Writing, writing, writing. Does it ever end?

Dear reader,

quill&inkIt may look as if I’m complaining. Trust me, I’m not. I’m just pondering the writing that I envision ahead of me. Let me show you what’s ‘in store’ so far.

The fifteenth book in the Hilda the Wicked Witch series has progressed quite far already. This is a good thing. Next month I plan to put down the basis for the sixteenth book of Hilda when it’s Nanowrimo again.

Then there is the sequel to A Girl Named Sandy that I am writing. This is a very interesting challenge as it’s an attempt to make this as good or even better as “Sandy” (which I still consider my best book to date).

I know there are people hoping for another Lily Marin book (which is something I’m looking forward too as well, honest!).

The plan to write The Story of the Mimosa in Dutch has started to become more a slow-moving reality than a plan. And I have heard from several sides that a sequel to Wanted: Hero would be greatly appreciated. (Wanted: Hero isn’t available in English yet, so far only in Dutch, but we’re working on that!)

One million words

Dear reader,

Do you know what one million words look like over a span of 18 months and a week? Allow me to show you:

A million in a graph

Don’t worry, some month abbreviations may look funny but that’s because they’re in Dutch.

Last year April I started keeping track of how much I write daily and kept scores in a spreadsheet. I wondered how long it would take me to get to one million words. Now I know. 18 months and a week. I thought it would take me longer to reach that number. Now of course I’m curious if the next million will take longer, less long or equally long, so I shall meet you again in 18 months and a week. Or sooner. Or so.

Stories are like old wine

Dear reader,

Wine cellarIn the Netherlands there’s a saying “Old wine in new bags“. I discovered that the English equivalent would be “Same meat, different gravy“.

Why do I bring this up? At one moment it struck me that story telling (or writing) is in fact the same thing. There are a number of concepts and ideas that we can write about. The more popular ones are the ones most used and those are the old wine, the same meat.

This is what presents the biggest challenge for a writing person. How do you pick that concept or idea apart and present it in a new, inviting way? Inventing a new environment, creating a new ‘world’ with new people is one of the ways to do this, but what if we’re talking about a series of books, like the Hilda the Wicked Witch books? There always is the common factor of Hilda and William appearing. Sometimes Baba Yaga appears, and lately it’s also Hilda’s sister who chimes in here and there, but the world they inhabited remains the same. It’s Fairyland with it’s fairy tales. I think it’s fascinating to delve deeper into things. That is why I don’t limit myself to the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, the brothers Grimm or the other more or less famous fairy tale writers. Every culture has its stories, legends, myths and fairy tales. Going into them and finding out about them, showing you, the reader, how they make their old wine and how that’s treated, that’s one of the big delights I find in providing a new bag, a different kind of gravy.

 

What happened to our comma?

Dear reader and especially writer,

greencommaI am worried. Worried about our little, curly friend, the comma. It seems to have done something terribly wrong with adjectives. They used to be such good friends, and lately I see more and more people forget about our comma when they describe huge, beautiful, interesting things, and even when tiny, insignificant items are detailed.

Instead, more and more people seem content to write about  huge beautiful interesting things and  tiny insignificant items. Is the decline of the comma upon us? When it comes to adjectives, there are a few very simple rule of thumb (oops, I almost wrote rule of comma) to hold against your writing.

1. If the word ‘and‘ can be placed between adjectives, then use a comma.

This is where one has the huge, beautiful, interesting things, or the tiny, insignificant items, because they’re tiny and insignificant items, compared to the  huge and beautiful and interesting things. Failing to apply our tiny curly friend here makes for  huge beautiful interesting things, where huge says something about beautiful and beautiful says something about the interesting, and only interesting says something about the things (whatever those might be).

2. Use a comma when an -ly adjective is used with other adjectives.

Before you call in the cavalry, let me assure you that there is a way to test how this would work. Let’s consider Marky. Marky is lonely, and he is also young. And he’s a boy. Does that make Marky a lonely young boy, or a lonely, young boy? He is a lonely and young boy. That’s that, lonely is used as an adjective.

