Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?

The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life

Zadie Smith

Why am I writing THIS novel? Why am I writing it NOW?

We need to get to the root of my story…..

Is this story actually my truth?

Does it successfully and eloquently articulate the struggles,? The questions? The confusions of life? Does it ask and try to answer the BIG quandries?

Life eh – There’s no weekly email newsletter we can subscribe to which might act as a handbook – no roadmap to steer us from young to old.

We have to work this shit out ourselves.

If we’re lucky enough to meet someone who gives us the courage to tackle the questions, then that makes for a golden life.

It took me 47 years. And 8 years later it is still getting more golden by the day.

We’ve been married for 7 of those years – I have whatever is the opposite of a 7 year itch.

May 16th 2015

7 Years today, if you’re reading this, er, TODAY! (May 16th)

Yes, we’re celebrating the best 7 years of my life. Nicky truly has asked me over and over, “why shouldn’t people like ‘us’ chase our dreams?”

And so I write.

I’m getting much better at writing a shit sentence. I am allowing myself simply get the thoughts out of my head. Releasing them it into the physical world makes them real. My story needs to be a presence – a sentence may be shit, and I might cringe as I write it, but once typed, it is there ready to be edited.

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

So, my book.

What book? The one I affectionately nick name DTDLLTO (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners). My first book, my first novel, my first attempt to tell the truth and have the conviction to carry it through.

I was stuttering with it, but this year, particularly with my new gung ho draft zero approach, it has started to flow from me.

I needed the freedom, the freedom to choose to look inside myself, to find the truths of who I am.

I give myself permission to write it.

What are my truths? What are my stories? Who should be telling my truths and who has the authority to narrate my stories? Well, I’m finding out…..

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Maya Angelou

Traps I’m trying to avoid – creating a character in the shadow of me. I started taking all of the parts of my life where I believe I am morally right and getting my character to ‘virtue signal’ through their behaviour.

As Brad Listi says, the reader will spot the puppet strings pretty quickly. It’s bullshit anyway, nobody is that morally pure!

Who am I writing the book for?

Does it even need readers? Am I the author and the reader? Are you the reader? One tip I’ve heard is to imagine how different the story would be if it was read allowed to my mum, or my boss, or my best friend, or YOU! It’s a great exercise in finding the right voice.

In the first draft, everything seems to be all too obvious. It is in no way elegant. Yet. Hopefully this draft will contain the truth though and I can add my wished for subtlety in future drafts. I don’t want to dictate to the reader, whoever that might be.

There weren’t many words last week, about a 1000. What I have achieved is the feeling of why I’m writing this story and I’ve given myself the go ahead to crack on.

Life is confusing. Our emotions are confusing. Our opinions can feel confusing. The challenge for me is to harness all that confusion and let my two main characters in DTDLLTO navigate the swirling waters of truth.

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Social media has us by the balls!

I’m still a Twitter addict and as with every other addiction that I’m recovering from, moderation seems to be an impossible option. I need to find a solution though because I like Twitter for the communities I’m lucky enough to be part of. I’m not great at ‘real life’ socialising, and the running, writing and Coventry City supporting friends I’ve made on Twitter have become important to me.

I’ve installed an app to monitor my internet use and have set limits for the sites I use – It’s working so far I’m pleased to say. Let’s see if more efficient Twitter time translates into more productive writing time!

Come on, let’s hurl ourselves into the next creative week.

Onwards comrades.

A Word After A Word After A Word

The previous week’s update highlighted a patchy performance but I’d still managed a few words – find out more here.

So, how has week 5 gone of my writing comeback?

I guess for anybody except a full time writer, scribbling opportunities will be ‘patchy’ to say the least. Full time writers, I would imagine, have just the same interruptions and distractions as the rest of us, not least from themselves – we can all procrastinate the time away….

I’m an expert of procrastination – Rob Deering on the excellent Running Commentary Podcast joked about writers taking to Twitter and using the hashtag #AMWRITING as opposed to, you know, actually writing! I can be guilty of this, although I do tend to wait for those times when I’m chuffed with myself for the progress I’ve made.

