Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Summary, A Status Update and A Justification

To summarise:

I want to be a published author. To achieve this, I need to write a novel worth publishing. To do this, I need to gain a bit of skill, practice and confidence to start and complete my first draft.

So, in an attempt to reach this first milestone, I've devised the following goals (which I have explained in painstaking detail in previous rants):

Goal 1 = 14 hours of committed writing a week.
Goal 2 = complete essential reading to improve level of skills and knowledge.
Goal 3 = complete Course modules relating to novel writing, incorporating my novel into the assignments.
Goal 4 = read as much as possible, both in fiction and non-fiction, across different genres. Read, read, read!!!

End result = best first draft anyone has ever written!

Of course, writing a first draft requires a lot more than what has been listed above (e.g. plotting, character development, research) but I see them as steps rather than goals.

In terms of when I can start my novel, I have decided that I must complete Goal 2 and that I also must be up to the relevant stage in Goal 3.

Status (in brief):

Goal 1 = pretty dismal so far: 9.5 hours, 40 minutes and four hours thus far. If I can consistently do 10 hours a week, I'd be happy. 14 hours is the ultimate, but 10 will suffice (compromising my goals already, yeah?)

Goal 2 = Stephen King's On Writing is read (no notes taken yet) and I have started Howdunnit: currently reading about a day in the life of a cop.

Goal 3 = Ah yes, the Course. Well, I must admit that I am going pretty well. I have finished the first draft of Assignment No. 12 (dealing with dialogue and atmosphere) and I'm pretty happy with it. In fact, I have churned through this assignment quicker than any other and I think its my best work on the Course. Yay! Next up, I will have to submit three short stories and one article to the "real world" and then I will be ready to go on to the next Assignment (and start my novel!!!)

Goal 4 = an easy one. Finished Peter Temple's The Broken Shore and am a third of the way through Stuart MacBride's Cold Granite. Reading like my life depended on it.

Well, now, enthralled reader, you are probably sitting there thinking, what's all this goal stuff, why have I overcomplicated it so, why can't I just sit down, shut up and write the damn novel. If you are thinking that, well, that's not very nice, is it? But I will address it (and here comes the justification part of this blog), I need to structure my approach in this way because all other attempts over the past four years have fallen flat on their faces. I've lost confidence, I've lost interest, the dreaded Course has gotten in the way and I've lost focus. Hopefully, if I apply my goals, at least for this first novel, I will be so well prepared that I will achieve that ultimate dream - a completed novel.

And it's my life, so back off! (cough) sorry.

Anyway, better get back to it; start cracking!

Sorry, did someone say, 2nd Test at Adelaide?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Read, Read, Read (or Setting Goals - Part 4)

Last week, I finished reading Stephen King's On Writing (see Goal 2). It's a good book, especially when he finishes drossing on about his childhood and gets into the nitty gritty about writing novels. I found many words of advice and encouragement within the 200 odd pages. They were all very refreshing and encouraging.

Some statements conflict with my course, which was interesting. For example, my writing course spends time on the importance of plotting a novel. King has thoughts on this, paraphrased slightly: "Plot is the last resort for a great writer and the first for a dullard." I enjoyed this comment and I will talk about it a bit more when I hit the planning stage of my novel. (Just to caveat King's comment; he also says, "Plot is not important, but story is.")

I'm slightly off the topic here, though. Another beauty from the words of The King is the following paraphrased statement (I'll give it it's own line here):

"Read lots and lots. Do not expect to become a good writer, if you are not, first and foremost, a prolific reader."

Reading helps the writer identify what works and more importantly, what doesn't. Style, method and description skills can be learnt and refined through reading. Always good for determining what's hot at the moment too and what's been done before. A writer can learn a lot from reading - which is a good thing - I love reading!


Goal 4 : Read as much as possible, both in fiction and non-fiction, across different genres. Read, read, read!!!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Course Is A Course Of Course, Of Course (or Setting Goals - Part 3)

Last week was a bit of a write off. I had a great time, watching the Aussies whip the Poms, had a few drinks out, had diarrhea - yep, it was a fun filled week. But zero writing was accomplished. And you may have noticed that my blog spoke of everything but writing.

So back on track.

Where I left you last, enthralled reader, was running through the goals that I have set. Goals that will form the foundation of my first attempt at writing a novel. So far, I have covered two of those goals.