Compare Marky to Joyce, who is an overly active girl. Is Joyce an overly and active girl? Hmm, doubtful, unless you can show me other overly girls who are active. That’s it then, overly is not used as an adjective to the noun girl, instead it says something about active.

Please, everyone, don’t let the comma become a stranger.

Y. Yes. #AtoZChallenge

azbloggingY. Yes

Dear reader,

Yes! That is all I can say to this strange road that lies behind me. Behind me? Yes! Behind me. Almost four years of actual book-publishing lie behind me, and yes, it was an incredible journey. Even more yes, because I’m ready for more of this.

There will be more adventures of Hilda the Wicked Witch and if possible there will also be a sequel to the first Lily Marin novel. More science fiction and fantasy. I can only say yes to all that, and all this came to pass because of a writing contest I did with a few friends, someone who kept nagging me to publish that first little Hilda book, and because of all of you, dear readers. My heartfelt thanks for each and every one of you who have bought and downloaded my books, and who have sent me such encouraging words, such lovely and touching e-mails and so on. Also a big thank you to everyone at the Alexandria Publishing Group for their support, camaraderie and advice.

It’s taken many years before I reached the point where I could truly understand and embrace my love for writing. I’ve always loved books and reading, but writing added an amazing dimension to the world of words and I’ll be eternally grateful for getting there. Maybe there’s something of a lesson for each of us in this, dear reader. No matter how long something takes, if it’s meant to be, if there is love for something in your heart, it will find a way.

So what is more appropriate than to end this post with Yes, and their hit single Love will find a way:

X. X-factor #AtoZChallenge

azbloggingX. X-factor

Dear reader,

What is the X-factor in writing? It’s probably something different for each writer. Just as there is a different book in the hands of each reader, I am sure.

For me it is the surprise that is around every corner of the story. What will the next paragraph bring? Where will the characters end up this time? Of course not everything is hidden in fog. I know a few places, stations, where the train with characters will have to pass through and also the end station is set, but all the happenings in between those… This is what makes the journey of writing a story such a pleasure for me. It’s as much fun as reading a book – I don’t know every single, tiny step of the way yet; it is as much an exploration for me as it is for you when you open the book and start reading.

Some writers plot and plan their book from A to Z, like this blogging challenge, they know what is going to happen everywhere even before they start writing. That’s not how my stories come to life. That is my X-factor.

V. For Vocabulary, which is important to writers #AtoZChallenge

azbloggingV. Vocabulary

Dear reader,

I had a good, long thought about the letter V. Finally I decided on Vocabulary. Not very surprising maybe as that is one of the most powerful tools of a writer. It’s easy to jot down a sentence, but to add the proper ‘pizzazz’ to it, one needs to know the right words. A sentence has to say something, it has to bring you, the reader, into the state of mind that makes a story come alive. “Joe walks down the street” conveys exactly what Joe is doing, and where he does it, but this way he’s just an average Joe, a man in the street.

averagejoe

Did you see what happened just now? I used some specific vocabulary, drawing in some common expressions to give Joe some ‘body’. He’s not Joe the banker, he an ‘average Joe’. To make it even more obvious, he’s mostly a typical person, a ‘man in the street’. By simply using these common expressions (I am sure that most of you know them and even use them occasionally), I have given Joe some appearance, a social environment.

