Stop Procrastinating and Get that Story Finished

Good advice!

lmnelsonscorner

The first week of 2018 started off with a bang (literally and figuratively speaking). I finally finished my latest project, which is now in publication stage. Launching a new book is always exciting, and when you finally see it in print, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of your book in your hands. That feeling never subsides, no matter how many books you write.

But before you can celebrate the release of a new book, you have to finish writing it.

make-time

I read posts in writing forums all the time from writers who have difficulty finishing the book they’re writing. They have so many ideas and start a ton of projects, but have a hard time finishing any of them. It takes discipline and pushing your internal editor aside to get it done.

An informational meeting I attended recently focused on that exact topic. During this meeting, I jotted…

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A disastrous trip to the bookshop

Having collected my ten stamps from Waterstone’s – £10 off my next purchse -I went off to buy a book today as a special treat, a trip postponed from the pre-Christmas nightmare that was my life.

My local bookshop is the Waterstone’s on Gower Street, a gorgeous building, all turrets and nooks and crannies.  But it has undergone unfortunate refurbishment in recent years.  First they closed down the best Costa in London, where you could sit in one of those nooks or crannies in the basement, surrounded by books, in an atmosphere of wonderfulness.  In it’s place is a horrible coffee shop called Dillons (the original name of the store) and the Costa space downstairs is now a seriously pretentious art gallery.  Fiction is no longer on the ground floor where you would expect it but shoved in the smaller space that is the first floor, with tremendously dull history (and, I think, travel) taking up the ground floor.  The upper floors remain textbooks, which is fine, but the divine mythology-type section has vanished entirely, reduced to a single shelf in some crap section called “mind, body, spirit.”  All the most interesting books have been squashed into the horrible basement with its low ceilings, lack of fresh air and view and space to turn around.  It was only ever interesting when the travel section was next to the Costa, but with that gone ….

I took myself off to the huge Waterstone’s on Piccadilly.  Caught a bus which I don’t do often but it was just too damn cold to walk (and spitting ice nuggets.)  Hurling myself onto the back of a bus before the doors closed, I tramped upstairs, forgetting entirely to tap my Oyster card.  This is the FIRST time in my entire life that I’ve forgotten to pay on a bus.  Never mind, I thought, when I finally remembered, I’ll tap my card on the way out.  At least then no one could accuse me of stealing bus fare.  When was the last time you saw a ticket inspector on a bus, anyway.  And what were the chances I would be caught.

Well, fuck, I got caught.  In horror, I saw a scary transport police type bearing down on me where I was sitting at the back so thought I’d better nip downstairs to tap my card – only to have another one coming up the back stairs. I was surrounded.  I was trapped.  I was almost in tears, apologising over and over, trying to convince them that I was a boring middle-aged woman who had a tendency to forget things in moments of stress (had a bad morning at work) and not a dangerous criminal cadging a free ride on a bus.  They hounded me for ten minutes until finally I said, okay, how much of a fine do you want me to pay?  £50?  £100? And then I saw my stop and they let me off with a warning.  I did tap my card when I got off the bus but being a silly sensitive bunny, I felt rather shaken for the rest of the morning, all the excitement gone out the morning.

Thought I would relax when at last I was finally in the huge big bookshop and could browse to my heart’s content.  Except that the mythology section was about as pathetic as the smaller branch, having being swallowed up by thousands and thousands of shelves on food writing, recipe books, diet books, the kind of garbage writing I can’t stand with stupid celebrity faces beaming off every cover.  In fact, every table in Waterstone’s seemed to have books with celebrity faces beaming maniacally at the world in garish technicolour.  Where was the bookshop atmosphere?  Why did my feet hurt so much as I desperately opened yet another book, trying to find at least one chapter on the apparently esoteric subject I’m interested in?  Half the time I could hardly read a line because some arsehole was talking at the top of his voice on his phone (notifications set to full blast) to someone who was also speaking on a loudhailer.

I was really NOT having a good time.  Never mind, I thought desperately.  I’ll buy a fiction book instead but the only copy they had of the book I wanted was imported – £15 for a paperback?!  NUTS.

I left without buying anything and walked home in the ice nuggets, resolved to only buy books from Amazon in future, where browsing is done sitting down while drinking a decent cup of coffee/tea and listening to nice music instead of some foghorn on a phone.  And actually finding the book I want.

