Thursday, 1 November 2018

Nanowrimo is upon us!

Every year I keep meaning to do the Nanowrimo event / challenge. In case you have never heard of it, the idea is to write 2000 words of a novel every day for the month of November. At the end of the month, you have a 60,000-word book! Good for you. It stands for 'National Novel Writing Month' and is a kind of mutual support online program and challenge for budding authors. It is now a global thing, so frankly it should be renamed.

Last year, I thought that I was definitely going to sign up for it and went to the website only to find that I had signed up several years previous and had logged in every year since. Good intentions and all that. Well, it starts today and although I have an idea for a scifi book that would be roughly that length, I haven't plotted it out yet and while I am not a strict plotter, in this case, I think it might be a good idea.

If you are hearing about all this for the first time, then I encourage you to get going. I know from bitter experience that if you fall behind a day, it is ridiculously difficult to catch up. The website is here. Good luck!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

From short stories to epic fantasy

I think I have made a mistake in the way I am working toward writing fiction. I started with short stories, which is great. Some were published elsewhere and then I was able to bundle them all into a couple of small collections. I also wrote a longer short story called Cooperworld which I self-published. Unless you are famous, there really isn't much of a market for a 17000-word story.

So essentially I went from something which was a standard 2000-5000 words in length, to something 100,000 words and up. I am currently at 130,000 words and although the end is in sight, I am still having to squint to see it.

I keep feeling tempted to write a quick scifi novel but know that if I stop, I will never finish the epic fantasy book. If there is one thing I have read numerous times, it is that you should always plough on until you are done, otherwise you never will. This is good advice and I fully agree. So additional advice would be - start something shorter and finish that because there is a mild feeling of despair when you look ahead and see the story stretching away into the dim distance.

I'd better get back to it...

Friday, 2 March 2018

Plotting vs Pantsing debate. Do what you want.

If you have written, thought about writing, or are currently writing a novel, you have probably come across the slightly daft debate of whether to 'pants' or 'plot'. If you haven't then:

'Pantsing' is when you write 'by the seat of your pants'. In other words, you make shit up as you go along. Stephen King is a famous 'pantser'.

'Plotting' is when you plot everything out to a greater or lesser extent. You probably guessed that by its self-explanatory name. James Patterson is a famous 'plotter'.

To be honest, I think it just depends on the author and, to an extent, the genre. An epic fantasy novel could be 'pantsed' as could a lot of contemporary character-based fiction, with just a vague ending in mind. A thriller or ideas-based science fiction novel would be harder, as the ending pretty much has to be known so that it can be worked towards.

I also think, taking the above examples, that the effect can be noticeable. I like both King and Patterson. I think Stephen King has better ideas and explores them and his characters a bit more in-depth but I often find the endings a bit of a letdown. Like 'It', for example, had a bollocks ending. Whereas Patterson writes a more complete and satisfying story but the characters and writing are a bit more fixed and less appealing. Just my opinion and I will probably never sell as many books as either.

My background is in print journalism and that comes with its own structures and rules that can be learnt. I have yet to write a single book but am working on a fantasy novel right now. I had some vague ideas but it was only once I was 100,000 words in that I realised I needed to work out a bit more lore and background. Also, the central premise didn't quite work and the story ground to a stop. So I decided to plot the rest and it has worked out brilliantly. If I had plotted it all out from the start, however, I doubt the characters and mood of the book would have come across in the way they have. It would have been too structured and certain characters just wouldn't have happened.

So now I have the whole plot but basically, I need to rewrite the whole beginning section again. I have to insert characters and gods and backstory. But without having written 100,000 words by 'pantsing' I am not sure I would have been able to plot the story I have.

So what is the point of this post? I guess it is just that you don't have to be one or the other. I read something about Neil Gaiman who said he has a vague idea of where it is all going but that is all. Stephen King says he just 'pants' it but he has already written a ton of books and probably has an idea of where it is all going to go - a killer car or dog story for example, already has something of a structure built in. Patterson, on the other hand, writes such a detailed plot that he has essentially just 'pantsed' a short story which is then fleshed out. I don't think anyone is entirely in one camp or the other. At least, no one I like as a writer.

In summary then - do what works for you and keep doing it.

Another tendency I have is to procrastinate with other writing. So for now, that is all. Write on and good luck.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Apps to help with productivity

I have been writing a lot recently, for both business and pleasure. It can be hard to keep track of everything as my day job requires a completely different type of journalism and scribing skills than my more shallow and considerably more fun websites. I am also writing a book, which is a completely different mindset.

