It’s that time of year

The middle of October. A big time for writers. The time when thoughts turn to nanowrimo, and to planning for the current year’s project.

I’ve got an idea I’ve been saving up for this. I’ve just been putting some thought into the structure, and in starting to build up the scrivener project ready for writing.

The problem I find is that writing is like turning on a tap. As long as the tap is off, ideas can come and go and I don’t take much notice. But as soon as I start working on one idea, the rest start to flow as well, and I just start getting flooded out with too many ideas and not enough time to work on them.

I think I need to work on taming that flow, on getting to a steady stream I can work with. This has to entail regular writing sessions. Sometimes when running, I remind myself to relax and enjoy the run, and I feel my stride loosening and my speed increasing with the enjoyment. That’s what I need to achieve with my writing, as well. To reach that point where I relax into the page and enjoy telling the story.

So the plan is to work on the Game of Life, which explores a whole philosophy around gods and worlds and beliefs and destiny. But the romance is also rearing its head.

Meantime, Gods V Heroes and Abandoned are both somewhere in the editing process.



Tied to the world

When I was growing up, I had a strange mindset – I felt as though I was trailing an invisible line behind me, and I had to take care not to get that line snagged. I knew that if the line snagged on too many things I’d be irrevocably tied to the world.

So I would take great care not to wrap that line around things if I could avoid it; retracing my steps out of a place, rather than going out of a different door, not twisting around or I’d get tangled. I couldn’t see the line, of course, but I could feel it, and felt uncomfortable if I ended up getting it caught on things.

Even these days, when I’m under stress I’ll take care not to twist round too much, and I’ll try to retrace my steps whenever possible. For example, if I walk from the cooker to the fridge, and then to the sink, I’ll turn back round the other way rather than complete the turn that comes naturally with the triangle of movement.

But I had a thought the other day – what if it’s true? What if, as children, we know things that as adults we forget? That part of that forgetting is snagging our invisible line on things and losing our memories that way? What if I’d been even more careful as a child? Would that connection still be strong?

When I was three or four years old, I could write. I remember distinctly being in church one day with my mother, and playing with my letter writing set – notepaper and envelopes, all designed for a child. I wrote my letters and sealed them up in the envelopes, and I knew I could write. Then I got to school, and suddenly I had to learn it all. Most frustrating.

Memory is an odd thing. If you go through an event, but remember nothing of it afterwards, does it matter? What if there’s something that all of us forget as we grow into this world, and will only be revealed again at the end of our lives? Will our lives actually matter then?

My novels, and the philosophical ideas behind them, are starting to create logjams, and I really need to get going on them.


It’s all in my head

I went for a run today. Tuesday is my long run day. So far, I’m only running about 10k, but today I wanted to try for a little longer.

So I covered 11k altogether. But the second half involved walking breaks, aching calves and ankles, twinging knees and a complaining brain. You’re not going to do this. You’re useless. You’re too slow. You’ll finish last again in your 10k next month, and you’ll be even slower than last year. How are you going to run a full marathon next year if you can’t even do 10k properly?

I heard that voice. And I kept going. Slowly. Taking walking breaks for my aching legs, and telling myself that it’s all helping them to get stronger; that even if I’m not ready now, I will be. That even if I’m last (again), what matters is that I do it, and that it’s another run in the bag. That the training, and the learning to overcome that little voice, is the purpose of the race; the race itself is the celebration of the achievement.

It’s the same with my writing. Whenever that little voice points out the number of books already out there, or say there’s no point in competitions, or that nobody wants to read my writing anyway, I just smile and nod and then keep writing. In the end, while it would be very nice to sell loads of copies and make people happy and become a successful writer, I’d settle quite happily for finishing a complete novel to a standard I’m happy with and then moving on. And any writing session I do helps that along.

So in the end, whether it’s my legs or my imagination playing up, the real problem is in my head, and that’s what I need to defeat. But one thing I do need to be aware of is the subtle temptation to do just enough to keep myself at that level where I’m unhappy with my performance, when just a little more consistent effort would bring about improvement, because that’s where the real motivation lies.

And to do that, I really need to beat that voice into submission.


Powering through

When I run, I know and accept that sometimes I’ll have a really bad run. Sometimes, I’ll end up doing more walking than running. Maybe my knee is playing up, or I’m overtired, or dehydrated. Maybe it will just be slow and the weather will be nasty. Maybe I’ll hate every minute that I’m out there.

Regardless, I know that if I power through the run, however badly it goes, my body will be that little bit stronger and my mind will have that little more staying power and experience to help me through the next bad time.

That’s where I am at the moment with my writing, too. I’ve come to a scene that I need to completely rewrite, not just edit. And it’s like walking into a brick wall. I’ve stared at the screen so many times, and then allowed myself to get distracted.

But I need to just power on. I know it won’t be brilliant. It will probably be the literary equivalent of a plank balanced across a ravine, getting me across from one side to the other just barely. But the important thing is that I get there, and can then move on again from the other side. At some stage I need to go right back through, with a thorough re-edit, and that’s the time to worry about the details. But not now.

I’m so near to the end of this draft. I can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Theoretically, after this chapter there are four more to write or rewrite, and then I’ve got a complete draft.

Then I can set this aside and work on Abandoned for a while. But I daren’t leave this one until I get to the end. And that means taking the bad with the good.

A lot of writing a novel is about stamina and persistence, just like running a marathon. Anyone can go out for a short stroll. Most people can stagger through 26 miles. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to get through the 26 miles and still be smiling at the end.

In the same way, anyone can string words together. But it takes a lot more to complete a novel. I’m determined to prove I have what it takes.


Reaching Nirvana

Way back in the 80s, I owned my first computer. A ZX81, the first computer small enough and cheap enough to be of interest to the casual home user. It came with a massive 1k of RAM, expandable to 16k with a RAM pack.

As you can imagine, programming it was a tricky job. There were games available to buy, loading from a cassette tape player, and some of them were actually pretty good, keeping me entertained for hours. But there were also loads of magazines to buy, each containing listings for programs for you to type in and save on your own cassette tapes. Some of these games were pretty nifty, but one in particular has stayed with me all these years as a metaphor for life.

The aim of the game was to reach Nirvana. You would start in the middle of a grid, and could move north, south, east or west, via arrow keys. Each turn, you would move one step, with the idea of reaching Nirvana. When you thought you had reached it, you would enter a different command.

Every time you said you thought you’d reached Nirvana, guess what? You had.

So you could wander the grid for hours, visiting every square, or you could declare you’d reached Nirvana on the very first turn. Either way, you would win.

Pretty silly game, really.

And yet…

Isn’t that true of life, sometimes? That we can wander around all our lives, looking for something mysterious, waiting to discover our purpose, trying to find happiness? And all we have to do is to make up our minds that this, here, right where we are, this is where we’re meant to be, and what we’re meant to be doing.

Okay, it might not work for everyone, or all the time, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that more often than not, we’re still wandering when actually we’re already there.


I have a strategy

I’ve worked out my writing strategy for the next few months, based on the fact that each year, each nano, I get a cleaner first draft. So I’m currently finishing off the action draft for Gods V Heroes, which was my 2014 nano novel. After over 18 months, I’m very nearly at the stage of having a complete, readable draft, covering all the action points of the plot.

Once I’ve finished that, I’ll move on to Abandoned, which was nano 2015. That one already has a complete action draft (as I said, I’m getting better at this!), so the next draft will focus on developing characters and settings much more, on top of the existing skeleton.

Once that’s complete, the plan is to do the same to Gods V Heroes, but at some stage there’ll be a pause for nano 2016, which I’ve decided will be Game of Life, another story looking at the borderline between games and reality, and revealing my entire life philosophy in the process.

After nano, that one will rest and await further attention while I continue with whichever of the other two is the current project.

There’s still the high school teachers’ romance novel and the speculative fiction about babies in the pipeline (although the latter is becoming less and less speculative and more and more possible every day, it seems!).

Will I have something ready to publish in six months? Unlikely, but possible. A year? Maybe. Five years? I sincerely hope so! And by that point, it should be not just one ready, but several very close to ready.



More haste, less speed

My novel is about a bunch of gamers who find the game is more real than they thought. So I really ought to keep in mind some of the things I learned in online gaming. One lesson I learned that I’m needing to remember as I write is that hurrying is bad.

Some quests involve fighting your way through a bunch of bad guys, achieving something in the area, and then getting out again. It can be so tempting to rush back out; you’ve done what you need to, and you want to get onto the next task. But the more you hurry, the more chance there is of pulling more mobs than you can handle. The truth is that you achieve far more by slowing down and being careful than by rushing.

