In an odd turn of events, I find myself incapacitated and stuck at home, exactly fifteen years after a similar event kick-started my writing.
Those who know my story might remember that a week-long illness gave me the time I needed to collate all my scattered notes onto my first-ever laptop. This was the start of my first ‘real’ writing project, the still-to-be-completed ‘Homeworld.’ (I will complete this one day, when I’ve cleared a few other projects.)
Now, after eight weeks immobilised, resting my crocked leg, my Muse crept up behind me, placed her hands over my eyes and whispered: “I have a great idea. Wanna hear it?”
And so she delivered an entire story, possibly an 80k novel, into my shell-like ear. I’m 99.8% certain (in life, there’s always room for a little doubt) the idea would never have come to me if I’d been working.
I’m optimistic that this new story has legs and will come together pretty quickly. It’s a quiet little British adventure story (provisionally titled ‘Pink Camper Van’) that made me smile as it unfolded. At the time of posting, I’ve already written 2,000 words, and I have a firm conclusion in mind, meaning this particular tale won’t end up as one of my infamous neverending stories.
As they say, watch this space. And as Monty Python might add: ‘And now for something completely different.’
The last week has seen the end of my trusty Acer Netbook… :'(
Technology comes and technology goes, but when so much time has been spent with a single device, the experience can be pretty disarming for a writer.
You may recognise this as the unit I used to create my ‘Keep Calm and Write On’ logo (see bottom of the page).
I have no real way of calculating this for sure, but I must have written close to a million words on this faithful (wipes away a small tear) little device.
Fortunately, almost everything on the little hard drive had been backed up and is in no danger of being lost. However, the times spend pounding the pint-sized keyboard will always remain with me, a considerable number of years in the 1999 to 2014 span of my ‘real’ writing.
The Netbook wasn’t my first writing device.
It followed the clunky Acer Notebook (Laptop) which was heavy and sucked the life from its battery in under sixty minutes.
Then there was the quirky, palm-sized HP Jordana. Tiny (like peering through a letterbox at a billboard) but with almost infinite battery capacity.
I know, but technology can be revived, right? I mean, it’s had a new screen, two new batteries, some extra memory and a replacement modem. What’s a little more TLC?
image credit funny-pictures.picphotos.net
Am I alone in not wanting to move on? Has anyone else found themselves stymied when their favourite piece of technology has shuffled off its coil? Have you successfully divested yourself of it, or does it still languish in a cupboard somewhere, a reminder of happy times?
Well, my writing seems to be getting back on track, although it’s definitely early days yet
Last week, I decided that the time for change had come. I’d been in a quandary for a while, constantly churning out profitable short stories and novellas, but at the expense of my sequel to ‘A Construct of Angels.’
I was writing, yes, but not getting anywhere with my long-term projects. I’d released one book, but my peers were on their second, third or more and I was merely treading water. I was also upset that some indie authors had ten or even twenty books in their back catalogue
I had one – and I needed to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. Not only that, but I was being (politely) nagged about my lack of progress – thanks Peter.
So changes were made. Towards the end of last week, I created ‘Angels week.’ During this time, which would repeat on the fourth week of every month, I would put aside all other projects, completed or not, to concentrate solely upon ‘A Vengeance of Angels.’ The word count for this project can be seen at the right-hand side of the page (beneath the cover for ‘Construct’). It has shown no change since I posted it there about two months ago.
Not any more. With ‘Angels week’ in place, it should begin to grow steadily, being updated at the weeks end.
This sort of self-discipline has been long-overdue, but in my defence, I have been very busy trying to keep the wolf from the door. Short stories write and sell quickly, novellas almost as fast. They bring in much-needed funds and cannot simply be ditched. But they are short-term and will quickly be forgotten, lost amongst the ocean of small tales that appear every week. Larger projects, such as novels, are the slow stones that grind steadily away, producing small, but steady rewards that include not only currency, but confidence, credibility and that faint sparkle of a dream that is discovery.
Another blogger commented that this confusion is fairly common amongst writers and authors as they develop their craft. They must not only find their own voice, but they also need to integrate their writing into their lives so that it neither takes over nor gets swamped and lost. The metaphor of ‘finding the right jacket’ was suggested (thanks Jon!) and it works. There is a jacket for every situation in life – and every writer needs to find one that fits and will work for their lifestyle.
Has your writing life become a muddle? Are you always starting but never finishing? Are you so busy helping others or churning out short stories and fragmented scenes that you are creating nothing in real terms?
Perhaps you need to develop an ‘Angels week’ too…or just set aside that much-needed ‘me time’ that will get your writing back on track.
As writers, does it serve us better to be an expert – an absolute genius within a limited field…
…or a multi-skilled ‘Jack of all Trades’?
Having asked that, I will immediately concede that in order to write non-fiction and instructional works, a high degree of skill or expert knowledge is desirable. But what about we writers of fictional works?
It took me a long time to reach my own conclusion on this. Throughout my twenties and thirties (oh, such a long, long time ago) I harboured a mild, jealous resentment towards those who constantly excelled in their field of choice, grudgingly wishing them well whilst questioning those that administrated the Universe why it was that I struggled to master tasks, gaining only a limited skill (consistently in the top 1/3) in anything that I attempted. I had immersed myself in many disciplines (mechanics, electronics, motor racing, sketching, painting, computer programming and numerous others) during those distant sepia-tinged decades, emerging each time without the satisfaction of having truly mastered the necessary skills.
