Tag Archives: inspiration

Sidling In

So. Um. *scuffs toe of shoe*

Yeah. It’s been a while since I blogged. A week, you say? A whole week? Couldn’t be.

(It is).

I wish I could say something like ‘well, I’m terribly sorry, but when Brad and Angie call you at the last minute and invite you to their chateau for a mini-break, what idiot would say no?’ or ‘apologies for my absence, but I was abseiling down the Burj Al-Arab’, but in reality – hard as it may be to believe – I was doing neither of these things.

Photo Credit: fizaco via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: fizaco via Compfight cc

Life got in the way, folks. Simple as. I had more medical tests. I had some tiredness. I had busy stuff going on, all of which is very boring for anyone who isn’t me. It did, however, mean that I was away from my desk a lot, and not exactly in the right mindspace for blogging. I do heartily apologise. My schedule is going to be out of whack for the next few weeks, but I will try to be better – though I do beg your forbearance.

I did some reading, though, while I was away, and I also did some writing. Not as much as I wanted, but some. I had a day during the week with a lot of down-time in the middle, so I sat with a notebook in a cafe and worked through a vague-ish plan for the rest of my current WiP, gathering ideas – and in at least one exciting moment, realising that a rootless, context-free idea I’d had several months ago would now fit quite nicely indeed into my current work, with a few tweaks. You’ve just got to love moments like those, and it proves once again that no idea should ever be wasted. Even if, like this one, it comes at you out of the blue with absolutely no explanation or lead-up, like a blob of gelatinous something-or-other that just splats into your brain from on high. Write it down. Keep it safe. Let it percolate. Eventually, you’ll see something or hear something that’ll spark off a thought, which will spark off another thought, which will lead to a fully-formed idea so awesome that your heart will start to pound, and which you’d never have had if you hadn’t kept hold of that original odd little spark of inspiration.

You know you’re onto a good thing when your heart starts to pound and you can’t write fast enough to keep up with your brain. Those are the moments we live for, right?

After all this feverish inspiration, I wrote a pitch for my current WiP (a useful thing to do, fellow writers, when you want to help an idea coalesce), and emailed it off to my agent without too much thought. ‘Here’s something I’ve been working on,’ I said. ‘It’s not finished, by a long shot, but I just wanted you to know what I’m up to.’ Immediately, I regretted it; she’ll be too busy, or she’ll have far too much else on her plate right now what with judging X competition and accepting submissions for Y event and attending at least three book fairs simultaneously with the aid of holographic technology, I told myself. Really, though, I was afraid she’d email back doing the equivalent of holding my pitch between finger and thumb, looking disgusted, and saying: ‘This? This, here, is what you’ve spent months working on?’ And then she’d wash her hands of me completely.

But she didn’t do that.

‘Sounds great,’ she said, by return of email. ‘I’m excited to read the draft, when it’s done. Here are my questions.’ And she proceeded to ask me probing, useful, interesting things about the outline I’d sent, making me at once understand that a pitch I’d thought was entirely clear had, in fact, skimmed over some things to an unacceptable level and that I had a lot more thinking to do about at least one major aspect of my plot and world-building. In the course of answering her questions, I also realised something else: simply thinking about these questions and formulating answers to them was really helping me get a handle on what I’m trying to write about. (See how good my agent is? She teaches me even without trying to).

I’m closing in on 30,000 words with this draft. The going is slow, but I’m enjoying it. I’m back in a pseudo-historical fantasy setting with characters who are brave and funny and up for adventure, and world-threatening technology which must be harnessed for good, and crafty baddies, and all manner of questing and travelling and discovery, and it’s truly where my heart belongs. It took me a long time to get here, but I think I’ve managed to fetch up in just the right place.

Happy fourth of July weekend to those who celebrate, and happy weekend to those who don’t. Whatever you’re doing, remember to be good, be happy and spread as much love as you possibly can. This poor, tired old world needs it more than ever.

Finding the Muse

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I haven’t written about writing here for quite a while, now. There’s a reason for that.

I’ve been having an extended period of drought. It’s like my brain is spread too thinly, or perhaps it’s as a result of having a lot of things, some of them unexpected, to think about and deal with. Then there’s the fear – you know the one I mean. The fear that everything I write is nonsense anyway, so why bother creating more of it.

Maybe I should just invest in a bigger one of these... Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

Maybe I should just invest in a bigger one of these…
Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

I have half-created so many drafts over the past four months, novels which began reasonably, and which I felt had arcs and characters and a story to tell, but which still sputtered out. This happens to everyone at some point or other; I know that, of course. But when it happens over and over again, in succession, it’s bound to have a bit of a dampening effect, both on confidence and productivity levels.

