The reassurance of a nice luncheon

A week ago I published a post entitled How to write a novel, which wasn’t so much a set of instructions as an update on my progress with writing one. I was pleased with myself for having hit my first 10,000 words. In the week since then I have added absolutely nothing to it.

This morning I began re-reading the first page of what I’ve written, and discovered that it’s so mindbogglingly tedious that I can’t even reach the bottom of the page without yawning my head off and wishing I was watching paint dry. Is this because I’ve read it so often, or is it because it genuinely is mind-bogglingly tedious?

I’m not sure, but it puts me in the sticky situation of not knowing what to do next. I could put the first 10,000 words to the back of my mind, pick up where I left off and keep writing regardless, or I could completely start again, rehashing the whole thing from scratch, or I could give up on it altogether, and accept that I will never write a novel.

Just at this moment, giving up seems a) the most sensible, and b) impossible. Even if every word I write is utter drivel, I don’t think I can stop myself from having a go at bashing out chapters of the stuff. Although I do think most of what I’ve written so far is excruciatingly dull, something inside me can’t seem to give it up on it.

Given this sorry state of affairs, having a bit of a whinge on my blog seemed like a refreshing balm for the soul. In fact, I feel better already, and would like to now make up for my moaning with pictures of a nice lunch I had last month in the utterly splendid bookshop and cafe, ReadingLasses (it specialises in books by women writers – rather a clever name, don’t you think?), in the small town of Wigtown.

I’ve written before about this place (here), and my most recent visit – while on holiday in Galloway with the delightful assistants – was as pleasing as ever.

It was exceptionally busy the day we popped in for luncheon, there being a busload of about 30 American tourists just having shipped in, shortly to be followed by a second busload. Each of them wanted to pay for their own meal, which led to a great deal of queueing and till-side confusion when it came to settling the bills. The way the shop is laid out, there’s not much space at the till area, indeed if you have more than one punter standing there it feels a tad cramped. We were seated near the till and the spectacle of politely shuffling tourists, peering at their strange currency and trying to remember what they’d eaten and therefore wanted to pay for, afforded us great entertainment. A small dog, that I think lives in the shop, added to the hullabaloo by getting in amongst the feet of punters and waitresses, and was clearly much excited by the sociable atmosphere.

I had been hoping for the shepherdess pie I had on my last visit here, but it wasn’t on the menu, so I plumped for a delicious sounding three bean chilli (vegan, to boot) instead. It came with crisp French bread, tortilla chips and some lettuce. The chilli was extremely hot, but the side items and a lovely glass of cool tap water helped to cool down my burning mouth. It was tasty and satisfying:

Thanks to it being, although quite substantial, also fairly light, I had room for a pudding. The puddings here are as good as the main courses, and I was tempted by the rice pud I had enjoyed previously, but then I remembered the chocolate brownie.

On the whole, I’m not much of a one for brownies, being suspicious of the sort of uncooked texture of the middle, but I had tasted one here before and recalled how exquisite it was. I took the plunge. It was served hot with ice cream, and I paired it rather decadently with an excellent decaf cappuccino:

I don’t know if that appeals to you or not, but I wish I could let you taste it. It exceeded my expectations, and even now I can lapse into a state of bliss just thinking of how the chocolate melted on the tongue and how the texture and warmth seemed to nourish my blood and make me fitter, stronger, and almost invincible. (This might be stretching things a bit, but it did make me feel magnificent, despite its artery-clogging potential.)

I can’t resist another picture of it, to emphasise the pleasure:

Delightful assistant no.1 also indulged in a dessert, and the rice pudding called to her. It was, to be truthful, more a plate of cream with some rice in it, which exactly suited her tastes:

And so, when I feel useless and unable to achieve what I’ve set out to do in the novel-writing department, at least I know I still have the ability to consume and enjoy delicious fare. Not perhaps the world’s greatest ever achievement, but eminently satisfying for me all the same.


59 thoughts on “The reassurance of a nice luncheon

  1. Hi Lorna, firstly love the name of the bookshop, very clever indeed! Secondly, there will alway s be room for nourishment and the opportunity to regroup ones thoughts over chocolate pudding. Life is filled with pauses in between the hard work and no doubt each & every break is well deserved!

