The Mid-Section Slog

I’m in that funny place, where the end is hovering tantalising ahead like a mirage, but I’m still slogging through the middle of the desert, hoping that it all makes sense and I’m not going to have to rewrite the whole lot. I suspect that even if I do, I’ll have to write my way into realising how!

I’m finding the use of [square brackets] a blessing, though it doesn’t always feel like it when I think about just how much there is to go back an fix once I’ve finished this write through, and a large part of me wants to go back through and sort it all out now.

But since that put my last project back into the perpetual re-write stage, I’m holding off until I’ve at least got my ending down so I can see the whole before trying to slot in new parts.

So right now it feels like an uphill slog probably not helped that I’m doing a dialogue heavy scene that’s fighting very hard to become an infodump rather than charismatic and purposeful banter!], but hopefully it’s not too long before I can slide down into the ending! [and mahoosive revisions I have waiting!]

Writer Resolutions 2016

I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions, although some years past I would create shiny long lists to achieve the perfect me by the following January. Of course most of these went the way of all other resolutions, and now I’m less likely to bother with anything more detailed than “Christmas is over, I probably ought to stop eating so much chocolate.” (Parenthood may have ground me down a touch recently!)

So in the spirit of realism I’m not going to spout off a list of unattainable goals that will only leave me disappointed with myself when they don’t come to fruition. Instead I’m extrapolating my current work rate and stage in my writing career to look at what I hope the year might hold, and what I can realistically achieve without relying on luck and other people (Ava Jae expressed similar views much more coherently on her Writability blog).

These are my goals:

  1. Complete current draft my WIP (currently 2/3 through the first draft).  (Hopefully end of Jan.)
  2. Revise to a standard to allow others to see it and begin exploring the daunting world of beta readers.
  3. Complete revisions (hopefully by the summer)
  4. Start applying the swathes of knowledge provided by Query Shark and explore the terrifying world of agent submissions.
  5. Outline and start my next large project (possibly the Big One that I’ve been mulling over for a few years now but not managed to find the right story to get started).
  6. Squeeze in some more short works in between 1-5 and general craft swotting.
  7. Get my reading up to date with the latest releases in the genres I’m writing in (she says having just downloaded a Bernard Cornwell book in preference to one on my tbr list. But, you know…Vikings…)

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.

 

Writing. Waiting.

I have a short piece out on submission to one of the big SF names. They have a looong turnaround, which I knew when I submitted it, but I also knew that waiting is a core part of writing.

So I told myself I could look in January if I hadn’t heard anything.

About a month ago I started checking my spam folder every few days. You know. Just in case.

Then about 2 weeks ago I began checking my inbox just that little bit more obsessively.

A few days ago I caved and logged on to the website to check the status.

Turns out I’m only two months into an expected 4 month turnaround (it was 3 when I submitted, hence the January “permission to look” deadline.)

So I’m back to waiting. End of February I’ll look again.

Unless I get itchy fingers before then.

I’d better get back to writing. At least it takes my mind of these things!

 

 

 

2015: Books That Have Stuck With Me This Year

This year has flown by (don’t they all?), and thinking back to my life at the start of the year, it’s amazing how much has changed and grown in my life, in particular with kids and writing (unsurprising, given that those are about all that goes on I’m my life bar work and sleep. Although odd gaming sessions are reappearing, so I shouldn’t complain…maybe it’s time to reactivate my other blog on gaming with kids…hmmm…).

But this post isn’t really about that. Listening to Pub Talk TV’s latest episode on revision there was a comment that struck a chord. It was along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing here) “worthwhile stories are the ones that stick with you,” and it’s something I believe in strongly, both in terms of projects that haunt you to be written, and also books to recommend and re-read.

I do spend more time than I should re-reading old favourites, but I’ve realised that this has held me back on keeping up with the latest literary trends. So this year I’ve made more of an effort to branch out into new books, although given that I’m also economising (nursery fees are still crippling until my eldest starts school), I’ve been ransacking my local library service as my first port of call. This has lead to a somewhat eclectic mix of reading material, especially as some take a while to come through the reservation system.

So, from a range of genres and decades, these are the books I’ve read for the first time in 2015 that have stuck with me:

1. I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson

I got this because of the hype around it, but actually put off reading it when I got it from the library because I wasn’t in the mood for that romancy-type stuff. Then I became poorly and needed something my poor frazzled brain could cope with.

And slapped myself for my arrogance.

This book is stunningly written, both in terms of vibrant voices and emotional intensity. I have less artistic skill than a monkey smearing its faeces on a wall, yet even I was seeing in colours and looking up painters and sculptures and seeing them with new eyes.

It’s one of those books that you read as a writer and weep with both promise and despair, because to turn a phrase like that…

2. The Martian, by Andy Weir

I’d heard this described on Writing Excuses  as “Robinson Crusoe in space”, and it immediately shot onto my tbr list. Then the film came out and I managed to pick it up in the supermarket (alongside Peppa Pig’s Halloween Party and That’s Not My Bear. Neither of those quite making the list, sadly).

This book is brilliant. I ploughed through it, and now my husband is doing the same. The combination of science and wit is so engaging, although I would have liked a teensy bit more biology (the guy’s meant to be a botanist after all!), but his technical knowledge is (as far as I can tell) bang on. The tension throughout is beautifully played, as are the characters.

