Will Somebody Please, PLEASE Save That Cat!

I know I’ve blogged about this before but the more time I spend on Facebook writers’ groups the more it strikes me that there’s an entire industry out there devoted to (supposedly) making you a better writer. Every week I come across more courses, workshops, talks, lectures, books and videos than I can count; every week I hear of programmes and apps and other things I don’t even know how to categorise which claim to help you to edit or plot or download a cover for your novel or publish or market it. Armies of readers both alpha and beta (and I’ve only just discovered the difference) wait to invade your text and pull it to pieces. And that’s not counting all the Nano-based gimmicks such as stars and certificates, crystals and word-count validations and I don’t know what else. Call me arrogant, but I don’t feel the need for a single one of them. It makes me wonder how the likes of Jane Austen or James Joyce managed to pen a single word without the help of Scrivener or the ever-incomprehensible Save the Cat Beats (OK having read that summary I understand what it is but why is it called that? What does it have to do with cats and why are they saved?

When I started writing I did everything by hand, including editing, and the final draft was then typed up. There was no choice of fonts, no way of putting things in bold or italics (just underlining for emphasis) and copies could only be made with carbon or by using a photocopier. And I never did any courses because I figured (again, call me arrogant if you will) that I was my own best teacher. I still maintain that if you want to write, you need to do two things: write as much as you can, and read as much as you can. Read whatever you like, read good writing and bad writing and try to figure out the difference. Take a notebook everywhere you go and work out how to describe what you see and hear; figure out how to transcribe dialogue and how to convey your own thoughts and feelings.

I’m not saying all these courses and apps are worthless. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never used them and even if I wanted to I can’t afford it. But it does make you wonder. Give me the traditional route any day and you can save your own cat

Kirk out

And on That Note… Thoughts on Editing

It was last thing at night. I was sitting up in bed reading and OH was drifting off to sleep when suddenly I heard a voice say urgently: ‘Tenrecs have 29 nipples!’ Now I happen to know that a tenrec is a hedgehoggy sort of thing so thankfully I didn’t have to ask, and I suppose the fact of it having 29 nipples is sort of surprising but I couldn’t really get worked up about it. So I did what I always do and made a note with the aim of either putting it on Facebook or blogging about it. So there we are and now you know; tenrecs have 29 nipples – presumably because they may have up to 29 offspring to suckle, I wouldn’t know.

Making a note of things is a practise I got into a long time ago; I keep a book by my bed for anything that occurs to me during the night and wherever I am in the day a pen and paper will not be far away. Professor Branestawm used to make notes on his cuffs (those were the days of detachable cuffs which were regularly laundered, which meant that he lost a lot of great ideas in the wash) and I used to make notes on my hand but I don’t do that any more because my hands aren’t big enough and besides it’s probably not good for you. But discrimination must be exercised in the writing of notes, otherwise you can end up with far too much material, so I’ve adopted the practise of waiting and assessing: if an idea doesn’t immediately demand to be written down, I wait a moment and see if it becomes insistent. If it doesn’t, I let it go; if it does, I write it down. As time goes by I’ve become more confident in the ability of my mind to remember things as it needs to. Some thoughts need to lie fallow and mature before they can be worked.

So as the editing season begins for Nanowrimers (I shan’t begin till the New Year and maybe not even then) here are my thoughts on editing:

First, editing begins in the mind. Even as you write, the mind is sifting and selecting ideas, words and phrases, even if you’re writing quite quickly. This process is largely unconscious but it’s interesting to watch: just try standing back and observing what happens as you write.

Second, there is no hard divide between writing and editing. You do not ‘write’ first and then ‘edit’; editing is writing (though sometimes it’s un-writing) and writing is editing. However between the first and second (and subsequent) drafts of a work there is likely to be a difference in emphasis between getting things down on paper and improving the expression of those things.

My main problem is that whilst I’m able to subdue the critical mind during the first draft, it necessarily comes to the fore during editing. But unfortunately, mine doesn’t know when to stop: as soon as it’s let out it rushes at the words like a guard dog at a burglar, chases them up a tree and keeps barking until the police arrive – by which time they’ve lost the will to create. I’ve managed to write a first draft without self-criticism, now I have to find a way of editing without being super-critical.

Kirk out

O Happy Day

Yes, I’ve done it! I’ve written 50,000 words in just over 22 days and now for me the war is over, I’m putting on my demob suit and packing my bags and waiting with the other troops on the airstrip for the planes to take us back to Blighty. It feels good to relax a little, stretch out and not have to worry about how many words I’ve done today or whether I’ll get to the end because I’m there! I made it – and even though it’s only a very rough draft with lots of repetition and more loose ends than a bag of wool fragments, it is real. Something which did not exist five weeks ago is now in the world and will soon be putting on its first pair of boots and going out to look for a good time. Ah, they grow up so quickly, these novels! Once a twinkle in their Mummy’s eye, then a tiny collection of dots on a page, they soon outstrip their first set of clothes and are fully weaned. Then before you know it they’re off to take their place in the world.

