A Highland Walk

Over Christmas I went home to visit my family, as many people do, returning to place where I’ve spent the majority of my life. For all of its faults, it is a beautiful and inspiring place, so much so that it’s even the setting of The Deconstructor. It is peaceful, gorgeous and has that wild feel to it that I greatly miss now that I’m living in England.

The Highlands have always been my home and I think will always feel like home. I left for a number of reasons and all of them still stand, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll ever stop missing that stunning place or that I’ll ever feel like I don’t belong there. And whenever I am there, I’ll soak up all the homely feel and inspiration that I can!

Cue, a photo set!

I was particularly lucky on this day in December to have such beautiful weather as I went out for a six hour trek with my partner, so I was able to snag lots of pictures of things my new home doesn’t have.

… Like hills or water.

Enjoy!

Woodland Walk

It’s been a while, so how about a photo set?

It’s important when you’re feeling a bit down with writing to think about why you write and what inspires you to write. While I have trouble actually writing settings, I find pictures of places and walking places hugely inspirational. My mind instantly goes to all the amazing things that could have happened where I am, all the potential for adventures.

I’ve been struggling with edits a little so an impromptu forest walk yesterday helped kicked my mind into gear, especially as my characters are stuck in the wilderness at the moment. So here is a collection of setting inspiration pictures I took, I hope you enjoy and maybe even get a little inspiration yourself!

 

That’s all for today. Happy writing everyone!

 

Aye Write! Editing Workshop and Confidence Building

This month I’ve been very excited about the Aye Write festival that’s been taking place in a city near me. There were loads of classes and workshops I wanted to attend but unfortunately due to money I budgeted myself to three. Even more unfortunately, one of them was cancelled right at the last minute, so I’ve only gotten to two of those.

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Today I’m going to quickly talk about my experience at the first – that was “Creative Writing: What You Need to Know About Revision and Editing” with David Pettigrew, writer, lecturer and editor. I was excited for this event because editing is the stage I’m at with all my projects currently. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve got a huge backlog of rough draft novels that I’d love to be able to look back on with more than a cringe, so I’m doing my best to work some of these into shape before I get struck by any shiny new ideas.

For me, it’s such a great feeling to go to these events. Almost all my creative writing experiences can be summed up by “me, alone in my room, banging my face against a keyboard.” When I took writing up seriously after university, I didn’t live anywhere that I could actually attend any writing classes. There were no writing groups and I couldn’t find any likeminded writing friends who weren’t at their very closest in another country. It has at times felt very isolated. Being able to attend writerly things like this are not only great fun but a good way to get some of that desolate feel away from it. It’s refreshing and inspiring.

During the event, I never actually learned too much that I didn’t know already. The course covered the basics like when to use a full stop and maybe you should put in paragraphs, along with a couple of other bits and bobs. For me it turned out to be less of an educational experience than it did a confidence builder. I took the time after the event to chat with a few of the other attendees and there were folks who were very serious about their writing but felt the course had opened their eyes about a lot of things they weren’t thinking about.

I guess I’ve still been considering myself as a beginner when it comes to writing fiction because I’m still unpublished, when I’ve actually learned a lot this last five years. In the handout provided with the course there were a lot of examples that I at first thought to be hyperbolic for the purpose of learning. They weren’t – they were quotes from pieces submitted as assignments in an undergraduate creative writing course. I was taken back by that, as I still very much considered myself on the low end of the writing skill scale. It turns out that after five years of practicing and studying and learning I know how to polish things perhaps better than I thought.

I’ve realised that maybe, perhaps, I’m not quite as much a beginner as I thought anymore no matter how much I feel like it.

Chilly Inspirations

Writing has been hard this week. There’s been a lot going on in the world and it isn’t the sort of stuff that can be tuned out when you need to be productive. So, today I thought I’d share some pictures I took this morning to inspire myself and my settings. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop and look under our own feet when we need some time out.

So, I hope you enjoy some chilly photos from Scotland!

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The morning was so still that the canal was a perfect mirror. A few of the trees were clinging to their last traces of green for the year, soon to turn into skeletons for the winter.

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The sun spilling through the trees as it rises over the hills and the last of the mist is burnt off.

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A shadowy spot behind the denser trees, the sun beckoning me forward.

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The camera doesn’t do the icy leaves justice. The colours here are warm but the air certainly wasn’t.

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A coot disturbs the water but hides from my camera in the shadows of the bank.

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Frozen nettles for some iced tea? They stood out undisturbed on an otherwise trampled path.

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And finally, a curious swan who seemed to be on a mission. I’m still wondering what it was.

Happy writing, everyone! And wrap up warm.

Printspiration

Just a short—and late!—post from me this time.

The process of writing a novel is a long, difficult and tiresome thing. It can be very easy to lose inspiration, especially when life outside your writing is hard. There are a few little things that I find are great for injecting a little of that passion back and there was a particular one that I was reminded of today.

It can often feel like all this time I spend pounding away at the keyboard doesn’t produce anything. I don’t end up with anything tangible after and sometimes when things are tough that can make it easy to forget the final product.

