writeafirstnovel

follow a rookie writing his first novel

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Happy birthday blog

Well, here we are, a whole year has passed since I started this blog. I thought I would take a time out to review the progress so far. I have to say that if this was one of my old school reports it would probably read ‘could do better’ (which, by the way, they often did).

When I started this novel I thought (naively perhaps) that within the year it would be a done deal. There I would be, living it up in the Seychelles or somewhere similar, just popping home to do the odd chat show or attend a posh dinner. Having it all and then some.

The reality is though that I am just short of half way through the first draft. If this were ‘The Apprentice’ it would be the greasy spoon and recriminations for me, rather than the treat. Never mind; we are where we are.

So, what to do.

As I see it, here are my basic options:

PLAN A – Just keep plodding on as I am. An appealing option as it requires little or no thought (and thinking makes my head hurt). The downside is that at this rate, by this time next year, I’ll be about 80% through the first draft and another whole year away from the finish line (Seychelles and all).

PLAN B – Get a personality transplant. I think I’ve referred to my complete lack of urgency (aka bone idleness) before. It’s not entirely my fault of course, its in my genes. You see I managed to trace my family tree back to around 1460; well, my dad did or rather to be honest about it, he started and had the good fortune to stumble across someone who had already done most of the work. Anyway, the reason we can go back that far isn’t because we have noble connections, but rather that our family comes from a very small village and seems to have stayed there. In point of fact it took the family three hundred years to move seven miles up the road to the nearest big town – way to go! So you see, I come from a long line of procrastinators so what’s a boy to do? The pro’s of this option are I could have the thing finished in a fortnight and the cons are its science fiction and anyway, I rather like being me!

Plan C – The Homer Simpson option – As the great yellow-skinned man says ‘If at first you don’t succeed, give up, because it’s obviously too hard and do something else.’ Trouble is with this option, my Taurean nature steps in and says once I’ve started I will see it through to the bitter end – even if it kills me.

On balance then, it looks like Plan A has it and so you’ll be stuck with me and my blog for the foreseeable future. Onwards and upwards…

 

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A progress report

Some weeks you just have to get your head down and grind it out. This has been one of those weeks. The biggest milestone was that I passed the 30,000 word barrier (yay, put out the bunting and clink our wine filled glasses in an orgy of self-congratulation) well, not quite; a quick coffee and a fleeting smile was more the order of the day as I put my head down and carried on.

Taking a bit of a time-out to reread some of what I have written already I note that it does look a bit like it has been written by a committee rather than just me. Both in terms of style and level of detail, it is a little uneven. Still, I resisted the urge to edit – we’re in first draft county at the moment and the black hills of editsville quite a long way off in the distance; but at least I can see their outline now…

Still, with the weather as dire as it has been (and is forecast to be for some time yet) what else is there to do but sit here in the warm, writing, looking out at the snow and the cold and drinking coffee.

Life is good 🙂

This is not a lizard

My plastic lizard

Hat Tip to Renee Magritte for the title of this post.

You may be wondering what I’m talking about and why on a blog about writing am I showing you a picture of my pet Iguana; all in good time my friends, all in good time.

When Magritte called attention to the fact that his picture of a pipe was not the pipe itself but a representation of a pipe he was making a sound philosophical point. So, when you look at the picture of my scaly friend, you are looking at his image, at a point in time – even the image itself being  rendered from binary code; artifice upon artifice to produce an illusion of a lizard.

Now when I tell you that it isn’t even a real lizard, but a 16″ resin replica of a lizard, we are one more step removed from the truth – the original lizard, which by now is most likely dead and ceases to exist at all. Immortalized in resin. The symbol of a lizard, displaying ‘lizardness’. We do not neutrally see the picture, instead we interpret it, possibly loaded with emotion – perhaps it even reminds you of a lizard that you have known; I can’t know this, I can only provide the stimulus in the form of the image and attempt to guide your response with my words.

In our own writing we also intend to paint pictures in the mind’s eye of our readers. The very best writing goes beyond the immediate story and symbolizes something else entirely – think ‘Animal Farm’.

You might have also wondered why do I have a large replica Iguana anyway – after all, it’s not everyone’s choice of home decoration. Well, this is a special resin lizard. Once on holiday, when my daughter was a little girl, she got it into her head to win me a prize at bingo. You know the sort of thing, where you get points for a line or house that you can convert into a gift like key rings or chocolate bars. The large lizard however required a lot of points and took her many hours over the course of the holiday to win it; as you can see, she succeeded.

So when I look at the resin lizard, I don’t see a plastic monstrosity; I see the proud little girl offering it up to me. A symbol of a different order. And priceless.

 

Other altered states

Well, here we all are; apocalypse averted and raring to seize 2013 by the throat!

I thought I might start off the new year by revisiting one of my favourite subjects – sources of inspiration. Last year I spoke a couple of times about how stories can appear nearly fully formed in dreams. The dream state is not the only altered state of consciousness from which  to access good ideas though. Another state is that employed by shaman the world over, sometimes called journeying.

Shamanic journeying is a mental state similar to meditation and day dreaming combined and can be easily learned by anyone. The shaman believes that through this state they can access the spirit worlds in order to gain information that can be bought back into the everyday world for practical application. Commonly this might be information regarding cures for illness, but the technique is by no means limited to this.

