The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer or, How to embrace Twitter as an aid.

Years ago, I watched the film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring Tom Courtenay. It’s a great film, very British, very much of it’s time; made in 1962. But it has a quality that resonates and made a lasting impression on me.

Courtenay plays Colin Smith; a rebellious teenager in a poverty-stricken town in northern England, who enjoys running as an escape from his harsh reality. He gets caught stealing and is sent to a reform school. The governor wants to impress officials and so forth by promoting sports as rehabilitation. Colin gets inducted to race against a prestigious rival school.

I won’t tell you the ending – that’s not the point of this post – what I am interested in is how this compares to writing. I’ve been growing my connections on Twitter recently, via the #WritingCommunity. There are people who write who are very much engaged with a wider community, not just their immediate friends, and who make an effort to help others to connect through list-making, shout-outs, #FollowFridays and so forth.

Now I’m a lot like Colin. I like my own company, I positively revel in the times that I spend alone, so that I can immerse myself into my world building, characters and narrative. I love to run alone, not only that – I want to run alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sociable; when I am required to be. I don’t have anxiety about meeting people – I just don’t want to – I am not anti-social; I don’t behave inappropriately (well, not often!), but I am unsociable by nature; when I want to be.

Writing is a bit like being a long-distance runner. You might rise early and limber up with some brief exercises, or set about your working day in a casual manner. Regardless of when you write, where you write, or how you put the words down, you will do this alone. And alone you will be until you have finished the process. Then you will edit; alone. The whole process of creating, editing, re-writing etc. might take you months, even years. Only you can do this, no-one else. It’s your ideas, your work, your creation. Then you will send your work off – and receive rejections – alone.

This does not mean you have to be lonely. For those writers who struggle with this isolation, the community of writers on Twitter might be somewhere to reach out and relieve that feeling. There are professional writers as well as amateurs. Published and unpublished. Dabblers and specialists.

I have experienced authors who reach out and lend a helping hand; such as @garethlpowell. Gareth is an award winning science fiction writer, you’d think he would be too busy, but no, he gives of his time on a daily basis. A new arrival on Twitter, @EliselsWritinYA, stormed onto the writing scene by listing ALL the writers she followed, classified them and sent numerous Tweets out into the community. Elise Carlson just dived straight in there in her very first month.

The point is, you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be. I have encountered new ‘Tweeters’ who are very apologetic, filled with trepidation, are shy about announcing their presence. But I reckon 99% of the time, they find a warm welcome into the #WritingCommunity – sure, you get the odd dick who tries to tell you how things should be (I may even be one of those dicks myself at times), but you can be sure that you will make connections; maybe even friends. You can let off steam, ask questions, get moral support in times of need.

It will not, I hasten to add, make you a better writer! This can only be done by dedication, application, self-criticism and honesty.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring once said – “Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.

So, back to Colin. The title of the film suggests he himself is lonely, not at all. The runner in this instance is a metaphor for choosing to be alone – so he isn’t actually ‘lonely’. Colin has chosen running so that he can, not only escape his mundane, poverty-ridden existence, but to allow time to develop his own thoughts, and through this, he comes to understand the societal differences and class divisions of the time. Colin sees through the authority figures; especially that of the prison governor, and the image conveyed to others of their ilk, and what really lies beneath. Colin questions; if only in his own head, the establishment.

As a writer, you will probably be doing some of the same things, questioning authority; of a character’s parents, the government he or she resides in, that of movements, peers, received opinions, taught mythologies.

You will live inside your own head until you have completed your idea.

You may work alone – but you don’t have to be lonely.

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Plough on or Chill Out?

We’re fast approaching the end of 2018 – has it been a good one for you? A wild ride? Productive? Or has it been a fallow year, with less accomplished than you had hoped?