I can’t bring myself to think about editing yet. It’s time to focus all my efforts on the *l*c*i*n and the rest of the time kick back and enjoy a well-earned rest.

Phew.

Last night’s TV was nothing special – or so I thought, but then I realised there was the climate debate on Channel 4 and a little later a ‘candid’ interview with Elton John. The climate debate was excellent for several reasons: in the absence of Boris Johnson who was running late – sorry, scared – and the leader of the Brexit Party who is presumably a climate change denier, these two leaders were replaced by a pair of melting ice sculptures. Though this had been mooted as an idea we didn’t think they’d actually do it – but they did! It was brilliant and well-deserved. Boris Johnson is now in a huff and threatening like his pal Trump to ‘review’ the Channel 4 licence; meanwhile little Govey, having been dispatched post-haste to deputise for his Glorious Leader*, was denied entry on the grounds that it was for leaders only and jumped up and down outside squealing ‘they won’t let me in! Mummy! It isn’t fair!’ and other such mantras. * he’s not even the deputy leader, is he? Hang on, who is? Any ideas?

Inside it was the most civilised debate I’ve seen in a long time. The five leaders were broadly in agreement, the only differences being in terms of the timescale and detail of their plans. I’m disappointed that Labour are not fully committed to scrapping the disastrous expansion of Heathrow but Corbyn made some good points nonetheless and was the only one to tie climate change to wealth disparity. Nicola Sturgeon as always came off best – that woman really does show everyone how it’s done – and the others were fine. There was no slanging, no interruption, no rudeness, no insults – in short it reminded me of how political debates used to be. My only sadness was that in this election time there was still the necessity to score party points and I live in hope that we will at some point have a government of national unity to deal with this. Because climate change is a war and we have to win it. Johnson may live to regret not attending the debate: the first rule of politics is, always show up or, as C P Snow put it, never be too proud to be present.

I really wanted the ice sculptures to have melted by the end (just as the Tory and Brexit party arguments would have done) but alas they did not; still it’s well worth watching. Here it is on youtube as it’s not available on All4, because All4 is crap, and here‘s poor little Govey being turned away from the party.

Aw. Sad face.

On a much lighter note, Elton John bared all on the Beeb in an interview with Graham Norton. It was basically a whistle-stop tour through his life and career but what struck me was, in the midst of all his diva-esque outfits and over-the-top addictions, how ordinary and down-to-earth the man was. I got the same sense I had when seeing him in Rome (when in Rome, go to an Elton John gig) – that he’s one of us. There was no preciousness about him; he admitted cheerfully to being bald and wearing a toupee, to being 72 years old and to having had addictions and weight problems; yet this was no tear-filled celebrity confessional, just an ordinary bloke talking about his life. I’ve always liked Elton, he’s a one-off and the fact that he’s been friends with lyricist Bernie Taupin for more than fifty years says it all. So watch the climate debate, shed a tear (of laughter) for poor little Govey and then watch this. You’ll be glad you did.

Kirk out

What Utter Twaddle!

I’ve been writing utter twaddle all day because sometimes that is the only way to go. The hope is that you write yourself into some sort of coherence if you just keep going; sometimes it works, and it sort of worked today though I’m not terribly happy with most of what I did. Still it’s better than the other day when I was forced to resort to writing obscenities for several paragraphs like George VI trying to overcome a stammer (come to think of it, the principle is probably the same: The King’s Writing, anyone?)

But basically the only way to get through these days is not to let yourself care. Don’t care about quality, don’t care about inspiration, don’t care about structure, don’t even care if you’re making any sense or conforming to any of the rules of grammar throughout the known galaxy – just write. To paraphrase a character in Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, Write, write, effing write! Write, write, effing write! If you’re interested the relevant clip’s at about 13.40. And here’s Richard E Grant commenting on my work:

Indeed, Richard, I have written twaddle today. But it’s my twaddle.

Kirk out

Oops I Did it Again

Oh dear, I’ve gone and done it again and I need to stop. I’ve gone and got sucked in to interactions on Facebook and now I’ve had to come off again. I’m not apologising for the views I hold but it’s not good to get sucked into unhelpful ‘dialogues’. Facebook can be – often is – a series of little whirlwinds and if you’re not extraordinarily careful you can get instantly hoovered up into exchanges which are potentially very destructive. Someone expresses a view which doesn’t accord 100% with what others believe and soon everyone’s weighing in with ‘So you believe that…?’ or ‘are you aware that…?’ or ‘how do you not realise that…?’ and before you know it this turns into ‘are you so stupid that…?’ or worse. Opponents are regularly described as ‘scum’ or ‘vermin’. I’m sure this has a knock-on effect in real life: yesterday two canvassers were attacked (they were Labour but it doesn’t matter who they were, it’s unacceptable) and it’s reported that yesterday a police officer ‘aggressively’ demanded a driver remove part of an anti-Brexit sticker on their car – on the M25 of all places!

