Wednesday, 29 September 2010

AlphaReview: Books from afar...

The last month has been not a little crazy for me at work, and my writing has suffered somewhat.  I will be turning a new leaf over in October and getting back to it in earnest.

In the meantime though, I have been lucky enough to receive three books from afar – they have crossed the pond to find me from the United States.

The first is Cinders, a novella by Michelle Davidson Argyle.  Michelle was one of my first readers and has offered me some great encouragement and inspiration so far.
I devoured Cinders in under 24 hours and loved every word of it.  It deserves more time than I can give it here so I will be writing a review in due course, but until that time is forthcoming, I wholeheartedly recommend it and congratulate Michelle on such an engaging book.

The second book to land on my mat was Genre Wars, which I was lucky enough to win via a contest at The Literary Lab (incidentally, Michelle of Cinders fame also contributes to this blog).  I have whiled away many an hour gleaning nuggets of writerly wisdom from the contributors at the Lab, and encourage anyone interested in literary fiction to check it out.
Genre Wars is a collection of short pieces in a range of genres (duh) by various writers.  I have only dipped into it so far, but it is likely to be accompanying me on holiday shortly so that I can get stuck in – so again, watch this space for a review.

The third book from the land of the free is The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund.  Again, I was lucky to receive this as it’s an influencer copy, and when I first contacted Jody she wasn’t sure whether her publishers would send one all the way to England.  So I was particularly pleased and surprised when it was delivered to me!
This is a historical novel set in a puritan community in Bedford (my side of the pond) shortly after the English Civil War.  Its plot centres around a strong young puritan woman who is drawn to help the family of a preacher after his wife’s death.  I started reading it earlier this week and have been impressed by the compelling dialogue, beautiful scene-setting and attention to detail.  Again, I will post a full review once I have finished it – for now, all you need to know is that ‘just one chapter before bed’ always turns into three or four….

You should also check out Jody’s blog for oodles of great advice from a debut novelist.

That’s all for now folks!

Monday, 23 August 2010

AlphaThoughts - Bless me muse, for I have sinned... has been three weeks since my last blog post.

Ouch.  Worse than that, it has also been three weeks since I wrote anything on my novel.  My aim to write 5,000 words a week has been shamefully ignored.

I have excuses, of course:

1)  Monday three weeks ago was when my busy period at work started up again.  I won't bore you with what I do - suffice to say I'm on my feet a lot in the week, adrenaline plays a part, and I often resemble a zombie at the end of the day.  The busy period will continue until mid-November though, so at some point I'll just have to get over it and get on with it.

2)  I started a new exercise regime at the same time as work went nuts.  Eminently sensible, I'm sure you'll agree.

3)  Just over a week ago, both of the excuses above paled into insignificance when I went down with a VERY unpleasant bug.  I managed to survive two days of work (no time to go see the doc), but on the third morning my body said 'NO!' and subjected me to a world of pain.  I ended up with an emergency appointment, a severe infection, and killer antibiotics.  Still not feeling all that great, as it happens...

Aside from all this though, I have discovered that my novel-writing and my blog-writing are intrinsically linked.  When the former is going well, I want to log into Blogger and update my word count, let the world out there know how I'm getting on, and share in other people's blogs too.  But when it's going badly (or not at all) and I'm procrastinating and making excuses, I steer well clear of Blogger so I don't have to admit that I am a serious flake.

I think with writing, sometimes just acknowledging your own traits of procrastination, excuse-making and so on can help you to address them.  Now that I know how my novel affects my blog and vice versa, perhaps I can use it.  For example, I now pledge to have 3,000 additional words written by the end of this Sunday.  I am out every night this week, which would be a great excuse not to, but I have Friday night and all of Sunday to do it.  And I've promised the internet I will do it now, so I have to, right?

I hope writing this post unblocks me.  I don't think it's particularly good writing, and it won't be one of my favourite posts of all time - but at least I banished those 'I'm too tired, I have to work out, I'm all sick' goblins and wrote something.

