Things That Matter : Guest Post by Della Galton

ice-drop-shadowAuthor Della Galton explains why she’s drawn to write about controversial subjects, and shares the motivation behind her latest novel ‘Ice and a Slice’

I’ve often wondered how we choose what we write. Do we choose to write short stories or novels because we love them, or do we just drift into the form? And what about the subject matter? Why do we choose that?

The first short story I ever had published was called Second Chance, and it was published in a teenage confession magazine called Loving (I wish that magazine was still around, it was excellent).

Second Chance was set in a doctor’s surgery, and it was all about a teenager who was planning to have a termination – blimey, I don’t think I’d sell that story now – it’s quite a controversial issue, even today. But then I’ve always liked writing about controversial issues. I don’t have a copy of Second Chance any more but I can remember the last line, which went something like this:

Throughout her life she would give her baby many second chances, but none of them would be as important as the one she was giving him now…

The first novel I ever wrote was called Prisoners. It was about a woman who works in a pet shop and falls in love with someone she shouldn’t (her married boss). There are a few animal characters and they have a few nights out (the people, not the animals) and in the end the couple get it together.

If this sounds like an immense muddle, then that’s because it was. I’d had four or five short stories published when I wrote Prisoners. I thought writing a novel was simply a matter of writing 70,000 words.

Moving swiftly on, my first published novel, Passing Shadows, was about a woman who works in an animal sanctuary and falls in love with someone she shouldn’t (the father of her best friend’s child.) There are a few animal characters and they have a few nights out (the people, not the animals) and in the end the couple get it together.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? So why did this novel work and Prisoners not work? Well, partly because I knew a bit more about what I was doing. I was passionate about the main characters, Maggie and Finn. Also, this novel had some strong themes, friendship and betrayal being two of them.

Ice and a SliceMy latest novel, Ice and a Slice, also has some strong themes. It’s about friendship, beating the odds, and love.

It’s also about alcoholism, which is a theme I’ve explored in short stories too, but I wanted to take it further and the only way to do this was to write a novel.

The main character in Ice and a Slice, is called SJ, and she drinks too much – although she would argue until she was blue in the face about that! And if you don’t believe me, then do check out her Facebook page here or her Twitter account here, where she is surprisingly active!

So, why did I write about alcoholism? Well, as I said earlier I’m big on issues. I like writing about things that matter, and alcoholism is a subject very close to my heart. Many of my family suffer from it. Some of them are in recovery and some of them are not. And some have died needless premature deaths.

An alcoholic is not someone, as I once thought, who drinks meths on a park bench. Alcoholism is not a moral issue for weak minded people – it’s a disease that can affect anyone – it can strike doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, vicars, secretaries, taxi drivers, anyone. It’s a disease of our time.

So, yes I feel passionate about alcoholism and that’s why I wrote Ice and a Slice. SJ – or Sarah-Jane Crosse to give her full name – is deeply flawed, but I love her to bits. I think she’s probably the most three dimensional character I’ve ever created. Hence, she has her own social media pages. Do check them out.

You’ll have more luck getting a sensible answer from her when she’s sober – so mornings are good!

And if you like what you see, do take a look at Ice and a Slice too – you can read a free sample or buy it for less than a glass of Chardonnay 🙂

Thanks for reading.

Della Galton x


Della Galton is a freelance writer and tutor. She is best known for her short stories, and sells in the region of 80 short stories a year to magazines both in the UK and abroad. She is a popular speaker at writing conventions around the UK and is also the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum. Her third full length novel Ice and a Slice’ is currently available for all kindle enabled smart phones and e-readers from amazon (.co.uk | .com) and will be available in paperback shortly.

To find out more about Della Galton visit her website, LIKE her facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

Finished?

redpen
I’ve just finished writing the first draft of How To Start Dating and Stop Waiting.

Some explanation is needed.

When I say ‘first draft’, I mean the version of the manuscript that came into being, whilst I sat here, bashing away at the keyboard, with one eye on my outline. I can tell you now that it’s the very best thing I’ve ever written, and that there’s probably only a couple of minor things that need fixing – perhaps the odd smelling mistake, or formatting error – and then it’ll be ready to be released to the world. Part of me wonders whether I should skip my usual editing process and upload it directly to amazon, once I’ve cobbled together some sort of cover.

