Category Archives: Development

Writer, Interrupted

I was having a great writing morning, after a day when I couldn’t get my head to either wake up or focus on one thing for more than four seconds (I think that was, actually, my personal best).

I had just written most of a short story (a new episode in the Forgetown series) and was firing up my laptop in order to transfer my handwritten version into Scrivener (the program I’m using for this and most of my writing now).

“Just about to” I say, because then my 11 year old (wow, that still shocks me. I did so much blogging when he was a baby and toddler, that typing about him as an 11 year old seems weirder than looking at the evidence in front of me) burst out through the door to the deck, clutching handfuls of fabulously creative figures made from bits and pieces of Lego Hero Factory in a cross-over (in our minds at least) with Doctor Who. He wanted to tell me all about what he had created.

And really, how could I say no?

I see it as a mark of my increasing maturity that I did not run flailing around the deck, stamping my feet, wringing my hands and crying ‘No! No! No! But it was all going so well!”. Instead I listened to my child tell me all about his daydreams, made manifest in shades of plastic.

Eventually, of course, I dismissed him with the excuse that I had to get some stuff done before we went out to pick up his brother, and that was perfectly true. But I did listen and nod and even offer a thought or two during the 25 minute oration, which shows I was paying attention and not merely thinking about my own story behind fake-interested eyes!

In the Good News department, I finished the story and typed it up (with roving edits) this afternoon while said brother rotted his brain on a new twitch-video game. Will make amends later.

I’m up to 9 episodes complete in the Forgetown saga. When I get to 10 it might be time to start putting them online.  What do you think?

 

Introducing Forgetown

Running StoryADay May is a fabulous experience. I love interacting with the other writers and watching them push themselves and celebrate themselves and actually *do* the thing they’re always saying they want to do.

But it does tend to have an adverse affect on my own writing, oddly enough. I didn’t have a workable plan for this year (writing stories set in the ‘universe’ of my ongoing novel turned out to be too distracting, because I just kept wanting to get back to the novel). I did write several stories that might or might not end up being part of the novel (or adding to that universe) and some separate stories, but I certainly didn’t make it to 31.

Still, I did write and now that May is over, and having taken several days (14 or so) to wallow in the freedom from my daily deadline, I’m finally back to writing again.

Serial Stories

A few months ago I picked up 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, intrigued by the idea of it being a, set in Edinburgh, a city where I love-love-loved living and b, having been written in daily installments for The Scotsman.

I had started it before May started and put it aside, but have been tearing through it again recently (and just picked up the sequel, having been quite delighted to realize that there are something like seven more volumes).

One of the things I really liked about it is that it wasn’t perfect. It was just OK in places. And it wasn’t until later in the book that some really interesting characters turned up, and that I started to look forward to each new day’s segment.

The reason I liked this, is that it reminds me that the more you write, the better it gets. And it doesn’t have to be flawless.

Rising To The Challenge

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to write something like this, set in and around the fascinating little town where I live. I was first inspired by the Lake Woebegon stories on A Prairie Home Companion, but couldn’t see a way in. Alexander McCall Smith’s style resonated much more with me: entertaining, whimsical, never taking itself too seriously, examining the minute details of everyday life to entertain and examine larger issues, seeing and celebrating the ridiculous while not being too silly…Scottish, in a word.

One of the things that struck me was that the author, in his introduction, said that he was enjoying writing his daily installments so much that it had never, not once, seemed like a chore. That sounds like something to aim for!

So I’ve found a way in to my long-cherished dream, and started a series of stories loosely centered around a family who moves to a small town something like the one I call home. I have a cast of characters to get me started, and I’m sure that others will turn up — especially since one turned up, uninvited, on the first page and endeared herself to me immediately, stalling the arrival of the ‘main’ characters by an episode.

I haven’t decided what to do with these stories but, if I can get a few more under my belt soon, I may start publishing them here. They’re meant to be just for fun. Just to see what happens. I feel like I have a sense of what will happen throughout this first ‘season’ of their lives in Forgetown (as I have named their hometown), so I plan to write until they reach that point and then take a break.