    • Thank you Alice, that’s a good point, we do need breaks between the work, but a whole week seemed to me rather over the top in that department. However, I think a chocolate pudding might well set me on my way again and I might have to make one myself very soon. Looking at your blog is another way to revive flagging spirits. 🙂

  2. It’s sounds like it was good to step away and nourish the body and soul at the same time. I’m not a writer, but when feeling that complete inability to create anything (besides a mess) I’ve learned to step away. The harder we push to create the harder it comes…

    • My dear girl, I don’t like to oppose you but you are a writer, you have created a fine blog! Your advice is very sound, stepping away and taking a breather is probaby the best thing I can do at the moment, thank you.

  3. Lorna, your writing is refreshing and funny! Don’t give up! A couple of suggestions…it’s always the case that you end up cutting tons from the first draft. I can usually tell when I’m writing that something sounds like crap. Getting it on the page is the first step. You can work with crap, but you can’t work with having nothing. Are you writing in the same voice you use when you blog? Because the voice you use when you blog is highly entertaining. Also find someone you trust to critique bits of it. Someone who’ll be honest but still be kind. Sometimes another eye sees things you don’t, good and bad! Good luck and keep us posted!

    • I really appreciate your comment, thank you. I’ve been thinking about this voice business and it might be the key to the whole thing. I’m not writing in the same voice as I use for this blog, because I’m trying to be serious, and I think that might be why it seems so dull. I want to write something gripping and my idea doesn’t seem to lend itself to frivolity, but perhaps that’s my problem, maybe I need to look at it from a different angle. I like to think I can write in more than one voice, not just the light-hearted one I use for blogging, but maybe I can’t and I should try to use what I have here for novel writing. I will consider that, although I can’t at the moment see how I could make it work. Finding someone to critique it is tricky because people want to be kind and say nice things. The people who have offered to read it would be far too positive, which would be nice for me but not necessarily terribly helpful. I think I need to try and see it differently, and your comment has helped to make me do that.

  4. Lorna, I really don’t know what to say! The pic of the chocolate brownie and ice cream is like an angelic visitation, and I am just transfixed. Your descriptions and photos are, as always, superb. Please do not be downcast about your first chapters! I have never attempted to write a novel, but I would tentatively suggest that you carry on without altering them, because (speaking only from my own experience) your first draft always tends to have the freshest ideas. You can then alter it if necessary at a later date, when you have a fuller picture of your story. But don’t give up on a good idea!

    • An angelic visitation! That sums it up Jo, thank you. At the moment I have two documents, one with the draft novel and another with lumps of it that I’ve cut out, so I haven’t actually discarded any of it yet. I think maybe what I need to do is to approach it a bit differently, but I’m not entirely sure how to do that. I’m hoping it will come to me if I keep writing, thank you for the encouragement.

  5. A a lovely read this morning! I would happily consume all the items pictured and, as the others, encourage you to keep writing and leave your draft untouched until later…best of luck on your writing endeavors!

    • Thank you for a lovely comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the edibles, I certainly enjoyed revisiting the memory of them. I will keep plugging away with the writing and keep my fingers crossed that things improve.

  6. I’m sure if your first page is like your blog it can not be boring! You write very well and keep the reader entertained. Which is what makes for a good novel. As for those desserts…I’m going to go and bake something because I now have a craving for something sweet!

    • Thank you kindly, but unfortunately my first page is nothing like my blog, which is quite probably the nub of the problem. I hope you managed to satisfy your cravings, I’m feeling the same way myself…

  7. I don’t think your first page would be boring… Maybe get someone else to read it on your behalf and get their opinion… I had this dream of writing novels in English and I also have couple of ideas but I am intimidated. Since English isn’t my native language, I do not want to make a fool of myself :). Love how the brownie looks… despite the artery-clogging potential (wink)

    • I’m extremely impressed by your ability to write in English when it’s not even your native language. Although I don’t have that reason myself, I do also want to avoid making a fool of myself, and I’m constantly looking words up in the dictionary. Goodness knows where I’d be without that and a thesaurus. That brownie was worth the rather high levels of saturated fat, and I had a good walk later in the day that I hope made up for it in some way.

      • Although I have a better English than most non-English speakers, I am sometimes confused with the punctuations and sometimes even the grammar. These two things really kill me, and almost always I mess up with the punctuations. I can talk in English, but writing a novel requires a total control of the language. I don’t think a thesaurus can help me here 🙂 But I believe I will someday attempt to right a novel. However, I don’t think I will be publishing it unless I am pretty sure people wouldn’t laugh 🙂

        I can’t wait for your novel to come through. Is it fiction and does it have romance? If yes, then I’ll be definitely reading your novel when it gets published 🙂

        • You’re certainly not alone in being confused by English punctuation Sukirtha – just about everybody struggles with it these days, I think! The number of times I see things in print with incorrect punctuation is incredible, and I know I make these mistakes myself, despite thinking that I know how to do it properly. I agree that writing is a very different business from speaking, it requires a different approach somehow, and I’m sure you’re right that in order to do it convincingly you need to have an excellent command of the language. However, there are such things as editors who can help out with that sort of thing, and the more you read and practice writing, the better you’ll get at it (that’s my hope for myself, anyway!).

