Category Archives: Just Do It!

Planning the Perfect Home Office – Progress Report

So, as I mentioned before, Husband, in his wisdom, decided that the best idea he had ever had would be for us to swap studies.  He gets the box room at the back of the house, north facing, looking over the boiler house roof and into the woods beyond.  And I get the room at the front of the house, south-facing and a little more than twice the size, with accompanying futon and a big space to lay out my yoga mat, should I be so inclined.  Yes, I will have to share this space when friends come to stay, but frankly that doesn’t happen very often because we live so bloody far from everyone else we know on the planet!  On the other hand, my new desk overlooks the front garden, with a view down the lane and across the fields to the poplar plantation, about half a mile away.  Not only is it a great view, but I can see people coming!

So far so good.

What I was not bargaining for is the sheer accretion of junk that has built up over five years of occupancy.  There are mountains of magazines to sort through, clippings to find a home for, bills to file, and then there are the hundreds of other bits I never knew had.  A bellpull made of six gaudily decorated velour camels, given by a distant-travelling cousin.  A mug from an old work project with a cartoon on it of my own design.  Sufficient packs of playing cards to run a sizeable poker tournament – we never play cards.  Tiny audio tapes from an old Dictaphone machine, now long lost.  A bag of marbles – blamed on Husband.  A slightly used Barbie doll with complete wedding trousseau.  Empty A4 clip files and notebooks galore.  And how many packets of staples does one person really need?

(I’m not even going to mention the host of dead biros, fluff and ancient receipts for distantly deceased electronic equipment.)

It turns out that Number One on the list of activities when planning your home office is:

CONDUCT THE MOTHER OF ALL DECLUTTERINGS!

Having spent long hours toiling over heaps of useless junk, diligently throwing out anything I hadn’t looked at in six months, I then went through the following process.

Start by being proactive:  Being me, I went out and got a book from the Library on how to plan your home study.  It has lots of pretty pictures.  What it does not have is a list of things you will need.  It says you must work it out yourself.

Thanks.

Question 1 in the book:  How much storage will you require?

Answer:  How the fuck do I know?  I’m a writer!  By definition, I generate vast quantities of paper! And I draw too, so double that!

Cunning Strategy:  Make sure the Husband takes on responsibility for household filing so at least I don’t have to think about that.  I hate it anyway.  He can have it in his office so I never have to think about it again.  Plus, its one less filing cabinet to fit in.

Concern:  I have all these writing notebooks that I may need to refer to as a part of my work, so they will need to be handy.  But what do I do with all the Morning Pages notebooks and diaries?  I need to keep them because they record my life, but I doubt I shall need to drag them off the shelf on a regular basis.

Hesitant solution:  Bung them in big plastic crates with mouse-proof lids and store them in the boilerhouse?  Discard on the basis that its too risky because mice are fiendishly devious little bastards.

Sneaking suspicion:  I would rather go out and spend a fortune on funky stationery than plan any of this stuff.

Probable outcome:  I will be cheap and impulsive, go out to The Range and buy a bunch of ugly stuff I don’t like instead of working out how much I need and saving for the really nice stuff I do like, and none of it will do what I want/need it to, and then I shall not want to use my new office as a result, i.e. back to square one.

Sudden flash of determination:  I am not going to ‘cheap out’ again.  I’m going to do it right this time.  Because I deserve a nice place to create.

(Sneaking suspicion and Probable outcome persist in the back of my mind.)

Intermediate action:  Go on fact-finding mission.  In other words, hang out in posh shops looking at all the kit I can’t afford but would dearly love.  Come home feeling resentful, poor and even less determined to plan sensibly than I was before.

Current state of affairs: sulking.

Yes, I would love to be able to say I went out and bought a label maker and some washi tape and now my life is complete, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I have a desk and a chair, and three bookshelves double stacked with books, and a slightly denuded pile of Sherlock clippings, but my magnificent new working space has yet to materialise.

I’ll keep you posted.

(And if you have any tips, let me know.  Please?)

