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Monday, August 27, 2012

What Is Your Blog FOR?

by Michelle Cunnah

This is a question I asked myself when I first began to blog.
 
Did I want to share my writerly experiences? Well, there were already a lot of very good authors doing that.
 
Did I want to give advice on different aspects of the writing process? Well, there were already a lot of very good authors doing that, too.
 
So I decided that I would use my blog to poke gentle fun at myself. I always seem to experience problems with red tape and travelling, and generally getting thwarted all over the place, so I had plenty of material to use. But mostly I want to (hopefully) entertain my readers between books.
 
Here’s one from my recent archives.
 

And Then I Got Hauled Off To Jail!
 
No, not really. But I might have. It’s a possibility. With my kind of luck. Even though Oh Patient One is currently rolling on the floor laughing at me and telling me that I am being melodramatic. Even if it is in a good kind of way.
 
He wasn’t laughing this time on Wednesday, I can tell you. Neither was I. Because this time on Wednesday we were traveling back from our Rotterdam apartment to the UK so, of course, we had Trouble With Travel. This is what happened. . .
 
We arrived at Rotterdam central station. Oh Patient One went to a ticket machine to get his ticket, I went to another machine to get mine. And as I was counting out my change and feeding it into the machine (these machines only take coins), Oh Patient One startled me.
 
Oh Patient One: “Michelle, what are you doing? I already got you a ticket with my Dutch debit card.”
 
Me: “You did?”
 
Oh Patient One: “Yes. Come on. We’re going to miss our train.”
 
(And this from the man who half an hour earlier had asked me why I had my coat on ready to leave our apartment, we had loads of time to catch our train.)
 
So I pressed the cancel key, retrieved my Euros from the machine, and when I looked around. . . Oh Patient One had disappeared. I headed for the platform from which the Amsterdam Schiphol train was departing and couldn’t see him. The fact that it was rush hour had something to do with this, I think, but I didn’t want to risk not having a ticket (Oh Patient One had both tickets) and not being able to find Oh Patient One on the train. So I headed back down the stairs from the platform to the main station area. Still no sign of Oh Patient One. And I couldn’t call him on my cell phone because my smart phone doesn’t work outside the UK. But no problem. I would hang around for a few minutes, then if I didn’t find Oh Patient One I would just buy another ticket and get the next train to Schiphol.
 
A few seconds later Oh Patient One appeared.
 
Oh Patient One: “There you are. What happened to you?”
 
Me: “Nothing happened to me. You forgot to look to see if I was with you and you left me.”
 
Oh Patient One: “Well, I assumed you’d know which platform I was heading for. Anyway, we’ve missed that train, there’s another one from this platform.”
 
We climbed the steps to another platform, got on the train which said ‘Amsterdam’ on the front, and found some seats. Oh Patient One rooted in his pockets for the train tickets. Now, people have a tendency to leave their receipts in the ticket machine dispensers, and the receipts look a lot like actual train tickets. And what Oh Patient One had picked out of the ticket dispenser was one ticket to Schiphol and one receipt belonging to a complete stranger.
 
So, basically I had no train ticket. From nearly having two tickets I had nada, and what would happen when the ticket inspector came through our carriage? Would I get arrested? Would I have to pay a huge fine? I sat and sulked for a bit.
 
And then I noticed that our train was stopping at places it should not stop at. Oh Patient One noticed this at about the same time, and we looked at each other.
 
Oh Patient One and Me (simultaneously): “We’re on the wrong bloody train, aren’t we?”
 
Yes, we were. I do not know how we managed this. We have made this same journey so many times, we should know which trains to climb on. Or not. Fortunately for us the next stop was Den Haag, or The Hague, home of the international criminal court (and would it feature me very soon for my lack of ticket?). When I say fortunately for us, this is because the Schiphol trains also depart from this station. Also, if I could only get down to the ticket hall without a ticket inspector accosting me I would be able to purchase a ticket and not be traveling illegally.
 
Got off the train, went down to the ticket hall, got a new ticket. Not a ticket inspector in sight. Whew.
 
And then we got a train to Schiphol no problem, got our plane from Schiphol to London Stansted no problem. Apart from the fact that the flight was full and I ended up sitting next to a guy who thought the shared arm rest was his exclusive property.
 