Writing doesn’t need to be complicated, in fact, it being something I do with my precious leisure time, it really should be a joy. And 90% of that time it is.

In the other 10% of the time, I try and remind myself how Margaret Attword tries to make the process of writing a little simpler:

A word after a word after a word is power.

I’m still not running (I know, I’m feeling a little bit sorry for myself!) due to this annoying foot injury, but I did have a run at DTDLLTO (Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners – the working title of my first novel) last week. I found a state of flow several times in the short windows of opportunity I’ve had available, and have written about 2000 words. My first draft, or draft zero, or whatever you want to call it is now sitting at about 11,000 words.

I’m drafting away on my opening scenes, working across the first three chapters. I’m really happy with my two main characters, the setting and what we see them getting up to. When I come back, in however many months time, I’ll be looking to find a less clunky way for them to move to the next phase of the book, the meat of it. My story has quite a powerful and ever present back story which steers and, quite deliberately, hangs a shadow over the present day. I’ll be checking myself that I’m not shoe horning that back story into the narrative, rather letting the reader gradually piece it together for themselves.

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham

It really is sinking in now, the message that I’ve just got to get the story out of my head and on to paper – creating this draft zero – and then I can zone in and edit it in to shape. So many writers echo the sentiment: “You can’t edit a blank page.”

I’m also getting better at realising that it’s about the story, the thing that is in my head. As writer Steve Almond said recently on The Other PPL Podcast, the point is to create a body of work which reveals the truths behind my writing, not to try and impress with the size of my vocabulary!

AND – I’ve read some cracking flash fiction this week, not least in The Smokelong Quarterly Journal. They also often interview authors about how the pieces came about. I particulalry enjoyed the piece from Corey Farrenkopf recently and the follow up interview. Check it out, if that’s your thing.

So another week goes by.

It’s good, my journal has had plenty of use this week, I’ve listened to and read plenty of writing craft advice, I’m still reading the beautifully written To Paradise and whenever I get the chance, doing the one thing which will keep my projects moving forward, I’m turning up!

Onwards my friends, onwards.

Week IV – The Scribbler’s Return

Following on from a very productive week of being Mr WriterMcWriteyFace, where the words flowed like a burst water main (don’t believe me eh? Have a peek HERE), last week was more of a dripping tap in comparison.

But there have been words. Some of them thrown together to make sentences. Some of which make sense. Others will be edited over and over until they no longer exist, then rewritten before starting the process all over again. It’s all writing though, it all counts.

Seriously though, after getting so much momentum the previous week, this has been a case of ‘After The Lord Mayors Show‘.

A bit like with my fitness goals, it is at these times when I need to pull up my mojo socks and focus. Just keep turning up Kevin, keep on turning up.

James Baldwin knew.

There isn’t a ‘cheat’.

Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

James Baldwin

There’s no Monday to Sunday updates this week – just a list of positives:

  • I wrote about 1000 words of DTDLLTO, my novel in draft.
  • There’s a blog post coming, my reminder to myself to be positive.
  • My journal has been very busy – ideas, poem drafts, diary entries.
  • I’ve listened to some brilliant writerly podcasts and other audio.
  • Dreams and half awake thoughts have been committed to paper for inspiration.

Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

A.L. Kennedy

The host of my favourite writerly podcast, OtherPPL, has a book coming out. On the pod this week was a free sample of the audio book, read by the author himself, Brad Listi. Check it out HERE. I do harp on about OtherPPL, but that is because it really is a fine creation. Brad’s podcasts never fail to stoke my creative fires and I reckon his book will be a writerly tonic too.

Also in my ears this week has been Nikesh Shukla’s new writing craft offering, Your Story Matters, which has a fresh and pacy feel to it. Another book which is narrated by the author himself, it is a thoroughly engaging listen.

Shukla reminds us that the word count is only one measure of writing success:

Some days you get those words down quickly, other days you pad it out cos you’re tired or stressed or uninspired or it’s a hard sequence. Don’t write 1000 bad words down just to hit a word count. Think about it in terms of time rather than word count.

