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Tag Archives: writing

Hot Coffee

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Sometimes I feel like I should defend myself, and my decision to stop writing as much. A lot led me to that point.

I have a blog that, at last count, had over three thousand followers. Three thousand people like my content enough that they have committed to consuming it on a regular basis.
But here’s the kicker- not enough to pay me for it.

In the three years I have been running that blog, my net income from it has amounted to a grand total of £3.78.

As much as my comrades would have me believe that my boss is stealing out of my mouth to pay for his Mercedes- at least he pays me enough to survive. So I chose to put effort into the path that keeps me alive.

Writing is an undervalued skill. I don’t mean people don’t appreciate it. I mean they genuinely don’t place material value on it. Good writers become mediocre artists, because the commissions (while paltry) do at least exist.

With surgery coming up, this knowledge frightens me.

I know that surgery will produce very large, very visible scars. And that the only way to keep this to a minimum is for me to get a decent amount of rest.
I cannot afford the time off work that I need.

If I could survive on my writing, even for just one day a week, that would be a gamechanger. I could stay at home while I recovered, and rest when I needed to. The threat of anaesthetic-induced post-surgical depression would be mitigated.

So I’m taking another crack at it. I refuse to get pulled down by any kind of “X isn’t real writing” bullshit. I refuse to apologise for frequently producing utter bollocks. And I refuse to be conned into thinking that this is only worthy of a third of a penny a day in recompense.

I feel like an absolute shithouse asking for money. I fucking hate it. But honestly, if your attitude is that fanfiction authors, bloggers and people who write geeky jokes on the internet deserve absolutely nothing for their effort and ingenuity then tell me- why do I need you to read my blog?

If on the other hand you think I, or other writers and creators, deserve recompense but you just can’t afford it right now- you just donated me £5. And I donated it back cause you need it.

But do go out and spread that attitude- that content creators deserve recompense. Reblog from source. Post recommendations. And when you’re looking for a gift, maybe spend the money commissioning something truly special.

I have a ko-fi now if you do want to donate, and Patreon will be coming soon. Support the creators who give you something.

Teaching the Unteachable

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An article on the Guardian website yesterday claimed that, in the United Kingdom, children are being taught creative writing skills in a detrimental manner. Classrooms up and down the country echo the mantra, “Don’t say said!”, and helpful posters list “banned words” like badgoodbig and and.

The net result, argue critics, is that students are being rewarded for producing flowery, unreadable wordvomit, and penalised for actually writing in a reasonable fashion.

From the ages of four to fourteen, pupils are discouraged from using short words where a longer one would do the job, and this is actively reflected in the grades their teachers are constrained into giving them. Mark schemes are absolute; if a piece isn’t riddled with synonyms, it won’t make the grade.

Most worryingly of all, from my perspective, is that the system was already very much in place when I was in school. Which means we have an entire generation of people who were conditioned into favouring purple prose.

Purple prose, for those who have not come across the term before, is the catch-all for writing which is so obtrusively ornate that it effectively hinders reading. Therefore, we have on our hands a generation of writers who will, by habit, be unreadable.

A targets-based educational system has ushered in a Dark Age in British literature.

Personally, I fear for my own writing. I have always thought of myself as “good”, but now I see that I was looking at myself through the lens of a system which valued the atrocious. I could be atrocious.

Then again, from a young age, I despised the “said is bad” dogma, because I knew flat out that it just wasn’t true. Plenty of the books I read used the word “said” in spades, and it never once got dull. The word “got” was also exiled from the classroom for no good reason, and it riled me beyond belief. I would spend minutes trying to replace this bit of fluff, this insignificant filler word. It destroyed the flow of my writing. And for what?

It never once became dull. It never once grew dull. It never once developed the property of being dull.

That’s what happens. Very quickly, one runs out of synonyms for these perfectly adequate words and has to resort to a feat of violent contortion. The word “got”, like “said” is essentially invisible to a reader. It very deliberately adds nothing at all to a sentence, because quite often there is nothing more to be said. In real life, people do not whisper or bellow or mumble or exclaim half as much as they say, say, say and say.

To really put all this hideousness into perspective, I’m going to include an excerpt from My Immortal, a piece of Harry Potter fanfiction widely touted as the worst thing ever written:

‘”Why did you do such a thing, you mediocre dunces?” asked Professor McGonagall.

