Tuesday, 25 October 2016


No one knows what a Brain-Stanley looks like,
but this is probably pretty close

When freewriting, it's important to ignore the internal editor. However, the enforced word count on NaNoWriMo results in the writer-brain making some truly dumb decisions, all in the name of trying to squeeze a few more words into what you've actually written.

Some of the more obvious examples of this are things like always writing "Mr Ian Woon" instead of just "Ian", or not using contractions (e.g. always putting "I am" instead of "I'm"). Helpful for the initial word count, I guess, but really kinda useless in the long run.

But the writer-brain finds far dumber things to do - things that actually get in the way of freewriting. Take this for example:

She nodded for me to continue.

That's the line I was going to write. It's not amazing prose but it's perfectly acceptable, especially in a first draft. Anyway, it popped into my brain and my fingers obediently hammered at the keyboard. But as I typed the last word, a little piece of my brain woke up. For the sake of this explanation, let's call him Stanley. And remember, Brain-Stanley is a baddie in this story.

Stanley said, "Hey, if you type 'go on' instead of 'continue' then you get ONE EXTRA WORD."

The rest of my brain replied, "Oh come on, Stanley. Don't be a tit. What's the point of one extra word? Why can't I just put 'continue'?"

Stanley didn't care that the rest of the brain had just called him a tit. He stood there, with his tiny brain-hands on his tiny brain-hips, and said, "Because it's NaNoWriMo, you daft sod. We need all the words we can get."

There was a little bit of shouting, but Stanley won in the end. The line became:

She nodded for me to go on.

.... and I gained that one extra word.

So now I was a step closer to the end of my million words project. Hooray and hurrah?


This is a worrying trend. If my internal-editor-dialogue ("ooh, we shouldn't write it THAT way; we should write it THIS way") is too loud, then creativity stops dead. The moment my various Brain-Stanleys wake up and start shouting editing suggestions, that's the moment I start struggling to freewrite. And all this 'second guessing myself' is what slows things down. It's hard enough to produce 2,000 words per day, let alone with a bunch of Brain-Stanleys shouting at me.

Dear Brain-Stanleys, I appreciate the occasional extra words, but they're really not worth the internal dialogue distraction. Shush for a few weeks, okay? Please? Pretty please with chocolate cherries?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Name your characters well! And quickly!

I tend to give a character a random name and then change it later.

Initially, this seemed like a good plan... because a quick, "oh, sod it, he's called Fred" meant that I could carry on writing and not start wasting my writing time by googling lists of names or rushing to a name generator.

However, this is turning out to be a terrible idea!

Thing is, every writer has their natural rhythm. Lines tend to dance out of the brain in accordance with a certain internal flow or pace or beat, and woe betide the poor writer who starts screwing around with that rhythm in the editing stage (I find it gets lost very easily when editing, and then the whole text starts to sound stilted and unpolished).

Another problem is that the character starts to become "whole" in your head once you name him. I have a character called Calvin and he will never, ever, be anything else to me. If an agent or publisher (assuming I ever reach that stage of the novel-writing process!) tells me to change his name, I'm going to have a lot of trouble adjusting. And if they want me to change Crimble's name then I'll probably cry!

I'd always thought I could do a quick "find and replace" once I'd decided on a better name, but I realise now that's not an option. Here's one of the reasons: internal rhyme. Changing a name can cause lines to start rhyming, and that'll completely change the feel of the whole story. Imagine having a character called Bob and then you change him to "Fred" at the last minute. Suddenly you have a ton of lines ending with "said Fred" or "Fred said", and that weird little rhyme is going chime in the reader's head (just like "rhyme" and "chime" just did in this sentence!) and quite possibly get annoying over the course of an entire novel.

Turn to blog post number 394

Here's a similar example: What if the goddess of writing, J.K. Rowling, had called the character something other than "Snape" in her first draft? For the sake of argument, let's say she called him Maurice. When the slimy potions teacher is being grumpy, JKR could easily have written first draft dialogue in this form:

"Turn to page 394," Maurice snapped.

