A Brief Update…

I’m torn. Part of me feels guilty that it’s been so long, but the other part of me is trying to be a realist and remember exactly how hectic life has been recently. That I’ve passed out before 9pm every night this week (often before the kids have) is tribute to how exhausting things have been.

I forget exactly where I was the last time I blogged*, but this is where I am now:

  • The first draft of my second novel is complete, rested (a little) and now being worked on. I burned out a bit at the end, so spend a couple of much needed weeks off playing Fallout (3…sadly I’m not flush enough with cash or time to justify updating our PS3 yet). I was reluctant to get back into it, but made myself tart up a chapter to take to my writing group, and not only was it well received but seeing the prose tidied up gave me hope again for the story as a hole, so I grabbed at the momentum and have been working on it since.

 

  • I’m going against the advice to print and read the whole thing in one go. I tried it last time, and found I got overwhelmed by the pages of scrawl and notes everywhere. Because I know a lot of the issues that are in the first draft I’m doing a brief read-edit to get the whole a bit tidier before I do the Big Read. Hopefully it will help me get a better overview with fewer things to niggle over.

 

  • I’ve mentioned before that I like to use a spreadsheet to log my wordcount. I’ve found that logging my editing days and notes is just as motivational. It lets me see how well I’ve actually done when I’m on a good run. I’m focusing on time spent, change in wordcount (goes up and down depending on what scenes I’m working on need), notes on revision tasks undertaken, and general notes (usually along the lines of “Urrrgh, so tired…”).

 

  • I’ve been working on a couple of short stories-one horror, one children’s picture book (diversifying much?!). Both started well then stalled for different reasons. I’m hoping to dip back into them when I get a bit of inspiration or I need a break from novel revisions.

 

  • I’ve been reading more. Largely because I got to actually have some holiday during my recent holiday, and I remembered how lovely it is to read a book properly instead of in 1-2 line chunks before someone interrupts me, so I’ve been making more of an effort to get those longer lengths of time (although that’s largely come at the expense of writing time, so I’m not sure how sustainable it will be. Hopefully as the kids get bigger and life gets a little calmer…hahaha!)

 

  • I’ve been outlining(!!!) my next novel. This was partly something I’d intended to do, then used to procrastinate starting revisions! As it is I’m enjoying dipping in, partly because it’s my Big One that I devised the concept for before I’d even started writing my first novel (it was initially going to be a board game, but it turns out board game design is HARD! Who’d have thought it, huh?!), so it’s already been stewing a while, and I’m happy to let it grow. The most productive parts have been writing short character pieces and scenes in the world, rather than trying to force a plot (I tried this and have scrapped most of what I came up with because it felt so…forced!)

So that’s pretty much me for now. I’ll try to make more effort to update, and who knows, even talk about non-writing things!

 

*I could (and maybe should) check, but I promised myself this would be quick else I would have argued myself out of logging on!

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I’m at THAT point in the manuscript…

…It happened last time, too.

There I was, past the muddly start, past the “I should go back to re-write the start” convictions, skipping through the words with the happy knowledge that that end is in sight. It’s so easy, I just need to…

Wait. What do I need to do?

I’m not mad-keen on outlining. I see the benefits, I made a hearty attempt this time round, but honestly, once I get a grip on the story, I want to just write it. So I plan ahead, but the further I plan, the more I want to just see how I get there. Which is fine…

Until now.

My outline for the last chunk of my story runs something like this:

“[protagonist] breaks into building. Gets captured. Manipulates powers*. Burns the place down. Everyone escapes.”

Easy.

Except, ummmm… *this.

I’ve been brushing over it, using the square brackets I’ve been so pleased with, but finally crunch time has arrived. I have to fix the mechanics on which my story is based, because otherwise I have no idea how to bring the ending together. I could (and probably will) fudge it to some extent, but the carefree sense at the start of the story has worn off. I’m committed to this one now that I’m so many thousands of words in, and which I know that I’ll have to go through and redo large chunks of it, I’m reluctant to do that here, because I keep telling myself that I need to know the ending to really know the start.

