Tag Archives: writing process

Little Pig’s Book of Why

This is a kind of companion piece to Responsibility that a I wrote a few months ago. It’s still a work-in-progress but I thought I’d share.

Little Pig,
Wanted to know,
Why the sun makes us hot,
And the cold makes it snow.

Little Pig,
Wanted to know,
Why we start off small,
But then grow.

Little Pig,
Was full of questions,
About the world around her.

Little Pig,
Staring in to space,
And that’s how her brother found her.

“Little Pig,”
He oinked at her,
“Why do you spend so much time alone.”

Little Pig,
Barely noticed,
She was wondering why they called this place home.

Her brother,
Was infuriated,
To him it was clear to see,

That things,
Were just the way they were,
And that’s how they’re meant to be.

Her brother,
Knew that the snow came,
When the pig angel blew his nose.

Her brother,
Knew that piglet babies were found,
In knapsacks brought by the crows.

Little Pig,
Couldn’t take any more,
There had to be a way out.

Little Pig,
Wanted to roar,
Instead of squealing from her snout.

Little Pig,
Watched the angry farmer,
And his sweet and cuddly wife.

Little Pig,
Began to question,
How this could help to improve her life.

The more,
She nuzzled up to the wife,
The more she was stroked and held.

The more,
Her brother rolled around in the mud,
The more the wife was repelled.

One day,
A truck came to the farm,
To take the piggies away.

But the farmer’s wife,
Was having none of that,
She wanted Little Pig to stay.

One day,
Is all it takes,
To find your new beginning,

To be as happy,
As a pig in shit,
Or served with apple sauce and all the trimmings.

Advice on writing a 2nd draft?

In about a week’s time, I will print out the full first draft of my novel. My red pen will at the ready.

But then what?

Having not seen the first half of the novel for months, I’d like to read the entire thing straight through (as a reader would do) to get a feel for the full flow and rhythm of the story. But I’m also going to want to note down any clear changes that are required as I go along.

Maybe I can just underline or asterisk every amend that I spot – and then come back to make detailed notes later.

Or perhaps I should make proper notes as I go along as it’s important to capture my thoughts immediately. After all, I’m never going to be able to replicate that first read through.

So, my fellow writers… aspiring or pubished… I’ll take any advice you’ve got to chuck at me. Bring it on…

Mission: First Draft. Complete.

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“Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.”

Nicholas Sparks

Joy, relief, apprehension, excitement, yadda yadda yadda.

It may have taken a little longer than anticipated but Draft One is complete. You can’t see me but I’m lying on my sofa having just done a little celebratory dance (picture this: flailing arms, lanky legs pumping, shoulders jiggling. I always stay classy).

Written by hand, in pen, on paper – and transferred to my computer every 30 or 40 pages. Written in a form of free verse that I believe in 100% but still doubt my ability to pull off. But most importantly, written.

I once wrote a post in which my main words of wisdom were: ‘If you want to be a writer then write.’ That’s advice worth following – but recently I’ve struggled. As I got close to the end of my first draft, I started looking for a new job, then I got a job, and it’s a busy job, and my focus shifted, and I wanted to write but I didn’t write, and I didn’t blog, and then I said to myself ‘If I want to be a writer then I need to write’, so I wrote, and now I’ve finished my first draft, and it feels good.

But there are no laurels to rest on. I’m already looking forward to the second draft – to the re-writing. And trust me, it’s going to need some serious re-writing!

For now I’ve put the manuscript away. It’ll stay locked up for 3 or 4 weeks…. ready to be looked at with fresh eyes. I can’t even remember the last time I saw the first page so at the moment I’m mostly just hoping it isn’t completely shit.

And in the meantime I have two other projects that I want to devote some time to – so they’ll be getting some love and attention.

Just time to reminisce with a pointer back to my first ever blog post, which was an early excerpt from the novel.

Now, for one more arm flailing dance…

Morning after/Night before (another excerpt from my first draft)

Cold, dry air,
On hot, damp skin,
Mingled smells,
Of cigarettes and gin,
Clothes fighting,
Against being removed,
Two bodies,
Writhing and pressed,
And drunk and unrepressed,
Eros unmoved.
The morning after,
No romance,
Stilted conversation,
Awkward glance,
Hurried dressing,
Dried sweat smell,
Sheepish goodbyes,
Just as well.

