Tag Archives: aspiring

Thoughts for Friday – 22nd May 2015

You may have noticed that I was conspicuous by my absence last week when my usual Thoughts for Friday post failed to appear. It was a rather Thought-less Friday, so to speak.

The past couple of weeks have been my most hectic yet this year. At the beginning of the month I embarked on my first solo sessions in Oxford and the realisation hit me like a ton of bricks that I had no one sitting in the corner of the room ready to jump in if my sessions turned into a crisis.

EGG-McMUFFIN-MEALOxford is a fair distance from where I live and so I decided to travel up the night before (the A34 has never been my friend at the best of times). I made it to my hotel in good time but was rather dismayed to find that they had no restaurant to speak of (this was a Holiday Inn) and was told that I could order in a takeaway if I wanted. I then began to worry that they would point me in the direction of the local McDonalds if I asked about their breakfast provisions, imagining an Egg McMuffin as my first meal of the day…

How I imagined the fireman would look...

How I imagined the fireman would look like…

On my first night in Oxford I managed to find a Frankie and Benny’s restaurant only a short walk from my hotel (which was situated next door to a football stadium, coincidently). Imagine my excitement when I saw a fire engine screaming toward the stadium with lights and sirens blaring!

Alas, my fervour dampened when I realised that it was only a bin on fire and required the attention of one ageing and rather unfit fireman. Shelving my disappointment, I spent that night (and another two besides) making my way through the rather limited food choices on the F&B menu.

The sessions in Oxford went quite well and I was relieved when my first group contained only seven people. The first day didn’t start that well when I drove to the course venue and entered a steep driveway expecting to find a car park but finding nothing. I couldn’t drive straight through and so I had to reverse back down a narrow driveway with brick walls either side and onto a busy main road.

Computer-ArgI’d made it to the venue in good time and managed to set up well before any of my delegates arrived. I had assumed that the day would be a good one. It wasn’t to be though, due to my laptop and speakers seemingly unwilling to speak to each other (it turns out that it was my fault for not plugging something in, but I didn’t tell my delegates that). I sorted the sound issue during the lunch break  only to find that I’d then lost my computer’s feed to the projector!

It seems as if these things were sent to try me and I think I made the most of what could have been quite a disastrous situation. It only occurred to me later that it could have been a higher power conspiring against me…

haunted-cemetaryThe course venue was actually a church that rented out particular areas of their property and I had been given the main church area itself in which to conduct my sessions. Strange things seemed to happen throughout the three days I was there; doors opened of their own accord, signs that I’d stuck onto the walls fell down and the lights flickered on and off. I then began to wrack my mind to think of any times that I might have taken the good Lord’s name in vain but came up with none. Perhaps it was a training colleague of mine trying to send a message that I was being watched…

After my sessions were over for the week I had just enough time to fit in my college course and then I made my way up to Birmingham for what was due to be a six-day stay. I’ve always taken the train any time I’ve needed to go to Birmingham and so driving up there was something new to me. I imagined driving in the city centre would be much like trying to drive in inner-city London.

Turns out that I wasn’t wrong on that front.

I had booked a hotel on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre and assumed that the ten mile journey to my course venue would only take me 20-30 minutes. What I hadn’t factored in was that I would have to drive straight through the city centre itself. I’ve driven some confusing and complicated routes at times, but Birmingham is in a league of its own when it comes to disappearing and reappearing lanes coming out of nowhere. It took between 60-90 minutes each way to get from one side to the other and by the time I’d made it to my destination each day I was just about ready to have kittens (I also would have taken vodka, gin, brandy etc.)

Luckily, I only needed to make the hairy cross-city journey for two days as the rest of my time in Birmingham was due to be spent attending my own First Aid training with two of my colleagues. I hadn’t even met one of my colleagues before our meeting in Birmingham and I was delighted to find out that the colleague in question was from Barnsley and had a deep Yorkshire accent.

tha-can-allus-tell-a-yorkshireman-but-thar-cant-tellim-muchI am a proud Southerner and my colleague a proud Northerner, so you can imagine the good-natured ribbing we gave each other about our accents and outlooks on life. I think I spent more time mimicking his accent than he did mine though and I’m not sure if he was impressed or just amused at my attempts to ape his accent.

So there we all were, sitting in a hotel primed and ready to be taught everything we needed to know in order to deliver our own First Aid courses. Surely nothing could go wrong?

