to Any old nonsense to reflect the diverse pieces I’ve actually written. Despite this, there is now a ray of hope as I’ve figured out a structure for one of the stories that I was finding difficult to write, and it’s practically pulling itself along.

During Camp, you can enter an online virtual cabin with up to 11 other participants to help and encourage each other. I have only one other person in our regional cabin, and an honourable mention must go to them. I relayed the thoughts I expressed in last week’s entry and they helped me to regain my focus and perspective.

“I need to finish a stage play I’d like to bring to the Edinburgh Festival or Fringe in 2018”

Last week, I happened to meet the university tutor who was going to help me bring this to the stage. Unfortunately, the theatre he wants to use was undergoing a change of management and he was uncertain when we would have a chance to go there.

The play is a one-woman sequence of monologues that looks back over her university days. The running length is currently around 30 minutes to give a potential test audience a flavour of its content. To reduce it to that length, I had to cut out the poetry supposedly written by the character. I’d like to extend it to between 50 and 55 minutes by reintroducing the poetry and unpacking it in other areas. Having looked at the manuscript again a few days ago, I now have an idea how I’m going to achieve the expansion.

Tonight, after this entry should have been published, I received an e-mail from another tutor who wants to include a brief excerpt in a promotional leaflet for the MLitt course I studied. I’m more than happy to give that permission.

“I need to rewrite that novel I’ve been working on since 2010.”

The bad news is that there’s a scene in the novel which simply isn’t working, and it’s a pivotal scene because the main character needs to be left in an unknown location to fend for himself. I’m probably finding it difficult as I’ve never experienced this myself, so maybe I’ll need to go on a training weekend.

The good news is that I’ve finally fixed an annoyance. When I first wrote Fifty Million Nicker, the novel Fifty Shades of Grey was released a little while later. It was a coincidence, of course, but the number has become so iconic that I wanted to end the association. So I’ve now gone through the manuscript and changed it to Sixty Million Nicker to reflect that the main character is now competing for £60,000,000.

“I’d rather like to put together a poetry collection around a single theme”

I have been working on a few poems along the same theme, and they do fit well together. I’m still working on one of them, and I took it along to a new poetry group that a friend is starting. I received useful feedback, particularly on one point, and I implemented the relevant change.

If I hadn’t gone along, I might not have met the tutor who’s helping me with the play. And one of the pieces I finished in McDonalds was the homework for the next meeting.

 

And thus, I’ve done what I set out to do in the last entry, albeit 24 hours later than scheduled. Whatever happens between now and my next one on Friday, I promise you the title will not be I’m Falling Even Further Behind.

Keep on Moving

When I started writing, I needed to go to a class to begin any stories. When someone gives you five minutes to write a passage containing the words stapler, Wednesday and aquiline, it starts the creative process in a way that sitting alone with a blank page doesn’t.

I can’t remember exactly when I began to write pieces without any prompting, but it was around then that I felt more comfortable calling myself a writer, then later a poet. These days, stories and poems tend to bite at me until I write them, although attending a class is still my prime inspiration. Yet even now, there are times when I can’t seem to start moving. I hesitate to use the much-debated term writers’ block because it’s not that I can’t write, it’s that I don’t have enough of an impetus.

English: San Ginés bookshop in Madrid, Spain E...
English: San Ginés bookshop in Madrid, Spain Español: Librería San Ginés en Madrid, España (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many writers worry about balancing the need to write and the time to read. So when I don’t have said impetus, that’s the perfect time to pick up a book. My current novel is Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, from which I’m learning a lot about structure.

Better yet, I like to visit bookshops. A few days ago, I was in St Andrews visiting Bouquiniste, and Toppings & Co – both small businesses – plus a popular chain store. As I browsed, I found myself thinking about the excitement all these authors must’ve felt on hearing their books were to be launched; thinking of them stopping by to check it wasn’t one massive hallucination.

