A new writing segment that involves YOU!

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the future of my various blogs, in particular this one which is after all my original blog. One thing I have been doing a lot of this year is creating – lots of short stories, poetry and two thirds of a quite awful novel, to be exact. But I haven’t been sharing this on my blog, instead writing about only the manic thoughts of some of the writing challenges I’ve taken on.

Well, it’s time to get back to wantonly creating once more! I want to write short stories that I will put up on here, but here’s where you come in – I want you to tell me what to write. I have plenty of ideas, and for that matter lots of half-finished short stories. But I think it could be fun to write stories proposed by others and to share them with you all.

So here’s the plan:

  • the idea you give me can be about anything you like. I can’t make any promises about genre – often when I write comedy I end up becoming dark and introspective and when I try to write something more serious and realistic I get silly and surreal. Really, I must be honest – the sillier the idea, the happier I will be!
  • The idea should be simple – something you can say in a single line (a bit like a log-line, I guess). Something like “An egotistical pot plant learns a life lesson after a near death experience” for example. A very weird example, but still.
  • If you want, specify a word limit. I plan to keep all of these between 5 words and 1000 words – I’ll naturally lean toward 1000 words if you don’t specify the limit, of course. Only in certain circumstances I might consider going higher than this.

That’s it, really. I want to see first how many ideas I get. I would love to get a lot of ideas from people to build up a bit of a bank from which to choose my stories from. I can’t guarantee I’ll write every idea but I’ll certainly try to if possible. Depending on how many ideas I’ll get, I’ll then decide how often I do these stories and publish them on here. I’m thinking perhaps once a month would be nice but if I get more submissions then of course I’ll increase this amount.

So, send me your ideas in the comments section. Let me take some genius story concept of yours and watch me ruin it with my terrible writing turn it into…a story. Yep.

Lessons learned from my sixth NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Square-ButtonAround the world, NaNoWriMo, the event in which over 300 000 participants attempt to write a 50 000 word novel in 30 days, is about to come to a close. Here in Europe there is a little over 28 (edit: 26 hours, because Sleepless in Seattle is on television and I haven’t seen this movie as a grown adult before) hours left; back in Australia where I completed my first 5 NaNo novels, there is just over 16 hours left. Some people will scramble to perform catch ups of the most epic nature in this time, while others will decide to be content with what they have. And whether or not you have written 10 words or 1 million words, whether you are aiming to write 10 000 words on your last day or you’re kicking back with a nice glass of wine and laughing in the face of the very concept of writing on this last day, there is one important thing to matter:

  1. You’re already a winner.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. You gave it a shot. You hopefully learned something from it all. If you got to your goals, that’s a nice bonus, but the main point of it all is that you sat down and wrote something towards some kind of a novel or similar creative project. You wrote something which you might not have otherwise written and that is a victory. I think it is so important to remember that in these final hours.

As for me, I have indeed notched my sixth consecutive NaNoWriMo win, jumping over the 50 000 word hurdle on the 21st of the month (which may be my quickest so far because I tend to procrastinate a lot in the early parts of the month). I was aiming for 100 000 words, and I had a lot of reasons for it too. The last two years’ attempts at NaNoWriMo have felt a little forced and lacklustre – thanks to a bit of routine reaching 50 000 was almost too easy, a bit like I’ve done it all before (which to be fair I have). So I wanted to see what would happen when I aimed higher, without a plan, to see what might come out of my own head.

I stopped a few days ago, at 67 000 words. I did write harder and faster than ever before, and I came up with some frankly bizarre but interesting things in my story. I learned a lot about keeping my story funny more consistently (I was trying comedy yet again) and I learned just how complex I can make my plots without even trying. But at this point, a little behind schedule, I realised that I had no idea where to take the story to finish it. While I enjoyed writing it and being silly, while I learned a lot, I felt no personal attachment to my story this time. If I continued, I’d only be stubborn as if I were trying to prove a point that no longer needed to be proved. So I decided to stop and to be honest I am not only glad I’m did, but I’m a little bit proud that for once I didn’t let my ambition drive me into the ground as it so often can.

