Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Quick Update

So, trying to plough on but not being as faithful as I should be.

Yesterday had a good morning and did almost 4,000 words. Got home after the gym and was cooking dinner when a friends sms-ed and invited me over for food, which was lucky because as I was replying I realised I had already burnt my own. Had a great night of good wine, great company, and cupcakes to finish it all off. However, obviously, not so good for the writing, also got to bed slightly late.

This morning, as I knew that I was already behind, I dragged myself out of bed and got almost 3,000 words done before walking to work (making sure I get my vitamin D activated). This evening had another personal training session (they came free with my membership but were really good so if anyone is looking for a nice friendly personal trainer in South Yarra, let me know). Got home late, and while waiting for dinner to cook started reading more of Blackout (almost finished, have requested next one from library but has to be transferred. Just hope it arrives tomorrow so I don't have to wait in between books). Managed to not burn my dinner but also found myself still reading quite a while after I'd finished dinner. Didn't get to writing until 9.30pm, and so only got another 45mins of writing done. Altogether today I only got roughly 4,500 done.
Am currently up to a total of just over 50,000 words. I have two non-work days and two work days left to go until the end of this fortnight, and probably 30,000 more words. So in theory doable, but not if I keep having days like today.

All prayers gratefully received.

Good night all.


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Is Imitation the Greatest Form of Flattery for Writers?

Last night when I found I couldn't get to sleep, I pulled out a book I've been reading on and off for a few months now. It's 'Unlimited Power' by Anthony Robbins. Disclaimer here: Robbins has some good ideas and great exercises, but some of his science or logic is not so strong. However, I still recommend it if you feel you are in a rut. (Just to clarify: it's not about writing, it's about positive thinking for all things).

So last night I was reading his chapter 'Syntax for Success'. Let me briefly summarise his point so you know what I'm talking about. If you want to be successful don't invent the wheel again, watch the actions and methods of those who are successful. Like baking a cake, if you can get the recipe with ingredients, amounts, and the correct procedure, you too can make the world's best cake.
He states: 'The point here is for you to realize that even when you have little or no background information and even when circumstances seem impossible, if you have an excellent model of how to produce a result, you can discover specifically what the model does and duplicate it – and thus produce similar results in a much shorter period of time than you may be thought possible.' (p. 119). The example he was using referred to creating a training course in firearms for the army.

I began to wonder if it applies exactly the same to more creative pursuits.

There is a rage in books at the moment (well, starting a few decades ago) which argue that talent is overrated, that most of what we perceive as talent is actually the result of work and good coaching. I'll probably discuss this idea more later because I do find it fascinating and is part is one of the motivators behind my writing challenge: to test the argument that says anyone can become an expert at anything if they dedicate an hour a day for 10 years (I think that's the time frame suggested).

However, I do also agree with Stephen King when he says that there are bad writers and brilliant writers, and you can't move between these two. I think is is particularly obvious in writing, where there are a lot of prolific writers who never get much better and then there are a few brilliant writers who only ever wrote one book. Having said that, I am sure that I can turn myself from a competent writer into a good writer through more practice. But what type of practice?

As I'm sure all teachers have said for most of eternity: only perfect practice makes perfect. This, I think, is what Robbins is getting at. If you want to become better at something, you can't continue just doing what you have always done. You need to improve your practice methods. And for this he suggests modelling. But does that work in writing?

The ancient Greeks started teaching rhetoric through extensive modelling, playing with form and content. Students would take well known stories or speeches and have to keep the style of them the same but change the content, or keep the content but change the style. This was the basis of their studies and until they had mastered this, were not allowed to go on and try creating something original. (See Aristotle's Rhetoric, he goes into a lot of detail.)

The confusion is, as Dorothea points out, most people imitate the wrong aspects. She argue that 'the philosophies, the ideas, the dramatic notions of other writers of fiction should not be directly adopted...' (p.105) Any author that claims they are writing 'like so and so...' is generally falling into this trap. If I see one more awful romance that states they are writing in the style of Georgette Heyer, I might do physical damage. They do not mean they have her technical excellence in writing or historical knowledge, but they have copied her boy-meets-girl plot lines, and usually not very creatively at that.

According to Dorothea, what you should try to study is Technical Excellence. 'But technical excellences can be imitated, and with great advantage. When you have found a passage, long or short, which seems to you far better than anything of the sort you are yet able to do, sit down to learn from it.' (p.106). (Yes, I am personally directing that to anyone who thinks they write Georgette Heyer's better than Georgette Heyer.)

I believe the essential difference can be seen in Robbin's cake metaphor. If you follow all the ingredients and all the same steps, you get the same cake. In this case, you get a book that someone else has already written. So therefore many people take a famous book and try to keep all the same ingredients but change the sequence or amounts. What sort of cake would that make? The same basic flavour, but badly cooked. If people wanted that cake, they would just eat the one made by the expert. But writers who want to make quick money always try to make the same flavour cake as the best seller at the time. Bad writer, bad!

What the ancient Greeks and Dorothea Brande and doubtless others have realised is that in writing you want to learn the ordering and techniques of cooking, so then you can add in your own ingredients and make a completely different but excellent cake.

Therefore, the concept of becoming an expert at writing through practice must still require you to be able to invent your own ingredients, but study the techniques of others. However, there will be some who are just not able to do this part of invention and no amount of training will give it to them. So, I do not entirely agree that everyone who practices enough can become a good writer. However, if one has a little invention, then the technique of writing can be learned.

