Take a Number and Get in Line

As I was coming up to the end of one book, I was thinking – which book will I write next? And did I actually have one to write? I do, in fact. I have many on the list to write, but it doesn’t work like that. If I count all the books that have some sort of story line, and all the books that have characters and that I’ve started because I was excited and stopped because it wasn’t time, I might have around four or five started books.

I can’t write a book on one idea, I need a few to meld together, and I can’t write a book with only one or two characters, I need a few to get started. This is where most of my books are at. I also can’t get started on writing a new book until it has a name. Weird as that sounds, it’s just something I have to wait for. The next book I was going to write was going to be called The Guardians of Unhow. I was a little sick of writing YA books where the characters travel into a different ‘worlds’ and have to get back. I had just finished one and have another yet to write, so I wanted to stay away from that. Unhow had some characters, a basic plot that could be fleshed out later but not a lot of magnetism that was drawing me to it. Next was a book that didn’t have a name. It was an idea I had a few years ago where kids band together to rid their street of witches. First it was going to be vampires, but as we all are, I’m over vampires for now. I had the characters, a basic setting and story line and it was ready to go, but I couldn’t come up with a cool name for it. I juggled some ideas around, but nothing sounded cool and would stick, so that got pushed to the side. I had started a book which had an awful, ‘for now,’ title of The Travelling Performers. I had decided that its story line and characters would be morphed with Unhow to create one book. So there were about three books floating around and I’m trying to jam them all together in one pot to have enough oomph to start writing. I think I may have been in panic mode.

So I left it alone. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t have the next book lined up. I’d never taken an intentional week off from writing, unless I was away somewhere and couldn’t get to my computer, or moving, or someone was visiting. It’s like reading, I know what book I’m going to read next, if I have a few, and I do, I’ll start picking one about a week before I finish reading my current one. Should I read JG Bollards Concrete Island? Should I read the new Pratchett or King? What about the Spooks book? But then again, there is that autobiography by Zak Bagans? So many options. I have this mindset where I feel like I have to choose a book I can read fast, so I can get to other books. Which is the same way I’m currently thinking about writing. I have an epic book I know I have to write and it’ll take up a lot of time and energy, and I want it to be right, so I’ll just wait. For what exactly, I don’t know. I guess I’m waiting for the right time, if that exists at all. I had just come off the back of writing Monster Detention, which was about a year, maybe more and about 500 pages long, so I wasn’t ready to write another mammoth book. My next book I gave a 120 page limit, even though I knew this would be too short if it ever went to publication, but I could add to it later. I finished that and started on Everdark Realms Aquillians book II, which has an even shorter page limit. But even though I haven’t written an epic book in a while, I feel like I couldn’t commit to another one just now, so that leaves The Lost Book of the Blood Baron out for the time being.

Nothing was tapping me on the shoulder, like The Magnificent Mr. Harlow, nothing had excited me and I was starting to think maybe I had written too much in the last two years? I did two NaNoWriMo’s and a few other books and the Everdark books. I had written quite a few blogs and a few short stories – maybe my tank was finally running on low. Then this happened…

I was sitting at work, doing a very long data-entry task when two words appeared like a vision in front of my eyes – Elephant Stone. I must have read a word quickly, or got something jumbled up, but it appeared for just a brief moment. I could see its font, the white background and the general look of the book, then the flood gates opened. For nearly three days I wrote notes for this book. Each day I would type them up in the rough draft. I hadn’t been this excited to write something new for a while. It had all the good pieces from the other books that were already established but had nowhere to go.

Although, sometimes I feel like I’m writing for nothing because I spend my time writing and not concentrating on getting my finished manuscripts out there. I think, what’s the point of having ten books on the computer that no one will read? I always hope that each book is slightly better than the one before, in writing, grammar and style, that I grow as a writer one page at a time. But then I think, what if my big break does come and a publisher wants to see my stuff? Or if they ask me what types of books I have, I’ll have a range for them to choose from. I did think once, what if I stop writing? Just lose interest and take up another hobby? I don’t think I could do that now, looking through my files and files of books and stories, I’ve come too far and dug too deep to get out.

Mitchell Tierney

Advertisements

Resurfacing

 

The past few months I haven’t written. Not a word, not a sausage, not a damn thing. And at first I went a little stir-crazy and now, I’m just a bit lost.  Is this what happens when a village loses its chief idiot?

So why have I been sans-writing? Has there been a writing strike? Have I lost my marbles? Have I lost my pen? Have I crashed a laptop? For the love of all things decent, what, Sandy, what?

Nope. I’ve just not had the time. The last few months I’ve been a part-time student, full-time worker ant, and I’ve been in a play which has gone from intense to better start focussing and sorting yourself out, now! To the point where I’ve skipped some good opportunities to do many things in the public forum. My blogs stand neglected and abandoned with cobwebs growing all around them. And to be honest, it’s a little disheartening that there isn’t a regular audience clamouring for the next episode of my work…awkward.

