Archives: How I Write

Past or Present

Why do I keep switching to the present tense for The Forest King? It doesn’t work with the way the story is told. Yet every few sentences I catch myself slipping back into present. GAH!

(Seriously, just have to vent about this new WordPress editor again – it is the worst. The WORST.)

Anyway, I struggled with drafting today. My plan originally was to finish Chapter Two. I got a few hundred words in, then really started to toil. To avoid moving ahead, I reread earlier stuff and made tweaks here and there, which is when I realised that editing is moderately easier than drafting. As the old saying goes, you can’t edit a blank page. 

So I decided to stuff the inner editor into a box, then put that box inside a bigger box, and then SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!

emperors new groove GIF
Most underrated Disney film

The result? 1000 words of some real hairy drafting, but it’s all good, cos I can fix it later on. With Nano just around the corner, now’s the perfect time for me to get back into the habit of vomit-drafting. It’s funny, sometimes I feel like everything has to be perfect before I can move ahead, and other times I feel like I need to reach The End so I can see the whole story, and then go in and make big changes. And when I say funny I mean annoying. 

S’aallll good. 

This Is My Problem

Well, one of my problems. 

My BIGGEST problem is this: I want writing to be simple. I’m not dumb enough to want it to be easy, but I want the process to be reliable and predictable. I want to write 1000 words a day and 100 days later have a first draft. I want to follow a nice editing to-do list that will lead me to a clean second draft. I want to make an outline and then write to that outline. Or I want to write into the dark, and have all the pieces magically fall into place. I want to write by hand and edit when I’m typing up. I want to brainstorm via dictation in the morning and then happily get words down in the afternoon. I want to find my process, my way of doing things. I want to find the perfect schedule, the perfect day. I want habit and routine and for everything to move along at a steady beat. 

Except, I also don’t want that. I’m rebellious by nature. And stories are too. They refuse to act alike. They refuse to act consistently across their lifespans. They’re difficult, unpredictable contrarians. Just like my stupid brain. 

So that’s my problem. I want control when creation is uncontrollable. I want routine and order when a deeper part of me prefers disorder and chaos. 

My solution is I need to soak up the truths from this Chuck Wendig article and remind myself every bloody day that my process is an unknowable, mystical being and my inner chimp throws a major hissy fit whenever I tell it how to spend its day. I have to be present; I have to do things because I enjoy being busy. I have to do something that contributes to the creation of fiction, no matter what it is. I have to forget daily word counts and routines and all that crap. I have to stick with my qualitative approach to recording my progress, because it’s good for me. I have to stop freaking out about all that stuff that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how I do it; I just need to do it.

Urgh. When will I learn?

Writing Progress Sep 2018

I couldn’t come up with a more imaginative title. 

So, let’s see. Last time I checked in, I was writing 1000 words a day. In an unsurprising move, I’ve since ditched that approach (HA!) for the main reason that my story brain just doesn’t work that way. Yes, hitting a target every day is splendid for my sense of achievement, but for whatever bloody reason, my creative mind doesn’t build story bit by bit. It’s more of a dump-and-run kinda gal. 

First Realisation (that I’ve already had but, as anyone who’s read more than one post on this blog can say, I change my mind about my process around six times a week): My story brain likes to work in big chunks, with breaks in between. Therefore, I’m better suited to heavy drafting days with time off, rather than a steady trickle. I wish this weren’t the case. 

Using this approach, I’ve climbed to 36,000 words in Beauty and the Beast. Most of it is in my ‘Explorations’ folder, but hey, a word’s a word, right?

Nope. Because what I need are useable words – not words that take me down the wrong path.

Second Realisation (that I think is true but no doubt I’ll have the opposite ‘realisation’ in a week or so): I need to plan – and I mean really plan – before drafting. What I need to focus on is conflict. If I’ve worked out meaningful conflict, the scene practically writes itself. If I have crap conflict, I stumble, I procrastinate, and then I usually end up on the sofa watching Netflix and wondering if I’ll ever write anything decent ever again. 

I think, in the past, I’ve not planned enough. Like, I’ll sketch out a scene that gets characters from A to B, think it’s alright, then move on. But what I really need to do is dig far deeper than that. I need to check conflict and drama. I need to make sure motivations are sound. It’s a little like testing a theory or a new invention. I can’t settle for the first thing that appears to work; I’ve got to diligently test every component, and accept that the first attempts will fail under scrutiny. But it’s better to get it right in the early stages in order to save me from hellish days stuck at the computer where I know the story has gone wrong and therefore I’m wrong and therefore I suck and oh god please give me the gin.

So yeah. That’s where I’m at. I’m planning. I’m working on central conflicts, chucking out most of it and keeping a nugget here and there. I don’t know when I’ll add to the manuscript, and I don’t know if, when I get there, I’ll feel like the fun is gone because I know what happens. If that is the case, I don’t know if that’s just a downside to spending so much time making sure my story’s foundation is solid. 

But it’s cool. Everything’s totally fine.

no problem thumbs up GIF

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Totally fine.

star trek GIF

Stormy Seas

I’ve accepted that writing is never easy. Those little nuggets of inspiration? Yeah, hard to come by. And they’re rare. Unpredictable. Impossible to conjure or command. 

I’ve accepted – like, really, fully accepted – that writing is a grind. It’s a daily battle with the blank page. Often it feels like grim death. Occasionally it feels like a bliss so pure it brings tears to my eyes. 

