HOW To Finish Your Damn Book

At the beginning of this year I wrote a post for that treasure trove of writing and publishing information, Writing.ie, about why you should finish your damn book. You can read that post here. It proved really popular. So popular that it seems to me like a lot of you are in the same place I was until last summer: wanting nothing more than to have finished your book, but finding yourself doing everything but writing it.

It’s all well and good for me to tell you why you should finish your book (nutshell: a finished book is the one thing everyone who ever got published/successfully self-published has in common) but how do you do it? How do you overcome procrastination? How do you finish your damn book?

I only know what worked for me, but maybe you’ll find something in there that works for you. Let’s see…

1. Reality check: do you really WANT to write this book?

For about two years a few years ago, I was trying to write the book that I thought would get me published, not realizing that this was also the kind of book I didn’t want to read. I had plenty of ideas, a plot outline, a killer title – but every time I sat down to add to my word count, it was like getting blood from a stone. That’s okay, I told myself. Writing is supposed to be hard. When I finally realized I was trying to type my way up the wrong tree and switched to writing the kind of book I loved to read – a serial killer thriller – there was practically an audible click.

Writing the wrong book, I’d begin a chapter by thinking Okay: 1,500 words. What can happen here that will take that to unfold? I was stretching out my plot points, trying to fill the virtual white pages with “set pieces” that would take me from one event to the next. But writing the right book, that became Okay: 1,500 words. How am I going to squeeze everything that happens at this point into that? I always knew what was going to happen next and in writing it, it was a case of even more ideas popping up during the process, rather than having to milk the few I had for more than they were worth.

That’s not to say that the book [eye roll] “flowed out” of me, as I’ve heard other writers say/lie. There were still struggles, still many non-productive days. But nothing as bad as when I wasn’t writing the right book, when I wasn’t writing the book I wanted to read.

Before you commit to this, check you’re trying to finish the right damn book.

2. MAKE A PLAN

This doesn’t suit everyone, but I couldn’t even attempt a novel without having some sort of plan.  It doesn’t have to be detailed, but a few signposts along the way will take the pressure off. Think about it: how does it feel to have to work your way from 0 to 100,000 words (your beginning to your ending) compared to working your way from 0 to 25,000 words (your beginning to your break into Act II) or even 0 to 5,000 words (your beginning to your catalyst/inciting incident)?

(These word counts are just examples, by the way. You can put your plot points wherever you like.)

Making a plan also avoids having to cross the wasteland of the Dreaded Middle. When we get novel ideas, they usually come with a beginning and an end. But what happens in between? How do we ensure that our middle doesn’t sag, it being the place that’s most likely to? I think a few signposts or tentpoles will really help to lead the way and curtail any aimless wandering.

You could have, just for example:

  • Beginning
  • Set-up
  • Inciting incident (that sends main character off on journey)
  • Start of B story
  • Midpoint – what happens half-way through your story that changes everything and/or significantly ramps up the tension/raises the stakes? If you even just had this along with a beginning and an end, you’d make things so much easier for yourself
  • “Dark Night of the Soul” to use Snyder’s term (see below) – the lowest point for your character
  • Act III/finale
  • Ending

I recommend Save the Cat by Blake Snyder to everyone I know who writes commercial fiction. Yes, it’s a screenwriting book, but with a few tweaks it works wonders for commercial novel plotting too. Not only does it help you fill in the middle, but it shows you how to construct an incredibly satisfying story. It’s like Robert McKee’s Story, but a For Dummies version of it.

Are you shaking your head right now, dismayed at the notion of a storytelling formula? Get over yourself. This isn’t about formulae, but principles. You’d agree that every story has to have a beginning, middle and end, wouldn’t you? All that’s happening here is that we’re examining what happens between those three points. As Snyder says (and this is another paraphrase), when you know the principles of storytelling you have a framework that you can set down on top of your novel idea to check for holes. It’s not giving you a story or telling you how to make one up – it’s a stress test, a checklist that can determine whether or not the story you have has structural integrity and if it doesn’t, where the strengthening work needs to go.

Finishing your damn book will be a lot easier when you can break it up into smaller, manageable pieces.

3. the Entertainment Business

I had an epiphany while reading Rachel Aaron’s shot of motivation to the writer’s heart/e-book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better and Writing More of What You Love (99p on Amazon): I’m in the entertainment business. What I’m trying to create is, above all else, entertainment.

I’m with Harlan Coben, quoted in The Guardian back in 2007:

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Aaron talks about how, reflecting on her process, writing seemed to be at its easiest and most enjoyable when she came to write the scenes she loved, the ones she’d conceived of first, the pieces of the book she wrote the rest of it to get to. When she got in the zone, writing her book became almost like reading it. She wondered: shouldn’t it be like that all the time? If your goal is to entertain readers, isn’t there something wrong if you, the writer, can’t keep yourself entertained with your own book? Shouldn’t a scene that’s a drudge for you to write sound an alarm bell?

