Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Have you read Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake? It's less a novel and more a discourse on things that matter to the author, like his family, war and Kilgore Trout (a fictional sci-fi writer). It's about... well, to me, it's about writing.

If ever a book could encourage me to write, it is this one!

So I do not doubt that Vonnegut is an accomplished writer, a true wordsmith if you like. But I know that many readers and critics would not consider his books (especially Timequake) to be novels. (Vonnegut even writes about the lack of depth to his characters, according to some critics, in Timequake.)

So an atypical novel encourages me to write a novel.

This is interesting because, for the last few years, and particularly this last year, I have been trying to learn how to write a novel. What makes a novel? What are the mechanics of a novel? What are the requirements? Etc. I have read excellent books about novel writing that explained much to me - explained the rules.

I then went to a creative writing course at Arvon to learn more about rules and then to learn that there are, in fact, no rules: "there are no rules to writing". But it's only after reading Timequake that I truly understand what this means.

Here's a quote from the book (and the reason why Vonnegut writes):

"Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think as much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone."

This is not my motivation for writing, but that's not the point. Vonnegut wants to engage directly with the reader, as I do.

So will my book be a Timequake?

Yes, and no.

I am not Kurt Vonnegut and I have not lived his life so I could never have written Timequake. (I sincerely doubt I can write as well as Vonnegut too, but that's not important.) I can write my book (working title: Boring John) knowing that some of the daft things I want to write about, and some of the strange ways I want to engage my reader have been thought of before, by no less an esteemed writer than Kurt Vonnegut.

So there will be no Kilgore Trout, no reliving the last ten years, no thoughts about the Vietnam war. But there may well be sexual magic numbers, my thoughts about conflict (internal and external) and, of course, my very own answer to Kilgore Trout will definitely be making an appearance: one Boring John.

James N Frey (in How To Write A Damned Good Novel) believes in rules and I don't disagree with the rules he espouses. People like to read what they like to read. Damned good novels have a certain structure and contain certain types of characters and events happen in a certain way. Etc. You only have to look at the movie output of Hollywood to see that formulas work. However, I've always preferred more audacious, more experimental, more intelligent (if you like) film-making, found in independent films like, say, Vonnegut's favourite film of all time: My Life As A Dog.

So I welcome the sound advice found in How To Write A Damned Good Novel; I just know that the first book I write will be more in keeping with Mr Vonnegut than with Mr Frey.

A warning, though: this will be my first book! Timequake is Vonnegut's last (purportedly). So writing Boring John will definitely be running before I can walk. Somehow, though, it's easier this way. "Sometimes it's easier to run up the hill hard, than to run up the hill steady" - Boring John.

So will I be able to pull it off?


PS This means that I don't need to listen that closely to what Nick Daws says in his improbably titled: Write any book in 28 days or less, though I will do the research afterwards as he suggests.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No Buts...

I am definitely procrastinating. Three days into another week and no attempt at writing (save a few blog entries). Admittedly, I have more or less got my writing space organised and, as a consequence, my office is much, much more organised too. But, still...

I must do better in March. I must do better in March. I must do better in March. Etc.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"I'm O.K., You're O.K."

... But why am I not writing?

Instead, I am reading Scripts People Live - Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts by Claude Steiner. I think I am doing research (researching into life scripts) but maybe I'm still just putting it off.

Well, to counter any such putting off temptations (and they are clearly tempting) I've now set myself a deadline of March 1st to be the day that I begin writing my thousand words a day.

We shall see.


(Note: this is the first post tagged as procrastination rather than fear. Fear encourages procrastination, for sure, but procrastination can live a full and vigorous life in the absence of its more powerful brother. In my opinion, anyway. I shall review previous posts to change fear into procrastination (and hark, I shall be thenceforth known as The Alchemist! Apologies, my alter ego appears to be getting the better of me today).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is this procrastination?

I know I should be writing, but it really does feel important that I
  • Create my writing environment, first (I'm putting a table in my main bedroom and away from the office in my second).
  • Go to Ikea again* to get suitable furniture for above writing space
  • Tidy my office moving any writing-related books from there to my my new writing space
And, finally, I have to
  • Go through all my notes, in search of writing ideas that might just be useful
Is this the equivalent of doing a spring clean in the house, or of reorganising my clothes by colour rather than by type of item, or of reading one more book for inspiration?

Or, is it a necessary process of preparing for change, of preparing to write a first novel?

After all, I still don't know exactly what my book is going to be about, except that it is, without doubt, going to be something different. (I have several normal writing ideas lined up for next year and the year after that. I do hope, though, that writing something different doesn't put me off writing something conventional the next time because a) I have a taste for the odd, now or b) that my experiment failed so badly that I never want to try and write a novel again.)

