Unfinished projects

I find it impossible to stick to one project with all the ideas floating around in my mind.  As soon as I get them out I want to start work on them, even though I have a thousand other things to do (creative or otherwise).  I have a bank of unfinished stories, rough draft poems and half-formed ideas, and only a small handful of completed works.

Maybe if I finished something I would have to let someone read it…


Finishing off…

The teacher said:
Come here, Malcolm!
Look at the state of your book.
Stories and pictures unfinished
Wherever I look.

This model you started at Easter,
These plaster casts of your feet,
That graph of the local traffic –
All of them incomplete.

You’ve a half-baked pot in the kiln room,
And a half-eaten cake in your drawer.
You don’t even finish the jokes you tell –
I really can’t take anymore.

And Malcolm said
… very little.
He blinked and shuffled his feet.
The sentence he finally started
Remained incomplete.

He gazed for a time at the floorboards;
He stared for a while into space;
With an unlined, unwhiskered expression
On his unfinished face.

Allan Ahlberg Heard it in the Playground 1991

REALLY good ways to REALLY make your writing REALLY good…

5 Ways to Deal With Word RepetitionIMG-20130504-00229

Ben Yagoda, author of How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them.

1351538829d58e341. Develop Your Ear

I believe “word rep.” is the comment I write most frequently on student papers. That’s because word repetition is a telltale-maybe the telltale-sign of awkward, non-mindful writing, whether by students or anyone else. The writer has presumably gotten the pertinent information onto the screen, but has not taken the time to read the sentence to herself, silently or out loud. If she did, that word rep. would sound like fingernails on the blackboard. Consequently, “listening” to your sentences with the sensitivity to pick up word repetition is a strong first step to grappling with the problem. (There are a lot of other benefits to reading your stuff out loud-in fact, it’s my number-one writing tip.)

2. Choose Your Battles

There are some nuances to my unified theory of word repetition, which boil down to: the more common the word, the more leeway you have in repeating it, and vice versa.
In the previous sentence, I repeated “to,” “word,” “more,” and “the” (twice, for a total of three times). That is not ideal, but it’s okay; readers are not likely to notice. On the other hand, I know I would have to wait at least a few more pages (if this were a multi-page article) before reusing the expressions “vice versa” and “boils down to.” Words like “repetition” and “common” would be somewhere in between. No matter how long the article is, I would not be able to able to use the notion of “unified theory” again.

3. The Pronoun Is Your Friend

I once had a student submit something very close to the following in an assignment: “Johnson is the youngest representative in the legislature.  When he was twenty-three, Johnson defeated the Republican incumbent.”
For some reason, a lot of people tend to needlessly repeat proper names, forgetting that they have at their disposal the very useful pronouns “he” and “she.” They have the added value of being in the category of common words, mentioned above, that can be repeated with near impunity. So the passage above could become:
“Johnson is the youngest representative in the legislature. At the age of twenty-three, he defeated the Republican incumbent.”

4. Just Say No to Elegant Variation

H.W. Fowler, author of the great early twentieth-century book Modern English Usage, coined the term “elegant variation” (which I’ll call EV) to refer a synonym, near synonym, or invented synonym used for the express purpose of avoiding word repetition. In Fowler’s view, and mine, elegant variation is not a good thing. Your efforts to avoid repetition are too clumsy and obvious. Take a look at two examples (EV in parenthesis):

“Hartnell read the newspaper. When he was finished with (the periodical), he got up and went outside.”

“Spence hit a home run in the second inning, his fifth (circuit clout) of the campaign.”

In both cases, as is often true, the simplest solution is just to take out the EV (along with the word “with” in the first example).  Incidentally, perceptive readers may have noticed that the second passage contains another EV: “the campaign.” Mediocre sportswriters are elegant variers to the bone, and they will reflexively seek to avid a common word, even if they haven’t used it yet! However, “season” is better than “campaign.”

5. Make Word Rep. Work for You

Let’s go back to something I wrote earlier:

“The more common the word, the more leeway you have in repeating it.” The repetition of “more” is okay and maybe even good—not only because it’s a common word, but because the repetition is deliberate, and helps create a strong rhythm. (The same is true of “because” and “repetition” in the sentence I just wrote.)

The key is using repetition deliberately, consciously, and strategically. If you don’t think it can be effective, imagine if Shakespeare had had Macbeth say: “Tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that, creeps in this petty pace from one twenty-four-hour period to another.”

I Bought a Kindle (Part two)

KS-slate-05-lg._V389394900_I bought a Kindle with my birthday money in June and wrote a first impression review of it here.

Now that it’s almost Christmas, it’s a good time to present my follow-up review:


It’s small and light, meaning you can take it anywhere.  I went on holiday this summer and my kindle fit in my jacket pocket.  I travel light so I usually only have hand luggage and whatever I can fit in my pocket, so this was perfect.

