Writers Write

So, my last post was guest writer, Paul Cuddihy sharing his top ten tips for writing and the most obvious one was no. 10- WRITE!!! It’s simple. Writers write.

But if you need external encouragement you could always sign up to NaNoWriMo (National Writing Novel Writing Month) to keep your momentum going. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Nanowrimo is an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30 and it accepts entries from around the world.

The project started in 1999 with just 21 participants, but by the 2010 event over 200,000 people took part – writing a total of over 2.8 billion words. I’ve never participated before but I did consider it this year, albeit only for a nanosecond (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

But why when I claim to be a writer do I need a gimmick to keep me going?

I read a tweet recently by a writer saying if you call yourself a writer then you should be writing a minimum of 100 words a day (Paul and most other serious writers do 1000+) and if not, why not? No excuses.

I had to hang my head in shame.

I haven’t written a word of fiction since I submitted my dissertation at the end of August. Did I have a good excuse? Well I could say that after a piece of writing has been reworked over and over again, I was sick of the sight of my dissertation by the time I handed it in. Or I could say that I was busy looking for a new day job now that the course has ended but lots of writers work full-time and still manage to reach their daily word count. Or I could say that after moving house I had lots of DIY projects to keep me away from the laptop.

Or I could just be honest and say that I am a writer that isn’t writing at the moment, no excuses.

I have an idea though. It’s THE story I believe that I need to tell. Some writers would start scribbling the minute they had the idea but I’m letting my story-line grow until the roots have formed properly and it is ready to poke its head into the daylight and sprout leaves. I’ve also been reading a lot to inspire me. If not having a daily word count to boast about means I can’t call myself a writer then so be it. For now anyway…

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Dissertation Deadline

This time last week was a huge landmark in my writing ‘career’ so far. I submitted my 20, 837 (new lucky number) word dissertation after months of work. To say that I was glad to reach the finish line would be an understatement. The deadline of the 31st of August was only three weeks after a complicated house move and the start of the painful task of job hunting. So August 2012 turned out to be one of the most stressful months that I’ve experienced in years.

Way back at the start of summer (if you can call the wash out weather we’ve had ‘summer’); I booked tickets to see one of my all-time favourite writers at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I have admired Mark Haddon’s writing since reading the brilliant ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ and loved ‘A Spot of Bother’ (the difficult second book) just as much even although it didn’t receive the same critical acclaim. His style of black comedy mixed in with social and ethical themes is exactly the type of writing I dream about achieving.

I was really keen to hear Mark but the event was smack bang in the middle of everything else going on around me and I considered just forgetting about the £10 ticket and concentrating on more pressing issues. It was my writing pal, Catherine, who reminded me not to let domesticity take over and the importance of taking a break away from the laptop. I’m so glad that I listened to Catherine’s advice.  The event was as fantastic and really inspired me.

At the time, I was feeling overwhelmed with constant editing and needed to hear his analogy to encourage me.  Mark likened editing to combing a very dirty and matted Afghan hound. He said that the first stage is getting the dog free of the muck and major tangles but it was a repeated process of combing over and over again before the dog’s coat could finally be glossy and silky smooth.

Mark also said that writing can feel like climbing a mountain. The idea sounds great and you set off full of enthusiasm but as the ascent gets steeper, every stride uphill gets tougher and you question whether it’s been a good idea after all. It’s only when you reach the top of the summit that you can turn round to admire the view and realise that all your hard work was worth it in the end. He also said that he once told a creative writing student that if he was having fun, then the writing wasn’t working. All these little snippets of inspiration helped motivate me on the last steps up the mountain that was my dissertation.

Not only did Mark’s appearance at the Book Festival offer me encouragement and  another new book (The Red House) to be added to my Everest proportioned TBR pile (To Be Read, not a nasty disease as Angels feared I’d caught) but hubby and I also had a lovely visit to Café Andaluz on George Street for delicious tapas and amazing desserts (any excuse to stick my face in the feeding trough).

The motto of this blog post is, if in doubt, do it! Don’t miss out on an opportunity, it might be the pick-me-up at a time when you need it most.

Writing is Revision

Moving house is stressful, no one can argue with that but just in case I wasn’t suffering enough, I’ve also got to edit the draft of the 20k word dissertation for my MLitt course and submit the final ms by the deadline of the end of August.

It was only after receiving comments from my dissertation supervisor that I realised that my draft was a rough draft with a capital ‘R’. The feedback was hard to swallow but once I’d nursed my bruised ego, I accepted that there was a lot of room for improvement.

