Thursday, April 5, 2012

SNS is Moving On and Up.

Hello loyal Blogsters...

Just a heads up that Second Novel Syndrome is moving to wordpress. This is because there, I can incorporate it into my website. Please visit the new website and continue to follow the

Thank you.

That is all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Attention Deficit: (Or Why Writers Smoke)

"Sustained attention is the level of attention that produces consistent results on a task over time. Most healthy teenagers and adults are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 20 minutes at a time, although they can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing. This ability to renew attention permits people to "pay attention" to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as long movies."

Or writing a novel?

I have been worried lately about my attention span. As I have discussed before, I often use Freedom to turn off my internet while I write. This is because I cannot help but flick between Facebook, two separate email accounts and now...yes, it’s finally happened...Twitter. It’s an unending cycle of checking for some kind of communication from, well, anybody. Some little task that I can complete easily. But as soon as I complete one such task, I am bored and flicking through, looking for the next one.

Using Freedom makes this easier...however, I still have the urge to flick my brain somewhere else. To find a small task to complete easily.

And this is when I smoke.

Smoking and writers used to go together like absinthe and painters or opium and...writers. Now, no one smokes. In a class full of ten undergraduate creative writing students, not one smokes. Is it wrong that this makes me a little sad.

Smoking a cigarette is an easily accomplished task. It allows your mind a minute away from the larger job you attempting to complete (ie writing a novel), but instead of making it focus on something else, it allows your mind a break. A breather. You can ruminate of the next scene you’re going to write, or even just the next line.

Apparently watching television at a young age is correlated with this kind of short attention span, although there is not necessarily causality between the two.

“One study of 2600 children found that early exposure to television (around age two) is associated with later attention problems such as inattention, impulsiveness, disorganization, and distractibility at age seven.This correlational study does not specify whether viewing television increases attention problems in children, or if children who are naturally prone to inattention are disproportionately attracted to the stimulation of television at young ages, or if there is some other factor, such as parenting skills, associated with this finding.”

Well, I LOVED television as a child. Still do in a completely habitual Pavlov’s dogs kind of way. I will watch pretty much anything. Or will spend hours ‘surfing’ and not watching anything, if given a chance. This is why I no longer own a television.

However, growing up and going to school my attention span was always pretty solid. I was never accused of having ADD or anything.

That is until I took this test

Turns out I “sometimes have difficulty maintaining focus on a task and following it through until completion. People who have short attention spans tend to jump from project to project and are often known to be quite disorganized. This frequently results in missed deadlines, tardiness, and bills being paid late. An inability to pay attention for an extended period of time could be a result of fatigue, a medication side-effect, or you may simply have a personal issue weighing heavily on your mind. However, if you feel your occasional inability to pay attention is significantly affecting your life, it would be a good idea to visit a psychologist in order to assess whether Attention Deficit Disorder may be an issue.”

Granted, this is probably gross over diagnosing through the internet...but it makes me think.

It’s only in the last year or so that I noticed the change...and what has changed in my life in the last year?

Excessive technology.

Higher engagement with social networking sites and email.

“Some authors, such as Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, believe that the attention span of humans is decreasing as modern technology, especially television, increases. Internet browsing may have a similar effect because it enables users to easily move from one page to another. Most internet users spend less than one minute on the average website.[9] Movie reviewer Roger Ebert, an active blogger and "Tweeter," wrote of the impact of technology on his reading habits and his search for "frisson" on the web and in life. Ebert cited an article by Nicholas Carr in the June, 2010 Wired magazine about a UCLA professor, Gary Small, who used an MRI scan to observe the brain activity of six volunteers, three web veterans and three not. The professor found that veteran web users had developed "distinctive neural pathways."

Now I’m not saying technology is a bad thing...but it changes us. And therefore we must find new ways to work around and through the distractions.

Or old ways...

Like smoking cigarettes.

*all quotes from ‘attention span’ article on

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Things to Read and Listen To.

This one is brief but informative.

Things to Listen To:
This Thursday March 8th at 6:30pm in the Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library, I will be reading as part of an International Women's Day event. There will be a dozen Norwich based women writers sharing their own work. As requested, here is the event page. The event is free and there will be an after party at the Bicycle Shop. All welcome.

