Showing posts with label writer's bloc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writer's bloc. Show all posts

Tuesday 15 March 2016

If literary characters had representation...

The freezing drizzle fell heavy on the fine balance for my morning run in the mountain. A warm bowl of porridge was so much closer, so much… warmer. My laptop sprung into life without any such reservations and pinged Facebook updates at me, the weather, breakfast cereals and the internet were now joining forces against me. I didn’t stand a chance. I shut down the distractions and went to perk some coffee. Scrivener took me to the cliffhanger where I had left my characters dangling. Waiting saviour, solace or slaughter but I had none. The cursor blinked and blinked. My heart began to sync with it but no word, no letter came.
finally my characters huffed and stomped off to their trailers, chiding me over their shoulders as they left me alone, “Call us when you got something interesting to do.”
It’s a good job literary characters don’t have representation. Their trailers cost me a few keystrokes but the rewrites were endless. I made the mistake of giving a protagonist a shrink once and he’s still harping on about improving relations with his mother.
“Yeah! I’m going to update my facebook status.” My fragile, sympathetic heroine spat. I’m glad I don’t give her many lines, she’s an awful actress. Everyone knew she was going back to his trailer.
The cursor is still winking.
The bit parts start getting shifty.
I look at them and they look back at me. I could build you into a love interest, an evil nemesis, a cyber-borne virus.
“Ok, great! But get on with it. We took a day off Lidls for this. It may be minimum wage but it’s a living wage.”
The other mumbles something about a double shift at Nando’s.
This isn’t the first time I’ve hit a wall. You know what it’s like. What’s that face for? You know what ‘The Block’ feels like, hanging in the air above a huge abyss just knowing that falling would be preferable to hanging. I grit my teeth and began larruping the keyboard but the closest to a word I can get is q-w-e-r-t-I.
I’ve had this before. I got past it. I revisited an old post to benefit from past wisdom.
Fuck! Even I’m goading myself from the past. All I need now is for my late Grandma to call me and point out what a useless hack I am. She was published long before me and deserved it more. She lived through a world war, I barely made it through a consumer spending slump.
It’s simple, all I need to do is write, that’s what my past self tells me.
Inspired by my bullying self, I roll up my sleeves and resolve to write. Write anything and see where it takes me. I get back to scrivener just in time to see the bus leave, taking my remaining material off to a double shift at Nando’s.
Sod this for a game of soldiers! I’m going to lounge on the sofa and watch Stewart Lee slag off rich people with a cup of herbal tea…

…and a bacon sandwich.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Why You Shouldn't Use Scrivener to Compile your eBook

Scrivener is a powerful writing tool. It feels like pro equipment, it helps organise, save and protect my writing in a way that MS Word never did. But when I compiled my first ebook and I discovered that it is a tool that can fool you into believing it will take up more of your slack than it can.

I have read extensively on compiling eBooks and despite what I read I was convinced that scrivener could do the job well enough.

I read David Gaughran’s Let’s get digital, which is a fantastic book for anyone wanting to get their work out there. In one chapter he goes into compiling and formatting for e-publishing. He looks to Guido Henkel as the definitive master of formatting and I read his guide with starry eyes. Basically, eBooks are HTML and I've done quite a bit of that with my sites and blogs but still did’t feel fluent enough, so I got seduced by the plethora of articles on compiling the easy way with scrivener.

Once I’d got around the settings in the program I compiled and marvelled at the result. Maybe David and Guido were being a little too fastidious? Then I noticed some ticks in the indents and fonts. I went back to scrivener and rectified them, super! Then, I tried to tidy up the contents page, which I was less than happy with. As the day progressed, I compiled, recompiled and again. Because my chapters are blog posts, I wanted them to have the date at the top before the title. Eventually I managed to enter these manually. Great! By the end of the day I had an epub and mobi file and began testing.

The epub went quite well on my andoid phone playbooks (my favourite eBook reader), iPad iBooks and the kindle app. Then I put it into the kindle previewer on my laptop… a whole day down the drain! The contents were still wrong, the spacing was inconsistent and then the final blow. I put it on 'night mode' on my android playbooks, something that I use quite a lot, and entire paragraphs disappeared.

I went back to Guido and read again. I downloaded Calibre and jEdit (they are both free and highly recommended). First, I opened the epub file in jEdit and then I had a drink, it was very intimidating. Not just because it simply shows the code but as I later discovered, Scrivener had put so much extraneous code that I could not see my words for the code. Then I opened it in calibre which was a little more intuitive, it puts the code and text side by side so you can see what each change does. What I discovered is what scrivener does with the file. It has style sheets named ‘scrivener 1,2,3’ and so on and you cannot see what each of them does. I managed to make enough sense of them to rectify the problems that but all the while my deadlines were passing.

