Saturday, 30 April 2016

6 Clues to Spotting Your 'Screw You' Piece

The creative impulse often starts early.

Have you ever seen - whether on purpose or by some cruel accident - the Tommy Wiseau film The Room?

It's been a staple on many a list of Worst Films since - well, pretty much as soon as it first unleashed itself on an unsuspecting public, I would imagine. I'll admit I haven't see the entire film, just a collection of clips of some of the best/worst bits - but believe me that's more than enough to convince me its place on a Worst Films list is richly deserved. Here is a link to one such collection of clips, if you're brave enough to watch it (heads up, it's Not Safe For Work. Heck, it's probably Not Safe For Life.)

Were you brave - did you watch it? It just about walks on that narrow tightrope of 'so bad it's brilliant,' doesn't it?

Normally a stinker of this magnitude would prompt the question "How in the Hollywood Hells did a film like this ever get made?" However, in the case of The Room that's answered in the opening credits because, as you may have noticed, as well as starring Tommy Wiseau it was also produced and directed by... Tommy Wiseau. Oh, and the writer of the terrible script? Tommy Wiseau again. I wonder if he did the catering too..?

But this supreme example of multitasking also offers us an insight into why this film was made - and I don't just mean so Tommy Wiseau could try out four different career paths at once, in the hope of striking lucky with at least one of them. Because the more I thought about what happened in the story, the more I understood what else was going on behind it.

The Room is Tommy Wiseau's 'Screw You' Piece.

Every writer worth their salt writes a Screw You Piece at least once in their lives - it's pretty much a rite of passage. I wrote my first one when I was fifteen, as I've mentioned in this blog previously (and yes, it has since 'mysteriously' vanished from existing in anywhere but the Cringe Corner of my brain. Best place for it, believe me.) But what exactly is a Screw You Piece?

Filled with the fire and passion of a writer high on a bucketload of long-suppressed emotions, it's a piece of fiction where you pit a thinly-disguised Mary Sue of yourself against LEGO-people representations of all the shysters in your real life who ever Done You Wrong - and you take them down, baby. You destroy their lives and everything they hold dear... in fiction! Except it's really bad fiction that no sane person would ever want to read!

I'm willing to bet Tommy Wiseau got his heart stomped on by some girl he was totally in love with back in his teens. I'm thinking the most likely scenario is that he developed a huge crush on this girl - probably a super-popular, cheerleader-type - which may or may not have been unrequited. No matter either way, because at some point she chose to go out with his best friend instead - a high school jock-type, probably - and broke poor old teenage Tommy's heart in the process.

In the grand scheme of tragic stories that doesn't score high on the So-What-ometer; every angst-ridden teen has gone through something like that at some point. Most have a mini-meltdown in their bedroom for a few weeks and then get on with life again. But for the fledgling wannabe writer there's another way. You can sit on those all-consuming emotions for a few years, letting them bubble and stew, until the moment you're ready to let them burst forth like a Krakatoa of Vitriol. Because then they will have morphed beyond their original pain and lack of fairness into a terrifying monster of global injustice! With laser-beam eyes and everything!

How many of you writers are out there now thinking "Well I've never written anything like that. I don't think..."? How can you know? Well, here are some handy ways to spot if your story is a Screw You Piece...

1 - The Hero is a kind and wonderful human of infinite idealness...
He's a friend to everyone - even the stupid and smelly people. You can tell this, because everyone he meets constantly reminds him he is (unless of course they're horrible evil people, but even they only hate him because, dammit, they wish they could be more like him.) And how can everyone help themselves, because the hero is constantly proving just what an all-round awesome human he is, whether it's buying perfect presents for people, dispensing smart, insightful and compassionate advice and support to everyone (no wonder he's the guy everyone in the story goes to for that sort of thing!) or just regularly being kind to random animals and small children. Oh, and he also gets all the best lines. It's almost like... ooh, I dunno, the reader needs to be really really sure that this guy right here is the one we should all be rooting for...

