Once again my body betrays me

Yes it’s a very dramatic title. Unfortunately it’s also true.

I am typing this very slowly because there is something horribly wrong with my right thumb. Yes I am right handed. How did you ever guess?

My thumb is swollen, itchy and sore. It won’t bend properly and it looks like the knuckle has somehow slipped round the side of it. It’s incredibly distracting and it means that I can’t do any of the things I normally do to fill the day. No computer games, no crochet, chores are even harder than usual and typing anything takes ages.

Yes I have sought medical attention. The current working hypothesis is that there’s an infection under the skin and pressing on the joint. I’m back on antibiotics. If they don’t work by Friday there will be blood tests. It might turn out to be gout. Because my body never met an embarrassing and poorly understood health problem that it didn’t want to try out.

Which is all very annoying because I should be working on the novel I want to pitch for Blood Scotland. Or the pitch. And I’m not. Because just typing this little bit has fucked my right hand up even more.

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Pitching blues

This year’s Bloody Scotland is bearing down on us. There’s a pitch competition that I’d like to try but I’m having trouble working out which novel to pitch.

Until recently I would have assumed that I’d have to pitch a finished novel but that doesn’t seem to be hugely important for the competition. That’s confusing to me since every published author’s top piece of advice is “Finish your shit”.

For this competition I have to write a 100 word pitch and submit that and if they’re interested I get to pitch in person in front of actual publishers and agents and a paying crowd. The live pitch will be in late September at the Bloody Scotland festival. It’s dedicated to crime writing so the publishers and agents will be looking for crime/detective/mystery fiction.

I have to decide which novel I want to pitch because that’s the novel I should be focusing on just now. Let me describe them for you.

Firstly there’s the one I’ll call Project Kindness. It’s the one that’s closest to finished. Close enough that I could have a complete 3rd draft to show anyone who was interested by the end of September. However it’s a supernatural spy thriller. There are some murders and there is a mystery but it’s not what they’re looking for.

Secondly there’s the one I’ll call Project Cecil. It’s the furthest from being finished and I don’t really feel ready to work on it. However it’s the closest to the kind of novel they want. It’s a modern epistolary novel told through emails, chat logs and blogs. It follows a group of friends as they investigate the disappearance and murder of a mutual friend and eventually come to realise that one of them did it. I think I could do a killer pitch of it but it’s the one I feel least able to finish.

Thirdly there’s the one I’ll call Project Dingo. It’s about half done. It’s the funniest. It’s set in 2012 and it’s about a locked room mystery that nobody wants to solve. It’s the closest to a traditional mystery novel in structure but it has witches and other weirdness in it that might make it a harder sell at Bloody Scotland.

I can’t make up my mind. I feel like I should pick Project Cecil because it’s the one they’re most likely to want. But I don’t want to work on it. I’m not ready yet. Then I want to stubbonrly pick Project Kindness because ‘Finish your Shit’ and because it’s the one I’ve been working on recently and it’s in my head. But then I want to pick Project Dingo because it’s the balanced one.

I don’t know how to make up my mind. Suggestions are welcome in the comments.

And if you have enjoyed this indecision you could show your appreciation by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi.

The invisible wall

It feels like there’s an invisible wall between me and my novel. Some part of me doesn’t want to work on it and I’m not sure what it is.

It’s not because I don’t know what to write, or because I’m having plot problems. I know where the story is going and how to write it. It’s not because I don’t like the novel or because I’m tired of the characters. I like it and them as much as I ever have.

It feels like I’m scared of something. Or at least reluctant. Could it be that I’m scared of finishing it because that would mean I’d have to query it and that would mean more rejection?

I’ve invested a lot of hope in this novel. I’m hoping that, because it has a better opening, it will have more chance of attracting an agent. I think the opening is good but it doesn’t solve the problem of writing that doesn’t fit easily into any genre. Agents just don’t seem to be looking for the stories that I write. I’ve been trying to build contacts but so far the contacts that I have don’t link up with the kind of stories that I write.

