Thursday, 26 September 2013

On Writing: The Importance of Motivation

Before writing, before planning, in those formative moments where you're just deciding you want to write a novel, there is one crucial ingredient you need that can make the whole process happen.

That ingredient, my friends, is motivation.

Let's face it; writing a book is stupidly difficult to do. I haven't even succeeded yet (I know, awfully rich of me to give advice considering I'm still learning myself); I've been working on my novel since 2008, and the first draft isn't even completed yet.

But it is doable. People will spend decades working before getting their first book out, but it is worth it and it is possible, all thanks to a little thing called motivation. Motivation gets you past 'once upon a time', through the tough parts of your novel, right through to 'the end' and back again with redraft after redraft. I cannot stress how vital it is to the writing process.

So, how do you get motivated to write a book? Well, as with all areas of writing, there are several methods; some may work for you, some may not.

Personally, I like to go out, buy a notebook or pad of paper for my project, then number out how many pages I'd like to write. If the pages are loose, I'll stick them in a ringbinder. Then I'll let myself imagine those pages filled with my words; my stories. I feel how heavy it is, flick through the pages, feel how thick they are and imagine it as a real book, a book that I've written.

Maybe it sounds silly, but for me, this is a springboard into the next step: I start to think about my plot. I dream up characters and situations, get excited about them, and this I can do while I plan. I dream about seeing those ideas in a published novel because come on, how is that not exciting?!

Then, when I feel ready, I write.

Of course, this method is only really good for the first burst of a project you're just starting. After twelve pages, or thirty pages, or, if you're lucky, a hundred pages, maybe the wind will leave your sails. That initial explosion of creative energy might start to wane. It happens to the best of us. What can you do to get back your fire?

You could think back to what inspired you to write the project at first. Again, just think of how cool it will be to have this book published; because if you think it's worth writing, there's definitely someone out there who thinks it's worth reading.

Perhaps you've hit a snag in your plot? Make a note of where the snag is, and carry on. Even if you only write a little bit a day, progress is progress, no matter how small. This applies to all drafts.

Set yourself goals to work towards every day. I like to set myself a goal of 1600 words, which roughly equates to the typical goal of a NaNoWriMo participant. Maybe something smaller works for you. Just imagine, if you wrote 500 words a day (about a page and a half, depending on your handwriting), in a year, you could have 182,000 words, or about 600 pages (again, depending on your handwriting or font size). That's amazing, and you could totally do it.

Look after yourself. Eat well, take plenty of breaks while you work to avoid burning yourself out (this is so important, you wouldn't believe it). Take walks to let yourself think, cut any doubters out of your life or ignore them. In fact, make it your mission to prove them wrong. Love yourself, believe in yourself.

If you're working on the first draft and have worries about the quality of your writing, do not be worried. All first drafts suck. Yours does, mine do, J.K Rowling's do, Shakespeare's did. There's a magical thing called editing, in which you will shape your novel into the beautiful thing it was meant to be. Besides, even if your work sucks, it's wonderful because it's an extension of you. We live in a gorgeous, diverse world full of fascinating people with interesting things to say, and you are one of these people. So don't be afraid to just write what you want, write what makes you happy.

And if you're editing, just persist. Revel in the beauty that's beginning to shine through your words. Take pride in the shape it's beginning to take, and always remember that you've overcome a massive step in the writing of your first draft; one of the biggest steps is already behind you.

The most important thing is to keep your original inspiration in mind, and remind yourself constantly that you can do it. If you've written one page, you can write a hundred more. Three hundred, maybe even six hundred and beyond. You can do it. I believe in you.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Book Review: An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: Or, 2000 Years of Upper-Class Idiots in Charge - John O'Farrell

The past few weeks have been rather strange for my fiancé. To his knowledge, I'm quite clued up on a few subjects including writing, literature and progressive rock. Then, out of nowhere, history. Suddenly I'm telling him about the Beaker People who lived in Bronze Age Britain; giving him the lowdown on Richard the Third (conniving hunchback or poor victim of Tudor propagandists?); listing some of the many monarchs we've had who've either eaten themselves to death or had to be buried in square coffins (clue: it was Queen Anne).

