Need For Praise

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My Daughter’s Painting

I’ve been in a funk this week. I can’t seem to shift it, I feel shredded and permanently on the verge of tears.

I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s tiredness, illness, depression, or just the slump after a stressful few weeks.

What’s hard is that it becomes horribly self-perpetuating. I snack on chocolate and bleed caffeine and try and sleep all day like a cat. So my body feels sluggish and the family neglected. Then I get grumpy and they get grumpy and I oscillate between anger and self-loathing.

I’ve worked out that part of it is finishing a book. As soon as it’s ‘done’ I want someone to tell me if it’s any good. But I’d say only a third of my books have been read by a person I know (if anyone!)
And it shouldn’t matter, but it does.

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My Painting

I’m horribly praise-driven. Unfortunately that’s probably why no one who knows me feels brave enough to read my books and pass comment. Despite my reassurances that I won’t take their criticism personally, I’m always gutted if the feedback is negative (or worse, silent).

The awful part is that I always tell my daughter not to do things just for praise. It drives me nuts when we’re doing painting together and she spends the first half of the time asking, ‘Do you like it, is it good?’ and the rest of the time crying because my painting is better than hers, even when I try to make it rough and ready, and point out I’ve been doing it much much longer… Turns out the need for praise is genetic!

So once more I’m hiding upstairs, swallowing down tears, feeling like the most terrible wife and mother. There’s no food in the fridge or dinner on the table and I can’t find it in me to do anything about it.

Never mind. Next week I’ll start a new book, numb the fear, feed the kids, get on with life. What other choice is there?

What Happened to April?

Battling Dinosaurs

Battling Dinosaurs

This month seems to have flown by in a gust of Arctic wind and a flurry of chaos.

Our new bathroom is (almost) finished. Ignoring some poorly-laid flooring, terrible sealing, and lethal points on the window sill, it’s done.

We haven’t quite moved in, as it hasn’t quite been signed off, but it’s nice to be clean and not to have to run downstairs in the night for a pee. Plus I’ve had great fun buying matching accessories.

My daughter said this morning (as she was finally ordered into the bath when coaxing wouldn’t work), “Mummy, why have you bought purple towels and white toilet paper?” I had to explain it was like her choosing the right shade of tights to go with her dress. It might be another thirty years before she understands though!

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

The novel I’m writing for my niece is also (almost) finished. I’ve done one edit, and my daughter is currently reading it (and happily pointing out poor word choices and sentence structure. She’s 7.) She asked if she’d get paid for editing it, and I said when I get paid more than a pound for writing it.:)

Now I’m torn between doing more editing of previous books (needed), starting work on the Editing course I spent precious money on (probably wise), helping the school fundraise for new equipment when we move sites (mucho kudos), more ironing, house cleaning, and painting (too tiring!), or killing dinosaurs in the Jurassic World game that is the current family Martin addiction.

I have, of course, been doing the latter… Ho hum.

How I Feel!

How I Feel!

That’s when I’m not at my children’s school learning how they teach maths to five-year-olds, taking my son to cricket, daughter to Rainbows, or dog for a walk. Plus we’re off to a festival on Sunday, so that needs planning too.

Ah, now I understand what happened to April. Like every other month it passed in the madness we call life.

Books, Builders, and Bloomin’ Colds

Alfie Stanton

Alfie Stanton

We’re into the fourth week of our ‘two-week’ bathroom refit and I’m about done with having builders in the house. Especially builders that appear to be more pantsers than planners. Who looks at the toilet that’s been ordered the morning they’re going to fit it? Then has to send the client off to the nearest DIY store to buy a different one because the ordered one won’t fit?

And the mess! Anyone who has had building work done will know that dust travels faster and further than gossip. Add to that the new radiator that required pipes to go down an old chimney (think of a soot-apocalypse and you won’t be far wrong) and it’s hellish.

For someone that never does housework I’ve done more cleaning in the last fortnight than in the last year!

I’m trying to write a book for my niece amidst this chaos and that is also behind schedule. It was a crazy plan to begin with, as I started the book last Monday to be ready for her birthday on Saturday. I’ve written a book in a week before, it didn’t seem too hard, but I hadn’t factored in the gazillion tiny decisions that have to be made every five minutes when there is a bathroom fitter, a heating engineer, an electrician, and a decorator in the house.

There have been some wins. Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero is now available on Amazon in print and ebook format. I found a couple of great illustrations for the front cover when I was looking for something else, so went ahead and got it live. It’s enrolled in KDP Select so I can try and bribe people to leave the odd review with a free copy! Watch this space.

