After nano – playing with scrivener

Now I’ve reached over the 50k target and validated, it’s time to start looking more closely at what I’ve got. So currently I’m playing around with keywords and collections in Scrivener, adding details to the synopsis and document notes and generally building up my understanding of the structure, especially since I’ve realised that technically I have ten different story arcs going on – the seven characters, the team they make together, the fantasy world and the real world.

Next will be putting it all into Aeon Timeline, so I can have a real idea of how the different arcs play out against a standard timeline. Time isn’t drastically important in this story, or I’d have built in the timeline before writing, but still it will help to have an idea of the timespan of the story, and of one or two of the arcs.

I’m finding Scrivener more and more useful as I go on, as it’s wonderful to really be able to get an overview of the structure, and I’ve also played around with the compile settings so that I can get a readable version with prologue, numbered parts and chapters etc.

The next job will be to examine each scene to see what it should be adding to the plot and whether it’s earning its presence, and then to see what’s missing. I know, for example, that I cheated with the big battle and did an Italian Job on it (face the large enemy forces, turn to the rest and say “I’ve got an idea!” and then cut to the scene after, conveniently skipping the actual fight scene). Now I really need to figure out the battles, so that I know what each member brings to the team, what their weaknesses are and how they overcome those weaknesses to triumph.

There’s still a long way to go, but the plan is to enjoy the journey. The secret is to remember that I am on a long journey, and to take each section at a time, rather than worrying too much about what is to come. I’ll face each challenge as I come to it, and right now the challenge is to analyse and understand.




A nanowrimo winner

Winner-2014-Facebook-ProfileThis afternoon, at a local write-in, I passed the 50k mark on my novel. That means that in 21 days I’ve written 50,886 words of a story.

Now I’ve done nano two or three times before, but this time feels a little different. The first time, I ended up with a full story but had no idea what to do with it, other than knowing it wasn’t fit for anyone to read. The second time, I learned that I enjoy writing for multiple characters, but that ten was too many, that conflict is essential for an entertaining story, and that if I’m emotionally involved in the story the writing flows better. The third time, I learned that planning is the key to a higher quality plot, and that support from other writers is a real incentive to keep going.

This time, I’ve worked from a clear plot, but with freedom to work within it. I’ve written for seven main characters. I’ve worked at a steady pace of between 2-3k words per day, every day, apart from a couple when time was too tight and I only managed around 1k, and one day when I attended a full day write-in and made 9k. I’ve built up a steady rhythm. I’ve discovered that twenty minutes at a time is an effective way to write, and I don’t need to have a huge chunk of time to make writing worthwhile. I’ve remembered just how wonderful it feels to have my brain totally engaged in a different world from reality, and how hard it can be to jump mentally from one to the other. I’ve rediscovered the fun of writing. For the first time, I’ve finished with a draft that I know is incomplete but with a good idea of what I need to do to build it up. I’ve hit the 50k target, and I haven’t destroyed the world or vowed never to look at the file again. I’m eager to keep going, and to start polishing and developing what I have. More than anything, I’m fond of my characters and eager to develop their stories.

So now I can use all these reference books on writing that I’ve amassed, in order to develop different aspects of my writing, because I can see what needs to be done and I have somewhere to apply the knowledge. I can keep building this story up, and when I’ve had enough for a while I’ll switch back to last year’s and work on that some more.

Most of all, I’ve realised that writing is for my brain and emotional health what running is to my body and physical health – even though I might sometimes resent time given up to it or feel guilty about taking the time for it, I always enjoy it once I get started, and I know that without it I will start to feel bad.

So I think that all makes me a true nanowrimo winner!


Faster, longer, harder

I’m suddenly feeling very frustrated with life. It feels like there’s a constant pressure to work harder, do things faster, be the best, the most efficient, the cheapest, the quickest…

Part of the problem I see with society generally is that everyone is under too much pressure. This idea that people should work as cheaply as they possibly can, and cram in as much work as they can manage, leads to stress and frustration. Meanwhile, others struggle to find jobs. It only takes those who are working to crack under the strain and everything fails, whereas easing off on the pressure and spreading the workload would be much more efficient and provide that extra capacity to deal with problems.