2 - ...Even when he isn't.
Especially in those moments where he does things that, if some other dude did them, would be the act of a total douchebag, but because it's him it's totally justified because otherwise the plot won't work right and anyway he's the goddamn good guy, remember? He can't do anything wrong, it's against the Laws of Screw You Stories. Look, he's patting that dog's head 'cos he's an all-round cool person and he's gonna get screwed over by the evil people soon so you have to love him pay no attention to the dick behind the curtain...

3 - ...Or alternatively, even when everyone else isn't.
Everyone around her stabs her in the back, says mean and completely unfair things to her, uses and abuses her and just generally fails to treat her with the respect and compassion she so richly deserves. Even the supposed good guys who are supposed to be her friends mess up, goddammit - although, to be fair, they only do it by accident because they're slightly less awesome people than she is. But does she retaliate? Does she stoop to their level and give them a taste of their own medicine? Nooooo! She endures it all with a patient smile and the wisdom of Yoda himself, because she knows that by being so painfully morally superior to everyone else in every way she will be The Better Person, and readers will marvel at her saintliness and know that she is The Chosen One of this story!

4 - The Evil Evil Antagonists are Evil with a Capital EVIL!!!
The antagonists of a Screw You Piece aren't your run-of-the-mill bad guys. Forget about three-dimensional outcasts or damaged individuals who just happened to take the wrong path in life - a Screw You Antagonist has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, because their role in the tale is to be pantomime villain naaaassssttty, bwah ha haaaaaaa! They don't just punch fluffy kittens in the face; they tell the fluffy kittens they're ugly and their mother never loved them, then they sleep with the fluffy kitten's boyfriend and then they kill him afterwards and then they tell the fluffy kitten they just slept with their boyfriend and killed them... and they do it all while laughing gleefully because they just love every second of being so evilly evil..! Ha ha ha ha HAAAAA! *cough, splutter.*

5 - The Hero wins big - and the Villains lose bigger...
But it's all going to be okay in the end for our poor, put-upon protag - and I mean really, super-duper okay. Whatever the Grand Prize at the end of the game show was, they've got it, and in spades. Meanwhile, the villains lives have shattered into so many tiny pieces of despair they're practically a dust cloud - but you're not allowed to feel even the teeniest bit sorry for them because they totally deserved it, remember? How far is reasonable, d'you think, in making sure readers really get the message that Evil Villain has been well and truly crapped on? Well, it seems there's an actual formula for a Screw You Piece. For every disproportionately wonderful thing that happens to Awesome Heroine, an equally disproportionately terrible thing must happen to the Nasty Villains - oh, and bonus points if things of great value to the villains are taken from them and given to the Heroine instead, like a sort of karmic swap shop. So Saint Heroine of Awesome doesn't just get the guy, she gets the villain's guy, and while she becomes rich and famous and somehow even more beautiful and popular, Evil Villain becomes destitute and loses her looks and all her friends, then succumbs to some horrible disease that kills her, and when she dies no-one comes to her funeral and stray dogs come and pee on her gravestone, and then two years later it's concreted over to make way for a multi-storey car park... well okay then, maybe not that last one. A touch too harsh, perhaps.

