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2020: Week 14 (WFH #4)

(April 6-12)

It’s been another reasonably good writing week. The words have come slowly, but I’ve reached that special, delightful point in the new chapter where the story has decided to find it’s own way, and is clearly having some fun. In other words, things aren’t quite going to plan and I love it.

I feel a bit like I’m on the home strait now, even though I still have three chapters to go (plus the rest of this chapter, a likely epilogue, and the infinite rewrites). I’ve been really looking forward to these last three chapters in particular, as I have some very clear ideas for them, which of course means they’ll end up being the hardest chapters to write.

One good thing

Since Pandemic Lyfe is much the same as it was last week, I’m going to revert to the One Good Thing section for this week—and this week’s One Good Thing is Clever Dick Films, a channel that YouTube randomly showed me last weekend, and which I’ve been devouring all this week. 

Clever Dick Films is a production of Richard D. Carrier who has put some enviable research, presentation and production skills to good use with a series of in-depth analyses of Doctor Who; one episode per Doctor. Because I can never seem to do things in order, I started with the 4th Doctor, worked my way up to the 9th Doctor (the latest available episode) and subsequently went back to the first three. I can comfortably say that each installment could sit alongside anything that’s been included on the official DVDs or Blu-rays, and offer a really well-considered overview of each Doctor’s tenure. Also, they seem to keep getting better and better, so I’m already looking forward to the next few instalments.

One bad thing

My one bad thing this week is more related to Pandemic Lyfe, and it’s a recognition that there really aren’t enough hours in the day to manage homeschooling, working from home, and the general household duties. I’m lucky that the Kinderbesten are reasonably self-sufficient, but it’s next to impossible to find enough hours to make lunches, do laundry, take some exercise, help out with assignments, and do a full day’s work.

Luckily I have Easter week completely off, and I’ll be going part-time for a few months after that which should help considerably.

On the flip side, I do recognise that having kids around constantly does somewhat stave off the inevitable loneliness that some people must be suffering during this period of enforced isolation.

2020: Week 13 (WFH #3)

(March 30 – April 5)

The writing has very much slipped into a predictable cycle now. Last week I embarked on the first draft of a new chapter in the novel, getting a little over halfway through. Once again, I’ve spent this week going back and re-editing that chapter.

It’s not a particularly heavy rewrite—just a bit more descriptive prose here and a touch more character development there. I already know what the story is and where it’s going; what I’m finding is that the shape of that journey firms up as I write that first draft, and eventually I reach a point where I feel compelled to go back to the start to make sure everything is consistent. Again, it’s probably a relatively inefficient way of writing, but I’m enjoying letting the story have a little room to breathe so it can tell me how it wants to be told.

Pandemic Lyfe

Despite my relative success at developing a routine for the kids, and for myself, I’m consistently failing to get the kids to brush their teeth in the morning. It was such a part of the Getting Ready For School routine that it seems to have gotten itself locked away in the past. I’ll need to find some other part of the established new routine to attach it to.

Meanwhile, I find myself starting to look ahead to when this is all over. We’ll have become so used to locking ourselves down and staying indoors that something as simple as meeting up with friends (and being able to hug them again), or eating dinner in a crowded restaurant, is going to seem like completely alien behaviour. I know we’ll adapt back to ‘normal’ life once again, but I wonder how many of these new tiny changes we’ll carry over into our everyday ‘normal’ behaviour.

2020: Week 12 (WFH #2)

(March 23 – 29)

It’s been a relatively good writing week: about 1500 words written on the new chapter (yess, it’s hardly an epic spree, but I’ll take it under the circumstances). I have found that while I’ve kept on writing each morning (benefits of a previously established routine), the words have been coming much, much slower. So it’s just as well my mornings have gotten much, much longer of late, allowing me an indulgent two-hour stretch to do writing, exercise, and other sundry morning duties.

My favourite writing moment of this week came when I had to develop a backstory for one of my main characters. I knew the moment was coming, and had a panoply of vague thoughts in the back of my head; nevertheless I still reached a point where I abruptly realised that I couldn’t continue writing until I had this backstory worked out.

