Friday, 19 December 2014

Breaking bread




Have you ever encountered a loaf of bread that doesn’t cut the mustard?  I have – only this morning – and it’s annoyed me so much that I’ve made it the topic of my second blog post.

This is intended primarily to be a blog about writing and my experiences as an author. However, I reserve the right to veer off at a tangent whenever I feel the urge to rant about something else. Now is one such time.

So what’s my beef? Why am I getting all sliced up about a loaf?

I just hate it when a piece of bread falls apart before you even have a chance to put it on a plate. You pull open the bag, reach inside, flip the crust out of the way and . . . the first slice you reach crumbles in your hand. Your heart sinks.

Okay, it’s rarely the whole slice. It tends to be one section, usually the top. But once that’s gone, what does it leave you with? A mess, that’s what. Certainly not the foundation of a great sandwich.

This has happened to me several times recently with a range of different sliced loaves. What’s going on? It’s almost 2015. We live in an age of superfast broadband, wafer-thin smartphones and 3D printing. Even driverless cars are finally a reality. But we can’t make a loaf of bread that’s guaranteed to stay in one piece? Ridiculous.

So yes, it happened to me again this morning. I was making my daughter’s sandwich for the last day of term. I opened a new loaf and, shock horror, the first slice came out incomplete.
‘It’s okay,’ I told her, noting the look of fear on her little face. ‘Don’t panic. The rest of the loaf is probably fine.’

In my heart I knew it wouldn’t be, though. It’s never just one slice. And sure enough, it was the whole loaf: everything apart from the crusts. Believe me, I checked.

So what did I do? I tried the old butter and pâté trick, smearing them on to the two least damaged slices I could find in the vague hope they might hold together.

‘Did it work?’ I cried as she walked through the door from school a few moments ago. But her disappointed face was answer enough.

Someone kneads to use their loaf and come up with a solution to this nightmare. It really goes against the grain with me.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Procrastination




One thing a lot of authors tend to be good at (and wish they weren’t) is procrastination. As enemies of productivity go, it’s one of the worst. Okay, it’s not as bad as writer’s block, although you could argue it’s a mild form of the condition, which can become a real threat if allowed to thrive.

So why am I writing about this in my first blog entry? Well, I’ve been meaning to get around to this for some time now and I’ve been putting it off, finding all sorts of other things to do instead. You know what I’m talking about: surfing the web, going on Facebook/Twitter, watching TV box sets, cleaning the oven. Okay, I made the last one up, although it does need doing, which is why I mentioned it. I never seem to get around to it . . .

All sorts of people procrastinate, although I think writers are particularly susceptible – and it can be really harmful. When finishing your novel, for example, depends on you sitting down in front of a computer screen on a regular basis and filling it with words, not doing so is a big problem. No writing equals no story. 

Why do we do it, then? You have to be pretty self-disciplined to write a whole novel from start to finish, extracting the best part of 100,000 words from your imagination.  And then there’s the whole editing process, which can be even more time-consuming. So why make things even harder by wasting time on trivia?

I don’t know. I’m an author, not a psychologist. It’s what happens in the gap between starting a piece of writing and crossing the finish line. Like a student’s temptation to leave a big piece of homework until the night before it’s due. Remember doing that?  I think it can be about fear of failure and self-destruction. But sometimes it can be plain old laziness. 

I don’t want to dwell on possible causes here. Instead, I want to consider how not to procrastinate. I imagine it works differently for everyone. I’ve heard of authors who can only write on a computer that’s not hooked up to the internet. Others eschew all modern technology, sticking to typewriters or a notepad and pen.  If that’s not your bag, I’ve heard of computer programmes that offer ‘help’ by deleting what you’ve written if you don’t write quickly enough.

Horses for courses, but the latter option sounds a bit extreme to me. Personally, I think the key is to set yourself a realistic daily or weekly goal and do your utmost to stick to it. Realistic is the key word here. It’s easy to imagine yourself writing thousands and thousands of words in one intense sitting, but in my experience it rarely (if ever) works that way.

I aim for 1,000 words a day. That might not sound much, but it’s achievable and, if you do it regularly, it soon adds up. Think about it: 1,000 words five times a week for five months and you’ll hit that magic 100,000-word target. First draft nailed. Of course there’s plenty more work to come in the form of editing – and you’ll need to set new targets for that – but completing the manuscript is always the major hurdle you have to clear. Without it, there is no moving forward. Countless would-be authors have started a novel. Far fewer have ever managed to finish one.

How you manage to achieve your regular writing goal is up to you. I often promise myself something nice at the end. Sometimes it’s food or drink – beer, sandwich, pizza, chocolate – whatever I feel like at the time. On other occasions it’s watching a film or TV show. And when I miss a goal, especially through procrastination, I beat myself up about it. If possible, I try to make it up, but not at the expense of a realistic target.

Oh and one last thing. I find it’s rarely helpful to read back what I’ve written when I’m working on a first draft. If I have to, to check where I’m up to etc, I try to do so with a non-critical eye. A first draft is all about moving forward, keeping going, getting the job done. Once you start veering off that path, it’s rarely long until you find yourself procrastinating again. Now we don’t want that, do we?

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