Do you recognise wonderful? Do you see it? Watch these Top Tips from Novelist Jill Dawson from The Guardian Masterclasses 2013. Some advice is timeless.
© 2017 Guardian News and Media
Do you recognise wonderful? Do you see it? Watch these Top Tips from Novelist Jill Dawson from The Guardian Masterclasses 2013. Some advice is timeless.
This morning I decided to watch a TEDx talk whilst eating breakfast. I have spent a couple of weeks in a dip and am lacking motivation and belief. In under three years I am already uttering those vile, monstrous, self-destructive words, ‘what’s the point?’ Not only has the question entered my mind, it has been playing on a slow loop and worse still I have started to take it as fact that the answer is – ‘there isn’t any.’
All of this is completely ridiculous, however, in the short time I have been back in my writing life I have discovered not only do all writers feel this way from time to time but even really famous authors and successful writers fall prey to these self-sabotaging words.
The point is;
your unique voice, out there for people to read.
this is your chosen career.
you have to stay highly motivated as you have no boss to answer to and some days probably don’t even get dressed before lunchtime (if at all).
you write, but no-one writes 24/7.
this was a choice, still is, but don’t let one bad week/month/year dissuade you.
So here I am in the doldrums (despite several ongoing exciting projects), this lingering feeling has been unsettling me for over two weeks. Today, I thought this is ridiculous, I need to spur myself on.
Hence the breakfast with a side order of TEDx.
It was the 2012 Olympics which reignited my ambition to become a writer. I am basically taking 4 years at a time as an over-arching period as a writer and allowing myself four Olympics to get to GOLD. I am hoping in the light of my writing life after 3 years that it won’t take the whole 16 years to achieve my ambition.
The Universe Steps In
You know how the universe conspires in putting exactly what you need at that given moment in front of you – well the talk suggested something about the Olympians which I vaguely remembered hearing before, indeed a quick search gave me the data and a BBC report on the medal response.
The concept is that Bronze medal winners feel better than Silver medal holders.
Gold is great – you won – on top of the world.
Bronze is – yippee I was placed, I have a medal, so close.
Silver is – shucks I haven’t won.
Research has shown that silver medallists feel worse, on average, than bronze medallists. (Gold medallists, obviously, feel best of all.) The effect is written all over their faces, as psychologists led by Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University found out when they collected footage of the medallists at the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. Gilovich’s team looked at images of medal winners either at the end of events – that is, when they had just discovered their medal position – or as they collected their medals on the podium. They then asked volunteers who were ignorant of the athlete’s medal position to rate their facial expressions. Sure enough, the volunteers rated bronze medallists as consistently and significantly happier than silver medallists, both immediately after competing, and on the podium.
By Tom Stafford
Copyright © 2015 BBC
Read the full article here http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120810-olympic-lessons-in-regret
Just with this in mind (because I was obviously aiming for Gold and actually feeling bad that I hadn’t even made Silver and the people on the podium weren’t even in the race when I started), my mind shifted. I realised I need to appreciate what I do have – and I have pages of it in The Write Year to look back on.
I am learning and I think that’s what it’s all about. The writing process takes an incredibly long and frustrating time is a new lesson. It is an important one. I have learnt how the polishing is important, how not to jump the gun (sending work out too early with ragged edges). I will train harder and seek support. Being a part of a team is much more comfortable than the solitude of your garret where you are out on a limb.
Of course, ‘I am Bronze’ – is in itself a winning mindset – my Olympic year falls next year and I will see how much ground I have covered and how 2016 pans out, I am hoping it ends with a medal around my neck. (Just maybe not silver!)
So my best advice for an attack of the writing doldrums – is claw yourself back out, make a list of all your highest achievements, stick it somewhere you will see it everyday and keep up the good fight. Today may not have been yours – but who’s to say what tomorrow holds? You get a new chance daily, send your darlings out and keep smiling!
One day victory will be yours! Cue manical laughter.
FLASH NANO has been going well, it makes a change for me to write prose and Nancy’s prompts have been inspiring, these tales would never exist without this challenge. I have started to think about how these prompts can be used, rather than just collecting stories that will just gather dust in my hard-drive.
So here’s what has been happening since Day 2.
I created a character who was fighting the setting in of age (we had to write a monologue), this flash had feet and I think I can rework it and use it in the future. The central character not only bears witness to something but suspects she knows the culprit.
I read an Australian traditional tale about a crocodile and reshaped it into something a little different. The crocodile needed help with his drilling of sticks to make fire and the clever lizard invents fire sticks. It takes a while before the crocodile can make a fire that stays alight and the animal who helps him is one he has never eaten to this day.
