Monthly Archives: March 2011

Why Blogging is like Facebook …

We all need friends!

Especially when we classify ourselves as writers!  Writing is a lonely ‘profession’ … and the blogosphere (I’m sorry guys, I still hate that word!) has offered us a unique world to interract with common minds around the globe … something which our predecessors could have never dreamed of …

In this way, there are a lot of ways the blogosphere resembles Facebook …

1 People expect you to pay attention

Friendship, whether ‘real’ or virtual, is a two-way street.  No one likes to give more than they take, and this rule applies to blogging, as much as it does to Facebook friendship.  Everyone notices which friends ‘like’ their statuses, and comment on their photos … Facebook has even been programmed to notice these interactions, and dub these people your real ‘Friends’, separating them from your general popularity count.

Blogging is also to some degree reciprocal.  As a blogger, every ‘like’ notification that pops up in your inbox is a minor success, and a comment is the icing on the cake.  But you can’t just sit back and lap up the attention.  You need to give some back!  Start with those who follow your blog, obviously, because it’s only fair.  But then diversify.  Check out other blogs, especially those similar to your own, because by commenting on other peoples’ blogs, you’re not only showing that you care, and that you’re interested in your readers, but you can also draw in readers who might be interested in the stuff you’re writing … because they are writing it too.

See also – Blog Etiquette

2. Friendships Can be Fleeting

It’s important to remember that one comment doesn’t make a guaranteed reader.  And that even a subscription can be revoked.  Facebook friendships can be fleeting … that random girl you shared a bunk with in that hostel in Sydney … that person whose name you thought you recognise, and yet even when you stare at his profile intently, you can’t remember ever meeting.  The ‘Defriend’ button is easy to hit.  And with thousands of blogs out there on every topic imaginable, it’s just as easy to lose your readers.

Just like a Facebook fan, posting status after inane status, it’s easy to lose a blog friend by boring him, or overloading him.  Make sure your posts are relevant to the theme or message of your blog.  For example, if you market your blog as a blog about writing, try to stick to that.  If one post about the logistics of writing a novel drew in the majority of your readers, don’t expect them to be equally effusive about a journal-like entry about your bus trip home.

Hold on to those who count, by staying true to your blog, and writing posts which you feel might interest your most loyal followers.

3. Both Media allow you to Showcase yourself

Facebook photos come with a ‘detag’ option.  If a picture isn’t flattering, you are able to remove all trace of a link back to yourself.  The program allows you to showcase yourself in whatever light you wish to …  And it’s worth applying this same logic to blogging.  Use your blog like a showcase.  Polish your work, think carefully about what you want to write about, and also think carefully about who you are trying to appeal to, and what you want to come of it.  Once you have clear answers to these questions, stick to them.

YOU are in control of your Blog Image.

See also Get it Write!

4. The internet world is smaller than you think …

We’ve all been warned about putting too much information about ourselves up on Facebook … from your full date of birth, to your mother’s maiden name … social networking sites provide the perfect forums for identity theft … if only the thief can find his or her way in.  Blogs are even more accessible … and with enough dedication, it is more than possible to trawl a blog and work out a significant amount of information about someone.  I recently read a comment on a blog post by a girl who worked out her ex-boyfriend was sleeping with her best-friend, simply from reading between the lines of her best friend’s blog.  Be careful, when you’re waxing lyrical, that free-flow writing doesn’t spill one too many secrets.

5.  Dirty Laundry can be easily aired

Continuing on from the last two posts … whilst Facebook DOES allow you to restrict what information comes out about yourself, and what pictures are linked to your profile … if you’re not diligent, the social networking site can be the perfect opportunity for a spot of laundry-flashing.

Remember that, unless written anonymously, your blog can be very easily linked back to you, and the past may come back to repeat itself.  Once you post something on the internet, even if you later delete it, it can still be found.  So again, apply a little caution to what you write. Could your sporadic late-night rant come back to haunt you in later years?

However, there is at least one major way in which Blogging is very much NOT like Facebook …

Facebook allows you to control who sees and comments your profile

As a recent post by one of my favourite ‘new read’s Mikaylee Byerman explains in her post ‘I spy with my little eye … A Blog Stalker?!‘ it can be very easy to get unwanted attention … and in reality, unless you have access to every possible IP address someone might use, it’s extremely difficult to prevent someone from reading and posting comments on a public blog.

At least Facebook allows you to choose your friends, and to firmly block anyone unsavory from even knowing you ‘exist’!

