A Year of Writing: Days 191-200

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Day 191 of #ayearofwriting and I can hear the football commentary on my son’s radio next door, he whoops, someone scores, I carry on writing.

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Day 192 of #ayearofwriting and let’s talk about the minefield that is editing or drafting a story. A good story or bad story all unravel in the drafting process, from one draft to another the form of your story changes; focus on characters alter, language develops, the plot is contorted, cut and pulverized but the question remains. The question is what started you writing the story in the first place. For example, Knight of the Thimble, is about how we perceive the past. My question was simple, in the future after a cataclysmic event, how will the survivors see us? As the story progresses it has become more about how those born into that world see survivors; and they by extension become a metaphor for the past. My narrator is senile, childlike, cared for, until he is abandoned by his carers. So, we have denial, realisation, anger and confusion. The four cornerstones of modern society when it comes to anything bigger than them e.g. climate change. Even here, climate change becomes subtext. A problem in in that drafting process is that subtext becomes text, telling takes over from showing. I see the drafting process like a camera, or a film, you jot down all your ideas on a storyboard, all the crap, all the exposition, all the ideas, get dumped in draft one. It is a great steaming pile of crap. I love filling the screen with crap. Then I wade in from draft to draft with my question at the centre of everything I do. I love voice so I will often look in short stories for first person narrative. Novels I am drawn to third person. Call it that film aspect again, widescreen vs close up, large storyline vs a moment.

Still though something comes along and you find yourself writing downwards into a hole. You are surrounded by mud as you begin to tell rather than show e.g. he was angry – yawn. Or, worse still, backstory because surely the reader needs to know that he got his gammy leg from an incident that happened fifty years previously and you need to join all those dots together. God help us. The best bet if you don’t know your story is to know what you want to write about. Want to write about space travel? Go for it, find the interesting idea. Want to write about true love? Good, don’t make it easy for your protagonist to find it. Just remember if the editing and drafting process is difficult than you are probably doing your job, you are questioning, but if you find yourself finding it easy then be wary. I once knew someone at a writer’s group who stated that he knocked out a novel in a day. He’d written 50,000 words, you know! They were the worst words placed on a page, a stream of crap, so I commended him for crap because crap grows things that can be beautiful. However, if you fail to draft and edit, you’ll just have crap.

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Day 193 of #ayearofwriting and following on from drafting and editing yesterday. Let’s talk character, and plot, I want to put plot in smaller font but this platform won’t let me. So, let’s talk CHARACTER and plot. See how I emphasised one and not the other? Therein is the problem in bad writing. Plot is essential and good writers can weave seamlessly into characters. What I mean by that is thingshappen to the character that fit with who that character is but sometimes you find writing where all you keep saying is, WHAT?! That is when the character is hammered into plot and some of their limbs fall off. You end up with a mangled story because all story must flow from character. That’s for tomorrow’s discussion. Where do you start, character or plot?
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Day 194 of #ayearofwriting and back to character and story. You may have learnt years ago that stories have beginnings, middles and ends. You may have been taught that on a creative writing course but how you where sold short. This three act structure, for let us use a correct term, doesn’t always mean a traditional structure because story flows from the character. Sometimes in fiction you see the end first, and then comes the middle and then the beginning. Then you get moments, discuss…
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Day 195 of #ayearofwriting and the story is down to just over 2,000 words. Or up as originally I cut it below 2k. However, things needed to be added, things needed to be cut but an image that kept coming through for my narrator was something from way in the past but it is confused. You have to remember with dementia that in some cases calcium builds up in the brain, meaning that dementia patients remember things from a long time ago. It is sometimes clear and sometimes not. The odd thing is that I grew up with these types of people, my mum was a nurse in an old people’s home and later a cook, I remember sometimes going in after school and meeting these old people. How the geriatrics were mute and passive and those with dementia were often animated, distressed or even just plain funny. So, I wanted to write a character who saw the world in terms of the past, of a people who survived the end of the world trying to make sense of what has happened, and people who eventually abandon our narrator because they cannot cope with the past being on their shoulders. I mean, could you look your children in the eye and tell them that you did nothing to stop what is happening in the world today? We are all guilty of doing nothing as the right rises and we sit like sheep letting it happen. There’s a sequence in the story that the narrator recalls – and I do love a nameless narrator, great every person technique – the building of a nuclear bunker in his garden but he sees it in terms of his wife planting their children in a hole for safety. As if she was Pepys burying his cheese before the fire came.
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Day 196 of #ayearofwriting and between the heat and the downpour the day has been eaten up by tax returns, I owed money – BOO! – and trying to get all my submissions in one box because my office looks like this. Yes, we are about to start more works!