I feel that if I strive to achieve these goals, I will feel confident enough to start my novel and organised enough to follow it through to completion. Whether the novel will be any good or not will be all up to me old noggin and how wonderfully intelligent it is. At least if I achieve my set goals and maintain them, then I have given me noggin at least a fighting chance to produce something that will be worth publishing and not something that should be banished to the toilet for when we run out of bog roll. I plan to write on very absorbent paper if that is any indication of my current level of confidence!

Anyway, Goal Number 3 - The Course. I'm going to ramble on a bit now, so if you want to scroll to the bottom, (or skip this blog altogether) then that's fine. I know at least two or three people who have heard about this Course enough times to want to hit me over the head with a crowbar if I ever mention it again.

I am going to be as brief as possible on this topic, for my own sanity's sake amongst other things.

The Course I speak of is the Writers Anonymous Comprehensive Writing Course (not real name). It is a self-study scenario with tutors helping out by answering questions and marking assignments. There are about 30 odd modules, covering every aspect of writing - magazines, travel, novels, plays, radio - you name it, they cover it. Hence the "Comprehensive" tag.

Anyway, way back in 2002, I signed up for this course. I wanted to write a novel; be a published author, but I wasn't having much luck. I had no idea what it involved. So I signed up for the course, hoping for some guidance. As it is self-study, there are no deadlines; you can take as long as you like.

Fast forward to 2006 (because I'm bored with talking about this already) and I am still doing this course. It has been a hard slog. I haven't really enjoyed it and haven't been able to commit myself to it for long periods of time. The main problem has been my decision to begin the course with the non-fiction modules (e.g. writing articles, etc). For four years this bored me senseless. I had no interest in it, but my pride kept me from giving up.

I then decided to ask my tutor if I could skip ahead to the fiction modules and go back to non-fiction later. She agreed and my interest and output has definitely improved.

The last few modules have dealt with novel writing. Hooray!! This is what I have been waiting for for four years. The related assignments, which I will be starting soon, deal with all aspects of novel writing (e.g. character development, planning your plot); something that is very relevant to what I am currently trying to achieve.

So now we arrive at my third goal (in a very haphazard and indirect way) - Completing the novel modules of my course. If I can finish the novel modules and their related assignments, I will feel a little more confident in my ability to write a book. I would have learnt a few skills, a few tricks of the trade and had some practice. In addition, I want to incorporate my first novel into the upcoming assignments. This way, my tutor will be giving me a "free" critique of some of the preliminary aspects of my novel. To get an expert's opinion will be an opportunity too good to pass up; it should put me on the right track from the beginning.

Despite how painful it has been for me to do this course and how much I bag it, it is a good course. I have learnt a lot from it, and I believe my writing will improve because of it. I do feel I am much better off now than if I had not decided, in 2002, to sign up. Which is just as well, 'cause four years later, you can imagine how much I want to see the back of it!

So, to summarise that load of codswallop:

Goal 3: Complete Course modules relating to novel writing, incorporating my novel into the assignments.

I plan to put the rest of the course on hold until I finish this first novel. (I can't see the benefit of starting "How to write for radio" when I am halfway through a novel).

I suppose the big question will be, will I continue with the course once I have finished my novel. I'm not sure at this stage - the course has been good, but it has also been a double edged sword, taking up a lot of my writing time, making me feel guilty if I'm doing some other writing and stopping me from putting 100% of my time into the one thing I am dying to do - write a novel. Hence my plan to milk the course for all its worth, and potentially leave it aside like something that has been completely milked dry. Like a cow, I suppose. Or something like that.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Clocking Up The Hours

So here I am, working feverishly away at my desk, putting in many hours on this quiet weekend.

But none of it has to do with my writing. Yes, this nice sunny Saturday is being spent at my desk at work, attempting to complete a set of accounts for the auditors who arrive on Monday.

How depressing.

However, I think if I did have a free day today, I would be spending it sleeping, not writing. After my marathon effort a few days ago, I still haven't caught up on my sleep and last night didn't help. Copious amounts of alcohol, a duck curry and a 2am finish. And I wasn't even watching the cricket. No, it was Pablo's birthday at The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill. Very good night indeed.

So this week has been a bit of a write off. I have only managed 40 minutes of writing. Piss poor. I do have tomorrow free, but tonight is Day 4 of the Test and yada, yada, yada.

Better get back to it. Although I ain't feeling the best. I just had a Big Tasty burger from Maccas and I feel ill. Rote-tin.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Oooh the pain!

