Friday, 10 December 2010

Get your metaphors in a twist!

Metaphors are incredibly powerful tools, when you get them right - but writers can give too free a rein to their imagination, letting the horse of figurative language have its head (see what I'm doing here?) and they can fall at the Becher's Brook of comprehensibility.

Only Shakespeare can get away with this sort of frantic coinage of the mind: famously, Hamlet talks of taking arms against a sea of troubles, for instance, and Bill makes it work precisely because of the Canute-like absurdity of military action against the ocean.

My favourite mixed metaphors are 'I smell a rat! Shall I nip it in the bud?' and one which one of my students heard in a meeting: 'The road-map is on track to take off.'

And here today is another corporate-speak nonsense: one of Bloomsbury's sales and marketing people, when interviewed about their new deal with Google e-books, describes the advantages (apparently. Hmnn...) to authors and indie booksellers: 'Anyone that has any platform with any legs moving forward is on cloud.'

I leave that vision with you.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Post-NaNo Post: How to Keep Writing!

So, 1st December, eh? All you weary NaNoers can down tools - and to those of you who reached the 50,000 word target I send my heartiest congratulations.

Last week, I posted about my NaNo with a Twist exercise, telling you that I'd deliberately set my target at 35,000 words. I'm happy to report that I passed that target two days ago and my grand total is 36,228 words, which is the largest  total I've ever reached in a single month!

On the 1st November, it really didn't look as if that would happen: I felt utterly dismal, to be honest, and didn't see how I could achieve a tenth of the output I'd promised myself. So, what turned things around for me? Well, first of all, lowering my sights to a more realistic target. Second, choosing the right project to work on, which for me was memoir.

Third, was the mind game. Mind games are hugely useful to writers: we wriggle and dodge and make excuses for ourselves all the time. (Remember, my nickname is Queen of Displacement Activity.) I had the right desk, the right project, time enough in which to be productive - but still I struggled. Then I came across this article by novelist Drew Smith, which began, utterly engagingly, with this statement: 'The easiest thng about being a writer is not writing. It's also the hardest thing about being a writer.' Absolutely spot on. He went on to advise would-be writers to find a buddy (and, on a larger scale, Nano has been just that, for so many thousands of people.) A buddy cheers you on from the sidelines - but a buddy is somebody who will make sure you toe the line. You need support and encouragement, you need somebody to show tough love if necessary. (I have, by the way, the most wonderful friend who's been reading and cheering all month long!)

Secondly, he referred to Jerry Seinfeld's practice of hanging a huge calendar on the wall and putting a big red cross on every day where he meets his writing target. What happens is that you see a lovely line of red crosses stretching out - a visual reminder of all you have achieved. You become unwilling to 'break the chain'.

Bingo! I got out a calendar, wrote 1700 words on 2nd November, used a fat red marker pen to mark the cross and propped it up beside my desk. Amazingly, given that it's such a simple ploy, it did the trick! I'm now looking at a whole page of crosses - for even last night, after passing my target on the 29th, I still wrote, because I wanted the pleasure of seeing every box on that calendar page sporting its red cross (apart from the box for the 1st, alone and palely loitering ...).

Now, I do know that if I return to fiction after finishing the memoir, things will be tougher because the memoir is like lowering a bucket into a well and seeing what is drawn up - whereas a novel is a piece of architecture and I'm in charge of constructing all the elements in such a way that the edifice doesn't collapse. I can find the words - it's finding the plot that's the challenge.

That's as may be. I'll worry about that later. Now it's December 1st and time to turn to a new page on the calendar. If I put a red cross in the box later today I know I'll have to keep doing it!

So, many thanks, Drew and Jerry!

Now try it for yourself. Here's your mantra: don't break the chain!