Public Reading

Life has been a veritable whirlwind of challenges and new experiences, many a result of starting a Masters degree in Creative Writing this September, others, just life. Hopefully I’ll get the time to write about these in more detail, but I wanted* to come on and write about my first experience with reading my work in public, which I did on Monday.

I have read in public once before, at a small, informal event organised at my writing group leader, held at her house with drinks and a party like vibe. Monday was not a much larger gathering, organised by a local author, for other local writers to showcase their work (and for the self-published authors, make some sales!). It was far more terrifying than I had anticipated, and I did burst into tears as soon as I got home***, but overall, I believe that it went well (at least, that’s what I’ve been told!).

These are some of the lessons I’ll be taking from it:

  1. Practice your piece (aloud!) in advance.

    Due to last minute tweaking, university commitments family interruptions and traffic, I was unable to do a final read-through  on the day of the reading. I’d read it aloud in advance, but sat at my computer a few days before. I lip read it on the train home to check timings, I did not stand in front of a mirror in the privacy of my own home doing a dry run. Doing so would definitely have left me more confident when it came to the public event.

  2. Keep it simple.

    The best pieces read (in my mind) were linear and from a single viewpoint. First person worked well. My piece was fairly complex, and took a lot of cutting to get it within the time allocation (more on this in a minute!). It switched between two locations, indicated by scene breaks on the page, but less clear to listeners (it’s not good writing practice in general, but a few insertions of “meanwhile, over in…” may have helped). The story was located in Zambia, and I had meant to use a few gentle accents, but as I’m terrible at accents in general****, in the sheer panic of the night I forwent most of them and just ploughed through the piece. Maybe a few extra dialogue tags would have helped clarify the character interactions. I had also included a lot of medical/scientific terminology. My Science background took over, so I was fine with pronunciation, but it’s definitely an issue to bear in mind if inserting technobabble!

  3. Stay within the time frame.

    One of the positives of the night was knowing my piece finished just within the allocated time-slot. I kept the introduction short (I had pre-planned what to say), but I didn’t have to worry about evil looks from the organiser***** or pointed tapping of watches.

  4. Wear layers.

    I was fine in the café, until I stood up to read. Then my blood pressure soared and I was very aware of beetroot cheeks and sweating! Having something I could take off might have helped me feel less self-conscious. (removing my wool dress would not have helped me feel less conspicuous!!). On a similar note, staying comfortable in general removes pressures, so pop to the loo before and make sure you have a glass of water to hand.

  5. Look up!

    Even if you’re nervous, looking up at the audience makes for a much better connection and helps people enjoy the pieces better. It also projects a calmer image than may be the case.I glanced up about 3 times in the piece, even though I knew I should have been doing so more. A writer friend who was there recommended marking points in the text to look up, which is something I’ll definitely be doing next time.

So overall…terrifying, but definitely a good learning experience! Plus it can’t have gone that badly, because I’ve volunteered to do it again, and the organiser didn’t run away screaming. All positive! 😀

 

*aka. use some gained time from a cancelled lecture**

**Or really, procrastinate on the reading I should be doing.

***I think it took that long for the adrenaline to wear off!

**** My husband had mocked me earlier that everyone might think it was set in Romania. He had a fair point!

*****She’s a very lovely lady, so these would probably have been mostly in my head.

The Joy of Completed Works

No, sadly not the novel. I’m having a couple of days to mull over a sticky point before I whip myself back onto that one…

But I was skimming through some upcoming deadlines and competitions on the Word Factory site, and realised when I clicked on some that I actually have some things I could submit!

These are little short stories that I’d finished some months back but hadn’t found places to submit them, partly because they’re slightly outside of what I usually read, so researching was going to be more effort than just pulling up a website or two and checking the submission guidelines.