Honestly, this idea freed me.

First of all I stopped worrying about fancy sentences and evocative language. (When I read my favourite scribe, Sir Michael Connelly, I never notice the language. It’s like a translucent membrane; I see through it to the story. It’s like the page and the words on it don’t exist, but Bosch and his LA do, fully. To me, that takes far more skill to produce than a certain literary writer who spends a whole day at his desk perfecting just the one sentence, writing it over and over until it’s good enough for him to turn around and type it into the computer on his other side…) From them on, I just had one goal: work out/get down the story. I could move much quicker this way.

Secondly, I stopped at the beginning of every chapter to ask myself how I could write it in the most entertaining way possible, a way that would be fun for me to create as well as keep any eventual reader turning the pages. I didn’t start until I could answer that and if I couldn’t, I scrapped the chapter altogether. This way, there were no “duds”. No chapters I had to trudge through to get Mr X from A to B.

I also got into the habit of ending each chapter with a line that (hopefully) forced the reader to push onto the next (the “just one more chapter” syndrome I suffer from as a reader, usually late at night), and deciding on that line at the beginning. This was really excellent motivation to finish the chapter sooner rather than later, because I knew where I was going and I was dying to get to that killer line, partly so I could slap the desk and say “BOOM!” which is what I like to do when I’m overly pleased with myself at the end of a chapter… (Don’t tell anyone.)

It’ll be easier to finish the damn book if you are enjoying the process. If you’re not entertained by your story, what are the chances readers will be?

4. stage your own NANOWRIMO

Early this year I discovered that it’s infinitely easier to commit to finishing a project by pulling out all the stops for a short, intense period of time than it is to say, commit to getting up at the crack of dawn every morning for a year so you can get 500 words down before your real life begins. It’s easier to sustain motivation, it’s easier to keep your novel in your head and when you are really going at it, writing whenever you can, after a few days you don’t even need motivation anymore because the book takes over.

I went from telling myself that there was no point in even starting anything because I only had a free hour to sitting down at my desk even if I only had ten minutes. (This from the girl who once upon a time believed that if you hadn’t started your writing day by 10:00am, you might as well wait until tomorrow.) It’s also easier to forgo socializing, appointments, human interaction, etc. for 4-6 weeks than it is to resist invitations to fun for months or years.

You will have to make sacrifices. This is something I don’t think I truly understood until I had six weeks earlier this year in which to re-write my novel, alongside being in university full-time and having freelance work to keep up so I could pay my rent too. For me, this meant doing nothing else except writing, working, being at university and sleeping – and I did a lot less sleeping than I usually do. It was hard and I had to push myself, but it was doable because I knew it was for a limited amount of time.

Be realistic about the phrase “I don’t have time.” Is that really true? You don’t have time to do the thing you want to do most in the world? You have to find it. Don’t be like the participant on a weight loss show that aired in Ireland last year who threw a strop at having to prepare healthy meals because it was sooooo time-consuming and she was sooooo busy – the same woman who, before she embarked on the programme, managed somehow to find the time to drink an entire bottle of red wine in front of the TV every night.

Practical tip: clean your entire house and cook up lots of things that can be frozen before you begin, so you have as few distractions as possible. It also helps to tell everyone what you’re doing. It makes it easier for you to say no to invitations, ignore phone calls and e-mails, etc. but it also gives you a bit of accountability.

It may be easier to press “pause” on life so you can finish your damn book in a matter of weeks, rather than trying to fit in and keep up a daily writing routine for months or years. 

5. Don’t read over what you’ve written

Again this may not work for everyone and I know there are those who like to edit as they go, but editing as you go was why I didn’t get past 10,000 words for more than a year. You just have to keep going. Stop mid-sentence so you can pick right up when you left off the next time you sit down at your desk. Resist the urge to edit. You’ll edit in the next draft.

At the same time, write the best chapters you possibly can – but in terms of what happens in them, not necessarily the line-by-line language. (If that makes sense.) Think of how professional editing works: it starts with structural things, and only then moves into the language. You should work the same way, I think,  especially if you are writing a first draft.

I really couldn’t resist this for a long time, until I hit upon an idea: print out your book as you go. Every time you get to the end of a scene or chapter, hit PRINT and then put the pages in a pile to one side. Far away enough so you can’t read it, but close enough so you can be reminded of your progress.

