Five Things You Learn from #NaNoWriMo

Emma Baird on NaNoWriMoWhat do you learn about yourself if you decide to embark on a fool-hardy challenge such as committing to writing 50,000 words in a month?

Yes, folks I’m the sort who over-promises and under-delivers to herself all the time. What does November lack, I pondered, what with the part-time job going through its busiest month of the year, my freelance clients all ramping up the work they need and TV not helping by adding distractions to my life such as the premiere of Outlaw King* on Netflix and The Little Drummer Girl on the BBC?

Obviously, I should add writing a rom-com novel to the month’s to-do list, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

But NaNoWriMo has surprised me. Forcing yourself in front of your laptop every day as a blank page blinks at you and your fingers hover above the keyboard refusing to do anything has proved enlightening.

Here’s what I’ve got from the experience so far:

  1. A sense of perspective. Forcing yourself to write 2,000 plus words every single day makes my day job, copy writing, seem a dawdle. What, you want 500 words for your blog? Is that all? Easy-peasy.
  2. You have to tell your inner editor to jog on. Nothing to see here, dear. Come back some other time and tweak that sentence, copy and paste or add in the correct punctuation but at this moment in time YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.
  3. The inner editor isn’t invited but the inner geek pushes her to one side. The dashboard on the official NaNoWriMo website throws up figures that change every day. How many words you’ve written, numbers needed to finish on time, average length of each writing session etc. And if there’s anything I love, it’s personal data. The NaNoWriMo dashboard has just joined the Fitbit one as things I spend too long swooning over.
  4. The value of plotting. As anyone who has read my previous books can attest, I prefer throwing things at a book and seeing if they stick to working out what MIGHT happen in advance. This time I’ve outlined every chapter and am now a convert. Plot outlines work! Who knew?
  5. Abandon all social life all ye who enter here. Yup, that kind of writing schedule takes over your life. From taking your laptop on trains as you commute, to knocking back invites, switching the TV off at night and turning down offers to test out the offerings at a gastro-pub in Glasgow, my life is deadly dull. Temporarily, I hope. Otherwise, I’m not going to make a convincing writer in the future if I have no interesting life experiences to draw on.

And the biggest revelation of all? I’ve fallen back in love with writing. I’m head over heels. Before this, I was plodding my way through re-writing a book I’ve never liked. Ye gods, it was tedious. I’ve been forced to abandon it, and now switching on the laptop every day to fire off 2,000 words or so never feels like a chore. I look forward to it and at the end of every session, I know I can keep going if I want. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s heady.

It’s still early days. By week three, I’ll probably reach the bit where I hate the book, think it’s the worst thing anyone has ever had the misfortune to write or read and wish my characters would just sort themselves out with no help from me.

In the meantime, chapter 10 beckons…

#amwriting #nanowrimo

*I was forced to commit Netflix infidelity for the first time to watch the film but blimey it’s immense, ladies and gentlemen. The scenery will blow your socks off. 

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Crete, Cats and #NaNoWriMo

This week I’m…

Drinking olive oil

olive oil picture taken by Emma Baird author of the diabetes dietWe’re back from a week in Crete, where it’s obligatory for any tour to talk about extra virgin olive oil and its many health benefits. The Cretans splish-splosh it on everything, so it’s not surprising they are the world’s biggest consumers of the stuff getting through an average 36 litres a year.

Because we’d opted for the hand-luggage only flight, we could only bring back a measly 100ml of the stuff but I promise my meals from now on will contain liberal amounts. As gastronomic destinations go in general, Crete is tremendous. I ate one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had—lamb kleftiko, a paper packet of tender meat oozing luscious thick gravy, and juices-soaked carrots and potatoes added in.

Recovering from mozzie bites

Seriously, did those little gits love me because I’ve got sweeter than usual blood? By the end of the week I’d counted 26 bites and my husband kept wrestling me, strait-jacket style, to stop me scratching them. If you ever want to experience the perfect definition of instant gratification—and why it isn’t worth it—get yourself a dozen or so mosquito bites and claw at them with long nails as soon as they begin to itch.

Result? Two seconds of relief and then bites that get infected.

A resident told us this year the island has suffered more than usual. The Cretans themselves were experiencing problems too. Chania’s newspaper says the problem has been caused by cutbacks in Government spraying programmes and in the past few years, the population has gone wild.