You can attempt a reasoned response but nine times out of ten that just annoys people more. They want a reaction, they want fireworks, the big bang and they keep on prodding and poking until they get one. The only sensible thing is to withdraw, which I did until I found I was withdrawing from so many discussions that the only sensible thing was to leave Facebook altogether. Which I did.

But now I’m back. In October I joined the Nano group for support and encouragement – which it delivered – telling myself I wouldn’t look at anything else. O woeful error! for this is like giving up smoking and telling yourself ‘I’ll just have one…’ and before I knew it I was back taking part in those destructive interactions.

So for my part in that I apologise. But now no more. I’ll go no more a Facebooking, for Facebook’s been my ru-i-in…

Kirk out

F*IL is a Four-Letter Word

There is a distressing number of people on the Facebook Nano group saying they are ‘about to fail’ Nano. This makes me sad because it focusses on one aim, to reach 50,000 words and forgets everything else; the words you may have actually written and their potential, the habits you may have begun to create, the ideas that have flowed, the characters and plots that have emerged – in short it seems a very limited vision to me.

But that’s where we live right now. All we care about are winners and losers; who’s in, who’s out, who’s up and who’s down, who slaughtered who and who was used as a mop with which their opponent could wipe the floor. It’s all very sad. You’ve only got to watch the end of ‘Strictly’ (and it never does seem to end; you can sit there waiting for ‘Casualty’ or ‘His Dark Materials’ thinking why does this programme seem to be on every day? and why does it take them about half an hour to finish?) to get the picture. Nice as everyone is, though they hug each other and say how wonderful it’s been and how brilliant their partner has been and how much they’ve enjoyed it, it’s all about winners and losers; who’s going to leave with a tear in their eye and who’s going to wipe away tears of joy.

Hence our current obsession with polls, and to me the more polls I see the less I understand. I am not the only person to comment that recent opinion polls seem so far removed from my experience that it’s like living on another planet; they just don’t seem to reflect what I see and hear. It’s not only that my friends and acquaintances think differently, it’s more or less everyone I meet. And yet the polls tell a completely opposite story.

There are two possible reasons for this: either I live in a bubble or the polls are just plain wrong. OH has introduced me to a study of why this might be so, why opinion polls can produce different answers depending on a number of factors such as the way questions are worded and even the order in which the questions are asked. People want to appear consistent, so they may answer yes to a question because answering no might appear to contradict a previous answer, yet had the questions been in a different order it might have produced the opposite result.

Human beings are complex creatures and cannot be reduced to a series of yes-no answers. Anyway, here‘s the video.

In other news, I have reached 44,000 words and am on course to finish Nano. And we had a lovely time with Maisie the other day. I’ve put this pic on my phone and it always cheers me up:

Kirk out

Words, Words, Words

Yesterday was not a good day, word-wise; I produced 500 words in all and then the wheels began to spin in the mire of my mind. But! I identified the problem, and now the ground under me is firm again and I’m off and running. The problem was simply this – the end was approaching. Why should this be an issue? To answer this we need to delve deep into the human psyche and examine our fear of success.

It is odd that anyone should be afraid of success, yet there are numerous examples of it in the biographies of the famous and the anecdotes of the yet-to-be famous (sublebrities don’t seem to suffer so much from this, but then you could argue that they’ve already achieved fame without actually doing very much to earn it.) Stephen Fry has commented that in any writer the desire to be seen contends with the desire to hide (at least I’m pretty sure he said it though I can’t find the quote, but even if he didn’t it’s a good thing to say) and whether or not it applies to other writers it certainly applies to me. Sometimes I wonder which scares me more, failure or success. Perhaps in all of us there’s a little voice which says ah, but if you get that thing you’ll have to give up this thing. You worry about relationships breaking down or your children not wanting to see you or losing all your friends when you become successful. At least that’s what I worry about, I don’t know about you.

Then again sometimes in the early hours I worry about Something Awful happening, like losing my knickers on live TV or being filmed picking my nose or saying something unforgivably crass or simply sitting dumbfounded in a studio because I can’t think of a thing to say. Any of these things could and almost certainly would be picked up and shared on social media and as a result would never be forgotten. Jokes about noses would pursue me until I died, and possibly after.

All this is of course ludicrously exaggerated, but it’s in the nature of fears to be so, particularly fears that come to you in the early hours. So I think it’s these fears that can hold you back when you’re on the verge of completing something, the tiny voices that whisper, What now? What does this mean? Where is it all taking me? Sometimes it’s more comfortable just to sit back and not bother finishing.

Oh well I guess I’m done here…

41,000 words so far, aiming for 42k today.

Kirk out