Before, I'd have just about been able to tell you that a battle happened in Hastings in 1066. Now, thanks to a man called John O'Farrell, I can tell you that it actually happened in a place that would come to be known as Battle, on Senlac Hill. 

As history books go, 'An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (Or, 2000 Years of Upper-Class Idiots in Charge)' is accessible and readable, though you do sometimes get lost in all the Edwards, Georges, Williams etc. But if you were unfortunate enough to have a dullard for a history teacher, at least O'Farrell approaches the subject with wit (hit-and-miss in my opinion, but if you're a fan of his Guardian columns you may enjoy it) and energy.

Not only does O'Farrell cover the intrigues, scandals, lives and decisions of the upper classes, but also the middle and lower classes, plus the constantly shifting dynamics between them - suggesting that Labour's victory in 1945 was Britain's only revolution is rather thoughtless though considering Britain had pulled through several invasions and changes of leadership that shaped society, the first summoning of Parliament, and a pivotal civil war that completely changed the balance of power between Parliament and the monarch, paving the way for a more democratic leadership in the coming centuries. Mind you, O'Farrell doesn't dismiss these events as insignificant when he does deal with them – he certainly acknowledges the struggles of the working classes through periods of slavery, serfdom, poverty and powerlessness. 

Cramming 2000 years of history into 500 pages means that some areas seem rushed. However, I did finish the book feeling like I'd had my memory refreshed - and there were a few chapters here and there on eras that my high school syllabus hadn't even covered, such as the years between the World Wars, and the years between the downfall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. While many of the nitty-gritty details have been lost in, you could say, the 'compression' of history, O'Farrell definitely covers the big picture, which is a good springboard if you want to do further reading into a particular event - you'll already know the basics.

The book isn't as 'impartial' as the title ironically suggests (in fact, it seems like everyone is fair game to O'Farrell's teasing), but it is enjoyable, humorous, and deals with certain subjects such as the horrors of the First World War with appropriate sensitivity.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, but as with all history books, read with an open mind and don't just take it at face value. As O'Farrell himself points out, history is affected by the bias of whoever is writing it (e.g. the monks who wrote the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), and should be treated as such. Plus, he sometimes falls into the trap of presenting his jokes as though they were fact - confusing if you don't already know otherwise.  

Still, the facts are (mostly) there, if a bit dubious in places, and even if you disagree with O'Farrell's opinions and musings on the various aspects of our nation's story, seeing things from another person's  perspective isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'd recommend the book as a decent starting point for someone who wants to brush up on their history but aren't looking for something too heavy and academic. Ultimately, though, if you're looking to become a history buff, I wouldn't use this as your primary source. By all means read this, but read even more.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Software Review: OmmWriter Dāna II

I'm one of those writers that gets easily distracted. So many things are hazardous to my productivity; choosing some music to write to can lead to me completely rearranging my iTunes playlist or seeking more music to buy, making a cup of tea can turn into me making a full-blown meal, looking for a pen can spark off a quest to find the Holy Grail and slay a dragon. I try to keep my screen minimalistic while I work, but there are still tons of windows and buttons around to tempt me on even the most frugal of settings.

Then I discovered OmmWriter. With its minimalist design, functions limited to a vital few, and music that you might expect to hear during a meditation session, could this be the program I need to banish distraction for good?

Developed by an independent creative agency in Barcelona, OmmWriter is a simple, no-frills text editor designed to 'transport us away from the humdrum noise; allowing us to be at one with ourselves and our ideas'. The designers advocate 'writing for the simple pleasure of writing', and their program reflects that philosophy.

As soon as it installed and I got it running, I was greeted with this beautifully simple interface. The six buttons down the side toggle font style, font size, background, music, keyboard sound effects, and the final one has Save, Save As and Open features. If you prefer a larger text box, you can resize it. If larger text boxes are too distracting, you can keep it small. Simple, but effective. Words are counted in an unimposing bracket beneath the text box, and the whole interface is invisible as you're typing but shows up again with just a twitch of the mouse should you need it.