“How dare you?” demanded Professor Snape.

And then Draco shrieked. “BECAUSE I LOVE HER!”‘

Apart from everything else, what is utterly jarring about these lines is the way the writer has inflicted significance on the manner in which every line is said.

Yet, according to the syllabus, this is not obnoxious, cloying, violently unreadable tripe, but 10 out of 10, full marks, top of the class.

So- what’s the solution? I think the trouble with trying to grade creative writing is that reading is personal. Charles Dickens is widely regarded to be one of the greatest writers ever to have lived, and yet I would rather spend four hours proofreading My Immortal-calibre fanfiction than endure Great Expectations again. If I was a primary school teacher, and Dickens was in my charge, I’d have him writing lines every break and lunchtime: “I will not use twenty words where one would suffice.”

The mark scheme, then, is a necessary evil. But I challenge you to tell me what should be on it.

I have another solution. Why did I, as a child, know that “said” was good, and “good” was fine, and “and” could actually be quite a pleasant device if I used it properly? It’s because I read.

I didn’t read, as the curriculum instructs, to derive meaning about the intentions of characters. I didn’t read in a way that was assessable or useful to my teachers. I read for the sheer pleasure of it.

Reward children for reading. Give them a wide selection of books (and audiobooks!) to choose from. Encourage them to share what they enjoyed about books. Make them write less. And when they do, don’t grade them. Show them to their peers. Ask what they liked about them.

I don’t know if it would work. But surely it’s better?

What are your thoughts? How should we teach children to write?

A postponement

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I can’t really explain fully at the moment, but I’m going through a very difficult spell right now.

I think, as writers, we have to know our limits, to know how many days of the week we can afford to write for and what sort of word count is sustainable. Also, though, we have to know when we can and can’t work.

If I was working in retail now, of course I would still be unhappy. That would reflect in my interactions with customers, and people might think I was unhelpful or unfriendly. However, as a writer, emotion is a fuel, and we need a good mixture in order to burn brightly.

Last week, even though I could write, I found that my writing kept bringing me to tears. And that is just not something I want, or think is good for me.

So I’m postponing my deadlines as of yesterday. I’m not going to punish myself for not forcing myself to write at a time that was simply not healthy. This way, I can get better, and my writing will get better too.

78 days to deadline, 68,392 words to go

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I’ve decided to blog about my writing in this format, counting down. It’s just going to get increasingly exciting as the numbers get smaller.

The last few days have been really hard for me, and my word count has been low. J is away, basically just watching his grandmother die, and that’s been tough. We always want to protect the people we care most about, and when we can’t do that, we feel a bit useless. Forget useless, I think “terrible” is closer to the mark.

Luckily, it’s been a very long time since I had to endure a death in my own family. It’s weird how, as writers, we see death, quite often, as just another plot device. In real life, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Even a single death has wide-ranging repercussions, even extending so far as to touch those who never met the deceased. Even though it’s inevitable, it comes out of nowhere, derailing everything.

I feel terrible guilt for just feeling upset about this situation. How dare I? J is suffering. Meanwhile, J cannot speak, because he feels far too much to communicate. He is focusing on supporting his mother and his aunt, who are losing their mother. He, too, is trying to put his feelings aside for another.

I also feel terrible guilt, because above all things, I want this woman who never met me (because she has dementia and it would have confused her), I want this woman to die. I want this woman to die, quietly, surrounded by her family. I want her to have that last singular lucid moment where she tells them something wonderful, then is at peace. I want her family to have closure.

My writer’s mind wants cadence for this story. I can only hope that nature obliges.


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Based on the original plan of 857 words written a day, and a target of 80,000 words for my novel, I have the following targets.

16,000 words – 1st May – Reward: large gin and tonic.

24,000 words – 11th May – Reward: tapas.

32,000 words – 20th May – Reward: another, even larger gin and tonic.

40,000 words – 29th May – Reward: art materials.

48,000 words – 8th June – Reward: amusing t-shirt.

56,000 words – 17th June – Reward: Civilisation: Beyond Earth.

64,000 words – 26th June – Reward: day trip

72,000 words – 5th July – Reward: Picnic and Pimm’s, with extra gin.

80,000 words – 15th July – Reward: Victory is it’s own reward. But probably also gin and a book.

