Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Z is for - Ziekiel

And so we have reached the letter Z, I knew from the beginning of the challenge what I'd be writing about today. Or who, I should say, I'd like to introduce you to Ziekiel, a character from a WIP (work in progress) When I say I'd like you to meet him, I don't mean that at all, I hope, you never, ever, meet Ziekiel.


The girl pushing the swing is no more than six or seven, her complexion pale, her hair dark, held in a long braid that falls down her back, to her waist. Dressed in a winter coat and stout shoes she is well looked after. She pushes the empty swing at an even pace, chatting away to her imaginary friend. Unaware she is being watched.

The dark form looms tall and silent. Broodingly watching from his place amongst the trees. Daylight is retreating fast, the sky tinged with navy and grey, the wind picks up. Branches sway gently in the breeze as the child plays on. He is observing her every movement. Listening to the words she speaks to her friend. The unseen child she tells all her days news to as she pushes the swing a little higher into the air. Amazingly, it doesn’t buckle or twist, it flies steady, as it would if there was someone seated, enjoying the ride.

The silent stranger moves out from the tree line, the girl oblivious; carries on with her task unaware of who is making his way across the park towards her.

As he approaches, he is stopped mid-stride. Startled, he realises the girl is not alone. Standing behind her now, a few feet away, is a woman in a white crinoline dress. She sees him. It is clear he is not welcome. An orb of intense light radiates from around her head and she takes a step closer to the child.

‘I wasn’t expecting you,’ he shouts. The girl continues talking to her friend, he is only a few feet away from her now.

‘She is not yours. NEVER will she be yours,' the woman replies, voice raised.

‘Stand aside, before I send you back to whence you came.’

‘Impossible, and not allowed, and even if it were, I would never, stand and let you take her from me.’

‘Then prepare to die.’ A burst of fire appears in the strangers bony hand; he draws it back and throws the fireball with force and might directly at the woman, above the child's head. It makes a whooshing sound as it passes over, and the child stops talking, and glances upwards into the sky. In time to see the ball of fire explode onto the grass and dissipate, its flames fanning outwards.

‘Don’t do that Mister. Don’t hurt the white lady.’ She speaks quietly, with innocence , there is no fear in her voice.

The woman avoided the attack rained down on her; had managed to get out of the way. The stranger looked down at the child and then back at the woman a few yards ahead of him. His features grotesque even now in the fading light, his skin pitted and ugly, he made to grab at the child who had stopped pushing the swing now. The woman is quicker, she steps forward throwing her arms around the child, protecting her, spreading the light around them both. An orb of golden light glows.

‘Zeikiel, I know who you are, know you have travelled far, but I warn you, if you take this child from me, a thousand more like me will come after you, and a thousand more after that, for she is far too precious to us.’

‘I am Zeikiel,' he roared,  'and if you know that much, then you must also know I am more powerful than any protector,' he raises his arm again, another fireball clinging to the ends of his claw like fingers. He draws back his arm, from this distance he has a clear shot at both the child and her protector.

The girl, who until that moment had merely looked on, puts up her hand to the fire wielding demon. Pointing at the fireball. A line of white light travels from her finger tip, the short distance to the fiery glow. Upon contact the flame disappears. Is extinguished.

Zeikiel momentarily startled raises his other arm, another fireball, this time he hurls it down at their feet. It bursts into flames surrounding them both. Roaring like a fire in a grate, ignited by some unseen fuel. Zeikiel laughs.

‘Where are you now protector, where are your powers of protection? Hand over the girl before I reduce you to a pile of ashes and send you to the fires of hell.’

‘As I wrap my arms around her, I summon the protectors from every corner to come and take away the evil life force which is you.’ The girl coughs and splutters. ‘You will not let her die, but you cause agony, she cannot breathe, you damage her, give up now, and be cast away, back to your evil hell hole from where you have come.’

‘Let her go!’ roared Zeikiel.  Her lungs were filling with black toxic smoke.

‘Never!’ The protector turned the girl in towards her and drew her close. As she did so, two things happened. The sky lightened, clouds shifted at speed, parting to allow rains of light to fall like spears into the earth. They extinguished the circle of flames Zeikiel had thrown around them. As they hit the ground, they came to life, Orbs of light first, then quickly shifting into form, protectors as she had said.