EF

Nuts ‘N’ Bolts: Writing Exercises

writing notebook Firstly, an apology.  Observant readers will note that today is Thursday.  Yes, I am a day late in posting.  Sorry.  Life got in the way, in the shape of a migraine, and it’s not funny trying to write with tunnel vision and the pain equivalent of a knitting needle stuck through your eyeball.  I figured I might sound somewhat distracted (as indeed I was), so in the spirit of demonstrating how important self care is, I bugged off and went to bed.  Today’s post is something of a restart.

For a while I have been feeling the itch to get back to writing original fiction.  I’ve been working on fanfiction almost exclusively for a couple of years now, and while it has been hugely instructive in terms of both technique and confidence, I feel like it is time to start making some personal headway again.  Hence the restart.

Getting back to basics is one way to do this if, like me, you are feeling a little at sea when it comes to what to write about.  And one of the best basics to get back to is the marvellous tool that is the writing exercise.

Writing exercises are based on the idea of stream-of-consciousness and free association.  You sit down with your notebook and write for a set amount of time, without judgement or criticism.  You are free to make mistakes, try stuff out, experiment with new words, phrases, images, metaphors.  This is a free-form space where there are no mistakes, only ideas tried on for fit and comfort.

What you need:

  • An allowance of time (10 minutes, 15, half an hour if you have it, or the luxury of more.)
  • A notebook (maybe your writing notebook, or one you keep specially for exercises).
  • A good pen that you can write easily with.
  • A timer.
  • A quiet space to work.
  • A prompt.

What to do:

Maybe you sit down to write at your desk, and your brain goes blank, or worse, is crowded with too many ideas that are too big to fit into 10 minutes or whoever long you have got, and you freeze.

Say hello to your little friend, the prompt.

A prompt is a word, sentence or idea that you use to start you off.  Write it in your notebook.  You may like to start a fresh page, thus allowing yourself a psychological fresh start.  Set your timer to your allotted amount of time, and off you go.

You start writing whatever comes into your head.  You might be writing about yourself, the way you would in your journal, or you might be writing about a character, or from a character’s point of view.  You might describe a scene or an experience.  Keep writing.  Whatever appears on the movie screen of your brain, write it down. And the next thing.  And the next thing.  Keep going until the bell rings and your time is up.

This is a great way of generating material, especially if you are the kind of writer who finds building up words a process of torture.  It is also good for exploring the backstory of your characters, finding out what makes them tick.  And of course, you will occasionally find yourself coming back to reality in the middle of a short story that you didn’t even know you had in you, as I often do.

I like to do two or three 15 minute exercises at one sitting, which allows me to really get into the groove.  You may not have time for that, and that’s okay.  The important thing is that you do the exercises.  And do one daily.  Limber up.  Get into the Habit of Art.

If you find it hard to get yourself into the mood, or to make time, writing exercises are a great tool to use with others.  Arrange to meet up with a writing pal at the local café, and do a few prompts together.  You don’t have to share what you have written if you don’t want to, but if you make an appointment with someone else, you are more likely to show up at the page and do the work.

Where to find prompts:

Ah! I hear you cry.  But where am I supposed to find these fabled prompts?

Well, there are plenty of books around that offer just these kinds of starting grounds.  I am very fond of the following:

‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves

‘The Writer’s Block’ by Jason Rekulak

‘The Writer’s Idea Book’ by Jack Heffron.

Search the internet for ‘writers prompts’, or check out http://creativewritingprompts.com/, which is a delight.

In the meantime, here are a few to get you started:

  • What does your character carry in their pockets and why?
  • I woke with a start…
  • Heat
  • My first pet
  • A favourite meal

Happy Writing!

EF

Outflow: New FanFiction!

ginger catYou can now read daily portions of my new fanfic, ‘The Melted Man’, here at A03, or here at FF.net.

‘The Melted Man’ is my version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, ‘The Crooked Man’, updated to take account of the Iraq war.  Its a bit of a new departure for me, effectively adapting a story, and its more of a mystery than a romance, which is what I am used to writing.

