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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Why it's Unproductive to be Happy

This week has started on a high note for me and I hope it continues to last. I received two high ratings and reviews on, all in the space of twenty four hours. As many writers will know, reviews can be hard to come by, so I was understandably delighted when two turned up at once. And as you can imagine, I had so much buzz inside of me I was absolutely sure I could keep the entire city of London powered up for the next week.

So, what has this got to do with the title of my post? How can someone question whether happiness is as positive as most of us think it is? Surely happiness can't be a negative emotion, can it? Well, umm, maybe... sometimes.
Now before you read on any further, I just want to reinstate that I am absolutely overjoyed with my two new reviews, and I don't think they are negative in any sense of the word. But the point I'm trying to make here is they inspired this post. Sometimes when people experience such feelings of complete happiness, they become complacent, lazy, and fall into a unstable mindset. They start to think that because they have received so much praise, they do not need to work any harder. They see their work as perfect and flawless and woe betide anyone who doesn't share this view. So for their next project they fall into a false sense of security, thinking this work is going to be just as good as the last piece.

I am hoping this doesn't happen to me. I don't think it will because I am aware of the potential problem, and have always been a bit of a perfectionist. I always seem to worry whether I'll let people down by the standard of work I produce, thus ensuring my work is always the best it can be at the current time. I hope each book I write it will be better than its predecessor.

I read a newspaper article the other week where one news presenter shares my view on this subject. She said she didn't want her children to have a happy, contented childhood because she is worried that if they do, they'll grow up without ambition. Now this on the surface sounds like the most terrible thing in the world to say. How could any parent say this and expect it to be met with a round of applause? But when you delve a little deeper, I do think she makes a fair and valid point. If you are contented and happy, you do not want things to change. But if you're unhappy with your current situation, surely you should be doing everything in your power to change that? You want to live the best life you can possibly achieve, and that takes work no matter what your situation.
It's a tough nut to crack. Should you be happy if you're contented, or is there always room for improvement? Do people take the persuit of happiness too far? What are your opinions?

For me, it's the cliched saying: onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Why it's Productive to be Lazy

I read a fantastic blog post by Joe Bunting the other day. I am a regular follower of his blog anyway but this post really got me thinking. He discussed how having at least one day off a week to rest is crucial in the long run for your productive state.

Now, I don't know about people in general but I am the type of person who will go stir crazy if I am sat around with nothing to do. I know this is some people's idea of bliss but I have to have goals set out to be completed at the end of each day. It is what I do and how I function. I may not be able to write a novel every week but there isn't a day that goes by where I am not one step closer to finishing one of my projects. I find I can cope better when I have the chance to work each day instead of taking copious amounts of time off, and then stressing out at the end of it when I realise there isn't enough time to finish what I want to do.

So, you can imagine how I reacted to Joe's post when I first read it. I can barely cope when I am doing nothing for just one hour, never mind one whole day. I began to think of how much I could actually cram into twenty four hours. At least several hours of writing, reading and typing. Dog walking, housework and spending time with friends. It seems that if I wasted the time it would put me behind by a considerable amount.

But then I started to think about what he was really saying. Our bodies are nothing but machines and if they're constantly working they are going to burn out quickly. And as a writer there's nothing worse than suffering from a bad case of burn out. When you're exhausted your immune system lowers its defences and you're more susceptible to infection. Your brain seizes up and you can no longer think. Joe also discussed how you can be more disciplined when you allow yourself a chance to rest, and that is a point where I completely agree. If I actually spent a day doing nothing and thought about what I would like to do over the coming week, I know my brain would be more focused on achieving those goals. I would be more conscious of the fact that I needed to work because I have allowed myself some time off.

I think self employed people have a hard time realising they should take some time out. After all, time is money, and money is time. The more you work the more products you'll have to sell. But are you focused on doing productive work or just work in general?

2012 is a busy year for me. I am now close to finishing my second book and my wedding is in the autumn. So from now on I will be spending my time as wisely as I can.

If you want to read Joe's post please follow this link:

So, how productive is this year turning out to be for you?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

How Does Pacing Work in a Manuscript?

Last week I touched on how to set the perfect scene - advice given from The First Five Pages, a book by Noah Lukeman, who is a leading literary agent from New York.

This week I'll be covering another issue that Lukeman looks at: Pacing.

