Some time ago I attended a writing course in which we spent five minutes writing on a topic given to us by the tutor and including set words and phrases. The idea was to improve our ability to write in different styles, about different topics, using different voice and generally getting us to explore ways of thinking and writing. It was always interesting to read what other people had managed to write and the themes they explored. My problem was always that the only thing I was really thinking about what the current chapter of my novel. Any impromptu writing I did was still connected with the the ideas I had running around my head anyway. I am not sure that the exercise was particularly valuable for me. It did show me that I can write a lot of nonsense in a short period of time.
One of my writer colleagues currently swears by the “writing for 15 minutes a day” technique, which is often recommended by writing courses and writing books. She says that she does write for 15 minutes a day and this is helping her creative juices.
I tried it for a couple of days. I always get up early and for a couple of mornings I opened my laptop instead of surfing the internet mindlessly. I did 30 minutes on my novel for a few days. It was interesting to see that yes, I could write a couple of paragraphs, and then go off to work. On a few occasions I used the time to do a bit of editing. At the end of the week, though, I had not made any really significant progress and went back to my usual writing routine.
My usual writing routine involves setting aside a time slot of between three and six hours and then sitting down to write. At the end I hope to have completed at least one new chapter, edited a chapter and made some notes to carry the story forward. So far, this is continuing to work for me.
I stood on the bank of the River Narva with the sun high in the sky, the bridge before me and the town behind me. I looked out over the river to the fortress of Ivangorodstanding as a bleak reminder of the former Russian Empire. A building so vast it is difficult to capture as a whole in the mind’s eye. A building built of square stone blocks whose very exterior is forbidding. A building so stark in design and execution it shouts out that it is a building in which the unknown unseen watchers watch.
As I stood on the bank of the River Narva with the river several feet down the cliff face I remembered the role the town had played in the last world war war. As I stood on the cliffs overlooking the River Narva I remembered the sacrifice the town had made in the last world war. As I stood looking at the bridge over the River Narva I wondered whether the Russian tanks would cross over again in my lifetime.
As I stood on the bank of the River Narva with the river flowing below me the leader of the country I saw opposite me was dancing with the concept of another war with Europe. I remembered, as I stood that bright sunny day on the banks of the River Narva, that I had spent my childhood and my youth in the Cold War. I was a fully grown adult when the Russian Bear was defeated and retreated back to it’s cage. I had lived thirty years of my life in fear and now the fear had returned.
As I stood on the bank of the River Narva that bright sunny day a shiver of fear ran up my spine. I had just spoken to and shaken the hand of a former soldier of the former USSR.
As I stood on the bank of the River Narva with the ruins of the town of Narva behind me, I reflected on the destruction caused by past wars and the possible war we were facing. In the summer sun people sunbathed on the strip of land which divided democratic Europe from imperialist Russia as the Russian tanks rolled over the border into Ukraine. The signs on the railway door were written in Russian cyrillic script. On the other side of station hall, waited Russian border guards, ready to scan any objects crossing the border, only a glass door separating imperialism from democracy.
As I stood on the bank of the River Narva, I could feel the cold winds of the Cold War blowing across. I turned, found the train to Tallinn and returned to the brighter present. The spirit of the Ivangorod Fortress followed me.
Lynn Bradshaw, December 2014.
For the last 14 months or so, I have been working a political novel set in Estonia – Russia – Finland loosely related to events which took place in Tallinn in April 2007. I got 33000 words in when I began to loose focus and got a little bogged down in the plot.
I have taken several months away from the novel, revisited Tallinn and stood at the point in Narva where my story got stuck and am now ready to finish the story. I have rewritten the first two chapters having taken onboard lots of advice from my writing tutor Lisa Robbins (www.robbinsskyward.com) and the members of the advanced writing group at the Mary Ward Centre, London. What I have now, I think, it is a much more credible and better written story.
I have linked to the first two chapters in a PDF version in the hope that my readers will be willing to give me some critical feedback.
Kind Regards and best wishes for a pleasant holiday season
It is always nice when a story rounds off nicely with most of the ends tied, the killer identified and in police custody or worse. The main investigator/s get the chance to explain how it all happened, how the perp was caught, how the crime was committed and the social / political implications of it all. If the social loose ends mentioned in the story all get tied up as well, then that is a job well done.
