#IWSG Surprising Writing #amwriting #WWWBlogs

The IWSG is a fabulous site for authors to share and encourage ech other by expressing doubts and concerns and looking for advice and guidance in our writing life. It’s a safe haven and meeting place for insecure writers of all kinds!
The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day when we post our thoughts on our own blogs. Check it out and join in here! 
Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG
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I’m taking part by answering this week’s optional Question: 
Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? (For example, by trying a new genre you didn’t think you’d be comfortable in?)

I surprise myself every time I pick up my pen, because I (almost) always jot down my ideas on paper before I sit down to the ‘real’ work of giving shape to my untidy notes on my laptop.

I always carry a pen and notebook, ready to capture the idea on the spur of the moment, before it escapes forever… Many of those ideas are never transformed into complete stories, although they may become part of a story. I use the same notebook until all the pages have been used up, which usually takes about a month, and I keep them at hand, just in case, for years.

This was sitting on a plane, but my favourite place to write is in the car, when I’m not driving!

I’ve written three historical novels and have started a fourth, but my heart isn’t in this fourth novel, at least not yet, so it’s resting on my shelf for the time being, because I wanted to write something different, but I haven’t known what for a long time.

I felt lost, not knowing what kind of novel I wanted to write. I kept filling notebooks full of  ideas which never came to fruition. It wasn’t writer’s block, because I had plenty of random creative ideas, but I felt I lacked purpose. I needed to find a project that would absorb all my creative thoughts and energy. I was getting worried. Although there were many ideas, not one pulled me obsessively, which is what I need to immerse myself in a novel completely.

It has taken me about a year to feel overwhelmed by a new project, but it has finally happened, when I least expected it, on a long car journey, as co-pilot, the seed of an idea dropped and flourished. When I arrived, I had a rough outline, main characters, setting, and a sense that ‘this was it at last’.

Throughout the following month of August, at a holiday flat by the sea, the plot grew and the characters came to life. It’s not a historical novel and it’s not a family saga. It’s a type of novel I never thought I’d write. A contemporary, romantic thriller simmered for 30 days, in a whole notebook of ideas. I’m back home now, and the proper, chapter by chapter outline is almost complete.

I’m a plotter, mostly, although I enjoy improvising, too. I love it when a character I hadn’t planned surprises me by popping into my mind and taking over, or when a plot twist happens unexpectedly as my characters are thinking or speaking. I can deal with these surprising characters and events and rework my original plan. On the other hand, I find it impossible to write without a destination, and that’s where plotting helps me focus.

I welcome surprises as a writer. I never know when or how a creative idea will take root in my mind, and I love the challenge of continued surprises as the novel unfolds.

Antonio Machado (1875 – 1939), drawing by Leandro Oroz Lacalle (1883 – 1933)

A famous Spanish poet, Antonio Machado (1975-1939), wrote, “Traveler, there is no road; you make your path as you walk.” I agree with Machado’s idea, but I also like to know where my destination lies.

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Do you like surprises as a writer?

Have you ever surprised yourself?

What happens when a writer prefers reading to writing?

It’s the first Wednesday of March!

Time to blog hop with The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

 

InsecureWritersSupportGroup2

What happens when a writer prefers reading to writing?

I’m a writer, but before being a writer, I was a reader.

I’m still a reader. In fact, I think I’ll always prefer reading to writing.

I blame my kindle app, which I have downloaded onto my three devices. I always carry all my books with me. I’ve even read entire books on my smart phone, if no other device was available to me at the time.

I prefer the app to the Kindle device because I don’t like the pixellated page turns. The app on my devices is great, the page turns smoothly, and I can choose font size, brightness, and background colour. I love sepia, it’s so kind to my eyes. I can go backwards or forwards easily, look up or highlight words, and even make comments, quickly and easily.

It is undoubtedly my most valuable possession, although the app itself is free, and the books are very cheap and plentiful. I have always loved reading, and now it’s just so easy, quick, and cheap. I can buy any book with a click and start reading comfortably wherever I am immediately. It’s heaven!

When people tell me they haven’t got a Kindle, the app, or that they don’t read ebooks, I feel so sorry for them. They’re missing out on so much pleasure! Most of the self-published or Indie books I’ve read have been just as good as books published by publishing houses. I have come across a few I didn’t enjoy, or were in need of serious editing, but they are a very small percentage.

