Thursday, 18 September 2014

My 500 Word Challenge

So I did an experiment, an exercise in avoiding procrastination. I decided that for ten days I'd write 500 words a day. It doesn't sound much but actually it can be a bit daunting, especially if you have to fit your writing around family and paid jobs (three jobs in my case). I always find that I'm OK once I've got going, it starting that can be the problem. So how was it?

Day 1. I had a long train journey and I took nothing else to do – not a book, not a newspaper, not a Kindle. I wrote 617 words of the WIP in longhand. A good start. Encouraged by this, I jotted some ideas for a new story. Word count: 617 plus new story notes.

Day 2. I did everything I could think of not to write. I made a playlist of Kate Bush songs that matched the set list of the show I went to the previous night. I spent a lot of time on Facebook. In the end, knowing I would only be letting myself down if I didn't knuckle under, I wrote 599 words. They were quite useful words as they showed a little gap in the backstory that I need to think about. Word count: 599 plus back story notes.

Day 3. I had to force myself to write but I did so before I started anything else. It was easier today. Perhaps I'm getting used to it. Word count: 595 words to finish the chapter.

Day 4. Not much time today as I was out all day and into the evening too. So I wrote 604 words outlining the rest of the story. I am nearly at the end. Actually looked forward to the writing today, and the miracle is that I wrote the words before I did anything else. So I have now proved to myself that I can get up in the morning and go straight to my writing. Word count: 604 word outline.

Day 5. Really didn't want to write today but having done everything else I could have possibly done – apart from housework, obviously – I wrote 560 words of chapter 20. Doing the outline yesterday helped. I'm beginning to see that writing first thing is the best way for me. Too bad I didn't go down that route this morning! Word count: 560 words of a new chapter.

Day 6. OK, so much for writing first thing. That's what I was going to do today. I had the best intentions, really I did. But instead I faffed about on the internet, bought a very nice shirt, and then it was time to go to work. But I did write later on. I have to admit that I wasn't in the mood, but I wrote 557 words of the end of the story, which was quite useful because it gave me an insight into a problem I'm having with the current chapter. Word count: 557 words of the end.

Day 7. Wasn't really getting the chapter I was working on so I avoided it. I didn't want to give up on the word experiment though so I ended up writing the rest of the end. It feels quite odd having written the final word, especially as I've not actually finished. Word count: 580 of the end.

Day 8. The marvel that is a lovely book! Sadly not the one that I'm writing but the one that I'm reading. So I wrote nothing on my long train journey but instead read and read and read. (The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud, in case anyone's interested. Second book in the marvellous Lockwood & Co series.) BUT I got home and wrote a section of the current chapter, so all was not lost. Could a habit be forming? Word count: 538 words of chapter 20.

Day 9. I had a very busy day so had no writing time. But when it came to bedtime I just couldn't NOT do it. I made lots of excuses to myself as to why it was OK to leave it today but it just felt wrong. So I wrote a detailed outline for a new story. Word count: 509 words of a new story.

Day 10. Last day! Word count…nil. I know. I let myself down on the very last day. In my defence. I was out all day – London zoo for four hours! Then an exhibition at the V&A. Too exhausted to do anything but sit in front of the TV with fish & chips. Still, I have to admit to being disappointed.

Day 11. An additional day in lieu of yesterday's non-starter, and actually it turned out rather well! Finished chapter 20, and wrote chapter 21. I am one chapter away, I think, of finishing this first draft. Who'd have thought it? Word count: a marvellous 2,311 words!

So was my experiment a success? I think so. It got me writing. Whether it's created a permanent habit, I don't know. I'll probably have to stick at it for more than ten days for that to happen. But, I have got 7,470 words more than I may not have got without the challenge. And I've also proved to myself that I don't need to be in the mood to write, or in the right place; I can write at any time and anywhere! That's probably the biggest success of all.

PS on Day 12 I completed my novel. I wrote 3,588 words. 11,058 words in twelve days. The experiment worked after all! 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Kate Bush and the Power of Words

I went to see Kate Bush on Wednesday. It was an amazing experience that touched the audience in a way I have never seen before. Philippa Francis (writing as K.M. Lockwood) wrote a wonderful piece inspired by her visit to the show the night before. You can read it here.

I have seen many bands in my time. Hundreds, literally. It was my job at one point. I've become a little jaded. These days I would much rather go to the theatre than a concert. This was different. This was Kate Bush. Who knew she'd tour again? It was beautiful, extravagant, theatrical, of course. She was gorgeous, her voice pure and perfect. All these are things that have been said before and will be said again as more people go and more people write reviews.

This isn't a review. This is my response to the experience. Because the thing that struck me most was not the voice, the staging, the choice of songs - though all were wonderful. It was the emotion, such sheer depth of emotion both expressed by Kate and her band, but also by us, the audience members collectively and singularly. When she walked on stage, and she did so in a very unassuming way, I felt quite overwhelmed. When she started singing I almost burst into tears. And I wondered why. David Bowie is my ultimate hero (I went to the V&A exhibition 3 times. I first saw him when I was 16. I love him, basically). But I've never felt like crying when I listen to his music or when I've seen him perform. So what does Kate do; what does she bring that is so different? Emotion.

This a woman with incredible songwriting skills. The music is fantastic, but I think the emotion she portrays is through her lyrics. The power of her words hold the emotion. Cloudbusting makes me cry. I have no idea why. Perhaps it's because she so perfectly captures the depth of feeling between the boy and his father. Perhaps it's because I 'get' their relationship, I feel their love, their pain.

I hid my yo-yo
In the garden
I can't hide you
From the government
Oh, God, Daddy
I won't forget

Written by Kate Bush / Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

She writes with an honesty, a purity and a beauty that touches you, and lets you empathise with the character she sings about. Judging from the audience's reaction on Wednesday, she speaks to people of all ages, from all walks of life. We were all lifted by her songs. So is this something that only happens with music? Do you need to hear the lyrics with accompaniment to be so moved? No. It happens in film. It happens with books. With film you're given the same image as the person next to you. With music you're given more of a complete picture but it's open to interpretation. With books, the words must speak for themselves.

David Almond is one of the most lyrical writers I've had the pleasure to read. I wept buckets at the end of Kit's Wilderness. Without giving away the (fantastic) ending, it's all about belief, hope, trust. Some writers can capture emotion through the eyes of their characters, some in the beautiful choice of words. The words the writer chooses have the power to reach out and both deliver you to a new world and to echo feelings inside you. A writer who can do that, either through the written word or through song, will truly tap into your emotions and create a bond that is long lasting. A bond Kate Bush has managed to keep with her live audience even after a 35 year absence.

Right, now to find the tissues....