Wednesday, 26 February 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 03: “There’s a draft in here”

I bought a ring binder.

“Whoop-de-doo” I hear you cry. “Medals in the post”.

But there’s more to it than that. For me the purchasing of stationery forms a symbolic start to a project. I bought a ring binder, a 400 page refill notepad and some plastic wallets. £5.00 of TESCO stationery and I’m ready to go (in a tidy and organised way).

With a title picked for the collection (to be revealed at a later date) and seven stories of varying length for me to mould into something people might like to read, I have set off from the starting line.

Yet I’m bothered. In fact I’m a little annoyed with myself at this early stage because I’m spending more time on the planning than the actual writing. When I’m sat at work or taking my son out for a walk I’ve been thinking about which stories to use, what order they should go in and what to pick as a clever title.

I’ve even started writing little snippets to go at the end of the collection that tell you where the idea for each included story came from and why I wrote it. I know some people don’t like that much information about what they’re reading and they don’t have to read it. But I like it. Stephen King has done this in some of his books. I find the stories about the stories just as interesting.

When I’m not thinking about how I want the collection to look I’m writing a blog about writing. I won’t skip this though. It is as important as the stories I’m putting together, I feel. This will only work for me if one helps the other.

But it’s not getting my stories written, is it?

So what lies ahead of me?

I’ve picked seven stories. Two are pretty much finished and just need a final draft to tidy them up and iron out the kinks.

Another two are at second draft stage and need typing up so that I can give them out to friends and colleagues for feedback.

Two more have the most work and need to be pretty much written from scratch. I’m annoyed that one of these two has the first couple of pages in existence but I think they are boxed away somewhere while I’m moving. It’s a shame because I really like the intro to the zombie story I started several years ago but now I have to start again.

The final story is being rebuilt from its original, word count limited form into something a little bigger. This one is titled LOVE BITE and is about a man trying to come to terms with his wife’s new ‘condition’.

It was originally written for the online writing group I was part of but the word limit stifled it. That’s my fault though. The story wasn’t right for the purpose. But now I’m free of limitations so I’m currently expanding the main story and filling out the two main characters history together.

So the journey carries on. I’m going to plough through the current draft of LOVE BITE and get it into the hands of beta readers (you know who you are). While that’s doing the rounds I’ll get to work on the two that are lingering close to finished and then just keep going until I have a nice, well written, end product.
I just have to keep in mind two very important rules I’ve just thought of this very second.

“Every end must have a beginning”

“The number one rule about write club? You gotta write!”

So basically this just means that I can’t have a collection of short stories if I don’t write them. That’s quite obvious when you think about it.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 02: “Start with the little things.”

Welcome back again. If you’ve returned for a third week then I’m already doing better than I thought I would.

This week it’s about what I’ve decided will be my first step on the road to publication. While I have four NaNoWriMo first drafts sitting in folders ready to be attacked by red pen, I still find the size of that particular task a little daunting.

The obvious choice is to go smaller, dealing in bite sized chunks of stories that don’t need as much work doing to them as a fully-fledged novel would. I read on Anne R Allen’s blog that short stories are once again back in fashion for up and coming writers. This is mostly down to the ease of self-publishing; authors can write a short and release it for a small, enticing price, slowly building a fan base while they continue to work on their novel length master piece.

One of the authors I follow on Goodreads is Victoria Pearson. While she is just releasing her novel now, she has already made two collections of short stories available which can only have helped gather her a nice following.

So I felt this was the less frightening route to take and it would allow me to work on one story at a time. It also meant that, with a mixed collection, it might appeal to more people with various tastes.

I went through my short stories in all their forms and put them into a list. They fall into one of four categories.

NEAR FINISHED – Despite my struggle to stay with any stories long enough to complete them, I do have a couple that could be classed as finished. Unfortunately part of me feels the need to place the word ‘near’ before finished until they are in print and out in the world. When I read over them I spot little things that need changing.

FIRST DRAFT – Usually just scribbled down in a notebook and not typed up on my laptop yet. It’s usually unreadable by normal humans. These first drafts are skeletons and in need of heavy editing to get closer to ‘Near Finished’.

STARTED – These are the stories with a couple of pages started before I got distracted by another story (squirrel!).

IDEA – These exist only on a list that simply contains the title, a brief plot outline and maybe a main characters name. This is a side effect of not being able to turn ideas off. Perhaps if I become more organised and pro-active with the writing I can stay ahead of my ideas.