I slowly realised to my consternation that I should have listened to David and Guido and not followed every link to ‘easy’ ebook formatting with Scrivener or MS Word. The point that Guido makes is that unlike a web site or blog where you want as much control over your formatting as you possible, in order to render you pages and articles exactly as you want them, with ebooks you need to relinquish that control. Ebook readers and apps have a plethora of different screen sizes and resolutions. They have different default fonts and line spacings, different modes and colour settings and when you try to impose your will on them through HTML code there is no telling how a device will interpret that code. You only need a handful of readers to have a difficult experience with your book and you’ve lost them and everyone they may have spoken to.

I’m not going to add a howto here, it would simply add to the noise. I will, however link to people who you really should listen to. I’m not saying that there aren’t some very good tutorials out there giving reliable advice on how to get the job done well, what I will say is that they are all very reliant on the fact that your copy is consistently formatted and that you haven’t used a different method to indent your paragraphs or space your lines or that the program you are using is using code that all ebook readers will interpret in the same way.

When you SUBSCRIBE I will send you a copy of my book and you can look for yourself. Does it render well? Is it easy on the eye? I guarantee that someone will find some glitch somewhere and if you do I will send you the whole series as it goes up on Amazon, coded the ‘GUIDO’ way, of course!

This is a short list and I strongly recommend reading it in this order.

The Creative Penn: This will get you in the right frame of mind to think ahead and save so much work in the future.

David Gaughran: David doesn't mince his words and for good reason.

Guido Henkel: Formatting guru. He obviously has passion for his art but the word Laconic is not in his lexicon, so persevere, you won't regret it!

I hope my mistakes will benefit you and save you the time I wasted. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch, today, you dine on me!

Please use the buttons below to share and follow me on Twitter @Fygaso

Thursday 9 July 2015

The 3 Rs - Reading, Writing and Running

I previously wrote about what it takes to be a professional writer. Now I’d like to talk about how it feels. What follows is a metaphor, a big one but I think it will make sense to many of you.

I read, I write and I run. Running is something that I began some years ago and now it is an integral part of my life. Before I started running, I always said that I wouldn't even run for the bus, which is a metaphor on its own, but very true.

22k of Blair Witch Horror

Running is hard, the hardest part of running, irrespective of distance is before I start. Making that decision to finish my coffee, stop reading and slip into my sweats is the tough part. There are always so many reasons not to, an article relevant to what I’m writing, the wife needing an ear to bend, social media, the rain. There are so many reasons not to and only ever one to do it.

But once I’m out the door it doesn't get any easier. Any of you who run distances will know, the first 2k is the worst. It’s when your body is truly awakening and your lungs resist the effort, colluding with your mind to find credible arguments for turning back and trying again later.

Once you've found your stride it does get decidedly easier, one step leads to another and the miles begin to flow (yes, I know I mix my metric and imperial distances, I’m British! Another metaphor, maybe?) After around 4k continuing becomes easier than stopping.

Now a personal message; I run trail. It makes running much more difficult, my routes take me into the mountain where I live, up steep loose tracks where six-minute kms are hard to achieve, fording streams, climbing rocks, risking sprains and wild animals. But that is how I like it. I find peace in the mountain, far from the madding crowd and traffic. The same goes for my writing; I don’t do romance or vampires. I do satire and sometimes it’s cold and sometimes so hot my sweat glands begin to pant. The challenge does not abate, each corner brings a call to push harder and I try to tell myself that at the brow of the next hill is a rolling decline. But as any trail runner will point out running downhill can be a s perilous as a climb, the impact on joints and the concentration to stay upright is exhausting.

If masochism is your game forget 50 shades of Grey, you can add another factor to trail running;
Barefoot running;
Brains and feet in harmony
barefoot. I began running (metaphor alert!) in cheap supermarket shoes. They had thin soles and I felt every stone and crevice, my nipple also get very sore (nothing to do with the metaphor but I had to tell someone) as a result I learned to use my foot to absorb the impact then I discovered that this was an entire philosophy; barefoot and minimalist running. I spent a bit of money on a pair of barefoot shoes (yes, an oxymoron) but they are like your most comfy socks with a little protection from the harshest surfaces. Many runners swear by shoes that do all the work, impact absorption, arch support and traction so that their feet become passive and, in my view, lazy.

Running has taught me so much about perseverance, setting and achieving goals and focusing on the brow of the hill. The euphoria I feel when I've pulled off a half marathon off-road or cut my time down is unbeatable.


We love writing but sometimes it doesn’t love us back, get used to it and take what you can from the experience. You may never earn a living from it or win any competitions but taking part is the only way to be sure of that.