How different does it feel when you see “Mr Joe walks down the street”? Mr Joe. Well, that’s not your average Joe. This is probably someone who stepped out of the suit department. Isn’t it fabulous how much difference such a small word can make? This is where writers have most fun – and also most problems. What is the right word for a specific scene, situation, problem or person? And that question can come up for at least 25% of the words in a book. With a count of let’s assume 75,000 words for a book we’re talking about 18,750 times this question. What is the right word here? Of course it’s not always very dramatic but it can be. For that writers need a broad  vocabulary. And that gets worse when a story tells about a field that has a specific jargon. Usually a writer will have to dig deep to get the proper words out in the open, yet at the same time make the word clear to the people who are not into that field, so they know what the ‘bleep‘ this scientist, mechanic or quantum-physicist is talking about! Luckily this can be a lot of fun. :-) (Can be… ;-) )

U. Unlimited places for the mind to wander – #AtoZChallenge

azbloggingU. Unlimited

Dear reader,

Have you ever considered where the limits of your imagination are? How wild and strange the places can be that your mind can bring to you, almost so vividly that your mind seems to take you to those places? That is how creating new stories feels to me. There are no boundaries, no limits. The only ones that might appear are those that the events in a story bring about.

ray bradburyIn that respect I follow the (to me wise) words of a genius author. His name? Ray Bradbury. In his book Zen in the art of writing he advocates the total absence of fear and limits. A person should be able to write without boundaries, about anything at all. Maybe there’s no one who will buy the story, not a person in the world who wants to read it.

This tells me that when the need to write that story is there, it has to be written. If only to get it out of one’s system. If you keep the words inside, don’t let them out of your system, they will start to revolt and block other words from appearing. (Writer’s block could be a result, literally.)

Somehow the boldness of writing with no holds or bars seems to work for me. When I look at the long line of Hilda the Wicked Witch books that are already out in the world, and the slew of them that are still to be written, that says something. A spin-off in the shape of the story about a ship that sails through space and time. It works. Of course, not every book is as successful as the average Stephen King novel but that is why he’s not me. I want to give him a chance as well. His writing is unlimited too (look at Carrie, or the Dark Tower series). Anything that needs limits will appear in the story. Stories don’t need those writing people to put limits on them. That would seriously limit the stories.

T. Tools #AtoZChallenge

azbloggingT. Tools

Tools. Indeed, dear reader, even a writer has tools. Hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, I think the entire tool kit can be brought out into the open when a writer is at work. Of course these devices look a bit different from those:

toolkit

The actual tools are things like notepad, tiny scraps of paper with notes all over them. Tools can look like a program (word processor, special writers’ software), but also like a lawn with a writer lying down on it while it looks as if this writing person does nothing. Often those are the hardest tools to use. These are needed when something needs to be hammered into shape. A scene or an entire chapter can fight back, and needs to be approached with care, mental gloves and a strong hammer. Which, indeed, are applied while spread out on a lawn, or sitting on a chair whilst staring out a window. Don’t be fooled by a writer in such a position, dear reader. Those are often the crucial moments where most work is done. Because contrary to popular belief, the act of writing is not the biggest effort when one writes a book. It’s what goes ahead, around, through and beneath it. It’s the legwork of the mind. Because yes, the mind is one of the most powerful ad versatile tools of a writer. The mind that summons the stories grates away at the words, chisels the ideas and polishes the sentences. And when something’s gone wrong, that mind-tool puts all the chipped-off parts back and finds a new approach to make the story work. Which again may involve a chair and a window, or a lawn, or a stroll through a park.

As you see, a writer uses many a tool. All of them are needed, all of them have their place in the creation of a book, an artwork that the writer creates. For you.

A trilogy?

Dear reader,

A while ago I wrote about an old story that I’m reviving by writing anew from scratch. I’ve started writing and it’s going very well I may say. As this is a story I’ve written before (and this may look as odd to you as it does to me) I know where it’s going. That is, if the characters in the new version play nice and cooperate with what I have in mind. That often is a battle in itself.

Based on this idea I have the feeling that the new version of the story will be packaged in a trilogy. Putting everything I foresee now in one book would make it a very large book. Shrinking the very large book down would take away a lot of story goodness, and that would be a shame.

I found it very interesting to have this sudden realisation. Never before have I actually planned writing more than 1 book about a character (not even Hilda), and now it just happened…