The joys of flying by the seat of your pants when writing

I have tried and tried and tried, but plot, I cannot. I guess it’s partly due to the fact that my beast of a novel refuses to be limited to the constraints of a formal plot outline.

I know this because I tried to create a plot outline before I started to write the book. After about two pages of it with no end in sight, I threw my hands into the air and put the planning aside. I guess that makes it sound like I’m doing a trilogy. If you thought that, you’re not far wrong. I suspect that this will be a series of four books though. But..

The plotting I did was for the first book only. The thing about it that it is a great story that has subdivisions. Some things happen at the same time, some don’t. Some things trigger events in the other story-lines. So it turned out that just writing the damn book is easier that trying to plot it out. I do make an effort to keep major plot points in mind so that I don’t end up wandering around, but those points are fluid. They can change whenever something huge happens as the story progresses. But unless that event is massive, the points don’t change.

Writing like this does have its disadvantages. The big one is that I block. A lot. For long periods of time. Sure I have the big plot points to write towards, but sometimes I draw a complete blank when it comes to writing the small stuff that happens in between.

Then there’s my other personal favourite: I’m happily writing along when I get this sudden flash of inspiration. Usually it’s like a video clip that’s looping through my mind. Sometimes it’s a phrase, word or sentence that keeps echoing. Wonderful? Ugh… not if it’s not from the current book.

Blame my paranoia for this, but I rarely write any ideas down, since it’s difficult to keep track of my notes. So I can’t just write down and describe the mental image or words. No. My mind and creativity gets snarled up in trying to figure out how the story gets to that point in the distant future. Sometimes it takes me weeks to work things out well enough for me to get back to writing. 

Am I complaining? Well… not really. Those flashes of inspiration, for all of their tendencies to come at bad times, really are brilliant. I’m talking about gasp for your breath and grab onto something solid brilliant. These are the kind of things I would never have been able to create if I thought about it. My subconscious just takes in everything – my characters, my story, the circumstances, events etc. – and makes a huge leap to a future point in the natural progression of the story.

I can’t really give examples, since these are huge spoilers. Spoilers of the scope that if I was reading the book and my friend mentioned this, I’d maim his or her reading experience of another book as revenge. (I hate people telling me what happens after the point where I’m reading) But let me just say that someone is going to get the mother of harsh wake-up calls while someone else is going to get a lot worse before he gets better. I just hope I can pull it off before the readers absolutely hate the latter person.

I’m curious about plotters though. How do you work out your plots? What are the best and worst parts of plotting?

And the other pantsers, what are your writing experiences like?

I’m dying to find out about other people’s writing experiences…


Stares, stairs. To, two, too. Their, there, they’re. Who’s, whose.
Architecture. Dilemma. Procrastination…These are a few of my least favourite words.

Why? Because I know their spellings. I know how, where and when they are used, but for reason I can’t begin to imagine, I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting them when I write.

It drives the perfectionistic side of me up the walls. Surely I’m smart enough to get the difference? When I read what I have written, I tend to catch the mistake immediately. But not while I’m writing…

I’ve been thinking of reasons for this phenomenon and so far I only have a good reason for the first group. In a word: Homophones.

Basically to me, writing is the reverse of reading. When I read, I see the words, “hear” them in my head and form a mental picture. When I write, I see a picture, “hear” the words describing them and write them down. I think that when I write fast, I just write the first thing I hear without paying attention to the meaning of the word. So… picking between two or three words that sound the same might be a problem.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Sometimes I “listen” and write so fast that my eyes have to play catch-up. So it feels like I’m reading instead of writing. Weird/sad but true.

That may or may not mean that I am insane… Which is a good reason why the other group of words is a challenge. But… on pondering this in the post, I think I hit on the other reason: I don’t pay attention. I get so absorbed in what I’m writing that spelling something correctly becomes insignificant.

