Bristol Writers’ Retreat

I write this sat on the rather chilly platform 3 of Bristol Temple Meads. Not because I haven’t done writerly stuff today, more to thaw out my thumb. Yes that’s correct: I DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT WRITING! And why’s that, Ed? COS I’VE BLOOMIN’ DONE SOME!!! I hate it when people on tinternet use all caps for emphasis, don’t you?

Today* I went to my first Writers HQ retreat in Bristol, run by Amanda Staples. And I got a whole bunch done. The setting was perfect – The Old Library in Eastville. It is a community-run library and basically a large room full of bookly wonder and lots of comfy seats.

Bristol writers hq retreat
The scoreboard. I wsn’t in it for the wordcount, but still managed to land myself a gold star for my efforts. GET IN (as they say)!

Unlike pretty much everyone else (but not because I’m special), I concentrated on structure rather than wordcount. Recently I’ve been pulling all of my notes from everywhere and popping them in Scrivener and Aeon Timeline to create a single source of truth. I’ve also been fleshing out story characters and relationships. I basically spent the day doing more of that, despite already having written a chunk of the novel. As a planned series, I’ll wager it’ll save me more time in the long run. And also help in those “what would s/he do in this situation given eveything s/he’s been through?” instances.

If you’re a fan of writing with other writers, check-ins to see how you’re getting on, lots of tea, scrummy food and chatting, this is for you. It’s less about guidance and more about getting on with it in a supportive space. Also: you don’t need to read a thing to anyone, which feels a lot less stressful. You can check out the Writers HQ here (be warned, it’s sweary!). For me it’s been the full-day kick up the arse I needed.

P.S. You also get a gold star for writing.

*I actually only wrote the opening to this yesterday, before getting distracted by Family Fortunes, then going to bed because I’D WRITTEN (eaten) TOO MUCH.

Writing update

Still alive. Still writing. I’m crawling ever forwards, typing up slightly mad notes on well-spilled on paper daubed on probably over a year ago. I have a really bad habit of writing notes EVERYWHERE, which is why I started blogging about things like Aeon timeline and Scrivener: basically I’m trying to teach myself good habits and share the wealth too. Improved wordcounts to come!

The overcomplicated story

There’s a reason I’ve lost faith on what I’ve written in the past: I set out to achieve something and either I worry it’s too basic and it needs more stuff – more twists, more bad guys, more dynamics, etc etc or that characters need to be more real. Sometimes I get hung up on the old mantra of a single idea not begin a story (which is true) and so try to cram a load more in and overbake everything.

Being ruthless is a great thing so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone who isn’t already fictional, and if it doesnt work, you can put what you cut out back in or revert to an earlier draft (version control as the tech world calls it).

I felt like too much was happening in my story – especially given that I wanted to create a series, and although I wanted to throw the kitchen sink at establiahing my world and ideas; nothing felt flesh out enough and it began to feel like both myself and my characters were making zero decisions.

Some things, I realised, could be cut out entirely or explored in later entries. Suddenly, after a few more of these cuts I felt like the novel could breathe and had refreshed purpose. I could more easily define whaf it was about. In short, I felt at ease, and knew then that I was onto something.

Keynsham Writers 2.0

After a busy few weeks (including a big question mark over wether we should move area, and how the workshops I helped facilitate for clients were going at work, etc, etc) I forgot all about the writers group kick-off meet I’d organised until on the day; which is not like me at all.

As it happened -and despite zero expectations- the venue worked out and the people worked out (as in they came – there was no exercise involved!). I’d picked the place I assumed would be quietest on a Monday night on Keynsham highstreet. OK, so there were only 4 of us, but nobody dropped out, and an extra person turned up. Plus, they all seemed nice and friendly, reciprocal, and two were already published! Chats and drinks ensued, despite no format imposed by moi. We set up a rough structure for upcoming meetups, had a few laughs and went on our merry ways.

I’ve tried Meetup dot com to organise the group before, but their business model seems to be an automated tool inviting a bunch of people to your new group (regardless of any real vested interest or commitment on their part) so you think you’re making it a success from day one. Very few of these “interested” parties communicate or turn up (I myself am a member of many groups I’ll probably never interact with). Once Meetup has invited folk its algorithms deem appropriate, they join (this can be as simple as clicking a link in an email). Meetup then warns you that you need to pay more when you inevitably max out your members on their lowest tariff. It’s already expensive, soooo no. Just no. I went for a Facebook group and page, which requires a bit more legwork and marketing, but they chucked me a free £5 budget (with the caveat that I could only trigger a “boosted post” about my writing group if I forked out £5 of my own cash to make it up to a tenner). I haven’t distributed any flyers/cards on the high street yet, but did ask for the updated group to go in the local paper, which is free to do and hopefully we’ll gain some more traction from it.

Which goes to show that literally anyone can pull off setting up a group with a small amount of effort, especially in this technical age. OK, so it may all go belly-up from hereon in unless I pull up my socks and regulate it, but there you go. My choice, really. I’m sure you can do the same! If it does continue positively then I’ll post updates and tips on writers groups as my experience grows.