Saturday, 26 September 2009

Yo-yo. Bye-bye.

I am a yo-yo.

I can't tell you how that compares to being, say, the walrus, or a rock, or an island, but there's something about about my wiring that makes any promise I make to myself or any mood I manage to get myself into become very intense but inevitably short-lived. Up, down, up, down, happy, sad, happy, sad, industrious, workshy, healthy-eating, binger, chilled-out, laid-back...unlike my long-(well not that long)suffering partner, I don't do consistent.

If that sounds like I'm having a go at myself, I'm not - one thing I've learned in my thirties is that Work With What You've Got is a very liberating thing indeed. I work well when I set myself small but intense challenges. This is as true for writing as for anything else. Recently I've been hating the amount of aimless web surfing I've been doing while I'm in this tricky, halfway part of my novel. A bit of Facebooking and Twittering and Blogging is a great way to unwind before a big writing session, but when the number of words I write on either one exceeds what I've racked up on the book, and when I know I'm only looking for excuses, I need to get unstuck from the rut.

So for one week, starting this evening, I'm going to pretend I don't even have an internet connection. No looking through the wedding photos of people I don't really know on Facebook (come on, you've done this, right?), no staring at Twitter trying to think of something pithy to say and kicking myself every time a tweet from Grace Dent or Caitlin Moran pops up because I would need to spend a lifetime at Funny School to get anywhere near their 140-character stand-up routines, no thinking out loud on Blogger, no Googling my novel, no Googling people I haven't seen in years. Complete ban.

Binge dieting isn't such a good idea, but binge writing can be a very fine thing indeed. See you in a week.

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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Choose Writing. Choose Life.

Go to Help! I Need A Publisher! and read a better version of what I've been trying to say recently, by Nicola Morgan.

I don't know about you, but I need to examine my work- (or lack of work-) habits and make resolutions several times a year...okay, several times a week...just to get the books written. That's not a sign that my passion for writing is deficient but just an indication that like so many I have numerous commitments, and I have to keep giving myself permission to make writing a priority - for an hour or two, as often as I can. Those commitments include some things I *think* I should be doing but which probably don't matter very much in the scheme of things (see Nicola Morgan's vacuuming behind the fridge example). But they also include things that must come before writing - give yourself permission to write but remember to give yourself proper, guilt-free permission to not write. Tonight I will be doing just that - watching a film with the man who has put up with my shit for exactly seven years today. Not writing a single word.

Happy Anniversary to The Australian.

And happy writing - or happy not writing - to all of you.

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Friday, 18 September 2009

Weirdest Place You've Done It

Like a lot, people...I used to think there was only one place I could do it: in my bedroom with the curtains drawn, completely alone, with a cigarette on stand-by for afterwards.

But now I can do it almost anywhere.

I am of course talking about writing. Back in the days when I thought it was the surroundings and props (kind of wish I hadn't started this now) that would help The Muse to appear, I had the time and space to believe that was true. I needed total quiet. I needed black coffee and cigarettes. I needed a computer.

Now I think that those requirements were like an extra army of excuses for why I hadn't written that day. I didn't want to write badly enough.

Never was this more obvious to me than this Thursday, a non-stop rainy day during which I took my son to an indoor playcentre. I also took a notebook. The place was absolute bloody mayhem - kids screaming, mothers desperately trying to have an adult conversation while their little ones howled about being hit in the face by a plastic ball, and a very worrying smell drifting down the stairs from the loo. In three hours I wrote more than I'd have managed in three weeks with my former dark-silent-room scenario. When you want to write badly enough, you can do it anywhere.

Here are some poets who do it in strange places - including Benjamin Zephaniah who did it while stuck in a lift with a drag queen.

Please share your weirdest case scenarios.

