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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Your only real competition is yourself

And so nanowrimo begins for another year. Already at least one person has finished their 50k, others are boasting of their wordcount or complaining about writer’s block, and a large proportion of the writing community are bent over their keyboards or notebooks, hammering out those words.

I refuse to be intimidated by massive word counts, just as I refuse to be intimidated by those who can run fast. The finish line is the goal, and it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you get there. I’m making a conscious decision not to push on too fast with my writing. I have a few write-ins scheduled so far, one in the evening, one all afternoon and one all day, and I know I’ll get a lot done then. Apart from that, I’m aiming to go steadily, at a pace that can be kept up for more than the 30 days of nano.

I’ve read through and lightly edited today’s contribution, just to make sure I’m on track. 2000 words is a reasonable length of writing, which can be thought about and planned during things such as dog walks, and then put onto paper when I have time. It can also be broken up into two or more writing sessions during the day, and is enough to give me a cushion should there be days (as there probably will) when I can’t get much done.

Let’s see if my nerve lasts out, or if I’ll be panicked into writing binges, or if my plan goes awry and I end up off the signposted route and completely lost.

Good luck to all who take part in nanowrimo!

 

countdown to nano

It’s 24th October. Next Sunday, in exactly 7 days’ time, is 1st November and the start of nanowrimo.

I’ve done nano for several years. The first year, I got to the end and was really disappointed in what I’d achieved. The writing was fun, but it just wasn’t anywhere near usable.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot more about what’s involved in writing a novel. These days, I understand the role that a first draft plays, and for the past couple of years I’ve managed to keep working on my novel for the rest of the year. One, the Babies novel, is still in a pretty rough state, but I still intend to sort it out one day. Last year’s, Gods V Heroes, is in much better shape. It’s still not completely finished, but the structure is sound and it’s doing pretty well, having been worked on since last November.

So this year I’m setting out on my nano adventure with high hopes. I do intend to get back to GVH and eventually finish Babies off as well, but it’s time for a little fun and excitement in my writing life, and that’s exactly what nanowrimo promises.

This novel, Abandoned, is very different from previous novels, being more of women’s lit than fantasy or speculative fiction, and I’ve done extensive planning. I’ve worked out the main storyline, broken it down into scenes, put those scenes onto a timeline and created them in a scrivener project. I now have 35 scenes all marked out in sequence and waiting to be filled in. Aiming for between 1k and 2k words each should easily get me a complete first draft. Timing and ages are planned out (this novel, like Babies, features children whose age needs to be tracked), and I know how the two storylines interweave.

How does it end? I’m not completely sure. There are many aspects that I haven’t worried about yet, because there has to be some room for the story to grow and develop, but the main skeleton is definitely there. And once it’s finished, I’m hoping that it will be in a more solid shape because of the planning, and maybe this time I’ll be able to complete the whole thing in a much shorter timescale.

And now I just have to fill in the next 7 days somehow, possibly with further editing of GVH, until it’s time to set off on this new adventure.

 

Writing books

I have a vast collection of books on the topics of writing and editing. I’ve been writing reviews of them on my business blog, and it struck me that regular readers here might be interested in them too.

This is my latest review. There are previous ones available on there too. Some are designed to help you structure your writing, while others are there to help you strengthen the writing and improve your range of description.

 

 

Training myself to plan

I’ve done a draft or two of Gods Versus Heroes now (it’s hard to count just how many, because I don’t get properly to the end before starting on the next one, so each one gets a little further through before I go back to the start).

I’ve done a rough nano draft, and I’ve done a more careful draft. Now I want to really pull it apart and weave the storylines together properly, rather than allowing them to come piecemeal. I’ve got seven main characters, each of whom has their own story arc. There’s the story arc of the guild. There’s the story arc of the world they travel to, and the story arc of our own world. I make that ten arcs to manage.

I was thinking just now of how hard it all is, and how I’m going to manage to go through this every single time. And then I remembered when I first went into sixth form at school. Suddenly, instead of having homework to be completed the next day or the day after, I would have up to a week to complete a piece of work, or I would have ongoing work to do, in order to keep up with class. I found it really hard to keep track, and to remember what had to be in when.

So I invented a new kind of calendar. I had several sheets of paper fastened together, and divided into seven sections. Each day I would tear off a section, to reveal the day for the following week. I used this for a few weeks, so that I could always see exactly one week ahead, and then I found I didn’t need it any more, because I’d started to think ahead.

That’s what I need to do now. Yes, I need to pull everything apart and really go at it laboriously, and it will take a lot of time and effort. But the more I work at it, and the more frequently I do it, the easier it will become, until I have the method sorted and I can put it all together much more easily.

I need to train myself into the proper way to plan. That’s all. It will come.

 

Making real progress

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I’ve been busy elsewhere. On Saturday I declared Part 1 of Gods V Heroes to be finished (at least for this draft) and printed it out. Yesterday, I did the same to Part 2. Now there’s only Part 3 to finish off.

I’m not saying it’s complete, or brilliant, but I am saying that I’ve got it to the point where I want feedback from a beta reader or two before continuing. I’ve also been working on it consistently since November, and so would appreciate a break from it for a while, preparing for this year’s nanowrimo.

It feels like I’ve been working on this forever, but in reality it’s only nine months. I’d like to be able to produce my writing a lot faster than that, but it’s a good start – and better than the several years in which I’ve been working on the babies idea.

It’s been great fun working on this novel, with its large cast, and I’ve learned a lot. I’m hoping that a lot of that learning will be carried forward, so that the next is produced more efficiently, with better writing in less time.

