Writing

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The Wood Beyond the Road

Published September 23, 2013 by Jill London

ahddfThe wood beyond the road is deep and dark as a sleeper’s dream. The leafy canopy blocks the sunlight from the detritus beneath and incubates the odour of mulch and rotting things. The path winds this way and that around the lattice of spiny leaves and jagged ferns hiding chirruping insects that underline the silence. The silence that is deep and dark.

In the woods, in a small clearing unnoticed by the world, a grey stone cottage hunches against the failing light. A thin thread of smoke drifts from the chimney and this, along with the faint glow of a bulb in the lower window, suggests somebody is home.

She is quite alone. Sitting by the low fire, motionless but for the steady rise and fall of her chest she appears cut from marble, cold and white as a midnight statue. A viewer, if there had been one in that barren room, would wish for some spark of life in her eyes, for some reassurance of animation in those limbs; lost in the form of her dress as they are. Her lace sleeves are stiff and cylindrical, two tunnels through which her arms thrust. Hardly real arms at all. But she moves, her breath halts, almost in anticipation, and she rises to her feet. She sways, and steadies, and for the first time her eyelid betrays a flicker. She stands motionless as if indefinitely fixed, as if she would stand all night, wound at last to the end of her mechanism.

She is breathing, though it cannot be heard, the sound has been replaced by another. Usurped by a tiny sound, a tiny scratching from the door. Such a small and innocent sound. Perhaps it is a little mouse, a cat, one sharp hooked claw or fingernail maybe, scraping the splintered wood. Her eyes flicker to life, and there are tears in them as she looks around, as if she has awoken to find the light outside extinguished. As if she has returned to realise the door lies unlocked. As if she has just remembered…

The scratching grows in strength as the darkness crowds in suffocatingly close; the door shaking, the old-fashioned latch bouncing fit to spring open. Her marble pallor heats suddenly, flares into flesh, and she springs toward the door, slamming it shut with the remains of her shaking strength. Holding it pinned with the last of her will, she wonders; where have I been?

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© Jill London 2013

Want more like this? Try my latest novel Evertrue. It is a fairy-tale twist on the story of Orpheus, and is available now. Click here for a speedy wireless delivery to your reading device.

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Note From The Doldrums – Monday, Monday.

Published August 12, 2013 by Jill London

My poor old blog is looking so sorry for itself of late. Posting has ceased to be fun and suddenly everything looks dingy and miserable. Oh dear, I’m in the doldrums. I’m feeling in fine Eeyore spirit, wondering when I will get back into the spirit of the thing (or if… gasp).

eeyore-1

Yes, I know it’s dry over there but getting up is like, effort.

 

So it’s the same old reasons I guess, work taking up too much time, too little time writing, nobody descending from the heavens to tell me my writing is worthwhile after all and offering that hallowed book deal. Ha! Welcome to Planet Earth sucker! LOL. Funny how difficult it is to raise your mood sometimes, isn’t it? All those words of writing encouragement you read about just seem like so much magical thinking but you plod on anyhow, submitting your work, waiting to hear back from editors, scribbling yet more stuff at every opportunity to submit all over again… Hmm, for your sake I hope reading this isn’t infectious.

marvin-paranoid-android-2

Life? Don’t talk to me about life…

 

Marvin: I’ve been talking to the main computer.
Arthur: And?
Marvin: It hates me.

Must be a Monday thing.

Before I go, thought I’d share this with you. I re-discovered it just now and yes, it makes me laugh. Thank God!

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storm

 

Hope you’re having a better week, wherever you are!

Advice for the writer – Thomas More

Published July 26, 2013 by Jill London
Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the younger

Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the younger

Advice for the indie writer can be found in the most surprising places sometimes. This extract, from More’s Utopia, is amazingly fresh and relevant considering it was written around 500 years ago.

“But to tell the truth, I’m still of two minds as to whether I should publish the book or not. For men’s tastes are so various, the tempers of some are so severe, their minds so ungrateful, their tempers so cross, that there seems no point in publishing something, even if it’s intended for their advantage, that they will receive only with contempt and ingratitude. Better simply to follow one’s own natural inclinations, lead a merry, peaceful life, and ignore the vexing problems of publication. Most men know nothing of learning; many despise it. The clod rejects as too difficult whatever isn’t cloddish. The pedant dismisses as mere trifling anything that isn’t stuffed with obsolete words. Some readers approve only of ancient authors: most men like their own writing best of all. Here’s a man so solemn he won’t allow a shadow of levity, and there’s one so insipid of taste that he can’t endure the salt of a little wit. Some dullards dread satire as a man bitten by a hydrophobic dog dreads water; some are so changeable that they like one thing when they’re seated and another when they’re standing.

