Wandering back

It’s been almost two years since I wrote on this site. Where have I been? Generally making a mess of things over on the website I use for my pen name K K Ness. I’ve published three books under wee Nessie, and I’m excited about the ones that are coming.

So why am I back here?

I think one of the downsides of having a blog under a pen name is that I struggle to be authentic and show the floundering, disasterous, ‘I’ll never get this book done’ side of me. And I miss being honest about my writing journey.

So here I am. And I brought baggage.

I’ll start with what many folk shared at the start of the year – my goal for 2019. It’s a biggie, and it kinda makes my belly go to liquid…

I will write 1 million words in 2019.

In truth, I kinda decided on this goal only yesterday, so that’s when my countdown started. It means I need to write 2900 words a day. Every day. Which is achieveable for anyone…if you’re not drowning in self doubt (most days, I’m soooooo drowning). But I figure if I continually strive for my 1 million words target, no matter what, I’ll have gotten some BIG things done in 2019.

Oh, and to be clear, that’s 1 million words of fiction. Blogging, plotting and journalling don’t count. But redrafting does, because I have a habit of basically throwing out the first draft and starting over. It might be why I hate first drafts, because I bleed all over the page and then toss it in the bin. An 80K book actually takes me 160K words to write. It’s my process, I suppose.

Anyway, I’ll give regular updates on how the goal is progressing, along with what’s going on in my writerly life. It’ll be messy because, even though I’ve published a few books, I still don’t know what I’m doing.

Kel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Plot bunnies

They came a-visiting today.

They bounced all over the place, dropping unwanted characters and weird tangents all over my redraft. One plot bunny in particular was drunk.

bunny

Now I find myself cleaning up the mess. My favourite scene is broken, another a bit singed. And a little lass—who has murder and mayhem in her liquid brown eyes—has decided she likes it here. I guess she’ll stay.

As for the other bunnies, they’ve moved on.

No doubt they’re just down the street, already gambolling in someone else’s writing.

Reading out loud

A screenwriter friend recently suggested I read my manuscript out loud. There are plenty of reasons why this is to a writer’s benefit: you can pick up on pacing issues, improve dialogue, fix up overly-long sentences and remove redundant description. Admittedly, my friend made this great suggestion weeks ago, so I should explain my hesitation.

freaked outI have an issue with reading things out loud. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading a scene from my manuscript or a sarcastic quote from a fortune cookie. My brain seems to short circuit, my eyes lose focus and my mouth creates new words. With my Melbourne writers group, I even have to lie down on the floor with my feet propped up while I read out my piece for workshopping. I’d like to think it’s a classic fear of public speaking, but I commit verbal massacres when alone, too.

Knowing my discomfit, my friend suggested I record my readings. It was a fair idea, as there’s little chance I’d be able to read aloud and notice flaws in my work at the same time.

So a few days ago I tapped the voice recording app on my phone and read out a scene. The result was as expected—a messy, word-tripping disaster from someone who was apparently drunk and confused. Even the dog appeared startled.

But listening to the recording revealed more than my ego-scarring incoherence. Repetition, changes in pace and quirks in dialogue leapt out of the ramblings. So too a stronger feel for the characters and interesting plot points I had previously ignored.

I have since gone back and made some changes. The scene now feels stronger and progresses the story in a satisfying way.

Will I record any more of the manuscript in the future? Although it makes me squirm, the answer is yes. It seems silly not to when the results speak for themselves (pun intended).

And if over time it helps me sound less like a beer-swilling pirate, then that’s just a bonus.

Why dogs are awesome writing buddies

IMG_4883

There’s a long history of famous authors and their beloved pets. Mark Twain snuck a kitten into his room during his year-long stint at a sanatorium. Virginia Woolf is quoted saying that dogs bring out the playful side of life. William S Burroughs’ last journal entry was about his four beloved cats and the great healing capacity for love they engendered.