And yes, I am copping out of writing today’s Journal Friday post, partly because I have a cold, and partly because I think presenting new writing is just as important, if not more so.  I’ve got half a dozen story ideas rattling around my brain at the moment, plus a new novel idea forming, which is a bit scary. since I’ve already got two in process at the moment.  I am being drawn towards writing something about grief, but I probably need to get something finished and under my belt first.  A bird in the hand and all that.  I’ll let you know how I am getting on.

In the meantime, here is a little excerpt from ‘The Melted Man’ to tempt your appetite:

“‘Well, difficult one, this one,’ Professor James-not-Bunsen-Honeydew said, grinding his palms together awkwardly.  ‘I’d definitely say he died because his heart stopped.  Beyond that, it gets a little problematic.’

‘Everybody dies because their heart stops,’ Sherlock snapped.  ‘Can’t you be more specific?’  He shot John his ‘what am I doing out here in this godforsaken rustic backwater – you’d better be bloody grateful is all I can say’ glare.

‘First off, there are no marks on the body, no sign of disease, puncture wounds or congenital heart defects,’ James went on.  ‘I’ve run the standard tox screens, which have all come back negative.  I’ve sent off a second panel, more specific to poison indicators, but to be frank, I don’t expect any positive hits on those either.  Colonel Cornforth was as fit as a fiddle.  Possibly fitter.  And then, well, there’s this-‘

He pulled back the sheet, revealing the late Colonel Cornforth’s head and shoulders.

John had to look away.  He had seen far too many corpses that looked like that.  Frankly, even one was too many.

Jeffries gasped, ‘Jesus!’ under his breath.”

Happy reading,

EF

Outflow: What is Your Definition of Success?

I was having a conversation yesterday with my therapist about the definition of success, and Life Purpose.  If you are a bit of an addict for self-help blogs, as I am, you will be familiar of the idea of Life Purpose.  Everybody talks about it.  Why am I here?  The self help industry wants you to define your Life Purpose, because they say it will help with setting goals and achieving success – yes, there is that word again.  The thing we all want to achieve, or are told we do.

I always believed that my Life Purpose was to write and publish books.

Unfortunately that sentence has a big fat bear trap in it.

When I meet someone new at a party, and they ask me (as people invariably do when they are making small talk with strangers) “what do you do?”, I have always replied:  “I am a writer.”  Two questions then follow:

“What sort of books do you write?”

and, “Can I get your books in Waterstones?” (Insert the name of your local bookseller chain as appropriate).

When I explain that I haven’t been published by a conventional publisher yet, I can see the light die in their eyes.  The words are practically written in neon on their faces:

“Oh, well you aren’t really a writer then, are you?  You’re just one of those hobbyists who likes to talk about themselves like they are the next JK Rowling, but what you actually do is write crap that nobody wants to read!

Society’s definition of success is publication by the conventional publishing trade.  You aren’t a writer till you are in print.

The fact is, I have written seven novels.  I have published nearly thirty short stories and novellas which get an average of 100+ readers a day on the internet, an audience size which most conventionally published writers would kill for.  I have taught writing dayschools, mentored other writers and judged short story competitions.  I have written a monthly column for a paper with a circulation of 7000, and have two academic papers to my name.  And I have kept a diary for more than thirty years.  What part of this does not constitute success?

The more I have written, the more I have realised that my definition of Life Purpose is flawed.  My purpose is not to get published, because that is only half the story, and frankly, its really not the important, interesting or exciting half.  I have realised that the part of writing I really love is the writing part, the process.  I love coming up with new stories and characters.  I love visualising scenes and dialogue.  I love the rush I get when I am in full flow, in the middle of writing a scene or chapter, when I am in the action, experiencing what my characters do, feeling their feelings, seeing through their eyes.  And I love the sense of satisfaction when I come out the other end  and look at what I’ve done.

My purpose is to write.  Simply that.

Because the thing is, you are a writer if you write.