I also imagined my own novel on its own table with a cover boasting Sixty Million Nicker – now a major motion picture above a gushing quote from The Guardian. And that inspired me enough to pick up the manuscript again that evening. After all, there’s no launch if it’s never written.

One day, I hope I won’t have to imagine, and I wish you all the best with your own work, however you become inspired. And if you’re not, why don’t you start with the words staplerWednesday and aquiline? You have five minutes.

Where Do You Want to Write Today?

For the last month, you might know I’ve been taking part in National Novel Writing Month as well as leading the group. I’m pleased to report I passed the 50,000-word target on 29 November.

Because the project took up so much of my time, it now feels like there’s something I should be doing, except that there isn’t. The manuscript is tucked away in a drawer, and its dawning on me that I’m free to pursue other projects. At the moment, there’s a non-urgent opinion piece I want to write, plus an idea for another novel tangentially related to the one in the drawer. That, and it’s fun to use the word tangentially.

When you’re writing to a deadline, or even if you’re not, it’s sometimes necessary to write wherever and whenever you can. I was tackling my novel at break times and lunchtimes, and sometimes in front of the TV at night. But how difficult is it to find your optimum writing spot?

English: Mist over Aberfeldy A band of mist al...
Mist over Aberfeldy A band of mist along the Tay covers Aberfeldy at dusk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve heard about a number of authors who have cleaned out their spare room, installed a desk, ensured they have no distractions, yet went back to an old favourite spot because the created one simply wasn’t conducive to writing. I once experimented with sitting right behind the front door. There was plenty of light, the noise level wasn’t excessive, and I knew nobody was going to barge in, but something about that place made me feel uncomfortable.

These days, I do the majority of my typing while standing with my back to my bedroom window, and my laptop or Freewrite on the end of the bed. When writing by hand, I can do that in a café, on a train, or during a dull literary event trying to look like I’m avidly taking notes. I find it difficult to be in a silent place, because even the noise of the pencil or a page turning sounds like a terrible racket.

By far, though, my favourite writing place of recent times was in the town of Aberfeldy overlooking the mountains. The piece in question was my dissertation rather than fiction or poetry, but I would consider going back there if I had another big project to tackle.

NaNo Seconds

Every November, I take part in National Novel Writing Month – aka NaNoWriMo – which is a challenge to draft a 50,000-word novel in a month. Along with an assistant, I’m also a Municipal Liaison (ML) for the Dundee & Angus region in Scotland. We arrange regular meet-ups for members, encourage and support them, and persuade them to donate to the project.

As such, some of my other projects have to be scaled back or placed on hold. This includes submissions to publishers, reading books, and updating this blog. In fact, my current issue of Writing Magazine is still in the cellophane. However, I’m making good progress, having written more words than required every day so far; in fact, the whole region is doing a sterling job.

Writing Magazine still in cellophane
Writing Magazine still in cellophane

If You Like This, You’ll Love That

A couple of weeks ago, I received two copies of Is There a Book in You? by Alison Baverstock through the post. However, I have no memory or record of ordering them. They were professionally packaged in a grey polythene envelope with a printed address, but had no other identifying features.

Did you send me these books, or do you know who did? None of my friends have claimed responsibility, even the ones who are liable to such jolly japes.

There is one possible explanation. I’m a subscriber to Writing Magazine, and I ordered two extra copies of the September edition because it featured my release The Purple Spotlights EP. Perhaps whoever put the order through accidentally marked it as a new subscription and it triggered off a welcome gift. If it is, they’re not getting them back, because it’s a lovely surprise, and when I’m ready to edit my novel again, I’ll be sure to dip in.

This year alone, I’ve really enjoyed books I’ve been lent by friends. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was a prime example, and the similar The Girl with All the Gifts by M R Carey. I would group these two books thematically with the P D James classic The Children of Men, although I bought that one for myself and didn’t find it quite as entertaining as the other two.

