My #NaNoWriMo #Fail and Why That’s OK.

A bookshop in Lyme Regis

This year I have failed to complete NaNoWriMo and I’m fine with it because I recognise why. This month would have been my fifth, non-consecutive Nano, and whilst having a good idea, and lots of pre-writing, I couldn’t complete it. The reason I couldn’t is because I have realised I’m way past caring about quantity.

Nanowrimo gives you a number of great skills which every new writer should be challenged to complete:

  • quantity
  • finishing
  • dropping the inner editor
  • discipline

If you really want to write for a living/career, you’ll need all of the above with the addition of planning and quality. Nanowrimo doesn’t deliver those two. The format doesn’t care a jot about it. Which is good, because it’s really hard to learn the other aspects if one focuses on quality, or plans without the labour of writing.

Quantity is the main goal. Without it you’ll just be trying to run a marathon by taking zero steps.

Finishing is the second goal. Most writers start with incredible enthusiasm, then lose motivation and direction and abandon the idea. Writing is hard; writing without finishing is simply playing. Not good.

Dropping the inner editor is the third goal. How can you amass quantity and finish if you’re continually going back over your working rereading? In Nano-land the editor is unnecessary until you’ve finished; and completing Nano really works to shut down that part of your brain.

Finally: discipline is the stealth strength of Nano. To write a novel isn’t particularly difficult; it’s easy to produce one body of work in our lifetime. Being a writer however, means completing this feat of stamina time and time again. Nano teaches you to get up early, use your lunch break wisely, and turn off the TV (and social life) in the evenings. If you’re serious about writing you will need to start treating it like a job.

The problem with the final strength of discipline is the Nano work-ethic stops in December.

This is one of the main things which frustrated me. After four times of successfully competing Nano, each month in December, I stopped writing and got my life back to normal. In that sense completing Nano to become a writer is more like asking a fish to take a massive gulp of air instead of learning to grow a pair of legs and walk on the land forever.

Congratulations: you’ve written a (big) story. You still aren’t a writer.

If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Hey, I didn’t quit writing after Nano!’ Then great, you’re one of the very few people who I would say has a true writer-ethic. This blog post isn’t for you: it’s for all the December quitters—which includes myself.


The Things A Student Will Not Receive By Doing A Degree Course In Creative Writing

Here is a list of things that creative writing students are not getting on their course:

1. The chance to focus

– Students should work on one story from first year to third year – this will reflect the effort involved and commitment from beginning to end. They currently do not. They try various things in the first year, focus on becoming employable in the second year, and get to focus in the third year.

2. Discipline

– Students should be pushed to write everyday and be marked down accordingly – this will reflect the professionalism needed to consider yourself a writer. Every writer has to learn that writing is a job. You have to work at it everyday. The students are not pushed to do this. Sure they are encouraged, but they should be pressed and marked down if they under perform. Blogging everyday for three months solid is enough to instill a routine in anyone. Peer pressure – a public leader-board – will get students to pull their socks up.

3. Rules

– Students should be given the rules of writing – they exist: why is the 3 act structure not considered until the third year? Why is plotting not covered until the third year?

4. Software and workflow guide(lines)

– Students should be given the ‘How’ element of writing. We are given the Why and the What, but How? For that we’re told to use Word and ‘see you next week with a thousand words’. Not good. There are a plethora of ways to write, and write well. The students are not given (in any formal manner) these discoveries from teachers, or told what has proven to work for established writers.

5. Mature student considerations

– If you are a mature student, you are not catered for. Eg: You will be asked to ‘get a job’ multiple times. You will be asked to write a CV multiple times. You will be asked to perform ‘teamwork’ tasks multiple times. As a mature student, you need none of these and it is largely (99%) a waste of your time.

These are just 5 ideas, and I have more, many, more.

Getting a degree at 40 is frustrating.

However, the MA course has a 100% track record of getting people published! What is the percentage for getting BA students published in their chosen course; not as copywriter, or in advertising, but selling fiction? 1%? Appalling.

InkMark iPad App Review

I have been hunting hard for a good Markdown app and I think I’ve found the best. Here were my requirements:

Must be iOS 7 designed – I didn’t want to be using something that was full of bevelled edges and faux paper panels. I want my editor to be beautiful like the system I’m using. This requirement alone made it very easy to discount many editors. So many of them look like they haven’t been updated for years.

It must do one thing really well – write with Markdown – and not try to do everything. So many tools that I looked at tried to be everything a writer could ever need. With so many features and options, I felt like these apps were bloated and overloaded. I didn’t want that at all. This editor needed to be light and quick to open and type on. Evernote is normally my note taker of choice, so that gives you an idea of what I’m used to.