Therefore, am dedicating myself to trying to improve what I can. Now, I just have to work out ways to practice the technical elements of writers I like. I might read a bit more Aristotle and see what he suggests.

Summary of my weekend's writing:
Yesterday was a great day of writing, making just over 10,000 new words for only the second time (I think) since beginning. Today I got 4,000 done, but also managed to do all my washing, and hopefully cook enough food to get me through the week, so I count that as a win. I'm over halfway through my next book, and have been surprised a few times by twists and turns my characters have taken me on. Still can't see the end, but am learning not to let that worry me. 
I also got to read quite a bit of Connie Willis' Blackout, though I'm afraid of finishing it before I can get the next one as I've heard it is a cliff-hanger. The verdict is still out on cliff-hangers between books. I hate it enough at the season's end of TV shows, but I feel a book can have a lead into a sequel, but to make a reader wait at least a year for the next to come to get closure should come with a warning on the front. 

Sweet practice my little writers.


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Time To Get Serious, Time To Keep A Diary!

Well, have been having varying success with my writing this week. As mentioned, Sunday was a wipe out word count wise. Monday I did roughly 8,500 on the third book in my trilogy (which might turn out to be longer than a trilogy, still waiting to see). Tuesday did a sad little 3,000 as I worked well in the morning, but then came home after work and gym and just needed to read. Was feeling all dried out and in need of some relaxation. Wednesday I made my 7,500 which would have been great, except it was my day off so I was aiming for 10,000. And today I did okay in the morning, coming in at just under 3,000, but this evening had a personal training session at the gym later than I usually go, and then somehow cooking dinner ended up taking an hour, so I didn't get down to write until 9.30pm. So have only managed 5,000 words today.

So, have decided: it's time to get serious. In the mornings I'm varying between 2,000 words on a bad morning, 3,000 usually, and 4,000 on a good morning. But I am writing for generally the same amount of time, but sometimes I'm just a lot more effective (Okay, once or twice I've got to 2,000 and decided to fall back asleep, or take some time to read, but those few instances aside). The evenings are similar. I can sit down for the same amount of time and get a 2,000 word difference.

I've talked quite a bit about the flow and how useful it can be. I've outline a basic method for making sure it comes to your aid. But now I need to go even more hardcore. I need to know more than just 'exercise, eat, work'.

Based slightly on something Dorothea said, I've decided I really need to investigate what makes me write well and what holds me back on a practical daily level. So, I'm going to try and keep a diary where I rate how well my writing session went and analyse the factors that led up to it: how well did I sleep? Did I go to sleep particularly early or slightly later? What did I eat before hand? Do I work best after a meal of protein or carbohydrates etc. And particularly: what I was reading at the time?

This was the focus of Dorothea's message, to identify writing that makes you want to write. There are some authors that you will absolutely love, but they don't inspire you to write for yourself. And then there are authors or genres you think you despise, but they always send you running to pen and paper, possibly just to prove that you can do it better. In becoming more systematic about the process and identifying everything that makes me work best, I will be able to maximise my performance.

Athletes from all around the world are currently gathering in London for the Olympics. And they have spent the last few months, if not years, analysing every part of their life so that they can be at their best to go those few seconds faster. I'm going to treat my writing the same. If I work out that having some protein before I write means I can write an extra 1,000 words in that session, and I have two sessions a day, that means for each fortnight I could write at least an extra 20,000 words, which is two whole extra days off!

So, I'm going to start my process of self-examination on Saturday (unfortunately tomorrow's writing is going to have to be stuffed in around a variety of other things, as I can't see me having a block of time that I will be able to sit down and write, but I will do my best all the same.)

If I find out any amazing secrets, I will let you know.

For anyone else thinking of becoming serious about writing, I recommend the exercise as well. But I would say do it after you are at the stage of writing everyday. It's like when I go to the gym and see people wearing compression tights, but still only doing a walk on the treadmill. The pants really aren't going to help you unless you are working close to your maximum. Finding out that you can write 10% more if you drink tea instead of coffee won't be a big benefit unless you are actually writing, and writing a substantial amount. Until you have trained yourself to do, say, 1,000 words a day, spend more time focused on that. See my previous post for exercises on how to increase your writing.

The thing that has sparked my sudden desire to learn more is that I currently feel I'm spending every possible moment writing just to meet my targets. So getting more for my efforts and being able to finish a bit early would make a huge difference.

Just to give an overview for those of you who think I'm being a bit melodramatic:

I get up between 6.45-7am (which I know is not super early, but since I have to have 8-9 hours sleep, I'm really pushing it), get breakfast and a cup of tea and am sitting down to write around 7.15am. I then write until about 9.30am, when I need to get ready for work. I get home from work between 5.30-6pm, go straight to the gym and do 30mins work out with 15 mins of stretching before coming home, having a shower and cooking dinner. I usually get to sit down to write again around 7.30 and I write until usually around 10pm, by when I will hopefully have hit my target for the day. I then suddenly remember I also have to write my blog. I spend another half an hour plus doing that, before getting ready and falling into bed. If I manage to finish my writing early, I like to curl up in bed and listen to podcasts while doing my knitting (yes I am an old lady in training. But at least I've almost finished my new throw rug, while it's still cold!)

I manage to fit in reading: a few minutes while I eat my breakfast and dinner, the two stops I go on the train each way, and for about 20mins in my lunch break.

