Writing Hats & Other Oddities

So, NaNoWriMo is just about here. If you don’t know what that is, I’m not going to explain again. You can see my blog post about it here or visit the official site here.

I’ve finally decided on the plot, after three or four have been duly considered – I should be fine as long no alien abductions or teenage vampires creep in. They would not fit very well into 1909 North East England. I’ve got together a little kit, including a brand spanking new pencil case. For more ideas on a tool kit, have a read of Catherine Ryan Howard’s post here. I’ve read advice blogs, the best by far of which is here, and gathered my favourite writing advice books together.

What I’ve noticed as other writerly friends limber up for a month of madness, mania and mental agility is our tendency to accumulate Things to help or inspire us. I don’t mean the copy of Stephen King’s On Writing growing steadily more dog-eared or music ranging from soothing classical to raging metallic, although these things are important. I mean actual THINGS. If you follow @mruku on Twitter you will have noticed many references to his writing hat, and the considerable anguish involved. Catherine’s post, above, mentions a clicky pen – not to write with but to click incessantly to keep her fingers busy as well as her mind. I am only glad I’m not working in the same room, or I would have to throw her out of the window – sorry Catherine! (or force her to make me coffee constantly…)

I have a necklace. That’s it, in the picture. I tend to wear it when I want to feel inspired – not because I think it brings me luck or anything, but because one day I’m fairly sure I’m going to write a story featuring the necklace. It just looks like it should have a story. Like it has magical properties or something. Again, it’s not that I DO think it has magical properties, just that it looks like it should. I look at it, I start imagining a story, and the bit of my brain that fools me into thinking I can tell a story kicks in.

I always think writers should have a little quirk. Like a ritual or an possession or some little oddity like a writing hat. Something we can tell the interviewer from The Times when we are on the bestseller’s list for the fourth Christmas running. Something where we can tell our grandkids, “And Grandma always had to have her special necklace/pen/hat/coffee stirred three times anti-clockwise, four times clockwise then blessed with holy water, before she wrote a masterpiece.” And if I’m not on the bestseller’s list four Christmases in a row? I can blame the necklace. Obviously, it just wasn’t magical enough.

Anyone else got any oddities they’d like to own up to?

Lightning Bolts and Dragons

Well, it’s time to come clean. I have been holding off telling my family that I am writing until I had something that I could be proud of. The last couple of days have finally delivered that something in a dragon-shaped lightning bolt.

I have a finished book! No, really. Ok, maybe I should have warned you to sit down first…Recovered? I’ll carry on then.

The thing is, the book is not a major, groundbreaking work that I’ve been meticulously researching for months, nor an outstanding literary feat. It’s not even the kind of thing I envisaged myself writing a year ago when I decided to start taking this writing malarkey seriously. I always thought the first book I wrote would be a novel, almost certainly a Regency romance, which is what I’ve been brought up on. It turns out, my very first book is a children’s picture book featuring dragons. And it may never be accepted by a publisher, I don’t know. The thing is, I have an achievement – I have written a story and I am very proud of that fact alone. It’s a real story, with characters and a beginning, middle and end. There are a couple of minor tweaks I need to do but on the whole I am very happy.

And the biggest lesson for me in this is to take hold of lightning bolts that appear to strike from nowhere, however unlikely.

I didn’t set out to write a children’s book. It was probably the furthest thing from my mind to be honest. But this character has been sitting, twiddling his thumbs, in my head for a few months. Then he acquired a setting, but still no story, and busied himself until I could decide what to do with him. Then bam, in a lightning bolt out of nowhere, he starts talking to me. I guess he got fed up of waiting. And now I have 24 pages of picture book, waiting for me to finish editing and fiddling and send them away with everything crossed for luck.

It took some nerves to confess to my family that I was writing – it feels to me like a huge step, I don’t know why. Maybe because up until now I haven’t had anything I’ve been really proud of. But their reaction when they read it was the moment I have been waiting for for ages, maybe even years.

Oh, and by the way, I was wrong. Taking hold of lightning bolts is the second biggest lesson for me in this. The first is to remember how much fun it was. It was hard, getting the language the way I wanted it, asking my friends to test drive it on their children and waiting to hear their reaction. It was probably the hardest 500 words I’ve ever written. Trying to make sure that every word delivers the picture I see in my head, and that every line is entertaining. I think I’ve managed it, although I will probably always have some doubts. But, I can’t say it enough, it was fun. Entering the world of my characters, playing around with words to find ones that are musical and rhythmical, thinking of what my son would like to hear and how I could deliver it – that was magical, and has opened up whole, hereto-unconsidered world of possibilities for me. I’ve already got another little character whispering that she wants a turn at being a story.

I shall be updating regularly with progress, and when I’m a multi-millionaire just remember – you saw it here first.