Nanowrimo with a twist

Dear Reader,

It’s been a while, I’m aware, but I have not forgotten about you. However in the midst of finishing University, doing resits and getting a job, writing has been put on the back burner.

A couple of weeks ago I was finally able to open up the floodgates to my creativity to find… there was less motivation now I didn’t have any time limits. Bother.

This is a constant problem for me: that my best creative thoughts come when I don’t have any time to do anything with them. So, I thought, why not set myself my own time limits? And this is exactly when Nanowrimo sent me an email.

This is not me announcing I am going to complete Nano though. I don’t have 50 thousand words left for the story I’m writing and my wish is to finish this one before I properly begin a new one. What I do need to get done is some missing scene and scenes to re-write.

So I am doing Nano with a twist. Instead of a word count a day, I will be doing (or trying to do) a scene a day. With 24 scenes to write and 21 to rewrite I won’t be finished by the end of November. But I will be almost finished with the first full draft and will hopefully have set up a good habit to continue with into December and the new year.

So if you are in the middle of a book too and want to find a way to use the motivation of Nano, or if you are an overwriter that knows a word count goal is just a disaster waiting to happen, please join me in counting scenes, not words.

Faithfully, and wishing everyone participating in Nano the best of luck,

Ellie

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Insert Storyline

Dear reader,

I am a lazy writer. I have a very bad habit of writing the scene I want to write rather than the one I need to write. This leaves me with two major problems; the first being that it often leaves my stories with giant gaps which need to be filled. I know what needs to happen in these sections, I just don’t have the muse to write them yet. I get around this by making a note on my document that starts ‘insert storyline here’ and then a brief synopsis of what happens. That way I still know what is going on and what has happened (it also makes it easy to find what still needs to be written). However, it doesn’t make me any closer to the finish line as I still need to write that scene.

I am getting better and in the second draft of my main story I am (mostly) going through scene by scene. I have yet to have an ‘insert storyline’, which turned up no less than 16 times in my first ‘full’ draft! Not exactly full, even in my books!

It is so very tempting, but I am determined to be methodical and do it right this time. Apart from anything else, it helps me keep better track of my timeline so I can see where things got a bit muddled in my first draft, which is my second main issue.

During the first draft, I was scene hopping; writing whatever came to mind. I was often jumping from start to end to middle and only knew vaguely how they all linked. This meant it was almost impossible to keep my timeline straight and on second reading, I even discovered the exact same scene in two separate places. It made sense in either place, but definitely not in both!

So to any of my readers, who are writers, do not follow my example. Or if you do, make sure you have a clear timeline that you keep updated as well.

Yours faithfully, if flightily,

Ellie

Finding my Words Again

Dear Reader,

I suddenly realised the other day that the last time I wrote a blog post was back in May. I know I said at the beginning that I would only upload when I had something to say; and that is basically what has happened.

I lost my words.

For almost three months. It wasn’t just my blog; I wrote no stories, no YouTube video scripts (oh yeah, I have a channel, go check me out- cheeky promo!). I barely even wrote status’ on social media. I just felt drained of words.

I don’t quite know when it started, or particularly why it happened (although I think my depression might have been a part of it). The world just turned to grey scale for a while and I was living days just to get through them.

I remember describing it to one of my friends as having those horse blinkers on, but on my brain, so all I could see was the path ahead of me and not all that was happening around me. I couldn’t seem to find a way to break through, no matter how hard I tried.

Then all of a sudden, one morning I woke to find my blinkers had been removed, creative stuff was pouring into my brain again. So much so, it was pretty tricky to concentrate on real life for a few days!

This was around the beginning of August, and most of the creative thoughts that came through in the initial flood were to do with my story. The flood has calmed to a river now, so hopefully I will have more blog posts forming soon.

Yours faithfully, and creatively,

Ellie

Politics: Cleaning up the Country

Dear Reader,

I’m not normally one to get involved in politics- mainly because there is a lot I don’t understand and I never want to be the person shouting half-baked ideas- but even I have something to say right now.

I am British. A fact I think I’m still proud of. I love the green country side, I love never being more than a 2 hour drive from the coast, I love milky tea. I love having a free health service, I love the benefit system for people down on their luck, struggling through hard times, or have disabilities that mean they need support.

