Introduction to this Blog Series:
7/3/19: It has to be a good year. I’ve already been to India and it’s not even St Patrick’s Day. I’ve walked the golden sands of the Goa beaches, swam in the warm Arabian Sea, felt the wind in my hair as I drove a scooter through the palm forests, smelled the spice and fragrance of Anjuna market and felt Kashmir silk on my skin. I’ve survived crossing the Bangalore roads, dyed my fingers yellow eating a biryani with my right hand trying to act like the locals, tasted the dosas, drank the sugary, milky coffee….
I’m ready, 2019.
My book is not ready, but it’s getting there. It is looking like a novel now rather than a tragic mass of word spaghetti. The mountain with a thousand summits has finally been summited and I am skipping down the other side. Finally, I can use the somewhat regal #amediting hashtag. Boom.
Arriving in India after fourteen years, having just ascended from the e-visa queue I feel right at home. In Bangalore airport, my other half and I are simultaneously trying to get cash out of a stubbornly non-compliant ATM and engage the Uber app for the first time. It’s all fun and games, and we chat to an Englishman who is on a similar mission to us. The bank call to check if I’ve been robbed – I reassure them ‘no – I am actually in India, booking an Uber.’
We’re queuing in the half-light behind a huddle of breakfast bars. We are reassured, our driver is coming, along with a hundred other drivers clamouring their way around a colossal roundabout. The coffee is good. Like nectar. I didn’t have change and so paid way too much for it, but I’ll get more organised as we go along. When we get into our car there are no seatbelts in the back and the driver seems to think I’ve got a screw loose for even asking.
The roads here are not for the faint-hearted. We are straight in at the deep end. Well no, technically that would be actually driving here. But if you’ve ever been to Alton Towers, Drayton Manor or one of those theme parks local to you… think of the scariest ride you ever went on and quadruple it and then you are right there in Bangalore in rush hour traffic. Ironically, I weep tears of joy inside this car. I write in my journal: Hello Mother India. I don’t look very Indian. Big-boned, six-foot blonde with skin as white as milk. But I feel connected. Like I’m returning somehow.
I’m not a city person generally. Give me lakes, mountains, waterfalls, ocean any day of the week. But there is something about Indian cities. Bursting with life and always teetering on the edge of death but with a hearty laugh, or a shout, and inevitably a thousand beeps.
Our first journey in India is this very long drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Mysuru as the vernacular Kannada speakers call it, rolling the ‘r’. Our driver gives each and every beggar that comes to his window a coin. I hold my breath as I watch the kamikaze pedestrians just going about their business. A van is filled with swaying lemons in front of us. On one of the many freeways, he just pulls in, without explanation and jumps out of the car and begins chatting with some men at the side of the road. We hold our breath, brain cogs turning furiously. Another guy then hops in and explains with a smile that the first driver was too tired, working all night, and so he would be bringing us the rest of the way.
Our hotel is an oasis in a busy street where the sun boils above in the sky. I want a coconut. I’m here in India many hours now, I must find a coconut. If you’ve never had one, they’re green and huge, not like the little brown ones we get at home with the not-so-pleasant milk in them. They are full of the most refreshing drink – coconut water. A large knife is used to cut the top off and then a straw is plopped in the top and voila. Some coconut sellers will offer you the flesh for eating afterwards that they scoop out using part of the coconut they just cut off as a scoop. It’s a bit strange, jelly-like. But I like it anyway.
We wander down the road, discovering that uninterrupted pavement is a rare luxury and we watch our step as it falls apart in places. We are asked over and over if we require a taxi. No, just a coconut thanks. No, not a taxi to get a coconut. They’re only around the corner. Eventually, we are brought into a silk shop and before I can say namaste we are being measured for clothes. ‘But I only want a coconut.’
‘Yes, yes, we will get for you. Please. Sit down.’
I get my coconut. But it’s hard to enjoy it now because we are ensnared within somebody’s expectation. And I have no notion of buying a dress or getting anything made. Even though I am sure it would be fabulous and the fabrics are exquisite looking. It’s just not on today’s agenda. He ends up buying trousers for a friend back home.
This first part of the trip is family business. Visiting the workplaces and grave of my husband’s great aunt who gave her life here as a nun. When we finally discover the way into the convent we are warmly welcomed by the sisters, whose lunch we are interrupting (it turns out we are good at that). They generously give us food and fruits we have never seen, less tasted before. Bull’s heart. Jack fruit. They show us around the beautiful garden. The chapel where she would have prayed.
Later they arrange a driver to bring us to the famous Mysore Palace, a three storey stone structure with marble domes and a five storey tower. Surrounded by gardens and facing the Chamundi Hills. One of the most famous tourist attractions in India after the Taj Mahal – we don’t get to see it lit but the lights are turned on Sunday evenings and public holidays.
