Archives: Writing Progress

Back to Basics

I’ve been writing 1000 words a day … AGAIN. After sorting my index cards and making plans for the first chapter, I just struggled so much to have any enthusiasm. Then I wrote 1000 words in some random project which kinda rejuvenated me, then I returned to The Forest King and started from the beginning, going blind (ish), writing 1000 words a day. And it’s been working … 

Every time I write 1000 words a day it pulls me out of a hole. But I always stop for one reason or another. So this time, I read through old posts/diary entries and listed some potential pitfalls.

Potential pitfall 1: I try to write more than 1000 words, then burn out. OR I beat myself up for not doing extra editing in the day because I think 1k is too little. Solution: just write 1000 bloody words and not care if I get anything else done. I can write two books a year on this schedule, with half the year for strictly editing. 

Potential pitfall 2: I get stuck, then give up and try a different method. Solution: write in a different project if I get stuck. My brain needs time to think up the next bit of story. 

Potential pitfall 3: I plan my next 1000 words the day before, then get bored. Solution: think around the story, but don’t plan it.

Regarding that last point, I did have a blast recording all my ideas onto index cards, but, as with so many of my other plans, they did not translate into enthusiasm for a draft. Right now I’m writing into the dark, but I intend to roughly follow the story I brainstormed via index cards. Maybe I need that time to muse a story, to write down ideas, but rather than following a strict plan, I need to go off in a general direction with the freedom to wander whenever I want. Who knows. I used to be able to follow a plan but now I seem incapable of doing so – either my process has evolved or my mental health is still playing silly buggers. I can’t be bothered finding out which is right. Instead I’m gonna stick to my 1k and see where it takes me. Again.

Book Babies

Quick update from yesterday: I sorted my cards into piles, then typed out the story as far as I could (in very broad strokes) then talked the rest of it out on a walk. I realised I was lacking a rise in stakes for the final act, so I started brainstorming, and came up with a cool new development for the whole story. This is how a book evolves, my friends. 

Today, I didn’t brainstorm (don’t know why; you’ll need to ask my gut). Instead I opened Scrivener and started writing Chapter One. I had fun. Lots of fun, actually. Well, not WOO HOO PARTY! fun, but just a quiet, solid enjoyment. It felt good. Really good. I’ll keep writing until I get stuck, and then I’ll go back to brainstorming. 

Now, some writers can write their way through sticky patches. Their Muses fire up during the process of drafting. But mine doesn’t work that way, and I’m slowly coming to accept it. If I don’t know where I’m going and I keep writing, all I do is drain myself and make myself miserable. It’s not laziness, I promise. I know the difference. For whatever reason, my brain needs peace, downtime, and some scribbles in a notebook or rambles in a dictaphone to sort itself out and move forward once more. 

Which brings me to the tired metaphor of writing books as birthing children. A woman can be young, fit and healthy, and do everything right during pregnancy, and still have a difficult birth. No matter how hard she pushes, no matter how much pain she can endure, the baby will not come out. It’s not her fault, or the baby’s. It’s just the unpredictable complexity of Life. 

We can readily accept the role of chance in a physical process like giving birth, but it’s more difficult to accept it with regards to a mental process like creativity. Because we can manipulate some of our thoughts, we believe we’re in charge of our brain. Ha! That is a ridiculous notion. We’re in charge of some bits, but mostly, we’re just clinging on for dear life.

Back to writing. Sometimes we can set ourselves up for greatness. We can read widely, study grammar, free-write each morning upon waking, maintain proper posture, block out distractions, and we can write and write and write, even when it’s hard and painful, and still, despite all of this, the story won’t come. It’s not our fault, or the story’s. It’s just Life. 

So if you’re like me, and your Muse doesn’t respond to ‘just push through it’, then that’s okay. You’re not lazy. You’re not weak. You’re not wrong. Take a step back. Seek help. Tend to that story and give it what it needs. More importantly, tend to yourself, because you can’t look after your story properly if you neglect your own needs. 

And so ends my take on this tired metaphor. I’m gonna get back to writing 🙂 

star trek the next generation baby GIF

Writing Phases

Sooo for the last two weeks I’ve been using index cards to record ideas for The Forest King. I’ve filled a lot of cards. A Lot Of Cards. I’m now at the stage where I want to write words to make sense of this stack. But I’m worried about ‘starting too soon’, i.e. coming out of planning and going into drafting before the idea has fully materialised. Yet my gut says write so what do I do?

I was thinking about this yesterday on a long walk, and realised that I put too much emphasis on the different phases of writing – Planning, Drafting and Editing. A lot of writers seem to work neatly through these three phases, but I suspect I’m not one of them. Looking back to books I wrote before trying to become more productive and therefore breaking myself, I was planning, writing and editing all at once, all smooshed up into a ball. And I was a definite headlights writer, which means I knew the general gist of the story and a few core scenes, but planned each chapter as I came to it. I didn’t finish a rough first draft and then go back and edit, but rather I spent 3-4 months on a kinda okay draft, took a break, then went back in with fresh perspective until I felt I could go no further on my own. Then I sent off to critique partner(s), and then I worked with their comments, and then I polished until I thought it was done. 

