Day 463 – Sunday Reflection.

I’ve been busy revamping my study.

Basically, I’ve got rid of more stuff I had forgotten I even had, or had kept because it might be useful at some point. I decided that some point had been reached and that the stuff wasn’t useful after all.

A family desk taken by my eldest son, freed up space for an armchair I’ve been looking at with fondness for a while now. I write at a standing desk, but I was hankering after a seat to muse, imagine, read, in.

I thoroughly recommend a standing desk if you don’t usually use one. Some are very pricey but mine is about the size of your laptop and does the job perfectly.

Revamping and tidying up are often necessary but also serve as perfect actions for not writing.

I sway between being really frustrated when I don’t write and just accepting that sometimes my brain needs a pause to fix something in a story, or make the necessary links to the next stage of the story.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I don’t plot/plan in a James Patterson kind of way. Once the plot is down on paper then I know the story and my brain is off to the next one. The discipline to then take an extended plot and write it up into the finished novel eludes me. Be honest though, James Patterson probably feels the same way, which is why he has all of those co-authors.

I plan more like Lee Childs. I turn up, like Jack Reacher (okay – like a Jack Reacher who has been placed on too warm a wash cycle than the label directs!), meet a couple of people – good or bad – and the rest happens from there.

I am currently writing something new and it is requiring a little more thinking than I am used to. I think? Or I am doing a good job of pulling the wool over my own eyes. Sometimes, kicking back into the habit of hitting a word count each day, no matter what, really does get the job done.

I confess that all my normal habits have gone a bit wayward, with the only one remaining intact is the one where I listen to a new album everyday. Writing 1000 words a day has become disjointed. French language learning hasn’t been learnt for almost three weeks now. Exercise has not been what it should be. I have read more, and listened to podcasts and audio books more frequently.

My cotton-wash-when-it-should-have-been-a-wool-wash Reacher gives a Gallic shrug (as he can’t remember the phrase he was looking for) and wanders off into the night to regain his writing habit and his credibility . . .

Day 455 – The Saturday Answer.

So the Friday Question was . . .

. . . Why didn’t you achieve what you planned to during this last week?

And my Saturday Answer is . . .

. . . Stuff and illness. The latter is pretty straight forward. I netted myself some rogue bug which seems to have effected absolutely no one else within my close proximity. The former is a mixture of changed plans, plans no one told me about, disruptions and interruptions, lack of focus, distractions and other attractions.

None of this forms any meaningful excuse but is just what it is. It was up to me to work my way through all of this and still produce.

I am even more of the opinion that a shed at the bottom of the garden is a good idea, but have you seen how much sheds, worthy of creative endeavours at the bottom of the garden can cost? I think I can afford a bivy-bag underneath a bush.

However, I am writing something new and it seems to be going okay. I’ve gone back to the Lee Child method of plot development and it feels good. I’m especially happy with the fact that each seen is essential – I haven’t written a bunch of nice scenes which aren’t really necessary – and the plot is moving quickly along, with each of the characters asking questions. Well, that’s how I see it anyway?

A few other things which can wait for the Sunday Reflection, so catch you tomorrow!

Day 443 – Embracing the Void.

I’ve just read a great article by Gwenna Laithland advising writers to use ‘white noise’.

Basically, white noise is the void – the bits you leave out which the reader then projects their own thoughts and imagination onto.

Laithland uses the example of a Harry Potter stage show casting Hermione Grainger with a black actress. J.K. Rowling admits that she never specified her heroine’s skin colour.

I often get caught up in feeling the need to give more detail in description and narration – partly because I write dialogue much more easily and my pages can quickly resemble a play script.

I like writers at both ends of the spectrum. The very precise and detailed, and the void.

So which is best?

I suppose the answer is write with detail when you need to manouveur the reader into a specific place and embrace the void where it really doesn’t matter.

I am still working on this.

Day 438 – To TV or Not To TV, That Is The Question.

One piece of writing advice is to destroy your tv.

You’re a writer of books, so read ’em and write ’em.

TV was invented to distract you and allow advertising to sell you stuff.

So that should be enough for why not to TV.

So Why to TV?

Plot and Characters in a story arc.

Most tv series don’t give you much more, other than a great source of material for building ‘cliffhangers’ into your chapter endings.

Watch how each episode is finished. How does it wrap the events of that episode but how does it inform on what went on in previous episode plots or signal something yet to come.

What character relationships are there and how do they develop?

Not everything needs to make sense. A lot of TV shows don’t even try to explain shifts in scenes or seemingly impossible plot points – they just know you want a conclusion to that episodes situation and to see how the relationships between the key characters is furthered.

Perhaps you don’t need to fret over all of those details which were giving you sleepless nights after all.

Day 437 – What You Know.

There is an old writing adage which exhorts you to write what you know.

Sound advice.

If you have never been a police officer, or investigated a murder, then you might want to avoid crime novels.

Yet plenty of writers ‘do’ crime.

Why? Possibly because they want to murder someone and they’ve really thought hard about it?

Fake it until you make it?

You get out of your writer’s room and ride along with the police and detectives so you do know what you are talking about?

But what do you know that can be used in a different way?

George Lucas knew Westerns and Japanese Samurai movies but he had a fascination for space.

Think about your setting and drop in different characters or point of view.

Think about your characters and drop them into a different setting.

See what happens.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 15.

Predications all turned upside down, commentators and pundits changing their minds quicker than the pedals are turning on those race bikes and the Tour enters its last stage before the final rest day and the last five combative stages before the final processional stage into Paris.