Today though, in preparation to start my final phase of Through the Black edits, I printed that sucker out. I very rarely actually print my work, partly because nothing ever feels finished enough to waste the paper on and partly because I’m convinced that all printers are out to get me. I was reminded of just how amazing it feels to hold that work in your hand, to flick through the pages you’ve worked so hard on all these years. Even just a print out for scrawling across can be enough to remind me both what I’m working towards and what it’s come from.

So if you’re feeling a little disillusioned with your writing, maybe try printing out a chapter or two and have a read. Touch the words, smell the paper. It might just give you that little boost you’re looking for.

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Boat Trip

Last weekend I was away on a fun excursion on a wildlife spotting boat trip! While we never saw any of the big mammals that like hanging about in the area (bottlenose dolphins, poor porpoises that get battered by the dolphins and a few whales), we did see one confused looking seal that I didn’t get a photo of and lots and lots of birds.

Below are a selection of the photos I took! For your inspiration and procrastination needs.

 

1.) Birds. Here was a big collection of feeding birds taken right at the start of the trip, before I remembered how to zoom my camera. We came over as apparently quite often this can signal a lot of fish under the surface, which attract the bigger mammals.

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2.) Still couldn’t find the zoom but we COULD find some cormorants and a great black backed gull.

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3.) The zoom! Here we have a sea cave tucked into the coast.

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4.) This area has a lot of watch posts left over from the war. Here’s one hidden up in the cliffs.

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5.) This guillemot is clearly hiding treasure in this cave. I just know it.

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6.) Some more caves over on the other side of the firth. They thought they were being stealthy under all that gorse but we found them. It was here that we stopped in the sun for juice and biscuits. Delightful!

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7.) A view of two more watch posts in the cliffs.

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8.) Some lovely Highland coastline.

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9.) An old decommissioned oil rig, which was apparently pretty revolutionary in its day. It was close by here that we stopped next to the marker for the resting place of the crew of the HMS Natal and remembered the tragedy. Moods were lifted by the appearance of a curious seal.

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10.) Back at the harbour, some wildlife! There were hundreds of these little guys all over the shop.

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11.) And finally, a jellyfish. I had to take a photo of it because I’m so used to seeing them washed up instead of happily splotting through the water.

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Anyone been on any fun or inspirational trips recently?

Programs For Editing Part 3: Paper

It’s time for the third and final part of my editing theme. The last program in my editing essentials isn’t a program at all – it’s the good old pen and paper. Some things really are just irreplaceable. So why, despite all this fancy technology and stuff, do I still rely so heavily on the tools it all started with?

The honest answer to that one is I really don’t know. There are some awesome benefits that I find when I give up on technology and just start writing but I could not tell you empirically why certain things are just easier with a pen and paper. There’s just something about it that gets the brain in gear, at least for me. So, what specifically do I get out of working on a hard copy?

My first comment would be that it’s pretty therapeutic. The feel of the paper under your hand, the glide of the pen, it’s all very soothing. More often than not I find it much easier to focus when I’m working like this rather than on a screen. Plus, I defy you to find a laptop that looks as good as these.

 

Notebooks

Be still my beating bank account.

 

When you’re reading along a sheet of paper, it’s super easy to quickly scrawl in a note or fix a typo and then keep going without losing too much of the flow of things. My poor, slow brain can keep up with scribbling down a note far better than when navigating a computer to fix an error. It keeps me in the moment and that allows me to work faster while still keeping sharp.

 

Commas

I still don’t know.

 

Another benefit I find is that I tend to read it more like an actual story that I’ve picked up off the shelf and that helps my brain pick out bits that aren’t right. Think about reading a novel – typos and errors are often glaring and obvious, and that’s partly due to not having read the piece a hundred times before. You become blind to these things and I have found that a printed out version can help to minimise this effect. As you can see from the below, I’ve a lot of issues – issues that I’ve completely glossed over while looking on a screen. Trust me, this is not the first time I’ve gone over this section. And still all the red.

 

Paper Edits

This isn’t even its final form.

 

So I’ve covered the print outs but often way before I even get to that stage there is already a notebook full of editing plans. Plans are good. Having them all in a handy notebook makes it easy to flick through them while you’re at your computer going through things. And as I mentioned before, there’s just something nice and also inspiring about them. They’re great to take about the place for when you’re thinking about your novel when you’re supposed to be interacting with the real world. Pfft. Reality.

 

Notebook Edits

Fear my amazing Paint skills.

 

So that’s me and my editing tools! I hope you all enjoyed hearing about them and I’d love to hear your methods in the comments below!

The Success of Others

In the last year, a few of the writers I follow and chat to on Twitter have published their debut books. That means there’s been a lot of book launch talk and I’ve found it all hugely inspiring. Books from authors whose works I already adore seem to be released in a near constant stream but there is something different with the release of a book from someone with whom I’ve actually shared words, even if we are more minor acquaintances than anything else. These moments are not only monumental in the authors’ lives but also in those of all the less progressed writers who can see. The release of a book from someone who is just breaking their way into the business is a declaration that there is always room for new authors, that someday if you stick at it with all that hard work that could be me. Or you. Hopefully both!

