Monthly Archives: August 2012
I returned to work on August 6, after a seventeen-month maternity leave. I work part time, four days a week, one of which is from home and three of which are in the office. And do you know what? I’ve written more in these past three weeks than I did in the three months before, I think.
Before you jump to conclusions, no I’m not writing when I should be working. However, what being back at work means is more time spent in front of a computer, without the interruptions that young children generally provide. What being back at work means, for me, is a good half an hour to an hour each day – in my lunch break - when I can just write, without interruptions.
Sure, I could have got that much time at home … but not uninterrupted. Even when the baby went to sleep, getting a solid hour’s writing time was almost unheard of, and there were other things to do that couldn’t be done when he was awake, like the vacuuming, or cleaning the bathroom, or whatever. (My youngest child is a climber. Leaving him alone for more than a few minutes means that you’ll find him on top of the dining room table, or something similar, when you return.) In short, there were always other things that had to be done in order to keep the house running smoothly. Besides, clearing off the table and getting the laptop out also took more time and frankly, that didn’t always sound appealing.
I recognise, of course, that there is an element of choice in all this. I could have chosen to have an un-vacuumed, un-cleaned house and used that time to write. I could have done all the cleaning on weekends, when my husband was around to keep an eye on the kids. (Don’t worry, he does his share of cleaning too. I’m just referring to my jobs.) I could have chosen to use that time to write. And it probably says something about me that I didn’t – maybe some people will think I’m less of a writer because I didn’t make that time every day. That’s okay. I’m comfortable with my decisions.
Now, though, the fire is back and the manuscript is definitely getting finished. I’ve written 5000 words a week over the past three weeks, upping my tally to 86K altogether. And it’s all because I’m already sitting at the computer, I’m already in that writing pose, and I have some time when I KNOW that no kids are going to need me. It’s heaven.
So yes, going back to work has, for me at least, meant more writing time. Now what about you? When have you found that something helped your writing when you expected it to hinder it? Because I’m sure I’m not alone here. Writing, it seems, has a way of sticking its head in and sorting things out when you least expect it.
- After the hiatus, getting back into the groove (meritaking.wordpress.com)
- How I Got My Writing Groove Back with Flash Fiction Short Stories (susannahartigan.com)
- Do You Really Need to Write Every Day? (writinghood.com)
This is a review of the book Ada’s Rules, by Alice Randall. The novel focuses on Ada Howard, a middle-aged preacher’s wife in the American south, who is invited to a college reunion and uses that as the catalyst for a weight-loss campaign.
This is a journey of self-discovery more than anything. Ada fears that her husband is having an affair, and the promise of seeing an old flame at the reunion has her considering doing the same for the first time. In the twelve months that the book covers, she learns much about herself, her friends, her family and her husband, and comes out at the end a much happier woman.
I wasn’t able to relate to all of Ada’s journey. For one thing, I’m one of the few Western women who has never gone on a weight-loss binge, but then again I have a lot of friends who have so it wasn’t wholly foreign. For another, her weight was always counted in pounds. For someone who grew up on metric, I was forever having to translate her weight into kilograms in my head so I had some idea of what her progress was. These aren’t terminal problems by any means, but they did diminish my enjoyment of the book somewhat.
The other thing that was new to me, though I was happy to learn, was the aspects of African American culture that featured so heavily in the narrative. The group of women who lunched in white-owned restaurants once a month to prove to themselves (and others) that it was acceptable for them to do so was an eye-opener for me, and it reminded me that many of these battles are far from over, even fifty years after the civil rights movement. I also wasn’t aware – and this is key to the diet theme – that there is a strong “big is beautiful” belief about the female form, and that many women choose to be larger-figured because it affords them more respect and self-belief.
The book was structured well, too. Each of the chapters is titled by one of the “rules” Ada sticks with in her journey, such as “Don’t keep doing what you’ve always been doing”, “Manage portion sizes”, or “Create your own spa day”, all of which correspond to that part of her journey. Then at the end there is a chapter called “How to use my, Ada Howard’s, novel as a diet book”, which I thought was an innovative way of tying the narrative with a greater objective. As a book, it fits itself well – which I suppose is appropriate given the theme.
Ada’s Rules is an enjoyable, easy read which handles some very sensitive issues with grace and tact. It’s easy to pick up and hard to put down, and leaves the reader feeling satisfied – and (for me at least) also that they’ve learned something. Overall, it’s a well written insight into southern America and into the mind of an intelligent yet somewhat insecure heroine. I believe it’s well worth looking at.
We’ve all done it. Finally managed to get a couple of hours that will be free of interruptions, only to sit down at the computer and stare at the screen, unable to type because we have absolutely no idea what to say. The ideas are there, but the words just aren’t coming. We have writer’s block.There are a number of ways to try to get past this. What I want to do today is list some of the methods that – for me at least – work best, and also those that work worst.