Arranged in a circle around the child, packing together densely, at least ten, more joining their ranks by the second. Zeikiel aimed and threw another fireball, it never made the perimeter of the protectors, they deflected it, turned it midair and flew it back towards him. He ducked to miss its molton heat. He threw another, and another, but the same, the protectors deflected them. Again, and again. Ziekiel raised a hand in defeat.

‘ You have called on your forces today protector, I doubted you, but you have proved beyond any doubt to me, that she is the one I seek, and I will be back.’ Zeikiel vanished.

The protector’s orbs diminished as they broke from the circle they had created. Turning they looked down upon the child, whose face was buried into the skirt of the woman who held her tightly.

‘Thank you my sisters and brothers.’ As they had arrived, they left, returning to shafts of light, they lifted from the ground and returned upwards into the sky above. Taking the smoke and fire with them.

The woman continued to hold the girl, but loosened her grip. She took her small chin in her hand and tilted the girls face upwards. She smiled down at the child'd expressionless face. As if she had not witnessed the scene at all.

‘Evie...Evie where are you?’ A woman’s voice, behind them, distressed. Over the brow of the hill she ran down towards them. Anguished. The child turned from her protector, eyes seeking the voice.

‘Mama, I’m here.’ The swing behind Evie still now. The grass singed nearby. The woman rushed forward.

‘Evie,’ she knelt and threw her arms about the child, eyes frightened, ‘don’t go off like that sweetheart, you gave me a fright.’ She pulled the little girl close, raining kisses onto her face.

‘I was playing with Toby Mama.’ She pointed to the empty swing.

‘Toby? Well, it looks like Toby has gone home, and that’s where you and I should be too,’ she took the girls hand in her own, squeezing it tightly. ‘Evie, please don’t run off again.’

‘I won’t Mama,’ Evie tilted her face upwards to look at her Mama, before turning around and watching as her protector followed behind them. Unseen, unheard.


And that my friends, concludes my contribution to the A to Z challenge. Its been fun, scary, and challenging! I've made many new friends on the journey. And I'm looking forward to getting better acquainted with you all...and of course visiting my regular blogging buddies too! Thank you all for visiting, and interacting with me during April.

Do check here tomorrow, as I'll be revealing my next BIG writing challenge.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Y is for - Yellow Submarine

Made famous by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney, and sung by Ringo Starr, Yellow Submarine went to number 1 in the british charts in 1966. At the time there were many interpretation of the song, although it was claimed that it was originally written and aimed at children. Almost a nonsense song, lots of people thought the song had a deeper meaning about drugs and war.

Maybe when McCartney wrote it he was thinking about stuff going on in the world at the time, I know as a writer, that things around me influence my writing. I don't believe anyone who writes, never reveals things about themselves. Be it their world, their emotions, or happenings around them.

Some will admit they glean their ideas from life going on around them, whilst others will quietly scribble away, perhaps without realising. Writing, whether a song or a monologue, a novel chapter, or a play reveals much...

Don't dwell on it, stop chewing your lip, and worrying about what you've just written today. Chances are no one will notice. Unless of course, they know you very well, and then so what? Doesn't it prove we are alive? We think and yes we interpret...

Let us not fret about it, keep those thoughts tumbling onto the page.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Goal List Week Commencing 28th April 2013

Spring 2013 - Better Late Than Never - Maria A Smith

Its been another busy week, packed full of different things happening. Where does the time go? Can you believe we are almost in May already, I can't, its crazy how fast this year is running away.

The A-Z challenge has been in full swing, I've been writing a post every day, and visiting as many other bloggers as time permits. Its been a journey of discovery, although this is my second year, its good to know I can still write to a deadline.

In the last week, I've also written a flash piece, re-hashed a story and subbed it to a competition, caught up with replying to lots of lovely writing buddies via email and I've made up my mind what I want to do for the month ahead with my writing life. More about that on May 1st in a special post.

My relaxation plan didn't quite work out as I planned, I didn't get to go swimming, but I did get out for a lovely walk with my camera yesterday afternoon. It was lovely to walk about in the fresh air, even though it hailed several times during the time I was out and about.

I've also found somewhere new for tea and cake! A bonus as its not too far from where I live either, so it might become a favourite. The coffee and walnut cake is delicious!

The week ahead then will look like this.

Writing - 

The last two A to Z Challenge posts.

The weekly flash assignment for the writers group - 150 words - An everyday activity through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time.