Another part of me knows that what I actually have is a nothing more than a collection of loosely associated words. And by words I mean a letters arranged into groups, because many of these so-called words won’t actually appear in any dictionary known to man. Where a genuine word does appear there’s a very good chance that it’s not the one I actually meant to type, or that it appears several times in the same paragraph, or it’s part of a phrase that I’ve used over and over and over again. There will be punctuation and grammar mistakes everywhere. Jokes that don’t work. Formatting errors galore. In short – it’ll be a train wreck. A disaster. And I realise yet again that ‘finished’ isn’t a word that should ever share a sentence with the phrase ‘first draft’.

My mate Vikki Thompson is in a similar position. Having taken part in NaNoWrMo this year she’s looking at a 50,000+ word ‘novel’ and wondering what to do next. And whilst there’s a whole host of writing advice out there, here’s what I do to take my manuscript from first to final draft.

  1. Let it rest – This is a luxury that I can’t always afford, but the truth is getting a little distance between you and your WIP (‘work in progress’ – I hate that expression) helps you to lose the rose-coloured spectacles you were wearing when you found yourself thinking, “hey, this is pretty good stuff.” And by you, I mean of course, me.
  2. Print it. Read it. Mark changes – for reasons that I’ve never been able to fathom errors are easier to spot on the printed page. Once you’ve invested paper and ink into something those stupid swelling mistaks will leap out at you and blow raspberries. But more than that, it’s easier to navigate through a printed document. I take a red pen and start ringing words, striking through whole sentences (and paragraphs), and putting wiggly lines in the margins (which is short hand for ‘meh – probably needs a re-write’).
  3. I make changes.
  4. Print it. Read it (aloud this time). Mark changes – Oddly, reading something aloud is the only way I know to find out if the ‘rythmn’ of the piece is right, whether my sentences are too long, and whether it’s clear who’s speaking. Sometimes I’ll even take a chapter to my local writing group and get someone else to read it whilst I follow along on another copy and mark where things don’t sound right.
  5. I make changes.
  6. Give it to Jules – my assistant Jules is usually the first person (after me) to read anything I’ve written. Having worked together now for many years I know I’ll get a brutally honest opinion. Gone are the days when she’d write a long diplomatic note about how she got a little lost, or “perhaps it could be better still”. Now she’s more likely to strike through an entire page and scribble “bit poncy” in the margin. Often Jules won’t be able to tell me what’s wrong with a particular piece, only that it doesn’t work for her. And that’s fine.
  7. I make changes.
  8. Give it to first readers – I’ll print a couple more copies and send it to people I’ve identified as my trusted ‘first readers’, a crack team of operatives who will give me their honest opinions on anything and everything. For this book that’ll be Wendy Steele and Della Galton. Together they’ll pick up on anything that Jules missed; jokes that still don’t work or can be misinterpreted, bits that ramble on too long, are hard to follow, or simply don’t make sense. Like Jules both ladies know better than to spare my feelings. I’m not looking for encouragement – I’m looking for things to fix!
  9. I make changes.
  10. Send it to my agent – finally, my lovely agent Becky will cast her beady eye over the book. If I’ve done my job well she’ll complain that she couldn’t speed-read the manuscript because she kept slowing down to read it properly. She’ll then send me her changes which are usually more structural in nature, moving elements she feels a publisher would particularly like to the front of the book, and generally making the book more commercial.
  11. I make the final changes.
This entire process will usually takes me longer than it took to write that initial draft, but what I’m left with is usually something I can feel mildly proud of. And for the first time I can finally say, it’s ‘finished’.

To find out more about How To Survive Online Dating and when it should be available subscribe (for free) to this blog.

Music, to write to

 

1052f-musicandwriting

The internet is a wonderful place.

For instance, the other day I came across a ‘poll’ of Thirty Two people (I know!! Thirty two people! Not exactly extensive, or statistically viable, but bear with me…) that posed the following question important question:

When writing, what would you prefer to hear in the background?