So now, here is my challenge and the point to this, my first blog in months (how lucky do you feel right now) –how do I get back? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I want to get back to writing…sort of. And I have a lot of work I want to write. My biggest motivator for one of my novels was NaNoWriMo. The challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days is amazing. I won’t go into details, because there’s already a blog all about it, but damn it gets the blood pumping, doesn’t it? I even kept going with my work last year, after the due date, because I was enjoying writing it so much. Admittedly I wasn’t a part-time student, nor had many other art jobs going at the time, but still, there it was. And now, I see writing as my old friend. One I’m keen to be reacquainted with. I want to sit down, like I am right now, and have a cup of tea and maybe a warm cholesterol-inducing creamy scone and just get the words out of my heart, out of my mind, out through my fingers and onto something a bit more tangible. I want to do this. But right now, I’m just a little tired. I’m a little lost. I know where I want to go, but it’s just about trying to follow the path in the forest to my destination.

So, I’m going with the tried and true method. I’m putting on the music, I’m taking time out and I’m sitting down and writing. I think this time though, instead of jumping back into my stories like I used to do, I’m going to have to start a tiny bit slower. It’s like trying to move the rusty handle of something. You’ll need a little oil, and you’ll need to let it take it’s time. But wait, just wait a second and she’ll be back to her former glory in no time.

I’ve also had some personal things that have happened since I last wrote and it’s definitely coloured my experience of life in general. So right now, as much as I would like to write and forget all the hideous, grotesque bollocks that’s happened recently, I just need to relax and go with the flow.

And I think that’s what it’s about for me, at the moment. Different writers work differently. And depending where you are in life and in the world, your writing will be different. Right now, it’s reflective, so I can deal with everything. But when I’m feeling strong and awake enough I look forward to going back to some good old fashioned gothic action. It’s sort of like recovering from an illness. The fever has broken and I’m starting to get my appetite back. It’s going to be a little while before I feel like a rich meal, but right now, I’m getting my appetite back and it’s a good thing. I’m reconnecting.

I suppose the reason I’m writing this, is just to say that as writers we get impatient with ourselves. I especially do. When I have the time, but not the inspiration. When I have inspiration coming out of my ears and no time to write. When I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it and loving it and racing along with it, not sure if I’ll land or crash and burn. But sometimes, just sometimes, whatever is out there, whatever life hauls at us, torsion catapult style, whatever hits the fan and whatever you’re left cleaning up afterwards, the thing with words is that they’re these beautiful things that don’t just entertain or amuse us, they sort us out. They help us deal. They help us cope. Sometimes they help us understand and sometimes they leave us questioning what the hell the author was smoking. But sometimes, just sometimes, instead of demanding that they do our bidding, instead of insisting that inspiration get its butt down here and help us because it’s the only day we will have in a long time, sometimes, it just pays to sit back, relax and go with the flow.

Believe me, as much as I have a tree-hugging hippie side to me and I love the ‘go with the flow’ notion, I’ve never really done it with my actual work. I’ve always had an agenda. I’ve always had somewhere I’ve wanted to go or something I’ve wanted to get out there. For instance, the genre, the type of story, the beginning of something. Sometimes even just one line. One line that starts that story for me, whether it’s beginning, middle or end. And the only time I’ve been reflective is when I’ve journalled and kept my thoughts to myself. But these days, I think I need to let the intense agenda go. I just need to go with the flow. I just need to write and see what happens. And maybe I’ll keep it and use it, maybe I’ll change it, and maybe I’ll keep it hidden for now and see when I’m ready to share it, if I ever am. The other thing that keeps cropping up for me is to let someone else into this world of mine. I’m a very private person when it comes to certain things in my life, most of us are. And there are a lot of people who wouldn’t believe that about me, because I come across as the warmest, friendliest, outgoing person who isn’t shy to talk to someone. But my closest friends who have known me much longer and have seen me at my worst and for some reason have still stuck around know this about me. I’m exceptionally shy. I’m terrified of letting someone into my most sacred world. And every day I slide into my little customer service mask, and pretend that I’m not shy. And every day it requires effort. But there are days when I just can’t deal with people. And there are days when I can’t be bothered trying, because I’m exhausted. Keeping up your defences every day does that to you. So why don’t I just relax and ‘go with the flow’ and let everyone in? Easy – because not everyone is respectful or tolerant. And lately I’ve had that reconfirmed. Writing for me isn’t just about slipping into different worlds, putting something completely fictional out there, entertaining myself and the world and leaving it be. It’s much more than that.

