G J Rutherford

Writer, Caregiver & Ever So Free With His Old Man Advice.

Gauging Writing Progress

Earlier this year, I started rewriting a story that first inspired me to write. -A huge fantasy that I imagine will spill into at least a half dozen volumes. It has entertained a fair few beta readers over the years, mainly stalwarts who forgave me poor grammar and diction.

I’d considered the first two volumes I’d rewritten this year as quite good and, whilst considering improvements to them, I reread the subsequent volume I’d created two years ago. – It was poorly structured, flabby and technically inept, but it was a far, far more entertaining read. – At first I felt pleased, but then the doubts set in. – I wrote far better two years ago than I do now… My writing had more depth, and the characters felt real… – Now they look a lot better polished, but something is missing…

I had two supporters in the earliest days, Deb Sainty (who died aged 37 on October 4th) and Mark Condren. – Mark, a plain-speaking Australian, warned me about losing the ‘passion’ I poured into the written word with my desire to improve. – Around three and a half years on from when he first made it, I finally get what he means…

When I first started, I could concentrate on nothing other than the story, for grammar and style were alien concepts. – Now, as technical ability finally knocks on my door, I’ve changed my emphasis, more concerned about a repeating word or a clunky phrase than the tale I am relating.

It is said that recognising a flaw is the first step towards correcting it, and I damn well hope that’s true, because I’ve sterilised my writing a little this last year.

Not good. :/

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Stonesinger

Four years ago, when I took my first tentative steps at writing, I befriended a young lady called Deb Sainty, or Stonesinger as she preferred. Married, with three kids, she became as a little sister and a friend who I was yet to meet face to face.

I’ll never get that chance now, as she passed away this weekend. She was in her thirties, and was so enthusiastic about the future she’d forged for herself. That future evaporated with her passing, and a great many people are left with a hole that can never be filled.

Every word I’ve written was read by her. Every idea I ever had was approved and improved by her, and she’ll never get to see where it will lead but, by God, her soul is immortalised in every page I’ve written. She was more than a friend and muse, and she never realised just how special she was and, even if she had, she would have just shrugged it off.

I swear she’ll never be forgotten and, although I feel like my heart has been ripped out, I’ll see the project we embarked on together completed, and let the world know all about the diminutive southerner with the tender soul.

Hey You, You’re Rubbish, so just admit it!

Yes, sorry for the provocative title, but it underlines an important milestone in my writing journey. Somehow, I doubt I’m unique.

In a couple of weeks time, it’ll be my fourth writing anniversary and so I thought I’d indulge myself in a little reminiscing. More a ‘note to self’ than a blog entry but, hey, if anyone finds a nugget of valuable knowledge here, all the better.

So I was talking about writing crap, which I spent two years doing. The problem was, I never knew it was crap and, indeed, I thought I would have literary agents fighting over me. Why didn’t anyone tell me I was woeful? Why didn’t they shake me and say ‘for the love of God, stop torturing us with this drivel!’ The thing is, many people did, but I didn’t listen, instead choosing the counsel of those who said what I wanted to hear. – It was another writer who finally managed to chisel away a lump off my delusional shell… Well, bugger me, he stuck his head in the hole he’d made and shouted ‘mate, you’re crap’… If he’d left it there, I’d have repaired the shell and carried on, but he persisted.

Eventually I listened.

I don’t regret those two years of writing vomit, as they gave me the opportunity to write stories without fear. – I churned out hundreds of thousands of words of awful offal, but the core stories were passable. Ideas to build on.

And, knowing I was rubbish, I learned patience. Writing is easy, but the journey requires stout shoes. I see many run out of patience before they’ve journeyed far enough, and I lament the books that will never be written as a result. There are very, very few people I have seen who lack the talent to write successfully, but many who lack the patience. -You have to write rubbish before you can write drivel. You have to write drivel before you can write insipid. You have to write insipid before you can write passable… I think you see where this is leading.

So, four years on, I write somewhere between insipid and passable, but I can see ‘good’ a little way up ahead. – I’ve held off the urge to self publish, as I’m still on the journey. Still patient.