On that note … I hand you the floor … please be kind … else I might have to work out how to ‘de-friend’ you 😉

C-C xx


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Filed under Blogging, C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

My Ten Future Lives – Life Three

As requested by Nina 🙂 If you haven’t yet read any of MTFL, it’s psychological women’s fiction, so rather different to my normal young adult stuff. Click on the following links for earlier chapters –

Introduction

Life One

Life Two

 

Life Three – 2013

‘Good Morning London, you’re listening to Hear Say, and I’m Amy March, here with all of today’s top gossip!  First up, Olympic champion Matty McAllister isn’t looking quite so golden these days!  Whilst his long-term girlfriend India Masters is on location, filming in LA, McAllister has been spotted romancing a mysterious brunette, near his home in Holburn.’

Bugger!

My name is Ashleigh Vaughan and I’m 26.  Not only am I the ‘mysterious brunette’ in question … but I’ve also fucked up big-style!

Before you judge me, there are a couple of things I should explain.  First off, India Masters is my best friend.  And Matty McAllister isn’t dating her.  He’s dating me.  It’s just that we’re pretty much the only people who know any of that …

I probably ought to start at the beginning.  Matty is arguably the most famous rower in Britain at the moment.  His honey-blond locks and chocolate brown eyes, combined with a Gold medal on home turf last year, were the perfect recipe for the British media.  They descended on him … and descended on him hard. These days Matty can’t walk down the street without being recognised.  His every move is documented in photograph-form, from arriving at an airport, to popping to the local corner shop for milk.  He has a sponsor for his clothes, his hair gel and his trainers.  In fact, if he’s seen drinking the wrong sports drink, the press, and his sponsors, will have kittens.  So just think what will happen now he’s been caught kissing the wrong girl …

But the thing is I’m not the wrong girl!

The media weren’t the first to notice how special Matty McAllister is.  I was … seven whole years ago!  I was the girl who stood at the side of the Cam in the wind and the rain, willing Matty to ‘bump’ other boats in the name of St. John’s.  I was the girl who painted her face Cambridge blue, and dressed in rowing team stash five-times too big for me, to show my true colours in the Boat Race, whilst all around me those bloody Oxford supporters yelled some nonsense about ‘shoe’-ing ‘the Tabs’!  I sat next to him in lectures, and stood by him through Finals and interviews for consultancy firms.  I pulled all-nighters with him in Exam Term, and fought off impending sleep with him at the annual May Balls.  And I have watched him win every level of university, national and international rowing competition in the last five years.

I just happened to do it from the shadows …

I’ve never been one for the limelight.  Even when we were back at university, I found myself referred to more often as ‘her friend’, or ‘his girlfriend’, than by my actual name.  It’s not something I ever had a problem with.  Reputation means nothing to me.  Or rather, fame means nothing to me.  As long as the people I care about know who I really am, why should I worry too much about what the rest of the world thinks?

I’m a lawyer.

At university, it was an over-used classification.  We were automatically drawn into groups, and clustered under stereotypes, according to our major.  I studied in the Law Faculty … therefore I was a ‘lawyer’.

At university that kind of classification annoyed me.  And yet nowadays … nowadays I don’t want to be known as India Masters’ best friend, or Matty McAllister’s girlfriend.

I just want to be a lawyer!

I’m a barrister… finally!  For two long years, I battled through my pupillage, barely enough time to myself to be classified as anything other than a pupil anyway … but finally I’m free.  Free from the shackles of servant-hood … because that was essentially what being a pupil was.  I wasn’t a lawyer, I was someone else’s bitch.  But I gritted my teeth, and did my time, and finally I am a barrister.  In July last year, ironically the same month Matty became an Olympic Gold medallist, I was called to the London Bar, to practice Media Law.

I’m a lawyer.  I just happen to also be dating the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, and best friends with one of Britain’s newest additions to Hollywood …

And I know, that if I were to play all of those three cards, then the law would be the last thing people would see.

The thing with the Bar, is it’s a community based on reputation.  Your face has to fit.  And even in this day and age, having a female face, and may I say, a rather pretty one at that, often works to my detriment.  I worked hard … beyond hard … for two years, proving to the top Wigs at my Chambers that I was serious about my job.  That I was serious about my career.  That being called to the Bar wasn’t simply an item on a long check-list of life achievements … That being called to the Bar was my life.

And even though we all know it’s possible to have a job, and a boyfriend, and friendships, I just doubted that the powers-that-be would see things that way, if my relationships and friendships were quite literally front-page news.

And so I made a decision.

And now, as I stare up at the TV screen declaring my boyfriend to be a lying, cheating scumbag … I’m beginning to wonder if the decision I made was the right one.

Almost exactly two years ago, I put my career first.  And in doing so, I thought I was doing my best friend a favour.  India was a struggling actress at the time.  She needed contacts, and she needed to be noticed.  Matty had just been selected for the GB squad, and his calendar was quickly filling up with social events I knew I couldn’t commit to.  He needed a ‘plus one’.  And if I couldn’t be at his side, there was no one I trusted more than my best friend.

