Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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37 Tips to Get You Writing Again

A man so stuck with writing that he is eating his keyboard.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

We’ve all been there. The words aren’t coming and your eyeballs are glazing over every time you look at the page.

At any point in the writing life this is frustrating, but during NaNo WriMo it can be excruciating.

If you’re stuck and not able to write, try some of these tips.

Force Yourself to Continue

Sometimes all you need is a little stubbornness to get you over a slump in energy or enthusiasm.

NOTE: While following these tips, do not at any point check your social feeds or e-mail.

  • Say out loud: ‘Perfection is my enemy. I will write imperfect words and edit later.’ Then say it again and again until you’re convinced.
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes (or 30 minutes) and freewrite. Don’t stop writing, even if all you’re recording is drivel. Something might pop up and get you going again.
  • Set a word count (500 words, 1,000 words) and work towards that goal. Forget about the quality, focus on the quantity.
  • Set up a reward system, (e.g. for every sentence written, you’re allowed one potato chip).
  • Tie yourself to the chair. Literally. Go find rope or a scarf or a bed sheet.
  • Stick your feet in a bucket of water. (This forces you to stay in your chair, but don’t do this near electrical outlets.)

Change Things Up a Bit

If you can’t force yourself to write (let’s face it, force is painful and not always helpful) then why not try a change?

  • Change the font of your manuscript.
  • Change the word processor you’re using. (Try Scrivener, OmmWriter, or even just TextPad.)
  • Change the location of your scene, (e.g. if your scene takes place in a posh restaurant, move it to a car rally).
  • Change the characters’ names, (e.g. instead of Max and Joanne, write about Fluffy and Mrs. Winklebottom).
  • Use one of Creativity’s suggestions on how to add a new element into your scene.
  • Move on to another scene that you feel enthusiastic about. (Remember: novels don’t have to be written in order.)
  • Choose a writing prompt.
  • Get up and walk around your office to give your brain a bit more blood flow.
  • Move yourself to another room, or even outdoors if temperature allows, and write there.
  • Write by hand. Use your favourite pen or different coloured markers.
  • Use a typewriter to pound out your words.
  • Dictate your scene into an audio recorder (e.g. on your computer or phone) and then type up the transcript.

Trick Yourself Into Writing

The above not working for you? Let’s get more creative!

WARNING: Use all tips below sparingly and not as excuses to avoid writing. Only use these once you’ve tried the above and got no results. After using a few of the below, go back to the tips above and try those again.

  • Have a chat with a fellow writer. Find out how their work is progressing and then maybe bring up the problem you’re facing.
  • Sketch a location for your scene.
  • Act out a scene from your novel.
  • Choose music for your scene.
  • Think up your character’s favourite activity, then do it.
  • Read what you’ve already written and build momentum for what comes next.
  • Go back to whatever sparked your original idea and rekindle your excitement.
  • Get out your favourite book and fall in love with writing again.
  • Watch the special features of your favourite film, especially anything to do with the writing, scoping or directing process.
  • Read your dictionary.
  • Read your thesaurus.
  • Play Balderdash/Fictionary.
  • Find your favourite piece of your own work and read it.

Bore Yourself Into Writing

Still stuck? Now we get serious.

The purpose of these tips is to either provide the mind with the downtime needed to come up with new ideas, or to do something so mind numbing that you’ll voluntarily return to the page. As mentioned above, use these tips sparingly.

  • Go for a walk.
  • Take a shower. (I can personally vouch for the success rate of this tip.)
  • Bounce a ball (preferably without breaking priceless household objects).
  • Iron clothes.
  • Sew buttons on shirts. (If buttons have not fallen off yet, then help them along with scissors.)
  • Get out a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and start with the sky.

Do you have any more tips for the list? Add your own in the comments below.


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Prompted Writing: Dinner Plans

Green leaves 'walking' across your screen

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

For those of you who have just joined us, I’ve set myself a project for the month of March: Create 4 pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts from Punch for Prompt.

On week 1 I posted the short story ‘Will You Help Me?‘ about a little old lady being asked for help.

Last week I posted ‘Obedient Tongues‘ about a family in Eyam during a plague outbreak in 1666.

Last week’s story was based on the prompt “She lit the candles on the table first,” to which my Creativity immediately added, “And then she lit the table!

That story was a rather harrowing look at the past. To prove that writing prompts are completely versatile, I’m now going to take that same beginning and do something completely different with it.

Ready?

Dinner Plans

Gemma lit the candles on the table first.

Then she lit the table.

