Selfish writing

A good few posts here on the site reference learning as one of the key reasons for commencing this blog and indeed carrying on to this point — some four years later. A noble goal — or at the very least — a reasonable basis for applying a little effort towards producing content.

Over that time period, I’ve been through various phases and feelings about writing here. Beginners nerves (which merely evolve into more experienced nerves upon hitting “publish”); gaining some, then wanting more readers; realising more posts gain more readers and writing them; burning out a little, and realising 20% less monthly readers affords 80% (if not more) better balance. Blogging as a hobby really should not be a chore.

Now? I’m quite content with how things are. Thanks for asking.

Accompanying the passage of time has been a realisation the knowledge I gain through researching, reading, and organising my thoughts on various topics and posts is indeed quite valuable to me. It is however, secondary to something far more important. Something I perhaps didn’t anticipate, understand, nor fully appreciate until now. Something inherently more selfish, which far outweighs the learning — and indeed sharing — of knowledge by a significant order of magnitude. It is probably also time to own up to that truth.

When all is said and done, I’m really just writing here for my own sanity. Plain and simple.

The longer I do this, the more I realise the predominant, though unintended (yet most welcome) benefit of all this is the process of writing, and the switch-off it affords from most other goings-on while I’m doing it. Even better? The option at any time to not do it for a while — whether by choice or circumstance — and return when I choose.

Should this really come as much of a surprise? Probably not, and is simply a classic case of forest for the trees if ever there was one, however I am glad to be a little more aware of such a welcome reality.

Undoubtedly this is probably not a surprise to anyone who writes in a similar way, unencumbered by deadlines, contracts or commitments. Then again, who am I to assume — perhaps those who write for a living feel the same way, although I suspect there is at least some additional burden on the minds of those who do.

Maybe arriving at this point was inevitable, and I was simply unaware of it when starting out. After all, those sayings don’t lie do they. You know them: the process not the outcome; the journey, not the destination; the writing, not the readers.

I’ve taken some liberty in including that last one, and to explain further, you — the reader — are extremely important to me of course. I simply realise doing my best to provide readable content which may (hopefully) be helpful or provide value in some small way is part of the process, may be an outcome, however is not stoking the fire as it once was. Or at least as I thought it was.

So, have I been lying to you all this time?

I’d say no, however perhaps no more so to you, the reader, than to myself. Let’s think of it merely an oversight rather than outright deception. What next then? Well, I guess there is nothing to do but continue, and do so in the knowledge at the heart of these pages lies an intrinsic motivation which will likely keep me writing far longer than any extrinsic reward.

For that, I am extremely grateful — as I am to you, for reading.

Strong Fabric

Last weekend, the small town of Alstonville (where I grew up), held its annual Agricultural Show at the local show ground in the centre of town. I didn’t attend myself, however as they have done for many years now, my mother and sister both submitted a number of entries for judging in various categories of exhibitions.

2016-11-06-jules-show-coffee   2016-11-06-sandra-damper-show

For the second year in a row, my mother took out first prize for her green coffee, home-grown in the backyard. She was also successful with produce grown in her small, yet impressive household garden. My sister? Well, she entered an astonishing 19 separate categories in the baking section, winning 11, and placing second in a further three. Not surprisingly, she was also awarded a prize for being the most successful exhibitor. Efforts for which they can both be very proud.

It’s an interesting event the local show. Of course as a kid it was all Dagwood dogs and dodgem cars, with the occasional animal event/parade and baking or produce exhibit thrown in for good measure. A simplistic child’s view for sure. The sounds? The ever-familiar tone of the ground announcer, the snorts, thundering hooves and snapping of whips during the trots, as horse and driver careened around the ring. Sadly the harness racing has long since ceased.

In reality though, the annual local show is more than simply an event. In many ways it is symbolic of the community at large, and the role the locals play within it. A show of spirit and goodwill, with a healthy dose of competition between those who enter exhibits for judging.

2016-11-06-jules-certficate-lifeballThe involvement of my mother and sister in the local community goes far beyond participating in the show once a year of course, and they have been an active part of the community for many years now. As time goes on it is clear to me they play an important role in weaving the very fabric that holds a small community together.

That being the case, I’d suggest the fabric is a heck of a lot stronger for it, and it is in that fact, and in both of them, which I’m very proud.

Season

In what will be a final post before the Christmas festivities begin in earnest, I would like to thank you dear reader, for your support over the past year, as this blog continues on its journey to wherever it may be heading.