6 - ...Or alternatively, the Tragic Hero's Tragic End is so tragic even the villains are gutted.
But you could of course be going for full-on melodrama instead. In this scenario it's the beloved hero who loses everything - usually resulting in heart-rendingly poignant death. This can either be in the form of suicide that they are driven to thanks to the evil villain's evilness, or as a result of a selfless sacrifice, made to save an unsuspecting bystander from an evil scheme the villain had planned for the hero. Either way, the demise must be a direct result of the hero being a super-awesome person who was just too awesome for this harsh, cruel world and the villain being a heartless douchebag who deserves to burn in Hell for eternity in the next life. Oh, but not before they've done some suffering before then as well - in the form of tortuous guilt. That's right - the Emperor of Nasty who once got borderline orgasmic pleasure from torturing the innocent hero is now  transformed, their eyes finally opened to their own horribleness. "Nooooooo!!! He's deeeaaaaad, and it's all my fault! I never meant for it to end this way - aaaarrrrgggghhh, WHAT HAVE I DOOOONNNNE?" The takeaway message the evil villain must be visibly seen to take away is "See - look what you did, you bar-steward! Look what you bloody well did!" In real life, of course, such a villain wouldn't give a flying monkeys - in fact he'd most likely view it as 'mission accomplished' and buy himself a celebratory beer. But in the world of Screw You Fiction his character arc must now do a sharp u-turn - and bite him in his own arse.


Whilst all of the above are exaggerated examples, they still form a blueprint for the typical Screw You Piece. And it's clear now what the purpose of such a piece is - a blunt weapon of revenge for the wounded author, hitting back at enemies from the past. If you weren't able to kick them in their actual balls at the time, why not belt them in their fictional ones a few years down the line - and capture that moment forever while you're at it? It doesn't even matter how vindictive you get, because after all, it's not like you're actually walking up to these people and hurting them in real life, is it?

And as a writer, you should write these pieces. You should pour them out of your injured soul and spread their blood and guts all over the page, in order to heal from them and move on from the scars they left on your heart. Not for nothing do they say writing is a form of therapy.

But the one thing you almost certainly shouldn't do is publish them. Because good fiction - the kind of fiction readers want to read - has rationality at its core. Sure, it may be chock-full of emotional events, but the sequence and motivations for those events come from a sound structure of logical cause and effect. And the vengeful heart is not rational or logical - it just wants to lance the blister of pain and let all the nasty gunk out. It feels damn good when you've done it - but it's best done in private. Do you really want the whole world watching the process? And then - even worse - turning away in disgust and saying "Ewww, that's gross?" Because that's what you do when you present a Screw You Piece to the world. Isn't it bad enough that you went through all that pain the first time around, without having everyone laugh and make snarky comments about it years later, and possibly for the rest of your life?

Poor old Tommy Wiseau.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

How 'Alien' do we want our Aliens?

There's a wind of change a-blowing through sci-fi at the moment - one that relates in particular to extra-terrestrial life and how it's depicted in fiction.

Science fiction has been around for at least a century, but it wasn't until the 1950s that aliens and UFOs made an impact on the genre. Back then man had yet to land on the moon, poor old Pluto was still a planet and the Milky Way was thought to be The Whole Universe rather than just the astronomical equivalent of a zip-code. So there's no need to beat up ourselves or the sci-fi authors of the time if the depictions of aliens were... a little primitive, to say the least.

Now of course, thanks to space exploration, ever more sophisticated telescopes, satellites and probes and the brain-melting theories and experiments of various NASA boffins, we know so much more. And like the kid who grows up and discovers Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny aren't real, we've all had to adjust our ideas of how proper alien life might have to work in order to actually exist.

(Unless of course you're a conspiracy theorist, in which case carry on believing whatever bullcrap you like and by the way, that tinfoil hat is just so you, dahling..!)

As a result, some sections of the sci-fi community have been railing against the 'standard' alien so beloved of fifty-odd years of popular space fiction, saying that not only is it now known to be nonsensically implausible but a sign of 'lazy and unimaginative writing.' Those who continue to write aliens as little more than humans in neon body-paint with innuendo-inspiring appendages are doing the genre a huge disservice, and they need to stop it, like, now. Get with the (space) program, dudes, and dig deeper for the Weird!

