How to Write When You’re Not Writing

Okay, so today’s post is a day late. No, it’s not because I spent ages trying to think of a pun for the title. As you can see I failed in that anyway. No, it was was to do with the fact that I was away at Download Festival in Donington Park all weekend. I fully intended to write a post when I got home yesterday, but energy and time escaped me. So, you can have it today instead. Aren’t I kind to you?

Today’s blog is in a way about Download Festival. Not directly as such, but more what happens when things like festivals, conventions, and other events get in the way of your writing. If you’re an aspiring writer then you probably will be, and should be, attending all sorts of conventions and events to meet fellow writers, agents, and publishers. Things like writing retreats are great to get away and put pen to paper. But what if the event you’re attending isn’t conducive to writing? What if it’s something like a festival where you are stuck in a field for days, cut off from the internet, and horror of horrors, having fun? *gasp*

Well, I would say that this is where ‘thinking’ comes in. Yes, it sounds silly, but it’s something I’ve talked about before. There is a lot more to writing than just typing words on a page. There’s research, planning, and plotting. All of which I’ve covered in previous blogs.

When I’m not by the computer, and even when I’m not carrying a notepad (this isn’t very often, but sometimes I forget it), I spend a lot of time thinking about my story. This can be absolutely anything to do with your story, but it’s a good idea to sometimes take some distance from the page and to just think about it. As I’ve said before before you start writing you need to know certain things about your story and characters.

A writer is always writing.

Right now, as I type this, I’m thinking about a few plot points of the novel I’m currently working on. Because to be fully immersed in it, to be able to write it well, it can never leave you.

I find it useful at the very least to run through dialogue. This can often be tricky to write, and young/inexperience writers often try and cram too much information into dialogue. It needs to be natural. Just sit somewhere and listen to how people talk. Most of what they’re saying is in what they’re not saying.

So, what I’ll do is run through the dialogue in my head, before I’ve even written it. What would that character say in that situation. No that doesn’t sound right, try again. Yes, that’s what they’re trying to say, but this is what they’re actually saying. By the time it gets to the page it’ll feel more ‘real’. As far as you’re concerned those characters have already had that conversation, you’re not making it up on the spot any more.

Dialogue isn’t the only think that you can think through. This weekend, I spent a bit of time, on the bus between Nottingham and Donington Park, thinking about the hierarchies in my novel. Who represents the main organisation, and what are their job roles? This all works towards having a workable, relatable world, even if it is science fiction. By thinking through this, it also brought up relationships between characters: if that was so and so’s job role, then actually they would treat so and so like this…

In short, there is so much that you can be doing, when you don’t have a chance to actually write prose, that will benefit your story. Try not to beat yourself up about not ‘writing’ and realise that actually what you are doing is ‘writing’, just not the physical side of it. I’m not saying drift off and waste time daydreaming and never get you’re writing down. But if you can’t write, then thinking through dialogue, characters, setting, or scenes can help you when you come back to the computer and that blank page that you left behind.

Thanks for reading, and if you liked what I have to say, or even disagree with it please comment below.

Advertisements

Science Fact-ion

“It’s Science Fiction, you can just make it up!”

One of the biggest assumptions and mistakes I have made is that writing Science Fiction is easier because, well, it takes place in a made up world. That means I’ve got my own sandbox to play in; I can do what I want.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy – writing, in general, never is.

The first full length novel I wrote was a Historical Fiction novel. It took hours and hours (and hours!) of research to just be able to start it. I wrote one chapter at the very beginning, and it just felt wrong. I didn’t want to approach the subject matter until I had got it right, and I felt like I already had a pretty good handle on the World Wars. Even now, after reading piles of books, there is still more that I could learn about these particular settings. As it was a World War One novel, about the trenches and conscientious objectors, I felt that it was too sensitive a subject to get any detail wrong. Sure, there’s room for artistic license. The characters I created didn’t actually exist, despite getting family names from censuses at the time, but everything else had to be right. The Liverpool Rifles couldn’t suddenly turn up at Gallipoli, because they weren’t there!

So, turn to Science Fiction and these sorts of things should be easier, right? My characters can go where-ever, and do whatever they want? Again, it’s not that easy.

Science Fiction readers are particularly attentive to detail. It’s an important part of the genre. After all, you can’t have Science Fiction without Science. If a ship goes between two planets in a matter of hours you’d better make sure you know how. I guarantee you someone will ask. Or worse, it will take someone out of the story and they’ll put your book down. As a writer, that’s the last thing you want.

