My NaNoWriMo Word Count Widgets!

Sunday, 31 July 2011


Today was the final day of summer church group - I was very proud of my two girls.  Little Tootsie looked so darn cute singing along to the songs (once she got over her initial shyness - bless), and Big Toots was thrilled because her group won THE SPECIAL PRIZE.  I'm so proud of both of them - they've been a real credit to the family.  And now they're away for their holiday.....I'll miss them.

My plan for next week is to write, write, write!  Tomorrow I will make sure the guinea pigs are cleaned out, basic levels of hygiene and cleanliness are achieved around the house, and that I have enough chocolate, tea and food to last me the week.  I will also be purchasing a large stack of index cards.  A suggestion from The Story Book.  I think it will help me work out the structure of the book, to ensure I'm creating enough conflict, coming up with knowledge gaps, and resolving everything by the end of the book.

The idea is that you write the main points of your plot on cards and place them on a timeline.  Then, you work out what needs to happen before that event, or what needs to happen after it.  And all the time you need to ask yourself if you have a protagonist, an antagonist, conflicts, changes in values, inciting incidents, turning points, knowledge gaps etc etc etc.  There's no such thing as a basic beginning, middle and end when you're writing a book! 

But I've decided that I'm not going to spend more than one day on that.  Because the most important thing is to be creative!  I'll let you know how I get on...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Chips and chapters...

It's 7 o' clock at night, and I've only just managed to switch the computer on for the first time today.  It's been a busy day.  The girls arrived this morning and we did our usual "stuff".  Then it was a quick lunch, a trip into town to write some verses for The People's Bible, and then we were off to the Sunday School (it's not a) Picnic.

An afternoon of catching balls, kicking balls, throwing balls and playing with a large fabric "parachute" with a dozen or so kids, followed by a chippie for tea.  Lovely. 

I did manage a bit more work yesterday, after the girls had gone for the night.  I've now uploaded the revised first 12 chapters (or thereabouts) of Hospital Corners on Authonomy.

I'm not 100% sure how to split things up around Chapter 5 onwards.  Lots of changing POV, and I don't know if it's worth making each different one a different chapter or not.  Some of them would only be a paragraph or two long....I think I'll worry about that later on; you know, when I've actually written the remaining 15 to 20 chapters! 

I also managed to re-read "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" this morning.  I'm glad I read the other guides first as they reminded me of the different types of apostrophes and so on.  If I got one thing out of the book, it's where to hyphenate "fine tooth-comb".  I use the phrase at the start of Peggy's diaries!

Friday, 29 July 2011

I love it when a plan comes together....

Took the girls to the local garden centre for lunch and bought a fridge magnet, to remind me not to fuss over the wee trivialities (e.g. Little Tootsie only wanting to eat the chocolate off the top of her cake, which cost me £1.70, and Big Toots insisting on wearing her glasses to go and read what the different cakes were, even though I told her she didn't have to wear them at that point).  We were heading out the door, me feeling very harrassed, when I spotted the magnet.  I don't even know why I was looking in that direction - it was just one of those moments where I was being pointed at something valuable.  It reads:  While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.  So - next time I get a cake, I might just eat all the chocolate off the top.

So far today, I've written one paragraph.  Not much, I'll grant you, but it's quality rather than quantity.  And it highlights one of the themes of the book:  Sometimes things are simple.  Sometimes things are complicated.  Sometimes they're both.

There are some days when I feel pressure to put my head down and just WRITE something, but I'm giving myself a break.  I have ideas bubbling, snippets of dialogue forming.  But if I rush to write it down, I'm going to spend a whole lot longer re-writing, editing and potentially ending up with something pretty rubbish.  In my 2 hour post-lunch writing slot, I get interrupted.  My girls are good (they're absolute angels compared to many other kids their age!) but they're still too young to fully understand that my writing time needs to be uninterrupted.  So I get called to bring more juice, or cut up a kiwi, or simply to tell me what exciting programme is starting on the telly.  Plus I can already hear what's on the telly and it's distracting.  So I use the time to browse on Authonomy, read chapters of my reference books and jot down ideas.  Then, when they go back to their Dads at 6pm, that's when I switch on the laptop and the kettle.  I know I'm doing well when I reach for the cuppie and find it's absolutely stone cold!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

New glasses day....

