we have the technology

Remind me again why I wanted to be The Daily George? The last couple of days have been crazy hectic, and my head is full of all sorts of stuff, most of which is not really bloggable. Blogging every day is great fun, but I may have to reel it in after December. Twice a week?

I realised today that if I put my headphones in whilst I’m walking to work, people will assume I’m talking to someone on the phone, rather than talking to myself.  (I am actually talking to myself. Quite loud.) I find it helps to talk through story problems – it would probably be even better there was more than just one person in the conversation, but even so. I can’t imagine anyone else would want to listen.

I also need to find out if I can record my one-sided conversations on my phone. Today I plotted out a good quarter of a novel, but I’m not sure how much of that I’m going to be able to recall once I finally get to my writing time tonight.

Et vous? Do you use any smart technology to help your writing or writing process? Or is it pen and paper all the way?

Yikes!

Just realised I hadn’t blogged today! Am fixing that right now. Time has just got away from me – was teaching this morning, then spent three hours planning lessons and another two hours catching up on other paperwork, and now I am hungry and I still have to do at least an hour of proper writing… So, yikes all around then.

What I want to know is, how do you fit writing in with your other work? It seems to me that you can be a full-time writer if your partner supports you, or you have some kind of independent means, or you are writing bestsellers. The rest of us need jobs. So how do you fit writing in? Get up early and do it before work? Stay up late? Sacrifice something else?

I try to write every day, even if I only manage 15 minutes. Some days, even that seems hard to achieve.

How about you?

progress

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with one novel on the go is always hankering after another. I honestly think that the best way to guarantee a steady flow of exciting new ideas is always to be working on something that keeps you away from writing anything new.

That notwithstanding, this morning I hit a sweet spot with the novel I’m working on and managed to get about 3000 words down. I’m finding that splitting my writing time up is working well for me – I start by revising and polishing what I wrote the day before, then I write new stuff after that. I don’t know if that method would work with every project, but it seems to be keeping me anchored in the world of this story and the voices of the characters. I reckon I’ve got another 40, 000 or so words to write on this one (having cut about 20,000 already), so it’s not going to be finished very soon. Unfortunately I haven’t got a big chunk of free time to throw at my writing at the moment, and am just trying to fit in as much as I can every day.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, fb messages and emails on the ‘sympathy with the devil’ post I wrote a few days ago. Everyone’s ideas and advice has been really interesting. I know it’s a difficult and emotive subject, so thank you.

In other news, I’m hungry and off to forage for food. Anon, my dears! Laters, innit!

half-face illness

A bits and pieces sort of post this morning.  Brain is not cooperating fully and is demanding eggs and fruitcake.

Working on novel yesterday – not the ‘finished’ draft, but the half-written novel I abandoned in order to write the other novel. I was so incredibly stuck with it when I gave it up, and couldn’t see anything worthwhile in it at all. A few months later and I have somehow once again found the thread of story and interest in it. The lesson I’m taking from this is that sometimes, you just need to back off from things for a while. If something isn’t working, maybe it just needs time.

Also I’m happy to say that finishing a draft of my other novel has given me the confidence to believe that I can finish a draft of this novel. And I hope it will be a somewhat cleaner draft, although that might be wishing for too much.

Finished reading Book 2 of 1Q84 last night. I think I’ll finish Book 3 before I pass comment, but there were a couple of things I found hugely disappointing and definitely want to blog about.

I am still lurgified, but now I have this weird, half-face illness, in which half my face is ill (running nose, swollen glands, headache, earache) and the other half of my face is totally fine. Bored of being ill now.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have something more interesting to say for myself. Am off to get breakfast and write more stuff.

sympathy for the devil?

I think it is a very limited sort of person who can’t find compassion and forgiveness for ordinary human faults. We probably all know a difficult, demanding person who expects too much from people and has no time for normal human shortcomings. Is it a lack of imagination, or simply a deep self-centredness that makes such people so intolerant of others’ faults? I don’t know, but I do know that this, too, is an ordinary human flaw, and it is the sort of thing I can spend hours thinking about and discussing, in an attempt to see the truth underlying it all.

Compassion arises from and encourages understanding of what it is to be human. When we understand someone, it’s easier to have compassion for them, and if we strive to have compassion for someone, we begin to understand them. This is good stuff. And I believe that writers need to develop our capacity for understanding, because we are on a quest for meaning. Aren’t we?

But whilst I like the idea of compassion and forgiveness, and try to cultivate those qualities in myself, I think that they have their limits. There is no need, for example, to forgive those who have abused you, raped you, gained your trust and then betrayed you in terrible ways. The only reason to try to find compassion for these people is if it helps you to live your life better. It may help you more to stay angry, or deal with it in some other way, and I think that is perfectly legitimate, in real life.

But in writing? I’ve realised lately that the limits of my compassion and understanding are also the limits of my ability to write real, human characters. For example, I have a story I’ve been writing for a while, which is very nearly an excellent story. The problem is that there is this character who is a child abuser, and I hate him. No matter what I do, he comes across as a cardboard cut-out villain, and he turns my interesting, subtle story into a cartoon, because he has no depth or realness.

I know that the answer to this (and to almost every) story problem is to go deeper into character. To find his motives, his way of seeing the world, to understand what makes him tick. In other words, to understand and have compassion for him, to acknowledge his humanity. But I don’t want to.

I’m not sure I can properly articulate my thoughts about all this yet – I’m just exploring some ideas. What do you think? How do you go about writing believable villains? Do you have to love them, even though they are evil?