If you have contacted me and provided feedback, constructive criticism, praise or advice — I thank you. If you have simply read along over the past twelve months, yet never been in touch — equally, I thank you as well. You may be here as a pen-friend, coffee-friend, other miscellaneous-post-friend, or a little bit of them all.

In whatever capacity your readership takes, I hope in the next twelve months, this at times erratically scheduled and topic-scattered place that is my online home, will provide at least something that may be of interest to you.

Please know I sincerely value your support in providing the very reason I keep writing here — that is, knowing at least a few great folk read these words. That means a great deal after starting out a couple of years ago thinking no-one would.

I am not sure of your particular plans for this season we are now headlong into.

If you are taking a well-earned (and perhaps extended) break, enjoy it. I have no doubt it was hard-earned.

If you are seeking a frenetically-paced blur of fun and excitement, then go and get into it.

Perhaps you are expecting a particular gift, or a bonanza of many, and if so, I do hope you receive them all.

Or if — like me, you’ll enjoy the festivities, then hope to find a quiet spot to catch up on a bit of reading with a drop of your favourite, then I hope you get there too.

Speaking of reading, to those behind the great blogs, newsletters, and podcasts out there, thank you for providing fantastic content for us all to enjoy. To those I’ve yet to discover, perhaps next year it will be.

On that note, I’ll leave it there. To the writer’s — thanks for writing. To my readers — thank you so much for reading.

Best wishes to you all, and do enjoy what you find under your tree — just enjoy those sitting around it with you a little more.


November is Coming

 

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Have you got 50,000 words in you?

You might say you don’t. Personally, I’m inclined to disagree, and I’m sure those committed to undertake NaNoWriMo for another year might be on my side of the fence.

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and here I am with another post about National Novel Writing Month. Although not participating this year, having managed some twelve months ago to come up with a 55,000 word tale I was fairly proud of (albeit a little less so upon re-reading), it seemed timely as we near the end of October to share a few thoughts on some of the things that helped me stumble across the line in 2014.

I offer these observations clearly not as a seasoned novelist, with a bio inclusive of numerous published works, but perhaps like some of you. Someone who thought: ”you know, I think I might be able to do that… but that’s over 1600 words a day for a month… but… ohh… gee… maybe I can’t — no, damn it, I actually think I can. Wait… I’m really not sure… ahhhhh!

That of course, is exactly my point.

Although every seasoned novelist started somewhere (perhaps even with NaNoWriMo), it can sometimes be a little difficult to conceptualise expert tips and tricks into your own situation, as valid and well-tested as they are.

So, after reading two posts recently containing such tips from a professional author, I will endeavour to pass on some advice of my own, in the hope they might assist in some way to lead you headlong into NaNoWriMo greatness.

The Expert

I have previously mentioned author David Hewson and his book Writing a Novel With Ulysses. The book itself is about creative writing using text editor Ulysses for Mac and iPad, in which I wrote my 55k words in last November (the Mac app at least, with the iPad version coming later from developer The Soulmen).

Ok, to get this out of the way. Firstly, Ulysses. I absolutely love it, and use it for every piece of writing I do for this blog. The above guide by Hewson provides fantastic advice guiding the efficient use of Ulysses in a fairly large writing project (certainly larger than anything I had attempted at the time). While there are cheaper word processor/text editors out there (at the time of writing: $AU69.99 on the Mac app store; $AU30.99 on the iOS app store), Ulysses worked for me and I have not looked back.

ulysses_nano
Image courtesy Ulysses

Ulysses currently has a free trial running through to December 7 for the brave souls who may want to embark on NanoWriMo with it, and there is no better time to give it a run – NaNo or not. I remember thinking to myself half way through the free trial last November, if I manage to finish this damn thing and get to 50,000 words — I’m going to reward myself and buy this app. Just a thought.

Now, remember the three paragraphs immediately above when we come to the tip “the tools don’t matter”. Let’s get to it.

The tips

I’d encourage you to read the two posts by Mr Hewson, which I found myself nodding along with as I read, and if you’ve done any writing yourself you will probably do the same:

8 Tips for Writing a Novel this November – The NaNoWriMo Blog

Five ways to help you finish that book – Medium: David Hewson

However the stimulus for this post comes because, as well as reading and nodding, I also found myself thinking: yes I’d agree with that, however as a complete amateur, I’d also add…

So here I am… ”also adding”, to a small few of the thirteen tips contained in those original posts.

(Unless stated otherwise, quoted text is from either of the two posts linked above)

On considering your book as a journey

Hewson points out:

Yes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. But it’s also a journey, from life to death, ignorance to knowledge, love to hate or vice versa.

and:

When you think of a book as a journey you then realise you need waypoints, movement, progress.