Of course, I still have other projects on the go, like the novel I’m determined to finish and the series of non-fiction articles I’m writing for someone else, and of course, keeping the StoryADay community ticking over…

Ambitious, moi?

Make Stuff You Love

I’m writing more and more in this blog about my writing process and what I’m up to, in part because of this book, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. You should take a look if you have any ambitions to make your creative impulses more than a dirty little secret that you sort of maybe mention apologetically if anyone pushes you.
This morning I sat out on the deck, trying to write a story for StoryADay May. At first I tried to write something short, based on observations of the world around me, because I felt guilty taking time away from the family on a weekend morning.

I hated the thing I wrote.

I mean, there were words and phrases in there that were pretty, but the overall thing? Ugh.

So I gave in and finished a fragment I had started the other day. I knew it had the potential to be good, it was just not going to be quick. But, as my friend Austin up there says, “Make stuff you love.” Really, what’s the point in putting in any time if I’m not going to do that much?

So I did. it’s not a short story. Really it’s a scene from the novel I’ve been wrestling with forever, but it’s a complete scene. “Write and finish every day” is kind of the key point of StoryADay May; the rest is all up to the individual writer. So I’m writing scenes. Not all of them fit into the novel, but they’re not complete short stories, because I’m not setting up the characters every time or doing complete world-building. They might turn into short stories later, or into parts of future novels, or they might just help me figure out the world I’m writing about.

What they ARE doing though, is leaving me energized and raring to go about my day.

I don’t know how many times I will have to learn this lesson until it sticks: writing makes me happy. It makes the rest of my life go better. I should do it first thing every day (or as near to first thing as I can manage) because everything else just works better after I’ve filled my reserves by writing.

That’s been one of the most powerful lessons of StoryADay for me, over the years: that writing every day is something I need to do. When you get this lesson hammered home every day for 31 days in a row, it makes a bit more of an impression than when you just experience it in bits and pieces.

What about you? What leaves you energized and happy and feeling like your best self? Do you make an effort to do it everyday, even if it feels selfish when you start out? (Hint: it’s not). What will it take to make you do that thing regularly?

How My Writing Went Today

It went something like this:

I have to write something. I’m going to do it now. But first I’ll check Twitter and email and make sure there are no emergencies that need dealt with…and oh look, someone’s posted the President’s speech from the White House Press Corps Dinner…OMG that’s hilarious. And oh, look there’s a link to Joel McHale’s speech too…ah that was great.

Oh. Now it’s an hour later than it was. But that’s OK I can still write.

But maybe I’d better eat lunch first. Yum!

OK, I’m really going to write. What am I going to write about? WHAT CAN I POSSIBLY WRITE ABOUT OH GOD I’M NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TOWRITEANTOHERSTORYEVERYAGAINOHGOD…Wait. The prompt was about ‘shame’. That seems like a good emotion to mine. [Whine] But I don’t WANNA write about shame, it’s so serious and I want to write something funny and wahwahwahwah, wait. Isn’t comedy just tragedy+time? Aren’t some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard based in horror? OK then.

BUT HOW AM I GOING TO START THIS, WAHHHHHH. Describe the setting. Talk directly to the reader. It’s just a start. Youc an always edit it out later.

Breathe.

OK.

Starts writing.

Hey, this is fun.

[500 words later] OK, this is still fun, but I’m not getting anywhere. Nothing’s happening, I need to make something happen OMG I CAN’T MAKE ANYTHING HAPPEN, THIS ISN’T A STORY, THIS IS JUST A SERIES OF CLEVER WORDS, I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WRITE A STORY AGAIN WAHHHH

[250 words later]OK this is starting to go somewhere. But now I’m getting tired and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to finish, but if I take a break I might never get back to it and then it’ll just be another in the long sad history of unfinished stories that litter my path through life and oh God I’m a horrible person…

Let me just type this up and see what happens.

Wait, I think I know how to end this. If I can just get through typing up everything I wrote, I might have a chance of making this work.