I’m wondering if anyone else has problems with certain words…

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I didn’t really feel the need to post anything else. So… I, going to list a brief summery about what’s on my mind…

The Good:

  • After months of tense expectation, I finally got a car again. It’s wonderful! And… It’s economic on fuel. My bank account is practically crying with gratitude after my using my mom’s gas guzzling merc.
  • I now have six members! Four of them never met me, so I feel like I’m starting to get somewhere blogwise. Thank you all very much for supporting the blog and welcome.
  • I have finally decided what I am going to do next year…

The Bad:

  • What I’m going to do next year involves a lot of running, sit-ups, push-ups and seasickness. For those of you wondering, I’m planning to join the South African Navy.
  • I started retyping my fantasy for purposes of being critiqued and realized that I started to far from the main story, but can’t change the intro. That one I’ll worry about when the first draft is done.

The Ugly:

  • Last week a taxi drove past a line of cars, swerved to the wrong side of the road to pass a closed boom.
  • Right on time to be hit by a speeding train.
  • And killing ten children who were on their way to school.

What’s on your mind today?

Violence in Books…

The topic alone makes me feel violent. With the release of Mockingjay, a debate seems to be raging about whether there should be a line drawn about the level of violence in YA books. This is my opinion about it, but I would love to hear what you have to say…

To me, the line is drawn at gratuitous violence. I’ve lived in a area where gratuitous violence was rife for seventeen years. I can safely say that I’ve had enough of it.

The problem is that people seem to have this idea that their darling little angels should be shielded from violence at all costs…

No problem… Just don’t buy their angel the damn book.  Actually I think that whether or not their kids read responsibly represented violence would make very little difference to whether or not the child is violent.

If the child is already torturing little animals, reading the violent book won’t be what triggers him to do greater and more evil things.

Parents should take responsibility for their children’s development. They should be there to guide them and to help them build a frame of reference about what is right or wrong. That way when children are exposed to things, they have a chance of coming to the right decision. Violence in books, if well used, can be such a tool. Read the book with the child. Put the tricky bits into context. Explain to them that although violence is OK in books, it’s rarely the best option. If the main character is torn up about hurting or killing someone, even better to explain, no?

Yes, I know that parents these days are very busy providing for the young ones. I know that some parents think that teachers are responsible for raising and educating their children. Parents feel overwhelmed and that they absolutely cannot spend the amount of time I’m thinking of with their children. That’s OK. I am not here to judge parenting skills. After all, I’m commenting from the view of a child that has been raised in the way I described above. If I say so myself, I turned out quite nicely, despite having read Kathy Reichs novels and Jeffrey Deaver and various violent children’s stories since I was thirteen.

Point is… If children act out violently, for the love of all that is holy STOP BLAMING MEDIA VIOLENCE!

The problem as I see it lies in the fact that children and Young Adult readers don’t have solid moral and ethical foundations. We as writers – although I doubt that most think of this – work under the assumption that the readers have a concept of what is or isn’t acceptable in reality. Therefore, who is wrong here? The writer that assumed that children know the difference between right and wrong? Or the parents that didn’t teach them the difference in the first place?

Shielding children from things don’t work. How many children find ways to experience exactly what you are shielding them from?

The second general complaint is that the use of  violence is market driven. That violence sells…

I don’t know about any other writers out there, but I include violence into my book because that’s what moves my story along. But why does it have to be what moves the story along? Because I write about war. I write about repression and revolution. And… given the way my characters work, a revolt a la Gandhi isn’t going to cut it. Excuse the pun. Market demand didn’t come into my thoughts at any stage of the formation of my story. I think it is the same for most other writers. They write the story that takes over and rules their mind… If it sells in the market, great. If it doesn’t? That I can’t say, since I am yet to come to the selling stage.

But once again… that market is a free one. No one is forcing them to buy that book. But that also implies that people selling that book should be allowed to sell anything they want.

This brings me to my last point. Call me an idealist but writers function as chroniclers of our times. It’s or job to call attention to the things that society would rather turn a blind eye to. Violence is one of those things. I believe that censorship is another. In South Africa, people are reacting in horror to what amounts to a governmental gag order on what journalists may or may not publish. Doesn’t people insisting that writers only include certain things to their writing amount to the same thing? 

 Please comment, I really want to see whether I’m off base…

What a beautiful day… looking around you for inspiration

The morning seems to have covered the world in bright silver light. The sun isn’t technically shining, but the clouds are just translucent enough to allow us to look through them at the blue above. Today, the air  smells fresh and all feels well. Days like this just make me feel happy.

