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!

 

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.

 

Gearing up for action

gods v heroes coverIt’s October, and that means it’s nearly November. And that, as we all know, means NANOWRIMO! We’ve already kicked off in our area; not actually writing, of course, that would be cheating, but we’ve already had a meetup where we exchanged strategies and generally discussed writing and putting the world to rights (or writes!).

I’m very lucky in that our area has a very active group of writers, who have stayed in touch all year via a facebook group and occasional meetups, so we’re all raring to go. Our MLs (Municipal Leaders) are enthusiastic and proactive, and the rest of us are quite likely to call a meetup in our area as well, if we want one, so nano is accompanied by a great feeling of community and support, to the point where I end up feeling not that I grant myself permission to write for the month, but even that I feel obliged to write!

I’ve been through the nano website and updated my profile with any nano novel I can find evidence of on my computer, which means I currently have three years won, one year half-done and the current year. The idea of being able to upload a cover image is great, as just the act of putting the title, author’s name and image together on a graphic helps to inspire towards a finished product.

While I’ve never yet managed to do any more than complete nano, each year I do it I feel I understand the creative process a little more, and each time I feel my writing has improved. I was amused to find the first draft of my babies book, which I did in 2004, and compare that to the 2013 version. The earlier book was much more of a complete narrative, but also much more simplistic, as I chose easy options to keep the story moving forward, without bringing any depth to it. Last year’s was starting to gain more depth, but lost itself in complexity at times.

This year I’m starting a whole new project, because I feel that to keep hammering on babies is achieving little (unfortunate phrasing, but it amuses me, so it stays). It will get done – the story has gripped me too hard to abandon it – but I need to pick apart what I’ve done and rebuild it, which will take time. Instead, I’m changing tack, with a complete fantasy novel as opposed to speculative fiction. The freedom that offers is great, and I’m really looking forward to getting going.

Current stage is thinking about the plot, which is fairly straightforward, and interviewing characters. I have seven main characters (I’ve learned from nano 06, where I started with 10 and ended with 5), and while all seven will have a place, it’s very possible that one or two or even three will play a larger part in it, with the rest as supporting cast, so I’m just feeling my way through who they are, what they sound like, what they look like, what they want and how they fit in to the overall arc.

The intention, as every year, is to get to the end of the 50,000 words before the end of the month. The growing determination is to reach that stage with a project that’s worth going back and editing, and then to actually do so; to get past this feeling that I’m only allowed to be properly creative in November, and to build writing into my daily routine and do something with my writing other than file it and read it again years later, only to regret not having done more.

 

All connected underneath

Many, many years ago, as I worked in my hideously overgrown garden, I discovered a little plant that was growing amongst all the weeds. I decided to try and save it, and dug it up to put it in a pot. The trouble was, when I dug down I discovered that actually it was a little shoot growing from a root deep underground, and that root went an awful long way and was connected to loads of other plants as well.

I was reminded of that incident recently when looking at my options for nano and trying to decide what to work on. Having realised that two of my ideas are connected, that’s the obvious option. The trouble is that as I dug deeper into that idea I discovered that it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought – that actually it goes far underground and pops up all over the place, connected to all sorts of other topics. So now I need to try and extricate my idea and the connected bits and figure out just how far I need to go with it in order to gather it all in.

It’s tough – every time I think I’ve got something straightforward it reveals itself to be so much more. And yet the simple ideas are nowhere near as interesting. And any that are turn out to be complex as well.

Ah well, it will work itself out as long as I pay attention to it and work on it. All I do know is that I’m giving the babies story a rest for this year’s nano. It needs serious work, and it won’t leave me alone until I’ve finished it, but right now I think I need to work on something new and rediscover the rush of creativity.

 

 

Looking back, looking forward

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonNanowrimo is rapidly approaching – only around four weeks to go now. I’ve been suffering my usual logjam of loads of ideas fighting for attention, freezing me into paralysis of indecision. A couple of people suggested that I could work on more than one, and that I should make notes on all my ideas and see if anything jumps out at me.

So the other night I sat down and read through some of my old stuff, as a couple of my ideas already exist as openings, with the rest of the story either buried in my head or gone completely. I also received, as I occasionally do, an email alerting me to the fact that someone has favourited one of my fanfiction stories that are published online. These two actions had their usual result, which is to remind me of how much I enjoy writing and how I can produce things that are worth reading, if not yet the most polished and well-structured of work.

Writing down my ideas brought me to the realisation that actually two of my ideas are very similar, but one is the world story and the other is the story of a specific set of people set in that world. So that immediately caught my attention, and I decided that would be my aim for nano, to work through idea 1 and build the world, ready to tackle idea 2 using that world for nano.

Then tonight someone made a comment that set me off on a tangent, heading to youtube and finding a whole collection of videos of me and a group of others having fantastic fun, and this reminded me of story idea number 3.

