The Desire to Stop

Some days I don’t want to write. Not a day off, but to GIVE UP the writing. I know I’m not the only author to feel this way. I’ve discussed it with others and we agree writers can sometimes ‘beat themselves up’ too much. There are days when a writer feels he or she isn’t writing enough and is not a writer at all, maybe because it’s easy to feel it’s impossible to get enough down on paper (or on the screen) in a day, or owing to a thousand other reasons.

Some days rejection causes this mood. Some days it’s self-doubt. Occasionally it’s stress, other things in life demanding attention. Or the sun is shining, and the temptation exists to be out and about, preferring to read a book instead of writing one. Or the writer may wish to talk to a friend, listen to music, watch a film, go to the gym, for a walk, cook the dinner. To do something, ANYTHING, other than stare at a blank white space seeking to fill it with words.

Words. I live with words. There’s seldom ever a silent moment of peace in my head. When I’m not writing I’m struggling to find time to read so if I’m not with friends or doing several demanding chores, I spend my time with WORDS, so many words, enough to drive a person crazy.

Sometimes rejection or a bad review makes an author throw up their hands, cause them to wonder why they do this. Few ever see true monetary rewards. Financial success does and can happen but most writers need a day job. Most need to hit the bestseller lists to make the true writing dream come true, and even then they have deadlines. That doesn’t mean those who need to subsidise their writing or use their writing to subsidise their life are failures.

It’s difficult to get published these days, even more so than at other times in history in some ways. Writers compete with music and movies, but also computer games and the internet, even social media such as Facebook. Any acceptance is a reason for celebration but there will be days, even when things are going well, when a writer wonders why they do this. Life could be quieter, simpler, more ‘fun’ if they could just turn their back on this insidious NEED to write. It’s infectious for many, the need to write… yet that’s often the difference between someone who IS an actual writer and a person who dreams of writing.

Sometimes wanting to walk away comes down to having too many things on the go at once. A writer can feel unsatisfied. I once feared a market I wrote for would outgrow me, another would change in a way that didn‘t suit me. It’s why I’ve periodically followed opportunity rather than intent, though many reasons exist why writers have to do this. Other works I write to fulfil another part of me.

Here’s the hideous and wonderful thing. Writers need to be open to possibilities. For me I find one style of writing, one genre, too restraining. There have been moments when I’ve too many things on the go, things I ‘need’ to work on, things I ‘want’ to work on, things lined up, not enough time off and too other demands sitting on the sidelines. I know writers who might have considered my list meagre, and I admit to a little envy to those who are prolific and still manage a life. I can’t always do so, and the reason varies. Workload, health, emotional drive — all these things and more have an impact. The new writer may believe they can write when inspiration strikes but the ‘business’ of writing doesn’t allow for that. Long gone are the days when a novel once a year is the normal expectation of most novelists.

Everyone needs time for themselves. To curl up with a book, to snuggle with someone important. As wonderful as being a writer can be, there’s always the risk of looking around one day and wondering what happened to life, when did it all rush by, and where did it all vanish? Everyone risks this, creative people more so. Writing like everything requires a balance. I’ve yet to find mine and it won’t surprise me if I never do. If you want to be a writer, don’t assume the pressures of life, of finding time, vanish. Spare time becomes a nostalgic memory, and, for a few, the desire to stop haunting.

So many books, so few stars

We’ve all seen it. A book we’ve loved that may have good reviews, but the reviewer hasn’t awarded many stars, which to the writer is confusing. Perhaps this is a question of personal semantics. I have my marking system for books. Five stars is for an outstanding read. It’s one of those I wish I had written myself. Four stars is for a book I’ve found exceptional. It could have been something about a character or the plot, but something in the book has made me remember it. I usually say it’s haunting. Then, where most people would think three stars is a mediocre title, I apply it to all the other good books I’ve read; the books I’ve truly loved and that will stay in my house, and I think worth anybody’s time of day. A three star review can feel like a letdown but truly it’s a decent rating. Two stars is for something I may keep but probably never read again. It’s one of those ‘if you’ve nothing better to do’ categories. One star I seldom apply because if a book is that unsatisfying I’ll likely never mention it.

Some sites, like Goodreads, have a recommended meaning for their ratings (there three stars is a perfectly decent score), and that can help, but I believe we all mark books based on personal expectations. This means the ‘score’ may not accurately reflect content.