My Niece's Book

My Niece’s Book

And I have almost finished the first draft of my niece’s novel – Josie and the Unicorn. I would have finished it yesterday but I keep getting these bizarre dizzy spells that last all day and one hit me in Waitrose as I tapped away at my final climax. I’ve pretty much been in bed since! Might be time to see a doctor.

But before then I have to go see the lovely man at Oundle Carpets because the decorator says the vinyl we bought for the floor won’t match the violent violet paint we’ve chosen for the walls (regretting that decision already, but it’s only paint!)

Toilets and vinyl and tiles and soot-sweeping and washing my hair in a sink. This author is really living the dream! J

Looking For the Window

Sunny Skegness

Sunny Skegness

So another door closes, as the longlist for the Chicken House competition was announced last week and I wasn’t on it. I didn’t expect to be, of course, but while there’s silence, there’s hope. And now I am looking for the open window, because if you don’t keep hoping, keep trying, what’s the point?

Having spent the holiday knocked out with Flu, struggling to be up for the children for our annual caravan holiday on the East Coast, the last thing I feel like doing now is fighting. But the more books I write, the more I can believe I am an author. I just need to find the outlet.

My latest plan (crazy scheme?) is to do an editing and proofreading course. If I can make some money perhaps I can afford an illustrator. With decent pictures, I would be much happier self-publishing my children’s books. Like I say, more a crazy scheme than a plan, but if nothing else I’ll get better at editing my own books.

In the mean time, the kids are at sports camp for two days, so I can try and find order in a house full of builders, start conquering the feral ironing, and get myself better for the fight. Pass the spinnach.

Somewhere, there’s a window open, waiting for me to squeeze through and find my way forward. Let’s hope it’s not raining out there.

The Finish Line or the Starting Post?

Ready for posting

Ready for posting

It’s the last day of this four-week term and somehow, through illness and doubt, computer disaster and credit card fraud (you have no idea how many passwords you have until you decide to change them all), I have a completed entry to send to Good Housekeeping.

It was touch and go. I’ve been distracted by excellent novels (I read Divergent and Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, in two or three long sittings this weekend) and trying to declutter the house. I’ve been distracted by failing to repaint the playroom, and by wishing I’d asked the decorator to put our wallpaper poster a foot to the left.

I’ve been collating things for a domestic violence charity (research for the novel has been a cold dose of reality) and emptying the loft for the builders. Well, hubbie’s been doing that – I’ve been trying not to intervene and protect stuff from being thrown away.

And somehow, I dragged out a 70,000 word first draft. Definitely a first draft, especially as I was aiming for 80,000, and reading Divergent has shown me how much emotion is missing from my work. But the competition only calls for 5,000 words and a synopsis, so a first draft is fine.

Should have gone right to the window...

Should have gone right to the window…

But sending submissions – the 1,000 word synopsis that brutally reduces all that work into a few hard facts – the last proofread, and then just one more – the 100-word bio (do I talk about me or my books?!) – All this is like the years studying for an exam, the weeks revising, and then the two hours you are judged on. It is too much and never enough.

The biggest question is, when I send my submission off, will it be an end or a beginning? I hover between optimism and pessimism: someone has to win, but it really isn’t likely to be me. And I won’t know either way for months.

And until then, there’s the wait.

But it’s the Easter holidays, it’s Spring, the new bathroom is coming. I still have Allegiant to read.

Today is definitely a beginning.

Road Closed Ahead

Flooded Roads Everywhere

Flooded Roads Everywhere

This month I have been writing my first novel using a detailed plan. I am halfway through and I thought I’d share how it’s going.

As I discussed in my last post it took me a long time to get started, although that was partly due to the nature of the story. Ironically the ‘hard’ scenes have been the easiest to write, in as much as they’re the heart and soul of the story. I can get swept up in the emotion, however horrible, and the words flow.

Harder has been the overall narrative. Writing from a plan is a little too left-brain for me. I am analysing my writing too much (groaning over how many times I use ‘then’ or start sentences with characters’ names or pronouns.)

According to a quote I found on the internet, “Left brain thinking is verbal and analytical. Right brain is non-verbal and intuitive, using pictures rather than words.” (Ucmas.ca)

That should mean left-brain is great for writing, right? Not for me. Oh, I probably have fewer continuity errors, virtually no typos and spelling mistakes, and near-perfect grammar. But the story has no flow and no imagery. It’s all words and clichéd descriptions of emotions.