This also might explain why on my days off I tend to collapse.

But soon I will know the secret for amazing writing, and then I will take over the world! Or at least keep creating my own ones to play with.

Until later.


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

2 Essential Exercises for Becoming a Writer

Everyone who has done any writing classes or read around on the topic will know that teachers/authors always have exercises for you to do. These are to train up particular technical aspects of writing. Some are quite helpful, some come at the wrong time and are annoying as they don't answer your specific problems.

These exercises are not like that.

Once again I turn to my new old friend, Dorothea Brande 'On Becoming a Writer'. As mentioned before, her intention is not to talk about the actual technical side of writing, but the more practical and developmental aspects of turning yourself into the sort of person who sits down for sustained periods of time and writes, and then continues to write even when they aren't sure it's working or when better offers come along.

Of course the technical aspects at some stage will be important. Though as a side note, Stephen King argues in his memoir 'On Writing', that there are four levels of writing: a bad writer, competent, good and brilliant. If you are a competent writer, you can learn and train to become a good writer. However, if you are a bad writer, that is pretty much that, and unfortunately there is no way to train yourself from good to brilliant. However, before you can even know if you are good, bad or brilliant, you need to be able to sit down and write.

For a long time I thought I couldn't be a writer because I didn't seem to get those brilliant flashes of inspiration that sent you flying to your study, doors locked, and scribbling for days on end. And so I found I didn't write very much at all. This image of the inspiration driven writer is actually a bit of a myth. It is now my belief that this might be true for a very select few, who probably have a lot of experience of just sitting down and writing particularly in the early stages. For the majority of great writers their life was making themselves write. The skill of being able to sit down on command and write is therefore one of the most precious a new writer can cultivate. As someone once said (sorry to the person I'm now stealing from because I can't remember who you are, but I at least acknowledge it's not my line):

Bad pages can be made better, blank pages cannot.

If you can train yourself to sit down and write, then you can work out the technical stuff later. If you have all the technical stuff sorted but can't sit down and write, you will never be a writer.

So, after that introduction, let me present for you Dorothea's 2 Essential Exercises for Becoming a Writer. After doing these for a month or so (I just made that time frame up, but it seems good) you will be able to work out two very important things: 1. Should you be a writer. 2. What you naturally like to write.

With those brilliant promises, the first exercise:

For a month, everyday, the moment you wake up, start writing. This is not 'start writing your great opus'. This really is 'start writing whatever is on your mind'. And keep writing. Let your mind write whatever it wants, don't refrain it. When you start to dry up a bit, stop. Then you work out how much you wrote, say it is 200 words or for 15 minutes. The next day, do exactly the same thing, letting your mind write whatever it wants, not trying to carrying on from last time. However this time, push yourself to write a little bit more, either words or time.

The important steps:
  1. Don't restrain your mind in what it wants to write.
  2. Do not read over what you have written for the period of the exercise (a month or so).
  3. Always try to write a bit more than the day before.

Before I explain this exercise (beyond the obvious), let me outline the second exercise:

This is to be done within the same time frame of the first exercise. Every night, before going to sleep, look at your plans for the next day and schedule in a 15 minute block to write where ever is best. Then the next day at a minute past that time you must be writing. If you are in the middle of a conversation, well that was badly planned of you and you must excuse yourself and walk away. Dorothea describes it as a debt of honour. You must write exactly when you said you would write and for the full fifteen minutes. She paints the delightful image of the in training writer hiding out in a washroom with his writing notebook as it was the only space he could find at short notice. Once again, let your mind write whatever it wants to write, but keep it going for the full fifteen minutes. She even suggests if really stuck starting with 'I'm finding this exercise really difficult because...' and going on from there.

As she notes, there will be plenty of excuses to change the time, make it a bit later, do it the next day because you are too busy/stressed out/tired etc. But no. Don't listen. It is your career as a writer at stake. Do not miss even one session or put it off by as much as five minutes. It's just for a month. And yes, some of your friends/family may believe you are strange as you keep walking off in the middle of conversations. But I wouldn't worry. If you really succeed as a writer, you will only become even stranger, so it is good that they get used to the idea now.

The thing to note with this exercise is to try and pick a different time everyday. You are trying to train your creative youth to produce on command, any time, any where.

So, set a time frame (eg. a few weeks) and commit to doing these two exercises.

At the end you will have trained yourself to do two things:

The first exercise, if you kept increase the amount your wrote, should have trained you to sit down for extended periods of time and write and just keep writing. It is like Dory from Finding Nemo sings 'just keep swimming, just keep swimming...'. The biggest necessary talent for a writer is to just keep writing.
You should also have found that despite all expectations or feelings, you can make your mind write on command anywhere, anytime. It will have grumbled at first and possibly not churned out a great deal of anything very good. But you should have found that it churned out something. And as you went along, it grumbled less and churned out more.

Also, at the end, you should be able to find out the following things about yourself as a writer:

First, if you couldn't do it, if you found excuses came up too frequently, that you skipped your debt of honour, according to Dorothea (and while it is harsh, I agree), give up the idea of becoming a writer. You might be technically very good, but you do not love it enough. Most writers agree that sitting down is hard, but if even when you have settled on a time and only have to do it for fifteen minutes you still can't make yourself, you would be happier doing something else.

