Read me a bedtime story, please!

Sleep like a baby

Life is so rushed. We work, we work, and we think about the things we would do . . . if we just had the time.

Writing is high on my list of priorities. (But then there’s work). Many of you are also straining to find the time to fit everything into a 24-hour day that will just not — no matter how much you wish for it — stretch into a 25-hour day. And if you are trying to find the time to write, you will really be struggling to set side time for reading. I must confess that my Bucket Reading List is relatively untouched. I’ve been wanting to read so many of the classics for so long (but just not getting there) that I am already beginning to feel like a hypocritical traitor. Or a treacherous hypocrite. What’s more, we all know that you can’t pour out of a story jug unless you fill it up with the raw ingredients of the words, dreams, ideas and longings of other, masterful writers first. How I dread the day when my jug finally delivers its last two drops of magic and I have to put it down.

Except, now, I have the answer. I stumbled across www.loyalbooks.com and I finally really realised how Ali Baba must have felt when he discovered the cave filled with gleaming treasure. Because I have just found a treasure beyond my wildest dreams: thousands of beautiful books, the greatest books the world has even seen, AND someone who is ready to read them to me.cave_of_wonders_inside

It’s perfect! I may not have enough time to read Ayn Rand’s Anthem, but I do still have to mop floors somewhere in this hectic schedule. Yesterday, I mopped floors while a wonderful, generous woman read the book to me. And I cooked while she read, and I fell asleep to her soothing voice. You see, I have my own personal bedtime story reader (a whole lot of them, in fact) and they, unlike many modern parents, are never too busy to read to me. I squeeze them and the thousands of books into my mobile phone and my new friends go with me wherever I go.

And it’s all free.

If ever I said something about hating technology, I take every single word back. I love it, I really do.

Have a wonderful day. Visit www.loyalbooks.com and download your choice of book read by a volunteer (who loves books just like you do). Let us know which books you chose and how you enjoyed the experience.

I’m off to mop floors. Again! This time, Beowulf will be joining me.

John Irving audio interview: About his writing and bad reviews.

John_IrvingJohn Irving, author of The World According to Garp, was an author whose books I read while I was still too young. However, I recently stumbled across this amazing book again and, after reading it, realised that I had missed out so much during my adult years. Here is an interview I enjoyed listening to. I love getting insights into other writers’ minds. And I would like to believe that he is still as young as the photo opposite.

Now I am off to the book shop (the one that is stacked to the beams with dog-eared masterpieces I am missing out on). I am sure some of the titles will take me back to my early reading years, when I read everything but didn’t understand half of it.

Is there something you need to read again, now that you are all grown up?

TheWorldAccordingtoGarp

Can a man write from a woman’s perspective?

man doing dishes

For some reason, women writers used to believe that they had to use a male pen name to make their books more saleable. George Eliot is a case in point, and only in my third year of varsity did I realise that Middlemarch was actually written by a woman.

But there is a new breed of man; the one who realises that women read woman’s fiction by the container load, and they would like to cash in on the insatiable thirst for bubbly pink romances and other types of women-only stories.

Amazon is just such a container, loaded so heavily with romances that it tips precariously to one side. And we’re not talking Fifty Shades kind of romance (that is another debate for someone else who has the stomach for it); we’re just talking about the boy-meets-girl type of happily ever novel that one downloads and reads over the weekend. And if it is any good, you feel good about life and you return to reality without any regrets — or even another thought of the book that just gobbled up a large portion of your weekend.

The question is: Can a man write from the perspective of a woman? This interesting question popped up over the weekend when a writer friend sent his opening pages and outline for a novel he had just begun. Needless to say, (or perhaps I should say it, just so you know, Mr S) the writing was superb, the dialogue real and the outline had everything my perfect life would consist of. If it were perfect.

He covered everything a good woman’s novel is built on: tragedy, art, business opportunities, beautiful setting, new love interest, etc. etc.

But (and this is such a big but I won’t even ask how big I look in it)…

He didn’t get it. By ‘it’ I mean what it means to be a woman. There are a few things that men have to understand about writing from a woman’s perspective.

First, you have to know that we are never just ‘clearing the dishes’. A woman is always mad, sad, frustrated, overjoyed, excited, bored, or happy. We do not hide in ‘nothing boxes’. If you write a passage about her clearing the dishes, be aware that she is not just clearing the dishes. It may look like it to a man, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in our pretty heads. ALL THE TIME. And women readers know this. So they will want to know what’s happening INSIDE while she clears the dishes.

Second, our lives are not perfect. Our kids don’t just sail through their teenage years and end up in a good college, take a gap year, and end up the way we planned. A lot of stuff happens, that men don’t usually know about, in our kids’ lives while we raise them. If you need an antagonist in your novel, think of the kids. They are perfect antagonist material.

Thirdly, unless you really love your character, you ain’t gonna know her. We only let men close to us when we know they love us. And the same goes for the relationship between the writer and his female character. While your character may not show you EVERYTHING about her, she will let you take a peek into what makes her tick. And if you can figure it all out, you have a winner.

