Listen to what your mood is telling you (when you write)!

Camp-Participant-2015-Square-ButtonAfter bombing out of Camp NaNoWriMo back in April (due to that whole getting married thing I did – see my last few posts to read more about that and see pretty pictures and so on), I vowed that I would surge into the July event of Camp NaNo and knock out 30 000 words as if it was nothing. Which, considering how many times I have written more than this over the course of 6 successful NaNoWriMos (of 50 000 or more words) and 2 successful Camp NaNos (of 30 000 each), it is not unreasonable that I considered this a challenge I could beat.

However, a couple of days ago, sitting on a measly 4000 words (actually that’s a lie, it was like 3900 and when you’ve written so little those hundred words make a difference), I realised I had a problem. I kept sitting in front of my laptop trying to write, but it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t writer’s block so much as writer’s disdain – I just didn’t like my story so far. At all.

Something I have written about before on this blog is how I tend to mix up the moods I am trying to write my story in (I’d link but goodness knows how far back in my archive the original post is sitting, sorry guys – I’ll explain it all again anyway). I think I naturally assume when I’m in a good mood I need to write comedy and when I’m in a more melancholy mood I need to go for something more serious and perhaps depressing. But more often this proves wrong – when I’m not as high in spirits I need to write comedy, perhaps to lift me a little out of the emotional hole I find myself in for one reason or another. And when I am upbeat, sometimes my comedy comes out totally rubbish because I struggle to find things to satirise or be cynical about and so I actually need to write a story that maybe pulls me back down to earth.

So, while I have a few things in my life that are stressing me out at the moment I am most certainly a lot happier overall than I have been for, well, a lot of my life actually. So the reason why I couldn’t write was because I had nothing to make fun of (seriously, there was one funny page where two cats fought over a cheesy puff and then it went downhill from there). Consequently, I’ve started writing something way more depressing and now it’s pouring out of me – I’ll probably overtake my old word count tomorrow which I sort of need to do if I’m going to hit my word goal in 11 days. Somebody send me coffee, pronto!

Do any of you writers out there ever experience anything similar to this issue with moods affecting your writing style, mood or genre even? How do you work with/against it?

For those of you who are attempting Camp NaNo, how is it going for you this month? How is your cabin going? (Mine is really nice actually, everybody is quite talkative and friendly and sharing interesting ideas).

The Horrific Tale of The Decaffeinated World, Part 1

Strong coffeeAbout 2 months ago I wrote a blog post explaining how I want to write fun short stories (preferably silly or comedic in some way) based on ideas that you, my readers, come up with and pass on to me. Not because I’m lazy – I always have a million ideas buzzing around (which actually gets annoying sometimes) – but because I think it could be a fun new way to interact with my readers and also actually get back to creating more on this blog (which does, to be fair, have the word “creation” in its title). Anyway, if you haven’t seen that blog post, or would like to suggest an idea or want to see the sorts of ideas I’ve received already, have a look here.

The first story I’m going to write is based on a suggestion by CricketMuse, another writer/reader/blogger/teacher who has been blogging at least as long as I have and who has managed to retain far more focus than I ever could. This blog is a must for anybody interested in books, writing, and well just words pretty much!

The story suggestion is: “Suppose aliens swoop in with a coffeebean emp– how will the world cope being caffeine free?” As a coffee drinker, this idea terrifies me. Let’s see what this terrible imagination of mine does to this perfectly great idea (sorry in advance)! This will be in at least two parts but maybe three (just to break it up for you readers (okay, fine, to break it up for me too))!

The Horrific Tale of The Decaffeinated World

Part 1

by the considerably caffeinated Matt Watson

I stared out the window motionlessly as the morning cup whirled down my throat and into my body in a desperate yet routine attempt to bring me back to life enough to drive to work and pretend to be a normal person, just like everybody else pretends to be. We all have that drug of choice to help us achieve this – for some it’s smoking, others it’s alcohol, for some weird people it’s something even vaguely healthy like tea or juice or even water. But for a large amount of us, all around the world, it’s coffee that enables us to feign functionality in a world that is set to drain us until we are nothing left but a mechanical husk of what we once were. It was coffee that had provided me with a means of being an adult for the last twenty years.