The supervisor’s link to Necessary Fiction and a brilliant article, Thoughts on Revision, by Aaron Gilbreath which helped me accept that “good stuff takes time” and I agree with his view that “writing is revision”.

So in amongst the packing boxes, mostly still sealed up, I’m slowly (tick tock tick tock) but surely working my way through the edits, hoping that my changes are making it better and not worse! Editing is not easy, especially when you’ve gone over the same section again and again. And you have to remind yourself of William Faulkner’s classic advice to be prepared to “kill your darlings”; no matter how long it took you to write, if it doesn’t work, it needs to go! Be bold and get chopping!

But the one tip that I’m putting into practise is to read my writing out loud to get a feel for the rhythm of the words. There was one word used throughout my supervisor’s feedback and it was “awkward”, mainly in relation to dialogue. It was only when I read the dialogue aloud (it’s not unusual for me to talk to myself these days) that I could hear that the words were indeed clumsy and clunky.

I no longer look with critical eyes at my writing but also with critical ears, even if you feel like an eejit when you’re reading your work out to an empty room, try it and you’ll instantly hear if the sentence structure works then ALL you have to do is fix it!

How do you edit your writing? Are you willing to “kill your darlings” to make your writing stronger? What are your editing top tips?

Writing and Procrastination

“The road to success is lined with many tempting parking spaces.”

This is sooo true! The road isn’t straight, it has lots of twists, turns, a few nasty speed humps and plenty of options to park-aka procrastinate!

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My WIP has been sitting idle in a parking space for some time now. Last week, I had a genuine excuse as I was preparing for a job interview. But that excuse came and went by 3pm on Tuesday, along with my make-up (left in a puddle on the floor) and my ‘corporate’ clothes (peeled off like a 2nd skin) after I sweated like a race horse in 25 degree heat during my first interview in over six years.

On Wednesday, my excuse for not tackling the WIP was the weather.

How often does Scotland get temperatures that beat Majorca? It was waay too hot to be stuck inside on my laptop. And I managed to come up with loads of other excuses – physio appointment, Local Nature Reserve group meeting, viewing a house for sale, painting my toenails…

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It’s amazing how easy it is to waste fill my day without writing a single word of my dissertation (I hope my uni supervisor doesn’t read this). So why am I stalling? My motto has always been, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”?  Is it because I got a rejection and my confidence is low? Is it because I’m afraid that my WIP will be no better than my previous efforts? Did I need a break after the course assignments? Or am I just being lazy? Who knows, but one thing is for sure, I haven’t got the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike, heatwave or not, I need to pull the finger out and get stuck into the WIP before the dissertation deadline creeps up and bites me on the butt. And get back on the road!

I’m sure that I’m not alone but how do others manage to stay motivated? I’d love to hear from other writers and read their tips, once I’ve topped up my tan, cleared the loft, walked the dogs…

Writing and the Work/life Balance

I didn’t do any work on my WIP this week because life got in the way. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. To be fair, apart from the usual household stuff that needs done, I had a couple of big distractions. It’s not every week that I sell my house and have to prepare for a job interview. Of course that didn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking about my WIP and this is surely just as important as filling a screen with words just for the hell of it.

But it was frustrating to have to put my ideas on hold while I researched information for the job I’ve applied for and set about the interview task of preparing a PowerPoint presentation. In the ideal world, I would finish my dissertation and my novel before trying to get a job but in the real world (not the fantasy Planet Helen which my hubby accuses me of living in), I am under no illusions that I can make money from my writing(well not until I win the Booker prize).  And I never expected that doing the MLitt would create job opportunities so it was time for a reality check.

After writing last week’s blog post on reasons why people write, Jeanette Winterson  article in yesterday’s Guardian really touched a nerve about the financial side of writing and the motivation to write, “It can’t be about money, because it costs more to go on a good course than most people will ever make back from their writing.”

But how do new writers or less commercially successful writers survive financially? Do they have wealthy partners or live off fresh air? I’m very fortunate to have a hubby who has been able to support me financially (and emotionally) during the course but I have two teenage sons, a mortgage and a finite supply of time to indulge myself in writing full-time without contributing to the family income.

I’m also conscious that I’ve been able to use the title, ‘student’ for the last seven months and when the bubble finally bursts and the course is officially over, I don’t want to swap the label for ‘unemployed’ (I’ve never been out of work in my adult life) so with any luck, in the words of the seven dwarfs, I’ll soon be singing, “Hi ho it’s off to work I go…”