I’ve Not Been Well

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I hit my head. I laughed it off at first, but three months later and the hilarity kind of wore off. Teacher training had worn me down so much that I simply didn’t have it in me to recover. But I am getting there.

I’m going to get back into a routine, and write every day. I’ve started a new blog about miniatures ( if the serious nature of this one is a bit too much for me to handle. I’ve started using Habit RPG again, which is a website that allows you to keep track of targets and rewards you in the manner of a video game.

I’m also going to restart work on my novel. I fell into a bad rut over the summer, but I need to look upon my little bit of misfortune as an opportunity.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go over my manuscript so far, as well as my notes. I’m going to make my targets public.

At the moment, I have no plans to start writing poetry again. It was always nice, because finishing a poem is incredibly rewarding in the same way that hacking miserably away at a novel just isn’t. But I’m not phenomenal at it.

I also have to worry about finding a job. This will be hard, as I’ve unfortunately got used to being seen as my correct gender, and being unceremoniously stuffed back into the closet sounds as much fun as drowning. I intend to start, at the very least, volunteering in youth work.

So, those are my plans. This post is pretty much my declaration of intent, rather than any attempt to genuinely elucidate an audience, but if you read this, thank you. I’m very frightened about the next few months and I’d be very grateful if you could just hit “like” so that I know I’m not alone.

Writing A Novel: A Terrible Idea

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I have a to-do list as long as my forearm. This was a terrible plan.

I’m moving to Manchester in September to start my Initial Teacher Training, which aside from the obvious problems such as finding a flat and packing up my stuff, presents a whole other plethora of unpleasant tasks which take precedence over novel writing, which is beginning to feel like picking daisies during an air strike.

I don’t know Manchester well. I don’t drive. So, I have to figure out where I’m going to live by spending a fortune on the train and guessing. Luckily, I have been contacted by a complete stranger who has asked me to move in with him and I am so daunted by the prospect of actually looking that I’m seriously considering it. I mean, I’ll probably meet with him beforehand to check for obvious signs of serial-killer-ishness, but for now I’m just dropping mild cricket references into emails in the hope he picks up. As far as I know, there are no serial killers who enjoy cricket.

There’s also the issue of paying for it. I’m currently skint. I cook one large casserole a week and freeze it. If I think I can probably live without a meal, I go without a meal. £540 deposit? Yeah, I’ll just pull it out of my arse, shall I?

Student finance doesn’t arrive until after I start my course. Knowing them, quite a long while after. Aside from the cost of moving, I’ll also need smart shoes, stationery, travel passes, deodorant that actually works, more than two pairs of trousers, more than one dress, and endless supply of tights to replace the ones I inevitably ladder with freshly-cut toenails, membership of a trade union, teaching resources, a new laptop- some urgent, some not so urgent, but all requiring money I just don’t have.

In order to get this money, I have to provide evidence that I’ve been financially independent of my parents for three years. I was at uni for two of them. I have wageslips, none of them very helpful or informative.

I spent a large portion of last summer being chased for £3000 I didn’t have, because of how financially independent I am from my parents. I’m so financially independent of my parents that my dad didn’t even fill in my forms for the last two years, leading to me being ineligible for any support in my final year, and to SFE retracting the support I had received in my second.

If I have to go through that again, I can’t envisage my surviving the next year.

On top of that, correspondence form the university seems to suggest that they wrongly believe me to be an international student. Making me ineligible for student finance and subject to higher fees. I don’t really know what else to say about that one only it needs fixing, now.

It’s a nightmare. It certainly wasn’t this hard last time I went to university. Back them I was in halls, had a bus to take me from my front door to my lecture hall every twenty minutes and had some sort of misguided confidence in my parents’ ability to reliably fill out a bit of paperwork. It was adventure.

This isn’t. Really. it isn’t.

So now, there are no wordcounts. I’m at the stage where leaving the house is considered an achievement. Suddenly, speaking to another human being is a rare and cherished opportunity. I have forgotten what a television is- seriously, I’ve not watched anything since the first week of June.

I still owe myself that coffee and cake. I did well to do 8000 words. But I’m not in a position to run myself ragged just because I want the doner kebab I’d earn for hitting 16,000. Right now, deadlines are out of the window. I love writing. But that’s all the way at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. When my access to food and shelter is endangered, I have no choice but to let my priorities shift.


