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.

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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!

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…

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…

Writing vs. The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Phew! After a progressively more intense few months, I have (hopefully!) emerged from a teething bout from hell. Last night I managed to get an hour to finally start some of the huge checklist of revisions that I’ve been itching to do since New Year.

It’s felt totally overwhelming trying to work out where to start. But as my ms pinged onto the screen I was relieved to see it 1) all intact still and B) starting to fall into a better order than my brain had allowed me to remember.

So thank you, entropy. A little less energy can lead the way to literary equilibrium after all.

(Although maybe not a long term strategy for ever finishing anything…)

…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! 😦