Man vs Bookshelf: Confessions of a Sociopath

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

I bought Confessions of a Sociopath on 25th September 2014.

That’s over three years ago at the time of writing so, yes, this was another one that sat on the shelf for a long time.

How do I know the exact date for once?

You may think something monumental must have happened on that day. I got my dream job or Emma Stone professed her undying love for me.

If only.

In actual fact, I know the date because I left the receipt in the book after purchase.

Super boring explanation but there it is.

I remember picking it up in the W.H. Smith at Reading train station. Grabbed by the interesting concept and not much else.

I don’t remember where I was going but assume it was to see my ex down Brighton way.

The receipt tells me I also purchased some Buxton water, a paper (the I) and some Max crisps.

Fascinating, right?

But I never did read the book on the train. Don’t know why.

Maybe there was a lot going on in the news that day or, more likely; I got distracted by my phone.

Whatever the case, the book stayed in my bag, returning to my shelf when I got home.

There it remained, unread until…

Doing this challenge I have to pick up something every few days no matter what. But Confessions was no random pick.

Come November, National Novel Writing Month began, and I threw myself into a new first draft.

Said draft involved a sociopathic character, and I wanted to get them right.

Usually, I don’t bother with things like this in first drafts. I write away and fix any and all problems in post.

Not so this time.

I’m interested in sociopathy anyway, so for my character, I began reading articles. Learning about the many traits of sociopaths and incorporating them into my character.

The articles were a great start, but I wanted something longer. It was this that led me to remember Confessions and pick it up once more. Adding it to my list of the next few books I’m going to read.

So it was interesting going into this book. It was the first one I picked up not for enjoyment alone, or for the challenge. It also served research purposes for my writing.

This led to me reading the text a little more critically, and probably contributed to it being a slow read.

That and the fact I took two days off in the middle of reading it.

Not a good idea.

But I still finished it in the seven days I allow myself, and was left with a new perspective on sociopaths.

Here is what I thought of that.

M.E. Thomas and Me

M.E. and I don’t have a previous relationship for obvious reasons.

She is a successful U.S. Based lawyer, and I am an unsuccessful English based author.

Having already outlined my reasons for picking up this book, there’s not much more to stay here.

This section’s only present for form’s sake if I’m honest.

So, uh, moving swiftly on.

Confessions of a Sociopath

Read from: 22/11/2017 to: 28/11/2017

Confessions turned out to be almost as interesting as it was useful shaping my own sociopath. Character that is.

It offered a unique perspective on sociopaths (from inside the mind of one), and that was a real draw.

I gave it a three out of five on Goodreads.

It was a good read (ha), but it was not mind-blowing. It had its issues (the main one of which I will discuss below), but I think it nailed what it was aiming to do.

The book has two main aspects, the psychological analysis of sociopathy in general and the memoirs of our hero, M.E. Thomas.

I’ll look at each of these in turn, before going into my big negative of the book and my summary.

The Psychology Stuff

M.E. has spent a lot of time looking into the psychology of sociopaths. Covering the last 100 years or more to give a real depth of opinion.

For example, she shows people used to link sociopathy with homosexuality. A biased opinion driven by a predisposition to assume the gay community was evil.

But even as the research grew less biased it always seems to have leant towards a negative view of sociopathy.

This is understandable in many ways.

Sociopaths share many traits society recognises as ‘bad’. The inability to relate to other people or feel guilt, for example. Or their inherent narcissism and self-interest at the cost of all others.

However, what M.E. Seeks to show is that just because these traits are present, doesn’t make sociopaths bad people.

I won’t go into the research in great detail here, but with case studies from her own blog and plenty of official research papers, M.E. Shows that sociopaths can be good, useful, and downright successful, and are not predisposed to becoming psycho killers, as the media might have you believe.

This look into sociopathy really did make me reconsider my own preconceptions of people afflicted with this disorder and what it means for them.

The Memoir Stuff

M.E. frames her research within a memoir of her own life. This ranges from her difficult childhood to her struggles as an adult, coming to terms with her condition and later overcoming it.

As with the research, the stories from M.E.’s life made me reconsider my thoughts on sociopathy.

Yes, she comes across as arrogant, conceited, manipulative, and hurtful. But she is upfront about all these things, and it is not the be all and end all.

What surprised me was her discussions on how much she struggled with her condition before she understood it. The way it ripped her life apart, leaving her to fight to get it back on track.

