Sit at a Typewriter and Bleed

A couple of people have mentioned to me that they haven’t noticed me blogging of late. So, what have I been up to? Apart from hiding from the sun, of course. Well, I’ve been writing. Nothing new in that. But, what is kind of new, is that I have been trying to enjoy writing.

When I went on my Icelandic Retreat earlier in the year and the faculty of illustrious authors was lined up for a final question and answer session, someone from the audience asked about the process of writing. One of the authors grabbed hold of the microphone and proceeded to tell us how much she absolutely loved it. She was at her desk first thing in the morning, tap tapping away on her keyboard before her husband left for work. She would spend all day having such fun with her marvellously entertaining characters and, when her husband returned home in the evening, she’d still be at her desk, having lost all track of time and completely forgotten to feed herself, without having budged an inch. 

While others in the room smiled and nodded in recognition of this sweet scenario, my heart sank. My god, I thought, is this what writing is like for these people? When I sit down to write, I am overcome within the first ten minutes by a desperate longing to unload the dishwasher. Plus, there’s no way I’d ever forget to feed myself, as I need to pour a gallon of tea and a packet of chocolate digestives down my throat just to make it from the first sentence to the next.

At the Q&A session, the microphone was passed to the next author in line who took it reluctantly, hesitated for a moment, then said, ‘I hate writing.’ Everyone laughed. Ha ha. No please, I thought, don’t let that be a joke. He went on to quote another writer (I can’t remember who) who apparently once said something like, ‘I love having written.’ Yes. Yes. Yes.

Writing is only enjoyable once it’s over. Or, on the infrequent occasions when it’s going really well. The first writer who grabbed that microphone must, I suppose, be blessed with a ready backlog of of ideas, scenes and characters just waiting to spill out onto the page and they must spill out in an instantly coherent, imaginative and engaging way. Writing really isn’t like that for me.

Recently, I read Ruby Wax’s ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled,’ in which she reminds us how much time we spend planning for an idyllic future which, when it arrives, we often forget to enjoy. For example, think about how much time we spend preparing for a holiday – choosing where to go, working and saving for it, getting our money exchanged, arranging dog sitters etc. And yet, how often do we find ourselves on that holiday thinking ahead to the next holiday, perhaps, or to when we get back home, or simply forgetting to cherish the moment in hand?

So, I’ve been trying to remember to enjoy writing, because that, supposedly, is what I want to do.

Mindfulness apparently takes a lot of practice. People go on mindfulness retreats in order to practice it. Well, recently, I went on another retreat to practice writing, to the lovely converted clocktower at Arvon’s Shropshire centre, The Hurst. Here, I had a self-contained flat with a desk, a shared kitchen with ready prepared home-cooked meals to pop in the microwave and all the provisions I needed. Peace and quiet, beautiful surroundings and a dishwasher that someone else unloaded before I ever got to it.

Once you have resigned yourself to the fact that there is no other task to perform, no excuse for distraction, you find you can stay at your desk for a remarkably long time and you can produce a remarkable amount of work. You can even enjoy the process, because you know that you will have written a considerable amount, not by the end of the week, or month, or year, but by the end of the day. I swore when I went home I would keep this up. I would keep enjoying it. But I failed. I couldn’t manage it any more than I can manage to go from one moment to the next thinking how wonderful life is.

Most of the time, when I’m writing I’m looking over my shoulder at what I’ve just written and I’m thinking it’s crap. Or, I simply can’t get the next words out the way I see them in my mind. That’s what makes it hard work, most of the time. That’s the reality.

And whilst it’s true that I did produce more material on my retreat, after I returned home and the idyllic veil had fallen away, I read over what I’d written and I saw that it was no better in terms of quality than what I usually write. There was as much editorial work to be done on it as ever.

I guess I should give myself a break and stop berating myself for not finding the writing process a font of unadulterated joy. It is a process towards an end. I am working towards the goal of having written. I am working towards finishing another novel. There will be times when I enjoy it, but more often it will be a struggle. Just like life itself. It may not always be joyful, but hopefully I can look back on it with some pride and satisfaction.

The title of this post, by the way, is taken from a quote from Hemingway who said, ‘ There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’

 

 

One thing I can enjoy without fail, however, is walking my dogs in the Autumnal morning sunshine

One thing I can enjoy without fail, however, is walking my dogs in the Autumnal morning sunshine

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Guest Blog About Never Giving Up

I’ve written a guest blog for the Writers and Artists website about why writers sometimes give up too soon in their quest for an agent. You can read it here.