Around the side of one of the entrances, we stumble upon elephants having a bath with hoses. It’s not really meant for the public, so we don’t stay long.
Afterwards, we are taken to see Karanji Lake. Home to a host of egrets, cormorants, ibis, storks, herons and many more. Here boasts the biggest walk-through aviary in India that includes black swans and peacocks of various sorts.
Then it is time to rest. The incredible journey east is taking its toll. Tomorrow we go back to Bangalore.
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Writing for Cake
It’s the end of August, 2018 and this morning I was furiously typing away in order to make my August writing goal of increasing my wordcount by 18,500 words. To some this is laughable, but for me it took every shred of effort. I told myself: If you are done by 11:35 you may eat cake. I was in one of my favourite café’s and the cakes were looking divine.
I did it, I was quite early in fact. Now, there’s rough and there’s rough. But the biggest challenge for me seems to be getting words on paper. Perfectionism? I have the fear of writing it down.. committing to an idea. That constant nagging thought ‘It’s not good enough.’ It’s excruciating. And the silliest part is, I know you should ignore it and write anyway. I could teach someone else how to do this novel writing business no problem. But to follow my own advice is another matter entirely.
I felt that for August I set the bar pretty low with my goal, knowing I would be away on holiday and it’s way harder to get in the zone on a family holiday, despite all good intentions. I did some writing while I was away. Check out the view from our apartment in Sankt Johann in Tirol in the Kitzbühel Alps in Austria. To die for. But there was that part of me that just wanted to drink coffee and chill and look at those mountains, rather than grappling with this bad boy. I do love the idea of going on a writing retreat, a sabbatical of sorts where I get the book done. But would be terrified I would do the same.. procrastinate and look at the views. Now, that’s a little harsh, I don’t always procrastinate. I do get stuff done. Pats on backs where they are due, but I do like to stay vigilant and to know that getting words on paper is not always as straightforward as it seems. And it seems very straightforward. To me at least.
Catch up Time
I had planned to have my first draft done by end of June, 2018. That is a manuscript of around 80,000 words that I could call a rough start. I’m still almost 20,000 words short, so perhaps September is to catch up to that goal and get 80,000 done. The one thing to be conscious of that I learned the hard way this month is when you delete entire scenes this costs you words also. Sounds obvious, but can be very disheartening when you see your wordcount going down instead of up.
One thing I would love to know, perhaps you can help me, is how authors get over the doom feeling of ‘where is this going??’ Is it just me? Does anyone else get that? I certainly have got it in much smaller projects of short stories. And what I learned is that persistence pays. Just keep writing. I could use a Dory GIF just now but I wouldn’t like to infringe any copyright. You get the idea though. What? Who is Dory???
Thanks for reading and sharing in my journey, don’t be a stranger, I’m on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook 🙂
Are Short Stories Bright Shiny Objects for the Aspiring Novelist?
It’s the first day of August 2018, and I have had to officially ban myself from submitting or working on any short stories this month. Don’t get me wrong.. July was a blast. I submitted three short stories and learned lots while developing my craft. Exercising my writing muscles. But my targets for my novel were not reached, and it begs the question: is it useful to write short stories while writing a book? What do you think?
I think it can be because of the following:
- It sharpens up your writing as it is practice for the more significant project.
- It’s satisfying to finish a short story. A novel takes ages. It can give you hope in the midst of that deep, dense forest.
- If you do get a short story published this will look good on your bio when you are approaching other places for publication.
- In some competitions, you are forced to write in a specific genre which gets you out of your comfort zone and expands your horizons. Maybe rom-com isn’t as bad as you thought. In July I wrote a one thousand word romantic-comedy flash fiction story about a chihuahua and a bus station. It was actually a lot of fun, and there is no way I would have written it but for the competition.
- Some of the competitions offer feedback. Feedback is priceless.
On the downside though, writing short stories when you are writing a novel can pull you away from what you are doing. For me, the short story is more accessible, and therefore much more appealing. I can dive into a short story as I can see that the end is not too far away. It’s not that they are easy. Sometimes far from it, like the one I just finished that challenged me to my very writer core. But they are easier to round off, polish, and to handle. Sometimes when I am writing my novel, and I’ve said this before, I feel as though I am trying to hang an enormous parachute on a short washing line. Okay, I changed that a bit. But the fact remains to find the beginning, the middle or the end is hard.
So why would anyone want to write a novel?
Answer: I’ve no idea.
Seriously. I just know I do. For as long as I can remember.
