Tag Archives | writing

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Berlin April 10

Catching up on my stored Instapaper* articles, I found a piece describing some of the (often strange and ritualised) ways in which acclaimed writers write.

Having spent the last few months twisting around myself, trying to organise the ideas and plans for my novel without going crazy, wondering if it was normal to spend so much time planning that the actual writing of prose seems to be the thing I do least, sitting at a desk buried in layers of post-its and index cards, writing in notebooks overrun with more arrows and crossings out than words - breathe, Rhian, breathe - to read about Ishiguro’s flow-charts, Mantel’s showers and Atwood’s scribbles has reassured me that I might be sane. Or, rather, normal. For a writer. Maybe.

Sounds like I have the ‘create whichever system/state of chaos you need in order to beckon and then trap your ideas’ part of novel-writing right, so all I need to do now is try not to flinch at the prospect of getting my prose anywhere near the level of those masters.

(Um, yes. I only want to read really bad fiction at the moment, stuff that makes me feel superior. Badly punctuated, excessively descriptive, heavy on the speech tags? Bring it on! Cliched or nonsensical characters in overwrought settings? Yes please! I’ve had to put my Maggie Stiefvater* backlog to one side, as I can’t handle the prettiness right now).

The article is here, and if you enjoy reading about the writing process then I recommend the Paris Review interviews – a fascinating collection of interviews with artists and writers, in several volumes. Volume 1 is my favourite, featuring Hemingway, Capote, Dorothy Parke, Joan Didion and Kurt Vonnegut.

*Instapaper ROCKS. Especially if you’re trying to reduce your time online, but don’t want to miss out on good reading. It’s especially useful for me because it syncs with my Kindle.

When I see something online I want to read, say an article about literary agents or a blog post about female YA writers, I click to send it to Instapaper and then The Magic Instapaper Fairies compile everything I’ve saved and email me a mini-newspaper made up of them.

So, I can give myself five minutes to scan Twitter, send any interesting links to my Instapaper account, wave at my friends and then get back to what I was supposed to be doing offline. The next morning, my Kindle receives a document containing anything I tagged, and I read it on the train. I don’t find myself online for hours reading when I should be writing, but I still get to keep up with interesting articles at a time I choose. LOVE. IT.

*the beginning scene in Linger, when Isabel comes into the bookshop? It slayed me, it was written so well. So much is conveyed without ever being explicit – I had to stomp around the house, loudly Giving Up Writing, before I could pick up either the book or my writing again.

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The best kind of problem

I’ve been relatively quiet online recently, because I’m revising my book and it’s totally absorbing*. Right now, at least; I expect a sticky, scary stretch will come along, but I’m not there yet. I bought Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course as a Christmas present for myself, and it’s GREAT. Cuts out a lot of flailing by giving me specifics to work on each week, plus the forums are really helpful. These things make me happy. Definitely recommended, if you’re looking to avoid flailing too.

(*plus, my iphone is still broken so I have to actually, like, get up and turn the computer on in order to be online. My laziness often overrides my social-media urge).

My only problem is that other things make me happy, too – especially books by Stacia Kane. Here I am, deep in revision, proud of my swotty, good-girl focus, and along comes a book I know I’m going to drop everything to read - Sacrificial Magic is out in the UK today! I read each of the first three Downside novels in a day and I’m sure this one will be as gripping, and as good. So that’s at least 24 hours of my writing schedule written off, while I catch up with Chess and Terrible.

Even worse,  Bring Up the Bodies is also out today – the sequel to Wolf Hall that I’ve been itching for since I heard it was being written. If I’d noticed when I pre-ordered that they’d both be released at the same time I would have kept my weekend free. Instead I’ve made plans and will have to leave the house and spend time with real people, grr ;-)

Any genre-heads who haven’t heard of these are forgiven for seeing ‘Wolf’ and ‘Bodies’ in the titles and assuming I’m reading horror. Nope – they’re the story of Thomas Cromwell, and Wolf Hall was exactly the kind of well-written masterpiece that puts one off ever trying to write anything at all, because it will never be as good. You know the sort of thing. Disgustingly excellent.

Also, I totally fell for Cromwell.  These aren’t romance novels, but he was so well drawn, so complex and real that I sigh every time I think of him. My poor Thomas.  Sigh. I am so looking forward to spending more time with him.

The only flaw with Wolf Hall was that there were about twenty other characters also called Thomas, who were invariably all in the same scene talking to or about each other, and neither ‘Thomas’ nor ‘he’ were useful signifiers as to who did what. One of the drawbacks of reading on a Kindle is the relative difficulty of flicking back a few pages or referring to the index to see who’s who. Still, better than having to haul a 600 page hardback around, and a useful writing lesson learned – not to give all my characters the same damn name. There, I’m gaining on Hilary Mantel as I write…

I don’t know which book I’m more excited about. The only reason I’m starting Sacrificial Magic first is because it’ll be the quicker read. The Downside books aren’t short, but they are fast-paced and I always inhale them in one or two sittings, whereas Wolf Hall – woah, that was 674 pages, and Bring up the Bodies is 608. Wolf Hall was the first book I ever read on my Kindle, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have read it if I’d had to lug a book of that size around.

Instead, both of these new books weigh nothing at all (or not?) and were magically delivered to my Kindle by the Amazon fairies overnight, which was thrilling to wake up to, in the same way that eBay purchases always feel like (free) gifts when they arrive.

Back later. Gone reading. X

Source: last.fm via Jenni on Pinterest

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Things I have done since I realised I could finish writing my novel in one week

Cleaned the bathroom, including inside the cupboards

Eaten a whole cake

Finished three knitting projects

Decided it’s important to watch all of The Walking Dead immediately

Decided it’s important to learn how to use the knitting machine I’ve owned for eight years

Googled the lyrics for ‘Reproduction’ from Grease 2

Gone through the 600+ books on my Kindle, organising them into folders and reading all the samples

Listened to all the extras for Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and wondered if I should learn to play an instrument too

Organised all of my toiletries into separate bags

Read about the difference between bourbon and whisky

Learned how to make an Old Fashioned

Washed four loads of laundry

Pinned 200 pins

Gone to the beach

Watched a whole series of Bones

Replaced the lightbulbs in all the things in the house that needed new lightbulbs

Replaced the batteries in all the things in the house that needed new batteries

Learned how to make bracelets from shoelaces

Updated my blog.

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‘Do’s and ‘Don’t's of Writing SF/F Part II (Mslexia Guest Blog)

demons

Part II of my ‘Do’s and Don’ts of writing SFF’  is up at Mslexia now; I hope you like it. Guest starring Over-achieving cousin Mieville, Daddy Gaiman, and older sister Scarlett Thomas.

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