The program provides a lovely, tranquil setting for your work - I almost feel as if I'm writing sat in a snowy plain or something as I type; everything is so quiet, so minimal. The music is atmospheric, gorgeous, but not off-putting in any way. Tracks fade smoothly into one-another; not one bit of it is jarring. Track 3 even simulates the sound of being on a train, complete with five minute 'station breaks' every twenty five minutes to encourage you to have some breathing space, which is an often overlooked part of every worker's schedule.

Plus, there's always the 'mute' option if you'd rather write in silence or listen to music of your own. And you can turn off backgrounds and keyboard sounds as well, if that's how you roll.

When it comes to saving work, OmmWriter is simple even then - you can save as .omm or the universally recognised .txt, or as a .pdf if you intend to print your work. Or, if you have another format in mind, copying and pasting into the program of your choice is easy: copy and paste functions are available in the 'edit' bar at the top of the screen (move your mouse up to reveal it) or you can just go for the good old ctrl+c/ctrl+v.

My only gripe with this program is a pretty minor one - the cursor in OmmWriter is horizontal, under the space after the last character you typed, and for users like me who are so used to the vertical cursors of Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, Pages et al, it takes some getting used to. Whilst writing in OmmWriter I found that I'd lose my place or delete the wrong letter if I went back to tweak something - however, after some time, I found the horizontal cursor was another subtle way of removing distraction from the writing process - without the vertical cursor up alongside the letters, or in the middle of a word, I found I was able to look at it much easier without the presence of the cursor throwing me off.

I would recommend OmmWriter for those of you who need to just sit down and write. It's excellent for churning out those first drafts with minimal distractions, and I'd even say that people who worry a lot about the quality of their first drafts might benefit from its minimal interface, tranquil music and calming environment. You can tune in to OmmWriter, forget your worries and just write with little regard for page count – and hopefully, if the program works for you like it should, you'll end up putting down way more words than you expected. For editing though, I think I'll stick to good old OpenOffice.

OmmWriter is available for Mac, PC and iPad, but no versions are available for iOS or Android. It's free for now, but once October 1st 2013 has been and gone, OmmWriter will revert to its usual minimum price of $4.11/£2.59. By 'minimum', I mean that you can choose to pay more if you like. For $4.11 though, is it worth it? I'd say definitely, if distraction proves to be a big issue in your work process.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Couch Progress: On the Brink of a New Story Arc!

Pages: 623 (handwritten)
Approximate Words: 186,900

Progress on the novel has been okay this past week! I managed to write a lot of the week's words in one go so I've had a few days to put together some posts to get this blog rolling.

Currently I'm between plot arcs, at a spot that could be tough, or could be a springboard into a whole new burst of productivity. Thankfully, at a goal of one page a day, getting through shouldn't be too difficult.

There's not much else to say really except it's going good. I'm looking forward to coming back in a week's time with another seven pages.

Just a note about the blog before I go: I've worked out a schedule to keep things consistent: on Sunday I'll post my novel progress, on Tuesday I'll post a book review, on Thursday I'll try to get an article of some kind out (providing I can think of something to write about), and miscellaneous posts could come out any day between. I might not adhere to this schedule strictly, but I'll try. The main goal is getting stuff out there for people to read.

Also, during NaNoWriMo, this schedule will be put on hold as I write about my daily progress - I'm hoping there will be a lot. I might still try to get writing articles out each week based on my experiences, but it depends on how tied up with the novel I am.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Couch Progress: And the Joys of Having Three Main Plots All Screaming for Attention...

My current progress with The Great Couch Happening of '69 is as follows...

Pages: 616 (handwritten)
Approximate Words: 184,000

Since I want to leave myself with plenty of story to work with during NaNoWriMo, I'll be working at a pace of one page a day, so at least between now and then I'll be up about sixty pages since I started the 'page-a-day' thing at the start of this month. It might mean things are a bit jarring for now - I'm used to churning out about 6 pages a day, but there's a wonderful thing called rewriting for that!