It was only as we climbed onto the bus which would transport us back to the town where we live that I realized that I didn’t have enough English money to pay for my fare. Fortunately for me Oh Patient One did. J

A hilarious tale Michelle, though I'm sure many of us are glad we aren't you!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Inspiration


‘There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges’. -- Ernest Hemingway
What’s the hardest and most desired thing for a writer? I sit and ask myself.  

Clearly having a little something to say and make it sound interesting. Correct?  Most of us can develop our writing skills, techniques, grammar and even improve our vocabulary.  We can be passionate about writing but can we learn to ‘inspire’ ourselves? And that’s what’s essential for all of us ‘artists’: Divine Inspiration.
We live in a demanding society where a lot is expected from us. We want for things to happen fast and exactly as they’re ‘supposed’ to be. But inspiration is something you can’t force or ‘make happen’. We think we have it all figured out; when and how it should happen and constantly with a deadline but sadly that’s not how inspiration works.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we just sat down and words simply flew perfectly by themselves? For some of us ‘Late evening’ people a good idea hit’s us in the dark hours and as we grow older and memory seems to ‘desert’ us post it notes come to the rescue. Post it notes; what would the world do without them? Stacked on top of each other, suggesting a line or a new story. Sometimes all I see around me is bright pink and yellow little sticky papers covering what used to once be picture frames, a lamp or the living room window.
One thing is beyond shadow of a doubt: Our memories won’t always be there to accompany us to our older days, so we can’t risk losing them.

Regardless how old fashioned it may appear; carrying around a note pad to ensure it’s all jotted down is a safe option. At times it feels as if the thoughts, ideas and different scenarios are racing through our minds like a Ferrari on top speed, quicker than they could ever be scribbled down on a piece of paper. It’s Sod’s law however that a pencil won’t be handy at that precise moment or that the only pen available won’t be working no matter how much you give it a gentle blow or you force it to write!
Where is the best place to burst those brilliant ideas when they finally appear and there is no time to waste? Inspiration just like writing requires concentration and sometimes isolation; but this last one is debatable. As we live in a very modern world with constant distraction that would be highly unlikable for most of us. In fact inspiration can come in loud cafes for some as much as writing in a wicker chair by the sea could work for others.

Personally the ultimate place I find inspiration in is my flat. Besides the awful feeling of being in solitary confinement, even at the quietest moments the distraction of the washing that needs to be done, or the toys that have been left on the living room floor won’t allow me to sit there and think. In the back of my head the thought of how much tidying up and housework needs to be done is a constant reminder. It’s so much easier to simply shut the door behind me leaving the mess for the ‘Magic Cleaning Fairy’ to tidy up. Meanwhile I attempt to get inspired with a jogging session or inside a loud cafe; preferably without interruptions.
Shower is definitely an inspirational location. There should be a scientific reasoning and I hope one day someone can explain it to me as this place seems to work for lots of different artists! Whether it’s a hot bubble bath or a warm shower, throw in a little tune too and it will certainly pay off.  Now you’re clean, happy and inspired!  Whoever came up with the waterproof iPod idea is a true inventor but that’s not the last of the brilliant technology for inspiration in the shower. The coolest invention yet is a waterproof pad and pencil that will enable those flowing thoughts and brilliant ideas not to go down the drain. Who says gadgets are only for geeks?

When the ideas come down like a summery rain storm, talk aloud to yourself. Don’t simply listen to the little voice inside your head but actually slip those thoughts out your mouth. Shut your eyes and visualize the scene. Saying it out loud helps us sound more ‘human like’ and creates a more realistic scene. Inspiration is about being able to shape an idea. Perhaps it sounds silly but performing this ‘act’ will reaffirm whether the little voice inside your head was right!  
Finally the most significant bit of inspiration is to not give up hope. Despite the fact that some days the hope of a brilliant idea simply isn’t an option, not quitting is essential. Inspiration is about doing things a little differently. Listen to a song, go for a run or go to the movies by yourself.  Do something different on a regular basis so that routine doesn’t bore you or rule your life.