I seldom give bad reviews for two reasons. One, I know how I would feel if it were me and two, I’m always aware that what I dislike someone else may well love. It’s all opinion. As a writer, I think sometimes it’s best to be careful what you say, but we all know there are some deplorable books out. Many on bestseller lists. I’m sorry to say publishing (especially in digital form) has opened doors for many good writers who may not otherwise have a chance, but many unscrupulous individuals have also seized the opportunity to set up as publishers and will take any standard of work to market.

This isn’t always the fault of the inexperienced author. Whether a person has the ability to write or not, without the right guidance they may never realise the difference between genuine talent and a gift that needs nurturing, though the truth is all writers need cultivating. An unscrupulous publisher will heap praise on the unsuspecting where it’s not warranted, and how is the writer to know? Please, as a reader or writer, one bad experience must not discourage, deter, or dishearten. There are reputable publishers out there, and there are excellent authors. Many of these books are as good as anything in print, maybe better. The format doesn’t change the quality of the work. Only the publisher does. When I give a review, I seldom award stars unless it’s where I must. I say what I think of a book and why.

Word Count

I’ve received this query before so thought it makes a good topic. What is my word count? Do I strive for a daily figure?

A spinoff from that is to ask whether there’s a wrong or right way to do this thing called writing. Most courses and advice books will tell the writer to write ‘every day’. I believe this instruction is erroneous. Truth is, most writers work more than anybody. Many have day jobs, family, friends, need to do the washing, get food in, and clean the house same as everybody, but they write and see to those necessities that. Once you’re a writer, and once you’re serious, there’s no such thing as having ‘spare’ time.

I think writers need to make time. I’ve promised myself to be productive, but also to take time off…a subject on which I could fill another blog as I live in the vain hope of doing so. The point I’m making is that writers get sick, they get beyond tired, and can get exhausted. They get tired, annoyed, frustrated. Everyone gets time off — why not the writer?

Mostly because it’s difficult to stop our brains from ticking along. We can take a holiday and get ideas every day we’re away. Fine. Jot them down, just try not to begin the project. What these courses should say, and often mean, is that a writer needs to write regularly. For many writers this means a daily word count.

What that word count should be varies. I’ve known writers for whom 500 words feels like a huge number. Many settle for 1000, but for me 1000-1500 words feels as if I’ve barely got started. Stories often come as if I’m reading, the only difference is that the ‘book’ I’m reading from is inside my head. I need to ‘fall into’ the story the same way I do when I’m reading, forget time, block out everything around me. I often write from A – Z, page one to infinity.

At around 2000 words, I feel as I’ve put in a good day’s work. I aim for 2000 words a day, five times a week. Many have told me that’s a huge amount, but let me add that I’m a fast touch-typist. If the story flows (a big IF), it’s surprising how fast I can put 2000 words on the page. An average document in an office can be longer than that, and it wouldn’t take a professional typist long to transfer. If I have the time and the story is streaming, I have written more.

The most I’ve ever written in a day was around 10,000 words. I was on holiday, and I woke up one morning with a story fully formed in my head. I spent 8 hours typing, scurrying to grab drinks and a sandwich and taking bathroom breaks only when necessary, but I don’t recommend it, found it exhausting, mentally, emotionally, and worse of all, physically. Not a good idea to spend those hours sitting in a chair. Still, I have managed 4000-4500 words on a sunny afternoon feeling nothing other than accomplished. That makes up for the days when I’m unable to write.

It happens to most every writer. There are days I can stare at a blank page on the screen, and I’ll be lucky to write a sentence. James Joyce apparently once said if he wrote a couple of sentences in a day, it was a good day. So I may say I’m aiming for 2000 words a day, five times in a week, but if I get a day where nothing comes I seldom try to catch up. Sometimes I catch up naturally — a day of high-productivity can follow a torturous one — but I never push for it, because it feels too much like forcing the story. That’s not the same thing as trying to force oneself through a block. Sometimes the write must insist on sitting in that seat with fingers on the keyboard and lump it. That is often the contrast between a wannabe writer and one who has any hope of making a career of their writing.

Women in Horror Month

It’s time to celebrate the 10th year of Women in Horror Month. Many may not have heard of it. Others may question why it’s necessary. Women writing horror are often under appreciated. Alas, it remains a fact some women and men writing certain genres are more likely to be passed over. Men have often written under female pseudonyms because of the perception men could not write good quality fiction in genres such as romance. In the world of horror the same mistaken impression often applies to women. I’ve heard the most common accusation being that women ‘hold back’ when writing anything bleak or nasty, a claim I refute. It’s a perception error that means many excellent authors risk being overlooked.