          My novel is entirely fictional and at the moment it’s a bit of an adventure story, which may or may not include a murder, and I honestly hadn’t even thought of putting a love interest in it, that might spice things up a bit. I have no real idea how it’s going to progress, but I’ll keep you posted!

          • You wouldn’t believe if I said that I have been inspired by you and I myself have taken up writing. I am not sure where I am headed but thought of putting into paper the idea that I had in mind. As you said, I am not currently worrying about punctuations, although I am using google to find the right words for my exercise. If nothing else, I am sure my writing skills will improve over time and it is definitely something that is keeping me entertained. 🙂 So far I have written 4200 words and I am sure atleast 25% of it is junk 😛

            I can’t wait to see your story completed although I understand you have given yourself a couple of years to finish it. All the best! I’ll be watching your space for more updates.

            • I’m so delighted to hear that, Sukirtha, and congratulations on your 4200 words, that’s a fine total, and don’t worry about the ‘junk’ part of it. Everything I’ve heard on the subject, including in the comments here, is that the main thing is just to write and keep writing. I think you’ll notice that the more you write, the more confident you become and the more you’ll begin to get a feel for the punctuation and grammar. I think what you’re doing is really marvellous, writing in a language that isn’t your native tongue, I can’t even begin to contemplate such an enormous challenge.

              You’re right that I have given myself two years to complete the book, but secretly I’m hoping to do it more quickly. It just depends on how disciplined I am and what else happens in life, but that’s my most generous estimate. I look forward to hearing about how yours progresses, too, I’m so pleased that you’re doing it, I do think that’s amazing.

            • Well, I guess some credit goes to you because your post was my first inspiration to put things to paper. Let’s see how far I get. But as you said, it is helping me find my mistakes with the language already. I am beginning to read more to write better, which is a good thing. As of now, I know I am writing this for my own sake, with no expectations of any kind, which in a way kind of helps. There is no pressure and I am able to write freely. 🙂 By the way, I must say that although English is not my native tongue, I had learn English as part of my schooling, maybe that has enabled me to treat English as my secondary language, making it nearly as comfortable as my native tongue.

              I hope you finish it soon too. I love reading a good fiction, as long as the fiction is not horror or aliens.:)

            • That sounds like an excellent plan, to read more and write with no pressure. Even if you do learn English as part of your schooling, that’s not to say that you can use it effectively as an adult. I had French lessons at school and my French is abysmal! The more you use it the better it will get, I’m sure, so it looks to me as if you’re doing exactly the right thing.

              I’m with you on the horror front, I like a nice murder mystery but not all the gory gruesome sort of stuff. I can assure you that my book is not going to be a horror story, and will have no aliens in it. 🙂

            • You are right… the disadvantage for me is that I don’t get to talk in English as much as a native English person would do. Perfecting a language without talking much is difficult.

              No horror and no aliens is just perfect for me… I can definitely read a murder mystery 🙂

  8. Keep writing, Lorna! I know that you will and I know that you’ll get past it and the writing will come easier. Be wary of your own criticism – it really can be hard to judge one’s own work. Taking breaks is the best remedy! Strike that, ooey-gooey puddings w/ brownies are the best remedies!

    • I like your remedies Annie, a break and a treat sounds like the ideal solution to the problem. In the longer term, I like to think you’re right, that it will get easier, but I am prone to criticising my efforts quite harshly. It’s not helpful and it’s hardly going to boost my confidence, but it seems almost unavoidable most of the time. However, I know that I need to just keep at the writing and not be such a woose, so I’m going to help myself to a little bit of something tasty and sweet and have another go at it.

  9. I enjoy your stories so much that I think whatever you write will be great! And as to your post – the brownie dessert looks delicious. I also like that it’s served in a little bowl so you won’t lose any of it. After all you have to keep your strength up for all that writing 🙂

    • You’re so generous with your comments Meg, thank you. I couldn’t agree more about the serving dish for the brownie, it was ideal for getting up the last little bits of chocolate and spoonfuls of ice cream, and it certainly powered me up for the afternoon!

  10. Hello Lorna, it sounds like you need to consume as much cake and coffee as you can whilst completely forgetting about writing until the Muse is once again upon you.