Of course a lot more detail and a good example of the above can be seen in the 8 Tips post, we see how an “inciting incident” and a further seven or eight scenes might provide 10,000 words.

To that I say boom! You’re a fifth of the way there! Well, perhaps not, although I do agree that a journey with a few stops along the way is a great way to look at it. Further, once you get rolling, it can be surprising how quickly the words tally up.

On sticking with the right tools

Here I’d add, this is really only going to work with the right tool(s) for you. I don’t necessarily mean Ulysses, Scrivener (also a 30 day free trial available), Byword, or heaven forbid even Word. It might be anything.

I get it — the tools matter, but not as much as the words.

However, remember you will need to be writing — a lot, over the course of November. Where will that writing take place? Will it be one place? Your desk? Many different places? Set yourself up to work whenever and wherever you can.

Are you going to need a companion iOS or Android app, or at least something that can access your Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive easily and efficiently — and more importantly do so reliably? Or perhaps you will be writing on the one device you can take anywhere with you.

I think a some planning here might make things just a little less stressful if you are well set up to pick up your story just about anywhere you are.

However, if things aren’t quite working in the first few days and you do have an epiphany about changing something that will see things work far more effectively — I say go for it. Within the first few days my iOS solutions were not quite where I needed them, and a little tweaking of apps and syncing worked a treat.

So, tweak a little if needed, but please, have back ups and just don’t keep tweaking.

On time management

Manage your time effectively — you won’t have as much as you want or need. Keep the book alive by making notes … when you have spare moments.

Of course in relation to the previous point about the right tools — it is great to be able to work anywhere, but you most likely won’t be able to work everywhere. When you are not specifically writing is often when the best ideas come to you. Notebooks, a sheet of paper, a phone — all perfect tools for that killer scene, idea, or great line from one of the main characters. Anything you’d really prefer not to forget.

One of the main benefits in taking notes one my iPhone is the ability to send text to whatever digital tool you might be doing your writing in (assuming it is digital — I acknowledge some brave souls do this with pen and paper in longhand). I found this useful on a couple of occasions where a note became several hundred words, and it was far more efficient to drop them into the story than rewrite from handwritten notes.

Whatever you use here doesn’t matter. Just get those thoughts down.

While we’re talking about managing your time effectively, I would also add a comment about the lead in to the November 1 kickoff. Only making the final decision to participate in last years event a couple of days before it commenced, left a less than ideal lead in as far as planning and organisation are concerned. I had the bare bones of a plot outline in my head, however my point is, even if you are feeling rather less than prepared — it can be done. The rest of my planning and organisation came along as the story progressed.

When in doubt and the calendar clicks over to November 1 — just get going and let your characters take you at least the first part of the way. Now is a good time to glance at your calendar though — see that? There are still a few good planning days left before this mayhem begins.

On writing your way out of it

Mr Hewson sir, if only I had enough talent to write my way into it in the first place!

But here’s the hard truth: the most dangerous place any writer can find him or herself is the moment you think, ‘I can find out what I want to write by writing it.’

All right then — point taken. I guess the last thing you want to do is waste a few thousand words on a scene which takes you in entirely the wrong direction. Perhaps something to remember from our expert about taking a break to reassess:

Writing’s also sitting in a bar with a beer daydreaming about the book

Is it? Is it really? Of course it is — remember what we said about when those great ideas are going to come to you?

Probably wise words indeed. Just don’t make that the thicker end of the writing wedge — sit in that bar for too long and those ideas eventually will make no sense at all. Might I suggest a calming single malt could be an even better way to go about it, however I restate one of the original points — the tools don’t matter!

Back on track with my two cents here: Resist the urge to rewrite at all costs! Mostly. Absolutely, stop, think and perhaps head in another direction — but do anything you can to avoid rewriting too much as you go along.

Just remember — this is NaNoWriMo, and if it is your first, perhaps this is also your first full draft. You will likely write more words in the coming month than perhaps you’ve written in the past twelve — maybe longer. You just don’t have the time to make this perfect. This is not putting the finishing touches to your life’s work. It is not your masterpiece — not yet.

In the words of six-time participant/three-time winner Katie Maguire on her blog I Have Things to Say:

First drafts are shit

And there it is. The honest truth. If you’ll pardon me repeating that, my first draft is sitting in a draw with a couple of initial annotations made, and is still, well… shit (apologies again, I’m done with the language — it’s just that sometimes there is only one way to describe something, particularly if that is also the very word I said aloud upon first reading back over my draft).