So I’m going to give myself a day or two to recover and research. Then it’s time to sit down with a notebook** and get working again.

 

**I bought a notebook! It’s pretty colours.

 

Re-Routing Mid-Story Tedium

With allowances for the festive season, I’ve been happily chugging through my novel. I hit a wall about four days ago, but thought I’d solved the issue by creating a map*, which helped me sort out the muddle of road names and locations of key events/clues for my protagonist to follow.

After a couple of days something niggled and I put in this square brackets prompt** for when I start the revisions process: [check this isn’t too boring with lists of road names etc!].

Last night I read this article on avoiding the mushy middle by Chuck Wendig.

This morning I realised that although my protagonist is progressing through the story, all he’s really done of late is buy a jumper, navigate some map issues, and develop some poor spatial awareness skills (interesting sidenote, the word “map” now appears 28 times in the last 8000 words of my manuscript).

It’s about time to deviate from talk of the weather and the state of the roads*** and insert some action!

New revisions note: [Iron gates twisted: melted and reformed. Claw marks up the brickwork. Possibly a sinkhole.]

It’s a start…

 

*Dithered over whether to post a picture or not, it is pretty bad and slightly embarrassing, so I’ve only put up a small section above. There’s a reason I teach Science and not Art!

**I mentioned before how helpful these have been in getting me through my first draft without looking back.

***I can see Jane Austen peering smugly over my shoulder at my deterioration into a British stereotype.

 

Fast Drafting

I’m not officially doing NaNoWriMo (at least not the 50k target, though I am dipping in to parts), but November has been the time to start a new novel.

It’s been exhilarating and slightly terrifying as I haven’t started anything of this length in well over a year*. Possibly two.

Initially I was terrified that I’d end up with an unworkable, ever-morphing mess like last time, but as I’ve got into it I’ve settled into the flow, and, utilising some tricks I’ve picked up on the way, feel so much more confident that I will end up with a first draft that is messy, yes, but workable.**

So here’s the tips:

1. Square brackets. Anything can go in here, from world building notes to reminders to fix names/ characteristics/ foreshadowing. It stops me having to scroll back through to change as I go, keeping flow, whilst leaving me with an easily searchable set of easy fixes for the editing rounds.

2. Skipping bits that are holding me back. With the aforementioned square brackets, I can leave the bits I either need to dwell on to get just right, e.g.. [portentous road name], or that I don’t have the energy or ideas for that scene type right when I’m writing it, e.g.. [flesh out /make interesting dialogue], or, he walks to shelter [make journey more exciting]. None of these are likely to be big story changing factors, and have helped me keep momentum as I write, even making writing in order more interesting as last time I preferred to jump around and write scenes as I felt like it.

3. Consciously thinking ahead. Last time I discovery drafted off the cuff until I got stuck, then trid to work out what had happened and where it was heading. Then I’d carry on again until the next blip when I would have to stop and work it all out again. This time I’ve got a clearer idea of where it’s going because, whilst I still like to free-write my way in, I’ve plotted far enough ahead to have easy prompts when I lose track.

4. My much loved spreadsheet of word-count-ness. I’ve mentioned this before, but I tally the start and end time and word count of most writing sessions. I’ve also started using a separate tab in the spreadsheet to note revision reminders as they occur to me (similar to the square brackets above).

4. Having the confidence to stop for breath. Fast writing an become addictive, especially using the spreadsheet to keep pushing for more and more words. But it’s easy to burnout. Normally I find writing rejuvenating and relaxing, but the pressure to finish a large work can get overwhelming*** Breaking it up with rest days to re-fill the well and deal with plot niggles etc, (or just deal with life), or working on some shorter pieces have helped to keep my enthusiasm for the project high, and working on it is still exciting.

I don’t think any of these are new and groundbreaking (although square brackets are soundly attributed to writingexcuses.com podcast, where I believe both Brandon and Mary have said that they use them), but they are strategies I’ve implemented this time round that are making a big impact on my drafting process.