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Day 197 of #ayearofwriting and I have the mini-critic with me tonight on the bedroom floor playing with Lego. This is not a metaphor, this is my son; hang on, maybe he is a metaphor. He asks me to put some opera on, so I put some on and he tells me that this is the wrong kind of opera. After a bit of to and fro, and a lost of gesticulating the penny drops when he does air guitar, turns out he means heavy metal. Have you ever tried to write with Slayer as a music track?

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Day 198 of #ayearofwriting and I move into the final draft of Knight of the Thimble. It is such a sad little story of how our minds can rob us of the present, when the present has been robbed by the past. Yes, folks it is a post-apocalyptic story about dementia and God. I have always had a difficult relationship with organised religion. I have no problem with personal belief and Jesus even said, there should be nothing between man and God, which means the church. I have a big problem with churches. I have a big problem with people telling other people how to interpret a text that has passed through so many hands. As a writer I know that things are altered and even the bible we read is a modified version with many parts missing and omitted because in them Christ is not the son of God, but a prophet, and that changes everything. I do not have a problem with faith. I am an atheist. At secondary school when I refused to pray in assembly I was placed in detention, they asked why I would question such things, I read, I read, I read, every religious book and saw the same stories being told time after time, they where good stories but they were not the voice of God. Absolute power was in the world around me, not in humans but in the building blocks to create humans, evolution. We are made of stars. I told my teachers I did not believe in their God. I was told to sit on a church outside the hall if I would not pray. I did, for two years I sat in a corridor reading. I learnt more by questioning than conforming and for me, organised religion is conformity, and belief is something else.
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Day 199 of #ayearofwriting and as I approach day 200, I want to reflect over the next week on my process or craft. So, today, let’s talk about how it all starts and the myth of the notebook. For many years from the age of 15 I had a writer’s notebook, I think initially it was like a talisman, an affirmation that I was a writer or a wannabe writer. As I embraced technology more, the notebook started to take back seat, as many of my notes and ideas went into typed drafts. I still get ideas, and I still use my notebook for that but often or not I will text the idea or email the sketch to myself for a later date. There is still something romantic about the notebook, and yes, I have a stack of them but reading back over them can be a painful act. They outline how bad you once were or even worse, how much you were a whining 15 year old. They are like diaries and I burnt them in my 20s. Mainly because they were just whining lists, as was the poetry, as was some of the fiction but the notebooks made it through and when I last sat reading them I questioned what the hell most of it was about. Obscure references that I thought I would get 20+ years later. The notebook is a wonderful tool and we’ll discuss this further tomorrow.
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Day 200 of #ayearofwriting and another milestone and back to discussing the notebook. Yesterday, I briefly outlined the romantic ideal of a notebook and how over the years I have moved from them into more defined projects. I still scrawl down ideas, like a trail of post it notes left to myself on the fridge, half tales, half jokes, half images that linger in my office. We’ll come to offices tomorrow. These ideas are and have been crammed into notebooks, and these notebooks have been more interesting to me. Articles and images just shoved in among the scribbling and drawings – yes, I draw occasionally (I did an art degree). These forgotten treasures and chronicles of the past interested me then and interest me now. Deciphering my handwriting is sometimes a chore, deciphering fading ink is even worse. The purpose of the notebook is to collate ideas, to put down on page ideas and moments, and entire structures, stories and characters. I have been that type of writer but nowadays I internalise it, as I swim I consider character, plot, ideas and with each length of the pool I revise and delete. I have become a walking notebook. However, when I go away, when I have no technology, I still reach for the notebook for necessity rather than romanticism. A notebook does not make you a writer, but it is a necessary tool on the road to making you a writer. Yes, I know I am using KIpling here because of what is happening at present with his legacy, racist or writer? How will the future judge you?

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