If you get part, half or just about all the way through and begin to think: you know, this probably really isn’t that great. Guess what? Probably half of the other millions of WriMos are thinking the exact same thing. Others might be lying to themselves, and still others might (after many revisions) get published, however as the month goes on, everyone’s eyes are on the same prize — that 50k finish line.

Just. Keep. Going. Get it done.

On simple being better

Written in bold, with the suggestion to print out and keep, Hewson gives us the following:

Simplicity is always harder than complexity.

The point here is simple. A story told in a simple, straightforward way is far easier to understand than something overly complex simply for complexity’s sake. How to recognise it? Try this example:

You’ve just decided part way through this is actually a two-era story, part of which will take place in the modern day and the rest in Regency England featuring a mirror cast.

Thank you Mr Hewson, with that laugh out loud example above, we are just about done.

I would add here that the same rules apply to individual scenes or pieces of dialogue from your beloved characters. That said, sometimes you just need complex. An example? I give you, that classic piece of cinematography, Wayne’s World, where one of our heroes, Garth Algar hatches the “simplest” of plans:

OK… First I’ll access the secret military spy satellite that’s in a geosynchronous orbit over the Midwest. Then, I’ll ID the limo by the vanity plate “MR. BIGGG” and get his approximate position. Then, I’ll reposition the transmitter dish on the remote truck to 17.32 degrees east, hit WESTAR 4 over the Atlantic, bounce the signal down into the Azores, up to COMSAT 6, beam it back to SATCOM 2 transmitter number 137, and down on the dish on the back of Mr. Big’s limo… It’s almost too easy.

Complexity, when used for effect, can be quite powerful, however unless you have a real knack for clarity, it can certainly weigh things down over time.

My advice? Just write it as you’d think it or say it. Speak the scene out loud — even just in your head. Simple just works, and is an efficient way to plough on with the story. It also makes the whole thing much more readable for those who might eventually be on the other side of this situation. That’s right — your readers.

In conclusion

Truth be told, I’ve probably written almost as many words about NaNoWriMo as I’ve written in it. Who knows, last year may have been my one and only shot. If so, I am happy with how it turned out, and is something I would recommend to anyone considering having a go. It is indeed an exhilarating ride.

If that is you, then I hope some of what I’ve written here might help a little, or a lot. Perhaps it won’t help at all, and you’ll get “stuck in” and come out a winner in precisely your own way. In all honesty it will likely be the latter, given how different we all are, which is of course the best part of it. I’ll look forward to hearing how you went, what you found most useful, and if you don’t mind, perhaps use a few of your tips next time I find myself knee-deep in words one November.

So, November is indeed coming, and so is a flurry of words. Good luck with that word count, have fun, and be sure to raise your arms when you pass the 50,000.

I’ll certainly be cheering for you.


Decent Human Beings

Two nights ago I stood during the opening of my children’s high school awards night.1 During the convocation by the school chaplain, we stood in prayer, which included: “we pray that we shall walk with integrity and act as decent human beings”.

Those familiar with a certain disagreement recently played out online may immediately conclude this is simply another post about such matters. In many ways I guess it must be about that — yet at the same time it isn’t. While the impetus for this post may in some way be related to those events, it is in large part due to the simple, yet powerful message I relayed in the introductory paragraph.

Every day I am thankful for the wonderful people I interact with online through the communities I am lucky enough to be a part of. I wouldn’t say I know those I interact with in the traditional sense of the word. Lets face it, most of them live on continents distant from my own, although thankfully at least a few are a little closer than that. We pop in and out of each others timelines, in boxes and lives. We offer and receive advice, encouragement, maybe a little ribbing — and are perhaps even set straight about things every once in a while.

This is all in a way which conveys the utmost respect for each other. We act with integrity. We act as decent human beings.

I cannot imagine turning up to an online world in which I am constantly in conflict with others in it. Perhaps that is in large part why many opinions I keep to myself. That is a personal decision. If you can make your point well enough in 140 characters for example, by all means do so. The number of draft tweets I delete suggests there are many times I don’t believe I can — or at least be clear enough about what I am intending to convey.

Speaking of what I am intending to convey, I can sense I am now heading towards where I did not intend to go with this post, so let me finish by saying this: I teach my children to act with integrity and as decent human beings, and the school I choose to send them to shares those values. In my own life, whether online or off, surely — surely, the very least I can do is the same.

So I am grateful to those of you who make this online place a positive one for me. Those who also share these same values. Thank you for acting as decent human beings.


 

  1. A proud father indeed, both earning academic excellence awards for their efforts throughout the year. ↩︎