So, I ‘sacrificed’ one of my writing mornings to put it together and, frankly, it came together beautifully; so beautifully, in fact, that I find myself wanting to write it as a whole second novel. That may or may not happen (I have this one to get out of the way first) but it’s very gratifying to see a vague idea, become a spark, and grow into a solid, exciting plot.

Pandemic Lyfe

I’m going to skip the one good/bad thing this week in favour of a brief update on how things are going. The routine has been going pretty well, although we all tend to get distracted fairly quickly; it’s hard to maintain the usual focus with all the upheaval (and, for me in particular, it’s hard to maintain focus with kids in the background).

I’ll have to work on some techniques for maintaining focus (which I suspect will involve the use of headphones) but for now the slightly adjusted routine is:

  • 8:30am Breakfast
  • 9am Homework / Assignments (10 minute break allowed)
  • 10am Documentary + Crunch & Sip
  • 10:50am Recess
  • 11:10am Self-directed learning (10 minute break allowed)
  • 12:30 Lunch
  • 1pm Creative Play / Hobbies / Exercise
  • 3pm Screen Time

We’ve found that we can still hear the various sirens going off at the Kinderbeast’s school (signifying when breaks start and end), so I thought it made sense to stick as closely to the school routine as possible. Within the one-hour blocks, the Kinderbesten get two 10-minute break ‘pass cards’ each which they can use at their own discretion.

The afternoons have typically ended up with the Elderbeast retreating to the PS4 (which at least is a way for him to connect with his friends, even if that connection seems to involve lots of swearing). However, the Kinderbeast has done a great job of keeping himself busy with various activities (mostly involving LEGO) which has been really good to see despite the fact that every single thing has to be narrated directly at me.

All in all, we’re finding our routine and tweaking it as we go where needed. The big challenge will be getting through the holidays, which start a week earlier this time, and getting back into the routine afterward.

2020: Week 11 (WFH #1)

(March 16 – 22)

So this is the point at which the blog will shift somewhat to focus on pandemic life. I’ve made the decision to keep my kids off school as of this week which in turn (though it wasn’t exactly planned that way) has resulted in my working from home for this week. To be honest, I’d be happy with this arrangement being a long term one: given the situation, I’m comfortable with physical distancing, I’m comfortable with maintaining an appropriate level of isolation, and I’m able to do my job just as well from home.

So far its working out pretty well. Without the need to get kids ready for school my morning routine is already much improved. I have time for writing, exercise and breakfast, and I can typically start work at 8am instead of 9am.

I also took the time to draft up a daily schedule for the kids (and how looking after them fits into my working pattern). We don’t follow it slavishly, but it’s helped to give some structure to the day. Broadly speaking the mornings are like this:

  • 8:30am – breakfast;
  • 9am – get dressed and do any homework or online assignments that have been provided by the school (at this point, schools are being directed to focus on teaching attending students, but a few of the Kinderbesten’s teachers have, wonderfully, found the time to post things online);
  • 10am – (roughly) short break time. The Kinderbesten have latterly started using this time to settle down with a documentary (it’s learning, but it’s also lounging!);
  • 10:30am – online learning. The Kinderbeast has been making good use of Khan Academy, while the Elderbeast almost always has work that can be done on Education Perfect. There are, however, numerous online education resources that are available.
  • 11am – crunch and sip time, aka a quick break and a healthy snack;
  • 12:30am – lunch and finish. The Kinderbesten obviously have the option to keep working if they want to, or if there’s still assignments to be done, but as long we we can get roughly 3-4 hours of learnin’ happening I’m satisfied.
  • Afternoon – craft/hobby time. For the Elderbeast this is PS4 time, but the Kinderbeast is enjoying playing with his LEGO, drawing, or doing whatever takes his fancy.
  • 2pm – walk time. I’m trying to balance education, recreation and exercise. One of the easiest ways to ensure we at least get some exercise, and don’t go completely stir crazy, is making sure we at least have a walk at some point in the day. A couple of times this week I’ve, reluctantly, walked the Kinderbesten down to the cafe to get coffee/hot chocolate (I made them wait outside while I ordered), but on another day we walked down the road and discovered that one of our neighbours owns a flock of sheep, which was much fun.