Not deliberately. Her hands were shaking, there was a gust from somewhere and…and… Who knew it was so easy to set things alight?

She dropped the packet of vintage matches and darted about her quarters searching for something to put the fire out.

She needn’t have bothered.

“Warning,” enunciated the computerized voice through the smooth metal panel on the wall. “A fire hazard has been detected. Evacuate the room immediately. Atmosphere will be vented.”

The room’s lights flashed and an alarm whooped.

“Evacuate the room immediately.”

She grabbed her plant and rushed out the door. The panels automatically shut, leaving her standing in the well-lit corridor cut off from the chaos. The noise absorbing foam of the wall and floors made her feel dizzy, like she was floating alone in space instead of safely encased in a ship.

“Ah,” said the captain, as he sauntered around the bend in the corridor and saw Gemma. “What’s this? The welcoming committee?”

She heard the merest whoosh from behind the doors as the air within her quarters was purged.

“You shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of waiting out here for me,” he grinned, stopping in front of her. “I’m perfectly capable of using the bell.”

“Um,” was all she could get out. He was knee-weakeningly handsome. The sweep of his brown hair across perfect, olive-coloured skin set off his roguish features and chisel-edged jaw. The ensemble left her speechless every time she set eyes on him.

“Who’s this?” the captain asked, pointing to the leaves and flowers emanating from pot in her arms.

“Zander,” she said.

The plant stuck a tongue out of one of the blooms and blew a raspberry.

Gemma quickly swiveled the pot so the flowers were facing the other way. The captain wiped pollen from his face and uniform.

“Sorry,” she said.

The captain waved his hand in the air. “Never mind.”

They stood there, looking at each other. Gemma used her free hand to tug the collar of her uniform.

“So,” said the captain, rocking back and forth on his feet, “Are we eating in the corridor or are you going to invite me in?”

“Ah,” she said, causing a speck of something to catch in her windpipe. She coughed. The speck lodged itself, forcing her to cough harder. Her eyes watered. Her nose watered and threatened to overflow. “Would you mind holding Zander?” she said, thrusting the potted plant into the captain’s reluctant arms.

She fished a self-cleaning tissue from the pocket of her uniform and blew her nose. Not the most refined of noises, she knew, but when one had to clear the sinuses force was key. After carefully wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes, she folded the tissue and placed it back in her pocket.

She looked up at the captain and gasped, very nearly starting her coughing all over again.

Grabbing the pot, she pried the plant’s leaves from around the captain’s throat.

“I’m very sorry,” she said, offering another tissue to him as he coughed and teared up in his turn. “Zander’s a bit…”

“Psychopathic?” spluttered the captain.

“Territorial.”

The captain refused the tissue, sniffing instead. “Was there dinner involved in this invitation somewhere? Or did you just invite me around to meet the pet?”

“Dinner. Definitely dinner.” She turned back to the door and pressed the Open button with her thumb.

“Please wait a moment as the pressure is normalized,” said the computer.

“Normalized?” The captain’s eyes widened. “Did something happen?”

“Oh, nothing really,” said Gemma, shrugging her shoulders and trying to make her giggle sound natural. “Just a tiny mishap.”

The doors slid open. Gemma, the captain and Zander leaned in.

“How little a mishap?” said the captain.

What had once been a perfectly set table with salad, bread rolls, finely sliced chicken and baked vegetables was now a carpet of food which generously covered floor, furniture and walls. The grates through which the atmosphere had made its exit were clogged with food and a charred table cloth.

Gemma bit her lip and blinked back her disappointment.

“Did you cook dinner yourself?” he said.

“Yes.” She picked Zander’s tendrils out of her hair. “You said you liked ‘old style’ evenings, so I did some ‘home cooking,’ lit a couple of candles and…” She rubbed her eye vigorously.

He smiled and gently pulled her hand away from her face. “When I said ‘old style’ I meant 2D movies and popcorn.”

“Oh.”

“Tell you what, why don’t we go down to the mess and get some good modern grub. What do you say?”

She sighed and smiled back at him. “Maybe that’s a better idea.”

“On one condition.”

Her brow furrowed. “Yes?”

“Plant boy stays home.”

She laughed. “One minute.” She stepped back into her quarters and replaced Zander on his stand in the middle of the room. Then, dusting her hands, she turned her back on the disarray and decided she was going to have a lovely evening.

The doors slid shut.

Zander unfurled his leaves and slowly climbed down the lattice to the floor. He surveyed dinner. Feeling thoroughly pleased with himself, he picked up a piece of chicken in his leaf and began stuffing it into the nearest flower.