And the thing is, once you've associated a character with a dialogue attribution/description like "snapped", it's easy to do that over and over again. That word "snapped" becomes part of the definition of your character. "Snapping" their dialogue becomes one of their natural characteristics. We know what it sounds like when someone snaps - it's spoken quickly and the words are almost bitten off like someone biting off a head. That gives us a strong sense of character.

Then, later in this completely fictitious example, let's say JKR was editing and finally decided on the name "Snape". One global-replace later, she'd have a ton of lines saying "Snape snapped". Ugh. That just sounds daft. Suddenly the manuscript is chock-full with dumb-sounding dialogue attributes, and this would only happen if the right name wasn't chosen early.

Okay, you can argue that "snapped" is a bad word to use because all the writing books tell us to stick to "said". Fair enough, but that's not really the point of the example. Pick your character names early, and pick them well. Getting the name right will change how they feel to you, and that'll come out in your writing.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Bridport Prize - Flash Fiction 2016

In January 2015, I enrolled on a writing class with the awesome Hilda Sheehan. She spotted I was someone who lacked confidence and so she encouraged me (okay, pretty much ordered me) to start sending off pieces for publication. She was so right. Sending stuff to publishers changes everything about being a writer. It's exposing, it's terrifying, it's exhilarating... and then you realise it's not as scary as you were expecting.

And on those rare days when someone says, "yes" to a piece, it's the biggest boost of confidence in the world.

So here's one of the "yeses"! Sorry if it's crass to toot my own trumpet but here goes anyway :-)

A flash fiction piece of mine was lucky enough to be commended in this year's Bridport Prize. Woohoo! The piece was originally called The Angel in the Bathroom but it had a redraft before submitting and is now called Cure. Big thanks to the Bridport Prize, and the flash fiction judge, Tim Stevenson!

The lovely thing about this is that they put me on the Bridport website! Hopefully this is something I can wave in front of agents when trying to get Crimble's autobiography published.

My friend Stephen was kind enough to keep me company on the day and help me feel a little less nervous around all the proper writers! He took most of the pics as well! Here's a facebook post he put up. I love how much support everyone showed. I'm all smiles :-)

And here's a big pile of pictures from the prize-giving event:

The book! I'm in it! Page 148! :-)

Arrived at the Arts Centre to find my name and pic on
the wall. Exciting! :-)

Welcome drinks upstairs in the gallery 

Stephen looks out over the writers, trying to spot the poets

The prize ceremony. I think the people on the stage are the brave
souls who deal with the enormous bags of post

Sneaky pic of some of our table-mates. I was worried we'd not
have much to talk about but of course we had plenty in
common - we're all daft enough to spend our free time
frantically scribbling!

The ceremony begins

Poetry judge, Patience Agbabi

Short story judge, Tessa Hadley 

Flash Fiction judge, Tim Stevenson

Trying to find my way through the tables!

Going up on stage. In front of people! Scary!

Getting a prize. Yay! :-)

Lots of goodies!

EDIT: And just to top everything off wonderfully, I was complimented not once but twice by the queen of Bridport flash fiction, Kit de Waal! :-) *dramatic fan-boy swoon*

Saturday, 1 October 2016

A million words in 2016 (October)

I'm writing a million words in 2016!

Below is the progress diary for October (I'll be updating it as the month goes on). If you're interested, here's the intro, and here are the diaries for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September.

The red number in the right-hand column is the total word count. Please wish me luck in watching that number tick up to 1,000,000 over the rest of the year!

The Million-Word Diary: October

1st Oct869,827
The Poetry Swindon festival is in full swing and so that's my official excuse for not writing! Well, I am actually writing, but all the words I'm producing are being scribbled in notebooks during workshops, and that means they're pretty much uncountable.

Okay, I could count them... but then I'd be spending valuable festival-attending time counting words instead of, well, attending the festival. Plus, most of the writing I'm doing is poetry attempts, which means the word count is pretty low.

