by aprilswanson

Key Characters

I write this while eating porridge direct from the pot. (And it is, if I may say so myself, a perfect batch of porridge. As any bear will tell you, it’s a notoriously difficult meal to get right.)

Anyway, I’ve spent the last few days mulling my book. To begin, I came up with a big list of questions that needed answering. Then I scribbled in my notebook, half-answering, half-waffling. I wasn’t getting far, so I decided to take each major character and brainstorm them individually.

This worked a treat. By mapping out their lives, I answered all of my questions indirectly. I know who everyone is and what they want. Before, I had only a vague idea.

Now, I’d typically map out the plot after building the characters, but I’m skipping that step this time. I want to keep exploring during the second draft, so I’m not going to anchor down any plot points. I do know who everyone is, and I have a better understanding of the setting, but apart from that, I’m going in blind again. 

I see the initial 25,000 words of exploration as the first draft. Now it’s time to take another stab at it, armed with better knowledge. It’s like exploring, but with a slightly better map. 

I’ve cut characters and plot lines, and expanded others. Most of it will be rewritten completely, but a few of those initial scenes might stay. 

And of course, the second draft will be written by hand. 

This is all new and strange for me, very unlike my traditional process. But I’m putting my faith in my creative brain, and the power of the pen. 

*deep breath*

Here we go. Round Two. 

shaun the sheep olympics GIF by Aardman Animations

Stuck in the Middle

I’m at page 61 of my manuscript (around 25,000 words) and I’m finally running out of steam. I’m not stuck, but I realised what the book was about earlier this week, and since then, my brain has been closing up the story before it needed to be closed. So what happened was I hit the midpoint around page 50, then jumped straight to the end. 

This is one of the issues with discovery writing; once the discovery has been made, it becomes a lot harder! I stopped writing during my third page today because my gut was screaming at me: everything I was writing today just wasn’t going to work. Now was the time to step back, look at the story, and start fleshing out and tightening all the plot-lines. I don’t believe it was fear or doubt or the critical voice; I believe it was my creative voice, warning me that I’d gone off track. 

I guess I’ve written about half the book, and it really is a skeleton. I haven’t written the ending, but I know roughly where the book is going. I’m hoping that because I have so much written already, I won’t get bored. My job now is to take my characters and story, and ramp them up to the next level. I have to make sure there are no plot holes; I have to write new scenes and dive deeper into characters. This initial stage was me discovering the story I want to write, now the time has come to write it out properly. 

I’m not quite sure how to approach it because I’ve never written so much by hand before. I think my plan will be to make a rough map on paper, sketch out the different plot-lines, identify the holes, and then keep writing new material. I want to stick to paper for as long as possible before typing up. The more I write by hand, the more I realise how much I hate typing and screens and computers in general. They kill my creativity. 

So, this is the plan. I’m working hard to stay positive, and to not let this dip affect my momentum. Writing a novel is a messy business, and because I can’t edit as I go as I’m writing by hand, it makes sense that there’d come a point when I’d have to go back and start fixing stuff. 

This is new territory for me. I’ve never had to approach a book like this before. We’ll see how it pans out…

The Night Mage Paperback

The paperback version of The Night Mage is finally available on Amazon. I proofed my copy for the last time over the weekend, and it felt amazing to actually hold the book in my hands. The cover is so beautiful (designed by Natasha Snow) and it’s a really nice size and weight. I love it.

And so, three months after I decided to spruce up The Night Mage, I’m now finished with it. This time it’s for good: I can happily report I’ve made the book the best it can be, and now it’s time to move onto something new. I love The Night Mage, I think it’s a great story, and I’ll be sad to leave Aideen and Faol, but I’m also confident that my next story will be even better. I’m constantly learning, growing as a writer, and I’m excited to continue on this journey.