I know I definitely tried to accomplish too much this November making me feel, like Bilbo Baggins, “… sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I took on three online courses in one month, completed two. The third hangs in the balance. I tried to be the ‘Little Engine That Could’ – turns out I couldn’t, not quite…

Part of my problem is that I am a dilettante – a dabbler, a tinkerer, a potterer. I have been told on the one hand that I have the mind of a butterfly, on the other, that I am a mine of useless information. I have taken part in NaNoWriMo with a novel planned, and also writing by the seat of the pants. The second works best for me. You’ll have your way of doing stuff.

Don’t despair if you didn’t get to do all the things you’d hoped to, it’s all a learning process and next year is a fresh start. As Professor Albus Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

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Professor Dumbledore

Though I do have to admit to feeling a little miffed when I hear, on the radio, as I did this morning, about someone who began writing five minutes ago and just got their first novel published! What’s that all about? I ask myself, how did anyone even know they had written this little gem? I am by inclination, a combination of melancholic and choleric, and have been trying to train myself to be more pragmatic, so forced myself to feel good for them- sort of, a little bit, maybe. Oh all right, I hate them!

Lyra Belacqua tells her father in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, “You told me that was my nature, and I shouldn’t argue with it…you were wrong… I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do. And I will choose, because now I’m free.” She learnt that as a child, I, in my mid-life am just beginning to.
Do you take stock at the end of each year, of your accomplishments? And how do we assess our own accomplishments anyway? Some believe we are too close to give an accurate appraisal of our own selves and work done.

I have met many people who are extraordinarily hard on themselves, they are the perfectionists who can never meet their own high standards – this does not mean all they do is done well, sometimes effort isn’t exerted so as there is an excuse to have not met one’s own exacting standards. Then there are those people who – and this is particularly pertinent in regards to creativity – think what they have made is wonderful, when in fact the rest of us can see the awfulness, or blandness, of it. Self-criticism does not come easy to these folks.

And yet…should we just not try? Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

As Christmas approaches, will you slow down your production? Will you take a complete break from your current project to frolic with family and friends? Or, will you be the snow plough that keeps on going through the deep mid winter? Will you plough onward, or take time out to chill and recuperate?

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Does Father Christmas write all year round?

One habit to cultivate is taking account of our successes and failures – and do not be afraid to use the word fail, we cannot all be winners in everything we do, if we don’t fail we don’t learn –only ‘snowflakes’ don’t like to fail – some will keep an actual written account, for others it might be a simple check-list, or just a mental run-through. Have a general idea of what you wish to achieve in the coming year. Bloggers are encouraged to plan, keep a calendar of what will be written every week for months – I typically tend to waft from week to week writing whatever takes my fancy. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go...” Doctor Seuss.

Here comes the end of the year, approaching fast, like a steam train with the whistle not quite screaming, and the engine driver trying to wave me off the track, because I’m too stupid to move! Each year I make myself promises and set targets and charge headlong into too many projects at once – like I said, too stupid to move off the same track!

 

THAT’S MORTALS FOR YOU, Death continued. THEY’VE ONLY GOT A FEW YEARS IN THE WORLD AND THEY SPEND THEM ALL IN MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED FOR THEMSELVES.

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Death as The Hogfather (Source: https://ani-izzy.com)

NaNoWriMo 18 – What Now?

Apologies for the huge gap between my last post and this – it’s been a busy time.

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NaNoWriMo 2018

We haven’t quite reached the end of the month – but – I have hit the 50,000 target with five days to spare.

It’s an odd sensation, a combination of exhilaration; I did it! I finally did it! And, What now?

I am sure that if you have been following my blog for any length of time, you will be aware of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. There are around 400,000 writers taking part, it’s a wonderful image isn’t it? People from all over the world, from all walks of life, busy beavering away at their stories.

To describe it as a race doesn’t quite do it justice. To talk about competitiveness only grazes the surface.