I guess that’s the main lesson I have learned this year. I need to have the correct motivation behind my writing, especially once I clear that NaNoWriMo baseline of 50 000 words. Often I have motivations beyond my own story ideas and writing too. Almost every year since I began I’ve had other writers who I am competing against or helping egg along to their first victory. Last year it was a very young student (who kicked my butt), this year it was a good friend who I cheered on (well…nagged) on various social media until she suddenly also kicked my butt and reached the goal in just 15 days (yes, you know who you are if you read this). So I think that also gives me a reason to do this crazy thing each year. Seeing somebody else I know reach that goal for the first time is one of the best feelings I know.

I for one am looking forward to returning to writing in other forms, like my blogs (yes, that food blog is starting up very soon) but also my short stories and poetry. I’m also looking forward to reading A LOT in December! BUT if you are still scrambling to finish you novels, I wish you lots of luck! It is always amazing what you can do with that final-day pressure! Just sit down and do your best, and whatever happens will happen. Whatever happens, be proud of it!

NaNoWriMo tips from a madman

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonI meant to write this before the last day of October, mere hours away from the beginning of NaNoWriMo (Australia and New Zealand have already started, while the rest of us around the world eagerly count down). But typically I found myself suddenly busy this month so finding time to blog was a bit trickier than I thought. Which, um, bodes well for NaNoWriMo, right?

Still. I have slayed this beast for the last five years, so apparently I’m doing something right even if I don’t know for sure what it is. Last year I wrote a list of tips as well, but then last year’s event for me was a bit of a let down – I reached the word count but was totally uninspired by my own writing, which is a shame after the amount of planning I put into it. And that perhaps leads me to tip number 1…

  1. Don’t worry TOO much about the planning. I’m not saying “don’t plan” nor am I saying “you must plan every scene or else doom will befall you!” What I am saying is don’t worry too much about it either way. Some of you will be pantsers, running into it with no real planning year after year, and for many of you this works great. For some of you, the thought of not planning terrifies you – it’s perfectly fine to be an articulate planner too if that helps you to write. But either way, at this point just go with what you have. You’d be surprised how it can come together regardless.
  2. Stock up on coffee/tea/cola/something caffeinated. I really feel this one is self-explanatory, but I can tell you there will be times where you just want to go for a little sleep instead of writing. If you pep yourself back up, sometimes those moments can be your best moments of writing.
  3. Tell everybody you’re doing it! I think I said this last year, actually. Anyway, the more people you tell, the more people you’ll have to nag encourage you to keep at it. Of course, if you think this kind of pressure won’t help you, maybe just tell a few people. But I know personally I like to shout it out from the rooftops while live streaming the whole thing!*
  4. Expect your story to not follow your orders. No, I’m being serious. Once you start writing, your story will take on a life of its own which you are only trying to control. But, like any loving creator, you can only control it so much. Sometimes you’ll write a scene or kill off a character or something dramatic and think to yourself “wait a minute, I wasn’t supposed to do that!” Do you keep this twist that even you, the author, didn’t expect? Well, that’s the part you control. Sometimes a sudden new direction can be refreshing, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
  5. Don’t have six subplots. Probably not even five. I’m saying this because last year I rather ambitiously aimed for six but my story became more tangled than the world championships of Twister (the board game, not the destructive weather event). For a novel at least one is usually needed, but two or three are probably manageable if you can think of a way of tying them altogether.
  6. Remember it’s a first draft. A very first draft. Don’t get too caught up on it being perfect – you’re just trying to get the story out of your head and onto the page at this point (albeit at an insane speed). The thing is, nobody writes a great first draft of a story regardless of the speed at which you write it (and if you think you do you’re either a freak genius or deeply disillusioned). So don’t judge yourself too much – that’s for December.
  7. Remove the backspace/delete buttons from your keyboard. Or, you know, pretend they aren’t there if you’re a bit more normal. The point is, don’t delete what you’ve written. Don’t even read it. Again, deletions are for December.
  8. If you can find some friendly competition, use it to your advantage. Maybe someone in your local writing group wants to race you? Go for it. Maybe you find the word sprints in the forums and on social media help you? Use them. A little competitive spirit never hurt, but please please please be nice to one another when you do this! On the odd occasion I’ve seen this turn into fighting and that’s not what this whole event is about.**
  9. If you fall behind, it’s not the end of the world. My favourite novels I’ve written so far for NaNoWriMo were the ones where I had to catch up massively towards the end (I think my record was writing 11k in one day, 19k over the final 3 days). Last year I stayed on track the whole month and my writing was bore galore! Obviously this isn’t the case for everybody, but either way don’t panic – it’s not over until it’s over, as they say.
  10. HAVE FUN! Because this is so vital to the whole thing. Yes, part of this is about the challenge, about pushing yourself with your writing to see what you can come up with. But it should also be about having fun, meeting new writers, sharing your experiences. No matter whether you get to 1k, 10k or 50k, you’ve written something this month and that is still an achievement!