To those who’ve read my softer titles my interest in horror may come as a surprise. My appreciation began with the first horror book I found hidden away on my parents’ bookcase — books shoved together in no particular order, which to a booklover is next to sacrilege, but its odd, all black cover drew my attention. Had it not I may never have come across Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT. The black cover revealed an embossed face with a single spot of red: the tongue. I’ve never seen this edition since.

I was of an age where I wasn’t supposed to read such a book so I squirrelled it away, read it under the covers, took it to school where no one ever asked what I was reading. Next I discovered James Herbert’s THE RATS trilogy and did nothing to hide my choice. In my teens I was reading Mills & Boon’s (because it’s what all the other girls read) along with John Steinbeck, Stephen King, and James Herbert. I’ve never looked back. My interest has wavered somewhat — I remember a period where I favoured fantasy — and I admit my reading activities have always been eclectic so my choices remain diverse, but the writing I love the most always seems to carry a dark thread. Though I’ve yet to finish writing my first horror novel, most of my short story work carries this darkness. As to why horror appeals to so many I’ve my own theories I may address sometime but not today in this blog. Today I want to raise a toast to all the women who work and promote in the horror field. Join us. Buy a book by a female horror writer this month.

Starry, Starry Night

Dealing with some life issues, busy working, and in the editing cave at the moment, so for your viewing and listening pleasure…

There has been much speculation and factual evidence documented concerning Van Gogh’s reported madness, including, but not limited to temporal lobe epilepsy, bipolar, sunstroke, hypergraphia, and lead poisoning. He wasn’t mad in the true sense of the word, but simply ill. I’ve also heard the suggestion that he may have suffered from some type of synesthesia. Vincent may have seen the world in bright colours leading to sensory overload. It’s painful to think that one man’s suffering led to such beauty, and essentially created the much-loved artist’s work we know today. The words of this song are a fitting tribute, and a beautiful melody. A friend of mine loves Vincent’s sunflowers, but my favourites are Cafe Terrace at Night, and The Starry Night.

Let it Snow…or not

A blanket of snow covered much of the UK last week. I love/hate snow though I dare say the same applies to many of us and the fun is over when it turns to ice. I remember visiting Canada and when they talked about the temperatures and conditions they face I felt embarrassed by how we struggle in the UK.

A friend of mine can be snowed in by a mere four or six inches. She lives at the top of a huge hill and no way can cars get in and out of those streets when they’re iced; she and many of her neighbours park at the base of the hill and walk up during winter. Bad planning on the part of the property developer. At times she’s walked out of her estate to take a bus… if buses are running. She’s been so cut off she’s trudged into town, hoping there are enough supplies, and carted food home on a sled. Every winter there’s often a shortage of bread or milk because of people stocking up. In some years this has left not enough for everyone. Some years shops have considered rationing, and I’ve never forgotten the year friends close to London tried to visit one of the large supermarkets only to discover it was closing the doors. They tried another and got told the same: closing early owing to staff shortages.

Fortunately, this year we’ve not had it so bad. Last year was worse. There’s a reason people and services are often caught out in the UK. We’ve gone from winters where many of us recall walking to school and disappearing into snow drifts up to our thighs (my husband used to tramp across deep fields of snow only to be told to turn around and go home; a health and safety nightmare nowadays), to winters that have for many years been mild. We’ve had several years without snow so local authorities got rid of the snow ploughs. Everyone has had to reinvest, including ourselves. We’ve bought good snowboots — the kind we can walk across a skating rink on and not slip. I make sure my husband has his in the car when he’s going to work as well as thermal gloves, hat, and scarf. I‘ve even made him wear a pair of my earmuffs when the weather’s terrible (though I gave him the plain ones, not the fluffy animal print ones I have).

Of course, it used to be we cleared our own drives, paths, and pavement out front. We didn’t just expect local authorities to do it. I can definitely remember my grandfather, shovel in hand, so why is it that street upon street these days there’s so much snow left untouched? There’s a good reason for it in the UK. Apparently, people are afraid to touch the snow on the pavement because if you clear it and someone slips they can sue you — a state of madness heavily discussed. The rules here aren’t entirely clear as this old article on the BBC clarifies:

Apparently, if someone slips on pavement you’ve cleared there’s as much of a slim chance you may be sued as there is if you don‘t clear your personal land — so drives and paths are the homeowner’s responsibility, but not the pavement. It’s difficult to decide the best answer — if the law stated we must clear the snow, this would cause hardship for those who cannot do so. And let’s me truthful — the days when people offer to do the ‘neighbourly’ thing for those who need help can be rarer than the snow.