 

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Yes! I have an Agent!

Hurray!

Does this mean I’m going to get published now? No, I’m afraid not. There are plenty of writers represented by very good agents who don’t make it to publication. What it does mean is that publishers may now be willing, at least, to take a look at my novel. It means someone in the industry is prepared to invest her time and energy in trying to secure me a deal. It means I have passed through one of the key portals. It remains to be seen if I stall here, or if I continue to the next level.

I have often wondered what it would feel like to sign with an agent. It feels great, of course. There is no denying the exhileration of reading that email containing an offer of representation (of which I was lucky to receive more than one). I managed to seriously aggravate a calf injury by skipping across the kitchen in my slippers.

It is also a huge relief. It’s taken time and persistence to get here. A lot of that time was spent simply waiting. Some agents, including those who requested the full manuscript, took a very long time to get back to me. It’s easy to lose faith and to fear that a firm offer may never quite materialise. So, relief, as well as joy, is the order of the day.

It feels strange, too. Strange to think that my book is now in the hands of another. Someone else is at the helm. It takes a leap of faith to surrender that control. I am no longer the person making the pitch, sending out the submission and I will no longer be the first to view the response. But, as well as feeling strange, it’s wonderfully liberating. Hell, why not let someone else handle all that stuff? Meanwhile, I can get on with my writing.

That’s the other great thing about it: the amount of time this frees up. Trying to find an agent is a time consuming process. It involves, not just sending out your opening chapters, but researching the best way to do this, attending agents’ talks and pitching events, writing and re-writing that bloody synopsis. No more.

I am realistic, I hope, about the prospects of publication. I know it’s a tall order. It’s heartening, at least, to know that an unbiased and experienced professional has faith in my novel. It has come out of the slush pile, let’s see where it can go next.

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The Meaninglessness of a First Draft

Whilst I’ve been living my normal life – walking the dogs, clearing out the kitchen cupboards, competing in swimming championships, laying plans for an orangery (I say!) – I have also been writing another novel. Surreptitiously. Almost, I might say, without noticing. I can report that I’m now nearing the end of my first draft. One big, final scene to write and then it’s all in the bag.

I have no idea what this novel is like. Really. I set out with a rough plan, a few character outlines and the main arc of a story. Every day that I could, I sat down and wrote 500 words or more. Some days I couldn’t. Some days I didn’t. Bit by bit, however, without my paying too much attention, the novel got written.

Having barely glanced back over what I’ve written, I know very little about it. I am aware of some obvious differences to my previous novel. This one has a much smaller cast of characters. There is less inter-play between characters, less dramatic cause and effect. The plot is simpler. The conflict more internal.

I have included more telling in this novel. My previous novel was show, show, show, perhaps because it was conceived during my MA in Creative Writing where we all know ‘show don’t tell’ is the overriding mantra. When I re-drafted that novel recently, I added more telling, more interiority. Sometimes the reader needs to be told, not shown, how a character thinks or feels.

Whilst on the subject of my previous novel, I’ve finally reached a point where I am, dare I say it, pretty damn satisfied with it. I’ve taken a long time to reach that point, with much processing of feedback, gaining of distance and re-evaluations.

I attended an author’s event recently at which Maggie O’Farrell gave a reading from her latest novel, followed by an interview and Q&A. When asked how many times she drafted her novels, she asked the audience to guess. ‘Twice? Three times?’ members of the audience offered. Nope. She estimated it was at least forty. Forty drafts! Music to my ears.

I don’t consider this to be the sign of a weak writer. I consider it the sign of a meticulous self-editor and someone who takes their writing very seriously: a professional.

I know from experience that, when I say I have completed a first draft, it means very little. It means I have some words to play with. A story to shape. Characters to make credible. But before I get onto any of that, I need to write the final scene. It’s a big, high drama scene. Quite a challenge, in fact. Which, no doubt, is why I’m writing this blog instead. I’m going to quickly change tabs on my computer now and see if I can surreptitiously write the finale without noticing that I’m writing it. A few thousand words with my eyes half shut. And then, once it’s done, I’ll be ready to give the book my undivided attention.

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Competitive Writing

Next weekend I shall be competing in the European Masters Swimming Championships. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But it’s really not. I’m just a plodder, not one of the serious swimmers. My goals are to post a decent time (for me), not to come last in my age group and, most of all, not to attract the dreaded sympathy applause.