I’m not sure if Mr S has already returned to his suspense/crime fiction writing. If you have, my friend, good for you. The learning curve needed for you to write from a woman’s perspective may require at least a century longer than you have left. 🙂

Now, it’s your turn! Have you ever written from the POV of the opposite sex? Did it work?

Who’s Your Muse?

muse-page0001

NaNo Prep #3

Who inspires you? If you are lucky enough to have a muse, is it a boy muse or a girl? Does it wear leathers and smoke a cigar, or float about on butterfly wings? Does your muse have a name?

I don’t have a muse. For some reason, I am one of the unfortunates who have to figure out other ways of getting the story going – or keeping it moving forward.

Perhaps you don’t have one those elusive creatures, either. Or maybe your muse goes to bed as soon as you plug your computer in. And it’s hard to get creative when you have nothing but a blinking monitor in front of you. There’s no shortage of distractions, that much I do know. Like blogging (cough), Twitter, Facebook, and your email inbox with the latest crochet pattern you really don’t need.

Personally, I think the muse is overrated. Inspiration belongs to YOU – not a mythical creature that is rated far below some silly band with millions of pictures of muse bandthemselves on the internet. Try looking for an image of the muse. I was this close to trading my laptop in for a blender.

So, what do you do when you come up to the sign that says “Welcome to Writer’s Block. Enjoy your stay”?

Here’s what I do: (Warning: None of it is guaranteed to work.)

  1. Go have coffee. Yep, visit your favourite coffee shop and take a good look at the people sipping their cappuccino. In an earlier post, The world is full of beautiful people, I describe three old folks sitting at the table opposite me. I eavesdropped on their conversation and even took a pic. While the incident didn’t lead to a novel, it has influenced the way I write about old people. And I now believe that every story needs at least one old person in it, just to add balance. And then there’s the waitress. Why is she so snappy this morning? Perhaps she has just discovered that her boyfriend has stocked her freezer with skinned cats. Or maybe she found out that he is not a medical intern but the resident plumber for the local undertaker. Just make up something. Anything.
  2. Take a stroll in a neighbourhood you’ve never visited before. Look for the clue that tells you nothing is at it seems. The ordinary house with the pruned roses and the garden gnome is NOT a nice place. Why? The way you answer the question will determine how good your story is.
  3. My personal favourite is finding a character I really, really want to write about. Let your character be your muse. In another earlier post, When characters do as they please, I describe a man named Jacques who begged to be in my book. Eventually, I lost my mind and gave in. But his short stay of a few pages led to the second and third books. Find the right character (or allow them to tap on your shoulder) and they will take you places. Our characters, after all, are the reason we write. Story is important, too, but it can never outrank the people who move into our thoughts, our dreams and our lives. They make us better people for having known them. And they are eternally grateful for our allowing them to enter our dimension. We just need to allow ourselves to enter their space first, because it is as real as this computer that almost became a milkshake maker.

Your turn. Do you think there is such thing as a muse? More importantly, do they do any good, or are they just mischief makers out to annoy writers?

post

NaNo Prep Day 2: Lock ‘n Load with a FSD!

kill the editor nano1-page0001

This post is especially for those of us who like to do things right. First time. Every time.

One never knows — we argue with ourselves, or our muse — who may come across our scribblings one day and, heaven forbid, find that we didn’t use our hyphens properly in our writing. I’m not talking about popping a book up on Amazon while it’s still riddled with typos and drowning in clichés and shredded by a dozen participles that look lost and unhappy with where they have been told to dangle and the breathless run-on sentences that tend to . . . leave you breathless.

You get the picture!

Is this you? (No, I know that’s Mrs Pitt).

Concentrate.

You are finally ready to write the opening line of chapter 1. Man, you are so stoked and ready to rock. The muse has been whispering sweet-nothings in your ear (which, in writer-speak, means that you have been gifted with a S-T-O-R-Y). So you write your story:

John sat in the chair and looked at the television set.

You blink and reread the sentence. The muse groans and rolls her eyes. Not because of the sentence. She sees who’s standing in the doorway. Your muse is not amused and drifts off to her hiding place. If you were half as observant as you claim to be (we all know that writers are supposed to see everything, know everything, understand everything), you would at least take a peek to see where her hidey-hole is, so that you can drag her out there later when you really need her. Or you could lure her out with chocolate!

Anyway, she’s gone and look who’s here. Come for a quick chat? [Sorry, he’s busy writing . . . nudge and wink].

Enter . . .  the Editor (always a capital ‘E’). We’ll call him MISTER Editor.

But you are oblivious to his entrance. You don’t see his tiny, mean eyes and pinched, sour face. If ever there was a story slayer, it’s him. And, without realising it, you offer him a seat. In fact, you stop just short of offering him coffee and a bite of your cheese sandwich.

Okay. We all see him now, the editor in the room.

Nervously, show him your first line. Mr Editor smiles and shakes his head. You know what he’s thinking.

You can’t write. To save your life.

Mr Editor hands the words back to you. A few words that form the seed of a story you just know you have within you. Eleven words, in fact. You counted them. And then you begin the editing process.

Should that be TV instead of television? But then the rhythm of the sentence is gone.