My frustration specifically at the moment is running. It seems every article I read is about how to run faster, how to improve your pace, your diet, your running technique, your time… What about those of us who want to enjoy the running without this constant pressure? or who can’t run faster, and want to know what options are still open to them?

Writing is going well at the moment, in that I’m writing regularly, steadily and should finish nanowrimo by the weekend. But of course there are those who dashed through the 50k challenge in the first few days, and it’s hard not to feel word envy. On the other side of the scales, there are those who are struggling to meet the word count challenge and feel themselves failures, when actually they’ve written more on a single project in a short time than they ever have in their life.

January is coming up, and that means Jantastic. That’s one challenge I do look forward to, because it’s much more about turning up and doing the runs and the distance, and getting to know your own ability, than it is about doing better than everyone else. In the Jantastic challenge you’re challenging yourself, as really it should be on nanowrimo, unless you let the competitive spirit get the better of you.

In the meantime, I’ll keep plodding along, both in writing and in running, and try to enjoy what I can do and not feel envious of what I can’t do. Because some days the real challenge isn’t being able to write more or run faster. It’s enough to just be able to get out there and do something towards it, anything at all.



The other elephant in the room

I don’t mean the elephant that everyone refuses to talk about. I got confused when I first came across that elephant in the room, because what I always think about when I hear of elephants in rooms is the one that was in a room with blind men. Each of the blind men stepped forward to feel the elephant and work out what it was like. One felt the tail, and declared that the elephant must be like a rope. Another felt the leg, and declared the elephant must be like a tree. A third felt the ear, and said that the elephant must be like a fan, and so on.

I originally had two different stories in contention for nano this year. Tell a lie; it was three, but I realised that two were different sides of the same coin. I eventually went with the other one. Well, I’m currently trying to figure out what else to put in the story I did go with, as I’ve hit most of the milestones and I’m only at the halfway point. I figured out another strand that I could work in – but it was the other project(s) that I’d been considering!

I guess that as all these stories come from the same place – my mind – it makes sense that each is a different perspective on the same internal world view. It’s just amusing and at the same time frustrating when I discover that the rope and the fan are actually not separate things, but part of a much larger whole.

So as I develop my fantasy world more thoroughly and see the effect of the bad guys coming to our world, it looks like all my nano projects might get an airing after all.


The easy option never is

I’m not sure when I first worked out that the easy option is never easy. It might be when I realised that putting small children in front of the TV for too long led to bored kids who didn’t want to watch TV at all, and it was easier to be active and provide proper activities for them. It might even have been when at school I spent more time dodging teachers than I would have spent actually doing their homework.

When I play my game, and I decide that I’m going to rush through and not do things properly, that’s when things go wrong. Slowing down and taking the time to do it properly is always far more productive than rushing and having a disaster on my hands that then takes time to rescue.

When I was teaching, I realised that the very point at which I started thinking it would be better to skip something that was too hard for the students was the point where I needed to slow down and start the teaching.

I’m discovering this with my writing as well. Carefully thought out details will do much more than rushing through and making it up on the spot. It might take longer to plan, but overall the time will be spent more efficiently.

My nanowrimo novel is doing well. I’ve just passed the halfway mark, and I have a full day write-in planned for next weekend, which should get me a lot further through. The trouble is, I’d planned out milestones to hit, and by the halfway mark I’ve hit 11 of the 12, which leaves me wandering in the wilderness and wondering what happens next. Do I rush to the end? Do I make up more to come? Do I pad out what I’ve already got? I know that what I’ve got needs to be built up more, but do I do it at the writing stage or editing stage?

One thing I’d like to do is have the world much more real to me. I’ve noticed before that the more real something is to me, the better I write about it, and one of my weaknesses is skipping details and reality. Generally, I have a readable draft so far, which tells a story. The quality of the storytelling can come later. But I’m not sure whether I’m two thirds of the way through the narrative or one third, or what I’m going to put in from now on.

Serious thinking time is required. And that’s not the easy option – but it’s definitely the best.