It showed a level of emotion I had not thought sociopaths capable of. Something added to by her revelation that she does feel love. Especially for children.

So the memoir was fascinating, and the anecdotes often exciting, but there was one big caveat.

Repetitivey Repetitiveness

Throughout the book, M.E. had a real problem with repetition.

A real problem.

See what I did there.

Many passages I felt like I was reading the same story or message again, rephrased.

Don’t get me wrong, the stories and information were interesting the first time.

But I didn’t need to hear it again.

And again.

And again.

This repetition held the book back, I thought.

I ended up flicking through pages, skipping the same out stuff. It made me think the book could have been quite a bit shorter, without impacting the quality.

In fact, it could have enhanced it.

Summary

This book was a three out of five on Goodreads.

I think that’s fair.

It was interesting and original but suffered from retreading old ground too often.

If you have the slightest interest in the subject matter (or if you think you might), I’d recommend giving Confessions ago.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Next time

Next up, a book I couldn’t wait to get out the way.

But was it as bad as I thought?

Find out in a few days with my Silence review

National Novel Writing Month in Review

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

November is dead.

Long live December.

The weather gets colder. The skies get darker. And tomorrow I will be putting up my Christmas tree even though my mother says it is too early.

I will also be spending at least the next month redrafting the book I wrote in October., so that’s exciting.

But irrelevant.

Today I’m here to talk about National Novel Writing Month. My thoughts on that and on the first draft I’ve just written.

I don’t know what I’m going to say yet, though, so this will all be a little informal.

Maybe even nonsensical.

So let’s do that.

NaNoWriMo

As I said in the introduction to this series, I don’t often go in for Nano month.

I’ve done it once before, but I am usually either not writing at all or halfway through a draft when it begins.

I’ve never seen the need to shift my schedule to match National Novel Writing Month.

If I’m honest (which I’m not) they should shift their month to meet me.

This year, though, the stars seemed to align.

I finished the first draft of Project Perry in October and planned to start Project House this month anyway.

So I thought, why not?

And it’s been good.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to get you focused and writing, even when you don’t fancy it.

This can be a double-edged sword, as I’ve said in previous blogs, but on the whole, it’s positive. Especially if you are not good at forcing yourself to write of a typical month.

I’ve never had a problem with that, myself. But I did like the stats based aspect of Nano. It enhanced the fun and gave me something to blog about, and extra incentive to get words done.

Sure, I had a couple of zero-days, and a couple of forgettable ones where I wrote less than a thousand, but mostly I did okay.

Averaging over 3,000 words a day, I hit the 50,000 word Nano target by day 18 and finished the book by day 26.

So that was pleasing, and from the stats in my local area alone, I can tell a lot of people found it as useful as me.

So it’s great to get you writing. But does this finished draft give me anything to work with?

The Draft

The dreaded first draft.

Most writers will say the first draft is their favourite, but I’m not sure.

I guess the best way to put it is that it’s the furthest from being my least favourite.

But ‘favourite’ as a word has too many positive connotations, and I’m not comfortable with that.

It’s always a mess, that’s the problem.

You do your plan, and that’s exciting. Then you start, hitting the ground running, and that’s brilliant.

Then, about 10,000 words in, we reach thorny territory.

Nothing is working. Your character isn’t right. The plot no longer makes sense.

Panic sets in.

Pens are thrown. Keyboards smashed.

People give up. Writers everywhere choose this moment to bin their mess of a start and run off crying until they have a new idea.

One that will actually work.

One that people will want to read.

Because no one would have read the first draft you were working on, would they?

Well, no, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Not that I was any different.

I chucked away hundreds of unfinished drafts for that reason. Like writers everywhere, I was missing the point.

First drafts are about discovery, change. Not perfection.

Think of it like Science (hey, remember Science?)

Your plan is your hypothesis.

This is what you expect to happen. How you expect the individual elements of character and plot to react together.

The first draft, then, is the experiment. You’re not sitting down to follow your plan but to test it. To get those words on the page and see if your hypothesis is correct.

Spoiler alert, it probably isn’t

We are bad scientists. We can theorise all we want but once that character hits the ground and starts making decisions… well, things are going to change.

The best way to figure out who your characters are is to start writing them. It’s in doing this that you will realise the best version of them.

It’s the same with the story, which may look great on paper but needs to be adaptable.

Use your first draft to test, and to tweak. To do a complete 180 if you need to.