The typing font must not be ugly – by ugly I mean the Courier font. This is fine if I want to be a coder or write scripts all day, but I don’t. My usual font of choice is Times New Roman because this is the standard font which Agents and Publishers accept. Failing Times New Roman, I just didn’t want to see Courier on my screen – anything else (contemporary) would be fine.

The app must either have good support or regular updates. I don’t want to feel like the developer has created one thing and then moved on to the next project, leaving the app to grow old and die. Therefore, new releases are vital.

Good feedback or lots of promise. Many apps I looked at has lots and lots of reviews, and I read them! Many apps started off well, but then as iOS 7 came along, some of the best apps appeared to struggle to please other buyers. Their feedback was negative and somewhat miffed at the loss of a good app. Failing good feedback, the app should be free and/or have lots of potential.

The app should have export options. Writing on an iPad is never where my words stay – and I don’t always want to publish it somewhere. Therefore, exporting to Dropbox is a must, or Evernote, or Google Drive (in that order). I don’t need a million options, just the basics.

So that is an extensive list! Is it possible one app could deliver all that? Well it appears so. Whilst I was browsing the App Store under the ‘markdown’ search term, I flicked the ‘sort by’ setting over to ‘most recent’ and it was here that I found InkMark.


InkMark is clean to view (iOS7 designed), does Markdown writing really well, the font isn’t courier (it isn’t Times either, but no matter), it appears to be well supported, there is no feedback yet but lots of promise, and finally, it has dropbox support.

All this means it’s pretty damn good.

The negatives? It’s quite pricey. It was free to ‘buy’ initially, and then I discovered it was £3.99 a year to store more than 3 files at a time, plus a number of other features become available in the settings. This was a great strategy for app discovery, because everyone loves a good app for free (Evernote), and I did feel cheated somewhat at the hidden cost for storing more files, however, after thinking about it, I do want more updates and I do believe developers should get paid for good apps. If this business model keeps everyone happy and the updates coming, then it’s all good with me.

The thing I like most about InkMark is the live Markdown preview panel – I don’t need it, but I love the feature. It’s easy to swipe it away from view, and pull it back again if I want to see my formatted version, and this feature was a deal breaker for me. I should add this to the requirements list, because I discounted many apps which didn’t have it.

So, I bought the app, then found a bug which meant it didn’t respond well with my bluetooth keyboard. A quick click about in the settings and I turned off the Keyboard Experience (or whatever it was), then, bingo, my problem was solved. The devs say a new update is in the process, so that should be sorted soon, I hope. So with this sorted and the devs responding to my cries for help, I dropped the £3.99 per year to ‘upgrade’.

Want to take a look at it in the App Store? Here’s the link.

Fingers crossed this was a good move, and it gets supported. I’ve got a good feeling about this app. More news as I have it.


Sucking on a lemon

Day 5 of (possibly) 90 and I’m sat hunched over a steaming laptop with my fingers bleeding into the keyboard.

No word count this time, no strict deadline, no peer pressure (other than self inflicted) and no prize at the end of it – unless you count a reasonably readable novel as ‘a prize’.

bugger – i said it again… its not a ‘book’, its a fictional document. Thats what it is. Books are works of literary genius, printed, bound, barcoded and on sale in Waterstones. Mine? Mine is not that. Its practice, its a place to play and experiment and discover if, given enough time, one 36 yr old monkey in a room can eventually bash out a reasonable tune on a qwerty xylophone with a rubber mallet.

If ‘genius’ looks like a car crash, then I might be in with a chance.

Whats been happening for 5 days? Well a lot of timelining, figuring out characters, ripping thoughts apart and wondering how to glue them back together again. The biggest u-turn taken, compared to the previous efforts, is the attempt at writing in the first person. Maybe it was reading Catcher in the Rye, maybe it was reading ‘Money’, maybe it was an attempt at forcing me to be more descriptive instead of crushing a bag of pringles over my screen and telling people its ‘dialogue’.

So yeah, I’ve planned enough to get me going – and its been a strangely enjoyable process.

Not one I’m used to at all.

Drinking San Miguel on the Big Gay Travel Train


its 8pm and I’m horizontal already.

I’m writing about writing again. So anyone not interested, can you kindly leave now. I thank you.

I recently made the decision to not write book number three (which shall be known as #3 for here onwards)starting on 1st May, as I made a recent discovery that means #3 would have been utter shite like #2 and #1.