I can’t believe that bookshops are no longer the heavenly sanctuary they used to be, where the books on sale are much the same as the crap you find in the supermarket, where the nice coffee bar has turned into a wine bar (or just gone) ….. but far worse, where no niche-type books are available.  Only seven million fucking recipe books.

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Happy New Adverb

As a writer, one must, one presumes, set some sort of writing goal for 2018.  “Write more” is always a good one.  “Read more,” in my case – I’m definitely reading less than I used to.  Time is a factor.

But my most ambitious goal for this year is to be successfully traditionally published.  Realising that I had just shoved two awkward adverbs together, I made my second goal:  to adverbly go where no-one has gone before.

Why are adverbs frowned upon?  A beta reader told me recently that there shouldn’t be more than one adverb per page of any novel.  Is this some kind of Writing Rule?  I’m not talking about common adverbs but the more imaginative ones (although first thing on New Year’s Day, I’m hard-pressed to find an example.)

. . . . .

Convinced I’d find some terrific adverbs in my latest novel, I’ve just gone and had a look at it, searching for all words ending with “ly” (it seemed the quickest way.)  I confess I got a bit of a shock:  there are TEN adverbs on the first page alone and one of them I’ve used twice.  NONE of them are what I would call imaginative.  The best one, on page two, is “stereotypically.”  The rest are really, really (ahem) common.  I use “only” and “really” about a million times a minute.  I am shocked.  Horrified, in fact.  I am horrifyingly shocked.  I am shockingly horrified.  I am an adverb freak!

I was going to use this space to advocate using adverbs more;  to treat with respect the much-maligned part-of-speech.  Instead, I just feel ashamed…….

……but should I??!?  We use trillions of adverbs in our daily speech – why shouldn’t we use them in our writing??  Particularly when you’re deliberately NOT writing a literary work but something considerably more effortless.  I think the word I’m looking for here is commercial – does it follow that commercial fiction has more adverbs than literary works?  I’ve noticed YA fiction has more adverbs than most, which must be why I like it:  the prose is often more imaginative and so much more ALIVE than some very dry fiction I’ve come across.

If I had to take out nine adverbs from the first page of my novel, leaving just the prerequisite one, the writing would turn grey.  So instead of feeling ashamed, I’m going to take a stand:  I’m going to go for COLOUR.  Adverbs are about colour.  They are about adding poetry and rhythm and a sense of space to your writing.  Writing well shouldn’t be about only using one adverb a page:  it should be about expressing an idea beautifully.

. . . . .

And just to prove that it’s not just me, I’ve found other terrific blogs about adverbs:

mattmoorewrites.com/the-avoid-adverbs-rule-is-very-wrong/

techcommgeekmom.com/what-have-you-got-against-adverbs-what-did-they-ever-do-to-you/

theguardian.com/mind-your-language-adverbs

Best of all, this blog points out the hypocrisy of adverb-haters:

slate.com/blogs/abolish_the_adverb_you_seriously_must_be_joking

 

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Working out my novel’s genre

This should be easy.  When you cross several genres,  it starts getting tricky.  It’s not really fantasy.  It could be cosy fantasy but that’s such a lame-sounding description.  The series is going to have bits of sci-fi too, just to make it even more awkward.  “Fiction with a bit of magic” – is that a genre yet?!

This article seems helpful:

http://www.rachellegardner.com/identify-your-novels-genre/

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How to Write a Good Book Synopsis (part 2)

I couldn’t reblog this one but it’s worth reading as it’s much more straightforward and do-able.  Also, it gives the LENGTH of the synopsis which I’ve never actually known.  It’s also quite reassuring – agents KNOW writing a synopsis is sheer utter hell and don’t expect a work of art.  Phew.

 

http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Synopsis.html

 

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How To Write A Book Synopsis

Instead of writing a synopsis for my new novel, I seem to researching them instead. Can’t even begin to work out how to write one to these specs:

Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

Once Upon A Time pencilMany writers I know find writing a synopsis VERY difficult. There’s so much you want to include. How do you decide what to leave out? How long it is supposed to be? What tone should you write it in?

5 Steps To A Perfect Synopsis

1. Take time to set up the premise

Use the opening paragraph to set up the setting, premise, and other world building ideas. You only have one chance to draw us into your world. If someone hasn’t read your book and is reading your synopsis first what will they need to know?

2. Focus on conflict

We want to know what trouble we’ll be encountering in this book. What are the road blocks? What hurdles does the main character have to overcome? How high are the stakes?