When I write, I’m letting you into a sacred area of my world, powered by the one thing I prize more than anything in the universe – imagination. I’m letting you into my world. I’m showing you what I see, what I feel, what I hear, what I think. And I’m trusting you with it. Sometimes it’s an exceptional risk and sometimes I don’t get involved in thinking about the type of person reading it. It’s too much to deal with, I don’t need that kind of pressure. Because at the end of the day this is my world. These are my characters. And you are a guest in my world. So, I write for me. But there is my world, and when I write I invite you into it. Because I’m curious, because I want to connect. I want you to see something. I want to show you something. On some level I hope we can understand each other. You don’t have to love it, you don’t ever have to read another thing I write, ever again. You don’t even have to finish reading what I’ve written.  And today, just today, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m not going to try and shape anything. I’m not going to try and impress you. I’m not going to try and entertain you. We’re not going to pretend that I’m not shy and I’m not unsure. Today, we’re just going to be honest with each other. Respectful, but honest. I’m not sure. I’m unbelievably shy. I’m doing something different and I’m trying something new. So here I am. My castle is unguarded and my defences are down around you. And I’m just going to sit back and see what happens.

So I tell you what. I’ll invite you in for a cup of tea and a few words, and in return I’ll let go. I’ll relax and I’ll go with the flow. And let’s just see where the evening takes us.

If this works, then all right. We’ve achieved something. If not, then screw it. It was a good experiment. But right now, while I’m trying to find my way back through the forest and the thickets, let’s just stop, check out the scenery, let it go and go with the flow.

 

~Sandy Sharma

 

 

 

Inanimate Lessons

 I’m by no means a natural born writer. I have to work at it. Just like any profession or sport, practice will, inevitably, make perfect (or near enough). When I started writing, I had an issue with length. I was young and didn’t know how to structure chapters, so my chapters ended up being a page long. I’d write ‘Chapter _’ at the top and write to the bottom. Once I hit the bottom of the page, that would be the end of the chapter. I eventually was able to expand my chapter lengths a little, but it still wasn’t enough. My books would have 50 + chapters and the story didn’t seem to progress very far at any one time. So, I set my self a task – write a book about ten people. Each chapter will be about one person and it will be ten pages long. You will never go back to that person, so whatever happens in that chapter will have to be resolved at the end. I thought it was a good way to push my boundaries and get good length writing practice.

The story was simple enough, a body is found dumped in a drain, a young person who’s wearing a red cape. Slowly the news spreads and each chapter is about each persons reaction to finding out. I called it ‘Bloody Cape’ after a Deftones song. One chapter had the police officer receiving the call and going out to investigate, another was a man bound to a wheel chair who worked at an Adult Store and closed the store to go and take a look. I never planned the characters, but came up with them while writing each chapter. I thought, ‘Ok, the deceased person is wearing a cape because there’s a local comic book artist who draws a comic with a red cape.’ So the next chapter was the artist finding out the person died looking like one of his characters. It was hard at first to keep the ball rolling, because usually, for me any way, the chapter will end itself and you know it’s time for the next chapter to come. But when you’re writing to a set of rules, you can’t stop. I had to force myself to keep going. By the end of the book, I found my chapters were exceeding the ten page limit. I got used to writing long chapters. The only down fall was, every book or short story I wrote after that was long and I had to learn to cut them back a little.

There is a Family Guy episode where they mock Stephen King. They ask him what his next book will be about and he looks around the room frantically trying to make something up on the spot. He picks a lamp. ‘How about a Lamp? OOooooOhhh!’ I thought this would be another good assignment to set myself. Could I write something scary using an inanimate object? What would be the least harmful thing I could think of and make it terrifying? I thought of a cardboard box. It’s simplistic, everyone has one tucked away in their garage, spare room, shed, etc. They’re mostly harmless and also collapsible. A baby could knock one flat. How could I make this the main subject of horror? I thought about the cardboard box and what it’s use for. Moving and storing. I thought, what if the box had kept a serial killers belongings in it while he was in a mental ward? What if it stored all his ‘trophies’ or personal belongings? Could some of his energy or ‘mojo’ seep into the box? Why not? Sounds plausible. I figured I would write a trilogy about the box. Three short stories centred around the same box and how it brings each owner agonizing horror and misfortune. I was going to call the trilogy The Murder Box, with each story in turn called The Gore Box, The Flesh Box and The Horror Box. The first story was a mother and her two children moving from one town to another to escape their abusive father. They leave the box in the spare room to unpack another day and go to bed. At midnight, when the house is quiet and dark, the lid opens up on its own and a black, charred hand reaches out of it from the darkness. The daughter gets out of bed to get a glass of water and walks past the room, the hand disappears. As her back is turned, a dark, shadowy figure dashes across the hallway in the next room. I never wrote the second story because I had an ending where a young man escaping the law crashes his car and the box is burnt to ash in the fire. The young man laying on the road, bleeding to death, watches all the demons and monsters spill from the box and burn.

