Tag Archives: amwriting

Escaping the rut, a rancorous work, and the world – with writing

It’s been a long time since I posted a personal update. I’ve had a tough year for various reasons, but thankfully my writing has continued unabated. And I am immensely proud to announce I will shortly have finished my second novel, having started it a little over nine months ago, during #NaNoWriMo.

What an invigorating annual challenge National Novel Writing Month is! I was stuck in something of a rut, creatively speaking, before I took part in 2016. I’d been working on Citadel, my after-life fantasy epic, for practically a decade, and it was increasingly clear it would never end.

The story had evolved so much since first embarking upon it – and more importantly I had learned so much in the process – that the themes I had hoped to tackle at the beginning had been masticated and regurgitated, popping out in the narrative in weird morsels that no longer represented my initial vision.

Etch-a-sketch-a-story

For better or worse, I’ve now shelved that project. It was an incredibly hard decision – 10 years of work, for heaven’s sake! – but I am certain it was the right choice. Maybe one day I will return to it, as there are certainly some scenes in that hot mess of which I am proud.

But setting it aside cleared the path for more focused work. Where Citadel had become my practice clay, upon which I tested new techniques of storytelling, it was nevertheless just that: practice. Now I’m using what I learned messing about with that hunk of mud, but on some new fancy material.

What have I learned, specifically? Well, it includes, but by no means is limited to:

  • Concept of agency (I hadn’t heard of this until long after I started writing)
  • Perspective focus
  • Importance of diversity
  • How to lace backstory into action and dialogue
  • How to skip journeys
  • How to build tension in action scenes
  • How to construct a character arc
  • Importance of arcs for all characters, not just the protagonist
  • How to ruthlessly murder your darlings
  • How to reach the end

My new novel, prospectively titled Peace & Quietus, has been my most ambitious project since starting to write – but not due to its potential length, or number of characters, or exhaustive worldbuilding. On the contrary, the story looks to be about two thirds the size of Citadel, has only a handful of characters, and is set in London, rather than a fantastical reimagining of Hell.

The reason it has been ambitious is because P&Q is a much more emotionally driven piece than I have previously attempted. It was borne of my own despair watching the western world kowtow to fascism, nationalism and isolationism, with the Brexit vote and the election of that racist neon beanbag in the US. It grew out of anxiety attacks on the London underground, out of visibly increasing homelessness in the world’s sixth largest economy, out of the frustrations of a much-derided generation left with the carcass of a free-market economy picked clean by their parents.

twitter-logo-finalTweet: “If you can identify what your story is about, and are able to express it in a single sentence, everything in the story will inform that central proposition”

The story tackles body shame, social media anxiety, racism, the political shift to the right, the hopelessness among so-called Millennials, and the ever-present attraction of just giving up and abandoning the rat race. It’s escapism, in a word.

Yes, it has a science fiction element – the story concerns an apocalypse of sorts – and that’s because I wanted to describe a character who, when the end of civilisation came, would find solace in its blessed relief from modern life.

That’s another thing I learned: the importance of comprehending what your story is about, and being able to express it in a single sentence. If you know that, everything in the story will inform that central proposition.

Helpful hiatus

So, I hope to finish the first draft by the end of the week, and then? Well, then I’m going to set it aside for a while; I’ve a couple of short story ideas I’ve been stewing away in the back of my mind that need fleshing out, plus it would be good to start thinking about my next #NaNoWriMo project. Either way, edits for P&Q can wait.

How I will broadcast any achievements is anyone’s guess, though. In a fit of reactionary paranoia, I deleted my Facebook account, severing the ties I had made with hundreds of people around the world. What was I thinking? I could have sold stuff at them!

Yeah, but no, delete your account. It’s great.
(But don’t forget to subscribe to Right Place, Right Tim first!)

Cheers!

(cover image by Linh Nguyen)

The end is nigh, and other novel-writing revelations

A few weeks ago, the latest draft of Citadel tipped over the 100,000 words mark. It’s drawing closer to an end, when I can finally put this project to bed. I’ve spent the best part of 10 years on this story – though most of that time was spent learning how to tell it, rather than writing it, if that makes any sense.