My May writing project will be revealed on Wednesday

Relaxation - 

As much as time will permit, I have a very busy working week ahead - anything will be a bonus. Ideally, I'd like to read, chill out in a jacuzzi, go for a walk, visit an art gallery, eat a  delicious meal, and sleep! Realistically, I'll settle for a couple of things from the wish list.

In case you missed my A to Z posts last week, I've put the links here.

S is for - Story

T is for - Tweak It!

U is for - Using Mind Maps To Brainstorm Ideas

V is for - Versatile

W is for - Where Do I Begin

Y is for - Yellow Submarine

Have a good productive week, let me know what you'll be up to? I love receiving your comments.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for - Xanthippe

Image Credit

The lovely letter X, has given me the opportunity to tell you about Xanthippe, the ill tempered wife of  Socrates the Greek Athenian philosopher. Xanthippe was said to be a quarrelsome young wife, and it is said he married her to practice his patience, choosing her precisely because of her argumentative spirit. 

Perhaps he did, in any case, she was reported to be as much as forty years his junior, and they had three sons, one a babe in arms at the time of Socrates death.

So now you know, if you didn't already.

Talking of ill-tempered women, here's a little flash fiction piece I wrote earlier.

‘Award winning my arse,’ shouted the woman, who had barged in shaking her head, puffing and panting, pausing only momentarily. I smiled. It was correct procedure, the right way to approach irritated customers according to my manager.
‘Madam I...’
‘You’ve, got four stars up on that wall outside; did you paint them on yourself? I’ve never stayed in such a hovel.’ 
‘If I could...’
‘What?  Take me into a side room so that no one hears me having a rant? Forget it!  Everybody needs to know what a squalid place this is, and I intend to tell them.’  Alarmingly, she swung her arms around wildly, then grasped hold of the edge of the desk, leaning forward she poked her head over the top. 
‘You might have managed to fool my old man when he checked us in here last night but you don’t fool me young lady.  He said for me to leave it, just wanted to drive away he did, but I had to come back in and let you have a piece of my mind. It might look clean and tidy down here, but I know you’ve got cockroaches for lodgers. I’m reporting you.’ 
‘If you'd give me a chance...’
‘Bloody cheek!' The woman slapped the flat of her hand down hard on the desk. 'Far as I’m concerned you deserve the inspectors.  They’ll have a field day, peeling paper, crumbling plaster, not to mention a lack of hot water!  They’ll have you shut down.  I want my money back!’  At last, she had run out of breath.  Eyes bulging dangerously, I wasn’t sure if she’d burst a blood vessel. 
‘Well...Mrs?’  I paused hoping I wasn’t about to get another tongue lashing.
‘Jones!’ she spat the words out.
‘I’m terribly sorry Mrs Jones, its unfortunate you've had such an unpleasant experience - there is really nothing I can do though - perhaps if you speak to the hotel manager...next door?' The look on her face, as the colour drained away, and she scrutinised her surrounding a little more. Priceless!

I'm having a day off from the A to Z challenge tomorrow, I'll be back on Monday with the letter Y, and I'll be posting my goal list up tomorrow as usual. Have a good Saturday!

Friday, 26 April 2013

W is for - Where Do I Begin?

Dive In - Maria A Smith

Where do you begin? Anywhere, anywhere at all, as long as you start. Procrastination is usually a
symptom of something else. That is my experience anyway. You can't afford to delay in getting going with your writing, you've got to plunge in and begin, because lets face it, most of us are time poor. We can't afford the luxury of hanging around until it feels right.

We've all got something else to do with our time, be it work, family, or recreation. If you want to write, you should just do it! This is what the A to Z Challenge has taught me. That, and the marathon of words known as NaNoWriMo, where you need to write 1667 words a day to reach the magic 30k in  30 days.  A novel draft in 30 days! Yes really. Or 26 posts for the A to Z Challenge, written on the hoof in my case.

Here are my tips to kill procrastination.

  • Jot down ideas in advance - Use a notebook, your mobile phone, or create a mind map
  • Set a deadline - Write for an hour, do a word sprint with a writing buddy, or plan it in for lunchtime, or before breakfast, put it in your diary like any other appointment you would make, and stick to it.
  • Set goals - Break the job up, the task won't seem so overwhelming. If you need to write 10,000 words, write 1000 words a day for the next 10 days.
  • Reward yourself - everyday, be it tea and cake, a swim and a sauna, a run in the park or a Crunchie bar. Dangle the carrot. 
Going from doing nothing to doing something is hard work, you need to create a habit. Don't delay, start today. Just do it!