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Thoughts for Friday – 4th April 2014

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do. William Zissner.

This week’s quote comes from William Zissner, a man who is perhaps most known for his non-fiction book, On Writing Well. Whereas most of the writers I quote are from the field of fiction, William Zissner is a man who knows more than a thing or two on the virtues of writing and writing well. Zissner’s bookhas helped many a writer improve their prose over several generations by providing insight as to the pitfalls of writing – both professionally and personally.

I have chosen this particular quote mainly because I have recently started work on a new project – one I hope I may be able to fashion into a publishable piece. I am hoping the project will turn into a novel-length piece and am merely 16,000 words or so into my first draft. This project has been something I have been working on for perhaps just under a month and is something I pick up and put down every few days while working on other projects.

I’m rather meandering in my point at the moment (of this blog post – although possibly my ‘novel’ project, too), the point I am trying to make is that my first drafts are often a horrible mess of badly-written English, mixed with an awful lot of waffle (some may say the same is true of my blog posts….). I once compared my writing style as being reminiscent of ‘vomiting’ on a page/computer screen and then going back to tidy it up later.

Zissman’s wise words remind me that I am probably not the only one who writes below average first drafts and that a well-crafted sentence is not a fluke or something which happens by chance but through a process of hard work. Bloody hard work.

Because my ‘novel’ is not my only writing project, I find myself re-reading the last section I wrote before starting work on a new one. It is then I see all of the convoluted sentences I’ve used, the cliches, the extreme overuse of the word ‘that’…. When reading a first draft back I cringe at how awful, clunky, and lame it tends to sound, cursing myself for the repetitive use of certain words. I mentioned to my writing partner recently that the word ‘that’ makes up about 10% of my daily word count and that (see what I did there – I used that pesky word again!) my second and third drafts usually consist of me weeding nearly all instances of this evil word out of my prose.

There are days when I feel tired and a little hopeless about my writing, fearing I will never achieve the level of quality I aspire to. It is days like this that (I did it again!) I have to remind myself of the fact that writing is hard work and only a lucky few writers are ever able to achieve a first draft which requires little in the way of editing or re-writing. I need to keep in mind that a first draft is just that – a first draft. The time to re-write and modify comes later, it is only by going back over what I have written several times that I can make the prose seem less like a seven year old child has written it…. :)*

*’That’ count reduced by 70% after several painstaking edits….

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Thoughts for Friday – 31st January 2014

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This week’s quote comes from Susan Sontag: a well-known writer, filmmaker and political activist. Although her views and opinions might not have been to everyone’s tastes, there is no denying the truth in the quote that I have chosen.

I believe that we as writers see the world differently from other folk. Perhaps it is an ‘art’ thing, in that all people who choose to create something view the world in a slightly different way. I often catch myself watching people passing by on the street and wonder what their story is, where they come from, the people they’ve touched with their presence during their lives.

Sometimes I see an old couple walking along the high street and start imagining their life story and how they’ve survived so many years together. During a thunderstorm a few months ago I was struck by the awesome power of nature and began tossing ideas around for a story, and all because I took the time to actually look at the world around me.

Some people walk through life with their mind centered solely on one aim or goal, having a blinkered view and paying little attention to anything happening on the periphery of their lives. Writers, I feel, see the world in more detail and a clearer focus. Writers are able to pick up on subtle nuances and use them to expand their own stories. Writers view the world in vibrant colors, vivid sounds and evocative fragrances, allowing all of their senses to create a more rounded and fully realised view of the story world that they are trying to create.

Anyone can write a simple sentence, but it is the skill of a writer that evokes the details in a reader’s mind. How can one possibly call themselves a writer if they do not pay attention to the world around them? A writer needs to be able to create a believable world for their reader and to do so they must understand their own world first. It’s a poor writer who goes through life with their eyes closed.

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January Challenge – Week 2

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who left their words of encouragement for last week’s post on my January challenge. Your kind words have enabled me t0 keep on pushing this week, especially during the times when I felt so tired I could almost cry.

I was astonished at how many words I managed last week and I am hoping for a similar amount by the end of week two. Work has been increasingly busy and I’m hoping that it doesn’t have too much of a detrimental effect on my word count.

WORD COUNT: WEEK 2

09/01/14: 818 – Oh man, I felt so tired after a full day at work that all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But I forced myself to crack open the laptop and get at least a few hundred words down. I may look back on them at a later date and realize that they’re the worst 800 words I’ve ever written, but it’s the intention that counts.

