Anything worthwhile takes time

It’s slow-going, this writing business. I’ve been working on the first draft of my first ever full-length manuscript since November last year and it’s STILL. GOING. I got it almost finished a few months back and then left it for a bit before coming back to fill in the holes. I’m edging ever closer to being done and I expect to have somewhere around 95 000 – 100 000 words once I’m finished. That’s a lot of words.

I have to keep reminding myself not to rush. I’m so impatient, always wanting to get to the end or to the next thing. Life is so fast these days, everything so instant, that it feels strange to spend so much time on just one thing.

When it comes to writing I’m accustomed to short stories. It’s always the plot that takes a while for me but the writing, once I’m into it, is quite fast. Then I spend a bit of time editing and send it off out into the world. It’s hard but it’s relatively fast. I always find an amazing sense of satisfaction to have something complete.

Writing a novel is HARD and there really is no way to rush it. Already so many hours of work have gone into this manuscript and I know that I have many more hours of editing and rewriting ahead. The more I get into this process the more I’m constantly amazed that there are so many novels in the world when they take this much work and time. How lucky we are as readers that writers are so freely giving of their time.

It takes time.

I’m learning to be patient, taking it slow with the words and the process. It’s not a race. I want it done NOW but I’d much prefer to have it done PROPERLY.

It’ll take as long as it takes.

JW

The Pomodoro Technique

I’ve recently been reading John Birmingham’s excellent (and very sweary) book ‘How to be a Writer’ and am really enjoying his practical, no nonsense advice.

Mostly though I have been intrigued by the very dedicated way he works. He manages to fit so much writing in his day thanks to the use of the Pomodoro Technique. This is a time management technique that works to keep you focused by separating your work time into thirty minutes lots. Essentially you work for 25 minutes and then rest for 5 minutes. You do this for 4 times and then you take a 15-20 min break. He does this all day long, everyday, with the exception of his lunch break.

I gave it a try over the past few days (while the kids are at school / daycare) and I have to say that I have gotten a lot done! It’s amazing how easy it is to stay focused for 25 minutes when you know you have a 5 minute break coming up. I found I was able to work steadily on my novel without the distraction of social media, or getting up to go and do some housework, with the timer on my phone keeping me in check. I think it’s also useful because you work in short bursts of time so you don’t have time to get bored. 25 minutes goes very fast when you get into the groove of it!

This is definitely a technique I will continue to use and will keep in the back of my mind for the next NaNoWriMo (yes, I’m already thinking of that!)

Do you use a time management technique to keep you on track too? I’d love to hear about it!

A Bus Ride with Mr Briggs

(This story was a finalist in the Newcastle Short Story Award 2017. It was published in the anthology available here)

All that Mr Briggs has left is a five dollar note tucked inside his pocket and a handkerchief long overdue for a wash. He arrives at the bus stop seven minutes early and slumps himself onto the bench seat, waiting. He hates waiting. He watches the second hand tick its way around his watch face and counts down the seconds until the bus is due to arrive. It is one minute and eleven seconds late.

As luck would have it, the ticketing machine on the bus is broken. Mr Briggs doesn’t have a fancy plastic card to tap on the device but the bus driver waves everyone on regardless. He clutches the five dollar note in his pocket as he makes his way to his seat, amazed to still have it. It seems like a sign. He only needed it to get him on the bus and it had taken him considerable time to acquire it. He still isn’t sure if it would have been enough to get him into the city, but he still has it. It must be a lucky omen.

It is part of his plan to sit exactly half-way up the bus, on the right-hand side. He makes his way there now, thankful that the seat is vacant. He isn’t sure what he would have done if it was taken. The seat gives him an ample vantage point over the entire bus, a place where he can see all of the passengers, including the driver, and they can see him. It is the perfect spot to carry out his plan.

His grey tracksuit pants rustle as he settles into position and he clutches the seat in front of him much tighter than is necessary. He catches his reflection in the bus window. A thin film of sweat gives his forehead a subtle sheen, reminding him of the polished stair balustrades at The Home. He pulls his hankerchief from his pocket, careful not to dislodge the five dollar note, and wipes it roughly across his brow. It does little to remove the sweat but it gives him a moment of reprieve. Now that he is on the bus he is beginning to have second thoughts. Fear has gripped him and so he grips tighter to the seat in front of him. He must calm down if he is going to do what needs to be done.