Personally, I find dogs and cats equally wonderful—dogs because they look at you like you’re the centre of the universe, and cats because they don’t.

Four years ago I adopted a stray Labrador called Sheldon. He’s both intelligent and socially inept, just like his namesake on The Big Bang Theory. Hide a treat in his vicinity, and there is no puzzle toy, bag or piece of furniture he won’t work his way through to get to it. Take him on a new walking route and he’ll remember it perfectly for next time.

IMG_3080Sheldon has a few issues, of course—shopping trolleys, dogs on leads and motorbikes are creatures deserving extreme suspicion. Hats are inappropriate attire no matter the occasion and sock-wearing feet are too delicious to pass up.

As for my writing, well, Sheldon plays a key part. He’s my early morning alarm clock by way of a wet nose on the cheek and some exuberant pouncing on the bed. We’re generally on the pavement by the time dawn hits the nearby mountains.

There’s plenty of info out there about how going for a walk is excellent for creativity. I’m a big adherent, and even more so for a dawn walk. Photographers call this time the magic hour. It’s when the air is crisper, the birds louder, the colours and scents more vibrant. By the time we’re back home, I’m buzzing with ideas and ready for a decent writing session. Sheldon will generally wedge himself under the chair or beside the window in preparation for some serious napping.

After about an hour, I’m reminded that it’s time for breakfast by way of a paw on my leg and soulful, sad eyes. I’ll take advantage of the offered break, feed us both, and then it’s back to work—me writing, him napping and giving me the occasional nudge for a pat.

Multiple studies in the past few years have shown that patting and talking to dogs results in lower blood pressure. As a writer who spends way too much time worrying, my being able to give my pup a good rub is cheap therapy. I have a habit of talking to myself while writing, too, and Sheldon offers great advice by way of a grumble or snore. Coffee breaks are admittedly a time when I come up with ridiculous names for him, like ‘Magical Mister Gruff’ or ‘Sleepy Bun Bun’. I slide back to the desk afterwards feeling a bit better about life.

On the days when the writing is not happening and the biscuit tin beckons, he’s my go-to-guy. Whether he’s rolling in wet grass, barking at butterflies or having fluff unexpectedly explode out of a much-loved toy, his exuberance and curiosity for life are reminders of why I write. The world is full of amazing things to explore and experience, and dogs take it upon themselves to show us. That’s why I count on Sheldon as my writing buddy. If you have a hound, you’ll be able to count on them, too.

IMG_3245

Five tips to fight bland writing

bland

For the past week, my writing has been somewhat uninspired. I’m showing up every day and putting in the hours but at the end of each session, I read the new material and get a profound sense of ‘blah’.

So instead of proclaiming war via the delete button, I spent yesterday mining through my writing diary (all fifteen years of it) for ways I have previously put the fire back into my writing. Here are five of my favourite tips.

Cut out the waffle

Make sentences punchy by getting rid of the fluff. I love a good adverb, but why write ‘she quickly grabbed’ when you can say ‘she seized/pinched/hauled’?  Hunt down the words ending in ‘ly’ and give them a good drubbing.

Similarly, words like ‘kind of’, ‘can try’, ‘almost’ and ‘somewhat’ need to go. Decisive language is much more compelling.

Mix up the sentence lengths

I have a habit of writing long (like, really long) sentences. In the past, I have set myself the challenge of making every third sentence no longer than five or six words. This is particularly helpful when redrafting. I’ll pull out one page, shorten the sentences and then compare the pace of that page to those surrounding it. Obviously, you don’t need to be dogmatic. You don’t need to only shorten every third sentence, but it is a helpful exercise on how to quicken the pace.

Make friends with the thesaurus

Instead of saying ‘She walked across the room’, try ‘She prowled/scuttled/inched’. Personally, I love my thesaurus book—there’s something wonderful about opening a random page and making use of whatever I find there. The only caution is to not go overboard, as sometimes simplicity is best. Plus you can overuse your new words, and trust me, readers are going to notice when you’ve used ‘scuttled’ three times in a chapter.