Whilst there’s obviously no guarantee that anything will come from it, it was incredibly satisfying to be able to send off an enquiry knowing that I’ve got something all ready to dust off, rather than the blind panic of trying to fit a story in to meet both a deadline and a criteria, which my rather unstructured writing approach (just blurting onto the page whatever the story seems to want) makes rather stressful!

So the lesson is…unless you have a looming deadline, write what you fancy, smarten it up, and keep hold of it…you never know when you might stumble into an oppertunity!

 

Re-Routing Mid-Story Tedium

With allowances for the festive season, I’ve been happily chugging through my novel. I hit a wall about four days ago, but thought I’d solved the issue by creating a map*, which helped me sort out the muddle of road names and locations of key events/clues for my protagonist to follow.

After a couple of days something niggled and I put in this square brackets prompt** for when I start the revisions process: [check this isn’t too boring with lists of road names etc!].

Last night I read this article on avoiding the mushy middle by Chuck Wendig.

This morning I realised that although my protagonist is progressing through the story, all he’s really done of late is buy a jumper, navigate some map issues, and develop some poor spatial awareness skills (interesting sidenote, the word “map” now appears 28 times in the last 8000 words of my manuscript).

It’s about time to deviate from talk of the weather and the state of the roads*** and insert some action!

New revisions note: [Iron gates twisted: melted and reformed. Claw marks up the brickwork. Possibly a sinkhole.]

It’s a start…

 

*Dithered over whether to post a picture or not, it is pretty bad and slightly embarrassing, so I’ve only put up a small section above. There’s a reason I teach Science and not Art!

**I mentioned before how helpful these have been in getting me through my first draft without looking back.

***I can see Jane Austen peering smugly over my shoulder at my deterioration into a British stereotype.

 

Fast Drafting

I’m not officially doing NaNoWriMo (at least not the 50k target, though I am dipping in to parts), but November has been the time to start a new novel.

It’s been exhilarating and slightly terrifying as I haven’t started anything of this length in well over a year*. Possibly two.

Initially I was terrified that I’d end up with an unworkable, ever-morphing mess like last time, but as I’ve got into it I’ve settled into the flow, and, utilising some tricks I’ve picked up on the way, feel so much more confident that I will end up with a first draft that is messy, yes, but workable.**

So here’s the tips:

1. Square brackets. Anything can go in here, from world building notes to reminders to fix names/ characteristics/ foreshadowing. It stops me having to scroll back through to change as I go, keeping flow, whilst leaving me with an easily searchable set of easy fixes for the editing rounds.

2. Skipping bits that are holding me back. With the aforementioned square brackets, I can leave the bits I either need to dwell on to get just right, e.g.. [portentous road name], or that I don’t have the energy or ideas for that scene type right when I’m writing it, e.g.. [flesh out /make interesting dialogue], or, he walks to shelter [make journey more exciting]. None of these are likely to be big story changing factors, and have helped me keep momentum as I write, even making writing in order more interesting as last time I preferred to jump around and write scenes as I felt like it.

3. Consciously thinking ahead. Last time I discovery drafted off the cuff until I got stuck, then trid to work out what had happened and where it was heading. Then I’d carry on again until the next blip when I would have to stop and work it all out again. This time I’ve got a clearer idea of where it’s going because, whilst I still like to free-write my way in, I’ve plotted far enough ahead to have easy prompts when I lose track.

4. My much loved spreadsheet of word-count-ness. I’ve mentioned this before, but I tally the start and end time and word count of most writing sessions. I’ve also started using a separate tab in the spreadsheet to note revision reminders as they occur to me (similar to the square brackets above).

4. Having the confidence to stop for breath. Fast writing an become addictive, especially using the spreadsheet to keep pushing for more and more words. But it’s easy to burnout. Normally I find writing rejuvenating and relaxing, but the pressure to finish a large work can get overwhelming*** Breaking it up with rest days to re-fill the well and deal with plot niggles etc, (or just deal with life), or working on some shorter pieces have helped to keep my enthusiasm for the project high, and working on it is still exciting.