Those people lounge around the taverns, and as they swill their ale pass judgement on the intelligence of writers. With complete assurance they condemn every author by his writings, just as they think best, plucking each one, as it were, by the beard. But they themselves remain safely under cover and, as the proverb has it, out of harm’s way. No use trying to lay hold of them; they’re shaved so close, there’s not so much as the hair of an honest man to catch them by.

Finally, some men are so ungrateful that even though they’re delighted with a work, they don’t like the author any better because of it. They are like rude, ungrateful guests who, after they have stuffed themselves with a splendid dinner, go off, carrying their full bellies homeward without a word of thanks to the host who invited them. A fine task, providing at your own expense a banquet for men of such finicky palates, such various tastes, and such rude, ungracious tempers.”

I don’t know about you but I was completely bowled over reading this. So often we’re led to believe that literature is scary and dull but More’s Utopia, like so many other works, has been a delightful surprise, and not a monster read either. If you have any interest in social reform, or finding out more about humanitarianism and the Renaissance Man, it will be right up your alley.

Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), known to Roman Catholics as Saint Thomas More since 1935, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and Lord Chancellor from October 1529 to 16 May 1532. More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William Tyndale, whose books he burned and followers he persecuted (!). More also wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an ideal and imaginary island nation. More later opposed the King’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church and refused to accept him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, because such disparaged Papal Authority and Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Tried for treason, More was convicted on perjured testimony and beheaded. Source: Wikipedia.

You can read Utopia here: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/more/utopia-contents.html

How to murder your darlings – in just 5 steps

Published June 3, 2013 by Jill London

Let me start by making it clear that today’s post relates to the EDITING stage of your work only.

sergei-eisenstein-editing-film-octoberThe editing stage is notoriously difficult to define, and there’s a lot of good information out there on what constitutes a thorough edit, but I would like to suggest a few ideas based on one of the most elusive pieces of advice out there:

“Edit your work with a cold eye, as though you’ve never read this piece before.”

We’ve all seen this particular gem, but it’s nigh on impossible to do, isn’t it? We’ve been labouring so long and hard on our work the only way we can even hope to get it out of our system is to lock it away for several weeks/months without peeking, but even then an edit may not help much.

We often have the feeling we’re not happy about something, but working out what that something is is beyond us. That’s because we’re still in the role of writer and creator when what we really need to do is switch into the role of the editor.

So how do we do this?

  • First of all make a copy of your beloved work in progress then put the original in a safe folder on your hard-drive where, you promise yourself, it is safe from the hands of any evil editors or other detractors. Then rename your copy file using the title of your MS followed by the words Edit Version or any other tag to set the two copies apart. For my copy file I chose the subheading The Massacre, and this pretty much sums up how you’re going to approach this version because you are about to become your manuscript’s greatest foe.
  • Mentally adjust to the idea that you can now do an edit without worrying about spoiling your beloved manuscript.
  • Now, forget about checking for modifiers, spelling mistakes, character slippage or any of the other familiar edits and think about this:

Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action

This quotation (from Kurt Vonnegut btw) is going to be your guiding principle.

This next bit will hurt initially, it will hurt a lot, but the end result will be worth it, just like the sticker at the end of a visit to the dentist. All right, bad example, the sticker was never worth the pain of a visit to the dentist, but this one will be good, I promise.

Facing your duplicate manuscript now I want you to feel the flaws (you may add your own Star Wars quips here). The amount of flaws you feel will depend very much on how honest you’ve been with yourself over your beloved manuscript, and chances are, if you’re like me or most other writers, you have not been honest at all.

Here are just a few of the justifications which we writers silently make for our work (hopefully you’ve never actually asked a reader, agent or editor to bear these justifications in mind, -100 points if you ever have):

1)      The beginning is a little on the slow side / confusing / off subject but….

2)      I know x isn’t a very strong / interesting (well thought out) character but…

3)      The word count is a bit long / short but…

4)      This scene doesn’t really add anything to the story but…

5)      My spelling/grammar/punctuation needs improving but…

[This last entry is, as far as I can see, pure laziness. Never make this excuse when there are perfectly good writer’s manuals out there that can help you. Sure, we all make mistakes, but knowingly expecting others to turn a blind eye is an insult to all concerned.]Lovedust

There are any number of excuses we can make for our work and the reasons will be so beguilingly plausible that we won’t notice falling under their spell until we finally listen to that irritating Jiminy Cricket on our shoulder.

