#writer problems

Being a full-time writer, working from home, is essentially awesome. You can get up whenever you want, wear whatever clothes (or lack thereof) you want, have as much random clutter on your desk as you want, listen to whatever obnoxious music you want at sufficient volume to drown out the screams of the neighbours’ baby.
There are a few things you have to be careful about, of course, like resisting the temptations of excessive tea and Netflix consumption. And a few problems unique to the writer:

  • Googling strange things like ‘how to cut someone’s throat’ and hope nobody is monitoring your search history. ‘It’s for a book, honestly Inspector.’
  • Veering wildly (and frequently) between thinking your writing is a masterpiece and thinking it’s a load of garbage.
  • Answering the door at 11am in your pyjamas and dressing gown and feeling a little bit guilty about it. Not guilty enough to actually get dressed any earlier, mind.
  • Losing track of what day it is.
  • The never-ending fight with the many-headed beast that is procrastination, the inner Hydra which is every writer’s nemesis.
  • Spending the day lost inside your own inner world and then struggling to remember that your characters don’t actually exist and you now have to re-adjust to interacting with real humans. Although admittedly real humans are often more tractable than your creations.
  • The sheer unpredictability of editing – finding some chapters need hardly any work and can be dispensed with in a single day, while others are a complete mess, need extensive re-writes, and take an entire week of hair-pulling frustration to get right.
  • The difficulty of explaining to anyone who isn’t a writer how writing works. Particularly, in my case, trying to explain to people why my characters aren’t doing what they’re told and how long it took me to coax them to go to the location where the rest of the plot is waiting to happen. Just ‘cause they’re made up, doesn’t mean they’re not stubborn SOBs.
  • Getting carried away with writing and forgetting to do basic household tasks.
  • Making lots of cups of tea and then forgetting about them.
    Speaking of… oh crap, another cup of tea gone stone cold. Back later…

Cappuccino dreams

On the 8th of September, straight after returning from FantasyCon, I sat my ass down and started bashing out a new novel, The Silvergreen Sea. Now, just under four weeks later, I’ve passed the 20,000 words mark, and I’m confident at least half the time that at least 25% of what I’ve written isn’t total dross. So it’s going pretty well so far *crosses fingers and toes, backs up document*. Writing is not, of course, just a numbers game: it’s a voyage in your own imagination, a tour of your very own castle in the air. Even if nothing tangible ever comes of it, you can enjoy the ride. But most of the time, the reality of it is not terribly glamorous. It’s essentially sitting in front of a computer all day staring at words on the screen (or, worse, blank space), then tapping at the keyboard to make more appear, then deleting half of them, then going to make a cup of tea.

Sometimes, it’s good to remember why I’m doing it, to remind myself of what this dream I’m pursuing really is, why I’m getting up each morning and sitting at my desk. Now, it’s easy to fantasise about becoming ‘the next J.K. Rowling’, selling millions of copies, ascending the heights of the best-seller lists, getting a series of star-studded movie adaptations, sparking bitterly fought online shipping wars, being condemned by the Catholic Church. But there are other dreams, of slightly more attainable things, which I can indulge in with a sliver of hope that some day at least one of them might actually come to pass. Such as:

1. Seeing a book of mine, an actual book made of paper and glue, sitting on the actual shelf of an actual bookshop. Of course, if physical bookshops are on their way out, then this might be a dream with a limited shelf life (pun intended) but I’ll keep dreaming it for now.

2. A stranger telling me they’ve read my book, and then saying one of the following: ‘How could you kill that character? He was my favourite!’; ‘I don’t think that character would have done that, she’s just not that kind of person.’; ‘What are you doing here talking to me? Why aren’t you getting on with the sequel?’

3. Getting to sit on a panel at a convention and be all like ‘yeah, I’m a writer’ like it’s no biggie. Then getting asked questions about the stuff I’ve written. Even if they’re stupid and/or awkward questions. Hey, they’re showing an interest!

4. Being interviewed by Radio 4. As above, but with added ‘whoa I grew up listening to this station and now I’m on it and people are listening to me while they potter around the house.’

5. Hearing that my characters have been shipped and slashed. Especially if there’s a fierce online argument about who is *really* destined to be with whom.

6. Being condemned by The Daily Mail.

7. Buying a round of drinks with money I’ve received for something I wrote. Even if the amount is paltry, it’s still payment for words which have spilled out of my brain, and there’s no better encouragement to go and write some more and maybe get a less paltry amount next time. And even if my royalties never stretch to anything more than coffee for one, you know what, that cappuccino is going to taste So. Damn. Good.

A Roundup of Randomness

It’s been quite a tiring couple of weeks. After almost 5 months of severe back pain, my activities largely restricted to walking round the park, drinking cups of tea, and watching old music videos and Game of Thrones teasers on YouTube, last Monday I finally went back to work. The pain hasn’t gone, but it’s sufficiently under control to start a phased return to the office, trying to remember what on earth I’m supposed to be doing (something to do with overhaul of jet engines, I think). I’ve been doing just two hours a day so far, but it’s astonishing how drained I feel afterwards. Still, this week was much better than last week, so it’s progress, and I was genuinely touched by how happy all my colleagues are to see me back. So, in the absence of more significant inspiration, I figure it’s time for a quick roundup of my latest thoughts and deeds.