Here are the fascinating results:

Loud music with vocals – 6%
Loud music, instrumental only – 3% (ie. one person!)
Music, but unobtrusive – 21%
Normal background noise – 15%
A quiet room/house – 40%
Silence (earplugs) – 12%

For me it’s a complex question – because the music that I have playing in the background is an essential part of my writing process. For instance, there are a number of scenes in my novel (The Good Guys Guide to Getting The Girl – find out more here) when poor old Jason manages to screw up another promising relationship, or where his affections aren’t reciprocated, or where he feels like he’ll never meet the girl of his dreams. Writing these scenes could be a challenge, particularly if I wasn’t feeling that way myself, and unlike some authors who seem to live in a permanent dream-world where their characters seem so real to them that they no longer have any control over what they say or do, writing for me is more like theatre where I play every part. For this reason I usually need something to help me get into character, and music is the fastest way I know.

Here are some of the tracks I listened to (over and over) whilst constructing those heart breaking scenes (and if I’ve done this properly some of them link to youtube where you can listen for yourself)

A&E, Goldfrapp
Photos, The London Metropolitan Orchestrafrom the movie ‘Cashback’
Things You’ve Never Done, Passenger
Suzy, The London Metropolitan Orchestra – ‘Cashback’ again
Driving With The Brakes On, Del Amitri
One True Love, Semisonic
Now Comes the Night, Rob Thomas
Elevator Beat, Nancy Wilson from the movie ‘Vanilla Sky’
Wise Up, Aimee Mannfrom the movie Magnolia
My Stupid Mouth, John Mayerawesomely funny, sad song. Judging by the comments of YouTube, some guys feel about this song the way some girls do about the movie ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’
Drawing, The London Metropolitan Orchestra – ‘Cashback’ again!
In Your Arms, Kina Grannisa fabulous lovely song, but really quite sad. The video is amazing but seems to me to be totally at odds with the mood of the song.

Notice that quite a few of them are taken from movie soundtracks. Movie soundtracks are a great source of mood inducing music (much of it instrumental) because, obviously, that’s the point of the music in a movie.

Likewise, for the scenes where it seems like Jason might be winning, where a new girl enters his life, or a date goes particularly well, maybe even really, really well (if you know what I mean), I came up with a selection of songs to get me jumping around in my chair, my pulse racing, or whatever else was needed to give the scene the necessary ‘ka-pow’

Toxic, Britney Spearsregardless of what you might think of Britney, this is a great song
Would You…?, Touch and Go – very sexy
God Put a Smile On Your Face, Mark Ronson
Must Be Dreaming, Frou Frou – this song makes my heart feel like it’s going to burst
The Sweet Escape, Gwen Stefani – whereas this one just makes me smile and smile 🙂
Come What May, Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor
Let’s Get It On, Marvin Gaye
Lifeline, Imogen Heap – I prefer the instrumental version, the lyrics tend to get in the way when I’m trying to write
Oh Yeah, Yello

So, good people of the internet, I’m interested to know whether anyone else does anything similar? Post your comments in the box below! Looking forward to reading them.

why its impotent to have the rite grandma and prefect smelling

spelling

Why a misplaced hyphen can dash your hopes of ever being published.

My first real literary ‘rejection’ came at the hands of an agent who we’ll call Jane Slash. On the day that Ms Slash received my manuscript she’d clearly discovered that her husband was indeed the cheating scumbag she’d always suspected he was. Moments later she burnt both slices of toast, the cat threw up all over her white carpet, and she broke a heel on her favourite shoes. I don’t know this for sure of course, but I’m guessing it must be the case because when the first three chapters of The Good Guys Guide to Getting The Girl arrived on her desk she wasted no time in telling me how much she hated it. And my god, how she hated it.

I can’t recall off the top of my head all the things she said (although me being me, I assembled them into a list and diligently worked through each point over the following months) but I do remember her final scathing comment:

“Further more the manuscript is littered with typos which is very distracting, and shows a somewhat careless and slapdash approach to your writing.” Or words to that effect.

