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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I should really have mentioned that my book choices were made based on the recommendations of David N. over on his excellent We Can Rebuild Him blog! So far its two for two, though my next read is the third book in Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

Fuller update coming soon!

Carry on reading...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Something. Anything.

So my week of nothing continues apace.

I'm reading Joe Abercrombie's Before They Are Hanged, which is every bit as enjoyable as the first book in the series. One curious thing has happened though: after barely any mention of it in the first book, or for two thirds of this one, suddenly there's sex everywhere. It's handled well and doesn't feel out of place with the relationships between the characters, but it's a little odd.

I've decided I need to read something a little different next (if I can resist going straight into the third book in the trilogy), so I've ordered Cold Skin, by Albert Sanchez Pinol, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I've also got Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger on audiobook to listen to on the walk into work. Whichever I decide to pick up first, it'll be nice to read something with no swords in it.

Not much else to report. Got James' stag do this weekend which should be fun. Work is going a little crazy as all the libraries try to spend the last of their money. And my wife is as cool as ever.
Oh, and a month from now I'll be winging my way to Sydney (vis Seoul)!

Carry on reading...

Monday, February 02, 2009

JaNoWriMo - A Round-up

Little bit snowy today!

So, the whole novel writing thing is done and suddenly I feel a little lost, as though a rug has been pulled under me. Don't get we wrong, I'm very happy not to be waking up with a word count ahead of me, but I had a month of driven purpose which has now come to an end and it's a slightly odd feeling.

But what did I learn?

It was amazing, really, how good I was about keeping up the work throughout the month. I have never been one much for self-discipline, but setting myself these firm daily targets worked a treat. I took it very seriously and so I made the time for it when it needed it. I was lucky, in that I already had daily time set aside for writing which was just about enough for what I needed. I certainly fell off the wagon once or twice and so near the end I was having to use evenings as well, but to be perfectly honest, outside of the last couple of days, the project actually had very little impact on my normal evening activities. Well, except for the fact that I felt a bit knackered.

I was certainly brought face to face with my limitations as a writer, at least as the writer I am currently. The lack of real prose work for a number of years definitely shows in what I was doing. My writing felt blunt and clumsy, with no real gift for descriptive work. I wouldn't say it felt beyond me, but it definitely felt as though that particular set of skills were atrophied. That's not to say there was nothing to be happy about. I occasionally churned out a neat turn of phrase or a nice piece of action. The character work wasn't a total dead loss either, though still (always, really) needs some effort. The overall effect of being confronted with this was quite disheartening at first: can I actually write at all? That kind of stuff. As I went on, however, I learned to relax into it. I even have the feeling I might be pleasantly surprised by some of the work when I go back to it. I've no illusions about discovering some kind of masterpiece there, but I think there may well be some good stuff.

But the real lesson is: needs work.

Plot and Pacing
I read work by people I know, just blogs and the like by people who aren't employed in any capacity as a writer, who have writing styles that make me feel incredibly inarticulate. Not the style per se, but the sense of flow and structure. I used to pride myself on the structure of my essays. I always approached them as I would have a programming exercise, repeatedly breaking down questions into smaller and smaller chunks. I can tell you one thing though: I have no instinct for it. I approached this novel with a mind towards making it up as I went along. In some ways that was great. I felt total freedom to take the story where I wanted it to go and enjoyed the challenge of writing myself in and out of corners. To be honest, at this point I have very little idea how it all sits in terms of pacing and plot. I'm not optimistic though. Next time I plan to spend some more time laying out the structure. Not to slavishly follow, but rather to control the pace a little more and better allow myself to build tension and character development.

I must admit, this is a real problem for me. I hate the amount of time it takes to get anywhere while writing prose. Don't get me wrong, I love getting into that flow where suddenly hours pass without you realising, but I do find myself despising the drudge bits. The necessary exposition that I don't really want to go over because I know it already. Silly, really, but I guess that's the ditch-digging writers always go on about. Still, beats real work, eh?

Was it Worth it?
Absolutely. I loved doing it; loved the feeling of purpose while I was doing it and loved the sense of accomplishment at the end of it. I feel my writing has had a real shot in the arm and feel much more confident about tackling other projects that now present themselves. It's the longest narrative I've ever completed, not to mention the first creative thing I've actually finished in years. For anyone who has been dithering over half a dozen projects they haven't quite been able to finish, or really wishes they could get back to doing some writing but [insert reason], I recommend giving this a go. It's a great procrastination-beater.

What Next?
Well, I'm doing nothing for a week, then I'm going to get some journal writing done again as well as start working on a radio-play for young master Tom Crowley. I want to do an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's Captain of the Polestar. I'm not going to even look at the novel (which I don't actually have a title for yet) until after I get back from Australia at the end of March. I harbour no illusions of it being anything great, but there were at least a few salvageable ideas in there. After that, we'll see. I'm definitely going to do NaNoWriMo again in November and I think I know the story for it, so I'll start prepping that later this year. I think I'll try and stick to one project at a time, as it's too easy to seize up otherwise.

And that was that! Thanks for the support folks, and for those who thought about doing it this time but didn't manage it, let's go for November!

Carry on reading...