That’s the nature of writing, I think. You can smash something out, but unless you study the craft and hone your talent, it is guaranteed to be a waffling mess. I look back at my early drafts, and they are practically instruments of torture – I cringe so hard reading them I give myself cramp. A lot of that was down to ignorance – ignorance of deep POV, narrative arcs, scene structure, character agency and the other mechanics of the trade.

But I’ve also learned to find the theme of a piece – the answer to the question: What am I writing about? If the answer is, “Radical battles and death and gore and political intrigue and titties!” you’re not quite there yet.

If your answer is actually another question, you’re getting closer.

But the biggest reason I’m excited to finish the story is that I want to do something else for a change. I want to write something new, something different and exciting. Something that I haven’t been mulling over for a decade. I can’t wait!

Why don’t I just sack off this project and do precisely that? Well, there are a few reasons: firstly, stubbornness is a factor. I said I’d do it, and I will, and not even me can persuade me otherwise!

Secondly, I don’t want the last decade to feel like a waste of time. I know it’s been a learning process – and that in itself is valuable – but to go so long without something complete and whole at the end of it would be pretty demoralising.

But thirdly, I’m not entirely without hope that Citadel is, in fact, a good story. I’ve no doubt I can do better, knowing what I know now, but there are scenes and characters in Citadel that I come across in the draft and think, “What the…? Who wrote this? It’s good.” There are moments that make my skin tingle, dialogue that’s witty and insightful (sometimes I don’t know if it’s me or the characters that came up with it), and tragic events that shake the very fabric of the world I’ve created.

So, I have to finish. And maybe an editor will say, “You need to cut out this entire sub-plot,” or “Do we need to see the antagonist in this light, or can we just leave him evil?” or “Have you considered doing away with description?”.

But that’s OK. It’ll be done. Finito. Complete.

A long, winding road leading to two words:

The End.

I can’t wait.

2016 in retrospect

Yeah, I know; it’s almost February and I still want to talk about 2016. We’ve had enough of that monstrous year, I get it. But I want to ignore the political clusterfuck still smouldering in the UK and US, the hideous terrorist attacks in Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and the rest of the world, the rise of the alt-right (read: actual fucking Nazis), the permeation of fake news via social media, the gradual dissolution of political opposition in the UK, and the ever-increasing inequality our populace continues to vote for, like foxes voting Tory.

No – I want to talk about 2016 on a personal level. Because I’m a jabbering narcissist and assume I’m more important than our crumbling civilisation. It’s probably that narcissism that’s got us in this mess in the first place, but I’m a “Millennial” so I’ll do what I like, thanks.

So – 2016 was pretty mental.

For a start, I got married. I know, right?! I mean, who does that? Crazy stuff – but I have to say, it is rather nice. Actually, it’s almost exactly the same as before, but every now and then I mention “My wife” and I wonder whose brain I’ve taken control of, because that surely can’t be me, can it? With a wife? Like, I actually tricked someone into marrying me? And she PROMISED to stay with me, with no returns, and no backsies? Astonishing.

Continue reading 2016 in retrospect

#NaNoWriMo taught me how to pummel the page full of words

Yeah, that’s right Inner Demons – you were wrong about me. All that hopelessness and doubt you whispered in my ear was baseless baloney. You’re like the Breitbart of my mind – telling me everything is awful and finding people to blame other than myself.

Well eat this, you Pessimistic Pixies!

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

Read it and weep, you Imps of Uncertainty. I came at this challenge unprepared and you told me to quit at every turn, telling me “You didn’t have time to prepare!” – “Sack it off and do it properly next year!” – “50,000 words is impossible with a full-time job!”

Continue reading #NaNoWriMo taught me how to pummel the page full of words

15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

I decided to have a crack at the National Novel Writing Month challenge this November. I’ve written 13,400 words in seven days. And like every other writer with a blog, I felt compelled to regale my experience in a jovial list format. So, buckle up, list fans. It’s time to get jovial.

1.) Holy fucking jeebus, trying to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is A LOT BLOODY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS. I’m serious, break it down: 1,667 words each day… every day… for 30 days. Even on my most productive days writing Citadel, I was hitting 1,500 in a day, once every couple of months. Now I have to pull that out of my arse EVERY SINGLE DAY, with no respite, lest I need to play catch-up.