Never mind. I'll get back to writing once the festival is done. In the meantime, here are a few festival pics!

Hilda starts the festival!

Workshop with Maggie Harris

Giggling festival helpers guarding Poetry Swindon's Dog

Workshop with Susan Utting in the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

Hilda as the Dada tin man

Dada madness!

10th Oct869,827
The festival is over and I'm broken! Workshops, readings, classes and a ton of socials and late nights. Such an intense 11 days! I'll have to do a proper write-up sometime (if I can find the energy) but for now here's a few snaps. And here's the link to the full facebook album (560 pics!)

The awesome Tent-Palace of the Delicious Air

Poetry Dog looking wonderfully spooky at 1 A.M.

Unexpected blackouts make for awesome pics!

Poetry Dog mug helps me recover from the festival lurgy

15th Oct870,492
Lovely day today! I attended the Bridport prize-giving! My "angel in the bathroom" finally found her home. She's on page 148 of the 2016 anthology. Full write-up here! :-)

Meeting flash fiction judge, Tim Stevenson

23rd Oct870,492
Okay, I'm finally recovered! Wow, I had a bit of a energy crash to be honest. Coming home from Greece was exhausting, and then there was immediately 2 days of rushing around (sorting out loads of stuff that I'd been ignoring for 6 months), followed by the festival, followed by driving to Bridport and back... it all kinda caught up with me. But I'm awake again now!

And that means it's time to start worrying about my word count again :-(

So... I have about 130k left to achieve my a million words. That's do-able, right? Surely it is. I just have to get started again!

But I think I broke my brain. I kept the word count going for so long that I don't think there's anything new in my head. And even on the days when I get some writing done, I keep getting confused which words are new and which were written ages ago - so I end up discounting all of them.

And I haven't counted all the new words I scribbled during the poetry festival. That's pretty awful for my word count. Y'see, I'm still merging several different versions of the same story... and that means I'm still failing miserably at managing to count all the new words I write. However the year is ticking on so I have to get better at counting.

Managed to count a few words today, so I can proudly announce I have 665 new words! Not sure if they're destined for book 1 or book 2, though. Probably book 2... which means Calvin's story (the story I'd originally thought was "book 1") is now either book 3 or 4. Maybe even 5. Christ, this is why I've been having trouble writing Calvin's story - it doesn't actually start for several books yet! No wonder I've been stuck for so long!

Okay, so today I wrote some words and did a ton of work towards preparing for NaNoWriMo. I'm counting today as a success! There's a week left of October, and I plan to write something every single day from now until the end of November. Do you hear me, Brain? EVERY SINGLE DAY.

My graph was looking so good! Now, however, the writing's been neglected so long that the "par" line (the red one) has nearly caught me up! I'm only 20 days ahead at the moment :-(

My once-awesome, now awful graph :-(

Current word count is 870,492. That means I have 129,508 words left to complete this insane task. There are 69 days left in 2016, so to hit the million word target I need to write 1,877 words per day. Difficult... but hopefully achievable.

Come on then, NaNoWriMo. I've ready for ya!

24th Oct875,572
Success! Today I typed words! Lots of words!

I needed 1,877 words and I typed more words than I needed!


Okay Brain, now just do that another 68 times and everything will be fine.

It was mostly all work towards Crimble's autobiography, which means I'll hopefully have the tricky "set up" bit finished before NaNoWriMo officially begins. Happy face, happy smiles, happy dance :-)

I also wrote a few blog posts. Not this one... ignore this one... this is just a diary... but I scribbled a few opinions/articles about writing (Brain-Stanleys and Naming Characters, plus another that I'll save for publishing later) and I think it's okay to count those words. After all, when I'm a massively successful author (if only!), I can use those blog posts as part of my book, "How to write an awesome novel". I will also write a book called, "How to procrastinate by imaging that one day you might be a massively successful author".

