Blog Block: Breaking the Silence

4eb37dd13f42674acbd12e3530d6f979-the-face-beautifulCan you hear them? All the blog posts I have written in my head over the past few months. Mostly at 2am, when my terrible sleep pattern has me wide awake, brain working, body dead. Unfortunately, by the time I’m up at 5.30am, the body is awake and the mind is numb.

They’ve been great posts though, I wish you could have read them. About my new obsession with the soundtrack from the Hamilton Musical and, as an offshoot, my undying respect and love for Lin-Manuel Miranda (look them both up: awesome!)

Posts about parenting anxious children, and wondering how much to interfere. Following a lot of Go Zen posts on Facebook (very useful: look them up!) and realising that the issue is very much more mine than theirs.

The parallels between running and writing: that was one post (in my head) I was particularly proud of. Sure to go viral (a girl can dream.)

Knitting. Christmas. Being self-employed. Writing competitions. Rejections.

Problem is, I know I’ve written about all the topics before, and I know how much it annoys me when the kids tell me a tale I’ve heard a million times. But maybe that’s life. It is circular after all. The same issues and achievements rock around for all of us, again and again. But sometimes reading the right advice or anecdote at the right time is the key to survival. Meaning there’s a point to the same posts rewritten ad finitum.

Anyway, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but one thing listening to Hamilton daily does for you is give you a sense of your own lack of purpose and motivation. So I am trying for a little more motivation. My husband bought me a t-shirt with one of the key lines from the musical: ‘Young, Scrappy and Hungry’. I’m only one of those things, and only in the sense of hungry for chocolate, but perhaps it isn’t too late for me.

I read this morning about how to make children resilient to failure, to life: about the fact that much of it is how we interpret the things around us, drawing either the positives or the negatives from a given situation. I’m very much a glass-is-practically-empty-and-it-is-all-my-fault kinda gal. Lately it’s been all about having no income. (I got refused for a credit card for the first time in my life. That sucked.)

But I realised, in the car driving home from my coffee in Waitrose this morning, where I had sat doing counted cross-stitch for a gift for my daughter, that I’m the luckiest person on earth. I get to do all the creative things I wanted to do when I was stuck twelve hours a day in a job I hated. So I’d better make the most of it and stop stressing about getting a minimum-wage job and how unfair it is when I have a bunch of qualifications. It’s my life, I need to live it and quit whingeing.

I’ll leave you with some words from Hamilton, that I’m going to try and live by. And if I find myself on the sofa watching Murdoch Mysteries re-runs, I’m going to forgive myself and move on. Because, you know, life.

HamiltonBlogImage

 

Blank

img_5471

All the gear, no idea

For the first time in a very very long time I have (shhh) writer’s block.

Writer’s block doesn’t really exist: if you write every day, even if it’s rubbish, the ideas keep flowing and eventually a good story comes.

But I haven’t been writing every day. In fact I haven’t written something new since I penned a story for my niece back in April. I’ve either been editing existing works or doing other stuff. Knitting, gardening, moving all the downstairs furniture to make room for the decorators coming next Tuesday.

But it’s November. It’s Nanowrimo time. My audio-typing work is done, the children are back at school. I should be able to bang out a 50,000 word manuscript in four weeks. I’ve done nearly that much in four days before.

But the blank page is defeating me. Dog walking isn’t generating ideas like it should. My brain seems semi-comatose. I can’t even get the kids to give me ideas. My son wants a story about Ninjas or Minions, or he wants to write it with me (!), and my daughter isn’t interested in stories at all.

I even embraced technology, instead of giving in to my technophobia, and purchased a bluetooth keyboard to use with my super-duper new phone. That way I don’t even have to worry if the laptop has charge. But nope. Still nothing.

November is four days old already. Nano is happening all around me. I get the Cambridge Nano Facebook updates and people are hitting 10,000 words already. I haven’t done Nanowrimo for years, but I’ve not forgotten that it’s what got me writing novels in the first place.

But sometimes life conspires.

Actually I think partly what’s triggered it is the feedback I got from Mslexia after failing to make the longlist with Dragon Wraiths this time (it made it a few years ago). Their view was that too many stories start in predictable places: school, home. All my children’s books start in one of those two places. It’s hard to think of something else without plagiarising the fabulous books I’ve read or am reading.

Maybe I’m just trying too hard. When I started my first novel all those years ago, I proper-pantsed it. I had no idea, no character, nothing, just a free-write from a bunch of items on a table at college. Now, though, I know the hot mess I get into pantsing. I need to at least know my character, setting and end-goal.

At the moment I can’t even come up with one out of three! Nothing, zilch, nada.

I refuse to believe in Writer’s Block, but perhaps I can accept that everything has a season, and my season now is home-maker and knitter-extraordinaire.