I have read my work out loud countless times, but almost always from my first novel. This time, I will be reading the beginning section of the dreaded second novel. So, I am actually a little bit nervous, as it is in such early stages. Who knows if the section I read will even still be in the book when it's done? Wish me

Things to Read:
My industrious ex-students have launched a UEA creative writing blog where they can self publish their own work and where they take submissions from other UEA writers. They are not only writers but editors and curators. They are extremely prolific, with new work going up every day, and they seriously put me to shame. I hope they manage to keep up their motivation to write once they are out of university. They are very talented and I am incredibly proud of them (although I can take NONE of the credit for their creative drive). If you want to read some very new, very good fiction, check out Ellipsis. I have also put a link in the sidebar under 'My Blog List'.

That's all for now...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

To Dream or Not to Dream...

Ah the dilemma of the 'Dream Sequence'. It is often said that dream sequences in novels are a bad idea. That readers skip over them, or that they're too contrived. But it also seems to be agreed that this isn't always true, and that when handled correctly, or when integral to the story/character they can be quite interesting.

Stuart Evers on the Guardian Books Blog says of dream sequences...

"For the most part, the realist novel uses the dream as a way to see deeper into a character's soul. This causes problems. Dreams are, by their very nature, random, teasing, confusing and otherworldly. Taken cumulatively, someone's dreams may expose some of their inner workings – but taken individually, I suspect, they wouldn't provide much insight. Which means that when I read a dream that "says" something about a character, it tends to strike a false note. And yet if it doesn't say something about the character, and conforms to the peculiar randomness of real dreams, I'm likely to be bored and skip the pages."

But I believe, it kept short and if recounted in the prose as opposed to told in present tense while the character is supposedly experiencing it, dream sequences can tell the reader something subtle about the character that perhaps the character can't articulate themselves, or doesn't even know about themselves. In a third person narrative, the reader need not assume that the character even remembers the dream. Perhaps it is only being recounted to offer them a glimpse of the character's subconscious.

*warning: excessive use of dead animals ahead*
The first draft of my first novel had a dream sequence in it. One that was inspired by an actual event that felt so surreal that it would never have been believable if written into the main action of the story. However, due to the first person, real time, immediacy of the novel, the dream sequence did seem out of place. Additionally, it did everything that I have come to hate in a dream sequence. It was told as it was happening (although this choice was made because the narrative is constantly in the narrator's thoughts as they're happening, so I felt a dream would have to be described as it was happening in her mind) and it was put in italics, making it stand out from the rest of the narrative. Eventually I cut it. I recreate it for you here in it's entirety. 

"A loud noise. 
Violent flapping. 
I’m standing in the middle of my apartment. It’s dark, but there’s light pouring in through the windows. Street lamps. Something dark flashes past my head. I feel the soft pressure of feathers and muscle against my ear. I duck. I can see it slamming itself into the ceiling’s high corners. 
A pigeon.
I run to the windows trying to pry them open. They stick tight. I strain and push against the glass, dodging the panicked bird as it zigzags the room, crunching itself into walls, spattering them with blood.
I’m crying. Willing the window to please open. The bird barrels through the air straight for me and just as I crouch to the ground, glass shatters over my head. Raining down on me in stinging little pieces.
I’m up, unhurt. The lights are on.
There are feathers creeping into the far corners of the room. Pushed along by a breeze from the now open, but unbroken window. There are flecks of white shit already drying into the carpet, and a wet glistening puddle of green/white goo soaking into my sheets.
For fuck’s sake.
Blood is turning from bright red to dark brown on the walls. Clumps of feathers and blood are clotted to the ceiling.
The dumb thing practically bashed its head in slamming around this fucking cage.
I lean out the window and peer down to where it’s flopping around on the sidewalk below. The flapping of its wings echoes in the empty street. Making it too loud for what it is. The fluttering of soft feathers against each other. The sound is made more than the action. It rings in my ears.
The pigeon can’t get itself upright and in the pearlescent peach streetlight I can see dark spots forming on the pavement as it struggles with itself. Wills its body to heal. I consider dropping a book on it. But am afraid I’ll miss. I should go down there and grind my heel into its skull, save the godforsaken thing some suffering. But I know that I won’t. That I can’t. I’m not able. Not strong enough. 
So I close the window and turn my back to its pathetic death.
And my stranger is there in front of me. Holding the bird in his hands. It’s broken and twisted and its blood runs over his fingers and soaks into the carpet at his feet.
He steps closer, offering the twitching thing to me. Sheer fear flashing in its darting eyes.
“Here.” He says. “This is yours to deal with.”