Today is the day that Big Toots GOT HER is a date that will remain engraved on her memory for...ooh, all of today and tomorrow.  She was VERY EXCITED, shall we say.  I tried to tell her that the novelty wears off after twenty-something years but she was too busy jumping up and down to listen.

I managed to cobble together a nice little chapter over my coffee at Tescos.  I left all my writing guides at home and simply took my notebook, folder of draft chapters and a pen.  Sometimes sitting with a pen and paper and writing the "old-fashioned" way works best. 
It's nice to be able to type everything onto the computer - it's quicker for a start.  My fingers can type at the speed of my thoughts, but my hand can't write quickly enough.  I hate it when I have a great phrase in my head, but forget it before I've had a chance to scribble it all down.  Plus my handwriting is atrocious when I write quickly.  But, I have to admit, the simple act of writing with a pen and paper is satisfying.  And I'm less likely to finish a paragraph, immediately read it over, then edit it out of existence.  If it's on paper, it's always there to come back to and fiddle around with.  Once I hit that delete key, whatever gems I had are gone forever. 

SO -this afternoon I will indulge myself with polishing off said chapter, and working on Dr Blake's first big scene.   It's raining outside so I don't even need to feel guilty about not washing the car, or weeding the garden....girls are playing happily at a friends house (thanks K!)  and I have a bag of Revels in the fridge for later on tonight.  Bliss.....

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


I've given the writing a miss today - to mull over ideas and developments.  I scribbled a few words in my ever-present notebook whilst having coffee at Tescos (sometimes you get a phrase in your head that just sounds perfect), but I'm avoiding Microsoft Word at all costs!

That's not to say I've not been writing anything.  I've just spent the past hour working out how many words can be made from the phrase "Deep Sea Discovery".  I've given up at 225.  Thank goodness for Google, a dictionary, and alphabet fridge magnets!

I think my favourite is "caryopsis" which is the dried fruit of a cereal grass....apparently.

Deep Sea Discovery is the church group my girls are attending this week.  They're absolutely loving it, although they'll be more than ready for a holiday next week as they're absolutely shattered by the end of the day. 

Technically my girls are supposed to be finding words, and my eldest will be having a shot later on this afternoon.  But Little Tootsie would struggle (she only knows the letter S) so I've done her list for her.  Big Toots will have to come up with her own list, but seeing as she's won a prize for her competition entries the last 2 days, I don't think she'll bother trying too hard. 

I've just found another 4 words....

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Time for a quickie...

I've had a busy day.  Woken up by my girls at too early o' clock.  They haven't quite grasped the idea that whispering is supposed to be quieter than normal talking.  I took them to their summer church group and wished my dad a Happy Birthday (and I'll say it again - Happy Birthday Dad!).  I then had the unexpected pleasure of a day to myself as Granny & Grandad took the girls off my hands for the rest of the day.  It meant a bit of shopping for their surprise holiday next week and an afternoon of uninterrupted writing time.  I also got my tea cooked for me (thank you to the real Esme) before an evening rehearsing for a show I'm doing in September (Bad Girls the Musical).  Must find time to learn lines, remember routines and all that jazz, in between my writing sessions!

After several days plotting (and sub-plotting), I've now re-written the first "Act" of the book...with Dr Rosanna Blake recast as a real bitch.  I made her too nice....she IS supposed to be the antagonist after all.  But with the new tweaks, it will bring another layer into the whole book.  I will get started on some new chapters tomorrow and I will have all of next week to put my head down and write the bulk of the next Act. 