It was this remark that stung the most. Whilst I was prepared to take on board everything else she’d said, the one thing I was pretty sure I had nailed down was my spelling, and grammar. Throughout my entire professional life nothing I’d written had ever left my computer without being run through the internal spell check, and then read through by myself and my colleagues. Even the pages Jane was busy using to stoke the fire under her cauldron had been scrutinised by several sets of eyes.

“There’s nothing wrong with those chapters,” said my mate Pat, “and I should know!” Pat’s an English teacher somewhere in the south-east of England. And given what happened next, maybe that’s as much as I should tell you about him. Or her. I’m not saying.

“Well let’s find out!” I said. “Jules -” (that’s my long suffering assistant) “find me a proof reader!”

Which was how I came to meet Alison the Proof Fairy. I duly sent Alison the same first three chapters and expected to have them sent back with a covering email telling me that she couldn’t find anything to correct.

Boy howdy – how wrong I was.

I’ve just had a quick look at the document Alison returned to me – for old times sake – and believe me when I say I can feel my cheeks glowing again, just as they did almost two years ago. I’d include the file here for you to look at, if I wasn’t too ashamed to do so.

Needless to say I learnt several very important lessons:

Firstly, regardless of how you rate your attention to detail, unless you proof for a living it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll spot all the errors in your own writing. You’re just too darn close to it. But more surprising, unless your friends are professional readers (and may I respectfully point out that being a teacher doesn’t seem to be close enough), neither will they!

Secondly, agents don’t actually seem to accept anything. They reject. As would you if you had a mountain of manuscripts to get through. You’d work through those chapters looking for reasons to throw them out, until you finally unearthed the one document that hadn’t, in any way, made you want to toss it across the room.

Finally, two years on, having published How To Do Everything and Be Happy, with a further two titles waiting in the wings, I realise more than ever the importance of perfect spelling and grammar. I simply can’t take the risk that one of my readers might come across a typo. Particularly if that reader turned out to be Jane Slash. Heaven knows what she might do.


You can find out more about Alison the Proof Fairy and the services she offers at theprooffairy.co.uk

Moving On – from Short Story to Novel

Moving On Cover
Moving On Cover

Guest Blogger, Friend and Author, Della Galton, talks about the launch of her latest book (‘Moving On – from Short Story to Novel’) and explains why she wishes there’d been something similar when she was a fledgling author

Today (January 5th, 2012) is publication day of my new book, and I am so excited.  Even though I know everyone else in the universe won’t know and won’t care and the momentous news will pass without comment. But I am bursting with pride, and I feel a huge sense of achievement.

I wrote this book because I needed it when I wrote my first novel, and I needed it when I wrote my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh novels…. And it wasn’t around.  So I thought I should write it!

Actually, I was a bit scared of taking the huge leap between writing short stories and novels. And, rather strangely, the more I learned about writing, the more scared I was – it isn’t a straightforward transition, at least it wasn’t for me!

I have sold my work for 25 years now, and yet each time I venture into a new type of writing, whether it is feature, or serial or poetry or radio play or children’s story, or humour, or erotica or full length non fiction or novel, I feel for a little while, as though I am stumbling around in a darkened house. There are no lights, no signposts, no familiarity.  And I have had success with writing, and I know the techniques, I know the craft, but that doesn’t mean I am not afraid.

I literally feel my way.  Going from the short story to the novel was the biggest leap for me.  I wrote my first novel knowing nothing whatever about the form.

By the time I wrote my fourth, Passing Shadows, which was the first one I sold, I felt as though the lights in the house were on – but I still had so much to learn.

What did development of characters mean? What did it really mean? How much plot did I need? What were the differences in real terms? Were there a lot of differences?

Oh yes, there were.

This is why I wrote this book.  I hope my experiences will help you.  I love teaching almost as much as I love writing and I wanted to share my journey with other writers who are also making the move from short story to novel.

Moving On – from Short Story to Novel – A step by step guide is the result.

Thank you for all the writers who shared their experiences with me on their moving on writing journey.

With love

Della Galton


Della Galton is the author of six novels, and three non-fiction books. Her short stories have been published in every major UK women’s magazine, as well as numerous short-story anthologies (available from Accent Press). She is Agony Aunt for Writer’s Forum magazine, and teaches at various writing courses and workshops around the country. Moving On – from Short Story to Novel – A step by step guide by Della Galton, is published by Accent Press, price £9.99.
Find out more about Della at dellagalton.co.uk.

