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?

 

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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?

Hanging in there – RoW80 Check in

 

For more information on RoW80 visit the blog

Not quite as productive this week.  I did read Throne of Glass, another book of my ‘Fraidy Cat list. And I survived.  Looking forward to the sequel (out in August).

Taking a break from confronting my fears now though and reading and old favourite (Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott) interspersed with snippets from Rock your Revisions as my two week break is up and I need to start tinkering with my MS again, plus I still have to get some more off to my CP before she forgets what has already happened.

Her comments on the first half have been really helpful and I have so many ideas to make things clearer that I’m tempted to start revising before she’s had a chance to be helpful with the rest.

I have done some more plotting for my NaNo novel too, using the Rock your Plot guidelines and part of a system I picked up from Plot and Structure. I can highly advise doing this.  Everything makes so much more sense when it’s set out like this and I can see where there are splurges of just one character are and where all the character arcs don’t match up.

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My boyfriend thought I was trying to invent my own card game.

I’ve also been good at leaving comments on other people’s blogs but rubbish at updating my own.  It’s not that I lack ideas, but I find it really stressful looking for pictures to make the post appear interesting.  That’s why I take so many of my own.  That is my primary goal for next week – I will load one blog post that is not ROW80 or IWSG related.

 

 

 

 

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.

The End is Nigh…

It’s the last day of NaNo today and my word count still lingers at 41, 000 words. Not because it’s impossible to write nine thousand words in a day but because I’ve decided not even to attempt it. That feels very strange because writing was always something that seemed possible until now.

This probably hinges on living somewhere with very little physical space to write undisturbed plus the added addition of very little head space to retreat to, and the fact that round about the beginning of week four, when this change of residence took place, a few events occurred that made my confidence pack up its bags and go on holiday.

Before this post throws cold water over everybody else’s celebrations there will be a positive ending. Promise. Saying that, where writing is concerned, feelings of bleakness and disheartenment still reign supreme but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up completely.  There’s always something that can be done even if it means taking a step backwards.

Although I felt awful about writing for the last couple of weeks it was never a possibility to just stop completely and take up embroidery or long distance running. It was more about setting more reachable goals and promising to work harder, and to take it all more seriously (in the hopes that then other people will too).  My word count still lingers at 41, 000 words and it’s going to stay there until next November, hopefully reminding me of that.

How did everyone else do? I know there are loads of you out there who are over 50,000 already.

 

The Trouble with Mid-drift

There comes a point when the excitement of starting that spanking new novel has worn off but the buzz of heading for the end has not yet taken hold.  This is the mid-drift.  It’s a endless flabby wasteland where unwary writers can lose their way and end up marooned on one particular island unable to find the motivation to make a boat.

 

Or at least, that’s what happens to me sometimes.  There are lots of hardened outliners out there who probably don’t suffer this affliction. Planning is, of course, the surest way to avoid the mid-drift.  However, after paying lip service to my outline I dive right in to writing.  Despite everything that’s been written about middles and structure I still believe that the best way to see if a story is going to work is to write it to the end and sort out the mess later.

One of the things that’s good about NaNo (yes, I had to sneak it in there somewhere) is that it forces me through the mid-drift and on to the end.  It’s the push to get off that island and below are some things that can help keep me afloat.

Skip ahead – There’ll still be gaps to Polyfila later, but if you know where you want to go looking ahead can give an idea of how to get there. It can highlight scenes that need to happen in order for the story to conclude.

Fall back – This is dangerous as it can lead to rewriting everything you’ve already written. Or it can result in you constantly revising what you’ve already written and not making it any further forward.  Sometimes though, going back can unlock something that will help you off the island, be it character information, or sub plot. Still use with caution though.

Change direction – Introduce a new character, a new plot twist. Discover that somebody maybe isn’t who you thought they were or something happens to change one of the character’s goals, or reinforce it further.  You will have to go back and make this event more believable later on, but you will be going back and revising anyway so it may be worth a shot.

Write something else – Taking a break helps.  Leave something alone and when you come back to it with fresh eyes it may look very different.

If you’re a girl it may also be worth bearing this in mind, one of my friends recently said, as with all ladies I’m sure your flabby mid-drift is not as much of a problem as you imagine.