1) Game of Thrones season 4 has started. This is, quite literally, the most exciting thing to happen to me in the last six months. My favourite bit – apart from Arya and The Hound, obvs – is the opening credits: although I have to confess that my heart sank just a little bit when Meereen showed up, I do love the way they’ve made The Dreadfort look like meat tenderisers. The Dreadfort, for those who don’t have the same encyclopaedic knowledge of Westeros as me, is the seat of Roose Bolton, who isn’t a terribly nice guy, even by GoT’s bloodthirsty standards. Incidentally, he looks just like Vladimir Putin.

2) I’ve been listening to a lot of Team Rock Radio lately, a station which promises no adverts, although it does spend a lot of time telling you all about what’s in the latest issue of Classic Rock Magazine. Clearly an underhand marketing tactic which won’t work on me. So in the latest issue, I’ve been reading all about KISS. God, they’re rubbish. But I salute their stroke of genius in adopting that crazy face-paint look back in the 70s, thus ensuring that: a) nobody would find out how ugly they all were; b) nobody would recognise them off-stage; c) they could replace band members without anyone noticing; and d) in forty years’ time, when their pretty-boy rivals’ faces had all melted, they would still look exactly the same.

3) Last Christmas I decided that my 2013 reading challenge would be ‘In Search of Lost Time’. I managed about half of it, so I’ve decided it’s actually a 2013 and 2014 reading challenge, and I’m currently working my way – slowly – through volume 4, ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’. I’ve also baked some madeleines, which I think counts as further progress.

4) On Monday evening I jointly led a session at my writing group, Derby Scribes, on the topic of submissions to agencies, magazines, and anthologies. At one point the discussion turned to font choices, and it struck me that you can always tell a true writer by how impassioned they are on the topic of serifs vs sans, Courier vs Times New Roman, or Verdana vs Calibri. We even had a couple of people sticking up for that most reviled of all fonts, Comic Sans. FWIW, my personal font of choice is Palatino Linotype.

5) My friend Tamsin has roped me into doing a 10k walk, starting at 10pm, to raise money for Treetops Hospice. It’s called the Moonlight Walk, but it’s actually scheduled for the night of the new moon, so clearly we need all the help we can get. Our team is called The Tea Ladies, and if we make our donations target, I’ll do the walk wearing my English breakfast tea cosy on my head. http://www.justgiving.com/the-tea-ladies/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=the-tea-ladies&utm_campaign=pfp-share


I will wear this on my head if you donate enough money to our cause


Seasons in sickness

I have to confess that I am generally not very good at reading other blogs, but one I have been following is by Alison Clayton-Smith on the Mslexia website, about life as a writer with chronic health issues, and, while we have different problems and different approaches to life, I do identify with quite a lot of what she says. Here, for what it’s worth, are my own thoughts.

Today is the 28th of February. Next week is Shrove Tuesday. The last day I was at work was the 30th of October. When I went off sick, it was autumn: now, winter is on the cusp of spring. A whole season has passed, a third of a year, and I’m still laid low with back pain, unable to do most of my normal activities. I’ve had an MRI scan (an experience I thoroughly recommend for any horror writer wondering what it might feel like to be buried alive) but no results yet. Now, there could be a serious problem, but I’m suspecting/hoping that it’s actually ‘just’ a muscle strain which will heal itself in time, and nobody so far seems able to answer the question ‘How much time?’ Meanwhile, I’m stuck in limbo, a life revolving around taking painkillers, having cups of tea, baking in my polka-dot pinny, doing my prescribed gym ball exercises and going for walks around the local parks.

Sounds crap, doesn’t it? Several people have said to me ‘oh gosh, you must be going stir-crazy’ or words to that effect. The truth is it’s actually not all that bad. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive husband, a spacious and pleasant home, a circle of lovely friends to have cups of tea with, easy access to walks along the river. I don’t have to deal with most of the stresses of everyday life. I have, essentially, become accustomed to my restricted lifestyle, lowered my expectations, moved into the mindset of the long-term sick. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not bored, most of the time. Access to the internet in general and social media in particular helps, of course, but so does the fact that I’ve always been happy in my own company, largely content with the inner life. Solitude is an essential component of life as a writer, and, while I haven’t been able to do much actual writing, I have been able to do a lot of thinking, working through ideas for future projects. Right now poor health has put my life largely on hold, but hey, I may as well take the opportunity for some reflection. When life gives you lemons, make gin and tonic.

Link to Alison’s Mslexia blog: https://www.mslexia.co.uk/blog/2014/02/writing-to-make-life-easier/

Flash blog: Good news, bad news

So the good news is, my story ‘Second Skin’ has been selected as the first featured story on SciFi Ideas. You can read it here: http://www.scifiideas.com/related/featured-story-second-skin/
The bad news is, after an accident involving a mug of tea, my laptop seems to have gone for a Burton. And, because I was careless at maintaining my backups, it’s taken some of my work with it. I think this qualifies as an Epic Fail. Although, at least my poor level of productivity recently means that I haven’t lost that much stuff… so the two fails kind of cancel each other out?

Oh well, shit happens, and I’m not going to make that mistake again in a hurry. Back to the desktop then to try to recreate my latest edits. I’ll leave you with a suitable image.

Triple Facepalm