Obviously I’m continuing to work while all of this is going on, but I’ve purposefully scheduled my day into multiple short blocks of work (ensuring I’m doing my hours) instead of expecting to be able to work uninterrupted for 6 to 7 hours.

Adapting to change can be hard, but that should never be a reason not to change when you need to.

One good thing

My good thing this week is how well the Kinderbesten have adapted, and how invested they are in their morning work. They miss their friends, and obviously get distracted at the drop of a hat, but this transition hasn’t been as hard as it might have been largely because the Kinderbesten have taken it in their stride.

One bad thing

I have noticed how easily it is for habits to slip. After a few weeks of being very diligent in washing my hands, it’s all too easy to find myself doing just a quick surface wash, or forgetting entirely. Hopefully I can catch these occasions where I slip up slightly and keen reinforcing those good habits.

2020: Week 10

(March 9 – 15)

With my brain distracted by the impending Coronavirus pandemic, I’ve opted to edit the last chapter of the novel instead of writing new words for now. The last chapter was the one that I had the least idea about going in, but shaped up quite nicely as I wrote it out. Predictably the first draft needed a little surgery before I could be totally happy to leave it behind me (ready for the next draft) but the edit has helped me tease out the main themes of the chapter and strengthen the characterisation in a number of places. I’ve also added a few new bits here and there. Overall, a relatively positive writing week.

One good/bad thing

My brain is comparative pudding at the moment, consumed by the massive, sudden change we’re all facing in our lives. When everything’s bad, it’s hard to focus on what’s good. If there is a good, it’s that we can change, it is possible to change quickly; we can adapt and get through this. And I wrote a blog post about it if you want to read more.

Change rapidly. Change rationally. Change together.

So we’ve come to this: a strange, terrifying and unexpected moment in history where we need to change the way we live our lives. We need to change rapidly, and we need to do it rationally. The problem is change is hard: it makes us feel uncomfortable and awkward, it makes us feel vulnerable and, often, self-conscious. One of the best ways we can help this process of change is to quickly normalise behaviours that would have seemed extreme only a week or two ago: the more we see someone else doing something new, the less weird it seems for us to do it ourselves.

And, in that spirit, here are some of the ‘weird’ changes I’ve made in the last week.

Dropped the handshake.

I’ve had two meetings this week where a handshake would have normally been part of the proceedings. I was, naturally, a little anxious about how to avoid doing the handshake, but it was all fine. In the first meeting the other person was clearly as uncomfortable as me about the prospect and offered an elbow bump instead, which immediately broke any tension. (This is now my favourite way to greet strangers). In another meeting, the person offered their hand and I simply didn’t return the gesture. They immediately understood and realised the fault was theirs (for falling back on automatic behaviours). Hopefully, in turn, that person will think again before offering a handshake (or accepting one) at their next meeting. In short, two potentially awkward moments resolved swiftly, politely, and with all involved already understanding that it’s time to drop the handshake.

Pretended my face doesn’t exist.

Seriously, not touching my face is the hardest (and I know this is a universal challenge). Your nose and mouth are gateways to viral paradise, and your hands are one of the express lines to get there. Tips from a friend include grabbing a tissue to scratch your face with (and then disposing of the tissue), or using your shoulder to get a good rub in. I’m trying to remain conscious of whenever I come close to touching my face, and getting used to leaving my face to itch in peace (as much as is possible). I’ve considered shaving my beard, as I have a compulsive habit of fiddling with any hair I can find on my face and head. Anything! I’ll try anything!

Washing hands; all the time.

This one was easy, I’ve been reasonably ok at washing my hands in the past although, again, far from perfect. It’s also an easy change: people are more likely to scrutinise you if you *don’t* wash your hands now, so don’t be that person. I’m just putting it here to reinforce the message: everyone’s doing it now, so please wash your hands.