10/01/14: 1837 – I was surprised at how much I got down in such a short space of time. It had been another busy day but I found a spare 45 minutes or so to get a good graft in.

11/01/14: 1684 – I’d been at work all morning, had an appointment in the afternoon and lots of other bits and pieces that chipped away at the spare time I had. Getting 1500+ words is a satisfying total for a ‘bits and pieces’ day.

12/01/14: 2904 – I had another busy day with lots going on. I managed to spare a chunk of time to get another bunch of words down on paper/computer. I also spent some of the day rediscovering my love of Microsoft Excel while creating a spreadsheet to log my word count. I had a spare hour in the evening too and used some of that to get a few more words down.

13/01/14: 1319 – Again, I had been at work all morning and had a ton of stuff to do when I got home. I did manage to find a little bit of time to whittle away a bit more at my current project.

14/01/14: 1220 – I hadn’t slept well the night before and felt out of sorts for most of the day. I had wanted to get more words down than I actually achieved and so I was a little disappointed with my efforts.

15/01/14: 1489 – I finished work mid-afternoon and found time to bash a few more words out. I gave up when my eyesight began to swim a little…..

Total word count for the week: 11,271

Total word count for the month so far: 22,306

Considering it has been such a busy week, I am surprised at how much I managed to get done. The only downside to this week has been the fact that I’ve been feeling a little under the weather and may possibly be coming down with a cold. I hope this isn’t the case, it’ll really put a dent in my totals for next week!

One of the most interesting things I have learned this week is how to prioritize my writing schedule so that it is more efficient. It has enable me to become more productive and I believe has also helped improve my level of creativity. The shorter bursts of writing are allowing me to come up with fresher ideas than I might not have had I forced myself to sit down for two or three hours writing continuously.

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A novel idea

Upon leisurely perusing the December issue of ‘Writing Magazine’, I came across a great tip to help me keep track of the project that I am currently working on, an idea so simple that I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

I have created a simple spreadsheet in Excel, each column relates to key information that I need to keep track of the progress of my story.

  • Chapter number
  • Words to do
  • Words done
  • Chapter summary
  • Day count
  • Weekday and time (i.e. morning/afternoon/evening/night)

I have found this incredibly useful as a tool for quickly scanning which chapters might need brushing up on or re-editing. The last two columns are a Godsend as losing track of which day I am on is a major issue for me at time, especially when I have multiple characters and plot threads to tie up.

No one sits down and cranks out 50,000 word novels in one sitting. It is something that we come back to and do a bit at a time and the likelihood is that we will all make a snafu in regards to continuity of the storyline at one point or another. I find that using this simple table of data helps me keep track of where my story is going and I would highly recommend it to others. It is easy to maintain, when you’ve finished a new chapter, just add the above points to your spreadsheet and you will have not only a running total of words written, but also a good base from which to build a synopsis for your story from.

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Pushing on

For me, writing tends to be a joy and something that I always look forward to doing. This is especially true when work and real life becomes somewhat of a chore and I have been kept away from my keyboard longer than I would have liked. If I don’t get any writing done for more than one or two days in a row, I tend to get quite irritated and quick-tempered with those around me.

And then there are others days when the words don’t seem to flow. Days when even writing a simple sentence seems like such a burden. Days that I would rather walk away from my computer or just take a nap instead. But those are the days when a writer simply must keep writing. One day off will turn into two, until before you know it, you haven’t written anything for a whole week.

Having a job and a life and trying to balance both with getting a writing career off the ground is hard work. Time is precious and shouldn’t be squandered. I know that if I had taken the time to walk away today that I would regret it later in the week when the demands placed upon me would stop me from writing anything at all.

I may go back to today’s efforts in a few days and decide that the words are not worth keeping, but I know that today will have been productive, purely for the fact that I persevered and slogged on, despite it feeling like I was wading through treacle. With each word that I write, I am honing my skills as a writer and taking every opportunity available to push myself further than I did the day before.

Writing, for me, is a journey. There will be days when I just feel too tired to want to write anything, but it is those days that will mean the most in the long-run. I’m pretty sure that Mo Farrah didn’t give up halfway through the 10,000 meters, just because he was feeling a bit tired. He carried on and kept going until he won.

My journey is a long one, but I will never reach the finishing line if I don’t move forward a little every day.

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