Speaking of progress, charts are your friend. Make a big one in which you can write the number of words you wrote per day, or use a calendar. Sometimes you’ll stay at your desk just because you can’t face writing ’29’ in the box for today, trust me.

It’s easier to keep moving forward when you don’t stop to look back. 

* * * * *

So there you go. Sorry this post is so long but I have my first lot of end of year exams coming up, so I just don’t have the time to blog as much as I’d like. A long post whenever I do hopefully makes up for this.

Also: look! I changed my blog. Catherine is still caffeinated but this pile of HTML bricks is just catherineryanhoward.com now, and the pink is more an accent colour than a drowning depth of candy floss. There’s been some reorganization too. What do you think?

Have you managed to finish your damn book? Tell us how you did it in the comments below.

You might also be interested in this post I recently wrote for Writing.ie: Should You Be Best Friends with a Writer, Daahling? 

[Insert Annoying Self-Promoting Message Here]

oldpost

I’ve decided to change the way I blog.

From now on, day in and day out, all I’m going to post are blogs that consist of an image of my book’s cover, a link to where it’s for sale online and an excerpt from “another 5* review!” (the word another and the exclamation mark being the most important elements of that phrase).

Will you stick around?

I’m guessing not, and I wouldn’t expect you to. Were you to change your blog to consist exclusively of such blatant, repetitive, smug and utterly pointless – more on the pointless bit in a minute – content, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect anyone to hang around either.

And yet this is exactly how an alarming number of writers are treating Twitter every minute of every day.

I thought we all understood. I thought we had this thing down. I thought we’d all realized that people follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and “like” our Facebook pages not to be sold something but to find things that either:

  1. Entertain them
  2. Inform them
  3. Make them feel like they connect with someone else, i.e. like they can relate to you because you have a shared problem/experience

or a combination of the above. I thought incessantly tweeting updates about how many five star reviews your book has now, or asking us to vote for you in some internet-votes-decided competition, or posting nothing but advertisements for your book that promise us “fans of Dan Brown will think this is even better!” had all gone the way of thinking Cover Creator can create professional-looking covers or that editing is optional.

But it’s getting worse. Actually, I think it got much better and then got worse than ever before. I’ve noticed it myself lately and then today my Twitter friend Mariam tweeted this (see below), and I realized the increase in this activity wasn’t in my imagination, and I decided to blog about it.

So, here goes:

stopsignIT.

What is “it”?

It’s silly to say that any kind of activity should be subject to a blanket ban. We’re all trying to sell books, engage with new readers and increase our Twitter following, so of course there will always be an element of self-promotion to our online presence. Please feel free to tell us about five star reviews, and encourage us to vote for you in some competition or other, or let us know when your book is free or you have a little launch party going on (as I did recently).

But FOR THE LOVE OF FUDGE people: stop doing it all the damn time.

Permission marketing is a term coined by Seth Godin that essentially means promoting only to people who have opted-in to be promoted to. (Like when you buy something on Gap.com in September, check the box marked “Subscribe to newsletter” and then get at least two e-mails about layers every day for three months.) But I like to use the term and the idea to convey a simple instruction about your promotional activity: you must earn the right to sell me something.

If 99% of the time – or even, say, 75% of the time – you tweet hilarious observations, share links to fascinating blog posts and stroke my ego by retweeting my hilarious observations and links to fascinating blog posts, how am I going to feel when you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review for The Best Novel Ever!”?

Not that bothered. I might even go check it out. But if every other tweet before it has said the same thing, and all your tweets yesterday said the same thing, and all the tweets the day before said the same thing and so on, how am I going to feel?

It’d be more like this:

trex

Or on a good day:

wince

We’re not talking about occasional self-promotion here. We’re talking about a tweet stream infested with it. I think if it’s taking up more than 3 out of every 10 tweets – and that’s not including stuff you retweet; I mean your original tweets – then you’re in trouble, and all your followers are already pissed off.

Perfectly Pointless

The thing that really gets my goat about this kind of promotion is that it is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY POINTLESS. It doesn’t work. It never has. It can’t work, because you can’t sell to people who are annoyed with you. So it’s not going to win you any sales and it’s going to cost you (virtual) friends. Why do it then?

I think people do it for two reasons:

  1. They don’t know any better OR
  2. They think they’re getting away with it.

What I mean by “they don’t know any better” is this: maybe Twitter doesn’t look to them the way it looks to you and me. Remember that Twitter is what you make of it. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish to each and every user. For example to me, it’s a fantastically interesting and friendly place packed full of people with a deep love of books, with some Irish and celebrity news thrown in. (Don’t judge me…) But for the person who just signed up yesterday, it may just be a place to keep up with traffic alerts and giveaways by their favorite brands. Twitter may look to them like a billboard, just because of who they’ve chosen to follow. Therefore, they may not know that it’s wrong – or pointless – to treat it as such. There’s not much we can do about them.