And like Lewis Carroll once said: ‘Always speak the truth, think before you speak, and write it down afterwards’.
Love it Addi! So guys? How do you find your inspiration?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pouring Emotion Into Your Writing


Without putting some emotion into writing, it becomes an amount of dead words on the page. There’s no point in telling a reader how someone feels in a particular scene, if there’s no emotion behind it. The reader wants to connect with the character you've crafted. They want to understand what makes them tick, and relate to them emotionally.

So the big question is how do you go about accomplishing that?

I have a few techniques I use and I’d like to share them with you. Perhaps you do something similar, maybe you struggle with this, maybe you have some techniques of your own that you can share with us. I hope some of this will be useful to you!

As I write, I find a massive amount of material by drawing on my own past experiences and likening them to my characters. For example, if I’m writing about a breaking heart, I think back to when it happened to me. Then I try to remember how I felt at that time and I make notes. Not only about the actual emotions, but also how I reacted, how I behaved for a few days afterwards, and how I related to people around me. In addition, I try to recall how others behaved towards me—my friends and family— the support and comfort they provided, (or not) and the sort of things they said.

Interaction with others is also crucial to understanding emotion. Everyone you meet has a story to tell and most love to share it. I listen carefully to the way people phrase their tales and the tone of voice they use, I watch body language, facial expressions, and make note of what they do with their hands. Put all of this together and it builds a powerful picture. Again, I make notes the first chance I get. If you do this on a regular basis, you will come across a wide range of stories and emotions which can be catalogued and filed away for future use.

A few months ago, one of my colleagues was acting a little strangely and I enquired if she was ok (as you do). And then I got her story. She’d recently suffered some trauma and was having medical treatment. She had so many mixed emotions about the whole thing—one minute she was hopeful, the next, worried and frightened. Her face was expressive, particularly her eyes, and she moved her hands quite a lot. This was a veritable smorgasbord (please don’t think I was unsympathetic toward her, it was actually quite the opposite), and I made notes as soon as I was able.

Finally, as I am working through the expressions and physical demonstrations my characters might emote, I try to imagine myself in the situation I’m writing, then analyze how I would react and what I would feel. Again I make notes. Sometimes it’s just a list of words; other times entire sentences detailing the situation.

I always transcribe my notes in my laptop as I've found that pieces of paper can get lost, no matter how well organized or careful I try to be. Also, don't forget to back work up. Nothing is worse than days or even weeks of lost work.

As I write, characters I design must have emotions that readers can relate to and empathize with, or I feel I haven’t done my job properly. They have to be real, complex, and well-rounded. Nothing accomplishes this more effectively than making sure I've given them true, situationally-appropriate feelings.

Thank you Carlie! A brilliant post, and a great way of finding rich sources. Something all writers should consider doing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Deadlines

"I love deadlines. Especially the whooshing sound they make as they pass by."

                                                                       Douglas Adams


Descartes once said, “I think therefore I am.” I couldn’t agree more. Except to add “ I procrastinate therefore I am a writer.” According to Wikipedia, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority. According to Freud, this is all due to the pleasure principle. Pleasure principle? What’s that you ask? The pleasure principle is a psychoanalytical concept, which describes how people will seek pleasure and avoid suffering to satisfy their biological and psychological needs. The act of writing certainly satisfies my inner needs as does reading. The two go hand in hand. 

Right now, my own procrastination refers to the act of sitting on a sofa glued to the Olympics. Whether this provides me with pleasure rather than pain varies according to the event. Furthermore, with my innate genius for time management, I have committed myself to August Camp Nanowrimo, a writebulb blog and started studying for a science fiction and fantasy course. All this in a month when I am supposed to be on holiday. What was I thinking of?

                Well, I was thinking of myself.  I don’t know about you, but I work so much better under pressure.  I keep a writer’s journal and sometimes I have a really good day. Characters and ideas appear very quickly. I feel as if I have to write them down at once or they will be lost forever. Then there are times when my mind goes blank. Totally and utterly blank. Even writing the letters of the alphabet seems like an impossible task. The daily grind of Camp Nanowrimo forces me to kill my inner critic and just write.  Deadlines?  I love them. Don’t you?


Brilliant Tasha! And how many of us feel right now - glued to the Olympics.