I apologise in advance if chocolate stocks dwindle in the area next week.....

Monday, 25 July 2011

Knowledge Gaps.....

Well - I spent an hour reading through this section in David Baboulene's The Story Book and I'm only a little wiser.

I fared a little better with the section on Character and Plot, even getting my head around the concept that Character is Plot and Plot is Character - you can't have one without the other.  It's led me to think (yet again) about my opening chapters and I'm going to have to re-write (yet again) to take the character of Dr Blake into account.  I've made her too likeable, and she's also too shallow.  I don't mean she spends all her time thinking about her appearance, I mean that I haven't defined her properly.  Sure, she wants to go home to watch Graham Norton, and she wants to know who Miss Esme Smith is.....but I haven't thought about her drives, her ego and her life outside the hospital.  This book is as much about her journey as Esme's...probably more so. 

So - Chapters 1 through 8, here we go again!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Key Questions and Story Baselines...

I've had an unproductive productive day today.  I might not have much written (a couple of hundred words at most, I haven't counted), but I've developed the structure of the book quite nicely.

I made a start on another of my reference books - The Story Book by David Baboulene.  It's very VERY technical but utterly brilliant.  It also nicely ties together psychology and writing - my two favourite subjects!  I never thought you could apply Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to a storyline, but there you go.

After thinking carefully about the structure of my story, I've had to shuffle a few sections around, expand on a couple of points and add a new mini-chapter.  It will probably change again before I'm finished, but that's not a problem.  The idea is that you tell your story, THEN work on the structure.  I might not have the whole story written, but I have the main parts down on paper.  It's just linking it all together now....and that's where I need a solid structure.

So I've spent my afternoon looking at each section of my book and asking myself who the protagonist is, what their goal is, what is the inciting incident and, most importantly, what is the key question.  All this pulls together to make a good story (hopefully).

As a taster, here is my story baseline (apparently this is a handy document to have when you reach the stage of talking to publishers):

  • My book is called Hospital Corners.  It is literary fiction, set in Lovingdell General Hospital, a fictional hospital on the outskirts of Bath. 
  • My protagonist is Miss Esme Smith (75).  She has cut her arm while preparing dinner, and comes to the hosptial for treatment.  Her goal is to get home as quickly as possible.
  • The inciting incident occurs when her arm is examined and reveals an obvious history of deliberate self-harm, raising two key questions.
  1. Did she harm herself deliberately?
  2. Who is Miss Esme Smith?
  • Esme is opposed in her quest to go home by Dr Rosanna Blake.  At the start of the book, Dr B's goal is also to get home as quickly as possible.  She is impeded in her goal when she is asked to examine Esme.  She is then determined to find the answers to the two key questions.
  • At the resolution, both key questions are answered and both Esme and Dr B are able to go home. 
I'm now into the section on "knowledge gaps" which I'm sure will highlight many gaps in my own knowledge!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Writer's block...

I've had the whole morning to myself.  Lots of time to sit and write....or not.
After reading all my "how to" and "how not to" guides, I've realised that Chapter 7 is completely wrong.  I've fallen into the trap of writing a whole load of back-story instead of focussing on what's happening at that moment in time.  I've now spent 3 hours wrestling with it and am completely stuck.

Perhaps a nice cup of tea?

Edited to add:  after a cup of tea, a quick game of "Gardens of Time" on Facebook and a further two hours, I've finally cracked it.  I started from scratch and took the chapter down a new route.  I've realised that authors need to be emotionally detached from their story.  I was attached to what I'd written - it was my story, not the character's.