How about you?  Do you feel your blogging and your other writings are tied together?  Have you been making excuses lately?  Don't let the goblins win!  Share your thoughts or procrastinations here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

AlphaPoem of the Week - Toads

My poem of this week is for all writers out there doing a day job and writing on the side.  And for anyone who would rather not work at all!

Don't get me wrong, I actually quite like my job.  I've had a few and it's the best one yet - some great people, changing faces, and I feel like I'm making a difference to some people.

But, oh - to be in a book-lined study all day...  As Larkin says, that's the stuff that dreams are made on!

I hope you enjoy it.

Philip Larkin

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
When you have both.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

AlphaBook Project: First week up, 4,006 words in

Right.  The first week of my AlphaBook Project is (nearly) up.

I'm pleased with my progress so far.  My target was 5,000 words a week, and I confess I didn't quite get there this week - I'm at 4,006 words.  I could carry on plugging away at it into this evening and get there, but I've written a lot already today and it's starting to feel sloggy, so I think it's best to stop.  I could do with some time with my beloved AlphaBloke :-)

Besides, I'm ok with being 1,000 words down this first week.  I ended up doing character work for an evening when I realised there was a gaping hole in my story structure, which obviously took some of my writing time.  It was vital that I did it and it helped unblock me, so it was an evening well-spent.  I'm pleased with what I've got so far, too.  I'm moving forward.

The next week's shaping up to be a nightmare for writing, though.  I have a crazy week at work, a couple of evenings out, and an event that will take up most of the weekend.  I might start seeing what I can knock out on the commute.

I'm off to look for a good poem to post as AlphaPoem of the Week tomorrow!

How's your writing week been?  Are you working towards any goals or targets?  Please feel free to share your highs and lows here.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

AlphaLife: Three Things Thursday

I have just found a great blog - i AM alive by Amie, a talented photographer and writer.  She has developed Three Things Thursday.  I've decided to join in - you just have to post three things about yourself each Thursday on a topic of Amie's choosing.

This week is 'Three Things About Your Childhood That Make You Who You Are'.  Here goes!

1)  I did lots of amateur dramatics and musicals.  This has made me somewhat over the top, somewhat arty-farty, and very likely to burst into song at the slightest provocation.

2)  I was nicknamed 'Kamikaze' for my ridiculous lack of fear when encountering slides, swings, and anything else fun but dangerous.

3)  I never went to a funeral as a child.  At the age of 28, I've still never been to one.  As far as never having done something can shape you, this has shaped me.  I am so thankful for my family and friends' continuing health, but fearful for how I will cope with Death when it finally takes somebody I love.

Never expected that to get serious.

Check this out on Amie's blog and join in - I'd love to know a bit more about you!  Post a comment here if you've played so I know to look it up.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

AlphaThoughts: On prologues and Wilkie Collins

I have opened my first ever novel with a prologue.

Many writers out there will know that this is a controversial topic.  Apparently a large number of first-time novelists start with a prologue.  It can be used as a way of justifying the writing to come – like prologues and epilogues in Shakespearean and Jacobean drama, that told the audience what was to come, and apologised for it afterwards.  Alternatively, it can be used as a way of foreshadowing what will come later, if you need your reader to anticipate the future but can’t make that happen from the first scene.

Many writing technique books caution against the use of prologues unless absolutely necessary, saying it’s better to jump right in on that first scene and make it shine enough to keep the reader turning pages.  But, when a prologue is used in the right way, the effect can be arresting.  Wilkie Collins’ very first line of the ‘Preamble’ to The Woman in White is as follows: 

        THIS is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.

It goes on to state that the events should be heard in a court of law, but that the law cannot be brought to bear on this case, so it will be told here ‘by more than one pen’.  Collins’ prologue, then, not only opens with the dramatic hook above, but also frames the work and sets up the point of view and shifting focus to come.