    The restorative power of buns, muffins, gateaux and indeed anything containing copious amounts of chocolate should not be underestimated! And the Muse will indeed return when both she and you are good and ready.

    • Ha ha, I like your thinking Finn! I’m going to implement your advice this very morning and then have another stab at writing. It really is miraculous what a nice hot beverage and a comforting cake can do, I quite agree.

        • I’m delighted to report that a large mug of tea and a big fruit scone powered me through a rewrite of my existing story, written this time in what I think is more my own voice, and it was such a success that I intend to repeat the plan again this morning. If it fails to work I will simply put your excellent suggestion into action. Hurrah for tea and treats!

  11. Don’t you dare give up! 🙂 I agree with Unrefined, sometimes we are too critical of ourselves … I think it’s a bit of ‘familiarity breeding contempt’, especially with creative endeavours. You spend a lot of time with it, and it can get to be like being sick of seeing your own face in the bathroom mirror when you’re stuck inside in bad weather. But if you can get some distance, then come back fresh, that’s good. I’m hungry for Brownie now. Snacking on Virtual Brownie as I type.

    • You’re so right, thank you. Distance and a new approach is, I think, what I need. It’s extremely encouraging to have people leave comments like yours on my blog, it does help a lot and I very much appreciate it.

  12. Wow does that chocolate brownie pudding with ice cream look good! I think it is just the ticket to get you back to the novel. Just keep writing, it will all come together and yes, you will cut some out but you need to get it all down first, then cull.

    • I’m delighted to have your professional opinion Darlene, thank you! If you think sweet treats are the way forward, I’m sure you’re absolutely right. I agree with you that I need to keep writing and not worry too much about the details at the moment, but I do wonder if I’ve got off on the wrong track. I’m going to see what I can do about it after I’ve made a big pot of tea and ferreted out a tasty cake of some sort.

  13. Go for it, Lorna! as you’ve said, sometimes there is nothing for it but to press on, knowing that it needs to be written. I was talking with a fellow writer this morning and we were saying that although there seems to be so little time to write, we can’t help but do it. I wholeheartedly agree about the dictionary and thesaurus … I have just finished writing a post and my penguin reference dictionary and thesaurus are sitting beside me. I would be lost without them. They are good friends, especially when I’m writing. Your brownie looks amazing! I’ve never seen one spread all over the plate like that but it looks delicious, especially with the ice cream.

    • Thank you Alison, it’s very reassuring to know that other people suffer from the same sorts of problems, and that I’m not alone in relying heavily on a dictionary and thesaurus. I don’t know where I’d be without them, no doubt all of a dither and misusing words even more than I already do. Writing does take up time and energy, but even if you can fit in the odd half hour for it now and then it can be very therapeutic, I just wish I could discipline myself better for it, but that challenge is part of the attraction, I think. When I first saw this brownie pudding it was not at all what I’d been expecting, but it was so exceptionally good that is has almost completely transformed my attitude to brownies.

  14. Keep on with your endeavour. The struggle will be worth it.
    In the meantime we still get to enjoy your wonderfully entertaining blog writing.

    • Thank you Heather, I agree that the struggle will be worth it if I can complete it and feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Very kind of you to be so appreciative of my blog, I have a big grin on my face now. 🙂

  15. It’s always good to be able to find joy in a brownie sundae! It looks delicious. Sorry about all the American tourists slowing down the proceedings—my people have a way of doing that when they’re traveling. I like the name of that bookshop too, but I also love the name Wigtown. And keep up with the writing–I find that depending on the day, sometimes I find my own writing insanely tedious and sometimes I find it pretty acceptable. Hopefully you’ll warm up to your own words soon!

    • My dear Madame Weebles, its very good of you to apologise for your compatriots, but I’m quite sure it would have been the same sort of hoo-haa with any bunch of tourists all wanting to pay their own way. It certainly amused me, and they were so well mannered about it all that one couldn’t take offence. Wigtown is a great name, isn’t it? It’s so familiar to me now that I don’t stop to think about it, but I’m sure at one time it must have fairly tickled my fancy. It’s nice to know that you have the same problems with your own writing, I must admit that there are times when I think my writing is pretty acceptable, and those are the moments I need to remind myself of and aim for more of. I think I’m on the upward spiral again now, thank you.

  16. Sorry you’ve hit a patch of disappointment, Lorna. My advice, for what it’s worth, is keep going and don’t even worry about the first page until you’ve finished the entire first draft! First pages are different from the rest of a manuscript – work on it almost as a separate project. Besides, you won’t know what needs to be in the first page until you’ve finished your draft.