Don’t touch anything!

I’ve become highly conscious of everything I touch in a typical day, and how many other people might have touched that same thing. A few of the methods I’ve adopted for minimising this contact is to use my knuckle instead of my finger for pressing buttons; use my foot, elbow or fist for opening doors, or hook a single finger around the door handle if I’m on the other side. In some shared bathrooms it’s all well and good washing your hands, but then you have to turn the tap off and pull the door open; both of which could potentially undo all that good hand-washing. For this scenario, I’ve started using paper towels: one to turn off the tap (and then in the bin), and the ones I use to dry my hands then get reused for the door handle. These things feel a little strange the first couple of times, but they become second nature almost before the day’s out.

Wiped a trolley.

While I’m a relatively clean person, my approach to hygiene can be scattershot. Consequently, I’ve never been one to use the free wipes that are provided for wiping down supermarket trolleys. That changed this week, to the extent where I took my own wipe in case there were no free ones left. I honestly felt quite self-conscious about it, but told myself that anyone watching may well think about their own behaviours and feel better about taking the same step next time they have to go shopping. It’s a very simple precaution that could help make a big difference. For smaller shops, where I would normally just grab a basket, I’ve also looked into buying my own basket, or simply carrying my purchases in my arms to the till. Anything to minimise touching things that hundreds of other people have touched, or may touch after me.

Wearing gloves.

Not gonna lie; given the above two challenges, I’m thinking very seriously about wearing gloves when I go out (and have to touch things). Disposable latex gloves. Washable cotton gloves. Just whatever does the job. Do whatever you need to do to feel better about being out there (and think whether you really, really have to go out there in the first place).

Disinfect! Disinfect! Disinfect!

The best way to not touch dirty things is to keep things clean. I’ve also become aware of how many things there are around my home that get touched all the time, and rarely get cleaned. Phones. Cards. Light switches. Remote controls. Door handles. We use them every single day without really thinking about it. Disinfectant to the rescue here. I’ve started wiped everything down. I even took the cases of all of our phones and washed them in hot water. Again, things that would have seemed borderline deranged to me last week now feel like perfect common sense.

Staying at home.

I’m making preparations for working from home. I’m preparing to cancel, or decline any upcoming events—and ideally switch them to online events (because it’s still important to do things with your friends). I’m almost certainly going to keep the kids off school next week. I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can make these choices, but keeping away from people, at least for a while, is the key to stopping this thing spreading and I’m trying to do whatever I can to reduce the risk of anyone getting sick (including myself). Outrageous choices become much easier in emergency situations. And that’s where we are.

So, if you’ve been holding off making changes because you think it’s too soon, or because you think you’re being extreme: it’s not, and you’re not. If you read this and it makes you feel more comfortable about the change you need to make in your own life, remember: you’re not alone, we’re all in this together, and that’s how we’ll get through it.

Now, go forth and sanitize! Or rather, stay at home and sanitize!

2020: Week 9

(March 2 – 8)

Another relatively straightforward writing week, the highlight of which was finishing the current chapter of the [first draft of] the novel and moving onto the next one. I suspect I’ll follow the recent pattern: write at least half of the chapter to finalise where the story is going to go, then go back and re-edit the first bits before ploughing onto the end.

At this point I haven’t done any plotting for this chapter—at least on paper. It’s been coming together very nicely in my head, and just last week I saw how the specific theme of the chapter could work really well with its place in the novel as well as the plot/character developments that need to happen.

For a long while, this was set to be one of the more challenging chapters, but suddenly I’m pretty excited to get stuck in.

One good thing

My latest purchase from Audible has been A Little History of Philosophy, which is a great little run through the history of philosophy. I’ve been really enjoying it, and what I’ve learned from it so far is that most philosophers seem to be complete dicks.

One bad thing

One of my deficiencies as a writer is my sense of place. I often get far too into what my characters are saying, thinking and doing, and forget to tell my readers a little more about where they are. The result, at least from my experience of reading similarly thinly sketched writing, is that it’s hard for the reader to fully immerse themselves in the story; their imagination has to do extra work to figure out where they are, which can distract from the story itself.