I started planning my current novel thinking, ‘ack, I can sort that as I go along.’ However, the more I tried to plan and work out what was happening to the characters the more something didn’t feel right. What they were doing and how they were reacting didn’t make sense, because I didn’t yet have a sense of their world. This is a little easier in short stories, as the story world itself is usually smaller.

There are a few planets and cultures, with different factions, involved in the story and I first needed to work out how these worked. What made the humans tick? What were the aliens’ motives? If both cultures were on this planet, why? What did they eat, drink? How did their economy work.

Some of this may seem a little indulgent, but unless these places and cultures are real living, breathing things, at least in my head, then the readers won’t believe in them either. I ended up reading books about quantum physics and various other things. At least I find that stuff interesting. Writing, for me, is another way of learning, of absorbing information.

I still don’t think I’ve got everything right, and sure more will come out as I tell the story, but the chapters I’ve written are starting to feel more right, more real, as I go along.

Maybe someday you’ll be able to read it and see what I mean?

How to right a blog?

No, it’s not a typo. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to write a blog post, particularly as I write here on my personal blog, and on The Brush and Boltgun. What makes a good blog? What should you talk about? Why would anyone want to read it?

I think I’ve spent a lot of time in the past really planning out a blog post and trying to have a particular message, or piece of advice across. While that’s probably necessary for something like Brush and Boltgun, which is about the hobby, this blog is to showcase my skills as a writer and keep people up to date with what I’m doing.

As I’ve talked about before, planning and writing a blog can take up a lot of time. Time which I would rather spend writing stories, or working toward my PhD.

For a story, novel, short story, whatever format it may take, planning can be really important. Today I’ve been working on the plot outline for a submission I’m about to make. It can be quite tricky, but that time spent in preparation can pay dividends later on. It definitely helps me to think about things in the story I wouldn’t normally talk about.

But what is a blog if not just a log? This space should be for me to talk to you, my reader. Planning it out can be useful, but I think sometimes I just need to take off that handbrake and type. Sometimes you just need to put your thoughts down on the page.

So I think from now on, that’s what I’m going to do: tell you what I’m thinking.

Today, as I said, I’ve been planning a novella for a submission. I don’t want to tell you too much about that yet, but I will do soon. (I often keep things quite, because I have a slight superstition that when I tell people abut projects they fall through.) But it is a publisher I have submitted to before. However, last time they said they liked my writing, but that it was too similar to something they already published. I take that as encouragement, and this time I hope that not only is the writing good, but it’s suitably different, and interesting, for them to publish. I have had successful submissions before (although not all of them have then come to fruition – once accepted there is still some way to go to be published) so fingers crossed!

Tomorrow is my last day on a contract as a lecturer. That might be quite a shock to some of you. But with my health, I have decided to spend more time on my PhD (which I am supposed to be doing full time anyway), and make sure that I do the best possible work on it.

In order to pay the bills I will still be doing some freelance lecturing. Although, I am on the look out for more freelance work. If you know anything that might be suitable for me, particularly freelance writing or editing then please do get in touch.

I think that will do for now. I’ll be back next week with a further update, and perhaps a book review.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

Objection and ME

I’m annoyed. Annoyed at myself mainly, but also annoyed at this condition I suffer from. (Last week I published a post about ME, which you can read here.)

As part of my MA in writing I set to writing a World War One novel. There were two main reasons for doing this. The first was that I have always had a love for history, and learning the lessons of the past to contextualise where we are today. As a teenager, I visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres. The graves and memorials set off something in me, something that I can only describe as a longing to understand “why”?

The second reason for writing the novel is that I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone of science fiction and fantasy and take advantage of the advice and guidance available on my Masters.

The more I researched the setting the more I saw how much Liverpool was linked to the war, and how much it was shaped by it. Everything around me held some link to the war. There were also several Liverpool regiments that fought in the bloodiest battlefields of the Great War. There were so many stories that needed to be told. I’d also watched a Sky one show called ‘Chickens’ about the conscientious objectors, those that refused to fight in the First World War, and it struck me that even a hundred years later these people were considered to be cowards. It infuriated me, and I decided to put a conscientious objector in my novel; the soldier’s brother.

Through drafting it became more and more obvious that both brothers had a story to tell, and through their contrasting stories would show the greater horror of The Great War.

I’m annoyed because last May (2016) I finished the full manuscript of the novel. (The first part was heavily edited as part of my portfolio work for my MA), and I was fairly happy to start sending it out to agents.