Very glad I cut that now...

However, it made another appearance in one of my many unfinished attempts at a second novel. Perhaps because I was so obsessed with the imagery of it. This time, although still in first person, the narrative is in past tense and the dream is recounted after waking. Also, it is shorter, less detailed and gets right at the heart of what's important about it, which I feel does make it more approachable...

"There was a night when the whole story seemed to take a turn for the darker. I woke suddenly, a dream still fresh in my mind. I had been in my own room, but it wasn’t my room. It was much smaller and had high slanting ceilings. There had been a bird, a pigeon, trapped in the room with me. It was battering itself against the corners of the room trying to escape. There were blood and feathers everywhere. Next, I was on a dark street, in a circle of orangepink lamplight. At my feet was a dark sputtering lump. The broken pigeon lay flapping on the sidewalk, bent and twisted at unlikely angles. The echoing of its wings so loud it was hard to believe it was just the sound of feather against feather. Its dull eyes rolled. It didn’t know I was there. Too panicked to notice anything but its own life fading. And then, back in a room that wasn’t my room, I turned to find my mother in the doorway. Even shorter and rounder than she had actually been. In her outstretched hands the bird twitched feebly, its blood running over my mother’s fingers and pooling on the floor. She looked at me and said,
“Put it out of its misery.”
Sitting up in my bed, damp with sleep sweat, the possibility for tears diminishing, I felt real anger towards the pigeon for being so stupid. For bashing its own damn brains out trying to get out of it’s pathetic cage."
Now, in my second novel, I found myself writing another dream sequence. Again past tense, and recounted but now also in third person. It started like this... 
"She'd had a semi-waking dream where she’d been riding a horse, like she did the previous summer, when her Grandfather had given her six weeks of riding lessons as a birthday present. But in the dream the horse had no saddle and no bridle. And suddenly the boy had appeared in front of her. The horse reared up, startled, but she'd managed to calm it down. ‘What’re you doing!’ she’d screamed at him. But he didn’t say anything. Just pointed at the horse. ‘What? What do you want?’ ‘Your horse...’ he kept pointing. ‘Your horse is dead.’ And she looked down at it and it was. The skin was sagging and dried out and its eyes were empty holes. Flies buzzed out of its mouth. And she’d just laughed."
I wanted to show something about her innate morbidity. I wanted to show how this boy she'd met was infiltrating her thoughts. I wanted to give a glimpse into what they're relationship would become. But after giving it to a reader for suggestions, I was told that the first three instances of dead animals were all fine and made sense, but the dead horse stuck out as...oh no, not another dead animal. And that her morbid preoccupations were made clear enough without it. So I reworked it to this... 
"That night, as her fever broke, she dreamed she was riding a horse. A chesnut mare. It had no bridle and no saddle and she kept herself atop it with fingers full of tangled mane. And the horses hooves were beating the ground like jackhammers and its muscles were writhing and the heat of its exertion burned her thighs, but they were going nowhere. The scenery was stationary. The wind whipped violently through her hair but they were stuck in one spot. And she could see him in the distance, on the horizon, but they never got any closer."
But this didn't seem to tell as much about her relationship with the world as I wanted it to. Or about how she feels connected to the boy who she doesn't even know. So I opened up write or die and just thought about her disconnection from the world, and just wrote dreams. Including this one...