  • So, armed with your own personal clutch of painful justifications, start deleting. You can’t worry about diminishing word counts or ruining your elegant prose, remember your original manuscript is safely tucked away and will come to no harm, and if you have any resistance left at this point, remember; it’s better you should cut this stuff out rather than let that reader, agent or editor do the job by dismissing your beloved work (because they will). Cut out anything that feels redundant, and my suggestion would be to think of it as closer to amputation than cutting your nails.
  • As you begin to massacre your beloved work you will find more errors coming to light, vital errors that are not ‘revealing character’ or ‘advancing the action’. Apply any other sage pieces of writerly advice now and you’ll probably see more truth in them than you ever could have when facing your original beloved manuscript.

You’ll soon find as you begin this process that the pain begins to subside, and before long you will be feeling like a writer on fire, because you are finally discovering the real story in the middle of all those lumpy digressions, the real characters in the midst of those paper-thin extras and it feels good – so good in fact that I’m willing to bet you won’t give that original manuscript another glance. 

Happy writing, guys.

If you have any editing tips or thoughts on this article why not drop me a line in the comment box below?

Related search: http://www.notesfromtheslushpile.com/2009/09/fantasy-master-class-with-sara-o.html?spref=tw

Writers’ corner: How long will it take?

Published May 21, 2013 by Jill London
Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule – but how useful is it for writers?

How do you make a genius? In his book Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell suggested that talent isn’t the decider but how many hours of practice you’re prepared to put into your chosen subject. In the above visualisation of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour principle the work of Bill Gates and The Beatles are used as an example of the successful ‘in action’.

Gladwell’s work was apparently based on the research of psychologist Anders Ericsson of Florida State University. However, as some have noted, Ericsson never mentioned 10,000 hours and it’s important to remember that there’s more to attaining success than simply ‘putting in the hours’. The key therefore is not merely to repeat an action but to learn from it and build on it.

Read this article from Suw Charman-Anderson which puts the 10,000 hour principle under the microscope.

It has also been suggested that, where writers are concerned, the number of words are vital. “A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.” ~David Eddings. Again, you should reasonably expect to have the majority of your early writing rejected (rejection slips can be seen as the ‘jogger’s nipple’ of the writing world after all), but this doesn’t explain how some writers achieve success relatively quickly, much sooner than any million words tide-mark, whilst others can labour for many years producing millions of words without gaining any satisfying results.

Conditions for Successful Practice

Instead of focusing on the amount of hours needed to cultivate success think about the following 4 conditions to improve performance (Mastery teaching, M. Hunter, 2004):

1. The learner must be sufficiently motivated. They must want to improve performance.

2. The learner must have all the knowledge necessary to understand the different ways the new knowledge or skill can be applied.

3. The learner must understand how to apply the knowledge to deal with a particular situation.

4. The learner must be able to analyse the results of their study and know what needs to be changed to improve performance in the future.

In summary: Stay motivated, read up on the subject, think actively about what you’ve read and analyse personal progress. So forget the number of hours involved, don’t give another thought to wasted word counts, just get on with engaging in the process of learning your craft. Remember that ‘every step taken is a step well-lived’.  All of which leads us to consider that, as writers, while we may spend many hours writing it is vital to stay open to advice, to read widely, and to edit thoroughly.

Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

Published May 7, 2013 by Jill London

Photo of Rainer Maria Rilke

“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you ) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Do not write love-poems; avoid at first those forms that are too facile or commonplace: they are the most difficult, for it takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity. Therefore save yourself from these general themes and seek those which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty—describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory. If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place. And if you were in some prison the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses—would you not then still have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession  that treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention thither.

Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past; your personality will grow more firm, your solitude will widen and will become a dusky dwelling past which the noise of others goes by far away.—And if out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world, verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses. Nor will you try to interest magazines in your poems: for you will see in them your fond natural possession, a fragment and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgement of it: there is no other. Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

But perhaps after this descent into yourself and into your inner solitude you will have to give up becoming a poet; (it is enough, as I said, to feel that one could live without writing: then one must not attempt it at all.) But even then this inward searching which I ask of you will not have been in vain. Your life will in any case find its own way thence, and that they may be good, rich and wide I wish you more than I can say.

What more shall I say to you? Everything seems to me to have its just emphasis; and after all I do only want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from the outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.

Yours faithfully and with all sympathy:

Rainer Maria Rilke

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