OK, that’s a horrible, terrible sentence, but I’m going to leave it in because it gets me from here to there and lets me power on towards the end. I’ll fix it in the read through.

Oh, wait, this is going really well. Shut up, you in the back of my mind there. I KNOW it’s not perfect, but it’s starting to have shape and I know how it’s going to end, and I know what the important emotions are and dammit, it’s a story.

It’s ALIVE!!!!!

And it’s done.

And now i’m a little sad.

Pennsylvania State Capitol

Creating The World

Pennsylvania State CapitolWell, that doesn’t make it sound like I’m getting above my station, does it? Delusions of godhood? Surely not!

But there is a world I’ve been inventing. I’ve written parts of two novels set in this world. Every time I struggle to finish them, I run into the same problem: there are lots of gaps in what I know about the world. Not knowing, slows me down. I thought it would be easier to write in a fictitious world than to make up stories that seemed realistic to people living in the same world as the setting. I’m not sure ‘easier’ is the word I should have used. “Fun”? Yes. “Stimulating?” Yes. “Easy”? No.

So I’ve decided I’m going to devote a lot of my StoryADay May to writing stories set in the main city in my world.

This morning I’ve been slaving over a spider-like mind-map, full of different areas of life that might be fodder for stories: Family life, politics, beliefs, green issues, city life, socializing…Each little branch represents an area of city life that I might want to explore. Having decided upon that, I will (I hope) decide on what kind of conflict could arise, who might care about it, and what their story is.

I like well-defined assignments, and now I feel like I have one for the whole of next month.

Are you writing a StoryADay in May? Or even a story a week? Come and join us.

How I’m Creating A Book As I Blog

I’m gearing up for the StoryADay May challenge for 2014 and writing a new ebook as I go along. How? I’ll show you (cue: John Hammond whisper)

For the past few years, at the urging of challenge participants, I’ve provided writing prompts every day during StoryADay May. Every year I vow to be ahead of the game and write them all out before May starts. Usually I get a couple of weeks in and then spend the latter part of May scrambling to catch up.

Last year I did a thing where — again, prompted by participants — I put out a week’s worth of prompts ahead of time, so people could plan their writing week. That was a bit better than my usual scramble, but I still did a lot of the work during May.

This year I have resolved to not only have the full months’ worth of prompts available before May begins but to release them as an ebook that I can charge money for. (Money is a lovely carrot that I dangle in front of myself to make LazyMe follow through on some of my good intentions. I’m not hugely motivated by money, but since I’m planning on putting in all this work, it’d be nice if I could get a little summin-summin to help pay the for web-hosting costs, the domain registration or my upcoming photo session with Nathan Fillion at Comicon – swoon…)

The Process

Here’s what I’m doing.

Step 1: Mindmap

I have a mind map of all the topics for each week (OK, most of them). Doing this first helps me set themes for each week, see what I’m doing, what I’m missing and what I shouldn’t spend time writing about on Day 1 (because I know I’m going to cover it on Day 4).

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Step 2: Write The Post

I have a template in place for prompts, which I’m using as a framework for each post.

Writing Prompt screenshot

 

It goes: preamble (sometimes), The Prompt, Tips, “Go!” along with possibly a reminder to comment or post in the community.

Once I’ve written the meat of the post I’ll take some time to schedule the post for the appropriate day (posting just after midnight) and I’ll add it to the /inspiration/daily-prompt/may-2014 category so that my Mailchimp’s RSS-to-Campaign feature will pick it up and send it out to all the people who have signed up to receive prompts by email. Nifty!

If I’m really smart I’ll remember to add tags (‘writing prompt’ and something context driven) so I can find and link to them again in future when I am writing similar prompts but want to give my audience more options.

I might even find an appropriate Creative-Commons photo on Flickr to illustrate the post AND write an SEO-keyword-laden excerpt. In the interests of getting an ebook out, however, I’m not doing that on this pass. (None of that stuff will go in the ebook and it’s all stuff I can do in the last few days before the challenge when my brain is fried and we’re taking the inevitable roadtrip/having visitors/enjoying Easter/whatever-the-hell-else April/May can throw at me this year.)

