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Finding my G-Spot

It’s been some time.  I haven’t got down to it for a while.  Circumstances were never quite right for a prolonged session.  I didn’t even want it.  It felt more refreshing to go for a long, hard run.  In short, things had to change.

Now I’m not a huge fan of business cliches or TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms, LOL), but there is one I find useful on a daily basis. So once I’d decided it was time to escape my personal Gobi, my only thought was JFDI.  Just F-, er, Do It.  “Just do it,” I tell my boys, when negotiations have run their course or I’ve already delivered at least one, “We’re super-late.”

So, under JFDI rules, I pack my bag of essentials and set out first thing Monday morning after dropping off the kids – at school, rather than in the euphemistic sense.  And I walk. I walk with no destination in mind.  A destination would need planning and planning is the parent of procrastination, which is JFDI’s enemy.

A few minutes pass, the nods of acknowledgement and quick-fire exchanges of pleasantries diminish, the sun peaks through the only gap in the clouds and I find that I’m alone.

Alone, smiling and strutting.

I’m convinced it’s a quirk of being a 24-7 stay-at-home-dad for so long. I can’t recall ever feeling a natural high from being alone when I was single, or even childless.  Then again I struggle to recall the last unbroken night’s sleep or names of people 2.3 seconds after they’ve introduced themselves, but that would more than double this entry.

So I am strutting, and thoroughly in the right frame of mind for what I need to do. However, as Brian May almost sang, “Too much choice will kill you, every time.”

In passing, I dismiss some as too quiet, others as garish or obviously chaotic.  You might think JFDI requires me to choose quickly.  Not so.  There’s a natural balance between standards and strutting fatigue.  Sure enough, after eight minutes, I am on the threshold.

I enter a church.  Oh yes, a church.  But not your common or garden church.  This one contains a post office and a cafe.  It has a three-story kids’ soft-play area down the entire north side, tucked under the ornate, arched roof.  And there’s even melodic music and singing emanating from the toddlers’ session in the Ladychapel.

Yes, apparently that’s what it’s called.  Now Ladychapel is officially my favourite word and, although it probably settles my mental age at fourteen, I shall sprinkle my sentences with ladychapels or Ladychapels at my discretion.  And I’m not so discrete.  Clearly.

So I reluctantly swerve the Ladychapel and head to the cafe on the far side of the post office, away from the soft-play hubbub. As I order a large pot of green tea, I smile at the familiarity of the music on the waitress’s playlist.  Like an enticing party, it’s half ones I’d have selected myself, half carefully selected strangers.

Now to the task in hand.  Selection is critical.

Backs to the wall, obviously.  A view of the post office queue. Shielded from the chaotic soft-play, but subject to its conducive white noise.  Viable sideways glances of the Ladychapel.  Tables for two are out for several reasons.  Too cramped and inhibiting. Also in here they are bizarre little cupboard doors attached to mismatched table legs, the doors being great for stopping coffee cups sliding off but nowhere near smooth enough for my tastes. The only viable option is a long rectangular four-seater, with the bonus of accommodating an additional like-minded individual us being in each other’s laps.

I lay down my bag and sit, but there is a problem.  The chair has one shorter leg and wobbles.  That just won’t do.  The second one has sagging thatch and rocks to and fro. Coming over all Goldilocks, so to speak, the third is capacious and sturdy, with wood smoothed by a thousand bottoms.

The waitress arrives with the tea, a family-sized pot, and a smile.

I withdraw my pad and pen.  Is it that easy?  Can I begin?

Yes, JFDI.


p.s. I have been writing in my Glorious, Golden, Gratuitous spot for two weeks now.  A consistency worthy of a blog entry, I thought.  One of the friendly waitresses, politely asked if there was anything else I wanted.  “Alcohol would help of course,” I offered, with surprising self-censorship.

“But we serve alcohol,” she replied.  “Beer and wine.” She gestured to the full fridges that the quest for my glory spot had filtered from my vision.  Green tea suddenly tasted too medicinal.  “We even have a quiz night, the poster’s beneath the huge sign for, er-”

The chunky gold portrait frame held a chalkboard, containing the only words my fading eyesight could manage to read within the church – there was, unfortunately, no visible sign for the Ladychapel.  Maybe someone stole it.   The sign read, “BEER AND WINE HERE.”  Yes, all capitals, it wasn’t even whispering.