DO NOT allow that plan to limit your creativity.

Change as you go, and never go back to change what came before.

By the time you’re done, that first draft will be a disastrous mess.

But that’s okay.

That’s what second drafts are for.

Take my NaNoWriMo Draft (which is what I’m supposed to be talking about anyway.) I went in with specific ideas. Ideas that began to desert me as I wrote.

I realised my main character needed to change. Realised she needed to change and, as I realised this, I also saw that the plot had to change too.

By the time I finished, the first and last act sounded as though they came from completely different books.

But that doesn’t matter.

I’ve worked it all out now.

When I come to do that second draft, I’ll be editing from a position of strength. I know who my characters are and what needs to happen. I can rewrite and tell the story in the way it needs to be told.

That’s exciting, and that’s the best thing about first drafts.

That’s why things like NaNoWriMo exist. Because in forcing you to get through this first draft it forces you to see the potential.

So if you gave up halfway through National Novel Writing Month because it wasn’t working.

Go back to it!

In the end, you won’t regret it.

Next Steps

Speaking of first drafts going their own way. I didn’t intend this blog to end up more instructional than reflective, but there you go.

National Novel Writing Month is over now. I hope anyone who took part enjoyed it.

For me, I’m going to stop trying to get out a blog every couple of days for at least the next month.

I need to focus on the redraft of Project Perry, so I’ll keep on doing my book reviews, but that may well be it.

But, sometime in the next few months, I would like to come back and talk more about my writing plans and how things are going.

I may even do another writing challenge.

Whatever, I’ll keep you updated.

So, see you then.

National Novel Writing Month: Victory

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAYS TWENTY-FOUR & TWENTY-FIVE

Written 26/11/2017 for 25/11/2017 and 24/11/2017

Yes. Another zero-day.

It was a Friday.

A real shit day actually. Not only was it my second zero-day but I didn’t even get any reading done in the evening.

So yeah, that was a real ‘cry yourself to sleep’ evening for me.

Yesterday was better. It had to be. I only needed to get one word. I did that and more.

Still didn’t get much reading done, so that’s not great.

But the words come first.

Estimated words to complete book: 92,000

Words for par, Day 25: 76,667

Words written: 3,547

Total words: 77,691

Words over Target: 1,024

Average per day: 3,107

Remaining: 14,309

Anyway, it’s Sunday now.

On Monday, when I did 4,000 words, I had dreams of finishing the book today, but I don’t see that happening now unless the book turns out to be much shorter than expected (entirely possible).

So, we’ll see how we get on, anyway.

I’ll let you know.

DAY TWENTY-SIX

Written 26/11/2017 for 26/11/2017

Okay, I smashed it.

Against all the odds.

Against my own expectations.

Here it is. The final count:

Final First Draft Word Count: 90,025

Days to complete: 26

Words written on final day: 9,048

Total words: 90,025 (assuming 3,306 words went missed along the way)

Average per day: 3,462

Okay so, first, let’s explain that 3,036 thing.

The final project is 90,025 words, but counting up the list of word counts I kept along the way, I’ve somehow, somewhere missed 3,036. Not sure how that’s happened, but let’s just accept it as a thing, shall we?

The important thing is I did it.

After a bad start, I didn’t think I would even get 50,000 words done, let alone the whole book.

But I smashed 50,000 words on day 18, beating the NaNoWriMo target, and went on to write another 40,000 words in the next eight days.

Pretty damn good considering everything else I’ve completed in November which amounts to:

  • Writing and scheduling 10 blogs
  • Finishing 5 books and getting halfway through a sixth, meaning a total of 1,903 pages read.
  • 150 hours of work
  • Two nights out
  • Two days travelling to and from Yorkshire
  • Visiting three sets of grandparents and one set of parents
  • A trip to the cinema
  • Several other social events
  • Having a full-time girlfriend

So yeah, I don’t want to say it, but you can.

I’m pretty damn amazing.

Now, it’s only ten to five on Sunday now, and I’ve got another blog to write, but I intend to post this tonight, then I’ll do a round-up of my thoughts on National Novel Writing Month and the first draft I’ve produced in a few days time (Dec 1st I imagine), so look out for that.

Meanwhile, everyone enjoy a drink celebrating me tonight. Go on, I’ve earned it for you.

National Novel Writing Month Days 6-10

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAY SIX

Written 07/11/2017 for 06/11/2017

I’m overextending myself.

