by aprilswanson

Writing a Novel: 1st August 2018

I’m experimenting with firmer blocks of time. I know this can stress me out, but I also know I’m not working as hard as I need to be – or anywhere near the peak of my abilities. Somewhere between now and university, my ability to focus and knuckle down has declined. 

0745 – 0830: Shower, breakfast, that sorta thing.

0830 – 1000: Didn’t have any enthusiasm, but told myself to write for 15 minutes to see if I got into the flow. Ended up with a very rough draft of the opening scene. My MC has no voice, but she’ll get one eventually…

1000 – 1200: Yoga and walk. Took my dictaphone with the intention of musing, but on my way out I had an incident with one of my neighbours (a lazy inconsiderate asshole) which had me fuming for the whole of my walk. And then I fumed at myself for wasting time on this prick, and not getting my work done. My mood’s been really crappy since I stopped writing three pages a day, so I need to dig deep to keep it afloat here. Safe to say I’m not feeling creative.

PEP TALK: Don’t let other people impact my goals. If I let unpleasant people derail me so easily, I’ll never get anywhere, cos sadly, the world is full of them. Laser focus. Ignore the plebs. 

Cleaned my desk and played the Solo soundtrack to cheer myself up.

1220 – 1305: Hand too sore to write, so used Scrivener to plan. It’s not my preferred method, but I could barely hold my pen. I intended simply to muse the scene, but ended up drafting another skeleton. Not finished, but I can wrap it up after the gym. 

1315 – 1515: Gym/house stuff. 

1515 – 1600: Finished sketching second scene. Absolutely starving so hard to concentrate… Brainstormed ideas for next scene. 

1630 – 1800: Kept musing first chapter (but had telly on in the background so wasn’t 100% focused). Got a few ideas but none of them are grabbing me. Hmm… I have lots of thinking to do.


I’m circling the black hole. Not been here in a while, but it feels like I never left. 

Anyway, I’m documenting my day, mostly to keep myself accountable so I don’t gravitate to the sofa and fall into irreversible lethargy. 

0730 – 0830 General Bad Mood Bear

0830 – 0930 Scribbled in notebook in attempt to lift my mood. Decided that I’m going to dump everything I know about this book into Scrivener, and see if any scenes take shape. Have given myself until mid October to get this to my critique partner. 

0930 – 1005: Lots of musing and creating scene ideas on Scrivener. Actually feeling a lot better (but still have no idea what to write). 

1005 – 1015: Thinking about Process and how I need to STOP thinking about Process and go back to what I do naturally. It’s been almost five years since I started freaking out about word count, planning/pantsing, typing/longhand – all the crap that doesn’t actually matter. If I could wipe my memory, I would. I need to get back to the good old days, when I just used my intuition. I thought I was getting there, but I’ve realised I’m still stuck in an unhelpful mindset. I guess it’ll take continued awareness to fully heal, and lots and lots (and lots) of time. 

Out of interest, my ‘natural’ process looks something like this:

Think think think, build a general idea of the story, then write and build as I go, usually rewriting the beginning a million times as I figure out what I want to say. The whole process is a mess – it’s planning, drafting and editing all rolled into one. A fine balance between knowing what I’m going to write and planning everything to an inch of its life and sapping all the excitement. No targets for wordcounts or scenes; just putting in a good day’s work. 

So, why can’t I allow myself to return to this? In the last five years I’ve been so concerned about finding the ‘perfect’ process and becoming more productive that I’ve turned my back on my own natural method. 

I am a fool. 

Anyway, back to the day in hand. 

1020 – 1140: Went for a walk to clear my head of all this process stuff. Deliberately didn’t play my book’s soundtrack so my thoughts could get a proper break. 

1140 – 1200: Got a good idea for the opening scene and fleshed it out a bit. Need to answer quite a few questions. My mind then unhelpfully dredged up an unpleasant memory (thanks Mind!), so I’m gonna go to the gym and read, rather than sit here and stew. Mood and energy have come back down again after a nice lift. 

(1200 – 1230: General mucking about and delaying. Bleh.)

