Tag Archives: deadline

Sisyphus – I Feel your Pain, Man

It’s the twelfth of December. Say what?

Image: funnyjunk.com

Image: funnyjunk.com

Santa is, indeed, coming. So is the end of the year, which is a lot less pleasant to think about.

You may remember – mainly because I went on and on and on about it – that I completed NaNoWriMo this year. That means I wrote 50,000 words in less than 30 days. However, I’m beginning to wonder if I dreamed the whole thing, because it’s now been nearly two weeks since NaNoWriMo finished, and since then I’ve written about 9,000 words, tops. I sit down at my computer, and open up my document, and I scroll to the spot where I left off last time.

And I feel like this.

Image: scienceblogs.com

Image: scienceblogs.com

Getting through the work, day by day by day, is akin to strapping on a pair of cement boots and taking a brisk walk up the Matterhorn. It’s just so hard, and I don’t understand why.

Consider these points:

1. I have plenty of story left. I am nowhere near the conclusion of this book, and I know (in a broad sense) what I want to happen. It’s just a matter of getting there.

2. This feeling of mental block only happens when I’m actually at my desk. I was out for a walk yesterday, f’rinstance, and found my head filling up with ideas and enthusiasm and sheer delight at the thought of returning to my story, and so I galloped home. All that enthusiasm took a nosedive out the window as soon as the computer was switched back on, though. Does this make sense?

3. I really want to get this draft finished by the end of the year. I just can’t countenance the idea of bringing it over into 2014. Normally, when I am determined like this, I just knuckle down and get it done. Normally. But something – alors! – is not normal, these days.

It seems as though the story has become turgid, and floppy, and bland. It seems like my words are banal and meaningless and ‘seen it all before.’ Perhaps this is a side-effect of having had such a forced intimacy with the work for the past six weeks or so; maybe I simply need a break from it, and a change of focus.

But, at the same time, I don’t want a break from it. I want to finish it. I want to get through it, because I’m afraid that if I leave it alone too long I won’t ever see it through, and that would be breaking the first rule – the most important rule – of writing, which is: Finish Your Work. You can’t do a second draft of an incomplete first draft, so grinding to a halt now would be, in terms of Emmeline and Thing and their story, a disaster.

I believe there’s potential in this story. I really love the characters, and I like how the plot has, to a large extent, woven itself around them. It has taken a few unexpected turns, and ideas have suggested themselves to me as I wrote, which is an exhilarating feeling. But now I’m coming close to the End – I’m within 10,000 words of the conclusion to this story, by any rational calculation – and Endings have always been hard for me.

I read a book recently (a review will be posted in a couple of weeks’ time) which was a flight of extraordinary fancy. It did a few things which irritated me, namely introducing characters at the last minute who happen to have just the right power to get the protagonist out of a sticky situation, relying a little on coincidence and ‘extraordinary strokes of luck’ (my teeth go on edge when I read a phrase like this), but it did one other thing, which taught me – or perhaps, reminded me of – an important lesson. It demonstrated the power of a free and full imagination. This particular book went places which no other children’s book I’ve ever read has gone, and I found that refreshing and exciting.

It made me wonder why I constantly clamp down on my own imagination, telling myself that a scene in whatever I’m working on couldn’t possibly happen – it’s too far-fetched, and not realistic enough, and nobody would ever believe it.

Image: badideatshirts.com

Image: badideatshirts.com

But isn’t that sort of the point?

I’m not saying that child readers will believe any old rubbish, because – of course – I am passionately aware that isn’t true. But what they need are books which explore the limits of what a writer can imagine. They want to read things they’ve never read before, and they want to be surprised, and they want to be gripped, and they want to care about the characters. They want to be amused, probably more than anything else. They want descriptions which are good enough, and clear enough, that they seem effortlessly done; at the same time, these descriptions cannot be allowed to get in the way of their reading enjoyment, or stop them imagining themselves in the place of the hero. They want a world which is internally logical and consistent, which holds together and doesn’t break any of its own rules – but, after that, if you want to bring in talking elephants or pink trees or whatever it is, and they make sense in the world you’ve written, then there’s no reason why you should hesitate. Yet – when it comes to some of my own more ‘out-there’ ideas, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Why is applying the lessons I’ve learned from years of reading, enjoying and dissecting children’s books such a challenging thing?

Every day I sit down at this book, I spend the first hour or two unpicking most of what I wrote the previous day. Progress is painfully slow. I am getting there – and I hope I’ll make it before my ‘deadline’ hits – but I hope I’ll remember to give myself the space I need to let the story live. I’ll have to remind myself not to be afraid of where the story wants to go, and to give it the freedom to do what it wants to do. I have to trust myself to handle it.

