Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween party!

Halloween 002, originally uploaded by acatofimpossiblecolour.

I'll write a proper post later, but just wanted to show you how LOML and I looked for the party. There are better pictures of us on a friend's camera but it will be a while before I get hold of them.

It was a fantastic night! Our friends went completely over the top with the decorations and costumes, which is always the best way to go, I think. My favourite was the creepy killer clown they put in the hallway - life-size, and rigged up to a mechanism that made it turn its head when you walked past.

In other news, I have gone slightly mad. After all my careful planning and outlining of my Nanowrimo novel, I threw it all out the window today and started work on something from scratch. An idea gripped me yesterday, and the voice of a character started speaking in my head so clearly that I felt I had to write her story. Damn ideas, spoiling my plans. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a boxing ring being punched by ideas from all sides (in my head the ideas are enormous scary men wearing boxing gloves and tiny satin shorts). That simile is a little strange, but you have to remember I had a very late night and am still in my pyjamas, which makes my brain feel like chewed nougat. (See? Another weird simile. I think I should have some more coffee).

Of course, I might panic and go back to my original plan tomorrow, but at the moment I'm very excited about this book. And flying by the seat of your pants is very much in the spirit of the event, of course!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Simple and casual today - I have a million chores to do. Including getting my Sarah Palin costume ready for tonight's Halloween party (well, the invitation did say 'dress scary'). LOML is going as John McCain. He's coming home from work early so I can make him all wrinkly. I find it fascinating that the elections in the US have eclipsed our own elections so completely, and I am terrified at the possibility of Obama losing.

I got an email from my publisher in Zimbabwe this morning saying that my book is going to Taiwan for the Taiwan International Book Exhibition 2009, as part of a collective exhibit of the African Publishers' Network. This kind of thing always makes me smile, because my book is so un-African in character. When I was a child, I would have loved to live in England. So many times when Mum was reading me Winnie the Pooh or Thomas the Tank Engine or Enid Blyton books about rosy-cheeked children living on Apple-Tree Farm, I longed for an English childhood. Not an insect in sight. Clean, crisp air and green grass, tidy streets and English wherever you go. Africa was foreign and mundane, all at once. I couldn’t fit zebras and witch-doctors into any of the books I read. I felt that my childhood was somehow wrong, that I was cheated. The only book that came close to my own experience was The Jungle Book, and I remember how excited I was when I discovered it. Finally, a children's book where there were animals and landscapes I recognised! Of course, when I got older I realised how lucky I was to have an African childhood, and my writing now is almost exclusively African ... but my first published book was set in a fantasy world that had more to do with Narnia than it did with Zimbabwe.

Nanowrimo begins tomorrow! I feel excited and apprehensive. To complete the 50,000 words in 30 days I need to write 1,667 words per day. I'm going to shoot for 2,000, and see how it goes. Of course, I also need to be working on the Masters essay this month, but Nanowrimo wouldn't be Nanowrimo without some huge distraction, so that's all right.

Things I am researching for the Nanowrimo book:
Asian students in New Zealand
'Cyberathletes' - people who participate in competitive video gaming
Collage artists
Rabbit anatomy
Computer animation
Wow, you could put together a really bizarre plot from those elements, couldn't you? More will emerge as I go on, I'm sure. I'm looking forward to seeing how well writing from a vague plot outline will work for this, too.

Speaking of bizarre plots, if you haven't looked at the 'dares' forum on the Nanowrimo website, you definitely should. It's hilarious. I haven't decided if I'm going to do any of these dares yet, but I'll keep you posted.

One last thing - I haven't updated my links in a couple of weeks, and I'm so sorry if I haven't added your link yet. I'm getting onto it this weekend. Thanks for all your comments, and thank you for introducing me to your lovely blogs, I do appreciate it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Polka dots, awards and impatience

I am reading 'What is the What' by Dave Eggers (he of 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' fame). It is amazing so far, and well-deserving of all the accolades heaped on it. It tells the story of a Sudanese refugee, a man who really exists - but the story is a novel, not a biography, peopled with composite characters and imagined events as well as the real. A really brave project to undertake, I think. It reminds me that I also really want to read 'The Other Hand' by Chris Cleave, which is about a Nigerian asylum-seeker in London. Have any of you read it yet?