1230 – 1420: Gym. Read Contact. Mood much better now! Good ole exercise. 

1430 – 1630: More musing on Chap 1. 

So, today turned out decent in the end. I could have worked though. That’s something for tomorrow, I guess. 

99 Problems

Actually I only have one problem and that one problem is this bloody manuscript. I’m stuck, without motivation, and writing each word is like pulling teeth. 

What’s worse is I’m coming from a recent period of writer’s block, and a general lack of ideas. I know the pressure I put on myself in 2016/17 really battered my Muse, but I’ve worked hard at relaxing (ha!) over the last few months, and I thought I was in a better headspace. But this book… This book is bringing it all back. 

When I was writing my exploratory draft, I felt like the story was quietly bubbling inside of me. I was focused on getting three pages a day, making it up as I went along, feeling good because I managed it every day. But I tied myself into a knot, got stuck, and now I can’t summon any energy to keep writing it. Is this the critical voice? Is my creative voice bored because I’m trying to pin it down? Or was I just kidding myself before by giving myself a relatively easy daily target and not thinking about the bigger picture, therefore hiding from myself the fact that I wasn’t interested in the bigger picture. 

I just don’t know. 

It feels like the Block has come and whacked me on the head again. 

Maybe writing by hand doesn’t work with exploratory writing? Maybe I should have typed it, allowing myself to cycle back and edit as I went along. But can process have such an impact on ideas and enthusiasm? I’m thinking no… I’m thinking this is just me searching for excuses. 

I am sooooooooo confused and lost and stuck and BLLLEEEEHHHHHHHH.

will irwin keyes GIF

This is One of Those Moments

Image result for glowI bloody love Glow. Finished the second series last night, and I think it was even better than the first. Why can’t all TV be as good as this? 

Anyway, while last night was awesome (there was also wine and a thunderstorm), today has been crap. I woke up, wrote I WILL NOT QUIT in my notebook, then proceeded to spend the next couple of hours going around the same loop I did yesterday (I can’t connect to 2nd world characters; I should write contemporary; I have no ideas when I think of the real world; I’m hopeless; all is lost; etc). 

Now, I caught myself again, thank goodness, but STILL… I’d like to get off this loop. (Can’t help but thinking of Westworld… Are we all just stuck on our little loops?) 

I’ve had a rubbishy week because I’ve not written anything. It’s been a week of musing, and so my productivity has been down, and so my mood and sense of satisfaction have gone down with it. 

My problem is still this one character. I CANNOT figure him out for the life of me. And I need him; he’s key. I know I can’t force it, but at the same time, I want (need) to get back writing this book. All I can do is keep working. Keep hoping that the pieces will click into place soon…

Resistance is Futile

Star Trek Picard GIF

Last couple of days, I’ve been doubting myself. I’ve considered quitting this book and writing something new. I’ve been thinking ‘oh, what if I wrote a series? Series are marketable’, or ‘oh, what about vampires? People LOVE to read about vampires’.

You know what this is? It’s bloody RESISTANCE. It’s my brain, once again, dodging the hard work and trying to convince me that another book will be easier. 

It makes sense: I’m in a sticky spot in my novel. I’ve got my 60 pages of exploration, and now I’m struggling to proceed. I’ve got character backstories, a tighter grip on the world, and a general idea about where it’s going. But I don’t have an outline, or any experience to guide me through a second long-hand draft.

Crucially, I also don’t have recent experience of finishing a new manuscript. Barring a novella, the last first draft I took to completion was THE flippin’ NIGHT MAGE, which I wrote in the arse-end of 2016. Somehow, thanks to my own bloody genius, I’ve managed to give myself finishphobia*.

Thankfully, this time around, I’ve caught myself quickly, identifying the stupid critical voice for what it is: an imposter for my lovely, imaginative creative voice. So, I swear, I WILL finish this book. No matter how long it takes. No matter how hard it gets. The damn thing will be completed. And if it’s a pile of crap then, actually, it doesn’t matter, because right now the most important thing I need to do is finish a book. Any book. I’ve got to cure this phobia.


*Yes I made that one up. 

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