A-Z challenge: L is for Library

I always wanted to have a proper library: a whole room in the house dedicated to books and reading. All the walls would be fully shelved and there would be one of those ladder things that wheels around the shelves. It would have a chaise longue or day bed for reading in the most comfort.
There would be a roaring fireplace, probably gas because I can’t be doing with the bother of a real fire, nice as they are. And of course, I would have acres of free time which I could spend lying around in my library reading all the lovely books.
I find it soothing to be in libraries, just in the presence of books. It’s restful and serene and the rest of the world melts away. Bookshops work as well, but then you feel obliged to buy something and that’s how book mountain grows.

A-Z blogging challenge: J is for Job

Have to have a job to pay the bills, but it’s far away and I spend three hours a day commuting. J is for Job in the sense that I don’t get paid for writing and I like to have nice stuff.

But there’s also an element in which having a job meets some emotional needs that writing doesn’t. A couple of years ago I gave up my day job to focus on writing for a little while. It was amazing and fulfilling and as soon as I get the chance, I’ll do it again. However, when I went back to work I realised there had been something I’d missed. A job offers the opportunity to see the results of your labours quickly; it offers tangible results clearly linked to specific actions. The pay-off on a writing project takes a lot longer and sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of your gains.

A-Z blogging challenge: I is for Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. In the right mood I can be inspired by everything around me, yet at other times I am stuck for ideas. That suggests that inspiration isn’t something external to me, rather a state of mind in which I am able to generate ideas from the input available to me. The input may be the same at any given moment, but the ability to do something with it rests within me.
The Collins English Dictionary has the definition as ‘stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity’.
Other definitions tend to run to the circular – inspiration is the state of being inspired. Umm, ok.
Anyway, the question I want to ask is not what inspires you, but how do you become receptive to inspiration? Is there always a time or place when you can be inspired? Do you have a ritual involving particular pieces of music, or particular activities? Is it a person or people displaying certain characteristics?
Meditation can work for me, but not necessarily all the time. If I’m honest, I don’t have a great handle on what triggers a state of mind in which I can draw inspiration from the world around me. Maybe if I worked out what was happening at the times when I am inspired, then I could be inspired more often. And perhaps more importantly, I could be open to inspiration at will. I think enthusiasm and passion may play a part. Yay, a project! Would love to hear your thoughts on inspiration.

A-Z blogging challenge: H is for Help

I’ve been stuck on H for ages. When I originally made my list, I thought I might talk about health, about whether your health is good, bad or variable and what impact that has on your writing. But the more I thought about the content of the post, the more it felt like whining. So, I abandoned that idea and looked for another H word. Turned out to be a bit of a struggle. Heroes? Happiness? Hump? Hurdles? Meh.

And then, help. Help, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to blog about. I don’t know how to make what I want to say sound interesting. What do you do when you need help?

When I get stuck in my writing, I have a few places to turn to for help. The first is my extensive collection of books on how to write. Which can always be supplemented by buying more books. This is particularly useful when I know what I need to do, I just don’t know how to go about it.

Or I can turn to either of the writing groups I’m involved in. I can get lots of different perspectives on the problem, which helps open up potential solutions. Most useful when I don’t think I’ve fully got to grips with what the problem is and I need help seeing it from other angles.

And of course, there’s always the interwebs. Opinions and advice galore! It takes time to filter it and you often have to wade through a load of shit in order to get to what you need, but on the plus side, I’m quite likely to find myself going off a tangent and finding something new. I love following internet trails to find out where they go.

Where do you go for writing help?

A-Z blogging challenge: G is for Grammar

I love grammar. I’m a grammar nerd. And I believe great writing requires a deep understanding of the fashions of grammar.

Grammar, punctuation and spelling are the tools we use to convey subtle meaning to the reader. Even if the reader doesn’t know enough about grammar to truly appreciate how we’ve done it, they will respond to what we’ve done. The word grammar derives, via Old French and Latin, from the Greek grammatike tekhne meaning ‘art of letters’. It is an art – you’ll notice I said fashions of grammar rather than rules. Grammar is what the majority agree is an understandable way to structure language. It is how we order words so that we can communicate.

The ‘rules’ change, sometimes slowly and sometimes quite fast. What you were taught at school may or may not be correct and I guaruntee that, unless you did linguistics at university level, it avoided the glorious complexity of language structure. Grammar in written English is different to grammar in spoken English. Lolspeak becoming a language of its own which is incredibly exciting. The writer who gets what grammar does and how to use it in both expected and unexpected ways has the power to use her words to maximum effect.