And this is precisely why I find that those few chapters I still have to finish on my novel are splitting into two halves, as the story grows. Yes, I could rush it, and jump from scene to scene, but I’ll achieve my purpose far more by slowing down and dealing with issues properly.

So the sad truth is that the end of my novel feels like a mirage – the closer I get to it, the further away it looks. I’ve done very little for the past couple of weeks, but feedback from my writers’ group has shown me why I’m stuck, and so I’m faithfully splitting chapters, adding scenes, and once again making forward progress.

I will finish this draft by the summer, and have a working, complete draft of my novel.

I’m just not committing myself to a specific summer!


A confusing teacher

Back when I was in primary school, we didn’t have such things as substitute teachers or cover teachers – if our classroom teacher was ill or absent, we’d be parcelled off in twos or threes to sit at the back of another classroom. Usually we’d have set work to do, and would be expected to sit there getting on with it while the teacher taught his/her class, but sometimes, especially if the classroom we went in was the same yeargroup, we’d be invited to join in with their work.

These days were often a fascinating glimpse into another life; spending all your school time with one teacher, in one group of students, can be a little claustrophobic, and it was always fun to see how the rest of the school lived.

One of these sessions, though, left me thoroughly confused and a little disheartened, to the extent that I still remember the day even though it was over forty years ago.

I think I must have been in second year at junior school, which these days translates to year 4, and I and a couple of others were sent to a fourth year classroom (top of the school; these days year 6). As I worked on my own tasks, we were nonetheless invited by the teacher (a man, although his name is long shrouded in the mists of time) to join in if we wanted. I declined, as I remember.

There were two tasks I remember from that day. The first was the instruction to the class to carry out a writing exercise. The instructions, as I remember them, was “I want description of being at the seaside. And it needs to be at least 20 pages long. Seagulls crying, waves on the shore, that sort of thing.” Twenty pages? I’d never written that much in my life. And twenty pages of description? Is such a thing even possible? Even today, I wonder. Surely that was far out of reach for ten-year-olds.

The other was discussion of what the word “estate” meant. The class were coming up with all sorts of suggestions as to the meaning, but each time he would say, “No, that’s not it. No, you’re not quite right. No, that’s wrong.” I never did find out what it meant according to him.

From those two exercises I took away the feeling of being faced with an exercise that I just consider far too hard, being given without any acknowledgement that it was tough, and the feeling of not knowing what something means and being constantly wrong without ever knowing the right answer.

I’ve no idea whether these were serious exercises, or whether his class usually did this sort of thing, or whether he was winding up the visitors, but to this day I think of that lesson with frustration.


Moving steadily on

Another chapter edited/rewritten today, and another taken a good look at.

So now in part 3 of Gods V Heroes, there are twelve chapters, of which five have been revised, one is in progress and six remain to be looked at.

As I edit each scene now, I try to focus on who’s telling the story. What is their take on the action? How do they see things change around them as a result of their actions? How do they themselves change as a result of their actions?

As ever, it’s the awkward one of the guild whose voice comes through clearest. He has a definite attitude problem, and his grumpiness translates well to the page. The others aren’t quite as clear, but they’re beginning to develop.

I know this won’t be the last revision, but the cleaner I get this last part, the easier it will be next time round. Each round of editing is teaching me more about the writing and editing process.

And with the other novels agitating and stirring in the background, I really need to get this draft finished, so I can get back to another.


Making progress

gods v heroes coverAs I continue with this rewrite, I’m starting to think seriously about the publishing side of Gods Versus Heroes. Another project that I’m involved in, the publication of a book of short stories by my writing group, has led to me purchasing a bunch of ISBNs, so that hurdle is dealt with. I found myself looking at book cover designers this week, just toying with the idea of getting a proper cover ready, although the finished product is still a long way off. And I figured it might be about time to reveal a little about the story itself.

Gods Versus Heroes is the story of a group of ordinary people who find themselves pulled into a war between Gods who have been expelled from the Upper Realms. They meet through a computer game, Gods Versus Heroes, where the race is on to be first guild to defeat the three Gods and a secret boss. But Guild First Kill is just the start of their troubles, when they discover the game was created to find Heroes capable of taking on the Gods who threaten the world of Siuchura. As the guild are transported to a world ravaged by war between humans, elves and dwarfs, do they really have what it takes to be heroes? The fate of all the worlds of the Lower Realm – including our own – lies in their hands.

The cover design on this post is just a mock-up for my own benefit. But I really must focus on writing before worrying too much about the finer details of interior and cover design!