Yesterday was a struggle. My guts were feeling all heavy and sickly. I must have caught what The Jingo was throwing up on Saturday night. Or maybe it was the semi-defrosted hot dogs I had for Sunday lunch.

Either way, I was sick as a dog. There I was, trying to concerntrate on work, wearing my suit and big "Matrix" jacket, trying to keep warm. Instead, I kept shivering, shivering, shivering.

I had to cancel my dinner appointment with The Jingo's friends. Missed a trip out to Earlsfield for some Shepherd's Pie. Would've been nice but I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to keep it down.

As soon as I got home, I turned on the heater and jumped into bed. After a while, I started to feel feverish, my forehead burning, my head throbbing. Off went the heater and I sat up watching a couple of episodes of Homicide: Life on The Street.

The good news is that today, after a good night's sleep, I feel about 85% better. Which is great 'cause I have drinks tonight and The Ashes tomorrow.

The bad news - zero writing. However, I did hallucinate quite a bit last night, which was great for my ego. There I was, reading out the first chapter of my novel to the Creative Writing Class at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. Val McDermind was so impressed, she organised various meetings with agents and publishers. I think at one stage I was even roped into being part of a writing panel.

Oooh, if only . . .

Monday, November 20, 2006

Working Nine Point Five, What A Way To Make A Living.

Last week was the first week of my renewed commitment to writing a novel. My aim was to complete 14 hours of writing during that week (and every week from now on).

I managed 9.5. And I'm pretty happy with that. Obviously, I missed my mark, but the last few months I have struggled to make 10 hours; actually I have struggled to make 5! So 9.5 is great.

In addition, I was very happy with the quality. Especially on Sunday morning, while The Jingo was sleeping off some food poisoning (which I seem to have contracted today - hello, porcelain train!), I churned out a 2,400 word short story in 2 hours. Something I don't think I have ever done. A second draft will determine whether it's worth flogging off, but I think it will be.

This week, as I have already mentioned, is going to be a toughie. I might not make the heady heights of 9.5 hours. The Ashes are on and I have three other appointments that clash with study. Oh yeah, and I have the shits.

Does it sound like I'm already making excuses?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Background (Or Setting Goals - Part 2)

For me, writing a novel starts with believing you can.

Obviously there is always that doubting voice inside your head (I like to call him Warren) that questions your ability to do anything, but if you have a few skills and a general level of knowledge, you can always tell that voice, "Look, shut up will ya? I can do this, no wuckers!"

One aspect of this forms the part of Goal number deux: a little bit of background reading.

There are a number of books I would like to read and study before embarking on this wild ride called writing a novel. These books will help fill some of the dark spaces where my skills and knowledge should be. And we need to fill those if we ever want Warren to shut his trap.

The following books are on my reading agenda:
  • On Writing by Stephen King (an account of the life of a writer, what makes a good one and the necessary skills required) - I'm halfway through this one and I have already found some helpful and reassuring tips.
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (a very concise publication about grammar, punctuation and style. A must for any writer).
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (about punctuation; not completely sold on this one but I'll give it a go).
  • Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets by David Simon (obviously not about punctuation, but a non-fiction account of a year with a Baltimore Homicide unit - good for police procedures, typical characters and interactions and a good read too!)
  • Howdunnit (How Crimes Are Committed and Solved) by John Boertlein (good background knowledge for my novel of choice - crime).
  • Forensic Science For Dummies (not sure of author - apologies) (background knowledge on the forensic science / csi side of things).

After reading these books and taking a few notes, I should have the necessary tools to tackle my first novel. And as a bonus, reading them will contribute to my 14 hours a week. So if I'm feeling tired, down or blue, I'll just pick up a book and read about shotgun wounds to the head to cheer me up.

To summarise: Goal 2 - complete essential reading to improve level of skills and knowledge.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kick In The Guts

It didn't take long for the wheels to fall off. I'd only just started (C-Day was only two days ago) and I've hit my first big hurdle.

As you recall, Goal 1 was to complete at least 14 hours of writing / writing related activities every week for at least the next three months. My plan was to meet this reasonably achievable target by doing 2 hours a day, first thing in the morning before coming into work. If I get up in time, I am almost 100% guaranteed not to have any disruptions or feel tired / depressed in any way during those 2 hours. If my calculator is working correctly, this equals effective and efficient writing.

