Another crack of the whip…


That’s a bit of shit title in fairness. *Quick Google*

“Crack the whip”: An expression for using one’s authority to urge subordinates to work harder or behave better

So it doesn’t really fit does it? Unless I assume my brain is the subordinate, or my motivation, or self-discipline perhaps. Take your pick. The point I am trying to make is that I’ve been here before, trying to resurrect my writing mojo so many times that its become a bit of a joke.

What’s kicked it off this time? A few things, but chiefly, events in my life have forced some inward reflection on what really matters. I won’t bore you with the details of what my introspection revealed other than to say materialism seems to be a constant and vacuous part of my life. Such thoughts push one to want to change and grasp those things that mean something, create memories, affect oneself and those around us. One quick and easy way I have found that shines a brilliant light on areas of my life that are quite possibly a bit pointless, is to look closely at the outgoings from my bank. I have no mortgage, and yet £800 a month leaves my bank that is not connected to any necessary household bill, food (of which I mean food for the family) or fuel. £800 is attached to various subscriptions, gadgets, toys, or takeaways. That’s a lot of money. A quick scroll back through my banking app reveals that this is a near constant monthly expenditure with variations of plus or minus £100. I tested this by going through each transaction and asking myself if I really needed to spend that, and worryingly the answer was no.

This made me wonder if I could live on a significantly lower income, and if so, could that mean I could drop hours at work or even go part-time? It’s a reasonable assumption but the reality is, probably not. There is a saying in my family I’ve come to accept and believe. It something like “no mon, no fun.” Basically, no money = no fun.

I know I could live on significantly less. I know it. But would I enjoy it? Well, I’d have to find a completely different way of living. I’d have to give up a lot of things I spend money on now. A very quick search of my spending history shows that my top two expenditures are on takeaways/alcohol (family/friends/socialising) and then gadgets/toys – bits for my computer, my motorcycle, clothes. I spend a lot on other people too, at least a few hundred each month and I think that stems from not really caring a great deal about money. Sounds easy to say, and if I’m honest I probably only feel that way because I have money to spare and don’t miss it. I’m pretty sure I would feel different if I was on a lower income and struggling to put food on the table or fuel in the car.

Another constant and reoccurring feeling is that I never joined the army, or any of the forces. I think I believed that was my path from when I was barely old enough to understand what the army was, right up until I was in my twenties and received a fateful letter. That letter informed me I was not eligible on medical grounds. I can recite every word of that letter. To this day I wish I’d appealed, but instead I got on with life. I went for uniform, perhaps stupidly thinking it would be the same existence as one might hope for in the military, and joined the ambulance service. Anyone who has worked in the ambulance service will tell you that of the three services (fire, police, ambulance), the ambulance is perhaps the furthest from any semblance of military life. The sheer lack of discipline make those who decide to join more akin to pirates of the road. I enjoyed my time with them anyway and made some good friends, so its not all bad.

What’s the point of all this? Well, I love writing. I’d love to do it more often and very occasionally I have a real crack at it. At my peak I was cranking out two or three short stories a month and even had some small success in selling them. It is, to me, extremely enjoyable. I love to try and write the stories that I want to read. Unfortunately, I have a full time job and (happily) a family and so my time is limited. I’ve often wondered if I can go part-time and therefore spend more time reading and writing, but the reality is that I don’t think I could. Sure, I might enjoy it for a while, but I’d soon miss all those comforts I obviously take for granted now. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it will just remain a hobby forever and I’ll never write my Legend, as David Gemmell did, coincidentally becoming one himself, I might add.

That will do for tonight anyway, or knowing me, this year, if my output on here is anything to go by.

Let me know your thoughts on this if you can spare a few minutes and jot a few sentences. I know I’m not the only one with aspirations to write and no time to do it.

Love to you all,

M.

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Bitten again.


The so-called writing bug found me again last night and bit deep so that this morning I woke with an unquenchable desire to have another crack at writing my own stuff.

A few years ago, when I was keen on it, I had some limited success. I went through the stage that many who aspire to write go through and penned story after story, in countless different genres and sent them all into the aether. I lived through the waiting as though it were torture, the waiting to hear if a submission had been accepted. Eventually, I learned that hearing nothing is normal and, to get a response, particularly a personal response, was the next best thing to an acceptance. After what felt like years, the responses started to appear in my inbox. Not too long after that, they became more frequent. At the height of my “success”, I was receiving as many as two personalised rejections a month. If you’ve never tried to get your stories out there, for someone else to like your stuff and want to publish it, you just won’t understand what joy even a personalised “no” can bring.

