30 March 2012

Goals and Obstacles

Every book needs goals and obstacles, otherwise we'd end up with a story that consisted of Jane and Tom meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after.  Pleasant, but not exactly a gripping read.

In life we don't exactly need obstacles, but they seem to come as part of the life package.  We do, however, need goals.

I've been as busy as I can with reduced computer hours, but I've just realised that since finishing Smart Formatting I've wandered a little in my writing.  I have a vague goal, which is editing the first draft of a novel I finished early last year.  But as the goal is vague you can guess how much work has actually been completed.  In reality the manuscript needs more than editing - it needs a total rewrite.  After finishing the first draft, I realised the story was going in a different direction to the one I had originally planned, and then life and Lives Interrupted took over.  This story has potential, but it needs a lot of work.  I guess I'd better create some SMART goals, and then get working.  I'll let you know how I get on.

26 March 2012

Just Do It

I guess Nike have given us the modern equivalent of 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may', (Robert Herrick), or 'Carpe Diem', popularly interpreted as, 'Seize the day'. A fuller translation is, 'Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.'

Waiting for the muse to attack (sorry strike), is like reading the diet books and expecting to lose weight without actually doing anything.

It does feel rather writerly to talk about the muse inspiring you, and the words flowing, but those days when she or he doesn't show up are wasted days. In my own experience I've found that when I sit at the laptop and actually apply myself to writing. Anything. Day after day. That's when the muse shows up. Or maybe I just did it myself.

When I write regularly I'm much more receptive to the flashes of inspiration when they arrive. I'm sure those incidents and flashes come whether I'm writing or not, but if I'm not writing, then I'm not as responsive, or aware of them.

If I sit and wait for the inspiration I'm wasting too much time, and the rosebuds are dying. Success in anything, be it writing, playing a musical instrument, getting fit, or anything else you'd like to put here, requires engagement from us. We need to show up, and Just Do It.

22 March 2012

The View From the Hill

Have you missed me?  You're probably looking at your screen in some confusion, wondering if I've gone off my head.  I've had an enforced break from my laptop, and all things computer, due to vision problems.  I had the outlines of a few posts ready, and scheduled them so I didn't disappear completely without notice.

I've had a posterior vitreous detachment, which in terms I could understand was a detachment of the jelly (like substance) behind the eye, attached to the lens. Apparently the chances of this happening increase with age, don't doctors just love telling you that, and being shortsighted.

It was a scary time to say the least, and fortunately I was able to go away for a short break, which also helped me cut back my computer time significantly.

While I was away one of my excursions was a strenuous walk up the very steep side of a dormant volcano.  The view of the coastline and large crater was definitely worth the effort of the climb.  On my way down I came up behind a slower group of five people, and as the path was narrow at that point I stayed behind them for a few minutes.  One of group, a man in his early twenties, was walking beside an older lady describing the foliage on the bank beside us.  As I passed them I noticed her hand resting on his arm, and at that point I realised she was blind.

That incident would have been significant at any time, but given the recent events it truly made me think.  The climb was arduous, and was also slippery and difficult in places.  For the lady to make the climb without being able to see the path, trusting totally in the guide, and without the reward of a wonderful view from the peaks, I found impressive and humbling.  I doubt I would have been able to do it.

18 March 2012

Quiet Times and Working Routines

I saw a quote recently - Don't judge me because I'm quiet. No one plans a murder outloud.'

One of the reasons I love working from home is that it's peaceful. Most of the time there is no-one around early in the day, and everything is quiet.  I know a lot of writers who create playlists for particular projects, or who work with the TV on, or lots of people around.  I can do that if I have to, but my preference is for quiet.  Alternatively if things get noisy (either inside the house or outside), I use headphones and listen to my choice of music, which somehow seems to disappear into the background once I'm concentrating.  Don't get me wrong I love listening to music, but when I'm writing I need peace.

Editing, now that's a whole other ballgame…

How do you work best?

16 March 2012


Recently I did a writing exercise - a room and a memory in less than 100 words.  This was mine.

'Four years later, and James and I sit in the counsellor's room.  We've sat in so many, together and individually.  This one is marriage guidance - a last chance.
I can remember a time when we were both happy, before Emily.  We would lie in our bed as the early morning sun lightened the room, or watch the full moon rise over the elms.  Matthew lying on his side facing the window, while I snuggled close, our bodies fitting together like spoons in a drawer.'