2.) For all that is good and holy, plan your bastard project with more than 24 hours’ notice. I committed to NaNoWriMo on the 31st October, and whipped up the most cursory plot to a book that’s been hibernating in my mind for some time. At least twice I’ve come up against a wall of incongruity, which might well have been avoided had I given the bloody thing more than two thoughts.

Continue reading 15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

Another arbitrary milestone! Gadzooks!

“Chuffed” – that’s a good word. It’s informal British slang for feeling rather pleased with yourself, thank you very much.

I’m well chuffed, me.

You see? Nice, isn’t it? Just saying it makes you puff out your chest, a hearty smile creeping across your face. It’s warming and confident, and makes you think of toasting some small victory with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Chuffed.

Why am I waxing lyrical about this particular word?

Simple: Because I am, in fact, feeling rather chuffed. For you see, dear readers (note the plural), Right Place Right Tim has reached its second milestone in its two years of existence.

followed-blog-200-2x
Two hundred WordPress followers!

Continue reading Another arbitrary milestone! Gadzooks!

What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

This week, I reached 115,000 words on my novel. I’m three and a half chapters from the end, on the home stretch, and already dreading the editing.Since October 2015, I’ve been tracking my progress with a writing journal, in which I record the time of each session, its duration, the number of words written and what chapter I was working on. A year later, I’m up to my eyeballs in data, and can draw some enlightening conclusions therein.

But first, a graph! Gadzooks!

word-count-oct16

As you can see, there are a number of lulls in productivity, loosely matching life events: Christmas in December, getting married and going on honeymoon in April, and being on holiday in August. Oddly, it is my holiday time that I’m at my least productive.

Continue reading What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

#Meanwhile… Choosing Which Criticism To Ignore

One of the crucial phases a writer goes through is garnering criticism from peers and beta readers, but when you’re putting your work out there, some degree of cynicism is essential.

Indeed, it is crucial for a writer to identify what advice to take and what advice to take with thanks as you slowly back away, holding their notes to your chest, before bidding them farewell, closing the door, and shoving the toxic lot in the bin. And setting it on fire.

Seriously though, it’s a skill. Every writer needs to master it, else you’ll either disregard everything and never improve, or end up writing by committee – and NOBODY wants that.

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LE Henderson has an excellent post on her blog Passionate Reason about the Seven Types of Writing Criticism to Ignore.

Enjoy.

Twitter culls – the naked truth

Last year, having read illustrious articles like “How To Expand Your Online Reach”, and “Develop Your Author Platform Or Suffer Anonymity!”, or even “12 Routes to Achieving Online Omnipotence”, I made the foolhardy choice to follow every bloody writer on Twitter I could find, in the hope they’d follow me back.

Surely, with ONE BILLION FOLLOWERS, I’d be drowning in engagements and impressions and all those magical metrics of modern life!

It worked, to an extent. I’d post a blog, pin a link to my Twitter profile, then follow 50 writers I could find using hashtags or bio searches. Maybe two thirds of those would follow me back.

A week later, I’d do the same thing, but then unfollow anyone who hadn’t had the GOOD BLOODY GRACE to follow me back – the ungrateful gets.

Continue reading Twitter culls – the naked truth

#Meanwhile… Strong Female Characters

For those of you who don’t know, audiences have been crying out for “strong female characters” for years now, and we’ve been treated to ever stronger and more kick-ass women on screen since. But is beating men to a pulp and cutting off their cocks really what critics were calling for?

Not exactly, according to the blog Jo Writes Stuff.

In her excellent and ongoing series, Jo takes fictional female characters and puts them through the grinder: her self-devised, 10-question assessment.

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
  2. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
  3. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
  4. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
  5. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
  6. Does she develop over the course of the story?
  7. Does she have a weakness?
  8. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
  9. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
  10. How does she relate to other female characters?

I came across her blog when Scarlet Johannson’s portrayal of Black Widow had won so many plaudits for being one such Strong Female Character she was to star in her own Avengers movie; but to me, she’d seemed utterly at odds with the idea of feminist depth, bemoaning her scars and referring to herself as a monster for her inability to bear child.

Lo, Jo had given Black Widow the 10-question treatment, and this is what she found.

Here’s a list of all the others. Her examination of Trinity is particularly good.