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.

 

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!

 

 

 

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.