Writer’s Block

P1060800In my early writing days I wondered if ‘the block’ was to writers what ‘the wall’ is to marathon runners. I now know what ‘the wall’ feels like, it’s a physical barrier when the body runs out of fuel, and it was only natural to assume that the same thing could happen to a writer when the well of inspiration dries up.

Every writer, great and small, seems doomed to face the dreaded ‘block’ at least once in their writing lifetimes, and sure enough, one day, it happened to me. I was midway through the first draft of a longish – never to be published – novel set in a faraway land, and I froze. The babble of voices in my head were suddenly silent, the keyboard felt alien to my fingertips, and trying to hold the story narrative was like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. I sat and waited but nothing happened, and I kept on waiting for weeks before whatever logjam had been clogging up my brain finally gave way. It eventually did and I eventually finished the book – who knows I may revisit it one day, dust it off and see how it reads, but my experience with The Block left me wondering.

Why had I run into the block? And, how had I somehow got around it?

I realised, that for me at least, The Block was simply my unrecognised unwillingness to write, either through laziness or fear, and it had paralysed my imagination. I’d inadvertently managed to get over it by simply forcing myself to write. Many of those – post Block – words were later discarded, because they were forced and mechanical and by the numbers, but I ground on, word by word, until they started coming to me more easily again.

So, the next time The Block happened, I was ready for it and ready to admit to myself that I was just being lazy. So I put the current project to one side and wrote something different, and I stuck at it, grinding the gears at first, but then with greater fluency until finally the words flowed with ease again. Then I revisited the original project, looking for what had made me lose interest, and I realised I had to cut three lacklustre chapters, and in doing so found my writing groove again.

I had simply lost interest in what I was writing, it was uninspiring, and I had to write something different before I realised it. This is the most common kind of Block I face, where I simply haven’t realised that what I’m writing is dull, and it usually takes a break from the project and writing something else to see my mistake. Once or twice I’ve been paralysed by fear, particularly where an approaching deadline or when I think a little success might be on the horizon, my Block kicks in to delay the inevitable or scupper my chances. Again, the best way I have to get around this is to write something else, particularly something that doesn’t matter.

Sometimes, these small distraction projects are not wasted because they often contain nuggets of ideas I can use elsewhere.

Maybe this doesn’t describe everyone’s Block, and maybe different writers have different ways to deal with it when it happens, but this is my Block and this is how I get over it.

Why do I write these things?

As you’ll discover when I publish later this year, thlaptop_wineere is a dark vein running through all my fiction, a core of old heart wood that seems at odds with my personality.

Over the years it’s something I’ve come to terms with and accept, but that’s not been so easy for those that know me. When they get me talking about my writing, always reluctantly at first but then quickening with enthusiasm until it’s like trying to jam the cork back into a bottle of Prosecco, I finally realise I’ve gone too far, revealed too much and they’re all staring at me with open mouths, with some even shuffling back a step.

To give you an idea of the usual reactions, here are three.

The first was uttered by my wife after she read the book I’ll be publishing soon.

“What the hell did you write that for?”

This from my mother, spoken with a slightly bemused expression on her face.

“Why can’t you write something like Catherine Cookson?”

And finally from my concerned mother in law.

“Why do you feel the need to write these things?”

The truth is I’ve always been interested in the macabre, grisly things and the suspicion that the world is far stranger and darker than would first appear.

I vividly remember when I was about eleven; my friend and I discovered a dirty hessian sack filled with bloody maggot infested body parts. For several incredibly intense heart-stalling moments I thought we’d found a dead body, or more than one, victims of some rampant serial killer. The truth was a little less sensational, but nonetheless irresistible to a young boy, the sack of bloody bits had been left by sheep rustlers – legs and heads, hair and offal. I remember the police were quite interested in our find, but I never found out if the sack and its gruesome contents had ever led them to make any arrests.

As a child I remember being fascinated by death and used to draw violent and horrific images, and I remember my mother being particularly worried, I just found them compelling. I suspect my teachers too probably had concerns about my imagination, and I’m sure they must have approached my parents, although I can’t be sure. Today, everyone would probably blame it all on the influence of television, but I’m sure the most disturbing thing I watched was Saturday morning Swap Shop.

My love of Hammer films came later, and later still I was the victim of an attempted murder: I’ve seen the fevered but dethatched stare of a would be killer up close, and I know how close I came to ending up on a slab.

These things might have been forgotten had I not been born with a writer’s brain, these days, the haunted house of my earlier life with its occasional dark and creepy interludes are the raw materials that I draw on.

As for books and fiction, I do have a predilection for the darker material. It’s the disturbing stuff that sticks in my mind the most. Since I want to write fiction that lingers in the mind of my reader, I have to use my own relationship with fiction as my guide. Thus, if I want to be honest and write with conviction, I have to aim for the dark side.

I’m afraid that’s how I roll.

Progress: Part 1

DarranHatThe time has finally come to begin the second draft of book two. How do I know? The pressure, I feel like an overheating boiler, all vibrating rivets and whistling jets of escaping steam, because the book is taking up more and more of my thinking time, becoming more distracting by the day. I feel like my hat is on too tight. The more I try to avoid it and think about something else, the worse it gets, I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t wait to tear into it. That’s how I know I’m ready. It’s not because I think it’s about time, or that my schedule says so, it’s because I can’t do anything else, I don’t want to work on any other project. Even writing this is tougher than it should be.

