Friday, 25 May 2012


I shouldn't be blogging before I've finished reading my book through...yet here I am.

Reading what I have written is such a strange experience, full of encouragement and excitement, alongside disappointment.  I'm not sure I'll ever be able to be truly objective, which is where a writing group would be so useful.

The first chapter was a low point for me - it didn't at all achieve what I hoped, and I was afraid it set the tone for the whole book. I was then relieved and buoyed up to find passages that sparkle, some dialogue that I'm proud of, and a few paragraphs that fill me with joy.  These positive points make me sure that with practise and by working hard to improve my skills, I can achieve what I want to...

And then there are the doubts. I'm not too discouraged by the poor prose - I can see that with some editing and rewriting I can improve that.  I'm more worried that the plot might have holes, or sections that will push credibility too far - and this is really hard to discern.  There are various plotlines that have continuity issues, but that is what this read-through is all about, and I feel confident that  I can solve that too.

What is so difficult to judge is: Is it really any good? Would it hold a reader's attention? Is it interesting enough....or is it self-indulgent rubbish that only appeals to me because I'm on fairly good terms with the author?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Reading the Manuscript

I took the plunge, and began reading the latest draft of my book.  It has been a while, and I've been daunted by the prospect, but I knew that once I began reading,  I had to plough on.

I'm reading through as quickly as I can, this time, just making a few notes as I go, and trying not to get bogged down in detail.  At first I was stealing moments to read, but it wasn't easy; I had to balance the manuscript on my lap, or a table, and wait for the breeze or passing child to create an avalanche of papers.      Lifting it felt like a trip to the gym.  But I was enjoying it.  One night I stayed up till midnight, reading (though I must confess that I think I fell asleep for a little while in them middle).

Then I had a moment of inspiration, that would have occurred to someone else much sooner, no doubt.  I decided to read it on my Kindle. It seemed a simple solution at first, but our main computer is a Mac, and when I realised that the Kindle couldn't read the novel in its usual format, I couldn't find a way to convert it.

Luckily, I have a laptop too, and was able to use Mobipocket Creator on that to create a document that my Kindle could read.  It's so much easier to read my manuscript on the go now - it's been to a hospital appointment, and to the local soft-play centre this afternoon, too.  I love the feeling that it's just like a 'real' book, already, and I love being able to make notes on the Kindle too.  However,  I have a touch-screen Kindle, and I'm not having as much fun when I try to highlight a word or passage and the page flips over. It took me five attempts to 'catch' one phrase this afternoon. In the end, I resorted to making the font larger, which I then disliked reading.  Oh, well.

The other thing about my Kindle is, I know I am officially 65% of the way through...

Monday, 21 May 2012

Creating mess

  Mondays are meant to be a good writing day for me, as they are playgroup day for the 3-year old, but today I had to do the weekly shop at Sainsburys, then my sister-in-law visited with her husband and my 9 month old nephew.  So it was a good day, but not productive...until the afternoon. 

I set the 3 year old up on the patio with one of his favourite arty activities - a paintbrush and water. I demonstrated how he could paint a picture, but he decided to tip up the water and rub at it with a brush instead.  (Boys' creativity is so different to girls', whatever people say). It kept him busy for quite a while, and meanwhile I curled up on the sofa in the family room, and began to
                                                        read my book. 

And that's all I'm going to say about that, for now.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Thinking the inner critic should work harder....

It's so easy to focus on your own insecurities, and spend so long agonising over the quality of your writing that you never finish that article, or submit that novel...there are days when I'm paralysed by my inner critic, though I'm trying hard to thicken my skin against it.  

Writing Magazine has a regular feature by James McCreet, where the first 300 words of a novel are treated to 'forensic criticism'.  I always enjoy this - Mr McCreet identifies so much of what isn't working, where I only know that something non-specific and vague is amiss.  I've learnt a lot from it, and admire his attention to detail. 

However, this month he was dismembering the first few words of'What the Moon Remembered' by Andrea Wotherspoon.  As usual, I read through the 300 words before I allowed myself to read the comments, and I enjoyed it.  I thought it was a cut above the usual excerpts, and wondered to myself if, this month, there might be quite a lot more praise than usual.  Then I read James McCreet's comments.  I can't say any of them were unfair.  But I was astounded that I hadn't anticipated any of them- not one.  I had thought it was a perfectly reasonable few paragraphs, until  I was forced to look again. By the time I had finished the article, not only was my inner critic yelping triumphantly about how useless I am, but my confidence in my own judgement was in question. After all, I hadn't spotted most of the weakness or errors, and would be likely to make the same mistakes myself.  How can I avoid errors in my work if I can't identify them easily in someone else's? Time to abandon hope...? 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Letter's pages

On my whiteboard in the study are some Rules gleaned from a website on writing, some years ago, now. One of the rules says, Make a career for yourself. Get anything published.

