Writer’s Cramp

Everyone has heard of writers block but there is another malady that is less known outside of writing circles: Writer’s cramp.

Okay I may have just totally made that up but it’s a good analogy for what I’ve been feeling latley. Think of it like going back to the gym for the first time on over a year (something quite a few can relate to right now). Those mucles that you used to exercise on a regular basis have been neglected and they re not happy with the sudden shock of being put through their paces. You’ve maybe put on a few pounds since last time because it’s cream egg season and you have to get as many in as you can before they vanish again. So without thinking, you hop back on the treadmill and off you go. Five minutes later you’re being knifed in the ribs by an unseen gremlin.

Well writing can be very much like that as I discovered recently. The writing process can be very much like exercising. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the better your endurance. Spend enough time away though, your fitness level will start to drop down and you need to take a few steps back so you don’t do yourself a mischief. This is what happens after a prolonged bought of writers block. Like the one I’ve been going through for the past year.

The block finally shifted about a week ago after what was a pretty horrific dream. As awful as it was, this dream did grab my block by the throat, drag it into a dark alleyway and nick its wallet. The muse had returned and to be honest I don’t think she’s been taking her meds. So here I am once again writing. After two years of working on childrens stories, I’ve returned to my roots and started on a new horror novel. And you know what, I’m loveing every second of it.

Until the cramp sets in that is. Instead of being stabbed in the ribs like you would in the gym, this one punches you in the brain. Like right inside the brain. It all started like normal; a bit of research, make notes, plan things out, the usual. Then comes the day to start writing and get these wild ideas out of the meaty blob in my head and onto the screen. One sentence, then two, everything is going well and suddenly it hits you. You can’t remember how to convert those ideas into words. You can see it in your head but the pathways that go from your brain to your fingers are running on a go slow. What you have on the screen is not what you have in your head. All those bad habits you had trained yourself out of are coming back. Things like editing on the go and being able to filter out the 200 ideas that are all fighting for your attention.

So here I am writing for the first time in ages and I haven’t even managed to finish the prologue yet because the damn story keeps changing. And every new idea needs to be tied in with what’s already been written. It hurts but if you take it slow and steady, you can get back to that level of writer fitness before the block came on. Slow and steady is the key. If this ever hits you, the best advice I can give you is to let yourself work back up. Don’t be hard on yourself if the words don’t come like they used to straight away. You will get there again.

Henrietta Book 1 – Free Download

Henrietta has come to say hello and offer her services to keep you and your kids entertained during this very strange time.

Pop on over to the Henrietta page where you can download the first book absolutely free. There also some ideas for some fun activities for you to do once you’ve read the first of her adventures.

Why not send in your kids drawings and fun ideas and get them featured on the Writers Stall facebook page? You can send them by messaging me on the FB page or by emailing to jbangellwriter at gmail.com

Happy reading, my friends.

Social Media vs. The Comma: Round 1 – Fight.

I will start by saying that I have been holding off on this post simply because I know if I get one comma out of place or have one typo, people are going to eat me alive. Today I am going to talk about a pet peeve of mine. It can be summed up in one phrase that I see all too often.

its facebook speling and gramer dont matter

(errors added for dramatic effect).

Social Media has become everyone’s favourite place to argue with total strangers over just about anything and everything you can think of. And that’s fine. I’m all for lively debate discourse. Admittedly that’s not what is going on but you get the general idea. More often than not, what we actually get is a lot of incoherent rambling. By incoherent I mean it’s basically unreadable. Endless run on sentences without so much as a comma or a full stop that would make even the best Orator of Ancient Greece scratch their head in confusion. (See the book: The Accidental Apostrophe to get that reference).

So here’s the thing. If you are trying to get a point across, people need to be able to understand what you are saying. And this is the whole point of punctuation. It isn’t some kind of system solely designed to torture school children; it is how we can convey meaning and emotion through text. It let’s the reader know when to pause for effect, when to stop and breath. How often do we see misunderstandings when a simple comma or even a full stop would have made so much difference? The classic example of this are: “Let’s eat, Grandad” and “Let’s eat Grandad”. Three identical words but two very different meanings. That little comma makes the difference between a nice family meal and patriarchal cannibalism.

