Wednesday, 2 April 2014

How's a short story different from a novel?

Writing a short story can feel like a breath of fresh air after focussing on novels as less time and concentration is needed. I mentioned in my previous post: How do you write? (Part II) that I need at least a three hour block to get into novel-writing. I found a 2000 word story could be done in one hour blocks because there wasn’t as much to remember when going back to it.

I’ve written flash fiction (Paragraph Planet and Novelicious Pinterest Prompt) and taken part in a collaborative story, but have wanted to write short stories for years and have several attempts saved on my computer. Recently, however I had an idea which wouldn’t go away and managed to finish a story of 2000 words.  

So, how is a short story different from a novel?

After novel-writing, it’s a treat time-wise.

There’s no big plan and the idea needs to be simple.

Usually hardly any research is needed. I got by using my old friend, Google.

Starting at the right point is crucial. Cutting the first few sentences from an initial draft helps.

Editing 2000 words (about the length of a chapter in a novel) is a dream compared to 70-80,000 words and a good way to hone editing skills.

Proofreading a novel can take half a day and it’s difficult to do in one go. With a short story it takes 5-10 minutes.

Squeezing a compelling beginning, middle and end into 2000 words can be a challenge.

With short stories the ending’s often unexpected. For me, that required a lot of mulling time.

Style needs to be more telling than in a novel. There are fewer opportunities to ‘zoom-in’ on a moment.

If you’re stuck in a rut with your novel, it’s worth having a go and if you finish one, it’s a real confidence boost.

The Easter holidays have arrived and the countryside around here's looking stunning. I’m looking forward to days out in the spring sunshine and catching up with friends and family. Last week I filled in my form for the RNA Conference in July and I can’t wait! Hope to see some of you there.

Friday, 21 March 2014

How do you write? (Part II)

I went to a thatched cottage in Berkshire last weekend with writing friends. The cottage, in a village was reached by single-track lanes and the Sat Nav of course didn’t take me to the right address so I spent twenty minutes driving up and down the village, until a kind lady walking her dog gave me directions.

This cottage was so remote that when I woke at three o’clock on Saturday morning, an owl hooted outside my window. When I sat down to write at a desk with the above view, a woodpecker was hanging off the birdfeeder. The four of us were immersed in a kind of Disney writer’s paradise. Between us, we brought several bottles of wine and we crammed the fridge with enough food to last us a week. At lunchtimes, we ate cold meats and salads outside (thanks to Jules for bringing all that wonderful stuff!) with fresh bread as if we were in Tuscany or the South of France. In the evenings, we met at the distressed wooden table in a kitchen lit by fairy lights and candles.

Some of us wrote more than others. I’m at a stage with book 2, 'The Painting' where I need to plan and handwrite scenes with pen and paper. By Sunday evening, I couldn’t claim to have written several thousand words (like Jules, who wrote 6000!), but I came home ready to dive right into my manuscript and pick up where I left off in September, before rewriting book 1. I don’t seem to have done that quite yet…, having spent the week doing other stuff and being on Twitter far more than I should be.

I read an interesting book recently called, ‘Daily Rituals’, by Mason Currey. Mason has gathered information on how various writers, artists, philosophers and composers worked (or work). This is a book to keep on the shelf and dip into, especially when stuck as there are loads of ideas on how to get into a daily routine, however busy you are. Some ideas I wouldn’t advocate, such as consuming copious quantities of alcohol, chain-smoking and taking loads of drugs, but it’s the sort of book which you take what you want from. Many writers mentioned wrote (or write) for a minimum of three or four hours each day, took (or take) walks in beautiful countryside and read a great deal. Some had no routine at all and only wrote when compelled to.

Charles Dickens ‘rose at 7:00, had breakfast at 8:00, and was in his study by 9:00. He stayed there until 2:00, taking a brief break for lunch with his family, during which he often seemed to be in a trance, eating mechanically and barely speaking a word before hurrying back to his desk.’