So this is what it feels like

I’d forgotten just what it feels like to be in the middle of a writing project. The buzzing brain, the inability to switch to talking coherently in the real world, the frustration when a character decides he’s not going to cooperate and play along, even though it would make the job a lot smoother, the urge to pick up the laptop and get on with writing even though I’ve only got a short time available before I need to be somewhere, the sheer intensity of it all.

Next time I fall out of the habit of writing regularly, kick me hard. Remind me what it’s like – tell me to come and read this post. Point out that just as I feel bad when I don’t run or swim, I feel bad when I don’t write. That continuing to not exercise/not write does not make the bad feeling fade, it just generalises it so the cause isn’t so obvious. That the only real way to feel better again is to get back into that regular habit.

I’m currently 15,000 words into my nano project. That’s over 3000 added today, most of them at a write-in where about nine or ten of us sat around tables in a cafe and wrote or chatted about writing (or had conversations via facebook, but that’s another story!). I have a coherent story, which needs editing, sure, but some issues are getting sorted as I go. Others are getting flagged up to be dealt with at the editing stage. Characters are starting to act for themselves, the plot is starting to develop and I’m having so much fun it’s untrue.

November is my favourite time of the year, and now I really do need to learn to apply the lesson to the rest of the year too.

I’m a proper runner

2014-11-04 08.17.40After over two years of running regularly, you’d have thought I’d already decided that, but this morning was the morning when I realised once and for all that I consider myself a proper runner.

At around 6.30 am I looked at the weather outside and tried to decide whether to head out for a run before my usual swim or play it safe and go on the treadmill at the gym, where I usually limit myself to 3k in 20 mins. As the weather heads into winter, I’ve decided to do one long run a week if I can, and gym on the other day, with a 5k parkrun on Saturday, so I try for the long run on Tuesday if the weather is fine, and if it isn’t I hope Thursday will be better.

The third option was staying in bed, or at least staying at home in the warm, but I knew from bitter experience that that’s only the easy option at the time of making the decision, but that I would feel so bad mentally and physically afterwards that I would regret not running.

So I bundled up in my winter running gear and headed down town. There were a few drops of rain as I left the car, but I kept going, and sure enough the rain stopped, the weather wasn’t too cold at all and I settled down and began to enjoy myself, running along the sea front in the brisk autumn air listening to music.

I was aiming for 7k this week, having done 6k last week, but I may have got a little carried away – when I reached around 6-7k, I looked at the time and the distance to the swimming pool, which closes the session at 9 am, and decided that maybe I’d keep running instead of going for a swim. So I kept going, and kept going…

The longest run I’ve ever done so far is 10k – I’ve done three races at that distance and a couple of training runs. My Garmin registers my longest run, and I started wondering if I could push that distance up a bit. So I moved in smaller and smaller loops around the sea front and car park until I managed to clock up 11k, my longest run ever!

It probably wasn’t wise, and I shouldn’t increase my distance by that far that quickly on a regular basis, but it did show that I can keep up a steady pace over a longer distance, which bodes well for a possible half marathon next year. And above all, it proved to me that I can keep going, make wise choices about running and cover longer distances.

I’m a proper runner.

Now all I have to do is transfer that knowledge and wisdom into becoming something that I can recognise for myself as a proper writer as well!


Looking into the void

A couple of times lately I’ve stopped running for a short period to rest up after a slight injury. Both times I’ve then felt really tired and so missed further exercise, until I had to make a real effort to get going again. It eventually dawned on me that the sequence isn’t that lack of energy leads to no exercise, but that no exercise leads to lack of energy that then develops into a vicious circle.

The trouble is, if I stop exercising for a short while I start feeling rough and lethargic. If I get going on the exercise again quickly I soon feel a lot better, but I know if I left it for too long I’d be left feeling bad with the memory of the pleasures of exercise fading fast and wondering what the problem is.

I’ve a nasty feeling (or it might actually even be hope!) that this is what’s happened with writing. I enjoy writing. I get pleasure from it. And yet it’s so long since I’ve been active that the immediate memory has faded, leaving me peering into a void with no real understanding of where it came from and what I need to do to get over it.