3. Dawn (Book 1 in the Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood Trilogy) by Octavia E. Butler

I tweeted about this book when I got it out. It’s technically one that I read many years ago (during uni finals, had to return book to the library then promptly forgot the name!), but I think it still deserves a place in this list because it stuck with me for over 10 years, until I finally worked out the author’s name.

Lilith is a strong lead character to fights all through the book, both physically and mentally, and I love her the more for it. Despite it being an older book, I love that the scientific and social issues are still relevant (well, not so good that the social issues are, but you know what I mean!), and the world-building is stunning.

4. A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett

2015 was the sad year that lost us this great man, but reading this book was utterly enlightening, entertaining and often reassuring that there’s hope for all of us.

Although not a writing book, it includes many honest and humorous insights into the writing life, including the drudgery of book tours and the procrastination involved in actually writing the books in the first place. There are also articles, letters and speeches on a range of topics from nuclear power to dementia to the plight of the orang-utan, which caused some issues in writing because nearly every page I was pausing to write down another story idea his imagination had sparked in mine.

5. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I’ve heard a lot of praise for this book, so it’s unsurprising that it’s made this list.

There were elements that disappointed me slightly (the “twist” at the end, if it’s meant to be such, felt a little obvious, and some of the dialogue and description felt a little heavy on the racial stereotypes, although that could be symptomatic of the age in which it was written, or just my personal taste). But these are quibbles against an excellent storyline exploring the issues of childhood pressure, bullying, manipulation of political ideas, and the attributes needed for high level military command.

Plus it’s all based around computer games. Awesomeness!

6. Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig

This is actually the second in the trilogy but it’s the one my library had in stock so I started there (and will go back to book one when I’ve finally cleared my backlog of “to be read” books staring at me accusingly from the corner!).

I love Chuck Wendig’s blog, so it’s not surprising that I also loved the voice that comes through in his books. It’s violent and crude and poetic. Miriam Black is another strong female, this time with an awesomely terrible superpower. The book is uncompromising with it’s violence and the only downside it that it seriously affected my sleep because I couldn’t put it down until I got to the end.

7. Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

This is a bit of a bonus one as I haven’t actually finished it. Another book that I’ve heard widely hyped, it’s not got quite the level of voice that I’ll Give You The Sun (I’m clumping them together as YA, possibly unfairly), but the mix of science and story is very clever, and made me realise it’s the direction I want to be taking my own writing in more. Plus, after being a little sceptical about the whole fairy tale plotline, I’m now excitedly spotting the references and trying to work out how the climax is going to play off.

 

So those are the novels that stuck with me this year. There may be others (the ever present sleep deprivation excuse), but these are all books that I both enjoyed and recommend, and that left me with an urge to read more by the authors, and/or a feeling of something worth holding to. There have also been a number of short stories (as I’m starting to dabble more there), but I may save those for a separate post.

In the meantime I’d love to know what books other people have read that have made an impact on them this year, especially any new releases.

 

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…)

 

Round 2: Lessons Learnt and Starting My Second Novel

It’s been a while since I updated and a lot has happened, though not so newsworthy to actually write about. Kids are growing (if still refusing to sleep), work is stressful, and all the usual stuff. The writing has been going well, however, although the time pressures have meant blogging has had to take a backseat to writing.

In the spirit of moving forwards, I finally trunked my first novel. I still like the story and hope to use elements of it in the future, but it’s morphed drastically a couple of times since its first inception, and whilst it’s taught me a lot, the amount of work still needed is more than I’m willing to put in. It’s a little disappointing as I was hoping to refine my editing skills by getting this story as honed as possible, but a few things made me realise that I’ll be better investing my time elsewhere.

So here’s what’s been going on:

  1. I’ve been working on my short fiction. It started as a bit of light relief from the momentus editing albatross hung around my neck, and also some last minute panics when I needed something to read to my writing group. But it’s actually taught me a lot about structuring a story, filling in details that keep the story flowing (I tend to underwrite, so this is a biggy for me), and giving me practice at the sentence level restructuring I’ve been desperate to get to practice but was no where near ready to do with the novel.
  2. I got my first set of feedback at the absolutewrite.com water cooler. Priceless. Absolutely bloody brilliant for critiques (at least the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section)! My writing group is lovely, but much more a supportive, cheerleading group, than the thorough critiques that really push ones writing forward. and this site got that corner.
  3. I’ve made my first submission. Only for a short (as mentioned, novel #1 is not going to see the light of day any time soon!)It’s still in the pipeline, but it’s for a major, paying market who publish some really quality stuff. Whilst I’m not so delusional as to expect it to be accepted, the piece has had almost universally good feedback, and it means a lot to me to feel like I stand a chance at that level. So, excited, but realistic about my chances!
  4. I’ve started Novel Number 2. It’s different from Novel Number 1, but still has some elements of style that I’ve discovered I like. I’ve also used it as an opportunity to embrace my Science/Biology background that seemed to work well in the short stuff I’ve done, and that’s got me even more interested!
  5. Further to point 4, I’ve been a-planning! After initially deciding I was a pantser, then getting exhausted with the rambling, ever changing mess of my first novel, I decided to put a bit more effort into structuring this one. Doing so has made me realise I’m not such a hard and fast discovery writer as I thought-even with my first WIP I had to stop to plot out the next chunk of story to get it clear in my mind. So I’ve embraced that amalgamated method, kicked things off with KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel Workbook, and dotted to and fro between writing and planning ahead. The proof will be in the writing, but so far it’s working well.

So, that’s a brief update on the big things in my writing. I will try to update more regularly, just…time!

Still, forging on for now! 🙂