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 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!
…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…
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.”
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.
No, sadly not the novel. I’m having a couple of days to mull over a sticky point before I whip myself back onto that one…
But I was skimming through some upcoming deadlines and competitions on the Word Factory site, and realised when I clicked on some that I actually have some things I could submit!
These are little short stories that I’d finished some months back but hadn’t found places to submit them, partly because they’re slightly outside of what I usually read, so researching was going to be more effort than just pulling up a website or two and checking the submission guidelines.
Whilst there’s obviously no guarantee that anything will come from it, it was incredibly satisfying to be able to send off an enquiry knowing that I’ve got something all ready to dust off, rather than the blind panic of trying to fit a story in to meet both a deadline and a criteria, which my rather unstructured writing approach (just blurting onto the page whatever the story seems to want) makes rather stressful!
So the lesson is…unless you have a looming deadline, write what you fancy, smarten it up, and keep hold of it…you never know when you might stumble into an oppertunity!
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!]
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:
- Complete current draft my WIP (currently 2/3 through the first draft). (Hopefully end of Jan.)
- Revise to a standard to allow others to see it and begin exploring the daunting world of beta readers.
- Complete revisions (hopefully by the summer)
- Start applying the swathes of knowledge provided by Query Shark and explore the terrifying world of agent submissions.
- 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).
- Squeeze in some more short works in between 1-5 and general craft swotting.
- 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…)
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.