Life changes as quickly as events in a Grand Tour. We try to plan our progress through a varied and challenging course the best we can, but sometimes we just have to react to what happens around us. The same is true in our creative endeavours. Sometimes we have to go off script. We haven’t done anything wrong, it is just the road and conditions in front of us. Often these unexpected problems are a turning point towards something new and better.

I read that Van Gogh’s ‘yellow’ period may have been down to a medical condition or the effects of the ‘home brew’ alcohol he was consuming – either way, the results in his work came to be a defining period in his work. I’m not suggesting that you set out to create the defining moments of your art through adversity, but sometimes change just happens and you should work with it.

Commentators are rightly extolling the achievements of Simon Yates. He won’t win the Tour, this year at least, but he has achieved an incredible feat in his two stage victories, so far. Being successful isn’t always what you think it is.

Stage Summary:

185km – Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis

A fantastic ride by Simon Yates and a second stage victory for him in this year’s Tour. Thibout Pinot finished strongly also, just behind Yates, and Egan Bernal moved himself up the classification also. Geraint Thomas seems to have recovered a little and grabbed some time back against Alaphilippe, but crucially Pinot and Bernal gained time on him. This year’s Tour seems still wide open for top six riders on GC. Exciting for the Tour undoubtedly, but it also shows you how strong Chris Froome has been over these last few years that the whole race could be controlled by him and his team.

Day 404 – Understand This.

Books and Vinyl Records.

The covers, the textures, the background noise.

E-books and digital downloads – somehow books seemed to have managed to miss out the equivalent stages of the CD and MiniDisc.

The future is . . .

. . . Books and Vinyl are making a comeback.

But there is a difference now.

The audiences are expecting something different.

They don’t consume in the way they did before.

Perhaps what is drawing music listeners back to vinyl is the art work of the album covers, the liner notes, the lyrics, the thank yous from the band. The things you don’t get is the same way when you stream or download.

For writers the landscape is somewhat different.

In his article on Medium, ‘The 3 Biggest Trends in Publishing Right Now‘ (June ’18), Steven Spatz writes:

What authors need to understand is this: you’re no longer just competing against other authors and books in the digital space. You’re also competing with TV, social media, games, movies, and more.

Writers are competing for the attention of readers who consume stories in different ways to before.

TV tends to be a character driven narrative over a number of episodes with discernible cliffhangers at the end of each one.

Film provides for 90-120 minutes of attention in one sitting – if there is popcorn.

Games focus on first-person action where you become the main character.

Social Media allows you to comment and influence your friends in bite-size chunks.

When your novel reaches 12 hours on audio-book and your 3rd Person narrative weaves an intricate web of symbolism throughout multiple chapters, you might not get many comments.

There is a market for the above, as I’m sure some people still proudly listen to their minidiscs, but to carve out a career as a writer you might need to pay closer attention to how and what your potential readers consume.

1st Person, quick-paced, climax to every chapter, in a story which keeps you guessing and motivated to chase the story to the end, might be one place to start. I’m sure this will work in every genre.

One hundred-ish page books, where a story is told over several volumes, might be another good place.

After all, Charles Dickens published some of his novels as chapters in his weekly magazine Household Words.

And we are back to vinyl again . . .

Day 403 – Tradition.

Watch this.

It takes 6 minutes.

It’s about a Scots Gaelic singer named Julie Fowlis.

She was born and brought up in Northern Uist, in the Hebridean Islands.

She talks about musical traditions, some going back to the Twelfth Century.

In many creative endeavours tradition(s) is(are) normally quite important. But I think in many instances they are becoming less so.

In your particular creative pursuit, what are the traditions? Do you know?

Why does your detective have an assistant?

Why does your thriller protagonist insist on working alone?

Why do you use that particular perspective in your painting, or frame in that particular way when you take a photograph?

Why do you use those chord progressions, or verse and chorus combinations, in your music?

Research and learn your traditions.

They may provide you with a new direction in your creative art you were not expecting.

Day 397 – Seth Godin’s Ten Words.

Seth Godin writes.

If you don’t read him, then you should be.

He has written best sellers and he writes a daily blog. He is also an engaging speaker.

His blog post for today is titled ‘Ten Words Per Page‘.

He challenges us to highlight ten words out of a thousand we have written. If our readers only take in those words, which ones would they be?

Take those ten words and form all the others around them.

With each page you write, what’s the most important thing your reader needs to take away?

Which ten words define your main character at that moment in the story?

Which ten words tell your reader what they need to know in your description or narrative?

Maybe more fundamental – what’s your ten words?

A Smile or a Pot Plant – or How to Make Your Tough Guy Tougher.

Bullitt and Leon.

A Smile and a pot-plant.

Two of the coolest and toughest characters in film. Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt and Jean Reno as the hitman Leon.

Tough guys made tougher by showing a gentler side.

Frank Bullitt knows he has been given the stickier end of the stick when he is asked to guard a witness for the slick politician, played by Robert Vaughn. He is serious. He doesn’t smile. Everything is unemotional and focused.

Until we see him with his girlfriend, played by Jacqueline Bisset. He sits with her at a restaurant, clearly with a number of her acquaintances, and he gazes at her across the table and smiles. He cares. He relaxes.

Leon is the reclusive guy at the end of the hall. He doesn’t smile. He kills people for money. Until he answers the knocking at his door of a twelve-year-old girl, whose family have just been murdered in their apartment, by crooked cops.

Until he opened the door, he had pot-plants. In fact, one of them becomes an endearing emblem at the end of the film. He cares for something. He tends to it with the same detail with which he takes care of the tools of his trade.

If you want to make your tough guys tougher, then show that they care about something. And remember that to keep them tough, you don’t need to have those things kidnapped or blown up, which is the normal way of story plotting.

A smile. A pot-plant.