I’ve always made up stories. I’ve played with characters and situations and entertained myself, going over the stories again and again, strengthening the characters, working on the phrasing – but at first they were never written down. Then I moved into fanfiction, and continued doing what I’d always done but this time writing them down for other people. Now I’m making the jump of creating and playing with my own characters, and I’m finding it tough, to the point where it’s stressing me out and I’m avoiding the page. I’m just not sure what I’m missing, what’s going wrong.

With nanowrimo approaching fast, I’m hoping to blast past that and get going again. Maybe when I’m back writing regularly I’ll once again learn how much of a pleasure writing is, and I’ll grow to miss it if I stop, rather than just having a vague feeling that something is missing. And then I need to get going again before it gets to the point where I’ve stopped for too long and lost the thread.

After all, what do I do when I start feeling stressed or worried? I reach for my words, even though in that case they’re non-fiction rather than fiction. I put things down and try to work them out on the page. And I guess that means that deep down I am a writer.



First find your dream

Warning: this is likely to turn into a moan-fest. 

I’m growing increasingly frustrated. I see person after person going on to achieve success in some form or another, and I’m left behind feeling envious. There doesn’t seem anything that I can do really well, that comes easily, that’s I have a desire to get to be best at, that’s my obvious heart’s dream.

I keep telling myself that there are millions of people who go through life the same way, never finding that one thing, but it’s no consolation, somehow.

So what is it? Is it that I just don’t allow myself to try these things out and improve at them? That I’m not naturally good at anything I’ve tried so there’s no point in persisting at them? That I just haven’t found the right thing?

I run – but I’m really slow. I draw and paint – but not very much lately because… well, because everyone else seems so much better than I am, and because I don’t deserve to take the time to myself to do it. Really? I write – but lately I’ve done too much ducking the page, because the gap between what I want to write and what I actually do write is too large, and it’s frightening me.

So am I just not putting enough effort into these things or do I need to find something else? What do I really want out of life? What’s my dream?

I enjoy what I do. I edit, proofread and format other people’s writing. Am I any good at it? I’d like to think so. But I’m almost frightened of speaking up, of pushing myself forward. I also suspect that this is a way of meeting my needs as a writer without actually doing my own creative activities.

Where’s the thing that I can’t avoid doing? That if I miss, makes me feel unsatisfied? That I have a burning desire to do, and to get better at?

Am I burying these desires so even I can’t recognise them properly? Or have I just not found the right thing?

So tell me, how do you find your dream? Does it come to you? Do you have to go out and find it? How do you recognise it? Does it grab you and refuse to let go, or can you pass it and ignore it, or not even notice it for a long time? Does everyone have a dream? Is it too late for me now?

To answer my own question as best I can, I can only advise writing, writing and more writing, and seeing where that gets me. Because it could be that what separates me from those who have found success is not ability or success itself, but simply the persistence.



My own personal icebuckets

Over the summer there was a craze going round for having a bucket of ice tipped over one’s head. That sudden shock as the ice and water hits you and drips down, leaving you soaked and freezing, makes you gasp with shock.

A couple of weeks ago, as I walked along the road to the meeting point for parkrun, I felt my own mental icebucket: a little voice saying you’re stupid, you’re useless, there’s no way in hell you’re going to be able to do this run. Somehow I managed to continue anyway, and yes I did complete the run, and while it wasn’t a record-breaker, it was perfectly respectable.

Tonight I’ve felt yet another version of it. As I prepare for nano, excited to work on a new project, there are still eight days before I’m officially supposed to start writing. Frustrated from spending my time fixing other people’s work (oh how much easier I find that!), I tried looking back at the latest draft of the babies book, and it was so far from what I wanted it to be that once again I felt that ice bucket drench me. I told myself to write about anything at all, and I opened a blank page and stared at it, but the only words that came were about how useless I was.

And then I came on here. Because if I can’t write, then at least I can describe not being able to write. And so again I’ve managed to shake off that ice bucket and continue anyway. And when we reach nano I’ll keep writing and push through the 50k words, and by the end even if I’ve still got nothing worth reading I’ll have something like another 100 hours’ worth of writing experience. And a writing muscle strengthened and ready to go. And a habit established that this year I don’t want to break at the end of the month.

And in the meantime, I really ought to write something for writing group, as the deadline for that is Monday. Any suggestions?