It’s all about the journey

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I’d long been an avid cynic of reality TV shows such as X Factory, Pop Idle, Big Brooder, (disparaging mis-spellings intentional) et al, citing them as simple ratings magnets that were all hype and no substance.

I’d avoid them like the cliche, eschewing Saturday night television altogether, tutting at the oft-hyped results and the acres of tabloid coverage they seemed to generate.

But little by little, weekend visits to a friend’s house resulted in the television (which seemed to have no ‘off ‘ function) drawing my eye and ear towards the (often hapless) auditionees on ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ every Saturday night. 

I found myself becoming intrigued, for no reason that I could fathom.  I didn’t know these people, these fame-seeking wannabes (only some of whom were quietly talented and later became successful) and yet I found myself increasingly drawn into their stories as they inched their way towards the stars.  I followed them from their earliest beginnings.  I saw their spotlight-dazzled faces as they shuffled reluctantly onto an over-large stage to croak out a few nervous bars of their favourite song.  And then I watched their eyes light up as the crowd called out its approval.

But why was I watching this IQ-sapping drivel; this thinly-disguised attempt to solicit viewers (and before you mentally compose hate-mail, please let me finish), this apparent waste of valuable writing time?

It suddenly became clear to me when I unexpectedly became hooked on yet another reality TV show – Masterchef.  

Hooked? Why?  I know nothing about food.  I can barely make mashed potato or an edible cheese sauce.  To this day I am still able to slide rock-hard frozen food onto a microwave platter with only a basic idea of why it emerges twenty minutes later as a hot, steaming meal.  I have no aspirations to create Langoustine consommé with lemon tuiles and pea puree, or to begin experimenting with molecular gastronomy (although liquid Nitrogen does look like a wonderful toy).

The chemistry of food defies my kind of logic.  It’s a pleasure to eat, true, but the assembly is an alien process to me and most likely will forever remain that way. 

But there I was, week after fascinated week, watching untrained but enthusiastic amateurs, their fumbling fingers creating elegantly-assembled dishes of confit duck on a bed of celeriac mash to Michelin-class standards.   But why?  In the name of the knife, fork and spoon, why??

Then it finally clicked.  The title of this post says it all.  It was about the journey.

We aspiring writers have very similar goals to those clumsy cooks, those shaking singers, those jittering jugglers.  We are all on the same journey of self-discovery – with the hope of our own selves being discovered.  Or our work, at least.

I realised that by watching these rising stars gain new skills and achieve undreamed-of heights, my thoughts were paralleling their journey with my own aspirations, because I hoped that I would also (one day) experience a similar journey. 

My mind had latched onto these stories in an unconscious act of self-preparation.

It may be that every individual who achieved the final three of Masterchef, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent has already inspired me; proved to me that it IS possible to lift our (literary) voices from behind the background noise of society enough to be heard. 

Ordinary mortals like us can achieve great things.  But it takes time.  It takes a measure of confidence.  But it can require a good measure of encouragement from our peers too. 

It is perhaps because of all of this that I am mentally prepared for the next step of ePublishing, the quiet, stealthy equivalent of seeing my work in Bookers or Waterstones.  I dare to touch my toe to the chill waters of public consumption and say to them ‘nibble on that,’ whilst thinking ‘pleasedon’tbite, pleasedon’tbite!’

The journey from ‘I could write a book’ through ‘could I write a book?’ to ‘I have written a book’ is moving forward.  Who was it that said; ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’?

But where is your journey taking you? How far have you already come?

Have you been inspired by stories of success or sheer determination? 

Have you watched others climbing the ladder towards success, feeling that your journey was headed the same way?

Do you feel (particularly with ePublishing opening up new possibilities) that the impossible is now possible?

Share your story with us.  Tell us where your journey is taking you.

Write on – and encourage others to do the same in every way that you can.

  

Reader Appreciation Award

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This post has been a long time due and so, for that, I apologise.

The whirl of completing my Twelfth Draft, the decision to ePublish and the creating of my book cover scoured my brain of much of my daily to-do list.

Anyway, last month I was fortunate enough to receive a nomination for the Reader Appreciation Award, not once but twice!

Thank you Mymagical escape (I tried to find your name on your blog, but couldn’t) for this award.   I love the image – it just so happens that big, bright sunflowers are a favourite of mine.

Also, Sonya Loveday nominated me the following day, a lovely thought.

The conditions of this award seem to be similar to those of the Liebster and Lovely Blog awards.