And lastly, I shouldn’t have to point this out but I’m going to anyway. As many of you know I often encourage as many people as I can to give NaNoWriMo a go. I think it’s a lot of fun and most people who have tried it tend to agree with me. But if you don’t like it, if you think this sort of writing isn’t for you, that’s absolutely fine. It’s not for everybody. Some people just don’t and can’t write like that, and that doesn’t make them a lesser writer either. I guess it comes back to what I mentioned in point 8 – be respectful to everyone, those writers participating and those who are not. We’re all writers here, people!

For those of you who are joining in, I wish you luck! If you want to add me as a buddy on NaNo, let me know in the comments!

I have to go think about how I’m going to write something that will last 100 000 words starting tomorrow!***

You can do it, everyone!

 

*Not really. But I do tell everybody I know.

**If that’s what you’re after you probably want to try NaNoFiMo – National Novel Fighting Month.

***Oh yeah, did I even tell you guys that? I’m aiming for 100 000 words this year. No idea why. I’m a lunatic I suspect.

The Conundrum of Multiple Blog Syndrome, or, A Third Blog? Really?

That’s the question I have been asking myself for a couple of weeks now. Am I crazy for wanting to start a third blog when some months I struggle to stay on top of my main blog and my second blog (the lists one) has slowed down to one or two posts a month? Personally I don’t think so, although it probably is true that I am crazy for one reason or another anyway.

I’ve been blogging now for nearly three years, and not only has the blogging world changed a lot in that time but I have changed a lot in that time, as has my blog. This particular one started off as mostly a book blog, also sometimes including music reviews and different writing tips and things (some of my poetry form posts from 2012 are still very popular, much to my own surprise). But lately it’s taken a more personal turn as I’ve come to write about my experiences immigrating to Sweden, as well as just whatever I feel like really. I like the personal feel of my blog, but some of my interests I have been wanting to write about I fear would take over my blog and potentially alienate my readers too.

One interest in particular that I’ve developed this year is cooking and, more recently, baking. Perhaps because I’ve had more time and energy, I’ve made myself learn to cook really nice dinners properly. I’ve been training myself to understand how to adapt different recipes to suit my own tastes, how to make things from scratch and how fresh always tastes a million times better. I’ve started to bake from scratch and now I’m even baking my bread myself. I’m no professional chef, but I kind of like that I’m becoming a self taught cook and I feel like I’m developing my own style of cooking as a result of not being 100% competent in the kitchen just yet.

So, unsurprisingly, I am pondering starting a food blog as my third blog. I am passionate about it, and one thing I have learned is that being passionate about your blog subject is one of the most vital things to a successful blog. My concerns, among many, are things like the fact that does the world really need another foodie blog by somebody who doesn’t really know what they’re doing but is pretty good at pretending he does? But then, if I thought that about a book blog I wouldn’t be a blogger at all now would I?

I think I need to consider more how to make a food blog something unique and typically “me”, as well as making it interesting to others whether they are foodies or not. I also need to think of a good name, which is half the challenge in itself. But if and when I do start this new creative venture, I’ll make sure to post about it on here!

To all my blogging readers, do you keep up multiple blogs? Why did you decide to create other ones? Do you find it challenging to keep all of them updated?

Reader’s Block?

The daily prompt today on The Daily Post asks what the longest time is you’ve gone without reading a book, as well as what book helped break the dry spell. We so often talk about having Writer’s Block, but is Reader’s Block even possible?

Well, yes. Yes it is. In fact it happens to me more than I’d like to admit.

Most recently, it has happened to me this year. I’m unsure how long it was exactly, but I think it was a few months of not reading. I dare say that the whole emotional side of moving overseas to literally the other side of the world, to a country that speaks a language I do not, to a culture with which I’m not super familiar, sort of left me not in the mood to read. It’s as if all my spongy brain absorption powers were required for even the smallest parts of day to day living, and so there was no sponginess left to let any kind of book soak in at all. I did find the energy to write during that Reader’s Block period, and I was even creative in other ways too, but reading just seemed completely off my radar, even when I went to the effort of buying books specifically to trick myself into reading again (because I am a firm believer that I need to read in order to write, so without one of these the other one will soon dry up).