Tell me how you begin?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

V is for - Versatile

Essential Tools For Writers - Maria A Smith
The versatile writer is someone who can turn their hand to anything. I believe we can all try, and maybe, broaden our horizons while we're about it!

Writing in different genres, or about different topics, in many forms is a great opportunity, or perhaps you're a bit of a butterfly writer like me. I struggle to settle to anything for long, and thrive on tackling lots of different pieces of writing at the same time.

For instance. I'm blogging articles on writing every day this month, writing short flash fiction pieces, as well as editing a scene from the second draft of a third novel. I'm also rethinking my first novel, and subbing a short story to a competition, and writing a letter to a  magazine in the hopes I'll win a jar of face cream!

Blimey! That is a long list. Now I know why - I wish I had more time. But seriously, a few years ago, I wrote an article on the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity. A challenge set by the writers group I attended at the time, I was very last minute choosing my topic, in fact, shopping in Tesco, the night before, (I am the Queen of last minute!) I saw the charity's collection tin standing at the side of the till, and I thought that will do as a topic!

When I got home, I read up on Marie Curie herself, and set to and wrote a 1000 word article on her, and her contribution to science, as well as the one on the charity. However,  Marie Curie's story left such an impact, it stayed with me for days afterwards.

So much so, I then went on and wrote a piece of flash fiction based on what happened to someone else who was close to Marie Curie around the time of her death. As well as a longer piece of writing, involving a character in the background of her life.

I really enjoyed the experience of doing several things connected with one topic, once I had done the initial research, ideas came to me, it was a challenge to come up with ideas for the writing, I enjoyed it and it made me versatile, and eager to write.

Have you got extra mileage out of a piece of writing? Did it lead onto something else? Has writing a short story, made you write a song? Or vice versus? Maybe a novel you wrote, led onto something else?

How versatile are you?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

U is for - Using Mind Maps To Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorming is used to generate ideas. Chances are you've used the technique before in your writing, maybe for a short story, or a novel, or when you've reached a tricky piece in a scene.

An excellent way of finding solutions to problems, it is used to come up with a notion, a spark of an idea, with thoughts that at first might seem a bit crazy, but, often a crazy idea will generate further ideas, the quirkier the better.

Alone or in a group?

You can brainstorm alone, or work in a group with other writers. Interestingly, any ideas brainstormed together, usually buy-in support from everyone, because everyone, has been part of the decision making process. It works rather well when writing scripts, where several writers colaborate on a project. Its a fun way to get everyone working together.

Doing it  alone is better though - I say this because in my experience, what generally happens, is that people are paying far too much attention to what someone else is saying, and they tend to shut up, and don't generate any ideas of their own. To do a good job you have to take part in the process.

What is the process?

For me its mind mapping, a useful technique you can utilise which will help you to improve the way you see information, a way to solve problems creatively. You'll see how things fit together better, all on the same page, instead of a list or notes, which tend not to focus the mind to the task. The mind map format makes it easier for your mind to recall, and review.

How do I get started?

Okay, to get started, find somewhere quiet to sit and relax, get comfortable, find a pen and a sheet of paper. Write a word down in the centre of the sheet of paper, our word is MURDER for this example.

Now draw a circle around it. Next you need to add some important sub headings. Draw a line outwards from your word in the circle, and write down your first sub heading in a smaller circle. Repeat the process several times, so that you have several smaller circles extending out around your larger one, and  write a word in each.  You might have words like, VICTIM, MURDER SCENE, WEAPON, MURDERER and DETECTIVE in your circles.

The next step would be to draw out some lines from the smaller circles, so lets take the word VICTIM, and draw out our line, now write the word KATY, and draw a circle around it, then draw out a line from that circle, and write NURSE. Keep repeating the process, working quickly without thinking too deeply about the words at this point. Feel free to write anything down!

Keep free writing for five minutes, or until your page is full. See my example below, a fellow blogger, and passionate lover of mind maps, Catherine Noble  introduced me to an App called SimpleMind which I find useful to use on my phone if I'm out and about, and for the purpose of this blog, but I prefer to write on paper. Its a personal choice.

I hope you'll give mind maps a try, as it really is an excellent tool for brainstorming. Let me know your thoughts?