In his most famous work The Moonstone (upheld by many as the first ever detective novel), Collins writes a more lengthy prologue of several pages.  This is largely to set up the back-story of this amazing gem.  Again, though, it begins with that all-important note of conflict – the narrator wants to explain to his family how he has been induced to 'refuse the right hand of friendship to my cousin.'

 Now.  I am biased, in that Wilkie Collins is one of my favourite writers of all time.  The Woman in White is a simply wonderful novel, and experimental for its day: the story is told by a variety of narrators, but never by its protagonist, the beautiful Laura Fairlie.  The writing is hauntingly beautiful throughout.  Having read it before, I read it again last year, and I am sorely tempted to read it again whenever I think about it.  Oh, to write a novel like that!

I think that with such a great novelist as my role model, I am going to try to make my first novel work with (and be better for) the prologue.  I have good reason to use one as I am really playing with the authorial voice.  I love the idea of the intrusive author – like in The French Lieutenant’s Woman when John Fowles writes himself into the story, sitting opposite his character on a train and wondering what to do with him – and I think a prologue could set up this idea nicely for me.

The prologue stays.  So there.

Have you used a prologue in any of your novels / other writings?  Or have you read any works with fantastic prologues?  Please share them with me.

Monday, 2 August 2010

AlphaBook Project: A sub-plot web was the key!

I am feeling so happy right now.

I sat down this evening to start writing: Chapter 1, page 1.  But something was stopping me, and it wasn't procrastination any more.  It was this niggling feeling that something big was missing from my story and notes so far.  I couldn't 'get at' one of my main characters.  He keeps his emotions all bottled up and doesn't communicate well with his family, and I was struggling to know how to portray his feelings without loads of exposition.

The book I've been using to guide my writing (which I will do a separate post about and review of soon) contains a couple of final exercises to do before the non-stop drafting.  One of these was along the lines of 'Explore your sub-text in a diagram'. Very little guidance than that, except to have fun!

So I just stuck my protagonists in the middle then spidered out around them, dropping in the other characters, with notes on the connections etc, until I had all my characters down.  Suddenly the problem was staring me in the face.  I had these two central characters, with other characters clustered around them forming sub-plot....and a whacking great blank space next to my male protagonist.  His wife had all kinds of connections, all over the place, but he had no-one who was on his side.  No-one to hear his side of the story - to be honest, no-one who really understood him.  Weird how guilty you feel when your characters are suffering...

Having no-one to fill this gap might be ok, if his total isolation would add to the story.  But it hit me, with a resounding clang around the head, that having just one person who really 'gets' him will make it beautifully clear that no-one else does.

I needed it to be a woman for various reasons, and I needed her to be no question of a love interest.  So she's much older than him.  Hoorah, I could even bump her off right near the climax when he has no-one else to turn to...

I think this is what is known as a breakthrough.

Have you had any breakthroughs or 'Eureka' moments with your writing that you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear about them - it fills you with such elation!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

AlphaBook Project: Day One!

Fanfare please...

Today, I have begun my novel-writing in earnest!  I set myself a target of writing 5,000 words a week from the 1st August.

Today, I wrote 1,194 words.

I had been thinking that I would write more than this today, it being a Sunday.  On reflection though, I'm happy enough with this - I've also spent a good deal of time today going through all my previous notes, plot charts etc for the novel, to make sure it's fresh.

Following a plan from a novel-writing book I love, I started by writing the climax.  I cried when I wrote it, which is hopefully a good sign!  I did this under strict 'Just keep writing until it's all down' rules.  Then I expanded it a little (adding a major detail I'd forgotten in the excitement), then saved it and left it alone.

Next, again following the plan, I wrote the midpoint.  This took a little head-scratching to figure out what the midpoint of the story was, but I think I found it! I applied the same write-until-you-drop approach to this also.