What I really want to do is get to the next step.

Step 3 – Scrivener

After having finally watched some videos on how to use Scrivener properly, it seems to me the perfect vehicle for putting together a non-fiction book, even if I can’t make it work for fiction. So I’m using it for that, with the expectation that, at the end of the writing phase I’ll be able to quickly go through each file and make sure I’ve been consistent in format. Then I can add introductions to each week and maybe some introductory/conclusion material, and then use the built-in ‘compile’ feature to turn out a nicely-formatted ebook for quick upload to Amazon, Smashwords and my site.

Method: it’s pretty clunky, but I’m writing each prompt in the WordPress window, adding scheduling and tags and then  cutting and pasting each day’s text from the blog into Scrivener. It’s working for me, for now.

scrivener screenshot

I’m really only posting this here so that, if I try to do this again,  I’ll have some record of how I did it, but if you’re reading this and you’re not Future-Me, then I hope it helps you with your own “Blog To Book” project!

 

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

…may well still be the light of an oncoming train, BUT at least there is some light now.

I’ve been wrestling with a novel on and off for three years (mostly off, if I’m honest, because I have a lot on my plate and short stories are so much easier to wrangle), but I keep coming back to it. It’s messy and ugly but every time I look at it, I have several moments where I go “Oh, I LIKE that!” and it makes me want to finish the damned thing.

The remarkable thing I’ve learned in the past three years is that the mess and ugliness is kind of essential. I actually sort of love it, mess and all. I can see potential in the ugliness. And I every time I come back to it, I get closer to solving the puzzle of how to get to the end.

There is a hugely messy part round about what will probably be the climax, that has, until now, tripped me up every time I come back to the book. I keep thinking “I’ve lost my way with this character.” But today — banging away at the problem — I had another couple of ‘aha’ moments that have got me excited about moving on past the point that has had me stuck. In fact, I’m prepared to throw away tens of thousands of words, too do that very thing. And the closer I get to the end, the more clearly I can see what I need to revise/add/change at the start. Instead of being depressing, the thought of throwing out old words is now exciting, because I can see what needs to go in their place. Maybe.

But anyway, it’s good.

I’m experimenting with writing out of order. I feel the need to write a scene that features two minor characters doing something important, even though I know other scenes will have to go in earlier in the book to make this scene make sense, but I don’t feel the need to write them first. Is this shocking, readers? Does it seem like cheating? Well, guess what? I’m betting every writer does it!

OK, so that’s my morning’s work. What have you done today, so far?

Writing Advice From A Ten Year Old

Talking with my newly-minted ten year old today, he was relating a scenario that had happened at school.

As he described the characters in the scene, he assigned each of them a role: one buddy was “the crazy one”, one was “the clever one” and one was “the guy who’s not as crazy but can do anything”.

It sounded like he was describing characters from a novel. It struck me that he’s making sense of his world through the lens of stories he has read or seen or listened to.

I’m struggling a bit with defining a character in my work in progress. Maybe I can take lessons from the ten year old: is she the smart one, the funny one, the sexy one, the goofy one?1.

  1. of course she’s more than any one of these things, but if I was describing her in an elevator pitch, who would she be?

Resolutions

I’m not one for making resolutions. I know myself too well.

But this year I am making some writing resolutions. Not so much to do with word-counts or projects finished, but more about taking the next step out into the writing business.

I’ve been revamping my writing life for a few years now: from founding StoryADay May in 2010, to making new writing friends and a new writing routine, to this year’s bumper crop of outreach (conferences! writing group! BEA!).

Next year I’m going to step things up again. I have a few projects that I’ve been sitting on for a while that I think can make a big difference to my perception of myself as a writer, and my ability to get into this business as a long-term career. I need to set myself a few (not too many) goals and timeframes — a few things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, that I commit to doing this year. Or at least trying for. Whether I succeed or not won’t all be up to me, of course. But if I put my work out there and give it my best shot, I’ll count that a success.

Details still being hashed out, but I have at least resolved to make some resolutions ;)

How about you?