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.

 

Nano is over

mock-coverActually, nano has been over for about a week now, but since I’ve been laid up with a cold, things have got a little slack.

I did complete nano again this year, but not the way I’d planned. While I had a story idea and even a cover design, it turned out that the story itself wasn’t sufficiently developed to put down on paper. I’ve learned that I don’t work well as a pantser, I much prefer to have everything planned out and know where I’m going. So I abandoned Game of Life around 11k words in and switched to another project. That doesn’t mean the story itself is abandoned, simply that it needs to be developed more before it’s ready. So maybe next year.

In the meantime, I was very good last year and continued the nano tradition into December, starting another novel. I got around 8k words in before putting that one to one side to deal with Christmas, and it had been sitting there ever since.  So I felt it was a fair swap to jump to that one instead for the rest of nano. There were a few days when I wrote on both projects, and then I switched completely and managed to get most of the draft done by the end of the month, hitting the 50k target a few days before the end of the month.

Then I got this cold, and I need to sort out a chapter of Gods V Heroes for writing group next Monday, and so this new one has been set aside again…

But I must get back to it. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out, and did a lot of work on Aeon Timeline to plan it out (I wrote a blog entry on my business blog, explaining how I planned it).

Provisionally entitled The English Teachers, it even ended up with a new title by the end – Life Lessons – and now I need to design a proper cover for it, finish the last couple of scenes, clean up the draft so it’s readable, and then seek beta readers before polishing. I wouldn’t normally jump to beta readers so early, but in this case I want to make sure the setting and background are right.

The story is a romance (although at the moment the romance is very low key) set in a school. Nic falls for a teacher at another school, until she learns that the two schools are to be merged and they will be rivals for the post of head of department. In the meantime, there is a joint school project to work through, and issues with students that just won’t wait.

 

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.

 

 

It’s been a while

I’ve decided that I can spend my time and energy either talking about writing or actually writing, so for the past few weeks I’ve been concentrating on actually writing. Nanowrimo complete, I set Abandoned to rest. It was the first time I’ve written a complete draft of a story and been reasonably happy with it, but I haven’t yet gone back to it, so I might be in for a nasty shock when I do.

Since then, I tried starting another first draft, of a romance this time, but Gods V Heroes called to me too loudly, so I’ve returned to that. It seems to be a novel of 3rds – it’s in three parts, and the first part was done, the second part needed work and the third part was a mess. Now I’ve worked my way through to the third part, and the first third of that is okay, the second third needs work and the third part is a mess… So it feels like I get closer and closer to complete, but never actually getting there.

The third part is now thoroughly mapped out, so it’s just a question of putting in the time to get it written. Another draft will be needed, but the more I write, the cleaner my writing becomes, so it won’t always be this tough. In the meantime, the news stories I collect relating to my Babies novel suggests that by the time I finish that, it might well be fiction rather than speculative fiction. The romance is on hold for now, but has the bare structure ready, and another fantasy is brewing in the background.

What I’m trying to avoid is going so slowly on GvH that everything else jams up behind, so that I lose enthusiasm and focus and can’t decide what to work on.

And now I’ve discovered a TV series called Forever, which is just calling out for fanfiction…

The attraction of fanfiction is that it’s instant gratification. The characters and settings already exist, there’s a ready-made audience for the stories, and they tend to be rattled out and published very quickly, often in instalments rather than a finished product. Very different from the laborious process of writing a novel.

So I hereby grant myself permission to explore Forever via fanfiction, but promise that I will also persevere with Gods V Heroes, at a pace that will allow myself to make real progress.

 

 

No perfect way for all

I’ve just finished reading On Writing, by Stephen King, which I reviewed on my business blog. I also attended an art class this morning at the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. In both cases, an expert was explaining how he does what he does; Stephen King explains his writing process, and what he feels is important, and my art tutor was demonstrating how he draws a portrait and different techniques that can be used.

I realised something as I watched the face gradually coming to life: every artist or writer has their own way of doing things. Stephen King believes plotting is clumsy and the story should develop organically. Other writers will insist on a tight outline. My tutor was putting smudges on paper that looked like nothing at all, and then gradually the face emerged from the chaos. Other artists will carefully plan and block out their drawing. I’m sure that everyone lies somewhere along that continuum between planning and what’s commonly known these days as pantsing.

