Here’s something a bit different – a piece of Flash Fiction – and I’m enormously grateful to the wonderful The Pygmy Giant for publishing it.
Wow. After nine months strapped to a keyboard writing The Other’s Look, when nothing much happened other than my elbow snapped (it now has a sticky-out bit, like a cartoon elbow, which I quite like), there’s been a flurry of writerly happenings.
Firstly, The Wrong Story has been entered into two prizes: The McKitterick Prize and The Golden Tentacle award. All digits are crossed, sacrifices have been made, chanting begun on a daily basis.
Two, my short story, The Beast, has been highly commended in the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition, and will be published in BFS Horizons. This has made me very happy not just because it is one of my favourite short stories, and not just because the BFS is a long-established organisation with a tremendous following – but because of the very kind and generous feedback that I received. It’s rare that editors and judges go out of their way to do so, and it’s all the more welcome in consequence.
(C) not to be outdone, my short story, Early Days, has been highly commended in the short story category of the Carers UK’s Creative Writing and Photography Competition 2017. I’m very pleased about this because it is a very personal story and written in an experimental form that I hadn’t tried before. Carer’s UK are a fabulous and worthy charity and I am proud that Early Days will be published in their forthcoming anthology, Not In The Plan, and that I have been invited to read at the celebration event in London at the end of November.
IV. Some things just make me ludicrously and unconditionally happy, and seeing writers who are friends have success is one of them. The launch of Sam Guglani‘s new novel, Histories, in London earlier this week was a true joy. Great book, great speech and great reading. The Unruly Writers were out in force and it was my pleasure to be amongst them.
Numero cinco, it’s not really a happening but it is an event for me: the second draft of The Other’s Look is complete and now ready for beta-reading and then submission. It includes three of the characters from The Wrong Story and takes place in a subsequent time period, so although it is not strictly speaking a sequel, it is related. As with Early Days, there is a chunk of emotional investment in this story that goes beyond the telling of a tale, so I will be interested to see if it all hangs together. Elbows crossed.
Six months after turning to freelance writing full-time, I’ve learned some lessons. Mostly about what not to do. Here are ten Don’ts and one Do.
- Don’t blog about writing (hem) when you should be writing. You’re not fooling anyone – you’re playing for time.
- Don’t get two-thirds of the way through the first draft of your novel and then decide to restructure it by spending two months creating a detailed storyboard using balsa wood, different coloured pens, colourful sticky labels and map pins. You are now a storyboard manufacturer, not a writer.
- Don’t re-cut your rejected short story into a radio play just by adding columns and colons. It’s the same story, you idiot.
- Don’t self-promote your novel so much that people start to block you, delete you or apply for restraining orders. Begging random passers-by to read your book is usually counter-productive – and let’s face it, it’s demeaning.
- Don’t kid yourself that an experimental story in which all the characters, irrespective of gender or species, have the same name will ever be read by anyone on this entire planet. It won’t. It will be garbage.
- Don’t begin an editing course unless you want to temporarily inhibit any joy you ever had in writing creatively. You can be an editor and a writer but not both in the same moment. You will implode.
- Don’t study your Amazon sales rankings and compare them to those of other writers you know. It hurts.
- Don’t edit your 5000 word story so that you can enter it into a 500 word Flash Fiction competition. It just doesn’t work. Also, you have lost all your critical faculties and should take a holiday.
- Don’t track your progress on a spreadsheet unless you want to spend all day tracking how far behind schedule you’ve fallen.
- Don’t expect to earn any money at all. Keep telling yourself it’s all about the art.
- Do just write. Every day. As many words as you can. Preferably in the correct order. Occasionally in pleasing combinations. That’s what writers should do. Mostly.
I am obsessed. For the past week The Wrong Story has been available for pre-order. I could go online and look at it, pre-order it if I wanted, search for it. And I have. I can’t stop looking at it. Sales rankings and review stars. At the beginning of the week I was in the top 35000. Yippee!
I have an ISBN, or rather the book does and now I insist on telling people about the breakdown of that number, what it means and why. I searched on it and found my book available for pre-order in France. I spent an hour translating the specification. Guess what? It was exactly the same as the English version.
And it has a shipping weight – 503g. That seems rather heavy for a paperback. I wanted to discuss this aspect in great detail but suddenly I was alone in the room. I compared that weight to many other books and I was right. It is substantial. Does that include the packaging? Has it been printed on vellum or a light metal such as Titanium? What else weighs 503g? I discovered that in making explosives, 503g of a certain compound is required. Now, how long will it be before there is a knock on the door and I am the subject of a rendition?
After months of writing, crowdfunding, editing, hoping and waiting, The Wrong Story is now available to buy, read, review and comment on. So, it’s time to let it go. Stop doing all this and focus on novel number two.