As another side point, as an emerging writer, I often hear/read people who say that you should try to be anything else before being a writer, or that you have to love it more than anything else. I don't entirely agree with these. First of all, I think the act of writing and the self discipline involved is good for you even if you don't ever get anything published. I wouldn't give up my day job without proof I'm going to earn money, but if you have ever thought about writing start it just because it can be fun.

Then, to the second comment I say 'pah.' Writing is work like most other things. No one says 'don't exercise unless you really, really feel like.' How many people come home from a long day at work and think 'oh yah, an hour at the gym' initially? Once you realise the high that exercise can give, once you have made it habit, then you can think 'yah', but before that you just have to go because you know you will feel better afterwards. I find writing very much the same. Afterwards I feel fantastic, before... well, I could read, or watch TV, or just sleep. So, do not be discouraged if you don't immediately jump into writing every day. However, if you can't make yourself do it even when you have said it's only for fifteen minutes, I do recommend you find something that brings you more joy.

Second, you now have a month's worth of writing on whatever your mind wanted to focus on, which you shouldn't have touched or re-read. Now is the time to do that. Go through and note what you write when there is no directive other than to write. Dorothea suggests that this indicates what you naturally like to write and will show the style and type of writing you could do. If you enter into longer descriptions, setting up longer plot lines, or diffuse character descriptions, then your natural style of writing is aimed more towards novels (which doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't write short stories, but that you might be happier writing novels). On the other hand, if you enjoyed doing short character studies, describing small scenes etc., possibly short stories is your natural medium, though you can train yourself to write out longer scenes of course.

So, if you are thinking of becoming a writer, or are a writer but you're having trouble with actually writing, I highly recommend these exercise. Obviously my writing challenge is allowing me to do much the same in a different way. By setting a word target that so far out there, it has made me really stretch myself. I used to find doing 1,000 words a day really difficult. Now, the first 4,000 or so are super easy, it's just the last 4,000 or so I struggle with. But just think what an improvement that is over 1,000!

Brief summary of my day yesterday. Wrote pretty well in the morning, got just under 3,000 words done before work. But then came home and forced myself to the gym and felt better after that but honestly just needed an evening of reading. With my writing schedule, which I'll outline next post, I'm struggling to get enough input to balance with my output. I've only been able to snatch 10 mins here and 10 mins there to read. And I got to the stage where I just wanted to soak in a book for a while. So I did. And today, I feel much better.

Good luck with the exercises, and if you need more explanation, I recommend reading Dorothea herself.
And feel free to let me know how you go at the end of it! If people wanted to set up a little group doing the challenge, I would encourage it. You could even make badges that said something like “Excuse me, I'll be disappearing at 4.30pm, please don't be surprised or offended, but I'm writing.” Or “Do Not Disturb, Writing in Progress”. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Misguided Beginnings and Finding the True Path

Well, shot myself a bit in the foot, but appear to have been able to limp back. To fully explain, I'm going to leave my entry for yesterday unedited (which I didn't get to post because of internet troubles, but I've worked out a way around it now, I think). And afterwards I'll tell you about today.

Starting from Scratch.

I am sorry Ben, I ignored your advice to my own detriment.

Instead of continuing on with the final book in my trilogy, I decided to start something completely new. Within minutes I realised that these next two weeks are going to be a serious test of my dedication to the challenge.

I started on the next book on the list, which is really the prequel for another story I have wanted to write and have quite a few notes on. All I knew about this story was that it was a historical romance which ended with her escaping from France with him, and them getting married. Not really a lot to go on. I didn't even really have a starting image (I just have the end image of the wedding), so couldn't even begin by describing that and seeing where that led me. (also, these two characters are the parents of my main character in the next book, so don't even know what they are like.)
So I started a few different ways, and realised they were more a brief summary of my main characters, rather than an actual story. So then tried just starting a scene: you come in with him being told by the hostess of the party that uninvited guests are always welcome, when they are my Lord Averley. I thought it would be a debutante party for hopefully my main character, and it is her mother greeting my main guy.
But he couldn't come here for her, because they have not already met. So he's come to meet up with someone else.
That led to secret messages and I soon found that I was in trouble of just making him the Scarlett Pimpernel, who has already been wonderfully written. But I did want him to have a purpose other than being an aristocrat, and decided it would be fun to write an adventure book, that just happened to have a very satisfying romance in there. So, not the Scarlett Pimpernel, what else is sure to involve adventure? Thought about smuggling, but then couldn't think of a way to make sure he was also honourable. So hit on spy. James Bond for the 18th Century.
I started to write a new opening scene where my main character is escaping from a village earlier that day with secret documents.
Then came the huge problem. What are the secret documents? Who are they from? Why are they secret? I can write with enough detail about English society around that period, as long as I get to stay vague as to what year it is and what is happening other than the Gunning Sisters having been a hit and Mr. Brummel is leading society. But first of all, this was France, and second, if he's going to be a spy, might actually need to know something about politics and international affairs at the time!
This caused me enough angst that I almost threw away the idea. Instead, I went to grab a cup of tea.

