NaNoWriMo: When writing is like a trip to the south pole

Image result for nanowrimo

There have always been human beings who have the urge to do crazy things.

BASE jumping, sky diving, hang gliding (basically anything that involves jumping off high things without something soft to land on). Wire walking, skateboarding, cheerleading … Seriously, have you seen what these girls get up to? It’s not just shaking tassles and chanting letters, you know.

In my last post, I mentioned some great 20th century explorers – men* who were prepared to brave temperatures low enough to make them wish they had a freezer on hand so they could curl up inside and warm up, whilst wearing the kind of clothing most of us would consider too insubstantial for a quick trip to the shops on a rainy night. Think of those teenage girls you’ve seen stumbling out of night clubs near Christmas wearing litte more than a couple of strategically placed scarves and you’ll get the idea.

Without this gung-ho attitude man would never have explored space, or the deep oceans, jungles or deserts. Alright, we also wouldn’t have encountered the indigenous peoples who lived in these environments**, nicked their land, mineral wealth and natural assets and taken them all for ourselves either, but that’s by the by.

Whilst I admire these people for their courage, I choose to do so from afar, preferably somewhere warm, dry and safe. I wouldn’t want to cramp anyone’s style, after all.

And so it is with NaNoWriMo (That’s National Novel Writing Month to the uninitiated.)

For, if the novel writing community has the equivalent of a trip to the Antarctic, this is it. In the month of November every year, brave souls pledge to write a first draft (50,000 words) of a novel during the 30 days of November. That’s 1,666. 66667 words a day according to my calculator.

Now, if that doesn’t sound too bad, remember that the people taking part are often amateurs (in the finest sense of the word) holding down jobs, homes, families, pets, good habits and nasty ones whilst finding time to write EVERY DAY. Not just on weekends, but on days when they have to face that unpleasant AGM and to drop the kids to football and ballet and a 60th birthday party to organise and a relationship to keep alive … And they still have to sleep.

So, to all of you attempting NaNoWriMo this year – good luck, God speed and may the force go with you. Maybe I’ll join you next year.

Maybe.


*Let’s face it they were always men. Women still wore corsets in 1911 when Amundsen reached the South Pole and eating dinner can be a trial if you’re wearing one of those instruments of torture, let alone crossing crevasses and driving huskies.

**Not space or the deep oceans. We haven’t nicked the mineral wealth of any aliens or Atlanteans yet. Give us time, though.

There’s still time to sign up to NaNoWriMo, so if you have a great novel idea but have been struggling to complete that first draft, then pop along to their website we’re you’l find advice and support galore.

Stand or die: How can you stop writing from killing you?

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

I’ve read a lot recently about how a sedentary lifestyle is gradually killing us all.

Now, we all know this. We’re not stupid. No matter how unappealing it may be to the more lumpy of us, we know that taking regular exercise will help keep our weight and blood pressure down, reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes etc ad nauseum.

BUT …

Studies now say that even for those who exercise regularly, if you sit down driving and at a desk all day, you’re still putting your health at risk and going to the gym a few times a week may not be enough to combat the negative affect.

As a writer, office worker, general layabout, what are you doing to combat this?

I have noticed that as I’ve written more, my fitness (frankly pretty woeful anyway) has deteriorated and the chub round my waist has increased. To try and stop from dropping dead at 50, I’ve started exercising more, eating less junk (woe, woe, woe is me!) and am trying to write standing up – at least some of the time. As I can’t afford a fancy stand up writing desk, I improvise on the kitchen counter – with a shoe box to lift my laptop to a more comfortable height. 

Were you aware of this risk to your health? If so , what are you doing to fend off Death’s icy grip?

Do let me know. We need to brainstorm this thing, people or writers may become as endangered as white rhinos and teenagers who don’t use a rising inflection at the end of every sentence. 

Why an unused imagination is like a flabby abdominal

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Husband and I were chatting yesterday (we’ve been together for twenty five years – you’d think we’d be over that kind of thing by now) on our way back from a rare couple’s lunch (In case you’re concerned we released our son on Dartmoor to run with the ponies so we could have some grown-up time, fear not. He was with a very responsible adult, watching suped-up cars speed round a racetrack – each to their own).