I know it's not the most amazing piece of writing, but at the moment that's not the point.

As I wrote, this couple and their situation were very clear to me, so clear that I was surprised when everyone concluded that Emily was the other woman.  From the few words in the writing that assumption is not wrong, but it's not how I saw the scene.

To me this couple have not been able to get over the grief of losing their baby daughter, Emily, aged just five weeks. They've been to grief counselling, seen therapists and tried all they can, but ultimately it feels that being together with their grief, is harder than being alone.

The perspective changes depending on where you sit. That's one of the things I love about writing.

12 March 2012

Quality Writing

As writers we often get so caught up discussing whether we should wait to get an agent and a publishing contract, or go it alone and self-publish, that we forget the really important thing.  Becoming a good writer.

Generally speaking people aren't interested in how a book has been published, or who published it.  What they want is a quality read.

We don't all like the same books; some enjoy Stephen King, others Jodie Picoult (or anyone else you care to name), while others prefer the classics.  But whatever genre you read, you want a good book.

Yes, there are errors in traditionally published books, and I've seen more than a few clichés, but if you're going to self-publish you can't use these as reasons for your work being less than the very best it can be.

Anthony Horowitz covers some of these points in this article.

09 March 2012

A Sense of Smell

When I read something in a novel that invokes the sense of smell, I realise how under-utilised it is in writing.  We spend pages describing how things look, and often overlook (pun intended) smell.

Smell evokes strong memories, and is probably the best of our senses for accomplishing that. I recall walking along a street and smelling pipe tobacco (a lot of years ago), which brought back memories of my grandfather. I hardly knew him as he died when I was young, but that momentary smell was enough to recall not only him, but also his house, and a holiday we had spent there.

Look at places in your writing where you have description, and see how you could include smell, not only for recollection, but also in deepening the sense of place and setting, or even character description.

05 March 2012


Lives Interrupted shows how a group of people deal with the aftermath of a tube bombing. In the first draft there was trouble, trauma and tears. However, once I started editing I was determined to remove as many of the tears as possible. Not to get rid of any of the drama, but to deal with it in other ways.

There are occasions when we, or our protagonist will cry, but the strength of a character is shown in how they deal with adversity.  If a character cries at everything it gets boring.

Yes, there are tears in Lives Interrupted, but I reserved them for the toughest of experiences when tears could not be stopped. It's a good writing experience, and a test of how well you know your character, to see how they react to stress, pain and/or conflict.

As a writing exercise look at your latest WIP, or a short story that includes tears, and find another way of having your character cope with the disaster.

02 March 2012

Weather or Not

Last night I woke to the sound of wind howling and rain pounding on the roof. I love weather like this when I'm inside and don't have to go out.

The old writing cliché about weather is, 'It was a dark and stormy night', and we all know better than to start with that.  Don't we?

We can use the weather to good effect in our writing, even making the same type weather do different work. For example, new lovers laughing together in the rain, a person walking alone after a break-up, a dark, wet street where streetlamps gleam eerily - this could be a precursor to a murder or a body being discovered.

Books and films have even used weather almost as a main character - The Perfect Storm, Twister, and The Day After Tomorrow are all examples of this.

While we don't want to sound as if we're writing a weather report, it is a way to build a mood, or foreshadow an important event.

01 March 2012

Writing Groups

Last night we had the first meeting of the year for our writing group. As it is summer here in the Southern Hemisphere we've had the long school holidays, and people generally away on holiday, and so we didn't have a January meeting (used the time to do more writing obviously).

One of the group has a 2 hour drive for the meetings, but other than that we are all (relatively) local to each other. However since we started the group, one has moved to Christchurch, and another to Melbourne - nothing we said in our critiques I'm sure!

Last night had a definite international air with our distant attendees skyping in for the critique part of the evening. Food, and a general catch up of summer holidays took up the remainder of the evening.

In other posts I've talked a lot about the benefits of a critique group in writing, and I can't stress enough the help I've received from the group. I've heard some horror stories of people who've had bad experiences in critique groups, but we're very fortunate with our group. Everyone is extremely supportive, and the feedback is always constructive and never personal - thanks guys you're great.

In case you weren't aware Smashwords is holding a 'Read an e-Book Week' from 4 - 10th March 2012, and Lives Interrupted will be half-price on Smashwords during that week.