We had definitely under-estimated the press interest.  Originally Ind and I had just assumed that she’d be able to rub shoulders with a couple of influential people, and have her face noticed in the right places.  And she had done.  Within months she was offered a part on the cult independent movie Vipers. The problem was, that Matty and India’s faces fit too well.  They were beautiful.  They are beautiful.  And the British press honed in on that, and ran with it.

The sports star and the actress.  It was like the Beckhams, Mark Two.  Britain needed new icons, and Matty McAllister and India Masters were the perfect fit.  A gorgeous, successful rower, and his glamorous, educated actress girlfriend.

The only problem was that she wasn’t really his girlfriend.

At first I just sat back and enjoyed life out of the heat of the spotlight.  I would push anonymously through the crowds of photographers in hotel lobbies, giggling to myself at the irony of the situation.  There they were, waiting for a single snap of Matty’s ‘famous girlfriend’ sneakily doing the walk of shame, and yet his real girlfriend was brazenly pushing through the crowd, completely unnoticed!

I would grin to myself, when the wives of my colleagues asked me if I had studied at St. John’s at the same time as ‘that gorgeous Matthew McAllister’?  And breathe a sigh of relief when I saw yet another magazine picture criticising India for not wearing makeup, or for eating McDonalds, or God forbid … for wearing tracksuit bottoms!

But then I began to realise how cold life outside the spotlight can be, when the man you love is in it the entire time.  Last year, when Matty was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year, I was obviously seated at his family table, however, when his name was read out, it was India’s face that the camera automatically switched to, and Indi who Matty was dutifully expected to kiss on the cheek.

Because of my ‘bright idea’ I could no longer kiss my boyfriend in public, or so much as hold his hand.  I couldn’t go to the cinema alone with him, or go out to a restaurant with him, without an entourage of friends in tow.

I already spend my life behind closed doors … the office and the court-room.  And those few sparing hours that I get to myself these days … well they are spent behind closed doors too.  Because they have to be!  Because the world believes that my Matty is one half of a couple, of which I am not a part.

I’m beginning to understand now why my parents told me not to lie as a child …

A lie grows.  It spawns, like a plant … and each seed brings new challenges, new issues.  On a daily basis I feel like my world is being overgrown … like this weed that I have unwittingly created is growing and spawning, and strangling my life as I know it.  I feel under attack.  And the one person I’ve always turned to, to shelter me from my problems, can’t help. Because he is right at the heart of them!

I almost cracked during the Olympics.  Matty was busy training, and it was getting harder and harder for me to see him, because the press had got wind of the squad’s conjugal visits, and were camped outside the athlete’s village, waiting for India to make an appearance.

Meanwhile my work-colleagues couldn’t understand why I was so adamant about getting time off over the Olympics.  Here I was, newly qualified, and completely unyielding, that I was taking two weeks holiday slap bang in the middle of the year’s biggest libel case.

Thankfully it turned out I wasn’t the only one struggling under the weight of our lie.  India excused herself from the hype for a month, disappearing off to America ‘on location’, and only returning on the day of the Final, when she figured she couldn’t not be seen at Matty’s side.

Meanwhile Matty had found a confidante in his crew member and roommate Hugo.  The adorable old Etonian was single, and more than happy to try and help his stroke out by pretending I was his girlfriend.  With the media attention all comfortably on the front of their boat, I managed to sneak in and out of the British compound in the contrastingly anonymous role of Hugo Redmond’s girlfriend.  That role gave me a seat on the VIP balcony, and a reason to run down to the boats the minute the boys crossed the finish line … though it still wasn’t a passport to celebrate my boyfriend’s Olympic Gold Medal the way I ought to have done …

I remember the minute they crossed the line.

I was sitting beside India, one hand clamped in hers.  My other hand was at my neck, tightly holding onto the locket that Matty had given me on our first anniversary.  My link to him.  The thing that in the whole madness of this lie, reminded me of who I really was.

I had seen the boys finish in slow motion, just inches ahead of the American crew.  I leapt to my feet, and was already running, pushing my way off the balcony, and down the steep aluminium stairs towards the water’s edge.  As I landed on the muddy bank, I kicked off my £600 Louboutins without a second thought … something I later regretted when I spent a good thirty minutes hunting down an errant gold high-heel.

I pushed my way towards the boat, ready to fling my arms around my victorious boyfriend, only for India to race in front of me and shoot me a warning look.  I watched on, pained, as India threw her arms around Matty, suddenly all too aware of the hundreds of cameras pointing in his direction.  Blinking back tears, I felt a hand on my back.  I turned, and tried to smile at Hugo.  ‘Congratulations!’ I muttered, knowing all the joy had left my voice.  He tugged me into his chest, to hide my tears from the world, and whispered in my ear, ‘It’s all ok, it’s just a few moments.’