While I don’t think I’ll ever be one to write rich, extensive paragraphs of descriptive prose, I do need to up my game a little. I often find that a few well sketched details are enough to convey a place, but I also (mostly from reading Hugh Howey’s work lately) can see how authoritative descriptive writing can really help settle the reader. If, as a reader, we can tell that the author really understands where we are then it, ironically, helps us to forget that there’s an author in the first place. As in movies, the best special effects / editing / music / etc are when you don’t notice them in the first place.

Now, I’m not too worried about all of this for my first drafts: those are simply there to get the story down, and the detail can be added later. But, at some point, I need to add enough layers that the reader can be comfortably placed in the story without having to stop and wonder where they are.

My best course for resolving this is to see what other writers do. However, I always want to try another option. In researching an earlier chapter of the novel I needed to check what a wartime New York bar would look like, so I started Googling photos.That gave me the visual reference I needed to add at least a little passing authenticity to that particular chapter. I reckon I could do this for other chapters when needed: find imagery that represents the scene I want to set and then, as a writing exercise, describe what I’m seeing in the photo. Hopefully this will me the background detail to add a little extra authenticity to my scene setting.

Doctor Who: Season 12

With season 12 of Doctor Who now wrapped up in a comparatively short 10 episode run, my mind is burning with all sorts of contradictory thoughts. Which means the only thing to do is to put most of them down on [virtual] paper.

Needless to say this post will be packed with spoilers for season 12, right up to the finale – so please don’t read if you haven’t already watched.

The old before the new

First things first, I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since the late seventies, and one thing I’ve learned in that time is that the lot of a Whovian is one of frustration. The show wavers chaotically between excellence and wretchedness, but most typically achieves a level of benign satisfaction. We keep watching because of those flashes of greatness, and because of the underlying magic of the premise, but mostly because we love the show. Consequently, I’ve found myself in familiar territory during the current era of the show. 

Still, in the interests of full transparency, my trajectory through Nu Who has been as follows:

  • RTD: absolutely nailed the show’s return, but gradually descended into overblown noise towards the end; frantically throwing out increasingly grand plot threads and trying to string them all together. That said, “Turn Left” and “Midnight” remain two of the finest episodes of Nu Who;
  • Moffatt: personally a big fan. His ability to continually reinvent the show, and really draw deep on the fairy tale / mythological elements kept me intrigued, even when some of his more ambitious plot threads didn’t really pan out. I’m not blind to his limitations, but he also deserves more credit that he gets for leading the show to where it is now (things like canonising transgender regeneration; and introducing the show’s first openly gay companion);
  • Chibnall: we’ll talk more about this below but, given that Chibnall’s previous episodes for the show were among its weakest, I went into series 11 with a huge sense of excitement that we had a female Doctor at last, and looking forward to the show being refreshed, but remained wary about Chibnall’s ability to manage the narrative aspects.

Back to season 11

I’m not gonna lie. I did come out of season 11 a little bit frustrated (again, this is relatively normal for a Whovian). We had an awesome new Doctor; a really interesting set of companions; and an incredibly gorgeous, cinematic looking show. Unfortunately, the writing never quite matched up. There was a sense that this series was more about people, and particularly about having ‘real’ people in the TARDIS. We had beautiful moments with Graham, some decent moments with Ryan (even though it was often forgotten that he was also supposed to be grieving), but next to nothing for the two female characters. Jodie Whitaker delivered an excellent persona for the doctor, but was given almost no character work in her scripts to truly tuck into. Meanwhile, poor Yaz was barely even a character.

Don’t stray from the path

I think it’s a commonly held view that the seismic changes elsewhere in the show were balanced by an excessively safe approach to the narrative. We had three excellent historical stories, but each had alien subplots shoehorned in that didn’t really need to be there. We had stories that seemed to be written by people who were doing science fiction by rote, rather than truly exploring the ideas in their stories. We had a brief mention of the Timeless Child, but for the first time in ages no overriding arc to the season … which led us to a season that ended not so much with a final, but with a disappointing whimper. It seemed as if Season 11 wanted to tread its own path, but lacked the courage to stray too far from convention.

