Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Being Critical

Happy Leap Day!!

Sometimes you read over things and they’re just not very good. Sometimes you read over many things in a row that aren’t very good, or just not up to your exacting standards. At this point is the time to step back and write a blog post about it.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I am overcoming it, I am taking classes in slap-dash (imagine classes in slap-dash. Two doors down from the classes in procrastination and across the hall from the classes in three pm naps). Slap-dash isn’t good either, though, so I guess you have to balance yourself. Perfectionism can be appropriate at times, but you’ve got to control it and figure out when you should just stop tweaking.

Another danger of perfectionism is looking at something half-finished and deciding it will never be any good and to toss it – if it can’t be perfect, why try at all? Yes, some things do need to be tossed, but sometimes they just need a few rounds of revision or possibly a bit of a rewrite. Especially if whatever you’re reading is just a rough first draft. Especially if you’ve looked at the same bit of work on another day and thought it was actually quite good.

Maybe I’m just in a critical frame of mind today. I will forge ahead.

Do you have critical days and non-critical days?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Old and New and SQUIRRELS

I’m sitting writing this in a park and two squirrels behind me are racing round and round and round various trees. They make a strange kind of sound, a bit like someone shaking a plastic bottle of water, as their claws dig into the bark. I think they’re just playing rather than one chasing the other in mortal combat (who knows what a squirrel-in-terror expression looks like?). The sun was out a while ago, but it’s been hidden behind a single cloud for about half an hour (the clouds move so slow here) and I’m not certain when it will re-emerge.

I was here for a bit yesterday as well, and discovered some walled gardens that remind me of The Secret Garden, with little paths and ivy and lashings of squirrels. I think I saw the most squirrels I’ve ever seen within an hour. I was a bit amused by all the flax bushes set around the walled gardens, but I guess they’re deemed attractive. I wonder what they planted before they had flax bushes, and if the paths are still the same as when the gardens were first built in the 17th Century. There is also an old mansion to go with the walled gardens, and though it’s not really done up as a museum you can wander through the rooms and stare at the old fireplaces and the plasterwork on the ceilings.

I went directly from the 17th Century house and walled gardens to Canary Wharf, which is quite a contrast. Canary Wharf tube station is, I think, the modern architectural equivalent of a cathedral. Four escalators run down from the entrance into a vast open space the size of a football field and about ten storeys high (these dimensions are vaguely guesstimated). You go through the ticket barriers and down another set of escalators to get to the platforms. Once out of the tube station, you’re faced with a square and a long lake/former dock, and sparkling office buildings on every other side.

(Interlude: I can see SIX squirrels at the same time! They are all checking the ground for something and doing their move-freeze-move-freeze thing. Ooh! Two dogs have appeared. The squirrels have shot up the tree. This is drama, this.)

The streets are one-way, and I’ve never seen them with more than a few cars on them. The footpaths aren’t full either, and everything seems sort of stark and impersonal and quiet. Every so often there’s the rumble of a DLR train going overhead on its tracks, which is also sort of impersonal because you know no one’s driving it. It’s probably very different at lunchtime on weekdays, when all the office workers come down out of their towers (or do they? Canary Wharf is the sort of place where people work fourteen hour days).

Once out of the main streets, it’s quite nice, though. I think I’ve mentioned going to the cinema there across a footbridge, and there are a few restaurants on the side of the docks that would be lovely when it’s a bit warmer.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Museum of London and St Pauls

I'd been past the Museum of London before, but I was on my way somewhere else and couldn't quite figure out how to get in (part of it is on a large city roundabout) so had never actually set foot in it until yesterday. They currently have a Dickens exhibition, so I saw that and then wandered around the pre-historic London gallery before the museum closed. I must go back and see what happened in more historic times.

To get there, I caught the Docklands Light Rail, or DLR, which is a robotic train (well, driverless, but robotic sounds cooler) that spends most of its time above ground on little overpasses around the Docklands area in East London. I hadn't realised just how many docks there were, some of them now done up with restaurants and pretty walks around them, some still with working boats going in and out. I saw a few canal boats and lots and lots of apartment buildings before we dove down into the ground and stopped at Bank: a warren of a station where I got a bit lost and ended up on the Central Line platform without quite knowing how. Finally at the exit, I struggled with my umbrella and tried to guess which way I should walk to get to the museum. Of course I chose the wrong direction and had to get Googlemaps to save me (which, this time, it did).