“Thank you for your submission, Mark. We enjoyed the story but we don’t feel that now is the right time for this particular story. Why not try again in a few months?”

“Thank you for entering the competition, Mark. Your story, Dogs with swords for tales was very well written. Your style is very accessible and we are sure that in time you will find success. Please consider us again for future submissions. We’d very much like you to consider our upcoming competition in September.”

Close but no cigar.

However, not long after that, I started to receive the odd acceptance. The editors were often with online magazines rather than actual print, but an acceptance, wherever it comes from is like heroin to a writer. Within a very short space of time, I had three of my stories accepted for publication. I think they all came in the same month if I recall.

So what happened? Life happened. Like everyone else in this world who has commitments, namely family, work, pets, social life etc., it all takes its toll. My firstborn son tipped the balance for me. He has brought immense joy, but the cost is paid for in time. To a writer, time is currency. After family, it is the single most precious thing in the world.

With that thought in mind, this morning I had read through the bits and pieces I was writing just before life intervened. I had hoped to be able to pick up where I left off but sadly I don’t think that will be possible. Writing is a craft and needs working at. There are things I’ve produced in the past that now, reading them, I can’t fathom how my mind was working or how I made the connections I did. I like a lot of what I wrote before. I like where it was going and feeling in those words. Man, finding that again is going to be hard.

There is a submission window opening in a few days for a horror anthology. I’m going to try and submit something into it. Who knows, if I bag myself another personal rejection then I’ll know I’m onto a winner.

M.

Perspective


April! That was the last time I posted about anything and you know what? I’m really not surprised.

I hold a full time job as a paramedic (Although I work as an on-call police medic), I live on a working farm and my wife is thirty weeks pregnant with our first born. Oh, and we have a fourteen week old puppy.

That’s a lot isn’t it? I read that all back to myself and I think it’s bloody loads. Too much maybe for one person to deal with but you just have to suck it up and soldier on. My wife and I always busy. Always. It never used to be this way. It used to be that she was always busy. I was never busy. My free time used to involve playing xbox or PC games. I may have watched the odd movie or perhaps even had an odd afternoon to spend doing nothing more than abusing myself in which ever way I saw fit. Not now. I don’t blame the wife. She’s just a worker, a hard worker… and she she makes me feel lazy if I’m not working too.

Oh, one more thing. Being as I live on a working farm, there is one more little thing I forgot that may actually take up a little of my time…

Harvest is coming.

 

Image

 

I small disclaimer. I don’t grow pumpkins, but I thought this was funny and illustrated my point nicely.

Okay, so we’ve established that life is busy. That’s fine. I’m not miserable. No bloody time to be! So what do I actually do with my spare time? Well, I write. I have a few pieces I’m working on that I hope will impress a few editors but you know what, that’s no easy task. Neither is typing while drinking whiskey. I do hope you’ll forgive my grammar and any other mistakes. If not, have a whiskey and you’ll understand my drivel fine.

You know what? I digress a lot. I meant to explain something insightful and in truth, I’ve completely forgotten what I meant to say. It was probably something unimportant like how things change when a baby is on the way. Something about how before I’d waste my days playing games and abusing myself but now… well things have changed. I have to prepare for First Born’s arrival. I must work, set an example, provide.

Okay, enough’s enough. I’ve often found that long posts discourage readers. Something about attention span I think, I can’t really remember because I wasn’t paying attention that day at school.

Right then, cheerio!

M 🙂

Word Count (Part 2)


Word Count, hmm, I like that. I should have called my blog that. Short, straight to the point. Like me.

Anyway this is just a very brief update. I said yesterday that i was hoping to have a 7000 word day. Well I managed 3000 which is not too bad. I’m on target anyway. Total word count now stands a little over 20K which is just lovely to look at. Lovely? I mean awesome. Come on Mark, man up. 

Right, as I said, quick update and that was it. Lets see if I can get another 3000 out today.

M.

The Sphincter of Pain


I’ve had a truly awful few days. The wife caught a sickness bug thats been doing the rounds and brought it home to share.

The problem with my wife is that when she gets ill, she really gets ill. A normal blood pressure for her, when she’s healthy, is something like 95/50 so anything that lowers that makes her hit the deck faster than a footballer in the penalty box. Something like diahorrea that literally turns your arse hole into a fountain and smells, well evil, will drop that blood pressure five points in no time. Add in vomiting and I soon have a wife who faints every time she takes a shit.