Hopefully they’ll be of use to others, too!

 

 

*Actually, I’m cheating-this is a YA/MG crossover book, so the word count needed is closer to novella length. God help me when I start the epic scifi adult work I’m building up to!

**With the disclaimer that I’m still in the lovely first third honey-moon period, but these tips should stand up, even if I have issues later on. I also feel like I know much more clearly where I’m heading with this project, so am optimistic.

***I’m currently suffering with some health/wellbeing issues outside of writing, which have made me very conscious that I need to take care of myself more. Mur Lafferty has some excellent podcasts around the topic (as well as general all round advice. Plus I’m loving the new Ditchdiggers’ series. But I digress…)

 

The Wait of the Words

Revisions are tough!

After embracing the flippancy and adolescent carelessness of first drafting, my writing suddenly needs to grow up and get a job.

These are my piteous excuses for hideously slow progress of late:

1. Time. Lack of.

So unique. I feel semi justified in using this because I have genuinely sat down to write a number of times over the last month only to be called away after 10 minutes by teething/puking/poorly children.

2. Technical dexterity. Lack of.

I can write on my phone and tablet, but I have yet to find a way to edit without accidently deleting large chunks of text. I would gain so much time and capacity if I could work this one out.

3. Confidence. Lack also thereof.

Some of my writing time recently has been used for applying to a local writing support scheme. This entailed submitting a small sample of my work, which involved polishing and editing some of the horrific mess that I’ve been trying to ignore in the process of sorting out the actual story. It took me far longer than it should, because (on more than one occasion) I ended up in tears at the hopelessness of my case. Where is that mythical voice? Frolicking on an airy mountain between the slippery slope of stark facts and the alluring meadows of purple prose. I submitted in the end, but phew, the stress!

Despite my chronic deficiencies, there have been some positives:

i. Craft swatting. Blogs, vlogs and pubtalk. Multitasking to learn like I never did at uni. Also been watching some vlogs on reading which gives a really interesting perspective.

(Thanks to Ava Jae for helping me work out that my ms is probably NA, and all the things that has helped to clarify.)

2. Physio has helped me get out and about a bit more or walks etc. which has helped with location inspiration, technicalities and general mulling.

3. My brain is still ticking, and every day or so some little puzzle works itself out. Backstory here, links there…puzzles are a-slotting together…

Uhoh, the baby cries. Back to excuse #1 again…

…And Then There Were Words: The First Readthrough.

After the elation and subsequent slump upon finishing my first draft, I realised I was exhausted, and took a break over the festive period.

A few days turned into a week, which turned into two. The baby decided that hot on the heels of teething was a great time to get ill, so it wasn’t exactly a rejuvenating break, but I stopped putting pressure on myself to write. Administering antibiotics into a headstrong, wiley and very wriggly baby 4 times a day for 10 days was enough pressure for anyone. Besides, the whole thing is terrible. Maybe I should just give up this daft idea of being able to write and focus on things in the real world instead of trying to dance on the clouds.

But then I started to itch. No, I wasn’t that festive! Itch to write, and, dare I say it, read my own writing (along with mild terror, knowing how utterly full of drivel this draft is!). All I needed was an afternoon. Ok, an evening. An uninterrupted hour? Come on, kids, GO TO BED!!! Please?! 

Ahem.

They didn’t, so I stole half an hour and locked myself in the bathroom instead of sorting the laundry. Rebel!

Do you know what? It wasn’t all that bad.

Actually, it was terrible. But the worst bits were the ones I’d added trying to be clever or that shouldn’t have been added in the first place, so I already knew that. The writing sucked, but the story is good, if badly told. And the badlies flaws aren’t going to take as much smoothing as it felt before I read them.

It’s given me hope. That skim through the first 10(?) pages was enough to jerk my brain back into processing and I realised a major issue with my protagonists and first page, which was all the more impressive because I started off reading the alternative thread that doesn’t even touch them until much further in.

