Saturday, 1 August 2015

Why Join A Writers' Group?

I'm a writer. That probably conjures up an image in your mind - the starving author, alone in a draughty garret in the middle of the night, laboriously hammering away on the keys of an old manual typewriter, half-drunk coffee and cheese sandwiches off to one side, a waste bin overflowing with screwed up manuscripts under the desk, a malcontented cat glaring down from the shelf...

It doesn't have to be like that (except for the cat. There's no getting around the cat). You can write your masterpiece on your own, sure, but you're probably much better off getting some outside input along the way. Even Byron didn't live up to the Byronic Ideal of the writer's garret - what else was the Villa Diodati but the ultimate writers' group? As well as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, that meeting also produced Polidori's The Vampyre.

Following in the footsteps of Byron and the Shelleys (now there's a band name...) may not result in a work of that calibre, but there are several good reasons for aspiring authors to seek out writers' groups of their own. And you won't have to go as far as Geneva, either...

It's social. No (wo)man is an island. Alone, we starve ourselves of inspiration. Not that anybody is going to steal your ideas if you go to a writers' group - that sort of behaviour is thankfully rarer than hens' teeth - but watching and listening to other people talk about their writing, their ideas, their plots and characters, can sometimes kick-start your own creative processes. And while no (wo)man is an island, the corollary is that together we are archipelagos of enthusiasm (Alasdair Stuart's phrase), which means there's the added bonus that when you say "I write epic fantasy/urban fantasy/hard SF/Wolverine erotica" in a group of writers, people don't draw back for fear of getting geek cooties (normal people are so over-rated).

It broadens the mind. Reading about stuff on the internet is no substitute for actually talking to real people about it. And yes, I am fully aware of the irony in that statement. You'll learn about pacing, about info-dumps and character motivations, and you may even meet published authors in workshops (Open Road Writers in Chesterfield recently had both Rod Duncan and Emma Pass running workshop sessions).

It thickens the skin. Your mum likes it. Does she, really? Or is she just saying that because she's your mum? A good writers' group will deliver constructive criticism. A good writer won't wilt under that criticism. If you have any ambition to submit your work for publication, you'll have to get used to criticism and a face-to-face writers' group is one of the best places to learn that skill.

It strengthens discipline. From a personal point of view, this has been important. Because this group meets twice a month, I've got definite deadlines. Twice a month, I need something I can read out, something that can be critiqued. It gives my writing some much needed impetus.

Those are the most important reasons I've got for joining a writers' group. You may have your own: let us know what they are!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Get those words down

I thought that this would be a good post to start with because first, my word count has increased dramatically in 2015. I write this post having written every day this year and having a word count of 212210 words. And second, this is a writing blog, so getting words on the page is what this really all about.

We’ve all heard the phrase before, ‘You just need to sit your bum in a chair and write.’ And I guess like me you’ve all rolled your eyes at the phrase, come up with reasons and very valid excuses to why you can’t do that. I have myself. I was the master of saying:

‘I don’t have the time.’

‘I’ve only got ten minutes is it really worth opening my laptop/ipad.’

‘I’m tired after work; I just want to watch TV.’

‘I’m researching’ (before ending up on YouTube watching cat video or looking through Facebook and completing a quiz.)

In fact I got to a state where I was making these excuses more and more over the last year. Since completing on my first house in August until that was the 1st January, I didn’t write a single word. I didn’t have time to write. I was tired. I needed to do something around the house. I was playing with the kittens. For one reason or another, I just didn’t have the motivation. And that was okay because I was busy. I work full time. I had other things to do with my evening and weekends.

Yes, I would talk about how I was a writer. I would still go to my writing group. I would still go to my writing group, and read out pieces that I had written earlier in the year. But I wasn’t writing. Not that that was unusual. I would go through writing binges and dry spells on a regular basis over the last nine years. A four month break was longer than average but not unheard of.

So what changed. It sounds corny to say it but the New Year came. I set the same resolutions that I do every year and resolutions that are probably pretty similar to the ones that you set for yourself.

‘I am going to write x number of words this year.’

‘I am going to finish writing this book this year.’

‘I am going to read x number of books this year.’

‘I am going to get fit.’

And these resolutions probably would have ended up going the same way that they always do except for one reason. I broke them down, setting small targets that I knew I could meet. On a working week, I would write 4500 words (the size give or take a few words of a first draft of a chapter.) that would work out at 500 words after work and 1000 on Saturday and Sunday. This was manageable as I knew that depending on the flow of the words, I could complete 500 words in around 30 to 90 minutes – the length of TV show. And that was the key. This was a target that I could keep to.