Familiar things

So, given season 11 actively avoided returning villains or any other continuity, it’s surprising that Chibnall plunged so deeply into that well for season 12; to the extent that every major plot point comes across as something that we’ve seen before. To whit:

  • A new character that turns out to be the Master. Check.
  • Gallifrey, and the Time Lords, have been destroyed: Check.
  • We discover there’s a brand new Doctor that we’ve never heard of before: Check.
  • An alien planet that turns out to be Earth. Check.

Even the creature design suffered from this inadvertent trenching of the show’s past: an alien villain that looked so similar to the Racnoss that it’s staggering that it seems to have been unintentional; then creatures in another episode that immediately had fans quipping ‘are you my Mummy?’. We also had a [pretty cool] new Cyberman design that, at least in this case, intentionally referred back to a classic design.

A bit of give and [a lot of] take

But the renewed focus on plot and continuity has come at the expense of the characters. There have been some bizarre token attempts to elevate Yaz (mainly in Praxeus), but she has also been actively undermined in other episodes. Check the moment in Orphan 55 where she interrupts the old man trying to propose, and the later scene in the same episode where she is deliberately shown to have worked out half the plot out five minutes after the Doctor has already done it (why have that moment at all when it only serves to make Yaz look stupid?). Not to mention the scene in Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror where she–a trained policewoman, remember–is shown failing to clear a street, and it’s left to the older white man to do the job. These are moments that do active disservice to a character; in comparison, Ryan and Graham get off lightly with absolutely no character development this season.

In their place

Most disturbing are the other instances in which female characters have had their agency reduced or completely taken away. This is particularly glaring given the show’s surface sheen of ‘wokeness’ (horrible word), which seems to all but disappear once you start scratching away at it. We’ve already had the fridging of a black female character at the start of the last season (which was clearly done to explore the impact on the white male character, given Ryan’s relatively trauma-free journey through the show). This season starts off terribly with two strong, female historical characters having their memories forcibly wiped by the Doctor (totally ignoring the commentary following similar scenarios with Donna and Clara previously).

Later we have an episode in which Mary Shelley is seen getting the inspiration for Frankenstein from an encounter with a cyberman, as opposed to from her own imagination (this is particularly disappointing given how expertly they avoided that same mistake in last season’s Rosa). To make matters worse, Mary Shelley’s role in the episode is that of mother and concerned partner. Her massive cultural impact is given zero relevance to the plot: conversely, Mr. Shelley’s role in history is impassionedly defended by the Doctor and proves critical to the outcome of the episode.

Who?

Which leads us to the biggest inconsistencies of the season—both in terms of the character and the message of the show—which are saved for the Doctor. We’ve already had the mind-wiping business; the same episode sees her joyfully handing the Master over the Nazis, having first removed the perception filter that hides his distinctly non-Aryan appearance. We end the season with her prepared to commit genocide (something previously established as a very non-Doctor thing to do). 

In between this we are supposedly presented with a ‘darker Doctor’, but this is mostly limited to her companions remarking that she’s been a bit moody lately, and the occasional instance of her getting a bit bossy with them. The ‘darker doctor’ business is obviously building up the revelations about the Timeless Child, and the hidden areas of her past. On this aspect, there’s some excellent commentary from the always worthwhile Andrew Ellard pointing out how damaging it potentially is to have our first female doctor being handed her trauma by a male character in the season finale.

And again, a traumatised Doctor is ground that has already been well-trodden in Nu Who.

Those juicy, juicy plot holes

And yet, despite all the revelations and exposition, what about all the bits that are still left hanging?

