Levelling Up

Life feels like it’s whizzing past so frantically these last few months that I’ve gone into survival mode and stopped even thinking about how long it is since I’ve done all the things I promised myself I’d do regularly (like updating this blog!). But there are a few things I’ve been meaning to come on and talk about to do with my writing.

Even though my productivity has gone down (illness, work, life all taking over), a few exciting things have been happening that make me feel like I’m levelling up as a writer.

The first boost I got recently was my first personalised rejection. And this made me ridiculously happy. Being a now loyal listener of Mur Lafferty‘s ISBW podcast I’ve been trying to embrace the rejections as they come (they’ve not been prolific because my first submission sat for about 8 months at one of the big publishers and I’ve been slow getting more pieces up to a standard I’m happy to send out.). But a few days ago I got a rejection that was not only personalised, but positively glowing (at least I’m taking it as that!) about the piece. This came at a much needed time as I was pushing through exhaustion from work, kids etc and starting to wonder if I should keep beating myself with this whole writing malarkey. Clearly, yes, because a few days later…

I got accepted onto a Masters course in Creative Writing!!

This is a biggie for me, because I’d already handed in my notice (teaching jobs come with ridiculous notice periods so I had to take a punt!). Although the course isn’t a heavy time commitment (2hrs on a Weds morning, which after a Science based, lab filled undergrad degree seems nothing! I know there’s more to it than that, with reading etc. but still…), just having an day a week to focus on writing feels like a luxury. I decided on the part-time course because I’m doing this for me and my craft; I don’t need to rush through for a qualification, I can afford to spend time really honing my skills. It wouldn’t be possible without the new postgraduate loan scheme, and I’ll have to pick up cash to cover the bills with supply teaching, but with my eldest starting school (eeek!), and my youngest 3 in May, we’re looking at saving multiples of thousands of pounds in nursery fees, which takes some of the pressure off, whilst also making me acutely aware of how unsustainable spending every holiday marking, planning and report writing is if I want to actually be there for my kids as they grow up!

So I’m allowing myself a few weeks to recover, get the house in a less chaotic state of papers, outgrown baby things and grime, then from September I’ll be ready to pick the pace up again and get stuck in to my course.

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.

 

Baby Burnout, Writing Fatigue, and Dabbling With New Forms…

It’s getting old now, but I am EXHAUSTED. With work pressures, a boisterous 3 year old and our youngest fully enjoying the new world of walking, talking and playing day and night, amongst other things, I’m well ready for the summer holidays (I’ve been off a week and it really doesn’t feel like it.)

But it’s not just physical tiredness. After a pretty good patch, I’ve lost momentum with my writing, too. The second draft I’ve been slogging at was getting me so down that I decided to just give up on it, and for about a month I’ve been pretty lax on the writing front (not helped by losing most of my evenings to bedtime battles or passing out even before the kids from exhaustion.)

Even at my most knackered I’ve kept up the podcasts etc (I do love Writing Excuses for a 15 minute or so hit whilst cooking or doing laundry) so hopefully I’m still learning by osmosis, but I also stumbled across a couple of competitions via Twitter that got my brain whirring and tempted me to try some different forms.

So I’ve written the first short story that I actually rather like,* and am hoping to do a final edit and send it off next week for this competition (my first! Eeek!). I doubt anything will come of it**, but it’s been refreshing to find out that I can do it, as well as a satisfying learning activity, going from first concepts to line edits within a few weeks (as a opposed to years for novel length work.)

I’m also contemplating a pop at playwriting for another competition that’s sparked my interest***. Again, no real expectations of getting anywhere, but it’s as good excuse as any to have a try and see if I can do it. Worst case, I’ll waste a bit of time, discount a form from my “to try” list, but still get some much needed practice with dialogue and endings.

So that’s my plan for the next few weeks, as well as trying to revive (and hopefully finish not too far off schedule) my novel.**** And sleep. (Someone tell the kids that, please!!)

