Autumn brings introspection, and our new annual tradition

I’m always going on about nature and how it makes me reflect on life in general and my writing in particular. Outside my window is a damp, red-yellow scene. We’ve had a fairly mild autumn here in Derby, England with only a little frost, and unusually for us here on our little hill, a lot of rain. It’s never quite enough rain for me. Ever since we came back from Australia, almost seventeen years ago, I’ve been kind of obsessed with rainfall.

But autumn brings with it a conflict of pace. In town, everything is gathering speed as we head towards Christmas; the shops are already selling glittery shiny stuff and there is red tinsel everywhere. But away from this commercial world, the earth is heading towards its winter sleep. The leaves fall, gently, wearily, laying themselves on the ground with a sigh. The animals are hoarding foodstocks, and searching for warm hideaways. Crops come to the end of production, the last petals fall from the roses, herbs turn to straw, and the trees reach naked limbs into the chilly air.

There is so much inspiration to be gained from an observation of the natural world at the moment. As I bring one novel to an end, and prepare to start another, as our new annual tradition of NaNoWriMo gets under way, we all will need all the help we can get with our writing. Now is a time when we are lured by sleep, yet we have to dig down deep to find the stamina and the energy to stick with it and write on into the gloomy days of winter.

My advice is, write early if you can. Get your 1660 words or so written as early in the day as you can. All too often we get to evening and have run out of time or impetus. If you can relax secure in the knowledge you’ve already done your daily word count, you will feel justifiably smug for the rest of the day.

And don’t forget, if you are taking part in NaNoWriMo, keep your WIP on your computer up-to-date: you can’t verify a word count at the end of the month if your story is all written by hand on scraps of paper, or even in your sparkly new notebook! Write as many extra words as you can at the beginning, as you will need this to ease your way towards the end. But hang in there, keep writing, don’t panic. It will come together. Take the occasional day off if you need to, but remember to make up the word count so you don’t fall behind and leave yourself with a Herculean task late in the month.

See you on the other side.

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Kiss my Baby!

This is an old blog post from Summer 2013. I’ve reused it partly because at the moment I’m working hard to get my latest novel to a decent standard ahead of a publication deadline, (self-imposed, always the worst) so it’s encouraging me, and partly because I’ve got a filthy cold/cough and I can’t ‘brain’ today. This harks back to those heady days when I thought a ‘real’ publisher might take me on, and I waited for the rejected manuscript to be returned. Oh my aching sides!

Quote of the week: ‘A book is so much a part of one’s life that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.’ Quentin Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf and author of a number of biographies including the fabulous ‘Charleston’.

Yes, Quentin, that is exactly how one feels about one’s book!

You see, it’s kind of a weird thing, but as you write, the book/fag packet/old envelope becomes a living thing. And like a child, (one’s own child!) it seems so fragile, so vulnerable, so at the mercy of strong winds and icy chills. And once you’ve bundled up said child book to send it off into the world all alone, there is a certain amount of anxiety that attends its imminent return, and you hang around the front door, or the post box, wringing your hands, hoping for a glimpse, a clue, anything to tell you (or to tell one, I should say) how your baby is faring. And of course, until the parcel is dumped in your greenhouse with a note through the door saying the postman has left you a package, you have no idea what is happening.

Sometimes I look at my piles of paper, and think, ‘There you are, all snug and safe. No scary people are going to hurt you if you stay here with Mummy.’

Of course, if I’m really honest with myself (usually about two o’clock in the morning), it’s me that is afraid of being hurt. And it’s me who is afraid of being unappreciated, or proved to be talentless or who will remain unsuccessful. So really, this manuscript is an extension of myself, my hopes, my dreams. But I’ve discovered that the only way to achieve is to do. If you wait until you are ‘ready’, you won’t achieve anything. If I do want something to happen in my life, if I do want something to change, to have any chance of increasing and developing my writing skills, of being successful, I have got to make myself do it. It’s time to take a risk. I’ve got to step out into the traffic.

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Preparing to write your novel with NaNoWRiMo 2017

I’m adding my voice to the current slew of advice posts aimed at anyone thinking of joining in the (Inter)National Novel Writing Month through NaNoWriMo.org in November this year. Whether you are a seasoned author or a newbie, this is a great challenge to give you a big push to writing a complete novel–though it could also be non-fiction if that’s your bag, baby–by taking the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

I’ve done it several times now, and still haven’t quite made up my mind whether or not to go for it this year, as I am revising my WIP ahead of publication this December. But I can say unreservedly that it is a great idea and I think also a valuable writing experience. If you’re not sure whether to do it, I say, give it a go, what have you got to lose? And you could gain a complete first draft!!!!!