When you take part in NaNoWriMo, you can, if you wish to, award yourself Personal Achievement Badges; Planner/Pantser/Procrastinator/Word Sprinter and so on. You also gain Earned Badges; Word Count/Update/Winner. You can also add Buddies. I know, it’s tres American, but it can be a device that helps you get through the difficult times.

my NaNoWriMo Badges
My NaNoWriMo Badges

I have eight Buddies, I don’t get in touch with all of them, but this year three in particular have been on this journey with me – and that’s the point of having Buddies. Three of mine are based in America, one in France, two in the UK and the others haven’t posted their locations. Amy, David and Kristi and I have, this year, mailed each other throughout the event. Congratulating each other on reaching benchmarks, 10,000, 30,000 etc. We have spoken of time – not enough, word counts – falling behind, and emotional barriers – varied.

It reminds me of a tribe I once read about, and watched on TV many years ago – ‘Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World’ by David Maybury-Lewis. (The Xavante of South America I think it was, but I cannot be absolutely sure.)

This community held a race each year. Everyone took part who wanted to – from the smallest kid to the oldest tribal member. An exciting event where everyone gathered at the starting line amidst cheers and joyful shouts. And off they went, running. I remember watching this really elderly man fall midway. The race slowed down. A couple of others came and raised him up and continued to run alongside him, everyone, every single participant crossed in a muddled lump of laughing and cheering.

The point was, the race was symbolic. They were sort of competing against each other, but more importantly – they were running the race together, as one. It was an analogy of life.

In the NaNo writing event, we all compete against ourselves. We push to reach that Finish Line ahead of others, but at the same time we are supportive of each other. Should someone not make it, then that is okay, they have written something and that’s what matters. We all begin with different skills at different levels and that is to be expected and appreciated.

So it is never an ‘In your face!’ moment. It’s a kind of ‘Phew! I made it. And you can too.’ moment. It’s not only about the individual; you, but about interconnectedness.

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Helping Hand

Last year I did not reach the Word Count goal – but I had never intended to. It was a 30,000 word novella. The previous year, my first NaNo, I hit the goal in good time – but – and this is important to remember for all participants – I am still writing it! When NaNo ends, the writing doesn’t. 50,000 words does not a novel make. And it will depend greatly on which genre one is writing in. Just over that word count might be a YA fiction story, but if it’s fantasy your writing, which is what I am doing this year, then I’m only half way there.

So a goal was reached. Now there is a new one – finish the novel. After that there will be another goal – edit the novel. After that another – re-edit/re-write.

And so on and so forth.

As with life in general.

Good luck to all those still working at their word counts, but remember, that reaching it is only one stage in the life of a novel.

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Finishing. Not the end.

FL/RPGWW/NANOWRIMO- or How I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew

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Its NaNoWriMo time.

For those readers not familiar with this acronym, this is – National Novel Writing Month. An annual event lasting the whole of November for writers to encourage us to attempt 50,000 words in a month – no research, no editing, no worries – just write.

This is my third year of taking part. Previous  years I wrote a sci-fi story and a historical/magical realism story. This year it’s fantasy.

Plus…

It’s RPG Writer Workshop month. A new pilot programme being run by Ashley Warren to help gamers write a ‘one-shot-game’ before the first week in December. Game writers range from absolute beginners; never played TTRPG (Table Top Role Playing Games), to those who have already had work published and sold.

This is the first time -obviously – and although I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for around 30 years or so, I am WAY behind with the changes that have taken place in this scene. Plus, it’s all online, so digital comms, chat rooms, etc are a challenge!

Plus…

FutureLearn  is currently running a course title, Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People. It’s running throughout November only and it’s something that will be useful for the job I am employed in – Learning Support Assistant.

This is probably the easiest of the three as I need no tools, except my laptop to access the course.

I have to say, I do not know how many people are on each of these courses, but combined, it’s thousands – NaNoWriMo itself gets around 500,000 writers enrolling. As someone who is not au faix with Discord, or chat rooms, or, let’s be honest, any digital technology beyond TV’s before the advent of the remote control, I do struggle, but people are so helpful. Really. The number of times I’ve posted in the wrong place, been unable to find something, couldn’t do whatever needed to be done – someone has ALWAYS come to my rescue.