How can you expect to convince someone of your point, if you are unable to properly get your message across. I’m not talking about everyone learning the finer points of correct grammar. I’m saying think about how your message sounds. If you read that, would you be convinced? At the very least throw in a full stop every 50 words so your audience can pause for a breath. Try this next time you write something with no punctuation marks. Breath in normally and the start reading, breathing out as you go. Now here’s the thing. You’re not allowed to breath in again until you are finished. You have to make that single breath last the entire time while taking in what is being said. Not so easy, is it.

Even the simplest of discussions will be made better by stopping and thinking for a moment about what you want you want to convey. If you don’t believe that your spelling and grammar are important, then very likely your point isn’t either. At the very least, that is what will be conveyed to your audience.

Just Who do You Think You Are?

‘The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: “I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!” So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.’

Read more at https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/entertainment/celebrity-quotes-on-impostor-syndrome-434739#3UwtlRtPjiRMVpvH.99

Tina Fey

I want to talk a bit about impostor syndrome. This is something I’ve been fighting a lot of lately. It’s something that all artists face a lot during their careers. That feeling that you’re just not good enough. That you have no right to be doing what you are doing. How dare you write, or paint, or create something new and wonderful. You shouldn’t be doing any of that. Just get up in the morning, go to your regular mundane job, pay your bills and go home.

Suddenly, possible even moments later, you find yourself on top of the world. Your creative juices are flowing and the magic is happening. You know what you’re doing is what you were born to do. Nothing else matters. You could happily throw everything away and just do that thing you love. Of course the reverse is also true. You’ll be mid flow and those doubts creep in. That nagging voice that tells you aren’t good enough. I had this happen recently literally mid sentence. I was working on the second Henrietta Hedgekin story. It was flowing superbly. Every sentence, every word was falling into place. Suddenly, there it was. That feeling that I am absolutely and completely wasting my time. Why was I doing this? I’m no writer. I shouldn’t be doing any of this.

Luckily I have a very good and exceptionally talented artist friend (my best friend) who understood exactly what I was going though. She had been precisely where I was at that moment and she offered the best way to view these episodes is that they are meant to keep us humble. They help us to keep striving. If you face that feeling that you aren’t good enough but you still manage to keep going, then you are doing exactly what you should be doing. It keeps us in check and stops our ego from taking over. When an artist loses that drive, that will to improve and become better than before, that is when you are truly an impostor. So when you feel those doubts, when that voice is screaming at you telling you you’re not enough, you look it straight in the eye and tell it “Maybe not, but tomorrow I will be”. And above all, do not give up doing what it is you love.

Finding Your Style

Every writer has their own style. It’s like a fingerprint. You can tell who the author of a story was by the way the tail starts and grows. By how the characters interact with each other and the world they are in. Stephen King and James Herbert are two of the horror greats but the way they right is very different. Their use of language and scenery differs greatly. Yet both of them manage to keep us hooked on every word. Where does this come from?

Well I’m going to let you into a secret. These styles and ways of writing didn’t happen overnight. The individual style can take years. When you first begin to write, you find yourself imitating your favourite writer. When I first started in what seems like a lifetime ago now, I was very much trying to emulate James Herbert. He was my favourite horror writer and I had been consuming his work like my Shih Tzu, Mabel, eats sausages. Voraciously for those who have never seen a Shih Tzu eating a sausage.

Over time I started to add in bits of other authors, most noticeably H P Lovecraft, the father of modern horror. But things still didn’t feel right. It took me a bit of time before I realised that while my writing was evolving, I was still imitating. I was writing with someone else’s voice and ignoring my own. That was a real eureka moment for me. It was the start of a new chapter. Letting go of the comfy cosiness of other peoples styles and finding my own was scary, I’m not going to lie. But at the same time it was liberating.

