N is for NaNoWriMo

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiRes

National Novel Writing Month. It’s all in the title really.

I have mentioned NaNoWriMo in several posts already. Briefly, the challenge is to write fifty thousand words of a novel in the calendar month of November.

As a way of establishing a regular writing practice and of getting words onto the page, I highly recommend it.

I did a warm-up NaNo in October, so that I could start a fresh manuscript in the November. I wrote thirty something thousand words in October and just short of sixty thousand in November.

Participants are broadly divided into two camps. The planner and the pantsers (seat of pants). I was a pantser. I had no idea where my characters were going to take me. It turns out that they had no idea either. Still, we got over the line.

As a creative endeavour and experience, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo.

As a method of writing a first draft, I remain unconvinced. It may be that actually, I am unconvinced of being a pantser. Writing fast, with no clear plan is great fun. It gets the creative juices flowing. Truth be told though, for me, it did not create characters with depth. It did not create a taut story arc. I am having to go back and do those things retrospectively.

Will I do NanoWriMo this year?

Maybe – but if I do, I will go into the month with a firm outline already written.

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

M is for Money Laundering

money-laundering

Organised Crime is about profit.

Status and power have a role, but ultimately Organised Crime Groups exist to get rich.

Ever since the FBI used tax evasion laws to nab and imprison Al Capone, criminals have strived to make their money appear legitimate. It must be quite galling to make millions from one’s nefarious activities but be unable to spend any of it.

Money Laundering is making the proceeds of crime appear legitimate.

In the best ever debut novel written by me, the hero, Sean has an opportunity to partner some unsavoury people as their laundry man. He is faced with a decision.

Straightforward you would think. Sean can do the right thing or the wrong thing.

I’m not sure that things are quite as black and white as that. Motive is a very difficult thing to pin down. Often different people have different definitions of what they see as right or wrong.

Let me leave you with a few questions to think on.

  1. Have you ever paid a tradesman in cash for a lower price? “Let’s call it a hundred for cash?”
  2. Bought cheap duty free cigarettes or booze from a friend?
  3. Picked up designer label jeans from a street market?
  4. Watched a pirated movie?

Quite probably all crimes.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

L is for Lonely

write

On the whole, I am comfortable in my own company. I’m an only child and lived for many years as an expatriate.

Despite this I have found writing lonely at times.

When in the grip of writing a story, I am happy, delighted even, to be alone. After all, I have an entire cast of characters in my head to keep me company.

At other times, being a writer can feel lonely.

Sadly though, the loneliness is not relieved by company.

Non-writing friends and family try to help, but they can’t. Non-writers find it rude if I call them for a chat and then suddenly, and obviously, lose interest in the conversation. Non-writers are mystified to be invited in, to then be ignored. Writers don’t do this on purpose – but when a character demands attention, we must listen. If a scene appears in our heads, we must capture it; to the exclusion of anything else.

Most people go to coffee bars to meet friends, to chat and laugh. Some people even go for the coffee. Writers go to be alone. To observe. Sometimes we go to be ‘not lonely’ but still alone.

During NaNoWriMo there are regional meet-ups. Four of five of us met in a coffee bar in Salisbury. We said Hi, opened our laptops and started tapping away, flatly ignoring each other. After a few hours, I closed the laptop and stood.

‘Same time next week?’

We are definitely not quite right.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

K is for Kill

faulkner

Calm down. The wife is not under the patio.

‘Kill your darlings’. William Faulkner no less. (Back to those great American writers again.)

Writing the first draft of the best ever debut novel written by me, the challenge was to get all of the words out of my head onto the page. All of the advice that I read was to write; to get on with it, just get on with it…

I stumbled across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)Check it out.

NaNo is the extreme end of ‘just write’. So, I wrote and wrote and wrote. No looking back, no editing, always moving forward. The writing took on its own rhythm.

When November ended, I printed out not one, but two manuscripts. As advised, I hid them in a drawer and collapsed in a contented heap. I may even have had a glass of wine or two. 😉

Two novels. Done.

I took the rest of the year off.

Late in February, I judged myself ready to edit. You know, tidy up a few bits of grammar and the like.

The drafts were awful. Prose that was wonderful as I wrote it was dreadful and overblown as I read it back. I needed to kill a lot of darlings.

J is for Journal

Journal

I keep a journal.

In the past, I used a brilliant app called Day One. This allowed me to update from my computer, my iPad and even my phone. I could ‘geo-tag’, add photos, a soundtrack even.

Now, I use a fountain pen and a notebook.

Keeping a journal helps me stay grounded and focused. I don’t have a prescriptive format for the journal. I may write a single line one day and five pages the next. I may celebrate the successes of the day or lament the failures. I may simply record events without judgement. I have a friend (No, I do, really), who writes entries with titles like ‘Carthago delenda est’. Cato the elder, I think.

Initially, I wrote entries in the mornings. However, I found that writing a journal put me in a wistful, contemplative state, which is not ideal when I have things to get done, so now I write in the evenings.

If you don’t keep a journal – consider it. It is scientifically proven that you will be more attractive to the opposite sex if you keep a journal.

OK, I made that last bit up – but keeping a journal will help you understand where your time is going, and time is one thing that we can never get back.

I is for Index Cards

indexcard_opt

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.

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.