On Writing (& International English)

I was inspired by an interesting conversation on Twitter last week that was occurring on Brigid Kemmerer’s profile (@BrigidKemmerer). She is an author who specializes in Young Adult fiction and the conversation was about why people chose to become writers. Well, that is a most interesting question so simple answer is because we wish to create. For me (and I have since found out that this is true for many authors out there), I wish to write a book that I know I would enjoy. Which sounds a bit selfish or egotistical, but I believe it is more the need to create a story that I wish existed already. I don’t recall everything that was said, but I do know I had tweeted something along those lines (the need to create and share). But I feel some background as to why I am choosing to write and become an author now deserves to be told.

I have always been an avid reader. My first true enjoyment of reading was at the age of 7 and it was The Hobbit. I firmly blame Tolkien for my love of language and words, plus I am sure that most people fall in love with words in a similar fashion. At the age of 8, I moved onto Shakespeare and Homer’s Odyssey. Yes, this was at age 8 and I am fully aware of how unusual that must be and how hard it is to believe. I didn’t read Shakespeare’s plays at that age, I did stick to the Sonnets (which is a bit easier, I think, to start off with). But I was a very weird child with more adult tastes in literature. I recall that at school, the school was adamant that I be tested for ADHD (and to have an IQ test done) because when it came to any English or Spelling lesson, I was most likely doodling in my notebook and not paying attention. And yet I was scoring 100% every time, so the school was very perplexed. My IQ at that time was rated to be 132, which is high for a child of 8. So it seems that I didn’t have ADHD, but was just extremely bored. So I was moved into classes with much older students and was fairly content. However, they had to retest my IQ two years later because while I was advanced in terms of literature and English comprehension, I couldn’t do the advanced Math classes they had placed me in. The school, at that time, had a weird policy that if a child was gifted in one area, then they must be gifted in others. It’s difficult for a child of 10 to do middle school math when they haven’t been taught multiplication. My IQ, however, had jumped to 136 and I am ashamed to say that I haven’t been tested since, though I should at some point do it just because I am curious as to what it may be at this point given all my education and knowledge. Unlike some politicians, I don’t relish stating what my IQ was because I know it can make people feel like I am boasting, which is not my intention with sharing it. Only to be aware, perhaps, that sometimes children acting out in school classrooms isn’t always a behavior issue. Maybe, just maybe, that child is simply bored because they aren’t being challenged.

As to writing, I guess it should come as no surprise that I have always been writing in some fashion. Poetry is something I wrote in the past and still write. I recall writing very simple poems when I was about 10, but I don’t think any juvenile poetry of mine is in existence anymore as paper degrades and most likely has been recycled. I have a poem from High School still, which is something, as I know I wrote it when I was about 16. So I do have one piece of juvenile writing. But most of my poems are from 1999 onwards. And the muse comes in waves, I’m afraid. I can write 12 poems in a single day and then go for months without anything.To be fair, when I am severely depressed, poetry doesn’t come to me, so periods of nothing are usually periods of depression. Though I also didn’t when I was in graduate school simply because I was depressed, but also I was too busy trying to survive graduate school. Sometimes writing has to take a back seat to life. As to the number of poems, they are well over 200. I currently have close to 30 saved as notes on my phone (which I really should type out) and over 200 in one small journal. I have another journal with additional poems as well. One day, I hope to publish some of them in a book. For now, I will endeavor to submit them to journals and other such media to get them published.

However, writing a novel, let alone 6, is a feat I have never undertaken before. A short story is not hard for me to accomplish (and I have one that I wrote for my undergraduate that’s basically a retold fairy tale), but a novel is another kettle of fish. The 6 I am currently working on are set in the Regency Era, but the emphasis will be on historical accuracy, with wit and humor. Sort of a peek behind the rose tinted glasses we wear when we think of Regency novels. Of course, my inspiration is Jane Austen, whom I was introduced to by a local librarian when I was 12 and thus started my journey into researching the 19th Century. To be fair, I didn’t start actual research until I was closer to 16, which means I have been researching the 19th Century off and on for over 20 years. At least 10 of those while I was at university (both undergrad and grad) in any spare time I had. This, of course, means that I am a very boring sort of person who’d rather curl up with a good book and a nice cuppa than going out to the local club. Even though I have been known to go out, it has never been a must for me (although I do enjoy dancing and being with people-I’m not a complete dullard).