Out of my Comfort Zone

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So, this Saturday, I was bored. So, I decided to completely run against my instincts and do something I would never ordinarily do.

You might assume, me being trans, that I’m some sort of super-sexually empowered person who is gender-blind, totally up on being politically correct and can tell a person to check their privilege at fifty paces.

Not so.

As a teenager, I hated being bisexual because it left me in a position of uncertainty. If being gay was a choice, I’d have bloody well heard about it. I was brought up fairly conservatively, so you should have seen the stick I gave myself for being “between genders”.

If I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t have believed it existed.

So, deciding, on impulse, to spend the afternoon with a group of strangers who enjoy BDSM was not exactly in-character, I mean, I enjoy cricket and tea and books and knitting. BDSM definitely doesn’t enter into it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t realise it was excellent writing fodder. The most boring man in the world suddenly wakes up one morning and decides to have a couple of pints with some kink enthusiasts. I still can’t quite believe I did it.

If you’d met me, you wouldn’t believe it either.

I can’t see this particular episode making its way into my current novel, but I have it. That particular life experience is checked off, in the bank, mine to exploit as I wish. But you know what else? I had fun.

Me. In a bar full of strangers who had mostly seen each other naked, and asked me such questions as whether I was interested in tying knots or being tied. I had an amazing time.

So. Do something on impulse. Say “yes” to life. I mean, I spent the first fifteen minutes of the meet hiding in the lavs, but I eventually found my balls, and actually said “Hello” like I’m the sort of person who walks up to random people and says “Hello”.

I’m not getting much writing done. But I’m confident that I will, now.

The Week Off I Never Wanted

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So. I went to a wedding and ended up doing no work on my novel for a week.

To be fair, in this heat, I would have been flogging a dead horse anyway. I don’t know if you feel comfortable working at 29C (84F), but I don’t. So, I probably would have sat miserably staring at an open word document while I sweated out all the electrolytes my brain needs to function, and punished myself for it.

As it was, I read, wrote a little when it suited me, ate outside, took walks along the Thames and played and watched cricket. It was quintessential English summer stuff, and I found it rejuvenating.

If I was the sort of writer capable of taking breaks without them turning into a sabbatical, the holiday I just had would be part of my compulsory routine. It was intensely social, and has made me want nothing more than to retire to my tiny Liverpool bolt-hole and write some more.

It’s well-known that writers ought to read, and I will be reviewing the books I just read imminently. It opened my eyes to various techniques- I returned to Catch-22 a few weeks ago, and it’s evident how it has shaped my writing. I fell that Larkin’s A Girl in Winter has helped with my most prominent weakness, physical description, while Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch reminded me that I don’t have to include every detail to make people care about the story.

It is less often said that writers ought to enjoy themselves, and I can’t think why. Too often, we see the writer as an isolated beast, hunched miserably over a desk, typing out words he instantly hates himself for.

It is more acceptable for artists or musicians to actually go outside, and search for inspiration. Writers sit inside and wait for it to happen, and it won’t. The resulting work will be clawed-out and insular. Yes, that work can be fixed, with endless redrafts and cuts, but the original will be bilge.

Save yourself some time, and go outside for a bit. I’m still too sticky to go outside properly, but I feel better about my novel than I did a week ago. As my greatest enemy when writing is self-deletion, that sounds like a step in the right direction. Doesn’t it?


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Well, much as I can dream of writing 1000 words per day, it doesn’t seem to be a reality this week.

Currently, I am staying with family in Oxfordshire. Green space and blue sky abounds, and my family cannot see why any sane person should wish to be inside staring at a computer screen, or scratching tensely into a spiral bound notebook.

It’s because, if I hit 16,000 words before a certain date, I will allow myself to eat takeaway. This is a rare and exotic luxury in my world, along with ice cream and white wine spritzers, which are in contrast rather commonplace in my family’s corner of Oxfordshire.

Hemingway might have produced his best while three sheets to the wind, but after two days here, I could do with a detox before attempting any more fiction writing. The thought of crafting so much as a haiku makes me want to weep.

Just writing this blog post has been a considerable strain on my resources. Incidentally, the cricket scores have not helped.

I shall try to proceed through the week sober, but it is a constant trial. For now, my word count targets are delayed. Real life 1, Parker 0.*

*If anyone can think of a cricketing analogue, I would be curious to hear it. I doubt that there is, mind.