There’s also the problem of my, apparently, terrible grammar. I say apparently because every grammatical problem that gets pointed out is stuff that I can’t see even after it gets pointed out. I know there are rules to formal english but prose isn’t formal. In prose you’re allowed to break the rules. Unless I’m wrong. Unless I should be following the rules of formal English just so that agents will know that I know what they are. Are agents laughing at my terrible comma usage?

It’s tempting to just give up on the idea of ever getting paid, stick a plain cover on it, self publish and then try to find something else to do with my time. It is just so frustrating to put all this work in on stories that nobody wants to read. I believe in them but I don’t know how to communicate that belief in any useful way.

Immobility

I’ve been sitting at this computer, trying to write something, for the last two hours. This is not writer’s block. This is ADHD and I would really like it to stop.

ADHD means that I don’t always get a choice about what to focus on. Sometimes I flit from project to project unable to settle. Sometimes inspiration strikes but then it’s gone by the time I’m able to sit down and work on it. Sometimes a shiny new idea will hijack my mind while I’m trying to work on something else.

I have techniques that can wrangle my attention to where I want it to be but they don’t always work and they tend to rely on external supports like deadlines. If I commit to writing something by a certain date I’ll usually succeed but if I don’t have a plan then I tend to just drift and get nothing done.

That’s the problem. I don’t have a plan.

It’s not the only problem. I also don’t know how to make a plan, I can’t decide what sort of plan it should be and I’m having trouble convincing myself that it’s worth the effort. I have stories that I want to tell but I don’t know what to do with those stories once they’re told and if I don’t do anything with them then what’s the point of finishing them.

And now I’m convinced that the effort of writing this has been wasted. The sentences seem stilted and I’m sure that it makes no sense. I hate it. Writing it has been like trying to drag body in a velcro suit across a shag pile carpet. I’m going to post it anyway.

In Honor of Beta Readers

For those who don’t know beta readers are the people who read your ‘nearly finished’ book as a favour in order to tell you if it really is nearly finished. They’re also the people who tell you if your structure is horribly broken and if your plot makes sense and if they can tell who’s alive and who’s dead at the end of a fight scene and point out when you’ve made cardinal errors like head hopping or accidentally changing a character’s name half way through.

Beta readers are important to the process of turning a manuscript into a novel. I suspect that once upon a time most beta reading was done professionally by ranks of editors and printers. I doubt that Austen, Dickens or Conan Doyle were sending out hand copied manuscripts to their writer buddies and waiting for the notes to arrive by post. But we live in a better educated world where many more books are published by much slimmer profit margins.

I’ve been lucky to have some excellent beta readers. I know at least one of them finds the process immensely enjoyable and actively tries to make me laugh with every errant apostrophe she finds. That makes the process much less painful for the writer. I’ve been honored to be asked to beta read for another writer and I hope my feedback was useful to her because I loved her book and I want to see it get published.

Actually now that I think about it I realise that there have always been beta readers. Most of the great writers left behind massive piles of correspondence. Often they correspond with other writers. And when they weren’t corresponding they were down the pub with each other. JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) and CS Lewis (author of the Narnia books) were members of the same writing group, the Inklings, that met in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. H.P. Lovecraft (creator of the Cthulhu mythos), R.E Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), and Clark Ashton Smith (artist, poet and author) regularly corresponded with each other and borrowed elements of each others fiction.

So when you’re reading your favourite books maybe you should take a moment to be thankful to the people who listened as the author drunkenly thrashed out the idea, to the people who read it when it was raw, to the people who pointed out that there were two characters with the same name, and the villain had no motivation, and that’s not how you punctuate a quote within speech. It’s not just that beta readers make a book better. By believing in the book they make it more likely to be finished.

Filling Potholes and Climbing Hills

For the last week I have been struggling with plot holes. As I wrote before they’re not the novel derailing kind of holes but more like narrative potholes that need to be seamlessly filled so that my readers will not even notice that plot is going on. It’s not the cool or impressive side of writing but it is important.

Fortunately an idea suggested by one of my readers allowed me to make something of the conversation I was writing. I think it’s a funny scene. I think it reveals more about my characters. I hope it hasn’t unbalanced the story because a story isn’t just a sequence of events it’s also a balancing act.