There it is right there – my process. When I write it out, it seems so clear and obvious. I should sticky this post for my own future reference. Right now, though I’m loving the ease and flexibility of using index cards and my dictaphone to record ideas, I’m feeling a bit bewildered as to where to go next. My gut tells me I need to pause, take stock of the cards I have, and get some of it onto Scrivener, then go again… So yeah, that’s what I’ll do. But the trick is not allowing my brain to call it ‘the drafting phase’. There are no phases. The only phase for me is the ‘create novel’ phase, and then maybe later on the ‘send novel to people’ phase. (Oh, and lastly, ‘publish novel’.)

K. Deep breaths. I’m stalling for some reason. Maybe I’m afraid to return to my desk and sit in front of the blank screen, because it reminds me of miserable sessions of writer’s block. Maybe I’m afraid because now’s the time when I take my vision for the story and start mashing it to mulch. Or maybe I’m afraid I’ll fall back into old habits, setting daily targets, ‘first draft’ deadlines, forcing myself to write even though I hate every word, and pushing myself back into blockage. 

So what must I do? Remind myself that this is not the end of Planning and the start of Drafting. Those things don’t exist anymore, not to me. It’s all just one big gloop. 

Great. 

Idea Explosion

anna kendrick boom GIF by Pitch Perfect

Yeah this is how I feel right now. Totally owning it. 

This time last week I was feeling awful. I felt empty and full of despair, and totally without hope. And now – I feel great. This is 100% due to my new approach to use index cards to record all my ideas (inspired by this awesome vid by the awesome Susan Dennard). I’ve been having loads of ideas, and the best thing is I haven’t been judging them. Before, I’d be so quick to declare one idea better than the other, and just as quick to try and nail down a story ASAP so I can write the draft and get the thing published as soon as humanly possible. 

Pfft. Not any more, folks. Now I’m on the chill train. I’m writing all those ideas down no matter how crap they are. I don’t care if they all don’t fit together in one story, because I’m letting the story come to me, and eventually, I’ll instinctively know which ones don’t belong. I have separated my index cards into Character, Story, Setting and Scenes, because my obsessive side can’t handle too much chaos, but I’m not having a Discard pile until the book is done. 

Also, reading older index cards (and by older I mean a few days old), I’m shocked to see ideas I can’t remember having. Seriously, how many ideas have I let float away over the years? And when did I stop recording them all? I used to write those babies down as soon as I had them, but somewhere along the road, I stopped doing this. BRAVO, APRIL, SUPER WELL DONE!

Another awesome thing is I can actually see how one idea leads to another, so even if a load end up being discarded, they will be just as important as the keepers, because the latter couldn’t exist without the former. I like to think of these ideas as warm-up ideas. 

And one more awesome thing is I’ve just had an awesome Brain Explosion for The Forest King. The book has already morphed so much in mind from that original 30k draft, and I was a bit worried that it was changing too much. But today I suddenly put a piece of the puzzle into place, and understood that I was still trying to say the thing I’d always wanted to say. All that’s changing is the surface story. You know, a lot of writers say not to start with big picture theme stuff, but I’m not like that. I’m always looking for the deeper meaning in a story, and the actual story I’m wanting to tell via subtext. I guess I can’t commit to a novel unless I think it has a deeper thematic meaning. Anyway, if I’m approaching it all wrong, then sod it, I don’t care. This is how I create. 

Geez Louise do I feel GOOD! 

How long will this last, I wonder? Oh well, I’ll find out soon enough. 

Index Cards

I’ve been using index cards the last few days to record my ideas. Here is a list of random thoughts I have about this method.

1) Using index cards is a waste of paper, and this stresses me out. If I continue with this method, I will reuse any card I can.

2) I use index cards to write down all ideas, no matter what they are. This has made me realise how many ideas I used to forget, how judgemental I was of all ideas (i.e. only recording the ‘good’ ones), and how basically closing myself off to recording all ideas encouraged my brain to stop having so many. I’m having lots of ideas now. 

3) I naturally want to ask questions and try and hammer out a story, but using index cards reminds me to relax a bit, and let the snippets come to me. 

4) Right now a lot of my ideas are contradictory. I’m cool with this. I’m happy to let the story slowly emerge. 

5) It’s satisfying to hold a stack of index cards.

6) I prefer smaller index cards.

7) I prefer multi-coloured index cards.

8) This new WordPress editor is the worst thing ever invented. 

Ms. Predictable

I’ve run out of steam again. Seriously, this happens every three weeks. You could set your clock by it. 

This time around, I don’t like my characters, the tone is too serious, and I think the story is ultimately predictable and unoriginal. So, do I keep going, or do I start something new? Because here’s my dilemma: I don’t know if I’m quitting too easily, or if I’ve simply not found my next good idea. Every novelist has unfinished projects; what if I’m simply going through a bad patch? It’s been two years now since I took an idea to completion. In the big scheme of things, that’s not so bad, is it? Or is it terrible? I don’t know. 

