A sad loss

In October 2004 I got a call from my vet-nurse colleague who said that a ginger kitten had been brought into the surgery. He’d been found bedraggled and wet by the side of the road, was only about two weeks old and would I nurse him back to health? How could I resist? I’d wanted a ginger tom for a while to beat the crap out of a mangy cross-eyed brute who’d been coming into my house and terrorising my other two cats – this little kitten was the answer.

This tiny ball of ginger fluff was soon mewing all night and keeping me awake as I fed him every two hours on weaning milk. Both his little voice and bright blue eyes were piercing, and he followed me everywhere I went, without fail. I’d run to the loo during a commercial break and he’d just about making it halfway up the stairs before I was on my way down again. He slept on my pillow and lived under my jumper for the best part of a month.

My little ginger tom spent several weeks with rather politically-incorrect names. He had the shakes a bit – we later found out he had a condition known as cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) – and was called Parky and Ozzie -aka – Mr Osborne. He also looked like a tiny gremlin, and earned himself the name of Gizmo. Eventually, however, he became Tobias, Toby or Tobes.

Over the past 10 years, poor little Tobes has been rather manky. His CH meant that he fell over, dropped off and tumbled down a lot of things, breaking whiskers and many teeth in the process. He developed urinary tract disease, had a blocked bladder four times, had a heart murmur, went bald on the tip of his tail, got a flea allergy, development arthritis in his back legs, suffered from occasional fitting and decided that peeing and pooping outdoors was not for him. Nor did he have the capability of going in a litter tray because of his wobbles. So, for almost a decade, I’ve lived with towels covering my kitchen floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite that, Tobes always snuggled, came on holidays with me, journeyed on the train back home for Christmas, buried himself under my duvet, and purred in my ear when I was feeling ill. He even managed to pull a softer side out of Mimi, my tabby with the most horrible of temperaments, and got her to lick his ears on occasion. Meanwhile, despite my fantasy series never originally having cats in it, Toby wormed his way into the pages there too, and will forever be the lolling ginger and white tom in Roberta’s Ridgewood house.

Yesterday, another blocked bladder and a lot of pain finally meant that poor ‘ol Tobes had to pass on. It’s a sad day here, and the place feels empty without the sounds of him tumbling around the kitchen, banging into things and taking hours to eat just one kibble. Life is an experience, and so too, is death. And, no doubt, poor little well loved Toby will have etched his way into my writing in some form or another. But, for now, my little hermitage is slightly bereft at the loss of a brave little moggy who soldiered on despite extremely poor odds. RIP Tobes.

Finding my way back to the inner pantser

In the writing industry, there are two common types of authors; the planners and the pantsers. If you haven’t heard of the latter term, it applies to writers to let the story emerge without really thinking about it. Whilst some individuals prefer to meticulously plan every chapter, draw up character sheets and have a detailed concept before they even start to write, pantsers normally have a few important story milestones to reach, a character or two at most and then just write. J. K Rowling is a famous planner of her novels, creating spreadsheets to easily guide her writing. I, however, am a complete pantser. I’ve never been able to plan a book in my life, and the idea of sitting down and writing out a chapter by chapter summary before I’ve even started makes me shudder. I actually don’t think I could even do it because many of my ideas spark from creative thought as I’m in the process of writing my fantasy novels.

Writing a series = Pantser freak out

However, herein lies the problem. Writing a standalone novel isn’t too tough if you just have to sit down and let the words flow. You can tighten up aspects of your book when you’re doing the edit. But, when you’re writing a series, all manner of complications begin to arise.

Spirits of the Middlelands is now progressing nicely, and I’m about one third of the way through (Hooray). Inside Evil was pretty easy to write, The Tower of Souls practically fell out of my mind and onto the page, and Spirits of the Middlelands? Gosh – it’s been causing me problems. I’m not sure whether it’s because I took time out to write CRYO and Pacifier 6, or whether I’m trying to wind so many strands of information together that it’s blowing my brain, but getting the flow has been hard.

So many threads

Spirits of the Middlelands is the third novel in a five book series, and whilst being the middle segment, there’s a lot to factor in. There are questions that need to be resolved from The Tower of Souls, for example. How did the Queen of the North Realms survive? Why was the girl able to cross over? Will the portal in the basement now be a doorway between worlds? These are all questions that need to be answered.

Then there is the lore around the Ammokra itself. What is it? Where did it start? Can it be stopped?

Then there are the individual story elements of each novel which need to tie together so you get the ‘Aha’ moments. Characters need to be progressed; Martha needs to be developed as a Gatekeeper, Roberta needs to prepare herself for life in hiding, Karl just needs to find an actual role in life.

Time to breathe

I’ve spoken about the threads as they’ve really begun to become problematic. How on earth can I write freely when there are so many elements that I’ve got to try and include? It’s for that reason that I’ve suffered major writer’s block for a couple of weeks. I like sitting down and watching Martha and Susan drink gin, or Roberta and Sam solving problems. I don’t want to feel as if I’m pulling teeth to get them to say or do anything.

Luckily, I’ve realised that the planning needs to step back, that I can go through the intricacies of the story in editing. That’s the time to add the little nuances and important features that will wind the entire series together. For now, I’m sitting back and let the characters do their own thing again, and truth be told, it’s working. Martha’s acting odder than ever, Roberta’s becoming more feisty and even Karl’s created an entire storyline that was never planned. This is the way I like it.

