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I am back from my Welsh retreat, and it didn’t exactly go to plan…

Retreat Mountain

Despite adding a good 10,000 words to the whodunnit, I am still a long distance from the finishing line.  I was genuinely surprised to see how little movement those words gave me in the storyline.

I was seriously fed up after three days of writing and no sense of closing the story, but for my own peace of mind I tried to look on the bright side – if I don’t I will ultimately just put my pen down and walk away from my writing, and that can’t be an option.

So I shifted my perspective instead.  It took a bit of effort and a glass or two of wine but I got there:

I have a proper plan showing story development; I am 10,000 words further along than I was, and they are purposeful words, not just space-fillers; I managed to enjoy the beautiful Welsh countryside and really have a mental time-out every day I was away, which was absolutely necessary.  I got to be artistic with pencils, and creative with poetry, as well as work on the story – this gave me a chance to reconsider elements and re-write paragraphs that weren’t working as I intended.  I got to spend quality time being peaceful with my husband, without the blare of the tv or the interruptions of work.

I also accepted that this is a growing story – from short story to novella, and from short form novella to long form.  Possibly even a novel, by the time I’m through.  The storyline carried me onwards, and is almost setting its own parameters.

Having hit the wall on this story a few times having it flow naturally was something of a relief and I’m not going to regret it.  When this whodunnit came into my mind, it was a way to work through a problem I had in another story, getting the twists to work effectively. However, I’ve become much more wedded to this story, and am being much more tenacious about completing it, than I was the originator.  Reading a few crime novels along the way has been invaluable, and has really opened my eyes to the potential in this genre, which is one I never previously cared for as a reader.

Now it is time to regroup and identify what needs to be done to get this story finished. As of tomorrow, the timesheet comes back into play as the key tool to carve out time to write, with a pragmatic and realistic target of about 1 hour per day.

I have a family event in Germany in a few weeks time so I will aim, once more, to be close to the conclusion by the time I go away.  If I set enough targets, I’ll hit one eventually!

I am going to stop there because this is already a long post and I want to go back to the whodunnit for a little more time before I get myself ready for a return to the office.   After all, I might not be on retreat any more but that is no reason not to retreat into my work!

Happy writing

EJ

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It’s the last week before I go on retreat, so naturally it has been busier than I intended. I worked extra hours to get (nearly) everything done in the office, have been out more than I’ve been in, celebrated a very special 16th birthday, had a champagne cream tea for my own birthday (it was May but who’s worried about that?!) and been to my first aerial hoop class.  In fact, it’s been exhausting.

But – drum roll please – I had a writing success.  Hurrah!!

I got the whodunnit plan finished this morning, and I am really pleased with it. I’ve worked out how to twist the next phase to make things seem to fit together when they don’t, and how to deflect attention from the killer. I’ve defined how to push another character into the spotlight and make them realistically a suspect, using the set-up I’ve already put in place and adding a surprise element to that.

I’ve even worked out what finally gives the game away and how to close the last scene.

I’m really happy to get it all on paper. This story needs to be completed, it’s a personal test of my determination to write at this point – the reasons I started it are almost irrelevant now, although I think I’ve learnt a lot to take back to the previous novel. This has become a test of whether I am a prose writer or not: it’s no good having just one good idea in me if I want to do this for my whole life, after all!

So next week, I will focus entirely on getting the story down on paper, so to speak – my intention is to complete it before I come home from retreat. Once that’s done, I can print it off and start filling the gaps, cutting the unnecessary bits, and get it ready for a formal proofread. Phew – sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

As I am on retreat, I will be keeping my connection to the outside world as small as I can make it when doing all the things I want to do.  That means I may not post on Tuesday, and probably won’t on Thursday unless it’s something like a picture of where I am! Hopefully, Sunday’s post will be filled with fabulous success stories though 🙂

I am going to leave it there for today and get my packing finished so we can head off early tomorrow.  I hope you all have a great writing week and I’ll catch up with you soon!

EJ

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Back now 😦

But I’ve got loads done 🙂

Planning in progress

This week’s retreat was a great one for me: I wanted to get the plan for the next novel completed during the break, and I just about managed it (I skipped my evening walk on the last night to finish).

So now I can tell you it’s tentatively called ‘The Ridge House’; the house is at the centre of the story and to all intents and purposes is a character in its own right.

I started with a basic plot outline based on all the research I’d done before I went.  I revised the character plans a little, as the male character had taken a turn for the worse, personality-wise, and I needed him to be more sympathetic.  Once I’d done that, I wrote a more detailed overview and finally a synopsis of each chapter, showing links between the elements introduced in other sections and the development of the interwoven characters and their experiences.

Of course I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy that it is in a good state and I can start writing fully from now on.  My time sheet is coming back out, having hibernated over the last few months, and I’ll be aiming to write content for at least 15 hours a week until it’s completed.

