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Writing Targets

I have just read a post by Steven James about writing targets and why many writers have them. You can read it here :

We all know about the words-per-day target, or the hours-per-day target but he questions whether either of these really work in actual writing life – other than for those who are required to submit a certain amount of copy each week to their editor, or they get fired. We are talking about novelists rather than journalists, here.

All writers have their own method of staying on task; for many it has to be some sort of routine whether it is quantity or schedule. Steinbeck believed in writing one page a day, ignoring your audience and only writing to one person instead. Others insist on getting up at O’dark thirty to complete their word count before the day begins, while there are those who operate at the other end of the spectrum and write as bats and owls go about their business. Joyce Carol Oates – a prolific writer of over 80 novels alone – insists she spends much of every day staring out of her window. Each to his or her own writing clock.

James concludes with the notion – derived from calculations that will produce a 90,000 word book per year – of writing 300 words/day for 300 days/year. I haven’t checked his math, but I’ll take his word for it and understand he is being ironic. For how frustrating would that be? To get to your word limit, and ‘limit’ is the word here – 300 words is nothing – and still have another page or three to go before your ideas are all down? I understand his point, though, which is to show us that writing does not have to be this all-day slog on the days when nothing is coming. That we do not have to sit for a certain number of hours or words, as some authors insist upon, and feel guilty when all we can do is look at a blank screen or spend several hours revising. (Or writing blogs about not writing!)

I have tried forcing myself to write – both by word count or time: it didn’t work. I ended up hating the story, and writing in general. And without fail, all of the forced writing didn’t fit into the end product, exactly because it was forced.

I do not write every day. I do think every day, though; my story and characters are floating around in my head as I go about my business. I wait until one of them says or does something, and then I need to get it down immediately.

Do not get in my way.

Once I have that idea down, I can be writing for hours and then re-reading and tweaking for days until the next fallow period of thinking sets in. Somehow,  I have managed to produce several  novels this way.

So, that’s how I work. My characters have been quite chatty recently and so there has been a lot of writing going on and I like where they are taking me. I will write as far as I can and then set myself some questions to ponder for the next stage, and the next, and eventually, there will be another novel come out of it.



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Filed under Literary conversations, Writing Progress, Writing Style

Errors and editing

mistakesThank you Neil Gaiman!

I have been silent recently; silent both in blogging, and writing, and around the house. I have been preoccupied. And horror-struck. And mortified at something I read.

Mistakes; typos; grammatical inconsistencies – all horrors for an English teacher to witness. How can something go through many, many readings, editings, online grammar-checkers, and still have so many errors? It should not be possible, one would think; or perhaps you are ahead of me and are already nodding your head muttering ‘self-published authors’.

Mea culpa. The shock, horror and mortification does stem from a self-published novel: mine. My first, published in 2013, which I had no notion of anyone other than me seeing. Once I realized that people were reading it, I hurriedly raced through it again and caught what I thought were the only remaining errors, and re-published it with a sigh of relief, my pride intact. Hooray for online publishing! For believe me, I had produced the best novel I could at that time; I had read it myself at least ten times, and had farmed it out to several others for comments and suggestions. I had done what I could afford to do with a novel that no one was going to read.

Imagine my horror, then, when casually flipping pages, admiring my debut work, my eye lit upon ‘positioned himself bedside his wife’. ‘Bedside?’ Continue reading

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Filed under editing, General Thoughts, Learning through literature, Life lessons, Reflections, Writing Progress, writing style

When you rip out the roots


Gardeners know that when dividing a plant they have to be careful and quick. They must either gently tease out the roots or administer a quick chop with a sharp blade before immediately re-potting the two halves in a nurturing environment to avoid transplant shock.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante deals with a division that is neither quick nor gentle. It is a quick read, thank goodness, because the subject matter is disturbing, none of the characters is likeable, and the density of the prose often cloying; but it is not a pleasant nor enjoyable read.

The main character, Olga, suffers a breakdown after her husband leaves her for a younger woman – not an unusual premise; however, her suffering escalates until she can no longer manage her life nor her children’s lives. She is a plant in shock, descending into a toxic hell of self-abasement, obscenity, vicious anger, and overwhelming dysfunction in all areas of her life, roots exposed and withering. No plant can possibly survive in such conditions. Continue reading

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Book Reviews

A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion My rating: 4 of 5 stars I haven’t read a novel by Didion, only her essays, and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, her writing style – disj…

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Hardy Musings




Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native is a novel I read many years ago and being an admirer of his work, thought I would re-read it as its premise had long since slipped into the blur of Hardy novels. As any Hardy reader knows- and I don’t know who actually said this but it is very true – if you want a happy ending in a Hardy novel, then read it backwards. Which all sounds rather macabre and miserable, but it isn’t. This is because Hardy uses death as he uses life in his writing, as something that has to be endured and is unavoidable. Which also sounds rather bleak.

OK, so what he does is show us that regardless of the decisions we make, whether they are spontaneous or long deliberated on, makes no difference to the quality of our life and death. Both will occur, and our decisions will only make those occurrences more or less pleasant. The smallest of decisions, the slightest fall from grace or moral behavior can completely ruin or improve our lives. The only snag is that we don’t know when we are making those decisions what the consequence will be. No one can see into the future nor can they know what other people will do or how they will react. So essentially, the fact that all of Hardy’s novels – well, 95% of them – end tragically should act as a warning, a caution for the reader, a kind of flashing red light to check your own behavior and choices before it’s too late. It’s not bleak, it’s cathartic; a ‘thank goodness I’m not that hero/heroine, oops, maybe I should check I’m actually not acting that way.’

That said, my other observation on Hardy has to do with his wordiness, which generally has not ever worried or bothered me. To pick up a Hardy novel is to accept there will be considerable time spent, pages and pages in fact, on descriptions of characters, settings, motivations. Hardy can take six pages quite easily on the description of the interior of a cottage or the walk of a farmer. And this is not a problem. To read Hardy is to sink into his prose and let the imagination conjure up these images he draws  for you with such painstaking clarity. Unlike some other authors, he is determined there should be no mistake about what his readers see when a character enters a scene.

However, I found myself becoming impatient with the descriptions concerning the heath in this novel; Egdon Heath to be exact. The novel opens with a ten page description of the heath at dusk, the colors, the light, the sounds, and if it sounds excessive, it is. But, believe me, you can definitely see the heath by the end of it. But the heath, unusually, is not then left alone now it has been firmly fixed in your mind. No, it keeps on being described throughout the novel; every time someone walks across it, during the day, the night, winter, summer, it’s all there. The heath must be described. And I found myself losing interest in the story, the characters, and most definitely the heath.

Then I realized there is a reason for this preoccupation with an inanimate expanse of unforgiving nature: Hardy is treating it as the main character of his novel. It is the difficult place where the characters must eke out a poor living if they can from furze cutting and livestock grazing, and it rewards them poorly for their labors like a stingy relative. It is the place where characters meet and love and hate using its paths and hollows and ferns to promote or conceal their activities. It hides and reveals sides of characters that would otherwise go unnoticed in more agreeable and easy terrain. It is changeable and uncaring, focused only on its own existence. And once I figured this out, I appreciated the wordiness, the exact descriptions, and the heath’s effect on the other characters.

So now I like Hardy all over again – for his preoccupation with death and setting both. For portraying them as inanimate characters which have enormous influence on every one of us, whether we realize it or not.

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