Things have changed in this recent election that I believe has caused the public to wake up. It’s like suddenly realising the state the kitchen is in. You’re not quite sure how it happened, it’s been building up so gradually as you let things slide, but now there is mess. Too much to ignore, and something needs to be done about it before you can cook properly again.

There are _ options here.

Option one is to order takeouts every night, simply telling yourself you can’t cook because of the mess. But this doesn’t solve anything, it just makes you more unhealthy and costs a lot.

Option two is to complain to everyone who uses the kitchen that they need to sort out their own mess. However by this point it’s pretty hard to tell who’s is who’s. It might get a little tidier, but not noticeably and not for long.

Option three is that you jump in and tackle it all yourself. You are a one-man band who will conquer everything and be beloved by all. You make a pretty good start but everything takes longer than you thought, you become discouraged, annoyed at the mess of everyone else. You give up part way through. The mess returns the next day.

Or option four: everyone tackles the job together. You point out to each other what could save time in the future, what works well and with everyone doing a little bit, it all gets done quickly. You’ve all seen the state it was in and all make a resolve to not let it get to that again. You part ways in a friendly manner and you can go ahead and cook your dinner.

Okay, so that was a long-winded analogy, but I think it illustrates my point. It’s not just who’s in charge of the household who has to do all the cleaning while the others watch, muttering about how they could have done a better job. We all have to pitch in to help clean up this country. It’s not just up to the Conservatives; it’s not just up to the politicians. You are part of this country too, so grab a mop and get to work!

Twitter is talking about #BritishValues and how Conservatives are grinding them in the dirt. You want sparkling clean values again? Then you’re got to muck in with the cleaning.

It’s not the most glamourous job but everyone benefits from the results. A happy workforce and all that J

I’ll get off my soapbox now, thank you for reading.

Yours Faithfully, and digging for cleaning supplies,

Ellie

The Found, the Sheep and the… Wax?

Dear Reader,

For those like me who love their parables (stories with a hidden meaning), I have one that I absolutely loved when I heard it this week. It was used by a friend of mine to help explain why God seems so different in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament.

Imagine two tablets with writing on; one made of clay, the other of wax. When the sun shines down one them, the wax melts, leaving the surface fresh and new again. Meanwhile the clay tablet dries up, shrivelling and cracking in the sun’s heat.

Does the sun need to change what it does, what it inherently is, to produce these drastically different effects? No; and neither does God. He shines down his love in the same manner. It is because of what our hearts are made of that that produces different results.

The Old Testament is there to prove to us that we cannot change ourselves to be good enough to receive God’s love. We can be made of the best clay money can buy, and we would still wither under God’s love and power. Only God can transform us into wax. Only when we are wax can our records of wrongs be wiped away without destroying us with it.

Food for thought, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Yours Faithfully and Waxfully,

Ellie

The Difference between Accountability and Judgement

Dear Reader,

This week has been a learning week for me. Well, actually, the past few weeks. I have been surprised to learn that I am still pretty naïve about a lot of topics that I thought I was well aware of. The stance of political parties being one. Church life being another. The second is what I want to talk about.

I have learned that I often take things at face value, like common phrases, and never really look deeper into the meaning. This particularly struck me during a discussion with a friend about a situation she was in involving other Christians. Without really thinking I replied with “they’re only human” by which I meant she should remember that Christians can’t always be perfect and we do often get things wrong.

Quite rightly, she shot me down, explaining why this phrase was so unhelpful.

While I was right in what I was trying to say, it was only useful as a first step. The problem was that people had been telling her this as a way of justifying the actions which had upset her. It is true that they are not expected to be perfect, however that does not negate the fact that they did something wrong.

What had upset her most in this situation was that these words were from other Christians. The people in question had not accepted that they had done anything wrong. No apology offered from them at all.

It is something I have come to realise Christians are pretty bad at: apologising for messing up. Not to God- we seem to be perfectly capable of that and in certain churches even recite a prayer of apology in unison. Despite this, we seem to be bad at apologising to each other. We- and I’m saying ‘we’ as I know it is something I struggle with as well- seem to find the task of humbling ourselves and admitting to each other that we were in the wrong an impossible task. Or an unnecessary one.

