Something that I found recently has really improved my writing. I shared the information with some writing buddies and discovered that they hadn’t known about it either, They were impressed and I was inundated with effusive thanks.
Now I’m sharing it with you. It may not apply to all systems until recently I used Apache Open Office and I don’t think it is there.
Then I switched to Microsoft Word and that’s where I found it. The Audio function. It is at the top left-hand corner of the page when you click over to tools. It says Read, Aloud Speech. For Mac users, there is a Speech function once you access System Preferences. I simply Googled that to find out.
Experimentally I tried it out. It has transformed my writing experience.
Many of you will have been told to read your work out loud to allow you to spot errors and awkward phrasing. It is still good advice. Audio is better though, as the robotic voice disassociates you from your writing. We all fall a little in love with our words
It is easy to read your own work and see what you expect to see. I had proofread a document twice without noticing that scared had been typed sacred, Quite a different meaning!
Listening enables you to hear if your words flow, or if there is a section that needs work. It might be a good use of this function to run your document through it before you send it to an editor.
I hit a rough patch with my writing this week, I’d rewritten and edited one piece so many times I felt like my ideas had dried up. My mind was empty. It was then that I remembered this saying and acted on it.
When your mind is going around in its own labyrinth it’s good to have a circuit breaker. and for me, the saying was what I needed.
Although I didn’t chop wood I did carry the chopped logs into the house. Then I planted up some hanging baskets with violas and watered them in.
It amused me to do as the saying suggested, mundane tasks keeping me grounded in my body and out of my own mind.
The knotty problem was far from my mind as I immersed my hands in water to wash the dinner dishes. It was then that a glimmer of an idea popped into my head. Not a fully fledged idea, just a fragment, but enough to get me excited about my writing again.
Do you need mess to be creative? Is a tidy mind an uncreative one?
It’s a bit like the old writer’s division between those who plot meticulously, ’plotters’ And those who write as it comes, by the seat of their pants, called ’pantsers.’
Most writers fall into one or the other of those categories. Most plotter s squirm at the thought of not having a plan. While more pantsers claim a plan would stifle their creativity.
Equally, I think most people naturally fall into one of two camps on the tidiness and clutter front.
Confession time I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder, old photos, certificates, special clothes, books, so many books, and more prosaic items like pens, and notebooks and glass jars.
Recently I read a book* which not only explored how to deal with your clutter but also what your clutter meant to you. What was your clutter trying to tell you?
One of the insights which shook me was that clutter was not just physical the stuff that you can see, but also mental. Mind clutter includes those random thoughts, of fear, procrastination and even thinking about your clutter.
Delving deeper the reasons for our hoarding make more sense. Those things from the past, the old photos, certificates, or yearbooks They all speak of past achievements and reflect our fears that we won’t achieve more.
Old clothes, some are precious memories, no one is suggesting you get rid of your wedding dress! But others may make you feel bad when you look at how slim you were way back then. We are past the era of make do and mend you know you won’t ever wear them again, but they are taking up mental as well as physical space.
Then there are the clothes that you bought that you have never worn, because you bought on a whim, maybe they are aspirational clothes for a life you don’t lead. They too are clutter, no matter how much they cost.
Paperwork, I am sure that it multiplies in dark corners and for a writer, paperwork can easily accumulate. As I speak I have three shelves filled with random paperwork. Some I know are notes from workshops I attended. Others are multiple hard copies of stories that I have re-drafted or edited. Just looking at it overwhelms me. I know why I don’t want to clear it what if I discard a gem? What if there is a brilliant idea there and I trash it?
But I have no idea what is there and if I need anything I spend ages trying to find it. So, there it is, this month I am making a commitment to tackle my paper mountain, one shelf at a time. Shred, file or simply toss.
Your turn now what does your clutter mean to you? Safety blanket, comfort, mess?
Disclaimer I do not know the author, I have not been paid to endorse the book it is simply my opinion.
*Note the book that I read that made a lot of sense was What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You by Kerri L Richardson.
The key to my heart is a good book and in May I read quite a few books. One really touched me, while others entertained me. This month there is a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Whoever it was who said ‘life is too short to read bad books’ I agree with them. I may pick up a book, read a bit and decide it is not for me. I won’t post a lousy review because it didn’t suit me, I will simply stop reading and not mention that book.
Hubble Bubble by Joan Lovering.
A bright and breezy romance with plenty of humour and sprinkling of magic thrown in. When Holly and the other women cast a spell, she specifies she wants ‘excitement.’ She gets that in spades and a couple of hunky men too. Although all are surprised with the results of spell casting, it seems they have effected change and their wishes are coming true.
The Memories That Make Us by Vanessa Carnevale
I was impressed by how much Vanessa Carnevale has developed as a writer since her previous book The Florentine Bridge. The concept of memories making us who we are resonated with me as I struggle with the emotional cost of my close friend’s death. Gracie and Flynn are a relatable couple as she fights to regain her memory. The idea that flowers played a significant part in her recovery seems plausible. Wasn’t it Kipling who wrote’ scent is surer than sight or sound to make the heartstrings crack’? Well written, nicely plotted and well worth a read!