It is far too easy to allow myself to look on fellow writers’ successes with jealousy. There is that deep burning part of myself that is longing to be there as well, to see my book on the shelves and being (hopefully) enjoyed by readers. That’s normal and natural but it’s also important to share in other peoples’ successes. Be happy for them and proud of them. Let them inspire me to work on my own novel, give new fire to my commitment to my manuscript.

The glorious Twitter hype around book launches often sends me into daydreams about my own imaginary book birthday, none more so than a release from someone I’ve shared words with. That grounds the experience, brings it far closer to me than it’s ever been before. It makes it a more real and solid thing, as though this thing I aspire too isn’t such an impossibility after all.

And personally, I find that pretty inspiring.

Compromising

I hate leaving things unfinished. I don’t necessarily mean completing something totally (obviously, haha, don’t look at all those half finished manuscripts), but I generally need to finish a draft or a section of a story before I can comfortably move on. It feels like finishing a line of thought, and to be cut off halfway through to work on something else isn’t something I like to do. Mostly because more often than not it is a real challenge to get back into that story in when jumping in half way through. At least it is for me. I’ll have trouble picking up where I left off from and catching the characters voices’ again or not be confident with the story or the world. Not to even mention the nagging feeling in the back of my head whispering “you need to finish doing that thing” which makes it ridiculously difficult to work on other projects.

Sometimes though, compromise is necessary. This happened to me just last week. It was a tough enough week to begin with, but on top of it I was struggling terribly to finish the first draft of The Fishperer while desperately wanting to start work on the next draft of Through the Black. The ending had deviated from my original plans – big shocker there – and I was not only writing rubbish but hardly writing at all. Finishing that stupid draft felt like an insurmountable task. So I cheated.

Compromised is probably a better word. Either way it doesn’t matter because it worked and I now feel free to focus on my main and most progressed project. I ‘finished’ that first draft with bullet points. I knew vaguely what I wanted to happen, conversations, lines and actions that I wanted to include. So I completely stripped everything back and bullet pointed every moment of every scene that I anticipated writing. This left me with a lot of detail while being able to move swiftly through the scenes. It allowed me to better plan and figure out what I wanted to happen. Before I knew it I had pretty much the last two chapters finished – just without writing it.

It feels like an acceptable compromise right now because I’ve got all the information I wanted, including character quirks and lines, without dragging it out another two months of painful head-to-desk struggle. Of course it’s not a perfect solution and will mean more time in fixing this later but now that The Fishperer is out of the way for now I’ve made some real progress on the next draft of Through the Black, which to me makes it completely worth it.

Compromise is a vital aspect of so many walks of life, yet I still manage to forget about it in my writing. It’s another in that long list of things that I sometimes need to remind myself is okay.

Association Inspiration – The Power of Tea

A couple of weeks ago a friend posed a question on Twitter to those writers who have other jobs or an otherwise limited amount of writing time. The question was in two parts – the first was where do you fit in writing time and the second was how do you “change gears” from not writing to writing.

I squeeze in writing normally in the evenings and occasionally during lunchtimes while at work. For the second one, apparently I use something called Classical Conditioning (which didn’t actually twig until said friend pointed it out). I write using the almighty power of tea.

I love tea, but the only time I ever actually drink tea is while I’m writing. This isn’t deliberate, it’s just how things turned out. I don’t eat or drink in the morning because my stomach says no. I don’t trust the hygiene of any of the facilities at work. I never have tea on the go because it’s never right unless I make it myself (I, like many others, am very particular about my tea). I don’t drink tea while I’m gaming or drawing, as I always end up letting it go cold – something all my fellow tea lovers will agree is a horrendous crime. As a result, the only time I drink tea is while writing.

My writing hiatus ended in the middle of 2012 and thus began the tea conditioning. An accident? Yes. One I would change? Not a chance. Three years later and now just the smell of tea makes me think of writing and gets my fingers itchy. It helps me focus, helps me switch off from the other things that loudly scream for attention in life. A bad day at work can be difficult to shrug off, and it was something I used to struggle with far more than I do now. Now, I make myself a nice cup of tea and let that writing feeling come.

Obviously this isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always work, some days there’s just no helping being unproductive. It also does not cure writer’s block – but it can help keep me wanting to stick at it until I hit the break through. There’s no ultimate fix to make you super productive all the time, but if something helps a little then why not?

Of course some people simply can’t live limiting their tea intake per day – and it would be cruelty to suggest! – but there are lots of cues that can be used to train the brain. It could be a different beverage, a particular scented candle, a genre of music – whatever works for you! It’s not a quick solution and takes time for the association to stick but if you, like so many others, have a hectic life and have trouble shifting into writing mode then I’d recommend giving it a try. It’s definitely worked for me.

And if anyone already uses a similar method, I’d love to hear about what you do in the comments below!