There are few surprises. I read the burb, some comments, and then ‘Look Inside’ and that’s enough for me to know whether I’ll like it or not. I’ve been misled only very rarely. Basically, I know what I’m buying. It’s what I like to read, and want to read, and it usually costs between nothing and the price of a tall latte, for hours of pleasure!

I travel in time and space, see places, meet people, and experience emotions beyond my real life, almost every day.

Just in case you were wondering, I also read and carry paperbacks, too, especially if I’m going away for the weekend for example, just in case I might need the feel of paper… but I read 90% on my kindle, and that’s not going to change soon.

My only complaint is that there aren’t enough minutes in the day to read all the books I have on my kindle! I’m convinced reading helps me be a better writer and a happier person, but all that glitters is not gold…

To answer my initial question: What happens when a writer prefers reading to writing?

  1. Reading distracts me from my writing. Sounds like a bad thing, but sometimes I need to set my writing aside, breathe, and read something different. I’m also convinced every book I read teaches me something about the craft.
  2. Reading also humbles me. There are so many great books out there to read, why would anyone want to read mine? I’m just a drop in the ocean.

Oh dear 😦 I’ve just finished a great book. I’m happy :), but now I feel so insecure:(  

Check out what other writers have to say today!

How Flash Fiction Has Improved My Writing

I started writing Flash Fiction for fun, and because it was a challenge.

I read and write mostly Victorian novels, so I tend to get verbose at times!

I’m trying to write more concise prose, and I find that the linguistic and mental exercise of having to cut out all the unnecessary words has been enlightening.

How did this awareness of the need for concise prose happen? Basically following the strict word limits imposed by the challenges, reading other writers’ flash fiction, and realizing that there are many superfluous words, so less can be more.

These are some challenges I’ve been taking part in: 99-word Carrot Ranch  and Bite-Size memoir , Writer Wednesday Blog Hop, and Flash! Friday challenge which used to ne 150 and is now 200 words.

How do I go about my ‘flash’ writing process?

The same as my normal writing process. I think about the situation, idea, or prompt I’m going to write about, until I ‘see’ something in my mind’s eye, and I write.

I let the ideas flow uncurbed and I don’t count the words. When I’ve finished the first draft, I stop to reread and count.

I used to be disastrous at this, writing 250, instead of 150, for example. It used to upset me because cutting back was so traumatic. I love all my words. I believe I put them there for a purpose. They’re all essential, I thought, until I started consciously cutting them down and realized that there were far too many.

When you write Flash Fiction, you have to think about every single word. These are some of the questions I ask myself which help me decide which words stay, and which are crossed out.

  • Does the word move the story on?
  • Does the word tell the reader something essential?
  • If I read the text without the word does the sentence still convey my intended meaning?
  • Can I include the idea behind the word in another shorter way, for example with another expression or a different verb?
  • Finally I have to prioritize. I may need all the words, but I must decide which words, or groups of words, even whole lines, are more essential than others to convey my meaning?

Awareness gradually grew, and after about six months of writing flash fiction, I’m usually able to congratulate my subconscious counter (censor?) because much like our biological timer, I am not usually too far over the mark.

Unfortunately, as a result of writing Flash Fiction, I’ve come to dislike certain words, so that whenever I see them, I cringe.

I never thought I could dislike a word, a harmless, nice little word. I love words. But the more I read and edit my own work, the more I have come to hate not only one, but various words, because they’re often useless, and become a bad habit.

I am convinced I’ve become a far more conscious, critical and demanding reader of my own work, and the work of others, as a result of reading and writing flash fiction, and there’s no going back.

I feel annoyed when a novel has a good plot and compelling characters, yet the writing is careless. I sometimes finish and actually enjoy parts of such novels, although it’s like eating a delicious meal on a dirty tablecloth. The meal itself is satisfying, and although I feel like praising the cook, the crumbs and stains around my plate are distracting and off-putting. I’d certainly give the book less stars for this reason.

There’s no excuse for careless writing. Every writer must have an editor and/or proof reader. I had two for my first novel, and I’m convinced it’s the best thing I did, after writing the novel!

Unfortunately, it often seems that some writers either don’t bother to hire an editor, or perhaps there are some unprofessional editors out there.

However, before your manuscript reaches your beta readers, and later your editor, writers should ensure they do so in the best possible conditions.