On my way back, I glanced at my bookshelf and noticed Matthew Reilly's 'The Seven Ancient Wonders', and thought that archaeology is something I know a bit about and remembered (possibly from Lara Croft Tomb Raider the second movie) that Napoleon was supposed to have mounted a expedition to Egypt. So what if my main characters get in a race with Napoleon to find some ancient Egyptian artefact that would change world history?
I started to read up a bit on Napoleon's expedition, which really just pointed out to me how very little I knew about the period, and so did what any writer does when stuck, went and had a nap.
In my dream I started working out a brilliant story and writing it down, but on waking up realised it wasn't quite as good as I thought it was. (It did involve my main female character passing herself as Chinese, Indian and then French. But totally worked in the dream.)
So came back to the computer and started doing some random history searching for what was happening at the time, which just reinforced that I knew nothing. So tried to continue writing the story as vaguely as possible, thinking that if I got something out, then I could check out the details etc. later. I know this is not the desired way for historical writing, but remember my aim is to write first drafts to see if I like the style, not spend weeks doing research and then finding out I suck at writing action sequences.
So have now been working for many hours, and have a total of just over 3,000 words, which still hasn't really helped me know where to go or even when I'm setting it.
Now I have become caught in an awful time pressured loop: can't write until I have done more research, don't want to do research because I have no idea what I'm writing and can't waste time researching anything that might not be useful.
I still think there might be something in doing a Napoleon race to save the world from Egyptian artefact, but not sure.
I would need to work out how they could actually know anything, since this is really at the very beginning of Egyptology and very little was known. Then I would also have to work out what Ancient Egyptian artefact I was going to get them to find, and its powers.
Though, instead of starting in France, if I start somewhere I know like Oxford, could get myself going before needing to seriously panic. Not much at Oxford has seriously changed in the last three hundred years, I should be pretty good (except for the girls, need to take out the women, of course).

So, the next two weeks are going to be interesting. My biggest fear is that I just won't be able to make myself keep writing when I don't know where I'm going and don't have anywhere near enough research at hand. Can the academic in me let go of the reigns to let the creative youth just make it all up and then in the second draft check out if it all works? Also, I am now 10,000 words behind, if I don't use anything I've done today. So it is going to be a long two weeks, but hopefully fun.

So that was the end of my post for yesterday.
This morning I woke up, had breakfast and sat down to write and got struck by fear. In the night I had thought of a few ideas, a few starts, but it was no good. I realised that my Muse just wasn't with me. He might be with me on the idea in the future, but right now wasn't really interested. He wanted to complete the trilogy I had started. Wrap it all up nice and sound while it was still fresh in my head

(Yes Ben, God agrees with you.)
So I then moved over to my final book (I think), in my Sally Hunt trilogy, and started writing. I knew very little about this one, except of course all the characters. I won't tell you the end of the last book, in case I can convince you to actually read it, but basically it was a bit of a shock, even to me (I thought it was going to happen in this book), and left me starting this book from a totally different place.
However, managed to get 3,400 words done before gone to work and tonight, with full use of the flow (joined a new gym and had a really yummy dinner) I got up to 8,465. So, will need to keep working at the super pace as I'm one 10,000 word day behind, but my Muse has not abandoned me!
Will be interested to see how I manage to wrap it all up. I know there must be something big, but the big thing I was expecting already happened in the last book! So, like all of you, I will just have to wait and see.

And if you think an Ancient Egyptian/18th Century romance/adventure novel could work, let me know. All ideas welcome. Also, if anyone could suggest any good books to read about the period, that would be great.

Finally, just to let you all know what a sense of humour my God has: have been praying for either a motorcycle (cheap, but fun) or an old MX5 (hey why not be outrageous? I look really good in a convertible, except the end of my nose tends to get sunburnt and then peel, but still). I thought either of these two would add to my eccentric image which I want to cultivate as a writer. What is the point of spending the majority of my time locked away writing if when I come out I don't get to be weird? Well, guess what? Just got given a free Holdon Vectra, circa 2001. Might not be adding to the 'eccentric' element of being a writer, but my inner 'impoverished' writer is loving it. So big thanks to my Aunt Louise! (She is also writing a book, though hers is all serious. But when it comes closer to actually coming out, I'll tell you more.) 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Positional Asphyxia (Aka: The Wonders of Research)

Having finally finished my first rough draft, I finally now know where the story is going to go, what is going to happen, and thus what I need to know about. Therefore, I find after the first draft the perfect time to do my little bits of research in more detail.

I started tonight by spending half an hour just looking into the requirements of becoming a security guard, just to make sure I wasn't making a complete idiot of myself with one of my characters, and hopefully to add just a little bit of detail which will give my story flavour.

In my research, I came across this very useful bit of information, which I thought I would share with you all:

Positional Asphyxia (restraint asphyxia) can be defined as obstruction of breathing as a result of restraint technique. It occurs when the position of a person's body interferes with their ability to breath. If this is not recognised, death can occur from asphyxia or suffocation. Any body position that interferes with breathing can cause death.
For further information about the risk factors, how a security officer can identify the signs and preventative measures, please click here.

I was intrigued about the possibility of people who could not tell when someone has stopped breathing and died. I was also very glad that they pointed out that interfering with breathing can cause death. It has cleared up a lot of issues I have had over the years. No more dead boyfriends to hide under the bed, for one thing.

But in my desire for thoroughness of research, I did not stop there. I went on to 'click here' and read the full article. To share with you all the astounding knowledge I have now gained, let me tell you the signs security officers should pay close attention to in order not to misdiagnose someone not breathing:

1. A person telling you he/she cannot breathe
2. Gurgling/gasping sounds indicating blockage of the airway
3. Lips, hands, face discoloured blue due to lack of oxygen
4. Increasing panic, prolonged resistance
5. Sudden tranquillity – an active, loud, threatening, violent, abusive person suddenly becoming quiet and tranquil, not moving

Personally I think you should rely on 2 and 3, as 1 and 5 are really just cheating. And is 'tranquil' really the word we are now using for someone who has just asphyxiated?