One of the things I’ll enjoy most is the camaraderie and support of my team mates and my fellow competitors. We’re all in this together. It’s a bit like being amongst my writing friends. We support one another, we moan collectively about our failures, and we rejoice at our conquests.

Writers are amongst the most supportive group of people I know. I might have given up writing if it hadn’t been for the encouragement and understanding I’ve received from my fellow writers. But, what about the competition between us?

When a writing friend achieves success, I am happy for them. Of course I am. But, because their success highlights my obscurity, it can serve to fan the flames of self-doubt. Similarly, when I see someone fail or falter, whilst genuinely disappointed for them, I take some comfort in knowing others face the same struggles I do. 

Turning back to swimming for a moment, there is a piece of advice that coaches love to dish out to their swimmers. It goes, ‘Swim your own race.’ When you dive in, you should have a strategy based on an understanding of your strengths and limitations. You must not allow others to divert you from your personal strategy. This is especially true of long distance events. Some swimmers go out hard on a 1500m, leading the field by a country mile, and hanging on as best they can till the end. Others start off more slowly and build into the race, reeling in the leaders during the closing stages with a strong finish. The swimmer who is best suited to a slower beginning must not allow himself, or herself, to be panicked by the leaders going out fast. They must keep to their own pace, or else they will surely ‘die.’ 

There is a parallel here, naturally, to be drawn with writing. When my fellow writers race ahead to the finish line – when they complete their novels and go on to acquire top agents and lucrative book deals – it can put me in a panic. It can make me want to rush ahead to be where they are. To finish my novel as fast as possible and fire it off to a hundred agents and by-pass the meticulous, arduous work that I know I personally have to undertake to make my writing the best it can be. 

This is when I have to remind myself that writing is not a competitive sport. Yes, we all want to get published. We all want as many people as possible to read and enjoy our work. We all want recognition and acclaim. But it is not a race. There is no first, second or third. There is only the work itself. This is what I am striving for as a writer: to produce the best work I can.

So, next weekend, I’m going to try to remember to swim my own race. And when it comes to my writing, I’m going to continue at my own pace. Hopefully, with a little luck, I might make it to the finish line.

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The Elite European swimmers at the London Olympic pool prior to the Masters competition

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The Magic of Iceland

Following on from my previous blog, the question many friends have been asking me since my return is, how was Iceland? As in Iceland, the place, not the writing retreat. I feel somewhat unqualified to answer. Firstly, I spent very little time indeed in Iceland and most of it cooped up in a hotel attending writing workshops. Secondly, the brief time I did spend out and about was largely marred by my own incompetence.

Take, for example, the Blue Lagoon, which I visited on my way from the airport to Reykjavik. As I basked in the milky blue waters amidst the alien volcanic landscape, I noticed people all around me sporting selfie sticks. I realised this wasn’t, after all, the most original or trail-blazing experience. That evening, a fellow retreater told me how she’d taken herself off instead to the local geothermal beach, which was selfie-free, and joined the locals in the practice of rubbing coffee granules onto the body before bathing.

My fellow participants, mostly from the US or Canada, were far more intrepid than me, and far less defeatist about the short amount of time on offer. They managed, somehow, to catch the northern lights, visit glaciers, eat sharks and discover underground comedy clubs and experimental music performances in downtown Reykjavik.

When I ventured into Reykjavik during a free workshop period, I got lost in the suburbs and, running out of time, had to give up, having visited precious few key landmarks. ‘It’s not a city with an obvious gravitational pull towards the centre,’ I explained to a new writer friend back at the hotel, trying to justify my failure. ‘Gee,’ she said, imagining an adventure, ‘I just love to get lost.’

Writing workshops concluded, the third day was to be given over to sightseeing. On offer were two bus tours: the well-trodden Golden Circle tour or the alternative ‘literary’ Borgarfjordur tour. I opted for the Golden Circle. I wanted Iceland’s gems handed to me on a plate. However, when the bus stopped after only ten minutes at the Kjarvalsstadir art gallery for a reading by an eminent Icelandic author, I realised I was on the wrong tour.

I was devastated. I would return home without seeing the geological triumvirate of the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall, the great spouting Geysir and the Pingvellir rift valley where the North American and Eurasian continental plates were tearing apart. I climbed back on the bus feeling bereft and stupid.

Our tour guide introduced himself. He was a geophysicist who had published forty textbooks on subjects including geology, volcanology and glaciology. He had also published seven volumes of poetry and four novels. Ha, I thought. Now, at least, everyone else on the bus feels stupid too. As we skirted Hvalfjordur Fjord, site of the Allied Arctic convoys, he pointed towards the mountains and remarked, ‘I am also a mountaineer.’