Right now I’m on page 48 of my current project. I’m still writing without a plan (although I do have vague ideas about where it’s going), and still writing by hand, too. And I have to say, writing has never been more pleasant, more doable, than these last few weeks. Aahhhh…after the torment and struggle of the last couple of years, it feels good to say that.

Currently reading: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick/Contact by Carl Sagan

Currently watching: Glow series 2

Currently feeling: Pretty bloody awesome

Word Counts

Today I made a mistake. On my morning walk, I listened to a podcast about writing. And now, I’m struggling to write my three pages because my head is full of the business side of things (I’ve even paused during my pages to blog, because I need to empty out my thoughts before getting back to it).

Anyway, on the podcast a chap talked about how longer books sell better. This worries me. Not because I tend to write shorter books these days, but because it could encourage authors to write longer books for the sake of it, rather than being dictated by story

I’ve read many modern books that are bloated and rambling. I worry that trade-published books want to be bigger to appear ‘worthy’ of the higher price tag, and I worry that indie-published books want to be longer so they can charge more. (Even though length shouldn’t influence price, in my opinion.)

All of this focus on word count and page length detracts from what really matters: the story. A story is as long as it needs to be.

I estimate my current book will end up around 140 pages in the first draft, but that’s simply a guess, based on how long my recent books have been and how the story is unfolding before me. I used to write longer books, but then I got better, and became more concise. In my view, a story should be told in as few words as possible. 

So, this is my concern, and why I’ve struggled to focus this morning. Now I’ve spewed out my thoughts, I better get back to my pages. One down, two to go… 

I Wonder

I’m wondering about how English uses so many tenses, and if this is at all connected to the way we in the West find it difficult to be in the moment. 

I’m also wondering how I’m going to get all the baguette crumbs out of my keyboard.

I’m wondering if team sport is a good thing or if it only encourages angry tribal behaviour. 

I’m accepting that writing three pages a day is a good balance between work and rest, and I don’t need to go any faster. I’m wondering if our obsession with money fuels the glamourous nobility associated with working long hours. 

I’m wondering how many seasons Westworld will run for, and if there will come a point when it should end (and actually if that point came at the end of series one).

Current page count: 40 (out of projected 140)

EDIT: I wonder WHY THE HELL WordPress let’s me save a draft then kicks me out and loses the bloody draft. 

i wonder emma stone GIF by Saturday Night Live

A Puzzle

How can it be, that even after reading a manuscript nine-thousand times, and having other people read it, I can still find clunky sentences, dodgy words, and TYPOS? Answers on a postcard, please. 

In totally unrelated news, I’m proofing the paperback version of The Night Mage, which will be available soon.

Right now, my work-in-progress is my slice of relief each day. Yet I’m approaching the end of Act 1, which is where I either quit, or scrabble for an outline. I have to keep trusting the process, believe in the power of my creative mind, and push on without planning ahead. In future drafts, I’ll have plenty of time to plan and tweak and make sure everything clicks into place, but right now, this first draft is pure fun, pure exploration. Right now, the characters are in charge, not me. 

But damn, it requires so much blind faith.

EDIT: Oh yeah, I’m going without an outline for this project. Don’t think I mentioned that before. A couple of months ago I was back aboard the planning boat, before I hit the rocks and remembered that planning sucks all excitement out of drafting. It’s fun, being so unsure about your own creative process. So fun!

frustrated fuck my life GIF

SECOND EDIT: So, I did mention it. But forgot I had. Oh good. All the wine is slowly dissolving my brain. 

Want More, Do Less

A realisation:

It’s better to stop writing when I want to do more, rather than push myself until the well is dry. That way, I approach the next session eager to continue. And as all writers know, starting is the hardest bit. 

It seems counterintuitive, but the key to doing more is to do a bit less than I can manage. I should be itching to carry on, not drained and out of ideas. 

End of realisation.

Current WIP: 18 pages. 

Writing by Hand

NEWS: The Night Mage is now on sale at Kobo, Amazon, Smashwords, and other ebook vendors. Click here to find The Night Mage in your favourite store.