Of course the problem with fixing that one problem is that it reveals the existence of the next thing that needs fixing. It’s like I’m hiking up hill and I’ve reached the summit of the hill only to reveal the next hill that I have to climb and I know that one isn’t the final summit I’m aiming for eather and only God knows how many damn hills are between me and the end of the track.

Having resolved the issue of the conversation that needed to happen I now need to rewrite a sex scene to take into account a change of cast. I think I know what I’m doing with that. Though it’s taken me two days to work it out.

However, on the other side of the sex scene is a scene that marks a major change of direction. My protagonist’s suspicions crystallize, two characters who’ve been passive up to this point begin their own active arcs and it marks the first appearance of the overtly magical/supernatural. This is one of those scenes which will make or break the whole novel. If I cock this up it’ll be the point at which people stop reading. If i get it right people might not even notice it.

Isn’t writing fun?

If you have enjoyed this post you can ensure I remain properly caffeinated by buying me a coffee with Ko-fi.

Alternative Win Conditions

Today I closed my online shop (that’s today as I write this on Tuesday 8th May 2018). It didn’t make any money. It barely paid for itself. Just the latest failure in my continuing quest to get paid for literally anything I’m good at.

I’ve been thinking about my definition of failure. Not ever making any money is only a failure if your goal was to make money. I think we can all agree that I am never going to make any money so I can either roll over and die or I can redefine my goals so that they don’t include making money, paying bills or even covering my costs.

One possible goal would be to continue writing stories that please me and the three other people who actually want to read them. That would be a bit disappointing because I feel that I owe it to the books I’ve written to get them in front of more people. I could give them away for free in some format but that just makes it harder for other writers to get paid so I don’t want to do that.

I definitely want to help my friends to get their books finished. Obviously I can’t help them get published since I have zero expertise there but at least I can humorously threaten people until they write more words. It’s not ideal as goals go because the success or failure isn’t under my control.

I feel like there should be more than just those two but I don’t know what to aim for. I need to do something with my life. I need purpose. And I need to stop including financial success in my win conditions because that’s just not going to happen. That’s hard for me. I’m a working class person. I’ve never had elevated ideas of producing great art. I just wanted to be able to support myself. It doesn’t seem like that should be beyond my reach but it appears to be.

I’m open to suggestions.

Reasons why I’m not writing

Ok, technically I am writing because I’m writing this blog post but I should be working on my novel and I’m not because…

In this case I have a very specific plot hole that needs filling. It’s not a plot hole in the ‘oh my God my plot doesn’t work’ sense. It’s the plot equivalent of a pothole in a road. It still needs fixing if I want my readers to have a smooth ride but it’s not major building work.

You’d think that would make it easier to fix, wouldn’t you? Just patch over it with the narrative equivalent of bitchumen and go onto the next scene. But the problem with this sort of fix is that it needs to be seamless. I have to slot a little scene-ette into an already existing scene without breaking the scene or losing the mood.

Specifically I need one character to call another character so that they can have the brief conversation that will signal to the audience that they are moving beyond a disagreement. I can’t skip the scene because it needs to be resolved. I can’t cut out the disagreement because other stuff relies on it. And I can’t work out why that one character would pick up the phone rather than fuming silently about it. She tends to be a self sufficient silent fumer. She needs a reason to call.

My mind is a blank. There are literally millions of things that could precipitate that call but instead of coming up with one my brain is doing the brain equivalent of turning circles on the spot while singing snatches of every song I’ve heard in the last month.

ME: Ok so could she have found something in the files?

MY BRAIN: the last, the last, the last…

ME: But seriously there’s bound to be stuff in there that she’d need to talk about

MY BRAIN: How big, how blue, how beautiful…

ME: That way I could set up the later revelations…

MY BRAIN: Somebody once told me…

ME: Oh for fucks sake

So… Chocolate? I’m thinking chocolate. And possibly booze. And maybe a brain transplant.

 

If you have enjoyed this pointless rant maybe you’d like to support this blog by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi. Or alternatively today is the last day that you can buy stuff in the Shop of Doom.

It’s never just one thing.

So in my last post my laptop had died and I discovered that I’d wasted 3 months preparing for a nonexistent competition. How can things get worse?