It was fun writing this tale and may work well as a story for children.
I knew instantly which toy I was going to write about and parts of this Flash were based on a real-life experience. The ending took me by surprise (I love it when writing does that) and it works well as a story for a variety of markets.
This is still to be written (see my TOP TIPS) but I have researched where I may be able to place a short flash and have decided to make it 150 words so I can potentially submit it.
I still need to tackle this. I haven’t thought about it yet.
I do not panic about falling behind because these challenges are under 1000 words and the average recommended daily allowance is 1667 words a day for the 50K challenge, which is not something I am trying to achieve this year. I have extended some of the original flashes into short stories and so far have written 8242 words.
So how is Nanowrimo going for you? Do share your updates with us. Here are some tips to keep you in the write frame of mind now that you are a week in.
PS today is the day for Double donations and a double writing challenge. Double up your word count, a great idea if you are doing Nanowrimo because all extra words under your belt count.
It is also the first official Nano write in for my regional group, I attended back in 2013 when doing Nano for the first time. Check out your regional groups, a write in is fun and motivating, not to mention sociable.
The Ups and Downs of Creatives
YOU ARE NORMAL – IT IS NORMAL!
Look at some great examples (people/work) and aspire, see what achievements they had, do you see yourself having the same?
Then you get to a place you feel you should be and it is all waterfalls and rainbows after that? Wrong.
You keep growing – keep learning – keep failing and succeeding. Many creative areas are like small planetary systems and the orbit around us is called REJECTION – occasionally you see a small opening – shoot for it and make it through to success – and even success comes with a ton more lessons.
Don’t let that put you off wishing for it – in fact wishing for success is your first step towards it – pull it closer towards you.
Be prepared for your confidence to take a knock – and quite often you are the one responsible for throwing such punches.
Be prepared for a lack of self-belief to raise its ugly head from time to time.
Set goals – be clear on what it is you want to achieve and when things go wrong make 1 of 2 decisions;
– kick it to the kerb and try again
– decide that fate has other plans and move in a different direction – fight or flight really – of course it is TRULY something you really want – keep fighting – don’t give up – but set a time limit on the punches (mine was 16 years*, now closer to 13, despite it taking 9 months to find my writing niche).
Right now, especially if I reflect on the past 4 months, there are things that haven’t gone as well as I would have liked. Things that have failed completely (note I say ‘things’ and not I – rejection is not personal) but also there has been success, achievement and a few opportunities I had not dreamt would be on offer this early on the path of my goals.
Of course a certain amount of dream/ambition and perfect working world comes from a place where we seek happiness. If you are serious about making it part of your life/existence you will need to accept that it will be jolly hard work (often not jolly at all) … but if you love what you’re doing it won’t feel like work and when it does and you feel it dragging you down… do what I do and think about what WORK used to mean/be! I can guarantee you are doing better now -right?
Stress(ing) takes up abundant amounts of energy and you may find (if like me you still have paid employment to keep you alive) that this is becoming ever more stressful.
© 2014 Deborah Alma
This year for many reasons (not least that I am finally well enough to do so) I have taken on more career work. The result of this has meant losing writing days – for the first few months this made me angry. Mr G was working away and I wanted to spend my free time with him, not the laptop – and I am glad I did, because we got through it and are now reunited and the laptop can make an appearance at any time without neglect or imbalance occurring.
Looking back considering what a challenging (timewise) writing year it has been so far, I am not doing too badly. There is one major project that I wish I had spent more time on in the New Year, on the flip side although I have inevitably delayed something exciting and forward propelling from happening, I have created new material which wouldn’t have been written in time or possibly would never have existed.
Remember to create some space and time for you to address what’s happening, what you are thinking. What do you want your life to be like? Start with the ideal and work backwards.
What is important to you?
What creative direction would you like to take?
DURING THEIR LIFETIME…
Vincent Van Gogh: sold only one painting, and this was to a friend and only for a very small amount of money.
Emily Dickinson: had fewer than a dozen poems published out of her almost 1,800 completed works.
I have (and probably you have) already beaten this in today’s world of publishing.
Theodor Seuss Giesel: 27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book.
Steven Spielberg: was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times.
Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash.
J. K. Rowling: was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel.
ELVIS PRESLEY got fired after his first show;
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
Look back – YES
I look through my schedule, which I annotate as I go with highlighters/markers, I know my key: Performing, writing, submitting, publishing etc.