However, it has made for a nice little scene in my book. See, one should never underestimate the joys of doing research.

As to editing my own work, I am now in the middle of chapter 4, and to be honest, not totally wanting to kill myself just yet. Am also doing the rather painstaking and annoying thing of plotting out all my action on a calendar to make sure all the dates and days line up. Unfortunately, my first day reference is about five chapters in, and my first fixed date is a few chapters after that (end of the school term). So I will have to work backwards from both of those. But it will be worth it to make sure I don't have two Wednesdays in one week or a school term that happens to be 20 weeks long.

On Sunday I will beginning my next novel, whether I've finished editing or not. I am still of two minds as to which book to work on: go straight into the sequel, while all the action is still clear in my mind, or give myself a break and do something completely different so that I can perhaps be refreshed?

I would like to do the latter, but the big thing that stops me is Isobelle Carmody. Anyone who started her Obernewtyn series around two decades ago (first one published 1987), and is still waiting for the seventh book will know my frustration. She took a break to do other series in between, and I managed to finish high school, do a few degrees, and write my own book while waiting. Especially annoying as the last two books have meant to be 'the very last book', which kept getting split in two. (Like the last Harry Potter movie, but even worse, since you don't already know the ending).

On the other hand, I'm only going to be taking a two week break, not a decade.

Any recommendations, suggestions, scientific or otherwise research on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

But for now, I need sleep.



Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Draft One Done!

Just a brief update: yes, I have completed my first draft! It's rough and raw but there from beginning to end.

I'm going to spend a day or two just going through and adding in a few bits I've realised are needed and just check all the days/weeks line up, but am feeling very relieved. It won't be the mad rush to get words on the page.

Hopefully will start the next one a bit early, and keep my head start for when I get bogged down.

Thanks for all the support.

Will post something actually informative and entertaining tomorrow.


Monday, 16 July 2012

A Tried and True Method for Overcoming Writer's Block

Dorothea came through! Yes, a book written 80 years ago - just as good today as it was then. 

For those of you who didn't read my last post, I was suffering from fear and decided to turn to Dorothea Brande's classic 'On Becoming a Writer' to see if she had any help. 

So, my problem: kept getting stuck editing what I had already written, and couldn't bring myself to write anything new, secretly afraid that the work was weak and the story just wasn't going to hang together.
Then Dorothea explained it all to me.

Ms. Brande discusses the writer's temperament, and argues that to be a writer, the individual needs to cultivate two natures which for ease of identification I am calling the elder and the youth. The elder is the practical side of a writer, which is often neglected in descriptions of great artists, but it is the part that makes you sit down to write when you don't feel like it, and when it comes to the second draft brings in the critical eye, etc. The youth, on the other hand, is the wild, creative genius that comes up with brilliant ideas and cares not for proper grammar, story arc, or such mundane things as whether it is marketable. It cares only for the creative flow and story.
Ms. Brande argues that you need both, need to develop and cultivate both, but also learn when to reign one in and when to allow the other their head.
My problem, according to Ms. Brande, was that I had allowed the elder to step in while I should have still been working in the youth. The elder will always slow down work, because they are worried about how things fit together, searching for a better way, critically examining what is being written. This is fabulous for the second draft, but is of very little use until the youth has completed the first. In editing my work as I went, I restrained the youth, told them to take a back seat and then was surprised when I could no longer find that flare to write.
So today, keeping this in mind, I let my mind run riot. On a number of occasions I caught myself trying to control what I was about to type, maybe find a better word, or go back to that last sentence. I stopped it, held back the elder and told my youth to carry on. And he did (don't ask me why my youth is a male, he just is, and so is my elder. I'm sure psychologists would have a field day with that, but as long as I can keep writing I don't mind). A few times I faulted, but I whispered encouragement to my youth, told him he would not be judged on what he came up with, and just let him go again.
And I got the third chapter completely written. It worked for me fabulously.
Unfortunately, most of the writing I'm going to be doing will be purely in the youth because of the focus on first drafts. I will be lucky if I get one day a fortnight to work in the elder actually editing. Though the elder is also the one that makes sure I actually sit down and write. If I left it to the youth to write when he felt like it, I would be like I was for the last 10 years, without anything to show for my desire to be a writer.
So, for anyone that is feeling stuck and might be suffering the same thing, I highly recommend seeing if you are holding your youth back and trying to write too much with your elder. Elders are not creative, they cannot make a draft, they can only edit it and improve it later.

So, I am now up to 70,050 words! As my first novel was 70,000 (I was entering it into a competition which had a max word limit for young adult entries of 70,000), I feel that I'm doing well. Story-wise I also feel like I'm almost at the end. I just have to write the final scenes. This might take another 10,000 or so words, but we will see.

I currently have a friend from overseas staying, who only has two days to see Melbourne (pah, I say, Pah!) so am going to be spending some time showing her around (and did spend most of tonight catching up, which is why I'm writing and posting so late) but I still have high hopes that I will finish the novel at the latest by Thursday and have Friday to do a read through edit. I will then put it aside and start thinking about the next in the series.