Talking about getting your novels published, dreaming of a bestseller, imagining yourself on talk shows explaining how your stories have been adapted for film or TV – none of these things are what a writer is, although it is true that they may occasionally have to do these things.  To be a writer, you have to love the process enough to do it.

The point I think I am trying to make here is this:  what is your definition of success as a writer (or in whatever art form you choose)?  Are you measuring yourself against society’s outdated or material idea of success, or do you really see what you have achieved, regardless of what other people think?

I struggle continuously with the idea that I have failed in life or as a writer because I am still at the bottom of somebody’s slush pile.  I have to fight constantly against that prejudice within myself, as well as in others.  But the truth is, I am a writer because I write.

These days, when someone asks me what I do at a party, I say:

“I write gay erotic fiction for the Internet.”

This solves both the patronising questions at once, gives me a sense of my own achievement, and also tells me a lot about the person I am talking to, through their response.  Either they blanch and change the subject, or they look fascinated or perplexed, and want to find out more.  And then we really have a conversation worth taking part in!

Happy Creating,

EF

There’s No Time to Write! (Part 2 – in which the author comes clean about what being a writer is really like)

So today, according to my editorial calendar, you were supposed to be reading a detailed and amusing essay on why writing exercises are a great way to get yourself writing, even when there is little time.

And then life got in the way.

It does that, doesn’t it?

I am a big devotee of those home interiors and lifestyle blogs that tell you all about how to organise your cleaning equipment, how to update that hideous credenza with a quick lick of paint (here’s one I did earlier), and offer funky downloadable printouts of chore lists and records for when you last took the dog for his shots.  You know the ones?  The ones that are supposed to make you feel like your life is amazing and completely within your control, but actually make you feel like one of those weird hoarding people who live on indoor garbage heaps in documentaries.

Reading this blog, you might feel just that way too.  You may think I’ve got it all together.  That I write oodles of books and I’m so productive.  Well, I’ll let you into a dirty little secret – I’m not.

Just like the lovely ladies who write those amazing lifestyle and organising blogs, I have mess, and piles of dirty laundry, and weeds in the garden.  I get up in the morning and really don’t feel like writing.  Or there is just no time.  Like today.  I seriously did not feel like doing my Morning Pages today.  I felt ill and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I wanted to scream at anybody who came near me, and then get under the duvet and have the world just GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!

(I’m sure you are familiar with those kinds of days.)

Sometimes it happens.  It probably even happened to Dickens.  What the hell.

I didn’t beat myself up about it.  Instead, I wrote my Morning Pages.  I scribbled three pages of growls and groans about how I have no time to do the things I want to do because I’m faffing about doing a bunch of other stuff that is urgent but not important.  In the course of those three pages, I realised that the reason why I am so crabby today is that I haven’t written a story in weeks.

I’m crabby because I am not writing.

Duh.

At this point, it becomes profoundly obvious that even a fifteen minute writing exercise has to be fitted in to today.  Otherwise I will be up before the beak for homicide!

This is why you have to make time to write:  because if you are a writer, you need to write in the same way as you need to eat your greens and take exercise.  Writing makes you sane.

The distance between sanity and insanity is the width of a pen nib.

(I wrote that years ago, it’s good isn’t it?!)

And you’d better believe it.

So join me in stopping the grumps.  Get out your writers notebook and try the following exercise.  I guarantee it will make you feel better.

Writing Exercise:

Get a timer and set it for fifteen minutes – ten, if you are really pushed.  Write down the following phrase and then finish it as a sentence.

I haven’t written anything lately because….

Let your mind tumble onto the page.  It doesn’t matter if it is a list of reasons, like that your husband ought to put the kids to bed a bit more often so that you can have some time to yourself, or that you’ve got the finish that damned presentation to give at work first thing tomorrow.  Maybe it’s that you have a character rumbling about in your head but you are having trouble with some aspect of him or her, in which case, write that down too, and expand on the problem.  If you keep on writing until the pinger goes, you may just have found the edge of a solution.