Oh you think thats bad? As it progresses she no longer has to be standing or sitting upright for her to faint. She’s the only person I’ve met who will pass out laying down. Don’t think thats bad? Well what if she’s vomiting when she passes out?

I stayed up the entire night with her, catching her when she fainted, turning her when she vomited and swapping buckets and bowls where needed.

All this with a broken arm!

I know, I know I’m a hero. But now I’ve got the bug and my ring is as raw as if I’d rolled up a sheet of sand paper and… well you get the picture.

So as Im unlikely to get anything else done, today will be another writing day. I wonder if I can have a 7000 word day?

The challenge is set. I’ll report back later with an update.

M.

A Good Day’s Work


Just a quick one to say I reached today’s target quite comfortably. I put down 4000 words which might not sound terribly much but it is. I find any distraction difficult to deal with when I’m writing and today I had the nieces over for tea and my wife was in all day. Breaks are important though and so we entertained the children with a BBQ, then went on a walk around the local area and even managed to fit in an episode of Game of Thrones. So, 4000 words is really pretty good.

Tomorrow I’ll be hoping to achieve even more. The wife will be at work leaving me on my own so there will be no excuse. Hmmm, except perhaps that I re-discovered Civilisation this morning. If you’ve never played that game then I advise you not to start. There is not better way to lose countless hours than by playing that game. If only it wasn’t so damn awesome.

Right then, a glass of wine to finish and then bed.

M 🙂

 

Word Count


3,500 words per day.

That is the bare minimum I have to lay down to stay on target. 

In my previous post I described how my beloved Bonneville met its end and how I broke my collarbone. As a result of this I have six weeks off work to recover. There is much you can do with six weeks but I have decided to use the time to complete my novel.

You should note that I spent my first week outlining and planning but I’m confident that will end up being time well spent in the long run. I like the idea of sitting down and just writing with no plan but from experience I know that this will result in thousands of words going no where. I know some people who wok this way and good luck to them. I can only think that they must already have a deep understanding of where they want their story to go before they begin.

Right, I best get back to it. This post was intended solely to get me off my arse and typing and its done that. 

I’ll update in future with a brief synopsis of what my story is about. 

M 🙂

Coming out…


… of hiding.

No, no, no. Not in that sense. Happily married ta very much.

It struck me yesterday that I’ve pretty much hidden my web presence from a great many people for too long. Yes I have a blog, a Twitter account and a Goodreads profile, but I don’t really make it very easy for people to find me. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve really wanted to be found anyway.

You see, when I decided to embark upon this perilous writer’s journey, I did so behind closed doors. I was very much afraid that anything I wrote would be laughed at. Yet, with time, I have come to realise that I’m not half bad and in fact, I’ve had a few things published. Coincidently, if you’re interested you can find links to those pieces above. Why then should I hide?

Precisely the question I found myself wondering last night and so this morning I have linked everything to my blog. Now if I write anything at all, it will be cast far and wide for all to see. Doesn’t mean any bugger will read it but still, its a rite of passage for those who choose to tread the path of the writer. It’s an awakening, a beginning of the next chapter – a mother f*!king “Level-Up”.

So, here I sit. Level 2 – apprentice – still wannabe – writer.

Best I get to work penning something interesting then.

M 🙂

Submit and Forget


Submit and forget. Two words I have come to love this year, although it hasn’t been easy.

Way back in January I had only ever submitted my stories to the Black Library. I think I’ve sent two pieces their way and both simply disappeared. I’ve often wondered if publishers around the world are in on some vast joke whereby they and the people who make email programs have teamed up to make the ‘send’ button cast your work off into some ethereal void, never to be seen again.

Yet, this is one of those hugely important lessons an aspiring writer must learn. Hit send, and move on. Fire and forget. The story will get to its intended destination (unless you got the email address wrong) and so the only way you’re going to hear back is if you’ve been successful or that they liked it enough to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Believe me, even hearing ‘no thanks,’ is a victory in itself.

You can try and contact the editor if you want and I personally would actively encourage this if you have not heard anything after a period of time has elapsed. You’ve slaved over that piece. Do you really want it sitting in a ‘pending’ pile for months on end when you could re-write it and send it to a different market? That said, there are rules to doing this though and they all basically revolve around doffing your cap in a vaguely submissive way and being nice. You have to remember that editors, who want the best stories for their market, are also people. And what do people hate more than anything else? People. Especially that particular breed of people known as arseholes.

The arsehole will contact an editor and demand an update. They will not ask politely, just demand. This is bad form and will likely get your piece not only rejected but quite possibly shredded.