 

mr white umbrella

I’ve got this story that I’ve been writing for about three years. It’s called Mr White Umbrella. It’s kind of a time travel story, it’s built around a paradox, and it’s pretty riddlesome. It has caused me an awful lot of headaches.

I’m pleased to report that Fantastique Unfettered have bought it for their next issue (which is going to be a good one, featuring Hal Duncan and Mike Allen, amongst others).  FU is a great zine, with an editor who actively seeks out new and interesting voices, and who has a great appreciation for the slipstream, interstitial and weird.  So I’m really happy to have a story of mine published there.

I’m extra pleased because it gives me a reason to stop writing the damn story! It’s basically a story that, because of it’s paradoxical nature, never ends. Which makes my job as a writer really difficult, because I could, in theory, keep writing and re-writing it forever. Which would probably drive me insane before too long.

Selling this story means that’s it, I can’t do anything else to it. I don’t think there are going to be any more edits from FU, because frankly, I don’t think they would know where to start. It’s a very difficult story. I’ve had a few reviews from readers on OWW, and whilst many of them were very positive, quite a number of reviews essentially said ‘Huh?’ Yes, it is confusing, and probably needs to be read at least twice in order to be fully understood. I’m sorry about that. I don’t normally make such massive demands on my readers.

I wanted to write a story based around a paradox, and I wanted it to be a kind of endless story, and in that sense, it is a success. Whether it works for readers is another matter. But please do get hold of a copy of FU when it comes out, and let me know what you think.

er… thanks

Actually I’m a bit embarrassed by how kind and congratulatory people have been about the Bridport shortlist thingy. I was rather excited about it, it’s true. But in the cold light of day I see that all I really did was lose a competition and I’m not sure that this deserves as much praise as I’ve got. Although it is nice. Very nice. Thank you, nice people.

It has all made me think a bit, though. I think it was about 8 years ago that I wrote my first short story. By which I mean, a story that I drafted, revised, edited, completed, won a competition with and finally sold. (It was made into a short film – not a very good one.) Eight years is not that long, in writing terms. And a lot of that time I spent not really writing, or even trying to write. So, to put all this in perspective, I’m still just a beginner.

But I’m ready to start getting really serious now. What that means in terms of how I organise and plan my writing life, I’m not quite sure yet. But I’m feeling steely and determined, which will probably help me work it out.

the joy of being a loser

So, there’s this major writing competition called the Bridport Prize. It happens every year, there are huge prizes, and the standard is absolutely immense. Thousands of writers, both established and emerging, enter. This year there were over 6000 entrants. I was one of them.

Guess what? I didn’t win.

But I found out yesterday that I did get shortlisted! For some reason, they don’t tell entrants they’ve been shortlisted until after they’ve told the winners/runners-up that they’ve won/run-up. That’s probably a good thing in my case, as I would now be very disappointed to find out I had lost – as it is, I get the joy of knowing I was close. I have no idea how close – I guess there could be hundreds on the shortlist. But I don’t care about that. It means my story was of a high enough standard to be seriously considered. And I am well chuffed about that!

The Bridport Prize is the one competition I’ve had my eye on since I started writing seriously. This is a big deal. Here’s to next year!

 

unnecessary wafflage

I abandoned writing yesterday in order to start reading 1Q84, which I am enjoying so far. It doesn’t have the immediacy and instant ahhh of his other novels (except for After Dark, which I loathed), but then again it is a MASSIVE book. I know this probably makes me sound shallow, but I do prefer a smaller novel. Under 100K suits me fine. Does this particular story need 900+ pages? Perhaps. But already I am seeing bits I think would benefit from the red pencil treatment.

However, I am reserving judgement until I get a bit further in. Perhaps those flabby bits of meandering detail will turn out to be vitally important to the plot.

Some writers overwrite, some underwrite. I am definitely one of the latter. I assume it must be easier to cut stuff out rather than try to shoehorn it in later on, when I’ve already found some elegantly economic way of saying what I mean – regardless of the fact that it’s so elliptical no one else has a chance of working out what I’m saying. Maybe blogging will help in that regard – I don’t seem to have any problem typing on and on and on…

Do you write too much or not enough? Do you suspect all long novels of self-indulgence and unnecessary wafflage? Discuss!

stuff and things

Wrote 400 words of a new short story yesterday. (Go me!)

After the thoughtful discussions here and on facebook yesterday about settings in fiction, I found myself having a very clear idea of when and where these new characters were. It’s interesting to remind myself that the very fact of writing about a place adds an element of fiction to a realistic setting. This can play out in lots of ways. For example, in my story ‘A Rose is Rose’, I had the same setting twice – once as a fictionalised version of a real place, and then as a highly stylised fictionalised version of the same place, where the added fictional elements came from the imagination of the character in the ‘realistic’ setting.

Setting is endlessly interesting and, in my opinion, central to storytelling of all kinds.

I am currently reading ‘Baba Yaga Laid an Egg’, by Dubravka Ugrešić, which is not as good as I want it to be. But maybe I’m being a bit unfair – I’m waiting for my copy of 1Q84 to arrive, which I think is going to be awesome, and  I’m just passing time with this book until it arrives.

Am still lurgified. Dog is depressed because of the fireworks every night. I’m thinking about buying an early bird membership for WFC 2013 in Brighton.  Going to try to get a bit further with my new story today.

Until tomorrow, then!