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Planning Permission

I plan my novels much like I plan my outfits. Here's roughly how I plan an outfit:

Decide outfit absolutely must consist of these particular earrings or this particular bag. Sigh with relief that I'm off the starting block. Reward self by doing something completely different, carrying around in the back of my mind a fuzzy image of the final outfit with that one clear detail. Realise it's the night before the outfit is needed. Panic. Moan to fellow outfit-planners. Berate self for not planning a shopping trip, or for starting with such a small detail and expecting the entire outfit to effortlessly make sense around it. Panic more. Try on lots of things - take them off and throw them to the ground, wailing that they'd look perfect on someone else but not on me. Sit and sulk. Put on earrings, decide everything is hopeless. Pouting, open wardrobe door one last time - realise outfit has been sitting there all along. Pat self on back for being so clever. Tell self again that planning is for wimps.

And so it was going for my current work-in-progress, because part of the thrill of writing - for me at any rate - is watching the story unfold from my own fingers. Having that element of surprise when you sit down for a writing session - you might know roughly where you are headed, but your own characters can surprise you - is the bit I love. I suppose that's writing like a reader...wanting the thrill of creation without giving up all those things you love about reading a book for the first time. I know I'm not alone in handling my first drafts this way. Sometimes I might buy myself a packet of post-it notes with the intention of creating a wonderfully handy planning wall (I've heard other authors rave about such things). I never open the packet. That's just not me - but you know what? That's okay! It's allowed. Hooray.

On the other hand...ugh, damn that other hand...when you're writing a mystery (a funny kind of teen girl lit mystery with a bit of romance and some issues...mental note: might need to work on that) writing like a reader has to stop suddenly. You can't close your eyes and feel your way through the first draft - you might step on something squishy, or worse still get to the end and find there's No Way Back.

So I had to get strict with myself this weekend and work out exactly who or what is at the centre of this mystery. I was determined to write like a writer; I was also petrified that I wouldn't be able to do it. Took myself out of the house so I could concentrate; ordered a strong coffee and rolled up my sleeves, expecting to wrestle with the mystery all day.

And then I opened my notebook. I flicked back to the original notes I'd made about the book, stunned at how different some of the details are now that I've reached the third-of-the-way mark. And of course there it was: the answer to the mystery. I'd scrawled it down months ago on a page that also says Eggs, Babywipes, Marscapone. I'm pretty sure I forgot the marscapone, too.

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Monday, 7 September 2009

New Blood

It's fair to say that about 95% of the really cool stuff (and 100% of the truly disturbing stuff, but don't let that put you off) I read on the internet comes from This Man, who has started blogging. Go there. Enjoy.

For example:

39 Truths About All Of Us

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Wednesday, 2 September 2009


There are some really good excuses for Not Writing. Even if the novel is going well, even if it's already taking up half the space in your head and writing those characters feels like coming home, sometimes Life decides the novelist is having it a bit too easy (thanks, Life). Moving house was my latest good excuse. I knew that if I said it out loud: 'I'm so annoyed with myself for not writing today', anyone who has ever packed up a family's belongings would hand me a Get Out Of Writing Jail Free card.

The trouble with good excuses is that they have a habit of morphing into crappy ones. They creep slowly... The day after we moved house, I was physically shattered and had some RSI in my arm. Hmm, I should probably leave it for today, I reckoned. The next day I was less tired and the arm was feeling better BUT the house was chaotic and there was a sense of unease in every room. Hmm, I should probably leave it for today, I reckoned again. The next day and the next and the next, as the house was put together and the RSI became just a niggle, I found myself - in that familiar way - stretching out the excuses.

I had a novel to finish reading (admittedly a very good one: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell; do try it if you like original, edgy fiction in the older YA bracket)...I had a documentary to watch (on the Ten-Pound Poms of the 1950s)...I had dinner to cook...emails to write...I'd accidentally had one too many...I'd accidentally had one too many the day before and needed an early night...the cat was sitting on my feet and I didn't want to disturb him by getting up to reach my laptop. That last one was the final straw. I missed my book; I'm a nightmare when I'm not writing; why was I delaying something I love doing?

Of course, it's all so simple when you look back. I was shit-scared that it wouldn't feel like home any more - I wanted to remember the good old days rather than step into the future. And the solution is simple, too. Just start. Fifty words. That's all. Scroll through the chapters - it's like running your hands over an old dress you haven't worn in years. Write something. Anything. Take baby steps. Let the characters back in; let it all seep into the front of your mind.

Kick the cat off your feet and begin.

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