When asked if he had a daily routine, Kingsley Amis said, ‘Yes. I don’t get up very early. I linger over breakfast reading the papers, telling myself hypocritically that I’ve got to keep up with what’s going on, but really staving off the dreadful time when I have to go to the typewriter. That’s probably about ten-thirty, still in pajamas and dressing gown…’
Jane Austen ‘rose early, before the other women were up, and played the piano. At 9:00 she organized the family breakfast, her one major piece of household work. Then she settled down to write in the sitting room, often with her mother and sister sewing quietly nearby. If visitors showed up she would hide her papers and join in the sewing.’

This book has inspired me to write in three hour minimum blocks where possible, as I found an hour here and there wasn’t getting me very far. A scenic walk does help with mulling over bits I’m stuck on. But getting away from it all, especially with other writers always seems to work wonders.

Similar posts:
Do writers need friends who write?

Previous post:

Polesden Lacey history pages and Georgians Revealed exhibition

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Polesden Lacey history pages and Georgians Revealed exhibition

I’ve been working at Polesden Lacey, a National Trust property as a website volunteer since November last year and I recently completed the new history pages for Polesden Lacey’s website

Edwardian hostess, Margaret Greville bought Polesden Lacey in 1906 and she left the estate to the
National Trust in 1942. Her guests included Edward VII and George VI. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother spent part of her honeymoon there when she was the Duchess of York. The history pages include articles about Mrs Greville, a timeline (from 1906-1960) and below stairs staff. There are some wonderful photos of butlers, housemaids, gardeners, chauffeurs etc

This weekend, I’m off to a thatched cottage in the countryside with friends for writing with wine thrown in! Last week I completed my latest draft of book 1, The Grandson and I hope to make progress with book 2, The Painting so I can submit as many words as possible to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme by the end of August.

I went to the Georgians Revealed exhibition at the British Library in London last week (which finished on 11 March). The exhibition gave a taste of life during Georgian times with maps, posters, books and information on architecture, interior design, theatres and sports amongst other things. Although I found the exhibition interesting, I didn’t learn as much as I’d hoped. However, this should mean I’ve done enough research to get on with book 2, The Painting, and I can refer to information collected when stuck.

The British Library is such an inspiring place, quiet apart from hushed conversations, where student-types mill about with notebooks and pens and laptops and iPads. There’s a great restaurant which serves miniature chicken pies and all sorts of delicious stuff and I’ll be back soon to write there.

Daffodils and snowdrops have sprung up here in the U.K. and the weather has been lovely over the past week. Hopefully that's it for winter this year and that the potholes in the roads will be filled in soon!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

How do you get past writer's block?

Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Sometimes writing, editing and rewriting (let's call them all 'writing') can become a drag. Confidence can be knocked by rejection or by showing work to the wrong person when it isn’t ready. Sometimes life gets in the way, meaning there's less time or a reduced ability to focus. In the run up to Christmas last year, I stopped writing.

In September 2013, an agent requested my full manuscript, and the comments they made on my first three chapters were the most complimentary I’ve received. Bowled over, I was swept into an adrenalin-fuelled edit. A few chapters in, I received a rejection from an independent publisher and the adrenalin-fuelled edit became a rejection-induced plod. I plodded on until a writing course in November (described in post: Do writers need friends who write?). Shortly after that, I stopped writing for a few days. The few days became a week and so on, my irritation accumulating each day because I wasn’t writing.

On top of this, pre-Christmas nights out and present-buying etc ate time and made it difficult to prioritise writing. So I decided to stop beating myself up, to take a break until after Christmas, and To just be (the subject of my previous post).

On 2nd January, I opened my manuscript and came up with a plan.
1. Rewrite Act Three, which needed more ooomph.
2. I asked myself: How can I make it seem as though I’m achieving something every day?

I split my manuscript into two parts, saving two documents in Word:
The Grandson done and The Grandson to do.

Each day I work on The Grandson to do file and when I complete a chapter, I cut and paste it into The Grandson done. This works well as I can see word count and number of pages moving daily. The Grandson to do is now down to forty pages. I’m working fairly slowly because Act Three has become a case of rewriting rather than editing.
So I have forty pages to rewrite and three scenes to write from scratch. I’ve given myself a deadline of 9th February (and now I've told you, I'll have to stick to it!). Then I’ll put the manuscript away for
two weeks before doing a final edit.

Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’:
‘I had come to a place where the straight way was lost. I wasn’t the first writer to discover this awful place, and I’m a long way from being the last; this is the land of writer’s block.’

Later he says:
‘So instead of moving to another project, I started taking long walks……I took a book or magazine on these walks but rarely opened it, no matter how bored I felt looking at the same old chattering, ill-natured jays and squirrels. Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam. I spent these walks being bored and thinking about my gigantic boondoggle of a manuscript.’

And then:

‘For weeks I got exactly nowhere in my thinking…..and then one day when I was thinking of nothing much at all, the answer came to me. It arrived whole and gift-wrapped, you could say – in a single bright flash.’
Isn't boondoggle a brilliant word? says boondoggle means 'an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity'.

In ‘How to Write a Novel’, 47 rules for writing a stupendously awesome novel that you will love forever, Nathan Bransford starts Rule #34 with:
‘The most important thing you need to know about writer’s block is this: it doesn’t exist.’

He goes on to say:
‘But when people encounter the phenomenon otherwise known as “writer’s block,” what they are really describing is one thing and one thing only: writing stopped being fun.’

Later he says:

‘The first step to getting unstuck is understanding the problem you need to solve. Once you’ve identified the main issue, the solution is just around the corner.’

He suggests going outside to ‘get fresh air and sunshine’, exercise and staring at a blank screen. I read Nathan Bransford's 'How to Write a Novel' over Christmas and I think it's well worth a read.

So I have a deadline. After that, then what?
I’m lucky to be on the Romantic Novelists’Association New Writers’ Scheme again this year. When I’ve completed the rewrite of Book 1, I’ll be returning to Book 2, The Painting so I can send in a manuscript by the end of August.

Wishing you a very happy 2014 and best of luck with your writing! I usually post an uplifting seaside photo at this time of year, so here you go:


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

When do you get to just be?

The Christmas tree is up and my fountain pen's enjoying a rare outing as I work my way through the Christmas card list, but what I’m looking forward to most is just being. I hosted for eighteen last year and this year we're going to my dad's for a few days. No post, no bills, no important emails, no food shopping, no cleaning to be done, no clothes to be ironed and no need to get up early. Time to see family, to consume food and drink and to just be.
 Jules Wake and me at the RNA London Chapter lunch-a great afternoon
I was on a train last Saturday, en route to the RNA London Chapter lunch and I resisted the temptation to check my mobile and to read my Kindle; to see if I could survive a train journey without them, like in the old days when I didn’t have a book or newspaper and I had to look out of the window. Just being heightens the senses. You notice the way the sun catches the light on the leaves, yellowed by autumn; the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track, the whoosh and whistle as another train zooms past, the tannoy announcements when the train pulls into a station, the beep beep beep warning that the doors are closing and the way they slam shut. It was nice to let my mind wander and see where it went. And it wandered to…I must write my December blog post soon. What should it be about? Just being.
Just being has to be good for you doesn’t it? And essential for writers, because when else do you get to do that vital thinking? When else can ideas pop into your head, how can they when all those other thoughts are fighting to be thought about?

Today I had an idea for a series of children’s books whilst having my hair done; yes, I’d love to write children’s books when I’ve rewritten the end of Book 1 and finished Book 2 and mastered the art of short story writing, if that’s possible (I’m working on one of those too). Who knows if writing children’s books will happen? By the time I get around to it, my children will probably have grown up, but it’d be nice to give writing one a go. Just being allows all sorts of ideas to drop into the inbox of the mind.

And here's a pic taken on the lovely Lizzie Lamb's phone at the RNA Winter Party (thanks Lizzie!). I did wear the gold shoes, mentioned in my previous post and they did make my feet very sore indeed...
Liz Cooper, me, Lizzie Lamb, Shani Struthers
Hope you have a great Christmas and a very Happy New Year! And thank you for all your support in 2013.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Do writers need friends who write?