We lunched at Snorrastofa, home of celebrated medieval chieftain and writer Snorri Sturluson. Standing by Snorri’s old geothermal bathing pool a fellow passenger told me, ‘You know, I’ve done the Golden Circle before but, to be honest, nice as this tour is, I wish I’d done it again.’

‘Oh yea,’ another chimed in, ‘the Golden Circle is absolutely spectacular.’

I descended the bus at our next stop with eyes downcast, traipsing disconsolately after the others. The sun came out to illuminate the turquoise swirls of the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls. Wait. Did someone say waterfalls? Yes! Ribbons of water cascaded down the lava riverbank, spooling out of the landscape. By now, my fellow travellers had taken it upon themselves to cheer me up. They slapped me on the back as I took out my camera. ‘We’re boiling eggs at Deildartunguhver next!’

And so it was. We ate the eggs cooked by our guide in the bubbling hot springs, accompanied by smoked salmon and ginger beer. The sun came out again and brought with it a rainbow. Steam rose in the air and enshrouded the pipe carrying hot water to Icelandic homes, stretching away into the hills.

‘I hear The Golden Circle tour has experienced heavy precipitation throughout the day,’ said our guide. Whoops of glee broke out on my behalf.

On the way home, our guide recited an ancient Icelandic poem before treating us to an in depth account of the current political landscape. He concluded by saying, ‘Four years ago, I myself ran for president.’

Far from feeling inadequate, I returned to Reykjavik strangely empowered. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

And that, my friends, is how Iceland was.

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The Writer’s Chair

I have recently returned from a writers’ retreat which involved, amongst other delights, two full days of writing workshops with an impressive line up of authors. The biggest draw for me was the author, Miriam Toews, whose book, All My Puny Sorrows, I read last summer and loved. The other draw was the fact that the retreat took place in Iceland.

Putting Iceland aside for the moment, it can be cause for apprehension when you meet an author you admire. You want so much to like them. In the case of Miriam Toews, because her book deals heavily with autobiographical content, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what kind of person she was. I felt certain I would like her. In fact, my notion of myself as a discerning reader depended upon it. 

The room for her workshop was laid out with tables in the shape of a U facing a single chair at the front. Toews chose not to take up residence in the facing chair. ‘We are all writers,’ she said. ‘There is no divide here. I should be sitting with you.’ Compare her words with those of a celebrated visiting writer on a different retreat I attended some years ago, who said from his position of splendid isolation, ‘You too could be sitting here one day.’  

I was right about liking her. Toews’ workshops were disarmingly laid back. We basically hung out as a group chatting about various aspects of writing. There was no mystique or pretension about her. She spoke passionately about the writing process and gave an honest appraisal of her own limitations.

This comradely approach was shared by the other authors. Neel Mukherjee told us, for example, about the rejections he had encountered on his journey towards the Man Booker shortlist. Adelle Waldman divulged how the failure of her first novel to achieve publication made the writing of the second so much harder, because she no longer laboured under the dreamy expectation of success. She also described the awkwardness of justifying her existence to friends and family when all she had to show for herself was a string of part-time jobs and a word document.

These successfully published authors agreed that the dividing line between recognition and anonymity was very fine. Once upon a time, they had been on our side of the line. They had the courtesy to suggest that what separated ‘them’ from ‘us’ could simply boil down to luck. But, of course, it isn’t only luck. There is also the writing itself.

Many people want to be ‘a writer.’ There is a whole industry built around fanning the aspirations of wannabes, including creative writing courses and retreats such as this. And now, with the advent of self-publishing, pretty much anyone can get to live the dream, however transient and flimsy that dream may be. But what really matters isn’t which chair you take in the workshop. The important struggle isn’t the struggle to get published. It’s the struggle to write well. Fortunately, we also talked about that. We looked at ways to make our writing better. We looked at novel openings, first person narratives, subverting the rules, changing point of view, character psychology and other useful topics.

There is the tortured genius type of artist who cannot bear to converse with mere mortals about his or her creative process. But most writers, I have found, are more down to earth people who aren’t interested in promoting a mystique about themselves, but are genuinely eager to communicate whatever lessons they have learned about how to make their writing work.