I tried to back-track through Mymagicalescape’s nominator, Pat Wood or as I like to think of her, Caress Arborea *winks*, but I couldn’t find any specific conditions listed on her blog.

Sonya mentions that the Reader Appreciation Award Foundation stipulate six nominations, so I will do that, but add in Mymagicalescape’s format and write seven things about myself first – stuff that I haven’t already said after receiving previous nominations.

.

1. I believe in Angels – just not necessarily the kind that appear in popular literature.

2. I live in the same town as Jenna Burtenshaw and have received a great deal of encouragement from her.

3.  It was my wife’s tottering stack of vampire novels that compelled me to write ‘A Construct of Angels’.

4.  Movie soundtracks inspire my writing.

5.  My ‘day job’ takes me all over the UK.  75% of the time it gifts me writing opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.

6. Currently, my favourite writing tool is my Acer Netbook.

7. I am the closest I have ever been to publishing a book and cannot quite believe it.

.

Now, the nominations;

I’m supposed to nominate six bloggers for this Reader Appreciation award, so here are my choices;

1. Candace Knoebel

2. Ryan Casey

3. M D Kenning

4. Sonya Loveday

5. Carly Sarah

6. Michelle Proulx

7. Abusively Baboozan

8. Pat Wood blogging

Oops – I can’t count.  I know Candace, Sonya and Carlyysarah had already been nominated by Mymagicalescape and Pat Wood nominated her in the first place, but I love them so much, I felt compelled to repeat the nomination.

Who’s to say that I can’t?  :p

Oh, oh.  Yellow card approaching from the Reader Appreciation Award Foundation.

Enjoy, bask if you like, but don’t forget to spread the love!

 

Write on!

Do you empathise with your characters?

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Do you?

I mean really get down into the mud with them and feel their pain as if it was your own?

In this age of guts, gore and death on both the big and the small screen, it’s all too easy to sit back and munch popcorn as a larger-than-life action figure takes a bullet, then fights on to the expected victory.  The heroine, meanwhile, hangs by a single finger over a fatal drop before she is rescued in the very last instant by a strong grip around her slender wrist.

Yeah, sure he groans as the bullet buries itself in his flesh.  She shrieks as her finger slips. 

But what do they really feel?  Can you, as a writer, firstly imagine the pain, the sheer terror that these characters ought to be feeling?  And can you, secondly, convince the reader that these unfortunate, suffering characters know that a life-stopping moment is but a heartbeat away?   We are all buzzing bags of emotion, not unfeeling machines.  Readers know this – and we must deliver. 

I’ve dreamed of plunging to my death in a car, then woken in a cold, shaking sweat, hardly able to convince myself that I’d survived.  In one brief moment, I’d mentally wrapped up my life, regretted things unfinished, and wondered if non-corporeal existence or oblivion awaited me.  Then; bang;  I was a crumpled statistic – but one with an answer.  One with an edge to create better death scenes; and to recognise shallow ones.  And although it was a dream, I’d been there.  I’d actually felt it.

If you’re in any doubt that you are tuned into your characters, retire to a quiet place after you’ve written your action sequence.   Become one with your character of choice.  Climb into their skin, then re-run the action.  Hang from a stone gargoyle one hundred storeys above the city.  Plunge over a waterfall, not knowing if you’re going to see the next minute.  Switch off all the lights and spin around three times to experience some of the disorientation of being inside a darkened warehouse (but please don’t injure yourself – even if you are researching pain!).

Better still, if the geography or architecture allows, visit the closest possible parallels to your scene and lean over that edge; feel the power of the wind and water.  Picture the last seconds of your life as gravity claims its prize. 

Your character would.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone close to you went over the edge instead; feel that anger, that helplessness, that utter and permanent loss.

And relax…breathe.  Then get it down on paper / screen.

I’ve dealt largely with falls so far.  Other fates are available, naturally. 

And of course, this technique doesn’t just apply to action scenes. 

Pain is not the only emotion;

Betrayal?  Your best friend has just eloped with your significant other / taken your expensive car / smuggled out your priceless show cat.  Get angry; feel betrayed.  Just don’t call that friend until you’ve simmered down and put your hurt and anger into black-and-white.

Love?  A trickier one this, one that relies on previous experience.   Think of it as the ultimate head-and-heart battle.  Except that the head belongs to an adult, and the heart is a wanton, wailing, selfish four-year-old that (almost) always gets their way.  How wrenching would that be as an internal monologue?

Fear?  There are many shades of fear, too many to list here.  Briefly, though; Fear of death (brief pain and it’s all over – but you might leave everything unfinished); Fear of loss – what is it that you could not stand to exist without?  Fear of change; your comfort zone – obliterated.