So, I’ve been continuing my daily 1000 words, and I have to say, it’s been bloody brilliant. I always assumed that, when I started to break myself all those years ago, it was because of my new 1k-a-day habit. But now I’m thinking it wasn’t the target, but the increased pressure I was putting on myself. The 1k was a symptom, not the cause. I dunno for sure. But it could be true. 

Anyway, I’m around 12,000 words into my latest version of Beauty and the Beast (cannot believe I’m writing this!), and it’s starting to get hard, because now Nothing Is Happening, and my characters are empty, and my world is sparse, and I’ve got no clue what comes next. 

From recent experience, I know it’s around 10-20k where I quit and move onto something new. Well this time, I’m prepared. And this time, I believe in the project more than I’ve believed in anything since Night Mage. And this time, I’ve got my 1k to keep me steady. All I have to do is get 1000 words down, and then another, and another…until the story begins to appear and I can start chopping and moving stuff around. It might take 80 days, 90, 100+. It doesn’t matter. Because I know I’ll get there, so long as I cling to my daily 1k. 

When I first started the draft, I wrote linearly, as I usually do. But since getting stuck – maybe around 8k? – I’ve jumped around, hopping to any scene that comes into my head. Sometimes I almost panic, wondering if I’m making a massive mess, but then I calm myself down and remind myself to trust the process, trust my creative mind, and trust the steady beat of 1000 words every day. (Seriously every day – even days when I’m ill or hungover or really can’t be arsed. Only when I’m away on holiday, which is hardly ever, do I get to take a break.)

So, right now I’m a firm convert of a daily writing target (oh, if old me could see me now!) and I’m approaching murky waters BUT I’ve got my oar and a wobbly compass and I’m sailing forth, into the unknown.

disney how far i'll go GIF by Moana

Resist the Urge

Last night I told myself I’d have a few heavy writing days to get my word count up and push through the 20/30k mark for the first time in aaaages. 

In other words, after only a week or so, I’m  trying to push harder. Well, this morning as I sat at my desk, I realised that if I pushed for say, 6k, I’d probably fall short, or if I did hit the target, I’d be burned for tomorrow. And the words would probably be crap. And I’d start wondering why I can’t write 6k every day…

I’m not going down that road. 1k a day is a perfectly good target. I think I was pushing for more because I’m not far enough into the manuscript to start editing, so I’m a bit lost as to what to do in the afternoon. But, I can world-build. In fact, I can focus on pure world-building for the first half of the manuscript, and then in the second half, I should have enough material to know where the story is roughly heading, and so I can begin editing. 

So. Yeah. My morning has already been packed with contradictions, which is pretty standard, to be honest. Now, I’m going to write one thousand words and spend the rest of the day musing the characters, building the world, and thinking about tomorrow’s thousand.

Another day, another talk to reassure myself that I am heading in the right direction and haven’t completely lost it.

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Okay, Maybe…

So, I’ve kinda been writing 1000 words a day. I don’t know how it started or why I thought it was a good idea, given the last few months have seen me move away from word counts on the basis they mess up my mental health. 

BUT, here’s A Thing – if I don’t write every day, my days can get a little unstructured, and if I don’t have a firm target, I can be too hard on myself and not know when I’ve done ‘enough’. 

But if I write 1000 words every day, I create something new every day, and I have a simple finish line, and I also have bags of time to do the proper writing – the editing, the musing, the staring into space with my mouth hanging open. 

So yeah, maybe I need a daily word count. Or maybe I don’t. It’s obvious I don’t actually know what I really need and maybe what I need changes on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and I used to be angry and embarrassed because I was so unpredictable, but fuck it, I’m an artist; I’m supposed to be a trainwreck. Guess I just have to live with it. 

frustrated season 4 GIF by Mozart In The Jungle

Happy Days

I’m sitting here listening to The Last Jedi soundtrack and bawling my eyes out. (It’s cool, I’m in an empty house.) I love that film more than any other. And I love Rey more than words can describe. 

Seriously though I’m gonna have to reapply my eyeliner before I go out again. 

the last jedi rey GIF by Star Wars

Anyway, back to business. I have had, somewhat miraculously, an awesome day. 

In fact, miracles had nothing to do with it…

It began when I pulled out a notebook of mine from 2013 (pre messed-up) and read through my old to-do lists (riveting morning, eh?). Anyway, these to-do lists proved to be very illuminating, because I saw that I made a list each day of the scenes I wanted to map/write/edit, the characters I had to think about, research I had to do, elements I had to weave through the book… Basically, there was no talk of page or word counts, or first draft this, second draft that. I mean, I knew my approach used to be far more organic, but I didn’t realise, until seeing it right before me, just how messy my natural process is. 

Well, after reading it, I felt connected to that old me, and I immediately made a to-do list for the day. 

And then I got to work. And the writing felt awesome. And I felt in control of the book, and daunted by the project, but in a really good way. I removed my word count from Scrivener and have had no urge to look. 

It sounds so simple and obvious, but having a to-do list that operates only in terms of story (no cold word counts here) makes such a difference to my attitude. It’s kinda hard to explain…but all I know is I’m not giving up my to-do list ever again. 

I’m hoping this puts an end to the last fortnight of funky mood. I’m ready to feel good again. 

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…

Writing by Hand

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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.