 

Does anyone else have any tips? Are there any outliners out there with tips to share? Leave a comment.

Three, two, one, NaNo…

Well, not quite yet. Next week though and all those word counts are quietly ticking along at zero waiting for people to start writing.

The hardest thing is to start. Actually, the hardest thing, for me anyway, is always thinking of a title and finding the time to put a synopsis on my profile page. Designing a cover gives me migraines. Compared to that starting is easy. Just do it. Don’t think about it. No one is going to read this actual first draft of your novel after all.  The title and synopsis though are what you share with the world via your profile page, or with people who ask you what the hell you think you can write 50, 000 words about anyway.

This year I have been more organised. Here is what the hell I think I can write 50,000 words about;

The Eye of The Gods

Sun has survived a civil war to win a home for herself aboard Jade Dragon. Being a pirate makes staying alive a full-time occupation and getting on the wrong side or The Temple Elect means that Jade Dragon must embark on a journey to awake the old gods. A journey that could liberate Sun’s country but destroy the only home she has left.

Now everybody out there can do better than that, surely? So what are you waiting for? Just start.  Then come and buddy me.

NaNo Prep – or three good reasons for a cup of tea.

Two and a half weeks to go. Is anyone else excited?

Just me?

In celebration here’re my three hints for NaNo prep.

  1. If you’re in the planning camp it’s worth thinking about a title and synopsis so that you can update your novel info, and for covers or banners to accompany your profile post. It’s always really interesting to know what other people are writing about and it also makes you more accessible to people who come along and check your profile out.  It’s not essential of course, but writing titles and synopsis are good practice – If nothing else they help you establish exactly what the core of your book is and help you to focus on what you want to write. However if you’re in the winging it cup put your feet up and have a cup of tea.

2. Depending on how you work now is also a good time to clear your writing diary. Make sure any current projects can be left alone to simmer while you work on NaNo. Paranoid freak that I am, my blog posts are drafted for November already.  However, if you’re an expert juggler have a cuppa and my eternal respect.

3.The forums are packed right about now. If you’re after mentors or writing buddies you’ll be inundated. Also check out your local forum for write ins. As insular and crazy as NaNo is there’s also chance for networking and there may be someone out there you’ll still want to talk to in December. However, if you see yourself more as a lone wolf of the literary world then it’s cup of tea time again.

Getting Connected

 

Two weeks ago I moved house and have been surviving without the internet ever since. It does feel like surviving as after the first four or five days I started to get twitchy. There is so much on the interent that was now just out of reach and things that were previously taken for granted, reviews on wattpad, emailing documents, uploading this blog, became military operations involving my smart phone and lunch time at work.

It made me wonder whether it was healthy to have so much of my writing life on the internet.  Virtually all the people in my writing circle are, well, virtual.  There’s not a single physical friend to be named (although my Dad likes some of it!)  It’s not for want of trying, but it could be that I’m the needy, desperate girl at the bar who will put it out for anyone. “You write! Oh, that’s just super, here have my email…”

Hopefully I appear much cooler online.  Or, at least, there’s the security of having time to edit myself before hitting the send button.

I have met some very amazing and talented people via my keyboard and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Plus it is so much cheaper to network online than it is to fork out the entrance fee for some of the writer’s conferences and courses that are about.  There is so much free information floating around which makes me reticent about spending money to learn the same things in a different way. Love goes out to Janice Hardy on Twitter.  The articles she posts are always favourites.

Still, it’s kind of sad that there’s no one to share a coffee with. So, inspired by the search for CritHarmony over at Poppy Writes a Book, I’m going to see if I can find some real life people to share writing with.  This is where the moving may help as the my new home is cosmopolitan enough to have a writer’s circle.   Then there are the NaNoWriMo write ins that will be happening across the country in November. This year is the year to get off my backside and try and make it to one of those.

There’re also some places I can go that won’t cost a bomb. If you’re near London, Spread the Word has some really useful events, some of which are even, gasp, FREE! The genre writing work shop they did last year was really indulgent and useful.  I just need to find more of those.

In order to do that though I really need to find me some Broadband…