I shook my head, angry at myself.  Those few moments were Hugo’s as much as they were Matty’s.  And I was stealing them from him.  I pulled away, and gave him a grateful kiss on the cheek.  ‘You need to celebrate with your parents!’  I tried to grin, and then ostentatiously congratulated the other two members of the crew, before waiting patiently in line to celebrate my boyfriend’s once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

That was ten months ago.  After the Olympics, India’s fame sky-rocketed.  She was signed onto bigger and better movies, and I guess the fame became addictive.  I tried a couple of times to suggest that maybe it was time that she and Matty ‘broke up’, but India’s agency had other ideas.  Apparently India’s real worth came from her role as half of a product.  Split that product up, and she no longer had any value.  And so the celebrity couple continued.

And I buried myself in work.  After all, a lawyer was what I wanted to be.  It was what I had always wanted to be.

I had actually thought myself incredibly lucky all those years ago.  I have friends still searching for the ‘One’, and yet mine had practically landed in my lap in my first week at university.  I guess I had taken it for granted.  I’d always assumed that that box had been comfortably ticked, and thought it time to work on one of my other goals in life … a career.  But I’d taken that first ticked box for granted … and now I was paying the price.

Matty and I had been dating for seven years.  We’d told each other ‘I love you’ every single night for the last seven years, and talked of marriage and children and the future …

And yet we still lived in separate apartments.  We couldn’t so much as food shop in public together, let along hold hands.  We no longer took holidays together, for fear that Matty would be recognised, and all my work-colleagues thought of me as some sad singleton because I couldn’t bring my real boyfriend to social events.

And whilst two years ago, the last thing I needed was everyone knowing I was Matty McAllister’s boyfriend, right now it’s all I want.

I want to walk down a beach holding hands with my boyfriend.  I want an engagement ring and then a wedding ring.  I want to be Mrs. Matty McAllister, rather than that girl who people just assume is dating his crewmate.  I want to run down to the boats at the end of a race, and fling my arms around his neck without having to worry who is watching.  I want to parade him at Chambers dinners, and cuddle up to him in a cinema.  I want to take him to Tesco!

I want a normal life.

And so yesterday afternoon, I threw a hissy fit.  More than a hissy fit … I had a Class A tantrum.  We were at his flat in Holburn, and it was my turn to cook dinner.  Staring at the well-stocked pantry, I suddenly decided there was nothing to cook.  I dunno … it had been a long day, and I’d seen one too many magazine covers with my boyfriend and another woman on them.  I just wanted to spend time with him.  I wanted a normal life.  I didn’t want to sneak around anymore.  And so, for no reason whatsoever, I demanded Matty come to Tesco with me!

It was silly, I know.  And the stupid thing was that I was really my own enemy.  This wasn’t Matty’s fault.  Nor was it India’s fault.  It had been my idea.  But in that moment I had blamed Matty and India, and anyone but myself.  And I had marched my boyfriend through the streets, hand in hand.  I had made him push the trolley around Tescos as I flung food angrily into it, and then as we left the supermarket, I had all but mauled him in the street for the whole world to see.

God, what have I done?

My mobile phone is ringing.  I know who it’ll be.  It won’t be India.  It’ll be her bitch of a publicist, reprimanding me like a schoolgirl for actually living my own life.  I fling my Blackberry across the room angrily.

Fuck!  What have I done?  How can I even begin to fix this?

I’m so stupid.  Not only have I ruined my adoring boyfriend’s reputation, but I had made myself look like a heartless whore in the process.  Who knows?  Maybe I am a heartless whore…  Though deep down I know I just love him way too much.

I pace backwards and forwards across the room, wondering what I’m going to say to Ind.  Wondering what I’m going to say to my boyfriend!  There’s a knock at the door.

I peer through the peephole, suddenly worried the media have tracked me down already.  A familiar pair of chocolate brown eyes greet me on the other side.  I bite my lip like a naughty child, and open the door.

‘Just wondered if you fancied coming to Tesco with me?’ Matty asks with a cheeky grin.

I punch his arm in mock anger.  ‘Don’t joke … oh God Matty, what have I done?’

Matty shakes his head, ‘Don’t be silly, it’s fine.  We can fix this.  Come on, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. No one’s been hurt, no one’s died.  Ash, it’s honestly nothing!  To be honest, we’ve been lying for too long – it hasn’t been fair on you.  It hasn’t been fair on us.’

My eyes fill with tears, as my gorgeous, adoring boyfriend pulls me tightly into his muscular chest.  ‘We can sort this out …’ he mumbles into my ear.  ‘It’s just time to tell the truth.  It’s that simple.’

I shake my head against his arms, warm tears rolling down my face.  ‘We can’t do that Matty!  You’ll be branded a liar!  That’s not fair on you.  It’s your reputation at stake.  This was my idea … I should pay the consequences.  I’ll say I accosted you!  I’ll say I stalked you!  I dunno … I should be the one to suffer!’

‘Ssssh,’ Matty breathes into my hair.  ‘No one needs to suffer Ash.  It’s all gonna be fine.’ He strokes my back.

