Well this makes me uncomfortable

So, let’s talk women, but that’s not going to get me in trouble at all. Actually, it really does, I’m terrible at writing women to the point I’ve written stories that featured one female character, because I know I don’t do it well.

First of all, let me explain, I’m not sexist, or at least I don’t think of myself as sexist. I just struggle with the perspective, even though intellectually I know we all see the same world, and reactions and motivations are the same – when I write a female character it just doesn’t read back well. Anyway, that’s my problem, it’s something I’m working on, my protagonist is a female badass type, and a mother.

All that being said, over the years I’ve read many bad portrayals of female characters, most are bad because of the stereotypes, perceptions, behaviours and sidelining which belongs in decades ago, if it belonged at all.

I recently came across a  blog post that tackled this in a really clever way, it’s by a woman called Meg Elison and was on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, link here and at the end: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/if-women-wrote-men-the-way-men-write-women 

It’s entitled, If Women Write Men the Way Men Write Women, which makes as uncomfortable reading as you can imagine. Some of them would make uncomfortable reading whatever the gender of the character, others if it was a man that was the focus, you would accept with few questions, after all lads are just lads, you switch the roles though and you can see why it would feel demeaning. Cads are a fact of life, but a female cad does feel wrong – and yet the behaviours, and the results are the same.

It’s a great thought provoking article, and I highly recommend you read it, it’s definitely worth five minutes of your time. I’m suddenly conscious of all the times the murderess in murder mysteries is somehow always more wicked and evil than their female counterparts, whether or not their crimes were less or more.

As I continue to write male and female characters I’m going to try and keep it in mind. Terrible behaviour is terrible no matter who does it, and if other characters are going to react differently, I’d still like the story to treat them the same.

What if Women Wrote Men the Way They Write Women

StockSnap_QKFY1FBMG3

That’s a nice little hobby you have there… Hmmm

Now I’m returning to writing, and to blogging, I thought good place to start in my new run of blogging was to attempt to explore both what storytelling is, and what it means to me, or why I do it. However, as it turns out, that’s actually much harder than it sounds. So I present to you the inconclusive answer, in time I will revisit this subject with a bit more self awareness.

In this entry in going to discuss why I write, there’ll be a disproportionate amount of randomness, segues, grandstanding, self depreciation and no doubt you’ll see the words “I don’t care what you/they/anyone thinks”,  but don’t worry it’ll only be after seeking your praise.

The post will be in three parts :

  1. What is writing/storytelling to me?
  2. What do I get out of it?
  3. What do I enjoy most?

Let’s begin

1. What is storytelling to me?

Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, often with improvisationtheatrics, or embellishment. 

Wikipedia: Storytelling

It’s simple right? Storytelling is the act and at of sharing anecdotal or fictional stories. Writing is the act of committing words to a static medium. 

But who wants a clinical description? No, to me storytelling it’s about exploring, experiencing, and growing these fictional worlds floating round my mind, and then finding a way to convey them to an audience. 

In truth, I’m not great at that last part, that’s a confidence thing though, when I do set out to write fiction or most things, I do so with an audience in mind and intent to share it when them. 

2. What do I get out of it?

One last thing about what storytelling is, is that it’s about is potential, because a great piece of writing can change the world, whether it’s big or small, whether it’s an actual effect on the real world or simply how someone experiences it – writing can do that, and everything written has with in it that potential. 

Don’t believe me? Tolkien has touched the world for millions of people, he don’t just write he created while universes, with interconnected narratives, has spawned a genre, and an industry, made some people incredibly rich, and sent others to barreling through nerdvana.

Jane Austen who didn’t just define the modern romance, but how through relatable characters and comic twists, but also how social commentary could be highlighted in accessible ways. 

I could go on, but we’ll get way off topic, but definitely look out for a future post about how writers can and have changed the world in some fashion. 

That potential is exciting to me when I write for two reasons, firstly that I may have an idea that could reach people on the level my favourite authors have, and secondly that they a story I’m writing may change me, from learning new things like how a fusion generator works to how I approach the challenges in my life. The latter is nearly always true, the former continues to be an ambition I aspire to.

3. What do I enjoy most? 

The challenge. I’m not going to pretend to be good at storytelling, I struggle for originality, I struggle for the technical things like grammar and structure, and I struggle for confidence in what I write… and that is what makes it fun. The more I write, the better I get and one day I’ll overcome the things I struggle with.