As an example, I once journeyed in order to meet the spirit of my drum (shaman often use repetitive drumming to go into trance, and there is a special bond between them and their drums). This is what the spirit of my drum told me:

Once there was a tree; older than anything else in the landscape. The tree had a friend, a deer, who would come to browse on the leaves of his low hanging branches. One day the deer said “I envy you my friend. You have lived so long and seen so many things. You must be very wise in the ways of the world, I wish I could live as long”.

To the deers surprise, the tree replied “No, it is I that envy you. I have only ever seen this piece of the world as far as the brow of the hill and I have often wondered what lies beyond it. I would give anything to see for myself”.

The deer and the tree continued their conversation and devised a plan to fulfil their wishes. They visited a local shaman in his dreams and made their petition. The next day the shaman took his bow and hunted the deer, who readily gave himself up. He then took an axe and chopped down the tree, who was pleased to lie down for him. The shaman then fashioned the wood into a drum frame and stretched the deer skin over it to give it purpose.

Now at the sound of the beat, the deer and the tree travel the spirit realm together. as far as the shaman’s imagination can take them and for as long as the spirit realm exists.

Now, I haven’t edited or tidied this up in any way (what do you mean, you can tell). This is the story as the drum told it to me, but I think it could easily form the basis of a much longer work. So, happy new year and I hope all your writing projects are a success.

 

Frankenstein’s writer

No, I’m not talking about Mary Shelley; more about something her morally challenged creation might construct. Just imagine, what if you could take all the bits you admire in other writers and combine them in yourself.

For me, the content would read like a heady admixture of Paulo Coelho, Dion Fortune and Carlos Castaneda; although Dion would definitely not approve of Carlos – lots of inner conflict there, but hey, isn’t that supposed to be a good thing in a creative soul!

I think I would then need to add a bit of Tolkein for the sublime descriptions. Some Ford Maddox Ford for the characterisations. I’ll take a bit of Martin Amis crossed with Tom Sharpe for the acerbic wit. Then blend all this with Ian McEwan or possibly Aldous Huxley to add real class to the finished product. Anything else, hmm oh yeah, The prolific output of Enid Blyton. Yep, that’s about me done.

Now, I wonder how that would stack up? Unparalleled genius or hideous monster. Who would you include in your perfect author…

The writer’s imagination

As writers, one of the most crucial tools of our trade is a well exercised imagination. Not just the imagination to fashion a story out of thin air but the imagination to see things differently; I suppose I mean the sort of imagination a child has before the world beats it out of them with denigrating comments such as ‘oh, that’s not real’ or ‘it’s only make believe’.

Well, I could go on about nothing being really real in the sense that comment intimates, but that’s a topic for a different blog such as http://talkingcurestraining.blogspot.com where I put my therapists head on.

With my writers head firmly screwed on for the moment, look at this picture I took in Sherwood forest earlier this year:

Old man of the forest

Old man of the forest

I see him as a huge tree spirit rampaging through the forest. Maybe we’ve disturbed his sleep, or unknowingly wandered onto sacred ground. Perhaps a sorcerer is using him as a guardian or for other nefarious purposes. The point is that until we write the story it may be just an old tree in the forest.

What does your writers imagination tell you…

 

 

Bad day at the office

So there you are, an unexpected void in the diary. No obligations, nothing to do nd no one to please but yourself – for a whole week! The writing is going to be awesome and prodigious you tell yourself. A whole week; who knows how much you can achieve in such a vast uninterrupted stretch.

Too good to be true? Read on…

Its Sunday night and the dinner you had earlier is laying a little, shall we say,  heavy. You are surprised, after all, it wasn’t a big dinner. Never mind, think of tomorrow and all those lovely words you will be crafting.

Wake up in bed feeling nauseous; oh no, where’s the bathroom…. That’s better, must have been something ‘off’ that you ate, ah well. Thirty minutes later to the second, another trip to the bathroom. Another thirty minutes and another trip, and again, and again… Welcome to the delights of Norovirus!

Yes it’s that time of the year, when the little winter vomiting bug flexes its muscles and does the rounds. All those plans, all those words never now to be written. Instead its the noro plan diet where you lose half a stone in 24 hours, simply amazing.

So that’s my week fellow bloggers. A week of feeling like death warmed up, where lifting a cup becomes an olympian effort and eating a slice of toast feels like a three course meal.

How was your week?

 

how fast do you write

I heard this week that Enid Blyton wrote 37novels per year – yes that’s thirty seven novels per year! At the rate I’m going I’ll be lucky to manage one novel in 37 years. I can’t imagine how fast you have to work to match Enid’s output. What about you? How fast is your writing?

Nothing to declare

Well, that’s another week gone and very little to declare as far as the writing goes. To be fair, I have been teaching this weekend, so prep had to be done, but even so I am a little bit disappointed. I haven’t even read very much this week either – where has the time gone? I’m finding as I get older, time goes faster. My theory is that it’s down to the proportion of your life that a time period is; at this rate by the time I am 80 a week will be but a blink of an eye- scary!

 

Sidetracked (again)

As any of my former students can tell you, I’m easily sidetracked. A well-aimed interesting question can send me rambling away on the B roads of knowledge for half an hour or more. In short, I lack focus. Flitting to whatever shiny new idea catches my eye next. Not for me the school of head down and task in hand…

So, this week no writing has happened. Why? Because I bought a book at a car boot and started to read it – ooh interesting. read a bit more, ahh – this is in a similar style and genre to my own, therefore I have to read it to the end in the name of research don’t I? (you wouldn’t believe what I can justify in the name of research).

Well, before you know it the week is done – writing nil books read one. The book in question; The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Curse the spider god for drawing me into his web. Ah well, there is always next week 🙂

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