Not entirely happy today though. Had a bit of bad news this morning, unfortunately. A rejection. Okay, not quite a rejection - but there's a site I submit to every so often where they award prizes for the best story. I wrote a story that I was soooooo sure was the best thing I'd ever sent them and, although it got published, it didn't get picked as the best :-(  That kinda hit me hard - mainly because I really wanted it! Normal rejections are no big deal - but this one was quite painful. I guess this is the problem with submitting stories designed to appeal to a specific publication or editor - if you don't achieve the notice/accolade you're hoping for, and have really really tried for it, then failure hurts far more than just a plain old "no, thanks" type rejection.

Ah well. Nothing for it but to pick myself up and try again. Come on Brain - keep writing.

In other news: The NaNoWriMo daftness has begun! My internal editor is allowing me to freewrite, but is starting to suggest ways to increase my word count. Not good.

I should probably explain. But it's a daft explanation so I'll do it in a separate post, here: Brain-Stanleys.

Had a comical typo today. Someone nibbled on the end of a pork shop (instead of a pork chop). Well, it amused me anyway :-)

So... today was mostly a success. In summary: Brain-Stanleys are bad, and I got lots of work done on Crimble's autobiography. I have 5,080 new words and that means the total's now 875,572.

25th Oct 877,990
Bit demoralised today! Had plenty of time to write but somehow didn't manage to get started until 8pm. Didn't get much sleep last night so the words wouldn't flow today. It was a real blood out of a stone type of slog.

I seemed to be doing okay with Crimble's autobiography yesterday but today it just wouldn't flow. I think the problem is that I've hit an awkward part of the story. Crimble walks into a huge cave full of people (and dragons!) and they ask her to join them. Quite naturally, she asks what they're doing... and so I'm faced with trying to write a chunk of dialogue that basically sets up the rest of the book. And it's exposition type dialogue. You know - the sort that tells you a ton of background information that you need to know but is dull to read. Unfortunately, I can't think of another way to do this right now. Crimble needs to know a few things at this point of the story, and so does the reader. I've decided to just splurge out the "this is what's going on" dialogue, and then I'll have to break it up later in the edit.

God, it's dull though!

And that's the problem... I'm bored writing it, so the writing is difficult, and I know full well that if it's boring to write then it's boring to read. Obviously everything is fixable, but at the moment I'm struggling to get the words down.

Had to give up in the end and go write a few flash fiction pieces, just to get the word count up to the correct level. That part of tonight's writing went very well - I started two new pieces and they're wonderfully mad. One of them involves the characters stealing a necklace from the Virginia Woolf Museum while trying to hunt up ingredients for a spell, and the whole thing is going to go a bit monkey's paw on them. Looking forward to carrying on with that one... it might even turn into a short story rather than a flash fic!

Today saw 2,418 words and that means the total's now 877,990.

27th Oct881,110
Yesterday was a zero-word day. Annoying, especially when I'd resolved to write every single day from now on. I spent the day mostly doing things to help other people. Note to self: be more selfish! :-)

Crimble's autobiography is at a tricky stage so today - purely to make sure I managed a decent word count - I started a new story. It's a ghost story and I wrote it in a shed at the bottom of the garden. The story freaked me out so much that I was a bit nervous walking back to the house in the dark. I'm hoping that's a sign that the story is good, and not just me being a scaredy-cat.

The words are still fighting back, so writing was only achieved via ridiculous amounts of:
  1. cheap sherry,
  2. coffee,
  3. noisy techno music,
  4. toast.

Tomorrow I will probably spend the day moaning about the insomnia induced by:
  1. cheap sherry,
  2. coffee,
  3. noisy techno music,
  4. toast.

Hopefully I will also write some more words.

Malapropisms are especially amusing when you're hyped up on cheap sherry, coffee, noisy techno music and toast. Here's a silly one for you: Cheap sherry, Sheep cherry. 

Today's bonus: Zoé was kind enough to read out some of my 50-word stories on the radio. Zoé rocks. Thank you, Zoé!

So I pronounce today a double win :-)

Word count today was 3,120 so the new total is 881,110.

28th Oct884,238
Happy surprise today - I managed to write over 3,000 words with hardly any trouble at all!