Peaslake (last spring)
I signed up for my first writing course in the summer of 2004 at Richmond Adult Community College (“RACC”). Up until then, I’d been tapping away on an old laptop and I’d completed a first draft; a load of old rubbish. That's when I 'came out' as a writer. You know what I mean. When you first start writing, you don’t tell anyone except for close friends and family. Then the questions begin and you're not prepared for them: 'How's the writing?' and 'What's your book about?'; and you wish you'd kept it quiet because this means there's no going back, otherwise you'll look like a fool.

I went to several courses at the RACC, where I began to mould Book 1 into shape (still working on that…) and it was great to meet other writers, the array of talent inspiring me to improve. A few years later I signed up for a course with Ruth Brandt at Guildford Adult Learning Centre. Ruth started the ‘Write Away’ courses at The Hurtwood Inn in Peaslake in February 2012.  

Last weekend I returned to Peaslake for my fourth ‘Write Away’ course. The Hurtwood Inn closed for refurbishment on Sunday and there’s a chance the hotel may be turned into apartments. I hope The Hurtwood Inn remains a hotel and that Ruth's ‘Write Away’ weekends return. Peaslake is a village in the Surrey hills, reached by driving through sunken, single-track lanes (not that easy in the dark when you don’t know where you’re going!). The décor at The Hurtwood Inn is dated; the curtains flower-patterned and the windows in the rooms so old, they might as well be open when they’re closed; but that’s part of its charm. When you walk upstairs to your room, the carpet has that musty smell which takes you back to the 1970s. A log fire crackles in the bar (this time the smoke set off the alarm) and there are brown leather sofas to sink into. Again we were plied with food and endless cups of tea and coffee and the staff put the Prosecco in the fridge especially for us.

Writers are never short of conversation and often very supportive towards each other, there to pat each other on the back and say ‘Keep going!’. It was lovely to see old friends and make new ones and I enjoyed listening to everyone’s stories and poems. There were moments where we laughed so much, I had tears running down my face and I can’t wait for our next get-together.

On the way home, I stopped at Guildford to buy a pair of shoes I'd had my eye on for The Romantic Novelists' Association Winter Party next Wednesday; another opportunity to see lovely friends who write.

I wonder if these will make my feet hurt...

Other posts on Peaslake:
Writing in the Surrey hills and using snow to make a character vulnerable
Getting into the writing zone: Peaslake part II

Friday, 4 October 2013

Blog Birthday, Novelicious Pinterest Prompt and Polesden Lacey

The house at Polesden Lacey
Yesterday my blog was two years old. I intended to write this post then, but I transferred my domain name and the blog disappeared for a day. I found an article on Godaddy’s support forum (about mapping the domain name to work with Blogger) and it’s back for good hopefully!

It doesn’t seem like two years since I typed those first words and dared to post them. I haven’t been posting regularly lately, mainly because I’m been focussing on writing and submitting. I’ve been alternating between Books 1 and 2: editing for Book 1 when I’m asked for a full manuscript and writing a second draft for Book 2. Both use different skills, but I enjoy switching between the two.

On 18th September, Novelicious announced I’d won their new feature, Pinterest Prompt and they sent me a £20 Amazon voucher! I wrote 280 words of flash fiction based on the photo Novelicious posted of a rainy day on the South Bank in London with a view of Big Ben across the Thames. My story’s the last one in the comments here. If you’d like to enter September’s Pinterest Prompt, the link is here.
Polesden Lacey
Last week I started volunteering as a Room Guide at National Trust’s Polesden Lacey in Surrey. Polesden Lacey is one of my favourite places locally with stunning countryside walks and a house with a fascinating history. I’m reading Mrs Ronnie by Siân Evans, which is about Mrs Greville, a society hostess who lived at Polesden Lacey from 1906-1942. In 1909 Mrs Greville hosted her first dinner at Polesden Lacey, attended by King Edward VII. There’s so much I could tell you about the place and I’ll probably write a separate blog post.
And here’s a website discovered today during some training: National Trust Collections has information and photographs about objects and paintings owned by the National Trust. You can search by century, so this website's useful if you’re doing research for a historical novel.

See you again soon (as long as my blog doesn't disappear again...)