It took me a long time to realise that whilst I couldn’t proclaim myself to be fully skilled in anything I attempted, I was able to turn my hand to a great many tasks – and take some pride at being reasonably competent at most of them.
Then I remembered a story my father told me about a pathologist he’d worked with. The man in question was an expert in human anatomy. He could dissect a body and proclaim cause of death without error time after time. Often he could estimate the cause before he’d even touched the body (no, really!). He would teach class after class of young proto-pathologists, leaving them staggered and wondering how they could ever match up to this great man.
He was an undoubted expert in his field.
But one day, following some car trouble and a rather large repair bill, he took my father (a mortuary manager and owner of a series of self-maintained cars at the time) aside, showed him the mechanic’s invoice and in a low voice he asked; ‘What exactly IS a spark plug?’
It turned out that he was super-brilliant, but also limited in scope.
I have since learned to content myself with the notion that whilst I know very little about a great many things, I do know about a great many things. The difference here is that, like a contestant on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’ one who still has their ‘phone-a-friend’ option, I know that there many people, reference sites and numerous sources of information available to me in the world today.
I don’t need to be expert in any particular subject – I just need to know that the subject exists and where to find out about it. Then I can research it thoroughly enough to weave the facts discreetly into a story.
I have finally concluded that knowing even a little about a great many things is a very useful position to be in.
Makes me wonder if I’d been born with an ‘expert’ brain – would I have ever embraced writing?
How do you view this? Are you particularly skilled and able to use that skill to your advantage in your writing? Or are you happy to be a ‘trawler’ like me, sweeping the internet for information, happy to leave the specialism to other people?
I’d be very interested to know if I’m alone in this…
I’ve just completed the first part of an author interview with Draegon Grey. It surprised me how much fun something like this can be – almost like reliving the whole process of writing the novel over again. Happy memories, the small problems that seemed so insurmountable at the time and the joy of completing the work…they all came flooding back.
The second part, a character interview with Sara Finn, my protagonist, will follow soon.
In the meantime, you can read the ‘Author Moment’ interview here.
If you are a planner, I imagine that the answer to my next question will be obvious;
What inspires you to write that next post?
If you’re a planner, you’ve probably got a list of ideas to draw from, a sequence of posts that lead from one to the next to the next and so on. You may have a teaching plan that unfolds week by week to build into an exciting and informative series of articles.
But what if you hail from the Planet Pants?
What if you happen to be an impetious and spontaneous fly-by-luck scatterbrain like me?
I can often go for weeks without any idea about what I will post next – aside from my regularly irregular and often-late Six Sentence Sundays.
And then, without warning, an idea will strike, coming out of nowhere like a thunderbolt on a clear summer’s day.
Quickly, ere I forget the subject matter, I will fashion a post from old wood and used pieces of string – and as I write, I often realise that I am trying to cover several subjects, several concepts within the same post. Rather than (as they said in Top Gun) push a bad position, the disparate subjects will split into enough material to suggest several vaguely-related posts; In other words, the fledgling post will create spin-off ideas; it will have babies.
A half-dozen little pink and hairless posts will suddenly begin to mewl and squeak and demand to be considered as posts in their own right.
So the fresh flurry of fledgling posts will be nurtured. They will be a bit like my family – very loosely related and perhaps a little edgy. There may be very little to connect them to previous or future posts aside from a single word or a faint, shining thread of thought.
That is why, dear reader, you may see groups of related topics appearing from me – sometimes two or three in one week.
Despite my endeavours to hold them back and release them into the wild one at a time, they will often break free. When that happens, I am forced to watch helplessly as they circle the internet, scaring young women and inspiring modern Hitchcocks into making new movies a la noir.
But I’m interested to know; How does inspiration strike you? Your system cannot be as haphazard as mine…surely?
Do you have a rolling plan of posts that stretch towards a vanishing point on the distant horizon? Or is inspiration fired by a song on the radio, a news article or even another blog post?
Well, my confidence has taken a knock. I’m not afraid to admit it, although I do feel slightly foolish at having to retract my former statement.
The high wave that I had been sailing upon, fresh from the joy of having finally achieved a lifetime’s ambition of publishing a book, has now flattened and I feared that I was facing a spell in the doldrums, bereft of the guiding wind that was my Muse.
As the tale within ‘Construct’ drew to a close, I had a clear and certain idea of where the sequel was heading and I’d even planned the ending – something which had been of tremendous help when I’d initially drafted ‘Construct’.
But now that idea is wavering. I still know how the sequel (A Vengeance of Angels) is going to conclude, but as I passed 25,000 words, I lost focus, the thread and my sense of timing.
I can’t tell you much, but ‘Vengeance’ doesn’t follow directly on from the end of ‘Construct’. Rather, it meshes with it, beginning two days before ‘Construct’ ended. That, dear reader, is how I painted myself into a very tight corner. I still have several events that need to transpire before the ending of ‘Construct’ is briefly revisited and the story continues from that already-published conclusion.
So, rather than despair, I reached deep into the archives and dug out my old day-by-day spreadsheet.
click to read spreadsheet
(The above is a sample I put together to illustrate its uses. If this inspires you in any form, feel free to create a story from it.)
This is one of the very few ‘planner’ tools I used in ‘Construct’ (I AM a confirmed ‘pantser’ after all), but it was invaluable to me.
Armed with this, I intend to review what I’ve already written, then forge ahead and plan out exactly how my self-imposed spiders web of a narrative will unfold.
What was that, you say? Why can’t I ever do anything the easy way? For the answer to that, you’ll have to ask my Muse.