That blank page still hurts though.

Searching For The Next Novel Idea

A book of ideas

A book of ideas

I’ve decided to park Finding Lucy for now, as I need to start writing now to get back into the swing of things and the draft needs far too much analysing to write anything more on it yet. So today I ran through my scribbled list of projects looking for inspiration. I didn’t find it, even though the list is rather long!

Current Drafts:
Finding Lucy (needs too much work)
Bonds of Love (ditto, plus has overlap characters with Finding Lucy)
Annie and Phoebe (about a Georgette Heyer novel that isn’t in public domain, so a no go for self-publishing)
Dragon Wraiths part two (don’t have the energy to pick through the hot mess of the last few chapters)
Alfie and the Arch (don’t feel qualified to write kids’ fiction at the moment)

Pencilled in Sequels
Sequel to Two Hundred Steps Home (don’t have energy to re-read the 200k original to pick up the story thread)
Sequel to Baby Blues following Ben and Sharni (isn’t grabbing me, lots of cultural research required)

Totally New Ideas
The Pudding Club (an idea that floats around every time I catch up with my old colleagues – a novel or play written just through dialogue at regular catch-ups. Bit worried my friends will try out work out which one is them or take offence.)
Dad Starts Dating (a YA about a girl whose divorced parents start new relationships – based on personal experience; I worry I would end up offending my mum!)
Colony on Jupiter (YA? – one of the dream stories I actually wrote notes on rather than immediately forgot. A bit like the TV series 100, although my idea predates watching it, but where the space station is a functioning community with shops, school etc)

So far NONE of these is remotely grabbing me. I want to write something with a bit of pace; I’d love to write a series, to help sales and because I loved spending a whole year with Claire last year, and I’d love to write something fantasy/sci fi, even though that’s considerably out my comfort zone.

But a) I worry that straying from the stye of Class Act and Baby Blues will be a mistake (although I can’t give Class Act away, so there isn’t much to break) and b) I’m really not sure I have the imagination to pull it off without plagiarising something. It’s no coincidence that my characters are loosely based on me: my biggest fear is stealing someone else’s idea/style/world. I found it happened a lot with Dragon Wraiths, whereas it was easy to imagine the settings for Class Act and Baby Blues.

I feel like when I can’t decide on a new book to read, which ironically is also a problem I’m having. I have three or four good novels half-finished on the kindle and have reverted to the failsafe of Harry Potter just to keep reading. It feels like I poured all my creativity into loombands and knitting and art in August and now I’m empty (and have RSI!)

Arrgghh. Writers out there, where do you get your ideas from when you’re stuck? How do you choose your next project? I have been working on old manuscripts for so long I’ve forgotten how to start something new, and I’ve never started something without a glimmer of an idea from a dream or a character or an idea how the story ends. Maybe it’s time to get an early night and hope I remember my dreams!

A Bio, A Synopsis and The Danger of Distraction

Back at Nursery Today

Back at Nursery Today

My son went back to nursery today (hurrah!) and I was able to get back to work. Unfortunately a night of broken sleep has left me a little dazed and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. So, rather dangerously, I decided to do something different. I’ve just read Julie Duffy’s guest post on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog, about 15 Fixes for Your Worst Writer’s Block (worth a read!) I decided to combine ‘Work On A Different Part Of The Project’ and ‘Change Projects’. So today I’ve been working on the extra stuff I need to enter my WIP in the Independent’s children’s novel competition – the bio and synopsis – and I got out an old manuscript that I want to work on next.

It was a shock looking at the old manuscript and realising I started writing it in 2008, before my daughter was born. That’s five and a half years ago! Where did the time go? It’s also tough reading something that you remember as being quite good and realising your writing has come on some way since then. Which is of course fantastic – I’d hate to think my writing had got worse – but as I wrote the manuscript whilst also studying a Creative Writing degree course with the Open University, I kind of assumed it might be okay. Actually the writing might be – I didn’t get much chance to go into it – but the formatting and grammar are awful!

I spent the morning roughly reformatting it because I’ve programmed myself to write ready-to-publish documents, after doing Two-Hundred Steps Home last year, when everything had to be ready to publish at the end of each month. Formatting and layout, styles and chapter headings, all have to be to Smashwords standards (easy enough to convert to Kindle formatting). It did mean that I noticed things like how many bits of dialogue start with, “So…” Which is how I speak, but no longer how I write fiction. It’s nice to know I have grown a bit as a writer in half a decade.

I had to quickly put the manuscript away before it dragged me further in. It’s probably a blessing that it needs so much work: I’m not tempted to start that particular challenge when I have two big deadlines looming: finishing this children’s book by the end of next week, and getting Class Act out by the end of June.