However if you’re in the second group, brace yourself: you’re not getting away with it. You may have a healthy follower count, but what’s your engagement level like? When you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review!” do you instantly get a string of retweets and a stream of congratulatory messages? I very much doubt it. And just because your follower count doesn’t go down doesn’t mean you’re not losing followers. You know we can “mute” you now, right? Unfollow you, for all intents and purposes, except you won’t know it. We’ll never see you in our stream and yet if you check, we’ll still be in your follower list. Except we won’t be really, because you’ve annoyed us so much we’ve put you on mute.

Check Your Content’s Value

I outlined above the three reasons people are spending their time online. I’ve blogged about it before and I cover it at length in Self-Printed, but here’s a quick recap again:

When you put something promotional online, be it a blog post, tweet or Facebook update, your goal should be to improve the internet above all else. Make it a better place – or a more interesting place, or a funnier place, or a more helpful place – than it was five minutes ago. Don’t just add to the white noise, because your content will disappear like a fleck of white in a screen full of static. (So it will be, say it with me: POINTLESS!)

Make sure your promotional content is doing one or more of the following things: entertaining (e.g. a funny book trailer), informing (e.g. sharing details of a writing competition on Facebook) or connecting (e.g. writing a blog post about how you’re feeling about NaNoWriMo this year or your struggle to get an agent).

Then, here’s the kicker: does it still do one or more of those three things when you take the advertising bit out of it?

Take these examples:

They are advertising:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (a novel)
  • Self-Printed 3.0 (my book)
  • Transworld titles (i.e. corporate account)

But pretending for a second that none of the things in that list really exist, that none of those products are really available to buy, would the items above still have a value? Yes, they would: the video is entertaining, my blog post is helpful and when we see the picture Transworld shared, I’m sure most of us think, I love that – that’s so me!

Looking at your promotional content, if your book didn’t exist, could the content still stand alone? Does it have a value of its own?

What if we took away the advertising from a tweet that read:

tweet

What would we be left with? Could it stand by itself if the book didn’t exist? If the answer is no, then forget it.

The Real Life Test

Here’s another, even easier test you can do: would you say this to me in real life? Is your tweet (or blog post or Facebook update) a reflection of how you behave in the real, 3-D world?

Last week I launched the third edition of Self-Printed, and I had a fantastic prize from eBookPartnership to give away. I confined the whole thing to two days and have not mentioned it since, as you may have noticed. And this is what I did in real life too – I e-mailed my writer friends, just the once, to say the new edition was out now and that I had a fab prize going on my blog if they knew any self-publishers who might be interested. But when I meet them for coffee, do we all sit at the table saying “I just got ANOTHER 5* star review for my book!”? I can assure you we don’t, because we wouldn’t be invited back again. But because I almost never promote my stuff to my friends, they weren’t annoyed when I did it the once – in fact, they were all congratulatory  and were happy to pass the message on. I’d earned it.

So try the Real Life test before you tweet your next “Fabulous stuff ANOTHER person said about my book!” tweet.

Twitter isn’t a billboard. Stop treating it like one . It doesn’t work and we’re all going to end up muting you.

When Story Goes Wrong: My Amber-Induced Rage

Roll up, roll up. It’s rant o’clock!

As you may or may not know, I love TV. Good TV that is. I have no time for people who are happy to stick their nose in a book but only look down their nose at television. I love stories and I love writers, and that’s what’s on and who’s behind TV. Yes, there’s bad TV, but there’s bad books too. If your argument is that TV-watching is too passive an activity, turn on your TV’s captioning service. There. Sorted.

ecard1

A few months ago, the final episode of a four-part drama series called Amber aired here on the state broadcaster’s channel RTE, and as our TV screens faded to black we took to Twitter and raged. Then we called into radio shows and raged. When we next saw our friends and family we said, ‘Were you watching Amber?’ and if the answer was yes then we raged some more.

In the first episode four nights before, a teenage girl — Amber — disappeared. She got her father to drop her to a friend’s house, waited until he’d driven away and then scurried off somewhere. We’d all stayed tuned for more than an hour each evening since to follow the investigation and the search, while flashbacks teased us about Amber’s final (?) hours. What happened to Amber? both we and the characters on the show wondered aloud. Where is she? Where did she go? The acting was mostly great, the production was sleek and the opening titles even had a touch of Top of the Lake about them. Many of us had spent numerous Saturday nights glued to subtitled Scandinavian drama on BBC4 (e.g. The Killing and The Bridge) and sat through Christmas impatient for new Sherlock, so it was a treat to have a slick crime drama of our own to watch featuring An Garda Siochana (the Irish police force) and Irish actors.