I so admire these writers and the subjects they tackle, and I want to be that kind of a writer too - Nanowrimo (well, cheating Nanowrimo that I have started already) book excepted, because that one is for fun. Although an interesting element has crept in unintentionally - the character who appeared in the text the other day is a Korean student, and the way Asian students are treated here in Christchurch has started to emerge as a strong theme in the book. I am starting to get gradually more and more excited about the book I'm writing when I finish the Masters, though - the points of view I'm using are going to be really interesting and challenging, I think.

Today is a significant day - eight weeks since I sent out the first batch of queries to agents. Generally you don't hear from agents until at least eight weeks have passed; a lot of the agencies ask authors not to nag - er, I mean, inquire - about their queries until eight weeks have elapsed. I'm not going to follow them up yet, though ... the Frankfurt Book Fair was last weekend, so they would all have been flat-out busy with that, and they may only just have had a chance to look at the manuscript. I'll wait a couple more weeks. Even though it is driving me insane. INSANE. Sorry.

Thank you for bearing with me through this long and rambling post. I hope all you Kiwis had a good first day back at work!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Slightly sombre

I'm keeping it simple today. We had a lot of errands to run, and tonight we're going to a talk by a former member of Zimbabwe's Black Shadow group who has since become a Christian and gives talks about his experiences. We're going with my best friend and her husband - she and I grew up in Zimbabwe together, and moved to New Zealand within a couple of years of each other.

I haven't heard of the Black Shadow group before, and haven't been able to find any information online, but I'm guessing it is a terrorist group - one formed either under Mugabe's regime or during the Bush War. Interestingly, in Zimbabwe's traditional Karanga belief system, a person has two shadows; a white and a black. The white shadow (mweya) is the soul and the black shadow (nyama, a word which also means 'meat') is the flesh. The mweya is what surives after you die - it leaves the dead body in the form of a worm, which is why the Shona leave a hole from the coffin to the outside world (made by a hollow reed) - for the worm to crawl out. They believe that this worm crawls into an animal, which becomes an ancestral spirit. I have no idea if this pertains to the naming of the Black Shadow group at all, but I'll be interested to find out tonight.

In novel-related news, a character appeared in my book on Friday who I hadn't planned for at all. She just turned up in the middle of a chapter and appears to be here to stay. Very strange. I like it when that happens, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In which I talk about routines

A couple of you have asked me to go into a bit of detail about my daily writing routine, so I thought I would talk a bit about it today (feel free to skip all of this if you don't find it interesting!).

I only really established a solid writing routine this year. I used to be filled with feelings of inadequacy (and murderous rage) when I heard about writers who had really disciplined routines - you know, they wake up at 5am, go to the gym and pump iron for an hour, then work for eight hours and churn out 5,000 words. I only wrote when I felt inspired or had an uninterrupted chunk of time. Of course, once I started the MFA, I was writing full-time. All that empty time was luxurious, but also terrifying. I knew I had to use it productively.

It took me a month or so to settle down into a routine. I rely on strict routine and structure more than some other people, I know. It's just what works for me, and I am by no means saying that everyone should work like this.

Here's how it goes:
7am - get up, make bed, feed Mink, get coffee (coffee coffee!), watch the news and hang out with LOML while he has breakfast. He usually leaves at 7:30am, so that's when I check my emails and daily blogs and make breakfast for myself.
8am - I put a load of washing on, unstack the dishwasher and have another cup of coffee, then get showered. While I'm doing these chores, I'm starting to warm-up and think about my story. Doing something habitual frees your brain up to think creatively.
I work at the dining room table. I do have a desk upstairs in the spare room/study, but I feel isolated up there. Our kitchen, dining room and lounge are open-plan, so sitting at the dining room table means I'm right in the centre of the house and can see what's going on. It's light and airy, close to the coffee machine, and I can see the garden (such as it is) through the French doors. It makes me feel like I'm part of the world, while working upstairs makes me feel like I'm slaving in a garret. I always try to have fresh flowers on the table to refresh my eyes while I'm working.
9am - I'm all dressed and made up and presentable. I put another pot of coffee on (decaf this time), and sit down to write for one hour. I always write from 9am till 10am, barring Acts of God, and I guard this time jealously. This means that no matter what else happens during the day, I know I have written for an hour and therefore don't need to feel that horrible guilt you feel when you get to the end of the day without writing.
10am - have some coffee, hang out the washing.
10.30am - back to work! I aim for 2,000 words a day, usually. This week I have been pushing for 1,000 because I'm tired after working on the essay (excuses, excuses), but 2,000 is my ideal. The Internet is a huge distraction. Emails, great blogs to read, Flickr ... it can suck up hours of my time if I let it. I have a little rule that I am allowed to quickly check my email or look at something fun every fifteen minutes. I don't always do so, if I'm on a roll, but on the days when writing is like giving birth to a broken window I really live for my little breaks.
12pm - I stop for lunch at midday, and this is usually when I write a blog post.
1pm - Another hour of work. I don't usually do any creative work in the early afternoon. If I have client work to do, or the Essay of Doom, I'll do it then, because it uses a different part of my writing brain. This is also a good time to revise or rewrite.
2pm - I run errands and do housework.
3pm - coffee! Of the caffeinated variety, this time. Then I get on with more chores of various kinds, or some non-creative work. I'm sure it won't surprise you that I have a chore schedule written out for each week day as well, because I think we have established that I am addicted to plans and list-making.
4pm - I get back to work. Now that I've got most of my work done, there's not so much urgency and pressure, which means that I'm more comfortable playing with different ideas. I really enjoy this time in the evenings - everything is done, it's quiet, Mink is usually sitting next to me, and I can be creative without worrying about being productive. LOML gets home between 6pm and 7pm, so I start dinner around that time.