Husband and I were discussing how my life experience has prepared me to be a writer (well, a hopeful amateur writer anyway).

First off, there’s life experience. Unless you’re a true prodigy and understand the human condition from the moment you spring from the womb, most of us need to have had some dodgy jobs, some good jobs, travelled a bit and generally mixed with other human beings (loved, lost, loved and lost again – rinse and repeat) for a few decades before we feel qualified to write about life.

Secondly, I’ve had a very understanding and supportive partner. Someone who’s prepared to field a young child, go shopping, or just leave you in peace to write and who doesn’t become resentful and obstructive after years of doing so and STILL no sight of a giant publishing deal … Not to be underestimated.

The third biggest thing that’s prepared me to write was studying with the O.U. Allow me to explain.

As regulars will know, I’ve had an array of often-not-very-exciting-or-fulfilling-in-fact-kinda-eye-skeweringly-boring retail jobs over the years. These jobs  left me stale, frustrated and unfulfilled. I had grown so used to floristry and all its doings, I could’ve made a wedding bouquet standing on my head. In fact, I suspect some brides over the years have thought I did make their bouquets standing on my head. Or maybe with my eyes shut. Anyway, I was fed up.

Then the dreams started. Well, pretty much the same dream, over and over, night after night, week after week.

I was late for an exam. I’d missed the bus to get to college. I hadn’t revised for another exam and I’d missed the bus and I was going to be late, and every permutation you can make from those elements. Now usually, I think reading dreams is an inherently bad idea as they’re just the brain’s way of digesting all the random codswollop we’ve absorbed during the day.

But this was different. My brain was telling me something – it was saying

‘Get off your backside and do something useful with me before I calcify or make you dress up as a fried egg and talk to sausages.’

So I did as my brain told me. I registered for a foundation course with the *Open University. I was terrified I wouldn’t cope, petrified of failure, but I completed the introductory exercises … And loved it. There followed six (mainly) enjoyable years of Art history, Roman history, and Renaissance history. I studied fossils, prehistoric technology, the English Civil War, more Art History and all while I was working full-time and part-time, giving birth (**well, I tried to get my text books out in the delivery room, but the midewife said it was unhygienic). I studied sleep deprived, while breastfeeding and over three house moves – writing essays and studying for exams early in the morning and late at night.

Studying taught me to grab any available minute. And it got me in the habit of ‘switching on’ in an instant, writing to order when and wherever I had to.

You see, it’s a habit, writing.

Your imagination is like a muscle. When you first begin to exercise it, it’s like a flabby abdominal, unused to being put under pressure – at first you might even have trouble isolating where it is. But with more practice – preferably daily practice – it will become taut, reliable … A thing of beauty.

It’s a strangled metaphor, but you know what I mean.

Once my brain was used to HAVING to work when I told it to, it was an easy switch from academic writing to creative writing. It didn’t mean I was any good at fiction at the start, but it did mean I wasn’t hanging around, waiting for the Muse to strike. I could summon her where and when I needed.

My advice, then is to be older, marry my husband and if you feel that you can only scribble when you’re in the right mood?

Write every day and that mood will become part of you.


How do you write? Daily? Weekly? Or only when there’s a full moon and the wind is in the East? What life experiences have prepared you to be a writer?

Let me know.

*As a very biased Open alumni, may I recommend my old alma mater? They provide long and short courses and quite a lot of free bits and pieces on a wide range of subjects. And they make a lot of good TV programmes too.

http://www.open.ac.uk/

**This is, in fact untrue. Though, if a big essay had been due …

We’re going on a cave hunt… Writing Caves # 5

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Okay, people, we’re nearly there now.

We’ve sat for a while in my dining room, popped into the overcrowded, body-odour scented, eccentrics-magnet that is public transport, drank over-priced, over-sugared hot chocolate at a chain coffee shop that shall not be named.

We’ve limped home, mentally and physically shattered, on the verge of both a diabetic coma and a breakdown from all the jostling, swearing and general bad behaviour on my glorious city’s road network and flopped exhausted, into the bomb site that is my bed.