Of course I’d read the sign, every day for a fortnight in fact. Tricky to read between the lines to dismiss the obvious but I’d somehow managed it.  “I guess I thought it was like one of those traditional Coca Cola posters or mirrors,” I replied feebly.

“Yeah, we sell that too.”









Stop f**king Procrastinating!

So, you have the house to yourself, a 2-hour session of writing ahead of you.

What’s to stop you knocking out the best part of 2 or 3 thousand words?

Well, here are some common blockers – see how many you rack up in your next session and then do better next time!

1) Snack break

2) Drink break

3) Cut / bite / file nails

4) Check email accounts

5) Check Twitter

6) Check Facebook

7) Tidy workspace

8) Washing-up

9) Dusting

10) Prepare dinner

11) Phone a friend

12) Text friends

13) Masturbate

14) Change clothes

15) Exercise

16) TV break

17) Read a book purely for pleasure

18) Tangential Google searches masquerading as “research”

19) Write another blog entry

20) Sleep

[7 Ways You Needn’t Be] Failing to Plan…

…is planning to fail.  Or so the business cliche goes.  But is it as clear-cut as that with novel-writing?

Theory seems to be split between two approaches.  Either you allow your characters freedom to stretch their wings and grow, having whim and circumstance take their story where it will, or you plan first.  You plan how the book is going to end, what the major surprises are going to be, the minor climaxes and the building momentum of the plot, right down to what happens in each scene.

Having tried both, I must admit I advocate…. BOTH!

You will almost certainly have some notion of where you want to take your story, no matter how many flowers are dropping from your curtained hair onto your flairs.

And, as you’ll remember from my first blog entry, I recommend the JFDI approach to beginning your first novel (that’s Just, er, Do It!).

But sooner or later you will reach a point of evaluation, where you need to plan your novel’s direction.  For me, this came after writing about two thirds of a first draft, resorting to filling in the remainder in bullet points and windy chapter summaries.

So how did I start to plan?

1) I skim-read a few How To… writing books, amalgamating their Planning recipes as if I were making a pie with unique ingredients.

2) I started with The End in mind.  For me, that meant the end of Book 1, but also with growing alertness to the end of Books 3, 6 and 9!  The semi-resolution ending each book must have seeds in Book 1.

3) Even more helpful was establishing turning points.  The shocks or reveals have to be spectacular, surprising yet logically justifiable.  Not at all easy, but as a writer these are great problems to have!  Resolving them is truly where our craft is put to use.  Several of my characters had to be re-written more mysteriously, being sensibly misinterpreted by the Viewpoint characters.

4) Keep reading great books of the genre you are writing.  Re-evaluate them for length (word count), language (pertinent for YA or culturally specific writing), hook, methods of maintaining suspense, delivery of the big “reveals” and ending (happily ever after, open for sequel, as good as it gets or massacre!).

5) Build timelines for each character and chapter – incorporate time and date into chapter titles for ease of editing your script.

6) Aim for a summary of what happens in each and every scene of your novel, with space to write below.  To allow characters to breathe again, feel free to pick and choose which scene to write until you feel you are making no more progress.  Then work on the critical “blocking” scene that must be resolved to set a direction for other chapters.

7) Don’t forget that no amount of planning will write the book!  When planning isn’t progressing, write!  When writing isn’t happening, plan!  If all else fails, research or read, read, read!

In summary: write, plan, alternate both with reading, but above all JFDI!!!

Once the dust has settled… 6 ways forward!

You have a manuscript of 60,000 words.

It is undeniably poor quality.  Barely literate in truth.

But it does have a start, a middle and an end – it tells a story.

It is a novel.

You have written your first draft and can justifiably say you are an unpublished writer.

Elation, pride, relief, disbelief.

Then reality swoops in with piercing claws, regaining your attention.

It takes a supreme effort to re-read the dross you’ve churned out under duress of writing on demand every night for a month.  The story meanders.  The characters are vague and contradictory.  The sentences are poorly constructed, littered with typos.  And yes, in places, your writing bores you.  From ecstatic high you plunge to a new nadir. What on earth do you do next?

If nothing else, writing a hurried first draft teaches you how little you know.  How far you have to go.  Yet you MUST remember that you have addressed the hardest obstacle, that first step on any journey that takes you beyond your own front door.

Here are 6 practical steps to reignite your passion and enthusiasm for your novel – give no thought to resolving the lists of problems and questions at this time.

