Life as a First Draft

The other day I managed to burn sausages while simultaneously  trying to hold a conversation with my boyfriend and sort out my work clothes for the next day.  He wasn’t impressed. ‘Then why don’t you cook?’ I snapped.

I’m still waiting for the answer to that one.

My multi-tasking skills are failing more and more regularly as I try to squeeze the things that I want to do in between the things that I have to do. Add a pile of the things that everybody else expects me to do and I can be close to screaming by the end of the week.

Now held in the icy grip of National Novel Writing Month I’m living on my nerve endings while I bash out a first draft. I want to get it done as quickly as possible because I need to know if the story works. Actually, it’s more that I need to know if I work.  Completing a first draft is self validation that all the post it notes and coloured ink I have poured into the outline stage isn’t wasted.

Each day I live is more or less the same.  I get up and rush through everything, normally wishing that I was doing something else. I’m invariably tense and planning the next thing that I need to do before the first one is finished.  It’s stressful and usually leaves me run down and gasping for more time.

In Nail Your Novel, Roz Morris describes a first draft as something to take your time over because it’s the space where you are writing just for you alone and letting your imagination run without restrictions. It’s something to savour while you get to know your characters and your setting.

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This was a whole new idea to me.  The thought that a first draft was a magical thing to be enjoyed rather than something to suffer through when faced with a deadline gave me something to experiment with.  This and it being practically January (come on, it’s closer than you think) with posts about New Year’s resolutions on the breeze combined to make me realise that living my life like it was NaNo wasn’t the most productive thing to do long term.

We only get one draft at life after all and therefore it seems crazy to tuck down our heads and barge forward without taking time to see the wider scheme of things and just enjoy the tiny bits that sparkle.  After all, in a first draft  you aren’t supposed to go back and change things and in life you don’t even get the choice.

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Taking time out to kick Autumn leaves

One thing that I’ve found really useful in slowing down is to get the train into work occasionally.  It makes the commute take longer but it makes me less irate and gives me longer to think, read, plan my next outline…

If you feel like you need to slow down and enjoy the scenery more have a look at this post and this one  for info on why we are all so busy, and how to stop it.  Do you have any top tips for appreciating the moment? Or can you not stop yourself rushing ahead as well?

 

The Circle Master – Halloween Blog Hop 2014

Bought to you by Sara C. Snider. For more spooky contents follow to the link and see who else is taking part.

For more scary Halloween ideas check out this website 🙂

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The Circle Master

There is a scarecrow in the field by the barrow. It has been there as long as the oldest villager can remember, and it never seems to change. Always with the same squashed top hat and tattered tailcoat it guards the crops throughout the year. From when the seed is planted in the cold dark earth, through the spring, growing to the full yellow wheat and until there is nothing left but broken stalks. The crops grown in this field are always the best that they can be; a golden grain that can be ground down to the finest wheat. Wheat that will make soft warm bread with a dark brown crust that smells of home when it leaves the oven.

The children come, sometimes running, along the over grown footpath to stare at the distant figure in the field. They call him Jack and claim he is the servant of a witch who has been enchanted and hung on his frame as punishment. None of them ever go into the field. If it is summer the brave ones will reach a hand under the fence to break an ear from the field’s very edge where the scarlet poppies mingle with the wheat. They’ll chew it carefully, almost reverently, watching the scarecrow because they are sure that it is not always where it should be. Of course it’s feasible that the farmer moves it from one day to the next, to confuse noisy crows and curious children, but as they walk away they are sure the figure flickers in the corner of their eyes, and no matter how quickly they turn it is always still and dead hanging with its arms stuck out.

 

For the most part that is how the year passes: turning slowly from dark to light and back into dark again. Ramblers pass by, families with bags of cheese sandwiches, and occasionally the pagans creeping down in the twilight to the barrow and walking back in the dark. They point at Jack, but their attention wanders over the rest of the valley and Jack is happy to wait in the field. Happy for them to stay away because after all that is the job of a scarecrow; to protect the crop until it has reached its zenith.