But the one thing that the successful ones have in common is that they do it. They create art, or they write, or whatever it is they do, without worrying too much about how good it is, without fretting about whether they’ll be able to sell it, without feeling they have to.

The secret to art isn’t to work on one painting or drawing until it’s perfect; it’s to sketch and paint over and over again until the techniques are mastered and the lines flow easily. And the same for writing; it’s no good slaving for years over one novel, constantly rewriting the opening scene, or moving this section before that section and then back again, or searching for errors and clumsy phrasing; the secret is to keep going. Write a draft, leave it. Start another project. Leave that and return to the first, or start a third. But above all, don’t stop.

However you do something, the most important thing to do is actually do it, and not keep putting it off, or waiting until it’s perfect, or until you feel you’ve got the hang of it, or you’re ready.

As to the technique itself – you’ll work out your own, in time. And then maybe one day you’ll be telling others about it. Just remember to also tell them it’s okay to do it differently if it works for them!

And if you’re doing nanowrimo, why are you here reading this? You should be writing. Go get those words down. And after that 50k, there’s another 50k, whether they’re in the same project or a new one. And another, and 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.

 

New rules

I’m working to new rules. Instead of plugging away at my novel and getting frustrated by other projects that beckon, and then avoiding my novel and getting frustrated at the slow progress, I’ve decided to focus on quantity rather than quality. That nano message is taking a long time to sink in, but I reckon that if I focus on refining ideas and building them up, instead of working linearly with narrow focus, then by the time I’ve drafted out a few complete ideas I’ll have a lot more idea what I’m doing, more stamina for longer projects and a good base on which to build.

So I’ve currently got Gods V Heroes on the go and nearly at a complete draft, there’s my new nano novel coming up, there’s the romance, there’s a couple more fantasies in the pipeline and there’s always babies which is still simmering nicely and waiting for my attention. Not to mention a couple of non-fiction projects that are on the go. With that selection, there should be something I feel like working on at any opportunity.

Let’s see how many complete novel drafts I can create by the end of the year, shall we?

 

Rediscovering my spark

It seems like a long time since I really felt that spark of excitement. I’ve been plodding along, making progress at times and then slipping back at other times. I’ve reached the point where I say enough is enough, it’s time to really turn myself around and start being more positive.

And yet I know I’ve been at this point before. I’d look back through the blog, but I’m sure I’d only depress myself further with the number of times I’ve declared myself at that point, only to slide back again.

So what’s the problem? Where has that spark gone? and how can I get it back?

I was doing okay until the end of May this year, when I broke the 30 min barrier at parkrun. Having done that, I slacked off, and after being unable to run while on holiday at the beginning of July, I never really got going properly again.

I ran a 10k race yesterday, and while it was by no means my worst performance, it wasn’t my best either. I’ve got slower again, and that’s probably not helped by the stone (14 pounds) I’ve put on since the half marathon I ran at the end of March. So while it was an okay performance, I really want to get that sorted and improve.

So, how do I keep going? I can only think that finding my inner spark will help with motivation. I’m thinking of making a collage or scrapbook of images that will remind me of what I’m trying to achieve. I’m considering making a list of things that contribute towards a positive feeling, and sticking it up above my desk as a reminder. I’ve ‘fessed up to my food and exercise monitoring websites and need to focus on those.

Above all, I need to ensure that I’m writing regularly and exercising regularly. Both will help with my mental state, and the exercise will help with my physical state. I have a selection of races coming up over the next few months, and I always seem to exercise better across the winter than the summer. Nanowrimo is coming up, and I’m trying to get into an appropriate mindset for that, with a nano project lined up plus another to keep me occupied until then. And of course there’s still Gods V Heroes.

As to that, the next stage involves really upping the stakes in the novel. I need to dig deep and find the strength to write strong scenes. Those scenes are what the story is about, in my head; about the in-fighting and hatred I see around me, and putting that into a fantasy context. I need to get out of this comfortable rut I’m in, where I seem content to curl up and go to sleep, and I need to get out there fighting.

Above all, I’m not competing against anyone else; it doesn’t matter how many novels others have published, or how fast or far others can run; it’s about pushing myself. About knowing that I’m doing the best I can, and not just sitting back relaxing, while complaining that others are achieving things that I want for myself. And all that needs to start now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when the cake has been eaten. Not when the race is over. Now.

How do you find and keep your spark?