‘But Matty it’s everywhere ….’

‘It’ll be yesterday’s news soon enough,’ he replies gently, leaning away from me briefly to switch off the television.

He pushes a strand of hair away from my face, and uses the pad of his thumb, probably the only soft part of his calloused hand, the brush the tears from my cheek.

‘Now, can we talk about something more important?’  he asks.

I shrug.  ‘Like what?’ I feel as if I’d pulled away a brick, which has led to my whole world falling down around me.

‘Like why we’ve been putting our life on hold for India’s movie career!’

I frown, fresh tears forming in my eyes.  I know Matty has never wanted any of this.  He’s just a rower after all.  The spotlight means as little to him as it did to me ….

‘Hey!  No more tears!’ Matty smiles, though I can read the concern in his face.

When I don’t smile back, he gives me a look that tells me he’s serious.

‘Ash, come on … please?  I’m trying to do something serious!’

I can’t help but smile.

‘Ok, ok, do something serious!’ I mutter, still distracted.

Matty takes a deep breath, and then reaching into his pocket, hands me a small pink Post-It Note.

‘Ashleigh I love you with all my heart … would you do me the honour of being my wife?’ it reads.

I run my finger over the words of the note, and look up at him in disbelief.  Now he’s the one with tears in his eyes.

‘Why have we been delaying this Ash?  Why have we been living our lives to please other people?  When you are genuinely the only one I care about pleasing?  I love you Ashleigh.  Always have done.  Always will do.  And I want to start living the rest of our lives … together, and now’.  He gestures to the Post-It Note.  ‘This can’t wait.  We can’t wait! ….’

I grip his waist to steady myself.

‘I love you too.  And of course I’ll marry you.  You’re right, this can’t wait.  We’ve waited way too long.’  I stare down at the Post-It again.  ‘I can’t believe you remembered …’ I smile.

‘Of course I remember.’  He grins.  ‘It’s our history remember?  Our history.  And this is about us!’

Matty had asked me out on our first ever date by Post-It Note.  He had passed it to me in the back of the lecture hall, one bored afternoon of Criminal Law.  It had quite simply said ‘I rather fancy you, Miss Vaughan!’ To which I had simply replied, ‘Ditto!’.

I chuckle to myself at the memory.  ‘You know, I should really have replied with a Post-It Note … in keeping with tradition!’

Matty shrugs.  ‘I’ll accept an ‘I owe you’’ He grins, his face wide with excitement … ‘as long as the Post-It says Yes!’

‘Does the ‘I owe you’ need to be on a Post-It note too?’  I ask teasingly.

‘Ssssh you!’ he laughs, hugging me tightly to himself, and then lifting me up off my feet.

He carefully backs out of the room, my feet still lifted up off the floor.  He steps into my bedroom, and lays me gently down upon my bed.

As he begins to undress me, kissing my neck delicately whilst tugging my jumper up from the waist. I smile to myself, wondering how I could have been so unhappy and so happy in the space of just a few minutes.  I reason that this is just what love does to you.

That when you hand over your heart, you’re accepting that risk that someone can hurt you at a minute’s notice.  But you’re also allowing for possibility.  Allowing for the possibility that someone can knock on your door, and change your life within a matter of seconds.  I clutch Matty’s broad shoulders tightly, just to check that all this is real.  To check that his picture-perfect imperfect proposal is for real.  That I’m not just dreaming.

Because this is us.  This is Matty and me.  We don’t need grand gestures.  He doesn’t need to propose to me in front of the world.  Fuck it – he doesn’t even need to kiss me in front of the world!  As long as this is us behind closed doors.

And that wedding proposal … well that was about as ‘us’ as he could get!

© C-C Lester 2010

 

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Filed under C-C Lester, My Ten Future Lives, Novel Excerpt, Writing

The 7 Sins of Fiction Writing

Inspired by  The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging – an intuitive article by Sonia Simone, Senior Editor of the Copyblogger – I’ve decided to come up with the 7 Sins of Fiction Writing

1. Impatience

Ok, so let’s start with the sin, which I for one am most guilty of.  Impatience.  Finishing a book, getting represented, getting published and getting recognised are all lengthy sections of an overall extremely slow process.  I know it’s hard, when you’ve invested so much, both emotionally and temporally, into a manuscript, to not feel like the relevant cogs are turning to move that story forward, but sit tight.  Believe in yourself, believe in your writing, believe in your agent.  Whatever stage in the process you’re at … wait it out!

Also check out my articles Getting Represented and The Secrets to Finishing a Novel

2. Self- Focus

Fiction writing requires fiction.  There’s no point writing a personal memoir, and simply changing the names of your characters.  If you want to write a memoir, then go ahead and write one.  Fiction is about exploring your imagination, and personally I find, the more I push the boundaries of that imagination, the better the results.  Like I’ve mentioned before, everything needs some grounding in experience so that you can write knowledgeably on a subject, however the best fiction comes from using that knowledge to expand your imagination.