Or so we thought.

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I can’t write the rest of this without revealing the details of Amber, but since it already aired, most of you don’t live in Ireland and I feel compelled to warn those of you who live in the UK not to waste four nights of your life watching it like we did when it airs on BBC4 later this year, I think we’ll be alright.

But just to be fair:

***CRAPPY TV SHOW SPOILER ALERT***

So why the rage as the screen faded to black? Well, because the last shot was of Amber walking down a country road. Alive. The show ended without the viewer knowing what happened to Amber. Four episodes of a drama series about a girl going missing that in the end revealed… Well, nothing much of anything at all, it turned out.

That was bad enough.

That was annoying.

But what BROUGHT ON THE RED RAGE was the response of the team behind the show to our disappointment over this.

They said,* “It’s like real life, and in real life you don’t always find out what happened to the person who went missing.”

They said, “If you were really paying attention, there were plenty of clues.”

(Implying that you hadn’t paid attention at all and were too stoopid to put it altogether. You dumbarse!)

ecard3

And to pour acid into the wound they’d already poured salt into, they said, “She’s just gone and no, no character you met along the way had anything at all to do with it.”

?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

OH HOW MY BLOOD BOILS WITH SUPERFLUOUS CAPITAL LETTERS.

When a reader sits down with a book or a viewer settles onto the sofa, they’re expecting a story. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends and the end of a story is also the resolution of it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is tied up nicely in a bow and every mystery carefully explained away, but it does mean that the reader or viewer is left feeling satisfied. They feel there is a point to the story, a good reason for its existence.

That’s why the whole “but that’s what it’s like in real life” line doesn’t wash, because this wasn’t real life. It was a TV show. And TV shows get resolved.

(And also, if I wanted real life, I would’ve watched a documentary. Or looked out the window.)

I heard they also said that it wasn’t so much about the crime itself, but the effect the crime had on the family, neighborhood, etc. See Broadchurch for an excellent example of this. But what happened at the end of Broadchurch? Oh yeah, WE FOUND OUT WHAT HAPPENED AND WHO DID IT.

But that’s just the manslaughter charge in this crime against story. The murder one is the revelation that no one the viewer was introduced to in the fictional universe was responsible for the murder and/or disappearance of Amber.

Or to put it another way: cheating.

If the writer of a story that involves a crime (or other mystery) decides from the outset that they’re not going to reveal or explain to the reader/viewer what happened by its end, they are doing the writing equivalent of dictating to an assistant as they sunbathe on a beach in Bahamas while the rest of us live in a dark stone cell and scratch our story onto the walls with a pen knife.

By candlelight.

In a draught.

With no reveal/explanation, there are no rules. If there’s no rules, you don’t have to play by them. You don’t have to induce a migraine tying your plot up in knots and drawing graphs and using six different colors of Post-It notes to map out every last twist and turn. You can do whatever you like because it doesn’t all have to make sense at the end. You can fill your story with intense moments of mystery and end every chapter with a crazy cliffhanger and it all doesn’t matter because — woo-hoo! — you’re free to make this crap up as you go along.  You can do whatever you like because you haven’t committed to doing anything in particular except stringing us all along. Let’s throw in a unicorn and a ghostly apparition and a car chase and then – POOF! – deus ex machina, THE END.

I should’ve known that Amber had a plot problem because of the shambles that was Episode 2.

Amber had a non-linear narrative that kept jumping around in time as it followed different people through her disappearance and the subsequent search for her. In episode 1, we were shown Amber coming out of the city centre on the Luas (tram) carrying a shopping bag. Got that? Right. In episode 2, we focused on a very shady character who was already in prison for another crime and, in flashbacks, we saw him looking very suspicious as he sat in a parked car and watched Amber walk by on the day she went missing. But anyone with two brain cells would’ve instantly been able to deduce that Mr Suspicious had nothing to do with Amber’s disappearance, because when she walked past his car she wasn’t carrying a shopping bag. Therefore she hadn’t been into the city yet. And since we knew from Episode 1 that she stayed alive long enough to get back on the tram and come out of the city with her shopping bag, we knew this guy didn’t kill or take her.

(I’m not even going to talk about the episode where Amber’s father SAVED AMERICAN BACKPACKERS FROM HUMAN TRAFFICKERS IN EASTERN EUROPE BY WATCHING PORN AND HAVING A PROSTITUTE OVER FOR DINNER. No, really. That was actually the “plot” of the final episode.)

ecard4

If convicted for this first degree murder of what a story is supposed to be, the prosecution should seek the death penalty in this case because while leaving us hanging is bad enough, the creators admitted that (a) they know what happened (um yeah, oh-kay…) and that (b) NO ONE WE MET IN THE SHOW WAS RESPONSIBLE.