Click here to purchase ‘Moving On’ from Amazon.co.uk

Click here to view all of Della’s books on Amazon


Now what?

please wait
Having sent the second draft of my novel back to the agent, here’s why I’m not prepared to wait one moment longer

So, a while back you’ll remember I was sharing with you the challenge of having to bring a 115,000 word manuscript to under 90,000 – whilst shoe horning in another couple of chapters.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did it.

Two months to the day after I sharpened my editing pencil, the novel finally weighed in at 89,532 words and was promptly shipped back to my agent.

Now – apparently – I wait.

Let me just take this opportunity to segway into a barely concealed rant about how much waiting there seems to be in the traditional world of publishing. From the moment you type the words THE END on your manuscript you actually begin a perilous journey on the road to publication – most of which involves waiting for someone, somewhere, to come back to you.

Which is quite a shock to the system for a fella like me, when up til now the only person preventing me from moving forwards – was myself.

It doesn’t help that I come from a Credit Card Banking background where hard-nosed, money-minded gentlemen want everything this time last week – earlier if at all possible – and I hate to admit it now, but that suited me just fine.

You might have gathered that I’m not a patient person. In fact, in the words of Charlotte from The Importance of Being Earnest – “I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always makes me rather cross.” But what makes the waiting even more torturous (for me at least) is that I’m acutely aware that there are no guarantees. In my head, every second that ticks by is just another moment when my manuscript might be buried under something else, never to see the light of day.

So what’s to be done? How can I prevent myself from gnawing off my forearm as I sit and stare at my empty email in-box? The answer – so I’m told (thank you Wendy, thank you Della – two ladies who have said this very thing to me many many times over the past few weeks) is to start writing my next book.

And that – you lovely, lovely people – is exactly what I’m going to do. Consider this a formal announcement as such, if for no other reason than I’ll look pretty silly if this time next month I haven’t actually done anything about it.

A few gems to whet your appetite. It’ll most likely be another non-fiction book. It’ll most likely be another self-help book. It’ll most likely be written in a similar style to How To Do Everything and Be Happy. And here’s where I really lay my head on the block – it’ll be finished, proof read, formatted, and on-sale (for the kindle at least) by next April. Ish.
Because… I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.

In the meantime though feel free to torture me with your writing-related-waiting-experiences (I think I’m going to regret asking that) OR any pearls of wisdom you may have re the publishing process and how to survive it, in the comments box below.


Originally written for Amwriting.org

5,497

redpenBack in July you may remember that I told you how, after six years, my novel is almost finished.

Oh my god how wrong you can be.

Let me bring you up to speed on a few things: At the time of writing I had an agent, who, having read the first three chapters, liked the book and wanted to see the rest. Which would have been fine if the rest was just sitting around ready to be sent – but, it wasn’t. Hence the flurry of activity to finish it, and the aforementioned blog post.

A few weeks after typing the words THE END, the agent got back to me and invited me to ‘pop into her offices’ for a chat. There I sat, surrounded by books written by her other clients, whilst she told me that she really liked my manuscript – but she’d like it a whole lot more if I made some changes – namely;

  • lose a character,
  • add two more chapters,
  • bring the word count down to 90,000 words.

The first two items were achieved within a few days, but the third… well I’ve been struggling. As my novel weighed in at 115,000 words I was faced with having to cut 25,000.

This is what I tried first

  1. made a list of every scene in the book (actually I had this already – a great tip that I picked up many years ago)
  2. identify any scene that didn’t move the plot on – cut it
  3. identify any scene in my heart of hearts I didn’t actually like – try and cut it
  4. identify the wordier scenes – trim them agressively.

Two weeks ago I was down to 103,000 words. Still 13,000 left to cut.

Out of desperation I printed off the entire manuscript (something that my friend Wendy told me to do from the off), sat down with a red pen, and read the whole thing looking for anything that could go by the wayside, and a weeks later I was down to 97,000 words.