Just in time for the girls arriving for tea, bath and an overnight stay. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Glasses and (more) Grammar

My eldest daughter had her first eye test this morning.  She was pretty nervous but she did amazingly well (the optician was impressed she could read the letters.  Apparently many kids of her age don't recognise capital letters?!).  Little Tootsie, her younger sister, also behaved brilliantly.  She sat patiently on my knee and didn't once ask "when can we go".  They both got a wee treat for being so good.  Big Toot picked out her first pair of glasses and can't wait for next week when we can go and pick them up.  They're pink Little Miss Sunshine frames.  You can't get plain old frames anymore - not like my first pair of glasses in 1987 (wow - that's a long time ago).

I decided to spend my writing time today consolidating all the information I've learnt from my two "how not to write" books.  Here are some common mistakes from "How Not to Write a Novel" by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark.  These are the ones I think I'm most guilty of....

  • Hamlet at the Deli.  Wherein the character's thoughts are transcribed to no purpose. 
    - In Hospital Corner terms, out comes the overly detailed description of a lunch Esme once had. 
  • Swann Song.  Wherein a character ignores the scene that is occurring to reminisce about one that is not.
    - In HC terms, complete rewrite of Chapter 8, where Marge spends most of her time in labour reminiscing about her relationship instead of screaming in agony.
  • The Whatchamacallit.  In which gaps in the author's research make themselves known.- I'm hoping to plug those gaps before the manuscript gets anywhere near an agent!
  • Sock Puppetry.  When all characters speak in the voice of the surrounding prose. - I've got to make sure Elizabeth sounds like a 6 year old.  A well-educated 6 year old is fine, but she's only read the dictionary, not swallowed it.
Other ones I hope to avoid include:
  • The Man of Average Height.  Where characters are described in generic terms.
  • The Underpants Gnomes.  Where crucial steps are omitted.
  • Asseverated the Man.  When the author thinks he's too good for the word "said".
  • "Hello!  I Am the Mommy!".  Where characters announce things they wouldn't.
I think the Underpants Gnomes is my favourite.....there are also such delights as "The Crepuscular Handbag" and "The Crepitating Parasol".  I really recommend it.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Harry Potter and Good Grammar

I took a wee jaunt up to Aberdeen today to watch the final Harry Potter film.  As a huge fan of the books, there were a few moments where I thought "that's not how it happened!", but it was immensely enjoyable nonetheless. 

While waiting for the film to start, and since arriving back home, I've been finishing the "how not to write" grammer guide I mentioned yesterday.  Some pretty good tips, and I now know the difference between a verb and adverb, active and passive voices, and that it's OK to put a comma before the word and.  And it's OK to start a sentence with and, but and because too.  I also, technically, know where apostrophes are supposed to go....but that's still a bit of a dodgy one.

I've not written anything new today but I'll plump out Chapter 8 tonight.  That is, I'll plump out the storyline whilst paring down the superflous words.  Apparently I should be aiming for an average of 18 words a sentence....ooops.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

You learn something new every day...

People (exactly which people, I'm not sure) say "Write about what you know".  That's all well and good, but we'd get some pretty boring books if that were the case.  So I take the above sentence to mean this:  Research what you want to write about so you don't sound like a complete idiot when describing a hospital procedure.

So today I've learnt about ECGs and where the different electrodes are positioned.  I vaguely remembered the positioning from the one or two times I had an ECG in the past, but I wanted to be sure.  Plus, where do you put a wrist electrode when your patient has a bandage on it?

I also read up on symptoms of panic attacks and heart attacks.  Having been lucky enough to have had neither, this part of my story is proving the hardest to write so far.  How can I describe something from Esme's POV when I don't know exactly what it feels like myself?  I hope I've managed....

I spent much of last night and this morning reading Stephen King On Writing.  The first half of the book is a little autobiography, which is interesting.  The second half is the advice on writing.  He uses the analogy of a tool-box with all it's different drawers and layers of tools....I have to ensure I have my own writing tool-box equipped.  Apparently an understanding of grammer is important...I hate grammer.  We were never taught it properly in school so I've never understood more than the very basics.  I get confused when people start talking about verbs, let alone adverbs. 