  • Are we really not doing anything with the trans-dimensional aliens from the first episode who seemingly had nothing to do with the two trans-dimensional portals we saw in the season finale? There has to be a link here, right? Especially given the Master was involved in both …
  • … and anyway, how did the Master escape from the other dimension and end up on Gallifrey? 
  • And how did the ‘boundary’ conveniently link to Gallifrey exactly when the plot needed it to?
  • How did the Master figure out the Timeless Child business when the Matrix was so heavily redacted? And there was nothing in there anyway that explicitly linked the Doctor to the Timeless Child? Unless he learned some of it from elsewhere?
  • How did Jack know to warn the Doctor about the ‘lone cyberman’ when he was nowhere to be seen in the finale?
  • And why did Jack think it necessary to warn about the ‘lone cyberman’ when the cyberium ended up having absolutely no impact on anything in the end? Unless, it has more to do with what’s ahead (given that the Master still has the cyberium).
  • Exactly how do dead Time Lords regenerate? And if they were still able to regenerate, why were they dead?
  • And why does Doctor Ruth’s TARDIS look like a police box? 

Ending on a positive note

Of course there have been some great moments this season. I for one love the retcon twist with the new Doctor(s) and the Timeless Child: it broadens the Universe of the show and makes the Doctor’s past a mystery once again (even if Chibnall did blow most of that wad during the extended burst of exposition in the season finale). This season has done other exciting new things: the opening of Praxeus, with the companions already separated and on-mission, was awesomely cinematic, and offered a rare chance to begin a story from beyond the perspective from outside the TARDIS crew. The animated sequence in Can Your Hear Me? was also a fun way to deliver exposition (in a season that has typically done a very poor job with exposition).

So, in short, a season that has delivered some excellent things, some terrible things, and a lot of in between. Classically frustrating.

2020: Week 8

(February 24 – March 1)

This week I’ve been mostly preoccupied with editing the chapter I’m currently working on. The first draft is what takes me from the start to the end of the story (for that particular chapter). The editing process is how I find the best route between those two points.

One good thing

I watched Skyscraper this weekend (much fun!) and instantly pegged one of the supposedly good guys as a bad guy. It’s fun being able to spot the little storytelling tricks that reveal these things, but it makes me realise we need to explore new tricks.

On the other hand, a supposedly good character turning out to be bad is a frustrating twist if it comes out of nowhere. There has to be something leading to the moment, something that adds up even if we don’t see it at first.

So what are your writing tricks for shifting a character from good to bad (or vice versa)?

One bad thing

As you’ll gather from my writing updates recently, I’m still working on the right balance between plotting and pantsing. For now I’m getting by with a basic plot, first draft, then rewrite, but it’s hardly the most efficient option.

No answers yet, but watch this space.

2020: Week 7

(February 17 – 23)

I took a brief four-day detour from the novel this week and churned out two short stories! A writer friend of mine alerted me to a local short story competition (theme: beneath; word count: 1200; requirement: spooky) and then shared two excellent stories that he’d written for potential submission.

Inspired by this, I wrote out a story that had been bubbling around for a while. I somehow managed to write this in a single morning, and I think it may even be one of the better things I’ve written. However, I decided it wasn’t anywhere near spooky enough. Luckily I had a backup idea, which I wrote over the subsequent two mornings (and then did a final pass on the third morning).

This one is definitely spooky, and has such a nasty ending it literally had me tweeting in glee about how diabolical it was. Needless to say, that’s the one that got submitted, so wish me luck.

One good thing

My favourite podcast this week is Cautionary Tales, which is broadly an exploration of the psychological reasons why we often make bad decisions. However, the episode that most resonated with me this week was all about the way that obstacles (aka challenges) can be a good thing. The example of this that I often fall back to is how the shark in Jaws simply never worked the way it was meant to, forcing the filmmakers to adapt their approach to telling their story. As a result we got one of the best movies of all time.

One bad thing

I’m wrapping up this post as the world faces up to pandemic life, which makes my original topic making more productive use of my evenings) feel a little moot. 

At this point in time (March 22 as I write) simply using evenings to kick back, relax and stay sane in a crazy world seems more than good enough.

As I drafted this post originally (Feb 23) my concern was that many of my evenings were an untapped block of hours in which I could be editing stories, submitting them, working on podcasts, etc, etc.

How naive we all were back in—*checks notes*—last month.

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