I have just been reading an excellent example of such a story. The author, Anne Holt, created a modern-day political murder mystery in which the holder of the highest political office was found dead, literally, slumped across her desk. There was the usual who, what, when, why and how to be dealt with and two top detectives to lead the case. The male – female detective duo had a nice platonic relationiship and knew each other extremely well. The nature of the relationship allowed them to bounce ideas of each other. There were a couple of other characters sending the investigation forward: a journalist and another (female) detective.
There was enough political intrigue to give the non-Norwegian reader background to Norwegian politics and political history without getting bogged down in intrigue. There was a similar backstory to that of Borgen, the Danish television drama, with a successful driven female politician with a domesticated husband running the home. The story was also linked to real political events including the Thalidomide scandal and Cold War relations between the west and the former GDR. These details were nicely woven in with the crime drama and were, in fact, an integral part of understanding the crime.
The story, The Lion’s Mouth, begins with a political death and ends with the solution to that death. On the way suspects come and go, theories are examined both in meetings at the police station and at home between Billy T and Hanne, a reporter reveals a major missing detail from a related investigation and a politician is caught dealing with the Fourth Estate. Finally, at a party all the theories are aired and the solution becomes apparent.
This story works because the story comes full circle and the mystery is solved satisfactorily. All the main characters were dealt with and most of the loose ends tidied up. The reader was left with a few unanswered questions but that is what happens in the real world.
“Write” by Phil Daoust (Guardian Books) could possibly be the best book about writing ever, in my opinion.
What is so good about the book? Well, it is not just a prescriptive “How To ….” book nor is it an analysis of a particular writing method. The book is actually a collection of insights by different authors on the subject of writing, very often of writing their own books.
Writers learn their craft from reading the works of other writers, reading about other writers and discussing their work with other writers. This wonderful book (available in both hardback and Kindle versions) gives insights into how successful writers write and, in particular, how they wrote their most famous books. The selections are short and very much to the point but give an interesting insight into the writing process.
The “How to …” and other prescriptive guide are helpful to the beginning writer in that they give some pointers as to how to go on the writing journey. Reading about the journey successful writers have been on is, in my view, more helpful because they often have encountered and dealt with an issue the struggling writer is dealing with.
As Byatt’s contribution on the writing of “Possession” was most interesting as I once heard her talk about writing the novel. I was also interested in Zoe Heller’s issues in finding the right voice for “Notes on a Scandal” as this is something many writers have to consider. Getting the voice and perspective right is the catalyst for moving the writing forward.
I am finding many useful ideas in this book and it is very enlightening to read about how successful novels and stories have come about.
It seems that pseudo-manual typewriters and type fonts are in vogue at the moment, if they ever went out of vogue for “serious” writers, The current trend seems to be a result of the actor Tom Hanks getting somewhat obsessive about the clack of typewriter and the slightly mussed up print which resulted from worn ribbons and worn keys.
The Hanx Writer is an app designed to mimic the sound and look of a typewritten page. It is a nice app and very amusing but I doubt whether it has improved anyone’s writing ability or acted as a muse. A small group are currently crowdsourcing funding for a word processor which looks like a manual typewriter. It has an e-ink display, looks like an old fashioned manual typewriter and sounds like one as well when the keys are pressed. Will it catch on? I guess some stylish retro types will support it. Will it improve anyone’s writing? I doubt it. If you have the ability to write then it does not matter what you write on or with.
The idea seems to be that going back to a minimalist machine will remove the distractions the modern writer faces. Personally, I think the retro style typewriters will, themselves, be a distraction.
I was delighted to find an original Erika typewriter from East Germany in a Cold War Museum last year. It brought back happy memories as I was given one for my 16th birthday and it was my pride and joy. I type up all my senior school and university assignments on the machine until I replaced it with a Toshiba Satellite laptops in the early 1990s, Much as I loved the machine I would not want it back in my life. I can still remember being covered in correction fluid and the blue ink stuff from carbon paper, I can type at a rapid speed but it was very frustrating to have to keep ripping paper out and typing pages over and over again. I still have my graduation thesis which was typed on the Erika and can still feel the pain of typing up 15000 words on A4 paper without mistakes.
I was so happy, when I got my first ever laptop and did not have to keep retyping things. These days I am more than happy to have a photo of the Erika than to actually use one. There are those, though, who have gone back to typewriters arguing that the spooks cannot spy on a typewriter so they are a safe means of duplication. I wouldn’t be so sure – it is not beyond the KGB, or whatever they are called these days, to bug electric typewriters. I think I will stick with my iPad and Asus laptop whatever the risks.