Everyone who has published a novel knows that a first draft will undergo many changes before the final version is produced.

However, this first draft needs to be polished, and left to rest, and edited again, perhaps even more than once depending on how much you edit as you write, or how attune to detail you happen to be.

I carefully read over every single word when I’m out to ‘unclutter’ my writing, however, the following are the most irritating words for me. I always run a word check on my own work to see if I have too many of them, because they’re a nasty habit.

Very, Really, A bit, Really, Rather, There is and there are, start to, begin, thing, this type of, so, well. Prepositions where they’re not needed like ‘near to’.

As we’re on the subject of cleaning our prose, there are a couple of other things which irritate me.

I have a big issue with ‘gotten’ and ‘get to’’, and sometimes even with ‘get’ itself when it becomes repetitive.
Why say, ‘I didn’t get to go,’ instead of ‘I didn’t go’?

Why say, ‘it’s gotten late,’ or ‘It got late’, instead of ‘it’s late’? I realize there’s a slight difference in meaning, but is the ‘process of getting late’ going to move the story on or tell the reader something he/she doesn’t already know?

Does every adjective and adverb have to be there? Do two adjectives together add essential and diverse meaning?

Try to avoid well-known expressions and clichés, and if you do use them, don’t repeat them throughout the novel. When a character’s heart is continuously ‘racing’ or ‘thumping’, the reader will start to worry that he/she needs a heart valve!

Here are some more interesting articles on self-editing: ‘Tightening your Copy‘ , 200 Common Redundancies, Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing

What’s your experience of writing flash fiction? Has it helped you improve your writing, too?

How to find time to write a novel, with help from Stephen King

I prefer reading to writing.

That’s only natural. It’s easier and more enjoyable to read. Someone else has done all the hard work and you just lap it up and enjoy.

No wonder my favourite moment of the day is curling up on my armchair with my kindle, preferably by the fireplace, with a cup of tea or hot chocolate 🙂

 

Fireplace

I work full time. I’m a wife, mother and grandmother, and I’ve managed to read over ten books in January. Nevertheless, as much as I love it, I have to stop reading so much because my time is limited, and I need find time to write, too.

Following Stephen King’s advice;
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

In his marvelous book, On Writing, (you can read some of the main points he makes in this article), King recommends writing a minimum of a thousand words, six days a week.

That’s between two and four hours a day, depending on how much you can write in an hour, which for me at least, depends on how much has been planned, handwritten, and thought out, before I start hitting the keyboard.

This cannot be done without setting specific goals, which King strongly recommends. (For more invaluable quotes taken on the craft of writing, check out Goodreads).

In any case, I’m going to strictly limit the amount of time I spend reading to no more than two hours a day, preferably just before bedtime, when my energy levels are lowest and I can indulge in a relatively passive activity.

I also need to log onto Facebook and Twitter, and write blog posts and read other blogs, because I enjoy it, and because it has become part of my writer’s life.

Again, I need to limit social media time to Twitter and Facebook thirty minutes twice a day, and reading and interacting with other blogs and bloggers, an hour a day.

That means I’ll spend the rest of my free time, which should be at least another three hours a day, finishing my second novel, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall.

I’ll have to sort out how I find the time to write my blog posts, too! Weekends perhaps?

In any case, I promise myself not to cut down on my writing time. I’ll have to sacrifice reading, social media, and other leisure time activities. Never writing.

King considers that the first draft should not take longer than three months.

I absolutely agree, even though I haven’t managed to get very far in the last six months! Oh yes, it’s all planned, and parts are written, but I need to get it together with lots of hard work.

Finally, I’ll take his last bit of advice: The only way to write is by writing one word at a time.

So be it! I’ll write one word at a time nonstop for two months until it’s finished. I’m giving myself two months instead of three because I’ve already had six months of planning, scribbling, and procrastinating!

My deadline is 29th March.

Wish me luck!

How do you find time to write?

 

Which books should writers read?

Writers need to read beyond our comfort zone, and branch out to embrace genres and styles we don’t normally approach, because otherwise we run the risk of becoming self-absorbed.

Reading works we wouldn’t normally consider widens our perspective, improves our style, and opens windows to other ways of telling different kinds of stories.

We need to reach out synchronically, to contemporary works, and diachronically, to works of other literary periods, in order to know what’s happening now, and what has been happening for centuries, in the literary world.