It’s not that I’m not having ideas, as such. I get them, fleetingly, every once in a while. My Notes function on my phone is full of half-cooked flashes that might, one day, become stories, and I’m hopeful that’s a sign my brain hasn’t given up the fight just yet. In fact, one of these ideas has, over the past few weeks, taken on a life of its own inside my imagination – I can see a finished book, full of beautiful line-drawings, and the layout of the text on the pages, and I have a character with a heart-shiveringly lovely name, and I have an Enemy with a complex motive, and I have high hopes for this story.

But I haven’t written it, or even really pushed myself to think about it or plan it out. If the images float into my mind of their own accord, I let them come, but I don’t force them.

I also have another idea which is, at the moment, not ready for committing to paper, but I have managed to complete one important aspect of it, and that is this: a cracking first line. I also have a character name, which seems to be something I really need to get a story to hang together. Then, there’s another story which exists in scraps inside my mind. I also have a cool character name for this one, but I’m not sure yet who it belongs to. Maybe when I decide that, I can move forward with this idea. Maybe.

And maybe nothing will ever come of any of them. That’s something which haunts my thoughts.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve taken a step back and I’ve started going through some of my other manuscripts, and my older ideas. I had entirely rewritten one book, based on the bones of a previous draft, and it’s far from perfect – but I’d forgotten that it’s actually okay, and there’s usable material here, and I did a lot of work on it before putting it aside which makes me less inclined to want to waste it. However, there’s loads more work still to do. About three-quarters of the way through, there’s a giant ugly weld-mark where the story changes pitch and direction completely, for instance, but I’m currently trying to smooth that out. The end is all wrong. But there are bits in the middle which are actually rather good. Now, of course, nobody has seen this book but me, and it might stay that way, but even if I do whip up a new draft from these old bones and it goes precisely nowhere, I’ll still have proved to myself that I can write another book.

I can write another book. There is hope.

I haven’t felt like much of a writer lately, despite everything. But until that feeling comes back, I’ll just have to fake it. Turn up on my writing days, face the desk, don’t shy away from the work, get the job done. Plough through.

Show up, and the muse will too. It might take her a while, but she’ll come.

Scraping the Bottom

Yesterday, I battled my way to the end of draft 1 of ‘Eldritch’. Today, however, I’m wondering why I bothered.

You might ask ‘Why? Surely it’s good to have reached the end of another first draft?’

Well. The reason for my disillusion today is, of course, that the quality of the work produced goes down very fast when you’re feeling tired, or uninspired, or unhappy in any way with any aspect of your life or your writing. I knew yesterday that my bucket was scraping the stones at the bottom of my well of inspiration, but I kept sending it down anyway, expecting it to be full when it got back to the top.

Of course, it was – but it was full of mud and rock and surprised, wriggling insects not used to seeing the light of day, and perhaps a clump or two of mouldy moss, too. The clear water was all gone.

Photo Credit: Kash_if via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kash_if via Compfight cc

I got the work done, all right – I got the story told. But I couldn’t have been less happy, even as I was writing it, with the work I was producing. Once I’d taken the story as far as I could, I saved my file, closed down my computer and sat with my bone-shaking tiredness for a few minutes, my mind feeling disconnected from my physical body and the world around me. Even as I sat there, literally having just typed ‘The End’, I started to understand what was wrong with the story as I’d written it.

A short list of What’s Wrong with My Book

– An unnecessary meeting with several unnecessary characters.

– A complete lack of character development for the antagonist, and not enough time given to his reasons for his actions.

– A total fail in my world-building, and not enough time devoted to working out my magical system.

– The story is far too heavily weighted at the front – in other words, too many pages are devoted to the first ‘half’ of the adventure, and not enough to the second. The only positive in this is the fact that the ‘finished’ draft came in at just under 62,000 words, which is a lot shorter than my norm; there’s plenty of scope for expansion.

Yesterday, when I finished writing, I felt hopeless. I felt despairing. I began to question whether I should even continue with my plans for my career, and I began to fret that I wasn’t deserving of all that I’d accomplished so far – having several stories published, gaining an agent, slowly building a following and a readership on social media. This feeling didn’t last, of course, though the thoughts, and the deeper insecurities, took a little longer to disperse. I’m not sure they’ll ever really go away, but so long as they stay quiet long enough for me to get on with the work, I’ll be happy.