I know 1,194 words doesn't sound like much for two scenes, but they're both fairly brief, but very important encounters!  And no doubt they will get added to in due course.  Now, I have my climax to aim at, and my mid-point to pivot around.

From now on, it's writing from Chapter 1 to The End.  Bring it on.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

AlphaPoem of the Week - Sonnet 116

Before I become all-consumed by my first novel project starting tomorrow, I thought I'd post this week's poem, Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare.

This is another favourite of mine (notice the recurring love theme in my choices!).  I adore the way that the first line and a half is almost overly wordy and serious - it just emphasises the simplicity of the statements that follow.

For Shakespeare, true love never dies.  What an old romantic.

Sonnet 116 - William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Monday, 26 July 2010

AlphaBook Project - one week to go

So the AlphaBook project starts on Sunday - aka my attempt to stop faffing about and finally write my damn novel.

The prospect of this is now bringing me out in a cold sweat and making me feel the need to go and lie down.  No more procrastinating?  No more putting it off in case it's no good?  No more running scared??

But the pressure is positive.  I have put my intentions out there in cyber space, and I hope that reporting my progress to my very modest number of followers will keep me honest!  I'm crazy busy with various things this week, but will be finding some time to read through my preliminary notes, character sketches etc before it all kicks off on Sunday.  I have no doubt that the characters will go off doing their own things anyway, but at least they'll have a vague framework within which to misbehave.

I will also be clearing out my handbag, to make room for my little netbook to write on.  This project might even help me lose a pound or two lugging that thing about...

5,000 words a week here I come!  (Tremble)


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

AlphaPoem of the Week – Asking for Roses

I am in a happy, life-affirming, hoorah-type mood today, and have just found this poem to complement that mood.

Robert Frost is probably best known for his famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, which might be an APOTW another time.  ‘Asking for Roses’ has a wonderful lyricism to it, like children’s poetry, but is suffused with sensuous rose petals and thinly-veiled virgins ripe for the plucking!

This joyful poem’s for CiBi and her eternal love of literature.

Asking for Roses
Robert Frost

A house that lacks, seemingly, mistress and master,
With doors that none but the wind ever closes,
Its floor all littered with glass and with plaster;
It stands in a garden of old-fashioned roses.

I pass by that way in the gloaming with Mary;
'I wonder,' I say, 'who the owner of those is.'
'Oh, no one you know,' she answers me airy,
'But one we must ask if we want any roses.'

So we must join hands in the dew coming coldly
There in the hush of the wood that reposes,
And turn and go up to the open door boldly,
And knock to the echoes as beggars for roses.

'Pray, are you within there, Mistress Who-were-you?'
'Tis Mary that speaks and our errand discloses.
'Pray, are you within there? Bestir you, bestir you!
'Tis summer again; there's two come for roses.

'A word with you, that of the singer recalling--
Old Herrick: a saying that every maid knows is
A flower unplucked is but left to the falling,
And nothing is gained by not gathering roses.'

We do not loosen our hands' intertwining
(Not caring so very much what she supposes),
There when she comes on us mistily shining

And grants us by silence the boon of her roses.

Monday, 12 July 2010

AlphaThoughts - Dastardly Doubt and the desire to write

Being new to blogging, today I've been reading other blogs on fiction writing.  There are some fantastic blogs out there for budding authors like me, to garner some nuggets of information and inspiration from proper real-life writers.

But here's the thing.  These good writing blogs have hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of followers.  However great blogs are for getting writers in touch with other writers, for following their trials and tribulations, for not feeling alone in your struggles - it can also make you feel like a very small fish in a positively teeming ocean.  I'm not talking about lack of followers here, but about the huge numbers of unpublished writers waiting for their chance in the limelight.

Dastardly Doubt starts bleating again:
'All these people - they've been following these blogs longer than you.  They're probably a lot further on with their novels than you are.  Their ideas are probably way better than yours.  And loads of them will be submitting manuscripts alongside yours...if you ever finish it.  Yeah, good luck with that.'