Otherwise, I think the boulder’s going to start rolling back so fast that I won’t be able to stop it, and it’ll crush me to a pulp.

And nobody wants to see that, right?

Publish or Perish

My goodness, it’s cold this morning.

Almost as bad as this... Image: fireballwhisky.com

Almost as bad as this…
Image: fireballwhisky.com

It almost doesn’t matter, from my point of view, because what I’ll be doing today is printing out a hard copy of ‘Eldritch’ and going through it – line by line, word by word, syllable by syllable – with a pen. And, of course, I can retire to the coffee shop for this. Full of steam, condensation, and – crucially – other people, I’ll be able to stave off hypothermia in its kind embrace. Yay, say I, for coffee shops. Bastions of culture since the 1700s, and still going strong.

I don’t really want to look too closely at it, but it’s true that I also have before me a handwritten list of things that need to be done before the end of May. Most of them are competitions that I must enter; some are publications whose closing date for submissions is also the end of May. Then, of course, I have ‘Eldritch’, which needs to be gone and out of my mind by the end of May, too. It’s times like this I wish I had three brains. It’s really hard to divide attention between two or three projects and feel like you’re giving all of them your full attention, but I guess this is my lot. Deadlines don’t wait because you’re busy. Life doesn’t wait until you’re ready!

On the upside, my story, ‘Lord of the Land’, was published last night in the most recent issue of ‘Synaesthesia‘ magazine, and I was very happy to see it spring into life. This is the story I was telling you all about the other day, the one which I feel has more of me in it than most of the others I’ve written. Also, there’s a photo of me included at the end (brace yourselves); if you’ve always wondered what sort of head I have on me, well, wonder no more. I actually am a real life person, and not a shiny chrome android randomly hitting a keyboard, which may come as a relief to some of you. ‘Lord of the Land’ also has the dubious honour of being the last piece in my current clutch of ‘forthcoming’ publications for adults. I have one more story forthcoming for children, which will be published in about a week and a half, and after that, I’ll be all out for a while. Unless, of course, I manage to get some more stuff submitted, accepted and thrown out into the world. The cycle begins again.

This is the challenge, and the beauty, of writing, of course. You need to keep up the momentum. You can’t afford to stop once you’ve managed to build up even a small head of steam, and you start feeling the pressure of it quite quickly. It’s not unwelcome pressure, but it’s pressure nonetheless, and self-imposed at that – sometimes, that’s the worst kind. There are no easy answers, either, and no short cuts. I know what needs to be done – my head needs to bend to the grindstone, and no mistake. It’s lucky that I enjoy writing as much as I do, then; a shame, though, that pressure is the death of inspiration.

Maybe I'll just start churning these out instead... Image: romanceuniversity.org

Maybe I’ll just start churning these out instead…
Image: romanceuniversity.org

In any case, those are the challenges (at least, the creative ones!) facing me this week, and for the rest of the month. Seven competitions and/or submission opportunities to enter, one little book to introduce to the potentially unwelcoming world, a children’s book conference to attend (which will be great fun, I hope), and desperate prayers that the stream of ideas and enthusiasm won’t dry up just yet to be said.

If all else fails, I’ll just go out and buy a copy of Dan Brown’s latest potboiler, which is being published today (as anyone into books will surely know); if he can do it, anyone can.

Not, of course, that I’m being sour-grapey, or anything…

Which Draft is This, Again?

Too... Many... Words!

Too… Many… Words!

I’m almost finished reading over my printed WiP – let joy be unconfined! I have about another 100 pages to go. I’m amazed I’d forgotten how checking for errors can suck all the joy out of reading – but I’ve definitely been reminded of that over the last while. I would’ve been finished it ages ago except for a pesky sink-hole which developed in my energy levels over the past few days, but hopefully I’ll get through it today. My brain feels like it’s just slowly shutting down, as though it’s being strangled. It feels weird. I’ve sort of lost track, at this stage, what ‘draft’ I’m on – I suppose it’s the fourth. Is it? Who knows.

As difficult as this process is, I have to admit that it’s been worthwhile. I’ve already spotted at least two huge errors, and realised that there are several things I thought worked well, until I sat down and read them through. I’ve saved myself a lot of embarrassment, if nothing else. It’s interesting, though, that something I love to do so much (i.e. write) can also cause me so much grief. I guess that’s what the old-timers like to refer to as ‘hard work’, maybe – in that case, I’m glad that I’m in the habit of getting up early and getting to the writing with the same discipline I’d bring to a job, or else I’d never get finished. I’m also really grateful for the deadline. It can’t come quick enough, in my opinion. That’s a strange way to think about a deadline, perhaps, but so it goes.