Consequently, when I sit down to start every morning, I frequently draw a blank and just feel an urge to look at Facebook. That is where apps come in. Before smartphones and the internet (I am old), I used to have notebooks and post-its everywhere reminding me to do things. Now I have apps. For example, Wunderlist just reminded me to post on this blog. (It has been reminding me for a while, apologies.)

In case you are a similar procrastinator, here are some apps that help me to focus and get more done.

This is probably my main 'To Do' list. It is what I look at first and notifications pop up throughout the day reminding me of things I have to do. Not just writing, but everything. It's an awesome app that pretty much runs my daily life. Wunderlist works and syncs across my MacAir, iPad, and Samsung phone.

This is where I keep all my notes, ideas, links to everything and everyone I write for. Like Wunderlist, it syncs across all devices and is superb for jotting down anything.

Because I am an idle bastard, I need more general prodding. Habitbull is where I set vague targets for the day - write 1000 words of fiction, write a website article, do some press ups, practice another language (I am learning Thai), and so on. It lets me know how well I am doing as a kind of overview.

Focus Keeper
This is great for bursts of work. It uses the Pomodoro technique where you turn off everything and just focus on one particular task for 25 minutes. For someone who is easily distracted, this is pretty essential.

White noise
There are quite a few apps that just block out noise and replace it with something less distracting and constant. My personal favourite is a blend of heavy rain and light traffic. Not sure what that says about me. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and white noise combined with the Pomodoro technique help me be very productive.

I use a couple of other apps occasionally but these are my main ones. If you are an easily distracted person such as myself, I hope this helps. Now I am just going to- Look a squirrel!

Friday, 19 August 2016

The trouble with selling short stories, even with Duotrope.

I recently wrote a short story that was 7000 words long and was military science fiction. I don't normally write that particular sub-genre but the idea I had made it necessary to be all about shooting aliens with guns. But then, once it was finished,  I found I was a bit stuck with what to do with it.

I am a big fan of Duotrope. ( You have to pay but it has a lot of listings that are well organised and easy to filter, they are regularly updated, and they have a really good section for tracking your submissions. You also get options to see minor stats you wouldn't otherwise discover. Such what percentage of submissions to a particular magazine get rejected and even if that rejection was a personalised letter or a generic form. Not hugely important I guess, but if you are going to be rejected it is nice to know it was in the 10% that got a personal email saying "No thanks, that was crap" as opposed to all the other losers who had a template.

Even with all the options available, I keep finding myself falling through the cracks of having somewhere to submit something. Most magazines want less than 5000 words, or they don't pay, or only the big magazines will publish that length and genre but you aren't a known name. Even if you find one that ticks all the right boxes, you might not hear back for months which effectively puts that story in a limbo as multiple submissions are usually a no-no. You can always send things out for free, but I write professionally (non-fiction), and would never sell my stuff cheap, so it is painful to do so when I switch to fiction.

I have mostly been relying on Amazon Kindle which has actually been pretty good and has made me more money than most paying magazines would have done. It is also good practice for when I finally finish a novel and are wondering what the hell to do with it.

One thing I am going to try however, is writing for anthologies. Again, this is helped by Duotrope (I promise I am not being paid for this but I should), as they have a list of upcoming anthologies which are normally based around a theme. Such as - apocalypse brought on by environmental disaster or horny ghosts or comedy stories set at sea, or whatever. This provides a writing prompt, payment and visibility. I will see how it goes and will update here. It will be a while though, these things take months just to read the stories, let alone publish. We shall see.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

New story imminent!

I have been strangely productive recently. I think it is a combination of being a bit healthier, more focused, fish oil and gingko tablets, or magic. Possibly biorhythms, if I believed in that. Maybe it is to do with Jupiter's alignment with Pluto or something.

I am currently writing a fantasy novel and am growing concerned at the length already. I am at 25,000 words and we haven't even met the main protagonist yet. Why do fantasy novels always become so epic? Most strange.

In other reasonably exciting news, I have written a science fiction short story called 'The Next Giant Leap'. I am working on the cover and will publish soon.

In the meantime, if you stumbled on this page by accident, (hello!) you can check out some of my short stories. If you are bored. They are science fiction and travel stories and are on amazon. Links and descriptions can be found here:

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Writing more productively

I feel that I have been falling behind a bit on the whole writing fiction thing. Which is bad as it is what I have wanted to do for a living since I was 10. Part of the problem is that I write full time for my job, so when it comes to having some relaxing 'down time' I can't be bothered to write more. But I have downloaded some apps to prompt me to write more. Nearly all problems can be solved with apps and targets. Plus coffee and beer.

Consequently, I have another story written called 'The Next Giant Leap'. It is going through the editing process as I write this. So keep your eyes peeled if you like a bit of military scifi action. If you don't, feel free to try something else. Pretty please.