"She dreamed she had a box made of glass. It was a small box, the size of shoe box, but the whole world was inside it. Except her. There was nothing outside the box with her. The whole universe consisted of her and the contents of the box. She could see everything going on in the box, but she wasn't part of any of it. And then suddenly the boy, Brandon, was there next to her, in the nothing. And he took the lid off the box and turned it upside down and tipped all its contents...the whole of creation, out into the nothing, where it all evaporated and disappeared."
Far too esoteric. But it got me on the right path. And eventually, I got to this...
"In the night, as her fever broke, she dreamed she was in a movie theater, but she was the only one there. And on the screen the whole world and all of history played continuously forever. An unending film with no overarching narrative. And she was never in it, but always watching it. She couldn’t leave the theater and she couldn’t get into the screen (although she’d never really tried), she could only watch. And then suddenly the boy, Brandon, was sitting in the seat directly beside her. In that theater full of empty seats. And he had a box of popcorn, which he held out to her by way of silent offering.  And they sat together, eating popcorn and watching the film of everything, forever."

Will it stay like this? Will it stay in the final book? Who knows. But for whatever reason I'm still drawn to the succinct, interesting dream sequence. Is this a weakness as a writer? I don't know. I'll have to see.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Regrets, I've had a few...

Like about five seconds after posting my last entry.

What was I thinking putting such first draft work out there in the public domain? Chapter two has already changed so much since that first draft version, and to be honest, I've hardly been working on it. What's with all the rhetorical questions in it? (See what I did there?) I've worked hard to get them out as I find them annoying.

I'll continue to post first draft work as it comes, cause what the fuck else am I gonna put on here?

Round about now is the time when I start second guessing everything I've written so far. The girl's not morbid enough, the boy's not scary enough. How do you write characters that are basically sociopaths, but then have them fall in love with each other? Isn't the whole point of sociopaths that they don't have emotions? So, are they just weird kids that have an overly complicated fascination with death? I like the beginning, but not the most recent bits so am I heading the wrong way? And what's with all the rhetorical questions?

I figure what I have to do is keep at it. If I start second guessing everything I've done so far I will stunt myself from being able to go further. If there's anything I've learned from my research into SNS it's that the best thing to do is just keep writing til you get to then end, then you have to go back and sift through all the shit to find a nugget of gold.

And then write it again...

And again...


I've been asked to come and read some of my work at the library for an International Women's Day event. The only readings I've ever done were from my first book, but I feel so removed from it these days that it would be strange to read from it now. Plus, I find it incredibly cringe-worthy. Talk about regrets.
I was talking to some of my students at a reading I organized for them (I think it's really important to be able to read your own stuff in front of an audience if you're a writer). They were saying how it's hard to know when you've finished a piece because they keep finding things to change. I told them, it's always like that. At some point (like when it goes to print) you have to accept that it's done, but you'll always find things in it you regret, or you wish you could change. I don't even look at my first book anymore, it's so littered with those bits.

So, I certainly can't read from it. I've decided to read the beginning (still very first draft-y) section of the new novel...

We'll see if I end up regretting it...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chapter 2: Like a Child in its Parents' Bed.

Am beginning to get concerned that in the first 26 pages of this novel I have killed three different animals and that where in my last novel everything hinged on a scene involving a dead this one, everything begins with a dead cat. Perhaps need to rethink my catalysts or I may be accused of having limited literary preoccupations. But it is a book about death. Of that much I am certain. So a small amount of death may be required.

As promised...some writing. This is the entirety of chapter 2 at the moment. Thought I might as well put a big chunk out there since I've been off the radar for awhile. If you don't like it...go fuck yourself. Kidding. Kind of.