The-Girl-Who-Saved-the-King-of-SwedenThe book which broke the drought, I’m pretty sure, was a book called The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson. As the title and the author name may suggest, he is a Swedish author, but a highly successful one whose first novel, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, was one of the most successful books in recent history in Sweden and which went on to become popular around the world and even made into a movie. This, his second novel, really blew me away – while his first novel was funny and charming in all its oddness, this book was glimmering with intelligence and creativity and a hilarious plot I could never dream of writing. It far surpasses his first in every way for me, and I guess that’s what I needed to snap me out of my little “I don’t wanna read” tantrum I was having.

So what about you? Have you ever had Reader’s Block? If so, what enabled you to break it and get back into books again?

NaNoWriMo beckons once more…

NaNoWriMo LogoWell, that sounded a bit ominous! Anyway, those who have followed my blog the past few years probably know all about NaNoWriMo, because I babble about it every year around October and November. Newer followers might also know about it because, well, it’s a pretty massive event (about 300 000 participants globally last year).

But first, let’s refresh our memories on what this lunacy actually is (or perhaps even learn about it for the first time)! NaNoWriMo is an event in which participants from all walks of life attempt to write a 50 000 word (or more) novel entirely in the space of November. This sounds like a crazy challenge, and it really is, but the idea behind it is quite an important one. We all know the old saying that everybody has a book in them (as in one they want to write, not literally a book they are digesting because they mistook War and Peace for an apple). A lot of people often say that they want to write a novel, but they don’t have the time. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in – by forcing yourself to write the story at great speed (an average of 1667 words a day) you’ll get that book written within a month. Sure, it’ll be a bit rough around the edges. But, from my experience at least, it’ll have some gems in there too. Just the act of finishing a draft is a big step for any budding writer, published or unpublished, and no matter how hard it sounds once you get the momentum going it’s pretty hard to stop. Also, a huge community to encourage you and share all your trials and tribulations always helps – with hundreds of regions all around the world organising online and physical meet-ups, it can become quite a social event too.

For me personally, my NaNoWriMo story goes right back to 2009. I discovered the event at the last minute, with a couple of days to spare if my memory serves me correct. I remember thinking that first time “this is ludicrous, I have no idea what to write, I don’t have time to do this with university assignments due and my work and blah blah blah” and then I attempted it. That first year was filled with setbacks – at one point I was 20 000 words behind, while right at the end of the month a friend died which shook up my friends and I no end (as you’d expect) – but somehow I pulled through and hit the 50 000 words.

But that first NaNo novel, in the genre of dystopian fantasy, was awful and I’ve promised myself never to look at it again. The second year I attempted historical fiction and discovered the challenge of trying to fit 200 000 words of story into a quarter as much with far too little research. I also had a car crash that month so writing wasn’t exactly the most comfortable thing. The third year, in 2011, was my first year of being a teacher, so not only did I have to juggle novel writing with report writing and teaching, but I also stupidly decided to aim for 75 000 words. Despite overloading on caffeine repeatedly (at one point I drank 14 coffee in about 7 or 8 hours, and then oddly had an afternoon nap), the psychological thriller I wrote that year has been the only story thus far that I actually kind of liked (I intend on rewriting it soon). The next two years I attempted comedy and literary fiction, and while I found hitting the word goal easier than ever I ended up deeply disappointed with my stories.

So now, in 2014, I face my sixth consecutive NaNoWriMo going for a sixth consecutive win. A lot has changed for me this year, as I migrated from Australia to Sweden back in January, and I have a feeling my new surroundings and my experiences over this year will have some influence over my story. I am going to tackle comedy a second time, and earlier this year I wrote some comedy short stories that I actually liked and in which I think I started to find my own style of humorous writing. I am playing around with different ideas (time travel and bathtubs seem to be key themes at the moment, thanks to a certain friend on Twitter (you know who you are…)), but I hope to write something a bit more coherent than my comedy novel from 2012. I also plan on tapping into my influences more, from my general British comedy influences (especially Monty Python) but also all my writing influences from both now (both comedic and serious) and from my childhood (especially Roald Dahl). We’ll see what I come up with, I guess, in a few weeks time.