 
Once a year when the nights are growing longer, darker, when the veil is thinning then someone will amble down to Jack’s empty field. Perhaps they want to take the fresh air, to visit the barrow in the quiet evening or perhaps they aren’t sure why they are there at all. They’ll stop to rest their arms on the fence and stare at the only other figure for miles around. Out in the night an owl will hoot, a fox will bark and when the visitor looks back to the field they’ll swear that the Scarecrow seems closer than it had. Even though they know that in the failing light it’s easy to confuse what you think you see with what is. They’ll climb over the stile that may or may not have been there before and their boots will crunch over the dead stalks of this year’s harvest. Up close you can see Jack’s smile: crooked big stitches that slide over his canvass face. His eyes are wonky, but they still stare straight at you. Almost as though he is trying to tell you something about the way time moves in spirals, the importance of blood or just maybe that he is sorry. He smells of old straw and must, which is out of place in the cool shifting of the air. The visitor will turn away to let their vision slide over to the distant hills, and that’s when Jack moves faster then a breath leaving a body. The next day the farmer will wake up and without really knowing why will decide that today is the day he needs to sew next years seeds in the field down by the barrow, and the cycle begins again.

Time to do something scary!

One of the scarier parts of my day job involves doing presentations at a public meeting in front of elected ward members and the public.

Oh yes, serious stuff.

And I am always last on the agenda. Always. So while I sit and watch my colleagues share the pros and cons of new supermarkets my nerves twist in to painfully tight knots. My foot jumps. And bizarrely the inside of my wrists start to tingle. No idea how that works.

This month, and I strongly suspect this was as a result of adrenaline and light headedness, my inner heroine popped up with this idea,

when I am a famous author (!?) I’ll be expected to do talks/run workshops etc. so I should view this stomach twisting opportunity as a chance to overcome my fear.

Boom. Nerves gone to be replaced with a steely determination.  It lasted about half an hour. By the time I got up to speak my mouth was so dry it took me a whole minute to pronounce the word ‘small’. (smargh, smarl, sma-hal…)

I hated it, every minute. But I did do it, which in itself was encouraging.  If I can do that and survive while knowing that I have to do it again,  who knows what else I can accomplish. So I’ve signed up for a short writing course and, randomly, a burlesque taster class.  Both have given me palpitations, but that’s kind of a good thing. It doesn’t do to get too comfy in life does it?

Cat and Books by KristinNador

Picture taken by Kristin Nador on Flickr. Some rights reserved

What gives you palpitations? And have you done anything scary yet this year?

 

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – May

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In an attempt to progress into world of grown up writer I’ve been writing a business plan. It’s surprisingly cathartic to set out some goals with the (current) intention of sticking to them. Of course. It has also made me realise exactly how much work is involved.

 

Well, I knew that already. Putting it down in black and white however makes it more real. More huge.

 

I’m also having a lot of trouble getting past the end of this year. At the beginning of 2015 I am (keeping my fingers crossed) going to have a manuscript. What I want to do with that manuscript is another thing. I’m scared, so very, very scared. What I’m actually scared of I’m not entirely certain. It could be rejection, failure, or just the sheer amount of additional stuff that will be involved whether I pursue traditional of self publishing. Best just stick a chapter a week up on Wattpad because at least then my manuscript may actually get read. And I know I can do that.

 

I’ve not even considered the finance section. What? Someone will pay me to write? Ha! No way?

 

At the moment I don’t actually believe I can do it. I’m not even sure if I want to anymore. Don’t get me wrong I will always write and I will finish my current WIP because if I don’t something inside me will curl up and die. Beyond that…

 

…Think I’m going to have a hot chocolate and Baileys now. Thank you to Alex J. Cavanaugh  and the Insecure Writer’s Support Group for a chance to vent.

 

Did anyone else do a business plan before they were published? How ambitious were the goals you set for yourself and did you succeed?

 

On a positive note, today is the release date of the second book in the Tala Prophecy, Chasing Shadows.  Congratulations to Tia Bach.  I have my copy and will be posting a review on Friday.   In the mean time check out the cover below, or the links for more information.

