Tag Archives: drafting a novel

Blooper Reel

Sometimes, I’m not surprised that people think writers are crazy.

*Klaxon* Crazed individual at work! Take appropriate caution! Image: New Old Stock, http://nos.twnsnd.co/

*Klaxon* Crazed individual at work! Take appropriate caution!
Image: New Old Stock, http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Not only do we spend all our spare time – or, in some cases, all our time time – stuck behind a desk having conversations with people who don’t exist, but we pour everything we have into these odd little encounters with the unreal. We get upset when our characters do; we feel their triumphs and their sorrows. We might be in the middle of having dinner, or watching a TV show, or a cosy chat with a loved one, when we’ll suddenly leap up, shouting something about plots, and knots, and unravelling, and we’ll have to go and find something to write on.

It’s probably a little like Archimedes, and how he felt the day he took that fateful bath.

When you’re working on a book, your brain is only ever partially present in your day-to-day life. Behind the scenes. it’s churning away at your novel, thinking out plot structures, working at textual knots, thinking about characters and whether that reaction is realistic or this conversation is too stilted – and it always picks the most inopportune moments to drop its findings into your lap.

Hey! Yo! I know you're tryin' to sleep, an' all, but this is your brain callin'! Yo! You payin' attention? Image: gratisography.com

Hey! Yo! I know you’re tryin’ to sleep, an’ all, but this is your brain callin’! Yo! You payin’ attention?
Image: gratisography.com

As well as plotting problems – you may remember my post the other day about my storyline resolving itself in the depths of the night and my patient husband’s forbearance as I disturbed his sleep to take note of it before it vanished – my writer’s brain is constantly on error-spotting duty, too. The other day, out of the blue, something struck me about the book I’m currently writing, and it was a mistake so stupid that I started to laugh.

I was in public, but nobody knew me. So, that doesn’t count. Right?

Anyway. I laughed aloud at my own silliness, and then dug out my overworked phone (if I ever happen to lose this teeny piece of technology, it will be an international crisis situation, because my entire life is on it), and made myself a short and not-so-sweet note. I reminded myself, using some quite colourful language, that this error needed to be fixed without delay and that I was a proper idiot for letting it happen in the first place.

The reason for all this? I’d written a scene earlier in the book where my protagonist has an accident and hurts her wrist, which ends up being bandaged. At that point in the story I’d even had the doctors put it in a sling, which obviously restricted her movement and left her only one hand to work with. It was all terribly sad and painful and dramatic and everything that goes with a sprained wrist in a modern hospital scenario, and that was fine. I was happy with my day’s work; I saved it, turned the computer off and went about the rest of my duties.

But the next day – in the very next chapter – I blithely re-entered my fictional world and wrote about my character tapping away on a laptop and carrying things in each hand and shuffling papers (hard to do one-handed – try it sometime), forgetting entirely about her injury.

So, I’m sure you’ll now understand my laughter, and my reasons for writing myself that terribly unflattering note. Because, of course, forgetting that you’ve injured your character, and that such injuries have consequences on them for the rest of the book, is very silly. Sadly, it’s something I do a lot.

Catching it early is important – something that can be helped by reading your work over whenever you sit down to add to it. Not the whole thing, perhaps, but the last chapter or the previous few paragraphs, just to reacquaint yourself with what’s been going on. I had neglected to do this, and so I’d managed to get a couple of chapters in, post-injury, waffling on about things that should have been impossible for my character to accomplish with one hand bound to her chest. Once it had been spotted, about twenty pages of unpicking to do – removing references to my character using her ‘hands’, adjust her clumsiness levels accordingly if she tries to do anything more complicated than hold a fork, be aware that she’s injured down one side and that if someone bumps into her, or tries to hug her, it might hurt. In the end, it wasn’t that hard to undo, and the day was saved.

But imagine the horror if I’d forgotten this detail for the rest of this draft. My heroine clambering across rocks, braving the heights of a ship’s rigging, saving her friends from fates worse than death – all without me remembering she has an injured wrist? If I’d managed to write the rest of the story while forgetting this detail, it would have been far worse. I’d either have had to remove the injury – and, therefore, lose an important scene – or rewrite every other action scene the heroine had in order to take her injury into account.

Or, of course, risk leaving the book as-was and hoping nobody else noticed – but that’s not very clever.