I’m also reminding myself that it isn’t just writing that counts as writing: thinking counts as writing, walking and imagining my characters in different surrounding counts as writing. Journaling counts as writing, listening to audiobooks counts as writing. Reading of course, without reading there would be no writing. Reading definitely counts as writing. Browsing, or better still, engaging with Writers HQ, yup that counts as writing. Blogging, diarising, taking about my writing, even tweeting my writerly chums, it all counts as writing. There’s even a tongue in cheek Counts As Writing Twitter account.

So I’m not beating myself over last week’s wordcount, in fact the process of tapping these few words has reinvigorated my get-up-and-sit-down-and-fucking-write-y-ness.

Yup, I’m all over it now.

On on for another week.

The Writing Comeback (Week III)

It’s Not All About The Numbers

Ahh, the blog post you’ve all been waiting for.

Here goes – week three of my writing comeback. Not everything can be measured in numbers.

Not for me anyway. Pleasure should not be quantified, happiness isn’t counted. Not in our house.

There’s a great interview with Zac Smith on this week’s Other PPL Podcast where Zac and host Brad Listi talk about how the pleasure of writing comes in the writing! It sounds obvious but, again forgive my analogy, it is just like running – one step at a time, one word at a time – it clears my mind.

Thinking very much counts as writing

What about progress? Surely I’ve always measured my running – longest distances, fastest times, PBs – and I’m guilty as charges I’m afraid. But it is till mainly about the feeling.

This reboot of mine (read this if you fancy) is all about BEING a writer and just as soon as my foot is healed, it will be about BEING a runner too

Of course I’ll be using numbers to measure my progress! Hopefully writing my estimated 90,000 words of the first draft of the novel, tentatively titled Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners (DTDLLTO) by the end of the year. But a good stint of writing will still be successful, if it FEELS successful, regardless of how many words I get down on the page.

SO, for your (and my) pleasure, here’s week three’s progress (and yes there are some numbers!)

Monday: I finalised and posted two, count ’em, TWO blog posts – Click here to read all about the two months since Nicky and myself became vegans or here to catch up with last week’s writing update.

Making people on paper, much like making them in your uterus, takes a long time, is physically and mentally exhausting, and makes you wee a lot. So brace yourself, we’re going in.

Writers HQ offering a reality check for the writer!

Tuesday: Busy McBusyface didn’t get chance to add words today.

Wednesday: On the timer, I managed 1100 words of the first draft of DTDLLTO. I also pre-ordered David Keenan’s latest offering today. It is a prequel to the extraordinary This Is Memorial Device (which I reviewed here).

Thursday: Busy trying to keep fit and then grandadding, so little time for words. The wonderful non-fiction journal, Hinterland dropped through the letter box today – I managed to read some of the excellent articles in there while little Charlie (the grandson, not the dog – I know it does make for some confusion having a pet and a 10 month old sharing a name) had a sleep.

Friday: Not feeling great. Ran out of time. Bit of noodling with Writers HQ working out how to join the virtual writers’ retreat.

Saturday: We had a bloomin lovely day out I’ll have you know. You can read about it just as soon as I’ve written the next blog post!

Sunday: Writers HQ Online Retreat. If you’re fancying doing a bit of writing and find yourself struggling for time (& money) have a rummage around their website. This was the first time I’ve done one of their writing retreats – which became online when that there pandemic arrived – and what a marvellous success it has been.

It just shows that prioritising writing, sitting at a desk which faces the wall, rather than having the laptop on my actual lap and sitting downstairs by a window, works a treat. For me, writing in chunks of time works so well. I did 5 sets of 30 mins of my novel today and wrote 2990 words of this first drafting. I’m just getting the story out and trying not to edit as I go!

Using my desk to lean on, you’ll be shocked to learn, is more productive than my lap!

A big chunk of wordsmithery time today paid dividends in more ways the number of words. I also started to get a richer understanding of the relationship between my two main characters, I found I could tap into a wider range of emotions, hopefully gradually changing between scenes. When I write in very small time windows, I find I force a feeling into a scene without the context of the scenes either side of it.