I get that. No honestly, I do. Even in the fairly recent past there have been aliens so badly conceived as to be insulting to a human of average intelligence. Here are just two of the worst examples:

Independence Day - A super-advanced alien race with motherships the size of a suburban town that travel beyond light-speed and are equipped with building-melting lasers have invaded Earth, and even as we speak are merrily destroying key world landmarks they researched on the way (because you don't want to look like a total noob blowing up a McDonalds in Ohio and a Pizza Express in Slough, right?) Oh noes, we're all gonna die! Thank God then, that their inter-galactic fleet of Death Spaceships are still using Microsoft Windows as an operating system, and in their rush to pack enough laser-ammo to LEGO-brick the White House forgot to renew their McAfee subscription! Otherwise that little trojan virus that geeky guy slapped together on his laptop would've been useless for singlehandedly wiping out their entire armada!

Signs - Just imagine for a moment how the Project Planning Meeting might have looked for the uber-powerful, faster-than-lightspeed-spaceship-owning aliens in this particular movie:

ALIEN #1: So... which planet in this little corner of the Milky Way shall we invade and plunder then?
ALIEN #2: Well, how about the one that's over two-thirds covered with a liquid that's pretty much lethal to us?
ALIEN #1: Oooh, sounds like a plan!
ALIEN #3: Um, not wanting to come over all Health and Safety on you guys or anything, but it seems that this lethal liquid is so prevalent that it regularly just falls out of the sky - sometimes for like, days at a time...
ALIEN #2: So..?
ALIEN #3: Well... shouldn't we perhaps consider wearing some sort of protective clothing while we're down there? Y'know, in case that happens?
ALIEN #1: Where are your balls, soldier? If we're gonna go down and invade a planet swirling in stuff that kills us on contact, we're gonna do it butt-naked! 'Cause that's how we roll!

Yes, the above and other examples like them are spectacularly stoopid, and the writers could and should have done better. Yes, now that we have all this new knowledge about how other worlds unlike our own might work, we need to use it to inform our stories about alien races and take them to new levels. Innovate, don't imitate and all that. But at the same time, I feel some of the calls for change could be argued as sacrificing 'authenticity' for story, and we should review each on a case-by-case basis rather than impose new standards across the board. Changes like:

I'm a sexy alien and I know it.
 It's a popular trope - randy alien gets the massive hots for sexy earthling (or sexy alien-of-a-different-planet-to-the-other-alien) and they end up making sweet lurve, sometimes to the point of producing an adorable little hybrid-alien baby to boot. Captain Kirk certainly got close many a time, although fortunately for the Starship Enterprise he also had commitment issues when it came to putting a ring on it.  But could such inter-planetary dalliances ever happen in real life?

Well.... the getting the hots and making sweet lurve part isn't impossible. Humans are certainly kinky little devils who can get all fired up over and doing the most disturbing things (look in any murky corner of the internet for proof of that. On second thoughts, don't. You may be scarred for life.) But, like a union between a human and an animal will not produce a humanimal, the chances of procreation between two different alien races resulting in offspring are close to zero. So hybrid alien babies and plots involving aliens 'spreading their seed' among other alien races (including earthlings) are now considered uncreative as well as unrealistic erotica. (Compared to the other - um, 'realistic' erotica out there? Like, for instance, Dinosaur Porn?)

S'okay, primitive humans - my people memorised the Rosetta Stone on the way here.
In the ultimate example of long-distance language courses, most aliens who rock up to Earth can instantly speak whatever the local lingo for the area happens to be, often quite literally like a native, right from First Contact. Sometimes the explanation for this miracle is little more than a vague hand-wave and a 'just because' from the author, and other times they wheel out whatever name they've devised for the old 'universal translator' thingy (i.e. some technological gizmo/super-weird creature-pathogen possessed by the aliens that just magically translates everything everyone ever says to everyone else forever, instantly and in real time.)

You don't need to be a scientist, rocket or otherwise, to know there's no way this could work in real life, simply because the data still has to be collected, and to do that the different alien races need to spend a decent period of time interacting and then extrapolating that data first. Even websites like Google Translate won't help you instantly converse like a local with someone whose language you don't actually speak - and that's before you take into account that alien worlds may have things, ideas and states of being that have no equivalent in context on Earth, and vice versa.