Stuff that inspires me: #2 Murmur by R.E.M.

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Everything is open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of things. There’s no right way or wrong way; we take what we can from what we experience. This series of posts is about the stuff that inspires me. I’m not trying to convince you – I’m just brain-dumping some fanboy love on to the page. Not everyone will agree. That’s ok.

This is one from back in the day – but it’s the ones that stick with you that can have the biggest impact. First off, try to put aside any preconceptions (misconceptions) you may have about R.E.M. This was their debut album back in 1983 and a record I first heard many years ago but after the band had reached global mammoth-ness with Losing My Religion.

The reason it’s so important to me isn’t just that I love the music and that it hit me at an important time of life – I also love what it represents. This is a true indie album. Produced by I.R.S. Records in Atlanta, Georgia, I think it stands up against any of the great indie debuts and, as the music scene has evolved in the last 30 years, I actually think it may have gained even greater recognition if it was released today instead of back in the 80s.

That’s not say that it was ignored at the time – released in the same year as Thriller and U2’s ‘War’, Rolling Stone Magazine still nominated it as their record of the year, which was pretty unusual for such a ‘small time’ release.

The band members were all around 20 years old. They lived, worked and studied in Athens and, like a lot of kids, all wanted to be in a rock band. But great musicians? Not really. Lead guitarist, Peter Buck, was such a novice that on many of the tracks Mike Mills actually plays ‘lead bass’ to make up for it. Buck learnt to play once he was in the band, not the other way round.

And Michael Stipes’ distinctive vocals that are intelligible, save for the odd recognisable phrase… was he intentionally distorting his voice? It seems as if he’s too shy to let his words ring clear and true: at this stage he’s the opposite of a confident, brash frontman. In the words of Mitch Easter, the producer:

“We put him in in front of a microphone and that was the sound he made.”

However, what they were saying was less important than how they said it. They had a raw urgency and edge that I don’t think they ever reproduced and I think few bands have achieved, while turning out such great songs too. Just like looking at a painting that you don’t entirely understand but that speaks deeply to you nonetheless, Murmur gets you on a subconscious level and doesn’t let go. Even 30 years later.

The merest hint of snow (another excerpt from my 1st draft)

Overnight,
The temperature dropped,
Wafting the merest hint of snow,
Through the air,
Like dandelion seeds,
Gently blown,
Then blown away,
To make you wonder if they were ever there.

The loneliness of being a writer

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“What the budding artist needs is the privilege of wrestling with problems in solitude.”

– Henry Miller

A writer’s world can be a strange one: we desperately try to find moments of solitude but then, when we get it, often struggle to adapt to the loneliness.

The truth is that writing can be a lonely old business. It usually needs to be. And different people cope with that in different ways. What’s important is that we choose and embrace this solitude rather than feeling powerlessly cut adrift. I guess that’s the difference between solitude and loneliness.

I actually like the solitary nature of writing – but I’ve found that I’ve been at my most productive on writing retreats, where I’m surrounded by other writers. In it’s own way, this is still isolation: in a house in the middle of nowhere, with no distractions and nothing to do except write from morning till night. It’s inspiring to feel the energy coming from the other writers in the group – that was the additional motivation I needed – but I still had to find my own bubble to write in.

There’s also the ‘no-one else understands’ loneliness. Oh yeah. If you stick your head out the window right now you’ll be able to hear that wail from a thousand heads looking up from a thousand keyboards.

And it is true. It’s highly unlikely that anyone else (except other writers) will understand exactly what it is you go through every time you sit down in front of a blank piece of paper, knowing that you’re embarking on a process that will take months, if not years, to complete. Not only won’t anyone understand why you do what you do – but they may not understand what you end up writing either!


It’s not so easy to fit all this in to our day-to-day lives. We crave the moments we manage to find for ourselves: after work, before work, at weekends, when the kids are out, on that weekend away, on the train. And it’s never enough. But then we make the time and guess what?

1. We procrastinate

There’s always that friend you meant to email, the youtube clip you meant to watch, the washing-up left in the kitchen sink, that thing you had to do that you’ve been meaning to do and you should probably at least look in to how you go about starting to do it.

If only someone would ring on the doorbell, you’d invite them in for tea and cake.