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Things were getting heated in the chatroom. 

However…

I hadn’t really thought this through when I signed up for all these online courses. In previous months; the build up and promotion of these courses, I had paid very little attention to the time they all took place.

Of course, I just had to do NaNo again. And wouldn’t it be cool as a writer to be able to design/write games and sell them? Yup – sign me up for that too. And what opportunities are there for what essentially boils down to free training?! Most industries provide staff training, but that little extra you do yourself always goes down well. So, yeah, I’ll do another course to help me do my job better.

So I find myself now, a mere 9 days into November, staring at blank docs. A kind of numb terror creeping up on me….how am I ever going to get 50,000 words written before the months end? How can I read a whole new rule-set for games and make a decision. How do I complete ‘Thinking Diary’ when my brain is turning to cheese? How can I go to work and give my best to those who rely on me? I know, thinks I, I’ll write my blog – as if I don’t already have enough writing to do -but the folks will be waiting for something, some pearls of wisdom, some amazing insight into creativity and gardening – phtuh! – no pearls here folks – brain, cheese = panic…

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What if I get some hideous cross-over like in a 50’s B-movie!!

Characters from the RPG workshop sneaking into the NaNo story and developing depression!

The low mood student wends his/her way into the game writing and ruins the jolly humour!

My NaNo protagonists burst free and run amok amongst the comments section of well-meaning, kind-hearted people studying on FutureLearn, swords flailing, and continue the charge into the RPG workshop, dog-lock pistols ablaze – there’s bullets and documents flying…people fling their laptops aside as a black-eyed soldier leers from a video of a gentle soul telling his tale…nascent character ideas from the minds of newbie gamers are quickly laid to rest by a swift and smartly placed stiletto blade…and the Dark Order find an in-road during all the mayhem and the seeds of disorder are planted and then the NPC’s take over and…and…

Genre Mashups. Image from Indiereader.com

but that’s never going to happen!!!!

Or is it…

Oh, hey, remember that pearl of wisdom? Let me know if you find it! Right, I’m off to dig a hole and scream into it.

 

Steampunk Collection

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler
Steampunk Adventures

I forgot to mention – This:

A book, I wrote!

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction 

It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.

It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!

Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)

Extract:

I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;

An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”

You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”

Damn! I thought.

Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”

Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”

I beg your pardon?!”

Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.

 

Created and only available on FeedARead.com

 

lucylockhart
L.A.G. Lockhart

 

 

Getting into TTRPG Writing

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Image curtesy of  @TTRPG Twitter

You all know I write stuff. ‘Course I do, I write this blog for one. Had some stuff published. Done posts for other blog sites.

So, what’s this TTRPG Writing all about Alex?

Table-top Role Playing Games. As opposed to LARP- Live Action Role Play (kind of like historical re-enactment societies, but with fantasy, and monsters, and probably more drugs!) or RPG in relation to video games (which I also spend quite a bit of time on)

It does what it says on the tin – you play it on your table, like a board-game, with dice and little pewter figures (painted or not), and maps, well some maps, sometimes.

I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for nigh on 30 years – oh, my wasted youth!

I have been DMing campaigns for about 10 of those.

Then a pal sent me a link to – https://morrus.podbean.com/e/8-whats-an-rpg-freelancer-worth/

What? People get paid to write gaming stuff? Thinks me. Of course I knew people wrote all the initial games books – Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Rulebook, Monster Manual, blahdy, blah blah – but get paid?

To write new ideas?

To create new monsters?

And magic items?

Really?

Wow!

But how do you do it? How do you actually go about writing a game for others to play? To sell? What’s the process? How should it look or be presented?

Who does what to whom and when and how?

I haven’t a feckin’ clue!

I have been trawling the internet for three days – and it seems there is some sort of D&D gaming conspiracy going on! *Sh! Don’t talk about it otherwise more writers and creative types will muscle in on our patch.