 *****

So, as you can see, writing prompts can lead to anything you can imagine.

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with!


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Prompted Writing: Obedient Tongues

Tongues of fire

To celebrate the launch of Punch for Prompt, I’ve set myself a project for the month of March: Create 4 pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts.

Last week I posted the short story ‘Will You Help Me?

The next prompt I got from Punch for Prompt was: “She lit the candles on the table first.”

My Creativity immediately added, “And then she lit the table!” Although this sounded completely weird, I decided to roll with it and see where it led.

With that beginning, the story could turn either into something funny or something dark. For this story, I decided to explore the darker side.

This story is based on real events, but more about that later.

So, without further ado, here is this week’s short story.

Obedient Tongues

I lit the candles on the table first, for old time’s sake. Then I lit the table.

I stepped back, holding my skirts behind me, as I watched the flames discolour the surface of the wood, turning it black and biting into the cracks between the planks. The wax of the candles began to cry as the heat melted them, their small flames still flickering atop their wicks.

I could hear my husband’s voice in my memory, as if it were yesterday and not fourteen months ago.

“Now children,” he had said, as the first deaths were being mourned in the street. “Remember what the Good Book says. ‘Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire.’

Each of my five dear children had stared at him, wide eyed – afraid but listening to every word their father spoke.

He pointed to the gentle, glowing candles on our family table. “See these. They remind us of how we should use our tongues. Guard your words. They are powerful things, capable of causing damage far beyond this small room.”

How little those beloved children understood of the horrors we were about to face, and how much we would lose.

Now I watched villagers carrying their clothes, bedding and other belongings out onto the cobbled streets to be burned. The heat of their fires melted the snow, leaving mud.

I admired every resident of Eyam, those living and dead. There was not one coward among them, for which the surrounding villages should be eternally grateful.

My darling Jane walked out of the house, carrying our own bedding. Without looking at me, she threw the sheets and blankets onto the growing flames and then turned back to the cold, empty building that was once full of children’s laughter.

“We shall not speak a word out of place,” my husband had said. He’d firmly believed that one’s thoughts, fear, anger, pain and grief should all be held inside. “For every man shall bear his own burden,” he reminded me one night as I lay across our bed, silently crying. Stoicism was the only way he could hide his dread.

In the evenings as we ate, watching both the candles and our words, the wind would relay sounds from the village street. The wailing, the fear, the death. My sweet children would stare harder at their bowls, wiping the last morsels with their bread and ignoring the adults around them. My husband would look at me, knowing our neighbours’ unguarded words could set their houses, and the whole village, aflame. Unguarded words could turn conviction to doubt, then to panic and then undo all our hard work.

The announcement was made in June. We stood in the green, tree-lined valley for church services, grateful to worship together without touching our neighbours. Proximity brought fear of spreading the plague.

The reverend spoke loudly, his voice carrying down the valley. The town would quarantine itself from the outside world. No one would leave the village until the plague was ended.

There were murmurs, sparks of spoken flames which threatened to break forth. “If the healthy left now, maybe they would be saved,” said some. “Or maybe they would succeed in spreading this blight wherever they went,” said others. Thankfully, the reverend was a persuasive man.

His wife, beloved by the villagers as if she were our own blood, had already been lost to the plague. His children had been sent away to safety in Yorkshire when the plague had first broken out. By supporting a village quarantine, he sacrificed his future with the rest of us.

The obedient eyes and obedient mouths of our household held their silence as we watched neighbours fall, some within hours of the first dreaded signs, others hanging on to the last vestiges of life for three or even four days.

Then one evening, while eating our meal, our children watched their own father fall ill. The candle light flickered as we waited for the inevitable. My pain and grief burned within me, as it did within the children. We buried him quickly and quietly in our garden. He deserved to be presented for burial, to be given a service with mourners, to be laid in the church graveyard, but this was yet another sacrifice made on behalf of the living. As unjust as it may have been, our family said not a word out of place. Not a word as four of my children died, one after the other, leaving only Jane.

As I watched the flames Jane came again, throwing another bundle on the fire. This one contained father’s precious books and more clothing. I watched her turn and noticed the trickle of a tear down her face.

The flames were hot now, violent in their crackling, forcing me to take another step back. I noticed the edges of the paper curl in agony and the fibres of the clothes crumble to ashes. A lone baby bootie, the last reminder of my youngest, was consumed before my eyes.