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...
English: Stack of books in Gould’s Book Arcade, Newtown, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Girl with All the Gifts has now been turned into a film, and I’m curious to see how well it’s been done. Ditto the Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train.

Poetry-wise, it’s been a strong year of lending as well. I was given Tonguit by Harry Giles and What They Say About You by Eddie Gibbons. The former collection gave me lots to chew upon, especially in the poems Piercings and Your Strengths; the latter volume had me laughing right past the poems to the endnotes.

Word-of-mouth is always a strong marketing tool. The people who recommended all these books are good friends, and by extension, I trust what they recommend. By and large, this trust is well placed.

In fact, there has been only one recommended book where I didn’t enjoy it: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The main character is Don Tillman, a professor with autism, and that’s shown extremely well through the narrative. However, he’s at the peak of his career with a packed schedule that’s timed to the minute, so I felt he lacked a strong motivation for wanting to find a partner. There was a time I would have persisted with a disappointing book, but I stopped reading at page 41.

That said, I’m a strong believer that people should make up their own minds about which books they like and don’t like. Plenty of people love the novel, but it’s not for me. By the way, that referral came from my boss, so you can’t tell anyone I’ve admitted all this.

Cameron’s Rule

Last week, I was called a perfectionist, not as an insult but as a statement of fact. It is true I like to siphon out as many errors as possible – all of them, ideally – before the public ever see it. But what’s the best way to make sure mistakes are picked up?

Read a printed copy

Many authors are in the habit of writing their work directly into a PC. In many ways, this is ideal because the words are in digital form and can be corrected without fuss, or sent to a third party. But it is more difficult to pick up errors: Scientific American has a detailed article on the subject.

So consider printing out your work to give yourself the best chance. Some people also like to change the font. I accept that printing is not good for the environment, so I keep a folder of used paper and print on the back where possible.

Read it out loud

When many people read, they like to ‘hear’ each word in their heads as if it’s being read aloud by someone else. So reading out loud as an author enables you to imagine how the reader will interpret your words, and can highlight any overlong sentences or incorrect punctuation use.

If you’re unable to find the privacy to read out loud, the next best solution is to use text-to-speech software, plenty of which is available on the Web. You can then listen to it spoken through headphones. The voice tends to be a monotone – although still miles ahead of Stephen Hawking’s antiquated synthesiser – allowing you to concentrate more on the words themselves.

Ask a friend or a professional

Be careful who you pick for this: family members or friends might gloss over the bad bits. Make sure you pick someone who’ll tell you honestly what’s wrong with it, but will also pick out what you’ve done right. Asking a professional proofreader is a more expensive option, yet it can be vital in a novel-length work.

Pocket watch, savonette-type. Italiano: Orolog...
Pocket watch, savonette-type. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Give it time

When you’ve finished a draft, one of the best moves you can make is to leave it alone for a while. If you go back too quickly, it’s possible to read what you want to see rather than what’s actually on the page because your mind’s still thinking about the words that have just been written.

But how long should you leave it for? That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with. After much thought, I’ve come up with my personal method, which I’d like to name, in an egotistical manner…

Cameron’s Rule

As a bare minimum, for work of:

  • 1500 words or fewer, leave it 24 hours;
  • 1501 words and above, allow one minute per word.

By this method, flash fiction and some short stories would be left a day, while an 80,000-word novel would be left for nearly two months. Bear in mind these are merely minimum times. There’s no harm in putting away work – especially shorter pieces – for a longer time.

 

Your 30-Minute Trial

I’m working on an MLitt dissertation at the moment, among other projects, and this has left me little time to compose an entry.

In lieu of a proper entry, here’s an activity:

  1. Find a book you wouldn’t normally touch, or that you’re unsure about.
  2. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
  3. Read as much of the book as possible in that time.
  4. If you find you like it when the timer sounds, keep on reading. If not, leave it there.
  5. Let us know how you found the experience.