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Website: www.tiabach.com

Blog: http://depressioncookies.blogspot.com

Buy from Amazon. com and Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – April

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It’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group founded by writer and ninja Alex. J. Cavanaugh

Life is too short. And there is so much to do, so why would you fill it with things you didn’t enjoy and didn’t have to do?

I’m always reading stuff about how witches and vampires are so over and no one is reading that type of book anymore. So I’ve been trying to write other things and trying is the word because I have never got very far.

Life really is too short though and recently I read a post by Dyane Forde the author of Purple Morrow, her first book, which made me realise that there is absolutely no point putting time and effort in to a story that I don’t believe in. Especially when there is no guarantee that anyone will read it anyway.

So, life is too short and if I’m not enjoying my hobby there’s no point doing it anymore, is there?

A few weeks ago I dusted off the first draft of the witches and vampire book. I was ruthless. Scenes were cut down like leaves, unnecessary characters were left for dead and by the end I had a structured outline at my fingertips. Then I started to write. In first person, which I know is an acquired taste but I’m doing it for me now. And I love being back in Morgaine’s head and I love seeing her world, and I am so excited about where I am going to take her (yes, there will be sequels because my big dreams haven’t quite been quashed.)

And with Camp NANO now in progress there’s no reason not to get the rewrites/revisions done while I’m in the zone.

I also know feel that I have a story that I can use to help me build my brand, something else which has me lying awake in a cold sweat and night.

Of course the test is will I stay the distance? I’m excited now but can I stick to my plan? Let’s give it a go. Life’s too short and if you don’t try now you’ll never know, right? What does everyone else do? Are you fans of market research or do you write what you love?

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – February

First Wed of Every Month

 

This month I wrote a book review for Read it Now or Else. Writing the review, and reading the other ones on the site made me think about my own writing style.  As part of my job I’m constantly writing reports that refer to local and government policy in order to justify the decisions I make.

These reports are cold clinical creatures that deal in facts only.  They are not a true reflection of my personality, but comparing my first review draft to that of the other contributors mine seemed a little bit formal and emotionless.  I don’t think I captured any of the enthusiasm I had for the story, or the characters but was very snooty and aloof in word choice and style – in fact I think I’m doing it now with this blog post.  I’m afraid that I write so much as part of my job that this is creeping in to my other non-fiction writing and I’m becoming an automaton.

The fiction itself appears to be safe, but then when I’m writing fiction I’m being someone else. Even in third person I like to make the character’s personality a feature of the prose.

Do my characters have more personality than me? And is that actually a bad thing?

What really made me pause though was that I’ve always believed words were a way to get to the heart of things.  I’ve never thought that they could be barriers before. Misleading and subversive, yes, but never huge cold gates that simply said ‘don’t go there’. If I keep writing this way is it possible that people would be closed out? Or does it really depend on the sort of person I want to attract?

That’s how I find myself on the latest step of the ‘oh my god who am I what am I doing what are my blogging goals?’ anxiety. If the purpose of a blog is to showcase the author’s personality then argh!

Still, on my last post where I had a bit of a melt down the comments were encouraging (an IWSG post, of course!). The best thing to do is keep writing blog posts, and keep experimenting.  That’s the only way I’m really going to find out what works, after all.

As always thank you to Alex J. Cavanaugh for giving me the chance to vent. And thank you to all the other participants.  Despite not doing as well as I’d hoped visiting other people last month I still discovered some amazing blogs.  I’m going to put the extra effort in this month too and find some more.

Who are we?

Does anybody else out there think they have a different persona on social media to the one they share in the real world?

When I first started blogging I wrote a post about masks and how nearly everyone on Fictionpress (where I first got online) had a creative pen name.  It felt safer in those days to hide behind a creation.  It was easier too to me be myself when nobody (including me, half the time) knew who that was.

A great deal has changed in the last few years.

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masks for sale on the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

I don’t want to spend this post moaning about my job, which isn’t all bad.  There are days however when it leaves me feeling like a broken toy.  I still haven’t perfected the knack of taking that bad phone call or rising above the constant IT issues without getting angry, stressed or eating too much chocolate.

At work I can regularly be unhelpful, stressful, selfish and snappy.  All in self-defence of my own insecurities of course!

