Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

I was cute when I was younger. I was a bridesmaid a total of four times, although for the first – for an aunt – I was too young to remember.

I did eventually have my own turn as bride, but nevertheless the phrase has haunted me: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

It feels as though the phrase describes my life: all those around me are signing up for races, and completing marathons. I signed up for a marathon, but never got there; injury stopped me before training had even started properly. And yet it felt as it was meant to be that way. That while others achieve, it’s my role only to cheer on the sidelines.

It’s the same with writing. While I work on my own projects, it still feels as though my role in the writing business is to help others with their projects. I edit, proofread, format, even help with structure, while my own projects never reach that final stage.

I’m still haunted by a book idea I had thirty years ago. It was a valid non-fiction book idea. I started out researching it. And then someone else published it. The book I was planning to write. How silly I was to think I could do it myself! (why is it so silly, though?)

In life generally, I seem to fall into that support role. Even while playing World of Warcraft, I heal, enabling others to do their jobs better without worrying about their health. I love the healing role, but it means that once again I’m following others around and helping them, while they charge in and get things done.

Sometimes it feels like my role in life is as a support act for others. When do I get to take a main role? Or am I doomed to always stand on the sidelines cheering the rest?

I guess it’s not so bad. We can’t all be huge successes, at the top of our field. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that a lot of my problem is self-sabotage.

But still, I’d really like my turn at some point.

 

Babies project takes a step forward

I’ve been playing around with a specific project for several years. I’ve done two very different complete drafts for nanowrimo, a few years apart, and I keep coming back to it. I have a whole document full of news links that are relevant to my novel, and every time my interest dwindles another news story comes up.

This project is along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale – taking all sorts of stories and projecting the sort of world they are leading to. It started along the lines of thinking about Babies R Us, and imagining it as a kind of pet store but for babies – go along and choose your baby. Then it developed away from that. But it always suffered from lack of direction, and that was reflected in – and was caused by – the lack of a proper title.

So for years it was “that thing about the babies”, or just “babies”. But without that focus, the project floundered.

Then recently it came to me. I know what the title is, or at least one or two variations on what I want, and with that title comes the whole theme and purpose of the novel.

Ladies and gentlemen I present: A Perfect Childhood.

The novel seeks to explore the idea of state as parent, and how eliminating the variation in parenting quality, and providing a consistent, expert parent in the state, would theoretically solve the attainment gap and ensure that every single child would have the same opportunities in life.

Of course, being a novel, things don’t go quite according to plan…

So now I have a title and a focus, I really need to get on with a new draft. Although there’s still Abandoned to work on for writing group, and Life Lessons, my romance, is nagging at me. And Gods V Heroes will need another draft at some point soon…

If only I could get Dropbox working again on my laptop, I could get on with all of these. Otherwise I face the prospect of either carrying a memory stick around and running several different versions, or having to retire to the study rather than sit with my feet up in front of the TV while writing.

 

Still writing – but what?

I’ve been bad at updating here lately, haven’t I? I’ve been ploughing away at my own writing, but at the same time wrestling with the question of publishing and reviews and marketing.

I’ve contemplated adding book reviews to this site, because everyone’s chasing book reviews. But I do so much work giving feedback to writers directly that I find it difficult these days to give public feedback. And somehow, it feels different reviewing a self-published book than a trad published one.

But should it?

Should we treat with kid gloves those authors who choose to rush their work out without any kind of quality control? Should they be treated any differently from those who have been published traditionally? Should we be criticising any creative work at all? After all, just because a writer is traditionally published doesn’t mean they don’t care about negative reviews.

Decades ago, a writer would pour their life into a novel, and then devote more of their life to sending it out, revising it, sending it out, revising it, until eventually they either gave up or found someone willing to invest in it. The investor would then pour more resources into it, and produce a polished piece of work.

Now it’s far too easy to type “The End”, upload the file and hit publish. There’s no incentive to keep reworking a piece until you find someone to invest in it – just publish yourself, cutting corners to avoid expense, and then move on to the next thing.

The end result is that there is a lot of utter rubbish out there. Some is of very poor quality and should never have seen the light of day. Some is of better quality but has been let down and not polished as it should be.

And then there is the very occasional gem.

I’ve had a real slump in reading recently. I’ve struggled to find anything that holds my attention long enough to get to the end. I got round it by reading print books rather than kindle books. Partly this is because the physical book is a better experience, and partly because if I buy a book at the supermarket, I can be reasonably sure of its quality.

So I guess that any book review site that helps to wade through the poor stuff and pick out the good has got to be useful, right?

But should it only publish reviews of the good stuff? Or should it report on any poor stuff that it finds? And is that fair on the author, who might be deliberately cutting corners and taking advantage of readers, but might be a genuine author who has done their best but fallen for one of these “editors” who claim they can edit an entire book for peanuts, and then just put it through the spell check?

Or do we take the attitude that any author who isn’t aware that they need to engage an editor, cover designer etc and ensure they put out high quality work deserves to be told that publicly?

And so the end result is: I don’t know. Would you be interested in another book review site? Would you be interested in reading reviews of poor books? Do you think it’s fair on the author? Do you think only the good ones should receive publicity?

And how do you cope with the flood of available books out there?

 

The agony of creation

It’s nanowrimo tomorrow. While I try to keep my writing up through the year, it can be a struggle at times. I’ve been working on my 2014 nano project, Gods V Heroes, and lately some work on my 2015 novel, Abandoned, has also crept in. But at this point of the year I start considering a new project, and that reminds me of the excitement of writing, as opposed to editing/rewriting.

As a result, my enthusiasm has reawakened, not just for the new project, but for all my older projects – yes, even the babies one that has yet to receive a title.

Please remind me of this – it’s so stupid that I let this excitement die away during the rest of the year. It’s really a case that if I open my mind to the ideas, they’ll flood me out, and if I don’t start picking up on them and getting going, then they’ll create a logjam and nothing will get done.

game-of-life-2My new project is entitled Game of Life, and I even have a proper cover design for it. The first part has existed in my head for a long time, and I’m excited to be able to put it into proper words. The second part is nowhere near as clear, but hopefully it will emerge from the shadows as the first part is pinned down.

 

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.

AARRGGHH!

 

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.

 

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!

 

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.