Plus, I've got another project in the planning stages in case I manage to complete the first draft of Couch during NaNoWriMo - a novel I was going to write in 2011 before the year decided it wanted to become very unkind to me, You Know You Got (No) Soul.

I'm at that stage of my novel now where I really need to consider easing things towards a conclusion. I should be writing three different plots right now but I'm currently focusing on my protagonists' adventures and if I get to something like page 1000 by the end of NaNoWriMo (which is how long it will be if I do manage 100k) without addressing the others, I could end up having to edit as many as 1300 pages of prose, maybe even more. Not necessarily a bad thing as it's always better to have more to work with, but I intended the first draft, handwritten, to be no more than 1100 pages. And considering how quickly I can write 100 pages as well...

But I suppose I shouldn't worry too much about the length. Like I said, more to work with is better; I'm going to trim the book down anyway and what matters is that I just include the two main plots I've been neglecting.

The plan is to write these three plots separately and then sort of splice them all together in the editing stage. This works better for me because then I can concentrate on one thing at a time. I might have these wee moments where I think 'oh hey, I can stick a bit of Plot B in this chapter break here', but I can just make a note and carry on. When I write Plots B and C later, then I can figure out where to stick their scenes.

Imagining a 1300 page manuscript is quite nice. And also quite scary, because that will be more than double the thickness of the vast wad of paper that I've currently got words on for this project. Blimey.

Motivation has also been an issue for me. I suppose it's natural, because I'm actually 'getting back into' the novel after a month of looking after my first rat Thelma, who was very sick; she required hand-feeding and a lot of love and attention, which I was only too happy to give. So now, with eight healthy rats who I can let out while I write, I'm getting back into writer mode. I still miss Thelma very much.

Saturday, 7 September 2013


Well then, here I am on a brand spankin' new blog! For a little while now I've been thinking about setting up somewhere to blog especially about my adventures as an aspiring writer, and I guess this is the place.

So, about me. My name is Kelza, I write stuff and I draw quite a bit as well. I'm currently owned by eight pet rats who I adore and scream about quite often over on my Tumblr. I participate in NaNoWriMo as often as I can, and this year, I'm hoping to take part again by adding another 100k to my main project, The Great Couch Happening of '69. I've attempted to write books before (have been trying since I was about thirteen, in fact), but this is the one – the one I want to actually publish. I've inserted a (hopefully) delightful blurb at the end of this post.

I'm from Northern Ireland but live in the North West of England, which is why I have a really weird Mid-Ulster/Lancashire hybrid accent, and spend most of my time when I'm not failing to write words I'm usually covered in rats, making cups of tea, swooning about progressive rock musicians or having a bath. I can talk to small rodents, and I'm quite famous around these parts for being not famous whatsoever. If you play chess with me, you are certain to win. If you say my name into the mirror three times I'll probably come round with pizza and watch Disney movies with you while cracking terrible puns that will make you hate me forever.

The Great Couch Happening of '69 – A Travesty by Kelza Pilkington

It's 1969, and Brian 'Lazuli' Spencer is having the worst time of his life. He's been kicked out of his house, his friends are leading exciting lives while he sits behind the counter in his uncle's record store, and to top it off, his tent has been stolen, rendering him completely homeless.
When a local record company hears his demo and offers him a chance, Laz thinks he's got an opportunity to have the career he's always wanted – groupies, copious amounts of alcohol, heady, hallucinatory musical forays into the deepest reaches of the human psyche and experience. But when he seeks out the studio, it is to discover that they've gone bust. So now he's out of a job.
But he isn't alone. Local trio The Warlocks are looking for a new label, and a new guitarist. After drowning their sorrows at the local pub, Lazuli and his new friends stumble onto the land of the rich and reclusive Richard Grimshaw, who isn't too pleased with their arrival. And as they wait for the police to come and drag them away, they decide to search for loose change in the room that is their temporary prison. But one of the couches they search down is no ordinary couch. It contains an alternate reality, and to enter it would create a paradox that would smash together every reality in existence...