I feel positive that this one will stay on track, and then I can get back to fixing the woods novel!

In other news – We’ve reached book 32 in the novels list – The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  I haven’t read this one and it’s never really appealed to me – so if you’ve read it let me know what you think, I’m reading a few from the list as I go through the year!

And finally – Alongside the novel, I got a fair amount of new poetry and some haikus drafted during my break so I’ll be looking into setting up a new performance soon!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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Here I am, back in glorious Wales – and the writing has gone pretty well, with a first plan written, and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to start tonight.  I’ve used some of the scenery here to spur my descriptive imagination too.

It’s not quite as sunny as last time but we’ve mostly avoided rain and if you look closely you can see lambs, which are a lovely sight when you get up in the morning.  I took this picture just before a hail shower, hence the clouds, but it only lasted a little while and now everything is fresh again.

Repeating my retreating

 

We actually left the farm today and went out for a drive around the mountains; the scenery is stunning and every turn in the road gives you a new viewpoint.  You can see why Wales is filled with myths and magical tales; the mountains look as though they were clawed into shape by giants, and the forests covering so much of the landscape are perfect hiding places for dragons.

I even got to see a dragon today, briefly – I’m going to visit it tomorrow for a cup of coffee…!

I really think it’s worth taking these few days to escape normality and focus on writing, sketching and reading.  I know writing should be the focus of my day but sometimes I get involved in too many things so it goes down the list of priorities: retreats are all about giving myself time to get on with work.

Besides, my partner gets to do some sketching which he never has time to do at home, so he gets to focus on his inner artist too.

I feel so relaxed, and so happy here, I could do it for months!

Have a good few days and I’ll be back home on Sunday with an update on how far I get.

Happy writing,

EJ

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Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate Easter; Happy April 20th to those of you who don’t 🙂

We had the annual Easter Egg Hunt (confined to the house this year due to the untimely rain) and I thought you might like to see the eggs that my nieces and nephews found dotted about!

Hip to be Ovoid

It’s been another week of barely any writing but I’m giving myself this one off without guilt – I’ve been very run down and under the weather and I needed the rest. I’ll do what I can over the next few days but even with the last couple of weeks being slow I feel I’m in an ok position to start planning the next novel.

I have however thrown a little light on the Woods novel – I’ve decided to share it, or at least parts of it, with my writing group to see whether they can give me any advice or guidance about how to develop it. The first part has gone out to the group, asking for comments to be shared at our meeting next week.  I hope they are kinder to me than I generally am to myself!

So the next few days will be a catch-up with the agents, packing all the resources I need for my retreat, and making sure I have a couple of decent folders to put all my scribbles and references into!

In other news – Book 30 on the list is The Red Band of Courage by Stephen Crane; a book I’ve never heard of and which doesn’t sound my cup of tea at all – I generally try to avoid war novels – so it’s unlikely to go on my list.  What I found interesting this week, though, is the thoughts around the next seventy are still being finalised.  I like the idea that it’s an organic thing, growing and changing over time: that’s how I find my own reaction to books, sometimes loving one I hated as a child, or seeing through the melodrama that blinded me in my youth.  Looking back at books with the eyes of an older person does make you read them differently.  Which is good really – we all want to grow and change!

And finally – As of next Sunday, I am away for a week.  I will try to blog and post where I can, but please bear with me if I miss a day or two.  I am over-excited about getting back to the retreat again – I hope it’s just as lovely even if the weather isn’t.  I’m packing my hiking boots and a waterproof!

Happy writing,

EJ

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I have a tiny obsession with macro photos of flowers.

I think part of the allure is that they are so impermanent: if you don’t take the picture when you have a chance that moment is gone.  The same could be said for so many things that I would love to take photos of everything, but that’s not really practical so I specialise 🙂

I’m not very good at these pictures but here’s one I took on retreat in Wales last summer.

Little Wonder

The feeling of having to record things immediately is one I’ve been developing for the last few years in writing – I’m sure we all have the tale of ‘the one that got away’; the great story opening or line of poetry that we didn’t write down and it disappeared like a whiff of smoke.  Even with notebooks everywhere, you can’t capture everything!

Sometimes I use photos instead of books.  I use them like a painter would, as a reference point to draw my image.  This works well for me for things like sunsets, the colour of the soil, the shapes carved into a wall; things that require some better description than the off-the-cuff notes I scribble as I wander around.  That’s another benefit of the macro photo too – you see a level of detail you might not have seen in person.

If you want to see what I mean, have a look at some amazing, properly macro, photos here!

Happy writing

EJ

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This week at writing group we were talking about feedback and critiques.  As the person responsible for making sure we cover these things, I took along a poem I wrote a couple of years ago so people could practice giving feedback without worrying whether they were offending someone.  