So again, the feeling is growing that universal translators and instantly multi-lingual aliens are a lazy way of getting round the inevitably real-life language barriers. Especially if these aliens don't even use verbal language to communicate in the first place. And why should they? After all, we're the odd ones out in that sense right here on earth (yes we are - sorry Cat Lady, but Tiddles does not understand every word you say and you do not speak Meow.)

Oh hey, you're just like me - but blue, with random tentacles!
I saved this one for last, since it's potentially the biggest can of worms.

If we've learned anything in the last twenty or so years, it's just how crazy-weird and wonderful other planets are - not just in our own solar system but light years away, in the farthest reaches of the Milky Way and beyond. A frozen waterworld moon! Planets where it rains liquid methane! Planets with storms that last hundreds of years! A moon covered in volcanoes and lava lakes!

Obviously, us puny humans would struggle to last five minutes on worlds like these, so it stands to reason that any sentient natives of those worlds aint gonna be using much of our physiology as a blueprint. We are also carbon-based organisms, because there's a lot of that element on earth and carbon bonds well with lots of other elements, enabling complex structures like sentient life to exist. Other planets with crazy chemical make-ups nothing like ours would have to use other elements with similar properties - silicon is the most popular one touted as a next-best - which means they would probably look and even function very differently to us. And why would creatures on a waterworld need legs, or breathe air? Why would creatures who get their energy via photosynthesis (like plants here on earth) have a digestive system - or even mouths?

So the new, up-to-date message from many quarters of the sci-fi market is clear; writers of alien worlds need to start thinking out of the Star Trek costume box for today's ETs. We're a lot less dumb than we used to be about What's Really Out There (well, except maybe the aforementioned conspiracy theorists) and the guy in the rubber suit won't fool us any more - not even in books. We want proper, faithful depictions of scientifically plausible aliens, and we want them now.

But... do we? Really?

Remember when NASA announced they'd found evidence of life on Mars? The whole world did a collective squee and tuned in for more, panting to know what these critters looked like, what they did, could we bring some back to earth someday and breed them to keep as pets? Until the pictures emerged of these pudgy little worm-y things that NASA told us were so small that this view was actually them magnified about a hundred times, and these ones had probably been dead for about a billion years anyway...

At which point the world did a collective 'humph' and stomped off to - I don't know, play Star Wars Battlefront probably ("at least that's got shootable aliens in it!") Big red buzzer for the non-interesting aliens!

And that's the risk fiction writers take when they try to create 'scientifically realistic' aliens. Sure, they might be spot-on, factually accurate recreations of life that could exist on the fantastical planet of their imaginings - but would anyone want to read about a race of sentient snot-balls whose only form of expression is to spit snot-globs and change colour? For 200-plus pages?

No. So we're going to have to boot our imaginary aliens further up the evolutionary ladder - to be, at the very least, on a developmental par with us humans. And luckily, the boffins of the world have been thinking about that too, and devised a wish list of key characteristics such a species would need to possess in order to dominate their environment the way we do:

Sensory organs - all the better to see, hear, touch, taste and smell. The last three can be achieved a number of ways, as is the case on earth, (a snake 'smells' with its tongue and its skin provides the sense of touch, for example) but for seeing and hearing the requirements are more specific. For complex tasks like building stuff, throwing and catching and manipulating tools in general you need stereo vision - that is, at least two eyes next to each other, facing forward. Meanwhile, binaural hearing offers the greatest chance of survival, enabling a creature to not only hear sounds from all around them, but also to pinpoint the direction of that sound. This is why most highly evolved creatures on earth have two ears - one on each side of their head.

Opposable digits - Aint much civilisation gonna happen without these. This requires at least two twiggy appendages that can move independently of one another while also being able to function together as a unit, where pressure between them can be controlled (enabling gripping and releasing.) This is why apes, monkeys and humans can do complex things with tools, while dogs and manatees just try and eat them.