My hand moved, without thought, to lift up my coffee cup to my mouth, only something was wrong. I nearly threw the mug into the roof with its lack of weight that I was clearly not prepared for, but being quite sure I had not gained any superpowers in the previous moments of contemplation and window-staring I found myself surprised at the possibility that I had already consumed all my coffee. I looked into the mug only to see desolation and crushed hopes.

I put the mug back down and rubbed my eyes. “It’s too early for magic tricks,” I mumbled to anybody who would listen.

“What magic tricks?” she retorted from the other room.

“My coffee is gone but I swear I didn’t drink it.”

“Oh darling…you just need another coffee. Make yourself another one.”

She was right. Of course she was right. She always was. I had accepted that a long time ago – I think it was in the marriage contract or something. I stood up after a couple of attempts and reached into the cupboard for the coffee, but again the coffee jar was not as heavy as I had been sure it was only moments earlier. I looked at it in my hands – completely empty, not even the coffee dust on the sides. It looked like as if somebody had cleaned it. But…nobody had been in the room since I last looked at it a few minutes ago. I put the jar backed and checked the cupboard properly. Then I checked the entire kitchen.

“Are you okay in there?” The noise had intrigued her, but not enough to actually come and see what was going on.

“Erm…yeah. The coffee has just…disappeared.”

“Well maybe you ran out, dear. Get one on your way to work or something.”

“Yes…yes that’s a good idea. Of course.”

I finished getting ready, with only a few sips of coffee struggling to keep me conscious I was quite certain. I felt like I was losing my mind, which was something that usually required more than ten coffees to occur, not just a few sips. But maybe I hadn’t slept well. I had no reason to worry about it just yet.

No, the moment when I felt I was more justified in my all-out-panic was when I pulled out of the fifth consecutive fast food drive-through window without a coffee. All of them, much to their own surprise, had been entirely depleted of their coffee stocks in what seemed to be the first time ever. I drove to a nearby supermarket, but the same thing had happened there. After two more stores that yielded the same impossible results, I drove to work with a sudden fondness for armageddon.

At the office, it turned out, we had also run out of coffee. I don’t want to sound melodramatic or anything, but I am quite certain I fell to my knees and screamed “nooo” at the top of my lungs for a few seconds before rolling over into the foetal position.

***

Meanwhile…

“So like…do they talk or what?” The long, bony, surprisingly ungreen (it was more a light pink) finger of the alien known as Boll poked one of the dormant beans.

“Don’t touch it you idiot! We still don’t fully understand them yet.”

“Oh, sorry Boss.” Boll stood up properly after being reprimanded by the creature he called Boss, but who was otherwise known as Ocks. Ocks was elected boss not by any sort of mental or emotional aptitude he possessed or had displayed, but because of the fact he was only 97 centimetres in height. As Boll stood at an appallingly tall 189 centimetres, his career prospects looked pretty dim. Such was the way of life for the Floating Nobulas, a curious nomadic people of unknown origins who travelled around the galaxies causing minor mischief normally by accident.

“And yes, apparently they do talk. They are alive after all.”

“But some of those human people said that most living things on Earth don’t talk, that only they do.”

“Yes, Boll, but just because some human told you that you’re going to believe it? Trust me, they’re not the brightest pack down there. These beans can talk,” and Ocks paused to look, no, stare, at the coffee beans, before pointedly asking “can’t they?”

The silence was mostly humiliating. They had come a long way to pick up these beans, to save them from the evil humans who kept grounding them up. They had agreed not to mess with the human affairs other than to remove all coffee beans and place them onto the several hundred ships that waited patiently outside the solar system in which the Earth existed. They already had a few issues to solve, such as where they would actually put these beans in the long term, but this silence was not assisting the situation.

Running out of ideas, Ocks finally played his blackmail card. “Fine, if you don’t talk, I’ll just send you back to Earth and you know what ha-“

But Ocks didn’t need to finish his sentence, as thousands of tiny eyes sprung open. One tiny bean finally hopped forward and bowed politely. “I apologise…we do not know how to handle such kindness as that which you have poured upon us.”

