productivity

Murder at the Bookstore

Have you noticed that in 2018 the fiction section of your local bookshop is full to bursting with detective novels? Almost every other book is about a P.I Whogivesa or a D.I Whatsit.

I went on holiday last year and thought I’d pick up some reading at the airport. Mistake. It’s a tiny airport bookstore, so I’m not exactly expecting the library of Alexandria. But damn near every fiction book was in the crime genre. If you didn’t want crime you were out of luck. Best accept you’ll be doing Sudoku for the next three hours.

crime

Silver Lining: I actually don’t mind Sudoku

Some of these bloody books are even in disguise. Not content with taking up large section of the shelf, crime-fiction is masquerading as horror-fiction. They have titles like “Pale Ghost” and a book cover featuring an illustration of a demon, then you flip to the blurb and get:

Former homicide detective Quincy Jones has made a lot of mistakes in his career. Now some of these mistakes are coming back to haunt his retirement. Can this disillusioned old cop solve a case that he thought he buried years ago, or will his demons finally destroy him?

Get out of here. That is not cool. You tricked me with your tricky marketing. Bad writer. If crime-fiction is so hot why pretend to be something else?

I’m being sulky. I don’t want to bash the writers knocking these things out. I know they’re not easy to write. Essentially having to work backwards from the end and sprinkle in all sorts of red-herrings along the way. Like baking a cake with only a picture as a frame of reference, and you have to trick people into thinking you made it with a toaster at some point.

toast

Crime.

People have tried to explain the surge in popularity with everything from the stressful times we live in, to the accessibility of Poirot on Netflix.

I don’t really care how the genre got so popular. The only important thing now is sorting out a plan on how to take it down.

Here’s what I’m thinking: we increase actual crime rates. Murder your neighbours, set fire to your communities, generally just go run amok. Only when the real world starts looking like it does in The Purge will people stop turning to crime-fiction for escapism.

Drastic plan? Maybe—but it’s the best one I’ve got.

While I work on that, I understand the wheel is going to keep turning. So. If you really do feel the need to add another detective book to the pile, please, try and mix it up a bit.

There’s been plenty of material out there about various cliches in this genre that should be avoided, but I’ve gone one step further and offered some creative alternatives:

1.) Instead of having your detective addicted to drugs or booze…make him fat. He’s a heifer that buries his angst in goodies. You’ll get some George R.R. Martin-level food description in and it’ll make the chase scenes way more interesting.

2.) Instead of a retired detective sulking over that one case he just couldn’t solve…make him miss it. What if wife made him retire. Maybe playing charades with the neighbours is driving him mad and he longs for the days of being knee deep in blood.

3.) Instead of having your detective be a genius Sherlock type…make him bad at his job. Maybe his uncle is the Chief of Police and nepotism prevailed. Detecting is hard. Be brave enough to have him rub his temples and admit he is really goddamn confused.

Those are my tips. You have about a month or two to use them before this blog blows-up and there is chaos in the streets and variety in our bookshops.

Why do you think crime pays so well? Why is a habitual murder so much more interesting than a hobbit to the common man? Would Harry Potter have done even better if his parent’s murder had been a whodunnit? Let me know in the comments.

– H.L

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Finding a Place to Write

A year and a bit ago I and my fiance moved into our first home. It took a while to get settled, but we’re finally happy with the place.

OK, I’m happy. The other half is still moving things around. I don’t really like change, it’s a whole thing. I’m getting off point.

The biggest challenges I faced include replacing a built-in-fridge, getting a second-hand futon (fully-assembled!) up a very narrow set of stairs, and of course, finding the perfect spot for me to sit down and write.

Your writing space can mean the difference between sweet success and that other, dark, harrowing thing.

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Failure, that’s the word

Traditional writing advice suggests your work area should be free of distractions, but not barren enough to stifle your creativity. You should be comfortable, but your space also needs to be practical.

My own search hits a few different rooms, which I’m now going to take you on a journey through, but where I finally end up might just surprise you.

The Study

The new house came with a study? Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

“Study” is actually a pretty generous euphemism we use to avoid telling people, this is where we keep all the video games and the second Playstation. Study just sound more…adult.

The best part is the previous owner had this cool multi-coloured mood lighting installed which helps set the tone for whatever I’m working on.

It does have a desk, but it’s littered with all sorts of gadgets and games, all fun, but not exactly conducive for productivity.

I used this room for a bit, but the numerous distractions and the lack of desk space was killer in the end.

Final Score: 5/10

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I was going to provide actual pictures of these rooms, but that would require cleaning

The Conservatory

The conservatory makes for a beautiful writing space. It’s where I envisioned myself getting to work when we were buying the house. Whether looking at the nice view of the garden or having the blinds drawn to create a cosy atmosphere, the room is just brilliant to write it.

But damn it, it’s just not meant to be.