Will I publish this one? That depends partly on feedback from beta readers, but at this point I think I’ll probably try to get it polished as much as I can and then test the waters. I fully intend publishing under a pseudonym, so there’s not much to lose, and at least it would give me practical experience of that side of the publishing world as well.

Will I have it edited first? I’ll definitely enjoy testing the waters and seeing what an editor can offer. The rest will depend on funds and prices and services, but I certainly intend to look into professional support.

 

Routine is key

I’ve known for a while now that routine is key to getting things done. It’s no good hoping it will get done at some point; if it needs to get done, build it into a routine and stick to the routine, until it gets to the point where it’s easier to do it than to break routine.

I’ve struggled recently to find time for my own projects. During nanowrimo week, I’d quite happily sit and write in the evenings, but that stopped working on 1st December, with the distractions of preparing for Christmas and then everything else that turns up.

I’m busy working during the day, much as I sometimes feel like ignoring everything else and getting on with writing. Early in the morning is exercise time – by 8:30 today I’d already done half an hour in the gym, half an hour in the swimming pool and taken the dog for a walk.

But over breakfast, and before I start work, I’ve started opening up Scrivener and reading through my novel, seeing where I’ve got up to, what sections are missing and what sections need tidying. That seems to work much better for me, and I usually end up doing more than just reading through. And then often I’m thinking about it during the day and ready to continue working on it in the evenings.

Friday lunchtimes is another part of the routine. I finish working at lunchtime, then take my notebook down to a local cafe and sit there with a mug of tea and a plate of chips, and work.

If I find my concentration waning towards lunchtime, that’s my cue to get up and start doing some housework before preparing food. Same in the early evenings, and any other time I’m not fully focused and productive. This means I have less to feel guilty over when I do sit and write.

And so the routines gradually improve and I gradually get things done. Still aiming to have a complete, readable draft of my novel ready as soon as I can. It’s starting to drag on far too much, and that’s how these things sabotage themselves. I need to get back to the babies story, and I need to know I have this one ready to rest.

Within the next six weeks is my target timeframe. Then a couple of months to get back to babies and a couple more to start thinking about the next nano project.

All very well, but that does mean I have to keep focused, head down and working. So teabreak over!

 

Resilience

It’s been a busy week. As part of my training for a half marathon at the end of March, on Tuesday I ran 11 miles, my longest distance yet. Tuesday afternoon I gave blood, after making sure I had a good lunch in between and plenty to drink.

Then I made a couple of mistakes.

I was due out at a social evening for the allotment society, so I cooked food for the rest of the family and as I’d had a big lunch I decided I wasn’t hungry and just had cheese on toast – I couldn’t eat with the others as they don’t eat until the time I’m going out, thanks to the wonders of the railway timetable. Then I decided I didn’t need to take my handbag – I avoid it whenever I can – and walked down to the meeting.

Halfway through the meeting, I started feeling decidedly woozy. I felt the blood drain from my face, to be replaced with a sheen of perspiration. My vision started blurring and swirling and I was not at all well. Because of where I was sitting, I would have had to walk all the way round the back of the group to reach the toilets, and as I hadn’t brought my bag, I didn’t have the snack that I always keep in there. So I sat it out and thankfully had started to recover a little by the end of the talk, at which point I sent a text message for hubby to walk down and escort me back home.

So when I set out for a short run this morning, only to find my legs felt like lead, I didn’t worry too much. I was kind to myself and allowed several walking breaks, while not panicking that my running days were over and I’d never be able to run again, because I knew from experience that there was a good reason I was struggling and that given a day or so more to recover, I would be fine again.

One thing I’ve developed over the past couple of years of running is resilience – I have experiences I can call on, where I’ve not felt well, or a run has gone badly, or conditions have been less than ideal, and I know better how to cope. I have memories of running when tired, running in the rain, giving up on a run, running while freezing cold – as well as memories of successful runs, fast runs, long runs, in beautiful weather, in pleasant surroundings. I can judge each run in a wider context, rather than on its own merits.

Now I need to transfer that to my writing. I’ve been thinking constantly about my fantasy novel, and working on it in spare moments, but I have to confess that I haven’t done as much as I would have liked. And sure enough, I’ve now reached the point where I start thinking can I actually do it? There’s so much that I want to include in there, so much that should be in there, and I wonder if I actually have the stamina and ability to complete it to the standard I would like. All it takes is a post from someone about a successful local writer publishing her first novel, and my confidence hits the floor and stays there.

So this is where I need to develop writing resilience – the ability to keep writing whatever the mood, and accept that some sessions will be good and others not so good, but they’re all moving in the right direction. The ability to brush off doubts and appreciate the process as desirable in its own right. To recognise that the fact I see the weaknesses in my writing is actually a strength, because at least I can see what’s missing, rather than imagining I’m writing a masterpiece when it’s nowhere near.

And one big reason I need to do this is because I’m reaching the point now where I’m lining up beta readers (or to be more accurate alpha readers) to help me out with the structure, and so I need to reach that point where I have a complete story that’s ready to be looked at. It’s nearly there, but not quite, and will only get there with work.

The other reason is that once again news stories are appearing that make me think of the other novel I have on the go, the speculative fiction novel, the one about babies, which really does need a proper title! So I need to get the fantasy novel to a point where I can set it aside/pass it on to readers and then let it rest for a while, and press back on with the babies.

Because these things won’t let me rest these days, and the least painful way to deal with them is to push on and get something done about them. Even if it does end up being a load of rubbish that’s not worth the effort of reading. Because apart from anything else, I’ll have learned what works and what doesn’t, and will be a few steps further down the line towards being able to finish something that is worth reading.