So the only conclusion I can come to is that after working for a year on other people’s writing and stories, and seeing projects through to the finished product and cheering them on all the way, I want my turn. I can do this. It’s not that I have only one idea and will then be finished. I’ve even noticed a theme running through my ideas. I want to get on and get finished and then start the next project and finish that, and…

So which one do I start with? I start with the original nano idea for this year, the world story/people story combination, and when that’s done I get back to my babies story and finish writing that, and then I go on with this other idea, and then back to this year’s nano for editing, and then… and then…

It doesn’t matter, in the end, which one I start with. It matters only that I start.

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing the videos that sparked all this off, you’ll have to go to youtube and search for valkyrien guard, and watch those videos. You won’t recognise me though – I’ll be heavily disguised as a warrior by the name of Leyton. And there’s a remote chance you’ll even see me in one of the videos in another disguise, that of a priestess called Emmylee, which is where I first used the name that I now use – with various spellings – as my writing name.

 

I have a new strategy

I’ve had enough of avoiding writing, rejecting writing, coming back to it, reading old stuff, thinking of new ideas, failing to get them down, growing new ideas, not knowing which one to work on…

I realised part of my problem today when I came up with an idea and was instantly in battle with myself: of course it’s not anything I could publish… but maybe I could adapt it so… but it doesn’t matter, it’s for practice… yeah, but it’s possible I might…

You see, I find it difficult to write when I know it’s going to be bad and I know it’s not going to be anything suitable for publication. And I need to get over that. Bigtime. And fast. Because otherwise I’m not going to write anything at all, let alone develop my writing to the stage where I feel happier with it.

So I have a two-pronged strategy. One, which comes from working through the futurelearn writing course, is to start developing my writer’s notebook with snippets that boost my observational skills, notes that can be developed later and just general notes that develop my writing and get me into a regular routine of writing, not just thinking about writing. The other is to take a TV programme and novelise it. This is the idea that can’t be published. It’s not even something that could be published as fanfiction, as I’m basing it heavily on transcripts. What I’m aiming to do is fill in the bits in between, and maybe even develop the story in my own direction. That will give me experience of fleshing out a story that already exists, of taking a skeleton and joining the dots, to mix my metaphors a bit (hey, single metaphors are boring!).

I don’t need to worry about coming up with any idea, let alone an original and exciting one. I don’t have to worry about developing a hero that I can admire, because there already is one. I don’t have to feel anxious about the quality of writing, because that’s the whole point.

So sorry, I don’t have time to hang around. I have a novel(isation) to write.

 

 

My writing dilemma

Standard lore has it that your first novel is never any good. That it can take two or three or even more novels before you really get into your stride and master your craft.

My brain’s standard reply to this is: why, then, should I waste my best ever idea, my most burning plot, on a novel that I know beforehand won’t be any good? Isn’t it better to write a couple of “disposable” novels first, to hone my skills, and then return to my passion?

Then the other half of my brain rebels and says that it can’t write unless it’s passionate about what it’s writing about. And that there’s nothing to say that the first novel has to be useless, and that the skills learnt can be applied to improve it rather than moving on to another project.

So the two halves of my brain fight it out, each insisting that they have the most logical approach, and in the meantime I write no fiction at all.

At writing group last night I took in the opening of what I’d planned as my disposable novel. Yes, I decided to take a standard, overused plot and see what I can do with it, and yes that was spotted and commented on immediately. Does that matter?

I love the story of the origin of the Codex Alera series (and oops, didn’t realise my world name, Aleria, was so close to an existing fantasy one; that will need to be changed!) in which the author took on the challenge of taking not one but two lame ideas and seeing if anything can be done to make them worth reading. Who’s to say I can’t do the same thing with a standard trope? After all, there’s no truly new ideas in the world; every story is part of the same small library of plots. Star Wars and Kingdom are two movies that have very similar plots and both in their turn are similar to Lord of the Rings.

So, do I find passion for my disposable story, and plough on with that, for the benefit of the learning curve it provides? Do I work on my main novel, knowing that I don’t yet have the skills to do it complete justice? Or do I concentrate on writing exercises, to build up those skills?

All of these appeal, but not enough, and all of these have drawbacks, but not enough. And so I bounce between ideas, never settling on one and making the progress I should, as I do so often in my life. Time to make a decision and stick with it.

Suggestions please?

 

I cannot write short stories

I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot write short stories. I found a folder of short story plots, from when I did a writing course: all planned out, with the different events and the conclusion. But I just cannot get them written up.

I’ve found one or two that I’ve tried. Lots and lots of telling the story rather than showing, exactly the sort of thing I pick up on when I beta read, because it is slow and uninteresting and loses the intimacy of really showing the story. I find it difficult to become emotionally involved in a character over the course of a short story; I prefer something much more meaty.

And yet… I find that even as I sit here admitting defeat, I’m thinking about what I’m doing wrong and how I could improve them. Maybe sometime when I’m not desperately trying to find something to submit to my writers’ group for the next meeting, I’ll take the time to get on and really give it a good go.