I’m not at all like that here.  On social media, I’m chatty, helpful and have almost mastered the art of making polite conversation about things that aren’t always writing related.

I want to say that the social media me is the ‘real me’, but that’s far too simplistic.  The social media ‘me’ is the ‘me’ I’d like to be.  And, of course, I find it easier to be here when there is less pressure and I’m sharing things I love with people who love them too.

Doesn’t everybody?

So, I guess now that I have come out of hiding and am using the name I was born with online, I’m searching for a way to take more of the social media ‘me’ back into the real world. Long term it’s going to be much less confusing than carrying this Jekyll and Hyde thing about.

Any tips? Or does anyone feel that they have a ‘real world’ persona and a social media persona?

Time to Grow up and ROW80 Check in

When I started writing I was very much a pantser, the term used for those writers who don’t plot but fly by the seat of their pants.  Recently though I’ve moved to the plotting camp.  Last week I wrote about the zen of small plates, and the fact that I should enjoy what time we have, specifically within the creative process.  I think my move to plotting is linked to this, and an acknowledgement that it is time to grow up.

For my first National Novel Writing Month, back in 2010, I sat down and bashed out 50,000 words easily.  It was thrilling flying into the blank white page, able to create whatever I liked.  Other pantsers that I have spoken to have a similar rush, and that’s what makes them love the writing method.

By the time I reached the end of my novel though, my plot had been shored up in so many places the believability of it was creaking to breaking point.  Surely though, that is what the re-writes are for?

Well, partly. But how many re-writes, drafts and revisions does it take before the thing is finished? I recently found a link on twitter which spoke about getting a novel done in 5 drafts.  My current MS has taken many more than that.  And enjoying the creative process is fine, but I think another lesson from the small plate is that we must also make the most of the time we have.  I feel like I’m wasting time with all these drafts. Time that could have been saved if I’d plotted the damn thing properly in the first place.

Yes, it’s time to grow up and get me a system.

Of course back when I started it I was doing it with no serious publishing goal.  I just drifted around playing with the characters and building the world and I don’t regret any of that because it was fun. However, now I can’t help wondering how closer I would be to finishing  if I’d planned that story properly from the start.

Sitting down to properly plot something (as I’m doing with this year’s National Novel Writing project) makes me feel rather like I’m suddenly taking this whole writing thing seriously.  That now I’m thinking about the final product and an author platform I simply don’t have the luxury of playing about as I used to.  Every time I get out my scene cards, the carefree days of writing childhood slip further behind me.  Is that a good thing? Or am in danger of losing some of the spontaneity that can be so crucial to a finished manuscript? Hmm…

Plus, when some one asks what you’re doing its fun to say ‘plotting’ and watch their reaction.  It’s surprising how many people look at you like you’re an evil genius getting ready to take over the world.

So, plotter of pantser? Or what made you realise that it was time to grow up and take things seriously?

If you are here for the Round of Word’s Update then you know all about Kait Nolan’s blog.

So far this week I have been plotting, or rather revising the plot that I have already. Marked the plot points and the pinch points (according to Rock Your Plot) and have cut some scenes and some characters.  I’m wondering if I can cut anymore without crying?

How about you?

Round of Words 80 check in

Wow, first and only check in for two weeks.  Haven’t written as much as I expected to of my WIP, but I have been doing an awful lot of research.  As a result I’m planning a day trip to London with my camera and my 1813 A to Z so I can scout out locations.

Although I’m not making head way in the areas I expected hope can be found in the fact that I still have the whole of March to reach my target. NaNo has proved that I can write a novel in a month so keep your fingers crossed for me.

RoW80 Sunday Check in 20.1.13

Can’t stay for long as my revisions have taken a new turn.  One of my problems has always been too many characters and an overly complicated plot.  This week I have had the brain wave of merging a couple of characters and changing the relationship between a few of them.

This makes everything much more sensible, exciting and streamlined. It also means I’m practically back at square one in terms of revisions again so have more to do. I don’t mind though. It’s fun.

Saturday also saw my short story posted on SFF online so now that’s out of the way I can stop thinking about it.

Hope everyone else is still on top of things.