28 April 2012

But What About The Writing?

If you're anything like me, you've studied up on the craft, in particular on how to avoid all those little habits and mistakes which reveal an amateur. The literary internet is awash with articles on what to look for when you're revising, with everything from repeated words to those pesky adverbs. It's enough to make you think your manuscript will never be good enough to send out. All of those potential mistakes seem so important, the implication being that you'll never get published if you don't catch them all.

I'm writing historical romance (at the moment!) and I'm continuing to explore new authors. Right now I'm reading another best-selling author, and I've noticed a somewhat frustrating trend. Even though I'm reading it for enjoyment, my now-critical writer's eye is picking up so many craft problems I find it almost impossible to lose myself in the tale. There are plot holes, historical inconsistencies, repeated phrases, telling not showing, an abundance of adverbs and a profusion of "that"s. It's not the first time this has happened - in fact pretty much any book I read these days seems to disappoint me on some level.

I know this issue is not restricted to this genre. There are many high-profile (and mega-selling) books that have been well-criticised for their lack of craft. Yet the stories, or the characters perhaps, have taken route in the collective imagination.

It makes me wonder: how on earth do they get published, again and again? And why didn't their editors catch all of these supposed mistakes? (and definitely real mistakes, when it comes to historical accuracy or completely implausible plot tangents) It seems to fly in the face of all the advice we read so frequently. I work so hard to fix all the stuff, and yet these authors don't seem to have to worry about it. Problems with craft must not be apparent to the average reader.

So it's all about the story then, right? And that's the bit which sets us apart as writers: our unique interpretation of a plot idea. Of course, this is the bit that I personally find the most challenging. Even when I'm really excited about an idea, there's no guarantee I'll be able to execute it to its full potential. Teasing out an idea to a novel-length story is a hard, there's no doubt about it. And it seems pertinent to remember that this very challenge is what we should devote our energies to. Of course we should make sure our manuscript is as clean as possible, but ensure you spend enough time making sure your plot will your hook readers. Agents and publishers seem to accept work with less than perfect execution, as long as it has something special that will draw readers in. Can you summarise your plot in a few sentences and make it irresistable? If not, you might want to go back to the drawing board before you spend weeks on fine-tuning a story no-one will get excited about.

The story is what your readers will fall in love with.

Can you read without picking up on all the mistakes? Do you get frustrated when you spot craft problems? What are your favourite books which excel in both story and craft?

17 April 2012

Deadlines: It’s a Love/Hate Relationship

Ah, deadlines.... a necessary evil. Stuff must get done, and some stuff must be done by a certain time.

On the one hand, deadlines bring pressure, stress and the risk of sloppy work. On the other hand, some things just wouldn't get done without them. Without any deadlines, procrastination would rule.

I find I generally procrastinate the most about two types of things:
  • Really easy stuff
    It’s the “I can do that later” kind of stuff that won’t take long but seems like it’s never important enough to do right now.
  • Really hard stuff
    The tasks I just don’t want to think about. They stick around and haunt me, and it would really be easier if I just got them out the way. I just don’t want to.
So I spend a lot of time doing the middle-of-the-road stuff. It's only when I get closer to a deadline that I'll make myself tackle those things.

At work I generally have two sets of deadlines - by lunchtime and by the end of the day. But recently I've had IT working on my computer, and I had to give it up by at certain times on short notice. Usually I keep all my works in progress open so that I know what I have to work on (I hardly ever shut the thing down). But having to get rid of everything made me do a couple of things:
  • I had to document my to-do list very clearly, without relying on just having stuff open (and stressing me out)
  • It made me finish all the current little things, as well as a couple of big ones - and that felt really good.
So I was thinking, how can I apply a similar deadline to other parts of my life, in order to get that buzz of productivity? I'm not sure how yet - I'm not going to banish my personal computer... my willpower isn't that good. But there might be ways to encourage more focus, instead of trying to do three things at once or putting off the hard stuff.

With my writing, I don't think I've met a single deadline I've set for myself. I do beat myself up about it from time to time. But the deadlines are really just a means to an end - a way to push myself forward. The ironic thing is, success in writing means actual deadlines, and that's scary!

Well this was a somewhat disjointed post, but tell me: do you love or loathe deadlines? How do you make yourself get things done?

While I was drafting this post, this one popped up in my Twitter feed and it’s well worth a read.

07 April 2012

European Holiday Snaps

Here are the promised photos from our recent European adventure. We took over 5,000 shots, so I've just pulled a few out to give you a taste.

Beginning with travelling down the Romantic Road...
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Landsberg am Lech

Neuschwanstein Castle
Zugspitze, the top of Germany

Then skiing in the Dolomites...

Selva di Val Gardena

Alpe di Siusi

Then touring through Italy.

Bellagio, Lake Como

Varenna, Lake Como

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan


Views from the Via dell'Amore, Cinque Terre

Replica of The David at Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence 

Up the top of the Duomo, Florence

Views over Tuscany from San Gimignano

Duomo, Siena

Amalfi Coast

Marina Grande, Capri
(our wedding anniversary)

The Faraglioni of Capri

Grotto, Capri

The Colosseum

St Peter's Basilica ,Rome
(note the light hitting the cross in the centre)

The Dome of St Peters

The Vatican

And then we flew home! Hope you liked the photos :-)

02 April 2012

Back to Reality

Well, we've been back from our holiday for a week and I thought I should really update the blog. I'm only just back into my regular sleep pattern, and taking stock of what a wonderful time we had. We saw so many beautiful, amazing places and things. And now... back to normal life.

Incidentally that subject line puts this song in my head:

It was sort of a reverse culture-shock as we were driven home to our suburb of single-level houses and little gardens - just so different from the European cities and landscapes we'd come from. It's also a little strange seeing all the leaves turning red here, when we'd been immersed in new bright green growth and cherry blossoms. It's been a relief to catch up on sleep after the long journey, not having to worry about where each meal is coming from, or how much money we have left (NZ is basically a cashless society - I can't remember the last time I had actual money in my wallet).

I do feel invigorated... high on the fantastic experiences and memories. I hope the feeling lasts a long time. I can however feel the stress of (work) life creeping in to erode my satisfaction.

I'm excited to get back to writing, inspired to pen some articles as well as carry on with the final push on my novel's first draft. Early one morning at a ski resort the muse randomly showed up and I wrote 971 words before breakfast.

I have chosen some photos to post here, but I think that will be a long entry in itself, so I'll do that in a few days.

During our stopover at Heathrow we bought a few cheap CDs duty free. One of them was a collection of "essential" Doris Day tracks. Here are a couple of my favourites so far - the first is about being happy with the simple things, and the second encourages us not to put off living our dreams. It's my intention to keep both of these philosophies top of mind.