As for you, well, I hope realising you were rubbish is a long way in the past and, if not, I pray you realise it soon so you can journey onwards.

And when you do realise, you’ll be amazed at how many helpful people there are out there.

Stocktaking, Patching and Head Scratching.

I never thought there would be a downside to momentum, but there is one for me. As I’ve said previously, I don’t plan, can’t plan, so each day is an application of imagination accompanied by, hopefully, a chorus of creative hallelujahs. Now, I’ve been doing well of recent, knuckling down and writing a sequel. – BUT I’ve introduced one or two continuities, and since a seat-of-the-pants writer relies on words just written, such things tend to magnify with time.

 

So, forty thousand words in ‘Harvester II’, I’m reading back through, ironing and refining the lumps and creases. – No doubt it’ll need doing again in another 40,000 words, and then again. – I guess without the benefit of a plan, ‘stocktaking’ could be considered setting waypoints – tethers, marking the maximum distance you need to retreat should all go awry.

 

As a ‘pantser’ I’ve not a pile of notes on characters in advance, and have to learn about them through their interactions with others, and reactions to situations. – Much of this will then need to be fed back through to earlier chapters, introducing mannerisms, honing dialogue and generally making the character a little more robust. – All this is done whilst generating a plot as I write. – Sometimes it can be too much to do everything at once, and so I’ll scratch out a few points, knowing they’re little more than place-markers and will be edited / expanded at a later date.

 

BUT, and this follows on from my last blog post, I’d struggle to maintain consistently good prose IF I didn’t have those around me who are prepared to read through, and point out any potential issues. (I’ve long since recognised I’ll never be one of those who can write in total isolation.)

 

I think the upshot is that life would be so much easier if I could plan, but I doubt my words would be as valuable. – I envy those with the innate ability to distil creativity into a week or two, collating all that is necessary for a complete novel.

 

For me, ideas just won’t resolve so quickly, so stocktaking, patching and head-scratching it is…

How did they fit all that awesome in you?

Praise. We love it and, when well earned, nothing can feel quite so good…

 

…And for many it feels just as good when it has not been earned. And nothing can be quite so dangerous to a writer. – Praise can be a sea of morasses for a writer to wallow in, with no incentive to improve. An addiction. We become so conditioned to receiving it that criticism becomes anathema, and those offering the criticism will often be lambasted by the sycophants we’ve surrounded ourselves with, reinforcing our delusions. If you feel uncomfortable right now, you’ve even more reason to read on. If you’ve never received harsh criticism, I beg you to read on…

 

Those holding us back from becoming a successful author are often the ones closest to us. Lovers and spouses, best friends and parents. You need to cut them adrift before they run out of superlatives. – Seek out those who would growl and snarl at you – the ones who will pour red ink on your manuscript and say ‘not good enough but if you were to…

 

We learn from our mistakes. It’s a well-worn cliché, but nothing suits better. – Critiques drive us to better prose, raising the bar and pushing us towards success.  You need toxic well-armed beta readers who will be honest with you. – Don’t know how to find them? – Blog an opening chapter, and post a link on Twitter. – Ask for criticism. Ask for honesty.

 

And brace yourself. Discovering you’re not as good as your sycophants would have you believe is harsh, but the most important step to success. Acceptance you can get better is a cathartic moment for many writers. – It takes damned years of improving before the majority of us can write something that doesn’t boil the eyeballs –  and I don’t mean just writing, I mean years of getting better after the years of ‘just writing’.

 

Yeh, there are the amazingly gifted who just churn our awesome prose from the outset, and we’d all believe we’re that person. I thought I was once… I’m not, but I’m getting better.

 

So post your words, and ask your followers on Twitter to ask how it could be made better. – Ignore those who tell you it’s perfect. – They are the ones who stand between you and writing great prose.

 

 

The Journey

The day I started writing, I thought I’d arrived at the promised land. I wept with joy at the misshapen words I’d written, convinced they’d inspire a generation. – It had to be true, cos my mum and a couple of close friends said so!

 

My first trauma came when I sent my ill-thought prose to a premier agent, who stated they only took on one or so new authors per year. – Obviously they meant me.

