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.

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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?

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!

Taking the Scenic Route

It’s mad that this is my first blog post of 2014, but then the year has started off massively busy. My New Year’s resolution was to write every day, which so far I have managed, even if only a few words, or I have done some editing. This worked out pretty well until I realised that I had a week to paint an army for a tournament in Nottingham next weekend. Life is about challenges right?

That’s kind of what this blog is about. I haven’t done any proper writing in the last few days because I’ve been knee deep in paint. I also felt that I needed to type up the writing we did in class this week as, once again, I didn’t feel like reading it out in class. (Turns out someone wrote a similar story to me, but did it better – such is life!) It’s also, partly, what the title is about; taking the scenic route to finishing my tasks for this week.

This week we had the external examiner, Carol Clewlow (I had to research that spelling!) who is a novelist in her own right, come in and talk to us. At first it seemed as if she would just talk us through the assignment, but that was only a brief introduction. What followed from that was a very interesting workshop about editing and scenes. We discussed the importance of bridging scenes – just getting a character where they need to be without boring the reader – and crucial scenes – where the detail is included – and their differences. Carol also talked about how it was quite often a shame that a scene was used as a bridging scene when it had the potential for some much more.

I just realised I’ve been typing this in silence without music. Sometimes when you get in the flow that just happens, other times I need music to help me concentrate. If you’re a writer, what do you write to? I tend to favour soundtracks as I find I often end up following lyrics if I listen to anything else. They also help me imagine the drama. I think today’s choice is Game of Thrones season 2, though it’s now making me want to watch it.

Carol gave us a bridging scene:

We left home at 6.30. Not long after turning on to the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed. Despite this we managed to reach dover by late afternoon and by evening we were in France.

We discussed that this scene has so much potential for detail which could add to the story. So, Carol gave us a task, turn this scene into a crucial scene. What follows is what I wrote in that task and also a later edit where she asked us to find that one part that needed more. Rather than splitting it in to two of what is essentially the same thing, I give you the finished version (I may also have cheated and added more as I typed it up – oops!):

We left home at 6.30 in a hurry to put everything into the car. The car screeched as the wheels spun off the driveway under the heavy way and we were away. Not long after hitting the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. It wasn’t uncommon given the circumstances. Everyone was in a rush to get away and rushing made people careless. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed, glass smashed across the carriageway. The poor people were still trapped inside the crumpled mess of the vehicle. The incessant cacophony of beeping horns wasn’t helping and there was no sign of the emergency services. They had enough to do right now. they would have a job getting through this crowd in time. The victims weren’t worth worrying about. No one could help them now, it was every man for himself.

Despite the crush we still managed to travel the 60 miles from Bromley to Dover by late afternoon. It’s amazing that even in an emergency most Brits wouldn’t drive on the hard shoulder. Its against the rules! But who needed rules now? The port got pretty desperate and fights were breaking out everywhere as we snuck our small car onto the ferry. By evening we were in France, a bit of money changing hands could get you anywhere. The badge didn’t hurt, but showing that around everywhere would raise too many questions. It’s a shame the ferry wasn’t going further, but I didn’t have that much money.

The crossing went relatively calmly, once people were onboard the hysteria had died down.

Driving down the ramp into the yellow ramps lights of Calais, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought about those trapped at home. Poor old Britain. For now though, we were safe.

 

Some of the group decided to completely change the original scene we were given, but I saw this more of an editing exercise. So what you can see here is a typical example of how I might edit. I’ll take a piece I have written and see if I can embellish the sentences that are already there. Sometimes I may need to take out a superfluous word and others I may need to alter the tense slightly, but as the scene we were given was already quite tight I didn’t feel any need to.

My scene could probably be edited further, but then isn’t that true of everything?

On another note, as anyone noticed that no one really talks on Facebook anymore? All that appears on my news feed is people sharing links to videos and various surveys that tell you which character from that poor remake of  that dodgy sci-fi film you are most like. What happened to people typing and having conversations, you know, social networking? Maybe it’s just my Facebook, but I was curious if anyone else had noticed a similar trend?

On that perfectly 1000 word count note, I shall leave you.

Once again, thanks for reading and any suggestions, comments or thoughts are welcome.