Brandon stormed into his house, slamming the screen door behind him. What the fuck was her problem? Why did she care so much about some dumb lizard? He opened the refrigerator and took a bottle of Budweiser out of the door and twisted it open. His dad would just think he'd drunk it himself. He took a long gulp from the cool bottle and slammed it on the counter, flecks of foam splattering out onto his wrist. He didn’t feel guilty. Why should he? Who was this dumb girl that kept showing up and trying to make him feel guilty?
Who was she?
He hadn’t even recognized her at first, when she knelt beside him in the park. Had ignored her, hoping she’d get bored and slope off. But then he’d looked her straight in those swamp colored eyes and it hit him like a punch in the stomach. Those same eyes glaring hate and disgust into him only two weeks before. That breathy voice, far too deep and throaty for a girl who couldn’t be older than ten.
This time she wasn’t looking at him with hatred though, but with something else. Openess. Forgiveness maybe?
Heat gripped his stomach as their hands touched and at first he wondered if maybe she didn’t recognize him. If maybe he could start again from scratch. Pretend to be somebody else.
But she knew who he was. She’d started to say it…to ask about the cat. And the hot clutching in his stomach had turned to ice and he’d felt shame. And that made him angry.
And when he got angry he hurt things.
Why had she come over in the first place? Why if she knew it was him? What did she want from him?
He’d had a second chance and had blown it. She’d certainly never come to him like that again. Warm and open and curious. Like she cared about him or something. But she couldn’t. ‘Cause she didn’t even know him.
We wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and pressed the sweating bottle to it. He took deep breaths, trying to get his heart to slow to its normal plodding pace. He felt one hundred years old.
Upstairs he crept to the door of his parent’s bedroom which was open an inch, a soft light emitting from behind it. He could hear his mother's short breaths coming from inside. He pushed the door open wider and let his eyes adjust to the dim light. She looked so small in the bed. Like a child in its parents’ bed. He wanted to gather her up in his arms and hold her, and even at a mere fourteen, he easily could have, he was so tall and broad. And she had wasted to almost nothing. A fading Polaroid of herself.
No, what he really wanted was for her to wake up and hold him on her lap and rock him in her lithe arms like she had done when he was small. But he’d never be small enough for that again. And she’d never be strong enough. He wanted to cry then, but couldn’t do it in front of his mother. Even if she was in a sedative induced sleep and would never know. He shut the door behind him and entered his bedroom at the other end of the hall. He drew a battered pack of his father’s Lucky Strikes from his untidy underwear drawer, pulled a matchbook out of the plastic wrap and lit a cigarette with the last match inside it. He collapsed onto the unmade bed, sucking smoke.
He stared out the window, sipping beer and ashing into an old cereal bowl, encrusted with yellowed milk residue. It hadn’t been that long ago that his mother had come into his room every Sunday, ranting about what a mess it was and whirling around him throwing dirty socks into a laundry basket tucked under her arm, gathering up old dishes while he snapped and shouted at her to get out of his private space. The mess was now at least two months old and he wished he'd never given her such a hard time about trying to take care of him.
The fierce look in the girl’s eyes kept coming back to him. He shook his head to rid himself of their disapproval but they stuck there even when his eyes were closed, like the after affects of staring into the sun.
His mother would have cared too. Would have cared about the salamander and the cat. But she barely existed anymore so what did it matter?
He took a last sip of beer but spluttered it onto his tee shirt as silent sobs overtook him. He shook and buried his face in his pillow. He wished the girl was there now, in his room, on his bed. He wanted her to rest her small head on his back while he cried. He wanted to feel her cool hand on his burning face.

Suddenly Seeking Reader

So much for New Year's resolutions, huh?

It's already the middle of February and I've spent most of my time this past month drinking, dancing, playing roller derby and generally finding any excuse not to write. My husband's been in Siberia for a month and I was honestly convinced that his absence would motivate me to write more. That while he was gone I would be so bored in the empty house that I would be forced to sit down and write. Turns out, I was so bored in the empty house that I left it at every possible opportunity and stayed out til four in the morning drinking vodka sodas and dancing to Journey.

Apparently, when left to my own devices, I revert to my natural state. My natural state being...drunk.

But he's back now and I've dutifully returned to the keyboard to write both here and in 'the novel'. It was hard to sit down and start, with my old friend panic joining me quite quickly, but once I did, it's been moving ok.

I'm currently dealing with the fact that up until now, the narrative has swirled around Wendy and has been told mostly from her perspective. The newest chapter however, is from Brandon's perspective. I'm not sure why I'm doing this, but it just seemed right at this point in the story. But I can't help wondering whether this will be sustainable in the long run. Really, it doesn't matter and I should just write it however it is coming out for now. That's what redrafting is for! But it's hard not to at least try to be thinking three, five, seven chapters ahead.

What I really need right now is a reader. Every writer needs a reader. If you write a whole novel in a vacuum, with no outside perspective (I've been using that word a lot), you'll become blind to it. Won't see when it's strayed too far off the path.