(Remembering that they told us the show was filled with clues, had we bothered to pay attention.)

Are you [BLEEP] kidding me with this?

That breaks the cardinal rule of crime and thrillers, and breaking this rule shows such a blatant disrespect for the reader/viewer that I’d need to start taking blood pressure medication if I thought about it too much. It’s just not playing fair if you don’t give the reader/viewer a chance to figure it out for themselves. Now I read crime novels and thrillers all the time, and I never figure it out. I like it that way. (I was once friends with a girl who would start every book by turning to the last chapter to appraise the ending. Only if she liked it would she go back to the start and read the book. We’re not friends anymore. Coincidence?) But when what really happened is revealed, I go ‘Oh, right! I see it now.’ I realize the clues were there all along. Readers who are cleverer than me may go ‘I KNEW it!’, but despite our different reactions we’re both feeling satisfied, we’re both feeling like the time we sunk into the book or show wasn’t wasted.

But if the person who killed/disappeared Amber WASN’T EVEN IN THE BLOODY SHOW, well, we don’t have much of a chance of figuring it out, now do we?

And of course, it also means that no one involved in writing the show had to figure it out either. Again: cheating.

It’s not that stories that aren’t neatly tied up can’t be satisfying. See Tana French’s In The Woods or series 2 of The Bridge for more on this. But they worked because even though not every plot strand was tied up in a bow, something was. And that something made sense. It also involved CHARACTERS WE’D ACTUALLY BEEN INTRODUCED TO.

I was venting my rage on Twitter the night of finale when someone suggested we send the writers a copy of Robert McKee’s Story. I suggested that that might be a bit advanced for them. Perhaps an episode of Murder She Wrote instead?

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You know something? I realize now that this blog post may not have a point. I just really needed to vent about how stoopid that bloody show was. But you know what? Maybe it’s not supposed to have a point, because that’s, like, real life. Things don’t get all neatly tied up in real life, dontcha know.

[UNICORNS DESCEND]

[A T-REX BURSTS OUT OF THE BUSHES]

[THE POWER GOES OUT]

The End.

Now, how was that for you?

Amber is apparently going to air on BBC Four sometime this year and after that it’ll infect Netflix. It’s too late for me but run, save yourselves!

UPDATE: BBC *did* show it and my blog visits have been boosted by people searching for ‘amber crap ending’ and the like. For more Amber rage, see this great piece by Daragh Keany writing for the Sunday World. Now, go watch some GOOD TV. 

What show or book had an ending that gave you the RED RAGE? Why was it so rage-inducing? Did you watch Amber? Do you think we can have some of our TV license fee back from RTE? Let me know in the comments below…

*I’m paraphrasing.

NaNoWriMo: I’m Only Going To Say This Once, Okay?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is that you pull out all the stops to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days, or around 1,670 words every day during the month of November.

Every year around this time, something else starts too: NaNoWriMo Snobbery. Professional writers, who the other eleven months of the year seem like the nicest, most generous and friendliest people, suddenly start tipping their noses in the air and saying or even writing things about how NaNoWriMo and the people who partake in it are belittling their profession, ridiculing their craft and making a mockery of the 1,670 words they write every single day of the year in order to make a living.

Now, usually I just grit my teeth and try to ignore it, but this year I’m finding it impossible—and we’re not even T-minus 1 week to go yet. (Also, I can’t think of anything else to blog about today.) So I’m only going to say this once, okay?

***RANT BEGINS***

The NaNoWriMo Novel = Messy First Draft

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write a messy first draft, the one that “rough” would be a strong word for, the one that’s for you and you only, the one in which you work out the answers to the questions Would this even work? and What comes between the beginning and the end? No one in their right mind thinks you can go from a blank page to a finished novel ready for readers and their shelves in 30 days, but National Write a Messy First Draft That Might One Day, With Countless Rewrites, Become a Novel Month, just isn’t very catchy.

Also, keep in mind that most commercial novels these days are around the 100,000 word mark. If you thought that the idea of NaNoWriMo was to write a finished novel in 30 days, then the goal—50,000 words—should’ve been your first clue that honey, that just ain’t the case.

NaNoWriMoers = Writers

A couple of years ago I read a heartfelt blog post by a professional, published writer who truly felt slighted by NaNoWriMo. She said that this was her profession, her vocation in life, and the fact that “some people” thought they could come along and do it in the month—do the thing she had spent her adult life perfecting the craft of—made a mockery of it and her. She asked if there would be similar support for National Become a Doctor Month or the like, and ended her post by saying that she dreaded Novembers because of NaNoWriMo.