Luckily I found another book at my local library, another how not to guide.  It's called How not to write.  Simple guidelines for the grammatically perplexed, by Terence Denman.  Hopefully, by the end of the week, I will understand why it's wrong to Boldly go and why I shouldn't start so many sentences with But, And or Because. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A new pitch...

This morning I took my girls to the library for story-time and their summer holiday challenges.  Unfortunately, it seems like my eldest is struggling to read for long periods and I suspect she might need glasses.  Not really a surprise, given the family history.  Still - I hope they will help her.

This afternoon has been a productive one.  I've completely revised Chapter 6 of Hospital Corners.  It's now written from a narrator's POV (like the prologue and Chapter 3).  People have commented they like the tone of the Prologue so I'm trying to incorporate it into the book a bit more.  It also means I can add in little comments and asides that my characters would never dare to think....:-)

I've also entered a competition through to win a critique of the first 20000 words.  It meant re-writing my pitch (again) after a bit of research into how the pro's do it.  So here it is.  Not quite so mysterious, whilst still not completely giving the game away. 

Who is Miss Esme Smith?  That's the question Dr Rosanna Blake really wants answered before the end of a very long shift...

Lovingdell General Hospital is a typical hospital on a typical Friday night.  A&E are playing host to drunk students, car crash victims and an elderly woman who calls herself Miss Esme Smith.  Her case appears straightforward - she's cut herself while peeling potatoes - but Dr Rosanna Blake is concerned.

When she finds a pile of diaries in Esme's handbag, Dr Blake pushes her scruples to one side and reads them.  The story they tell is a disturbing one, leaving Dr Blake a changed woman.  Esme is a woman with a troubled past and an uncertain future.

Hospital Corners tells the story of one woman's fight with mental ill-health through the eyes of different characters in her past.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Birthday books...and POV

Well, today I'm 32, and I have a caterpillar birthday cake!  My girls certainly keep me young...:-)

You know you're a writer when you still take your scheduled 2 hours at the kitchen table to work, even on your birthday.  And when you spend part of your birthday money on new writing books (I've exhausted the supply at my local library).  Today, Amazon kindly delivered:
Stephen King On Writing (a classic text)
David Baboulene The Story Book (a writers' guide to story development, principles, problem solving and marketing) and
Margaret Geraghty The five-minute writer (a whole book full of writing exercises)

I'll let you know how I get on with them!

All of the books I've read so far tell you to write something every day, and to set aside a specific time instead of just fitting it in "when you have a moment" (because that moment will never arrive).  I haven't written anything new in the past 24 hours but I've been reviewing the first 4 chapters of Hospital Corners to take Point of View (POV) into account. 

It's not something I knew much about until I read How Not To Write a Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark.  It's a great book, very funny in places, and one of the more helpful writing books I've read over the past few months.  There are many books telling you how to devise a story arc, write a character CV and so on....but this book trumps them all.  It really got me to consider POV from sentence to sentence.

Here is a paragraph from Chapter 1:  "Esme gave a deep sigh.  Here she was standing in an empty hospital cafeteria; a lone figure in her thick wool winter coat, her pink cardigan poking out the bottom of the sleeves in little frills, a mid-calf tweed pleated skirt, thick black tights and sensible flat, stout shoes."

I wrote the description to let the reader "see" Esme more clearly, but didn't think about POV.  This whole chapter is supposed to be from Esme's POV and I've just described what she's wearing from an author's POV.  When did you last describe exactly what you were wearing to anyone, let alone yourself?  I fell into the trap of telling the reader what she was wearing, not showing them what she was thinking as she stood there. 

Here's the amended paragraph:  "Esme gave a deep sigh.  What must I look like?  An idiot, that's what.  All wrapped up in my warmest winter clothes in a hospital where the thermostat is set to boiling."