We’ve nestled, we’ve dozed- hey, we’ve even spooned a little (don’t fret, I won’t tell)– but now the end is nigh.

You see, we’ve nearly reached the end of our journey through my Writing Caves. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve endured a little light dentistry, but this is the penultimate instalment.

But before I describe my DREAM WRITING CAVE (look out next week for that stunner), I’m going to tell you where I just don’t write, won’t write, have never tried to write with my laptop, the esteemed Dominic Silverstreak.

OUR GARDEN. Oh, it’s a lovely thought, under the outspread arms of our cherry tree, the bees  in full buzz and the blossom falling like beautiful litter around my feet… BUT. The’redecoration’ of our garden by the neighbour’s cats means there’s the constant whiff of litter tray lurking nearby. Also, the sun shines on the laptop screen and I can’t see anything and the blossom falls on the keyboard and anyway, there’s nowhere to prop a notebook or leave a cup of tea where it won’t get kicked over and the bees buzz in your ears, the noisy little devils… so, no, regrettably- not the garden.

THE BEACH. There is nowhere on earth I’d rather be than the seaside. Even our nearest ‘beach’ (Weston-super-Mare, which is on the Severn Estuary, not  the sea, and is full of chip shops, arcades and grumpy donkeys) is a joy on a warm day. There’s nothing more inspirational than the sea. It stirs the primal being inside, calls to the mermaid or man in us all. BUT. Gulls are the bird-world’s finest muggers and will steal ANYTHING- ice creams, sandwiches, small children– nothing is safe from there clutches. And they poo, a lot and indiscriminately. So you’ll need an umbrella, even if it isn’t raining. Also it is ALWAYS WINDY at the British seaside. Always. Even in mid-summer when the sun is shining and the mercury is crawling up the glass, the gales blow. So you’ll need a cardigan. And a flask of tea to stop your fingers from going numb. And a wind break and a blanket. Let’s just not bother.

THE PARK. There’s the sun on the screen again and the bees and the wind (our local park is built on the top of a hill) and people stopping to ask what you’re doing and dogs sniffing your ankles and using you as a public convenience and footballs flying at your head cos the five-aside match has just started. Nah, can’t be bothered.

CHILDREN’S PARTIES. You get roped into ‘pass the parcel’ and the mountains of cake are too distracting.

AT THE POOL. It’s good to exercise, but Dominic’s a sensitive soul and doesn’t like getting damp.

AT WORK. Okay during breaks, but the customers will insist on being served and when I use the excuse, ‘But I’m trying to think of another synonym for ‘said”, people tend to lash out.

CHURCH. Nice and quiet, but the vicar complains about the keys tapping during funerals and weddings.

AT THE SUPERMARKET. Can’t balance the laptop on the shopping trolley.

I could go on. But I can see you’re tired and you’ve looked at your watch three times since I started this list, so I’ll let you go. Travel safe and I’ll see you next week for the final WE’RE GOING ON A CAVE HUNT…

We’re going on a cave hunt… Writing Caves #4

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I love being in bed. Not like that, saucy!

I just enjoy that soft, warm feeling that only hiding in your bedroom brings. Not that my bedroom’s anything glamorous. No four-poster, cushion-jungle, Barbie-bed shenanigans for me.

For a start, we’ve too much ‘stuff’ to keep the room clutter-free, so against one of the walls are boxes of books due for the charity shop, toys my son no longer plays with now he’s surgically attached to a games system when he’s not at school, bags of old clothes that are awaiting the imaginary car boot sale which we really are going to do one day… You get the picture.

Then, on my side of the bed is THE NEST. THE NEST comprises stacks of old notebooks, numbered and in the date order they were completed, along with the index book I use to record what’s in each one, so I at least stand a tiny chance of finding old short story/ novel ideas I had three years ago, but never had the time to complete (It’s one of the few areas of my life/ writing/ existence on this planet where I’m a tiny bit organised.)

Also in THE NEST are two stacks of books I-keep-meaning-to-read-but-haven’t-quite-got-round-to-yet. These include The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, several Booker nominees (which I’ve eschewed for years in favour of Suzanne Collins, Ben Aaronovitch, Neil Gaiman and tons of other great authors who will never be nominated for that esteemed prize). There’s a book of Greek Myths, a Grimm’s Fairy Tales and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, which I’m just too chicken to read at night-time.