Luckily, I slept well and have woken this morning in a much better frame of mind, with a clearer idea of what I can do to ‘fix’ the story. It’s not a total waste of time and effort, as I thought yesterday. It’s not the worst thing ever put on paper (though it’s probably in the same ballpark!) It’s not unsalvageable. I know that I can fix it, and bring it to a point where I won’t be ashamed to share it with other people. Right now, if my agent read it I’m sure her hair would turn white and she’d burn our agent-author agreement; I know it won’t always be this way. It’s going to be a big job, but I’m equal to it.

However, today is not the day I’m going to start working on it.

Today is going to be a day for getting to all the other tasks I’ve been neglecting for the past couple of months while I’ve been up to my neck with writing. There are jobs to be done in literally every corner of my house, and there’s a book to be read, and there are walks to be taken, and there is (if I have any energy left!) baking to do, and I’m looking forward to the sort of good, clean tiredness that comes from having an exhausted body, instead of an exhausted mind, at the end of today. I’m hoping that, as soon as I take my eyes off my well of inspiration, that it will slowly start to fill up again, and that the good clear water I need to sustain me will start to trickle through the stones again. I’m not planning to send my bucket near it for a while.

Finishing a novel isn’t easy. It takes focus and dedication and bloody-mindedness. You need to have a story you can’t rest until you’ve finished telling, and you need to have some idea – even only in outline – of how you’re going to get to the end of it. Even so, a first draft is likely to have missteps and forced steps and illogical steps and errors, but that’s all right. Getting the skin over the bones of your story, even if it’s stretched, is good. Once that’s done, you can go back and settle it properly. If you force it, though, what happens is you begin to think there’s not enough story, or you haven’t done enough work in the writing of it, or you aren’t enough, and slowly but surely you lose hope. I’m sure many thousands of stories have fallen at the first hurdle, but I should think many thousands more have fallen at the last. Beginning a story and clip-clopping your way through the middle can be fun; bringing everything to a conclusion is tough, and chances are it won’t work right the first time you try it. But all I can say is, don’t give up when you’ve got that far. Leave it alone for a bit, and come back to it once your mind has had a chance to forget all about it.

Stop scraping the bottom. Let your well re-fill. Once you do, there’ll be plenty of water for all the stories you have nestling within you, waiting for their time to bloom.

Photo Credit: ViaMoi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ViaMoi via Compfight cc

 

Writerly Wednesday

This week, my prompt words are taken from CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In #10, originally held in 2012.

paperback :: bounce :: crushing :: liquor :: root

Image: corbisimages.com

Image: corbisimages.com

Character Study

His sarcasm is crushing.

Really, dearest? You’re sure that’s the best course of action open to you – or, I beg your pardon, me – at that particular juncture?’

My leg starts to bounce, my ankle like a spring. I suppress it straight away. It’s a tell. He’ll know, and he’ll use it against me.

‘I really don’t think anyone, be they reader or critic, could possibly bring themselves to root for me if you force the issue like this,’ he continues, swirling the glass in his hand. It’s half-filled with some sort of golden liquor.

Wait.

Liquor? Where did he get that?

I frown. I focus on my fingers. Move, I tell them, but they don’t care.

‘If you want this to go to paperback,’ he snarls, his voice right in my ear, his hot breath trickling down my cheek and under the collar of my shirt, congealing in a pool beneath my sternum, ‘you’ll listen to me.’

I close my eyes. Slowly, his shadow lifts. He settles himself back in the easy chair, crossing his legs with a deft flick.

‘Begin.’ His voice is distant thunder.

I take a deep breath, and start to type.

Wobbling On

It will probably surprise nobody to learn that I spent yesterday, and will spend today, taking the least sensible of all the writing options open to me; viz., carrying on with my new WiP. I have nothing to offer here in terms of a sensible explanation besides the fact that the story is bashing me around the brain and writing it seems to soothe the savage beast inside my skull.

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

It’s a little like examining a massive tapestry in a huge, unlit room using only a tiny, weak battery-powered torch. All I can see is the picture which is illuminated by the sputtering beam of light in my hand; the bits still to come are shrouded in darkness. I do know what I want to happen in the story, of course – I have a skeletal plot structure and an ending in mind. The detail, however, and the actual meat of the story which will bring me from where I am now to that wonderful point where I can write ‘The End’, has yet to materialise.

