Friday, 28 January 2011

end, middle, new

So we are nearly at the end of January. How did that happen? Oh, you know, one hour followed another, blah blah. It has gone pretty quickly for me.

I spent most of the writing-time I've had this month working on a story for the Mslexia short story competition. It's the one I was having trouble ending but I prepared for that and worked on it as much as I could without smothering it. In the past I've waited until a few days before a competition closes before I tackle the edit, often not subbing it at all because I've left it too late and it's not good enough. Or subbing it in a not-good-enough-state - that's the worst thing. Panic-subbing. Having said that, because this story's end went through so many re-writes, I didn't finish until the closing date itself. S'okay though - I worked at it, and it was the best it could be. Now - it's out there, and I have a sense of freedom that I can work on something else.

So, February's writing focus is on my book-project, and it's a totally different way of writing for me. Kind of. I'll explain - I'm working on a picture book, could be for young adults - though I'm not thinking too much about that yet, I'm just getting the story out. It's been brewing for a while, about 8 months. It started out life as some of my stories do - in my notebook with drawings around the sentences - and it's stayed like that. I mean, it hasn't graduated to the laptop. It feels natural that it has images with it, not always drawings, sometimes simple shapes, lines, or just the text broken up in a way that isn't like this: a sentence following a sentence. Then there are chunks like this: sentences following sentences. I am not thinking too much about how I will market this or what it's potential is. Not yet. I'm enjoying putting it together. As far as the story goes it's fairly loose, but the setting and the main character are strong.

I think, when I said it's a 'different way of writing' - that's not quite what I meant. It's a different thing I'm making. That's it.

And now, to be less about me and more useful for you - I used to list a website called 'Literature Training' as a useful resource for writers, but it has recently become integrated with the National Association of Writers in Education and is called 'The Writing Compass' with a new web address. It's now even more relevant and helpful (and isn't just for writers in education). There's advice on funding and mentoring, listings for competitions and literature magazines looking for submissions, job vacancies... Some of the info will be more relevant to UK-based writers, but the listings include comps and magazines that accept submissions from around the world. Here's the link.

Friday, 21 January 2011


In the past I've been careful about taking too much from how other writers work - even though I love reading about their routines and habits and desks and what time they get up and all of that.

I couldn't write for a month after reading Stephen King's On Writing - he made his way sound so simple, so alluring that I tried to emulate it and couldn't, and felt like a failure. That was years ago, and I'm sure there were other things going on rather than me just being halted by King.

But similarly, I was aghast last year when I read that Kate Mosse gets up at 4am to write. You get a lot of that - writers getting up really early to write - for a while I thought that was the only way to do it.

But there is only your own way - as long as you're doing it.

This week I've been influenced, in a good way, by Susan Hill. I've never read any of her work, but she's been interviewed in various magazines and newspapers lately and I think I may have fallen in love with her.

She's direct, confident, assured, and prolific. Totally grounded. Really refreshing.

From her Mslexia interview:
"Who says you have to start writing first thing in the morning? ... Who makes these rules? This sort of thing makes people anxious about their writing before they've even started."

And from The Observer:
It seems redundant to ask if she enjoys writing. "Oh, God, yes!" she exclaims. "I can't stand those writers who make a fuss. I mean, you don't have to do it. I just can't understand this 'it's all so difficult' business. Yes, I love it, and I can't be bothered with 'it's such agony'. That is so pretentious."

Yeah. I love her.

You can read the full Mslexia interview here
and the Observer one here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

endings are my weakness

Often, I have real trouble with ending my short stories in a way I'm happy with.

I want my endings to be ending-y enough, but not too THE END-y.

Do you know what I mean?

With the story I'm working on at the moment it comes down to pace. When I started editing it last week I noticed it suddenly speeds up about 3 quarters of the way through, smacking of 'desperately trying to end this now!'.

I think pace is hard to notice when you're up close to a story. I keep making edges of progress with this one and then leaving it for a few days for a bit of clarity. This is proving useful, and the end is forming a bit more naturally with each session.