Last week I stole another hour. I found some bits that, with a bit of re-writing I actually rather like. Could it be I’m starting to feel positive about this whole enterprise?

Yes, I think there is a glimmer of positivity creeping back into it all. All I need is a large amount of time to do a total rejig, adding about 50k words and cutting about 20k, whilst adding a bit of soul wrenching honesty and factual accuracy. And working out if it is indeed possible to have any metaphors for the M5 motorway that are the slightest bit pretty!

Any tips or tricks on finding the time to re-read/edit would be much appreciated. Sadly wriggly babies and lots of loose pieces of paper are not a good combination! 😦

On Finishing My (First) First Draft

Two days ago I did my usual run through of scenes to write that propelled me when I finished a section and ran out of story. But this time it appeared I really had run out of story. The characters had done everything they needed to.

“Ooooh!!!” I thought

“The end.” I wrote. Hmmmm, lets add a capital…

“The End.”

Grinning to myself I admired my handiwork whilst trying not to wake the chronically teething, sleep deprived baby who was napping on me at the time. After a celebratory tweet, I emailed myself the work to add to my draft and decided to take rest of the day off.

Whilst the aforementioned baby put something of a dampener on my celebratory efforts that evening, I still felt pretty elated.

So, knowing how much of a mess this draft is after pantsing most of the way through, breaking up the narrative into two strands (purely to prevent my head exploding at about 20k words) and having a load of info-dumps that dump the same info in about 3 different ways, I decided to cash in on the momentum and begin edits/rewriting straight away, at least until I had a cohesive, chronological story.

Last night I wrote each scene on post-it notes, initially to organise the merging of the two threads and evaluate the usefulness of each scene. I did one thread and ran out of post-its (the toddler may have a stash in her cooker but I lack the energy to check). No biggie, there’s always tomorrow.

I was still buzzing.

Until tomorrow came.

Now I’m struggling.

I could claim forgetting to buy more post-it’s as the issue, but it’s just an excuse.

The sleep deprivation is really kicking in (it’s been 3 months of solid teething, colds growth spurts and more teething), but I’ve pushed through that barrier to write the last 40k words, so that’s not really the issue.

The draining, exhausting, demoralising issue is…the enormity of the work ahead of me.

Now I’ve not been under any illusions that I’ve been writing good stuff. It’s not a pernicious pin prick to an overinflated ego. The story is there (somewhere) and the characters are good (well, horrible, mostly, but they are real. Wait, you’re locking me where?!…) and since a couple of early critiques hammered in how important it is not to get too enamoured with your own work and over-edit the first chapter to perfection. I’ve followed the advice and allowed the language to slide appallingly, she wrote, appalled at her writing, in the interest of getting to the end of the damn thing.

I should also ‘fess up to laziness, as I know there are scenes that I skimmed over to get through the dialogue or into the action. One section did indeed start:

“blahblahblah, %$@# happens, they’re all locked up.”

for a few days before I forced myself to go back and rewrite it after the niggles got too much, but there are more parts like that.

This is probably why I ended up short of my 60k target, but that didn’t bother me because I knew I had to do big edits anyway, and I just wanted the story to run its natural course, but that was then.

Now I’ve actually got to look my characters in the eye and work out how to tell the damn story.

And this is where I’m getting reacquainted with my old 30k hump nemesis, “the fear”, as novelist Andy Killeen puts it.

Because what if I can’t tell that story?

And if I do…

What if no one wants to hear it?

It’s tempting to take some time off from it all like many writers recommend but then I’m scared I’ll lose momentum and be so overwhelmed that I won’t be able to work out where the hell it’s all going.

The point is moot, as the next few days are dedicated to Christmas and all its colourful paraphernalia (our nearly-three year old is finally old enough to really appreciate it and has been getting excited since September!). Hopefully a bit of Christmas cheer will re-energise me, or I’ll find some inspiration on the wonderful writing blogs that abound the internet.

Either way, here’s hoping for a Silent Night and Peace on Earth. Once the midnight Calpol kicks in!