With a list in front of me I looked for two things that a story needed for it to jump out and be considered; I needed meat on the bones, so to speak, and to still have enthusiasm for the story. Some of the ideas I’d had were from years ago and didn’t work in the style I had now found for myself. Also some just weren’t relevant anymore or were just too faded in my memory to get further than just the idea.

I also didn’t want duplicated story types in the collection so there could only be one ghost story included or one zombie story (spoiler: some of the stuff I write may include ghosts and/or zombies).

As my list became a short list I was concerned about how many I should include. I wanted quality, not quantity. Too few and readers like yourself might feel short changed. Too many and I would be spread thin.

In the end I settled on seven. With this figure in mind I went back to my list and started picking off the weaker members of the pack until I was left with the chosen stories. Now I have my seven and have already begun writing and re-writing. I’ve got a title for the collection. I’ve got a plan. When I’m not writing I’m thinking about writing.

As I make my way through the stories I’ll post excerpts on the blog; not enough to ruin the endings but enough to whet your appetite. I hope you come along for the ride.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 01: “Allow myself to introduce . . . myself”

First off let me thank you for returning from last week. If I could reach through the ‘innernet’ and shake your hand I would.

After last week’s explanation for this blog, the next thing to do is introduce myself and explain what I’ve been writing up to now.

I’ve been writing since I can remember (cliché cringe!). “Sure,” you say. “We all were one way or another. Everyone can write”. But it’s true and I don’t just mean I’ve been writing things using letters. I liked writing stories. No, that’s understated; I loved writing stories. Once I discovered that I could use a pencil to describe the images in my brain for people to read there was no stopping me.

I started in little notebooks at school (notebooks that I still have) and I wrote stories involving time travel, dinosaurs, laser guns and fast cars, each with crude little illustrations accompanying them.

As my friends and I got older we discovered new interests like bicycles, football, Technic Lego and video games. But while different friends drifted to different hobbies leaving their pencils behind, I kept one foot in the door to creative writing.

I grew up in a single parent family with a mother who sometimes had no choice but to work evenings and leave her boys in front of the TV. Every Wednesday she’d rent us a film and get us some snacks and so the VCR became our babysitter.

Before you scoff and cry foul on child neglect and video nasties let me beat you back and say hush. Neither my brother nor I ever turned to violence. We never ran around as crazy lunatics or skulked in the shadows as ticking time bombs, desperate to carry out a headline grabbing atrocity. Our mother educated us and we were wise.

And so, we watched Terminator, Predator, Robocop, Aliens, Nightmare On Elm Street and Big Trouble In Little China. All these films with their strange worlds and exaggerated characters only had one side effect on me; they beefed up my greedy, desperate imagination.

In those years of early adolescence my brain was treated like a body builder with an unlimited supply of steroids. I couldn’t stop writing stories inspired by what I had seen. There was the Die Hard inspired SCHOOL where I rounded up my mates to save the school from terrorists. I thought Commando was good so I wrote about a badass soldier whose codename was ONSLAUGHTER. If I wanted Back To The Future style time travel then I would write one of my INTO TIME stories (most involved Dinosaurs because Dinosaurs are cool). And when a group of British MERCINARIES got hold of Predator armour they used it to take on the scum of the universe.

As you can tell from the brief list above (chosen from many, many more) I was rubbing very close to copyright infringement. Though I wasn’t too bothered about the threat of 20th Century Fox suing me I decided I could do better and started on more original creations. I’d learned what I’d liked and now it was time to shake up my brain and see what came out.

For a while I dabbled in screenwriting, educated by Syd Field and Robert McKee. I bought a cheap SHARP word processor with built in printer. I sat around on the many days when I should have been in lessons that I really didn’t care for, drinking Vanilla Coke and eating Vice Versas and Chuppa Chup lollies, writing formatted screenplays until I found out that I would be unable to get into Bournemouth University (the only place at the time that did a dedicated Screenwriting Degree).

Slowly the scripts moulded themselves back into novels and short stories. The WP died and was replaced by an ex-girlfriends cheap PC. The ideas kept coming and I had no way to stop them. This sounds great; a writer who never stops coming up with stories. Unfortunately it doesn’t go well with a writer who also suffers from a low attention span.

I soon became one of those authors with a large collection of chapter ones and no endings. I think I managed one ending in about five years of writing. I felt like a fraud calling myself a writer. I nearly gave up.

That’s when I discovered three things; a website hosted by a small group of writers (no longer exists), an annual writing completion in SFX magazine called PULP IDOL (no longer runs) and NaNoWriMo.