I tried this assignment again with one of the first short stories I wrote that I was proud of called The Tape. The story was based around an elderly man living on his own named Leo. One stormy night there is a knock at his door and when he answers it, it’s his neighbour Joe who is looking frantic and horrified. Joe says that he is leaving and Leo asks why he’s taking off in the middle of the night in the pouring rain? Joe doesn’t answer, but instead asks him if he wants his old stereo. Leo takes it and Joes runs off into the hammering thunder and drives away. Leo leaves it on the table, not knowing what he’s going to do with it. Later that night he goes to the bathroom to take a bath and takes the stereo with him to listen to music. He finds a tape inside the cassette deck and plays it. It’s an interview by a psychiatrist and a schizophrenic patient who talks about see a little girl in a dress wearing a pure white mask. After a few haunted experiences, towards the end, Leo is in the bathtub holding a razor when the lights flicker in the bathroom. He looks to the doorway and sees the young girl with the white mask. She then pushes the stereo into the bathtub.

From constant practicing and experimenting, and also setting myself assignments, I can work on the areas I think I need to be better at.

NaNoWriMo is upon us and that is always a challenge and a good way to learn how to write. You push yourself to finish and sometimes that it what is needed to get it done. Because most of us aren’t published authors with agents breathing down our necks for the next book, we don’t have that push to finish and sometimes the book can get lost along the way and forgotten, and that’s always a shame. Finishing a book is a big deal for any writer. Some people may only finish one book in their writing lives, others may finish many.

Whenever I pick up a book at the book store, I’ll flick through it and if I see the chapters are short, it appeals to me more. Only because I don’t have that much time to read, and when I do it’s normally half an hour to an hour at the most. So if I know I can get a chapter or two done before bed, it makes me feel like I’m still sticking with the story and getting it read. Early Terry Pratchett books didn’t have chapters and it always made me apprehensive about reading them because I hate stopping the middle of a chapter or I’ll lose the flow of the story, but his recent books have chapters now, much to my relief.

Mitchell Tierney

 

Plan vs. Not Plan

There are two very different schools of thought when it comes to writing I’ve found – the planners and the free writers. This difference becomes widely apparent at this time of the year, especially in my house. That’s right folks; NaNoWriMo is once again upon us. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, please see last year’s entry on NaNoWriMo here.

It has become a bit of mother-daughter rivalry at my place; as we both battle to beat each other on daily word counts, rushing to fit in writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days while still holding down full-time day jobs and keeping the household running smoothly. Things get a bit crazy.

But it’s the lead up where the planning styles, or lack of, show themselves. My planning involves purchasing copious amounts of sugar free Redbull/V/*insert energy drink*, candy and food I can eat one handed. I am a free writer. This how I approach most my books. On November first I will be up at 4am to start writing and at this moment all I know is a general premise and my main protagonists name…  and that’s how I like it. For me planning a story makes me feel bogged down. It stifles my muse. I like to let my characters write themselves and take me on their stories like I’m merely a ghost writer for a group of fictional entities. Being made to write outlines for stories at school was hell for me. Most times though I had awesome English teachers who understood me and let me write my stories and then write a synopsis. (Thank you Mrs Morris)

And then there are writers like my mum. My mum, Mara Harrison, whose beautiful illustrations for the next Ouroborus Book Services’ book Everdark Realms can be seen at www.everdarkrealms.com, is a planner. She approaches her writing and art with surgical precision, planning meticulously every detail before even starting to write/draw. Watching her during NaNo is an experience. Whereas I sit typing on the couch, caffine in reach; she sits surrounded by notebooks and bits of paper. She stops at intervals to rifle through her papers, rustling away as my dog looks on perplexed from the safety of my side.

I guess deep down though our planning styles match our personalities to a tea. Although I like to know where I’m going in advance in life, I certainly am more of a head first, try it and see person. My mum on the other hand is a meticulous list maker. She’s very ordered and things don’t get left to chance. And they both work. We stare at each other in shock at the approach we each take to our writing, and life in general, but in the end, the goal is the same. We’re in it for the words and in the end, as another NaNo comes to a close we will both hopefully have our 50,000 words or more ready to be enhanced once the insanity dies down and I lower my caffine levels enough to actually sleep.

So my advice is do what works for you. Don’t get bullied into planning and mapping because it’s what is expected. Alternatively, if you are a planner, especially if surrounded by opinionated free writers, don’t feel that you’re planning is wrong or cheating. If it helps you to write and keeps you going, more power to it.

For those doing NaNo this year, good luck. Feel free to friend me. My name on the site is theravensclaw. Have Fun and happy NaNo-ing.