Grammarly et al

I’ve fallen in love with Grammarly, an app extension of Google Chrome but also available in Windows. It seems to work really well and monitors your use of grammar and spelling, even on those websites which don’t normally spell check for you. (Something I have found to be essential in recent years). On initial set-up, you advise it to use either UK English or the USA English dictionary, alleviating a source of irritation that most spell checkers present to UK writers.

The added bonus is that it checks the grammar too, so the occasional incorrect word use is highlighted immediately. In effect, it’s doing a form of first line proofreading for you.

It’s available to use in its free version but enhanced features are added if you subscribe  to the Premium, where it monitors many more areas of your text including sentence structure and writing style issues.

Have a look at the website https://app.grammarly.com/

I think you may like it too (No I’m not on commission)

Words

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Rudyard Kipling

I don’t know about you but, all my life, I’ve been plagued by certain words which I have trouble spelling. I have never been able to spell ‘restaurant’ at first go. I don’t know why but it always bugs me and I either have to look it up or use the spell checker. I get the ‘a’ and ‘u’ in the wrong place or miss them all together. Another word is ‘definitely’ which I seem to want to put an ‘a’ in. Or it comes out as defiantly. I have seen others who make this particular mistake.

I know that most of us mistake the ‘there, their and they’re’ sometimes but I usually correct that in the editing stage. (I hope).  Most of us realise the difference in UK and US dictionary words. (realize)

I find it quite annoying, though, when I find errors in a books or magazine stories. Something that has managed to get past the editors and proofreaders which seems to jump off the page at me. Having read some of the self-published e-books I find that mistakes are commonplace and really good stories can, for me, be spoiled by a lack of concentration. I don’t blame the writer as we are all guilty of reading what we think is there, especially when we’ve written it and our brain knows what should be written. Perhaps employing a proof reader would help in these circumstances but it’s easy to judge.

Do you have any words that trip you up constantly?

61,000 and Counting

The novel, started during NaNoWriMo, continues to keep me writing and as the story unfolds I am loving it. I’ve begun waking every morning, filled with new ideas and a strong desire to jump on the laptop and just write. This is the first novel I’ve started, and over the years I’ve started a few, which isn’t drying up but continues to flow. I stumbled a little in the middle of the month and one day, in particular, it was very hard to write anything at all. It was like my brain just couldn’t make it to where I wanted to be. So I skipped that part and wrote further down the line and then, suddenly, it came to me and I wrote some scenes which joined everything together.

I don’t need to maintain the pace of before but, strangely enough, I am. I would like to get the first draft done before Christmas and then I can relax and enjoy the festivities but it really doesn’t matter if I don’t. The main thing is to finish it, put it away for a couple of months, come back to it and read it with fresh eyes.

Since winning in NaNo, I’ve gone back already and added scenes which will become apparent later in the story. Luckily Scrivener allows that to be done really easily. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be, with this amount of word count, working in a single Word or Libre Office document. Scrivener is the best money I have ever spent on writing software.

So it’s onward and upward

Books on Writing

downloadOver the years, too many to count, that I’ve been writing I must have read dozens of books purporting to teach me how to write; to explain how my writing might improve.  I suppose I’ve probably picked up hints and tips here and there but I’m pretty well self taught. Which may be very evident to anyone reading my stories and ramblings. I’ve never studied a creative writing course but have often wondered if I would benefit from the wisdom of another unpublished writer. One who has possibly read the same books as me but relates it to students as though it’s the gospel of writing. Perhaps I’m being unkind to creative writing tutors, I probably am.

I spent over ten years as a management trainer, extolling the virtues of how they could apply various theories and models to their management style. Assuring them that it would improve their teams performance. Well I got away with it for ten years so I must have done something right. But the models and theories I taught them were invented by someone else, sometimes from works hundreds of years old and adapted to fit a modern environment. So do all management trainers make great managers themselves? I doubt it.

This leads me to wonder then, are all creative writing tutors great writers? If they are great at writing, why are they teaching others? Why are they not writing and making a living doing what they excel at?

Perhaps you can understand my cynicism or maybe not. Maybe some great teacher of letters on the page inspired you and shared, with you, their own unique knowledge. It’s never quite happened for me.

I’m just re-reading the only book on writing that I have ever got any real inspiration from. ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King is a witty part autobiography and part writing advice. This I can take from a man who has written and published over fifty books which have been further developed into films, and TV series. A prolific writer who is a master of words and probably the foremost writer of my generation, in my opinion. King, himself says that most books about how to write are full of bullshit and I agree with him. He calls ‘On Writing’  a short book so as to limit the bullshit. At three hundred and fifty pages, for him, it is. In his book he praises The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. Wright. It’s only eighty pages long so has little room for bullshit. Rule 17 in the book says ‘Omit needless words’. Simple instructions which are easy to follow but more difficult achieve.