Once I let go of the restrictions of other writers I found myself free to truly grow. I was able to create my own worlds and give life to my own characters. For the first time, they truly were mine. That was when I knew that I had become a writer. Not only that but I had come to realise it is not just something we do but something we live. A thing we love and feel. Yes we do become emotionally invested but now it was different. Once you make that leap you find that a part of yourself is in every single aspect of your story. Yes I still have characters that I hate from the second I give them life and I pretty much have a plan for their horrible demise. And sometimes I worry about the state of my own mind when I create them. But then sanity is overrated anyway.

So don’t be afraid to let go and move out of your comfort zone. You have the story inside of you. It is your unique tale and only you can tell it. But it will never be told until you can do so in your own voice.

The Hardest Thing I Have Written

Over the years I have tried my hand at various genres. As most of you who have followed me since the beginning know, I have always learned towards horror and fantasy with a bit of sci-fi mixed in. Well that all changed about a year ago when i decided to change direction completely and have a go at writing a children’s story. I have the say, this is the hardest thing I have ever written. And you know what? I have enjoyed every moment of it.

But surely kids books are easy? They are just short stories aren’t they?

Yes they are short and that’s one of the things that make them difficult. I once attended a lecture at university where the professor said something that has stuck with me: “I wrote 10,000 words because I didn’t have to to write 2,000”. Never has that been more clear to me than now. When I write a scene in say one of the Guardian stories, I can go into great detail. I can get every nuance of every moment because it’s for a mature reader. Now imagine having to get that same level of detail in a fraction of the space to a younger audience. I had always read that children’s books were the hardest genre to get into. Not only is it a very difficult market but the actual challenge of the writing it.

Despite all that I think I’ve found my niche. I love it more than anything else I’ve ever written.

Now you will notice I havent said anything about the actual story. I’m leaving that for another post when things are a bit more polished. I am doing this in collaboration with my very talented best friend who has been a massive support throughout. She has some great ideas for things to make the stories more interactive. It’s a very exciting time.

I think the big take away for me from all this is to never be afraid to have a go at something different. You might just might surprise yourself. Take a chance and get that story out. Writing is about more than just getting the story out of your brain and onto the page. It’s about constantly challenging yourself. About pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. So if you find yourself in a bit of a rut, try something new. You never know what you might discover about yourself.

Have You Seen A Spook, Spectre or Ghost?

  This is a special post for my fellow Guerns.

This wonderful island is famous for many things. Not least of all is its rich folklore. Everyone knows the tails of witchcraft and demons that have have haunted our shores over the centuries.

Even today, I bet all of you can think of at least one person you know who has a story of a haunting or a spooky experience. These modern day hauntings are what I am currently looking for. 

In conjunction with the Guernsey Ghost Stories Facebook group, I am creating a collection of modern experiences.  This is where you guys come in.

If you have any personal stories of hauntings, or if you have experienced anything at one of the many local haunted sites, and want to share it, I would love to hear from you. I have created a submission form (see the menu above) to make the process easier.

Submissions will remain open until March 30th, 2016.

I look forward to being terrified.

A Tale of Things to Come

Well here we are, a week away from the big move and as you can imagine, things are a touch chaotic here in writing land.  This doesn’t mean I have been resting on my laurels though.  A writer never truly stops after all.  As Halloween is approaching, I will be releasing a short story to chill the soul and haunt your dreams.

Once we have settled in and things are getting back to normal (or at least what passes for normal around here), I shall be taking a short break from fiction to work on a very special project.  During a recent tidy up, my Grand mother came across her fathers old war diaries.  She has given me permission to go through them and create a record of his journeys as a soldier during the 1940s.

I am very excited to be able to transcribe his journals.  I was unaware of this piece of family history until recently and to be given this opportunity is a great honour.   There is going to be a lot to do but I am looking forward to every minute of it.  It’s not often that one gets to do something like this.

So that, dear friends, is all for now.  I’m off to pack some more boxes with stuff I haven’t seen or used for about 4 years.