Arseholes also have a tendency to publically insult pieces of work by other authors who are in the employ of the very editor/publishing house they themselves are courting. I know! Common sense does not apply to this particular type of a-hole.

Hmm, then there are stalkers. This is difficult as many editors also have public profiles on Twitter or Facebook on which they must appear friendly and pleased that you’ve taken the time to find them. Do not be under the illusion that because your tweet was replied to that you are now ‘mates’. You sent a tweet, he/she replied. End of. You will not be sharing a pizza and watching the football together come next week and you certainly won’t be seeing your name appear on any publications they may work for. Ever get that feeling that someone is only being nice because they want something? Well, I would imagine that this is how an editor feels most of the day and it must be exhausting.

I’m preaching here. I can feel it in my fingers, hammering my own frustrations into the keyboard and that’s because I have no right to preach. I am guilty of one of the all time great blunders that will haunt me for a long time to come yet. In my defence, I was just starting out, but hindsight likes to remind me what a valuable opportunity I missed and what an utter plank I was. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with an editor and talk about one of my stories. What I should have done was to ensure I knew the house style and intellectual property inside out before I sat down for that meeting. Instead, when asked ‘where in our worlds do you see this story fitting in?’ I panicked and blurted out something cringe worthy like, ‘I’ve written it as blank canvas. All you need to do is tell me which characters you would like and which part of the world they would be in and I’ll do that!’ If I’m honest, I can still see that editor’s shoulders sag. Oh, and it probably didn’t help that I was really quite drunk too. Nerves will do that.

screw up

So, there you have it. Eternal shame and regret balanced against the knowledge that things can only get better if I stick to the rules, doff my cap, and try and help others who may be considering being an arsehole for the day.

I’ve not been idle though. I’ve not drowned my sorrows since that unfortunate moment in time. No, I’ve been busy. I’ve sent off no less than twelve stories this year and have seen three acceptances, two ‘nice but no thanks’ and five rejections, so far. I’ll keep plugging away because at the end of the day that’s all you can do. I’ll always remember that fateful meeting though, not only because of how I played the arsehole for a day, but because I did come away with some very good advice without which I doubt I would have had the success I’ve had this year.

Far Worlds, anthologies and aching fingers.


So, today I completed my first draft for the Boltholes upcoming Far Worlds anthology. Over the past few days I’ve doggedly chipped away at the word count until finally, bish bash bosh, its done.

Well, no, obviously that’s only the first draft and therefore I’m nowhere near finished but, and this is the important bit, the hard part is behind me now.

When you sit down to write a story you’re often filled with great ideas of what you want to write. In reality what you’ve probably got is a head full of great scenes. Well, in that case my friend you don’t actually have a story at all. You need to link those scenes. You need a plot. Hey, there’s that mystery word again, plot. It took me forever to get my head around that bloody word. I kept saying to myself, ‘I have got a plot!’ Person A is doing this when Person B comes along and they have this really cool fight with guns that shoot bullets which are actually not bullets but some kind of light. In the end they kill the bad guy by sending him back in time to face his father (who hates tattoos) with a tattoo on his face. His dad gives him such a beating that his future self feels it and turns away from his life of crime.

Cool eh?

No. That’s just a bunch of scenes in which stuff happens. They’re not linked in any way. There’s no character development, nothing to engage the reader on a human level.

Okay, So what the hell is a plot?

Plot is quite simply: character + conflict.

Basically, take your character, dump him off at A, tell him he needs to get to B but make it hard for him along the way. Make his day a bad one and let him grow into a man by overcoming those problems. Come the end he should have learnt something, acquired a few skills or something… there must be development which is only gained through the experience of surviving conflict. Presto!

Yeah, still sounds simple doesn’t it?

Probably isn’t though? Nope. Writing, at least for the vast majority of us, is hard. You have to slog away at it and question everything single word you put on to the page as though you’re making mistake with every one. You have to, it’s a writers life.

So, I’ve finished the first draft and that will now sit in a drawer for a good week or so (cause that’s how Stephen King does it, okay?) until I’m ready to look at it again. I expect the next time I do I am going to hate it but there is where the fun begins. I’ll start shortening sentences, dissecting paragraphs, wheedle out unwanted words… all that crap, because in the end, it’ll be better.

That said, better to me is not necessarily better for my editor. He might take a look at what I’ve done and say he doesn’t like it and then its back to the drawing board. But, you’ve guessed it, it’s a writers life.

Right, my fingers really are aching now and I simply MUST have a cup of tea.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your own writing.

Mark.