Dec/Jan Update 2019

I took a break from everything at the end of December so missed my usual update so this month I’m covering both December and January.

Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles isn’t a bad little film, designed for the ‘feel-good’ factor and the elves made me think of Gremlins. I think it’s a bad title, though, as it in no way represents the story — not important but I thought it’s obvious no one could come up with something better. It’s a platform for Kurt Russell to show how much fun he’s having but good because of that. Liked the end which I won’t give away.

A relaxing evening turned into a wrenching one when we watched A Monster Calls, a film that puts your heart through a wringer. Excellent viewing material for anyone who argues that fiction has nothing to do with reality, failing to appreciate fiction reflects the truth, is the way many question the world, learn how to confront difficult times, and explore the profundity of existence and relationships. If you think you’re in for a fun time with this one you’d be mistaken, but it’s a heartfelt one dealing with issues both children and adults must face.

A Quiet Place has had mixed reviews, but I liked the idea and quite enjoyed it. I had wondered whether a film where the characters had to, for most part, keep silent would play out but thought it well executed with no lags, and plenty of tension. My only criticism was the order in which the people were walking done to create a major subtext to the story, but which lacked realism. In reality I would have set a parent at the head and at the back, though it wouldn’t have worked for the story’s purpose.

Revisited horror with A Cabin in the Woods, by Tim Lebbon. This is one occasion where I have to recommend sticking to watching the film. There’s nothing wrong with this novelisation but it adds nothing to the experience. I expected more depth but some of the character’s internal perspectives didn’t quite seem to gel with what I already had in mind, and maybe that’s the problem — had I read this before seeing the film I might feel differently so I feel a little guilty only liking this rather than loving it. To anyone who loves the film, I’d recommend the visual companion. The story itself (both book and film) is hard to categorise. Either people will see more to the story or they won’t. On the surface it seems to be a twist on a B-movie gore-fest (though not as gory as most) with undertones of Evil Dead, but at heart it’s asking questions about the essence of the horror genre, why it draws interest, how far would we push to survive, and at what price. Not everyone will pick up on or agree with the underlying intent of the story and that’s why it will always have mixed reviews.

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve
Dark in places for a YA offering. Though I’ve not seen the film, I read the book first. Love the concept and most of the characters. If anything the book feels underwritten as if there’s much more story to tell but maybe so it became a quartet. A magnificent exercise in world-building, though I imagine the city of London is much more immense in the novel than what I’ve seen on the screen in trailers. I can understand the allure of the book to a filmmaker like Peter Jackson. I may well read the rest in time.

I also started reading Dickens at Christmas though I may not read it all/finish it this season. The animated Jim Carrey version is so close to the original story of A Christmas Carol I kept hearing the character’s voice. Also felt the story is essentially scaring rich people into considering the plight of the less fortunate but it’s a seasonal classic and a warmhearted read.

Dragonlance, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Taken with the story and characters in the first book but the writing seems a little dated perhaps to the omnipresent head-hopping as much as the word choice but then I’m used to more high fantasy. However, this is suited to a more varied age range.

Teacher, Teacher! Jack Sheffield
Not normally my kind of book but I intend to read this series. Told perhaps with a little artistic license (it’s not possible for the narrator to know what others are thinking) this makes for a novel that feels part storytelling and part memoir. As sad at times as it is humorous in others. I want to say this is a pleasant read though I don’t think it does the book justice. For those who like books a little biographical in nature, perhaps, this has a much warmer tone of fiction.

Wolf Winter, Cecilia Ekback
A Swedish mystery set in 1717, this was a surprising read, skilfully accomplished. This is a book more suited to adults, although the protagonist seems to be Frederika, a young girl which is surprising as the general rule for fiction is the age of the main character determines the reading age. I loved the historical atmosphere, the remoteness and added complications of the environment. There were enough twists and possibilities to keep the reader guessing, with the setting as much a character as any of the people.

I worked hard to complete a rough draft of a commissioned work and began to edit it. I had edits for a partial re-release (two parts old/one new combining three shorter works into a novel) — Ruff Trouble released early January — and a draft of a short story unexpectedly arrived in my in-box with an instant turnaround.