Contemplating cats

Emma Baird with catEvery bar and restaurant we went to had its own resident cat, who could spot a sucker miles away. Here is the picture for proof. Up they came, positioning themselves beside your chair and yowling furiously until you gave them a bit of whatever you were eating.

My theory is that Cretan cats and cats in hotter countries are further along the evolutionary chain than those in the UK. They’ve lived alongside humans for far longer, and most of the ones we came across aren’t at all skittish around people. They are very noisy too. The cat’s miaow was developed to communicate with humans, but you don’t meet that many ‘talkative’ cats over here.

Unfortunately, part of the greater progress along the evolutionary chain is because they breed in vast quantities. We saw lots of kittens and young cats, and all kinds of amazing, unusual patterns. Again, in hot counties this is harder to control. Greece has suffered financially in recent years. There won’t be much money around for trap, neuter, release programmes.

Doing NaNoWriMo

For those of you outside the writing world, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual initiative encouraging writers to write the first draft of a novel or 50,000 words in one month. It sounds like a tall order, but if you break it down into 2,000 words a day every day, you’re in ‘eat that elephant one bite at a time’ territory.

My incentive is partly financial. I’m about to ditch Microsoft Word as I’m fed up of spending so much money on it every year when there are just as good freebies out there. Libre Office for example. And Scrivener is software specially created for writers, which you pay a one-off fee for. I’ve resisted it until now because I’m not keen on something that comes with a 45-minute tutorial. Manana never comes soon enough for me, so listening to that tutorial is a tall order. But Word isn’t great for working with long documents such as novels and I fancy Scrivener’s corkboard feature to help me plot.

How does this fit with NaNoWriMo? The folks that make Scrivener offer it at half-price if you complete NaNoWriMo. While on holiday, I outlined a plot using a one-page template I found online so in theory writing 2,000 words every day will be easier because I have an idea of what happens in each chapter instead of pantsing it.

Highland Fling book cover by Emma BairdI’m going to try my hand at a sweet romance, which will be a challenge for me. I’m filthy-mouthed (blame working in journalism and PR for that) so my novels tend to contain plenty of couthy language, the odd bit of sex and other adult themes. Sweet romance ‘rules’ mean no swearing, definitely no sex and the ‘climax’ is the kiss. Once that’s done, it’s game over. Sweet romance is HUGE in the indie publishing world and its top writers earn hundreds of thousands. As one writer put it, fans of ‘spicy’ romance, i.e. the sex stuff, will read sweet romance, whereas the opposite doesn’t usually apply.

Here are the first few paras:

“I didn’t mean to smash his heart into smithereens—and they were his words not mine—but if you want to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs, don’t you?”

“Stop right there!” My best friend excels at bossiness. She gets up from the sofa and holds a hand out, traffic cop style.

“Do NOT mix up metaphors like that,” she begs. “Please. You’re hurting my ears.”

She’s a copywriter and very fussy about what people say in front of her. If you ever dare utter, do you know what I mean? at the end of a sentence, she jumps down your throat. No, I don’t know. That’s why you’re telling me. I cut that habit out after about the hundredth time she said it.

“Kelly!” I too am on the sofa in my about to be vacated home. I love this sofa too. It took me five visits to the SofasRUs (and all on the days when there were sofa sales so I wasted a lot of bank holidays) to find my perfect one. This is it. Dark red velvet, super squishy and big enough to fit four people, five if you know each other really well.

And tomorrow I say goodbye to this sofa. Just like I wave farewell to the coffee table I rescued from a junk yard, sanded down and varnished myself, the book shelves I built from flat packs accompanied by a lot of cursing, the laminated floorboards I laid one hot and sweaty weekend, the curtains…

Charlotte Amelia Richardson! My mother’s voice. This moping will not do. Kelly backs her up. Not in real life, but in my head; the two of them competing to see who can order me around the most.

Kelly rummages through her handbag and emerges with a large bar of chocolate that she waves triumphantly in front of me.

“Okay,” she says, “if you promise not to mix up any more metaphors and refrain from terrible clichés, I will break this bar in two and give you half.” She inspects the bar, checking the label. It’s the Oreo cookie one, tiny bits of biscuit crumb encased in thick slabs of chocolate.