This, of course, brings us to what I like to call “International English” or, to put it simply, I tend to write in a blended style of American and U.K. English. Of course, this drove some of my professors mad and some never noticed (which is even more shocking).  One can, of course, blame my love of classical British literature like Austen or Shakespeare on this peculiarity of mine, but that would be unfair. I simply think colour should be spelled properly and accept that I also use a zed in certain words like “realize”. Which, I think may drive my future and yet unknown agent up the proverbial wall. Especially the editor as well. Unless, of course, I can convince them that “International English” needs to be recognized as a valid form of English. The way I write, though, lends itself to this blending, I feel, because it is how I think. I do think in more formal language when I am writing and also when I am tweeting. I really cannot help it. I’ve been told it’s presumptuous of me to be using such vernacular, but this is how the inside of my mind works. I do try to not be so formal, though it does poke out when I am feeling provoked or wish to make a witticism. Colloquial language that we use everyday has lost some of it’s spark, it’s romance and perhaps that is what I am rebelling against. Plus, using such formal language does tend to make comebacks sound oh so lovely. A minor point, but a valid one nonetheless.

As to how I write, well first I had to research. And by research, I mean I have 3 notebooks filled with information I felt I may need just spanning the years 1790-1830. Most of the information is centered on the U.K., though I did include some historical information on America. Mainly for myself (as I do love American History during the 19th Century) but just in case it should ever pop up in one of the novels. I’d rather have too much research than not enough. This does not include an almost filled additional notebook filled with writing tips, websites, and how to edit/write dialogue. Personally, I found it more useful to look at how playwrights construct dialogue than writers. That could be because of my background in Theatre but also as plays do tend to be more realistic in terms of dialogue than most novels and I do so want the dialogue to seem more realistic. Each novel has at least 2 notebooks as well-one contains the actual story that I’ve written (or outlined in 4 of these novels) and another that gives a list of the characters, short snippets of information under their name, places (i.e. settings), and sometimes a little information on money as it relates to the characters. Then I have a list of questions for each character (sort of an in-depth biography) into who they are. Some questions are basic, such as their age, hair colour, nicknames. Other’s ask questions as to their favourite food, health, and even any regrets they may have. All of which is never seen in the novel, but it helps me get into their heads. It helps me see them, speak to them and for them. Which sounds a bit maddening at times-and I assure you, it is. They all have their little quirks and even though I may not like some of them, I do enjoy writing them.

The hard part, to be honest, has been now typing out the one novel from the notebook writings. Hard because I sometimes shorten and abbreviate words when I am writing and have to remind myself to type out the entire word. But also hard as some things just change as I am typing them out. Sometimes what worked on paper no longer works on the screen so I just change it, or add to it. In a way, writing it out then being forced to type it out has been a way to do a first semi-edit in a way. I know there are some areas that I am not pleased with, but instead of focusing on them and getting worked up, I type out what I have and continue on. Anything that I am not happy with, I know I can deal with once everything has been typed up and then printed out so I can really edit it properly (red pens at the ready!). I try not to focus on word counts at this point (just an FYI, most novels are over 40K words and average around 70K) as I know it will be long enough. My one concern is, of course, that I tend to write in this blended style. Should I keep it that way and offer an explanation as to why I write like that to a potential agent? Or should I chose American or U.K. English and reformat? Personally, I’d rather keep the blended style as then it would be appropriate to be published in the U.K. and the U.S. without having to change all the words. It’s a practical form of English. One that I have invented, it seems, as I can find no evidence of this blended style in existence elsewhere. But those are musings for another day.