Then there’s the box of as yet unsold copies of Still Me*, the anthology of short stories and poems my writing group, All Write Then published a few years ago, testament not to the quality of the writing, but to how thoroughly useless I am at promotion. There’s also a pack of 200 business cards- Lynn Love:Author (Ha!Ha!)- which I misguidedly bought for my one and only foray into book fairs. Sold not a single book and it wasn’t fair!

THE NEST is a messy dust trap, but it encapsulates my love of books and writing (successful and really, very not so) and I love having it so close to me at night. Maybe I’m hoping the talent from all those Bookerists will leech out of the paper and into my brain as I slumber.

Anyhoo. Despite being a mess, my bedroom is great for writing in.

Imagine. It’s the weekend, early morning. The family are up and about because even though they don’t need to be, neither of them can sleep in when there are computer generated aliens to slay/ cities to build/ race tracks to conquer. I’ve had my first wee of the day (lovely), switched on the WIFI (a mistake for someone so easily distracted) and with freshly brewed tea in hand, sneak back upstairs for a couple of hours of tip-tapping on Dominic Silversteak**. The sun streams in (on a good day), I’m separate enough from my loved ones to concentrate, and close enough to hear them laugh/ argue/ moan about having to do their homework.

Bliss.

Bed- the Writing Cave of champions!

*If you’d like to purchase a copy of Still Me, they’re available from our publisher, Pewter Rose Press at a very reasonable price. All proceeds go to the Alzhiemer’s Society, so you’ll be buying quality and doing a good deed- hurrah!

**You’ve not been paying attention- Dominic’s my laptop, not the lover I keep in the airing cupboard.

We’re going on a cave hunt… Writing Caves #3

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I love a good hot chocolate. With a head of foam so deep you could float your spoon on it. Not too sweet, a little bitter so your can really taste those cocoa beans. As I drink I imagine 18th Century ladies in their salons, sipping from thimble-sized cups, every brown dribble worth more than gold. I see their powdered wigs sway on their heads, each passing breeze threatening to capsize them, like galleons fighting squally tempests off Cape Horn …

Of course, when I order hot chocolate, what I’m actually served is a thin liquid that has a layer of sludge at the bottom an inch deep with the consistency of quick sand, tasting both slimy and gritty. The stuff is so sweet the sugar melts my teeth. Each hot chocolate should come with a voucher: collect ten and you have access to the onsite dentist who can do running repairs to your molars between drinks.

The tea’s no better. Tea in any cafe chain is tinny and bitter. Think of a photograph of David Tennant: it might resemble that handsome, dashing creature, but you couldn’t wrap your arms around it, give it a big squeeze and take it home for cuddles on the sofa. Well, you could, but at the end of the day, you’re not getting quite what you hoped for, and the same goes for cafe chain tea.

And I don’t drink coffee. ‘Proper’, fresh brewed coffee has my heart galloping like the winner at Derby Day and sends my head feeling like it’s stuffed with pillows. And it makes your breath smell. Coffee breath smells like the liquid that gathers at the bottom of a rubbish bin.

So, you would assume I’d avoid coffee shops. You’d think their synthetic drinks, their bustle, their noise, their whole corporate, faceless, aggressively marketed schtick would have me running. But I’ve spent hours in certain outlets. You know- the one named after a Battlestar Galactica character.

Why? Imagine it now- the low hum of conversation, my single table with nothing on it but my laptop and the cooling, sticky swamp of a barely touched chocolate flavoured drink… There’s something about the anonymity of the chain coffee shops, the fact that there’s so much coming and going, it’s easy to block it all out, the fact that members of staff won’t move you on, even if you’ve been sitting there for three hours and only spent £2.50.

In a cafe, I can’t get up and make myself a nice cup of tea. The WIFI’s not secure, so I won’t keep checking my inbox for that short story acceptance email that never comes. There’s no cupboard of snacks to rifle through and I’ve left my writing mags and shelves of books at home. For a busy place there are few distractions.