    Those desserts look scrummy! Glad you’re taking some time away from the grindstone and enjoying life.

    • Thank you for your advice Christine, I’m always glad to have it. That’s a most interesting idea about considering the first page as a separate project, just the thought of that takes the pressure off. I think you’re right that I need to avoid getting hung up on one part of the manuscript and just fire away with the writing and tidy it all up later on. The important thing is to get the thing written after all, and that’s what I’m planning to do now. The inclusion of cakes and puddings in the diet seems to be of paramount importance in terms of summoning up the creative vibe. Funny, that.

  17. crack on – no excuses – do it or I am sure you would regret it. Once you get to the end you will better placed to assess where you are. Remember you are your greatest critic and probably harshest. Hell if the photographer can manage 3 lines the writer can manage a novel 😀

    • You’ve lobbed the gauntlet at me, Scott. Every time I see the caption for one of your photos I’ll be reminded that I need to be writing my novel. 🙂 My fear is that I might not be my greatest critic – if someone else were to criticise my work more than I do I think I’d fall to pieces! Maybe you’re right though, if I am my worst critict I think I can carry on. After all, what do I know? I just write the stuff.

  18. Oh Lorna, although I’ve never written a novel, I can relate to what you’re going through. I think we all inevitably edit the crap out of ourselves whenever we write anything that matters to us. So when that little horned editor pops up on your shoulder and starts to whisper discouraging comments in your ear, flick it off and keep going. Things can always be reworked later and, very often, one really doesn’t gain momentum until one is well underway. So forge ahead, my friend!! And when you’re positively stymied by writer’s block, you have the great comfort of knowing that that glorious brownie a la mode is always on hand for a dose of artery-clogging inspiration. We must find our muses where ever we can, n’est-ce pas? :0) xo

    • Thank you Lucinda, I will keep my flicking finger at the ready for the little devil on my shoulder. As you say, it is most reassuring to know that a chocolate brownie, or indeed other sweet treat, is on hand to soothe the soul during a bout of writer’s block. I am very reassured by that, I must say.

  19. Lorna, I think it was Einstein who said, “most people quit just before they would have been successful.” Never give up. Keep writing. And when in doubt…eat brownies 🙂

    • Einstein was no slouch in the wise words department, thank you for passing on that little gem, Linda, and as far as I can see your own advice is flawless. 🙂

  20. Hey Lorna, you might want to google ‘Ira Glass on Creativity’ (he’s quoted in several blogs). What he says about ‘good taste’ is also key to you right now I think?

    • Thank you Trish, I did as you suggested and I see what you mean. It’s very encouraging to get that sort of message from other writers, I hadn’t heard of him before, but I think he’s spot on.

  21. This post made me grin numerous times. The brownie making you invincible (I have had this very effect from good chocolate before!), the cream with some rice in it (yum) and the dismay of being bored by your novel…wonderful post. I’d say, keep going, finish it, and then cut the boring parts out. It’s often easier to get them out of the way and edit them out later than suppress the unneccesary details from getting into the draft in the first place.

    Delighful. Thank you. I’ll be following now!

    • Thank you for grinning, that makes me grin myself. Thank you for following, too. I think you’re quite right about the novel, I just have to keep at it and cut the rot later on. If I tried to only write good stuff from the word go, I doubt I’d get beyond the first page. Alas, life is full of failures, but then these pave the way for success, do they not? That’s my hope anyway.

      • I just read Save the Cat!, which is a book on screenwriting, but his advice on structure is pretty awesome and his claim is if you do your prework on your plot and structure, your story will survive as many edits as it takes to make it what you want it to be–less danger of having to throw ALL your work out because you can’t get it edited into shape. I recommend it if you’re looking for a new approach. If you still have the drive to keep going, however, go you! =-)

        • Thank you, most kind of you to pass that on. I think I’m probably far too lazy and disorganised to achieve that approach, although I would love to be able to do it. At the moment it’s all a bit of a chaotic chuck it together effort, but maybe one day I’ll manage to prepare better, it certainly sounds like a good idea.

  22. Ah…well…I have a little gnome critic that I tell to just sit in the corner until I’ve finished all the roughness of the writing. Sometimes it listens to me. That you have fun when you write comes shining through.

    • A little gnome? Maybe I should think of my inner critic that way and follow your example with getting him to sit in the corner. I’m going to try it. Thank you for the compliment Bonnie, writing can be enjoyable sometimes.

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