Check out my articles Writing from the Heart and The Life/Writing Balance

3.  Sloth

Writer’s Block is too easy an excuse.  Don’t be lazy – if you really want to be taken seriously as a writer, then take yourself seriously.  Writing needs to become a second (unpaid) job, so devote the hours to it, and you’ll reap the rewards.  And hours ‘on the clock’ aren’t just writing hours.  They might include blogging, or reading similar works, and editing or doing more administrative tasks related to your writing, like numbering pages.  Commit 100% to your craft.

See The Ten Rules of Fiction Writing and Some Cures for Writer’s Block.

4. Negativity

Now this is mainly the ‘sin’ of unsigned writers, however it still resonates with long-successful authors, as evidenced by the quote by Margaret Atwood that I referenced in The Ten Rules of Fiction Writing.  ‘Essentially you’re on your own.  Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’

Linford Christie’s career may not have ended how he hoped, but the Olympic Gold medallist had it right when he said success comes from a Positive Mental Attitude.  Negativity doesn’t get you anywhere in any field, especially an art as lonely and subjective as writing.

Check out my posts Inspired …. and The Year Ahead to see my attempts to stay positive.

5. Lack of Imagination

This ties in with Sin number 2 – Self Focus – but also applies to general themes and settings.  I’ve discussed how reading widely in your target genre can help widen your imagination, and get you into the right frame of mind to write … however that doesn’t mean you ought to plagiarise!  There’s a big wide world out there, with countless stories to be told … why try to retell someone else’s story?  Take a look down the young adult fantasy aisle in the bookshop … does the world really need another vampire love story?!

See The Travel(ling) Writer

6. Lack of Conviction

This sin can be seen to follow on from negativity, and sloth, but it’s more than just believing in your ability, and capitalising on it … It’s also a question of believing in your subject matter.  Write about something you know and love … (but don’t fall to Self-Focus!).  300 pages later, you’re gonna need that desire and passion to carry you through the harder scenes, and make sure that novel is finished.  And even once it’s finished … how can you expect an agent to believe in your work, if you don’t believe in it too.  Fight for the right for someone to read your work!

Check out So Am I an Author Yet?!

7. Narcissism

And here’s the knife-edge … the careful balance between believing in your work, and being so blinded by your own efforts that you can’t tell the wheat from the chaff.  Not everything you write is going to be amazing.  Fact!  So make sure you retain the objectivity to re-read your own work, and edit it accordingly.  As we’ve been discussing before, the joy of the digital age means that removing something doesn’t mean it has to be lost forever to the cutting room floor.  The more objectively you can edit your own work, the less work you leave for an agent and publisher, and the more likely you are to secure those two people.

See also – Getting Represented

C-C xx

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Filed under C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

The 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

My blog-trawling the other day alighted upon a rather inspiring blog – 101 Books.  In it, as well as reading his way though Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels, Robert Bruce discusses various lists of ‘rules’ for writing.

He starts off with George Orwell’s list of Rules for Writing, and then moves on to Jonathan Franzen’s list of 10 Rules. His inspiration comes from the recent Guardian article where a group of famous authors wrote personal lists.

Check out the lists of rules, and decide which ten things you think are most important to you.  Or have you got some other rules that no one else has mentioned yet?

Here are my favourite 10 …

  1. Elmore Leonard’s advice to ‘Keep your exclamation points under control’ … I often write like I talk, and I’m quite an animated person.  I have to admit to still not being sure if ?! is now acceptable punctuation in this day and age, particularly in speech.
  2. I also like his rule that you ought to ‘leave out the part that readers tend to skip’ because I know as a reader I often skip long, dull paragraphs, and so need to be aware of this in my own writing when I come to editing
  3. Diana Athill’s (and Helen Dunmore’s) advice to ‘Read it aloud’ is something I always try to do when I’m editing, particularly if I’m unsure whether a section works or not.
  4. I also like Athill’s rule to ONLY use essential words … it can be hard sometimes to be that militant, but it’s very good advice when you’ve been told to reduce a manuscript substantially – like when I was told to turn Flicker’s 180,000 words in to 90,000
  5. Margaret Atwood recommends backing up computers, and always having something physical to write on – which ties nicely into my last blog post about Writer’s Block, where I suggested creativity doesn’t always come during designated writing hours
  6. ‘You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality,’ says Atwood.  The second item is a given for me, following on from ‘Get it Write 😉 ‘, and I LOVE her description of writing as a gamble.  ‘Essentially you’re on your own.  Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’  If I didn’t love her already for her amazing fiction, that sentence does it for me!  Especially considering it’s obviously been a very long time since Atwood herself was in a situation where writing didn’t pay!
  7. Roddy Doyle echoes one of Margaret Atwood’s points when he suggests you ‘change your mind’ at times.  It can be painful erasing sections, or changing names across an entire novel, or simply accepting that something you thought was wonderful doesn’t actually work, but try to think of your writing as a work in progress, and therefore treat editing a ‘refining process for the better’.
  8. Helen Dunmore suggests you ‘reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite’ … as I’ve mentioned before, most of my first drafts are really fifth drafts.
  9. I appreciate Geoff Dyer’s advice to ‘never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project’ … apparently having a female protagonist is something Sales and Marketing departments at publishers frown upon …. I’m afraid I am very unlikely to ever write from the perspective of a male protagonist, because I simply don’t feel equipped or able to do such a position justice.
  10. Anne Enright says the ‘first 12 years are the worst’ … hmmm that means I have another 10 years to go until I start worrying!