My husband's a writer. A really good one. But he's my husband so I could never trust him to be objective (even if he would be). I have a great deal of extremely smart and well read friends who I know would be willing to read for me, but they might not read with the same close, critical eye that another writer would. I have writer acquaintences, but none that I'd feel comfortable asking to read something at such an early stage. It's a big ask really. It takes time and effort and most of these people are working on their own writing while marking student's writing. It's like whether they know you really well or hardly at all, it's difficult to be honest. There's always my agent (Hello Caroline!), but really it's not her job to read early stages of first drafts. She'll get the second draft.

I miss the workshop environment of University. Lots of writers, all at a similar stage in their 'writerly life'. All expected to be critical and constructive. It's invaluable and I worry that without that I'll forever struggle to get the words right.

Reader wanted: Objective, critical but not cruel, to read first two chapters of the first draft of my barely started second novel and tell me whether it's shit or not. Why or why not? No time wasters.

Expect a writing post later today. If you expect it, maybe I'll actually do it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Technology Rescues Us from Itself

So it has been a week since my last post, which is obviously pretty slack. I can give you a bunch of shit about how busy/stressful/whatever my week was (and it was) but it's not relevant.

I have been regularly using Write or Die and it has been working miracles. I can bang out about 500 words in twenty minutes. Granted, they are repetitive words formed into messy, grammatically incorrect and often uninteresting sentences. BUT they are still words. And you gotta have SOMETHING to work with. No point trying to put a puzzle together with no pieces. Am I right?

So, I have taken one small chunk of rubble and had a go at carving it into something. Wendy has just stumbled across a praying mantis in an azalea bush...

"At first it stayed perfectly still. Then slowly it began to make its way across the leafy branch. It moved steadily. Its steps were soft yet deliberate, as if it thought it might wake someone. Wendy was taken aback by how green it was. Neon, lime, chartreuse. It was large too, larger than she was strictly comfortable with. Coming face to face with it while it was in its shrub was ok, but she imagined meeting it in her bedroom in the dark. Or what if when she switched the bathroom light on in the middle of the night, instead of the usual curled up spider in the corner, this unfeasible creature was crouched waiting for her? She would be terribly shaken. Things belonged where they belonged. Every thing is made to fit within the place it is meant to exist in, and if some thing is encountered outside of its place, it can seem monstrous. This twig-like thing, painted in all its chlorophyllic beauty, belonged in this shrub.
She surveyed the space around her, the school yard, the upstairs windows of her apartment, the steeple on the Presbyterian church, and wondered if she was in the right place. Or if she was a monster."

I'm sure this bit will change and change again. Maybe it will even get deleted from the narrative altogether, as that is the nature of constructing a story. You have to not only know what to leave in but what to leave out as well. But for now, I like it.

Anyway, my latest hurdle to true writerly focus is the ever present Facebook. It's like a scab that you just can't help but pick. I can be writing along all fine and dandy and then all of sudden, I'll just HAVE to check facebook. It's obsessively habitual, unnecessary and incredibly unproductive. Like smoking. So, I did a little research and decided to give this a try. It shuts off all access to your internet connection for however long you program it for. If you absolutely NEED to get online during this time you have to reboot your computer, which is such a hassle that it's meant to keep you from cheating. The first time I used it I had urges, cravings even, to refresh Facebook and Gmail. But I couldn't. Which was weirdly unnerving. But eventually I let it go and just wrote through to the end of the time period I had set.

There are two downsides to this at the moment. One, I only have the free trial which means I can only use it 4 more times. I think I am going to have to shell out a tenner and get the proper one and really retrain myself to have an attention span. But, number two is, I can't use the free web app of Write or Die while I have Freedom set. So this meant I actually didn't write straight through the time frame. I kept stopping, pondering specific words, going back and re-reading what I had just written. All the things that I am trying NOT to do. So, I suppose I will have to shell out a second tenner for the desktop version of Write or Die so I can use it while offline. And then, SURELY, I will be unstoppable.

Luckily they are only American tenners.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Resolution? ...Do less.

