Losing Focus

Is it normal that I spend more time watching YouTube videos than regular TV? Something about the short 10 minute bursts of tutorial is addictive to me. I get filled with a sense of being able to achieve anything given the right materials. 

You might think as an aspiring writer I would spend my YouTube time learning how to be a writer. That would be very sensible. 

Of course, I don’t.

So far this year I have purchased over £200 worth of stationery I most definitely did not need in order to recreate some of the “Bullet Journals” I saw. Last year I spent a shameful amount on professional makeup that I will probably never use up before it goes off. And now, I have a unsupressable urge to buy a Silhouette Portrait and make my own stickers.

Why? What is wrong with me? Nothing is helping towards actually writing anything. I’ve barely even managed a blog post for the past four months as every time I get my phone out I’m clicking on the red square with a white triangle instead of the blue circle with the fancy W in it. (This is a very rare exception, obviously.)

I should perhaps feel guilty that I haven’t been writing. Or that I’ve failed on some level. Truth is, I’ve really enjoyed being creative this year. I am even considering taking up knitting so that I can knit cute teddy bears to sell on Etsy and earn myself enough of a fortune to afford a writing office in which to sit and not write.

I wonder how many teddy bears that would take…

Application for the Job of Writer

Dear Mr. D. Job

I would like to apply for the job of Writer.

The open-ended work shift pattern for little to no money really appeals to me. I require almost no supervision, training, or guidance, preferring instead to flounder about by myself for years on end with no success. I think this is really character-building and will eventually make me a better writer.

I have twenty years’ voluntary experience in the field and think it is about time that I settled into a formal role rather than farting around like some kind of university student on a gap year / study break.

My recent work experience in a busy sales admin office involved filing so I’m really good at my alphabet. I now only have to sing letters L-T, the rest I know off by heart. I also answered the phone a lot before I went part-time so I heard genuine dialogue for at least five hours a day, five days a week. I reckon I could accurately capture on paper all of those accents and readers do love to read a good accent. Especially when it’s in every dialogue exchange or if it’s a really thick accent. Also I had to check orders for errors which really helped to develop my self-editing skills. I almost never include order forms within my stories by accident.

I also own a small child so spare time is really limited. I need something to soak up those last few precious hours that I used to spending relaxing or sleeping.

Yours sincerely,

Aspiring Author / Professional Procrastinator.

I have a little problem

My name is Laura and I’m addicted to stationery.

Supportive applause.

I’m pretty sure the reason I decided I wanted to be a writer was because of all the pens.

There’s nothing quite like the plasticy rattle when you dig through your pen box (because pen cases are too small) to reach a biro you acquired from a hotel you stayed at five years ago or a fountain pen that was the first pen your now husband gave you when you went off to uni.

Someone who owns multiple pen boxes, a large plastic storage box full of blank pads and notebooks, a shelf full of ‘in-use’ notebooks and folders and still struggles to keep their monthly stationery spend under £20 has a tiny problem…

I wonder, what are other people’s reasons for wanting to write? Hopefully they’re a little more writerly than mine.

Also, I’m really looking forward to April. Thank you eBay and Amazon 🙂

Excuses why I didn’t write today…

  • It’s 9.30pm and I’ve already been wearing pyjamas for an hour … On a Friday night
  • I went to work today. Surely that’s productive enough for anybody?
  • My deadline is still 7 days away 
  • I did some editing yesterday
  • I did some writing last week, I mean come on!
  • I really really just want to watch the next episode of Broad church (I’m a late comer and am currently binge watching the first series.)
  • I’d rather doodle in my bullet journal. At least I’m making words…

    Although overall my writing output has increased this month, it’s still pretty irregular. Today is most definitely a non-writing day!

    Not A Book Review

    I’m not reviewing a book, merely recounting my experience of reading it. Which, sadly, hasn’t been all that great.

    I’ve spent the last couple of weeks struggling to get through the latest installment in a Detective series that I’ve followed since its infancy. The first book I read when it was still self-published by the author. Then it got picked up by a Big Six Publisher and went on for a further six books. I loyally and hungrily read each one, enjoying the easy reading style of non-literary fiction. These books were written purely for entertainment.

    I’m not normally one for crime fiction. I don’t like that I can’t help myself from trying to guess who the killer/criminal is. Everything could be a clue. I can’t sit back and passively read, I’m always trying to second guess the writer. I don’t like this, and I think I’m alone in thinking this way. I just want to enjoy the story being told to me. Passive reader. Lazy reader. That’s me.

    This series, however, grabbed my attention (mostly because the first book was free, I love free books for my Kindle) because it mixed the supernatural and macabre with crime. I was no longer trying to figure out who the killer was but how the detective was going to explain away the supernatural elements of his case. How was he going to turn it into a rational arrest?