Highly-evolved socio-communicative skills - No man is an island, so the saying goes - and the same would be true for ambitious aliens. You want to get shizzle done, you need teamwork and an ability to communicate your plans that goes beyond pointy hands and grunts. The reason we can make the wide range of complicated sounds that constitute 'talking' is all to do with the configuration of our tongues, teeth and larnyx, and - get this - our upright standing/walking posture plays a part too. An ability to pass on complicated, non-instinctive information when we're not around to do it personally is also a bonus - which is why us humans invented writing, music and art. But first we needed big brains, and once we'd got one of those it took priority over muscles when it came to feeding our bodies. This is why most of us aren't naturally as huge as an elephant, pumped as a silverback gorilla or as fast as a cheetah; all the fuel that would go into priming the muscles required for those traits gets diverted instead to our massive brains. It also means they'd need to eat actual food to survive - particularly, but not limited to, proteins or something with protein-esque qualities- so no purely photosynthesising life-forms if you want them intelligent, I'm afraid.

So taking all of the above into account, it would seem the ideal alien for interesting and believable fiction would need at least five senses, forward-facing seeing organs next to each other, hearing organs on either side of its head or body, at least two opposable digits, flexible tongues and larynxes, an upright posture, a digestive system that can utilise proteins or an otherworldly equivalent and large brains at the expense of being pretty small, slow-moving and not overly strong.

Wow. That sounds a lot like... us!

You could argue that of course we'd believe that, because humans have proved throughout history that we think we're smashing, the best things ever invented. But even if you're not a scientist, it's hard to argue that the characteristics listed above aren't a massive advantage that mark us out from all the other creatures on our planet. So writers can feel justified in continuing to use them as a starting point in creating their own aliens. And there's still scope for turning up the weird. Why stop at just two eyes, for instance, when you could have three, four or even multiple mini-eyes like a fly? They might need an upright posture - but who says they have to have legs? And when it comes to how they procreate - well, that's between you and your inner therapist, my dears....

So when it comes to creating aliens that won't get the pointy finger of 'outdated cliche' thrust in their face, there's no need to panic; there are plenty of scientific reasons for them to not be so wildly wacky they no longer resemble humans in any way. But there are other reasons too, and they are to do with why we read stories in the first place - about anything, not just aliens. We want to read about shared experiences, to step into another's shoes for a while and walk their path through life, and to do that we need to see how, why and where those characters are like us. We want to laugh, cry, rage, fear, love and hate with them as they lead us through their story.

And it's darn near impossible to do that with a non-talking, quivering blob of goo.


So what would you add to an alien to level it up from Rubber-suited Guy? What cliche do you think should be taken away? Feel free to put your ideas in the Comments below.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

How Not Writing Your Novel Can Sometimes Help You Write Your Novel

It's the Easter school holidays here in UK-Land now. Which means...

*drumroll and fanfare - probably played on a kazoo...*

'Excuses-for-not-writing-of-the-busy-mum-variety' - time!

Put down that tiny violin please, it's not necessary. I worked through my guilt in the week leading up to this one, so by the time it arrived I was already down with having a week 'semi-off.' This is partly because my husband also had a week off, so I knew it was pointless trying to adhere to my usual writing targets. I'd just get my inner Gollum on when I couldn't meet them - "we didn't mean to be bad, preciouss... You failed ussss! Ussselesssss little hobbit!"  So.... it's fine. Really. Not a problem at all.

As well as Easter, Spring has also... sort of started. It's a bit hard to tell here in the UK, what with random raging storms and torrential rain still rearing their spoilsporty heads (I have at least two friends who lost their greenhouses in Storm Katie this week. Yep, we've started naming our storms too, just to make them feel that bit more important.) But the calendar says it's here, and for me that means getting my allotment ready for this years crops - so yeah, lots of digging over plots and sowing and potting up of seedlings. But there's something about losing yourself in the rhythm of digging and garden-pottering that gives your brain time to ponder over the mechanics and machinations of a novel-in-progress, and I've solved many a twisty plot-knot while up to my elbows in mud and weeds.