I also love working at night - the darkness and quiet seems to open up all these possibilities that I don't see during the day. I don't do it very often, though: firstly, because it is anti-social and LOML quite likes having me around in the evenings (go figure); and secondly, because it burns me out ridiculously quickly and I am grumpy and tired the next day. If I really want to do a concentrated burst of work on a particular scene or chapter, however, a glass of wine and a late-night writing session will usually take care of it.

With this book, I'm writing from the perspective of three different characters - well, two at the beginning and a third who emerges later in the book - so if I'm feeling inspiration wane with one of them I'll jump into another character's head and write a scene from a different part of the book. It's a great way to feel refreshed without stopping writing. In other books, jumping to a different scene has worked. And dialogue is a great way to kick-start your writing - putting two characters together and letting them have a conversation can give a new fizz and energy to a flat scene. I prefer not to stop writing, but if the case is really desperate, I might draw some pictures of the characters or the plot on really huge sheets of paper. This helps.

I hope that all makes sense - if there's anything you'd like to ask me about it, go ahead. If you're still awake. There's a good chance you nodded off somewhere in the middle of that, and I don't blame you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Red shoes, how I love thee

It is rainy and not very warm today, and I am feeling disoriented. We had another late night last night - LOML is going through a really busy time at work, and needed to work from home in the evening. Since our spare bed is in the study, I said I would sleep there while he worked to keep him company (not very good company, of course, but it's kind of nice having someone else around while you're burning the midnight oil). I woke up in our master bedroom this morning, and I had no recollection of moving rooms in the night. Very strange feeling, and it hasn't left me all day.

I haven't done any work yet - the day was rather consumed by helping my mum and her husband get ready for their trip to Australia, and then taking them to the airport. Now I'm back home, I'm looking forward to getting my thousand words in on the novel. And avoiding the essay. I'll work on it tomorrow. Maybe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I love my little word-count widgets

They are so satisfying. Just a bit of housekeeping - you may notice that the word-count-ometer on my fantasy novel has passed the 10,000 word mark. Whee! Of course, this is less impressive than it sounds, because it has been sitting at 8,000 for months, but still. You may also notice that I am no longer calling it a young adult novel, because I'm not sure how it fits into that classification and 'fantasy' seemed more appropriate. Oh, and that my end target has increased from 60,000 to 80,000, because looking at the story I want to tell makes me I doubt that I will do it in 60,000 words.

Friday, October 10, 2008

House rules

I spent this afternoon trying to pare down my wardrobe (again). At the moment, it is not reflecting my values, which makes me feel very hypocritical. The quote I refer to most often when thinking about how I want my home to be is:

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

When I look at my closet or chest of drawers and see it overflowing with clothes, it makes me feel a bit disgusted - like that uncomfortable feeling you get when you've eaten far too much and feel nauseous and bloated. I hate to own piles of stuff that are neither useful nor beautiful; not just when it comes to clothes, but in every area of life. I don't like minimalist style, and I'm definitely a fan of surrounding myself with objects I love, but I hate random clutter and mess. As I tend to be a hoarder, this is something I struggle with. In some ways I think it stems from leaving Zimbabwe - we had to leave almost everything behind, and we lost a lot of treasured items. In reaction to that, I am ridiculously sentimental about objects and am loath to throw things away. I also love shopping and the thrill of buying something new. Bad combination.