“The much smaller half.”

I am not having that. I lurch forward and grab the bar from her hands, dancing away from her as she shrieks and tries to get it back. My fingers move fast, ripping through purple foil while Kelly howls, “No, no, no!” I jam it into my mouth, bite off a quarter and hand it back to her, tooth marks and all.

All’s fair in love and war, or love and chocolate, right?

You can read the rest of this chapter on Wattpad here. https://embed.wattpad.com/story/164480382

Wish me luck…

#Wattys2018 Longlist

a copy of the book cover for the artist's history by Emma BairdA little good news this week…

If you didn’t know already, I’m Scottish (that’s not my news, BTW) and part of our national identity is self-deprecation and a loathing for boasting in any form. My English, Welsh and Irish chums would agree.

Blowing your own trumpet—just not Scottish stroke British. Let’s leave that to the Y… other nations*. Anyhoos, I awoke early on Saturday and checked my emails. There, nestling among the usual suspects—you’ve been picked for a Nectar/YouGov survey! Not-to-be-missed offer on wine/miracle skin cream/trainers/cat collars/anything you’ve ever bought online—was a message congratulating me on being longlisted for the #Wattys2018.

The #Wattys are annual awards on Wattpad, a reading and writing platform used by millions of people all over the world. There are 65 million writers on it (including established authors such as Margaret Atwood and Paulo Coelho). The popular folks publish stories that clock up millions of reads, its landed publishing deals for many and the platform even has its own studios.

I signed up originally because I wrote a book I’d aimed at the YA market, and Wattpad has a mainly teenage audience. I’ve lingered on the edges there ever since. My chapters get read by… ooh, three or four people, my all-time best 45 for one chapter.

Still, it’s good discipline. I use it to spur myself on. My Wattpad followers await their update! (All two of them.) Must write another chapter instead of giving up on this piece of rubbish. And it forces you to concentrate on chapters as individual things. When you write a book as whole, it’s tempting to write certain chapters carelessly—the joining chapters that are just there to add points or move the plot from A to B. When you upload chapter by chapter to a site, it’s important every chapter is as exciting and interesting as it can be.

My all-time most popular piece of writing with the most reads per chapter is a book I gave up on—Unnatural Appetites, billed as plus-size vampire erotica. Niche, huh? Hats off to other erotica writers. Seriously, how do you do it? I got bored. I don’t want to write about people’s bits—their heads interest me far more.

Back to the Wattys2018 long list. There was my little book with its meagre readership. Have a guess how many others are on that list… seven hundred plus. I patted myself on the back briefly and embarked on a ‘lower the expectations’ lecture:

Well, Emma! This is nice, isn’t it? Years of being on Wattpad and getting nowhere. Here is a little success. Little, mind! You know, you and the other seven hundred or so writers. If you’re to benefit from this, it’s the short list that counts. And we’re going to plant this thought firmly – EMMA, THOU ART NOT GOING TO MAKE THE SHORT LIST. Message received and understood?

A little pride punched its way through, however. That long list redefines any definition of the term, but there were 151,767 entrants to that competition. Arguably, the Wattys is the world’s biggest writing competition.

Go me?

Please add your own boasts to the comments. I’m serious. I’ll feel 100 percent better about myself if I’m not blowing the trumpet solo.

 

 

*Shoot. I fear the self-deprecation hides a raging superiority complex.

close-up of a spider's web on bushes by Emma Baird

Beetroot, Books and Escapes to the Country

This week I’m…

white bowl containing borsht soup by Emma BairdEating Borsht. This year’s gardening triumphs include beetroot, which is darn decent roasted and eaten with a drizzle of sour cream and dill, but also makes a fab soup brim-bursting with veggie goodness.