Equally, while I may not have contributed as much to the actual word-count of Redemption this week, I have found another way to work on it that's really helped me in ways I could never have imagined, so I thought I'd share it here.

I first discovered this strategy by accident a few weeks ago. Neither my husband nor my son enjoy accompanying me on a food shopping trip at the best of times, never mind on a Saturday morning when there's serious gaming time to catch up on, so I usually end up going into town on my own and leaving them to it. However, this week I went in an hour earlier than I normally do, and took a big notebook and pen with me in a rucksack, so I'd have an hour to myself for sitting in a nice cafe and scribbling with a coffee and a snack beside me. I've done this several times in the past, and even talked about it previously in this blog as part of a process for unsticking a stuck bit in your novel. This time I didn't have a specific problem with anything in Redemption, but I did feel as if my progress was slowing down a bit, so, without really thinking about it too much, I opened my notebook, stuck the date at the top of the page and started writing about it.

I started by writing about the scene I'd just finished writing; what I'd changed from my outline and why, how I felt about that, and what else I might now have to change further along in the story as a result. Then I wrote about the scene I was going to write next; where I would stick to my outline and where I might deviate from it and try another angle. As the debating and deliberating occurred in my head I wrote that down too, transcribing each little internal question and argument along with the mental responses that followed. It was part free-writing, part journalling - and indeed, by the time I had written a full A4 page in this manner it did look very much like a diary entry. Along the way I was able to make crucial decisions and answer nagging questions I'd had in the back of my mind about those particular scenes, which I was able to tackle as soon as I sat down in front of my computer to work on them.

So, when next Saturday rolled around, I decided to do the same thing again. By this time, I was at the stage of writing a scene that would need to change as a result of the scenes I'd changed last week. Not a problem; I had all my scribblings from last week's diary entry as notes to help with figuring out those changes. Again I wrote down all the internal debating as well as the solutions I came up with, even if they seemed trivial or irrelevant (or simply repeating what I'd written in my previous entry.)

And as the weeks have passed, I've found this to be exponentially more helpful with each new journal entry (I'm doing at least two a week now, even if that means doing some of them at home rather than in a comfy cafe.) It's not just the nuts-and-bolts decisions and outline alterations that have been useful to record; expressing the doubts and questions still to be answered has been just as useful too. Particularly since the act of writing them down seems to ignite a kind of slow-cooker process in my brain so that, by the time I come to write the next journal entry, the answer is at least half-formed already as I address it again.

When I worked as a software technician for an avionics company they had a standard practice that was very similar - the Project Log Book. Each employee had their own, and was required to record details of whatever code they were working on, progress made and things that still needed to be done to complete it. Of course this was a software environment where only the dry, technical data was to be recorded - putting in your feelings about what you had to do and internally debating whether it was the 'right' thing to do would have been somewhat frowned upon. That may have been why I didn't take the Project Log Book ethos all that seriously when I worked there (mine wasn't just written emotionally, it was filled with silly/cynical cartoons expressing those emotions.)

But now I can see how the basic idea of the software environment Project Log Book, combined with the freedom afforded by a diary format to express the accompanying emotions, can be invaluable to a writer. Done regularly, it offers deeper insights than an outline, helps you devise a plan for each writing session before you sit down to begin it and - best of all - creates a record you can look back over, to observe thought patterns for those particularly troublesome parts of a work-in-progress. And unlike random scribbles jotted down on the nearest piece of paper as and when inspiration strikes - which are just as useful in their own way and not to be dismissed - this type of W-I-P Journal works best as a one-stop location where all decisions and feelings about the project are recorded and collated over time.

Try it, is all I can say. It may well help you as much as it's helped me.