Then I have a system where at the end of the month I write on a small post-it all the MAJOR achievements, that way when I reflect I just look over the 1-12 post-it notes.
Other people keep their TO DO lists in a separate notebook and just look back through these.
It needn’t mean extra work for you, but this reflection will boost your creativity/ output and success in the future.
I have also learnt to let the dips happen, they are a natural (and necessary) part of any creative career. Plus many creative people are likely to suffer depression, anxiety… so let go, give in and feel the rip and pull of the tide until you enjoy it as much as the gentle white horses of the sea covering your feet on the sand.
The best way to deal with it or anything is to
JUST KEEP GOING!
Happy Writing x
* Brief information on my plan = 4 Olympics… all this is training for my first – 2016.
Mr G has started to work away from home, so when he came back for his fortnight booked holiday to spend Christmas at home, I decided to stay offline, vowing to give him my full attention.
Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends (if you can). After spending a year touring around poeting, many events and opportunities were tied up in December and I have logged back online to find a backlog of emails and some performance events I could have attended in the last few weeks of the month.
I only spent an hour online to catch up but found it particularly stressful. In hindsight I should have popped online daily for a limited time to check emails.
If you work online and decide to spend some time offline be sure that you plug some time to play catch up.
I will start with my list of excuses;
I could go on….
* Not strictly true – I am so pale skinned, I just freckle and burn.
Instead of filling me with excitement and revelling in words, both commitment to Camp NaNoWriMo and NaPoWriMo have left me cold. I know this happens to lots of participants, but I wasn’t expecting the experience myself.
I am WAY behind with poems for NaPoWriMo as I have to re-write from Day 3 -7 (lost files!) and then play catch up – a poem a day is a challenge but 14 + poems seems like a mountain I am not able to climb! Hoping for one crampon at a time and as I have 2 sets this week, tomorrow lunch time and Friday night, I could use some new material.
I have the added pressure of no working printer, Mr G has taken half day holidays as the weather is so good and I will be performing before he finishes work tomorrow and Friday is Easter weekend/ Bank Holiday so any poems to be printed need to be emailed to him before 11:30 a.m. today!
Submissions & Competitions
My plan yesterday was to catch up with NaPo – I had submissions (2 of them – 11 poems and a competition) that I had to hit deadlines for, leaving it to last minute again (the hamster is really whizzing around its wheel at this point!) I didn’t manage a catch up and thus fell a further day behind!
I did manage to enter my 2nd Poetry Competition though and it was an old fashioned postal entry, which included a jaunt to the main Post Office and back!
The online submissions were not as successful, we spent the afternoon in the garden – I was catching up with reading writing articles – I am currently near the end of my March issue magazine with April and May waiting in the wings! By the time we went in, it was late and my brain was not playing ball.
After checking out the websites I found that none of my poems really fitted the bill. I have pencilled one in for next month, hoping I can write some suitable poetry over the next 4 weeks (perhaps some of my NaPo marathon!) and the other one I will leave until the next reading period in November and again try to write a suitable style entry.
There is NO POINT submitting work to magazines when it doesn’t suit there style, if you find yourself in my position it is far better to pencil in the next opportunity, read the last few issues and see if you are able to write in the preferred style or be true to yourself and back away, find a publication to suit your work.
PLANS (The best laid plans of Hamsters and Men!)
My plan now, today – is to carry on running with the wheel – keep up as not to fly out! I have already got the business emails out of the way.
For the 1st time I have an active cabin and I am the one not conversing – they are probably giving me pinches to wake me up or complaining about me on the forum.
The saving grace is that previously (2013) I completed 55K on Camp NaNo – April, 35K on Camp July, and 40K for the main NaNoWriMo in November – WIN! WIN! WIN! However, as yet I have done NOTHING with this writing. So this year I set about planning short story submissions to be completed as part of camp.
What I didn’t consider was the proximity of deadline to writing time, a short story should rest a few weeks before editing begins. Also (see list of excuses at the top of this post) I have missed some of the deadlines.
I am only hoping for 10K so I can still do it. 715 words a day is still a manageable target… if I start today…
I have re-jigged my plan, I know what I need to write – just need my muse to kick in with storylines.
Don’t be disheartened – if you haven’t started, there is always today. Just DO IT!
Work out the remaining word count – if, like me, you haven’t started more than a fortnight in, I suggest to re-adjust your target word count, make it manageable. The smallest you can have is 10K.
Make sure your writing is working towards something – don’t just write into a hole.