I used the Hairy Bikers recipe minus the cabbage. Warning—peel beetroot with gloves on if possible, unless you want pink-tipped fingers and palms for a long time afterwards. For the same reasons, cut it on a wooden chopping board you aren’t too attached to.

a screenshot of The Art Guy by Emma BairdVOWING TO FINISH AN EDITING JOB. See the caps there? I put them in because this job has been on the to-do list for three weeks now, FFS. My typical editing and revising process when writing books goes like this…

 

  • Switches on laptop. Goes to email inbox and searches out an online chum who deserves a long, chatty email.
  • Finishes email and checks Twitter briefly. Looks for cute cat videos. Gets lost in a conversational thread or that day’s top trend.
  • Checks the weather forecast. Vital for walk planning (see below) and domestic scheduling—i.e. can I put the washing out today?
  • Buckles down to editing and revising book chapters. Re-writes a sentence into perfect prose before reading exactly the same sentence and word order three paragraphs down.
  • One chapter in, looks up something on the internet. It’s crucial to the editing process, oh yes it is.
  • Decides another chapter is needed which means abandoning the editing process altogether and doing a fresh piece of writing. (Hooray! Much more fun!)
  • Segues into despair and loathing. What once seemed like a half-decent book is now embarrassing, crass, cliché-ridden and fit only for the bin.
  • Repeats ad nauseum.

Cycle path and the old railway bridge photo by Emma BairdEnjoying country walks. You know my favourite bit of being a freelancer* (albeit one with a part-time job these days)? Going for walk whenever I feel like it. Near me, there’s a cycle path much used by dog walkers, cyclists, joggers and freelance writers escaping their editing responsibilities.

 

 

 

*Did I mention the afternoon naps? The lie-ins when necessary? The working from home wardrobe of trackie bottoms and a hoodie? That every day is take your cat to work day? The outside working when it’s sunny?

 

Emma Baird picture of a laptop with the words 'back blogging'

Six Years of Blogging

Emma Baird picture of a laptop with the words 'back blogging'Congratulations me. This month marks my six-year blog anniversary. Six years of thinking up topics to write about, sometimes coming up with great ideas but most often opting for the lazy option, something I wrote for another platform.

I don’t have a huge following—just shy of 400—but I get good engagement, especially these days. It’s easy enough to like a blog post. You can do it without reading the article. People taking the time to read and then add their thoughts feels much more flattering.

And because I have such a small following, I don’t get negativity. Most of the comments people post are encouraging. Which is good. I’m your typical writer and my skin is wafer-thin.

My following increases steadily. At the moment, I appear to be getting one sign up a day. I’m a smarter blogger than I was when I first started up and I use some of the dark arts. I put my name into the alt text for the pictures I use. I set featured images and I craft my own excerpt. Liking and commenting on other blogs helps as does the intelligent use of tags.

I’ve got my posts automatically linked to most of my other social media platforms, so they appear on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter as soon as they come out.

The life of a blogger can be great fun. I started my working life in journalism and what former journalist wouldn’t want to be their own publisher and editor?

You also get to read amazing content from others. There are plenty of doozies out there and I often wonder what on earth bloggers are doing to get hundreds of likes and comments for badly written guff. On the whole, though, if you keep your own blog following small, you can afford to follow only the good ‘uns back.

This is a friendly community for the most part. I’m hugely grateful to all the folks who’ve read, liked and commented on my articles over the last six years. Thank YOU.

Harrogate, Literary Tours and Good Grub

This week, I…

Visited Harrogate! As any hardy British holiday-maker knows, sunny weather is never guaranteed but the gods of fortune smiled on us. The sun shone brightly. No jackets required. We did our fair bit of sitting out in beer gardens to support the local economy. I know. Aren’t we good ‘uns?!

Harry’s Free Walking Tours offers you a guided walk around the main attractions and explains the town’s history from Roman times to its best-known period, the late Georgian and Victorian era when it was THE choice for the hoi-polloi wanting to take the waters.

The Royal Pump museum details what a typical spa day might involve. No surprise to see that drinking lots of water and taking gentle strolls is the main point. For some patients, the advice stresses, massage might be better than exercise… Heavens, wouldn’t want the rich and far too privileged to over-exert themselves, would we?!

Haworth Museum

Yorkshire has plenty of literary connections; the best known being the Brontë sisters. The museum in Haworth feels perfectly preserved in its 19th Century past. This year is the bicentennial of Emily Brontë’s birth, and the original of Branwell’s famous painting (below) is on display.

Various theories abound about why Branwell painted himself out. The first is that he didn’t—his oldest sister ordered it years later because of his subsequent alcoholism and drug abuse, and the effect it had on the family. Experts at the National Gallery, however, have studied the painting and their view is that he painted himself out at the time.

