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.