Of course, part of the reason lies in the fact that I won’t be leaving my apartment until noon, so there’s very little that can go wrong until then, barring (touch wood) burst water pipes, messing tomato sauce on my flatmate’s expensive beige carpet etc.

Don’t morning like this just inspire you to write something?

When something like is different about nature, I try to stare at it often and for long periods of time. I want to remember what it was like, because it will never be like that again, unless I somehow manage to awaken it in the reader’s imagination.

Sadly I can’t really spend too much words explaining why the morning just before sunrise is particularly pretty. If you want to know, I seriously suggest you wake up early and see. If you’re the kind of person that stops to smell the flowers, it will blow your mind.

Which neatly brings me to my point. If you want to write, you have to learn how to notice the small things around you. To me the reasons are rather complex.

Like I said, noticing mother nature can help you to explain how she looks and works. If, and that’s a big if, you notice her and think about what you noticed. That’s what I did at the beginning of my post. Those were the words that were running around my mind since I looked out the window. They might seem sparse, but they are enough. I’ll remember the feeling the morning gave me, how it looked, and I will be able to write about it later.

Then, the people around you are mines of inspiration for your characters. Firstly, you can look at them physically. How do they walk? What do they look like? I’ve stolen one character’s mop of dark hair from a passer by. I also inserted the wicked sparkle in his eyes.

Of greater use to me is looking at people from a writer’s perspective. In other words, as if they are the characters in a (your?) book. How do they talk? How do they interact with friends? People they don’t know? People below their social standing? People above their social standing? What do they say?

I mean, what are they really saying? I was friends with someone that shared my passion for books and movies and the friendship grew despite our many differences. All of my friends know that I tend to have a dark, somewhat bitter and a very snarky wit. Because of this, I don’t mind if people turn similar wit on me. In fact I relish sharp senses of humour. Anyway, I eventually moved into this friend’s building and we became neighbors.

Something began to niggle, so I turned my author-like attention onto her personality. I inspected her interactions with others. I inspected her interaction with me.

I found the fundamental difference between us. My wit is used to laugh with people, sometimes about their and especially my own faults. Most of the time we just snark about what one of us said and it turns into a session of verbal sparring. I love it. It keeps me on my toes and my feet on the ground. 

On the other hand, she was using her wit to laugh at people. She was essentially breaking people down and disguising it under a veil of humour. On inspection, I couldn’t even say she did it per accident because she crossed the line without knowing it. She knew exactly what she was doing. I particularly noticed that she targeted me in front of people. Kind of makes you think of school, right?

To sum it up, she was trying to hurt my confidence in order to make her look and feel good in front of others. Big mistake. I have been born with boundless confidence. Or maybe it was my mom telling me I’m special all the time. But I don’t tolerate bullies. I also don’t deal well with stupidity.

People trying to bully me are stupid… and therefore deserve any and all retaliation I send their way. Don’t worry, I didn’t go down to her level. I beat her simply by outmatching her wit at every turn.

I eventually moved out due to problems with my landlord. She actually asked whether it was because she hurt my feelings. I burst out laughing and stated categorically that she couldn’t get to my confidence if she tried. I smiled sweetly and walked away from her. The friendship faded away after that.

I included this anecdote for two reasons. One is to illustrate what I meant. People say things. And then they say things. Authors that master that in dialogue are light years ahead.

The other is to serve as a warning. If you doubt that your friendships will survive closer inspection and if you care for those friendships, DO NOT ANALYSE YOUR FRIENDS!!! Along with all the good things about the person, you’ll pick up on the dark undercurrents to them as well. It’s natural. All people have a dark side. I clearly showed part of my dark side to you. I can be incredibly ruthless, if I want to be.

I just don’t want to be. Even with the friend from above, I stayed reasonably nice, because I don’t want to be that person. That doesn’t mean that Misha the ruthless puppet master doesn’t exist or that she doesn’t appear sometimes. I keep her muzzled. Firmly. But she’s there. And I’m sure that anyone looking for her will find her. Just so all people have their personality faults.

In away that is what makes us interesting people. If we didn’t have the dark side, we would have been bland. The difference between people who are fundamentally nice-ish and those that aren’t is merely the choice they make as to whether they’ll embrace the dark side of their personality. (Insert scary Darth Vader breathing here)

Grr… basically what I’m saying is this: If you dig for the bad stuff, you will find it. Why? Because it is always there. Scarily enough, it’s not even deeply hidden. Why? Because most people you interact with don’t bother to look.