Anyway, the day got onto the more pressing matters of how to entertain your kids during summer holidays and not feel like a failing parent that just allows them to be on screens for hours on end. We managed some art together at least. Yesterday we visited an indoor play area with a great café, and I sat and steamrolled my way to the almost-end of that very long short story I was working on. It was truly a win-win. They didn’t, however, have a power socket, so my laptop battery did die, but, like every good old-fashioned writer I carry a notebook and a pen, so it wasn’t the end of the world. The solution is, of course, to get up hideously early and get the writing done before the kids wake up. Cue #5amwritersclub – that’s where you come in. Thanks, Twitter.
So, back to the novel, how does anybody finish one? I have a goal this month that Stephen King would eat for breakfast – 18,500 words. There, now it’s said, and my confession is made about July’s attempts. Here’s to a month’s snappier novel-writing and of course, to you with whatever you want to achieve this month.
Thanks for following,
Oh, here’s a picture of me yesterday evening, practically singing and dancing for joy after finishing that long short story I mentioned. Imagine how I will look when the novel is done!!
Mid Month Check-In: Freedom at Last!
July has been my best month yet this year. Perhaps it’s the energy around turning the big four-oh. Oh yes, about that, I’m forty now. And I’ve never felt so motivated and clear about where I’m going with my writing.
There are two major things to thank just now. The first is NaNoWriMo or more specifically #campinstawrimo hosted by Laura La Rock Writes Each day we are asked to post a photo related to the daily prompt. Todays is the midmonth check in so I thought I’d turn it into a blog.
I set some goals at the start of the month, lots of them in fact, and each day I post something on Instagram according to the challenge. The goals were extremely helpful for focussing me. Mine were:
- To write 10,000 words of my novel
- To compete in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge on 14th and 15th .. this is what I am doing today.
- To write and submit a 7,000-word story for a short story competition.
- To edit and extend the word count to 3,000 words of an older story to submit to another competition.
So far I have done 2000 words of the novel, I have completed a first draft of the 7000-word story, am continuing to tweak the 3000-word story and today tweaking my NYC Midnight flash fiction 1000 word story. For those of you who haven’t come across NYC Midnight, they run regular writing competitions throughout the year. You get a prompt and a time limit in which to submit your work. For the flash fiction first round, its 48 hours. Want to know the prompt I got? Genre: Romantic Comedy; Object: A chihuahua; Place: A Bus Station. This is my first time writing a rom-com, and so far it’s going okay. I actually had to listen to the intro of several rom-com audio books just to get the feel of how these are written. I’m not a fan, but trying it out is fun all the same.
I’ve written a structure for the rest of the month so that, each day I know what I am meant to be doing.
The second thing I am truly grateful for is a book called ‘Writing Fast’ by Jeff Bollow. At first, I thought ‘here I go again, down the rabbit hole, reading yet another book about how to write.’ I am a self-confessed self-help book junkie, and I devour books on writing. But I discovered on reading it that the techniques suggested are extremely helpful and am getting me writing faster than ever before. What I love about this book the most is how Jeff sweet talks me into not over criticising my work, which I have been stifled by in the past. Trying to get it perfect first time. He says we have both the movie critic in us and the Oscar winner. Both battle it out. The Oscar Winner is that part of the brain that says ‘yes, oh yes, that’s amazing,’ to every idea you have and would have you following every lead that your ‘idea factory’ brain can churn out. If the movie critic is allowed to take over, she will tear your work to shreds and leave you in a quivering heap unable to write anything. How many times has this happened to me?? Lots.
So, for now, I feel free, yes free, to get on with it. Still lots to do this month and I am enjoying #campnano so much I might do it all again in August.
What else worked? The weather… we have had the very best weather in Ireland this past month on record for many decades I’m sure. Today it’s raining, but we need it so this is no bad thing. The farmers are crying out for rain. The sunshine was so uplifting, and I got to write outisde a lot.
That’s it for now, love to hear your comments and if you enjoyed this, stay following my journey on Instagram; Twitter and Facebook.
Novel Progress Update
By Susan Browne, 19th of May, 2018
Warning…. this may prove painstakingly boring!! I am planning to think up much more potentially fascinating things to blog about in the future. But for now, it’s kind of interesting to me to see how far I have come with this project and may be nice to look back on. Should my book make it to the end. And ultimately into print and onto bookshelves.
My first two ‘author blog’ attempts have been about using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for writing a novel. I was using this method. I did pretty much all of it. I arrived at the scenes list and got totally excited about making an excel spreadsheet of the scenes I had already done. I split up the monstrous word document into separate scenes. Recorded the word count of each. This gave me a calm feeling and of having more control over this big beast that is a novel in progress. I can liken it to trying to hang out an enormous sheet on a washing line. The scenes list is a helping hand. My verdict about the Snowflake Method is that it proved extremely helpful. Now its time to get on with writing the book.