The room has some hella-comfy chairs, but no desk. That means any writing means having a laptop on my lap—and that means less time writing and more time spent worrying about the damage I might be doing to my fertility.

Final Score: 0/10

Notworthit

Not worth it

The Dining Room

The dining room is…serviceable. It has chairs, a table, no immediate threats to my swimmers. Nirvana right?

It’s practical. But so is an ironing board, and neither set’s my world on fire.

Final Score: 6/10

The Kitchen

Yes, this is where I ended up. Hang on, hear me out – it’s cooler than it sounds.

There’s a corner of our kitchen with a breakfast bar we seldom used. I was walking past one day…and inspiration hit.

Think about it. It’s close as you can be to all the local amenities. Snacks and drinks on demand. Plenty of desk space. There’s even a shelf overlooking the garden I’ve decorated with some notebooks and ornaments.

I’ve got a miniature zen sand garden I can rake when I’m stuck on a paragraph. A little quill and ink pot (stylish but not for actual use, I’m a lefty). A raven figurine I think I got from a Game of Thrones Monopoly set. The whole thing is pretty chill.

If you haven’t got your own writing space, take a look at your house with a fresh pair of eyes. The kitchen was the last place I expected to end up, but now I couldn’t be happier with my little corner of the world.

OK, the stools could be comfier, but hey, they keep me humble.

Final Score: 9/10

What does your writing space look like? What have you decorated it with? Do you put more stock in comfort or practicality? Let me know in the comments.

– H. L

Making Time to Write

You’ll notice the title of this week’s blog is making time to right, rather than finding time to right.

In my experience, if you go about your week waiting for the perfect time to sit down and write, you’ll never actually get anything done. It’s an easy excuse to blame the malicious voice for my inactivity the last five years, but at least some of the blame has to fall on my shoulders.

Between my day job, spending time with my fiance, visiting my family, chores around the house, the garden, exercise, and actually daring to sit down to watch some TV and play a video game every now and then, I’m not left with a great deal of excess time.

hourglass

I lose like two hours every week just enjoying myself on the toilet

Since I’ve committed to updating my blog once a week, I’ve not actually found any time to do any non-blog related writing. Terrible, I know. I’m never going to get anything done this way, and I can’t exactly run a weekly writing blog if I never actually write anything. That’s just madness.

With that in mind – I’ve decided to keep a very public record of just how much writing I got done in the last week. Shall we?

Day the First (Friday) – Mixed results. While I did manage to drag myself out of bed early, it was to fix a couple of mistakes I’d found on last weeks blog. I should mention that I had a self-imposed writing deadline for a short story that expired today. The plan was to knock it out before work, but that was a no-go now. I had plans later to go to the cinema to see Ant-Man and the Wasp, but I’d surely have time to fit in a little writing after the film, right?

Nope, missed my deadline. Damn you, Marvel.

Day the Second (Saturday) – I woke up at a decent time, but it’d had been a long week at work and I didn’t have a choice, my body wanted a lie in. Not an auspicious start to the day, and unfortunately it set the tone for my productivity, Saturday was a wash.

dog

Actual photo of me from Saturday

Day the Third (Sunday) – Nope. I wasn’t just tired from work, I’d hit writer’s block for my competition entry. I was dangerously close to the word limit but nowhere close to my ending. This needed to be fixed and frankly, I didn’t the energy to do it. I procrastinated, I did chores, I did everything but look at my work – and because of this blog, I was fully conscious of that decision. Yay.

Day the Fourth (Monday) – I knew the logical thing I needed to do. Sit down and write. Get my story finished, and fix the word count in the editing. I know that’s what I should do. But knowing that apparently doesn’t make it any easier…

Day the Fifth (Tuesday) – OK, It’s just embarrassing now. I was very tempted to trash this whole blog post at this point. I did sit down to write, I just didn’t get down any of those pesky words. I did some editing research, and I did some work on this blog entry – but no actual writing, again.

Day the Sixth (Wednesday) – I did it. It feels like I did the literary equivalent of shitting the bed, but I finished the first draft of my story. I don’t feel good about the work right now, but I know that’s natural. It’s the first draft I’ve finished in some time, and bugger me if I’m not a little proud.

Day the Seventh (Thursday) – What a difference a day makes. Clearly, I’m very bad at finishing projects, but boy do I love starting them. If every book was just the first three pages, I’d have written a million. With the short story finally done I actually managed to knock out a flash fiction in a single night. That’s in addition to putting the finishing touches on the blog you’re now reading. Go me!

Final Verdict: Definite room for improvement, but at least I ended on a high.

I only managed to wake up early one day, and I wasted a lot of evenings lamenting about not writing. While sharing this is a little embarrassing, it is useful. If I’m more conscious of my foibles I should get better at overcoming them.

There is after all, always next week.

How did you get on last week? Did you put me to shame or slip even worse? Give me a shout in the comments below.  

– H. L