- Read through what you’ve already got. Do some edits here and there and maybe extend a scene or two. Just immersing yourself in your story
- Jot down some ideas in freeform mode. It might be a whole scene, it might be a line of snappy dialogue, it might be an impression or an emotion. Even if it doesn’t make sense, write it down. You may find inspiration in your jottings at a later date.
- If you’re a linear writer (ie, you start at the beginning and write in order till you get to the end), perhaps think about writing a scene that you haven’t got to yet. Most people have ideas about key points in their stories, and how they want them to go. Write them down. Construct the scene. Sure, when you get to it you might change bits of it (or lots of it), but it will get you writing again. (If you’re not a linear writer and simply don’t know where to start, do this too. Get those key scenes down in print. You can always change them later if you need to.)
- Try free writing. Open a blank document and just type words (or, if you prefer longhand, open a new page of your notebook). Don’t think about the words, don’t try to modify them, and don’t worry if they don’t make any sense. Just the act of writing can be what you need to get back into it. (Also, free writing can sometimes free things from your subconscious. Don’t discount what you see on the paper once you’re done.)
- Read something similar to what you’re trying to write to get your head in the right space for that genre.
- Opening Facebook or Twitter and scrolling through, telling yourself you’re looking for inspiration. Chances are you’ll just get distracted, start trolling through blogs and the like, and two hours later you’ll have achieved precisely nothing.
- Letting yourself get bogged down in a particular scene. If there’s something you can’t seem to get past, just ignore it for the time being and come back to it when you’ve had a bit of a break.
- Getting another coffee. Then noticing the kitchen bench needs wiping down, so getting out a dishcloth to do that. Then thinking that the dishcloth needs washing so putting a load of laundry on. Then noticing that the kids have tracked mud through the laundry so mopping the floor. Then thinking that since you’ve got the mop out you might as well do the bathroom and kitchen floors as well. Then noticing there’s a ring around the bath so cleaning that. Then remembering you haven’t brushed your teeth today so doing that. Then noticing that the toothpaste tastes odd because it’s not combined with the taste of coffee like it normally is, so going back to the kitchen to drink the coffee you made. Then realising you’ve taken so long to do everything else that your coffee is now cold, so tipping it out and making some more. Then noticing that the dishes need doing …
Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily going to be what works for other people, but from what I can tell a lot of what works for me is almost universal. Naturally, sometimes writer’s block isn’t going to respond to anything listed above, whether recommended or not, but often – I find at least – it will. It’s just a matter of trying things out and seeing how you go.
- Overcome Writer’s Block … With Poetry (clurradonald.com)
- How to End Writer’s Block! (countryliving4beginners.wordpress.com)
- Getting through writer’s block, expanding subject matter, tips? (gearslutz.com)
- Writer’s Block (radaronelson.wordpress.com)
- Winning the Fight Against Writer’s Block (weblogbetter.com)
I had a comment on my latest blog entry this morning, asking my thoughts about publishing fiction online. This isn’t self publishing – you don’t do book sales and you don’t need an IBSN; rather, you find a blog or a fiction website and publish a story, novel or whatever on that.
Well, this got me thinking, not least because I have already done that. I’ve written before about earlier novels which will never be published; well, one of those is online, albeit under another name. You see, that novel was fan fiction, which is not something I talk about much in the writing community.
Publishing online is a great way of getting feedback on your work from total strangers and giving you an idea of the range of people your writing may reach. Fan fiction probably has a lead over original fiction here, though, in that if someone wants to read fan fiction they don’t have much choice but to scour the Internet. If they want to read original fiction, they can get a cheap book or a freebie from Amazon, or go to the library. However, there are a lot of fiction websites out there and people do read and review the stories on them, so I very much doubt it’s a waste of time. You can build up a fan base with a novel published online, and gauge whether your writing is good enough to try to take that next step – write something for publication offline, that people can buy.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind, though. If it’s a book you are thinking, however remotely, of getting published in the future (other than self published), then it would be my advice not to do it. A book that has been previously published online is not something most publishers would be interested in. Sure, there are exceptions (Fifty Shades of Grey, which was pulled from the Internet before it was published externally, springs to mind) but generally it’s not a goer.
Also, think very carefully about where you want to put it online. If it was me, I’d be looking at one of the many fiction websites that specialise in this sort of thing. These websites attract people who are looking to read fiction online and would therefore probably get you more of an audience than, say, doing chapters serially on a blog, which may flounder unseen in cyberspace for months or even years. You could well get more comments/reviews on a fiction site, simply because more people who are inclined to read online would find it. If you’re not familiar with fiction websites there are a lot out there – wattpad.com and figment.com come to mind, and there’s also gluttonyfiction.com, though that focuses more on fan fiction than original. There is an original fiction section there, though, so it might be worth looking at. (Disclaimer: I have had bad experiences with both Wattpad and Figment, though I know other people who have had nothing but positive experiences with them so perhaps I just got them on a bad day. I have never used Gluttony. Any other sites I haven’t mentioned are omitted simply because I don’t know of them or can’t think of them just at the moment.) There is a downside, though: online publishing leaves you much more open to plagiarism, which I have experienced. Just be prepared to Google your story title or opening line occasionally to make sure that no one has published it elsewhere under their own name.