I think 'anything' might be pushing it - no-one wants to write something they're ashamed of, or that makes them uncomfortable, surely? There is more to being a writer, and a fulfilled writer at that, than the end result of being published.

But, while my novel awaits a read-through which I am increasingly afraid of engaging in, I'm working on other things.  I'm part-way through several short stories, and I'm being brave by actually submitting them.  Tackling this hurdle for short stories, which have less of 'me' invested in them, seems a good way of building up the courage to send off my novel, one day.

After a couple of successful letters to Reader's Digest magazine, I've hurled a few more letters off to various magazines, and one funny story, too. I'm waiting to hear if any of these get 'published' but even £10 here and £30 there make me feel more like a writer, and also top up the meagre maternity pay I'm on. 

I wonder what other outlets there are for writers wanting to hone their skills and make a few pounds at the same time?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Deadline Grumps

Setting myself a deadline to finish editing some short stories has backfired a little. 

I'm sure there is nothing wrong with the principle, and that this is a good way to motivate myself.  But (excuses, excuses) the baby has been having an unsettled week.  She is not putting on weight as quickly as she was before (a subject which is endlessly fascinating only to a mother, poring over weight charts, and plotting centiles), so perhaps she has been feeling hungry.  Whatever the reason, she has needed a lot of cuddling.  When she wasn't being cuddled, she was crying.  Neither of these states was conducive to writing, or even being inwardly creative.

Things are back on an even keel now, although I'm wrung out. But other must-do things are jostling me (such as baking for school and playgroup fayres), and I've already watched two of my self-imposed deadlines skate by. Is there any way back? Perhaps next time I'll write the deadlines in pencil...!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Getting arty

This week I'm trying out a few different things to keep the children busy while I write.  I say 'children', but really it's the 3 year old.  The older two are at school, and the baby isn't much trouble.  I've been inspired by the fabulous blog, The Imagination Tree - a lot of the ideas are ones I might have had or used myself at school (though not all - check out the black glitter playdough!) but I've never organised myself to do things regularly with my children at home.  (Bad mother).  So I've been inspired.  First we re-organised our creative stuff, as it was shoved in a box, and was so difficult to get out and put away that it was putting me off.

Then we had a go at using chalks on coloured paper.  The 3-year old is allergic to mark making, usually, but he was attracted by the novelty and colour, I think.

Apparently, this is a rocket, stars and moon.

The only problem is, I sat and watched him, and chatted to him, and enjoyed his no writing done there! It occupied him for about fifteen minutes and he might have stayed longer, but we had to go out.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Plan of Attack

I have already written two letters to magazines, which was my first, baby-step deadline.  Now I need to find ways to make time to get on with the other pieces of writing, as my free time 'while the kids sleep' is narrowed to a sliver at the moment.

I'm loving the blog 'The Imagination Tree', which is full of wonderful, creative ideas for children.  The 3 year old hasn't had as much access to this kind of thing as the others. That's partly because he's a genius at turning items from their intended use to something completely inappropriate. I'd like to rectify it, though, and give him more exploring opportunities, as well as improving his fine-motor skills ready for writing his name, eventually.

I'm going to try some activities with him to see if he will concentrate for long enough to give me a half hour to myself here and there. If not, then at least I will get to feel as though I've been a good Mum, and encouraged his creativity!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Setting deadlines

In an aspirational move, I've written some deadlines into my diary for the next three weeks - beautifully staggered in the hope that I might meet them  - for completing and sending off three short stories to magazines or competitions.  I'm hoping that this will help me to be focused and to achieve what I want to in the next few weeks. Do deadlines work for most writers? I suspect that without them I could float on forever, polishing and tweaking and procrastinating.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Yawning in a good cause

Yesterday was a good day, and I ended up spending the evening rewriting my latest short story, and when that was done, I still had some oomph left (I know, how did that happen?) so I carried on with my Grandad's life story, and finished it, at last.

 'Finished' may be an exaggeration.  There are a few points to clarify with my family, and then, in an ideal world, I would like to publish it with so that I can have a 'real' copy for my sisters and parents and Grandma (that's Christmas sorted then - and it's only just May!). I'm not yet 100% sure that I'll handle the challenges of formatting it, and fiddling with it, though. 

But, five years after he died, it's as complete as I can make it at this second in time.  Big fat tick on my to-do list, I think.  Does it matter that I didn't finish until 1am, and then the baby woke at 3.15, and stayed up until nearly 5am? Apparently not.  I'm existing on adrenaline today, and will catch up on sleep tonight. If I could make it a habit, just think what I could achieve in writing...but I'm afraid I'd be a pretty unpleasant Mum.