Write whatever comes to mind.  Complain, moan, plan, get excited, drone, create, wonder what subjects you are interested in.  Whatever you need to get down.   At the end of fifteen minutes, I guarantee you will have either worked out what is stopping you (and if you are anything like me, it may turn out to be that YOU are what is stopping you), or you may have come up with a plan of how to carve out some time to write, or you may even have come up with a new story idea or scene.

Whatever.  The important thing is that you just spent fifteen minutes writing.  Hooray!  Now do it again.  Maybe today.  Maybe tomorrow.  But do it.

There’s No Time to Write!

(or paint or draw or sew or dance or make movies or {insert chosen art or craft here}).

Every book or blog about writing (or any art) will tell you that you have to do it.  Practise.  You can’t be a writer unless you write.  You can’t call yourself a dancer unless you dance, or a musician unless you play.  But in our busy modern world, in the midst of a double-dip recession, who the hell can find time to pursue their arts?

My husband says this to me a lot.

“I need at least three hours,” he’ll say.  “I can’t just write in fifteen minutes a day.”

Toni Morrison wrote her novel, ‘Beloved’, by getting up early in the morning and writing for half and hour or so  at the kitchen table while her family were still asleep.  She made time to write.  JK Rowling wrote in an Edinburgh cafe while her baby was napping in the pushchair.

My husband doesn’t make time to write.  He is a talented screenplay writer.  He is also an enthusiastic potter and actor.  He doesn’t do these things.  He works instead (for which I am very grateful, incidentally.) He works pretty much all the hours God sends, so far as I can see.  I am sorry that the world is missing out on his talent.

You may be the same.  There may be no time spare to carve out in your life.  But let me offer you this story to illustrate my point, which is:

Just because you aren’t writing, it doesn’t mean you aren’t writing.

Two years ago, I went down to Hampshire to visit my mother.  My stepfather was very ill and in hospital, so ostensibly I went down for the weekend to help my mother with the stress, and the nearly two hour round trip to the hospital and back every day.

Whilst I was there, my stepfather died.

My siblings were not able to stop work to support her at this time, so I stayed with her for three weeks, helping her with the paperwork, assisting with organising the funeral, comforting her where I could.

As you can imagine, it was a very busy, stressful and distressing time, but I was extremely glad I was there to share it with her, and to be of help.

A family death is an all-consuming experience.  Grief seeps into your very bones.  You think of nothing else.  But even thought I loved my stepfather very deeply, and mourned him intensely,  I realised that I needed some respite from the pain and the busy-ness.  So in the tiny moments I had alone, in the loo or the shower, at night before sleep, I bathed in the world of my stories.  I wrote.  Maybe I didn’t actiually scribble notes down, but I told the stories I needed to tell myself to keep myself calm and sane.   During those three weeks, I organised, plotted, and even wrote parts of a major story in my mind, a story which became ‘A Case of Resurrection’, which deals with grief (unsurprisingly).  It is a work of which I am still proud, written at one of the most difficult, and probably busiest times in my life.

The purpose of this story is not to pluck your heart-strings, but to say that not only can you write when you are busy, but that when you are, writing can become a life raft, an antidote to stress, a way of expressing your feelings when there may be no other way available.  You might remark that I wasn’t actually writing, but I ask you, in response, to expand your definition.  Writing takes a great deal of planning and long hours of thought, as well as lots of typing.  You write it out on the keyboard eventually,  but first you have to think it.

By all means, put writing time into your busy schedule.  Mark it in your filofax or diary.  Make daily time for it.  No one would advocate that more than I. But consider it in a wider scope.  You can write under any circumstances if you really want and need to.

New Fanfiction! Three Years is a Lot of Time to Think…

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC TV's 'Sherlock'

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC TV’s ‘Sherlock’

I’ve just published a new piece of fanfiction!  Its nice and fluffy and romantic.  You can read it here at fanfiction.net, or here at AO3.  And here is a little smattering to give you an appetite…

“It starts with breakfast in a café.  There is a table in the window.  There is a checked tablecloth, red and white gingham.  There is one of those plastic tomatoes that holds the ketchup.  There is sausage, egg, bacon and beans, and a tomato sliced in half and grilled.  There is cheap, stained cutlery and mugs of milky tea.  And there is happiness.