Previously on this blog I have shared some ideas on tackling the internal editor, and I know this is just another manifestation of that interfering voice.  But in the face of 'Big world, little me' syndrome, it can be so hard to convince yourself that you can do it and to keep pushing.

I hope that if you are reading this and empathising with me - especially if you are embarking on a lonely creative journey like I am - you will stick around and share your experiences.  My AlphaBook Project is going to be really tough on me, and I'd love to hear from others out there trying to squeeze every last drop of creativity from their pens and pencils!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

AlphaLife – Please do not disturb the nest

AlphaBloke and I went to the garden centre yesterday, and came across a sign that read:

Please do not disturb the nest

This was hanging on the front of a wooden framed stand housing various plants for sale.  We peeped towards the back of the stand…

Baby black 1

They’re baby blackbirds, we think – two, and there’s not a lot of space left for them to grow into!  It was a hot day and they were panting somewhat.  You’ll have to excuse the quality of the pics, but I was trying not to get too close and disturb them.

Here is the nest in situ behind the plants for sale:

Baby black 3

And a close up of his little face:

Baby black 2

This was right in the middle of one of the busiest areas of the garden centre – only the parent birds know why they chose to nest here!  Fledging should be interesting…

Saturday, 10 July 2010

AlphaThoughts - the startling beauty of comb jellies

I am currently doing an Open University (distance learning) course called 'Life in the Oceans: Exploring Our Blue Planet'.  It's a good course, and I will post further thoughts on it once I have submitted my assignment at the end of this month.

In the meantime though, I wanted to post about something I found truly beautiful and astonishing.  As part of the course, I have been watching David Attenborough's 'Blue Planet' series, and one sequence stood out for me.  In the episode entitled 'Open Ocean', DA touches briefly on the mysterious comb jellyfish.  Comb jellies live right in the depths of our oceans, and through a phenomenon called bioluminescence they put on the most incredible light displays.

I cannot find the sequence itself on the web, but here is an example of their beautiful rainbow colours (with appropriate spacey music):

Gorgeous, gorgeous creatures, no?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

AlphaThoughts – When inspiration strikes

Today, I am irritated with myself.

Yesterday at work, I was emailing a fellow blogger about writing.  Out of nowhere, an idea for a story hit me.  I remembered the old writer’s lesson: to always write ideas down, because however much you think you’re going to remember them, they can flutter away just as easily as they landed in your mind.

I’m not sure whether the idea was suitable for a short story, or for being worked into my current novel – or maybe even merited a future novel in its own right.  Why am I not sure about this?  Because, like a fool, I ignored my learnt instinct.

I didn’t write it down.  Today, I thought, ‘Ooh, I came up with a good story idea yesterday, what was that?’  Cue: slow, dawning realisation that I couldn’t remember it.  I have just re-read the emails that originally triggered it, but to no avail.  The flit is complete – the idea is gone.

The chick
This makes me feel pretty unfledged as a writer.  AlphaBloke would tell you that I have a bed-side table full of ‘How to Write’ style books, and rules such as this crop up in the vast majority of them.  As writers, we are exhorted to carry a notepad with us wherever we go, to record these precious droplets of inspiration.  I adapted this while at work, and for a long time I would email myself whenever I had an idea that might possibly have mileage.  The traffic from my work to my personal email address became bizarre – emails of a few words or links to weird and wonderful stories on the web.  I have just opened one at random from this period and it says ‘Sinister nursery’.  Odd, yes!  But enough for me to recall what that idea was all about.

But somewhere along the way I have forgotten to do this.  I have decided that my memory is invincible and knows no bounds.  The idea I’ve lost was probably not all that.  But it just might have been genius, and that is what is making me beat myself up.