I love challenges, that’s why I like to play pool and snooker, I’m terrible at them, but those moments where I overcome my own weaknesses there is a glory – more so when there are others to offer praise, so here I am sharing my thoughts and my stories in a blog, in the hopes others will see something of merit., and say “well done”, or “thank you”.

Well well well… look at who’s darkening your door step

So I’ve been gone a while, but I’m back. I lost my mojo for a bit, combination of many many factors, which ultimately are dull, and uninteresting compared with what’s going on in your life, and the world in general – but it was important to me at the time, and it dragged me away from writing, and blogging.

As the title suggests, and the first line, (because apparently reiterating your point, however pointless is the best way to get it across), I’m back. I’m currently working on a project, an epic piece though slightly unoriginal in a world populated by George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, and many others… but it’s fun, and maybe along the way I’ll stumble into a something unique and interesting in the world of fantasy story telling.

I have other ideas piling up, which is great suddenly the creative juices are flowing again.

And I’m half way to fixing my site up – I’ve reinstalled WordPress, and managed to upload all my old posts and comments, (which turns out is very easy), but it’s still running slow.

I’m not sure what I’ll be blogging about – just a journal of my life writing, commentary on writing news, a significant amount about NaNoWriMo this year and future years, (and if that’s news to you… surprise! I’m obsessed with the non-competitive writing competition), a challenge or two, and I’d like to analyse other people’s stories, not just writing but other media’s too – because I find it fascinating. I’ll try and sort out things like that out, but I’m all a quiver at being back, and to be writing for  a few weeks, and I wanted to share that.

NaNoWriMo Preparation – the practical (fun) stuff

For the past couple of years I’ve been writing about various things I do to prepare for NaNoWriMo, it’s the things stuff. The electronics and software, the pens and the paper, etc… I’ve already mentioned my spare room, so I’ve spent some time setting it up, arranging it, and adding some motivation posters and such. I’ve had great fun, and there’s still some odd jobs to do until it’s quite ready for November in just 36 days.

Below is a list of the things my new den has, and some photos, for posterity, (because by the time November 30th comes around it will probably be covered in screwed up papers, broken pens, cables strewn about, books stacked haphazardly, etc… etc…).

  • A 20m reem of paper, and lots of blutack so I can get it up on the wall and plot out my timelines and such in big.
  • A collection of physical books for guidance and inspiration, (yes as well as the Kindle ones, I’m quite loaded with advice from over the years). These include:
  • A4 whiteboards (2 of them, with whiteboard pens to go with), for when you just want to experiment with an idea without committing to anything, (you’d be surprised how liberating that is)
  • Huge collection of notebooks, and pens
  • And these things are pretty important up in the home office:
    1. No TV
    2. No Xbox
    3. No fridge/snack draws


So, in earlier posts I mentioned I bought a new laptop this year, it’s the Acer Aspire V5 11.6” model. It’s snappy and comfortable to write on, and even though the screen’s an inch bigger than my last one, the whole laptop is smaller and lighter. So it’s perfect for NaNoWriMo.

For PC software this year I’m sticking with the tried and tested Microsoft Office, I’m on the 2013 version on this laptop and it’s nice and comfortable. I know there are alternatives, but they have never measured up for me. Aside from the Evernote Windows 8 app, (for syncing research), that’s pretty much it, some software yet to be decided upon for brainstorming, and the return of my over complicated NaNoWriMo Excel tracker.

I’m aiming for an uncluttered computer for writing. I’m not going to be writing on my mobile phone or tablet this year. In the past couple of years mobile writing has probably accounted for somewhere between five and ten percent of my overall word counts, however it can be frustrating at times, and my motif this year is to keep it simple, so I’m sacking it off. Instead the time I would have spent mobile writing will instead be focused on research, and I’m going to keep a running tally of what I need to research. It’s a nice separation I feel, because my computer does the grunt work for writing, and the mobile does the grunt work for just about everything else. So here’s what I’ve got on my mobile and tablet (Nexus 5, and Nexus 7 respectively):