Of course, authors also do these gigs merely to pay the rent. But I suspect that, as empathy is a necessary attribute for a good writer, so then good writers naturally incline towards reaching out and helping others along the way. Which brings me back full circle to Miriam Toews and my relief and happiness to discover that I liked the ‘real’ person behind the quirky, funny and soulful prose of All My Puny Sorrows.

Talking of circles, what about the Golden Circle? What about Iceland? Ah yes. That was pretty good too…

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For those interested, details of the retreat can be found here

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Writing as Therapy

I am just emerging from one of those stressful periods in life that come along every so often. One of those periods when you wake up in the mornings with your heart racing and your mind whirring. Days filled with tasks that are both mentally and emotionally draining.

The date of my previous blog shows how I’ve failed to keep up with my posts on here. You might naturally expect that, at a time such as this, I wouldn’t have managed to keep up with my fiction writing either. I wouldn’t have had the time. I wouldn’t have had the inclination. I wouldn’t have had the creative energy. I wouldn’t have been able to muster the concentration. I wouldn’t have had the inspiration.

This expectation, however, would assume two things that aren’t true. One, that external circumstances have to be conducive to writing in order for it to happen. Two, that writing for me is a hobby: something I do to unwind or to occupy myself with when there’s nothing else that requires my attention. For me, writing isn’t like that. Writing is something I need to do, come rain or shine.

It’s true I haven’t been in the right frame of mind to blog for a while. I’ve steered clear of writing that involves any kind of personal reflection, because life itself has foisted enough of that upon me. But, when the chips are down, I’ve found writing fiction to be not just a basic necessity, but positively beneficial to my mental and emotional well being.

This is true for a number of reasons. Like physical exercise, writing focuses the mind on something other than the problems you face. Writing fiction, in particular, focuses the mind on something unreal, which is a wonderful let up for a mind beleaguered by reality.

Writing fiction, like reading, is an escape. It’s a better form of escape than watching TV because it requires a far deeper level of concentration and engagement. It requires, to a degree, a suspension of the conscious mind, or, at least, a conversation between the conscious and the subconscious. If this means that some of the anxieties from your life may leak into your fiction, they must be allowed to do so only in the service of your story.

That is why writing fiction, as opposed to life writing, isn’t therapeutic in terms of catharsis or self-expression. But, in terms of a meditative experience, an imaginative release and an exercise in problem solving, it is brilliantly effective self-medicated therapy.

When I enrolled on my masters degree in creative writing, it was following the most stressful period of my life. At the time I wasn’t sure I’d be able to cope, but attending those weekly lectures and undertaking those writing exercises and workshopping my work and that of my fellow students proved to be an absolute lifeline.

Now that this latest storm has passed, I’m able to undertake a bit of naval gazing and to blog again. It’s a relief to do that. And I’m writing my fiction now without a sense of huddling under a cloud in desperation, but of stretching out in the light. Looking back on the last few weeks, I find myself wondering, not so much how I managed to carry on writing, but how people who don’t write manage to survive.

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Warning: Writer in Residence

I recently took the opportunity of a few clear days to book myself into a hotel for some dedicated writing time, away from it all. I splashed out on a really nice hotel in the Cotswolds. I splashed out on a really nice room too, with a four poster bed. Who says writers can’t enjoy a bit of luxury from time to time?

The room turned out to be beautiful. There was a glorious mullioned stone window with a cute little cushioned seat overlooking the garden. Granted, you needed a cute little bottom to go with it if you were going to manage to sit there for long. The bed, with its vast floral canopy, had a mattress so high off the ground it looked like I’d need a running jump to hop on board. I pictured myself lying there and felt vaguely ridiculous.

Meanwhile, the receptionist explained to me about Wifi and dinner times. But I was only half listening. I was distracted by the sound of a man’s voice intruding from below. Was someone talking in the garden? Was someone hard of hearing watching television? No, the receptionist explained, it was the manager in his office. But, I said, I wanted somewhere quiet. Is he there very often? Well, she looked at me curiously, he does work there, but he’s also out in service a lot of the time. Ah. Ok-aa-ay.

Half an hour later, my suitcase remained unpacked and I stood surveying the opulence of my room, the manager’s voice still booming through the floor. I went back to reception and said I wasn’t happy. Couldn’t they find me another room? Forget the four poster bed, I just wanted somewhere tucked out of the way.

An incredulous, but friendly, porter came and showed me a room in the attic. No four poster bed, no window seat, eaves that cramped and rather overbearing wallpaper.  I bent low to peer out of the rickety window. It gave out onto the rooftops. Perfect, I said, and threw open my suitcase.