You can carry hundreds of titles.  Again I found this handy going on holiday.  I don’t read that much on holiday.  I don’t do relaxing holidays; I want to come home exhausted! But I do usually take at least two books.  I read at the airport, on the plane and before I go to sleep.  I take two because I might finish one, or I might not enjoy one.  This year I also took a train to a small town called Halden on the Swedish/Norwegian border, about 90 minutes from where I was staying so by the time I got on my home flight I was on my second book.  The book I had been reading on the train was a bit heavy for bedtime reading so chose another.  That’s a big benefit!

You can purchase new titles instantly.  See a title you want on Amazon, buy it and it’s on your Kindle before you can blink.

You don’t have to use bookmarks (or fold the corner of the page, as I do *naughty*) as the Kindle goes back to the last page you were reading.  Even if you read something else on the Kindle, each time you go to any of the books you have it will remember where you left it.

On most books you can skip to the next chapter – great for text books or short stories.

You can change the font size to suit you.

You can make notes and highlights (I do this on paper books but I know some people are loath to do that to a book.  See here.) Whenever you underline or make a note, the Kindle saves it in ‘clippings’.

No paper = saving trees.


Books don’t have to have their battery recharged; Kindle does.  BUT it does use the same charger as a standard camera charger so on holiday you don’t have to take lots of leads and plugs with you.

It doesn’t feel like a book.  It’s not just the stories we love.  Books themselves are works of art, to hold and feel and smell!


I read recently that it’s no good for special characters particularly for maths, science engineering etc.   I have read a couple of pages from a Swedish book but it did not seem to have this problem.  ø was not represented as o for example.

You can get pictures, but on most versions only in black and white.  You can also get travel guides for the Kindle, complete with map.  Again, very handy when on holiday.

You can get samples.  If you are not sure of you want to buy a book in a book shop, or check out a book from the library, you read a few pages first. Well you can do that free on the Kindle too!

You can read something trashy and no-one will know! But if you are reading something which would make you look super intelligent, no one can see you reading it because it’s hidden in a custom kindle cover!

and the words come pouring out…

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do people who like to write, develop ideas, or get them started? There’s the obvious keeping a notebook, (or phone, Ipad, dictaphone; whatever you prefer).   Sometimes just sitting at a computer and writing whatever comes out is a great technique.  Other times it might be better to plan what to write before writing it.  There are also writing prompts and websites that push you into writing using various techniques.

I am a pen and paper girl, as regular readers of my blog will know, so I like jotting my ideas down on a blank sheet  first.  But even better than that is a white-board.  A plain simple white-board.

I have a white-board in my home which I have always used for planning essays and writing lists among other things.  I find it’s a great help for mind-mapping because it’s so big and I can rub out, draw arrows, use different coloured pens for different categories etc.

I start by writing down ideas and before I know it more and more ideas just came from nowhere.  It is as if I have a magic white-board!


Finding Time to Read – Part Two

A while a go I wrote a post about reading too many books at the same time.   This read-one-book-at-a-time project was to finish the books sooner, as well as allowing myself to become fully engrossed in one book.  It seems to make more sense but it’s not working for me.

Today I bought a new book for the kindle and even though I was already reading one I couldn’t not start my new one.  I’m also reading one physical book in bed and a different one for downstairs – the very thing I didn’t want to do.  Working in a library doesn’t help because I’ll see something interesting on the shelves, and that will be my lunchtime reading instead of the book I brought in to read.  Thank goodness I’m on annual leave right now or I’d also be reading the Patrick Ness book I recently purchased for the Junior Fiction collection!

Project result: Epic failure.

I bought a Kindle!! (Part one)

How will this affect my reading habits?  Will I read more? Less? Will I go back to reading more than one book at a time

I wanted a Kindle so I can have it with me at all times as it’s quite small and light.  It’s great for going on holiday as I would usually take two  or three books with me.  When I’m on holiday I spend so much time walking around, taking in the sights, observing the different culture around me that I don’t spend a lot of time reading.  I’m not a ‘beachy’  type, and I don’t go to resorts so I don’t spend my holiday reading by the the pool.  Most of my holiday reading is done at the airport and on the plane, with perhaps a chapter of pre-bed reading in the hotel room.  Even so, I do need at least two books.  With all that waiting in the airport, the flight itself, and sometimes changing flights in the middle, I could finish one book before I even enter my holiday destination.  My second book might not be to my taste after all, so I need a back-up holiday read.   Of course, I can buy a book when I’m on holiday, and donate the book I took with me, to the nearest library.

But then there’s the travel guide.  You can get those on the kindle too!  Very handy.

Another great thing about the Kindle (great for me, the reader; not so good for publishers and book sellers – two sides to every coin 😦 ) is that a lot of classics are free, or very cheap.  I used to read classics a lot, and even though there are so many good modern books out there; it’s good to go back to the likes of Brontë and Dickens once in a while.