 

And then the rejection letter came.

 

I was desolate. My first reaction was to conclude they’d never read it, and it was all a mistake. I posted an excerpt of my writing elsewhere, and received praise, reinforcing my delusion. – But then one person, my saviour, critiqued my work and told me it stunk… After the adrenalin-forged wrath dissipated, I read his comments again.

 

This was the start of a journey, which I’d previously thought complete. – Years of writing, learning, editing and then rewriting. – I listened to everyone, and took whatever value I could from their comments. I learned and accepted I was not an awesome author, but a writer who worked damned hard, challenging his limited ability every day.

 

I’d once thought success was defined by bestsellers and fame, but I can now recognise that as a distant dream. Success for me is the journey, and pushing the destination as far away from where I started as my talent will allow.

Standards.

How I wish there was a bar that every author had to hurdle before self-publishing. I’m not talking about elitism, or even a coherent story, I am talking about basic writing standards – spelling and grammar.

 

I feel the urge to shame those who’ve written an unedited novel, had a great cover done and then proceed to spam social media, knowing that slick marketing will always lead to a few sales… The same people seem to have a preloaded set of 5* reviews to mislead the public too… – That angers me more than you could know.

 

For five years, I’ve written every day. – You’ll not find my novels on Amazon, as I recognised the few I’ve completed were not good enough. It would have been so easy to click a button, set a price and feel my ego soar as I announced, in my best Thespian voice, “I am an author.”

 

But I’ve more pride than ego, and I had more patience than talent  -perhaps still do. – Over a million words I’ve written will never be seen by anyone other than my beta readers. – They were not good enough!

 

I follow a few writers on Twitter, some of whom advertise their work, and care deeply about standards.  – These I feel comfortable in naming: – @careypridgeon @njcrosskey @pottywhite and @Deinafurth are all authors who put immense effort into their prose. It shows.

 

What I am going to do in future, when I read unedited vomit, is start shaming those who are damaging the reputation of the entire industry, and I hope others will do the same.

An outpouring

It felt like any other day when I sat down to write. Perhaps my fingers danced with a little more freedom than of recent, but that’s just a retrospective observation. 

 

So where the hell did the monstrous word count come from? 4,400 is likely the highest single day count I’ve ever had. – And they weren’t gibbersome and inane… Well, so says the guy who wrote them.

 

Some time in the next two week, ‘In Search of Hell’ will be finished. It’ll weigh around 70,000 words, and will represent the very best I can write… As was suggested, I need more beta readers… I’ve a few, but I need more.  -I want to leap up and down and say ‘it’s a great story, please read it’ but every writer feels that way about their words, be it puke or masterpiece.

 

Oh Hell, who cares… It’s a great story, please read it… Oh dear, what’s that acrid smell? :/

Relentless

It’s been a strange experience these last few days… I’ve rarely written more than 20 or 30 words without leaping from my document, pacing about or doing something else (like write a blog entry.)

 

But it’s funny how those words add up. – I guess this has been the closest I’ve come to stalling, but a dozen new pages have formed. It may not be my best prose, but it’s up there, and moving the story forwards. Perhaps distilling a day’s imagination into fewer words makes for better prose… – I don’t know.

 

What I do know is it doesn’t feel pleasant. Anxiety is a ticking clock which doesn’t wait for my next sentence. There’s too much to say, and I’m a long way into the second half of my life. Time was once a friend that whispered of summer holidays and Christmas morning, yet now it’s a swinging pendulum bearing a blade that slices another piece off my mortality.

 

Relentlessly

A day of juggling

Over the years, I’ve shed many activities to concentrate more on writing…

 

But it’s Sunday, and there’s a grand prix on and lunch to cook, so writing takes a rare second place. It’s necessary to unfocus sometimes, but it still makes me a little anxious. – I like to see a task finished and, unlike peeling a pan of spuds or scribbling a blog entry, writing a book takes a good few months.

 

So yes, despite my insistence writing takes a back seat today, I’ll find a way to shuffle a little closer to the finish line.

 

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