Sunday Update 14/10

This has been a big week for birthdays. We celebrated the births of my spouse, my son and my mother. This week also saw a brief visit from the in-laws. I have been unusually social and as a result I am knackered. But not in a bad way.

My Mother is still in hospital recovering from her broken arms but she continues to make good progress. I’m still working on a poncho for her which means I haven’t done any more spinning.

My mother, in her usual ‘helpful’ way, has suggested that I start a new business selling hand crocheted ponchos to people recovering from shoulder and arm injuries. I don’t know how she thinks I’m going to find those people to sell stuff to them. I also don’t know where she thinks they’re going to get the money from. It’s at least £30 of yarn plus 10 to 50 hours of my time (depending on pattern). She’s still not ready to give up on the idea of me being able to make money at something.

Speaking of which, I am starting to give head space to the idea that If I want people to read my stories I’m going to have to give them away. I wrote a post about this that you can read here. I still haven’t come to a decision though.

November is fast approaching and with it NaNoWriMo. I have quite a lot of prep done for my own writing but I feel like I’m falling behind on my prep as a Municipal Liaison. I should be doing more to organise meetings and write-ins. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Perhaps it’s just that with such a rural region it’s hard to find meeting locations that everyone is happy with.

I’m continuing to work on the rewrites of my current novel. I might even have fixed that one scene that I just wasn’t happy with and that was keeping me from sending part Five to my beta readers. Maybe. I might look at it again in another couple of days and hate it just as much as before.

Just watched the new episode of Doctor Who and it was another belter. My only problem was the epic faff necessary to watch it. Our Tivo, which we have through Virgin Media, took multiple restarts to play sound. So we missed the beginning of the episode. So we tried to watch it from the start on the iPlayer app on the Tivo. Which would play sound but no pictures. Couldn’t get that to work even after a hard reboot and recalibrating the Tivo. Ended up watching it using the iPlayer app on the PS4. Worth the effort but I am not happy with Virgin. I pay a lot of money to them every month and I expect the kit they give me to work when I want to use it.

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All hail the Internet.

There’s a lot of horrible stuff happening on the internet. It enables a lot of terrible behaviour. In the developed world most of us have come to rely on it as a distraction in ways that can’t possibly be good for us. The Internet also connects us to each other. We don’t always use those connections sensibly but they can be very powerful. So let me tell you a story about connections.

The other day a friend of mine posted a link to a music video on Facebook. He’d found the band online and been so taken with their name, The Church of the Cosmic Skull, that he’d checked out their music on youtube. He said that their music wasn’t really his thing apart from one song that had really got under his skin. I was intrigued (and it is a really cool band name) so I watched the video.

This video.

It has a gloriously understated note of all pervading doom. It’s like the soundtrack to the Scarfolk website.

Afterward I turned to my spouse (who I met via the Internet on the message board of the Fortean Times magazine back when meeting via the Internet was still weird) and I suggested that we listen to more of The Church of the Cosmic Skull. As we listened to the music I gave myself a gel manicure, using materials ordered on the internet and shipped all the way from China, and skills that I learned watching youtube tutorials.

We loved both their albums instantly and as my spouse was posting a link to the video for Black Slug to a Tumblr blog I returned to Facebook to thank my friend for his link.

Seriously though you should check this one out. It sounds like a lost Hawkwind track from back when Lemmy was still playing the base and the video looks like it they sneaked onto the set of ‘The Devil Rides Out’ and shot it when everyone else was asleep.

He replied “This is why the Internet is more often than not, the best thing ever,” and reminded me that if it weren’t for the Internet we would never have followed each other on Twitter and never have become real life friends. If there was no internet then there would be no NaNoWriMo and no Aberdeen NaNoWriMo group having meetings. I wouldn’t have been able to persuade him to come out to one and he would never have met the woman who is now the love of his life.

The internet allowed me to meet my spouse and most of my friends. The internet lets me stay in touch with friends I would long ago have drifted away from.The internet keeps me connected to my family. The internet lets me do detailed research for my novels. I don’t even have to stop writing to do the research. I can do a google search then read all the relevant stuff while I’m taking a five minute break to drink my coffee. The internet allows me to learn new skills.