  • EverNote, to collate and organise my notes, which handily shares with the Windows 8 EverNote app, not only that but it allows you to attach photos, links, website extracts, all very handy for research purposes.
  • SimpleMind, brainstorming charting tool for organising my thoughts in a brainstorm. The other reason I like these is the ability to lay out an idea, and then rearrange it, move information from one node to another etc… (great for settling on character backstories and such)
  • WordPress, because this year I’m not just going to stop blogging on October 31st, and then resume again until July the following the year with a “Oops I forgot to mention I won”
  • Amazon Kindle app, (and also my Amazon Kindle device), for my collection of advice and inspiration books I’m going to try and make full use of this year.
  • Google Earth, not a tool I’ve used in previous years, then again my sci-fi has been largely extra-terrestrial, this time round we’re spending a lot more time travelling round Earth, and I think Google Earth will help in that goal of being more descriptive in my writing.
  • Wikipedia, I don’t normally have this app installed, more often than not it bugs me – and accessing Wikipedia through my browser allows for multiple tabs which is far better for research – however the saved pages function might come in handy. It also might not, because I can bookmark from a browser, so I guess watch this space.
  • Plume, to keep in contact with the NaNoWriMo Twitter community in less than 140 characters, (which is perfect for NaNoWriMo, why waste lots of words on communicating when they should be going into your novel!)
  • Simple Notepad, in case I know I’m going to be out and about, and the opportunity to pull out a computer and write is limited, this will be my backup, ideally I don’t want to do the writing on my mobile as mentioned already, but better to be prepared.
  • Writer’s Lists, an app I got after doing some Google Surveys, it’s pretty good as a quick reference for elements in story writing. I’m going to be running my plans through to see what opportunities it gives me to refine my plot and characters further.

So that’s the preparation for the how, where, and on what. Next post I intend to go in to what I do once I’ve had an idea. I’ve been planning what I write for a few years now, (and with three wins in a row, planning has kind of worked for me), so I thought I might share some of my lessons, and hopefully in the process actually codify what I largely do by whim and instinct, and fix that bits that are broken.

Where is this all going? – A quick follow up

So a few weeks back I wrote a post about my changing ambitions in writing. Basically it boiled down to going from being an ‘aspiring writer’ to an ‘aspiring author’*

Which is really thrilling.

Not that I was bored just writing, just the opposite, I just wanted more excitement and challenges by pushing the envelope.

I still think just writing for fun and frolics, to relieve stress, to exercise the brain, and to exercise demons, or whatever your motive for filling blank pages with glorious words, is not only perfectly fine, but perfectly good. I’d be more than happy to continue to do that – except that I feel the need to constantly challenge myself, and sometimes just doing it for for self-gratification doesn’t give me the impetuous to really reach and stretch.

And if I’m really honest, there other motive I have is for that little snippet of fortune and glory – but the odds of achieving either are without any doubt extremely long.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

– Michelangelo (the renaissance artist, not the turtle)

I’m saying this for two reasons:

  • One because I didn’t want anyone to think my own personal change in goal for my writing is a slight at any other goal or purpose for writing. It isn’t – it’s a personal choice.
  • Two, because it leads nicely into my next blog post where I evangelise both writing and NaNoWriMo.

Whatever your reasons for writing, whatever you hope to get out of it – I hope you do it and get it.

So, I hope that clears the air a bit.

5 reasons I think everyone should try NaNoWriMo once

Before I go into what NaNoWriMo has done for me, and my five reasons I think everyone should try it, here’s a reminder of what NaNoWriMo is:

What is NaNoWriMo (well my interpretation anyway)

NaNoWriMo is the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That’s as simple as it gets. It happens every year, and has been going on for fifteen years. It has a fabulous community, and great meet ups, (or at least I can confidently say it does from first-hand experience here in Leeds, UK).

Anyone who reaches 50,000 words is declared a winner, but you don’t need to give your novel to anyone, no has to read it – if you want an official win, you put it into software on the website that simply counts words and then forgets all but the number of words you wrote. It doesn’t have to be a master piece, you’re only aiming for a first draft after all*. The story doesn’t even need to be finished, you could hit 50,000 words, and realise you’re only half way through, and that’s fine.

The most important thing to remember about those 50,000 words, or more, or less, don’t edit. Don’t worry about what’s gone wrong three pages back, write around it, and ignore it. If you spot red squiggly lines, ignore them, move in. Spell checkers work just as well at the end of your novel, as they do if you run it each and every page. By not editing, worrying about spelling and grammar, you can focus on just writing. Get the first draft onto the page, and you can polish it up to a glorious shine after November.