I don’t think any of these are new and groundbreaking (although square brackets are soundly attributed to writingexcuses.com podcast, where I believe both Brandon and Mary have said that they use them), but they are strategies I’ve implemented this time round that are making a big impact on my drafting process.

Hopefully they’ll be of use to others, too!

 

 

*Actually, I’m cheating-this is a YA/MG crossover book, so the word count needed is closer to novella length. God help me when I start the epic scifi adult work I’m building up to!

**With the disclaimer that I’m still in the lovely first third honey-moon period, but these tips should stand up, even if I have issues later on. I also feel like I know much more clearly where I’m heading with this project, so am optimistic.

***I’m currently suffering with some health/wellbeing issues outside of writing, which have made me very conscious that I need to take care of myself more. Mur Lafferty has some excellent podcasts around the topic (as well as general all round advice. Plus I’m loving the new Ditchdiggers’ series. But I digress…)

 

Stephen King: On Writing

Whilst I enjoy it from time to time, non-fiction is rarely top of my reading list. Add that life and work have (rudely!) sapped my energy and free time to virtually nil of late, and you can see why I’ve not got very far through the long list of craft books I’ve bookmarked to look at.

Blogs, yes.

Podcasts, yes.

Writing books…

soon…

Honest!

However after finishing Stephen King: On Writing*, I think I need to put a higher priority on craft books.

Whilst a (self-acclaimed) short book, I enjoyed the gentle warm up with his personal history and route into his writing career. The guy can tell a story** and it’s always reassuring to hear how other people have slogged through the early days, refining their craft and getting exposure in between work and family life, before getting those breaks that build up to a successful career.

His section on writing advice is quite compact, which I liked, though will probably need to go back through to refresh , because the narrative on them is so stark.***

Some of my favourite parts/top lessons:

  • The image of his “muse” as a grumpy old man in the basement. Fab!
  • The importance of support from family (his wife in particular) and the freedom to disassociate with those that don’t.
  • A licence to spend time reading and writing, and to see oneself as a serious writer, rather than having to make excuses for it.

Some things I disagree***** with:

  • Writing groups are not always bad. I’ve found contact with other writers gives me confidence to treat my writing seriously. It gives me a time to focus solely on writing, without children, laundry, etc nagging in the back (or front!) of my mind. I can see how they can be misused, but with care I think they can be invaluable.
  • Plot can still be important. Yes, character and situation should come first, but a good plot that evolves from those things can draw me through a book. If people start with plot and work backwards to fill in the characters I think it can still work well, as long as the plot isn’t too rigid that it makes the characters flat or unbelievable.
  • A basic sense of grammar is important, but telling a good story still comes first. Now I have been put off reading indie pieces because of poor grammar, but getting every who vs. whom etc is going to annoy fewer people than unbelievable characters or bland story.

Hopefully I’m doing the book justice with these short points (we’re back on mad sleep patterns and my brain has given up on me recently), but they are just a few of the things that have stuck with me.

I may be slightly biased with how much resonated with me. I’m more of a discovery writer than outliner (he discards plans as sucking the life out of stories****, although I feel that’s a bit harsh and often wish I could plan, but I just end up writing instead), so his methods ring truer to me than they may to a hard-core planner. Even so, I think there’s something to be taken for everyone, so would highly recommend it.

If nothing else, it’s a quick, compelling read!

On Writing by Stephen King

*Not that the sample quite does justice to the rest of the book, imo.

**Well, duh! I have really enjoyed some of his fiction, although have to be in the right mood for it when it gets scary! Any hard-core fans would probably love it, because there are lots of references to the writing of specific books.

***Kicking myself a bit for getting the e-book, as print copies are so much easier to skim through for this.

****Paraphrasing, btw.

*****Please let me know if I’ve misinterpreted/misrepresented any of these ideas-as I’ve said I’m not quite on top par at the moment!