There are lots more I agree with … and there are also quite a few I disagree with … including

  1. Avoid prologues.  – One of the best parts of the Twilight series is definitely the carefully chosen prologues (no matter what you think of Twilight)
  2. Never use a verb other than ‘said’ …. really??? To me that’s rather boring and repetitive
  3. ‘If it sounds like writing, rewrite it…’ Surely this means get rid of all imagery and metaphors?
  4. Learn poems by heart… Um, what relevance does this have to fiction writing?
  5. Don’t write in public places … Some of my best words have been ‘penned’ on very crowded chicken buses.  As long as I have a decent pair of headphones, and Glee music available, I can shut out the world and concentrate on my writing.
  6. Keep a diary – See this is a difficult one, because I was the most dedicated journal keeper for over 10 years.  I kept one almost every day from the age of 14, however, since I’ve started writing regularly, I’ve noticed my journal time slowly diminish to virtually never, and I think the reason for this is because I have a different outlet for my words.  If I start writing a diary regularly again, I don’t think I’ll have the same discipline for my fiction work.

Have a read of the Guardian article, and Robert’s blog, and let me know which points you strongly agree or disagree with, and whether you have anything of your own to contribute to what is really far more than 10 simple rules!

One final thought …

Because I love this recommendation so much I feel it ought to stand alone.

‘Only bad writers think that their work is really good.’ (Anne Enright)

This definitely made me feel better about my own writing and my awful perfectionism!

C-C xx

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Some Cures for Writer’s Block

I recently asked for suggestions for blog topics, and one which resonated particularly with me was ‘writer’s block’.

It’s quite a dramatised area of writing.  The romantic image of the creatively-stifled author, tying himself in mentally draining knots, until along comes his muse and frees him from his own personal misery.

But from my experience at least, writer’s block doesn’t work like that.

I’ve never really been plagued by ‘the block’ … and I think there are some key reasons for that.

Firstly, I know and understand the way I write.

I have three different stages of writing.  The framework phrase, then the more specific ideas phase, and then finally the most precise phase.  Like cutting a piece of wood into chunks, then carving it, and then finally whittling away the finer details.

The first part is the brainstorm phrase.  Everything and anything is potentially of use.  And so I store it all.  I don’t worry about the finer points, or being neat about it. And it’s not a problem if I don’t use half of the stuff I come up with … I just … for want of a better word … spill!  And I carry on ‘spilling’ (such an awful phrase!) until I feel like I have enough material to work with.

During the second phase, I begin to shape those ideas into chapters and a more rigid framework.  As I explained in ‘Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘, I try to work my ideas into a useable framework, so that chapters begin to form, and I have specific parts of a book in which the initial ideas are then filed.  Because I’m still working on the book as a whole, and not individual chronological sections, it means that if there’s a particular section I’m interested in, or more inspired by, I can focus on my ideas for that part, and then go back to other trickier sections when I understand them more.

At this point I should probably interject with my second piece of advice for avoiding ‘writer’s block’.  I don’t set myself any strict deadlines.  Obviously I have a rough timescale in mind … but because I’m essentially writing for myself at this point, I am the one calling the shots on my time, and how I use it.  And with this relaxed approach, I find I never feel specifically ‘blocked’.  If I’m not feeling overly creative one evening, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere – doing more mundane, less creative tasks like numbering pages, or writing synopses of each chapter so that I can track character development etc.  That way, even in my less creative moments, I still feel like I’m doing something productive.

Going back to the phases of my writing, the third phase, where I fill out the frameworks of each chapter with the actual story, is obviously the phase where I’m most susceptible to blocks.  To get myself into the ‘writing mood’, I find it helps to start each session by reading the chapter beforehand.  This gets me into the right tone, and just reminds me of exactly where I am.  I also try to focus on the story outside of my writing time.  Over time I’ve worked out what works best for me, creatively.  Particularly with dialogue between characters, which is, I think, one of my strong points, I find the best way for me to work out the conversations, is to play them out in my head.  In order for that to happen, I need focussed solace.  And that’s where exercise comes in.  Whether I’m running, or hiking, or just working out in the gym, the focussed alone time is the perfect setting for dialogue to take shape.  And then I just need to make sure I can write down what I’ve come up with, as soon as possible.