I knew I would. I always do. I get too into it I love the writing and the blogging and the tweeting, so I just add more and more.

At the moment I write this diary thing when I get to work before I start. Then at lunch, I write for my Man vs Bookshelf blog (or read, if I need to). After dinner, I do my tweeting and FBing and write for my latest writing project, and then before I go to bed, I do my reading.

It’s too much; I know it is. If I get talking before work, or I go out to lunch at lunch, or I spend too long watching telly in the evening, suddenly, I’m behind. Even though I’m getting my Nano targets hit at the moment, I’m still never going to get the whole book finished this month, and that’s depressing enough.

But I don’t want to stop. I can’t stop. Stupid as it is I’ll keep pushing myself until it all collapses around my shoulders.

So, that should be fun…

But like I say, I’m still hitting my targets and yesterday, despite The Walking Dead being on, I managed to do it again:

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 6: 10,000

Words written: 1,795

Total words: 12,898

Words over Target: 2,898

Average per day: 2,149

Remaining: 37,102

Tonight I’m going to the cinema, so that’s fucked everything up.

I’m going to get home, have dinner, and try bang out another 1,800 words before I go. If I do it, fab, if I don’t, well, I’ll probably spend the whole film crying.

 

DAY SEVEN

Written 08/11/2017 for 07/11/2017

Last night was an adrenaline packed race against time.

It was like a Michael Bay film but with a story.

I arrived home from work at half six, and I had until seven forty-five before I would be picked up and taken to the cinema to see Thor: Ragnarok.

In that time I needed to prepare dinner, eat dinner, and do at least 1,800 words on my NaNo project.

A terrifying task, but I was ready.

I chopped potatoes like a madman. Sprinkled herbs and spices over them like I had an infinite supply. Chucked them in the oven like I was flinging a baby from a burning building. Then it was to the writing.

600 words before dinner was ready. Food and conversation with the girlfriend followed and then it was back to the keys, time slipping away like a bar of soap out of wet hands.

But could I make it?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 7: 11,666

Words written: 1,831

Total words: 14,729

Words over Target: 3,063

Average per day: 2,104

Remaining: 35,271

In the end, I suffered a string of texts from my ride to the cinema, but I managed to get the words done, doing less than 50 more than yesterday, but also drawing slightly further ahead of the target.

It was always going to be tough, but I did it, and I’m hoping for at least 2,000 words tonight.

Before The Apprentice that is.

We’ll see how it goes.

 

DAY EIGHT

Written 09/11/2017 for 08/11/2017

I’m going to collapse.

I’m ploughing on. I posted my next Man vs Bookshelf blog yesterday, and I did my Nano words, but it came at a price.

I didn’t start writing till half eight; then I had to watch the Apprentice at nine. I got back to writing after but by the time I had done my words and tidied up etc. It was eleven o clock.

Eleven is the latest I like to be up, but I hadn’t even done my reading. By the time that was done, it was midnight.

Needless to say, I’m knackered today.

But at least I did my words, right?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 8: 13,333

Words written: 1,875

Total words: 16,604

Words over Target: 3,271

Average per day: 2,075

Remaining: 33,396

What’s the target today? The last three days I’ve done a handful more words each day, so I guess let’s keep that going.

Today’s target is to get at least 1,876 words.

 

DAY NINE

Written 10/11/2017 for 09/11/2017

Oh, bugger.

I was supposed to write this in the morning. I always try to write my Nano update in the morning before I start, so I don’t forget the circumstances of what happened the day before.

But I was late to the office today, so didn’t get a chance.

And now I have actually forgotten.

So, um, bugger.

Luckily I write all my stats down the night before, so you can still enjoy reading those (you lucky thing), and I’ll get back to writing these things first thing tomorrow.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 9: 15,000

Words written: 1,926

Total words: 18,530

Words over Target: 3,530

Average per day: 2,058

Remaining: 31,470

 

DAY TEN

Written 11/11/2017 for 10/11/2017

I think NaNoWriMo can be a fantastic thing for writers.

I’ve said before how habit is vital for writers. The process of just getting words down day after day because, the truth is, the only way to get better is to keep writing.

You can read every book and blog going about how to become a better writer but, if you don’t start getting words down, it’s all for nowt.

So NaNoWriMo encourages this kind of commitment, but it also invites you to finish something, which is the other key to becoming a better writer.