Fourteen months after it started, when it seemed our small village could bear the ravages of the plague no longer, the reports of deaths began to lessen. A quarter of our number remained alive.

When it became apparent the quarantine had succeeded, the reverend asked one further sacrifice of us – to burn all our belongings. As always, he led by example, burning everything he owned, including his wife’s possessions.

Now the air was heavy with smoke, as each family stared into their own fires and contemplated what they had lost.

Jane’s arms shook as she came down the path for one last time, carrying Elizabeth’s doll and the remaining small pieces of clothing, her face wet from the tears which overflowed from deep within her.

Not fire from within, but water.

What had the Good Book said about water?

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Deep waters. Secret waters left undrawn for too long.

I looked back at the fire; the flames lower now having almost finished their job. The candles were melted beyond recognition, the papers and clothes reduced to ashes and the furniture merely charcoal remnants. But there was a feeling of freedom amongst the pain and loss.

The ordeal was over. We had done our duty. Now we could begin to talk again.

I turned to Jane. She watched the last flickers of fire fade. I put my arm around my daughter, my only remaining kin, and felt her flinch at my touch.

I drew a breath and opened my mouth, ready to use my tongue to begin drawing up deep waters.

The words caught in my throat, held there by the smoke of the dying embers. I felt tears well up in my eyes and my heart, reminding me of my own hidden waters. I pulled Jane closer. We would draw up those waters together.

*****

For more information on the town of Eyam and their quarantine, see this Wikipedia page and this page about the people involved. You can also see photographs of the town here including a plaque commemorating one family’s loss.

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with.

Next Friday I’ll be posting my next piece. Stay tuned.


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Prompted Writing: Will You Help Me?

An elderly lady's cane

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

To celebrate the launch of Punch for Prompt, I’ve set myself a project for the month of March: Create 4 pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts.

You’re welcome to join the project and have some writing fun of your own! It’s very simple:

  1. Punch for a writing prompt.
  2. Write.
  3. Polish.
  4. Post.

The prompt I got was ‘Will you help me?

I must confess, I don’t follow Charlotte’s instructions when using writing prompts. Instead of writing straight away, I play. I allow my Creativity to mull over concepts and explore possibilities before I start actually writing.

What thoughts did my Creativity and I have when presented with this prompt?

Usually those who ask for help are helpless – small children, the elderly, displaced mice. But what if we turned that on its head?

That led to this short story.

Will You Help Me?

Grace MacDonald felt the 83-year-old muscles in her back, already protesting the morning walk, grumpily spasm as she spent the energy needed to stand up straight. Her focus changed from the speckled cement footpath below her feet and walking cane to the jeans and checked shirt of the stranger standing in front of her.

“I beg your pardon,” she said, conscious of the squeal from her hearing aid as she pushed it deeper into her ear.

“Will you help me?” said the man.

It had been many years since anyone had asked her such a question. In her school teacher days, students were always asking for help. Then there were her own children asking. Before she knew it, there were grandchildren asking. And then, yes, the last request for her help had been from the lips of her husband. Two days before his heart attack, his weakening fingers getting the better of him, he asked her to help him with the top button of his shirt.

Fifteen years ago had been the last time someone asked her for help. Since then, she’d been the one doing the asking.

“Help you? What with?” Now that she had straightened fully, she could get a better view of him.

He was a large man. ‘Strapping’ they would have called him back in her day. He towered over her, his muscular shoulders twice as wide as her frail frame.

She pulled her knitted blue cardigan tighter across her chest. What on earth could this brute of a man want help with? She glanced behind him. The butcher’s was only 200 metres away. If she called out…

“I’m looking for a street.” He slid a beefy hand into his shirt pocket.

Her heart sank. This area had changed so much over the past twenty years. When her children had gone to school, Ashville was a town in its own right. Now the area was swallowed by urban sprawl. Homes had been demolished and trees cleared to make way for apartment buildings and new roads. Everything was different. She could barely find her way to the corner store and back, let alone give directions.

The paper crackled in his hand as he unfolded it. “Berkshire Rise is the name,” he said.

“Oh.” A relieved smile touched her lips. “You’re very close. It’s two blocks that way.” She gestured up the road behind him.

“Wonderful.” His face softened. “I’m looking for an old house. Number 14. Do you know it?”

She nodded. “A beautiful house it was. Jacaranda trees in the front garden. But it’s not there anymore. Torn down for some new development.”

His big mouth drooped. “No. Really? I’ve come all this way and…” He ran a hand down the side of his face. “I was born in that house. Hoped I could come back and see it one more time.”