Once I had the targets, I got writing and I knew one thing for sure, I was not going to let myself fail to meet that target so early in the year. I was absolutely determined and possibly a little pig headed about it, that I would get through the whole of January without missing a day. Then after those 31 days, writing became a habit or more a challenge I could set myself. I had got to 31 days, could I get to 50, after all that was just 19 days more and then could I get to two months. My competitive nature sparked and my word count kept growing. And why shouldn’t it. I mean if I could be competitive about football then why not use that to help my writing.

That nature got me through the first 100 days, I mean who wanted to stop before that landmark and now it just happen. My writing spreadsheet needs adding to.  And the spreadsheet really was the trick to getting me and keeping me going. Who would of thought that I would have been controlled by a spreadsheet and what colour I added to it every day. (Black – no words, Red – under target, Yellow – on target, Blue – above target.)

The second thing that I discovered was no amount of time was too short. Okay, I’ve finished work, had dinner and am due out in 30 minutes, that fine, I still have time. Instead of watching half a TV show, I can load up the laptop for twenty minutes and write. I won’t get 500 words done but I can still enter a colour into a spreadsheet and it takes some words of the 4500 I have to hit this week.

Another big adjust for me was changing the mind-set that it didn’t matter what I wrote on. Why can’t I write on my phone or IPad and email the words to myself? Well, I can, so just do it. It all about keep the run going. I bribed myself, if I could keep the run going, I’d let myself buy a gift for myself, making it through January meant I let myself buy Hannibal on DVD.

Then I looked at the writing itself. Again this was a mind-set issue. It is okay for those first words to be bad. In fact, I often describe my first drafts as dyslexic thrown up on a page. I’m just getting the ideas out. And if I can’t think what comes next in the story, that’s okay too. Why not write some end notes about where it’s going or write a character sketch? It all keeps your brain process and your head in the story. And if it’s bad. Who cares? It is easier to edit bad writing than to think of the words. Just put in down – in sentences, fragments, paragraphs, bits of dialogue. It doesn’t matter – the reader will never see that draft and you are doig the important thing of keeping the words flowing.

Finally, I didn’t start all my resolutions at once. I started and made myself get to grips with the writing before looking at reading, fitness and other goals. Then once I was confident that I would write no matter what, I started to look at the fitness goal – to go out running (and I hate running) twice a week. And now I am just about to start focusing on the reading goal – setting aside the last Sunday every month to my duvet and a good book. And again, this has made it manageable.

Good luck with your own writing and the next post will be posted on Saturday.

Monday, 27 July 2015

New Updates Coming Soon

This is just a quick message to let you know that the blog will be updated on a Wednesday and Saturday each week. In order for the writers group to do this you will be hearing from a few different voices.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Hic Dragones - micropress open call!

Hic Dragones is a Manchester-based micro-press and creative writing organisation. Their recently-launched anthology Impossible Spaces featured short stories from upcoming authors as well as long-established names such as Simon Bestwick and Ramsey Campbell.

Now Hic Dragones have another open call: this time, for an anthology titled Hauntings. Full details can be found over here. If this sounds like your bag, go see what they're looking for...

Monday, 15 July 2013

Set It In Space - and Shovel Coal Into It!

This seems to be an apposite moment - sat here in the Old Queen's Head with a pint of Bomber as I am - to announce on behalf of the Groop that our new anthology, Set It In Space & Shovel Coal Into It, is officially available on Amazon, both as a lush thick paperback and an environmentally friendly .mobi file for the Kindle! (other digital formats not yet available, but bear with us on that...)

With a foreword by the acclaimed, BSFA-award winning author Ian Sales, Set It In Space 2 has alternative-world fiction ranging from "found document" histories to far-future alien contact, by way of steam-driven whale-ships and clockwork eyeballs.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Dimensional shift...

Short notice, but for those interested in attending the first of March's meetings, the venue has changed. For one night only, we will be at the Three Tuns, around the back of Paradise Square. It's a jolly nice place too!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Radio Opportunity

BBC Radio 4 are inviting submissions from writers "new to radio" for their annual season of short plays, Opening Lines. By short, they point out, they mean around a maximum of 2000 words, with an emphasis on narrative rather than dialogue. They are also at pains to point out that they will be looking for plays that successfully link the end back to the beginning. Helpfully, the website - see here, folks - gives examples from last year's entries.

The submission window closes on December 14th 2012. For full details, see the link above.