I’d be depressed if it wasn’t for the following
– I have an inch thick pile of pages covered in red pen that I’m working through (probably another 1000 words in there)
– I have a list of seven scenes that I could cut (though god help me I really don’t want to)
– the book is actually better.

And that’s the bit that’s really taken me by surprise.

Weeks ago my friend Della Galton told me my book would be better for the level of cutting I was embarking upon – and by golly she was right. Somehow, the very act of taking out the weaker words, scenes, and in a couple of cases whole chapters, has distilled what was left, and made for a much stronger story.

But please God I hope my agent doesn’t want me to lose any more. As of this morning I’ve still got 5,497 words to find.

The Write Trousers

 

Writing Trousers - they'll turn heads
Exhibit A: Wendy’s Writing Trousers

My friend Wendy Steele recently confessed to me that she has ‘writing trousers’.

I nearly spat my tea all over her kitchen table. I’ve heard of writers who have a favourite pen (actually, I used to have a favourite editing pen – I was gutted when I lost it), and I know of writing folks who have to use a moleskin journal or the muse just won’t visit them, but ‘writing trousers’ was a new one on me. Needless to say I had to see them for myself. I present the reader with exhibit A.

Writing Trousers, so it seems, are more ‘practical’ than ‘elegant’. You’re unlikely to turn heads when wearing your writing trousers (not unless the head turning is accompanied with a mouth-open expression that says “what the…!?”). The entire purpose of writing trousers is to maintain a high level of comfort, and to carry out their trouser remit with minimal distractions that you might experience from, say, a pair of trendy, ripped in all the right places, but overly tight, jeans.

And the more I think about it the more I realise that I too have writing trousers. In fact, I have a whole writing outfit: On days that I’m here at SoundHaven HQ on my own (CJ doesn’t count. She doesn’t care what I wear so long as I am wearing something to cover my furless body) I prefer to put on a pair of linen thai-chi style tousers, an old but comfortable t-shirt, and my favorite cardigan – which, I hasten to add, I’d never be seen dead in but is so exceptionally soft and offers instant control over the change in office temperature as the sun plays peek-a-boo with the clouds. Add to this a pair of half moon specs and I confess that not only do I feel more comfortable, but were I to break that cardinal rule about creating a character that’s a writer (that should earn me an extra comment or two) he (or she) would pretty much look exactly as I’ve described.

Which brings me to the inevitable question of this month’s post – what do you wear When you write? Assuming you wear anything, of course. Looking forward to reading your comments. Shame it’s not possible for you to post pictures. 🙂


Also posted on Amwriting.org

Almost Done


Almost-DoneSix and a half years after starting my novel, the end finally in sight.

I have almost finished my novel.

Let me put that into perspective: the book that I started writing on or around the 10th of October 2004 is almost complete. So why has it taken me so long? What – you may ask – have I been doing for the last six and half years?

Let’s back up a bit. First you need to know that I never intended to write a novel. Originally it was just a short story that amused my wife. And that was fatal, because having made her laugh she then suggested that I ought to continue the story, and turn it into a book.

Easy for her to say! This was the woman who would read a novel a week, sometimes two! This was the woman who would pack at least half a dozen books in our joint luggage, and supplement those with two or three tomes that she’d purchase at the airport. As far as my wife was concerned telling me to write a novel was akin to suggesting I put the kettle on and make a brew – whereas from my perspective she may as well have asked me to walk to India to pick the tea-leaves, and fetch the water from the frozen glaciers of Tibet on my way home.

But then, curiosity got the better of me. Maybe I could write a book. And maybe the way to tackle the task at hand was to treat it as a series of linking short stories? Write a chapter, and when I was satisfied that it was the absolute best it could be, move onto the next chapter?

And that was my first mistake. After three long years I’d written half a dozen chapters of utter rubbish. They were indeed ‘the best that I could do’, but the truth of the matter is, ‘my best’ just wasn’t very good.

Fortunately, around this time Apple invented the iPod. And soon after someone invented the podcast. And as a direct consequence Mur Laffety became a regular part of my car journeys. It was she who gave me (and the other listeners of her excellent podcast ‘I should be writing‘) the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever had: when writing a novel, write the WHOLE book – start to finish – BEFORE going back to edit. And in the absence of anything that was working, that is exactly what I did. A year and a bit later (29th of March 2009 to be precise), I’d finished the FIRST draft.