A breath caught in her throat with a wheeze. “You’re not one of the Sikes boys, are you?”

“Yes, Billy Sikes. That’s me.”

She laughed. “I remember you. You used to come and play in our backyard with my children. I even have a couple of photos of you in the album.”

“Mrs MacDonald! Of course! You made the best lemon meringue pie I ever tasted. Photos, eh? I’d love to see them.”

“Well, so you shall.”

With that she slowly turned around and walked him back to her home, all the way helping him recall the distant childhood memories he’d hoped to find.

It felt so good to help again.

*****

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with. It’s great fun!

Next Friday I’ll be posting my next piece. Stay tuned.


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NaNo WriMo Week 4 Highlights

Well, the flu is almost gone and I’ve made it over the 50,000 word hurdle!

I’m still completely out of routine and exhausted from coughing so I’ll keep this brief.

Thank you to those who commented last week with updates on their work. It was so lovely to hear from you.

We really do care about how your work is progressing so please take a moment to comment below and let us know how your week went. We’re all in this together and love cheering our fellow writers on.

Yesterday, as I passed 49,000 words, I suddenly came up with a novel-changing idea which means I’ve basically got to scrap everything and start back at square one…and I’m so excited! The new idea requires a completely different format, and my snippet today is a sneak peak at that format.

So, here goes. Please remember this is a rough draft.

For all those who remember Edward’s previous run in with the gas stove, here is his tried and true method for turning the gas on.

1. Roll up sleeves. This prevents the likelihood of your clothes catching fire.

2. Position yourself far enough away from the stove so that your hand can reach the knob but you’re still at a distance which protects your eyebrows and various other singe-able parts of your person.

3. Hold down the knob. When you hear the clicking sound, turn the knob. The flames will gush out with force. Hold your nerve and proceed to step four.

4. Depress the knob several times in quick succession. This is to ensure the flames ‘catch’ and don’t go out the second you take your hand off the knob.

5. Once you have a good blaze going, keep holding the knob down and turn it until you’re happy with the size of flames. (You’re never going to get perfectly obedient flames so just resolve yourself to fast cooking and pick a reasonable flame height. Suggestion: 2cm is probably the smallest you’re going to get.)

6. Gently and slowly release the knob. Hopefully your flames will remain. If not, repeat steps 3 to 6.

NOTE: If you do at some point need to open the cupboard under the stove, do so slowly and carefully. If opened too quickly, the suction of air will blow gas flames out and you will need to start at step 1 again.

Now, please share with us a snippet from your writing this week. It doesn’t have to be polished, just something you liked.

Remember, everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet and feel proud of it.


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NaNo WriMo Week 3 Highlights

Sorry for the delay this week. I have the flu. My husband has declared it a ‘humdinger’ and my brain is mush. I’m muddling onwards as best I can.

Briefly, I’ve just passed 40,000 words (as you can see from the nifty little word count icon on the right) and I’m nowhere near the middle of my novel (let alone the end), so this looks like a first draft which will take far longer than November…how exciting!

My brother has already made his 50,000 and he’s still powering onwards. Yay! (I’m also feeling the nigglings of jealousy but I’m not letting myself dwell on that. I’m competing with a word count, not my fellow writers!)

Please take a moment to comment below and let me know how you’re progressing with whatever writing project you’re working on (NaNo WriMo or otherwise).

It’s difficult to pick an excerpt to share with you as my writing is very rough – scenes peppered with notes for things to add further up. I’ve chosen this little exchange between Edward and Peta as they take a walk along the street together.

Please remember this is a rough draft.

‘What do you think of Beijing so far?’ said Peta

Edward thought it best to keep the majority of his thoughts to himself at this stage, frightened he’d put his foot in it again. ‘It’s interesting. Different.’

‘Overwhelming?’ said Peta, grinning at him.

Edward opened his mouth to reply, but tripped on something and struggled to keep his balance. Looking back he saw a large screw sticking out of the concrete pavement. ‘What on earth is that doing there? Someone could do themselves damage.’

‘First lesson,’ said Peta. ‘Always walk with your eyes on the ground in front of you. This place is a minefield of trip hazards. Screws, uneven pavement, dog poo, spit, manholes without their covers. Keep your eyes on the road.’

‘Manholes without covers?’

‘Oh yes, happens all the time. I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve heard rumours that people take them for scrap metal.’

