Who am I?

I am a writing and publishing guru. What I dont know about the market just isn't worth knowing. So what if I'm unpublished? I choose to give other writers the gift of my wisdom and experience* that the other 500,000 writing blogs out there fail to give.
* No actual experience

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hey! I'm a guest on somebody's blog!

Ok, I'm a softie for anythng with paws. It's its small and furry, my interest is piqued. And if it purrs, well, I wanna take it home. Ask me about my darlings (past or present) and I could bore entertain you for an entire day. Click over to Confessions of An Animal Junkie (here), for one such cat story.

The story's true, but recounted in the voice I used for my one and only pub'd piece, "My Own Secret Dinosaur" (the main difference being that I had the cats as an adult, but the story is told through the eyes of a child). But as I'm really eight years of age on the inside, aaah, writing it that way was not a huge leap.

And if you enjoyed the blog piece, and would like to read the Dinosaur story, drop me a line privately and I'll get a copy over to you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On planning

I’m a panster writer. That means I always make sure that I’m wearing undies before I start writing. (Unlike some degenerates who write in the skin, I guess).

Ok, ok, some probably see me as a degenerate, because plans are a bit like maps, and most maps are meaningless to me. They exist to confuse and taunt me. My visuo-spatial skills are non-existent. I often head off 180° from the direction I’m supposed to be going.

Panster means writing by the seat of your pants, doing away with unnecessary frills like plans and schedules and time-lines. Sometimes I do plan. The concept of a plan sounds very sensible. But the bolshie in me snorts at the plan and asks my past self who does she think she is, bossing me around and telling my present self what to do.

A plan for me often works like a reversal. Whatever I plan to write, you can be sure I end up writing about anything but (veering off 180 degrees, probably). So doing diagrams and charts with little arrows pointing everywhere ends up being a complete waste of time.

In my days as a student, I knew I would waste precious exam time by planning how I would structure my response to a question. I either knew the answer and it would come pouring out of me, (and I would go on for a few pages – not necessarily coherently) or I would realise I knew only a few related fragments that I had no way of integrating into a whole, and write the lyrics to Monty Python’s Lumberjack song ten times instead, before passing out and reviving myself in the pub. (Most people tend to pass out after a lengthy session at the pub, but that’s just me, I often do things the wrong way. I planned my wedding and ended up having the honeymoon before the nuptials. Ah, well.)

Often, when I sit in front of the keyboard, I have no idea what I’m going to write about. But as I have a huge phobia of blank screens, I hurry to fill it with  - anything. Garbage mostly.

Some people start writing with a vision. It could be a place or an era. Not me, I have enough trouble visualising where I’ve left my keys, let alone how somebody’s home or clothing might look. If I try to desribe how a scene looks, I end up confusing everybody, especially me.

I always start with voice. I let the character talk. And talk and talk. Sometimes I have to tell it to shut-up. Often I let it talk to others. Their conversation will tell me a lot about what they want, and what’s stopping them from getting it. That’s the germ of a plot, and I run with it and explore some blind alleys, but my characters are often kind enough to take me somewhere interesting. And unexpected.

Maybe it depends on your definition of a plan. Does a notion count as a plan? I may start with a vague idea about what I’d like to see happen in the story. Say, a kid turning the table on the bullies. I’ll dive in and write an inordinate amount about my character and his/her nemesis. In writing about them I discover their motives, their voices. They have conversations, arguments. And in doing so I gradually learn how the bully gives the poor MC a hard time.  If I’m really lucky, I’ll discover the chink that lets the MC suddenly (and hopefully magnificently) make the bully look like a complete imbecile. In front of those they were wanting to impress. Or I might end up with a tale of finding lost treasure. Or the whole thing may ramble with no hope of reaching a resolution this millennium. Depends on how nice my characters are being.

Maybe I do plan. Does the extremely rough draft of a completed tale count as a plan? A very lengthy and slowly worked out plan, perhaps? A plan that gets chewed on and thrown into the blender a gazillion times before I have the satisfaction of crying “finito” (and startling the cat)?

I know I’m a strange person individual who does things her own way. It would be nice to hear about others' methods, even if only to reassure me that in this field, as well as every other field I've tried, I'm a complete and utter misfit. 

How do other people write?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Judging your own work

A few years ago when my big muscely boy was a tiny bundle that needed regular feeding (well he still does) and changing, I went to a class for nervous new parents. It was all about infant first aid and how to recognise serious illness in a baby.  One piece of advice the crusty old nurse running the class gave us was to dispense with thermometers altogether. We would be able to tell if a child was feverish just by touching their forehead.

Later, she appeared to contradict herself as she went through the symptoms of meningitis (a life threatening disease, characterised by a rapid and sudden decline), one of which was a fever over 40 degrees C. “How could I tell if my baby’s temperature is over 40?” I challenged her. “If I’m not supposed to have a thermometer?”

“Like I said, you can use these,” she responded glibly, waving her hands about.

“Well, you might be able to tell, but I asked how I would be able to,” I snapped (actually, I didn’t, I just thought it loudly).

So I bought one of those strips that you plonk on the child’s forehead. It had five little windows on it, and eventually one changed colour to give you a reading.

My boy became ill a few times over his first year, never serious, but he was the sort of child whose temperature spiked rapidly. And once, it did reach 40. And you know what? He was so damn hot that I didn’t even have to touch him to tell it was high, he just radiated. Nevertheless, I used the thermometer, and it told me what I’d already figured out.

The nurse had been right.

Now, at the risk of alienating my readers into thinking that this blog has suddenly reinvented itself as a parenting blog (let’s face it- these are as rare as writer’s blogs!) there’s actually some relevance. My point was that I had needed to go through it myself to trust that I could recognise a sick child when I saw it. It only took one experience to learn. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all judgements could come so quickly?

How do we recognise good writing? Don’t I wish there was a plastic strip I could place on my own work which will distinguish between “crap”,“good”, “very good” or “smokin’ hot”. How much experience does a writer need to trust their own judgement, and to be satisfied that their own work is even good enough, let alone smokin’?

Taste is a fickle thing. I’ve loved books that others have dismissed as “feelgood rubblish”. On the other hand, I’ve ploughed through tomes, finished them just to see if they actually improved, because people have raved about how fabulous the story was (“Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The DaVinci Code” spring to mind here).

Or am I confusing “bad” writing with “not to my taste” here?

What the hell is “good” writing anyway? Is there a universally accepted definition?

Since I’ve started doing some serious writing myself, I have been trying to analyse books myself – reading like an editor rather than for pleasure - to identify what makes one story compelling and another ho-hum. The more analytic I become, the more confusing it is. I used to be comfortable with my judgement. Now, I’m seeing merit when I previously only saw rubbish, and some "good" stories are seriously flawed.

Please, someone – give me a magical plastic strip to rate the writing so I can compare it to my own judgement!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When your advice has been followed...

Ah! It seems that one person has been paying attention. Well done! I've noted in previous posts the absolute neccesity of doing something to make your query stand out. Seems that this guy/girl has done so. Kudos for thinking outside the quadrilateral, and to take the adrenaline soaked plunge! Rules were made to be broken, after all.

Link below, to see what I mean. It's been retweeted all over the ether.
Dont tell me that's not publicity! What's that? Agents hate it?