So what’s the entire point of this post? Basically, it’s to say; Don’t force it. I was trying far too hard to MAKE the story work instead of it letting it CREATE itself. Don’t stress on the first draft…just run with your thoughts and sort out the details later. You’d think I’d have known this by now…obviously not.

Are you a planner or a pantser? Let me know in the comments!

To NaNoWriMo or not

You may think that if I’m still trying to decide whether to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) on November 6th, then I’m on to a losing battle. It’s true….I haven’t really started yet. I managed to write the first 3,000 words of the new Inside Evil novel on my flight to Canada, but my bid to write far more on the way home was interrupted by an extremely fidgety passenger to my right.

Every year I contemplate NaNoWriMo. I’m a writer, I’ve published novels, shouldn’t I be participating? Especially as I’m a huge procrastinator? Getting 50,000 words down on paper for a month would be incredible. Every year I think about it. Every year I start. Every year, I’m lost within a few days.

This is my first year in self publishing, and I’ve got Inside Evil, The Tower of Souls, and the soon to be published CRYO: Rise of the Immortals, under my belt. The third IE book, Spirits of the Middlelands, is set to be released in Feb 2013 (probably) so getting that 50K done now would be a huge step forward in getting to that release date with time to spare. But I’m still in a quandary about NaNoWriMo. Why? Because it’s hard.

If writing was my only job, then fair enough. As it is, I have to concentrate on multiple other work pieces too. For now I’ll try and bash out my normal 1,000 words a day and see how I go. If I manage to write more on a few days, who knows, I might even complete NaNoWriMo by accident. Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Completed it before? Let me know!

Writing books on smartphones and gadgets

When it comes to writing, I’m one of the world’s greatest procrastinators. Rather than simply sitting down at my computer, I like to first get all of my client writing work out of the way. I like to schedule my day and work out when I can write blogs, clean the dishes, feed the cats; anything but actually sit down and actually work. I will be thinking about writing, formulating scenes and chapters in my mind, but I can often put off the actual process of writing for an extraordinarily long length of time. Sometimes, it’s just that I don’t want to sit down at my computer.

Something that’s got me producing more work and words every day is writing whilst I’m on the move. Though I’m a PC boy, I have fallen into the Apple cart, quite literally, and the iPhone has literally changed my life in the past two years that I’ve had it. However, it is in more recent weeks that the ‘Notes’ app (right) has been proving a huge benefit.

You may not think that writing a novel on your iPhone is the smartest way to go about producing work, but if you can actually get words written, then anything is a bonus. Think how fast you type messages and emails on your smartphone. If you can transfer this speed to your ‘Notes’ app, then surely you’re onto a winner. A benefit with the app is that there’s an integrated email function. When I’m home I can simply cut and paste the words into my main manuscript. Yes, there’s some formatting that needs to be done, but highlighting the text and adding line spacing, indents and changing the font takes mere seconds. As for correcting comma and quotation fonts; well I can easily do that in the final edit.

In the past few weeks I’ve managed to get a lot of words written using this method. Any free moment, whether it’s a coffee break or even an advert break when I’m watching the television, I can jot things down. Yes, you can take notepads, netbooks or laptops wherever you go if you wish, but there’s one thing that’s almost certainly always going to be to hand, and that’s your phone.

Of course, this isn’t a replacement for your PC or Mac, but it sure helps churn out those important thoughts and words when you have a few spare minutes. It also seems like less work than sitting down at your computer. And, for the ultimate procrastinator like me, emailing across the document, integrating it into the manuscript and suddenly realising you’ve written 5k by utilising otherwise wasted time is wonderful. I’m not sure whether other smartphone systems have similar applications as this. But, if you have an iPhone and you sometimes struggle with sitting down to concentrate on writing, utilising the Notes app may just provide the extra incentive to keep going.

Breaking the ‘Writing-Place’ Myth

When it comes to finding the perfect writing place, I’m the king of procrastination. ‘I’m not ready to write’, ‘I need to work in a clean environment’, ‘I only write late at night’ are all excuses I’ve used. There’s often a romance that surrounds writing and many people, including myself, have become caught into the idea that an idyllic setting is needed for writing. Sitting in a park on a warm summers day. Sat by the cracking fire and wrapped in a rug. Taking a week off to go to a secluded country cottage simply to write. However, I hate to break this misconception but it’s simply not true.

I remember seeing a documentary with J.K. Rowling. She was putting the last finishing touches to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a sparse, dull hotel room. No, I kid you not, she wrote the Harry Potter novels not in some ancient Scottish castle with dancing fire and romanticised candles, but in plain old ordinary settings.

Really, the key to writing is to just sit down and do it. That’s easy for me to say, but as a HUGE procrastinator myself, it really is the only way you’ll ever get anything done. Ok, so having an evening writing after a long soak, cleaning the house, and lighting some candles did get some chapters done. But, most of the time I was either in front of my old PC or in bed with a laptop and dribbling cat next to me. Not the perfect writing scene you may have imagined.

So, instead of waiting for the right moment to write, or the best environment to start tapping away, simply get scribbling. Setting aside some set personal writing time and not getting caught in the writers environment trap could make the difference to finishing your novel and not.