    So, this last book arrived a couple of months before Christmas but I didn’t read it straight away because I had a ton of jobs to do around the house, other books to read, and my own book to write. Having put the latter to one side for now and the former being picked at as and when I feel productive, I finally got around to reading it.

    Sadly, I’ve been struggling to enjoy it. The supernatural creepiness has been pushed to a side-plot which I’m guessing will have an important role to play in the book’s finale. Or at least I hope so. But it’s not just this that has stuck in my craw, it’s the descriptions. Every time a side character makes an appearance, we get the same observation about them. A mannerism designed to show us something about the character, chronic smoking habit, ever-present latest technology etc. It’s repetitive and presumes that I haven’t remembered what happened in the last chapter. I do. Whenever the main character gets home his pet makes an appearance, in the same way with the same attitude and the same inference is drawn every time. I get that continuity is good but if it’s not adding to the story then once or twice is enough. Otherwise it’s just boring to read.

    I don’t know why the style suddenly strikes a discord with me. Perhaps because there is less creepiness, perhaps his editorial team has changed, perhaps he has grown tired of the series or changed the way he writes it. Perhaps since becoming a mother my own tastes have changed and along with them my ability to enjoy a good, trashy book. Whatever it is, I’m still going to read it to the end and buy the next one in the series once it drops to £3.85 on Amazon – my prerequisite for a printed book. You know, just in case it was a one off.

    Happy reading and writing! x

    How to use Standard Manuscript Format

    In manufacturing, a standard refers to a set of rules the manufacturer must follow for their product to qualify. If you go into any multitude of manufacturers, their rule set will be identical, so long as they are working to the same standard.

    That same logic does not apply to manuscripts…

    At the end of last year I entered a competition that stated all stories must be submitted in “standard manuscript format” which I vaguely knew as double spaced, 12pt, regular font, not wingdings etc.

    Not wanting my submission to be auto-rejected due to bad formatting I decided to research what was meant by Standard Manuscript Format. I found several articles, all with detailed pointers on line spacing etc, but not one of them had identical ‘rules’ to any of the others.

    Some specified that you must use Courier New as it was the most like a typewriter font. Also you must use — instead of ( or ). Another stated that you must never use Courier New, it was a thing writers did in the past during the early days of computers. Now publishers wanted it in Times New Roman. Each article had its own unique variation that the writer claimed was integral.

    Eventually, even more confused than when I began, I gave up. I went for Times New Roman, 12pt, 1 inch margins and double spaced lines. I did the cover page (which the competition did give guidance on) used page numbers and a header. Trying to get page numbers to start on page one and not appear on the cover page was a mission in itself… Not for the faint of heart or technophobic.

    I think in future if the competition or publisher doesn’t link to a specific article or give clear guidance on what their standard is then I’m just going to rehash this format.

    What format do you use? Is this standard thing a myth? Do publishers really care so long as it is readable?

    Happy formatting x

    How To: Use A Character Arc

    Character arcs are one of those things that the “how to write” books tell you you need in order to develop a character that will suck your reader in and empty their pockets buying all the sequels. Not so much in those words but “how to write” advice seems to be mostly about maximising profit rather than playing around with a hobby for fun. (If that’s your game then great, I may sound bitter but it’s only because I’m jealous.)

    A character arc is their journey through your book. Essentially they need to have goals and aims that evolve as events in your book force them to grow or change. Then they need some kind of resolution at the end.

    I found it easiest to plot out a character arc alongside my story plot – if I went down this route of planning, that is. I use various planning methods, the more the merrier. Anything to put off writing the actual story because for me, this is the part I enjoy most.

    • Initial goals & conflicts – these are their personal aspirations that they have before the story begins and also what is holding them back from having it already.
    • Inciting incident – story plot point
    • New goal & conflicts – how does this incident affect or replace initial story goals
    • Setbacks – various events that prevent your character from achieving their old or new goals (this will most likely be made up of your plot points if you are the type of writer that really likes to make your characters struggle – mwah  ha ha haaa)
    • Any new goals? – this is your character’s growth. They may have changed their personal aspirations or their story goals dependent on the plot. Or maybe not. Perhaps staying true to themselves is more important.
    • Resolution – again this will coincide with your plot points. Tie up all the questions you have raised about your character, or maybe leave some of the lesser ones open for a sequel. Or a big question, it’s your story. Don’t listen to the experts if it doesn’t fit with what you want to say. Let the publishers persuade you otherwise!