It will be trying its luck in the Mslexia Women's Short Story Competition which closes on the 24th Jan.

Friday, 7 January 2011


Of my writing resolutions for 2011, I've realised there's one that's more important to get right than the others, and it's the one I've battled with since I started writing about 5 years ago. I listed it as be less distracted by the internet in my resolutions post, but more broadly it's about being focused when I'm 'writing'.

What I really want to get better at this year is using the time outside of my paid job in a more meaningful way. And, actually, it goes beyond writing, and into looking after my well being too.

The most frustrating thing I am prone to doing is being at my desk, wanting to write, but being unable to make the mental commitment to doing it. It's ridiculous, and I completely agree with people who champion the fact that writing isn't that hard - just fooking do it.

I want to make things easier for my brain. And what I tell you next is not mind blowing or revolutionary in the least, in fact it's simple and makes sense but for whatever reason I haven't tried it before now.


For the past 3 days I have changed one small thing that has had a huge impact on what I've written.

Do not go online until you have achieved X, Y and maybe one more thing, Z.

At the start of each day I've decided what X and Y and sometimes Z are, so today:

X = 500 more words on the book
Y = re-edit of short story for Mslexia comp
Z = more work on other book-in-progress

(Z isn't always there, it depends how much time I have in that day to dedicate to writing.)

No emails are checked, no blogs read, no online news fixes quenched until I've ticked off each thing to do for that day. And, it's going really well.

It's not a new thing for me to make lists or find new ways of making lists or attempt new ways of being productive or find new ways to measure productivity but isn't this just the most straight forward way of doing things, ever?

I must credit Nicola Morgan here, for her post just after the new year. Nicola looked back on 2010 and realised she'd really not kept her 2 fairly simple resolutions to put writing at the top of her work priorities, and relax and exercise each day.

It was something about Nicola's realisation that these 2 things - writing and taking care of herself - are the most important things she should attend to in her day that stayed with me after reading her post.

That writing should come first before all else is like I said, simple, unrevolutionary stuff, but gets to the core of what I've been trying to work out for ages.

So, there it is. Three days of doing this and I've written more, read more, relaxed a lot more, and felt in control because it's easier to measure my progress.

Aside from 'No Internet until X Y and Sometimes Z' I've also stopped using the computer for writing or online meanderings after 6pm. This helps distinguish between working and not working, and is probably better for my eyes and my back and my head.

If you're prone to email/FB/google distraction I'd urge you to try these 2 things - though I also know that finding ways to work is a personal thing. If you do try it, let me know. Or tell us how you already focus your writing time.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


(not sofas r so good)

So far (yes, it's only the 2nd January) I've been better at the things I wanted to be better at this year - this mainly means I've been more focused on writing and when not writing I've been more relaxed, and also more active (offline).

I've been working on my book, my mystery book - my not - a - novel - not - a - biography - not - non fiction - book book. If work on it keeps a steady pace I'll start talking about it here. I don't know about you, but I definitely can't talk about ideas when they are in the early stages. It's not a superstitious thing, it's more that I'm still working things out and saying things about whatever it is can make me think 'eff off, that's crap'. Also, it has a few different possible directions and I want to know which one I'm taking.

BUT yes. I feel good. I hope the new year has brought optimism and ambition for your writing too.

A few links that might interest you:

Vanessa Gebbie
, who recently landed a contract with Bloomsbury to publish her first novel, took my request that she writes about the pre-publication process on her blog and has gone one better, starting a brand new blog where she'll share the journey from a novel being accepted to its publication. I'm really glad that Vanessa took that mini request and is being so generous as to share what must be an exciting, but often overlooked, and no doubtedly full-on in terms of hard work, part of the process of being a published author.

Two of my real-life writer friends started blogs recently: Anna is inspiring, she writes with honesty and bravery at Whatever Works and Kendal over at Ava and the Snowman is a new Mum conjuring thoughtful and beautiful prose. Go see...

I'd like to add to the blogs I follow, do you have any you'd like to recommend? Tell me about your daily must-reads.