And another thing. Look around you. Every other table has a guy or gal tapping away at a laptop. Many are just watching cats miming to Bohemian Rhapsody on You Tube; some are students frantically working on theses that should’ve been handed in months ago, but that miming cat’s been just so hard not to watch… But maybe one, perhaps even two others might just be writing a story, a novel, a tale that’s wormed inside them and is finally breaking out. Some of them are my people.

Right. I’ve got to go cos I’ve a yearning for a triple mocha-choca-chino with hazelnut sauce and a double helping of aerosol cream. Can’t imagine where I’ve developed a taste for those…

We’re going on a Cave hunt… Writing Caves #2

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You may find it hard to believe from my beautifully crafted words (Ha! Ha!) but I don’t spend all day, every day, hidden in Writing Cave #1. There are times when I must surgically detach myself from my chair, brush the biscuit crumbs from my stiffened limbs and stumble, blinking into the light.

Leaving Dominic Silverstreak behind is a wrench. I should explain that Dominic is my Vaio laptop and a more gorgeous hunk you won’t find. Okay, so occasionally he refuses to work, he’s slow, sluggish and has been known to lose stuff, but I’ve grown so used to the feel of him under my hands, I can’t imagine another taking his place… Sorry, what was I saying? Ah, yes.

The days I have to leave my beloved behind (sigh!) are usually Work days. This is something I’ve been informed we all have to do to earn money. Now, much as I’ve gone along with this idea for the last thirty-odd years, I’ve never totally understood the concept. It all seems rather unpleasant and inconvenient. Rather than having to turf out of bed- leaving Dominic cold and alone- to do something that’s frankly quite hard and tiring, wouldn’t it just be more straightforward if I stayed at home, warm, cosy, doing what I love to do, and have someone pay me anyway? Just an idea for the future, policy makers of the world.

Anyway, to get to Work I have to cross town, catching two buses in the process, because *I DON’T DRIVE. Now, I realise that to some of you saying I don’t drive is like announcing I can get along without breathing, that I don’t like **Soap Operas and never watch Strictly or X Factor – but I never have driven and possibly never will.

But all is not lost, because whilst in traffic jams (which in Bristol are many and varied), stuck at lights and trying to ignore the fact I have a stranger’s groin/ armpit/ dribbling toddler in my face, I carry the spirit of Dominic with me in the form of a notebook (And no, I don’t have names for my notebooks- that would just be weird.)

In the notebooks I scribble plots and ideas for upcoming stories, random thoughts, earwigged conversations, bizarre bus-bound happenings (perhaps the subject of a future post!) shopping lists and anything else that occurs to me.

So there you have it- Writing Cave #2: public transport.

Now, if you wouldn’t mind leaving- Dominic and I want some ‘alone time’.

*My hubby doesn’t drive either- what kind of freaks are we?
**I also do not like soaps and never watch Strictly or X Factor– that’s how much of a freak I am.

We’re going on a Cave hunt… Writing Caves # 1

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I’ve mentioned Writers’ Caves (Hello me, this is me) before, those personal places where scribblers spill their literary guts onto screens/ notebooks and if they stay still too long, short-haired pets and small children. Now, let me share mine.

The downstairs of our house is rather ‘open plan’. Now, if that phrase conjures some kind of Scandinavian, architect-designed work of genius with plate glass windows, a view onto a fjord/ out of town Ikea/ darkly twisted murder scene involving lovely stern ladies wearing fair isle knitwear, then I’m gonna have to disappoint.

Our version of ‘open plan’ is where someone knocked a ruddy great square hole between the living room and the dining room of our modest, Edwardian terraced house. I’m guessing it was the same ‘someone’ who removed the interior doors throughout. It means the light floods in, almost at the same rate that the heat floods out.

In the dining room, at the dining room table* is where I usually write. It’s where I’m writing this now, listening to the guttering overflow into the back yard, surrounded by a half-finished Meccano model, a BMX, a scooter and a stack of books that were supposed to have been donated to a charity shop before Christmas, but have now been accidentally recycled into coffee table/ clothes airer.