            John cannot remember the last time he was this happy.  He thinks it may have been in Dartmoor.  So long ago.  Before the grief.  Before the loneliness.

            And now here he is, three years later, and the man he missed, the man he mourned, is sitting opposite him.  And the most unlikely thing about it all is not that he is having a greasy breakfast with a dead man, but that Sherlock is tucking into the full English with extra toast.

            ‘Who are you and what have you done with Sherlock Holmes?’

            And Sherlock actually laughs.  John has the distinct impression he has not done that for a very long time.”

Don’t forget to comment.  I love your comments…

How to begin?

If you want to write, just write.  If you want to paint, just paint.  If you want to do anything creative, as the Nike people say, ‘just do it’.

Only, its not that simple is it?  How do you get out of your own way?  How do you crush all those voices in your head, the teacher who told you that you were rubbish at art, the music teacher who threw you out of choir because she said you couldn’ sing (actually she didn’t like me, but thats another story!), and the old Devil Himself, the Perfectionist voice (I call mine Nigel for some reason) that says nothing you do will ever be good enough.

Well, let me begin by telling you a little story about how I gave my Nigel voice a good kicking, and ended up here, writing my first post on this website about Writing and Creativity.

About two years ago, I was stuck in a creative hole.  I have been writing for as long as I can remember, literally since I could hold a pen, but I didn’t take my writing seriously until 2001,  Since then I had written seven novels and dozens of short stories, but none of them satisfied me, felt good enough, or finished enough.  I was not achieving the standard of writing that I wanted.  I was not getting published.  I had ground to a halt.

Then I heard about fanfiction.

Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard all about that stuff thanks to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.  Well, let me tell you something you don’t know about fanfiction.  There are literally thousands of people writing it out there, and the standard is at times gobsmackingly good, as good as anything you would find listed on the Man Booker shortlist.  Yes, some of it is terrible, but a lot of it is written by people for whom English is not a first language, or by college students, so you have to take that into account.  (Anyway, this is not intended to be a defence of fanfiction.)

What happened next:  it occurred to me that I had been writing fanfiction for years.  I just didn’t know it had a name.  I tell myself stories every night while I wait to go to sleep (insomnia has been my constant companion since childhood).  Often they are peopled by the characters I see in TV and films – in other words, they are fanfiction.  I decided to write the stories down.

By the end of the first year, I had written over 100,000 words, was writing every day, sometimes two or three thousand words a day (which any writer will tell you is an enviable productivity rate) and I was getting better at my craft.  I was learning.  Fanfiction turned out to be a great playground to test out techniques and ideas.

And all I was doing was writing down my daydreams.

It was money for old rope, as they say here in Britain.

The day I hit the ‘publish’ button on my first story at fanfiction.net was a huge turning point.  My work was out there.  People could read it.  It was terrifying.  Nigel was having a nervous breakdown!  But you know what?  The readers were kind.  They loved my work.

Fanfiction doesn’t have to be perfect.  That is why it is perfect.  The perfect learning place, a supportive community of writers and readers who give you positive feedback, encourage you and help you to do better.

Since my first publication day, I have put out 27 works in various fandoms, and get on average over 100 readers per day.  In one month last year, I had over 44,000 readers for my works.  How many conventionally published writers can say that?

What I am asking you to do today is to think about this story.  I went from scribbling down a daydream to a massive readership, because I found a way to outwit my own fears.  I’m still terrified, don’t get me wrong.  But there is a way, and if I can do it, you can too.

This is what this website will be about.  Outwitting our Nigels.  Taking baby steps.  Finding ways to be creative.  Being gentle with ourselves.  I hope you will join me on the ride, and I hope we will have fun making glorious pictures in the clouds together.

Best Wishes,

Evenlode’s friend.

(You can find my fanfictions at fanfiction.net and at An Archive of Our Own, but be warned, these are NSFW and deal with VERY adult issues.)