Mind Map - Maria A Smith

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

T is for - Tweak It!

Recycle - Reinvent 

Everything can be tweaked, recycled and reused with a bit of thought. The two hundred word flash fiction pieces I do weekly for my writing group are often used for competitions. I may have to increase or decrease the word count, or add a specific word to meet the competition criteria, but usually it isn't too difficult.

Sometimes, I'll continue on from where I finished the original piece, until I have a short story. Or a new chapter in the novel. Sometimes, I'll use them to flesh out a character, which helps me to breathe more life into them on the page.

Recently, I tweaked a six hundred word monologue I wrote last year, to fit the brief for a short story competition. It meant a rewrite of sorts, but by cutting some words and adding additional information, changing the title, and polishing, it has been given a new lease of life.

Often, writers file away pieces of writing, and forget about them. Why not have a look back into those files, and see if there is anything you can revamp for a competition, or perhaps something you could submit to a magazine or newspaper.

Nothing is wasted  - not if you are prepared to give it a tweak!

Monday, 22 April 2013

S is for - Story

Man Reading A Book - Flicker Commons

What makes a good story? In my view, a quick start, jumping into the action fast, grabbing your readers attention, hanging onto it, and when you get to the end, finish it quickly!

Having a strong theme, and unforgettable characters is good. I want to read about characters I can identify with, they have to move me, and take me to somewhere I wasn't expecting to go - characters make story.

Do you plan exactly where you're going with your story? Is everything worked out before you begin tapping those keys? I'm the sort of writer who gallops off with very little idea, perhaps I've been given a  single word to stimulate an idea, or I've seen something, or overheard a conversation, I'm quite impulsive, and happy to see where the story leads me. Reckless perhaps?

Maybe you work out the beginning and ending, and leave the middle to take care of itself? Or do you plan every detail before you begin? After all it gives you confidence when you know where you're going. You probably won't stray from your idea, and you'll know your characters before you begin. Is this how you work?

It seems a little too technical to me, and I wouldn't have half as much fun if I knew what was going to happen, but then my 'seat of the pants' method is probably why I have so much editing...

Do share with me how you plan your stories.

Happy Monday.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Goal List Week Commencing 21st April 2013

New Walk, Leicester - Maria A Smith

My excuse for not posting my Goal list last week - I simply ran out of time, and I guess if you regularly read my blog you'll already know I'm doing the A to Z Challenge.

Writing wise, I managed very little other than planning and writing blog posts. A short story edit, and a caption competition. Thoughts of my novel have been going round and round in my head for days now, but I haven't been able to concentrate on it due to lots of other stuff happening in the 'real' world.

I also assisted a writing buddy to run a Script Writing Workshop over in Derbyshire, a fun day, spent with lots of lovely writers who were put to task to write a script, they had to pitch it to us, write the beginning, and act out the first scene. Working together in groups was an interesting situation to watch, as the creative minds got together and brainstormed story ideas.

Work has been quite stressful, its hard to keep all the balls in the air, all of the time, and apart from that, it does seem to be that business is much busier. That is a good thing.

Finally, this last week, I'm starting to feel more like the old me, hopefully all the nasty drugs I had to take for my sciatica have washed out of my system. The back is also in good condition at the moment, which is great news, I keep doing my yoga stretches, and am mindful of my posture.

I've been out on several walks over the last few weeks, surprisingly, I've felt weak, and not had the stamina or energy for anything long and challenging. I've mainly kept to the streets. Yesterday, I walked around the city of Leicester. What a fabulous day, and how lucky are we now that the hideous cold weather has finished for a while, I hope!

The week ahead is about...

Relaxing - Any which way I can, I'm missing reading fiction, and I want to go swimming, and walking. I am hopeful for a calm week.

Writing - More letters of the alphabet for the blog challenge, and a short story re-write for a competition.

Here is a list of the posts I've written in the last week.

M is for - Making Time For Yourself

N is for - New Things Tried

O is for - Organised

P is for - Prose

Q is for - Quest

R is for - Reinvent Yourself

Getting around all the blogs is proving difficult. I'm dipping in and out of them as and when I can spend time reading them. There are some fabulous bloggers out there. Two of my writing buddies, from Phoenix Writers are taking part for the first time, if you get a chance, do pop over to Kelly's Eye for writing, music, life and everything in-between where you'll find Wayne, who has recently rediscovered his passion for writing, and he sings rather well too!