Without the internet I might not be a writer and you certainly wouldn’t be reading this. So thanks to Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) and all hail the conquering internet.

I’m not dead I just don’t have anything to say

I’ve been so quiet recently because I don’t feel like I have much to say. This is unusual for me but then these are unusual times. It’s hard to find something to say when just looking at the state of the world makes you want to scream.

I try not to be distracted by all the horrible stuff that I can’t do anything about but I can’t pick something to focus on. I’m drifting. I was working on a novel but then I put that on hold to work on something that I could pitch at Bloody Scotland. I’ve submitted my short pitch but I’m not working on that novel just now because I don’t really expect them to want it. I started work on the prep for a new novel so I’ll have something to write for NaNoWriMo but shouldn’t I go back to finishing the one I was working on?

I suppose the real problem is that it all feels pointless. Everything seems pointless. I am one of the little people and there’s not much I can do about anything. I’m at the mercy of events driven by people with so much money and power that they don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions. I’d be better spending my time learning more about growing vegetables and stockpiling cans so we can survive Brexit.

Performance review 2017

Since writers don’t have employers we don’t get handy annual performance reviews to tell us how we’re doing. So I’ve decided to do one for myself.

My primary focus for the last year has been to move toward getting published. So that’s a fail then. I have queried some agents. Not as many agents as I could have so that’s something that I could improve on next year. All the ones that have replied have said no. There’s still one I’m waiting to hear back from but I don’t expect to hear anything now until the new year. I did pitch my finished novel at Bloody Scotland and while I got some useful feedback to improve my query letter it hasn’t led anywhere.

Since my main focus is about being a professional writer rather than simply publishing one book I’ve also been writing. I’ve been re-writing and editing a sequel to my finished novel. I wrote the first draft of a novella and for NaNoWriMo I wrote the first draft of a straight crime novel. That’s pretty good but there’s room for improvement. I think I should aim to write at least one first draft and move at least one novel to the completed stage every year.

My secondary focus was to build the skills I need if I have to self publish. I’ve have been moving in the right direction but not nearly far enough. I’ve taken up calligraphy, which can be used to do cover art, and I’m improving my design skills. If I absolutely have to I could probably create a professional looking front cover.

I also wanted to build up this blog. I think that’s been fairly successful. There are more people reading it regularly, I’ve been posting at least 3 times a week most weeks since the beginning of April. Hopefully if I do publish a book at least one of you will actually be willing to pay to read it.

Since July I’ve been trying to get something, anything, done about my Lipoedema. After 4 Doctor appointments and 2 nurse appointments at my local practice, a trip to the leg ulcer clinic in Dunfermline and another to the Lymphoedema clinic in Kirkcaldy I may be only a couple of weeks away from trying on my first compression garments.

Since September I’ve been dieting because apparently you have to if you want to get your Lipoedema treated even though calorie restriction isn’t a treatment for Lipoedema. I’ve lost 11.5 kg and I’m hoping to get back into weight training. I’m just waiting for my equipment to be delivered.

So I haven’t been entirely useless this year but it still feels a bit unsatisfying. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that this year has felt like someone raised the corpse of 2016, decked it out in leather and spikes, stuck it behind the wheel of a steamroller and then pointed it at democracy.

Lessons from NaNoWriMo 2017

Every year I write a first draft in November and every year I try to learn something new while doing it. This year’s first draft was a straightish crime novel with the working title Project Cecil. The name doesn’t mean anything I just had to call it something and one thing I’ve learned in previous years is that I suck at titles.

This year’s big lesson is that I can write a novel without relying on fantasy, science fiction, or the supernatural. I’m just not entirely sure I want to. It’s really too early to tell if the story is any good. That wasn’t the point. A first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. But I am starting to question the logic of writing it.

I wrote a straight crime novel because a friend challenged me to write it. She challenged me because my attempts to get an agent or a publisher are hampered by the kind of stories I normally write. It’s not that they’re bad it’s just that they’re hard to market because they don’t fit easily into any single genre. My friend suggested that if I could write a regular crime novel I would have more chance of getting an agent or publisher interested and once I have something published I might have more luck with my weirder books.