Feel them all – no, really.  Feel them all.  And then create characters that we can really relate to – and emotions that stir our own. 

What better than a novel that takes us upon a roller-coaster ride that leaves us emotionally wrought, but thoroughly satisfied?

For further reading I’d recommend Rivet your readers with Deep POV.  Please note that I am in no way affiliated with this work  – I just found it to be instructive.

So, over to you;

What techniques do you use to get beneath your character’s skin?  

Do you perform mental walk-throughs? 

Do you research on-line for the experiences of others, or even query them face-to-face?

‘A Construct of Angels’ – the first chapter

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To celebrate the completion of the Twelfth Draft of my WIP, I have posted the First Chapter on another page in this blog.

UPDATE: The first five chapters are now viewable at Amazon – just click the link

If you have any thoughts, ideas, criticisms or if something simply doesn’t make sense to you, I’d be very happy to hear your feedback.

It would be useful to hear your opinions as to whether the first chapter ‘draws’ the reader to continue reading.

I won’t repeat any previous comments on that aspect at this time as they may ‘steer’ your opinions.

I am very close to a decision on whether I will publish this on Amazon, (UPDATE: Now published – see link above) rather than wait a whole year (or even longer) to see it as a paperback.

This means that any errors need to be expunged (I’ve always loved that word!) and you, my fellow writers, may be that final defence against humiliation and midnight rewrites.

Enjoy, critique and above all, keep writing!

Andy

Fill the void.

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That void is upon me once again.

You know the one (or perhaps you haven’t reached that stage yet  – but you will);  that enforced emptiness between reviewing your current WIP and either (delete as appropriate) reviewing it again / waiting for an Agent to respond to your query.

Popular opinion is to leave a reviewed MS for between 2 to 4 weeks (longer, ideally) before looking at it again.

So, you’ve just emerged from a protracted writing / reviewing flurry and you’re still carrying all that creative momentum.  It’s rather like lifting a moving bicycle off the ground.  You’ve stopped the frame, but the wheels are still spinning.

But what do you do now?  Do you;

Start a brand new project?

Start the sequel, even if the original isn’t yet fully formed?

Read (outside your own genre, naturally)?

Begin something constuctive?

Or just chill out and bury yourself under a pile of books?

Ideally, I’d love to just take myself off to the Bahamas for a month and chill before re-embarking on my writing marathon, but sadly, I’ll have to investigate more practical avenues…

For me, my sequel ‘Vengance of Angels’ has been simmering on the back burner for far too long now, on hold whilst ‘A Construct of Angels’ was being fettled over and over.

The truth is, I’m impatient to crack on with it.  So, like a restrained greyhound who’s seen the rabbit circling the track one too many times, I’m ready to do a Usain Bolt.  ‘Vengance of Angels’ is rolling again, one year on whilst the Twelfth Draft of  ‘A Construct of Angels’ rests.

Although there is my fourth Twilight video I have yet to finish making…

Decisions, decisions.

What have you done to fill the void?

Did you just kick off your writing shoes (writing shoes?  Now that’s a question for another post) or do you avoid all distraction and open a new Word Document to maintain your momentum?

What does your Muse look like?

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Disclaimer;

If you are happy for your Muse to remain as a etheral source of inspiration and have no wish to imagine it any other way, then read no further.  It may colour your reception of those precious gems of wisdom that gift us with unique vision.

I have no wish to alter that happy perception to the detriment of your writing, dear follower.

However, if the idea intrigues you, please join me for a moment’s musing…

*

Have you ever stopped for a moment to wonder what that little whispering figure, that interruptor of lucid conversation, that wonderful, pesky, charming, nonsensical creature that is your Muse actually looks like?

*

*

Is she as beautiful, calm and magical as a faerie?  Does she gently whisper new ideas in your ear as you sleep?  Does she, with a swish of her wings, cause inspiring images to materialise in your mind?

Or;

Is he quirky, flighty and determined?

Or;

  Half-crazed, scatter-brained and a whirlwind of insanity?

Or;

 Malevolent and sneaky?

*

On the other hand;

Perhaps she alternates between two extremes.

*

I have to confess that when I raised the question at the beginning of this post, I would emerge with a clearer idea of my own Muse, but the truth is that I am no closer to identifying him or her in my mind.

Perhaps it’s better that she (I’d like to think she’s female – call me sexist if you like, but I find the idea comforting) remains in the shadows, passing ideas to me from deep within the recesses of my mind.