There is a line from C S Lewis in his book ‘Prince Caspian’ that I love:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.”

It often strikes me that Christians do not hold these two in balance. They either tend to the end of feeling too lowly and excusing all their wrong doing because they are human and can’t change the way they are; or they are skewed the other way. They claim they can’t possibly do things wrong because they are of God and God forgives them of all wrong so why should they answer to others?

And in this lies another issue: the difference between accountability and judgement. We are told time and again “do not judge, lest ye be judged”, and it scares us enough to hide any criticism we want to make.

Matthew 5:23-24 says this:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you; leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

This text seems to have been forgotten, or at least I rarely hear it preached on or talked about. People are so interested in the Beatitudes that come before that they miss the explanation of how to live them after.

The phrase ‘something against you’ doesn’t just mean if someone else thinks you have done something wrong; it’s also meaning if they have something against you in a way that they are responsible. Such as them preaching something unbiblical or hurting you without realising they are. These all come under this phrase and all need to be addressed. God wants us to be accountable to each other.

Here is what Matthew 18:15-17 says:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

It is our duty- but also our honour- to love and care for one another. How do you care for a child? By teaching them the correct moral standard. By explaining to them when they do something wrong why it is wrong. How does God care for us? “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12). Our Father sets us the guide for how to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We should not hide from one another, but know that what we say should be thought through, carefully prayed over and said with the greatest love for each other. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Be humble, love your neighbour, honour your God, and seek to understand Him better by apologising when you get things wrong. It should be as simple as that, why do we have to make it so complicated?

I’ll stop as I’m starting to sound like Avril Lavigne, but it’s something I definitely need to consider more. Please let me know what you think of this in the comments (I love a good chat 🙂 ).

Yours Faithfully and Humbly,

Ellie

Battling a Dragon

Dear Reader,

Sometimes Depression is an easy thing to explain. When it feels like every emotion has been drained from your body and you are left as a husk; a machine on autopilot. Or when it feels like a tidal wave of sadness has suddenly swamped you and you are left adrift, drowning in it without anyone to call on for aid.

Other times, like now, it is harder to explain.

Today I have all my emotions intact- indeed I know it too well as I feel a great amount of chagrin for having not gone to my lectures, as well as awkwardness and embarrassment from having let down people with whom I had made plans. Having these emotions also makes me feel disappointed in myself for not being able to go.

But as I said, sometimes depression is not as easy to pin down.

This weekend I have been feeling my energy stores being drained. I have not been doing anything strenuous. Simply by living. This is the side that confuses most people. How can normal, everyday life be easy one day and an almost impossible thing the next?

I do not know, friends. I can only attempt to describe it; I have no understanding of the inner workings of my brain to tell you why this happens.

The best way I can describe depression is by giving it the form of a dragon. My good days happen when it sleeps. My okay days happen when it is awake, but I have strength to fight. Not to win, mind you, but to stave it off, to keep it at arm’s length. Some days it has swallowed me whole before I even have a chance to raise my shield. Days like today: my armour is too heavy and I’m pulled to the ground by the weight leaving the dragon pawing at my fallen form, deciding whether I am still enough of a threat to eat.

So amongst Uni work, seeing friends and being ill (in a more normal sense), I’ve also been fighting to keep moving. Fighting to pick myself up off the ground despite every limb aching. Fighting to remember how to do tasks like shower and eat.

Just remember for some people, struggling to get out of bed is not laziness. It’s battling a dragon.

Yours faithfully, yet with battle wounds,

Ellie

My Story Has More Holes Than a Sieve

Dear Reader,

I have begun the part of novel writing that every writer (yes EVERY writer) hates. The editing. I’ve done some minor editing before, making sure sentences work, roughing out which order things should happen and double checking I haven’t used the same word three times in the last paragraph (easier done than you’d think).

But until now I have been nipping and tucking at the fringes. Now I’m plunging headfirst into the mess. And what a mess it is! I’m only seeing now just how much work I have still to do; the gruelling kind of literary work where all you have to show for several hours work is 3 deleted sentences, one reworded and a whole lot of highlighting for future checking (it’s also not a good time to be reading about authors hashing out 14,000 words in a day but that’s a different issue). There is one main reason writers hate this bit: it turns them against their own story.