3. Clearly outline the character’s growth arc

A one dimensional main character will suck the air out of…

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Book Review: The Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated)

On the 20th anniversary of the first publication of The Philosopher’s Stone, I was due to start reading a new book and thought it would be appropriate to reread the first Harry Potter book.  It’s not the first time I’ve reread it, though:  it’s probably the tenth.  It could be more.  I’ve actually lost count!  I reread all of them at irregular intervals, mostly all at once, like a single, giant book, which is really what it feels like, each book being another “part.”

This was, however, the first time I had reread the illustrated version.  When I first got it, I paged through it with wonder, having already oohed and aahed over it in a bookshop.  Despite having all the Harry Potter books on my shelf (only five of which from a matching set), I had to have this.  It was the first time I had ever seen illustrations of the Harry Potter world that actually came close to the ones in my imagination.  The movies are WAY off.  They don’t even scrape the surface.  But it’s more than the accuracy of Jim Kay’s depictions, it’s the stunning artwork itself.  His watercolours are breathtaking.  I have so many favourites, it’s hard to chose the best one.  I love Hagrid’s cabin:  this is EXACTLY what it looks like, not the sterile, perfect log cabin in the movie.  Here it’s an upturned boat and is smothered with vines and ivy with gardens nestling right up to the front door.  It takes hours to get past the Diagon Alley chapter because there are two whole pages to peruse at close quarters, the detail so intense that you see something new each time.  THIS is what Diagon Alley looks like!  Cluttered and old and full of peculiar things.  The pictures are full of quirks and oddities, like a glimpse down Oil Can Alley:  the illustrator not only has a fine grasp of the Harry Potter universe, but has allowed his imagination to stray further.

I particularly love the way each page looks like a sheet of watercolour paper with blobs and blots and spillages of watercolour paint.  Many of the paintings are dreamy with beauty:  Hagrid zooming across the night sky on a (tiny) motorbike;  Hagrid and Harry crossing the sea in a (tiny) boat (Hagrid’s teeny tiny pink umbrella/wand is hysterical);  the glowing white unicorn in a midnight Forbidden Forest;  the doors of Hogwarts slightly ajar, with a glow of golden light from within and a black cat sitting on the step.  The characters are perfect too:  Harry looks just right, particularly in a rather tender drawing towards the back of the book.  Dumbledore, Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, Draco … all their portraits are ideal.  Naturally I’ve wished for more:  Gringotts, the dormitory, a rather better depiction of a Quidditch match, Harry’s parents in the Mirror of Erised.  One can only dream how Jim Kay might have painted these and other aspects of the story.

It’s funny how with each rereading you pick up another tiny detail that you didn’t notice before:  Hagrid FLIES to the outcrop of rock to find Harry and deliver his Hogwarts letter.  How did I not notice this before?  And if Hagrid really did fly (one presumes he might have been joking), HOW did he fly?  He’s a giant with little magical training.  No other character that I can recall can fly without assistance (a broom, a bewitched motorbike, a thestral etc etc) except Voldemort.  So did Hagrid really fly?!

This first book in the series is very young with the author coming between the reader and the characters quite often in the way that writers for young children often do:  it’s just a style of storytelling which is perfectly all right but a relief when it gets dropped in the about the third book (I think) and you’re allowed much further inside Harry’s head.  One presumes also that as a character, Harry is going to get more interesting as he gets older too, as more and more of his story is revealed.

I was working in a bookshop in 1999 when The Prisoner of Azkaban came out.  I remember the tremendous fuss and the THOUSANDS of copies of the first two books being re-ordered.  They TOWERED in the bookshop, piled in piles so high they were like walls around the tills.  I was faintly amazed by all this.  I had absolutely no interest in children’s fiction, being a reader of hard sci-fi at the time, and couldn’t understand the popularity of these twee little books.  And then one day I was sitting at the till, dying of boredom, when I noticed The Philosopher’s Stone on the counter.  It had been abandoned there for some or other reason and I did just what we had been commanded never to do:  I opened it and began to read.  I read it surreptitiously so that no one would notice.  No one did.  I finished the first chapter in about ten minutes and my first thought was:  shit, this kid is really suffering.  I then read the book properly and with every reread, my favourite scene never changes.  Hagrid says:  “Harry, yer a wizard.”  Tears every time.

Hagrid and Harry

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