So, perhaps he was too critical of his self-portrait. Or the composition didn’t work. If you step back from the painting, it’s easy to see that four people would make it crowded.

A Typical Teenager?

My husband’s theory is that having three teenage sisters pissed seventeen-year-old Branwell off sometimes. He painted himself with them, took a hissy fit one day and thought, “Sod it, I’m not immortalising myself with those b****es.”

Works for me…

Harrogate’s literary connections involve Agatha Christie, who turned up there in 1926 at the Old Swan Hotel following a brief disappearance and country-wide manhunt. She claimed amnesia. Most theories for the disappearance relate to her husband, whom she divorced two years later.

In 2006, biographer Andrew Norman said he thought her disappearance related to ‘fugue state’, a rare, deluded condition brought on by stress or depression.

Writing Festival

The Old Swan Hotel is still there, and in July writers will gather there for the annual Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. I’m willing to bet the room Agatha spent her week there in 1926 is booked months in advance, if progress didn’t demolish it.

In another (sort of) literary connection to my holiday, I met up with an online chum. Caron Allan edited my book, The Girl Who Swapped, last year, and we struck up an online friendship. As a writer you spend a lot of time in your own head, battling voices that tell you, why oh why oh why do you think you can do this? Fool! Email exchanges with someone who shares your plight are invaluable.

Caron has also been very successful this year, and her story is hugely inspirational. She’s done all the right things—she has a website, she’s writing a popular genre (crime) and a series, and she’s figured out what works on Amazon advertising. We met at the National Rail Museum café and the three hours flew past in no time.

Gorgeous Grub

Finally, Sandy and I are greedy guts one and two. And by ‘eck (to use a local expression) did Yorkshire serve our unregulated appetites well. Thanks to its spa past, beautiful location and many conferences and festivals, the town’s well-served for restaurants, cafes and pubs. If there was a doozy, we never saw it.

The most famous of Harrogate’s five-star places is Betty’s Tea Rooms, a fairy-tale looking place from the outside, its windows displaying rainbow-coloured piles of macaroons. We, er, didn’t go. However, my standout meal was from the Blues Bar on Montpelier Parade. Yorkshire tapas are new on me, but blimey it makes sense to offer folks a small sample of imaginative interpretations of local dishes, doesn’t it? If they over-order as a consequence, on their heads be it.

My favourite was their Yorkshire rarebit mac and cheese, carb heaven for someone who avoids them in daily life. The resultant high blood sugars were well worth it.

 

 

 

High Heels and Pink Glitter – the Books

This week I’m…trying out other people’s blog ideas (thank you Sandra). She posted a piece at A Corner of Cornwall where she took the title of her blog and looked at books that started with the same word.

Emma Baird doesn’t easily lend itself to the idea, apart from the famous Jane Austen book I want to read again in a few years’ time but my old blog name, High Heels and Pink Glitter, throws up possibilities.

I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity years ago, but there’s also J G Ballard’s High Rise. I saw the film starring Tom Hiddleston when it came out, and it would be interesting to explore how the story plays out in the book.

High heels features in a lot of book titles, according to Goodreads.com. Gemma Halliday has a whole series of books using ‘high heels’, Undercover in High Heels, etc. There are lots of variations on the theme of head over heels too.

In my twenties, I read a book called Running in Heels by Anna Maxted, which I loved. It featured a protagonist who was the same age as me and working in the same industry, and it felt very current at the time.

Reading the reviews of the book on Goodreads reminded me once again what an individual experience reading is for everyone. The range of adjectives and descriptions used is huge, enough to make you wonder if everyone read the same book. But no, that’s reading for you! One (wo)man’s meat is another one’s poison, etc.

For pink, I found this title – Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies): Amazing women on what the F word means to them, a collection of writing from Hollywood actresses to teenage activists including Helen Fielding, Saoirse Ronan and Karen Gillan. Apart from anything else, I do have substantial amounts of pink in my wardrobe…

Glitter is used in a lot of chick lit too, but I homed in on this example—Glitter by Kate Maryon, a book written for the tween audience. I’d like to read this because the reviews are so good and I want to see how an author writes for that age group. You don’t have to like a genre or be the target audience to appreciate an author’s abilities after all.

Do any of my choices appeal to you?