New Year Resolutions

We’re well into January now and all those good intentions should be firmly taking route. Dry January, Gym visits, Smoking patches, and the dreaded Diet , etc means we should all be feeling pretty good about ourselves and our new regimes.

Sadly, for most of us, that will not be the case. My promise to myself (I find it easier not to proclaim my resolutions to anyone but myself.) has already fallen at the first hurdle. My 2018 To-do-list is topped by:

Write a blog post every week.

Second is: Edit a scene from the first draft of my novel every day.

Both of these, sadly, have failed to happen as life, like so often happens, has gotten in the way. So I’ve managed neither of those but I intend to change that and pretend that today is New Years Day and in my new world calendar I’m starting as I mean to go on.

So everything is reset, my new list is on track, I feel inspired and renewed and all is well with the world. Perhaps.

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.

Handling Rejection

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

 Neil Gaiman

A large number of writers will be participating in NaNoWriMo next month and therefore a number of novels started. Some will be abandoned, some will be completed but they will all be a product of the writers mind. A mind, in my experience, which is easily frustrated and it’s confidence dented by rejection. I know that when I have entered short story competitions and have my work rejected, it can be really deflating. When this happens, I handle it by thinking about the number of highly successful authors who have felt the same way and I remind myself of the following quotes:

  •  “It is so badly written.” The author tries another publisher and his little book makes an impression. The Da Vinci Code sells 80 million.
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish 250 copies. It has now sold 45 million.
  • “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Shunned by all the major publishers, the author goes to France and lands a deal. The first 5000 copies quickly sell out. But the author Vladimir Nabokov now sees his novel, Lolita, published by all those that initially turned it down, with combined sales of 50 million.
  • 5 London publishers turn it down. The little book finally finds a home: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, winning The Man Booker Prize in 2002.
  • “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopia’s. They do not sell.” Stephen King’s Carrie sells 1 million in the first year alone.
  • Alex Haley writes for eight years and receives 200 consecutive rejections. His novel Roots becomes a publishing sensation, selling 1.5 million copies in its first seven months of release, and going on to sell 8 million. Such is the success that The Pulitzer Prize award the novel a Special Citation in 1977.

I think that these true quotes show that it is extremely rare for a writer to get published straight away. Success doesn’t happen easily and many wonderful novels might never have found their way onto our bookshelves and into our hearts if the writers hadn’t showed a high degree of persistence.

So, if you think you have a good, well constructed story, believable characters and plot, then keep going. It might be worth it in the end.

And the winner is !!!

Well, after spending a long time, doing a lot of writing, the conclusion I have come to is that, out of the writing software I’ve tested I prefer Scrivener. I liked it from day one but thought that I may be biased so I’ve since done a few writing projects on yWriter to make sure of my findings. Don’t get me wrong here; yWriter is a perfectly good writing tool and once I got used to its interface it works fine. It does, however, lack some of the sophistication of Scrivener, I feel. One area of yWriter I don’t like is the spell check facility which identifies a misspelled word, by colouring it, but only offers alternative spellings if you are connected to the internet.

So whilst using it off line meant, for me, using a dictionary. If no conventional book style dictionary is available then substituting letters in the word and pressing F7 to see if the word reverts to black type and thus spelt correctly, is somewhat time consuming. Perhaps I have become lazy over the years of using MS Word, where spellings are highlighted and alternatives offered or even changed, have become the norm’ for me. I have to admit that it was quite fun, initially, looking words up in the conventional way but it becomes a drain on time after a while. Plus if you travel a lot, as I do in my work, a dictionary is another item to be carried.

yWriter5

Whereas Scrivener is a MS Word type interface and spellings are highlighted and alternatives suggested; but unlike MS Word, its English UK based so the ‘s’ is not constantly replaced with a ‘z’. Small difference I know but it does make a difference to us Brit’s. Scrivener was conceived and written by a guy who wanted to write a novel and found using word-processing packages too difficult to work with when the manuscript reaches 80 to 100,000 words. He then focussed his attentions on perfecting the software and is still writing that novel. yWriter was developed by a guy who was a published authour and his focus seems to be the writing of more novels. But that could well be a simplification and I don’t really know their driving desires from reading blurb from their websites.

I suppose you will have to make up your own minds whether you want to pay £33 for Scrivener or if you are happy with yWriter you get the bonus of using it free forever.

I’m certain that both packages, or any of the many other writing software packages out there, have lots of features that I will never use; but for the basic stuff, which I do use Scrivener does it for me. I’m sure the discussion will continue for a long time but it would seem that its really about personal preference.

For Scrivener check out www.literatureandlatte.com

For yWriter check out www.spacejock.com