I didn’t actually do much writing in my room. I wrote mostly in the hotel ‘library’ in front of a well stoked fire. This welcoming room attracted residents and non-residents alike through the course of the day. They came and went with their dogs and their newspapers and their books and their chit-chat and partook of cream teas and aromatic coffees. I remained in the corner, tap tapping away on my laptop, an array of empty plates, tea and coffee cups accumulating on the table before me, my shoes kicked off, my body half sprawled upon the sofa, my cheeks reddened by the fire. People looked at me as if I was one of those strange types you sometimes get in these places: best ignored, not to be encouraged.

You might argue that it was contradictory of me to complain about the manager’s voice intruding into my room whilst electing to write in a communal space where people congregated. But, the two aren’t at all the same. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.

‘Would Madam like this nice table by the window?’ the waiter asked as I walked into the dining room. No, thank you, Madam would prefer to sit over there underneath that spotlight so she can see to read her book. Thus, Madam inadvertently made herself the restaurant’s illuminated centrepiece.

‘Would Madam like some coffee?’ (When you’re dining alone, dinner doesn’t take very long.) Yes please: I’ll take it in the lounge by the fire. Out came the laptop again. A young couple arrived with their after dinner drinks and settled down to some serious canoodling on the sofa opposite. They were very much in love. But this woman tap tapping away on her laptop soon put a stop to that and they were off looking for somewhere else to smooch. I have to say, if I were them, I’d think I was a public nuisance.

Being a writer in a place where no one else is writing is a lonely business. But being a writer is a lonely business wherever you are. In the end, there is only you and the page. Of course, you can go to retreats where other writers reside. There, you can convene with sympathetic souls and talk about writing and, hopefully, no-one will think you’re weird, or annoying. I’ve done that and loved it and will do it again. I have also taken myself off into complete isolation where the only distraction is the compelling phenomenon of absolute silence and I’ve enjoyed that too. But, sometimes, it does you no harm to plonk yourself in the midst of a regular social milieu, amongst people who aren’t writing and to write there too. It’s all good. Writing is an eminently portable activity. You can vary your workspace as much as you like. A bit of variation here and there is, I find, a useful way to keep the creative juices flowing. Some occasional luxury thrown in doesn’t do any harm either.

Another cream tea for the weirdo in the corner? Don’t mind if I do.

 

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How Many Words A Day?

Whatever stage I’m at in the novel writing process it always seems to be the hardest. Right now, I’m in the making things up stage. Making things up is so hard. You have to use your brain and that imagination thing which writers are supposed to have in spades. I tell myself that, once I’ve got a body of work down on the page, I’ll be able to move onto the editing stage, which will be much easier. Ha ha.

What can writers do to ease the drudgery of getting the story out? Well, a lot of writers turn to goals and target setting. The most basic and obvious of these is the word count. Many writers won’t let their bum leave the seat until they have produced X number of words. And why not? In a pursuit that’s rather airy-fairy and ethereal, it’s a good, solid measure of progress.

I’ve tried it before though and encountered some problems. Whilst meeting the word count can lend you that sweet sense of success, struggling, or failing, to meet it can bring you down and positively stunt your progress. It can put you off making any kind of attempt at all.

So, this time around, I’ve made my daily target word count really small. Pathetically small: 500 words. The idea is that it’s a totally achievable target. I can write 500 words in ten minutes, although it has been known, on occasion, to take me a whole day. Once done, I can, if I like, get up from the chair and get on with other things in my life. I can even stop half way through a scene, a la Hemingway, or even half way through a sentence.

The key to success for this method is not to look upon the word count as a cumulative goal. Don’t think 500 words a day = 3,500 words a week = 14,000 words a month. Think of it more like a course of medicine. If you miss a day, which happens, don’t try to catch up by doubling the dose the following day etc. Just go back to the 500 target the next day that you can.

It is, of course, perfectly permissible to exceed 500 words. The sky’s the limit. But, that is a question of choice, rather than obligation.

The fact is, even at this gentle pace, the words add up surprisingly quickly. The key is regularity. I write on all but the busiest of days. This regularity helps with the flow. After I’ve stopped writing, my mind carries on, subconsciously at least, so when I sit down the next day, those words come easier. How this method will manifest itself when I come to review the work, I don’t know. Maybe, the prose will appear disjointed. Or, maybe, it will be tighter: less waffly. Either way, at least it will be there. Ready to edit.

And if you want to know how long 500 words is, just look at this post.

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