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

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‘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

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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

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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 to Z Challenge

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It’s that time of year again. The A to Z Blogging Challenge.

During the month of April I will be posting 26 times – working my way through the alphabet.

You can do it too. Sign up here. I will also be visiting as many other participant’s blogs as possible.

I did it last year, and it is a great way to make me focus on actually writing something every day.

This year – I am going to do a little differently and focus on a theme rather than random ramblings.

I am going to blog about my debut novel and stealing shamelessly a joke from Author Ben Adams, I can unequivocally say that the novel will be the best debut novel ever written by me.

I can promise you honesty, posts short enough that they do not require meal breaks, and maybe, possibly, an insight or two that will make you laugh or nod sagely. I’ll take either result!

Hopefully this exercise will force me to crack on and finish the novel. Editing is a new thing for me, and I find it hard. The hardest is actually getting on with it.

And on that bombshell, I’m off for a haircut.

Comment. Agree, Disagree. I would love to hear from you.

Writing Tools

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Writing, at least for me, involves quite a lot of sitting around doing all manner of things that are not writing.

At times, I can be a world-class procrastinator. Yes, I can do ‘the gazing at a blank page’ thing. I’m even getting better at the tortured artist look, although Margaret still regards me suspiciously and asks whether I am about to fart.

However – in addition to these basic techniques, there are more advanced methods. My latest is a deep need to make sure that I have the right tools.

I have always had a bit of a thing for stationery, my inner geek has always been lurking just below the surface.

This geek has been encouraged into the open by my new writing buddy Amanda.

We ‘met’ on Twitter (how hip am I?) at #writingchat.

A writing buddy is an essential aid to the aspiring writer. More importantly, a writing buddy saves the friends and family of the aspiring writer an enormous amount of boredom. I can now ask “Do you think the three act structure will work here?” or “How do you feel about third person limited?” without being greeted by the electronic equivalent of tumbleweed.

Amanda is on the cusp of releasing a book. In fact, you can pre-order the physical paperback version right now. Just click HEREFollow the instructions and you can even get a discount on the cover price. Go! Have a look right now. Go on. I’ll wait…

Welcome back. I hope that you have ordered the book. If you are electronically inclined, you will be able to pick it up soon on Amazon, Kobo and all those good places.

Amanda also keeps a very nice BLOG where you can find some proper writing. While you are there, sign up for updates. Come to think of it, while you are here – sign up for updates too. It really means a lot to us writer-types to know that people are reading.

Recently, Amanda and I got chatting about pocket notebooks. I daresay that one day, I’ll tell you all about my notebooks – but to cut a long story short, Amanda took it upon herself to make me the notebook cover that features in the picture. It’s a beautiful soft leather.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Editing – Where to start?

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I have been doing some editing. I mentioned it before here. I am implementing a ‘Red Pen’ approach to editing. I have been receiving newsletters from, and attending webinars at, scrivenervirgin.com

I cannot recommend Red Pen enough. Anne Rainbow is a writer with a broad experience. Her system is logical, methodical and straightforward.

You can get onto the newsletters free of charge, and in themselves, they are an excellent resource. If, like me, you see the benefit, you can sign up for some webinars. They are far from expensive.

Anne has given me an approach to editing and an understanding of the process.

One thing that is immediately apparent is that an eye for detail is a real advantage when editing.

Regrettably, an eye for detail is something that I lack entirely.

Fortunately, help is at hand.

ProWritingAid is editing software. I access it through the web, although I believe there are ‘bolt-ons’ for Word and Google Docs. There is a free version, and then a paid version.

Without getting into all of the options, I copy and paste text into the webpage, press go and the software does an analysis for me.

It looks at spelling, grammar, how many adverbs there are, sentence length; the list goes on.

Put simply, it’s brilliant. In a few seconds, it highlights multiple things that require attention. In some instances, it might suggest alternatives.

It does not claim to replace the human process, nor should it. It does have an option to have a human look at the work for you (at a cost of course). For me, its value is in automating the ‘eye for detail’. Faced with the highlights, I must still decide how to deal with them, but at least I know that I have made a decision, not simply missed something.

It costs $35 a year. I will renew.

One thing that neither the Red Pen process, or Pro Writing Aid have been able to help with is WAS. WAS is my new acronym for Writing Avoidance Strategies.

It has got to the stage that I have even resorted to writing to avoid writing. I’ll explain what I mean next time…

 

 

In it to win it.

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This week I honoured a promise made on #writingchat

#writingchat is weekly meet up on twitter, Wednesday 2000 hours UK time for writerly types. There are some great people there – come along. Just use the hashtag.

I submitted a short story into a competition for the first time. I am not telling you which one. I will report back once the results are published.

Actually, I promised to enter and win a writing competition in 2016.

Although, I am convinced that the story is, in fact, a masterpiece, I am prepared to accept that it is unlikely to win. I can’t win the first competition that I enter, surely?

Therefore, I am working on several ideas at the moment. Naturally, I am scouring the literary world for competitions with extremely few entrants.

I have even written a poem.

No. Really. I have. I am going to enter that into a competition too.

One thing that has come from the entering of competitions is that I have started to use ‘Red Pen’, an editing system and ProWritingAid, an app. I will post a review here soon.

Before I go…

Further to my post about medical studies, I came across another on twitter this morning, courtesy of @lifehacker and @beccacaddy all about people over 65 and sarcasm. The study found that the over 65s don’t get it. Really?

Most of the over 65s I know can cut me to shreds with sarcasm.

Books!

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The image is pinched from the Goodreads website.

If you have an interest in books, Goodreads is a good place to go and find out what is going on.

As the year turned, the site sent me an automated mail. It was asking me how many books I was going to read this year. Not something that I have ever thought about before.

“50” I typed confidently.

“50?” People were incredulous.

“Are you counting menus?”

“You are supposed to read every word, you know.”

A witty lot my Facebook friends.

I suspect that I will comfortably get through a hundred in a year. Once I get into a book, I can finish it in a sitting or two. Offer me the TV or a book and I’ll take the book every time.

Predominantly I read on my Kindle. I had resisted this device, absolutely convinced of my love for the physical manifestation of a book. I still do buy the odd book. Non-fiction especially. The Kindle however is a marvel. On holiday I can have thirty novels, all in my back pocket. Should I run out, I can find some wifi and buy thirty more. Its easy, convenient and cheaper. I am a convert.

Reading is a double-edged sword for me. I enjoy reading ‘as a writer’, where I am mindful of the craft that the author has put into the words.

However, I also get intimidated. When I find myself at the end of a novel, taken there on a page-turning rush, I doubt whether I might ever enthuse a reader in quite the same way.

Now, got to rush, time for a couple of chapters before lunch.