The only possible solution I can think of is to start something new and write it completely into the dark – i.e. with no bloody clue where I’m headed. If I don’t know what the whole story looks like, I won’t be able to say the whole thing’s crap. Right? Of course, there’s a whole host of other problems that come from pantsing a novel, but at least I can identify them. I know what ‘I don’t know what comes next’ looks like. Also, with cycling as I go, I can correct a wrong turn quicker than if I write madly through the first draft. If I properly cyclepants a novel (yeah I’m owning that term) and I quit at the three week mark, I’ll know FOR SURE that the problem is with me, and not the idea. 

K. I’m doing it. All I need is an opening line.

Game face on.

Here we go again. 

star wars shot GIF
Born ready. 

Cyclepants

This is my new Method. But more on that in a sec. First, I just finished reading this essay about ambition. I would recommend. 

But back to the Method. I’ve been stuck on the third chapter of The Forest King for a while now, and I also know that the first two chapters need redone. So, rather than flail around in Chapter Three forever more, I decided to go back to the beginning, and revise/rewrite what I have so far. I removed the word count from Scrivener, and focused purely on the story. I also gave myself permission to veer away from my rough outline (pants), and to take the time to make the words nice as I go along (cycle). Hence, cyclepants. (For anyone not familiar with the term ‘cycling’, it’s basically revising as you go).

I’ve been dancing with this method for a few years now, ever since I read Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith. I don’t agree with everything he says, but nevertheless the book struck a real chord with me. Ever since, I’ve suspected I’m a true pantser, even though I enjoy the process of outlining. (The problem comes when I try and translate that outline into a novel.) I pantsed the first 60 pages of Midnight Shrine, then got completely stuck. I wonder if it was because I wrote it longhand, meaning I couldn’t cycle back and correct the path of the story whenever I felt myself veering off track. I think for cyclepants to work, I need to work on the computer. BUT, I’ll always have my notebook nearby so I can ask myself questions about the characters and what they’re feeling at the time. 

Obviously, it is with tongue planted firmly in cheek that I declare this my Method, because I know I have no Method. My brain refuses to accept one (for anything more than a fortnight) and all attempts at ‘finding my process’ have failed. So what I really should say is this is my new Method for writing this part of The Forest King. It feels right. My gut is telling me to do this. So I’m gonna do it. 

Next week, maybe the week after, it will probably all change again. 

ready bring it on GIF

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. 

A Path Through the Forest

In these dark and troubled times, I ask myself: how do we resist? Is the answer anger and aggression? Or is it understanding? But how do we understand people with so much hate in their hearts? 

How can love and acceptance win when abuse, corruption and intolerance poison our species? And if we do choose to accept, does that mean we must accept everyone, including the sexists, rapists, homophobes, racists, abusers, cheaters, liars and money-grabbers? 

In all this darkness, how do we bring out the light?

Animated GIF

I don’t have the answer. But it’s something I’m thinking about every day. I want to believe the right way isn’t to fight fire with fire. I don’t want a ‘war’, because then there will be a perceived winner and loser, and people will do anything to avoid being on the losing side. I want to believe in peace and compassion, but right now, I have no idea how to successfully employ these ideals in the current toxic climate. 

Anyway, that’s enough serious stuff for a moment. Back to writing stories:

Yesterday I finished the first chapter of The Forest Kingand then immediately figured out what Chapter One should really look like (i.e. nothing like its current form). But, the cool thing is I was excited – which means my brain is here for the long haul. In a lot of recent projects, a realisation like this would have sent me into despair. This time around, however, I’m totally relaxed about doing lots of future drafts. 

I’m not going to fix Chapter One now. Instead, I’m going to complete the full first draft, so I can see the entire story at once. Then, I’ll dive back and make all the major changes. Thanks to Scrivener, I can easily make all my editing notes alongside the manuscript. Oh Scrivener, where would I be without you? 

I’m still struggling to maintain realistic expectations about how long it takes me to write a book. I said in my previous post that I wanted both Forest King and Midnight Shrine out by May 2019, but already I want to revise that to June. And even then…I’m prepared to push back if the books aren’t ready.

As for Midnight Shrine, I’m still in the brainstorming phase. Once I’m done with FK for the day, I turn my thoughts to MS. It’s a nice wee shift of gears. This multi-project thing is pretty fun. Should have done it a long time ago…

Currently Reading: The Miniaturist

Current FK wordcount: 5342

Current mood: Pensive

What’s This? What’s This?

Image result for nightmare before christmas

I had a GOOD DAY today! And I was knackered, and felt physically crappy, and the words took soooo long, but I still wrote 2000 words of The Forest King and brainstormed some big ideas about Midnight Shrine and I was super-dooper excited about both projects.

happy will smith GIF

Oh, why can’t I bottle this feeling so I can have a little sip whenever it disappears? I guess all I can do is read this post and remember the good times. 

Today I also mapped out a rough publishing schedule. I hope to have both books out by May 2019, but I’m also allowing myself to take longer if I need it. I think both these stories are more complex than anything I’ve tackled before, and they’re going to need a lot of work during revisions. I’m not going to rush either one. I just have to stay patient, and keep my head down.

Current Mood: Come at me, bitch

Currently listening to: The Revenant OST

Currently drinking: Too much caffeine