In truth, no one need ever know you’re doing it. You could do it in private, your time a mysterious secret to your friends and family. You could just join the forums online, and never meet a person in the real world while you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Or you can go beyond the weekly meets, spend every night and day you can in the coffee shop as other Wrimos**, coming and going trying to do the same thing. You control how much or how little you get involved.

As to how you write, well you can do that on your computer, your tablet, your phone, or you can go old school and do it in a notebook using a pen, (though if your handwriting is as bad as mine, good luck). I suppose if you really wanted to go old school, you could get out the stone tablets and start chiselling away, (though I’m not convinced you could do 50,000 legible words in 30 days in stone, anyone want to prove me wrong?).

The choice is yours. In fact, that’s pretty much NaNoWriMo in a nutshell. You can choose what to write, where to write, when to write, (well within the month of November), what support you want, who to write with.

If you want to sign up, go to nanowrimo.org – check out some of the resources for getting started, there’s a lot of good information that can be of great value to newcomers and old timers. I do like a lot of the pep talks, (which can be found archived here: http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks, my particular favourite being Piers Anthony’s in 2008, as not only is he one of my favourite authors, it was thoroughly entertaining and inspiring).

* draft; first or preliminary form of any writing, subject to revision, copying, etc. (I’m not being patronising, I just really want to emphasise you’re not writing a finished piece, it doesn’t matter if freind was spelt wrong, move on and you’ll pick it up in editing).

** Wrimos; a participant of NaNoWriMo, or NaNoWriMo like challenge

Me and NaNoWriMo

The most common theme throughout my blog for the past 6 years has been NaNoWriMo. It’s as important a marker in my year as my own birthday, maybe even more.

It’s changed my life in so many ways, and it’s also helped me to keep something important within me alive. I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t say for certain that by now I would have stopped writing, I think that’s a distinct possibility if I’m honest, (poetry has long since stopped being a facet of my creative life), but I do know for certain it’s changed how I’ve approached writing, and the lessons I’ve learnt don’t stop at writing.

What I’ve also got is three successful attempts at NaNoWriMo, and two rich lessons, (okay two years I failed to complete 50,000 words – I prefer to think of what I gained in my lack of success). With each of those attempts I’ve two stories to enjoy, the story of having tried, and the story that directly resulted from trying.

I’ve met some really fantastic people over the past six years, who’ve helped me a lot in writing, (hopefully I might have helped them on occasion too).

It’s incredibly exciting, you live life to deadlines, you have to rush to catch-up, or you’ll get lost in the middle of your novel and have to make the heart wrenching choice to abandon a story and switch to a new one so you can accomplish your goals. (I don’t recommend that by the way, but at some point it happens to us all – we just can’t take a story further without a lot of work, or starting it again, and you don’t go backwards in NaNoWriMo, you go forwards).

In fact, going forwards is one of the things I’ve learnt the most from NaNoWriMo, it’s given me a bit of ambition, a lesson in goal setting, rather than settling.

Finally, the five reasons to do NaNoWriMo

As a result of all the above, I honestly do believe if you’ve any interest in writing a story, from a short story to an epic novel, that you should give NaNoWriMo a try. So here are the five reasons I think you should give NaNoWriMo a try:

  1. The most basic one of all, because you have an idea. Story telling is everywhere, television, the internet, the radio, it’s in your newspapers, and your magazines. Storytelling is a part of all our lives, so I’m willing to bet at some point in your life, you’ve had what you felt was a great idea. What’s the worst that could happen? If you don’t like your first draft, you can file it away for another twenty years, and if you do like it, you can enjoy it being realised, and you never know, you might make your fotune with it***.
  2. You love books. You’ve been taking and taking for years, feasting on the latest J. K. Rowling, Katie Oliver, or Robin Hobb, maybe now’s the time to have a go at giving something back, to adding to the pantheon of storytellers? I don’t care what anyone says, if you write, you’re a writer, and that’s an accolade you can keep.
  3. To be part of a community that stretches from right where you live to all the way around the globe. The local communities are amazing, and the global community will blow your mind. The regional wordcount boards have a peculiar focus each year – we here in Yorkshire, in line with our Olympic successes, like to sit with pride higher than whole countries. Everyone’s there trying to help each other, trying to outdo each other, supporting and cajoling just when you need it. You’ll meet new friends, try new things. You’ll part of one of those mysterious groups that take over whole areas of coffee shops, laptops and notepads dotted around, people calling out the latest challenge.
  4. Whether you end up writing 500 words, 5,000 words, 50,000 words, or 150,000 words – it’s all good. Yes the challenge is to hit 50,000 words, but if you don’t it’s still great. If you only did 5,000 words, that’s more words than you had at the start of the month. Its 5,000 words closer to the story you always wanted to write. So no matter what, you can win.
  5. To have fun. If you enjoy writing, enjoy it. There’s tremendous joy in building something new, it’s exciting, and thrilling… and in the world of the consumer it might even feel rare and precious to you.