The good news is that my laptop is fixable and for a reasonable fee. The bad news is that after paying for that and buying Scrivener for the iPad my spouse and I went to the optician to get our eyes tested. I need new glasses and my other half needs two pairs (distance and reading glasses) and my eyesight is so bad that my one pair costs more than both of theirs.

I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I dread to think what that’s going to reveal.

In addition to being impossibly broke yet again I also have to work out what my writing plan is. Until the debacle with the nonexistent pitch competition my plan was to prepare my current work in progress for the competition then when it failed to garner any interest I was going to query it while trying to fix whatever is wrong with the first one then pitch a third novel at Bloody Scotland in September.

I suppose I could still do the parts that don’t involve the nonexistent pitch but it’s feeling pointless. I can’t work out if it’s my usual terrible self esteem talking or if there’s something wrong with this plan that I’m not letting myself see. There’s this voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that this can’t possibly work because that’s not how my life works. And it’s not wrong about my life so far. It is kind of insane to expect anyone to value anything I do enough to pay me for it. They never have so far.

I hope I’ll be back with a new blog post about Infinity War soon but it probably wont be until I get my repaired computer back. In the meantime if you want to donate to the fix the computer fund or the actually be able to see fund then you can do it via Ko-Fi. Yes it says that you’re buying me a coffee but I’m allowed to spend the money on something other than coffee. Also coffee is a vital part of the creative process.

There’s also the Shop Of Doom. It’s still closing on May 8th because nobody is buying anything. Which is a pity, I have a couple of the t-shirts and they’re lovely, but I get that they’re pretty expensive and not to everyone’s taste. At least I tried. Having tried is not as much consolation as you’d think. It really doesn’t ease the sting of failure much at all.

Cursed

Let me tell you how my weekend went. On Saturday I took my son to see Infinity War. I was traumatised, I tell you. I’ll talk more about it in another post.

Then I got home to work on my pitch submission and found that my Laptop would no longer charge, probably because the internal socket for the power cable is damaged. So I tried to use the remaining battery life to put in a hurried submission. I did my best and I got something that wasn’t as good as what I would have had if I’d had more time but might have been good enough and I tried to send it in. I filled in the form on the website and it sent me an email with a link to a service to upload my files to XPONorth’s dropbox account.

And that link led to a discontinued service. A service which, according to the copyright date on the page, was discontinued last year. So I emailed XPONorth. And posted on their Facebook page and sent them a message using Facebook Messenger and tweeted about it and mentioned them in the tweet. I’ve heard nothing from them. But I know they’ve seen at least one of the tweets because the official Twitter account liked it.

It would seem that the Writers Pitch to Publishers and Agents event at this year’s XPONorth has been cancelled. But they didn’t do anything sensible like taking down the webpage, disabling the online form or changing the automated email. I have wasted three fucking months preparing for a non existent competition.

And of course my laptop is dead. I hope to get it repaired but that means spending money I shouldn’t be spending. I’m typing this on my iPad which means I’ve had to delete a bunch of apps I was using so I could fit the WordPress app and the Scrivener app onto it. Oh and I had to buy the Scrivener app so I could try to continue work on my novel only the app version doesn’t have the split screen feature that I use to re-write with.

On Sunday I went to Dundee to meet my mother for lunch and chat and a bit of shopping. Well, she shopped. I watched her shop because I need my money for repairing my laptop and buying expensive writing apps.

For some reason my Mother had her laptop with her. I don’t know why she had it. She never mentioned to me that she had it even when I told her about my laptop having died. I only know she had it because that evening, when I was at home, she called me to ask if I remembered at what point she lost it. Well obviously not. If I’d have known that I would have told her at the time.

I’m cursed I tell you, cursed.

If you’re feeling like donating to the ‘repair the computer assuming it can be repaired’ fund then you should use the Ko-fi link. I can’t add it while I’m using the iPad but there should be one on the sidebar or below this post or you could go back a couple of posts to get it. You could also find the link to the Shop o’ Doom in an earlier post. It’s still closing on the 8th of May. Assuming I can close it using the Shopify app.