Believe in yourself and your ability to catch up! Think Fables – The Hare and the Tortoise!
I also want to catch up with Blog Posts:
Some of you will be aware of The Write Year page on this blog, a place I leave a monthly review of all writing developments and sometimes pitfalls. I like to finish each monthly entry with some TOP TIPS that might help others too.
I have not yet reviewed December – I will be adding more top tips to this post in the next few days (be sure to check back)!
I hope you have also had a great year of writing. Let us know!
We all need a personal cheerleader from time to time, but the most important lesson I have learnt is just to
So far tonight I have been on the computer for an hour. I have completed lots of background reading and research and have just popped into Blogland.
I will come back and edit this post later to include today’s word count – I am hoping for 1667 but I am EXTREMELY tired – and have spent 20 minutes constantly yawning. I could easily go to bed now but I would wake up at 4 and be too tired for work… so I am hoping to make it past cooking/eating dinner and a few hours of writing.
Day 6 NaNo – Starters
After a LONG, HARD day and a very late night I knew it was going to be a long night for this evening’s write. This became a dead cert when I logged on at 6:40pm and found it had taken me 10minutes to get the laptop to fire up correctly! Some glitch or other.
I then spent an hour researching through some note booked ideas – I struggled yesterday with the direction of my story (due to not planning thoroughly – which is a must for all writer’s) – especially those who participate in NaNoWriMo – I am an unwitting pantster because the end of October was so busy I pushed NaNo to the back of my mind and spent a day making the decision whether to do it or not!
So tonight I address the issue of planning.
For those of you also flying by the seat of your pants or struggling to know how to frame your writing before attempting a draft there may be some useful golden nuggets in this post. READ ON!
I completed some background reading and got a mini plan of the next part of the novella drafted. Ready to start tonight’s writing. I have also compiled a list of things I need to do;
(There is so much writing that will never appear in the final manuscript, but needs to be in place so you get a true sense of the story and the world it comes from. Like all the unseen rehearsals before a play.)
The positive outcome of tonight’s research was I have found I am not too far from producing something of along the right lines (no pun!) which is good because some doubt set in this evening and that’s never good for productivity!
My hour of research has been a worthwhile activity and I am glad I have spent the time doing it – now I have to write my NaNo for the day = 1667 words here I come!
It’s now 8:00 pm the tea is on – the washing up is soaking and I am ready to see how far I can get into the word count (hoping for 800 words in this first session!)
HOT NEWS JUST IN
Part 2 – Word Count
I only managed 500 words before dinner – and since that have spent the evening writing. At one point I did think to myself – It was spending all night working that made me change my career choice this year, then I thought about loving what you do and how that can be more special than just work and how this is what I wanted. A regular guaranteed income and time to write…
I managed 789 at next count (seemed like a lot more) then I broke 12oo and forced myself to carry on – I will be working tomorrow and Friday and do not want to lose the edge I have on myself being ahead (knowing my monthly schedule).
I managed 1544 at next count and thought COME ON!
(Inner cheerleader- ‘stop counting, keep writing!’)
So I did and when I totalled tonight’s write I managed 1963 …
of course my inner cheerleader started harping on about how close that was to 2000 – to which my mind replied;
‘yes, and look at the clock 22:20, that’s so close to my bed time!’
That’s it for tonight folks. I need to write my PAD poems and add a few bits in and then I am off to bed. (For an early night!)
Word Count = 1963
Total Words = 12,946
Words remaining = 37,054
Just write – forget about the word count.
Stop whenever you need to for a break or until tomorrow.
Do your best.
Recently I posted tips on planning short stories, some of you have found this useful. Here is a link to that post if you missed it.
Today’s focus is Narrative Structure and the Writing Process.
Who tells the story?
A writer needs to decide which narrative structure to use, first person and third person* are the most commonly used narratives. Certain publications may have a preference for one or the other. It is worth researching and reading stories from back issues if their preference is not revealed in the specific requirements.
*first-person (“I”), second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he” or “she”).
To help you decide keep these things in mind;
Use the story structure planning to plan out your characters and action, often the more detailed your planning – the easier the flow of writing will be.
Remember there is no rule about writing chronologically – look at your plan. Where can you see yourself start? Dive in, start writing.
The writing process is different for every writer (we are as unique as snowflakes, well not quite!) I tend to free write from the plan and complete whole sections of the story. Then return and edit them as I go (before the story is complete.) The hardest part for me is stitching it back together so for short stories I tend to write chronologically, what is known as a linear fashion.