Pacing is something else I need to work on as a writer, and on the whole I think most writers struggle with this element as well. How many times have you left a book half way through because the plot didn't seem to be going anywhere, and how many times has a whole chapter covered only one issue when it could have covered a lot more?

I think pacing can be a very difficult issue to deal with because it's something which runs through the whole story. I personally find that pacing is often linked with setting: does the writer spend too long describing the setting which is irrelevant to the book's plot at that present time? The reader doesn't need to know what type of trees are in the wood if someone is about to be murdered, unless the tree type plays a crucial part in the storyline. Too often writers spend time describing objects which have no relevance to the scene and leave out vital information about the things that do matter. The author might describe the tree type in detail but what about the murder weapon, does the writer include information about that? That particular detail could be something that does matter to the storyline.

So how can you check whether pacing works in your manuscript?

Lukeman advises writers to read through the whole of their manuscript after they decide no other technical issues need correcting. Is it too slow, boring, and is it leading to the climax? Or does the action happen all at once and is everything over by the time you finish the first page?
Pacing is also a hard issue to address because it is subjective. Some people like a book that's a leisurely stroll while others like a book to be fast paced.

He also advises that the best way to see if there's any problems is to have a group of readers check over the storyline and note down what they say. If the pacing is too slow is the major consensus, here's four solutions to the problem.

  1. You have a storyline which you find more fascinating than the reader does. Try reading the manuscript from the point of view of the reader.
  2. There isn't enough tension. Why should the reader read on if everything is great and nothing needs solving?
  3. Maybe you have a good starting and ending point but get lost in the middle. Read through the writing and cut out anything that doesn't need to be there.
  4. You've described too much when you should have been focusing on the scenes.
If on the other hand your manuscript is too fast, ask yourself does your story contain too much dialogue? Dialogue is an element which can make your story run very fast. If dialogue is not the issue, have you told your story in too much of a rush? Do you have enough layers in the book to make it come alive?

Do you struggle with pacing? How do you go about solving the issues?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

How to Set the Perfect Scene

In the book The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman explains the importance of setting a scene. Setting is an area some writers struggle with because it's one of the more subtle areas of writing. I also find this issue a hard one to tackle. But this year I am determined to work on it.

So if you're a writer like me who sometimes struggles with this area, here are some tips that Lukeman gives on perfecting that setting.

Some books start with a burst of dialogue between two main characters. The writer is keen to make the plot of the book known to the reader as soon as possible. And yet while they are so focused on the storyline, sometimes they forget to include little else.

Even established writers can get away with offering limited setting as long as they have a gripping storyline. But setting, when used properly, can give a book great depth. Take for a example a conversation between two people. In one setting they are in a cosy living room with a burning log fire listening to the raging wind outside. In the other, they are in a mortuary inspecting bodies.

The writer at this stage doesn't mention what the conversation is about. But the reader imagines two entirely different conversations because of the setting. It might be exactly the same conversation word for word but because one scene is in a relaxed setting, the reader imagines the characters are having a social chat. In the other they might be in that place for work. They might be police officers investigating a murder or pathologists doing a normal days work.

A writer can say so much about a story all without saying one word, it just depends how they set the scene.

Lukeman says most settings set a picture in the readers mind by stating the smallest of details. A cracked window, carpet stains and a cobweb in the corner are just three of the vivid details he states a writer can use to bring a scene to life. You only need to mention a few things about the place otherwise you risk information overload which is equally damaging for the reader. Most people can only remember a few things at a time. I think this thought process is why I end up with some of my scenes barely even there. I want to focus on moving the story forwards and I find too much descriptive detail can really slow things down.

Lukeman also advises that all five senses should be used when bringing a setting to life. You can describe an area smelling like coal fire and the reader will be able to imagine this instantly. How about the sound of a school whistle, or describe a room that is dimly lit as opposed to one that is brightly lit.

The weather is also a great way to bring some atmosphere into the scene. Describing a thunderstorm accompanied by a raging wind immediately sets an eerie atmosphere. A bright, cloudless sunny day depicts a happy image with the reader and yet the same story could be taking place within each scene.

Above all else, remember to have your characters interact with their setting. Have one pick up a red umbrella that's sitting in the corner of the porch. Or a character could pick up a plate and hurl it on the floor.

So, how do you set your scenes? Have you any more tips you'd like to share?