As the wonderful AL Kennedy says, once characters start developing through the act writing their lives, they will start to live in the writer’s head more. Thus revealing themselves in greater detail. I’m just letting these two show themselves to me as I go. They haven’t been created from nothing, in many ways they’ve been created from everything. And what a privilege it is to be their narrator.

A Certain Thought To Finish

Now here’s thing. A proper thing.

There’s a certain something about a certain writer. Or a certain podcaster. A certain friend, a certain relative or even a certain random character on Twitter. There is a certain something about these certain people which instantly inspires me to write. There certainly is.

You people know who you are 🙏

The Writing Comeback (Week 2)

Monday: I published last weeks writing update. I also got stuck into my Writers HQ First Draft course and wrote around 500 words of what I think will be the 2nd chapter, although it may yet become the first. These first two settings are several years apart and one could be a reflection of the other.

I know I should use my desk, but this way I keep the weight off my poorly foot!

Tuesday: I plucked up the courage to ask for help from a couple of people who had volunteered through Twitter to be 1st readers. And having publicly thanked them, I got a veritable barrage of Running Commentary listeners offering to have a read of my piece. *gulp*. I struggle to see myself as a ‘proper’ writer and this felt like a huge step for me.

Tuesday also saw me add 400+ words to DTDLLTO (my first novel, working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners, hence DTDLLTO) which is a great start. I’m ‘writing with the door closed’ as per Stephen King’s advice in the brilliant On Writing – he says this first attempt is meant to be rubbish! So, I am writing the first draft for me, getting the story and the characters out of my head and onto paper. I’m trying really hard not to edit as I go, the point is to let it just blurt out. The refining comes later. This is the first time I’ve gathered so much momentum with the book and I intend to embrace it.

AND I started work on a new blog post about becoming a vegan. Considering we were on grandparenting duty, that’s a pretty productive day.

What a bloomin’ joy it is having this little fella to look after.

Wednesday: Time limited, I managed 150 odd words on what is currently chapter 2 of DTDLLTO whilst looking after our youngest grandson, Charlie of course.

Thurs/Fri: I’ve started having replies from the 5 people who are first reading the draft of that short story. It is interesting to see how people react to something I’ve written. Let me tell you it is a leap of faith to get other people involved, but one I know will only improve my writing. I shall leave the story festering in a drawer for a week before starting any edits. One possibility is that it is actually part of a much grander piece, and not a short story at all. I’m hoping that once I start editing, the story will reveal itself to me further.

Also on Friday, I started scribbling some notes for a piece I plan to contribute to The Creative Nonfiction Podcast. It is a quirky podcast, the host, Brendan O’Meara talks in riffs, with nods to his favourite metal bands. I was soon on his wavelength though and this has become one of my go-to pods. He interviews authors, journalists and feature writers about the art of creating non-fiction which has the same kerb appeal as fiction. I enjoy writing nonfiction, particularly these blog posts and often think I should spend a bit more time developing the themes. Brendan has a twice yearly audio magazine alongside the podcast and picks the content from listeners’ submissions. For anybody fancying a go, the deadline is 31st October, the theme is ‘codes’ and it needs to be 2000 words (about a 15 minute listen when spoken out loud).

Saturday: I’m now pushing towards 1000 words of chapter two, and another 500ish of what I think will be the first chapter. Got into a bit of a groove this evening, it sometimes feels a bit like running does, when it’s good it is very very good. There’s a rhythm and flow where time just slides by unnoticed. Saturday’s writing felt just like that.

Sunday: Today was about finishing my blog post about becoming a vegan (which I’m very proud of – both the blog and the fact of it!) and putting that aside for one final edit. We all lead busy lives, and unless we happen to be one of the few who are talented enough (and fortunate enough) to be paid to write, we fit it around everything else in our lives.

A good week with the pen & laptop I reckon.

I have started To Paradise this week. 100 pages in (of the 700 or so!) and after devouring Yanagihara’s A Little Life a couple of years ago, I reckon she’s right up there with the best when it comes to prose at the sentence level.