Without form, she can easily shift identities without conforming to any fixed form that I might try to impose upon her.

She appears to go walkabout for weeks on end, perhaps gathering fresh ideas for me.  Suddenly, she returns, jamming pairs of seemingly disparate ideas together, leaving me stunned and reeling.

But what about your Muse?

Does he or she have a particular form in your mind?

Does it help to visualise him or her when you are being inspired?

What sort of personality might you ascribe to your Muse and does she sit alongside you all the while, or wander off at will?

Mine has been on sabbattical for some time now, leaving me free to revise my (Twelfth) draft, but I will welcome her back once I begin on my sequel.

Assuming she returns to me…

Extra-genre readers – the ideal soution?

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My Muse has slipped her leash again…

My WIP is reaching (I hope) its conclusion.  Now in its twelfth incarnation, it has undergone numerous changes.  It has lost its original ending (recycled to a later book), 15,000 words, and its original POV format. 

The city in which the story was set has changed and even the genders of the two main characters has been switched round. 

As a result, the very early notes bear almost no resemblance to the later and completed story.  I imagine that this isn’t unusual, though.

But what I don’t know, despite all of this upheaval, is this; has the story improved at all?

From version 5.0, the first form in which I was prepared to let anyone else read it, my WIP has been passed out to more than a dozen friendly readers.

This has normally been followed by an ear-straining silence from them.

I can’t help but wonder (nail-biting newbie writer that I am) if this is because my work is so appallingly bad, stuffed with cliches and bad dialogue, that they can’t bring themselves to tell me the truth for fear of hurting my (admittedly sensitive) feelings.

Patience (for several weeks), polite queries (have you had a chance to read?’ and ‘hope I’m not bothering you, but…’) that are answered by ‘um…not yet’ or ‘I started on it, but…’ only encourage the fear-Kraken to rise anew from the depths.

My thoughts spiral down into ever-tightening coils of concern;

They’ve read it.

They must have.

And they HATE IT!

But how do I get them to admit it?

Do I want them to admit it?

The whole subject becomes an elephant in the room; a source of tension.

Mild paranoia sets in; 

Do I say something? 

Do I say nothing? 

If I ask them, will they resent me for it and hate whatever I’ve written and still not tell me?  Or worse – they might just say it’s nice.  But if I say nothing will they just forget to read it or believe I don’t care what they think?

What’s an uncertain writer to do?

At the other end of the scale, ephemeral feedback such as; ‘I thought there was too much dialogue,’  ‘Yeah, it was good’ and ‘I liked it,’ (yes, I’ve had all three) is worse than useless to a writer.  How can anyone glean anything remotely useful from that?

Scathing criticism, on the other hand, can completely shatter a writer’s confidence.  ‘We can see no market for this type of story,’ one agent told me.

Hmm, no market for supernatural romance.  I see.  Better pass that onto Alyson Noel, PC Cast, Stephenie Meyer et al.

So, already traumatised beyond all reason by this experience, the newbie writer explores another avenue – that of the impartial reader.  Other writers seem like a good choice.  After all, they’re in the same game, right?  They should know a good effort from a stinker, correct?

Only is everyone is honest.

Propping up another writer’s ego with praise when cold, honest critique ought to be levied would be a sin – as bad as well-meaning friends who can’t bring themselves to voice their honest opinion – ‘it needs more work’ (citing Chapter X, paragraph Y as ‘completely confusing’ or ‘difficult to read’).

The most encouraging comments I have received in the past few weeks have been from fellow bloggers (and one friendly reader asking for ‘more, please’ by email).

It’s made me wonder, having seen what others are writing, if reading outside our own genre would produce the best (and the most impartial) feedback.

For One, the reader is less likely to get drawn into the story to the exclusion of remaining ‘editorial’.  I would never have chosen to read a contemporary book about a teenage runaway who gets sold into the slave trade,and yet, when it was passed to me, I was able to read, enjoy and yet remain detatched enough to be able to critique it.  The story has stayed with me to this day.

For Two, the reader is less likely to make numerous comparisons with their own WIP – and there will be less risk of ‘idea trawling’ – a reassurance for the writer involved.

So I hereby pledge (*raises right hand) to read more of other’s work, whatever the genre, to judge it impartially and honestly, even at the risk of providing feedback that may not be exactly what the writer wishes to hear.  

What are your thoughts on feedback?  Could you you cope with honest, if discomfiting, critique?  Could you remain on speaking terms with someone who described your WIP as ‘too slow’ or ‘unengaging?’ 

Write on!

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