Luckily, however, all this has been averted. In future I think I’ll try to leave myself some more flattering notes – not ones written in all caps, full of exclamation marks and rude names – but I hope my brain will always remain on duty to remind me of these writerly slip-ups. Even if it does take a couple of days for the message to get through, it’s better late than never.

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

It’s almost time to hang my ‘Gone Fishin” sign on the front of this blog and take a short hiatus for the festive season. I am officially ‘on holiday’ from today; I’ve retreated to my parents’ house, I’m on commis chef duty in the galley, and all those last-minute things that always manage to slip your mind until it’s (almost) too late are starting to pile up.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but it sure is busy.

And also, stuff like this tends to happen. Image: staceygustafson.com

And also, stuff like this tends to happen.
Image: staceygustafson.com

In some ways, running around trying to get everything done at this time of year is a huge hassle, but in another it’s the best thing imaginable. This year, I think it’s a blessing in disguise for me. My brain needs a break from routine, and I’m glad to be able to give it a chance to refocus.

Maybe you’ll recall me saying that I had a task I wanted to complete before I declared myself off duty for Christmas; that task was to finish the first draft of ‘Emmeline.’ Sadly, however, I did not manage to complete that goal. Over the past few weeks I’ve been hit by two bouts of illness, which knocked me slightly sideways, and even though I’ve been doing my best to work through them I seem to have run out of steam, just a little. I have over 69,000 words of the book written – of course, that’s not to say 68,999 of them won’t be scrapped when it comes to editing time – and I’m happy with my progress, but I’m not happy to have fallen short of my aim. I really wanted to have a conclusion to ‘Emmeline’ written, saved and put away by the time Christmas rolled around, ready to be eviscerated by my editing brain come January.

Now, instead, I have to get myself back into writing mode as soon as my holiday period ends – and already I feel like I’m behind on next year’s work before it even begins.

I like to hit my targets, and I don’t like to make promises to myself – or other people – which I do not manage to keep. So, even though it feels silly to say so, I can’t shake the thought that my not getting ‘Emmeline’ completely finished is breaking my word, albeit only to myself. Having said that, I can honestly say I did my best to get the book finished. As well as that, ‘Emmeline’ has been tying up my mind for weeks now – which is why, in some ways, I think having to take a break from it is a good thing. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but I hope in the longer run it’ll pay off.

I reserve the right to look like this in the meantime, though:

Image: aspirekc.com

Image: aspirekc.com

I’ll probably be too busy over the next few days to even think about my little heroine and her bunch of erstwhile friends, and the fact that I’ve left her hanging in a perilous situation, and the fact that I’ll be sending off a new round of queries to agents in the new year, and entering another competition, and trying to plan my next project (already in the pipeline); at least, I hope so. I think I’d like my head to be filled with baking dilemmas and seating arrangements for Christmas dinner and parcel-wrapping and all those other seasonal disasters that one expects at this time of year. Maybe then going back to ‘Emmeline’ will seem like a welcome change, and the book will be the stronger for it.

The past year has been a crazy one, for me. I started it in the throes of a book which will now never be read by anyone – neither human nor machine – and I finish it with (almost) three other books to my credit, and some encouraging feedback from a few very knowledgeable sources. I started it in a total panic – and I’m pretty much ending it the same way – but I do feel like I have a slightly better handle on the terror now than I did this time last year. I started 2013 wondering if I had the gumption and the grit to see it through, and I finish it safe in the knowledge that I have, and I did, and I will (one day, somehow) prevail. I guess that’s progress, by anyone’s measure.

And so, as I pull the shutters down over ‘Clockwatching…’ for a few days of rest, I want to say ‘thank you’ for reading, commenting, following my faltering progress, and cheering me on. If you’re celebrating Christmas, I hope you and your family have a wonderful time; if you’re not celebrating, I hope you have a fantastic Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I’ll see you all again next week when I’ll be back to the drawing board, and (hopefully) the Muse won’t have forgotten about me over the Christmas break.

Image: justhappyquotes.com

Image: justhappyquotes.com

And who knows – perhaps Santa Claus will bring me representation and a publishing deal for Christmas… I’ve hung my stocking up, just in case.

Have a peaceful, happy and joyful Christmas, and let’s hope a bright New Year awaits us all.