Write Back Where I Belong

Week One Of The Comeback Is Complete

Well if the tax year started last week, then why shouldn’t the writing year, or for that matter the running year.

Running

Ahhh, the running year has got off to a hobbling start. I did go for a run on Tuesday. I quickly, and sadly, learned that my toe, foot thing definitely hasn’t healed. Luckily it only hurts when I use it……

Trying to be positive though, I can still do all the non weight bearing stuff in the gym and have swam a startling number of lengths during the week. I know I’m lucky to still be able to use my energy and I’ll wait for an actual medical professional to diagnose my foot rather than using Dr Google!

Writing

Monday: I finished writing, edited and published a blog post. It is the first self reflection on my writing for, oo, too fucking long. Clicketyclick HERE to have a butchers.

Tuesday: I pulled out a piece of flash fiction, or is it a short story, which has been working its way to the front of my consciousness for a week or so. Its working title is Why I Became A Grass and it was sparked by an unusually quiet shop I regularly walk past which appears to be thriving without ever seeming to have a customer!? about 700 words drafted.

Wednesday: I gave up on any notion that there isn’t something wrong with my fucking foot. In it’s last hurrah we finally got all the baby stuff in the loft and moved the electric piano upstairs. Phew!!

Anyway, a bit more work on the piece I was writing yesterday. Just another 500ish words today.

I’m pleased to say, he bloomin’ loves the library.

Thursday: reached 1700 words in my short story / flash fiction and called it 1st draft. It’s got a couple of lead characters, a bit of a story and a sort of truth running through it. I will return and edit and then consider 1st readers.

Also on Thursday, I spent some time reading poetry craft books. We took our youngest grandson, Charlie, to the library and managed to find a few books for myself as well as him! I’ve remembered that I appeared in an anthology last year and have had a couple of pieces featured here and there. So, with a motivational “c’mon Kevin!” I’m making the most of every moment to get some words scribbled.

Friday: I started a random stream of consciousness project on Scrivener. Some of the writing I’ve enjoyed most has started using this method. I just set a timer and write the words that appear in my head for 20 minutes or however long is available to me. I have to thank the brilliant Writers HQ for getting me into using the timer. I set the timer on my phone and then put it on the other side of the room. I find I can get into a zen like state and my writing becomes meditative. So much so, I’m often shocked and disappointed when the time is up! This particular project started with me typing “I need to be less easily distracted” and finished with a pretty strong story idea set around a massive clock in a railway station.

Saturday: I set about preparing to collate all the pieces I’ve written so far towards my novel. I started scribbling around with it (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners) in 2018. It has been a hit and miss affair as regards making progress, but I worked through the Plotstormers course on Writers HQ, trying to put the parts I have written into some sort of order. And now I’m using their First Draft modules to help me build up some momentum. If the first draft of DTDLLTO is to be 90,000 words or so, I need to write an average of about 400 a day if I’m to have a body of work ready for editing by the end of the year. Doesn’t sound like much……….

Sunday: I guess this was contemplation day!

My journal is still getting its daily words too and, you know what, I’m really enjoying my writing again. Which is all I really need from it.

In the words of the great A.L. Kennedy, onwards………..

Fight For Your Write

One Word At A Time

It doesn’t matter what I am attempting in life: To progress, to proceed, to move on, to enjoy for goodness sake, there has to be a positive force behind me. That could be as clichéd as the wind literally at my back when I’m running. It could be the metaphorical wind at my back when I’m writing.

I need good, healthy energy. And a clear, even empty mind.

Distractions need to stop being distractions.

The dust and rubble of life’s challenges, the shroud of despair at news I can’t influence and the frustrations of everything I haven’t done, they all keep that wind from my back.

The writer in me gets buried beneath the clutter all too often. I know this, and I know it is mostly of my own making.

I cannot change what I haven’t yet done. Frustrations at my missed opportunities need to be acknowledged, but then forgotten.

Learn. Move on. Simple.

The great man back in the day.

The first draft of this blog post was written long hand, in my notebook, whilst munching on a avocado, red pepper and lettuce bagel, wedged in my work van, taking my lunch break. Just typing this paragraph gives me momentum, positivity, that clichéd wind in my sails!