My friend might be right. But I’m starting to think about the long game. My ultimate aim isn’t to get a single book published or even to get paid for a couple of manuscripts. My aim is a career as a writer and to do that I need to concentrate on the books I actually want to write. I like the story I’ve been telling but it’s not representative of most of the stories that I want to tell.

Of course it might still be worth taking this novel to Bloody Scotland next year and pitching it. Even if it doesn’t lead to the career I want it might at least lead to enough money to pay to self publish the other stories well enough to build a career that way.

This doesn’t mean I regret this experiment though. I’ve met some interesting characters while writing this story and I think I’ll probably come back to them at some point and finish telling their stories properly.

Reasons to party

My final post for those in the midst of NaNoWriMo.

Here we are. Just four days left and this one is partially used. All that’s left is to keep writing whether we do it from habit, or stubbornness, or desperation, or hope. What else is there to do?

We look ahead to December and we think of reasons to party. What we don’t do is take our scrappy first drafts and send them off to any agents or publishers. We’re not even going to look at them until January. Christmas holidays at the very earliest.

What are our reasons to party then? If you got your 50,000 words and an official win then you have my permission to party. If you wrote more than you’ve ever written that’s a reason to party. If you wrote every day, or at least every day until your story was finished then it’s party time. If you turned up to an in person meeting and met new people then break out the paper hats. If you supported other people online then pour yourself something nice.

For some of you the work has only just begun. Some will have to keep writing next month to finish the story. Some have discovered that they are slow writers and they need to write a little every day. Some will spend the next 12 months cleaning up what they wrote during November. I myself will be going back to rewriting and editing the story that I was working on in October.

But regardless of where we are on our journeys December is always the right month to pause, to look back on the lessons we’ve learned, to look ahead towards new challenges, and to party.

There’s only going to be one more post on the subject of NaNoWrMo 2017 and that will be about the things that I’ve learned this year. I might keep up the playlist posts though.

Keep on keeping on

For those deep in the depths of NaNoWriMo.

As we face week four my advice to you is just keep going. No matter what your word count or where you are in the story just keep writing. I do have some slightly more nuanced advice but it all boils down to “keep writing”.

If you’re ahead of where you need to be, even if you’ve hit your 50,000 words then keep writing. If you’ve finished your story either go back and add some revision notes (but don’t actually revise anything yet) or start something new while the magic lasts.

If you’re on track then keep going. Yes I know you’re tired but why give up now when it’s actually working? And if you’re on track but you’re increasingly sure that your novel is worthless and you’ll never be able to stand to even look at it keep going anyway. You might be wrong and even if you’re not you will still learn something from finishing it.

If you’re behind but you think you can catch up then stop reading this and write something. You might also want to spend 10 minutes thinking about ways that you can find more time to write.

If you’re behind and you’re sure you can’t catch up I have two things to say to you. Firstly don’t stop writing because you might be wrong and even if you’re not you’ve got nothing to lose by building a habit of writing daily. Secondly it might be time to have a look at why you’re behind and see if you can learn anything for next year.

You could be behind because you are a slow writer. There’s nothing wrong with being a slow writer. Plenty of professionals are slow on the first draft. Slow writers typically end up with a much cleaner first draft and spend less time on editing and rewriting. So don’t assume that this is a problem that you need to fix. But if you are a slow writer then you might want to start thinking about building a daily habit of writing. Slow and infrequent is no way to finish a novel.

You could be behind because you’re too busy or because even when you have time you’re too tired or stressed. If that’s the case then the solution is preparation. Next October you might want to spend time cutting things from your November schedule and planning your novel so that you have a good idea what you’re writing.

You could be behind because you’re having trouble letting go of the perfect novel in your head. You either keep editing as you go or each time you sit down to write you find yourself paralyzed by the empty page and take ages to get started. For this year try timed sprints and remind yourself that this isn’t your novel. This is a first draft. You’re exploring the idea of your novel just now. For next year maybe try to write something that you don’t care about as much just to get used to the process. Once you have a bit of faith in yourself as a writer it’s much easier to tell your inner critic to take a hike.

Good luck with week four and keep writing.

Playlist Track 9 and 10

Track 9 is another song that makes me think about co-dependency but now with a heavy side order of loss and regret. If you’ve never seen the video then I recommend stopping what you’re doing and watching. It’s beautiful and poignant.