Part of the problem is that I find it difficult to recall the sort of style and pace needed without spending lots of money on magazines and getting back into reading them, and right now I don’t have the finances. Perhaps there will be similar stories on scribophile – I really haven’t poked around there much yet.

With all the pressure of having to find something to submit, I have to confess it’s the first time I have actually written in a while. It’s stupid – if I’d kept on with my writing course all those years ago, my writing would be so much better by now. I read something recently – the best time to start writing was five years ago. The second best time is now. That is so true. I don’t want to reach another 10 years or so and still be intending to get around to writing some day soon.

So tomorrow evening I faithfully promise that I’ll sit down with one of the stories I “told”, and will see about how to turn it into more of a “show”. Is it cheating to still just tell the story but in the character’s voice rather than as a narrator?

 

Day 20

I’m starting to feel that finish line approaching… at 42k, I only have another 8k to write to complete nanowrimo. Of course, my story won’t finish then, it needs to continue on until it reaches a full conclusion. I’m guesstimating around 75k at the moment. I find I’m getting more nervous as I get closer to 50k – will I keep going properly? Will I shove it in a metaphorical drawer, never to see the light of day again? Will I be able to find something usable in there by the time I’ve finished?

At 36k I suddenly realised the motivation and situation of one of my main characters. Since then, I’ve found things are getting away from me. The government has turned nasty and my main character has a real dilemma to face. And I thought I was already making her life difficult! So, does she fight the system and risk losing her child or keep her mouth shut? Are the actions of a small minority enough to deal with a corrupt majority? Will the masses rise up and rebel? tune in for tonight’s thrilling instalment…

An extract: She weighed up the options, lying awake at night and worrying, and by Monday morning she still didn’t know what choice she was going to make.

And neither does her author…

Maybe it’s time I switched to the other main arc and see what she’s up to. She’s progressing fairly steadily, but I’ve a nasty feeling there might be a spanner in the works for her somewhere along the line too. I’m not sure whether this double arc is a blessing or a curse – it makes it easy to jump to the other arc when I get stuck on one, but on the other hand maybe I need to push through the pain and see what happens.

Ah well, I’ve still got about 800 words to write for today’s instalment, so I’d better get on. Still looking forward to a couple of full day write-ins. I’m also wondering how much time it will need to go through the story and check its flow and plot as well as actually adding to the word count. I’m trying not to tear on so fast I can’t use anything, but I know there will be chunks. The important thing is not to get so far off track that I’m writing for the sake of the word count and not for the storyline.

 

Time to get into a higher gear

I took the opening of my novel to writing group on Monday. I was pretty okay with it – I knew it was a good, sound idea. I knew my rendering of it wasn’t anywhere near as good as I would like it to be. I thought I was prepared for any sort of criticism that might come.

In the end, very little was said about the writing itself, but a lot was said about the idea. Some very interesting questions were asked, showing me other areas that I need to explore and understand for myself. I was left feeling that yes, I had an idea well worth pursuing. Yes, it’s a very meaty idea, and will be an incredible challenge. And yes, I really, really want to work on this project. I nearly said I want to complete it, but while I do of course want to be able to put THE END on the page and continue with the process of polishing and publishing, I’ve got a long way to go first. I’m determined to really enjoy the journey, to relish working out storylines, characters and settings and to really explore the world and develop my writing in the process.

I’m using Scrivener for the writing and planning process, and find it really useful to be able to lay out the different scenes/chapters for three different story arcs and be able to label them and move them around to work out the best route. It contains templates for characters and settings, and I’m finding them useful too – just the simple question under the Setting template – what does the place smell like? – encourages me into more detail and more research.

So far I’ve been building in a regular writing session on a Friday morning, when after my morning swim I go to a cafe on the seafront for a bacon roll and mug of tea and sit scribbling for half an hour, but that really isn’t anywhere near long enough to make any serious indents into the work. Now it’s getting cooler in the evenings I can sit with my laptop on the sitting room, so maintaining a semblance of sociability with my family while still working, but while I have time on my hands I need to make the most of it. This feels like a snowball going downhill – the more time I spend, the more engaged I become and the more time I want to spend. The time I spend swimming is of course taken up with planning and thinking about my work. I wish I could record my thoughts as I swim!

As I beta read, I’m really starting to appreciate the amount of work that has gone into the completion of a project, and to feel excited that I’m actually on my way with my own project. My aim is to plan thoroughly over the next few weeks, then to force a new draft through for nanowrimo, before really pulling it apart and editing it thoroughly. I originally wrote this as a nanowrimo novel a few years ago, but I have really adapted and developed the story since then and it will be very different from that original first draft. Draft 1B perhaps?  I will, of course, be looking for my own beta readers once I have enough of an edited version to make it worthwhile, as beta readers will give feedback on plot and characterization, then there will be more edits, then hopefully I’ll feel confident enough about my project (and be earning enough) to look for an editor and proofreader to finish it off.

If anyone is interested enough to want to be involved as a beta reader/writing partner from early in the process, feel free to drop me a line, by the way.

I’m really looking forward to every step of this.