Be sure to share and comment below or maybe you have your own writer's metaphor.

Friday 5 June 2015

All you need to make you a Writer

So, you're a writer?

Ok, so you’re a writer, eh? I want you to write something, could be a scene or a description, your choice. I’ll wait, I’m not going anywhere.

Super, now read it. Done? Great, now I want you to delete it. Yes, delete it!

So, you don’t want to, eh? How about leaving it on your hard drive somewhere or send it to me. I’ll read it and delete it.

Now we’ve ascertained what you want. You want to write and you want people to read what you write and you want it to be more than just me.

For the next demonstration I’ll allow you to use your imagination, but it might be fun to do it for real. Again, I’ll wait. Go down to your local burger joint, stroll in and flip some burgers. Do it for as long as you enjoy it, then walk out. Alternatively, you can walk into and an accountant’s office, sit down and do some really tough sums. Now ask the owners of the accountants office or burger joint for some pay. What did they say? How rude! Ok, now do that from time to time, a couple of times a week, even a little more. Now ask for some wages. Maybe a little less rude but still no money, eh?

So, you write but you are no more a writer than a burger flipper or an accountant until you employ a work ethic. There will be no paydays until you start clocking on and becoming productive. Your writing is a hobby and that’s great but we already decided that you want to be read and by more than just me. That’s only going to happen if you get readers and that takes work.

Turn off the TV and social networks. Do accountants and burger-flippers have them as part of their day? Nor should you.

Set goals, keep to them. 1000 words a day is a good start, not as easy as it sounds but you will be able to fit it in with your day job.

With that goal you will be able to finish your first draught in less than six months.

Learn proper use of grammar. This is the tool of your trade. Read Strunk and White’s Elements of style, it’s a great first step to improving you’re(sic) use of punctuation and much more. Then go back and edit your work.

Read. Read fiction of varied genres but do not ignore the craft of journalists. A good article will drive you to the end and that is what you want your story to do. Some of the best authors were once journalists, George Orwell, Martin Amis and Graham Greene to name a few.

If you really want to be a professional writer, you need to adopt a professional approach. Being a professional means learning your job, learning the business, putting in the hours and producing the goods. It is (almost) that simple.

Now SUBSCRIBE and I'll send you something else worth reading.  

Photo Credit: a_friendly_monster via Compfight cc

Friday 17 October 2014

Writer's block... Are you buying it?

There are as many reasons for writer's block as there are writers but at the heart of it is often one simple fact... you don't buy it!

i'm not buying it
Are you buying it?

Writer’s block is so ubiquitous that it’s a cliché. Non-writers know about it, films have been made about it but we live it. We know how crushing it can be to watch the cursor blink, mocking us in our ineptitude, like a rabbit in the headlights. Everyone has some advice on how to deal with it and sometimes I feel like more has been penned on the subject than chain-smoking detectives. 

The fact is that there are a myriad of reasons for it, as individual as you are. It may be distractions, the kids screaming, Facebook, a tense moment in the book you are reading or piles. This is easy, disconnect, go to a haven, be it your private space or an anonymous café, apply cream and write. What I want to address is when you just can’t get your characters onto the next page, when you just aren't buying it. 

I was sat there recently, goaded by the cursor when I decided to take a break to regroup and battle on. I took myself onto the veranda for a smoke and started cruising goodreads looking for the next good thing to read. Instead of checking out the reviews, which is as helpful as it is baffling, I started with the back cover summaries. After two or three I got really hooked by one in particular David Wong's "John dies at the end. It didn't try to tell me anything, it spoke to me, it invited me in without summarising and I bought it. It made me think about my work and made me think about why I had seized; I didn't buy it. I had lost my connection with the story and the characters, characters I had loved and loathed. And if I didn't buy it why should you. I began to compose a pitch for my story, I tried to summarise it, I tried to describe it; I still wasn't buying it. Then I started selling it to myself inviting myself into the story and introducing myself to the characters not as written protagonists but as people as friends who were having a shitty time of it, friends like you. I am now back into it throwing them back into conflicts with each other then taunting them with saviour. My block has gone because I am buying it again and so will you.

There are so many reasons for seizure but confidence and involvement are at the root of many of them. Get beyond the page and stand shoulder to shoulder with your people and make their case for existence then get back into the frey. If you don’t buy the ride then no-one else will. 

Now, get back to it and write something you buy. Post a pitch in the comments, if you like.
Next time: How to find your way when your story has left you in the dark without a candle.

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Note: The image above was borrowed from the anti-human trafficking campaign Traffick 911. Please lets not forget that slavery is unacceptable, irrelevant of where the person is taken from.    

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY