Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Ego Trap of Blogging

Blogging is fun, don't you think? What could be nicer than chatting away about your interests and seeing your words in print. It's every writer's dream, after all.

But therein lies the danger.

In the Bad Old Days, before the Internet freed us all from the limitations of our everyday lives, we had very little cause to spout forth our opinions. Even if anyone ever bothered to ask they probably wouldn't stick around long enough to listen to the answer. Not so these days. With our own blog the world is our audience and oh, how seductive that can be. Before long we can be so carried away with our own opinions we fall into the trap of thinking we're actually worth listening to.

Some blogs can get so pompous and full of their own importance they have the opposite effect to the one intended, ie to attract a readership. I've been turned off a couple of high profile ones for this reason. Preaching to the point of nagging, lecturing and criticising your readership are some common faux pas. Yes, it may be true that some of the folk out there trying to write a book will never accomplish that aim, but endlessly reminding them of how awful they are isn't going to win you any friends.

So always beware of the Ego Trap of falling in love with your own opinions. They're never as fascinating to others as they may seem to you. And while it's nice to be important, it's also important to be nice.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


I've just noticed it is NINE DAYS since I last posted here! *Hangs head in shame*
Please do not desert me faithful followers. I have been writing, I promise you, but getting a first draft down takes a lot of concentration and it's harder than usual at present. Not sure whether it's the weather or the post-Chrimbo lassitude but lots of folk seem to be struggling with the dreaded Writer's Block at the moment. I'm not blocked, let me hasten to add, but I do recognize the symptoms. Everyone gets jaded at times, usually at emotionally low points. But never forget the first rule: Writers Write. Every day you let things slide you are reinforcing the message to yourself that you are not a writer.

So how do you know if you have Writer's Block?

Here are some signs:

The thought of writing makes you feel tired.
You suddenly get the urge to clean the roof or clear out the garage.
Every time you sit at the keyboard you find yourself online instead.
When you finally manage to squeeze out a sentence you can't leave it alone; endlessly rewriting it to death until finally deciding it's rubbish and starting again.
The longer this goes on the more desperate and pressurised you feel. You get anxious and guilty as your confidence slips away. Why are you even trying, you ask yourself. You obviously have less talent for writing than a bath plug.

It's all very well making light of it, but this can become a crippling condition. Even successful authors have been known to suffer from it, feeling their prolific muse has deserted them for good. Helpful friends may advise you to take a break and that can work, just so long as you promise to start again after a set time period. If you don't you may find the break stretching and stretching into months. And every day that goes by reinforces your belief that you're just a big fraud and not a writer at all.

I am no expert but I have had my own dry periods over the years and all I can do is pass on the tips and advice that have helped me.

At times when my muse is elusive I often turn to poetry. Getting a feeling or an idea down in a verse or two can be helpful. It's short, so not too much like hard work, and more importantly it's fun. If you love language you'll love the challenge of wordplay. It can be just the thing to kick-start your enthusiasm.

Reading is always helpful. Read something beautifully written and it will inspire you. Alternatively read something trashy to prove to yourself you are not the worst writer in the world.

Most of all, remember that a first draft is, as Hemingway put it, shit. I stopped getting blocked when I realised this one liberating fact. No one will see your first draft, it's only you telling yourself the story. Most of it will end up in the bin so let yourself go and have fun when writing it. The hard part comes later when you have to shape it into something half decent, so enjoy this stage while you can.

Here is a great article which expands on this more eloquently than I. Print it and read it often, especially when those nasty little voices start whispering you're no good. It helped me and it will help you too.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Where Do You Get Your Characters?

Where do characters come from? Yes, I know they're all basically us in disguise but given that I've never had a beard or a wooden leg I don't know how I managed that particular stretch.
People who don't write like to think they are the fodder for their author friends' characters. I've often heard this said on writers' boards. Someone's best friend was so mortified by being characterised in their book they wouldn't speak to the author for months. But it wasn't her, she cried. I wasn't even thinking of her when I wrote it.
I'm no expert on this but I think the process is usually unconscious. In my last WIP - the one I just revised - a new character appeared to me last Spring. I didn't even invite him, he was just there, fully formed with a name, a life story, even a voice. I could even name the actor who could best portray him in the screen adaptation.
Now if you've ever looked at any of the Novel Writing Software out there you'll know that doesn't happen. Characters need to be outlined to within an inch of their paper existences. Every biographical detail needs to be settled before they can even start to spring off the page. But I hadn't settled anything. He was just there. And I felt I knew him as well as anyone.
So what does that mean? I think we absorb the attributes of the people we encounter. Everyone you've ever put a name to; family, friends, celebrities, teachers, bosses, friends of friends get the picture. Millions of people in a lifetime, all melted down into a soup of humanity in our subconscious. And what we do as writers is form a real live character from that soup, or is it more like clay? I'm getting muddled in my own analogy now...
Anyway, that's why our characters are never any one person in our lives - they have to be an original creation or we'd be hamstrung trying to recreate something that already exists. Our friends and family might like to think they've been immortalised in our writing, but perhaps that's just vanity?

Where do you get YOUR characters?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

OK, Who's Sick of Snow?

You didn't really expect me to fail to mention the snow, now did you?
A fresh covering fell overnight, and another shower around breakfast time.

But on the plus side I managed to get my car started and on the move sufficient to walk Theo somewhere other than the golf course where we've been every day since Christmas.
Here are some photos I took around the garden.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

New Year Detox

Never mind Carol Vorderman and five gallon bottles of Evian, I'm talking about flushing out the clutter from my writer's brain with a few timely resolutions:

1. Spend less time trolling the Net
OK, this one seems to come up every year and all that happens is I end up signing onto yet another writers' forum and wasting too much valuable time on things like avatars, signatures and bickering about adverbs. We tell ourselves it's good to stay connected, but really how much use are these sites when you come down to it? Yes, you can make a few friends and pick up a few tips, but you can also accumulate trolls and convince the wider world what an asshole you are. There's a lot of bitterness and bitchiness around too - a pretty toxic environment for the delicate ego and hardly conducive to creativity.
So I'm trying to limit myself. I'm not optimistic I'll be able to do it, but I'm going to try.

2. Spend more time reading and writing.
Last year I got into quite a nice routine, writing in the morning, reading in the afternoon. That is when I could resist the lure of Sky. This year things should be better as the Sky box breathed its last the week before Christmas and we've switched to an incomprehensible combination of Freesat and Free View. So there's no chance I'll be wasting time watching TV since I can't figure out which remote does what.

3. Be better organised.
When I can do it, sitting down to write first thing in the morning works best for me. I'm going to try and be more disciplined about this. Facebook and Twitter will just have to wait.

4. Get more exercise.
Another perennial. I know it makes sense to get the blood flowing to the brain but each year that passes sees me more firmly glued to my chair. However I will try and jump around to my Davina DVDs at least twice a week.