Several other things had happened too. I’d joined a writer’s group. I was reading and listening to every bit of writing advice I could lay my hands and ears on. And most important of all, I was a much better writer.

This, it turns out, was the power of Mur’s advice. There’s something about putting one word in front of another that makes you better at writing, just as putting one foot in front of another makes you better at walking, or running. Have you ever watched a toddler learning to walk? Right after they’ve fallen flat on their face, they pick themselves up and try again. They don’t analyse the last few steps, or wait for feedback from their peers, they keep moving forward. It’s how they get better at walking. And it’s how I got, and continue to get, better at writing. Just a year or so after I churned out diabolical chapter number six, I was two hundred thousand words better equipped to fix it. That, and the other forty four chapters.

The last two and a bit years have been spent editing. Yes I know what you’re thinking. Two and a bit years!! Only now am I getting to a point where I think I might have a handle on what proper editing involves – that however, will have to be the topic of a future post. What I’m keen to know is if this tale rings any bells. How long did it take you to finish your first novel? Why was that? And what lessons did you learn along the way? Post your comments below – I look forward to reading them. In the meantime, I’ve got a book to finish.


Originally written for amwriting.org

Mush


raspberry-jam-03How to prevent your brain turning to jam

I’ve never been one of those folks who can write in short bursts of five or ten minutes. Some people I know – let’s call them “women” – have this ability to juggle ten things at once, and whilst they make a phone call, surf the web, feed the gold fish, put another load of washing on, and gently remove the kitchen knife that little Johnny decided might be fun to play with, they manage to bash out another scene. If only my brain worked like that. Instead, the lump of grey matter inside my skull prefers to work on one thing at a time, and takes a while to warm up. I’m not suggesting this a male thing, but it’s definitely how I’m wired.

And that’s fine. Aside from the days when my assistant’s here, the only person who requires my attention is CJ. And given that there’s a garden full of birds to amuse her during the day, and mice to hunt during the evening, I’m largely left alone to immerse myself in “my craft”.

Which would be lovely. If only I could keep going.

Two hours in however and my brain is mush. It doesn’t feel like two hours, it feels like two days. I’m ready to throw in the towel, and congratulate myself on a productive, er.. time… if it wasn’t for the fact I’ve barely filled half a screen with words. I end up taking breaks. Tea breaks. Lunch Breaks. Just-check-my-email-breaks. Talk-to-my-assistant breaks. Phone someone-anyone breaks. Anything-other-than-continue-to-climb-the-damn-mountain-that-is-my-novel break.

And that’s a problem. Breaks do just that. They break something. In this case, my flow. I’d return to the writing, and I’d have to warm up my brain. Again.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

A year ago, through a set of circumstances that I won’t bore you with now (partly because I need something to blog about next month) I found myself writing a self-help book (How to Do Everything And Be Happy – available now – all good ebook stores- yada yada yada). Non-fiction writing is something that, like you, I’m so familiar with I don’t really consider it writing at all. In a world where so much communication has gone back to the written word (texts, emails, tweets, blog posts…) writing a self-help book just feels a LOT easier than writing a novel. It’s almost as if it uses less of your brain. Or maybe a different part. I’m sure some smart person will post a comment saying exactly that.

The really interesting thing though is what happened to my “Writing Days”. Rather than “taking a break” (to check my emails, make another cup of tea, etc etc.), I’d simply flip from the novel, to the self-help book – from fiction, to non-fiction – and when my brain felt less jam-like, I’d flip back. In my head at lest, this didn’t seem to register as a break – I’d feel rested yes, but my flow hadn’t been broken. I’d remained in writing mode the whole time so there was no need to warm up – and suddenly I was writing two books far faster than if I’d been writing just one.

I’m keen to know if this is just me. And if it’s the combination of fiction and non-fiction or whether working on two pieces of fiction at the same time would work just as well. Post your comments below.

In the meantime I’m flipping back to the novel.


Originally written for and posted on Amwriting.org