It occurs to me that this is one way we can and should utilise your internal editor.  We should allow our left brain to kick in, when the right brain has an inspiration, and let it insist upon us writing it down.  I put my editor back in its box a few days ago...perhaps its absence yesterday is now punishing me...

If any writers have other good ways of recording ideas, or stories of ideas lost and somehow found again (I wish!), please do share them with me.

Bad AlphaChick.  Off to dig a notepad out of the drawer and install it in my handbag…

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

AlphaPoem of the Week - If I Could Tell You

To indulge and share my love of poetry, I have decided to post a Poem of the Week.  Future poems will be those I’ve loved for a long time, or poems I’ve just discovered.  I will aim for variety, although love will be a strong theme in many I choose.

This first, ‘If I Could Tell You’ by W.H. Auden is one of my all-time favourite poems.  For me, it portrays the unknowability of the future, and our very human need to know the impossible – whether our love will last forever.

It lends itself excellently to being read aloud, in a slow, melancholy rhythm.  That said, I often can’t get through the third stanza without a lump in my throat and a break in my voice.

For all those that have been frightened of letting go and falling in love.  I hope you enjoy it.

  If I could tell you
  W.H. Auden

  Time will say nothing but I told you so,
  Time only knows the price we have to pay;
  If I could tell you I would let you know.

  If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
  If we should stumble when musicians play,
  Time will say nothing but I told you so.

  There are no fortunes to be told, although,
  Because I love you more than I can say,
  If I could tell you I would let you know.

  The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
  There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
  Time will say nothing but I told you so.

  Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
  The vision seriously intends to stay;
  If I could tell you I would let you know.

  Suppose the lions all get up and go,
  And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
  Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
  If I could tell you I would let you know.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

AlphaThoughts: Pesky Editor

So.  It seems my internal editor became irritated with me for exposing its workings in my last post.  Since then, it has resolutely declared all my ideas for blog posts as rubbish and prevented me from putting fingers to keys.  Which brings me to the first way of thwarting that pesky little (or in this case big and intrusive) voice.

It’s the simplest way of controlling your editor…but also probably one of the hardest.  It is to do as I did above, and as I’m doing by writing this post to break my editor-imposed blog silence.  When your writing comes up against a wall, you acknowledge your editor.  You say, ‘It’s not that I’m not a good writer.  It’s not that my ideas are bad.  It’s just that my editor wants everything to be perfect – and the world isn’t like that.  I recognise you editor.  I respect that you have some incredibly important functions in my writing life.  But for now, with all due respect, butt out.’

My editor is screaming at me at this moment, as I have written this whole post without allowing myself to correct anything (except typos).  It’s saying bits of this sound unrefined, other bits sound pompous, and I really should double-check my grammar etc etc etc.  But I am ignoring it.

I’m not saying we should all write without ever going back and correcting ourselves.  All novelists that I’ve heard of go through a fairly long editing process, and you can be sure that those who don’t pay close attention to their editor as they’re writing the first draft.  Most blogs would probably be nigh on unreadable if we all just threw down haphazard willy-nilly witterings.  But if it’s getting in the way – that’s when you need to step in and say, ‘Enough’.  You can let the editor have its day once your ideas are all down on paper.

You will probably find that you like things that you’ve written while consciously ignoring your editor.  I find it can free up my writing when I’m feeling blocked.  I quite like some of the sentences and phrases I’ve come up with above, and this post has taken me all of five minutes (before pretty picture addition).