If you haven’t read either of these books then they are a must.

Show Not Tell

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Anton Chekhov

This quote is short and to the point but it demonstrates one of the most difficult areas of fiction writing we all have to master. It’s so easy to add too many words when describing a scene and to tell the reader what they are seeing. Reading paints a picture in our minds but that image comes from clever hints. These allow us to see a different picture to any other reader and perhaps even the writer.

“The climb was steep and he was breathless by the time he reached the top” That line tells the reader everything, but if we remove “The climb was steep and” we still have sufficient information in the phrase to intrigue the reader.

“He was breathless by the time he reached the top” shows all the same information but allows the reader to wonder why he was breathless. Was it a steep climb? Is he unwell?Is he scared? Is he being chased?

We want the reader hooked and not only to continue with the story but to be consumed by it. If we tell them everything they will probably not finish the book and certainly won’t want to buy another book you write.

So remember to show not tell

Writing Time

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann

I know this is different for different people but I always find that I write better stuff and I am much more productive in a morning. I suppose you could call me a ‘Morning person’ anyway but I have developed a routine which leaves me with free time to do ‘normal’ things, like reading, socialising and chores.

As I no longer work I am more in control of planning my day, which makes writing time easier to allocate. I normally wake around 7.30 and the first thing is to get a coffee. Whilst drinking this I fire up my laptop and check emails and social media. Three of four mornings a week I spend thirty minutes or so on my exercise bike and then it’s into the shower and dress and my day begins proper. I then enjoy a couple of hours of planning, thinking of ideas and writing. Sometimes I edit whatever I wrote the day before too. I have made a vow, to myself, that I’ll write something every day and, so far, I’ve managed that.

After lunch I probably read for an hour or so. I might write some more if I don’t have anything pressing to do. I no longer write during the evening, I spend time with my wife, have dinner or we go out. I always have Google Keep on my phone so if I get some inspiration I can jot it down, as none of know when that’s going to happen.

Over the past few weeks I have found that my brain is expecting me to write at this time and, for me, it really works. Writing has begun to be a habit; a good habit. I no longer feel that I have to grab a few minutes here and there as I did when working. So there are some advantages to getting old.

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
John Steinbeck

It’s NaNo Preparation Month

Traditionally, NaNoWriMo works best when you start a brand-new project. It may be an arbitrary distinction, but we’ve seen that novelists do better (and have more fun) when they’re free from the constraints of existing manuscripts. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate!

That said, we welcome all writers at any stage. Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged. Just be sure to only count words written during the month. – NaNoWriMo FAQ

So it’s official, the big build up is now upon us. The website is open and updated for 2015 and you can now start to outline, plan and build character sketches for your November novel. I have always been, traditionally, a Pantster when writing short stories. I always enjoy the freedom of letting the characters, and the plot, develop as they go. One of the reasons I failed in my first NaNoWriMo attempt was that I applied the same, short story, logic to 50,000 words and, for me, it didn’t work.

That doesn’t mean that the characters don’t take on a life of their own, or change personality as circumstances alter. That, in my mind, is the great joy of writing, The ability to let the characters come alive on the page. So deciding on a name for each of the players, deciding if they will be main contributors or merely there to make up the numbers is great preparation and perfectly legal under the terms of the FAQ’s. It also takes a bit of pressure off you, the writer. Trying to remember if your leading lady has blue or brown eyes after 35,000 words takes a lot of recall, particularly if you have ten main participants in the tale.  It’s the small trivia, like this, which can derail and develop into serious procrastination after a couple of weeks. Procrastination, often in the form of editing, sounds the death knell for 50,000 words. I know, I am a serious edit-as-I-go freak and you really can’t allow yourself that pleasure.

Life always has a habit of throwing a spanner in the works of your good intentions. Once your word count begins to fall behind it becomes increasingly more difficult to catch up. So any help you can give yourself in the preparation time will be highly beneficial come November 1st. Get your idea down on paper now, don’t just leave it in your head. Decide on characters; are they young or old, male or female, rabbit or donkey. Download an image of what, in your mind, they look like. Save it or print it off. If your story is set somewhere unfamiliar then get on Google Maps and search for it. Save the image so you can refer to it when you need to. All these things will save you time and allow you to get on with the process of writing.

October is the time for preparation, use it wisely.