Last week I read three wonderful books, and I’m more than half way through a fourth, and although I’ll be reviewing each one separately, I’d like to share my general reflections with you, first, and explain how each book has helped me grow as a writer.

I started off by rereading a classic, which I make a point of doing regularly. They offer us so much intellectually and emotionally that we cannot ignore them.

Classics hold the origin and the substance of our language and thought, reading and rereading them is mandatory for all readers, writers and reviewers.

We are part of a literary heritage which we should honour and add to, by producing works which contribute to the quality and continuity of literature as a means of both describing and reinterpreting our world.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen, has always been one of my favourites, although sadly, this rereading (which will not be the last) has revealed some flaws, it still holds a special place in my literary heart.

 

When I finished Persuasion, I chanced to find a debut novel by Ellen Quinn, on Twitter. I looked at the blurb, a Regency Romance, so I thought it would be an ideal complement to Persuasion. I skimmed over the first pages on Amazon, and was convinced to give it a go. When I started reading, in depth, I couldn’t put it down!

Reading both novels consecutively has given me plenty of food for thought about what constitutes a good novel, by 21st century standards, and how this conception has progressed over the last two centuries.

I enjoyed the challenge of reflecting on the similarities and differences between both these novels, and how these differences reveal who we are, and how we read and write, today, and how we did so two centuries ago.

I myself am writing a neo Victorian trilogy, so it also helped me reflect upon the similarities and differences between these successive historical periods, Regency and Victorian. The stiff Victorian clothing, aimed at covering every inch of the female body, contrasted starkly with Regency clothing which revealed a major portion of ladies breasts, as Ms. Quinn reminds us:

‘He wanted to groan as he took in the gown’s low neckline that barely encased her ample breasts.’

This would never happen in Victorian social events, because ladies breasts would be well-preserved from male eyes with plenty of silk, gauze, lacing, or other material.

I was able to ponder on this through Ms Quinn’s novel. Jane Austen, of course, had no idea how fashions were going to change, and wasn’t prone to describing clothes in detail, why should she? Her readers knew what they were wearing!

The new Victorian fashions were aimed at curbing sexual desire, promiscuity, and the liberal ideas represented in women’s attire, as well as promoting a renewed religious fervor.

I also thought long and hard on why The Seduction of Lady Phoebe  was such a great read, and Persuasion, this time, proved to be more of a struggle.

This led me to analyze what makes a good novel, for contemporary readers, but that will be the subject of another post.

The third novel I read is another debut novel, Death on a Red Canvas Chair by one of my new virtual writer friends and blogging sisters, Noelle Granger . Noelle has taught me how important it is to have a thorough plot with plenty of twists and turns, and how including the author’s valuable knowledge and expertise increases authenticity and interest.

The novel I am reading at the moment is the disturbing, yet beautiful, The Death of Bees,  another brilliant debut novel, by Lisa O’Donnell,  which was recommended and gifted to me by my best friend, Anna, a few months ago. I was not disappointed by Ms O’Donnell’s multiple narrators and tight hold on the surprising narrative.

The last two novels are set in contemporary New England, and Scotland, respectively. They are in no way related to anything I write, yet they have valuable lessons for me as a writer. Noelle has reminded me to tighten my plots, and keep the reader on her toes, while Lisa has taught me that traumatic events can be told with humour and feeling.

The four books have decisive, determined, and brave heroines, who easily bond with the reader. The first three heroines are good at what they do and lead relatively successful lives, and The Death of Bees, well, all the characters are flawed, perhaps too flawed to be likeable.

Reading these books has helped me realize I am attracted to imperfect characters who struggle with their weaknesses. Happy endings are satisfactory, but deep down, they make me feel there’s something missing or unfinished in the narrative.

Reading widely and critically helps me understand why I write the way I do, and it helps me identify what I want to achieve through my stories and characters.

How do I want my readers to feel? Satisfied? Happy? Challenged? Upset?

What do I want my readers to think about? Love? Happiness? The meaning of life, or lack of it?

I’m still exploring what kind of a writer I am, but reading other works helps me understand my own writing style, what I want to accomplish, and how I can get there.

What kind of novels help you grow as a writer?

 

P.S.

A special mention to Irene Waters, who contributed to the motivation to write this post, as a result of our exchange of comments on this subject recently. Check out her inspiring blog Reflections and Nightmares.