In the winter, it gets so cold in here I have to wear two jumpers, a thermal, several pairs of socks, drink endless mugs of tea and wrap in a blanket just to keep my fingers moving. It’s not a retreat from the world, it’s the centre of where the action happens in our house. We put our Christmas tree over there: we’ve had umpteen kids parties here: the exercise bike is tucked in the corner to my right, crowing over me and my sagging midriff because I write more than I cycle.

Despite the fact that it’s not really MY space, that I have to push nuts, bolts, coasters and table mats aside just to make enough room for the laptop, it’s my Writer’s Cave, the space I’ve drafted and redrafted novels and short stories, polished plots, critiqued friend’s work and created this blog.

It’s my main place to write, a homely space, choc-ful of distractions, but mine.

Look out for future instalments of Writer’s Cave: Sub-Caves and why every writer needs them.

*Lynn Love, in the Dining Room, with a laptop- guilty as charged.

Hello me, this is me

Wouldn’t we all like a second version of ourselves?

There are days when you’ve just got too much on. You have to do some cleaning because there are week-old Hula Hoops crushed into the rug and the remains of a’scientific experiment’ going green behind the living room curtains (It will all be worth it on the day your little darling wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry- honest.) The dog is wearing a haunted expression which suggests if you don’t take him out for a walk soon, your carpet will be dyed an attractive shade of Rover Wee Yellow.

And that’s before work. When you reach the day job, you have to use your lunch break to call a plumber, because an underwire’s sneaked out of your favourite bra and has wedged inside the washing machine, making it squeal like Hamish the hamster did when Auntie Jeanie’s Jack Russell finally worked out how to open his cage.*

Then there’s deciding what to cook for dinner, bearing in mind that there have to be several meal choices available as no two people in the house will eat the same food at the same time. Buying food, cooking food, eating, washing up… If only we could all be in several places at once.

The life of a writer is no different. You see, what writers want to do, what they really want to do, now brace yourself… is write. All day, every day, locked in their own heads in their Writer’s Caves (like a Man Cave, but with fewer spanners and Premiership Fixture Lists).

Whereas if they want to be successful what they also have to find time for is-

dealing with agents and publishers: networking- in the flesh and online: attending book signings, talks, book fairs, festivals: doing their tax returns, accounts, and getting their heads around the nightmare that is publishing payments and rights: building their’brand’, promoting themselves and their work to an overcrowded market with a very short attention span. (Being an as yet unpaid amateur at this writing mullarkey, I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve missed.)

Add to this the fact that many writers also have a normal job to pay their bills, and you find a group of people with a big chunk of stuff on their proverbial plates.

Now, what writers need are clones who can do all of the adminy, networky, boring stuff, leaving the creative free to shuffle Gollum-like to their Writer Caves, where they can hide in their nests of empty coffee cups and biscuit crumbs, drooling over their Precious Creations until they’re ready to send them tottering and blinking into the light.

Hmmm. Maybe not.

*No hamsters were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

Just another writing day

Today is a writing day, so here’s my checklist of things to achieve.

1) See the family off the premises with lunch boxes, kit bags, homework books and the best smile I can manage considering I’m still half asleep and haven’t had a coffee yet. Check

2) Galumph around the living room- all knock-knees and red-faced huffing- to an old Rosemary Conley aerobics DVD. (For those of you unacquainted with the great lady’s work, she’s rather prim, English, with a steely grin and a no-nonsense manner. Imagine a hockey teacher at a private girl’s school in the nineteen-fifties.) Check.

3) Once undignified panting has ceased, brew a coffee and fire up the laptop. Check

4) Be distracted by today’s Blogging 101 task- inserting an image into a post. Check

5) Spend an hour searching for image, downloading, swearing, deleting, downloading again, until I’ve finally worked out how to insert an image and write some text so both will appear together. (Not technically on the checklist, but as it’s taken up so much of the morning, we may as well pop it in there.) Check

6) Stare at the keyboard and wait for inspiration to strike…
I’ll get back to you on that one.

Word of the day
Galumph- *move in a clumsy, ponderous or noisy manner. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/galumph

*And the actual sound my body makes as I clomp around to Rosemary’s DVDs