I'm trying to get better at managing my wardrobe, and life in general. This year I have tried very hard to get a handle on my diet, my daily writing routine, housework and organisation in general - to establish rules and habits that are healthy and productive rather than destructive.

Here are the wardrobe rules I drew up for myself this year:

1) To buy second-hand whenever possible.
2) When it is not possible or practical to buy second-hand (for example, if I need underwear or something similar), to buy from a company that manufactures ethically and in an environmentally responsible way.
3) To regularly pare down and organise my wardrobe, giving away any items that no longer fit or that I no longer wear.
4) To maintain and repair my current wardrobe rather than buying something new whenever possible. I try to take good care of the things I already own and to make repairs and alterations on a weekly basis, so the pile of Things To Do doesn't grow too high (doesn't always work out that way, but that's the aim).
5) To buy items only after careful consideration of exactly how they will fit into my wardrobe - I try to buy something only if I can think of three different ways to wear it, and I avoid buying something if I need to make another purchase before it will work in my wardrobe (this is a trap into which I've fallen many times - "This would be great with some green shoes. Now all I need is a pair of green shoes." That kind of thing). Vintage dresses are an exception to this; I see my vintage dress collection as just that, a collection, and will buy a beautiful vintage dress even if I'm only going to wear it on special occasions.
6) Whenever possible, to buy clothes made from good quality fabrics that have flattering shapes - this means I am likely to wear them for years rather than just for one season. I try to avoid buying fashionable clothes that I think will go out of style quickly.
7) To be grateful for the things I have rather than yearn for the things I don't.

Of course, I sometimes (often) fail to achieve these things. But having them keeps me headed in the right direction. It's an ongoing project. The key for me - since I am a perfectionist and tend towards anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed - is to change things gradually and not to put too much pressure on myself to be perfect right away. It's easy to look at all there still is to do rather than what you have already achieved.

Anyway, thank you for bearing with me through what I hope wasn't an overly preachy or earnest post - I am a work in progress, and don't want to give the impression that I know all there is to know about anything at all. I do think it is important to buy responsibly, though, especially in countries like New Zealand where we are bombarded with products and adverts.

As for this afternoon, I managed to cull a few items of clothing that will find good new homes. Not a big step, but a step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'll have my usual, please

I'd like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug the wonderful Nanowrimo, or National Novel-writing Month. I've signed up again this year - I've never actually made it past the finishing line, but I'm determined to this time around.

Here's a brief spiel, although the website describes it better - the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, finishing at midnight on 30 November. As you can imagine, this method values quantity over quality, but it's a great kick-start. It forces you to switch off your self-critical side (and crap-o-meter), take risks and create without editing or stressing out wondering 'is it any good'? At the end of the month, you will inevitably have a Shitty First Draft. But a SFD leads to a Passably Good Second Draft and a Good Third Draft and a Nobel-Prize-Winning Fourth Draft (maybe). It gives you something to work with. And it's fun. And you'll be able to tell people you wrote a novel in 2008.

There are different ways of doing it. I'm cheating (although I like to think of it as 'being a Maverick') because I'm using the month to work on a novel I have already started, but which has been on the back-burner for a long time. I'm combining Nanowrimo with my experiment of writing from an outline - we'll see how it goes. Nanowrimo recommends just starting the novel without any outline or plan at all, as this is much less likely to drive you completely insane, but I (Maverick, remember) think my spiralling into insanity will be, at the least, very amusing to watch (and since I am going crazy anyway waiting to hear from agents, at least this will channel the madness into a different area). But if you sign up and decide to do it entirely off the cuff, I will be filled with admiration.

It's always more fun doing something borderline insane like this when you can suck people in to your little vortex of craziness, and this is my attempt to suck you in (metaphorically). If you sign up, you can add other participants as writing buddies. Be my buddy! My username is theluckyblackcat.

Anyway, back to work.

Edited to add: I'm so sorry for the delay, but I have responded to all comments now. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave them, and I always reply, even if sometimes it takes a couple of days! I'm also a bit late in catching up on all your blogs (blame my post-holiday brain and busy-ness), but I will stop by over the weekend and see what you have all been up to. It always brightens up my day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm back!

Happy and exhausted. See you tomorrow!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...