The Sweethearts by Lynn Russell & Neil Hanson
The story of the women and girls who worked at the Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York., United Kingdom, A social history which explores the lives of ordinary women who worked for the giant Rowntree company. It tells how although the work was hard and often physically demanding, the women generally appreciated the time away from husbands and home.
The company seems like a paternalistic employer, who valued a strong work ethic but one with a social conscience. The company provided hot meals, a library, sports facilities, convalescent places and continuing education and even a company pension.
Women’s lives between the wars were incredibly hard and they lived and worked in challenging conditions, bad housing, large families, and before the National Health Service the fear of sickness and injury. The book introduces various women and tells their individual stories
Rowntree’s was York’s largest employer and was well-regarded until it was taken over first by Mackintosh and then later by Nestle. The Quaker care values that saw retired employees being sent a Christmas card and ten-pound voucher to buy chocolate misshapen chocolates was discontinued. Staff was replaced by machines and eventually, even the Rowntree’s name was gone.
Keep The Home Fires Burning by Simon Block
The book starts where the top rating and much-missed television series left off. Even a petition was unable to get it recommissioned. For all of us who enjoyed the series, the book is the next best thing,. We’ve known and loved the characters so we are invested in knowing what happens to them. Set in the Cheshire village of Great Paxford during
Will Campbell the doctor is battling cancer while Erica his pharmacist wife and their daughters all concerned about him. Frances Barden is trying to find her way with Noah, the son of her dead husband and his mistress. Sarah the vicar’s wife is still waiting to hear news of her husband Adam who is a prisoner of war. Theresa the teacher is working hard to make a success of her marriage to squadron leader Nick. Alison is alone apart from Boris her dog, still ashamed at her part in the Barden factory closure. She misses the company of Theresa. Steph and Little Stan are keeping the farm going. Downtrodden Pat is still enduring her marriage to Bob and wondering where Czech officer Marak is. As problems are solved new ones emerge and once again we are left with a cliffhanger ending and waiting for the next book in the series.
Overall, I enjoyed the chance to revisit Great Paxton and I will certainly order the next book. I did, however, have two minor quibbles. Joyce Cameron has become less acerbic and more gullible I was surprised by the use of the word ‘loo’ as I would have thought lavatory, toilet or WC would all have been in more common usage. I checked and the first mention of the word loo was in 1940 by Nancy Mitford according to Oxford Dictionary.
The Paris Seamstress By Natasha Lester
This is the book that made my month, and days after reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
It’s a few days since I finished reading The Paris Seamstress. I enjoyed it so much and I didn’t want to simply write a review filled with superlatives. I relish dual timeline stories if they are well written and this was. Spanning from 1940 France with Estella Bissette, the Parisienne seamstress of the title to 2015 and her granddaughter Fabienne Bissette in Australia, the story crosses decades and continents. It explores family secrets, war, spies, love and loss, madness, revenge, fashion, and relationships. Natasha Lester’s research makes the story impressively believable as real places and people interact with her fictional characters. The story moves seamlessly from past to present and keeps interest and tension throughout. Some of the real characters in the story are so much larger than life, that were they simply fictional creations they would not be believed. Informative and entertaining The Paris Seamstress is Natasha Lester ‘s best book so far.
The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson
I enjoyed this rural romance, which I picked up prior to the author giving a talk at our local library. Unfortunately, my plans changed and I was unable to attend the talk. Its set in the wheat fields of Western Australia, the author captures the locale and characters well. The subtitle asks ‘How far would you go for a second chance? ‘Both Cate and Henry have secrets they’d prefer not to share, but they are drawn together as they are both close to Ida Cate’s great-aunt. The story had enough complexity to keep me interested.
Close Up by Kate Forster
Subtitled ‘In Hollywood, the drama isn’t always on screen’ this book reminded me of a Jackie Collins Hollywood book. The parallel storyline has two young women trying their luck in Hollywood to escape their loveless pasts. This is contrasted with the lives of Zoe Greene a successful agent to the stars and Maggie Hall an actress whip has been in Hollywood long enough to know how it works. Dylan Mercer a young runaway on a personal quest adds to the mix. I also had fun deciding if any of the ‘star characters were based on real movie stars. The characters and their problem are relatable and I found it an enjoyable read.
What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You by Kerri L. Richardson
‘Uncover the message in your mess and reclaim your life’
As a confirmed packrat- I know I have a problem. Maybe its a natural inclination or maybe it was growing up with parents who saved string, rubber bands, paper bags, jam jars etc. My house is full of stuff. As a writer words are my resource but my office is filled with paper clutter which I might need ‘someday’.
Through its eight chapter, the book explores our clutter problem is clutter ‘monster or messenger’? Chapter two talks about resistance to dealing with clutter( guilty!) then what’ if your clutter could talk?’