Only when you take a step back and begin reading it through fully do you suddenly notice there are whole sections of badly worded prose, stilted conversations and even whole scenes that you just don’t need. I have only just begun and already am finding details that don’t make sense, that are contrary to previous/later information or that don’t fit with the world I have created (a note for any budding writers: if you are writing a story that affects a significant point in history, read up about it!).

I know that every book will have gone through this process of being written, torn down and rewritten at least twice by the author. It is a necessary step to ending up with a fully polished book. This knowledge doesn’t make the task any less of a chore though.

All I can hope is that once I reach the end, I will have a story that is that much better and makes the same kind of sense on paper as it did in my head.

Yours faithfully, if temporarily disheartened,

Ellie

Afraid of Research

Dear Reader,

I have a book I’m working on, but it has ground to a halt. It is not the usual culprit, writer’s block; it is something that has me running to other stories, one that has me stuck in one place not wanting to write another word of it.

The fear I’ve done it wrong.

How can you have done it wrong? You cry. It’s your story. If you don’t like it…

But I do like it. I love it. It’s my first story to truly make it into ‘potential book’ length and I love the whole concept so dearly. That is why I’m afraid.

It is set in an alternative dimension. One of those ‘What if’ stories. What if history had taken a different path? Where would we be now?

This is why I’m afraid. I have been writing from my impression of what it would be like. I got so wrapped up in my own image, I forgot to check what actually happened, to see if the things I wanted to match up do. I forgot that with the change I made, some things definitely wouldn’t have happened.

And now this task seems so daunting, I haven’t yet brought myself to start. What if half my story goes down the pan because of something I haven’t even twigged yet? A single detail that everything hangs off that simply couldn’t have been a thing?

This is a lesson to anyone starting a story set anywhere in the real world. Do your research earlier rather than later. Who knows, maybe it would have helped in some of my writer’s block moments. It might even help finish my story. I’m just scared it will destroy it.

Yours Faithfully, and daunted by impending knowledge,

Ellie

I Read Books like I Eat Food

Dear Reader,

I read books like I eat food. The best ones I inhale so that the flavour never leaves my mouth. In the hopes that if I am quick enough, they’ll be a chance for a second helping.

Last Friday I had to make the long journey between home and University. Whenever I make this six hour journey, I am caught between people sympathising because they would be mind-numbingly bored the whole way; and people who have at least twice that and so have no sympathy to spare. I don’t actually mind these journeys (unless I’m feeling travel sick but luckily that’s not very often) but take the time to sink my teeth into a good read.

Therefore I saved a new book I had been given at Christmas for the journey. I was expecting this book to last my travelling on Friday and Sunday (I split my journey half way to see friends over the weekend), maybe even a few days after that. I was not aware when I was given the book that would barely put the book down on Friday and almost missed my stop, more than once, because of it. I finished it that evening.

That was when something rare happened. I loved the ending. Call me picky but I have found very few books where I found the ending worthy of the story preceding it. Maybe a dozen books in total, including this one. This ending was in fact so good, and so changing to the storyline, I instantly went back and began reading it again.

The second time through I am going slower (I’m about two-thirds through), savouring the subtle details, able to step away from the tension of not knowing what would happen to the characters and enjoy it on a whole new level. This is the type of writing I want to achieve: a book to be re-read over and over. A book to be cherished and pulled from the shelf when you want comfort and or adventure. When you want to be lost in another world.

You’re dying to know what this book is, I know. Well, it is ‘Eleanor and Park’ by Rowell Rainbow.

I think the best thing was this was pretty unexpected from my point of view. I was excited about the book, and very happy to get it for Christmas. But I thought it was a simple high school love story. It’s true that that is the plot, but this is a book more about character depth than extravagant plot. The characters change the book from being a high school love story to bring you right into the heart of their tangled, complicated lives.

Maybe you will read this book and fall in love with it like I have, or maybe you will read it and not find what I found. What I hope is that while you were reading this, you had a book in mind that you remember reading for the first time and falling in love with so unexpectedly. Maybe, like me, it was the characters, or the writing. Maybe it was the place and the adventure, or the way it made you think. Whatever it was, I hope I’ve given you the itch to go back and re-read it. Have a second serving.

Yours Faithfully, and in love with a new book,

Ellie