...and write more.

So, it's offically 2012. I've never been much on New Year's resolutions. Usually I go with something like, eat more, drink more and smoke more, as my 'oh so clever' anti-resolution. This year my 'oh so clever' anti-resolution is do less...(but write more).

One of the pieces to my SNS has been the wonderful distractive qualities of extra-curricular activities. I've always been the kind of person who embraces a new idea or activity with frightening gusto, usually to abandon it wholly within six months so that I can pick up another one. These include but are not limited to...painting, the banjo, horseback riding, pilates, making and selling handbags and purses and baking. Oh and at least three novels, started then abandoned. Of these, the ones that I took up in my adult life have proven a great distraction from writing, which is the one thing that has remained a constant 'extra-curricular' since I was twelve. So much so that I strive to make it my main 'curricular' activity. So, these things distract me from writing and therefore I do them even more and get even more wrapped up in them as an excuse to not write. A few months ago I wrote a little piece as an excercise in writing Salinger-esque prose and dialogue entitled 'Nobody Talks Like That Anymore' which opens with a (semi-autobiographical) list...

"First, as often seems to be the case, there was the piano.

Followed by the ubiquitous trifecta of ballet, tap and jazz. Then, horseback riding (English and Western). A brief stint with the flute. A concerted effort at singing and acting, which very nearly led to a period of theatrical study at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. Oil painting classes on Saturdays and watercolours at home. A summer craft camp where she attended full day week long classes in sculpture, block printing and macramĂ©. Poetry, of the melancholic teenage kind. The Optimist’s Club Oratorical Contest, at which, aged seventeen, she earned 2nd place at the state level. Self-taught Tarot readings in the campus cafĂ© for a gaggle of giggling undergraduates. An exuberant year skating for her local amateur roller derby team. Which, in itself, led to an intense, yet focussed fitness regime of running, cycling and Pilates. In her third year, she bought herself a 5 string bluegrass banjo and taught herself up to page sixteen of the ‘Complete 5 String Bluegrass Banjo Handbook’ so she could accompany herself on June Carter Cash songs at parties.

Upon moving out on her own she took up baking, sewing, carpentry and gardening (vegetables, not flowers) and, along with some artistic types she met whilst living in SoWash, wrote, directed, shot and edited a 5 minute short film adaptation of a story she’d written some years before entitled ‘Sorenson’s Camel’s-hair Coat’ which took place almost entirely on a train station platform.

In her short but productive twenty six years she had begun six novels (completing two of them, along with a book of verse) and dated approximately nineteen men and two women. Although, ‘dated’ may not be a useful term in this case as many of said relationships lasted no longer than from the instant of first meeting until the following morning.

And even if she’d never managed to really stick to something in the way that parents and professors expected her to in order to embark on a successful and fulfilling career choice, no one could say that she wasn’t accomplished. Granted, for most of her youth, her parents had been positively over the moon that she’d been so keen to try so many things, and proven herself, if not entirely naturally talented in all of them, a deft and quick learner who excelled in almost everything she attempted."

So, this year, my resolution is to do less. Do less of all the extra stuff. Settle down and focus on myself as a writer and not anything else. That isn't to say I won't be doing other things with my time, but just that I will only devote as much time as is necessary to them, and will not take on excess responsibility/projects and use them as excuses to not be writing.

The second part of that resolution though, is to write more. And I have now used this twice. The first time, I wrote 500 words in twenty minutes...the second time, 704 in 21.

Now, I will not attempt to argue that they are good words, because they aren't (at least not all of them) but that is the beauty of Write or Die. It's actually quite a good tool for removing the self editing impulse while writing. It allows you to just get words on the page to be shaped and sculpted later. It helps to conquer the fear of the blank page. I highly recommend it. And for anyone trying to write a novel or dissertation or longer piece like that, I strongly suggest using it in conjunction with a simple outline. What I've been doing is setting myself a word goal and time limit and then going in with one bullet point/scene on my outline in mind as a starting point. Then just see where it goes. This way I'll have loads of little pieces of the book to start stringing together and filling out. Seems to be working so far.

So happy New Year to anyone who has been kind enough to stop by and read this far.