Today I discovered – Life as a Hired Gun: Freelance RPG Writing https://youtu.be/U7EXayaK-TQ

and I thank those guys (John Bennet, Keith Ryan Kappel, and Christopher Hunt), for sharing their experiences and suggestions.

I’m going to start putting a few posts up here as I go along to share what knowledge and experience I gain on my path to becoming an #RPG writer.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey – who knows where we will end up – roll a D10 and we could run into a brick wall and fall at the first hurdle, twisting our ankle and hobbling back home shamefaced – or – we could vanquish the mummy of apprehension and discover the giant glow-worm of enlightenment!

Huzzah!

Now, where did I put my +2 Bow?

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The female Archer is more deadlier than the male...

Writing Interruptus

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Walter Matthau as Max Goldman – in reality, I might have strangled him!

So, the schools and colleges and universities of England have broken up for the summer holidays – no, not vacation, we don’t say vacation in England, unless you are going away from home on an actual vacation! (The English language huh?!)

You’d think I would have time to settle into a decent writing routine, wouldn’t you?

Previously I had been posting for this blog on a bi-weekly basis, then I cut down to one as, working and fiction writing demanded more time.

Upon the arrival of end of June, I was raring to go. I had plans to edit a series of stupid stories and self-publish them. I have a complete manuscript that I am ploughing through for the umpteenth time, plus the short story I am currently working on, and the handful of submissions for short story/anthology open competitions/submissions.

First week off, the phone rings – my mother is in hospital

My folks are old, like octogenarian old. My father now shuffles – literally- at a pace that boggles the mind, he’s losing his eyesight, and his hearing, his appetite, his balance. Yet he remains as obtuse, argumentative, opinionated and bloody annoying as ever!

My brother and I can’t imagine why our mother ever stayed with him.

So now, instead of spending happy hours immersed in words, I am driving two or three times a week, on a 2 hour round trip to collect my old dad, through roadworks, hold-ups, congestion, to visit my mother in hospital and take him home again.

She had a half-hip replacement, so is learning to walk again. She’s doing well, considering. I wonder she doesn’t just pretend she can’t do it so she can have a longer break from my dad!

You might wonder that I don’t go more often – but we have one car and hubby needs it to get to work. You imagine living in suburbs that the bus service would be great – it isn’t. Anywhere outside of London has appalling public transport systems.

And so I drive the car whilst my dad points out every bus that passes and tells me it’s route, and exclaims at empty buildings and tells me his ideas for, well practically everything- “These people don’t think!” he rants in his now high-pitched voice – because he knows best. And points his hand across my face as I try to peer over and navigate the road, because he wants me to look at where the British Legion used to be, or where an ex-neighbour from twenty years ago, whom I do not remember, moved to. And we get into arguments because I cannot let him get away with saying things like, “Why do you drive this way? Why don’t you go along the Northbound? You people just can’t think in a different way.” And I rise to the occasion,( I have become in his mind You People, and it irks) reminding him that he had an hour long moan when I washed his tea-pot after doing the dishes.

“Why does it matter?” I had said.

“Because that’s the way we always do it.” He said.

“But it’s all done, see? The dishes are washed and put away, I’ve done the tea-pot, and wiped up, so why does it matter what order it gets done in?”

He pointed at the counter, “There’s water there.”

I stood and faced him and made him tell me why it made a difference. He, of course had no logical answer.

And so back in the car this Friday, I couldn’t resist bringing up the tea-pot argument when he criticised my route.

“Why do you wash the tea-pot before the dishes?”

“Habit.” He said.

“Well, there you go.”

He still harrumphed, so a sent a parting shot – “Pot, kettle, black. Sound familiar dad?”

This morning,as I was reading ‘Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim‘, my husband said I should use my writing as a catharsis and write, like David Sedaris, about my family. I’m afraid I don’t have the wit of Sedaris, or the unusual and interesting family, or events to satisfy anyone, just a stubborn set of parents and brother who all seem stuck, like flies in aspic, in a 1950s England, who enjoy complaining as much as the next Brit.

And I fear I might be the same!