“Yes,” started another bean, “usually we just have boiling water poured upon us.”

“Sh!” The apparent leader of the beans didn’t want to give the aliens any ideas. “We are at your service, so long as you spare our lives.”

Ocks and Boll looked at each other, before Boll exclaimed “Awesome! We have a tiny army!”

Boll’s gigantic and quite hideous grin quickly disappeared with a knock to the top of the head from Ocks. “We have plans to make.”

***

By lunchtime, it had been declared on the world news that coffee no longer existed. It had completely disappeared, not just the stuff in the shops but also the actual plants themselves. It was as if the human race had been hallucinating the stuff, the entire concept, for the last few centuries. Except that when they checked books about it, it was still in there. There were still websites dedicated to it, there were still bad bumper stickers on the backs of cars referring to it, there were still shops and cafés whose business depended on it even if those shops and cafés suddenly looked like victims of a really huge theft (which, to be fair, they were).

It was declared an international emergency. Wars were temporarily brought to a ceasefire, political squabbles were put aside, natural disasters politely asked to take a hike for a short while. The 7 billion inhabitants of the planet needed to put their minds together to find a solution. Which would have been a great idea if it wasn’t for the withdrawal headaches from which large amounts of the human race were beginning to suffer.

However, despite my headache, even though I was emotionally volatile, I realised that this was my moment to shine! This was when I would become a hero, the hero that saved the world’s coffee supply! Today, I would be the biggest single cure for a headache ever! Because while the planet searched itself for something it no longer possessed, I turned my eyes to somewhere entirely different…

To Be Continued….

The Reader Who Forgot To Read

The title of this post, my first for the year (how did it get to the 13th already? Who let this happen? Was it YOU?), reflects the way I feel about myself over the last 12 months. I have considered myself a reader for most of my life, and while I have always been slightly too ambitious setting goals that I almost never quite make, last year is a bit of an exception. I lowered the goal (due to the whole moving abroad thing) to just 30 books – an easy goal, something I should have had no problems with achieving – and then instead of not quite making it I sort of just exploded upon lift off. I don’t even know what my total read books were for the year, but I’m guessing between 15 and 20 – I did not update my Goodreads account regularly enough to know this figure.

So you’ll notice this year if you look at my sidebar (or visit my GR account) that I have set my goal for 52. It is time to make amends for my severe lack of reading, because….because…well, because I miss it. I feel empty without it, and there are so many books I want to read and so many books constantly being released that I want to read as well as that list of old books that just keeps growing and there’s all my books in Australia I’m going to ship over soon and there’s lots of good books at the library I want to borrow and read and and and I might die soon or something (probably not, but you get my point).

Last year turned out quite different to what I expected (and I’ll explain about that in a later post), and while I had a great year it was also a mentally tiring year as I turned myself into a bit of a sponge, soaking up the culture, history and on occasion the language of this huge country of Sweden I now call home. This in itself gave me plenty of fuel for writing, and so although my writing was erratic I did churn out some 100 blog posts, about 25 short stories, two thirds of a really, really bad novel (which, on reflection, had some really good ideas I need to play with in a different context), and maybe 35 – 40 poems. But now I feel I need to get back to taking some inspiration from the written word again, getting my head into a big variety of different stories and writing styles while I determine where to take my own writing next and how to start pushing it up to the quality I want. After all, I did promise myself I’d publish one of my stories before I turned 30, which is sort of kind of in about 16 months.

So, onwards I march to a year of reading a book a week. I’m already a week behind, which sounds about right, although I am also halfway through two books. The upside of all this is that if I stay on track I’ll actually be able to write weekly book reviews again, something I suspect I haven’t managed to do successfully since my blog began back in 2012. As well as this I have a whole bunch of other blogging goals and projects to work on, and yes I will be adding more recipes to the food blog soon (also, I should properly introduce that blog).

What are your reading goals for the year? For those of you who are bloggers as well, what are your blogging plans?

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?