Edward walked along, looking at the pavement. It was made of up grey blocks, with a strip of light pink, ridged blocks down the side. Here and there the edges of the blocks sat up, presenting the perfect trip hazard. Now that he was looking, he also saw small puddles of spit and other things he’d rather not step in.

‘Makes you realise why Chinese always leave their shoes at the door, doesn’t it?’ said Peta.

This was a something Edward had never thought of before, and he took a moment to ponder it. He also made a vow that these shoes would never make it further into his home than the front door, already dreading the stuff he might have walked through his apartment.

That makes my story (and China) sound rather disgusting, but I swear it’s not! The situation is, however, something one just has to live with here. It’s a truism.

Now, please share with us a snippet from your writing this week. It doesn’t have to be polished, just something which you liked.

Remember, everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet of something you’ve written this week and feel proud of it.

P.S. Please take a minute to read the post Obvious and amazing: Sending your creative work out into the world on Carole Jane Tregget’s blog about why we should not delete while writing drafts. It is a fantastic reminder.


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NaNo WriMo Week 2 Highlights

We’re almost half way through the month. Eek! How is everyone going?

I’ve managed over 26,000 words, although I’ve now done almost 2 weeks of ‘writing bilge.’ In the past day or two I’ve started to feel more comfortable with how my writing sounds, but it’s been quite a struggle up until that point.

A couple of nights ago I decided to change Edward’s profession from teacher to businessman in the hope that it will make certain story points easier. However, the result is that the majority of what I’d written up until that point has to change. Doh!

But here’s where the beauty of first drafts kicks in. I will make those changes in the next draft. For now, I’ve typed up some quick notes on how will I change things and then I’m continuing on with my current draft – writing as if he’s always been a businessman.

I find this fantastically liberating for two reasons:

  • Firstly, because I don’t have to trudge back to the start and begin again. I finally have some writing momentum. I don’t want to lose that by starting at the beginning again. As I continue writing, there will always be things I want to change earlier in the story. But I’ve set the precedent – no going back until we’ve reached the end. Leave a note and keep writing!
  • Secondly, because I know it will be easy to start on my second draft. I know when I pull it out of the draw several months down the track, I won’t read it and wonder where I’m going to start. I already know. The thing is a mess and lots of scenes are out of order. By the time I clean up the structure, I’ll be on a roll – having gathered momentum again to keep making progress.

So I’m very pleased with what I’ve accomplished this week. What about you? Please share with us some highlights (or difficulties) of your week.

It’s been very hard to choose an excerpt from my writing this week because, as mentioned above, I’ve been working through bilge. However, yesterday I wrote the following and decided this was what I wanted to share.

Here’s a little background: Edward has met our leading lady (Peta) on a plane into Beijing and she’s given him her phone number in case he ever needs help. After that, he was picked up from the airport by a Chinese representative of his company and taken to his new apartment.

He is jet lagged and just wants a cup of tea before curling up for some shut-eye. In the process of attempting to make a cup of tea, he discovers there is no kettle, water is leaking from under the kitchen sink and the gas won’t light. He goes downstairs to find the building manager and ends up coming across ‘Mr. Go’ who speaks virtually no English. Mr. Go is now standing in Edward’s kitchen trying to communicate with him.

With me so far? Remember, this is first draft stuff so it’s pretty rough at this stage – spit and polish comes later.

Edward fumbled around in his pocket. There, on a piece of paper, was Peta’s phone number. When she gave it to him, he actually had no intention of using it, but right now he would give anything for an English speaker. He dialed and then waited.

‘Hello?’ said the voice.

Edward sighed in relief. ‘Hello. This is Edward. We met on the plane.’

‘Oh hi! How’s life?’

‘Frustrating.’

‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Welcome to China.’

‘There’s a leak under the kitchen sink and the gas won’t work. I think the building manager is here to look at it but I can’t understand what he’s saying.’

‘You think the building manager is there? Are you worried you’re hallucinating?’

‘No, what I mean is there is a man here who I think is the building manager.’

‘Ah. I get you. Do you need some help?’

‘Yes,’ said Edward. ‘Help is exactly what I need.’

‘So leak under the sink and a problem with the gas, right?’

‘Right.’

‘Let me talk to the guy.’

Edward handed the phone over again. Mr. Go had been feeling all the pipes under the sink and turning the tap on and off. He stopped, wiped his wet hand on his shirt and took the phone. The two of them had a chummy conversation, after which Mr. Go handed the phone back with a smile.

Edward put it back to his ear. ‘How did that go?’

‘He already knows about the leak. He says he’ll need to go get his stuff and come back to fix it.’