The writing group was comprised of a really good group of people who, once a week set a word limit and challenged each other to start with a scene, prop or line of dialogue. There were no other limits. It made you think quick and write quicker. When the week was up the stories were voted on with the winner setting the next challenge.

Pulp Idol was a magazine based writing competition run annually for three or four years before it was ditched. There was a 2000 word limit with Fantasy, Horror, and Sci-Fi being the genres available. What I liked most about it was that a book was given away after each competition with an issue of the mag. It contained the stories from the winner, the ten runners up and then the title, authors name and opening line of the remaining shortlisted 39. I made it onto this short list twice and, up to that point, it was my greatest writing accomplishment.

But the most important of the three is NaNoWriMo. I can say, without doubt, that if I had not discovered this website and the group who run it then I would not still be writing today.

National Novel Writing Month (to give it its full title) is simply the challenge of turning off your internal editor and writing at least 50,000 words in just 30 days (the month of November to be exact). You vomit your idea onto the page and don’t worry about its form until you open your first advent calendar door on December 1st.

In 2007 I experienced two of the greatest moments in my life; I married the greatest woman in the world and I finished the first draft of my first proper novel. I’m planning to go into more detail regarding NaNoWriMo in future posts but I will say that it was an amazing experience, both exiting and scary.

I failed 2008; succeeded in 2009 and really succeeded in 2010 (I was made redundant and had a lot of spare time on my hands). 2011 was another failure whilst 2012 was interrupted by the earlier than expected arrival of my son. That’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.

Last year was the most enjoyable yet. I had support from my wife and some great friends (you know who you are) and managed to set personal records in total words written, time to cross 50,000 words and most words in one day. What can I say; like Mr Vettel, stats are important to me.

As always, the December of each year became the January of the next and my enthusiasm faded for each project. I moved onto other projects. Last year I took a ten week writing course during which I wrote some short work I’m quite proud off and made some friends who also like to write as much as I do (and who I must get back in touch with – we never did manage to set up that meet up).

And now we’re here. I’ve started planning things and writing things (see next week’s post) and changing things in my life to move writing up the list of priorities.

I’m going to do this. I’m going to get my work out there and have a book with my name on it alongside other authors in my favourite bookshop.

Your support is appreciated. Without any of you reading this I’m just a weird man with a beard writing a journal that sits in cyberspace. Please pass on to friends and family, especially those who have even this faintest interest in writing. Who knows what fires will be ignited in people.

Leave comments, tell me what you think and if you like to write then tell me what you’re writing.

Thanks again.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

(vol 1) PROLOGUE - "You gotta have a plan"

Recently I arrived at the truth.

The only person stopping me from being more serious and more committed to my writing is me.

Sure I could use the excuse of being stuck in a family members house, closed in among towers of boxes that contain my worldly possessions, waiting for my nearly decorated new home to be ready.

I could say its because I don't have that writing space that I used to. I never really utilised that desk and I only miss it now because it's gone.

Or I could blame my one year old son for taking up any writing time that I do manage to scrounge.

And when those excuses are all used up there's always the good old XBOX calling me for "just one more minute" of whatever game I'm in the mood for that night.

Well this blog is the opening salvo in a regular series of slaps to the face; the wake up call that the trapped writer inside of me has been screaming for. So what's my aim? I want to stop writing in the dark with no feedback and no links to the world I so desperately want to be a part of. 

Before setting this blog up I researched other writer's blogs and soaked up as much as I could. I know that advice I read is just that; advice. It's guidelines not rules. But its advice written by people who have been where I am now and maybe, if I pick the stuff that feels right and just keep in mind the stuff that doesn't, I might be able to make something of myself that's more than just "a guy who looks after computer systems, has a decent yet worthless Gamerscore and always dreams of being a writer without really pushing himself".

Sure this could fail and I may never complete the journey from my A to my Z. If that is how it pans out then I only have myself to blame. Of course the silver lining could be that people like you read this and it puts you back on track on your own journeys.

So to begin with, this blog will open with me finding the time to write and the goals I set myself. I'll bring together the scrappy, half finished short stories. I'll dust off and begin operating on the first drafts of my four NaNoWriMo novels, the ones I keep putting off because the work they need doing scares me a little.

As well as that I will comment on and link to things that I'm using to help myself like other sites and books. And if it works, maybe some way down the line I'll be able to comment on the process of getting published.

But let's not get ahead of myself; I need to walk before I can run. 

See you in seven.