Sally is over at Breaking Cover and although she hasn't been blogging for long, this secret writer is emerging from the shadows, as she put it, and her A to Z Challenge is amazing, as she travels around Leicester with her camera, snapping images of the buildings. Whether you're local, like me, or from some far flung land, you'll get a history lesson like no other.

These are just two of my many talented writing buddies, and yesterday I caught up with lots of them at our regular Saturday meeting. The writing was diverse, many genres were covered in the two hours, and the constructive critique poured out in bucket loads yesterday. I have some major editing to do from the session. I'd better go and get on with Sunday!

Happy Writing, enjoy your week ahead, and do tell me how it went, I love receiving your comments.

Girl Reading - Maria A Smith

Friday, 19 April 2013

R is for - Reinvent Yourself

Reinvent Yourself - Maria A Smith

Its never too late to re-invent yourself, to change what you're doing, or how it looks. Maybe its long overdue? One or two changes will do you good, and help you become the writer you want to be.
If you want to write something longer than short stories, begin a novel. What about a stage play? Or if you haven't done any flash fiction yet, why not have a go?

Start the journey now, get ready to reinvent yourself.

  • Go to your bookcase and throw out anything you've read, and don't think you'll read again. I'm serious. Do the same with old magazines. If you really can't toss your back copies of Writing Magazine and Writers Forum into the recycle bin, then take them along to your writers group, and put them in the middle of the table, tell your buddies to help themselves. In my experience you'll soon see the pile disappear. De-cluttering is good for the soul.
  • Throw out anything you were going to use 'one day' but haven't touched in months, possibly years! Anything that doesn't fit into your writing life now - get rid of it! I seem to have lots of old cuttings and software discs, and all other manner of computer stuff. Its languishing in a bag, gathering dust. I also have a cupboard full of things I thought I'd use, like pamphlets, and old documents. I really need to sort those out.
  • Get a decent seat, its important for your posture, you're sat at that desk tapping those keys too often not to bother. I use a mesh back support, and have started going for a massage every six weeks too. Look after your back, sit tall. 
  • Change your writing space, move the furniture about, decorate, put a vase of flowers nearby, or buy yourself something special to announce you are reinventing yourself.  I purchased a new laptop bag, and notebook!
Clearing the decks like this, will give you a sense  of change, a new beginning.

Q is for - Quest

Walk in the Woods - Maria A Smith

Quest is a journey towards a goal. Many of you reading this will probably be thinking of your own goals. Perhaps something simple like writing one new idea in your notebook today. Or several hundred words before lunch.

Many stories are quests, the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts comes to mind, where our Greek hero is tasked with finding and retrieving the legendary golden fleece. There are lots of perilous happenings along the way, which Jason must overcome, to succeed, an adventure with many twists and turns.

My novels are certainly perilous journeys, my character is required to face bad situations, again and again, and make difficult choices, to reach their goal. Often, what they were looking for in the beginning is not what they get by the end of the story, it becomes immaterial, as I undercover what the story is really about underneath the surface.

Maybe you have a much bigger writing goal? If so, have you broken it down into more manageable chunks, like this blog challenge for instance?  I'm writing a post everyday, together they'll make up the twenty six posts I need to complete the A to Z challenge. Along the way, I'm learning, overcoming obstacles, laughing at myself, and meeting new friends along the route. 

Last night my internet connection failed due to bad weather. Last week, I didn't have an evening that I didn't sit down to write before midnight, and I thought 'why the hell am I doing this!' I could quit now. But quitting isn't an option. 

By the end of this month, I'll have gained much, the challenge is a convenient reason for me to make the journey. Its really about something else. 'Have I got the stamina?' Can I cut it? Are deadlines something I can achieve and maintain? 

What I'm trying to say, is that if the A to Z challenge were fiction, then it is a 'MacGuffin' in my case. A plot device, a motivator, a journey, I'm willing to take to find out more about myself as a writer. Quest is something that all of us, taking part in the A to Z challenge are doing right now. But remember - its the journey that counts - what will yours reveal about you?

Happy Writing

Thursday, 18 April 2013

P is for - Prose

Roses - Maria A Smith

Prose fiction is what I do, its when I leave reality and enter a fictional world within my imagination. I tell stories by writing words down for my readers. 