I am going to be running before I can walk, with my first writing project, for sure. And that is most unlike me. I guess that's what's good about change - doing things differently.

And I keep telling myself that I am not writing a novel right now, but a book; it is simply necessary for me to learn to write by writing, and this is how I choose to write.

(*) Going to Ikea twice in the same year is almost unheard of, let alone twice in the same week!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Books I Didn't Finish

(I was going through my notes just now and I came across a review of a book I didn't enjoy. And it made me think about the other books I've read that I didn't manage to finish. It made me want to write the following, in the voice of the character I'm writing about, called...)

Books I Didn't Finish

(Written in the voice of a character I'm writing about at the moment.)

I'm a man that does what his Mum tells him. If I should eat my greens then I eat my greens. If I should exercise three times a week then I exercise three times a week. If it's bad to drink too much beer, then I don't. So when I start to read a book I finish it. I don't skip the boring chapters; I don't read the first page and then the last page; I don't turn over page after descriptive prose page - I read word after succulent word.

There was a time, though, when I didn't finish my book. (Shhh.)

I started reading Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. Now I'm interested in maths and astronomy so I was bound to enjoy this book, especially as everyone raved about The Name of the Rose (much better than the film, as ever). Well I found it to be filled with turgid text, that my little mind could simply not penetrate. I could only manage 100 pages, which is much worse than Paula Radcliffe did in Athens Olympic marathon for women, that's for sure.

The trouble with quitting, as Paula can no doubt tell you, is that it sets a precedent, though.

And it wasn't long before I had not read another book then another. The books listed below are just the books I couldn't finish in the last few years. I have nothing against the writers of these books, except I couldn't finish what you'd started. These books failed me as a reader; or did I fail them as a reader, I'm really not sure? In no particular order:
  • White Teeth - Zadie Smith
    Clever. Inventive. About London. But after half-way through the novel I found that I really didn't care about the characters; I was bored. There must be something less boring instead that I can do, or read, I thought to myself. So I put the book down.
  • The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
    Even cleverer and more inventive than White Teeth. Still, half-way through, I was getting puzzled by the change in points of view, and I really didn't care about the world that was being painted for me.
  • Where Did It All Go Right? - Andrew Collins
    A happy autobiography type of book. And what's wrong with that? Nothing, except I found this book to be both smug and dull. (Good job I'm writing this in character, isn't it.) It's a shame, really, because I do believe that happy stories can make interesting stories, but this is not the book to read to prove it. (Interestingly, if you read Andrew's blog, you'll see that his Wimbledon-green lawn looks to have come over all Blue Velvet perhaps. I'm talking about the fact that he's even considering the truth (or otherwise) of the 9/11 conspiracy theories.)
The following books were recommended to me by people who thought it would help my writing. In some cases I read most of the book, but others I couldn't even face opening it in the first place. Blimey!
  • London Fields - Martin Amis
    Far too clever, and far too well-written to provide any semblance of inspiration to me.
  • Books by Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons.
    Not me. Aggravatingly so. I didn't even make 20 pages of Man and Boy.
  • A Multitude of Sins - Richard Forde
    I don't like short stories, and I didn't like how the author treated the subject matter. Good stuff like fidelity, feelings, betrayal, relationships - it just didn't sit well with me. I read most of the short stories then gave it to a person who likes reading short stories. Is that okay, Richard?
I forget what other clever stuff I was going to write here about books I haven't finished as this is my second version of this piece. Of course the first version was much better than the above, frustratingly so. I lost the first to the foibles of writing a blog at Blogger online. (Yes, I swore for several moments. And I'm still angry about it. As it says at the end of those classic Buffy episodes: "Grrr. Aaargh!". Exactly.


Okay. Time to do some work. I will let my character swear at one more time,"F***** B****x!" and get on with doing it, then.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm Writing!

You'll never believe it but I'm writing.

It doesn't make sense what I'm writing, not in terms of writing a proper novel anyway, but maybe that's why I went to Arvon last year: to learn that there are no rules to writing.

Thank goodness for that.

I'm writing by hand, too, which is not pretty.

What I'm writing is as disorganised as anything, and I have no outline and no plot but I do have a means of generating words. And that will do for now.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

I've written my first line!

I've written the first line of my novel and the last line too!

The fact that the lines are both the same is neither here nor there!

It's a start.

Whether it's the start I was looking for, time will tell.

The first line?

(Not here. Not now. Sorry.)