Since it’s now December, am I allowed to use the ‘Christmas’ word without causing anyone to have an attack of the vapours? It’s not really too early to drop the C-word into conversation once the twelfth month begins, surely. I’d be grateful if anyone had any ‘how to organise your life in the run-up to Christmas’ tips, though – I haven’t bought so much as a sheet of wrapping paper yet, let alone a present for anyone. Has anyone else noticed that as your loved ones get older, it’s harder to buy presents for them? Babies are happy with anything so long as it’s shiny, noisy or droppable/bouncy (as well as safe, of course), and older kids are generally happy with goo, or stuff that glows in the dark, or whatever’s fashionable this week. After a certain age, money in a card does the job. But when it comes to parents, siblings, families-in-law… what to do?

I’m also doing my first Christmas as Mistress of my Own Home this year (yes, it does deserve all those Capital Letters) – it sounded like such a good idea back in August, but now, as it starts to loom, I’m beginning to question my own wisdom. Cleaning, cooking, organising, decorating… Gah. The way I feel right now, I’d rather climb Everest in high heels, backwards. Thankfully, my husband is a sensible, organised and helpful fella, so I’m onto a winner with him. I want to have all my drafting and re-writing done before the big day, so that I can actually have a holiday at Christmas, and feel not at all guilty for taking a few days’ rest. If one can rest when one is writing a book, that is – one’s brain tends to kick one awake at all hours of the night, and one hasn’t the pleasure of watching television without one’s subconscious chattering away about ‘the book’ in the back of one’s mind, driving one insane. With any luck, I can still my inner voice this Christmas with alcohol. That’s my plan, at least.

I hope you all had wonderful weekends, and that your endeavours this week will be smooth and trouble-free. But seriously, though, if anyone has any house-wifely tips for the festive season, or any drafting hints, please feel free to let me know. I’m sort of making things up as I go along, here. That can’t be a good life-policy, can it?


Why is it, when I come to the end of the week – when two days of fun-time open up in front of me – that I suddenly find I barely have the energy to drag myself around? Gah. I suppose it’s partly because I was awake until the dark heart of the night working on my WiP; I just couldn’t go to bed last night without tweaking just one tiny little plot thread, which then of course turned into a torrent of changes which got bigger and bigger and BIGGER until it ended up being mentioned again on the very last page, and had become a symbol for something very important.


That’s the danger of writing a book, I suppose. It sort of takes you over, denying you sleep, peace of mind and meaningful conversation. I’ve been living, dreaming, sleeping this book and these characters for so long that sometimes it feels like I’m wearing a pair of those super-cool virtual reality goggles you see in movies. I’m not sure if my inner world or my outer world is the ‘real’ one, but either way, it’s fun, if a bit disorienting.

The blog’s a bit late this morning because I made a cake first thing when I got up – it’s currently baking, and my whole house smells like chocolate, which cannot be a bad thing. I’m a reasonably recent convert to baking, but there are times, like now, when I’m so glad I have something else I can do which is creative and requires thought and precision, but which isn’t part of my fictive world. Of course, my brain still ticks away, my subconscious mind a bit like a hippo in a mudpool waiting to open its jaws and snap down on a juicy plot point, but when I’m baking I can feel, for a little while, what it’s like to be alone in my own head again.

Hippo Jaws Open Teeth Showing

You will not escape me, tiny plot detail! Mwhahahaa!

It feels great to be ahead of my own schedule with regard to the WiP. I do have some more tweaking to do – just adding or changing small details which will (hopefully) make the story more enjoyable and authentic (and won’t involve me staying up until the small hours!) – but it looks like next week I’ll have my hard copy in hand, ready to do the final edit. *bites nails* Hopefully, then, I’ll be able to have my book as finished as I can get it in plenty of time for my January deadline, and – shock – I might even be able to have Christmas off!

Next January 16th will be an important day for me, for several reasons: firstly, it’s my cousin’s birthday, and she will be turning 18. I’m not quite sure how that happened without me noticing! Secondly, January 16th is the date when the shortlist for the competition I entered back in October will be announced, and the deadline by which the competition rules state I must have my full MS completed. So, on January 17th, I will either be celebrating because I’m a shortlisted writer, one step closer to being a published author, or celebrating because I can *finally* post up some excerpts from this dang WiP of mine on this blog, and get some opinions from anyone who wants to stop by. I’ve been nervous about putting up details so far, just in case it contravenes the rules in any way, but I’m really looking forward to letting my idea out into the world, in whatever fashion I can.