I’m annoyed because I then got very ill. I had the worst sinus infection I have ever had, and begun to feel like I did before I was first diagnosed with ME. I’ve only recently started to get back on my feet.

I’m annoyed because I’ve been sending it out to agents recently, but I’m worried that they will think I only wrote this novel to ride on the interest and popularity of the centenary of the First World War, which to me was merely a coincidence for the reasons I have mentioned earlier. I’m also worried that because it is already 2017 and a publishing cycle usually takes about two years (or so I believe?), that agents/publishers won’t take a risk because they think that it will miss the centenary of the end of the war, and the resultant interest.

I’m also annoyed because the film Hacksaw Ridge came out of left field and told the story of a ‘conchie’ in the second world war. It’s a different story, as conchies in WWI arguably had to go through a lot more, but it’s still a concern that people may feel this novel was written due to that. (I wish I could write 130,000 words that quickly!)

I hope that someone will pick it up. It was a very important story to write, and an important story to tell. I genuinely believe people will gain something from reading it. It would be a shame for it to sit in my drawer for the rest of my days.

If you know someone who may be interested, or are interested yourself, please get in contact. I will be more than happy to hear from you!

Writing with ME

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you will know that I often get annoyed at myself for not blogging enough. Okay, I’m quite busy, but having a more regular blogging presence and readership is useful to show publishers. I’m fairly sure when that when I query agents they will look for me online, and it doesn’t look great when my last post on here is a couple of months old.

However, I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’, but I suffer from a condition called CFS/ME. (Here’s an interesting link on the symptoms). As Friday was ME/CFS awareness day, I wanted to talk about how it affects my writing and explain why my blog isn’t as active as I would like.

One of the main ways of coping with ME is pacing. It’s something that I’ve done quite naturally since I was diagnosed with ME in 1999. I usually know my limits and when I can do something cognitive, or when I just need to sit and think. Since I referred myself to the local clinic last year after having a relapse, this has become even more important.

I think this is one of the reasons I naturally turned to writing. I’ve always loved stories, and I enjoy telling stories. A writer (I think it was Gav Thorpe) once said to me that a writer is always writing, whether they are putting pen to paper or not.

Even if I’m having a bad day, health wise, I can sit and think about my plot, character or setting. A lot of the planning gets done on these days, and it’s always good to plan out as much of your novel as possible before writing the actual prose. This allows me to feel quite productive, even if the physical novel or short story isn’t actually increasing in word count.

I would love one day to write a book about ME itself, but we’ll see.

Of course having mentioned this, you can perhaps understand why I don’t blog as much as I, or maybe you, would like. If I feel up to putting figurative pen to paper then I would much rather be writing the actual stories themselves.

However, I have a plan. Rather than writing one post on the day that it needs to be posted, I’m going to try and plan ahead and schedule posts. Here’s hoping I can actual fulfil this.

What I’d love to know is what kind of stuff you would like to read?

Feel free to ask me writing questions, and I will answer them as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading.

To blog, or not to blog?

Yes, it seems I’m officially out of clever titles. I may have even used this one before, but any excuse to poorly paraphrase Shakespeare is okay in my book! (The academic in me really wanted to put a citation then.)

I’m annoyed with myself because I haven’t posted a blog in a few weeks. I promised myself that I would do a regular blog and try to build up my readership – you guys. But I’ve been busy – sure that’s everyone’s excuse. Trying to keep up with a part-time academic job, and a full-time PhD isn’t easy, but I should be able to find time to write a little blog, right? I’d hope so, and I’m definitely going to try harder, even if it’s just a book of the week post so you can hear what I’m reading at the moment.

The other reason I haven’t blogged is because I haven’t asked my students to in a few weeks. They’ve been too busy with assessments and it wouldn’t have been fair to make them do a blog too. They’re too busy…

I want to ask you a few questions. I will do some proper research on this, but I want a few opinions first to get a rough idea. (Feel free to comment below)

How important is a regular blog post, or is it better to wait for good content/ideas? Is it good to write a regular post so that people know when to expect it?  When should that be?

I’m trying to work out how to manage this blog, and I want to know how people interact with blogs. Such as how long a decent post should be?

I’ve made a short survey that you can fill out to help me with this, if you have time: Blogging Survey


I’m also looking at increasing my freelance workload. (After complaining about being busy? I know…)

So if you’re a student and you want sometime to check through your work for you and check the content (no promises about grading!) or just to edit/proofread, or if you’re an aspiring author and you want some critique on your writing/some help, then please get in touch. We can work out what you need and sort out an appropriate way of payment.