Characters ‘make’ stories – plots don’t. Without good, memorable, interesting characters, even the best storyline in the world will feel thin and shabby and wholly unbelievable. I have decent storyline (imo), which means unless I spend a bit of time, considering my characters, then I risk the likely hood, of ruining a good story. I don’t want to do that.

My first (potential) error would have been thinking that characters are about people. Wrong. People are dull, dull things that think their lives are interesting and that other people are interested in hearing about their lives – and many of ‘people’s’ conversations actually just loop round and round and round, until ‘finally’ a decision gets made that changes something for good or bad. Normally good, because bad is quite obvious and people would rather do nothing than make a bad decision – hence the conversations that loop infinitely.

Characters aren’t like that. Characters are that one person that gets stuck in your head, who never leaves the memory banks as they are so damned incredible. And not necessarily good incredible, bad incredible sticks in there too, maybe more so – think back to when you were in school – I bet you can still recall the bad people right? Those good cookies always attach themselves to the dying brain cells for some reason.

Anyways… right now I’m reading a few things, writing a few things, thinking about layers in my story and basically delaying the orgasm until my unofficial start date of 1st June.

I’m giving myself 3 months – averaging 800 words a day, to not produce the same mistakes that have appeared in books #1 & #2. And here’s those mistakes in typical ‘top of the pops, top5 count down’:

5: forgotten information about key characters
4: meaningless waffle
3: trying to be smarter than I actually am
2: suckage research

and the top spot is……

1: plot wobble

Yes, ‘plot wobble’ has been and is, my biggest gut wrencher to date. Plot wobble shows its face like this:

‘what’s the book about Mark?’

I then proceed to tell the story about what the plot ‘should’ have been about, neglecting to tell anyone that it actually changed in writing, as I got carried away with all the fun and creativity and now can’t face returning to rehack it back in the direction I originally intended.

That, my friends is how to spot ‘plot wobble’.

It took #1 & #2 to realise that the story I ‘tell’ people verbally, is the story I should have written in the first place. And with that in mind, I plan to retell (either to myself, or others) #3, to get it drilled into my head soooo much, that it sticks during the writing phase.

That’ll do for now. I’m reading ‘The Glimmer Train‘ which though sounds like a Gay travel journal, actually is a bloody good read about advice from lots of other writers about how they tackle and face struggles and styles in their own writing.

(btw- whilst amazoning the link above, I’ve realised that v2 is out, so I will buy that as soon as I’ve finished reading v1) woo!

ok I’m done – its nearly 9ine o’clock and I’ve a bottle of cheap (59p) beer in the fridge with name on it.

bye – Mark ‘San Miguel’ Mapstone

the shift to rich media text

I explained to a friend today that as much as I enjoy the pure creative aspect of inventing a fictional world, I am still very much interested in the technical aspect of storytelling – and not even the basics, like plot and narrative etc. 

Something inside me is extremely interested in how people plan, organise and note their plots, also about their environment – where they sit, how long for, where they go for inspiration etc. 

I believe I do this, because I’m trapped between two worlds. I’ll explain: 

I have always been visually creative, but after doing everything I can with pixel pushing since I first got a computer in the 1820’s – I have shifted my creativity to words and sentences instead of colours and whitespace. However my graphical background has been aided by excellent software that allows me to build things up in layers, control every element and instantly tweak various versions – without ruining the original – until the perfect balance has been found. 

Now bear in mind that complex psd’s can involve hundreds of layers scattered about many many folders, I fail to see why such a visual tool can’t exist for the complex world of Writing too. 

When I have a storyline idea, I have to write, but I don’t want to…. I want to draw out a block of colour that represents a location, sprinkle in some shapes that act as positions for characters and perhaps tween some elements that represent a change in mood or perspective. I want to have control of multiple layers that I can turn on and off and re-assess the effects of such a change on the plot. 

The thing is, now I’ve written, I want other people to try it. I believe other people want to do it, and I believe there is an easier way to do it than opening up a blank doc and typing, or putting a biro to a blank sheet of paper. 

I also feel that people are so focused on rich media expressionism (video, audio, photo etc) that no-one appears to care about the incredible benefits of using digital technology to speed up and / or improve the simple writing process. 

I fully understand that in order to write, one must physically write – I’m not disputing that – but I can see a way that an entire 500 word novel can be zoomed out of, moods be associated with colours, character paths be mapped and morphed by the use of shapes and many other things which allow the shifting of a storyline. 

