The Power of Three

images (1)I took a break from writing during the summer and thought it would be like flicking a switch when I decided to tackle my idea for a fourth novel. I was wrong. The routine I’d established was gubbed. I also felt very emotional and unsettled about the referendum for Scottish independence and it meant that I found it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the news. Instead of writing, I got sucked into reading blog posts, newspapers, watching and attending debates in the run-up and aftermath of the vote. By the end of September, it was time to say ‘No thanks’ to faffing around and ‘Yes’ to making a proper start on my idea for a fourth novel!

photo.JPG 55uu519IhdvBMUL._AA160_But I needed some inspiration to get me fired back up again and I found it by going to three excellent writer events.

As part of Stirling’s Off the Page book festival, Laura Marney was appearing at Dunblane library. I’ve read all of Laura’s previous books and had heard her read once before, so I went along expecting it to be a good night. I wasn’t disappointed. Laura is a very bubbly and vibrant personality; she talks 100mph and could easily be a stand-up comedienne. The book she was promoting – For Faughie’s Sake is the sequel to her debut novel – No Wonder I Take a Drink and sounded just as funny and interesting, especially with its referendum theme. Listening to Laura’s enthusiasm for writing was infectious and it gave me a much-needed nudge to get back in the saddle.

photo.JPG 5541Rmw9-bklL._AA160_Another source of stimulation was when I visited the Glasgow Women’s Library to hear Shazia Hobbs read from her debut novel – The Gori’s Daughter. Although the book is described as fiction, it’s clearly based on Shazia’s own upbringing as a mixed race woman who battled against the rejection and hostility her background generated in both Glasgow’s white and Asian communities.  Shazia’s account gave me an insight into a world I know nothing about and I was moved by her honesty in sharing painful memories.

photo.JPG bb51qZQuEUdzL._AA160_The third event I went to was at the C.C.A. in Glasgow and was organised by the Scottish Writers’ Centre where Jackie Kay gave an ‘In Process’ masterclass. Jackie is one of my favourite writers and to hear her speak again is not only inspiring, it’s entertaining too. She read from her memoir, Red Dust Road and a few of her poems from Fiere as well as sharing her writing hints and tips. As I’ve recently been struggling with the opening chapters of my new novel, Jackie’s advice for those writers who work across forms was that rather than forcing your way through a traffic jam of words, change direction and work on something different. Whilst writing her latest novel, she’s adopted a strategy of as she calls it, ‘crop rotation’ and rests the novel while she writes poetry. I’m going to take her advice and park up my novel to write some flash fiction or a short story if the words don’t flow.

How do you keep yourself inspired? Are you guilty of faffing and how do you battle it?

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The Craft and Graft of Novel Writing

Last night, I attended an ‘In Process’ Masterclass –“The art and craft of writing full-length fiction” delivered by James Robertson. The event was organised by the Scottish Writers’ Centre in collaboration with Stirling’s Makar, Anita Govan.

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download (5)I’d heard James speak before at the Linlithgow Book Festival but that event was aimed at readers rather than writers. Ever since, I’ve had ‘And the Land Lay Still’ on my TBR pile but I’ve yet to get round to reading it or any of the other three novels James has written. This was a pity as I’m sure I’d have gotten even more from the event if I had more background knowledge.  However, it was still an excellent session with James being open and honest about his writing career. He shared with us the fact that he writes between 5 and 7 drafts before he is happy to send a novel out into the world. But he said that he is never satisfied that a novel is perfect, it’s just the best job he can make of telling that story.images (3)

‘And the Land lay Still’ has been widely praised for its breadth of exploration of Scottish society in the latter half of the 20th century and in 2010, won the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year. And yet James was very humble about his writing talent and reassured the audience that his success hasn’t come easily.

For me, the most heartening snippet from James was that he wrote 3 or 4 novels and had many false starts before he was published. His key message was that writing is a combination between craft and graft. He reassured us that none of the writing we had ever abandoned is wasted as it all goes towards improving our writing ability. His analogy was simple and so true; a musician can’t play complicated pieces unless he has practised his art over and over again.download (1)

The talk from James was very encouraging for me as I’ve recently got back in the saddle with my writing and I’m attempting to start a brand new WIP. I’d finally accepted that the 20k words of a WIP that I’d produced for my MLitt dissertation was going nowhere. I wanted to start something fresh that came from the heart rather than the head. I’d spent a year over-thinking what I was writing for an audience of my uni tutor, mentor, class-mates, and to satisfy grades for my degree. By the end of the course, the WIP had lost its heartbeat after having the guts ripped out of it during endless revisions. There was barely a pulse left and I struggled to decide whether it was worth giving it the kiss of life to revive it or to put it out its misery and pull the plug on it.

download (2)Now, after taking a step back, I’ve slapped a DNR on the old WIP and I’m fired up again to write something new very loosely based on my own teenage years.  This WIP feels right, my ‘voice’ is authentic and I’m writing it just for ME. I believe that if my motivation is right, then it will show in the writing. This time I’m not writing for my ego and looking for praise from others so success or failure is irrelevant. I’m writing again JUST because I love it and I’m doing it for the journey and not the outcome.

I can’t run 13k but I can write 13k words and that alone makes me feel good. It’s very early days and this latest WIP might not have the legs to go the distance but I’m enjoying writing it and that’s really what it’s all about, everything else is a bonus.

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Have you given ever up on a WIP? Or do you stick with it until the bitter end?