But enough about me! The NaNoWriMo website is running a little bit late in rebooting for this year’s event (it’s going up next week apparently), but now is the time to decide whether or not you’re going to attempt it, and if you are, to consider planning it (unless you like to write by the seat of your pants, which statistically speaking I do about 60% of the time so far). But, some things to consider:

  • If you’ve never done this before but love writing stories, you absolutely should give this a go – it is way more fun that you might think and it will definitely help you grow as a writer.
  • If you’ve tried this before but didn’t make the 50 000 word goal – try it again! Maybe a different story and different circumstances will enable you to reach it this time, and even if you still don’t you might get a lot written and that’s never a bad thing.
  • If you’ve won this before, whether it’s once or many times, do it again! After five wins, one thing I am certain of is that every year I do NaNoWriMo my writing improves and I learn more about my own writing abilities and style.

I’ll probably do another “tips on surviving” type post a little later in the month (don’t expect any profound advice other than to drink coffee though), but in the meantime I’d love to hear from you if you are doing NaNoWriMo or even if you’re just considering it. Also if you want to add me as a writing buddy on there, let me know.

23 days to go and counting!

Sweden Road Trip #10: Ytterhogdal, Sveg, and back home again

YtterhogdalOur plan after leaving Norrland for Halmstad was to travel the 1000km (approximately) in two days, stopping over about halfway overnight. Of course, this didn’t happen at all. The first day we got going quite slow, and after only an hour or two of driving we were all quite hungry. We kept our eyes peeled for a McDonald’s, on the rather foolish assumption that everywhere has a McDonald’s eventually. But alas, we were so much in the middle of nowhere that there was no such place to be found. We eventually stopped in the tiny town of Ytterhogdal, and were going to go into a restaurant nearby that IMG_20140719_152757was probably going to be expensive when I found a Thai food place hiding on the side of a building. I thought it was too good to be true – real and good Thai food is a rarity anywhere in Sweden (especially coming from Australia where every third building is a Thai restaurant). But when I looked at the menu, it looked like legitimate, real Thai cuisine, so we ate what turned out to be an amazing lunch that will always be what I remember about Ytterhogdal (sorry any Ytterhogdalites who read my page…all three of you). My other half jumped in the water for a quick swim to get some respite from the heat, and then we got back in the car again.

IMG_20140720_085747We didn’t get much further though, and decided that evening to pull up in the town of Sveg and settle in for the night. This was a double edged sword – it was nice to rest but it may have extended the travelling by another day. We just didn’t know at this point. We didn’t even set up the tent we were so exhausted, but it barely got dark at all that night so sleeping outside was fun if a touch on the dewy side. IMG_20140928_151654Stopping to relax was something we oddly needed – the last few days of the road trip had taken it out of us more than we realised, so sitting down with a good book, coffee, and a simple pesto pasta meal was the perfect way to unwind. After a while, we decided to go exploring around the campsite. We found a little walking bridge to a tiny island, with a nice water fountain in the water nearby. But what we found on the island was actually quite interesting.

IMG_20140928_151938It turned out that there were a lot of beavers in the area who would often come up the river at night and run riot on this little island. They were almost never seen during the day, sadly, although there was an awesome statue in the middle of the island of a IMG_20140928_151810beaver chomping away on a tree. But what was visible if you looked closely was the damage to the island caused by the beavers – tree stumps that had clearly been gnawed away at over time. A part of me wanted to go and see if I could see any beavers later that night but then I was overwhelmed by a fairly excusable desire to sleep during the night instead. Oh well.

IMG_20140721_111412The next day we shot off again, but after only a couple of hours we were already struggling. About halfway through the afternoon we decided to do something drastic and unexpected – we stopped. The driver of our group decided to sleep for a couple of hours, while the rest of us chilled out by the side of this mountain with an amazing view of the lake and forests in front of us. The reasoning behind this was so that we could drive at night, when it was cooler, and just push on through until we got home in the early hours of the next day, which is exactly what happened – we did get home just as the sun began to come up.

It had been a long trip home, and I would guess the road trip itself was somewhere around the 3000km mark, but it had been an amazing two weeks that I’ll never forget. Sweden is an amazingly beautiful country and I am incredibly lucky to have seen so much of it with my own eyes. If you ever visit Sweden in your life, I urge you to go and see more than just the obvious places like Stockholm. I love cities, but the real Sweden is up north, with the trees and the lakes and even the moose. Go on, go visit it there. You won’t regret it, I promise you.