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!

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.

 

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!]

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…)

 

Second Draft Lesson: Slap Down My Perfectionist!

I’ve made a massive mistake with my writing.

I forget about my naughty little re-write habit.

It happened when I looked at the garbled mess of characters and story threads, gaping plot holes and major POV and tense issues, and decided the best plan was to use that as an outline and rewrite from the start. I could see it: consistent POV and tense, avoiding passive voice and adverbs…it was all going to be so much better, so pretty and shiny…

SO PERFECT!

That’s where the alarm bells should have clanged, because I did the exact same thing at least twice with the first draft.

But I knew I wasn’t going to do that. I just needed to open a blank Word document, write through and…

Just change that bit..

And that…

Maybe I’ve started in the wrong place?

And need to change this scene…

And…

How’s it been 3 months and I haven’t aand a minute doing a Search & Replace to update names.ctually made any progress?!

I took a break from the novel. Then I got some feedback that confirmed what I already knew: I needed to cut the new scenes I’d been tweaking for weeks and start later.

Probably from my old starting point.

The one I wrote ages ago.

Because, you know what?

I’ve already written the first draft.

WHY THE HELL AM I WRITING IT ALL OVER AGAIN?!

After kicking myself for being an idiot I spent approximately ten minutes copy/pasting and a minute doing a Search & Replace to update names. I had my new, tweakable second draft.

I worked out a plot template as a checklist in all of about an hour.

I’ve redone the first read through.

So now I have a task list to stick to. No more blank pages to trick me into going back.

For those who are interested, this is it for the next few passes:

  1. Put scenes in chronological order according to outline.
  2. Cut dead scenes.
  3. Add new scenes that I missed for various reasons.
  4. Cut dead threads, scenes and redundant characters.

Only then, am I allowed to check for conflict, flow, logical character decisions…and THEN sort tense & perspective.

I’ve also printed off this guide from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University site ready to check off as I go.

Curse of the Rewrites

It’s been a while. There are all the usual excuses: back at work, babies, a hint of a social life (not much, but one day normal services may resume!)

So with limited time, writing has had to come before blogging (and vacuuming, but that’s no surprise!).

I’ve been to a local litfest which has got me bravely dabbling in shorter pieces and finding an accessible writing group (finally, Hurrah!).

But a lack of concrete progress was getting me down. Then I recognised why.

Rewriting the rewrites of the start of my novel. Mulling over the right starting point. Tweaking characters and going through to amend them for consistency, voice etc.

Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t wasted time. The quality has shot up. I’m much more confident with my start, my characters, which threads to keep and which are being left to pander to my ego or sentimentality (“but I’m sure this character will come in useful…I can’t just get rid of him because he doesn’t do anything…can I?!”).

But I noticed myself treading the same dangerous ground that stilted me with the first draft: overthinking, overediting, then panicking and destroying my work through irrational fears. (Originally I bulked out word count by adding a load of cheesy metaphors. Good job I saved the earlier copy!)

This time I caught myself, and I’m still struggling to resist adding/editing threads, but since I’ve started limiting it to the ones that are either too annoying to leave, or holding me back because they don’t have the right feel (e.g. did a minimal amount of research into strip clubs and realised the whole scene I’m up to plays out wrong.)

Suddenly the piece is taking off again. About bloody time, too!

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…