    The best methods for drawing out your arc are:

    • physically draw out the arc, an artistic impression of your character and any other details you feel are relevant here. Use lots of lots of A2 paper and then plaster used sheets over the walls in your writing office / space. Contemporary, quirky wallpaper – great stuff.
    • use an Excel spreadsheet. (or Google Sheets also work) Is it just me that loves creating forms to print out and fill in by hand. Yes? *hangs head*
    • write it out as a list in your notebook using as many different colours as your pencil case allows. Optional: if you find your list is in monochrome then treat yourself to a nice set of multi-coloured fineliner pens.

    I hope the above gives you some inspiration for avoiding writing for at least another day.

    Happy writing x

    How To Create A Bad Guy

    Every good story needs a bad guy. Someone to hate. Someone to fail. They come in various forms and there are many different approaches to drawing up a stock character like this. Hopefully the following will give you some inspiration.

    • Draw his/her silhouette – Nothing says dark and creepy like a shadow. And bad guys should be dark and creepy. It will help with the visualisation of their quirks and appearance. A hook for a hand, for example, would stand out in a silhouette.
    • Practise speaking in their tone – Become the bad guy. Talk how they would. Bark orders at your significant other or pet. Give your stuffed animals a mean dressing down of all their failures. Plot ways to ruin the days of the people closest to you. Getting into the mindset of a bad guy can help develop their ‘voice’ in your novel.
    • Wear villanous clothes – go window shopping and pick out outfits that your character might wear. Try them on and see how they might feel. This will give your story some authenticity when you describe staggering along an uneven footpath in stilettos or the satisfaction of wearing a well-fitted suit. Don’t worry if you’re not the same gender as your character, this is a modern world we live in. No one will notice, and it’s not like you’re going to buy the clothes. If you’re feeling shy, take an understanding friend with you who is good at describing things.
    • Hang around shady places – loiter in the places your character might lurk. Notice the kind of people who look at you and those who avoid eye contact. The smells. Oh, the smells. (This is actually quite a dangerous thing to do. Real-world criminals won’t care you are just researching, they’ll take your stuff all the same. So maybe just look at Google Street View and imagine the rest.)
    • Roleplay – Grab your understanding friend from earlier and ask them to play the role of ‘good guy’. Try out some confrontations and see what conflicts you can get to arise. Bonus points for fisty-cuffs and getting your friend to cry. Buy them a beer or a burger after, to say sorry.

    Enjoy creating your bad guys (or gals). Let me know in the comments if you have any fun with the above or any other favourite ways to bring out your inner baddie.

    Happy writing x

    Bullet Journal – Organisation (procrastination) for the creative minds

    The idea behind the  bullet journal is credited to Ryder Carroll. It’s a fusion of to do lists, personal goals, daily weekly monthly yearly planners and anything else you want to include. There’s a full history on it on his website that I won’t plagiarise here.

    You will need at the very least a notebook and a pen or pencil. At the most, well, your bank balance is the limit. The bullet journal invites as many doodles and illustrations as your arty self can manage (which if is none is fine also) so you can easily justify treating yourself to some fineliner pens, the more colours the better, and oh yes a brand new notebook!

    Of course any notebook will do but there are specially designed notebooks with prenumbered pages and dot grids for ease of structuring your pages and collections.

    The beauty of the journal is you design every page so if you can include whatever you want. A quick perusal on Google or Pinterest will give you an idea of what other people use it for and also will give you some inspiration on doing your own layouts. Keeping track of submissions and deadlines along with story ideas is not beyond the scope of this journal so I think it’s a relevant procrastination tool for any (non-)writer.

    My bullet journal order is in the post and I can’t wait. I’ve always wanted a Myslexia diary thinking it will help boost my creativity but couldn’t justify the cost. Now of course I’ve just spent at least that amount on pens alone and a dotted notebook (that doesn’t ghost – a new phrase I’ve learned) costs about the same. So good saving money there…

    Rejection Time

    A little email popped up in my inbox last week. I was incredibly excited to read it and thought it worth sharing here:

    rejection

    Now most people would probably be a little disappointed at receiving a rejection like the one above. To me though it’s a real achievement. It means I wrote something, actually wrote something from start to finish and *gasp* sent it off for someone completely unknown to me to judge.

    It was a Sci-Fi story so a little outside of my comfort zone. I usually stick to fantasy, I like all that magic and world-building and creating your own rules. Also I’m always worried that any Sci-Fi reader will see me as a fraud if I make any glaring errors. In fantasy they can’t scrutinise me too closely, because, well it’s my world and if a multicoloured unicorn wants to defy gravity and make cow noises it can. (I’ve never written about unicorns, just so we’re clear)

    Although it didn’t make the cut, I’m still proud of what I wrote / that I finished something. First time this year! Perhaps I can officially call myself a writer now?