I also edit in a separate folder, that way the original stays intact. A writer who never deletes anything may gain a full USB, however you also have a wealth of treasure left behind in un-used manuscripts.
AND ALWAYS BACK UP! I still need to buy an external hard-drive to do this. So far my back up is hard drive + USB.
Bumps in the Road
There are bound to be low points in the writing process, just as there will be highs. The trick here is to be flexible and hard of hearing when those inner gremlins taunt you about your ability to write and JUST KEEP GOING!
Many of us work on more than one project simultaneously and therefore create some sort of action plan or schedule. This helps you have a daily goal and know what you need to achieve by close of day. For example my action for today is to have the full idea of my short story ready for more detailed planning. So far today I have scribbled nearly 4 pages of notes, I am still in the brainstorming stage really having started yesterday and because freeing as it may seem I am writing cold with no brief bar a word count (6000).
I know this story will evolve and WILL be written because my goals are mapped out and I will stick to them. You need self-discipline as a writer because until you are at the stage of editors and agents there is no one to crack the whip and even then, you are really the only one who can MAKE IT HAPPEN!
What if life gets in the way?
Well… it sometimes does that doesn’t it? No matter how much we might like the idea of writing in our little bubble many of us have responsibilities and things we need to do alongside creating the next best short story or bestseller!
I just make a note on the schedule and copy and paste today’s action into tomorrow… leaving the next day goal where it is, in the hope I can get twice as much done. This is rarely the outcome and until there is a weekend or free morning the action plan continues to be amended until I have caught up.
The point is I DO catch up and this enables me the breathing space for the editing and proofing stage – which I will talk about next time.
Until then… Happy Writing!
For the first time this month I am filled with the exhilarated excitement of a writer who is about to write. Finally! Yippeee! The only irk is I am now days off a deadline and have felt (up until now) empty of ideas.
I know you are supposed to leave your writing before proofreading but everything I do from here relies on speed. I am currently, hurriedly researching (which is where this blog post comes in), I hope to finish writing the first draft tonight, leave it a day, edit – print – proof – print and send… (2 days to achieve edit to polish!)
I believe in passing things forward – now I am researching comedy writing (I will add at this point that previous experience both as an actor and performance writer, in addition to the more recent theatre scriptwriting workshops with Alan Harris back in May/June and my workshop day with Keith Lindsay (in February) have all given me a great foundation to believe that I can have a stab at this challenge).
As you will know from reading my ‘About’ page I have been out of this writing game a long while and fashions change, it is essential to complete a little research before I dive off the high board into an audience of laughing faces!
I thought I would share my findings and some useful websites with you along the way. It also means I can access this message to continue my quest (saves sending numerous linked emails to myself) and it might help you!
PS If any of you are comedy writers please feel free to load the comment boxes with advice, tips, knowledge, success stories and website links you find useful.
Researching the Comedy Monologue:
Monologues are talky by nature. There probably won’t be a lot of action, and events may be told rather than shown. Avoid heading into talking head territory: make sure your characters have some attitude or emotion.
Monologues can be made more interesting if characters play a subtext, so what they’re saying is at odds with what they really think.
Steps I have Already Taken
* Who are they?
* What makes them tick?
* How do they feel about what they are telling the audience?
7. Think about how to make it funny. How will it appeal to the audience? Think about who your audience is.
8. Always give the character someone to talk to.
9. And of course the advice that all writers know READ, READ, READ!
I have a book of monologues from my audition days and in addition to devouring this small paperback, I have also searched the internet and read more comedy monologues. You can spot patterns of good writing by doing this – like a detective! (Which if I could stand the sight of blood, is a career I may have considered.)
There are many websites where you find well written monologues and enjoy a few hours reading – this is speed research, so I will leave you with one and encourage you to use a search engine to discover the wonderful world of performance writing.
It really is all about the Character!
Note, I don’t say: “be funny”. Sure, chances are some lines will be hilarious, but what’ll really make people laugh is an accurate character portrayal. The more specific you are with speech patterns, physical embodiment, character arc – the more people will connect. And laugh.
My Tips – based on knowledge and experience from my past, treading the boards and writing for performance- ideas for making your character live, creating the monster!
Steps to take before the EDIT
Ask someone to read the script, get there opinion of it – don’t ask a close friend or relative and don’t expect to pester writer contacts without payment. It is important to get a point of view from another perspective. Next, consider how much criticism was constructive and useful and what, if anything you don’t agree with.
I hope these ideas are helpful for some of you I am off to change into the character from the ankle up (Stanislavski would be proud!)