A Writer’s Error. Again.

On the long weekend just passed I’d intended on getting a good chunk of writing done. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

(Sidebar: In On Writing Stephen King wrote, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” If I may take literary license, I believe King was close: the road to hell is paved with good intentions, which are described in adverbs yelled by the travelers on the road).

The derailment of my writing weekend began innocently enough. For months the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I had been discussing the need to re-mulch our garden but had been either busy or the weather had not played along. However on this weekend, the fine weather and the empty calendar dovetailed together perfectly: This wasn’t an error. Even though I had planned to do writing on Saturday (after a few other errands) the garden did need mulching, and I like to look after what I own. So we called in the truck and shoveled mulch, spreading it far and wide. (Too high, it turns out I was told by a well-meaning but ill-timed piece of advice). Too late now; fight-to-live or die, garden.

Even though the work was done in just under 2 hours (an epic job), I was exhausted. The remainder of the day was spent recovering on the couch. No choice there; the body was sore and weary.

Sunday afternoon was also slated for writing; it didn’t occur. Due to laziness, I admit. It was, I realise now, a fault of thinking: I considered that I had a choice whether or not to write. Writing, however, for me, should not be treated like a hobby but a job. If I want to write full-time, then I must take it seriously. There is no choice, just like my Monday to Friday job. You must turn up to write, no choice involved. There is always Monday I thought, I can write all day Monday, I promised myself.

The brain, I think, is like any other muscle: you must exercise it. If you let it be lazy, then it likes to be lazy. All of Sunday on the couch watching TV meant my brain wasn’t in any shape to work creatively on Monday. Sure, I squeezed out a few hundred words – but my brain has been trained to be lazy. I’ve unwittingly shown it how. Being lazy for one day, can mean more than one day is lost in productivity.

My next mistake was trying to be too focused on a single project. I was trying to write chapter 2 of The Hostages. I did some of it, but then I persisted trying to do more when it wasn’t flowing nicely. What I should have done (earlier) is switch projects. So, if writing The Hostages hit a wall, I could have swapped to revising The Rebel Queen. Ordinarily I like to focus on a single project at a time plot threads don’t mix or character motivations don’t muddle. However, progress on any writing project is preferable to a complete lack of progress. Also I might have tried to skip ahead in the story; there is nothing to say a story has to be written chronologically. I knew this, of course, but the knowledge was different to explicit internal permission to do so.

The final lesson is the need to learn lessons. I’m sure if I trawl back through my blog I will see the same themes, if not exact words. On my to-do list since January has been to extract the key lessons from my 2016 posts onto some of my other resource pages. I haven’t done that yet, but I need to if I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes again. And again.

Sentence Length

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. 

When I’m reading with a critical eye the only thing I’ve been looking for in sentence structure is crazy-long sentences. That’s all I knew to look for, until now. 

Five Word Sentence Quote by Gary Provost
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Jane Doe

I have a female character in Vengeance Will Come– she’s tough, determined, dangerous and with a bit of luck you’ll never hear of her (by name).

At the moment she has a name, but as a two-bit character I’d like to de-name her. This woman provides the point of view for scenes two and four in chapter eight, before disappearing for good; her name is used ten times in under a 1,000 words. Though her part is small she provides an important viewpoint on the action that no other (main) character can.  I want to anonymise her because most professionals recommend keeping the (named) story cast small.

Originally as I was writing she didn’t have a name; but I found referring to her became awkward. I’m going to have another go at turning her into a Jane Doe: unknown female. I’m not sure if I’ll succeed to my satisfaction. 

Get Serious About Writing

The other day a friend (and dare I say it, a much more skilful aspiring author) generously and thoughtfully gave me a gift out-of-the-blue.

Fiona McIntosh’s How to Write a Blockbuster.

9780143572381(He was also responsible for introducing me to her writing which is fantastic. I can thoroughly recommend The French Promise and The Lavender Keeper. The novels are follow-on, but can also be read as stand-alone stories… but why would you?)

In the first chapter she encourages you to get serious writing.

  • If you want to be published, you have to get serious about it.
  • So your primary goal when you set out is to finish the manuscript. Learn to be consistent in completing what you start.

As I wrote about earlier the difference between a successful author is hard work (and opportunity).

Novelists who earn a good living from their books do not give themselves excuses. I wrote my first manuscript as a married mum with twin sons at junior primary while running a business with my husband; I did all my writing late at night while the house slept. The only person who missed out on anything in our household was me – I missed out on sleep and social events. But I did so because once I’d decided I was going to write my first novel, I became entirely committed to finishing the first draft.

She recommends:

  • Get your family ‘on side’. Work out a routine that works for you and your family. Don’t steal time from your family. They need you – and you need them. (See also this good post about writing and having children).
  • Give up television and the internet. It doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely, but be very, very selective and strict in what you allow yourself. Set tight limits and stick to them.
  • Make sacrifices in your social life.
  • Be honest about when you’re working on your novel. Set up rigid boundaries; they are required to keep your writing time free from other things.
  • Respect your own working hours. When you’re working, work; ignore distractions.

While it’s okay at the beginning for everyone else to think of your writing as a hobby, you must think of yourself as a writer. It’s important to embrace the notion and approach it professionally…