So here are my top tips for a great NaNoWriMo:

  1. Prepare. Yes, make sure you do! Even if you see yourself as a ‘pantser’, make sure you hit the ground running on November 1st by having a good idea of what your story is about, who the main characters are, and key plots points. You will need to write an average of 1600 words per day to achieve the 50,000 word target by the end of the month. Reread any notes you have made, and get your Word docs or word processing files ready on your computer of choice. Do any essential research necessary NOW, don’t leave it until November.
  2. Keep your daily writing typed up! Don’t do what I did two years in a row (argh, the pain!) of writing mainly longhand then not leaving enough time to type up my work before the end of the month. It’s no good telling NaNoWriMo you’ve successfully completed the challenge if you don’t upload your ENTIRE 50,000 words for verification by their robot. In addition, remember their robot may not count quite the same as you, so ensure you’ve got a couple of hundred words over the 50,000-limit under your belt.
  3. Don’t get distracted. There is so much to look at on the NaNoWriMo site, and so many useful talks, motivational speeches, helps, suggestions, support groups, discussions and so on, but DO NOT spend time looking at this stuff if you haven’t done your daily word count. It is so easy to become distracted and to think, I’ll just write extra tomorrow. Then the dog breaks its leg, and you’re at the vet till midnight and before you know it a week has gone by and you’ve got to write 3,500 words a day just to keep up. So don’t get on that slippery slope. Write first, have fun later.
  4. Be realistic. The aim here is not to write and publish a great work by Christmas. Okay, I’m sure some wonderman/woman will do exactly that–there’s always a handful of literary stars. But most of us will be aiming to simply write a complete, or almost complete, first draft during NaNoWriMo. Don’t write your 50,000 words then think the work is over, that your book is ready to be unleashed on a waiting world. This is simply the end of the beginning. Once you’ve finished your first draft, pat yourself on the back because it’s a great achievement; then request your winners’ certificate from NaNoWriMo.org and take a well-earned break. Put your first draft away. Then get it out in a month or six, and begin the process of rewriting, crafting, polishing. Work on it alongside the NaNoWriMo revision camps and workshops, and take pride in getting it as good as it can be. And–write another book!
  5. Keep going through the tough days. At first it’s exciting. It’s fun. You feel a wonderful sense of achievement, and as you reach the end of week one, you survey your 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 words with pride. It’s all so easy, it’s all so wonderful. You should have done this years ago. BUT…often, (and it won’t just be you who goes through this) you can hit a brick wall. You struggle to wring 400 words from your imagination. Things happen in life and it can be hard to find the time. Suddenly the blank page is staring back at you in what can only be described as a hostile manner, and you begin to feel like giving up. Okay, take a breath, dig deep, you can do this. Hang on in there as they used to say in the 70s. Write a page of ‘I have no idea what to write’ or ‘I am so &*%%£! off with this writing game’. Anything, just to keep writing. Just keep at it and slog through the tough times. This would be a good time to read or listen to ONE or TWO only of the motivational speeches or posts, just so you know there are others going through the same experience. Keep writing, it will come back, I promise. You can make that 50,000 words appear.

Woohoo–you made it! You are a writing genius and should feel sooo proud of your achievement. Congratulations! Print off your certificate and put it on your wall to gloat over. Now stop wasting time and write another book. Oh, and, please, let me know how you get on! See you on the other side.

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Pulling out the stops

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Though apparently this is a harmonium...

So the dreaded month of November appears like a yawning chasm on the horizon, threatening to devour all my creativity and imagination. Yes it’s that time again. NaNoWriMo is almost here. Every year I tell myself, I’m not doing this next year, but I always do. After all 50,000 words in 30 days isn’t so bad, is it? I’ve done more than that in three weeks before now. Mind you, I wasn’t too well afterwards. But it was a good story!

But for those who don’t know, there is also another calendar entry of note for my family in November – that’s right, it’s the IPMS Scale ModelWorld, at Telford International Centre, Telford, Shropshire. No, I don’t make plastic model kits, and I neither exhibit nor purchase. Though I do usually help lug boxes from the car and into the exhibition rooms. On one occasion I even dropped one of said boxes and ‘let’ (his word) several precious models fall into a puddle and smash.

http://www.smwshow.com/show.php

But I know a man who does, the love of my love, obviously. For him it’s like Christmas Day and the first day of the school summer holidays all rolled into one. Yawn.

But while he’s off discussing scales and scratch-building and the real fifty shades of (battleship) grey, I will have TIME.

To do what? I hear you chorus.

Well, as I’ve already said, there’s No-No-WriMo! So that’s me with my 1600-word quota to achieve every day, including Telford days (6-8th November), which means carrying my notebook everywhere I go (as if I don’t anyway), but I’ve also – a year behind schedule – finished writing the first draft of my WIP and I will begin revising that on this auspicious occasion. Because basically I’ve got three days to sit and do nothing apart from eavesdropping as many different languages as I can, or eating cake and spending money at the shopping centre in Telford. These little gaps in time are perfect for cracking on with work without too many of the usual distractions we have at home. I know I can really knuckle down and concentrate.

Checkmate is the name of the WIP and will – by hook or by crook – be available from February 1st 2016, which was once a comfortable distant deadline, but now seems perilously close…

So that’s my November all sewn up – with of course the usual fascinating round of editing and proofreading for my clients in my ‘day job’. It promises to be satisfying, exhausting and at times stressful, no doubt there will be tears and panic and laughter and that wonderful ‘why don’t I do this all the time–this is really ME!’ sensation–and I’m very excited.

Plus I’m going shopping…

Rossetti’s Song is perfect for hallowe’en!

When I am dead, my dearest

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

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When I am dead, my dearest
         Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
         Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
         With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
         And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
         I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
         Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
         That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
         And haply may forget