An excellent resource for improving your grammar is the Daily Grammar Lessons blog. The other is reading a lot.

A-Z blogging challenge: F is for Fortitude

According to, fortitude means:

mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously

Fortitude is something that writers need. Writing can be hard and very often it forces us to face our inner truths and demons.

Weirdly, an image search for fortitude mainly returned pictures of trainers so I made my own. First, there’s the demotivational poster, just a reminder that taking things too seriously can be counter-productive.

And then there’s the seious one.

The artist who created the second picture (which is amazing) is Gild-a-Lily on DeviantArt, but I can’t find a link.

A-Z blog challenge: E is for Emotion

Writing prose with emotion is hard for me. I start off with scenes that are flat and emotionless. My characters are acting and talking as if what is happening isn’t touching them emotionally. It’s as if they don’t care and are just shrugging it off. Are they fighting for their lives against a winged demon? Oh yeah, it’s just everyday stuff, whatever, blah, blah, I’m so bored.

This should be a moment of terror. The character believes they might die. But it’s terror tempered with determination to live, the will to push themselves mentally and physically beyond what they’ve ever done before. Maybe there’s a little elation in the mix. In an action scene like this the character’s adrenalin will be high and that complex cocktail of feeling has to come off the page and raise the reader’s heartbeat.

What I want is overblown drama on an operatic scale. I want to leave my reader exhausted and wrung out. But it’s hard to push myself to get there. I’ve learnt to moderate my emotions and I’m afraid that, instead of being moved, the reader will think I’m ridiculous. I don’t want to make a fool of myself so I draw back and I contain the emotion. I let it out in tiny little drips that people barely notice. And, for real life, that’s ok.

It’s like a tap. For real life, I want a gentle trickle. For my writing, sometimes I want a torrent. But the tap is stiff with disuse and I struggle to fully turn it on. When I do manage it, I feel embarrassed. I’m working on that by practicing writing pieces that are as emotionally laden as I can make them. These are just practice pieces that will never see the light of day and so I don’t have to worry whether a reader will find them ridiculous. I can learn to control the emotion tap in private and when it comes to writing scenes in my work-in-progress then I will have the skill to get the emotional balance right.

How do you feel about writing with emotion? Is it easy or difficult? Are there some emotions you find harder than others?

A-Z blog challenge: D is for Distraction

Oh, there’s just so much of it! The things I could spend my time doing:

Watching tv
Playing video games
Messing about on the internet
Hanging out with friends
Getting a master’s degree
Playing with my cats
Reading non-writing related blogs and news
Watching butterflies

And of course there are the things I think I should be doing:

Hanging out with friends
Keeping up with my correspondence

But instead I’m writing. At least in theory. I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment so everything that I could do I have to think ‘will this take time away from my writing?’ The answer is almost always yes because I can’t reduce the hours I work (which is not all that many to be fair) or reduce my commuting time, so there’s nowhere else for the time to come from. If the answer is yes, then ‘is this something I’m willing to give up writing time for?’ If I’m honest, in the past, I often have given up writing time – because I’m tired, or because it’s hard, or because I didn’t believe in myself enough, or because I didn’t feel I could say no to friends or family or other obligations. But I’ve reached a stage in my writing where the answer is going to be no much more often.

Oh look, a butterfly. Being chased by a lolcat. What was I doing again?

A-Z blog challenge: C is for Character

A funny thing happened on the way to the end of my novel. I always thought I was more interested in plot and events and writing about the stuff that happens. Characters were just what events happened to, vehicles for moving the story along. My stories grew out of a scene and things developed from there. I thought the scene that inspired the story was about the event, about what was happening.

I realised recently that actually it’s the other way around. I was working on my novel, trying to get to grips with all the elements of it, and I realised I have loads of characters. I’m not sure where they all came from. And while I was putting them into my spreadsheet I realised that each one is quite fleshed out in my mind.

Thinking back to all the scenes that started the fragments of all the stories that are gathering dust on my hard drive, it wasn’t about the events at all. They are all characters searching for a story to be in.

So, weird place to be in. But good.

By the way, I thought a post on characters was a good opportunity to showcase the work of my talented cousin who painted the picture in this post. If you like it, you can see more of her work at her Deviant Art gallery.