Edward felt his eyes close. ‘Great,’ he said, with no enthusiasm.

‘He’s going to look at the gas now.’

As she said this, Mr. Go pushed down on the stove knob. The stove clicked a couple of times and then belched fiery gas. Mr. Go fiddled with something, Edward was too tired to see what. Then Mr. Go pressed the knob again. This time the gas flames leapt over a foot into the air with a percussive whoosh, like the first few seconds of a rocket liftoff.

‘Mm,’ said Mr. Go, with a nod. Then he turned to Edward, gave him the thumbs up sign and said, ‘Okay!’

Edward realised the breeze in his mouth was caused by the dropping of his jaw. ‘Okay?’ he croaked. ‘You call that okay?’

Mr. Go glanced back at the stove. He pushed down the knob again, resulting in the same violent explosion. ‘Mm. Okay.’

Edward couldn’t peel his eyes off the spot where the flames had just been. The merest whimper escaped his lips.

‘Do you need me to come around?’ said Peta, her voice sounding suddenly far away. ‘I think you need someone there with you.’

Edward tried to speak, but the heaviness had now migrated to his throat and nothing would come out.

‘Where are you staying?’ she said. ‘What’s the address?’

A further realisation hit him. ‘I have no idea where I am.’

‘Give the phone back to the guy. I’ll ask him.’

Edward mechanically handed the phone back to Mr. Go, who was watching Edward with amusement. He started chatting, then pointing in different directions with his finger. Nodding a couple of times, he said ‘bye bye’ and gave the phone back again.

‘Turns out I live really close by,’ she said to Edward. ‘I’ll be over there shortly.’

Edward gurgled something in reply and then she hung up.

Mr. Go pointed to the sink and then to the door. He said something, then toddled out.

Edward staggered to the couch and eased himself down. Asimov hopped up beside him, putting his head on Edward’s lap.

‘Good grief,’ Edward said to no one in particular. ‘What have I got myself into?’

For the record, my gas stove does exactly that. We have to lean back whenever we light it so as not to catch any part of our person aflame. Ah, China. What fun.

Now, please share with us a snippet from your writing this week. It doesn’t have to be polished, just something which you liked.

Remember, everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet of something you’ve written this week and feel proud of it.

P.S. I’ve just come across this interesting new writing blog called Swagger run by 8 writers. They’ve already posted some interesting articles. My favourites so far are Becoming a Writer (a reminder on the true definition of ‘writer’) and Can’t Please Everyone (which is something I’m always forgetting). Take a look and enter their Swagger Swag Giveaway (hurry though as it ends November 15th).


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NaNo WriMo Week 1 Highlights

Hello all! How did your first week of November go?

Mine went exceptionally well as far as word count is concerned. My draft is a delicious mess of unattributed dialogue, story notes in all caps and odd character moments. Already I’m having some trouble with a particular character who arrived in the story three chapters too early and then refused to turn up to dinner at her mother’s place, which I’ve had written on my plot cards for weeks (she’s going to be a handful, I can tell!).

As a side effect of all this writing, I have all sorts of ideas buzzing around in my head. I’ve been finding new pieces to a story I cooked up last month and I think I’ve solved a story problem for another project which has been bugging me for a couple of years. (Back! Back, I say! All you ideas must wait until December!) I’m making sure they’re being recorded in my journal, Evernote or e-mails so I can come back to them later.

Now, I’d like to implement something special for the month of November. Every Monday I’m going to put up a snippet of what I’ve written during the week, something I liked. It’s not going to be polished, or edited (unless it makes no sense without the changes), just put up to share.

Then all of you are welcome to add your little snippets from your week of writing. They don’t have to be brilliant pieces to blow us away. Just something cute, or funny, or special, or something you feel ‘clicked.’ Use this as an opportunity to realise what you’ve accomplished and get encouragement from your fellow writers.

Everyone is welcome to join in. You don’t have to be doing NaNo WriMo, and you don’t have to be writing a first draft. Share a snippet of something you’ve written this week and feel proud about it.

So here’s my offering. It’s from my first day of writing. My main character, Edward, is getting dressed for a wedding when someone makes an entrance. It was written in quite a flippant (almost P.G. Wodehouse style) manner, which I’ve since toned down considerably as I’ve written further – so it will doubtless not been seen in future drafts as it is now. So I figure it’s the perfect thing to share. (Remember, rough draft!)

