• I is for Index Cards

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    Index Cards – This template is courtesy of my writing buddy Amanda Fleet. (Her blog is here.)

    Her soon to be released novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ was written using index cards like this. You should get along to her site and pre-order the book – there’s even a discount on it.

    I have always been an early adopter of technology. I started writing my novel on a great app called Storyist. I then switched to Scrivener, another great app. I use Evernote as an excellent scrapbook. I can write on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, even my phone. Yet faced with a sprawling first draft, I had no idea how to whip it into shape.

    Amanda led me through her Index Card system. Key scenes are sketched onto the red cards like the one in the picture, and other scenes – ones that join the key ones together are on green cards. Once the cards are written, I can place all of the scenes together onto the dining room table and move them around. The whole novel laid out in front of me in a very visual and malleable way.

    I daresay that it is possible to have a screen the size of my dining table and an app that is as intuitive as my own eyes and hands, but I fear that I have crossed that invisible line: where technological advances were once interesting and exciting, now I find them irritating and confusing.

    I even complete the index cards with a fountain pen.

  • H is for Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway.

    I can’t imagine that anyone has not heard of him, but if you haven’t, go and read any of his work right now. I’ll wait.

    This chap could write. I realise that my last post also featured an American author, but I am not on the verge of becoming a literary critic. I promise.

    In addition to knocking out some cracking reads, Mr Hemingway saw a bit of life.

    An American, he lived in Paris, Toronto, Chicago, Spain, London, Key West and Cuba. He went to both World Wars, the Spanish Civil War and got married four times. He got amoebic dysentery on safari in Africa and sailed extensively in the Caribbean. Being flown to medical attention after a plane crash, he was instantly engulfed in a second plane crash.

    Impressive eh?

    Throughout his life, Mr H was fond of a drink. Actually, ‘fond of’ might be understating it a little. At the time of his death, he was rumoured to be drinking a couple of pints a day. Of whiskey.

    He was (incorrectly) attributed with inventing the Bloody Mary, drank his Martinis dry enough to make your eyes water, and memorably penned the following;

    “I drink to make other people more interesting.”

    Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. As did his father, brother and sister. Startling sad.

    His writing will live for ever.

    It’s Saturday. As you raise your glass tonight – raise it to Ernest. I think that he would approve.

     

  • G is for Grapes. Angry Grapes.

    Grapes

    “The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.”

    The lines above are taken from the mighty Wikipedia.

    National Book Award, a Pulitzer and a Nobel prize for literature; that went OK then.

    I want to write well, so it seems sensible to read a wide range of ‘good stuff’. Somehow or other, I had always managed to not read any Steinbeck so I approached this novel with a sense of anticipation.

    Initially, it was the reading equivalent of running through treacle. This novel hardly springs out of the blocks with a flurry of high-octane action. For a while, I used it as a miracle sedative. Half a page and I was out like a light. I kept dropping the Kindle on the poor dog.

    Gradually though, I adjusted to the pace and rhythm of Steinbeck’s prose and narrative. I won’t write a critique, or an overview of the plot – but as the novel progressed, I became more and more engaged. I became taut with indignation at the unfairness of the time and the situation.

    It is no exaggeration to write that reading the final scene was like being slapped very hard in the face.

    Read this novel. It should have won more awards.

  • F is for Fountain Pens

    Fountainpens

    From bottom to top, a Lamy 2000, a ‘Cult Pen’ by Kaweco and a Limited Edition Charles Dickens Meisterstuck from Montblanc.

    I had not written with a fountain pen in years. My writing buddy Amanda and I were swapping emails on notebooks and she was focused on paper quality, something to which I had never given much thought. Intrigued, I looked out the Montblanc which had been bought years ago at a charity auction. I began writing some notes.

    Disappointingly, my handwriting is still terrible. So terrible that I have bought myself ‘Improve your Hand-writing’ by Rosemary Sassoon & Gunnlaugur Se Briem.

    It’s a work in progress.

    There is something wonderful about writing with a proper pen. Suddenly, you feel like a writer. An artist. It is quite peculiar really. Another benefit of a fountain pen is that it helps suppress your inner editor. Writing my first draft on a computer, I found myself endlessly deleting words and rewriting sentences. Fountain pens have no backspace. Crossing out very quickly becomes a mess – so I don’t. The words just keep flowing out. When ready – I can go back and edit where necessary.

    I am enjoying it so much, I have started writing letters. Real letters. For any younger readers, a letter is a kind of analogue e-mail. Back in the dark ages, before the internet (yes, there was a time before the internet) people used to write emails, put them into a kind of paper bag called an envelope, and throw them into a box at the end of the street. Several days later, the email would be delivered to the house of the person to whom you sent it (a bit like getting a package from Amazon). Who knew?

    Obviously, it is a much slower mode of communication, just as writing with a fountain pen is slower – but sometimes, slow is good.

     

  • E is for Editing

    editing

    ‘Editing? That’s just checking the spelling and grammar isn’t it? Computer does most of it, doesn’t it?’

    I honestly believed that.

    In my posts for C and D, I wrote about creativity and deadlines. Once I set myself some writing deadlines and got my inner creative out, the words flowed all over the page. I had not planned the book as such, I was just letting it flow.

    As instructed, I left my drafts alone for a while. Locked them in a drawer. After a few months, I pulled them out to read them. I felt pretty certain that the odd grammar issue would have slipped through.