I know, a book is generally made up of words! But I realised on my last quick scan that there is no description after the first page. I mean none. No sounds, smells, sights, room descriptions, setting, weather. Just dialogue and action in a vacuum. That can all be added of course, but I write better prose subconsciously, so it’s more risky to have to add it during edits.

The other problem is that, even though I have drifted from my original plan to some extent, I am still lost without my cards.

I came on the school run today without them. I usually write for an hour in a coffee shop and then head home. I knew what scene I was due to write. All good. Except I’m stranded in town due to flooding, and I’m stuck.

Spending the whole day in a coffee shop should mean I can bang out five thousand words. But I don’t know what comes next. I’m 30,000 words from the climax scenes and I can’t remember how I planned to get there!

On a positive note, however, I do seem to be mostly on track with Snyder’s Beat Sheet, even if I’ve ignored half the scenes and all the word-count estimates. And it was useful, during the 20,000 word dip (that NaNoers might recognise) to be able to look at the next card and keep on plodding on.

I really need to finish this first draft by the end of term, especially if I want to enter the Good Housekeeping competition. Unfortunately the kids break up two weeks today (darn those early Easters) and even though I’ve written 45k words in two and a half weeks, it’s feeling like a huge challenge.

I guess I could just make a start on the climax scenes and plug the gap later. I prefer to write linear, but needs must!

And of course, there’s my final dilemma. In my plan someone may or may not die. I didn’t know during the planning process. I still don’t know. I hoped I would be clear when I got there. I guess once a pantser, always a pantser, even with a pretty set of index cards!

Too Scared To Start

A Book in Card Form

A Book in Card Form

I know it’s been ages since I wrote a post. What can I say? My fortieth year seems to be a time of change. Looking for a job that pays actual real money, de-cluttering the house and fixing things we’ve put up with for ages, trying to lose some of the 30lbs I’ve gained in the last decade without actually going on a diet because, cake.

And, despite my last post, trying to write a book for adults.

After my defeatist post, saying I wasn’t going to write for adults anymore, I decided that was a bit crap. So I downloaded a book I’ve heard great things about, called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on how to write screenplays, rather than novels, but the principles are the same.

It’s brilliant.

Snyder uses a 15-Beat plan to plot a screenplay (or novel) and it’s the first time I’ve seen a beat sheet that actually helped create the plot, rather than just lay it out and break it into acts.

For the first time ever, I have planned a complete novel from beginning to end, set out in 45 scenes, with word count targets, turning points, characters, motivation, conflict and resolution. I usually start writing with a character and an ending and that’s it. This time I didn’t even really understand who my lead character was until I was some way in.

So, I have these cards. This plot. This complete story. And I’m scared.

I’ve never written to a plan before. What if I can’t flesh out the story to do my plan justice? What if I try too hard and it’s stilted, because I usually seat-of-pants my writing, which gives it great vigour and flow. What if, what if…?

Even though I have a complete story there, ready to be written, I have writer’s block. It’s horrible.

I forced myself to write a couple of scenes this morning, just to get going. But it was HARD. To make it worse, I have accidentally written a plan for a story that is tough. Difficult scenes, not-very-nice characters. Grief, angst, worry.

As part of his lessons, Snyder recommends that you choose a hero that, “offers the most conflict in the situation, has the longest emotional journey, and has a primal goal we can all root for. Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, and fear of death grab us.”

I don’t normally do conflict. I don’t like writing tough scenes. Writing the suicide-attempt scenes in Two Hundred Steps Home made me unbelievably miserable. But somehow, Snyder’s book created this tense, conflict-driven storyline. And now I’m too afraid to write it.

I get very affected by what I write. I remember being horrible to my husband when writing about Daniel in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes. I go out of my way to avoid arguments and upheaval. Just being around my constantly-squabbling children at the moment is exhausting. So why would I write a book about horrible things?

Because it should be a good book, that’s why. Moving out my comfort zone, upping the conflict, should make for a page-turner. If I can do it justice and make a character I can root for.

While I haven’t started, all that is wonderful potential. As soon as I begin, I will realise I don’t have the skill to pull it off. Maybe that’s why I’m a pantser at heart: not because I can’t plan, but because I don’t have the self-belief to put a plan into action. Pantsing involves a lot of writing from the subconscious, switching off the critical, analytical part of the brain. Writing to a plan is going to make that so much harder.

But nothing good ever came easy, right? So I’ll plod on. Like losing 30lbs, it has to start one day at a time. One biscuit fewer, one mile more. One paragraph, one card, one page.

My book is called, “It takes courage.”

It certainly does.