You can also download samples to your Kindle for free.  This is just like reading a few pages of a book in a bookshop before deciding if you want to buy it.  Amazon will send you the first part to read, then if you like it you can pay for the rest.

With so many titles by my side at any one time, it might be hard for me to stick with just one at a time.  But if I do flick between two or more, at least that’s my choice and not because I’ve accidentally left my book behind so I have to start another one!

I am enjoying the novelty of reading on an e-reader at the moment, but I’m not going to stop reading print books.  For a start, I work in a library where interesting books are constantly grabbing my attention when I’m just doing my job. I’m not going to stop borrowing these just because I can read them on the Kindle now.

First impression – Love it!  But I intend to do another write up once I’ve had more time with it, in order to weigh up the pros and cons. 😉

What do you think about Kindles or e-readers in general?  Tell me…

Getting Organized. Day 21. Phase two.

Yesterday I found a little note book full of short stories I wrote a few years ago.

The day before I found ten purple document wallets in a box, each with a label such as; “poetry”,” notes for ‘Berthe’ story”, “notes for ‘Garden’ short story”… etc. Each contained handwritten notes on paper, backs of envelopes, space on leaflets; anything I could get my hands on, I guess.  (I was more prolific in my late teens and early twenties than I realized!)  This was obviously an earlier attempt to get organized which I boxed up and abandoned.

It was not a bad idea though.  My current plan of typing everything up and organizing into folders on my new USB stick is still working, but it means spending more time cataloging  and sorting old material than working on completing something.  By sorting my handwritten notes into clearly labelled purple document wallets first, it means I can type up all the notes from one project at a time, thus allowing me to finish something, and stay on top of my ‘getting organized’ project.

There were a few short stories in my small notebook, most of them completed in a rough draft.  I picked one and typed it up yesterday and made a few changes.  It just needs a few more re-writes before I’ll be happy with it, but it’s well on its way to being a finished story.  Finally.

Finding Time to Read

Like lots of people, I’ve always got a book on the go. But my problem is that I always seem to read several books at the same time. This is very disruptive to each story and it can get confusing. The most confusing time was when I was reading Dracula on my lunch breaks in work and The Historian at home (also about Dracula). Reading a book just on lunch breaks during the week means it takes a long time to finish. If it starts getting un-put-down-able I will take it home; which then puts my ‘at home’ book on hold.

Why don’t I just read one book and take it the work with me? I think the reason goes back to the days when I didn’t have a car. I enjoy walking so rather than take a bus I walked to work, so the less I had to carry, the better. That’s why my locker in work was stocked up with food and books to save me carrying them every day. Good plan – then. Now I drive to work but my reading habits remain the same (thankfully my eating habits have improved!). In fact my reading habit has become worse. I now have a ‘car book’: A book that lives in the car for when the person I’m picking up from work (boyfriend) isn’t ready and I’m waiting in the car. I sometimes have two books for home; a heavy reading for downstairs when I’m alert and my brain is working, and a lighter one for reading in bed. I can add yet more to this. If I’m going on a long coach journey by myself I take an audio book (for planes and trains I prefer to read a print copy). That’s potentially four books at any one time. It’s no wonder it takes me an age to finish reading any one book.

This has to stop, hasn’t it?

So today I took my bedtime book to work (sorry H.G. Wells, you’ll have to wait). And I will also read this books if I’m reading downstairs (sorry too, Emotional Intelligence, you will have to wait for a weekend when I can give you more attention). James Thurber I will keep in my car for now. There will for certain be times where I will be stuck in my car waiting for boyfriend to call it a day and let me drive him home. I’ll probably have my reading book with me – that’s the plan. But if for some reason I don’t, Thurber’s hilarious short stories are short enough to keep me occupied until my car can start moving.

The first time I tried to become the type of person that carries the same book with me, it didn’t work out too well. I started with Slaughter-house 5 because it was small enough to carry in my bag. For that fact alone Slaughter-house 5 became my ‘bag book’ – a book only to be read when I find myself without my regular book, as this book will always be with me (as long as I have my bag!).  But this time it will work.  What can possibly go wrong?  Watch this space…

Getting Organized day 10

For over a week I have been transferring files and typing up notes, a little each day.  I am still a long way away from finishing.  I am sticking to the plan by typing up any notes I made earlier that day, before moving on to attempting those long forgotten notes that amount to years and years of writing.  I have emailed myself most of the work that I’d done on my phone and tranferred that onto my stick.  The  top drawer of my bedside table is full of notes I wrote just before going to sleep, or first thing after waking up (usually detailing a strange dream).  I have typed up about half of these now, but I know there is still a bag that is stuffed with paper with ideas from years ago that I still want to develop.  Not to mention the locked metal box on top  my wardrobe, and an envelope in another drawer, and forgotten bits of paper in handbags and coat pockets.   This is going to be one long job, but I’m looking forward to the day all my writing is together so I can work on completing something. Once that happens all this will be worth it. 😉