*My last few attempts were highly derivative and I lost interest pretty quickly.

**Not least because I missed the part saying they want an inspiring fable. My husband was in stitches when I read the guidelines as he got to the bit where society is wiped out. Ooops.

***I do love Brave New World but was never quite convinced by the ending.

**** I got some much needed critique back a few days ago that made me realise the story’s not quite as dead as I’d thought. I’d been milling around at the wrong starting point and getting bogged down in details that needed to be more subtle.

I’ve got the hump. Rewriting is hard.

A somewhat token update, as it’s been too long, but my brain is still messy with sleep deprivation, so apologies if things don’t quite make sense…

I’m making slow progress with my second draft. Like with the first draft I’ve struggled to get a foothold to work from. I find I’m reluctant to launch into a process that feels like it will be a waste of time, so I’m going over my “safe” bits and hoping that clarity will come.

It’s been pretty up and down, not least with my youngest starting nursery, the end of maternity leave homing in, general exhaustion, lack of inspiration…

I keep thinking I need a break, either a few days’ recovery or rest period where I do nothing on it. 2 days ago I declared I was done with writing, being totally inadequate to the job. The next day I was back tapping away and have to admit my hypocrisy to my long suffering husband. So I keep finding myself pottering; editing or writing. Drip drip drip every day, never quite sure the bucket isn’t just filling with mud.

I’ve mostly been playing with pov. I found myself writing in first person present tense, no less. I was surprised because I’m not a big fan of reading it. But it felt…right. The writing is better and clearer and reads more naturally. Because I know (vaguely) where things are going I’m less worried about careering ahead than during my first draft and have been taking the time to rewrite different start points, perspectives, motivations and outcomes. Which I suppose is about as good a use of a second draft as any, even if it does feel slow.

Now if I could only get enough sleep to stop my brain from dribbling out through my ears I might be able to do it at a pace that will get this draft done before I go back to work in a few weeks.

I might just go for a nap first…

…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! 😦

Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster

Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster.

We all know it. But the reality is that when the going gets tough, the tough bugger off to mourn the loss of their favourite posing pouch, or compare biceps in front of the mirror. It’s the nerdy weedlings that cling desperately to the handlebars of hope whilst the treadmill whirs beneath their stumbling legs, kicking and flailing to desperately reach the pen and paper balanced tantalisingly next to the stop button.

Sorry, got a bit carried away with the old gym metaphor there…

The point is that Ms Lamb is spot on. In moments of the doldrums I took great comfort in her “Odds of Success” post (linked in the above article, but again for ease of access). Yes the likelihood of success is low, but for those who work hard, persevere and laugh in the face of overwhelming despair (I like to think this is the sort of maniacal laugh that Jack Nicholson so excels at), it is attainable.

I find myself in a quandary here, though. Historically I have been known to jump ship when I’ve had enough. Workplace, career path, location…my alternative “gaming with babies” blog got blown to insignificance when real life intervened.

But I secretly suspect that most of those are because I’ve been doing the wrong things, following advice from other people’s perceptions of my priorities and skills, instead of my own instincts.

Because I’m not afraid of hard work, or sticking things out for the long haul. The things I care about I can throw everything into (sometimes to breaking point), and it will be interesting to see if I am one of the ones who makes way for new dreamers, or if I go Memento crazy on reality (could just be the sleep deprivation).

At least I’ve steeled myself to peek at my past pages. They are truly terrible, but the rewriting is less daunting than I expected (dare I say…exciting??!!) and I’ve rewritten the first scene from a new, more interesting character’s perspective.

Even if the lure of the next two stories isn’t enough to keep me at it, hopefully I’ll at least manage to pound this manuscript into submission…

And in the meantime I’ll have these web pages highlighted on my favourites’ screen for when the going really does get tough and I end up face-planting the cross-trainer like a walrus on speed…

via Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster.

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!