Getting Over a Document Crash

Word count: 5823 (I’m on holiday, okay?)

We’ve all been there. 500 words written since the last save, and suddenly – occasionally, when fate is feeling especially cruel, when you are reaching for the save button – the document just crashes, and in a flash, the hard work of the past hour is gone. In that moment, as you stare in disbelief at your screen, you come to the realisation that nothing that you now write will be as good as what you have just lost. But why?

The main thing that strikes me when I think about it is the nostalgia. You long for what is lost and will never be again, because that exact wording, those phrases, are now completely unreachable.

In fairness, there are occasions when it just does not flow as well as it did before. But more often than not, whatever you write is not as good because you strive to make it the same as it was before, clutching at straws from your memory and producing nothing but a weak imitation of what once was. The odd phrase that you do remember perfectly doesn’t fit with what you now write, but it’s from what you wrote before, which in your mind is so much better, so it has to be kept.

No matter how good your memory is, to you it will appear that you will not be able to write something as good as what you have lost. Granted, what you just lost may have been the passage that made you the next Austen, but what you must remember is that you wrote something that good once, therefore you can do it again. Just push what you had written before from your mind andlet your creativity flow once more, starting afresh – it’s the only thing you can do.

Literary Elitism

Word count: 5800

The other day I was standing behind the bar at work, polishing glasses, and a co-worker asked me the simple question, “Have you read anything good lately?”

I felt my mind race as I tried to think of what I had read in the previous few weeks, and came up with nothing. I said the same thing that I had said the last time: “I’ve been reading mainly trashy stuff!” followed by a nervous laugh. He proceeded to talk about Neil Gaiman books he’d read, and I talked about the stuff that I was planning on reading – the Illiad, Robinson Crusoe, books that somehow didn’t carry the same sense of shame as Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I found myself frustrated – why did I feel that certain books were more shameful to read than others?

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is an amazing book that explores key moral issues of assisted suicide and how far someone can have a say about their life – Will feels that his life is pointless and not worth living compared to the life he lived before his accident, despite everyone’s best attempts to convince him otherwise. Moyes also explores the issue of teenage pregnancy and it’s long lasting effects through Lou’s sister Treena, and class divides through the comparison of the Clarks and the Traynors. Despite this, I still felt ashamed to say that I had been reading it.

There is one clear reason why this is: the audience. Me Before You is marketed as a romantic novel, and the film that is being made of it – which has gained the book a lot of publicity – is also marketed as such. Romance is a typically female genre, resulting in the books of the genre being viewed, at least by myself, as lesser somehow.

It is the same, to an extent, with books that are marketed as “young adult”. A lot of young adult books that are being published at the moment have key themes relating to the problems within society – extreme class divisions in the Hunger Games, potential issues of our scientific advances within Divergent, issues presented in both examples of the power of government and censorship. But because they are books with primarily a young audience, they cannot be as good as “proper” adult books.

This issue can extend pass the audience of the books. There are some people that seem to believe that unless a book is a “classic”, it is not worth reading. The fault here, I believe, lies with the examination boards that set the same texts over and over again to analyse for GCSE and A Level: To Kill a Mockingbird, Dickens, Austen, A Clockwork Orange, Shakespeare, etc. It makes it seem that these are the only texts that are worth anything. This is one of the things that makes me glad that I did the International Baccalaureate – the set texts list is so much longer, giving the teachers so much more choice. We even analysed a graphic novel – Maus by Art Spiegelman – as part of our course. Open-mindedness is so important in literature, where greats are constantly being produced. We need to be taught to give every book an equal chance.

That is why, from now on, if someone asks me what book I am reading, I will respond with 100% honesty. There will be no stock “trash” answer, no awkward laugh and avoiding the question, because there is beauty and intrigue to be found in every book.

The Struggles of World Building

Word Count: 5712

There are many problems that writers face whilst writing their novels, but there is none so great to me as world building. When you’re creating your own world, there are no rules. Especially if you are building a world completely separate from this one that we live in, as I am attempting to. There is just so much to consider, and not one of the many sites offering well-intentioned advice and guidance ever seem to cover it all.

Of course, there are some amazing examples. Take J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, and surrounding stories that take place within that universe. It is so well beloved that people become obsessed with the detail of it, viewing it almost as a real world. Another great example is George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, with its intimate history of both the land and families, and interesting topographical map and meteorological patterns. I know these are two very famous examples, but they are so famous because they are so well planned and thought out.

On the other end of the scale, you have books like David Baldacci’s The Finisher, which quite frankly left me very frustrated upon completion. Baldacci’s attempted delve into fantasy writing makes it so abundantly clear how important it is to have your world thoroughly mapped out and making sense before you actually write the narrative – not that the narrative of that novel is anything special. He attempts to build a different world, but he changes too many things, making it just uncomfortable to read. For example, he changes the names of timings. Fair enough, people in an alternate universe would likely not have the exact same way of telling the time as us, but splitting their days differently to the way we do ours and expecting people to understand this with very little explanation is simply not the way one writes a functioning novel.

The most continuously successful fantasy novel is that set partially in our world. The examples are endless – the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, a lot of novels by Neil Gaiman, such as Stardust and Neverwhere, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia… the list goes on. The benefit of this format is that it allows common terms to the reader – such as, to quote the example from earlier, names for timings and measurements for timings – to be used in the novel, giving the story readability. But sometimes the benefits of this format are outweighed by the limitations it has. The writer has to find a way to tie their new world into the world of the novel, and for many plot lines, this is simply not feasible. Sadly, this is the case with what I am writing.

This has resulted, at least for me, in a serious issue: forced exposition. It is blatantly obvious when a writer is simply making something happen to expose something about the world or the characters within it. However, one of the issues with Baldacci’s The Finisher is that it provides no explanation, leaving the reader to attempt to figure out what is meant by each term themselves. There is certainly a balance to be found, and the fundamental problem that I am facing at this moment in time is discovering this balance. It takes dozens of re-reads and tiny tweaks, by myself and by my friends to try and plough through the bad to find any semblance of something good, but at the moment I’m just trying to get rough thoughts down on paper.

It is, however, not impossible, and therefore I shall persevere – it will just take me significantly longer than I thought to write this story!