Tuesday, 18 November 2008

What to Buy a Writer for Christmas

It’s that time of year again when we like to drop hints to our nearest and dearest about the kind of Santa-delivered stuff that might prove useful in our writing endeavours.

Here’s a list of items, some of it tried and tested, others perhaps destined for the sock drawer come Boxing Day.

Stephen King: On Writing – should be on every writer’s bookshelf. Not just a gold mine of information but a cracking good read as well.

For Science Fiction writers, how about Orson Scott Card: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s only thin, but it focuses on the stuff that’s genre specific and vital and every single word is worth reading. There are many Sci-Fi How-To books kicking around, but for me, this one’s the best.

Here’s one from my own wish-list. The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel. It’s supposed to be a kick-start for creativity. I heard Naomi Epel interviewed on the podcast ‘Writers on Writing’ and it sounds pretty good. It’s not just a book but a deck of cards, each with a different way of seeking inspiration. For me, anything that can fire up the creative juices has to be worth a close look.

What about a prepaid coffee-shop card like those for Costa or Starbucks? It’s supposed to be no secret that writers produce their best work while ensconced in their favourite Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop. Mind you, I only tried it once myself and I have to say, I don’t get it. I only lasted an hour. I don’t remember if it was my laptop batteries that gave out first or my back. The tables are too high or too low, you can’t get your legs under them, there’s no room for both laptop and coffee and croissant. What’s more, five minutes in and you’re earwigging on everybody else’s conversations; great for the notebook but not exactly conducive to single-minded focus on the project in hand.
By the way (I’m digressing, now, Ronnie Corbett style, but stay with me, please) don’t you just love all those magazine adverts for new laptops. It seems you have to be in bare feet to use them - sitting up in bed with arms stretched ahead of you like Galdalf; or perched on a DFS monster settee with your legs all tucked away underneath you; or you sit on the floor, on a sheepskin rug, but always in front of a blazing log fire … Is it me, or is this not a recipe for a lifetime of chronic lumbar ailments, cramp and molten computer kit. I’ve never yet seen an ad where they sit up at a desk, all sensible and boring. (This isn’t a hint, by the way. I don’t need a laptop, I’ve already got one. But if darling wife wishes to surprise me something that boots-up in better that thirty-five minutes; something way cool; a MacBook Air, for example - then who am I to argue.)

Back to reality: James Scott Bell: Plot and Structure. This is a cracking book for revealing the hitherto concealed simplicity of plotting. It’s one I swear by, and I often return to it.

Finally, how about a job lot of IRC’s, International Reply Coupons? It’s always a pain when you have your manuscript ready to go, and you need to drop an IRC into the envelope, and when you ask for one in the post office they look at you like you’ve just asked for bow-and-arrow vouchers. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a stock of these to hand. Strange denomination UK stamps wouldn’t go amiss, either. And a set of weighing scales.

Any other ideas?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

What to do on wet Sunday afternoons

It's what I've wanted for weeks - time to write. Can't cut the hedge, too skint to buy petrol, a walk would be wet and miserable. I have all afternoon to write.
So what do I do?
I mess about all afternoon on my blog; changing colours, altering the links, making lists... I suppose the little editor who sits in my brain is subtly telling me something about my current project, whispering something along the lines of: Mike, your plot sucks!
Well that's okay. As Mur Lafferty often says (you know Mur?) "You are allowed to suck." This is one of the great empowering mantras a writer can have.
It means ignore the problems, ignore the wooden characters, ignore the bad science... just get the damn thing down on paper, then you can sort it all out later. Because right up until the time you feel ready to put a stamp on the envelope and send it out there, it is fine if it sucks, because only you will ever know.
So enough of the blog. Enough procrastination. It's time for discipline; time to get back to the plot that sucks.
Oh wait there, it's 16:45. My turn to cook the tea tonight. Doh...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Musical Interlude

The writing has suffered for the last few weeks. I’ve been busy with music: two shows under two different MDs, each running for a week, and two band gigs with two different bands; it all gets in the way of the writing. I should stop. I should put the music on a shelf and concentrate on the writing. The trouble is I like music. I like doing shows. I’m not willing to specialise and sacrifice, we’re only here once so damn it, I want to do it all. It boils down to this: I like to perform; I like to show-off.
Music and writing are so similar and so different. They are like pieces of a jigsaw. When I write I can lose myself in another world, a world of my own creation. But there is no feedback (apart from weeks later when the rejection slips arrive). Even the odd story that’s been published, I think, okay the editor liked it, and there’s sometimes the odd review on the internet. But did people enjoy it, really? When I play music the feedback, the audience reaction is immediate – they either like what they hear… or not. Either way, you know the result straight away.
But then it’s gone.
When I play a solo that I’m particularly pleased with it is fleeting and immediately lost (unless it’s being recorded, and that’s rare.) I don’t even get to hear it myself; not properly; not in a put-my-feet-up, close-my-eyes and listen kind of way.
So writing fills that gap. It has permanence. Once it’s down on paper it is captured and can be wheeled out as often as I like. I can recycle a story; I can use the ideas to build a world that may grow for years. But I rarely get to know what people think of it. Even editors don’t let you know, at least not often. A printed rejection slip tells you only one thing, that they have decided not to take the story, for whatever reason, and that reason need not be because it was a crap story. Maybe that would be better. Maybe if the rejections said things like: Mr Wood, we have decided not to take your story because it was crap and you have a singular lack of talent – maybe it would save me a few bob on stamps and stationery. (But I hope that never happens because there is much comfort to be had in delusion.)
So two things, words and music, can co-exist; each getting in the way of the other; each complimenting the other. I can moan about the situation but I’m not going to change it.