‘Common causes of clutter’ are explored in chapter four, while in five the question is asked ‘is your clutter a handy distraction?’ The book offers practical solutions, and suggestions as well as handy quizzes to discover what your clutter is trying to tell you. The book is a definite call to action – the question now is am I motivate enough to act?
The Right Girl by Ellie O’Neill
The book defied my expectations of a light read with a love story. Yes, there is a love story, with an appealing heroine and couple of suitable ‘ men. Is she the Right Girl for the Wrong Man?
The book also points to a dystopian future. A future that is inexorably .sucking everyone in. It’s a life where your power to choose for yourself is slowly being taken over by the App that is supposed to make your life function smoothly. An App that with its constant usage that erodes your confidence in your own ability to make informed choices.
This is a cautionary tale of a future, that many of us are sleepwalking towards. Will it strike a chord, who knows? It certainly gave me pause for thought.
The Librarian By Salley Vickers
The title appealed to me, I tend to enjoy books about books and reading and this was no exception. It began almost like a children’s’ story as Sylvia Blackwell sets out to make a success of her new job as Children’s librarian in fictional East Mole, Wiltshire, Young and idealistic she want to inspire a love of reading while escaping the confines of her own life.
The era (1958) is well conveyed, with its social niceties and class consciousness. At first, her attempts to encourage children into the library are welcomed and she enjoys a modest success. But then the suspicion of a scandal hovers over her and her own integrity is called into question. The Librarian explores the beginnings of social change, and the power of books, and the importance of libraries, especially for those who cannot afford to buy books.
While reading it so many of my own old favourite books were mentioned. I appreciated the comprehensive book list at the back of the book which reconnected me with other books I had either forgotten or had never read.
The end papers of the book are a design from the Victoria and Albert Museum and add to the feeling that is a book from a bygone era when books were beautiful.
At the beginning of the year, a friend of mine told me she had agreed to collaborate with a male published author on his current book They were acquaintances and he said he was having difficulty with his storyline. They’d hit it off and it seemed like a great opportunity
Then I was slightly envious, but wished her well and said, ‘let me know how it goes.’ I could see the benefits, she was working with a published author, one who knew the ropes and had several books published. She would gain a co-author credit and a chance to get her name known.
Last week she told me the deal had turned sour for her. He was now changing the characters that she had created and dismissing her input. From what she said her contribution was roughly half of the book, but he was claiming the credit for it all.
Their combined story was a detective novel -the villain and his family were her ideas, as were the victims. He wrote the detective. She now says he has taken her work and is claiming that she gave it to him. She also said that she had emails from him acknowledging her input.
I asked for opinions from a writer’s forum that I belong to and it turned out that her experience was not uncommon.
The advice was if you do collaborate – have a contract drawn up specifying what each person will contribute and how that work will be recognised. Who is responsible for which part of the book, its promotion, marketing etc.
They didn’t say but I would think that even if you are working with a friend it wouldn’t hurt to draw up an agreement between you. After all, friends have been known to fall out.It need not be too formal, even an email agreeing who will do what might be sufficient.
Disclaimer – I am not a lawyer, I am simply expressing what I think is a common sense view. If you have any doubts you should consult a writers’ organisation or a lawyer familiar with creative contracts.
“An unread story is not a story, it’s little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it makes it live, a live thing, a story.” Ursula K Le Guin
We writers need readers, as fish need water. Without our readers, there is no story, and no use for the storytellers. We are the weavers of dreams, conjuring up reality out of thin air, for their amusement and pleasure.
But before we were writers, we were readers. Who knows the pleasures of the written word better than a writer? Most writers have long been enamoured of books. There is an old saying “a word is dead until its said”’ This applies even more so to our writing, completing a piece of writing is only half its story.
We need the reader to breathe life into those pages, with their own imagination. A hundred people can read a book, and all have their own impressions of it. Books are not static things, they are where readers and writers combine in imagination and interpretation.
Your favourite fictional character may differ markedly from how someone else imagines them. And they may not be how the author imagined them, either. It does not matter, we each project our own experiences into the fictional world and create a story that is uniquely ours.
In this, books differ from a film, or TV, where every scene is shown to us. Watching them, we are more passive consumers. We allow the story to play out in front of us. It can also be why a film of a book can be disappointing, the director’s interpretation does not gel with what you, as a reader has imagined,
We may be quietly reading a book or a story, but we are active consumers, engaging with those words to create another reality. We have devoted our time to something that in one sense is not there, but in another lives vividly on the page.
Words have power, to heal, to hurt, to challenge, to change. While if never read, then the words have no power at all.
As a writer I want to say’ Thank you’ to the readers, those passionate enough about books to choose to buy books, to talk about books and to read books. I say thank you to all those authors whose words have delighted me and continue to do so. You have entertained .me, scared me or enthralled me. I say a huge thank you to librarians for fostering a love of reading, organising author talks and helping to keep the book alive.
It was George R.R. Martin who said, ‘a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” I find this slightly ironic as most readers are women, but I can’t fault the sentiment. An escape into a different world, or a different place or time is as near as your next book.