He hasn’t been outside of the house for months, years even. Mr Briggs does not have a good sense of time. He had to sneak out of The Home in order to get here. Mrs Welshman had finally dozed in her armchair after Mr Briggs had spiked her tea with sleeping pills and he was able to slip out the front door. It took considerable planning and coordination for him to manage even that part of the plan, his fingers as fat as sausages as he poured the tea. All he needed now was enough time to get this thing done. Just one single bus ride and it would all be over. If they realise he is missing they will try to stop him, lock him away in a room even smaller than the one he is already living in. He can’t stand the thought.

He finally takes a moment to look around the bus and take in his surroundings. It is mid-morning so the bus is almost empty, everyone having already started their day. The only people riding the bus at this hour are the unemployed and the elderly. And Mr Briggs. He doesn’t usually ride the bus at all. He usually sits in armchair at The Home, staring at the television and dreaming about escape.

There are six young people on the bus, university students probably. He notices them right away. They carry backpacks and textbooks, their faces buried in their smart phones and their ears plugged with earphones that allow music to escape and drift through the bus. Too loud. Mr Briggs scowls at them from his seat but they don’t look up. He needs their smart phones with their camera bits. He just hopes that they will hear him when the time comes. He needs their full attention.

He has caught the bus only a few times before, either when he was young or before the Incident. The edges of the memory are blurred. The humming of the bus’s engine gives him a sense of calm, reminding him of some forgotten memory or faraway place from long ago. He wipes a thin line of drool that has escaped from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. Anger fills him.

Mr Briggs has a plan. He has been working on it for some time now. Each night for months on end he has tucked away in his bed and scrawled plans in his notebook under torchlight. He has a vague memory from childhood of doing the same thing in a tent or in a tiny bed, scratching his thoughts into some kind of book of which he held dear. He can’t remember. His memories are scrambled. This plan is something different. He is filled with malice as he scrawls at the pages, his hands no longer moving the way they should, the way he wants them to. Everything requires an effort greater than the task itself and it fills Mr Briggs with rage.

Mr Briggs rages inside the shell of his body, so broken and tired and lonely. He is a ghost inside that house, too, fed and watered on schedule and left without visitor or companion. The Incident has taken everyone away. It has taken everything away. He looks like some kind of monster, his words falling from his lips in the wrong order in low guttural tones, his limbs dragged around behind him like limp noodles. Speaking is difficult for him, the words flying around his head and falling from his lips in the wrong order. They all treat him like he is worthless and he will make them pay. The Incident has changed his future, everything before it is a blur. He has a feeling that he was once strong and brave but he can’t remember it.

He likes to believe that he used to command the attention of rooms when he entered them. It might once have been true but not anymore. His life is now determined for him by people in crisply pressed uniforms and scowls permanently implanted on their faces. His mind is unable to untangle the memories and words and people and so he has no choice, locked into the home with the other ghosts. Mr Briggs is not a ghost. He is still there, goddam it. He is still alive. He will make them pay. No, see. He will make them see. One of those sentences is true but he is no longer sure which one.

He is disappointed by the small amount of passengers that alight the bus, even though he knew that this would be the case at this hour. He had been hoping for more. He briefly regrets his decision not to catch a peak hour service but he knows that he would never have got away with it then. Somebody would’ve noticed him. They would have blocked him from view or tackled him to the ground before he even began. He wouldn’t have made it.

He wants to wait until the last moment; until he can have the largest impact with the biggest audience possible. But Mr Briggs is running out of time. He must begin soon. He can’t wait too long. The timing is important. His watch keeps it for him.

Mr Briggs is a shell of a man but he is about to show them all that he is strong. That he can still make an impact. That he means something.