But that’s the fun of it, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

I’m working on a story which I first came up with almost eight years ago, during which time the protagonist was a couple of years younger than she is now and my writing style screamed like something out of the nineteen-fifties. I have a draft chapter of this WiP saved, which I wrote in 2006, and I’m surprised words like ‘balderdash!’ ‘jolly good,’ and – of course ‘lashings of ginger beer!’ (which, apparently, doesn’t actually appear anywhere in Enid Blyton’s oeuvre, despite the stereotype) aren’t studded through it like cloves in a boiled ham. I really find it hilarious that the writing I was doing a few years ago is like something from a different planet – it took me years to shake off the style of writing found in the books I loved to read as a child, and develop a voice of my own.

I’m still not sure I’ve managed it, but I think I’m on the right path at least.

My. That's a big path. Image: helenotway.edublogs.org

My. That’s a big path.
Image: helenotway.edublogs.org

However, I tried to explain this current story to my husband the other night, and I ended up going round and round in a ring of syllables, getting more and more confused. I finished on the word ‘basically,’ which is never a good sign you’ve explained yourself clearly, and he turned to me and said ‘Er. Yeah, that sounds… um.’

I made it sound terrible. Absolutely awful.

Now, admittedly, I’m not very far into the writing of this story yet – fewer than 7,000 words of a first draft currently exist – but, as I said, I do know where I want it to go, more or less. In my head, it all hangs together beautifully. But when I tried to put it into words it came out as something like:

‘So, there’s this pilchard, and it lost its watermelon a few years before in a tragic squash-making accident, and then there’s this spider-thing, with a net, that wants to, you know, catch things, and there’s a bucket and spade which the pilchard really wants and so the spider-thing decides to take it first.’

Clear, non? Of course. I know you guys know what I’m getting at.

It’s important to be able to talk about your work in a way that doesn’t make you sound like you need a long lie-down; summarising your plot and characters should, really, be something you practise from the get-go when you’re writing a book. You never know when you might need to pitch something, after all. Of course, it does help to have written the thing first, and that it’s polished and buffed to as high a shine as you can manage before you start pitching it, but still – always be prepared. It does worry me that a story so clearly outlined in my head can turn into a mouthful of must when I try to explain it, and I hope I’ll be able to do it justice in the future.

I’m also feeling a little like a cobweb in a stiff breeze about this book because I’m taking the same approach as I took for the previous one – ‘Emmeline’ – wherein I knew what I wanted to say, but the story pretty much told itself as it went. I’m trying to rely on my inner pantser, which involves forcibly silencing my far more vocal plotter-persona. So far, the story has set itself in a new location, it has raised the protagonist’s age by at least two – if not three – years, it has developed a whole new set of characters and it has given the Antagonist an entirely new and (if I may say so) deliciously plausible reason for being so Evil. During yesterday’s writing a new character – a boy! – walked into the story and held out his hand in greeting, and I didn’t know his name until I typed it.

So, it was really like meeting someone new for the first time. In a weird, spooky and ‘man, my brain is strange’ sort of way.

And yes, I know I know I should be finishing ‘Eldritch’ (again) and trying to work out just exactly what is wrong with ‘Tider’ and chewing my nails to the quick as I wait for news of ‘Emmeline’, but it’s really hard to resist the lure of a new story.

So, for the moment, I am bending to temptation, and hoping it’s the right decision.

Image: writeontrack.ie

Image: writeontrack.ie

Another Publication!

My week is getting off to a good start already. My story ‘One’ was published this morning on Daily Science Fiction, and I have to say it’s a handsome thing. It’s great to see a story in its finished state, formatted and laid out to a publisher’s specification; it almost makes the content of the story seem better, too. It’s a long way from the day I first started tapping it out on my battered old laptop, months and months ago.

If you’d like to read the story, you can go here. Thrillingly, this time around, there’s an option for you to rate the story from 1 to 7, depending on how terrible you think it is. Currently, I’m holding steady at 5.4 average, so have fun skewing those stats!

I imagine the city Unubert lives in to look a little like this... Image: blog.zeemp.com

I imagine the city Unubert lives in to look a little like this…
Image: blog.zeemp.com

Today is a Bank Holiday in my fair isle. Most people, I would wager, are still abed. This is a shame, because they’re missing a beautiful morning. We had awful weather yesterday – not as bad as parts of the UK, which suffered the fury of ‘St Jude’, the winter storm they decided to nickname after the saint of lost causes – but today, the sky is blue again.

I hope good weekends were had by all? I met up with some of my old university friends on Saturday, which was wonderful. It was so much fun to slip straight back into our early twenties, as happens when we’re all together, and forget for a while that we’re not that young any more and our lives have all changed beyond recognition. It did me good to remember what it felt like to have nothing more than getting to your next lecture to worry about, and I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in quite a while.

So, all in all, it was the perfect cure for a fraught week.