But looking at people this way can alter how you perceive them for the rest of your life. Sometimes it’s for the better. Other times it’s for the worse. And it’s your job as the person doing the inspection to make sure that you are willing to put the relationship on the line. If you are not, don’t do it. End of story.

My tiny dilemma(s).

Well, except for trying to remember how to spell the word dilemma.

Last time, I announced my decision that I was out on the hunt for a crit partner. One of the big reasons for this is that I am well on my way now, but I’ve been feeling this tiny nag of uncertainty in the back of my mind. It has to do with my plot.

See I have five main characters along with a cast of supporters. Fine. The thing comes in where the story is told from two perspectives. The book is largely about two stories.

To me, this isn’t large, since I keep track of the goings on, but then, I did create the stories. I let my gran read the first portion and she said that the story is good, but that she’s worried about the readers being confused.

Problem here is two-fold. One, she absolutely doesn’t want to hurt my feelings and two, she was taught never to write with more that two or three main characters. She never read or wrote a fantasy novel. 

I can’t give it to my three best friends. One will soften the crit, and the other understands the convoluted workings of my mind too well. So Theresa will say I make perfect sense, because she knows how I think (Although the deal with helping me edit stands :-)). As scary as the thought is, I think that creatively, she thinks like me. Waldo is well read on fantasy, blunt to a fault and being a guy, never quite grasps my thinking, but… he’s doing a Masters in Engineering. I just can’t be cruel enough to make him read through what is sure to be a reasonably sized beast of an epic – in rough draft form – again and again.

So I need someone to read my work, that doesn’t know me, but understands Fantasy as a genre.

Which brings me to the troubling part(s). Firstly, there is the matter of trusting a complete stranger with my brainchild. I don’t know if I’m being overly dramatic, but it feels like I’m toeing the abyss with my eyes closed. It’s just that, I think that this is such a good concept for a book. Really, it’s very very good. If I can pull it off… So I have to check, but what if this person I choose to trust decides he or she likes my idea more than their own?

Then there’s the logistics of the deal. I’m currently writing the Fantasy with pen and paper. So, to get it to a CP involves me rewriting the parts I’ve written, while I’m writing the rest of the book. I don’t want to stop dead, since I’m on a roll. Also, if I get input early on, it might mean a smaller scale rewrite later… 

Anyone have any advice about this?

Wish I could be more creative with my titles.

Really I do. I guess that is one of my greatest weaknesses when it comes to writing.

I’m sure that you have noticed that I refer to my Works in Progress as the Fantasy and the Western. Why? Because I haven’t figured out titles for them.

I have most of my story lines down. I have my characters about as figured out as they’ll let me. Both books are in a stage of rapid movement towards the climax (although far from it), but I have no idea what to call them.

It’s a problem that has haunted me from my childhood. I write good stories (I hope), but thinking of a suitable title is always difficult. So usually I finish the story and pick a name related to some aspect of it. The thing is that my Fantasy novel has quite a few aspects, so picking one is going to be tricky. Still, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

At least today, it gave me something to start with. Brilliant eh?

On the topic of writing, I am much relieved to report that I have spent the past few hours writing my Fantasy. My head hurts like hell from the effort, but it’s done and I’m happy. Why? Because I have thousands of ideas running in front of me. 

For once, those ideas involve events immediately after my last written sentences. So hopefully next time I won’t have to wonder what I have to start with.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I think it’s time for me to let someone who doesn’t know me read at least portions of my book. So… I’m searching for a crit partner. Now, I have never done this before, and I’ve heard many horror stories about mismatched personalities, so I’ll have to wait and see. I will keep you posted…

Right, so enough about me. What about you? Have you ever had to do with a CP? How did it work out? Any advice for the rookie?

hmmm… why I shouldn’t blog soon after waking up

I just reread my blog from this morning and decided I should always drink coffee before I touch the key board.

I do have half an excuse. When I cut into sleep time, I get so tired that I can’t fall asleep. Sleep eventually comes, but my dreams are so vivid, that they take on an almost nightmarish intensity.