So I wrote my Author Biography (see! I started another sentence with ‘so’!) It was rather gratifying. I was able to put:

Amanda Martin is a self-published author and blogger, with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Her blog, Writermummy, has accumulated 550 posts in two years, and she has published four novels. Amanda’s women’s fiction novel Two-Hundred Steps Home was written in daily instalments and published in monthly volumes in 2013 as part of a challenge on her blog. A section of the novel has been selected to appear in a Cambridge University Press study book. Amanda’s Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel award in 2013. George and the Magic Arch is her first Middle Grade novel, although MG fiction is her favourite genre.

All of which should hopefully be true by the time I put in the competition entry, or at least by the time someone comes to read it! It’s nice to feel I’ve been doing something with my time at home these last five years.  I even managed to write a one-page synopsis which, although it will need tweaking, takes a weight off my mind. I hate writing synopses (if that’s the correct plural?)

Anyway, distraction time is over. As the children have been off sick this week I’m marginally behind on my 15,000 word target, although it’s still in sights. I definitely do better working to a target. I must remember that.

How to Get Out of Writer’s Block

Designing plot: like trying to assemble a marble run

Designing plot: like trying to assemble a marble run

For me the most effective way through writer’s block is to become like my three-year-old and son ask questions. “Mummy, why?” is something he repeats ten times a minutes and, as infuriating as it is, it’s how he learns about the world around him. Most of my answers start with “I don’t know, maybe because…”, or, “Let’s google it”.

Working out what’s going on in a new novel is no different. The more questions you ask, the better the story gets. The harder you search for answers the further you get away from clichés and predictable plot lines. But when asking what happens next and why comes up with nothing, you can start questioning the characters instead. What are their motivations? What are they yearning for, even if they don’t know themselves? What are their greatest fears? What might happen to chuck them out their comfort zone.

Like many younger siblings, my protagonist George is looking for his own identity. He knows he isn’t smart like his sister or sporty and musical like his brother. He thinks his mum doesn’t love him, that he’s always useless. Only his dad understood him, and he vanished a year ago. The thing he likes to do most is kill aliens in his computer games. But he also likes to cook.

As the story progresses, George is discovering he’s fitter and smarter than he thinks he is, and his cooking ability is earning him respect. But, now that I’m at a dead end in the plot, I’ve been questioning him to see if he can help me work out what happens next. And he’s reminded me he loves computer games, which means he is observant and tactical. If the games he plays are like the Tomb Raider games I loved as a teenager, he has to work out puzzles and keep trying until something works. He must be tenacious and brave and good at lateral thinking.

So far his co-protagonist Merula has been leading them both and making the decisions. They are in her world and she has the answers. But he’s been challenging her thinking, questioning things she’s always believed in, and now they’re at an impasse. I think it’s time for George to come into his own and develop a clever strategy to take the action forward, using his game-playing skills.

Now if only I knew what games ten-year-old boys are playing these days I would feel on more solid ground. Any ideas?

Writer’s Block

Chick Lit

It’s amazing how the act of trying to think up a brilliant idea can bring on Writer’s Block. Normally I don’t suffer from anything like writer’s blankness, only writer’s fatigue. You know, when even you are a bit sick of your characters and the woes that continually befall them.

I’ve never opened my laptop on a writing day and failed to write five hundred words, even if the quality of said words means they’ll be on the cutting room floor at some point in the future. (Or not, as is too often the case. I’m a terrible editor.) Today, though, after finally locating dry wellies for the children and packing them off to nursery, grateful to finally be writing after missing Monday due to the bank holiday, I came up against the wall of the blank word document.

I was sat in a car park, waiting for someone I was due to have a meeting with, and I tried to at least freewrite about my surroundings. Describe the wind through the trees or the wall surrounding the car park. I managed a painful two hundred words before giving up in disgust.

The thing is, I know the cause. It comes from my desire to enter the Bridport prize.

Suddenly I’m back to the person I was four years ago, before I discovered freewriting with the OU, before I was introduced to Nanowrimo, before I was given permission to just write, without peering over my own shoulder critiquing every word that appears on the page. Because, of course, just writing isn’t going to be enough for a Bridport entry. It needs to be a moving or clever story with compelling characters and amazing momentum. The kind of story that lingers long after you’ve finished it, that hovers round your mind and raises new thoughts, new questions.

I don’t even know where to start.

Chick Lit, now, that’s easy. It’s genre writing; there’s always somewhere to start. But coming up with something original, something unique enough to get through round after round of vetting? I’ve as much chance learning how to fly. I’m not even sure I can write good chick lit because I’ve only sent my novel to one agent so far, and I know that my synopsis doesn’t do the novel justice.

I think it is time to focus, stop faffing, concentrate on what I can do, and put dreams of £5000 prize funds and fame and glory away for another year.

Besides I have a synopsis to write.