    “Hmmmm.” I mused.

    “This is crap.”

    Approaching a novel with no clear plan works for some people, I’m told. I thought that it worked for me. I now have two chunky wedges of paper that are clear testament that unplanned novel writing produces well… unplanned prose that wanders off in all sorts of directions.

    Editing for me is about bringing some order and direction to the prose. Helping the story make sense. Two people have helped me enormously in this area – Anne Rainbow who runs a fantastic web course on editing over at her blog www.scrivenervirgin.com and my writing buddy Amanda Fleet who gave me some fantastic insights into her planning process, which thankfully, is flexible enough to be used retrospectively.

    Editing my second novel will be so much easier than my first – at least I will have planned the second before I write it.

     

  • D is for Deadlines

    Calendar with Deadline Circled

    Sipping Champagne for breakfast, cocktails in the afternoon, whipping off literary masterpieces on a monthly basis. That was what being a writer was going to be. No need to go into the office, no need to strive for impossible deadlines…ahh! ‘Tis the writer’s life for me.

    Any type of wine in the morning has always been a fantastic start to the day for me, as long as the intention is to spend the entire day drinking more of it, to the exclusion of pretty much any other activity. Regrettably, if the intention is to do something else – say write for example, then coffee is the poison of choice.

    Once over the morning beverage hurdle, there’s this thing called the internet. It’s a sort of black hole were you click on one little thing and before you know it you have two hundred notebooks coming, know all about the forthcoming Dwarf-throwing World Championships and the sun is setting.

    For this writer at least – no deadlines, no writing.

    In the corporate world – I was actually not bad at time management. I had ‘to do’ lists and everything. Very quickly though, working from home, I  got very crap at it.

    ‘Make a phone call? What, tomorrow? I can’t, I’m getting a haircut’

    Entire days were given over to tasks that used to be completed in thirty seconds between ‘real’ tasks. Without deadlines, I got nothing done.

    Then I did NaNoWriMoNow that’s a deadline.

    Boom. 120,000 words. Done.

    Deadlines are important.

  • C is for Creativity

    Creativity-definition-1

    In my last post, I wrote about a growing addiction to stationery – particularly to notebooks.

    With a new notebook and a full pen you can go anywhere. You can be anyone. At the end of the day – you just make it up. Yesterday, I blogged about the wonderful Bureau Direct. I must also mention Spotlight Stationeryanother company that provides gorgeous things.

    I thought that finding creativity was the challenge. Overcoming the blank page.

    I learned that the secret was fifty words. If on any morning, I could write fifty words, then I could write five hundred, a thousand, fifteen hundred. The key was to churn out those first fifty. That’s it! I thought. I’ve cracked Creativity. I’m a writer. Eureka!

    I am learning that a writer must be many things. Creativity is a part of it for sure, but for me, it is just the first part. Once the imagination has run riot, another ‘C’ needs to step forward; the craftsman needs to emerge and fashion the writing into a novel. Then the marketeer must emerge and promote the book.

    If this draft is to become my best-ever debut novel, then the craftsman is going to need to work with the creative. At the moment, I’m not sure that they are even on speaking terms.

    This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Find out more about it by clicking here.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • B is for Bureau Direct

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    I blogged yesterday about Amanda, my writing buddy. (Her excellent blog is here)

    She introduced me to Bureau Direct purveyors of fine stationery. They have become my ‘dealers’. No, seriously – this stationery stuff is addictive.

    I have graduated to the hard stuff. Daily, I am taking a big hit of notebook – in fact this post began in a Rhodiarama. I’m a habitual Rhodia user and I sometimes cut in some Clairefontaine too. To change things up, I sometimes move away from the French gear and get a bit Teutonic – there is nothing wrong with a Leuchtturm 1917 now and again. It really is that bad.

    Bureau Direct understand the link between creativity and stationery. With a good notebook and a fountain pen, I can instantly transport myself to different worlds, where the only rules are ones that I decree. The website is excellent, the deliveries are prompt and the customer service absolutely superb – but have a care. Once bitten, you might find yourself compulsively going back for more. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

    When finally, my time comes, some poor soul will be in my garage scratching his head;

    “The wine, I understand. But what on earth did this guy needs thirty two thousand notebooks for?”

  • A is for Amanda

    Amanda Fleet

    Amanda is my writing buddy.

    We have never met. We exchange messages on social media, by e-mail and sometimes by post.

    Amanda is a woman of many talents. University lecturer, PHD, runner, stationery addict and most importantly, writer.

    She is completing the A to Z Challenge – you can visit her hereHer stationery blog is worth a quick look too, but I warn you; stationery is seriously addictive. My novel needs to succeed to support my stationery habit.

    Her first novel is coming out soon, in fact there is a launch event at Waterstones in St Andrews. (She is a proper author!)

    I was sitting looking at two sprawling first drafts, trying to work out what the hell to do next. Amanda and I ‘met’ on Twitter. She has been incredibly generous in sharing her approach in producing a book, and unstintingly supportive. It is no exaggeration to say that without Amanda, the best debut novel that I have ever written will not ever see the light of day.

    For that reason, my first post in this A to Z Challenge is a simple thank you to Amanda.

    Many people are aiming to complete the A to Z Challenge – this is the list. Go and check some out, obviously Amanda’s first.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

    This is the first of 26 posts in April (Sundays we get to rest) as part of the A to Z Challenge.