Yes. Let it go…
…but in the meantime, just in case… Click here to see it on Amazon
I call it ‘rolling the pastry’. And it’s not a metaphor for something rude. So those of you that thought it was, read no further. You will be disappointed. It’s about writing – again.
I sit down, I start typing and when I look up a few hours later I’ve got about 1000 words sitting on the page. A good days work. Time for a break – walk the dog, strum the ukulele, trim the hedge (none of these are euphemisms either. What is wrong with you? Although in fairness, I haven’t got a dog).
Anyway, when I go back to my desk there it is: a big lump of text waiting for me. It’s time to roll the pastry. This is not editing, it’s simply smoothing out the scene. That initial freewheeling feeling of words just tumbling out can be saved for tomorrow; now I can be more thoughtful, more considered. And as I go through what I’ve written I add a bit here, change a bit there, explain, illustrate, write – and instead of 1000 words I end up with a nice even layer of 1500 words. I haven’t taken the story any further, I’ve just made the scene I’ve written more digestible. It is very satisfying.
Of course, this is before the editor’s knife cuts it away until there’s not enough left for a jam tart. But that’s work for another day.
I spoke at the fabulous Bath Writing Events (@WritingEvents) the other day. It was my first outing and I wanted to make a good impression. I made notes, rehearsed against timings, hoped I wouldn’t run out of things to say. And then the night before I spotted an unusually long hair growing out of my eyebrow and I thought using a beard-trimmer would be the best way to deal with it. I showed up at the event with half of my eyebrow missing. Fortunately my hosts were too polite to mention it. This morning I went for a walk and I fell over in the mud.
I mention these two events because they are examples of things just happening, and this brings me, indirectly, to my blockage: I couldn’t get started on Novel Two (catchy title?).
I know what it’s going to be about and I know (roughly) what’s going to happen, but I wanted a loose structure in which to to start writing it – some guiderails to keep me from wandering too far from the path but loose enough to let the story grow naturally; for events to just happen which had yet to be conceived; for the writing to have room to take over. Room for someone to fall over in the mud or shave off their eyebrow, for example.
But that word Structure. It kept getting in the way. Three act, five act, seven act; set-up, conflict, resolution, inciting incident, rising arc, plot points; Plot A, Plot B, midpoint, ascending action… aaarrrgh!! Stop, stop and stop. Please. Enough with the structure. I can’t write with those things staring at me. They take away all the fun. It’s just semantics, I know, but I wanted something… less formal.
So I went back to basics. Stories start and they finish. Was that enough? But ‘once upon a time they lived happily ever‘ isn’t a gripping narrative. So, okay, I supposed I could put in a middle bit too.
‘Once upon a time there was a person who lived somewhere and everything was really good or really bad, and so they decided to do something and everything got even worse or better, and then it all changed so they did something else and lived happily or miserably ever after. The End.‘
That would do. That was as much structure as I wanted. A reusable and very loose framework. I knew that within, there lurked all the context and character introductions and themes and catalysts and climaxes and so on, but those italicised lines were all I needed to get going.
Now I’m writing scene after scene and some go in the beginning bit, and some in the middle, and some at the end. And things are happening which I never expected. It’s working for me. I even have a rough idea where the beginning ends and the end begins. Although, I don’t mind if they don’t. I’m 20,000 words into the first draft and averaging about 1500 to 2000 words a day. I have a minimum goal of 5000 words a week and I’m on target to complete draft one by mid-June, if not earlier.
At least that’s the plan. Tomorrow, before I start writing, I intend to sharpen all my kitchen knives while sitting on a unicycle… What?
It’s been a month now since I began my new life as a full-time writer and things haven’t progressed as well as I’d hoped. On the plus-side, I have registered as self-employed and cleared my ‘to do’ list of anything that wasn’t directly to do with writing – other than ukulele practice, of course. I have completed my feedback on my friend’s novel, put the PhD idea on the back-burner and prepared for a reading later this month. Oh yes, and I’ve sketched out a short-story for a BBC competition. I’ve even been in touch with Unbound and should be getting the page proofs (press ready files) for The Wrong Story to review in the next day or so.
That’s all good. But on the negative-side I have only written one word of my new novel. One word. 1. It is a good word but it needs company. My friend’s novel has 104,000 words. So I’ve constructed a spreadsheet that lays out the challenge. It’s colour-coded with lots of formulae and conditional formatting and pivot tables and all that stuff. It took ages. Then I looked at all the how-to writing books I’ve got, and googled all the how-to writing articles that are out there, and fed that data into my spreadsheet too. That also took ages. But now, just by entering a date, I can calculate when I need to have written the structure, plot points, chapters, characters, scenarios, big scenes, little scenes and upside down scenes of my new novel.
So, let’s see… ah yes. According to my spreadsheet I have to stop faffing around and get writing immediately. Hmmm, I knew that already but I suppose it’s nice to see it laid out in a column.