I think I’m going to make it my life mission (until I get bored of it – my life, not the mission) to come up with something that allows people to storytell visually as part of the process to clarify the textual part. 

time to go get horizontal – ta-raa

(don’t re-read, don’t spellcheck, just hit ‘publish’)


Nanowrimo day 12: 20k



So far so good hey? in a couple of days time i’ll have hit the halfway mark and Wooo! start enjoying the slippery slope to success all the way to the finish post 🙂 go me – yay!

My plot has gone from nothing to a full structure to throw it out the window and my protagonist rambling across Nigeria in an ice-cream van… christ knows where this is heading, but I’m loving the ride.

’99 with a flake you say? Coming right up.

Nano: day 2 – 4160 words

So far so good. Better than last year where I started half heartedly 1 month and 4 days late. 

I find keeping up with the word count easy because my typing speed is pretty good. I’m sure a lot of less dexterous people fall at that hurdle. Being able to type fairly close to the speed of a spoken sentence really helps the process. Its literally like – ‘think & type’. 

Ok, now I know there’s a lot more to writing than blistering speed and relentless forward thinking – having a plan is a good place to start. I have one roughly drawn out, in the style of storyboards but with words instead of drawings. Tho I’ve already started to go off course, I need to make sure I stick to it. I still kick myself that I let last years effort wander about. 

Soo.. day 2 and I’m doing good. Only 46k to go…. it should be a piece of cake.

writing a life

it suddenly occurred to me on the way into town today that logical existence and rational thought is strengthened by facts, evidence and references to existing elements. But for creativity to exist with the same weight as logic – ‘we’ must invent it first. Without mental invention, there is no existence of creativity. Once it has been created, it is as real as anything logical, rational or dripping in physical evidence. The only difference between whats ‘real’ and what (apparently) isn’t, is our ability to think of it first. 

Here’s an example. 

When I first tried my hand at creative writing. I fell at the very first hurdle. I didn’t know what to write about a character because that life didn’t exist. I was stuck. I tried to copy a life in existence by using bits of people I already know in real life. It worked, but its also very weak and limiting. People I know, don’t murder people, have dangerous jobs, have amazing wealth or bounce across continental borders with the police chasing them. 

Then it eventually occurred to me that I had to ‘create’ life. Not just write a story that a pretend person played a part in – I had to invent, think, create, give birth to a whole world for this fictional being to exist. This made my brain ‘jar’ a bit, it was completely unnatural to me, it was false, fake, deceptive and illogical. It was like I was lying to myself, and to others that would read about it. Creating life with thought? Jebus, who’d have thought it would be so hard? Not in the actual sense of ‘thinking stuff up’, but in the conceptual sense of realising that’s what writing fiction is about.

No where in all the creative writing books I’d read, broke it down this that level:

“okay mark, here’s the deal. Forget about reality, you have to make this shit up. It’ll feel odd, but just go with it right? I know, I know, you can’t write about his job, because you don’t know what it is. That’s where you just make something up. Yes, well don’t worry whether its right or wrong, because the character isn’t real, so you cannot be ‘wrong’ – ever. Yep, granted you’ll have thought that people won’t believe your character is real, because you just ‘made it up’, but relax, that’s why they’re reading a piece of ‘fiction’ geddit? The clue is in the title there. Fiction. Make believe is fine. They don’t want truth, fact, or reality. They want ‘made up’, fake and invented. Its hard yes, but its right, and it will always be right as long as you keep doing it and getting better and better at it. Just trust your creativity and you’ll be okay, okay?”


… and so it continues. 

This is one thing that creative writing books fail to acknowledge in their ‘dummies guide to creative writing’ editions – it assumes that the reader understands the difference between real and fictional worlds. Maybe I’m being too dumb here – I mean even I know the difference between them. But its only the writers that get to invent life from thought…. and when you’re not ‘a writer’ yet, just a beginner, you’d have imagined this basic building block would be the first priority on the list.

Or maybe its just me.

1: Latté Universe

Recycled oxygen from the air conditioned office atmosphere consumes the world I exist in. The even, consistent, chilled pressure, suspends all fixed objects perfectly, as if without it they would break free causing untold chaos whereby staplers crash into photocopiers and monitors fight to the death with fire extinguishers. The air is the container for my everything, yet not thin and transparent, but dry dusty and grey with weight, like a quicksand flood had sucked itself up through the carpet tiles, similar to drawing liquid up through a syringe, causing everything electrical to fizz and pop in its mass until reaching the false ceiling and fossilising the noise into silence.

Within this dry, grey air, my coffee mug sits steaming, barely, as if trying to breathe, just like I am.