A few months ago, I attended a workshop with a specific goal to write for the women's magazine market, its something I don't usually do, and the style of writing is very different from my own. I found it a challenge to keep within the perimeters of what is, and isn't acceptable. Those who know my writing, will be smiling to themselves as they read on. Usually, I've killed someone, or something unpleasant has happened on the first page.

Our brief, was to write the beginning of a romantic story, very much outside of my comfort zone. I had to introduce both my characters quickly, and leave the reader in no doubt as to what the story genre was, and what could be expected, I also needed a hook, to keep them wanting to read more. 

An interesting exercise, writing outside of your usual genre, or comfort zone is a good thing to do. Trust me, even if you think it isn't it is! So if you usually write romance, why not try fantasy, or crime, or if like me, your more at home with grizzly goings on, how about comedy, or a western? You never know, you might find you have a flair for science fiction, or historical romance. 

Here is my attempt at a story start,  from the workshop...

    Beads of sweat lined Tom’s brow. The mountain guide company had called twenty minutes ago, they were substituting his walking guide Roger, for Laura, and she'd be arriving shortly.
    He'd specifically asked for Roger, explaining his reasons when he’d plucked up the courage to book the trip. The last thing he wanted was to go up into the mountains with a woman!
    He’d cancel, until Roger recovered, he was here for week after all, reaching for his phone he punched in numbers, when he heard a knock at the door. Yanking it open a little too quickly, he stared at the fresh faced young woman in a bright red jacket standing before him. 
     ‘Hi Tom, I’m Laura, are you all set?’ He hesitated, as she thrust her hand forward. 
   ‘Yes,’ he lied, wondering if she'd been told about the accident, did she know he was an amputee? He shook her hand, then  hauled the small rucksack onto his shoulder. 
     ‘Good, the trucks around front,’ and with that she turned and trudged away in the snow.
    He closed the door behind him, and followed, he wasn’t limping as badly today. A soft thud caused him to turn and look back, just in time to see fresh snowfall slide from the porch roof. A somber reminder of the avalanche, which had claimed much more than his leg. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

O is for - Organised

Writing Space - Maria A Smith

Get organised! What does that mean? In my case and perhaps yours too, it means a big clean-up. I hate getting bogged down in mess, and at the moment, I don't have a dedicated writing space, so everything has to be portable, and easy to pack away.

Here are my best tips.

  • Get rid of anything in your work space that isn't absolutely  necessary. When working on the move, its essential not to have lots of things to pack away or to carry around. However, if you do have a dedicated space, I think its nice to have a few cherished items around you. Something fun to look at is also good for your moral.
  • Know where everything is, including pencils, pens, and spare batteries for your mouse. 
  • Clean up after yourself, its especially important if you're working at the kitchen table like I do often! People need to eat, including you.
  • Keep a notebook beside your computer, or in your pocket or bag, at the least have it ready to pull out and jot things down as and when they come to you.
  • Write down what you are going to do in a day, try and do this the evening before if you can, and work out how long it will take you to do each task and write it alongside. Add everything up, and decide what time you are going to get up, and what time you are going to retire. Copy the list into your diary, or phone, and write the time it will take to do each task beside the item. Then work through your list, crossing through what you do, or updating as necessary. 
  • Stay hydrated, have a bottle of water in your bag if you are on the move, or set up somewhere like a cafe where you can order drinks regularly. If you work from home, don't forget to get up and put the kettle on every hour or so too, otherwise you'll begin to feel headachy, tired and your stamina will start to wain.
  • Keep a supply of snacks tucked away in your bag too, or in a nearby drawer. Things like nuts, and fruit are good. But chocolate tastes better! 
Right - now you are ready to write! Do share your organizational tips with me.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

N is for - New Things Tried

I'm A Writer - Maria A Smith

On Saturday I tried something new, I helped a fellow writing buddy to run a workshop on Scriptwriting, it was fun! I enjoyed helping other writers to enjoy the day, and I learnt a lot along the way too.

Last week, I interviewed the main character in my novel,  you can read it here  I learnt things about her, that hadn't surfaced before. It'll help me to weave more interest into my story after the A to Z Challenge finishes.

Back in February, I decided to put a chart on my fridge to track how much writing, or related writerly activity I did everyday. It was eye-opening, I do far more than I think I do. This has given me a renewed confidence and much more energy to keep going!

My point - I did something new - something different. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and it has bought me dividends.Why don't you try it too?