If this sounds like you, then please send me an email and we can sort something out!


Book of the Week

Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky

So, I’ve finally got to last year’s Arthur C. Clarke award winning novel. I was going to wait a bit to read this as I’ve got a few things on my reading list that I really want to read, but then I got a few recommendations for this in a matter of days.

I’m now 150 pages in (which may sound like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of its 600 pages), and I’m really enjoying it. It’s nice to pick up a sci fi book that feels fresh and pulls you along for the ride. Adrian is typically a fantasy writer and this is his first science fiction book. It reads like a fantasy writer writing sci fi, but that’s not a criticism. The world building is so strong and so believable that it can only be written by someone who has written fantasy. A common pitfall, and one that I am guilty of, with sci fi is to assume that you can make everything up. But you must absolutely understand how your world works, in as much detail as possible.

Adrian provides that detail, but unlike a lot of sci fi authors he doesn’t hit you over the head with it with long exposition, but rather intertwines it expertly into the narrative.

The other thing that I really like, and it was so subtle it took me about 80 pages to notice, is that both the civilisations represented in the novel are represented by a different tense. The humans are a typical third person past tense, which feels natural. Then the aliens (no spoilers!) have a third person present tense narrative. A subtle difference when kept to different chapters, but a striking one when you realise what it means.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this technique pans out, and how it helps the story.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, and please get in contact/leave a comment below!

There and back again, a Postcolonial Journey.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” (Tolkien, J.R.R. 1937)

This has to be my favourite opening to a novel, and what better way is there to open a blog? It is so evocative and descriptive, which is where Tolkien’s talents lay. He invented a rich world that can be visualised.

It is once again time for my weekly blog, and this week I have asked my students to write a blog post analysing the themes of a song, using cultural theories and methodology. In order to show good practice I will write a similar blog post.

Instead of writing about a song, I have chosen my favourite book, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. (Or should I say, one of my favourite books). This way the work can also be used for my PhD. (I still argue that Fantasy is closely linked with Science Fiction – they’re often on the same book shelves.)

My thesis: The Effect of the Second World War on The Golden Era of Science Fiction (1950-1960) must look at the postcolonial world. The world of Middle Earth and Tolkien’s writing is a good example of these theories coming to play in literature. I love the Hobbit, but The Lord of the Rings is probably a more accurate example.

It is often suggested that the Lord of The Rings was a literary response to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The badlands around Mordor being a desolate industrial place, and Saruman the White cutting down the trees around Isengard in order to increase production of his Uruk-Hai, detestable creatures. (Jeffries, S. 2014) There is a clear black and white distinction between good guys and bad guys, good and evil. The good guys, the Hobbits live in grassy greenland free to roam the forests and wildlife, where as the bad guys seek to bring all the lands of Middle Earth under their industrial chokehold. The opening page of

The industrial revolution itself was a very colonial phenomenon, using the slave trade and produce of colonies, tobacco, cotton, sugar, etc. that was then turned into products in the factories. (Seth. S. 2013) However, the Lord of the Rings itself was more concerned with what happened after the industrial revolution. How could Sauron be defeated, and his evil grip on middle earth be distinguished?

In the end (Spoiler alert!) Frodo throes the ring, a product of the evil Sauron into the fires of mount doom, this destroying this product in the fires of its on industry. The ring itself is a magical metaphor, for power, but the end result is still the same. Sauron is gone.

At the end of the story, the Elves the omniscient ancient race that originate from somewhere outside Middle Earth (were they conquerors originally?) leave the natives to their own devices, knowing that Middle Earth is now far beyond their control, and the native peoples (Humans and Hobbits) can start to look after themselves.

To me, this is a very postcolonial outcome. Much as when the British Empire left India and the other colonies, knowing that their power was limited and the natives were rising up to take their own power. (Johnson, R. 2007) This is a very general summary, but there are definitely postcolonial themes there that can be analysed and discussed.

I would like to see what happened to Middle Earth after the Elves left. This idea has always fascinated me, and fives that great literary question, “what if?”

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment below.

 

Reference List:

Jeffries, S. (2014) How the West Midlands Black Country Inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/19/how-the-west-midlands-black-country-inspired-tolkien-lord-of-the-rings

Johnson, R. (2007) The British Empire: Pomp, Power and Postcolonialism. Humanties-ebooks.

Seth, S. (2013) Postcolonial Theory and International Relations. Routledge. 

Tolkien, J.R.R. (1937) The Hobbit. George Allen & Unwin.

Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954) The Lord of the Rings. George Allen & Unwin.