Now, first of all, get the lady 10 ccs of chill pill. STAT. (See? I could totally do National Become a Doctor Month…) The world really doesn’t need to take arbitrary challenges so seriously. But secondly, who does she think does NaNoWriMo? Sure, there’s a probably a few people in there who have never as much as read a book who suddenly decide to drop everything and attempt to write one during the month of November. But all the people I know who do it are writers.

They are already writing, have always been and for whatever reason, find it difficult to fit writing into their lives every single day. I hate that thing about there’s no such thing as no time to write, because who are we to say what people can or can’t fit into their lives? We know nothing about them. We don’t know what responsibilities they have, or what they’re struggling with. I know someone who works two full-time jobs, survives on less sleep than the average insomniac and has children to take care of. Would you tell him to “just find” the time to write?

Some people, myself included, write more when a deadline is sending us daggers from the edge of our computer screen. Some people write more when they are spurred on by being part of a group whose members are also trying to write more at the same time. And some people have so much going on that they feel they can’t set aside time to write all the year around, but that NaNoWriMo gives them some kind of official permission to do it, just for thirty days.

NaNoWriMoers are, for the most part, writers. Not “some people.”

What Are You Worried About, Mate?

Oh, you write 2,000 words every day of the year, do you? When I say “NaNoWriMo” you say “Welcome to my life”? In the immortal words of Chandler Bing, is your wallet also too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes too tight?

SO THE FUDGE WHAT if you already do NaNoWriMo every month of the year? What has that got to do with other people trying to do it for one month? I just don’t see the connection. That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym… [Sorry, burst into a fit of giggles there; let me try that again.] That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym and work out every day for the next thirty days, and being belittled and mocked and generally held in contempt by people who already do it, just because they already do. There is something missing there, and it’s ALL LOGIC AND SENSE.

On September 11th, Ricky Gervais tweeted about taking a moment to remember all those who had perished during the terrorist attacks. A tweeter from the UK asked him why the world makes an effort to pause and mourn on 9/11, when they don’t necessarily on 7/7, the anniversary of the London terrorists attacks. And Gervais’ response was “What are you worried about, mate?”

Now obviously we’re talking about two entirely different points on the Things That Matter Scale, but Gervais’ response to that has really stuck with me, because I’m sure that tweeter couldn’t answer it. (Because what was he worried about? Non-reciprocated  sadness?!) And so, if you are a professional writer and you don’t like the idea of people doing NaNoWriMo, what are you worried about?

(Side note: agents and editors can probably answer that question because they do have something to worry about: the influx of newborn manuscripts that start arriving in their mailrooms come December 1st from the small minority of people who think you can conceive, draft, rewrite, edit and polish a novel in just 30 days. But for the rest of us, what does it matter?)

NaNoWriMo + Time = Bestselling Books

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Cuckoo by Julia Crouch and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (which, by the way, was one of the most unsettling, nerves-on-a-knife-edge thrillers I’ve ever read) all started their literary lives as NaNoWriMo projects. You can see the full selection of published NaNoWriMo projects here.

Fun: Have You Heard Of It?

The whole point of NaNoWriMo—more so than writing 50k, I’d say—is FUN, as in, the having of it. During NaNoWriMo, you can sign up for groups, even meet those groups in your town or city, and create a buddy list that will help spur each other on for the month. It’s great craic, as us Irish would say.

And sometimes, having fun is reason enough to do something, all by itself. This is one of those times.

So NaNoWriMo Snobsters, stop taking a dump all over it, would you please? And bring your nose back down until it’s parallel to the horizon while you’re at it. Thanks ever so much.

***RANT ENDS***

What do YOU think?

(P.S. What do you think about NaNoWriMo, NOT what you think about 9/11, 7/7 or Ricky Gervais. I know how this internet thing works and I’m telling you right now, that’s NOT what this post is about, okay?)

UPDATE 2015: You might also be interested in… My debut thriller, Distress Signals, will be published by Corvus/Atlantic in June of next year and I’m chronicling the publication process and my attempts at writing a second book in almost no time on this blog, in a series called Book One/Two. Read the first installment here.

Why, For Me, Print Will Never Be Extinct

Regular readers of this blog and those who’ve kindly subjected themselves to my books will know that I’m a huge Jurassic Park fan. I love the book, I love the movie and even though I’m a total coward who wouldn’t get on a rollercoaster if I was told there’d be a million dollars waiting for me at the other end of it, I braved Universal Studios Jurassic Park River Ride just to see the JP view from the lazy boat ride bit that came before the 80 foot drop.