  1. Read novel – make no notes, no hasty decisions.
  2. Make a sheet for each character – note what you deduce about them when re-reading your novel.
  3. Start a list of questions – any questions about anything from plot to character to theme to realism – do not try to answer any of them.
  4. Make a list of research areas.
  5. Write a brief summary of what happens in each chapter – add this to your chapter title to let you  navigate your novel at light speed.
  6. Make a list of your favourite novels – try to concentrate on the genre that you are writing yourself.  This is your library from which to learn a writer’s techniques – everything from inverting expectations to punctuation of dialogue.

These measures will propel you forward from your first draft.  You will find that every walk to the shops, every tube journey or baby’s bottle-feeding time will yield several additions to these lists.

So give yourself a pat on the back – you are now an unpublished writer with momentum!

And by the time your diary frees up a half-day you will have enough material to begin the next stage with serious intent – Planning.

No Such Thing as a Bad First Draft

So how does it happen?

You’ve always wanted to write a book, right?

You have a dozen ideas for novels that vary from a bullet point to several semi-legible scenes you scrawled on the the last booze-tube home.

You might even have a few characters defined in greater detail, an actor or two in mind for the inevitable casting when book turns to film.

So how do you make the next miraculous step to possessing that most wonderful of things, a first draft?

A little inspiration is required or, as Elvis might say with a shimmy of the hips, “A little less conversation, a lot more action.”

For me, the inspiration came from my favourite author, Jacqueline Carey.  Jacqueline publicised a local challenge to Write a Novel in a Month.  Requirements for success were merely a story that has a beginning, middle and an end, weighs in at 50,000 words or more and, you’ve guessed it, is written in a month.

Now I’m decent at maths, or math if you’re from the States.  So that equates to roughly 1,700 words a day.  That’s not far off four sides of A4.

Hey, I though, that is totally doable!

And it is.

It’s probably best to give yourself a writing hiatus for a week, where you jot down ideas and bullet points for your chosen idea – some sweeping strokes to shape your first first draft.  I don’t believe you can learn to plan a project of this magnitude in the required detail until you’ve had a bash at it first.  Planning helps of course, but this is all about action.

By the time Day 1 of 30 arrives you have several things in place.  A broad plan.  Writing equipment – I used a Netbook, with the advantage of extreme portability married to an ability to type at great speed, plus wordcount and editing facility for later – though a pad and pen will suffice.  A time(s) of day allocated as Writing Time with high priority, with minimal distractions – ensure you are well fed and watered, have used the bathroom and are not too tired – NOTHING gets in the way of Writing Time!  A graph of daily wordcount – keep it simple, but make sure you can see when you are “above the line” on your 1,700 words-per-day target.  Two hours a day is ample – a minute simply cannot be allowed to pass without adding to your wordcount!

Then Go Go Go!!!

Several days in, you will realise that you are going to do it.  You are above target and you have momentum.  Quality is not just secondary, it is irrelevant.  Only the wordcount matters.   You have irrepressible freedom in storyline as a result.  And you don’t even need drugs or alcohol to achieve it.

You will succeed – it is a self-fulfilling premise.

From that point you may re-read at your leisure – I would wait at least a week to bask in your own personal glory.  Sure, the content will be rough, storylines throwing up dozens more questions than they answer – but that’s the point!  Have fun with it!

If, like me, you find that, having written what is undeniably THE FIRST DRAFT OF A NOVEL, you are awash with invincibility, this process will have brought its own reward.

So I doff my cap to Jacqueline Carey once more – I hope more of you do too in a month’s time so that I can congratulate you on your FIRST first draft.

First Things First

All blogs need a purpose, right?  Otherwise they meander through anecdotes and observations without consequence.

Of course, I do like to meander, often tangentially, with a few curve-balls from left-field and the odd googly slipped in for good measure.

So just bear in mind that, despite the diversions that thwart all of our very best efforts to succeed, there is this one singular purpose.

This blog is my journey to becoming a published writer – no, not just a one-off magazine article or poem in someone else’s collection, but a genuine I-do-it-for-a-career author.

So be prepared for messages of inspiration, overcoming frustration, madcap ideas for progress that lead tangentially to a breakthrough, perspiration, relief and despair.

I’m hoping you can learn as much from my travails as I continue to from other writers on a similar path.

Now, if I can link this to my Twitter account I will feel as though I belong in the 21st Century…