And sure, you want to build up a social media profile, to update your blog regularly, to make contacts… but if you haven’t made peace with the solitude and put the time in to your writing then the other stuff is all for diddly squat (is that even a phrase or did I just make it up?).

Seriously, just ‘suck it up and get on with it’. If you want to be a writer then write.

I guess this is now a tough love post!

2. The pressure, the pressure!

We’ve found the time and the space to sit with our pen and paper or at our keyboard… but what if the words won’t come? What if everything I write is shit? It’s making me crazy!

You know what? Seriously, just ‘suck it up and get on with it’. If you want to be a writer then write.

Ok, I know I’m being harsh. There are plenty of techniques and exercises to help get the words flowing – I’ve suggested and discussed a lot of them since I’ve started blogging. But being a writer is tough, no matter how much we love doing it or how much we feel that we have a story that needs telling. We need to learn to make friends with solitude and be hard on ourselves. Think of it as a privilege to do what you’re doing, not a chore, no matter whether your friends or family understand. For me, it’s all about being continually surprised and excited by what I’m writing… and if I can stay in that place then I’m a happy man.

(Photo by me)

(One day I’ll learn how to write a structured article)

Stuff that inspires me: #1 Paul Thomas Anderson

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Everything is open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of things. There’s no right way or wrong way; we take what we can from what we experience. This series of posts is about the stuff that inspires me. I’m not trying to convince you – I’m just brain-dumping some fanboy love on to the page. Not everyone will agree. That’s ok.

For me, Paul Thomas Anderson is a writer/director who is absolutely dedicated to film-making as art. That doesn’t mean that he makes pretentious, inaccessible films (well, not to me) but, in a world in which movies have too often become disposable, brainless and fit for the lowest common denominator, Anderson produces work that strives for greatness. I love the scale of his ambition and that he paints on huge canvasses – although he handles big set pieces and under-stated gestures with the same skill.

Yes, he’s flawed… of course he is. Of Anderson’s most recent film, The Master (2012), Roger Ebert said, “In its imperfections… we may see its reach exceeding its grasp. Which is not a dishonourable thing.” I think I liked The Master more than Roger did, however I do agree that it’s ‘reach exceeded it’s grasp’. That’s undoubtedly a fault – but it’s actually something I also love. I always want a film-maker (or any artist) to risk failure, to strive to produce something brilliant and better and better and better than to settle for mediocre or safe… or worse.


Part of this is the way that his stories don’t only live through characters or styling or location but through the framework he uses to tell them. In Punch Drunk Love (2002), he told a story about the craziness of being love by making a film that was itself insane and disorientating in every way. There Will Be Blood (2007) is a movie about greed and power, based around the volatility of California’s oil wells at the start of the 20th Century, which rumbled along with a frightening build-up of tension and energy before gushing to a raw, unpredictable finale.

I think that actors like working with him because of these things but also because he clearly treats all of his characters with care and tenderness. This doesn’t only shine through in those that we can more easily root for, such as the naïve, eager-to-please Eddie Adams in Boogie Nights (1997) but also in characters like Daniel Plainview, the tyrannical, power-thirsty oilman in There Will Be Blood. Each is crafted, looked after as they grow and sent out in to the world with love.


That’s how he managed to pull Tom Cruise’s career-best role out the bag in Magnolia (1999) – which is a great, great film. He gave us the unexpectedly brilliant performance that it now seems Adam Sandler was always destined to deliver in Punch Drunk Love, and he brought us back a great Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights.

Anderson is a painter, poet and storyteller. His work is brave and ambitious, it’s epic and intimate, he makes me question things I thought I already knew and he makes me want to do better, better, better myself. When I walk out the cinema having watched a Paul Thomas Anderson film, I feel as if there really is a genuine opportunity to do what Neil Gaiman told us to always do: Make. Great. Art.

I’m heading off to a writing retreat… bliss

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I’m just about to leave to catch a train to not-so-sunny Devon for a writing retreat hosted by the excellent Urban Writers’ Retreat.

I did exactly the same last year (that’s when these photos were taken) and it was the thing that really kick-started my writing: three or four days with a few like-minded souls in the British countryside, with nothing to do but write and go for the odd walk.

I’m expecting to get a lot done, meet some lovely people and generally have a great time.

Wahoo!