The habits of 2020 and 2021 are returning. In both my reading and my writing. Take a bow Stephen King, because your gorgeous memoir and craft volume, On Writing, has yet again invigorated me. I own a well thumbed copy which has been devoured over and over. Not only that, On Writing has been my aural companion in the van for the last few shifts. Narrated by the great man himself too.

I’m hardly a fan boy, nor a religious devotee of King’s novels, but I know bloomin’ great writing when I see it. On Writing has fanned the winds of change at my back and I am letting it carry me.

A quick word for A.L. Kennedy’s writing craft volume of the same name too. A wonderful book which I’ve also devoured a few times.

Mobile telephone habits had started creeping back in, I was sinking into a “what’s the feckin’ point?” mood too regularly and spending far too long enacting the scroll of doom. I’ve got an app now which monitors my phone use and pings embarrassing messages on to the screen. These shame me into putting the thing down. It’s working too, I’m still keeping up to date with my little Twitter world, but avoiding getting sucked down an angry hole full of internet gloom.

I think about writing a lot. Nibbly, scratchy and proddy ideas whisper, or even shout sometimes, at my subconscious. These all keep me moving forward if I embrace them. The muse is back! Never went away really, I was just letting the bugger become idle. No more though, if he (or she or they) want to reside in my soul, then there is rent to pay. The rent is handed over in the currency of ideas, and there is no limit to how much I’ll accept.

Grandson, Charlie checking my notes.

All this enthusiasm returning to me and my writing is almost overwhelming. Previously, I might have got carried away with myself. Another lesson I’ve learned is to temper my short term ambitions. I do have a tendency to lose all sense of reality if I have a good day. “Excellent, I’ve written a thousand words, The Booker Prize will surely be mine next year“! That sort of thing.

If I have a flying thousand word day, I now bank it, but will happily settle for just a few notes in my journal the following day if that’s what time allows for.

Alison Kennedy is a bit of a hero of mine!

As Stephen King would answer in an interview “How do I write? One. Word. At. A. Time.”

Nicky, (regular readers will know Nicky through the gushing romantic references, prolifically scattered throughout my blog posts) my amazing lady wife, has always been 100% behind my writing ambitions and is frustrated on my behalf if I get stuck in a gloomy dead end. It is at best naïve and forgetful and at worse unfair and ungrateful for me to blame ‘family pressures‘ when my writing slows or stalls. Hell, even my brother eagerly offered to be a first reader. Nope, my family have my back, and I’d do well to remember that in darker times.

Some days are mostly fully booked before I get to add in ‘my’ goals. But if I’m honest they’re probably only 75% pre booked, even on the busiest days. The problem comes when I misuse the other 25% by wallowing and shouting at the unfairness of everything on the internet. Just accepting these truths helps, even the act of typing this gets me determined to be more focussed on being productive in the time windows which open up for me.

In our spare room we have bunk beds, a turbo trainer, more books shelves, AND A DESK! If I don’t want to be disturbed, why not go and sit at it!?

King is ruthless. He encourages us all to write, but offers no secrets, no hacks, no ‘cheats’, but insists “If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well.

A big up too for Writers HQ, their courses, blogs, writers’ tools and resources are arranged, as they say, to fit in with “bad ass writers with no time or money“! For a mere score (£20) each month you get access to everything they have to offer. I always try to do their snappy short course each month and have ongoing work-in-progress folders for some of their longer offerings. Checking in with Writers HQ once a day helps to wobble my head and prompt new thoughts and ideas.

What am I actually working on then?

I’ve got a flash fiction piece I’m batting around and there’s some new content appearing in my Scrivener which could well find its way into the novel (which I’ve only been working in for 4 years now!).

I like the idea of a regular blog post updating where my writing is at. It is the first week of April, the first week of the 2nd quarter of the year and it feels like I’m lining at the start of something.

What does that mean in reality?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Whatever progress I make this coming month, it’ll be………

ONE. WORD. AT. A. TIME.