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.

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!

 

Defining the Despicable

Well after quite a week it is finally time for me to sit down and to put into words what has happened and to reflect. Those of you that follow me on Twitter, Facebook and down darkened roads might know that I’ve had quite the week. I should probably cut to the chase and cut the hyperbole, which is actually what the majority of this post will be about.

On Wednesday, after delivering a class to around 45 student, I had my laptop stolen. It still hurts. Not only is this a horrible thing to happen, to have your possessions taken from you, but it also could (I stress the possibility, not the accusation.) have been one of the students I have just given my all to teach. That’s too close, too despicable to really describe how I felt. I forced myself to go in the day after and teach them, but the very thought made me sick and I have to say it is one of the worst lectures I have ever given.  But despite all that, there is the fact that that laptop was a core of my life, a pillar if you like. It is where I wrote everything. It was full of personal stuff, some of which I’m sure I can’t even remember, but at some point the sickening memory will arise and add to the pain of its loss. Since I started using Scrivener on 1 September, I had written at least 15,000 words, I believe, which I stupidly hadn’t backed up yet. (I wanted to organise the folder and back it up, I hate mess! More fool me) Now, that’s all gone. Unless by some miracle of police work or honesty the laptop works its way back to me.

There is plenty of other things I could talk about the situation of the theft, but I have talked enough and as I say: It still hurts.

I had planned to spend that afternoon, before my MA class, in the library writing and revising some work for that evening. Of course that was all scuppered. I refused to let it affect my uni work, so I went to the class regardless of my emotional state. Everything I wrote that night turned out very angry and I apologise in advance.

Wednesday night was about poetry. I hadn’t written poetry since I was in school, and despite my mother’s insistence to the contrary, I always thought I was pretty bad at it. Never the less, as I said in class when we were asked our opinions on poetry, I was determined to give it a go. I think that learning the pacing and style can help with prose writing. The teacher also managed to dispel the myth that poetry need be overly flowery or pretentious. It is just another style of writing, and can be as simple but as powerful as prose writing.

The first exercise was to write an overly complicated and descriptive piece, then a very basic piece. I wrote prose because I was finding it hard to concentrate and I think I missed the point. But here follows:

Part 1

The boy sat waiting, like a defendant awaiting his time in court. He calculated and planned, a thing so devious it would not be forgotten. When the man would leave, carefully placing his papers like a stack a time, and exit the room. He, the boy, with the whole of his devious experience and cunning would take from atop the desk, the computer of the man. He would never know that it was that boy and not any of the others that snuck away like a ghost in the night, no not he.

Part 2

The boy sat waiting in the classroom, planning the theft. He waited for the teacher to leave, after he stacked his papers. The he stood and quietly placed the teachers laptop in his bag and left. No one would know.

Part 3 (We were then asked to write a combination of both)

The boy sat waiting in the classroom, planning the theft. A thing so devious, so wrong it would not be forgotten. He would wait until the teacher left, stacking the pieces of paper like a timeline of the class edging back into the beginning, and exiting the room. Then he would sneak and place the computer in his bag. Like a ghost in the night. No one would know.

 

As you can see all three examples were pretty close to home that night. It was indeed the only thing I could think about. I must stress that I have no idea if this is what happened, this is just where my upset and hurt mind went.

After that we talked a lot more about poetry and looked at some good examples, which I will definitely be looking to read more of. We looked at poetry that sought to discuss large, abstract topics, but in a human way. I liked that idea. I’ve always hated overly abstract writing, sometimes you need to get to the point. But it is always about balance. The next exercise that night was to write a poem about an abstract idea, while keeping it balanced and honest. Naturally, I chose ‘Anger.’

 

Anger

 

Red is often the colour,

of anger, but

it is so much

more than that and

yet, much simpler.

Not something to

overelaborate.

Something pure, vengeful.

Something plan, an emotion

of our minds

in reaction to something

that upsets, something

wrong.

 

I must admit I have no idea about the line structure of poetry, but that to me was how it should be laid out. It gives some of the lines other meaning if read in a certain way.

After that we discussed how reported speech/dialogue can also be very powerful in poetry. It doesn’t just have to be flowery description or abstract ideas. So for a final exercise we were asked to write a piece with reported speech at either end, to bookend if you will. I wrote two pieces:

 

‘Did you see it?’ she said.

From the look that accompanied the question,

he should have.

But he didn’t know what it was.

He had his own questions.

Where should I be looking?

What are you talking about?

What kind of conversation starter is that?

‘See what?’ he said.

 

‘Today sucked,’ he looked sad

and angry. Gone, the familiar smile, the easy

demeanour. It wasn’t the same.

Today sucked.

‘Tomorrow will be worse,’ he said.

 

As always thank you for reading. I appreciate any comments you might have about my writing, but go easy on me at the moment!

Mike