May arrived, and I realised that my word count had not really gone up having spent a month snowflaking. The goal at the start of May was to increase the word count from 36,578 to a bold 60k. Nuts, but I thought better to have a big goal and see how it goes. Using compassion and curiosity instead of despair if that didn’t work out. This is a big project. For anyone who has attempted to write a novel will know. It’s a learning curve for me, even though its not my first time attempting. I’ve lost count over the years. But I have never finished a fiction novel. Not even got half way in fact.
I discovered that counting words every day was not working for me. I was often left with less words after a writing session at the end, having edited out big chunks. I saw a quote not long ago, it said ‘what idiot wrote this? Oh, it was me.’ Yes. That’s how I felt. And it was hard to be objective. Was the writing terrible or was I being over critical? I still don’t know. But I feel better having rewritten various things.
At the start of the year, I was writing in libraries, but I have moved onto cafés and even at home. It sounds funny to say, ‘even at home,’ but I used to find writing at home incredibly distracting. There was always something else to do that was more important. In a café, without the Wi-Fi code and in your own company with a laptop, there’s not much else to do. And the white noise in the background is surprisingly helpful for me. A person incredibly sensitive and often intolerant of noise.
The Challenges so far have been:
Self-doubt… what if this is a pile of ………??
Editing and coming out with fewer words.
Blank spaces in the novel where I don’t know what happens, or why this is so, and so on. Lots of questions still that I haven’t been able to tease out yet with Snowflake or otherwise.
Meditation, first thing in the morning and setting my intention.
Visualising the finished product – an awesome book.
Writing in cafés and not asking for the Wi-Fi code.
Running; yoga or aerobics.
Music in the background (big surprise, this is new).
Stop looking at the word count all the time.
Parallel projects, I have a goal of sending off one short story per month.
Today, for the sake of nerd-dom, my word count is a humble 42,546.
Only 17.5k to do in the next eleven days to come up to speed. We shall see. In the words of Julia Cameron, author of the epic book The Artists Way;
“I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard. Writing became more like eavesdropping and less like inventing a nuclear bomb.”
— Julia Cameron
Okay, it’s time to regroup. It’s Tuesday Morning, the first in April. I had set a deadline of the end of June for my first draft, with a specific word count to achieve weekly. I was doing that, and then I re-discovered the Snowflake method by Randy Ingermanson. It seems like the perfect idea. The seat-of-the-pants style writing has severe drawbacks and has failed me in the past more times than I care to remember.
Seat-of-the-pants writing is just going for it, without creating a plan or structure beforehand. Some very famous writers, notably Stephen King, write this way very successfully. There is no right or wrong way, only as an aspiring writer you need to find the way that works best for you. I like the idea of this style, as I like being led by characters, who start to come alive. Wake me up in the night, get in my head. Tell me what to do. But it simply hasn’t worked in the past. I’m approaching forty and I have never finished a fiction novel using that method. Maybe the Snowflake is my answer. It’s the planner that allows flexibility. You can go back and change things if the characters don’t agree with you. You are not in a creative straight jacket.
This morning is a writer morning. I will get out of the house, into either a library or lately a café. Away from home, to write. As any writer-mom will know, there is always something more pressing to do at home, even when there is no one in it but you. Out in a café, just you and the laptop and not asking for the Wi-Fi code.. it’s just you and the book. If you mute and turn data off the phone of course.
I finished the Snowflake method book yesterday. In the car, on the way back from a lovely family outing in picturesque Killarney. Now there is NO excuse. Get on with it. I’m going to buy an A4 folder with plastic pockets inside and get cracking on the character bibles. I got as far as Step 6 though which is writing your long synopsis.
I will print off what I have, after checking it over today, and put it in the folder. The magical folder. The magical book to teach me how to write. The magical story board….. arghhhhhhhh. Just get on with it. Stop talking about it. Just do it.
Writing Goals for today:
Review all of the steps so far of the snowflake 1-6
Print off what I have so far and put it into the folder
Brainstorm and jot down any more ideas or breakthroughs
Goal for Finishing the ‘First Draft’ Snowflake of my Book = 30th of April 2018.
Goal for complete first draft was 30th of June, I will have to review this goal at the end of May, to see if it’s realistic and if it needs pushing out further.
Another Goal for Today, somewhat related to writing, in an indirect way = 30 minutes exercise. It really helps with ideas and clearing the mind. It’ll have to wait until the afternoon, but it must get done.
Here is a photo I took yesterday, in the middle of nowhere, on a very kindly tolerated photography diversion by my family. Tell me the story you see in that?!
Happy writing, and thanks for reading this much of my ramblings,