You might be thinking about entering a competition, or subbing a story to an overseas publication, or sending your novel to an agent? Maybe you want to go to a writers group for the first time, or have your writing critiqued by a writing buddy, but you're too shy to ask? Don't be, step up and ask, or go to that meeting, send that novel, sub your story, because new things tried bring value to your writing, and to you.

I urge you to try something different today. Then come back and tell me how it changed your writing life.

More from me tomorrow.

Monday, 15 April 2013

M is for - Making Time For Yourself

Time for Tea  - Maria A Smith
Be kind to yourself. For the sake of your sanity you need to be happy and well. Many writers have jobs, alas, writing isn't their main source of income, it is more likely they are rising early, or staying up late, or perhaps both, so they can work on their projects. Be it a novel, stage play, or a series of articles. Whatever, you're working on, you need down time.

It doesn't have to be anything huge. Its taking time out that is most important, so I've written a list of ideas below, and if you haven't made time for yourself in the last week. Put a note in your diary now!
Personally, I try to do some small thing for my sanity every day of the week if I can.

  • Take a long luxurious bath - pour in some scented bubbles, light candles, set your MP3 to play your favourite music softly in the background, and lie back and wallow. 
  • Make a cup of tea - A simple cup of tea can do wonders. Tea not only rehydrates, as well as water does, it also protects against heart disease and possibly cancers too, according to some nutritionists. So kick off your shoes, put your feet up and sit and savour all those good antioxidants. 
  • Walk, run, cycle, swim or dance - It doesn't matter which, just get moving! Exercise boosts energy and improves mood, as well as keeping weight under control, it also improves muscle strength and boosts endurance, which is why we feel fresh and alert when we sit back at our desk after a brisk walk.
  • Do something different - Learn to bake bread, crochet a hat, drive a rally car, join the choir? Seriously, take a one day workshop away from your normal day to day life. It will energise you on many levels. You'll no doubt meet new people, learn something, and most likely have a laugh too.
  • Eat cake! - Works every time for me. Victoria Sponge, Coffee Gateaux, Carrot cake, you name it, I'm up for trying it. You might prefer to eat something else, and thats fine, just go out and do it. Preferably with a friend, so the two of you can laugh and giggle at how silly the world is on the outside, and spend some time together.
  • Retail Therapy - I'm not usually won over by shopping. However, I quite like going out to mooch around for half an hour in the stationary store to look at all the lovely notebooks, or I'll browse around the cosmetics counter for a new lipstick, and perhaps try a new perfume while I'm there. I'm sure the men reading this post can saunter around the motorbike shop, DIY store, or  their favourite football teams retail outlet.
  • Listen to music - Never underestimate the power of music. When slow rhythms are played our blood pressure and heartbeat slows down, and we breath more slowly. Music releases tension.

There you have it then - prioritise yourself for a change - to coin a phrase, 'because you re worth it!'

Come back afterwards and tell me what you did?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

L is for - Ludlow

At the beginning of March, I visited the town of Ludlow in Shropshire, my purpose  to meet up with three ladies I'd been regularly chatting with on Twitter. Blessed with glorious sunshine, I decided to take a wander with my camera before the meeting.

The first thing that struck me was the medieval town centre, and the many splendid buildings.  I'd checked a little of the history of Ludlow, and was surprised to discover that the town was purpose built as  a settlement after the building of the castle in 1086.

There are lots of independent shops, selling cheeses, meats, breads and other specialist products.  I noted food is taken very seriously in and around these parts, with the emphasis being on sourcing whatever they can locally. I'm a big fan of this idea, and try to adopt it in my own area.

The streets are narrow around the centre, and its much better to walk, as the roads are tricky to negotiate, due to the way they are laid out, and parking is restricted almost everywhere near to the shops.  Although, it is fair to say they do have a few reasonable car parks.

Time passes all too quickly as it does when you're enjoying yourself, and I realised, it was time to look for  the tea shop, and get to know my Twitter friends. There was much chatter and happy banter for the rest of the day, as well as lots of tea and cake!

There are no A to Z blog posts on Sunday, although I'll be posting my regular goal list tomorrow, and I'll be back with more A to Z posts on Monday. Have a good weekend.

Planning Your Time - How Hard Can it Be?

Blue Skies Over Tenby - Maria A Smith  Planning your time is often much harder than you ever dreamt or expected it to be, and if you do...