And those bits I don’t like?  This once, I’m not going to change them.  Editor – back in your box.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

AlphaThoughts - The Internal Editor

The 'internal editor' is a force every writer should be aware of and prepared to face, whether they are a blogger, a creative writer, or anyone who works with text in your professional or personal life.  Your internal editor might manifest him/herself in any number of ways, including the following:

  • As the force that drives your hand towards the backspace button, or that makes you scribble out what you have just written.
  • As the little voice in your head that reads what you've just written and says 'That sounds pompous'; 'That's a clunky sentence'; 'Who would be interested in this?'.
  • As the need to have your story, poem, blog post, or any other text carefully planned out before you put pen to paper or fingers to keys.
  • As the ever-dreaded writer's block - not the 'having nothing to write about' kind, but the 'not knowing how to start, how to be eye-catching, how to be a pleasure to read etc' kind.
The internal editor's influence can be crippling - believe me, I know.  I have spent so long obsessing about my novel and various writing or plotting 'rules'.  My novel doesn't have a villain as such, does that matter?  I've got three possible endings, how do I know which one would be best?  My characters seem boring, what if no-one cares about them enough to keep reading?  Is my plot original enough?  'Obviously,' my internal editor assures me, 'you must have the answer to all of these set in stone before you can even CONSIDER starting Chapter 1.'

The internal editor is often described as the left side of your brain.  The right side is for being creative, intuitive, random even, and the left side for grounding you in reality.  A Google search on 'left right brain test' brings up many tests of which side is dominant for you.  The Art Institute of Vancouver test told me I was 57% dominated by the right, creative side, with the following sub-results:

Your Left Brain Percentages
  34%Verbal (Your most dominant characteristic)
  17%Symbolic (Your least dominant characteristic)

Your Right Brain Percentages
  52%Fantasy-oriented (Your most dominant characteristic)
  0%Concrete (Your least dominant characteristic)

While no test is perfect, this seems a pretty fair assessment of me.  While I think of myself as creative (and 'fantasy-oriented' is also fair!), my internal editor is most picky about the verbal elements and being precise in my use of language.

A test you may have come across is this dancer.  Apparently if you see her turning anti-clockwise, you are more dominated by your left brain, and clockwise by the right.  She can change direction while you're looking - I find she does when I focus on her bottom foot.  And she changes for me on different days!

The left, logical side of your brain likes to bang on about facts, grammar, likely outcomes and other boring but necessary things.  It does this to make sure that the right, creative side of the brain knows who's in charge.  In fairness to the left, we do need its general sensibleness to hold this tight rein on our sensibility.  Otherwise we would never make reasoned decisions, make appointments, or even make it to work in the morning.

But there are times when the left brain should just shut when you are trying to create a startling poem or an inspirational post.  You are not silencing the editor forever, just deferring it - unfettered inspiration first, boring grammar and presentation later.  Acknowledging your internal editor is halfway to controlling it, but there are various tips and techniques out there to help you put that damned left brain back in its box for a while.  I will be testing out any of these that I can find in the coming months (my left brain is particularly snide and intrusive), and will post my findings here for you to try!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

AlphaBook Project - my first novel

My first novel (known here as the AlphaBook) has been percolating for over three years.  During 2009, I managed a concerted period of character work, plotting, developing themes, and generally building the fictional world.  Then I hit a wall, and never actually started writing the damn thing.

I have an abiding dread of rejection, which I am blaming for my author-flakiness.  My fear that I will turn out to be a rubbish writer makes procrastinating seem like the best way forward.  It is fantastically easy to put my notebooks to one side and bleat about how busy I am, so many interests, so little time, baa baa baa.

One thing I do know is this: that if I never get my story down on paper, it will always gnaw away at me.  When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a writer.  I entered competitions as a teenager (and even won a few), and wrote all the time.  In unashamed Sarah Ferguson self-help speak - I feel sorry for little AlphaChick and her unfulfilled dreams....

OK yes, that was cheesy.  Apologies.  Back to the project.

My pledges:
  • Write a minimum of 5,000 words a week, starting 1st August 2010
  • Do no re-working, editing, or general fannying-about during this time
  • Work to a first draft AlphaBook deadline of 30th November 2010 - 4 months of full-tilt writing
  • Record my progress here - word counts and thoughts on the process, interspersed with other blog stuff

My start date gives me just over a month to have my summer holiday, get my blog how I want it, and get my head back into the AlphaBook background work I've done.