He waits until the bus pulls away from the kerb, its doors firmly closed and the passengers all seated. He has five minutes before the next stop or thereabouts. He has calculated the distance between stops using an old map and a ruler so he isn’t entirely sure that his calculations are accurate or if the bus route is still the same. He certainly didn’t account for traffic. So he is hoping that at the very least he has five minutes. That is all it will take.

He will blow them to smithereens.

He stands up, his resolve firm, and clears his throat. Nobody looks up so he does it again, louder this time. His knees shake as he stands, sweat beading on his forehead.

“S’CUSE ME!”

All of the heads turn sharply towards Mr Briggs as he stands, wobbling, in the middle of the bus. There are fifteen heads. All thirty of their beady eyes land on him, impatiently waiting to see what his problem is. He had wanted to say something at this moment, introduce himself, but he is no longer confident he will be able to get the words out clearly. He doesn’t want them to confuse him for a drunk. He wipes the spit from the corner of his mouth and scowls at his fellow passengers, impatiently waiting for their full attention.

Mr Briggs takes in a large gulp of fresh air and make his decision. He is going to do it. He isn’t sorry.

He places his hands inside his empty pockets and opens his mouth wide, his eyes full of fire and resolve. He parts his trembling lips.

“And now, the end is near,” he sings. “And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.”

The sound of his voice echoes through the moving bus, crisp and clear. He didn’t know if he could do it, if the words would come when he summonsed them but he is doing it. With Frank Sinatra’s song!

“Woo!” says one of the university students, thrusting their fist into the air. Mr Briggs smiles wide and sings louder.

“I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve travelled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way!”

The idea had lodged inside of his head some time ago, the idea that he could still sing. He didn’t know if it was true, he hadn’t tried it, but he is doing it now. He feels the air move in and out of his expanding lungs as the words crash down around him and he is filled with strength and joy. All thirty eyes have remained on him, nobody looks away and they begin to record him on their phone cameras. That is all he wanted.

He sings louder, stronger. He fills his diaphragm to capacity and his voice carries over the rumbling engine of the bus and the passing traffic. Tears begin to stream down Mr Briggs face as his sings. He can’t hold them in.

He prepares himself for a big finish as the bus pulls into its final stop. “For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels; And not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows – And did it my way! Yes, it was my way.” He has timed it perfectly.

There is a moment of silence, long enough for Mr Briggs to doubt himself and then the bus erupts into thunderous applause. He smiles wide, tears streaming down his face. Without another word he walks from the bus to the sound of their applause. “That was incredible!” A small, elderly lady clutching her purse cries as he walks past. He doesn’t stop but keeps moving out of the bus and into the bustling mess of the city.

He doesn’t know where he is going but his heart his full and he still has a five dollar note tucked inside his pocket.

 

I’m a finalist!

I’m very excited to say that my short story ‘A Bus Ride with Mr Briggs’ has been selected as a finalist in the 2017 Newcastle Short Story Award run by Hunter Writer’s Centre. I am no stranger to entering writing competitions but this is the first time I have ever been shortlisted and for that I am very grateful.

I’ve been thinking about what made this story different to some of the others I have entered into competitions before. I have a pretty dedicated writing practice these days and I can definitely see some improvement in my style. They say that practice makes perfect!

This particular short story was a labour of love for me and I contemplated not even entering it due to how overly attached I became to it. It’s difficult to send your baby off into the world knowing that it could be completely overlooked. It really would have upset me to see this one slide by unnoticed. I usually don’t let things like that worry me too much but this story was different. I just wanted someone else to love it too. It’s unusual for me to feel so strongly about a piece, especially a short one. Writing for the love of it certainly makes for a better story.

Funnily enough, I also think it was different because I wrote it not long after I had read an article on The Write Practice called How to Win a Writing Contest. It gave me a lot of things to think about and consider as I started writing. It also helped clarify some of the things that the judges might be looking for. We’ll have to wait until April 7 to see if the advice in the article can really prove itself though!

I’m very happy to be a finalist (finally) and I can’t wait to read some of the other entries once the anthology is published in a couple of weeks.

JW

 

Creating a daily writing practice (when you have small kids)

I spent years convincing myself that I was simply too busy to write when the truth was that I just didn’t know how to make it work.

