Tag Archives: challenges

Knowing What We Know

I used to love pub quizzes – one of the forgotten casualties of the information age. It’s just not the same when people can sneak a look at Google on their phone. But almost as much as entering them, I enjoyed setting questions – ferreting out obscure and less-obscure bits of knowledge to make the quizzes interesting and fun for all concerned. It was always a challenge though, it’s hard to know whether your own questions are easy or hard enough. You want the answer not to be common knowledge, but also not so obscure that nobody knows the answer, but when you know about something, it’s easy to assume other people do too.

For example, to me, the question “Name all the current drivers in Formula 1” is relatively easy. But to me, “What’s Jen’s credit card PIN?” is easy too, and it certainly wouldn’t be a fair question for a pub quiz. (Or a very wise one, given you given out the answers at the end!)

Writing is sometimes similar. As the author, you know who is speaking, how they feel, what their tone of voice is and what they really mean. You also know more generally what you’re talking about. For example, in my LAX/LXA story a couple of weeks ago, I knew what the airport names and letters referred to. But that immersion can make it hard to decide exactly how much you need to explain.

I thought LAX = Los Angeles was common knowledge and I thought I’d made LXA clear enough with the references to the airport name and Tibet / China. But some of the comments made it clear that neither of these was necessarily true. Now, in a 100 word flash fiction, you have to some extent to leave the readers to infer everything, because you’re limited in what you can say, but in longer fiction the problem should be surmountable. However, over-supplying information isn’t the answer either. That way boredom lies, for the reader who got it at line 1 and doesn’t want you to slow down the story by hammering home whatever point made there.

To some extent, the answer comes in beta readers – once you see how a story affects members of your writing group or whichever friends you trust to proofread, you get a better feel for how well you’ve put across the story in your head. Even then, I think we have to accept we’ll always have a few people at either end of the spectrum and they won’t form our core readership base. That’s why I never understand writers who only ever ask one friend (often their partner) to beta for them, all they are really doing is learning to write for that one person.

The rest, I hope, lies in practice and study – in exercises like Friday Fiction, that allow you to access lots of beta readers over and over again, and in consciously reading other books to see how that author struck the balance (or failed to!).

What think you?


Filed under Writing

The Challenge of Challenges

I love a challenge as much as the next person, and I’m always a fan when my friends take them on, whether it’s read a book a week, run a marathon or write a letter every day for a month. I often want to join in – I’d love to read more, write more letters and post a photo every day about how thankful I am (I’ll live without the marathon, thanks, although I have started going to the gym more often). And all of these things are possible – I’ve done nanowrimo; I know there is time in every day you never thought was there.

But it’s not possibly to do ALL these things at once – you have to pick your priorities. I don’t like picking, so I’m trying a gentler version of a lot of things…

I have recently joined a book group and although we spend more time talking about jobs and babies than the book, it’s encouraged me to read more, which is fantastic. But if I read a book a week, something else would have to go.

I am trying to be more thankful – that’s always a good mood booster and mood boosting is always a good thing – but I don’t think I’ll subject anyone to photos of it.

There are lots of people I only seem to contact at Christmas. I’m not sure about a letter a day, but I’d certainly like to keep in better contact with the people I love.

AND I’m writing more too – I got into a bit of a slump post-November and have settled on my haunches a bit. I’m keen to get back to writing more than just what appears on this blog. I’ve got plans for next year’s NaNo novel, which will take a lot of planning and research, so I need to start early, and for some short stories. Plus I always welcome prompts – on Saturday I wrote 500 words about dogs taking over Toronto post-apocalypse on the whim of a friend I was chatting to that morning. It was a lot of fun.

What’s your latest challenge? Should I be adding a watered down version of that to my life too?


Filed under Writing

Goal Setting

According to my local radio, 47% of us forget to floss our teeth daily. 47%? That means more than half the population is lacerating our gums with mint-flavoured string every single morning. I don’t believe it. (Straw poll – leave a comment if you floss every day, proclaiming the fact loud and proud. I’ll send you a bag of sweets to bring you down to my level!) Personally, I discovered a long time ago that if I aim to floss daily, as recommended by my dentist, I just never do it. Maybe once or twice a year, just before an appointment with him.

But here’s the thing (and also the point at which this blog post becomes about writing again, rather than oral hygiene), if I set myself a more achievable goal, like flossing once a week, suddenly I hit the target. I even occasionally over-achieve and do it twice in 7 days! Crazy stuff.

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, lots of writers are setting themselves ambitious goals right now. 1667 words in a day is actually not as much as it sounds, but doing that every single day, on top of your day job, life and normal writing commitments, for a whole month, is a challenge for many people. Winners of NaNo are right to be proud of themselves. Those who use it as a springboard to kick-start their writing for the rest of the year, even more so.

I enjoy NaNo and I hope to keep doing it for the foreseeable future, but for the rest of the year, I’ve discovered I work much better with achievable goals than crazy ones. When I started this blog, I promised myself one post a week. Now I’m up to three, with occasional daily projects like Voice Week, the 12 Days of Christmas and my recent series on Novel-Planning. And I still enjoy it, I still find topics to write about, and (most amazingly of all) I still find people reading them all!

Starting small works for me – give me a to do list with 5 things on it and I’ll do them all, by lunchtime. Double it to 10 and I’ll achieve 3 across the entire day.

So what I need to do now is work out how to apply this self-knowledge to my long-term writing goals, and in particular to the editing process which a couple of my longer pieces are waiting to undergo. Suggestions are welcome. I’m also interested: how does goal-setting work for you? Do you work better under the pressure of too much to do? Or are you a small-starter like me?

And how many times a week do you floss your teeth?


Filed under Writing