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.

Writing isn’t easy

I’m not sure where I picked it up but I had a belief that if you had a talent for something, then it should come easily to you. If you were good at art, then drawing well and finding things to draw would be a snitch. You’d sit down at your easel and knock off sketches and pictures feeling happy and joyful because you were doing something you loved and were good at. The energy would be high and you’d be really productive and you’d always want to do art instead of everything else.

Sometimes writing’s like that. But more often than not it’s really hard work. It’s a struggle to get anything down on the page, nevermind something good. It’s hard to say what I really want to say while making my characters come alive. What’s on the page rarely seems as vibrant and solid as what’s in my head.

Does that then mean that if I find writing hard sometimes, that I’m not very good at it? And if I’m not good at it, then do I have to give up on my dream?

It’s not that simple. I also have beliefs around needing to work hard to get something I want, in order to deserve it. I have beliefs around not being good enough, in general, for anything. And I’m self-sabotaging and have poor self-regulation. But you know what? I know all this stuff and therefore I can make it work for me rather than against me.

I’m going to write this on a piece of paper and stick it up over my monitor.

“Sometimes writing comes really easily and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes what I’ve written is good and sometimes it isn’t. These things are not related.”

Sometimes when the writing flows, what I produce is great and sometimes it isn’t. The same is true when I really have to grind it out. The same is true for rewriting. Sometimes I immediately hit on exactly what I want and sometimes it takes me an hour to get a sentence right. Sometimes I let the resistance and fear discourage me but I’m working on that.

A Dance with Dragons

I’ve just pre-ordered A Dance with Dragons by G.R.R. Martin. I’m so excited! Six years I’ve been waiting for this book. I really want to re-read the whole series in preperation, but they wouldn’t count towards the 100 books in 2011 challenge. Boo. But I’m still excited. 

London Book Fair – II

Oh my, what a bust. The London Book Fair was big and busy and I came away feeling positive about the state of the publishing industry. I know it’s a trade fair and it’s not really for authors, but the website said there was an author lounge where unpublished authors could talk to literary consultancies, the Arvon Foundation and self-publishers. When I got there it was the most pokey, grubby, scoddy little corner that looked completely unloved and appeared to be full of vanity publishers. If I’d read Book Fair Bewares beforehand I might not have been surprised.

So, I took myself to lunch on the Embankment, wandered around Covent Garden, walked up to Watkins Books in Leicester Square and then onto Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Then I went to my writers’ group in the evening. I had a wonderful day.

Do you keep books?

The last post made me think about keeping books. I used to. But that was a long time ago, before the internet and the collapse of the net book agreement, and I was a teenager and couldn’t afford to buy a lot of books. I was also a bit of a hoarder, like my parents were.

It’s really easy to accumulate stuff and books among them and you easily get to a place where there are so many books the house starts to feel claustrophobic. Last time I was house-hunting I went to look at a place that had bookshelves everywhere. Even above the doors going into rooms. It felt very crowded. But by that time I’d unlearned my hoarding habits and regularly de-cluttered – including my bookshelves.

So now, I keep reference books that I think I’ll need, non-fiction that I was particularly influenced by, a little poetry and the odd novel that I love (less than ten at this point). Everything else goes. I give books to local charity shops, to friends, and to the book dump at work. I think that if I enjoyed something I should let it go to give someone else the chance to enjoy it too.

What do you do with the books you’ve read? Do you keep them? If so, where? Do you buy books or use libraries?

Respecting the art of writing

Over the years I’ve been involved in writing groups I’ve found myself in conversations about how much technique matters. It appears there are two schools of thought.

On one side are those who think it doesn’t matter much. They argue that worrying about correct spelling and formatting kills the creative flow and it’s much more important to get the story out. Punctuation and other such tedious matters can be sorted out by the editor/agent you will definitely get once you’ve finished your novel.