It might take me a bit longer to get on with writing new chapters, but it'll definitely be worth it in the long run!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Welcome to Hospital Corners

Today has been spent with the girls at Granny and Grandads (thank you!) so I've not had a chance to write anything today, other than a quick attempt at an "elevator pitch". 

What's an elevator pitch?  Well -  it's where you imagine you're in a lift with a publishing agent and you have 3 sentences to sell them your book before they get out. 

The short pitch is the teasing information they put on the front cover to encourage you to pick the damn book off the shelf in the first place. 

The long pitch is the blurb they put on the back or inside cover to persuade you to buy the book instead of putting it back on the shelf. 

At the moment my long pitch is the first two paragraphs of my prologue so I'll be looking to change it sometime soon.  Have a read and let me know what you think.  Would you buy the book based on the following information?

The Short Pitch
Who is Miss Esme Smith? That's the question Dr Rosanna Blake really wants answered before the end of a very long shift...                   

The Long Pitch
If you’re lucky, you only go to hospital twice in your lifetime; once on the way in and once on the way out. Imagine what hospitals would look like if that were really the case? One wing would be a maternity unit, the other a morgue and, joining them in the middle would be a gift shop giving equal importance to pink teddy bears, blue balloons and white lilies.

Of course, hospitals are needed for all those unscheduled problems in between being born and dying. Hundreds of thousands of stories unfold in them every day; around each and every hospital corner is a new story with new characters - ordinary people living their ordinary lives, yet having an extraordinary day in a vast hospital complex.

Miss Esme Smith is one such unfortunate soul. Tired, lost and confused - she simply wants to see a doctor and go home to bed. Dr Rosanna Blake also wants to go home. It's been a long day and it's about to get even longer.     

The Elevator Pitch
Lovingdell General Hospital is busy today: there’s Elizabeth (a six year old with a sore throat and suspicious father), Brian (a rather young and very scared new dad), Marge (a paranoid and hysterical nearly new mum) and Lottie (who’s ended up at the wrong end of a knife attack) for a start. Then there’s Esme – a seventy-five year old woman with a wrist laceration who wants to go home but can’t because a certain Dr Rosanna Blake won’t let her. Dr B also wants to go home (it’s been a very long day), but she needs to know something first: Who is Miss Esme Smith?  

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Saturday 16th July

Well - I've finally bitten the bullet and set up a blog and a Twitter account!  I don't have the first clue what I'm going to do with them, but apparently they are necessary tools for an aspiring writer.

Here's some background:

My name is Stacey.  I'll (very) shortly be turning 32 and I live in Scotland.  Riveting gets better.

From April 2008 to October 2010, I was a patient in a psychiatric hospital.  Yes, you read it right and there are no typos.  For two and a half years, I was a permanent in-patient at my local nuthouse (I'm allowed to call it that, I earned the right).  I have an interesting little condition called BPD - if you're at all interested then you can look it up.  But it's not really relevant.  I am not my illness, it's just a convenient label and helps me understand that I don't always think about things the way 'normal' people do.  I have no problems with that....

Since my discharge last year, I have been slowly re-building my life.  I have two wonderful daughters and I am loving spending extra time with them over the school holidays.  They are thoroughly enjoying the two hours of 'telly time' I throw their way each afternoon.  They think I'm doing it because I love them.  I do love them....but it gives me two hours every day where I can sit at my kitchen table and WRITE.  I'm hopeful that after a couple more works, they will have worked out what is meant when I shout "Mummy is WORKING!" when they pop through every five minutes to tell me what programme they are watching on CBeebies. 

And that brings me neatly to the reason I am writing this blog.  This is going to be an online diary of my writing.  Everything from what chapter I've been working on, which "how to" or "how not to" guides I've been reading for advice, and any interesting tips I've picked up from my favourite online community 

I don't know how interesting it will be, but I hope to look back on it in years to come (when I'm a famous author of course) and laugh at my ridiculous attempts to work out POV, story arcs and other skills I've never even heard of yet.