It’s a poem I’d forgotten about, to be honest; although I think it has a certain charm it’s not one I’ve revisited since June 2012 – and that was only the second draft!

Being able to listen to feedback and make it constructive for you is important, but that’s not the point of the post today.   No, what really struck me is that I haven’t looked back at old work for a long time.

Working on the woods novel, which is now in stasis, I spent a lot of time working through its inherent issues, and writing new pieces to keep me going.  What I didn’t do was revisit old folders of work.

I often work on old pieces, don’t get me wrong – but they’re the pieces I’ve finished and take to open mike nights or readings.  I amend them based on hearing them read out loud.  On the other hand, I haven’t looked back at my files of early, unfinished, drafts for a while.  I think that without really noticing, I just closed my mind to them.

So after having that blast from the past, after having a look at my old folders full of random lines, or articles, or early attempts at expressing myself, I am determined to write a whole new set based on those bits – a whole new set to go out and read for an audience.

I don’t write drafts just to forget them, and I don’t want that to be their fate.

In other news – We’ve got to Book 19 of the Best Novels list – The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.  I saw this come up and read it this week, I’ll give you my impressions on Thursday.  I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really agree with this list though – or at least, if these books are really the best in the English language, then I don’t enjoy the best!

Also – as I was looking at the newspaper, I found this article about the deadly argument two friends had over the relative benefits of poetry and prose.  I thought I’d share it to remind us all to keep things in perspective – and to say I think both poetry and prose are fabulous!

And finally – I was watching a programme about house-hunting in Wales, which discussed, briefly, Dylan Thomas’s love of the area. Subsequently I came across this article about places to visit in the area to celebrate the centenary of his birth.  I’m taking it as a sign that Wales is a good writing destination, and that our trip to the retreat at the end of April will be a success.

We writers love to interpret signs, after all!

Happy writing

EJ

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After Thursday’s decision, I’ve started my research and planning for my alternative book 2. This involves me reading a number of books about writing.

Although I enjoy writing and find it extremely fulfilling and engaging, it is also a serious academic subject in many ways.

The more advice and techniques I can read about, hear about, absorb and utilise, the stronger my writing will become.  That’s the theory anyway.  So I invest in guides and theories and exercise-filled textbooks, like any good student.

But – and this is the big question – how do you know if the book you read about books is actually any good?  Just as we’ve all read novels we think are badly written and poorly constructed, who can say whether a non-fiction will be badly put-together or, basically, a load of rubbish?

You can’t trust the reviews: people can pay others to give their books reviews, you know, and my internal cynic can’t put this information to one side.  You can’t really glean anything from the write-up in terms of quality or tone of advice.  All you can do is bite the bullet and buy.  Or download.  Or borrow.

But no writer I know wants to borrow all their advisory tomes.  They want them to read and re-read, to flip through when they (or their characters) have an existential crisis.  They want to hold them like life rafts when their plot is going southwards.

So what do you do?  Well, what I do is this: I buy advice on specialisms.  I mucked up my plotting – so I have a book to read about plotting and structure.  I am attempting a specific genre – so I buy a book about writing in that genre.  I want to think outside the box – I buy a book with lots of different inspiration-expanding exercises in it.

Are all the books giving good advice?  Not necessarily, but they all teach me something I didn’t know so they all have value in that sense.

One thing that has really helped me is thinking about how I would study a piece of writing – remembering the elements we were taught to identify, such as themes, motifs, imagery and so on.  The things that give books depth and identity are the same things we need to consider in our own work.  That is not to say we should write artificially, adding unnecessary elements – more that we should consider why these things worked for a particular story, and if they would work in our own.

So, as writers, we need to be both readers, and students; both producers and researchers.  Without that we can miss a fracture-point in our work which will be its undoing.  Sadly I missed that in my woods novel; I hope to fix it in the future but for now will have to learn my lesson and move on.

In other news – book 16 of the 100 best novels is ‘The Scarlet Letter’; I read it as a teenager and in all honesty I don’t think I enjoyed it that much.  It seemed rather staid to someone living in the modern age, and perhaps it’s worth revisiting as an adult with a greater sense of history.  It is interesting to me that my perception of certain books has turned 180 degrees since my teens – whereas others I love consistently!

Also – I was reading an article about copyright regarding Sherlock Holmes and associated characters.  I won’t go into my views on copyright which are convoluted and changeable, but it is a reminder that our work outlives us, as writers – so protect it!

And finally – I’ve just booked to go away on a retreat again, which I am very much looking forward to doing.  I am hoping to start writing the new novel then; so I’d best get on with my research!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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Wow, I can’t believe I’ve made it through to 100 weeks of posting!  Imagine fireworks, celebratory drinks and a marching band 😉

Since my first post I feel like I’ve changed a lot, both as a blogger and as a writer; I’ve achieved things I am really proud of and learnt from the rest…

Like how to take rejection.