The first edition jacket design of Jurassic Park.

I love Jurassic Park because it’s one of the first adult books I ever read and I can clearly remember reading it—or trying to; it was 1993 and I was only 11 —in the little caravan my parents used to have installed by the sea. It’s not Pulitzer Prize-winning literature or anything, but it’s a truly great read and reading it was the first time a book really took me away. I re-read it at least once a year, and still have my totally tattered, dog-eared and barely-held-together-by-Sellotape movie tie-in paperback. And if you are thinking What is she on about? Isn’t that book just about dinosaurs?, then I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

And you’re missing out. Big time.

But anyway, my point is I love Jurassic Park. And because I love Jurassic Park, I got a bit teary-eyed watching this TED video in which designer Chip Kidd talks about working on book jackets for Alfred A. Knopf.

I was watching it because I’d heard it was funny and interesting and it was about book cover designs. But a few minutes in, I suddenly realized who I was watching. This was Chip Kidd! The Chip Kidd who designed one of the most iconic book covers in recent memory—the T-Rex silouhette on the cover of the first edition of Jurassic Park! I was transfixed as he described how he bought a book from the gift shop at the Natural History Museum in New York, found an interesting-looking T-Rex skeleton, put a sheet of tracing paper over it and filled the spaces in with pen. Then he added typography to give the cover an overall look of “public park signage”—which, as soon as you hear this, you instantly see and understand. It could be a “Warning: Dinosaurs Crossing” sign, which is of course the kind of thing you’d find in a park of dinosaur attractions.

(Albeit one where the fences had failed.)

A couple weeks back in L.A., I was floating through Barnes and Noble at The Grove on a fluffy cloud of contented delirium when I gasped at the sight of a special edition of Jurassic Park on a table a foot away (and then quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard me gasp).

It was a thing of beauty. Hardback. That thing where the cover is a soft leather and the imagery is embossed into the surface that I don’t know the technical name for. The original T-Rex. Two books in one, Jurassic Park and its inferior but still really good sequel, The Lost World. Silver-edged pages, and on them the original type that I know so well. A map of Isla Sorna (the island from The Lost World) inside, and a red ribbon to mark my place.

I was in love, and I could bring home that love for only $20. Despite my self-imposed rule of no book buying due to no space in my suitcase, I practically ran to the register to pay for it.

On another trip to that same Barnes and Noble, I came across the edition of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth that was made famous by Oprah’s Book Club.

My edition of Pillars of the Earth, AKA The Fugly One.

It really is a stunning-looking book. My edition of The Pillars of Earth is an offensive eyesore that I can only hope was “designed” (ahem) and printed before Oprah picked it and the eyes of the world turned in its direction, because it really is a horrible, horrible looking book.

The pretty US/Oprah edition, soon to be winging its way to me from Amazon.com. You can’t really appreciate this in 2-D; the physical book is all shiny and embossed and stuff.

The gold/cream edition hadn’t been in Irish bookstores and so now, naturally, I wanted to buy the pretty one, replace the ugly one with it on my shelf (or in the boxes I have in storage as I am currently bookshelves-less) and donate the ugly one to a charity shop or something.

Hearing this, my companion said, “But it doesn’t matter what they look like.”

I swear to the Book Gods, life left my body for a second. My heart felt it like stopped.

It doesn’t matter what they look like?

It doesn’t matter what they look like?!!

Are you ON CRACK?!

But then I realized something: this is why some people can love their Kindles without pining for printed books. Because they don’t love the books themselves, like I do. They’re just after the words. For me, the words are the most important bit, yes, but they’re not the only important bit. For others, the format is irrelevant. We’re two entirely different kinds of readers. And that’s fine. That’s great even, for them, because I’d bet they haven’t cleared out their bank accounts buying multiple editions of the same book because the newer one was prettier.

But don’t tell me that a world without physical books will be a better world. Don’t tell me that I’ll “get used” to e-books. Don’t tell me that literature is going the way of music, because I don’t know about you but I never lovingly stroked a CD case (except for maybe a John Mayer’s Battle Studies but that was for, ahem, different reasons…) or held it in my hands, gazing at it adoringly, while I listened.

You only think that people will one day ditch print books completely because you are not a person who loves printed books. You love reading books, which is a different thing. It’s just one component of what I love. And what I love can never be replaced with some HTML and some plastic.

There are readers, and there are readers who also love books. I think there’s enough of the latter to ensure that while we all might profess love for our Kindles, the printed book is here to stay.

Now kindly all go and read Jurassic Park.

[UPDATE 16.07.12: Woo-hoo—Freshly Pressed! WordPress obviously love JP too. Obviously. I think we should start a book club…]