So, would I publish online? Sure! But not if it was something I wanted to take further. If it was just to be an online story, it’s a great way of getting feedback and finding out where your writing is at. It’s also an excellent method of connecting with people who like your work, and who may buy it in the future given the opportunity. But I would be very wary about publishing anything that I may want to publish externally at a later date, and I would be very aware of the possibility of being plagiarised.
What do other people think? Publishing online or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Well, why do you? If you are a writer, that is. :)
It’s an interesting question. Me, I’ve been writing for years, but it’s only the past five or six years that I’ve taken it seriously at all. After reading a lot of books, I started to think that some of the stories in my head could find an outlet in that way too. Let’s face it, with a lot of the stuff I was reading, I was sure I could do better.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, but the feedback I’ve had on some of my completed works (unpublished, that is) is that maybe I can. Do better, that is. If nothing else, it’s been encouraging, which is why I kept at it. I’m not someone who is so full of ideas that I would still be writing even if everyone hated my work. I need to believe that I can get somewhere with it, that I can have people I’ve never met read my words and be moved by them, in order to do it.
I know that this may be considered conceited, admitting that I don’t necessarily write for the love of it. The thing is, though, that I do, albeit in my own way. The way I see it is that I’ve already written the never-to-be-published stories. What I want to do now is take that next step, and write something that could be published, perhaps even by a publishing house. I have nothing against self-publishing and I may go down that path myself, but there’s a part of me that wants the external validation that getting an agent and a book deal provides.
Perhaps you write to be published, too. Perhaps you feel, as I do, that it’s time for you to try to take that next step. Or perhaps you write because you need to, because it’s your raison d’être, because if you didn’t you would go crazy. Perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle and you’re writing something that you think might end up in the wider world, but you’re not sure. Perhaps you’ve got a story you want to tell and you have no idea where it will take you. Perhaps you’ve seen The Hunger Games and want to get in on that whole YA dystopian thing, or maybe pen the next erotica mega-hit. Perhaps you just like the feel of creating something and you have no intention of ever showing it to anyone.
The thing is, we are all different, and while our reasons for writing may sound the same on some levels, I suspect that once you delve right in, they are in fact all different too. Unique in their own way. We have different motivations, different expectations and different hopes and dreams about where our writing might take us. And I think we should celebrate this.
There are some people who judge others based on the reason they write. They turn up their noses at the idea of jumping on a bandwagon or writing for profit, saying that it should be for the love of the craft. Or they wonder aloud why anyone would waste their time on something that can never earn them a pay cheque. But I think this is self-defeating behaviour. We all have something in common, in that we all write. We all share a passion. And this is something that should be celebrated; that should be used as a reason to meet new people, not alienate them.
Why do you write? It’s probably a reason unique to you. And, really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it at all.
- Writing to the Market (justinelarbalestier.com)
- You could write a book… (eruditereflection.wordpress.com)
- When writing is a struggle (as it inevitably happens) (wordyliving.wordpress.com)
- I AM a WRITER, Sam I am (myetchasketchlife.com)
- The Power of Writing – Releasing and Success! (oilspice.wordpress.com)
This is a review of the book I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran, a series of short stories purporting to be about love. I say “purporting” because, while they are indeed love stories – even if you stretch the definition somewhat – I found the title of the book very revealing, because most of them seemed to be as much about death as they did love. In addition, while love did feature heavily as a theme, romantic love did not, so using the term “love stories” on the front cover could be interpreted as being misleading.
The stories are in many ways disturbing. As a mother with a baby, I had trouble reading the first story from the POV of an escaped tiger and its treatment of the “human cub” it comes across. The story of the repressed wife who goes to Thanksgiving dinner with her husband dead on the living room floor is, again, something out of my comfort zone. But then again, this isn’t a bad thing, and I find it helpful to leave my comfort zone occasionally. The tone was helped by the liberal helpings of humour, often black and certainly always dark, but nonetheless there, which was a welcome distraction. There is perhaps an over-reliance of the experiences of Asian migrants living in the United States, which is part of Parameswaran’s own story, but then again if one does not write what one knows – to some extent at least – then the work can come off feeling contrived and unbelievable. These stories, even those from the perspective of animals, are neither of those.
My one criticism is that some of the stories felt unfinished. Four Rajeshes I thought was too open at the end, and Elephants in Captivity (Part One) did feel like it would have benefited from Part Two and perhaps even Part Three. Even the final tale, On the Banks of the Table River, left a little too much unanswered for my taste. Perhaps Parameswaran’s writing is too subtle for my palate, which is certainly possible, but it did leave a sense of vague dissatisfaction upon completion of the book.
That said, however, it is an exceptional first collection of short stories. They are well written, original, inventive and ultimately believable, if occasionally unnerving, and are certainly not the bland tales which one may expect from a debut author. Ultimately, if you are looking for a collection which will stay with you long after you finished the last word, then I am an Executioner is a book for you.