Where’s the imagery? I need to grab the reader somehow. Or maybe I should make it two sentences and scrap the and. Nice and choppy.

Maybe I should change his name. John is such a common name. Perhaps I should google some men’s names before starting. Yes. That’s it. I’ll do my research first and then write my book.

And Mr Editor nods approvingly and leaves you to your work, but it’s difficult. Who would have thought a muse could snore in such an unladylike manner? Maybe there is something on the television. TV. You could always do your research later. Maybe. man

That’s exactly what happens when you allow the editor in before his time. Editing is such an important part of writing. I should know — it’s how I sing for my supper. But the timing of the editing can mean the difference between churning out one novel a year and never getting one done in a lifetime.

I had precisely the same problem when I started writing creatively. I was so afraid to do a crummy job. If it didn’t match up to literary masterpiece standards, I wouldn’t even read it. So I started many great stories that died quietly after eleven words, or eleven pages. But then I found something that changed everything: The F.S.D.

The First Shitty Draft.

Yes, I gave myself permission to write a terrible first draft. One that I wouldn’t mind setting fire to ‘cos it was that bad. And presto, it happened. I wrote copiously, and it was fun. I enjoyed every single moment of it. I wrote my first book. More importantly, I loved it even before the editing process began, and all the way through the process, because I could see and hear and feel and touch my characters, the settings, etc.

This is four-step the process:

  1. Write fast
  2. Don’t look back. EVER! The Editor’s always there. Run, Forrest, run!
  3. Look very carefully at the scene you are about to write (you’ll find it in your head). Gather every detail. The oppressive heat [open the window], the sharp smell of the lavender air freshener, the melting bubblegum on the faded dashboard. The kids fighting in the back. Cliff Richard crooning in the back of your insane mind . . . We’re all going on a / Summer holiday.
  4. Go to step 1 and repeat the process.

There is nothing like allowing yourself to write with the freedom and passion of a three-year old with a permanent marker when mommy’s outside hanging up the laundry. You are ALLOWED to just have fun, to allow the creativity to romp in wild abandonment.

Yes, you will probably have to toss out a few chapters here and there. But it won’t matter, because you have so many more. Our problem is that we are word counters.

“I wrote 27 words today. And they are all spelled correctly. I am a genius because I don’t have grammatical issues in my writing. I take laxatives because I am anal–” We’ll leave it there, shall we?

Please.

How about writing ONE SCENE that is just so real and, man, you are so excited because you didn’t know that you could make people move and speak and do things? How about feeling the stickiness of the blood with your fingers, or feeling the pain of the father as he watches his 7 year-old son die after a short battle with leukaemia. That father is crying real tears, and he has real snot dripping from his nose. And he doesn’t know if he can even make it to the bathroom to throw up. The baseball tickets he bought two months ago are still in his pocket. Two months ago! When the world was still a good place.

You find that you have such POWER. You can create people and scenes and sadness and joy and plots and dialogue and. . . What did you say? I don’t create anything?

Sorry. It’s true. YOU don’t create ANYTHING and you don’t make anyone do ANYTHING. If you are a good boy or girl, and you sit quietly and observe, you get to see what they are doing. And all you do is write…it…down. That’s it!

Writers don’t create. Builders do that. And stage designers.

We relate. We tell the story as truthfully as we can. We see it happen in our heads and we just explain it so that others can see it. And the best writer is the one who gives the most accurate eye-witness account of the stuff he saw in his head.

Remember, you don’t make the story. It’s already there. You just go and find the one that is meant for you. And you tell it so damn good that you amaze even yourself.

And then you let Mr Editor in. Offer him coffee and cheesecake, whatever it takes to get him to do the job well. The amazing thing is, when he’s handed the complete story, he does not interfere with your story. He just looks at things like structure, spelling, grammar, etc. But, give him your first sentence and . . . okay, you understand. You’re a goner.

So, fellow NaNo warriors, make a pledge to yourselves. November is Editor-free month. Make that the numero uno rule as you prepare for the month of madness. You can always edit in December.

Your turn. Does Mr Editor stifle your writing? How many great ideas has he smothered?

Most importantly, do you have a gun?

So you think you can write? It’s NaNoWriMo time!

NaNo-2015-Participant-Banner

November is around the corner and if you are still waiting to write that breakout novel (or just any novel), now you have the excuse. Let’s face it, it’s easier to run 5kms if a hundred others are also wearing those funny shorts and vests. Being sweaty and red-faced is so much nicer when it’s with other like-minded, just-as-insane individuals.

So, I have elected to throw caution to the wind, embrace wild abandon, sow my literary wild oats, and all those other clichés I will avoid like the plague come November.

For those of you who have never heard of NaNoWriMo, its a crazy attempt by thousands of writers to produce a novel of 50k words (each) in 30 days (November). I have an idea in mind for my literary masterpiece, but I am not sure that I can produce that many words in 30 days. However, I can write 1700 words a day, and that is enough to reach the target. So maybe it is not as crazy as it sounds.

For more info, go here  http://nanowrimo.org/updates/13121

Your turn. Do you have the courage to sign up? Have you participated before?