After January, the fun can really begin. After January, my path to publication will really kick off, and (of course) I’ll be writing about it here, and hoping you’ll all hold my hand along the way. If I’m lucky, the competition will give me a kick-start, but even if I don’t get shortlisted, I’m still lucky. Taking the decision to write this book and making the necessary life changes to achieve that goal was the best thing I ever did (besides get married).

I’m excited by the future, and it feels great. I’m exhausted right now, but I know all the hard work I’ve put in will pay off next year, in one way or another. Thanks, everyone, for being here with me this far – I hope you’ll stick with me on the next part of the journey.

The World Keeps Turning

It seems almost unfair, after the excitement of the last two days, that things really have to return to normal now. It’s not like I’ve spent the last two days in front of the TV with my Stars-and-Stripes beer hat on, watching the live count, or anything like that. In reality, life has been pretty much as expected for me. The thrilling suspense of waiting for the election result, and then the sheer exuberant joy of yesterday, did add a little sparkle to proceedings, though – you need that sort of celebration, once in a while.

Oh well. The President is back in his White House, wrestling with his opponents, and I’m here, wrestling with my WiP. So, I guess all’s as it should be. ‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world’, and all that stuff.

Yes – I’m still here, working away on my ever-increasing novel. I say ‘ever-increasing’, because every day that goes by sees my word count going up; I was hoping I’d be making the work into a leaner, trimmer beast at this stage, but it refuses to cooperate. I likened the writing process the other day to hanging wallpaper, and not just because they both involve hard and messy work – it goes deeper than that. In essence, when you’ve hung your strip of wallpaper, you’re faced with a wall which looks okay – the paper is hung, the pattern is there, and it seems solid enough. Then you stand back and you see it – the dreaded bubble! Out comes the scraper, and you gently push the air bubble away, thinking all the while how clever you are and how effectively you’ve removed the problem. But of course all you’ve done is move the air pocket somewhere else, and it pops up again at random.

And so on, and so on.

This is how it’s been for the last while – I’m essentially doing a major rewrite, and not an editing job. Every time I fix one problem, another pops up somewhere else in the text, and as I rewrite, there are more and more things that need to be changed. So, really, it’s no surprise that the word count is growing. Yesterday, I wrote nearly 6,000 words, but I deleted about 3,000; I’m looking upon this as a positive, because a lot of this beast deserves nothing better than to be deleted forever. As I mentioned here on the blog in recent days, I’m overhauling my protagonist – I’m not changing her, just giving her more opportunities to show what she can do. Already, she’s gone from being a meek hand-wringing dutiful daughter who stands around waiting for someone to tell her what to do, to someone who breaks out of home in the middle of the night, gets lost in a rough part of town while looking for a boy, and fights off a bunch of attackers. Essentially, she’s gone from being a portrayal of me as I was at her age, to a portrayal of the kind of girl I wished I’d been at her age. That’s got to be a good thing. I was a very boring teenager.

But my first draft wasn’t a total waste of time – I have to keep telling myself this. It’s deeply flawed, and several characters are not what I wanted them to be, but I had to go through the process of writing it in order to be where I am now. I know that Draft 2 is still not exactly right, but it’s a whole lot closer to being what I want to produce than Draft 1 was. I had to work through the story and get it ‘finished’ – after a fashion – in order to have the ability to go back to it and assess it as a whole; even now, I’m restraining myself from going back to the beginning of Draft 2 and starting to rework it! I have to remind myself to just keep going, finish the thing, and look at it as a complete piece of work before starting to correct it again.

My plan is to have Draft 2 done by the end of November – I’m currently just under halfway through it, so I hope I’ll manage that. Then, I’m going to make a print-out of the whole thing, and go through it again with my trusty red pen. I think I’ll be better able to cross out whole paragraphs of dross with a pen in my hand, rather than doing it on-screen; somehow, deleting your own words on a screen seems so much harder, I think. It makes it too personal, or something. With a hard copy of the book and a red pen, I can call up my old tutor-persona, and my grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure and clarity sensors can automatically switch on; I can pretend I’m marking a very long essay which doesn’t belong to me at all, and get through it ruthlessly. Fingers crossed.

And you know, sometimes it can get hard to remember to switch your brain off, from time to time. I’m doing my best to remain calm about this whole thing, despite the fact that I have a deadline of January 2013 looming in my brain. Something which really helps me remain calm, and remember to keep my happy side out, is the fact that I have such a great husband. This morning, before he left for work, we danced together in the kitchen for a few minutes, just because we could. How could a person have a bad day when it begins with a moment like that? If I find myself getting too entangled in this book, and starting to get stressed over it, all I have to do is remember that lots of people are rooting for me, and I can do this.

And if I can do it, so can you.