So I was a little late. We had timed tickets, which seems to be quite a common thing for big exhibitions, but they don't tell you how fast you have to move through so my lateness didn't matter  too much. The exhibition was very interesting, with lots of paintings and photographs of London as it was in Dickens' time, playbills and Punch and Judy puppets, pieces of original manuscript and Dickens' desk and chair. We marvelled over how anyone could have read Dickens' pages of crossed-out writing. Some of the pictures of life-in-the-19th-Century showed people digging out the docks I'd just passed on the DLR - by hand, of course. Others showed tumble-down inns where I imagined Pip might have stayed, with blurred figures facing the camera. There's always something a bit creepy about old photos with people in them, I think; the figures seem to have only the barest hint of faces.

There were lots and lots of swords and spearheads in the pre-historic gallery, and examples of skulls with cranial damage. It was a bit scary to look at all those weapons and imagine what they had done so long ago.

It was dusk by the time the museum closed, and I wasn't too far from St Paul's Cathedral so decided to walk down to it. A few stars were out, and the dome looked beautiful against the night sky.
The Occupy London protesters are still encamped around the north side of the Cathedral with their tents and their library and their portaloos, as you might be able to see right at the bottom of the picture. I walked all the way around the cathedral, which is really very big. I should probably go and see inside some time...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writer's block

It's a cliché, really. And one should never subject oneself, or others, to clichés. So kill it! Quick!

I reckon 'writer's block' happens for a few reasons:

Perfectionism: You're so worried about getting every word exactly right that you don't put anything down on the page, or at least all the words that do manage to fall from your pen/keyboard are immediately destroyed with scribbled lines or the backspace key. Solution: freewrite in a separate document or book, and don't worry about what's coming out. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. Just do it. Or try writing in a different medium - some people find they don't worry so much if they use pen and paper as opposed to typing.

Plot knot: you've tied yourself into a knot you don't know how to get out of. Solution: go for a walk. Take a break. Then draw pictures or diagrams or think about things from different characters' points of view or go back and figure out what choices led to this point and how the choices might be made differently. Think of all the different options at the current knot, and cross off the ones that don't work. Keep writing at a different point in the story and come back to it. Often you find things click into place eventually.

Writing from the wrong direction: I had this yesterday, where I was plodding along very slowly and coming up with not much. Solution: I changed tack, from past tense telling to present tense showing (I'd been trying to communicate lots of information quickly, but what's the use in that if the writing's dead?). Much better. If your writing's going slow, think about the scene from a different angle. What are all the different ways you could show it? All the different points of view through which you can see it? Which is the best for this scene?

Any other reasons for writer's block that you can think of? Any more solutions?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Snow in London and a Mean Time in Greenwich (London frophotos)

It's been a bit cold here in the past week. We had proper proper snow last Saturday night, enough to go sledding down my local hillside. I went into central London to get some pretty pictures, but they'd cleared it fast and there wasn't that much to see (much less the Thames frozen over, which I, in the back of my mind, had hoped might happen. It hasn't happened since 1814). But here are the pics anyway.
My local sledding hill
The non-frozen Thames from Westminster Bridge (though note snow on the ferry pier)
At least the pond in St James' Park was a bit frozen. Buckingham Palace through the trees in the background
Greenwich was having a Hooray for Becoming a Royal Borough Bash. Part of the Royal Naval College all lit up
That was last weekend. On Thursday night there was a bit more snow, but this snow was what I will term Perfect Slightly Fake Snow. It stuck to all the trees and grass and made everything look extremely pretty, but it did not settle on the roads. It was like someone had gone out in the middle of the night with one of those cans of fake snow and sprayed everything, but were nice enough to leave the roads and paths clear. But they did do the cars. There was a lot of snow on the cars.
Sunrise Friday morning (it snowed in the night, but the roads are clear)
On Saturday I decided I really should go and see the Greenwich Mean Line, seeing as I don't live all that far from it. There was still a lot of snow about and the skies were a beautiful blue. Very cold.
The Royal Observatory: this is where 0 degrees longitude passes through
SQUIRREL! One of a pair frolicking for the tourists (and for bits of chocolate biscuit)
My left foot is in the Western Hemisphere, my right foot is in the Eastern Hemisphere
London from the Observatory. All the way to the left is the Shard (to-be-completed tallest building), and then a bit to the right are the buildings of The City (bit burred by distance). Closer and to the right is Canary Wharf with its tall buildings, and then in the middle ground is the Queen's House and Royal Maritime Museum
Have a good week!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing update