Write flash fiction

I admire people who write flash fiction. It’s damn hard. You have to tell an entire story in a few short paragraphs, and achieve it by showing, not telling. The key, I’ve found, is to focus on one powerful image, launch straight into the action, strip away a heap of backstory and include story questions that keep the reader guessing until the end. By the time you’ve completed the piece, you’re buzzing with creativity and ready to get back to that bigger project.

Get emotional

As many of my readers will know, I spent the last eight or so years engaged in corporate writing. I got pretty good at using dry, generic language like ‘world leading’, ‘innovative’, ‘comprehensive range’ and ‘customer solutions’. These words are used so much in our everyday lives that they have lost any meaning.

So find ways to influence the reader’s emotions. Instead of ‘old’ try ‘stale’ or ‘threadbare’. Instead of ‘fat’, try ‘bulbous’ or ‘stout’. Emotive words let you guide the reader towards a positive or negative response. For example, ‘statuesque’ gives a positive impression of ‘tall’ whereas ‘looming’ has negative connotations. Have fun with it.

For me, I’ll be giving the flash fiction a shot today. I have a particular image stuck in my head that has nothing to do with my novel. I’ll immerse myself in it and then hopefully come out refreshed and ready to get back to redrafting.

I hope these tips are helpful for you, too.

February Challenge

Following last week’s almost-decision to give up my dream of full time writing, I’ve been thinking about why I lack the belief that I can have a successful writing career. Despite quitting my corporate job, moving interstate and turning my back on a new profession—all so that writing remains my first priority—I can’t shake the fear that my writing dreams will never be a reality.

So I’ve set myself a February Challenge—to write something positive every day about my writing life. An affirmation, if you will. Today’s is ‘I am grateful and thankful to be living out my passion as a writer.’

I have it on a sticky note above my table so that I can keep looking at it throughout the day. Tomorrow, I’ll put a new affirmation beside it, and then another and another until I have 28 positive thoughts, compliments and affirmations stuck to the wall.

My hope is that some of that positivity will seep in and I can get onto the best part of being a writer—actually writing!

It sounds a bit egotistical covering my wall with pep talks and compliments, but if I don’t truly believe in my writing aspirations, who will?

A dream and a sure thing

I can see myself writing every day from now until my deathbed. Genetically I have a good shot at that being in my nineties, so long as I respect my body, brain and soul. I can also see myself as a published writer, writing the stories I want to read as opposed to the corporate writing that has been my life for the past eight or so years. But right now, being a published writer is a dream rather than a reality, and it’s a scary thing to structure my life around.

A few days ago, I got offered a place at university for a degree I have been interested in since I was a teenager. Over 4000 people applied for this course, and I was one of 150 people to get in. In the excitement, I accepted. In four short years, I would be assured a job in an industry with global reach, where every day was different, where my experiences would enrich my writing, and where I could make a difference every day to people who were likely having the worst day of their lives.

And yet, for the past few days, I have been inconsolable. I have bawled my eyes out at being bitten by a mosquito, for stubbing my toe, for seeing a cute puppy on instagram. A constant ball of anxiety churns in my guts and I am driving my family and friends mental with varying levels of hysteria.

Despite getting into a course I have wanted to do for more than fifteen years, I have to acknowledge one incontrovertible truth.

I have made a mistake.

If all I want to do is write, why would I commit to a new career that could only draw me away from writing? There is only one answer: because it is safe.

I am in constant fear that the sacrifices I have made for writing will be for nothing. I worry I have many more sacrifices to make for something that may never happen. I feel my writing is not good enough to be published. And I fear that no one will like what I have to say.

But the option of a safer, more comfortable life lies before me and I cannot take it. I cannot bear the thought of hiding behind a career in a respected industry, where it doesn’t matter whether I chase my dream of writing.

So today I withdrew from the course, and now I feel weepy because of a wholly different reason:

I am back on the right path.