I got back from my retreat at midnight yesterday, to be greeted with a returned manuscript and a thanks but no thanks letter.  But you know what?  I didn’t, and don’t, feel discouraged.  First thing this morning, I checked the website of the agent to see if I’d missed any clues: I had.  Nestled in amongst the named authors was a list of their main areas of focus.  From a fiction perspective their main focus is now general and historical fiction.

OK, I thought; my book is neither of these.

Don’t get me wrong – there are bound to be changes I can make for the better, and if I get 85% through my list of agents and still don’t get picked up I’ll really start to worry.  Today, though, I can accept that they have rejected the work as they have a tiny focus on my genre, and could have filled that quota already.  I do not feel the dreaded desolation that I was worried would affect me. If anything, I feel excited to look at the people on the agency list and see who to approach next!  Every rejection=a new opportunity to find the agent who believes in me!

Maybe I’m super-chilled from being away, but this seems like a healthy reaction so I’ll try to retain it!

And yes, the retreat was everything I wanted from a retreat.  It was a tiny flat on a smallholding; in the mornings we’d wander outside, soaking up the colours, the light, the sounds and the fresh air of the mountains.  We’d work – I got through the first four chapters (77 A4 pages) of book 2, and wrote a plan for filling the gaps left by the changes I want to make.  We’d enjoy the silence. We’d go for walks in the evening and watch the sunset change the sky.  We’d talk to the sheep, who rarely responded, and watch the horses gallop around, kicking dust into the air like the plumes of comets.  We ate honey from the bees on site.  It really was valuable.

So valuable, in fact, that we’ve agreed to continue some of out habits – and book a retreat every year!

In other news – I read this article today about JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym; it’s good to see that as an ‘unknown’ she was able to sell a reasonable number of books in hardback (although I suspect the number will dramatically increase now); it shows that people are still willing to try books out when they’ve never heard of the writer.

And finally – Sticking with Ms Rowling as a theme of the day, I saw this article on books that are never finished and it made me smile. I’m one of those who historically has read until the end even if I don’t like a story, although I have loosened up a little in recent years. It’s not just that life’s too short to read things you don’t enjoy (I got through book 2 of the Lord of the Rings book set and it took me 2 weeks; a book I enjoy will take me one evening normally!) but that as an individual you choose what you are prepared to confront. Boredom is a good tool for writers to learn from, but reading something you find unpleasant to read about is not, and I would say it’s unnecessary.

What I have learnt is not to re-read those books I find boring!

I’ll leave it there for today, as it’s nearly tomorrow – happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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Well, I wasn’t sure I’d get a blog in this Thursday, but here I am 🙂

In fact, out here in the middle of fields and mountains I have more reliable mobile reception and wifi connection than at home – maybe I should arrange technology-free retreats in my garden!

Nevertheless, I’m keeping this short as I don’t want to be on-line too much; it kind of defeats the point of a retreat if you spend the entire time connected to the rest of the world.  I’ve scheduled publication of this post in advance so I really hope it works…

Today’s inspiration follows on from last week’s post, in a way.  It’s about observation, and is simple and you can do it anywhere, even just sitting in a bedroom.  It’s actually something I’ve done here; I started it in the car on the way up and have done a little bit  each day between other things.

Look at what you see, and list everything.  Try to describe it – colours, textures, shapes, smells, feel.  If you aren’t sure – say you’re describing a hill in the distance – try to fill in the blanks from memory or explore if you can.  Be as complete and accurate as possible: if a rose has blackspot, describe the shape of the spots.  If you see a butterfly flying past, note the different colours you can see as it flaps its wings.

But – and here’s the trickier bit – try to describe everything in terms of another familiar thing.  Something might be the colour of cooked spinach, or the shape of a jam roly poly (for traditional pudding lovers!) or have the texture of shaving foam, or smell like chips (french fries) cooking in the kitchen, or feel like spider webs.  You get the idea!

A couple of quick examples: For descriptions of a humid day, you might say that ‘the leaves outside had the consistency of cooked spinach’  instead of saying ‘the leaves were very wet’; it gives the idea of heat as well as water.  In a poem about a hot, humid day, the clouds could be ‘like spider webs, sticky filaments trapping the light,’ which I think is much more powerful an image than ‘wispy clouds cover the sky.’  It provides a sense of being cocooned by the heat, unable to escape it.

Can you tell it’s been a little humid as I’ve written this post?!

Have a go, see what you come up with and share an example or two in the comments.  And if it doesn’t work for you, let me know what you do instead – everyone’s techniques are a bit different and it’s good to have a writing community to share ideas with, after all!

Happy writing from a very sunny, very peaceful, very productive retreat,

EJ

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