To facilitate this, I asked my boss whether I could regularly start my working day at 9.30am. I was under the misunderstanding that our company's "core" hours every day were 9.30 to 4 and that this alteration in working times would be no problem at all, thank you very much.

Wrong answer, Sonny Jim. Core hours start at 9am, not 930am. So that blew a big hole in my carefully laid out plans. It means, unless I get up at the sound of little birdies flatulating, I can only do 90 minutes in the morning, leaving half an hour hanging over like a dry dag on a sheep's bum.

Do I get up earlier? Do I go to work earlier, leave earlier and do 2 hours each afternoon? Do I come in at 930am anyway?

These are the dilemmas in my life. Not exactly exciting stuff (I can't see any plot lines for the next 24 season anywhere around here), but stuff nonetheless.

What would Jack Bauer do?

P.S. Does anyone like this new font? It happened accidentally, but I like it. Small things . . .

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Hours (Or Setting Goals - Part 1)

Last night I finalised my writing goals. These goals form the foundation, the support if you will, of my ultimate short term goal - finishing my first novel (sick of me saying that yet?).

Goal number one is "Commit to 14 hours of writing a week." This equates to 2 hours a day.

There are a number of reasons why I chose 14 hours. Firstly, given my work commitments and numerous household duties, 2 hours a day sounds about right. I've tried many variations on the theme of hours per week and have failed to maintain any of them. Funnily enough, all of those previous targets were less than 14 hours a week. I have adopted the "If you can't reach your goals, set them higher" school of thinking.

The other reason is: about 15 weeks ago, I set myself a goal of writing 310 hours over 31 weeks (roughly 10 hours a week - how about that, I didn't even need the calculator for that one; you see, I'm an accountant). Horrifically, I have only reduced that target down to about 280 hours with 16 weeks to go. Even though 14 hours a week wont get me there, it's a start. I feel pretty proud that I haven't altered this goal even though I have had holidays, slack weeks and injuries to curtail my success. Hooray for me.

Without going through the reasons in too much detail, I really struggle to write effectively after work. Therefore, I plan to try and knock off my 2 hours first thing in the morning. To facilitate this, I am about to approach my boss and see if he will let me start at 9.30am every morning, thus allowing me to squeeze in those 2 hours without having to get up at 5am to the tune of sparrows farting. Actually, sparrow fart is more like 7am in London at the moment, but the local sparrows are known to let a few early ones out now and then.

So to summarise: Goal 1 = 14 hours of committed writing a week.

BTW - only did half an hour this morning - lots of catch up weekend writing for this little black duck methinks.

Monday, November 13, 2006

No Alarms on C-Day

My Polar watch let me down this morning.

It was C-Day today, the first day in my renewed commitment to complete my very first novel (and hopefully get it published).

The plan was to get up early and squeeze out an hour of writing before heading off to my Advanced Excel course in Holborn. Unfortunately, my Polar watch was off with the fairies (still recovering from its own jet lag presumably) and the carefully prepared alarm did not go off. So instead of waking at 7am, I awoke an hour later - not enough time to scratch myself let alone churn out some much needed writing.

I managed to salvage some of the day's writing however, by coming home early after my course finished (I now know how to do cell validation, macros and the like - yipee!) and sitting down to approx 1 hour and 15 minutes of intense literary perfection. 45 minutes short of my goal but not too bad.

Yes, my goal is to write 2 hours a day - but more on that tomorrow. I've just created a pivot table which informs me the chicken is being overcooked, so I better get naked and get cookin'.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Jet Lag Blogging

Tired. So tired.

The Jingo and I flew in on the Red Eye this morning from New York City. Left The Big Apple at 6:55 pm, arrived in The Big Apple Core at 6:30 am with not one second of sleep. This is actually my second attempt at this blog, the first found me nodding off and drooling on the keyboard.

After a quick four hour sleep, I feel a bit better, but still tired. So tired.

So C-Day starts tomorrow and there wont be a bigger test of my commitment than attempting to wake up early with a severe bout of jet lag. On the plus side, I expertly scheduled an Advanced Excel course for my first day back at work - starts at 945, finishes at 5 - perfect. Should be able to squeeze in two hours in.

So we know what C-Day is about: my commitment to complete my first novel. But what does it entail? Over the next few days, I will be setting out the structure of this commitment, how I will go about fulfilling my goals, my planned writing schedule and an explanation about the double edged sword that's been hanging over my head these past four years.

I can't wait to get started. First thing on the list: sleep for 15 hours.