I’m feeling a lot better now, too. You might remember me saying I felt unwell a few days back, and that I wasn’t able to focus on the computer screen, and all that. Well, thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious – the optician diagnosed me with eyestrain. Part of the reason I know the day is bright and blue outside is because I’m making a point of looking out the window every few minutes, just for a few seconds at a time, in order to flex my lenses. That wasn’t the term the optician used, but I just like to imagine it that way.

LIFT and stretch and LIFT and stretch and LIFT... Image: generalcomics.com

LIFT and stretch and LIFT and stretch and LIFT…
Image: generalcomics.com

So, today will be spent ‘dividing my time’ (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase…) between my NaNoWriMo prep (my brain has been invaded by an entirely new idea, which is clamouring to be written), my efforts to write a story for the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest, and spending a bit of time with that man who lives in my house, whathisname… oh yeah, my husband. So, you know. It’s going to be a busy one.

Happy Monday! Remember to keep those eyeballs supple and those typin’ fingers flying…

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

There’s a possible TMI warning on this morning’s blog post. If you can’t handle reading (not very graphic) details of a (not very gross) minor medical condition, then I’d recommend you return to munching down your cereal and slurping your coffee, and catch me tomorrow instead.

Are you going? You’d better go now, because I’m about to start.

Seriously. It’s seconds away, now. See you later.

Ticktickticktick... Image: lssacademy.com

Ticktickticktick…
Image: lssacademy.com

Right. Time’s up. I’m jumping in.

Still here? Interesting.

Okay. So, I may not have mentioned before that I have dermatitis on my palms. Sometimes, it doesn’t bother me at all, and my hands are as smooth as the proverbial baby’s behind, and all that; other times, though, like now, it erupts into red hell and itches so badly that it feels like I’ve minced up a few Carolina Reapers and rubbed ’em into my skin. It can take me totally by surprise, too – yesterday evening, my hands were a little itchy, but I thought nothing of it. However, I woke up this morning and I’d turned into a crab-clawed witch, and so, it was out with the steroid cream and in with the self-pity and whimpering. Several years ago it got so bad that I had to take sick leave from the job I was working in at the time because I pretty much couldn’t use my hands for about a week, and that, my friends, was not fun. I am nowhere near as bad as that at the moment, of course, but every time I get a flare-up, I think of it.

I’m not really sure what causes it. I’m told it was originally an allergic reaction (but I don’t know to what), and it seems to flare when I’m stressed. It’s an indicator of stress that I might not even be consciously aware I’m feeling, actually – everything seems okay this morning, but my hands are burning so I can assume something’s going on somewhere inside me. As well as being monumentally irritating, though, it also makes things like typing quite difficult, which is handy (no pun intended) when typing is all you do, all day every day. I feel a bit like fat-fingered Homer.

Image: dailydot.com

Image: dailydot.com

It’s easy to take your health for granted, and to just assume you’ll be well – physically, mentally, spiritually – when you wake up every morning to start your day. Sometimes, though, it’s not as straightforward as that. I’m not even talking about myself, here – I mean that in a general sense. I’m not suggesting a bit of dermatitis is equivalent to a proper medical condition, or anything like it. My hands aren’t painful this morning, really (there have been times when they’ve literally looked like stigmata, bleeding and raw, which is terrible), but the itch is such a distraction that it is making concentration difficult. It’s sort of cruel, because I spent all weekend keeping far, far away from ‘Tider’, and even trying not to think about it; as a result my brain is bubbling with ideas this morning about how to solve the problems I’ve been running into. It’s also bubbling with the urge to tear the skin off my palms, though, so there’s a definite conflict of interest there.

Rawr! I am dermatitis. Feel my sting! Image: en.wikipedia.org

Rawr! I am dermatitis. Feel my sting!
Image: en.wikipedia.org

So, today will mostly be spent feeling itchy and resisting the urge to scratch, and (doing my best attempt at) rewriting the end of ‘Tider’ in accordance with a flash of inspiration that occurred to me as I was going to sleep last night. My new plan for the book’s conclusion solves a huge plot wrinkle that I’d been trying to work around, will be significantly shorter and (hopefully) a lot more interesting.

I’m also a lot more enthusiastic about it this morning than I was on Friday, so that’s good.

Right, that’s it. I can’t resist the temptation to dunk my hands in ice-water any longer, so I’ll leave it there for now. Have a good day. It’s Monday, don’t forget, so please do be kind to yourself. See you tomorrow, when – with any luck – my hands will be healed and calm and not driving me round the bend.