When I was in Peru, I hiked the Inca Trail.  Whilst I was in a group, and it was quite sociable, there were also long stretches of tough hiking when no one talked.  And these were the times I found most productive as a writer.  At the end of each day, as we sat around waiting for dinnertime, I would madly scribble out page after page of notes.

Finally, I have one last tip for writer’s block … and that’s to read!

The best way to think like a writer, is to surround yourself with writing.  Now, I’m not suggesting plagiarism!  I just think the way to be most creative, is to get yourself into a creative frame of mind.  And that means immersing yourself in stories, because they will stretch your own imagination.  I find, if I want to think in the first person, I need to read stories written in the first person, so that my internal voice is playing out accordingly.  Likewise, I’m about to start writing a book for younger children than I normally write for, and so, I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite children’s books, so that I can achieve the best tone, and think from a children’s book perspective.

So those are my ‘cures’ for writer’s block –

  1. Know and understand your writing style
  2. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
  3. Find other productive things to do when you’re not feeling creative
  4. Creativity doesn’t only have a place when you’re sitting down in front of your laptop
  5. Surround yourself with creativity – particularly your current genre of writing

C-C xx

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Get It Write ;)

As I explained in Blog Etiquette I think it’s really important as a blogger to read other peoples’ blogs, particularly those of your personal readership.

I love to read, and so reading other blogs is definitely not a chore.  It can, however, prove extremely irksome, for one reason.

I’m a wordy … I LOVE words.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing so much.  I like to play with words, and images, and word play.  And encompassed in all of that is GRAMMAR.

Now, I’m not talking about anything too high-tech.  I know that blogging is like documented chatter, and that often grammatical rules get stretched, because, like I discussed in The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger, blogging is a very different kind of craft.  However, that’s no excuse to be sloppy, ESPECIALLY when your blog is about writing!

I’ve come across not one, but several blogs by writers, where they have misused apostrophes!  Come on, surely that’s something we learnt about at the age of ten?  Simple plural nouns don’t have apostrophes.  With singular possessive nouns, the apostrophe comes before the S, with plural possessive nouns, the apostrophe comes after the S.  Surely it’s not that hard?

Sorry to sound like a nag, but I think this also links back to Getting Represented.  Everyone makes the odd mistake, but if you want to be taken seriously as writer, you need to at least have basic grammar nailed.  I know if I were a literary agent, with a huge slush pile at my fingertips, then spotting huge grammatical errors in the introduction to someone’s work, would definitely put me off – a great example of this is describing yourself as a kid’s author.  Is that just the one kid?  Do you only write for one specific child?

When I was on my pre-university Gap Year, I taught English and American Cultural Studies at a Chinese university.  True story …. don’t even get me started on what a joke system it was that a 19 year old could become a university lecturer, but I did it for 6 months, and absolutely loved it.

My students were in their early twenties, and I soon began to see them as friends rather than students.

In China ALL students are expected to sit an English grammar test before university, regardless of whether they are planning on studying English.  For fun, a group of my students gave me the test to sit.  If I scored over 98% they would buy me dinner, if I scored less, I would buy all of them dinner.  I think I scored around 93 or 94%.

Now at the time I was probably the brightest and most engaged student I have ever been.  Fresh out of A Levels, with an A in English Literature under my belt, and a place at Cambridge University awaiting me, I tried to explain to them, that I was probably an unusually bright English person.  And yet, they simply couldn’t fathom why an English native speaker wasn’t able to score 100% on a test about her own language!

The test highlighted how many grammatical errors have become commonplace in our mother tongue.  And whilst this CAN be used for slight errors in sentence structure and syntax, it shouldn’t wash over the fact that the simplest of grammatical rules are being let slip because of the prevalence of text speech and abbreviation.

Ok, so Twitter only allows you 140 characters … but the real world doesn’t! (As evidenced by my epic blog-posts!) So don’t cut corners, otherwise you may well be cutting out (more pedantic!) readers like me 🙂

C-C xx

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I’m an Honorary Chick!

Huge thanks to 4 Chicks and a Muse, for finding the story behind how I got into writing inspiring enough to make me an honorary Chick on their blog! You might remember that a few weeks ago the Chicks wrote a response, ‘An Author, A Writer, What Am I?’ to my post ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!‘.

Each week the girls post a personal  ‘Chick Story’, focussing on how women in the arts discovered their passion, and I feel very privileged to be the focus of this week’s story.  Thank you girls 🙂

Check out my story HERE, and feel free to tell me, and all the Elementary Circle readers, how you discovered your passion in a comment below 🙂

C-C xx

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