At that moment the door to the bedroom where they were dressing burst open and in rushed a very disheveled toddler – his blonde hair looking like it had just been through a car wash, a chocolate smear down one side of his face and a red mark flushing up on the other. His [coat]tails made him look like an oversized cricket.

Running after the little chap came his sister, two years older and dressed as a flower girl, frills about the waist and bows in the hair.

‘Charles!’ she squealed. ‘Charles you’re all untucked!’

Charles scuttled around the room, squeaking and chirping as he ducked out of his sister’s reach.

Henry and Barry watched with great amusement.

‘Oh, Uncle Edward,’ the girl wailed. ‘Help me catch him.’

‘Uncle’ Edward (an honourary title he didn’t mind too much until such times as it necessitated him catching small, chocolate covered children) bent down to grab at the little fellow who, although his legs were spectacularly short and lumpy, made excellent time and nipped straight past him.

‘Uncle Edward!’ wailed the girl.

‘I know Tasha, here he comes again.’

The little tike had indeed effected a u-turn and was coming back past. Edward made a swipe, the urchin altered course to avoid him and blundered straight into a table leg.

Until this moment it had not occurred to Edward how quiet the house had been – an accomplishment considering it was the morning of a wedding and the house was full of groomsmen, parents of the groom and other peripheries all dressing for the big day. It was a quiet, now that he reflected on it, that should have been savoured seeing as it was henceforth convincingly wrenched apart by Charles’ infantile lungs.

Edward squatted down beside the wailing child. ‘There there,’ didn’t seem to cut it somehow, and he was just wondering whether he should try and pick the little fellow up when the child paused to suck in a fresh lungful of air and then screamed, ‘Mummy!’

As far as Edward was concerned, this got him off the hook. If a child bellowed one’s own name, then one was under obligation to render aid – hugs, pats and consolation included. But if the child expressed a firm and deliberate preference for the assistance of another, well what is one to do but find the person the child is calling?

There was no need however. ‘Mummy’ arrived within seconds.

So, there you go. Now it’s your turn. Please share with us a highlight of your week.

P.S. If you’d like to follow my progress, here’s the link to my NaNo WriMo page. Feel free to make me your writing buddy.

P.P.S. If you’re suffering with white page fright or the fear of what your writing will be like, then have a read through some of these quotes about ‘the courage to write’ at A Beautiful Ripple Effect.


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Declare Your Novel!

NaNo WriMo starts in a couple of days. Are you excited? I am!

Do you have an idea of what you’re going to write? If so, tell us about it! Scroll down to the comments and declare it to the world!

We’re all in this together, and we’re all starting from scratch. So if your story idea is rough, vague and/or clichéd it really doesn’t matter. Get it out and get it going!

Telling others about your story helps you in a couple of ways:

  • It provides you opportunity to gauge people’s reaction and interest in your story. Perhaps you can tweak your plot and characters depending on your audience’s reaction. (Although when working on your first draft, I highly recommend you ignore people’s suggestions and just go for it! Leave the tweaks for revision.)
  • It gives your friends incentive to encourage your progress. If they know details about the story, they become invested in the project and interested to know more.

So here I am, declaring my novel! (Just give me a minute to finish biting my fingernails.)

The Colour of Jam

The cover artwork for my new story - a photograph of a chinese corridor lined with green columns.

Edward Cockburn leads a perfectly planned life, teaching IT in a London college, walking his dog (Asimov) and waiting for his ideal woman to come along…until the day he finds out he’s being replaced by a younger teacher.
Desperate to keep his job for another 12 months to qualify for long service leave, he is given only one option – apply for the college’s Teacher Exchange Program and go to China for a year.
Plunged into the culture shock and mayhem of Beijing life, Edward and Asimov are guided through the learning curve by Australian expat Peta. She teaches Edward how to barter, cross the road, snowboard on the subway, order street food and many other essential skills.
As Edward gradually comes to appreciate the beauties of Chinese living, he also falls for Peta. But Peta is waiting for an ideal man of her own. Can Edward sacrifice his carefully planned life to convince Peta that he’s the man for her?

The cover art is actually a photo taken by my father at the Summer Palace in Beijing. If you make the image smaller and squint your eyes a little, it looks like a jam jar on a green background. (Not intentional! A friend of mind discovered that after I made it.)

Okay, so the title, story and characters will most probably change during the writing process, but this is what I’m starting with.

What about you? Tell us about what you plan to work on. (It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as organized as mine! I just had a bit too much time on my hands before November.)

P.S. If you’re worrying about where and how to start your writing, The Creative Penn had this great post on the subject.