Rhetoric – For Arguments Sake

I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent with this post as there is something in social media land that has been bothering me for a long time.  Recent local events have seen a lot of people voicing their opinions on certain topics.  This is a good thing.  Debate of subjects that affect the greater population is always a welcome thing, and indeed the cornerstone of our society.  The problem comes when the debate is not some much well thought out and reasoned arguments, but more like a pack of angry baboons mashing on the keyboard.  The more I see, the more I realize there is a need for rhetoric to be taught as part of the English curriculum.  For the purpose of this post, let us define rhetoric as:

The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques

There is a trend at the moment, that when one is angry and passionate about a subject or event, to immediately go on social media and slap down the first thing that comes into your head.  If you wish to change peoples hearts and minds, then this approach will definitely be counter productive.  A careful and considered argument will get you further than stringing a load of words together in a jumbled rant.  And by jumbled I mean a complete lack of punctuation.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen a full paragraph of words without so much as a full stop to be found.  The worrying side of this is that people don’t seem to see the importance of using things like commas or full stops or even correct spelling.  But I ask you this: How are people supposed to hear your argument if they are unable to read and make sense of it?

That was a rhetorical question by the way.

So what can you do to make get your point across? Well I’m not about to teach a full on class but I will offer these few pointers:

  1. Consider your audience: Who are you trying to convince? Do they already share your views?
  2. Consider counter points: You are going to have people who disagree with you.  Try and consider beforehand what they think and why they may hold those opinions.
  3. Don’t rant: This is a very easy trap to fall into and one we all suffer from at some point.  Avoid name calling and try to be civil at all times.  This can be one of the most difficult parts of a debate.
  4. Spelling and Grammar: This might seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how often I see posts on important subjects that lose all credibility and coherence because of bad spelling or a lack of proper punctuation (or any punctuation).
  5. Proof read:  Before hitting the post button, read it back.  Does it make sense?  If possible, have someone else give it a look over for you.

Of course these are just guidelines and certainly not set in stone.  At the end of the day, you have to decide how important it is to you that your message gets across to people.  If you are just having a moan about how bad the traffic was on the way home today, then this is probably a bit much.  But if you are looking to affect actual change, then please consider the above.  Taking a little bit of extra time can make all the difference.

Autumn is Upon Us…And I’m Glad

The horrible, oppressive mugginess of summer looks to have gone the way of the Dodo, and the glorious coolness of Autumn is upon us at last.

I don’t like summer.  I’m well known for not liking summer or, indeed anything that involves me sweating like a politician caught with identical twins and a family size tub of tutti frutti ice cream.  Now Autumn, that’s a whole different kind of beast.  I don’t know what it is about the season that I like so much.  Is it the cool, fresh mornings? The incredible colours when the leaves begin to turn?  Or is it just that Halloween is just around the corner?

Whatever it is, this seems to be the season I get inspired the most.  Some people see Autumn as a time of ending and decay.  I see it as a renewal.  The old is coming to an end so as to make way for the new.  And with that comes new possibilities and new ways of looking at things.  Oh and pumpkin spice lattes.  I don’t who you are, that is some tasty shit right there.

So what the hell has any of this got to do with the ongoing task of writing?  Well it’s about renewal and rejuvenation. About looking back on the old stories and seeing what can be done to make them better.  And that is what I am currently doing.  As a part of my move to Scrivener, I have been testing out various features with old manuscripts and revamping a few old ideas.  This review of the old has turned out to be great for getting the creative juices flowing again.  I’ve found scribbled notes from long ago that never went beyond the “Hey, I should write that down” stage.  I look back at them now and I can now see directions that I would never have thought of at the time.  I’m very excited.  So much so that I’m hoping to have a little treat for you all by the end of the month.  I say hoping as we are going to be moving house shortly so things might go quiet for a while.

So grab that PSL, wrap a scarf around and don your woolly hat; Autumn is here and it’s going to be a whopper.