In my years I have started over a thousand stories, novels and scripts and left them to die in the wilderness of my hard drive, and each one taught me a little more about writing. But, the problem with that is that no one publishes a first draft (I don’t care what Lee Child says, I’m not buying it).

Editing is vital to success. Reworking things that didn’t work in the first place.

It’s only by forcing yourself to this stage, however bad you might think the first draft is, that you finally learn to progress to a book that is good enough to be read.

So the habit NaNoWriMo brings is excellent, but I also think it’s worth being careful because Nano asks that you write at least 1,667 words a day, and this is where problems can arise.

Take last night, for example.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 10: 16,666

Words written: 849

Total words: 19,379

Words over Target: 2,713

Average per day: 1,937

Remaining: 30,621

I sat down after the England/ Germany game and pledged that I would write 2,000 words. I wanted to get further ahead of target, and I didn’t even want to think about giving up.

However, after about 250 words, it became clear it wasn’t working.

I couldn’t get into the right frame of mind, and I was pushing words out thoughtlessly. First drafts take a certain degree of free writing, but there comes a point – when you’re writing just for the sake of writing – that you’re doing more harm than good.

That’s what was happening to me last night, and it made me think.

I almost always cannot be bothered to start writing. It’s very rare that I’ll get in and want to get going. I start because I know I have to. Because I’m committed.

Despite this reluctance to start, once I’ve begun, everything tends to change. I fall immediately into the project, and I’ll just go, banging out however many words I can in the time allowed and not wanting to stop.

So, when I get to 250 words, and it’s just not clicking, even though that’s not very many, it is an obvious sign that something is not right.

I didn’t heed this warning last night, but I should have.

Luckily I came to my senses just after 800 words and realised I was wasting my time. I was tired, I was grumpy, and I was just junking out senseless nonsense to get the words done.

So here’s what I would say.

Promise yourself 250 words a night.

It’s nothing. It’ll take ten minutes, so you won’t be afraid to do it.

It’s because of this that you’ll almost always do more. You’ll smash targets, and you’ll be happier for it too. Keep writing as long as you feel good to keep writing, and you’ll easily make enough words on the on days to cover the days when 250 is about all you can manage.

I’ve been writing a long time, but it’s never too late to learn.

I’ll be holding this lesson close to me from now on.

What a week (for writing)

Like the rest of you, I hate Monday mornings.

However, also like the rest of you, I knew that, as Monday rolled around (again) I had to drag myself out of bed and head to work because bills or something.

But that, I’m afraid, is where the similarities between you and me end. Because, while you sat at your desk and suffered in silence, not just on Monday, but all week, I had had enough.

“That’s it,” I said to my boss upon walking through the door. “I’ve had enough. I quit.”

And he said: “No.”

And I looked him in the eye, and I said: “you make some good points, Mr Boss, I retract my resignation. But I can’t hack it this week; I’m going home now.”

And he said: “also no.”

And I said: “Fuck’s sake, mate, can I at least have Tuesday through Friday off?”

And he said: “Okay, but only because you keep starting sentences with the word ‘and’ and it’s poor form, and I’m sick of it.

An- sorry, so I said: “Good enough for me.”

So I had a week off, and I told myself I was going to be productive.

I was going to cure world hunger, and if I couldn’t do that (which I couldn’t) I was going to write.

See I was 56,000 words into a projected 80,000 novel, and I thought, if I work hard, I can finish that book this week.

I did an’ all. But it’s better than even it sounds. Because that 80,000-word novel grew over the next few days and by the time I finished, yesterday evening, it had become 116,000 words.

I had just ploughed out 60,000 words in fours days. So I whipped my calculator out and worked out that’s 15,000 words a day.

Yes, a calculator, I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

It has been a whirlwind. Pretty much non-stop writing and I’m so excited to get to re-drafting it after “letting it lie” a while.

In the meantime, I’m going to be ploughing on with my Man vs Bookshelf challenge. (I’m meant to be writing my Lisey’s Story review for that right now, but it’s harddddd, so I’m doing this instead) and, come November, I”m going to writing a new first draft for National Novel Writing Month so I’ll be planning that over the next few days.

So thanks for reading this ego piece and look out for the product of this beautiful week (working title ‘The Thing About Luke’) next May. And, in the meantime, remember to get your copy of Poor Choices, my latest novel.

Honestly, you won’t regret it.

Unless you do.