Along with the pressure is a sense of heightened anticipation. This is an exciting time, because I’m going to get to read the book properly, cover to cover, for the first time, as if I’m my own first reader. Of course, it’s not quite the same experience because I remember how the story goes and how it ends and I think I remember all the twists, I certainly remember the most memorable scenes. But that’s not the point, whenever I do this, and I’ve done it a few times now, there is genuine anxiety mixed in with the excitement. There is always the danger the book is not as good as I remember, or worse, I’ll discover I’ve been kidding myself and I really can’t write all.

There are two things I need to do. Number one, make the book better. I’ve done this before with other projects, and it mainly involves cutting a lot out and clarifying what’s left. Number two, is take note of were book two overlaps book one, so I can tie the two together. I’ve never written a sequel before, so this is something new, and right now I don’t know how it’s going to work. My initial idea is, as I go through book two, to write down every fact (to check against the first book), everything I want to foreshadow, every linked plot point. Then, once I have that list, use it to go through book one. It might work or I might find a better way, I’ll have to see.

I thought it might be fun to post my progress on twitter. Partly to give my reader something to look at, but also a way of maintaining my own momentum, just as it’s easier to keep going to the gym with a buddy, it must be easier to keep going with someone following me. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

Adventures in self-publishing: Part 1

P1050749With my sleeves rolled up and a pencil behind my ear I made my first decision: I would complete the first draft of the book before beginning to look into self-publishing, so that’s just what I did. This may seem like a no brainer, but I suspect there are many would-be authors out there who jump the gun. At least with the first draft done I knew I had something to work with, like a rough block of stone ready to be chiselled at, the book is already there I just had to chip away the bits.

It was hard work, but it had to be done.

Of course, a first draft is not a publishable product; at least I don’t think so, although some web authors advocate publishing and then revising “live” – so to speak. For me, the idea of doing this gives me the collywobbles. Before I publish any book I want to be sure it’s so polished it wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a silver service waiter.

But then, I went a bit further and decided to wait until I had two titles ready for publishing, the first two parts of a series. Of course, I know this reads like the very worst case of procrastination, but I did have good reasons. When I started the second book I soon realised I’d have to make some changes to the first, because they are very closely linked and between the two drafts the whole story had evolved in my head. While this seemed a pain at first, I soon realised both books would be stronger for it, and since I was writing two books I also realised there would be advantages to simultaneously publishing them both, not least of all, my potential reader would realise I’m serious about writing and not a one hit wonder.

My original vision for my authoring future was to publish electronically through Amazon, because they have the biggest market share with their Kindle readers. Yes, I know Amazon are unpopular at the moment but I decided not to cut my own nose off to spite my face. To do this, the prevailing wisdom seemed to require me to build up some sort of internet presence, I’ve later discovered that this is not essential, but I still feel it’s important: At the very least, I’m sure it can’t do any harm. So I set up a website using the WordPress free service, and Twitter and Facebook accounts. I found WordPress very easy to use and it didn’t take very long to create a useful and attractive website – I hope you agree. As for Twitter and Facebook, only time will tell how useful they will be; right now, they seem to be frustratingly good at swallowing up my time.

CreateSpaceAndKindleMasterclass1

Since I had no idea what I was doing, the next thing I had to figure out how I was actually going to self-publish, so I rummaged around on the internet and found this book: “Createspace & Kindle Self-Publishing Masterclass.” This turned out to be an excellent buy and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking about self-publishing.

Until I read this I had only considered publishing electronically, but this book gave me the idea of using Createspace to also produce hard copies, which is a new and exciting thought.

So, I’ve got two first drafts ready for reworking – I’ll be soon Tweeting my daily progress with those, and I’ll be starting a Facebook business page soon, and as you’ve noticed I’ve started blogging about my self-publishing adventures.

Next, it’s pressing on with the second drafts, and then looking for a copy editor…

Why self-publish?

P1060265Over the years I’ve made some attempts to get published and have amassed a fairly respectable collection of rejection letters. I sought professional advice and as a result my writing improved and I gained the reassurance that I wasn’t kidding myself about my ability, but success still remained elusive.

It became apparent that no matter how good I was, landing a publishing deal was still largely a matter of luck. I understood that I could only improve my chances so far; I still had to get my manuscript onto the right desk at the right time. This, of course, should then be just a matter of time – an exercise in patience, but it still seemed too much like relying on luck.

Also, I came to understand how little publishers do to promote and market anything less than their top grossing authors. As a new author, flung in at the deep end, I would be expected to fend for myself anyway. Whereas, self-publishing was once the illegitimate runt of the publishing family, these days it has gained respectability, and is being seen less as the last resort of the desperate but more as the wise choice of the savvy. And, if I’m honest, going it alone appeals to me, it suits my personality.

I also want to publish across genres. As far as I can tell, if I was with a publisher, this would be difficult because book stockists tend to like to keep authors pigeon holed by genre. Authors who publish across genres tend to do it under pseudonyms, and publishers don’t like that because they effectively have to launch and market a new author each time.

The only real disadvantage I can see to self-publishing is having to sort out the editing and cover design stuff myself. The editing is obviously an extra expense but I think doing the cover might be quite fun. All the rest of it, the marketing and the networking, I’d have to do myself anyway.

I want to be widely read, and this seems like the perfect way to do it…