That happened to me last night and I woke up tired and very, very grouchy. I took myself waaaaaay too seriously. I apologize sincerely for any irritation caused.

As the sun rose and my thoughts cleared, I realized that part of me, the part that didn’t feel lie writing is natural, knew that I didn’t have to write for the next few days. My creative side is wrung out a little from my recent marathon writing stint. My mind is sapped of energy thanks to late nights, early mornings, huge imagination, investment management and 24.

Creative writing is not high on the agenda for today. And you know what? That’s fine. So what if I can’t be at least remotely as productive as last week? Like I tried to illustrate in the previous post, writing means a lot to me.

It means so much that I won’t let myself lose my love for it by forcing myself to write. I write when I feel like it. Right now, the only thing I feel like writing at the moment is this post. My mind is working out what it wants me to write down next. When it’s ready, I’ll just hear my muse calling and start again.

Judging by that part of me that still wants to get down to getting on with the story, I don’t doubt that this will happen within the next week.

It’s a strange thing. The realization just hit me that right now that I don’t crave to write. I crave the euphoria I experienced. This fact is actually an exciting prospect. If I’m so euphoric after a few chapters, imagine how it will be when I finish and/or publish a book… Can’t wait.

I hate when this happens.

Ever have your muse drag you to a book and leave you staring at the blank pages? It’s as if you want to write, but at the same time you don’t, because it just doesn’t feel natural.

I’m getting that torn feeling now, and it’s especially bad after my awesome writing stint on Thursdays. I can’t understand how a person can get lifted so high one day, and then be dropped a few days later.

Even as I sit here, I am wrestling to put the words down. Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that my k-key doesn’t want to work. See? I’m threatening to go into the banalities because it feels like I have nothing to say.

Why then, am I burdening you with a post that says nothing? Because I know that that something is there. I just have to find it. The feeling reminds me of bumping into someone you recognize, but whose name you forgot. It’s there, but you just can’t make that connection.

I just wonder if I’m the only one that feels like this. After all, most writers love writing so much that I can’t imagine that they would not want to write. Why do I get these bouts of conflict?

Luckily, I have the cure to this, even if I don’t know the cause. I just keep writing. Eventually I get to a point where I have trouble with reining in my words, where I am almost saddened to leave the world of my book to get to the nitty gritty of investment management and economics. Then… the whole process starts over again. 

But that’s OK, because writing is what makes me understand people. It helps me to explore myself and it lets me take flights of fancy to distant lands and different times. It’s the keeper of my sanity. I won’t let anything come in the way of writing – not even myself.

Interesting realizations

What happens when you keep blogging and only check if you get followers? You forget to check for comments. So… I sort of only replied to my comments today. Very very sorry.

But… that was far from my only realization since my last blog…

On checking with my gran (the author, for those that didn’t read my earlier posts), that the generally accepted word count for a standard format novel is between forty and eighty thousand words. My western falls in that category. 

The reason why this is so profound is that I recently wrote nine thousand words of the western in one day. So the book that is my sideline and thing to do when my epic stalls might turn out to be the one that is submitted first. 

So, the reader may ask, how did that happen? 

In short: I have no damn idea. I just decided I needed to write that afternoon. The western called me more that my epic, so I decided to write one chapter. At the end of the chapter I wanted to see what happens next, so I wrote another. And another. And another. And… you get the point. 

It was such a productive and fun writing session that I’m almost scared to face the disappointment when I can’t repeat it. Maybe I sound silly, but it’s true. I spent eight hours non-stop typing (well except for sustenance and… you know… those breaks.). No discipline was involved, since I never felt like I had to force myself to write something.

Luckily I know that if I keep working at it, my muse will smile down on me and I will get to go through it again. 

Of course, there was this tiny detail that I was supposed to spend seven of those hours studying. 

My reaction to coming out of the story at midnight? Panic? Distress? Regret? None of the above. I grinned at my miraculous achievement, brushed my teeth and went to sleep. I haven’t written anything except the blog since and that was OK, because my creative side was purring. It ended up creating extra time for me to study although it did cut into my sleep. And…

If I did badly, I got sixty percent, but I have this sneaking suspicion that I have a distinction coming my way. So Yay! 

So the biggest realization I leapt to was that life falls right regardless of whether you worry about it or not. Just don’t forget to study ;-P