It has started to play on my mind that it might actually be four books. The first one happened over a school term, and I thought this one would take place over two terms, but in fact it has only been one term. So maybe the last one will be two terms, but it wouldn't surprise me now if it was another term itself and then the final one would be the end of the year. But that would be the end of that. Luckily I kept one fortnight free in my planning just in case I did decide to lengthen out one of the series. So not all is lost.
Sleep tight my elder, my youth and my reader.


Sunday, 15 July 2012

In Search Of An Answer For Fear Of Writing.

This weekend has been bad for my word count. Saturday I was busy all day, so didn't get anything done. Today, have written maybe 6,000 words, but also cut and edited about 4,000 words. So while the story is much better, don't feel like I've accomplished much word count wise. This is made worse by the fact that I'm sort of stuck. I know I need another action scene for chapter 3 because otherwise I have too much talking between two and four, but there is nothing that needs to happen. I then have pretty much only the last section to write, and I still don't know what is going to happen or where to end. 

However, as I never know where I'm going, what this really means is that I've become afraid. I'm afraid that my story is boring. That it won't have an interesting climatic ending, maybe because my characters don't have it in them. Despite waking me to tell me that the detention scene should be the climatic ending, they haven't as yet told me how. 

I have wondered if this is a symptom of trying to write it too fast, or whether it is just a natural part of all stories?
In search of an answer, I've just started what promises to be a brilliant book on being a writer, as recommended by lots of people. It's Dorothea Brande's 'On Becoming A Writer'. She wrote it in the 1930's, so you can download free copies of it from the web.
The major difference between this and a lot of books on writing, so she promises in her introduction, is that she is not focused on writing technique. She argues that even before you need to worry about any of those types of issues, you need to deal with the psychological problems of actually turning yourself into a writer, a person so reliant on undefinable elements that most are scared off before they can even properly begin. Roadblocks such as mine have no clear way forward, as they sing to the writer that the answer might just be the writer or the story's no good, or that the writer doesn't have what it takes so should stop now.
This appears to be the perfect book at the perfect moment. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to read it because I've been busy going over my own work.
So, I'm going to take the rest of tonight off, I'm going to read some of what Dorothea has to say and tomorrow I'm going to start on the new scenes that I need. I am not going to go over any more of my old work until I have finished all that I have to write. Then, hopefully, I will have a day or two before the end of the week in which to look over it. If not, I'll move onto the next one and just hope that I get it done on time.

I will summarise anything I learn from Dorothea (yes, I do just love saying the name) in a following post.

Good night and sleep tight.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

My Day Off So Let Me Present: Stephen King's On Writing.

Today was my day off from work, and accidentally became my day off from writing.
Did spend 2 hours this morning editing what I had previously written so it all connects up, but didn't really increase the word count. I then finished Stephen King's 'On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft' which is awesome. After lunch, I must have been more stressed than I realised, because I fell asleep and didn't wake up for ages. So I decided I would just take today off and read. Continuing my 'research' into young adults fantasy, I finished off one of the Percy Jackson books. It was the first one I have read, even though it was a year ago now some of my students at a summer school recommended them to me. The book definitely had appeal, and inspired me to try writing a really fast paced action series. 

So, because I have nothing interesting myself to say, I thought I would leave you with the final part of Stephen King's book, just because I liked it so much:

'On some days that writing is a pretty grim slog. On others - more and more of them as my leg begins to heal and my mind reaccustoms itself to its old routine -  I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line. It's like lifting off in an airplane: you're on the ground, on the ground, on the ground...and then you're up, riding on a magical cushion of air and prince of all you survey. That makes me happy, because it's what I was made to do.'

If you have never felt like this you might want to consider that you weren't made to be a writer.
I might not have been made to be a successful or prize winning writer, but I'm pretty sure writing is what I was always meant to do. It's sad it's taken me this long to realise, but also great that I can make up for lost time.

Until tomorrow.


Day 3: The Family Strike.

Tips for being a successful and comfortable writer as learned today:

1. To be a writer you are going to spend large amount of time sitting (or semi-reclined if you write in bed like me, which I've been informed is very bad for me, but appears to be quite good for my writing) you will very likely get headaches. If you have stretched out all your neck muscles and this hasn't helped much: Stretch your butt. Honestly, stretch out your glutes, your hip flexors and your lower back. The yoga position half-pigeon is quite good for this. It's worth it, and can be quite fun (though not recommended at work or if you are wearing a skirt.)

2. Try killing your family. Unfortunately I love my family very much. But I announce that I'm starting a writing challenge, and the first thing they turn around and say is 'come up to Mum and Dad's on Tuesday.' When I replied 'I can't come, I'm writing', their natural answer is 'Oh, that's okay, we'll come to you.' Seriously? What part of 'I have to write almost every spare hour I have' don't you get? They didn't even wait for me to realise that I would never make it and be looking for excuses not to write. Now if I didn't love them and could kill them off then a) I would probably have a great story to tell and b) would get locked away with all my meals provided and no one would disturb me... much.

As you might have guessed from my little rant, I didn't make my word count today.
I did really well in the morning before work, got 2,700 done (had toast before I started, which I think helped the flow). Then got home from work and got another 2,500 done as well as editing some of the work I had already written to iron out some inconsistencies before I lost the rest of the evening to playing Settlers of Catan. I have to admit I do love Settlers, but still.

I have convinced myself it is not too bad, as I'm not actually doing the challenge based on word count, but rather on completed novels, so since I already had some of this novel written, I've probably got a bit of leeway. However, it is only the third day which is a bit depressing. I thought people would at least give me a week to work out it was too much hard work before trying to tempt me away.