MUSINGS: I’m writing longhand. Yeah. Three pages a day, usually in the morning. It’s just me, the pen, paper, and a cup of tea. It’s all very calming and peaceful. Yes, it’s slower than typing, but it’s far more enjoyable. Also, there’s something rewarding in finishing a page, ripping it off and adding it to a growing pile. It feels real, like, I’m actually writing a book and not just making random words appear. And while I hate word counts, I like measuring my progress in pages. Maybe it’s because a book is made of pages, therefore it feels less cold? Och, I dunno. All I know is I’m loving this new method, and all this week writing has been a breeze. I’ll report back if it goes belly up. 

The Night Mage

I said a while ago that I was revisiting The Night Mage. The original draft flew out of me in 2016, and it was published in 2017. I loved it from the moment it entered my head – it really was one of those magic books that sadly don’t come around very often. But as 2017 progressed, I recognised a nagging doubt in the back of my mind: in my heart, I knew The Night Mage was not the best I could make it. 

You see, in 2017 I was in a toxic mindset of pressuring myself to write four+ books a year. As a result, I never took the time to polish The Night Mage to its very best. 

Well, I’ve done that now. The story is the same, and many people might not notice a difference between the two versions, but I do, and that makes me feel a lot better. I’ve culled around 9000 words simply by tightening the prose. The latest version is now available on Amazon. Soon, I will be producing a paperback, and selling on other platforms. 

I love this book. I hope you do too. 

 

The Resistance

Related image

Nah, not that one unfortunately.

I’m taking about the resistance to writing. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s more subtle. 

For example, I started a book this week (hurrah!), and on the first day, all was grand. The second, all was less grand. I snoozed in the afternoon, and then on the second night, I couldn’t sleep, therefore ruining the third day. 

Oh, it’s just your sleep patterns, April. Nothing to do with resistance to writing. 

NAW. 

This is my brain being an asshole. After the first day, the writing was difficult because I didn’t know what happened next. In the morning of the second day, I felt really, really sick (nauseous, for all you non-Brits) and so I stopped writing. Then I felt sleepy, and so I snoozed. And yesterday, on the third day, I was so tired I ‘never got going’.

This is resistance. My brain is conjuring up fake illness to stop me from writing. And I want to know WHY. 

I know I’m not completely lazy, because I can point to the million+ words I’ve written in the last couple of years. I can actually get the job done (even though it’s a bloody struggle most of the time). 

So WHY?! 

I love writing. I believe it should be fun. But I think I’ve robbed the fun out of it by taking it too seriously. I’ve conflated ambition with lack of enjoyment. In other words, I’ve bought into the pervasive myth that all hard work must be a struggle. Fun and Work do not go hand in hand (Presbyterianism and the Industrial Revolution saw to that) and because of this societal belief, I think that my work cannot be fun. 

Writing is my work. Therefore writing cannot be fun. 

But here’s the thing: writing is fun! It’s making up stories, ffs! Yeah, sure, the nth proof-read can be less fun, as can expanding rushed scenes or formatting for publication, but all in all, this gig is fun. I mean, if this ain’t fun, what is? And more importantly, if I don’t find it fun, why on Earth am I doing it? Not for the money, that’s for sure! (Or the stability, the pension, the perks, the prestige, or the social interactions…)

know writing is fun. I’ve soothed my Fear, so I know I don’t have to write a gazillion books a year. I know I have time to explore and play and all of that… I KNOW all of this, but the knowledge is stuck up in the airy, cerebral management office, and hasn’t sunk down to the fiery furnace in my brain that actually pulls the levers and gets stuff done. 

How do I fix this? Form a union, send better memos? I don’t bloody know. 

Answers on a postcard.

 

EDIT: I have since found this article. Problems 1 and 4 most apply to me. I’m going to attempt the solutions…