 

Track 10 is more about loss and regret and about how sometimes a brief happiness can make seem like a cruel lie when the misery returns.

 

These two songs take me into the state of mind of my little group of amature detectives. They’ve all felt a terrible loss they’re each one striving to be strong for the others. They’re each living with a gaping hole where someone they cared about used to be.

Why not tell me in the comments about the sort of music that helps you when you’re writing? Does it help you to concentrate, or help you visualise a scene, or does it create a mood. And if you don’t like music what do you like? Silence? Ambient noise? Podcasts?

All the Playlist posts.

My personal NaNoWriMo update

The good news is that I’m ahead of where I need to be. The bad news is that my plot isn’t a plot it’s a series of scenes that happen to my characters and which I may, at some point, be able to wrangle into a coherent narrative.

I have finally found this year’s Plot Ninja*. It turned out to be the deeply creepy personal blog written by my killer. So the one thing I can always write about is delusions of an untreated erotomaniac? What does that say about me?

The Fife region that I’m the Municipal Liaison for is doing really well this year. The group are supporting each other both online and in person. Fife is in the global top 50 for average word counts. That can only happen because everyone writing in the region is pushing hard and even when people fall behind they haven’t stopped writing.

Allow me to share my favourite bit of writing so far:

“I wasn’t going to apologise to Archie. He gave night vision goggles to a teenager. Creeping round the house at night is about the least worst thing I could have done with them. He’s just lucky I wasn’t stalking cute boys and girls with them,” said Maggie

Don’t you just love Maggie from that line alone?  No? Maybe it’s just me.

Good luck to all my followers who are writing this month. May your characters be loquacious and co-operative and may your Plot Ninjas be less creepy than mine.

 

*A Plot Ninja is the thing you write about when you’re completely out of ideas but you need to keep writing to keep your momentum up. So named because in one of the early years of NaNoWriMo one of the participants would just have their characters attacked by ninjas whenever they ran out of plot.

Just keep writing

For everyone about to face week three of NaNoWriMo.

How you doing? Are you still writing? If you’re ahead then good work but don’t get cocky. If you’re behind but you’re still writing then well done but don’t stop.

Week one was all about enjoying the fun of creation but accepting that your novel wasn’t as good as you hoped it would be because your imaginary novel is perfect and your real one is not only real but a first draft. Week two is about keeping going even after it’s stopped being fun. Week three is different depending on where you are with your word count.

If you’re roughly on track with your word count then Week three can feel a bit precarious. You’ve kept up the pace so far but you’re beginning to worry that you can’t keep it up till the end of the month. You start to worry that you could lose all the work you’ve done so far with just a couple of bad days.

You can’t lose the hard work you’ve already done as long as you have backed up your work. You have backed it up haven’t you? Go and to it now, just to be sure. If you do fall behind you can claw it back. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve even done it myself. But if you’re starting to worry, if you’re looking ahead to commitments that you can’t get out of then decide today to do an extra 20 minutes. After you’ve hit your total for the day write an extra 20 minutes worth of words. Do that whenever you can and you’ll build up a buffer to carry you through.

If you’re well ahead of track, either because you need to finish early, or your story is longer than 50,000 words, or because you’re writing more than one this year, or things are just going really well for you then take a couple of minutes to congratulate yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Eat some cake. Celebrate with a beer if that’s your thing.

Now get back to work. November isn’t over. There are greater heights to scale. There are lessons to be learned from whatever you’re writing. And, since you’re ahead, you have time to spare to help, advise or commiserate with the people who aren’t doing so well.

Speaking of which.

Hi, how you doing? Still writing? Not giving up even though you’re sure you’ll never hit 50,000? Good work. If you can keep writing till the end of the month then you might not officially win but you won’t’ have failed. To keep writing in the face of all the distractions the world can throw at you is its own kind of victory.

But don’t write the official win off just yet. There is still time to pull it back. Just sit your arse down at the keyboard/notebook and write. Write anything. Start by complaining about the mad woman with the walking stick who keeps threatening you. Because if you don’t write more I will come round to your house, stand behind you, and poke you with the stick of doom until you do*.

 

*I won’t actually do this unless you’ve given me your address and specifically asked me to so you’ll have to use your imagination.