And I've booked in to do something Thursday night as well!  (I had actually booked it in for last week, but they had to change).

There are three aspects to life: social, writing, work. You can have any two, but unless you can compress two into one, then you can't have all three.
I'm aiming to make writing my work, and still have a social life. I have some very nice people at work, but do not think I could cope with the thought of it being my only social life. Way too many migration agents for that.
Sometimes I think I would be happy if writing were my social life, but my friends don't seem to agree. But I would write really nice lives for them. Promise.

Oh well. Life can't be all easy.

Tomorrow is my day off from work, so will try for another 10,000.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Day 2: Balancing Writing and Work.

Yesterday I did 10,000 words, which was a first and super amazing. But today I had to manage 7,500 words along with going to work.
After yesterday's success, I had an awful sleep.

For those of you who know me, you will attest to the fact that I have seriously weird, in depth dreams. I sometimes dream I'm me, sometimes I'm someone else, and sometimes I'm watching from an external perspective. I have had dreams that cover weeks or months, and others which are just a flash of an image.

Last night I had a totally new type of dream. It was as if my mind just could not create any more images. I've had dreams where I have been blind before, which is annoying (and you wake up with sore eyes from trying to see all night), but this was not that. All I could see for the whole night was flashes of light. I tried today to explain it to Jenna at work, but had absolutely no idea what it was.

Sitting down to my laptop again tonight in the dark, staring at the bright screen, I suddenly realised. I was dreaming of staring at a blank computer screen. (Even now, though I've turned the screen right down, and have been trying to type with my eyes closed as much as I can, I have a head ache from an entire day looking at the damn thing.) I feel that this is somehow not a good sign.

So, after that weird night I woke up groggy and not at all wanting to write. But I got up, made myself a cup of tea, and got back into bed ready to write. I decided not to have creamy, hot, sweet porridge, as the potential for that to send me back to sleep once it settled in my stomach was just way too high. Sadly, this also seemed to affect my ability to get into the flow. I struggled away for just under two hours, trying to connect the one sentence with the next one. In the end, for all my efforts, I had 1,954 words. It meant that I still had another 5,546 to write that night when I got home. Though I did give myself a shake and remind myself that Stephen King only writes 2,000 words a day, and just look at how many books he's published!

At work, it was my first day back after my holiday, so found a wonderful 60 emails and a pile of work waiting for me to fix up. Add to that my growing discomfort with my computer screen, and by five pm I was very happy to go home.

On the way home I just kept thinking: I had over 5,500 words to write, the beginnings of a headache and no imagination left in me. I needed every bit of flow I could get.

So I just followed the routine. I went to the gym and did half an hour of cardio fitness (am starting to believe that listening to upbeat music while at the gym, instead of watching TV, helps with the runners high at the end, and consequently the flow). I did a short stretch because I couldn't find a spot to stretch in the usual room, so had to do it surrounded by all the muscle guys lifting weights and grunting. I then came back, made a ham and cheese toastie (never underestimate the power of a ham and cheese toastie) and jumped into a hot shower. It was then straight into bed with my laptop, cup of tea, block of chocolate and sadly also a bag of chips (I was congratulating myself that I had appeared to cut down my chocolate in take from half a block a day to a third of a block, until I realised that I've suddenly increased my in take of chips from nothing to half a bag. Really don't think I'm winning in this.)

But anyway, the thing you all want to know: did it work?

And the answer is yes! Was in bed and writing by a bit before 7.45 and by 10pm I had written an additional 5,694, bringing my day's total up to: 7648!

And not only that, they were the easiest 5000 words I've written in the past few days. 

So, all I can say: all hail the flow!

So, quick update, my sequel currently stands are 49,338 words. (and as I typed that, I suddenly thought how I could use something I just wrote to explain something I was getting stuck on. Go brain, you are really picking up.) I have to admit, coming home today, I thought I might have to rethink the whole thing because it just wasn't working. But I shall not give up so easily now!

Well, good night from a tired, but happy, Buffy.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Day 1 of Writing: Final Word Count

Well, so as not to upset any more super cute Lynxes, let me post my final word count.

It took until 10.10pm (though that included going food shopping (milk and chocolate to be exact), dropping books at the library, catching up with a friend for supper and having a 4 hour nap... which some might argue is not so much as nap as a serious state of unconsciousness, but whatever), but I have 10,018 words! Totally new words, new ideas to the story, all actually in sequence.

So, first appraisal of project: 10,000 words is a lot of words. Not just typing wise, but it is a lot of different thoughts and scenes. It involves a couple of chapters. Have found that the flow works for sections, but once you finish a scene or chapter, the flow appears to break up a bit, leaving you floundering for a few minutes as you try to work out what happens next. So today was not just four hours of writing, and didn't feel like this wonderful mystical experience, but looking back over what I've done, I'm pretty damn happy with it.

Bonuses to writing so much: I can see that it's going to help a lot with the coherence of the story, less likely that I will forget what happened previously, etc (though I do need to go back to my first book and check some details).

Am hoping that I'll sort of train up like a marathon runner so it becomes easier and easier to write in big chunks. Right now I don't feel mentally exhausted or anything like that, it's more that I feel dry, like my mind is searching for a cool, fresh glass of water. So will need to work on ways to quench that.

Back to my day job tomorrow for the first time in a week. Also try to knock out another 7,500.

Will let you know how work and writing turns out.