I have finished! Well, this particular revision, anyway. I am now waiting on people to tell me if my changes have been for the better or worse (bites fingernails, tries very hard not to stalk my readers. Fails).

So what am I doing in the meantime? On to the next book, of course! I have spent an hour or so transferring my scenes into Scrivener, and now I need to input my plot on the awesome card thingies and figure out which particular inconsistencies I want to smooth out. I have had multiple plans for this book, but when I write it I keep sliding off-track, which makes for horrific continuity problems (I’m writing several parts of the book at the same time). The book does what it wants, which at times isn’t what I have planned out for it. Maybe I should just give up on planning and resign myself to being a pantser.

But then again I like planning. And it makes it easier at the end when you've had a good structure from the start...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Third Installment of 7 films in 7 days (and SNOW)

So this week I finished my 7films/7days marathon, with the only negative outcomes being buying a packet of chocolate biscuits (stupid cinema ad I saw four times) and not having 'time' to do many dishes (but my lovely flatmates are very nice like that and do my dishes for me. At which point a dishes-battle ensues to see who can do more of the others' dishes).

When I left you last, I'd seen Tintin on Friday, Puss in Boots and Coriolanus on Saturday and Hugo on Sunday. I added to my total on Monday with Sherlock Holmes and then on Tuesday, The Artist. To make it to seven movies, I saw Chronicle on Thursday. I really enjoyed seeing so many movies - I think my favourite was Hugo, followed by The Artist and Chronicle and Tintin.

Sherlock Holmes was lots of action and adventure and quips, but not as much detective work as the BBC Sherlock (which I highly recommend). It was a fun movie, and I especially liked the ending. I saw The Artist at West India Quay, and managed not to get lost this time which was nice.

The Artist is shot in black and white 3x4 aspect ratio as a silent movie (but there's music to it). I've seen a few silent movies before, but this one was interesting because the film quality was modern - no jerking or grain - and it made references to the fact it was silent (like the main character having a dream where he couldn't speak). The story is about a silent movie actor who doesn't want to move into talkies, and his young semi-protegée who speaks and does very well as the main character goes bankrupt. I was thinking to begin with 'why don't they just rerelease the silent films with dubbed voices?' but realised it's a very different way of telling a story - much, much less dialogue, a different style of acting, and a lot more resting on the visuals. I really liked it, and it has a cute dog so it was perfect.

Chronicle was creepier than I thought it would be - there's something about found-footage films that seems scary, on top of the swaying of your stomach to match the swaying of the camera. Three teenagers gain superpowers, and the film follows how they handle it (or don't handle it). It's very much worth seeing (if that's your kind of movie), and don't worry too much about the swaying camera - it gets a lot steadier halfway through, though that's when the tension starts to mount. And mount.

It's been much colder towards the end of this week, probably because we're getting the edges of the front that's sweeping across Europe and sending temperatures down to minus 30. Thankfully, the lowest I've seen it in London is minus 3. I wanted to dry some washing, and wondered if freeze-drying worked for washing. Somehow I doubt it.

This evening it BEGAN TO SNOW. I went outside. I frolicked. I took pictures from the window and discovered how hard it is to take good photos in the dark when it's snowing. Anyway, here is one of my attempts:
It's supposed to get heavy tonight, so there might be a full blanketing tomorrow :D