The other school believes technique does matter. If you don’t master the basics of technique and present your work in a professional manner, it won’t even get looked at. No-one will be able to enjoy the genius of your story if they have to read every sentence three times to work out what you mean.

I’m on the side of technique. I care very much about the correct use of commas. I think understanding sentence structure helps you make your point clearly. There are twenty eight books on my shelf on the subject of writing and there were some I read that I chose not to keep. I read blogs on writing. I critique other people’s work so that I can improve my own. I read as many novels as I can and try to analyse the technique, although sometimes I forget if I’m enjoying the story. Some of the most fun I can have is talking about books and writing.

For me, technique supports storytelling. The two are intertwined. The most beautiful, perfectly executed writing can’t make me enjoy a story I don’t like, but I can appreciate the craft. The most interesting story can, however, be lost under poor writing. I’m not really talking about the odd spelling mistake or confusing you’re and your; these are small things that don’t interfere with understanding what the writer meant. More confusing is random placement of commas, running dialogue in with narrative, malapropisms, and poor paragraphing. Short sentences that start with the same words nearly all the time get boring, no matter how much I liked the idea of the story.

When you’re writing your first draft, it doesn’t matter. Just get the words down. Worrying about presentation at that stage isn’t productive. But when you rewrite technique is what will make your story come alive. Knowing how to finesse your words will get your great story noticed.

I think, in life generally, how you do what you do matters as much as what you do. Attention to detail makes a difference to the result. That’s what makes something great as opposed to good. I do agree that perfectionism can be used as procrastination and my working life has taught me that a perfect product not delivered on time (or at all) is not perfect. Getting the task done is more important in some circumstances. So, I’m a recovering perfectionist learning to love good enough. Caring about technique doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a perfectionist; it means you want to do the best job on your story that you can. Good enough doesn’t mean ‘oh whatever, that’ll do’; it means the best you can achieve in the time you have.

And I think I’ve always found it hard to express what I feel about how technique supports and enables storytelling. So when I read Editors on Editing: Respect Your Art on Women’s Memoirs, I thought that is exactly what I mean. Sloppy technique shows a lack of respect for your art. Writing technique is the equivalent of stretching your canvass and choosing the right thread and needles.

Writing goals for 2011

Last year I said my writing goal was to finish my work-in-progress, Sacrifice. I didn’t do it. I added 10,000 words, came up with a better working title (Immortal), and re-wrote some parts of what I’d already written. It was all going well up until August. Then I hit a bad patch writing-wise; I got really busy at work and I had some stress in my private life at the same time. Those two things left me with very little energy for writing.

Happily, things are easing and I’m writing again. So, my first writing goal for 2011 is simply to make more progress on Sacrifice. I want to get to 75,000 words and I want to get it ready for submission.

I had hoped that I would have a short story published this year but the ezine that had accepted it went under. So, my second writing goal for 2011 will be to submit that story to other markets and either get it accepted or collect six rejections.

What are your writing goals for 2011?

Most and least enjoyed books of 2010

I read a lot of books last year. Many were good, some were great and some were horrible. All taught me something about writing and some were a great deal more enjoyable in the process. So here are the three I enjoyed the most and the three I liked the least.

Top Three
1. Black Man by Richard Morgan
2. Matter by Iain M. Banks
3. Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott

Bottom Three
x. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
y. A House for Mr Biswas by V. S. Naipaul
z. A Wicked Liaison by Christine Merrill

So, interestingly, two of the books on the least favourite list are highly critically acclaimed. Both Wolf Hall and A House for Mr Biswas (‘thoughts on reading’ forthcoming) were technically brilliant but the experience of reading them was unpleasant. The out and out winner though was A Wicked Liaison. My brain was stained for months after reading it.

The three at the top had a lot of competition; most of the books I read last year were enjoyable. The three that I’ve chosen are my favourites are the ones were I struggled to read as a writer because I was so carried away with the story. Black Man won out because the scope of it was breathtaking and because the plot twists were genius.