I'll be frank - this is going to be really tough for me.  These are ambitious pledges, particularly for a born procrastinator.  I have a job, a commute, a relationship, and all manner of fun interests that could help me say 'Shame, can't manage 5,000 words this week...'

Hence this post.  I am exposing my audacious goals - I invite the worldwide webloggers to keep tabs on me. 

Off to dig out my writing pens...

Friday, 18 June 2010

My First Blog

For a webaholic, budding writer and general lover of life, it seems crazy to me that this is my first blog.  While I have been active in the web ether and on various forums for some time, the culture of blogging has passed me by.

Until now!  Introducing AlphaChick's very first blog...

Blog reasons

So why am I blogging?

One of the key reasons is that I have been trying to write my novel for TOO long.  I have good periods of regular writing, but I keep getting scared or lazy and the writing grinds to a halt.  I figured that if I put this blog out there, it could help me in three ways:

a)  Get me practising writing more, to hone my writing muscles.

b)  Make me more confident about my writing, helping to silence those niggly doubts telling me 'It's no good, what's the point' etc.

c)  Make me stick to my goal of finishing the novel by the time I'm 30 (Dec 2011).  After all, the web is watching!

Other than writing practice and to galvanise my novel efforts, I'm blogging to share opinions with others.  I have many hobbies and do quite a lot with my spare time.  This all leads to a fairly busy life (and a cluttered head), so maybe this blog will help me reflect and make sense of it all!

Blog writer

So who is AlphaChick?

I have started this section about four times and it always ends up sounding like a dating profile.  'I'm fun-loving, late 20s, GSOH' etc etc etc.  Maybe bullet points will put paid to that:
  • I am, indeed, in my late 20s, and happy at this age.  I have found four grey hairs in the past six months which was alarming.  But they have been pulled out and, to all intents and purposes, never existed.
  • I like: writing, reading, cooking, eating, picnics, pubs, long walks, cheesy musicals, sunshine, snow, Dr Who, murder mysteries, and playing computer games.  I am aware that this last is controversial for a grown woman.  I am attempting to break down the assumption that an intelligent, sociable woman with a full calendar wouldn't (or shouldn't) like killing a few bad guys from time to time.
  • I live with my boyfriend, henceforward known as AlphaBloke.  We've been together since 2006 and going strong.  He likes: Planet Rock, fast cars, wartime stuff, outdoorsy stuff, and staying in with me watching Two and a Half Men and eating ice lollies.  It is nigh on impossible to define someone in a bullet point, so he will go easy on me (please).
  • I'm too whimsical for my own good.  While brushing up my French for a one-week holiday, I will suddenly decide I LOVE French.  I will buy five French books from Amazon, and start investigating distance-learning French A-Level courses.  A few weeks later, I will be obsessed by something else and wonder what to do with all these flipping French books...
  • I'm pretty silly by all accounts.  AlphaBloke and I spend a not inconsiderable amount of time wrestling, tickling, and sneaking up on each other.  Life is not, generally, a serious affair.
  • I live in Kent and work in London.  My job is ok but not particularly creative, so enough said about that.

The rest, I'm sure, will become clear.

Blog content

Alphabet Soup will include:

AlphaReviews - Giving my verdict on a variety of things.  I read a lot of books, watch a lot of TV/films/plays, and visit a lot of restaurants/pubs/fun places.  I will share experiences and opinions here.

AlphaLife - Reflections on (and pictures of) stuff I've been up to.

AlphaThoughts - Musings on the issues of the day.

AlphaBook Project - My first novel progress.  More on this to follow!

And finally

Before I begin blogging in earnest, I want to give a quick shout out to blogger friends Emm and CiBi for their encouragement and support.  I'm lucky to have come across two such positive (and startlingly beautiful) women to help me on these first steps.  Thanks girls! :-)

And to my AlphaBloke, who suggested I start a blog years ago...

AlphaChick is born!