Today I had three tasks/meetings scheduled, all of which could have stopped me writing. Thankfully the second of the three was a NaNoWriMo plotting session. NaNoWriMo events are probably the only environment where it's socially acceptable to semi-ignore everyone while manically typing, and it really worked for me today. I managed to achieve that weird state of mind where it's possible to hold a conversation (ish) while also writing. The session lasted for about three hours and towards the end of it I discovered I'd been counting my words wrongly and had actually done a thousand more than I'd realised. Nice discovery, but it meant I'd achieved today's minimum, so immediately stopped!

One of the local NaNoWriMo organisers has challenged us all to a race. She's a speedy typist and is planning to knock out around 3k-5k words per day, which means she's likely to win NaNo in less than a fortnight. Apparently if we beat her to 50k then we get a prize, which may or may not involve having one of our sillier lines worked into a cross-stitch pattern. I can probably survive without the cross-stitch, but I'm definitely taking this challenge on because it's yet another bit of motivation to push my typing speed :-)

Today's bonus was attending a pub quiz with my parents and WE ONLY WENT AND FLIPPIN' WON! :-) Yay us! :-) And the prize was a bottle of wine which will surely be set to good use (probably helping to fuel tomorrow's writing session).

Second bonus was discovering that other idiots oops, I mean keen writers are also doing this "million words in a year" project. There's even a hashtag (#milwordy).

Today gave me 3,128 words (weirdly similar to yesterday's count) so the total's now 884,238. Getting close to 90k now. Can't wait!

29th Oct887,007
Today I had no commitments whatsoever, so naturally left the writing until the last minute. I spent a while kicking myself because I really I should've used the day to get lots done, but luckily I managed to get going eventually and a reasonable amount of words appeared. Tried something new today. A friend suggested I try freewriting while listening to a bunch of radio plays by Samuel Beckett. It's a great idea to ensure you never stop writing (every time you go dry, just listen to the current line and use it as a prompt to continue) but it takes the story in some truly crazy directions... and so I now have seven new flash fictions that are all probably too mad to send off. I'll probably send them off anyway :-)

I aimed for only the bare minimum (2,733 words) today so the count was 2,769 and the new total's 887,007. 

30th Oct889,979
Splendid day at the library today at the NaNoWriMo Launch meeting with our Swindon MLs! (MLs are Municipal Liaisons which is the obfuscated-business-speak terms for "NaNoWriMo organisers"). They are absolutely awesome and gave us lots of pressies! Look at this!

NaNoWriMo pressies!

How great is this? Plot bunnies! An actual real plot bunny, complete with writing-prompt-collar. And a random inspiration quote from Roald Dahl! Plot ideas! Writing prompts! And a side characters to randomly throw in when things get confusing or slow or stuck!

We also did a fun exercise where we wrote an elevator pitch for our novel, then had to try and describe the novel out loud. As writers, we tend to be good at articulating our thoughts on paper but then bluster and blumble when trying to describe something out loud. It was good practice for when we reach the stage of trying to get someone to believe in our novels, and I now have a good elevator pitch sentence for my novel which is a pretty damn useful thing to have.

I'd planned to write lots in the Launch meeting but things went a bit wrong. Laptops are pretty damn useful when you take them to NaNoWriMo sessions but they're pretty damn useless when you forget the power lead. Oops! However a friend set me a writing exercise that resulted in a flash fiction called, "How to spoon a donkey". You'll be glad to know that it's not as weird as it sounds because, thankfully, it's narrated by the protagonist who happens to be... a donkey. Phew.

Word count today was 2,972 so the total's now 889,979.

31st Oct889,979
Gave myself a day off today. Brain was trying to push me into writing but I figured I'd have a snoozy afternoon and then attack the manuscript first thing after midnight (i.e. the start of November, when NaNoWriMo officially begins). This is a tactical play and may well fail terribly but fingers crossed! Happy Halloween, all! Spooky hugs to the lot of ya! :-)