NaNoWriMo taught me a lot of things. It didn’t just prove to me that I could write 50 000 words in a month, it also showed me that I can fit a daily writing practice into my already busy life. Who knew?

Here’s here I did it (and am continuing to do it now that Nano is over):

  1. Specify a goal and a deadline
    • Nano made this easy because the goal and the deadline was already decided for me. Once Nano was finished though I found myself a little lost. So I created a new goal (1000 words a day, complete the first draft of my manuscript) and a deadline (Jan 31st). It’s realistic and it keeps me focused.
  2. Be flexible (and sometimes creative)
    • While I would love to spend my day writing in a quiet room, it’s just not possible with small children around. I write when Mr 2 sleeps, when they watch tv in the afternoons, when they are colouring in or drawing at my feet. Some days I don’t write at all, and that’s okay too because sometimes other things are just more important.
  3. Have the right tools
    • Scrivener has been a blessing for me because I can sync my computer and ipad and write on the go. I had a few weekend trips during November so it was essential that I could write on the plane or in the car at a moment’s notice and it’s handy to have the option to write while out and about, just for something different. Carrying a notebook around is also a good idea for catching any ideas or quiet moments during the day.
  4. Find your people
    • My local Nano group and Twitter have become a great source of knowledge and comfort. I discovered the #500in30 idea thanks to the talented and wonderful Alison Tait on Twitter and use it almost daily now. For those who don’t know about this it’s where you set yourself a timer and then write 500 words in 30 minutes. It stops me from overthinking things and allows me to just get words on paper. I usually always get more than 500 words whenever I do it and by the time 30 minutes is up I’m usually so involved in the writing that I keep going. The #amwriting hashtag on Twitter will also deliver some like-minded people. I’ve certainly  found it helpful to know that I’m not alone!
  5. Have fun!
    • I don’t take writing or myself too seriously. It sucks the fun out of it and I need writing to be about passion and not become a chore. So sometimes I don’t write, or I write a lot. Sometimes I’ve just gotta jump on the trampoline with the kids and forget about it all for a while.

I’m sure I’ll learn many more things along the way but for now I hope those tips might help out someone else struggling to fit writing into their day. It’s possible with a little determination and organisation (just like everything I guess), even with a couple of energetic young boys in the house.

Happy writing!

JW

 

Winner!

I did it. I wrote 50 000 words in 30 words. I am a NaNoWriMo winner!

Even more important than the winning though is the fact that I now have 50 000 words of my story complete. It’s only 45 000 words more than I have ever written on one thing before and actual proof my ability to squeeze some serious writing time into my days. Granted, I did have to get creative at times, I still managed to get some words on paper every day except 1 (I’ll blog about my tips for fitting writing into your day when you also have small children soon!)

My story is not finished but I feel like it is going somewhere. I feel like it is going to work. I have confidence now in my ability to get it done instead of just thinking about it, and dreaming about it.

December is a bit of an insane month with Christmas celebrations and the end of the school year but I’m still hoping to get some words done. Definitely not 50 000 but I’m okay with that, so long as I can keep the ball slowly rolling.

I know I can do it now and that’s the main thing.

Half way there!

I can hardly believe that November is already half-way over.

The great news is that I have been successfully writing each day over the past fifteen days. I’ve also been reaching the target word count almost each day (which is 1667 for those that don’t know). I’ve now made it over halfway in terms of my overall word goal too, with over 25 000 words written in total.

I’m still amazed at how much I have written. This is absolutely the most words I have ever written on one thing and I’m feeling a great sense of accomplishment each day as I chip away at my goal and at this story. It’s also making me realise that it is possible to fit a daily writing practice into my day without too much effort or stress.

I have indeed needed to write in the gaps on many days so far but I am doing it. I am writing in cafes, libraries, on the back deck, in the playroom, on holidays and in bed. I am writing while the kids run around me. I am writing quietly by myself too whenever I can and I am getting it done.

So while I may not be writing here, know that I am writing. I am using up every precious minute of my day.

JW