I could go on, but I set out to just do five reasons, and I think that’s accomplished. NaNoWriMo, whatever your aiming for, is a defined time to do it, it’s a supportive community, it’s the opportunity to make something, to leave behind the what ifs, and say “I am”.

Unofficial reason number 6, every year they have new fun images to celebrate participation and success, and they’re a different theme every year. My favourites were the Venn diagrams, (what can I say, I do charts and graphs for a living), but last year’s 8 bit designs were a lot of fun.

 

*** I wish I could promise you a fortune, but sadly most novels won’t make it – but I can’t stress this enough, if you don’t try, you won’t know.

NaNoWriMo – Preparations

“May you live in interesting times…”

  • Purported to be a Chinese proverb to an enemy, source unknown

My job has been keeping me busy lately, (which is both good and stressful at the same time), so I’ve not had as much time to write blog posts, or more importantly prepping for NaNoWriMo, as I would have liked, (yes, I know readers to my blog are important, but it’s kind of pointless having a writing blog, if you don’t write).

November is going to be a tough month, but I’m confident I’ll be able to handle it – both my job, and the ridiculous number of challenges I’ve set myself this year. In previous years I’ve loaned out my Xbox, and blu ray player during NaNoWriMo to void myself of distractions.

Now this year, I live alone, and have other alternatives. I’ve got a whole spare bedroom which I’ve not really been utilising as well I had intended, but its perfect distraction free environment. Its only flaw is that it’s two flights of stairs away from the kettle – but I’ve got a thermos jug, so that should see me through extended writing stints. I’ve got everything I need now for it to be a home office, (library, keyboard, mice, monitor). It needs a bit of setting up still to be quite right, but it’ll do.

That’s my big plan for this weekend, getting it all setup and organised.

Of course that and I’ll deal with some planning issues. Pretty serious planning issues, which is the real reason for this post.

For a while I was really struggling to come up with an idea I could do. I had loads of ideas, some of them were reworks of old novels, others were original, (however I then decided most of them were derivative in some form or another). I knew I needed something special, given all my goals from this year’s NaNoWriMo, and I just wasn’t finding it.

I actually started writing a post bemoaning my lack of success, however moaning wouldn’t help, so on a train trip down to that there London, I got myself a nice fresh book, a new pen, (because fresh starts require fresh materials in my mind), and set up about going through my existing ideas looking for something I’ve overlooked, or accepting just because an idea might share some commonalities with a popular story or two, doesn’t mean it should be abandoned, (I mean a Sun Hero type story with a young mage set in a fantasy world, doesn’t have to be anything like Harry Potter – though my idea did involve his particular gift being for wielding lightning, which just crossed a line with me).

Luck, or the proverbial Muse, or whatever you want to call inspiration, was with me, I hit upon a new idea, and set up about plotting it out. It’s very different from all my other ideas this year, it’s got scope and challenge, it’s broad in its sweep, but with a core of characters that I can really flesh out.

I’ve got quite a few pages of notes already written, still got many more to go, and I need to do some time lines (before and after the start of the story). My only concern is whether I can hit the word count target I’ve set myself, I’m aiming for 200,000 words, but if I do that, I think it’ll be a lot of waffle, and the story telling might not be so clear, which goes against one of my challenges. I think it might be worth letting go of that one goal, and would be sensible considering I do have a job to do as well. I’ll keep the 50,000 words on the first day goal – that may or may not be achievable, but it’s really fun to try.

Another bit of preparation I want to do is some art work. A temporary cover to put on the NaNoWriMo novel profile page, but also illustrations from key scenes, objects, and people, make it easier to do the descriptive writing challenge.

So all in all, things are looking up. Roll on NaNoWriMo in just 44 days.