Tag Archives: drafting

Sidling In

So. Um. *scuffs toe of shoe*

Yeah. It’s been a while since I blogged. A week, you say? A whole week? Couldn’t be.

(It is).

I wish I could say something like ‘well, I’m terribly sorry, but when Brad and Angie call you at the last minute and invite you to their chateau for a mini-break, what idiot would say no?’ or ‘apologies for my absence, but I was abseiling down the Burj Al-Arab’, but in reality – hard as it may be to believe – I was doing neither of these things.

Photo Credit: fizaco via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: fizaco via Compfight cc

Life got in the way, folks. Simple as. I had more medical tests. I had some tiredness. I had busy stuff going on, all of which is very boring for anyone who isn’t me. It did, however, mean that I was away from my desk a lot, and not exactly in the right mindspace for blogging. I do heartily apologise. My schedule is going to be out of whack for the next few weeks, but I will try to be better – though I do beg your forbearance.

I did some reading, though, while I was away, and I also did some writing. Not as much as I wanted, but some. I had a day during the week with a lot of down-time in the middle, so I sat with a notebook in a cafe and worked through a vague-ish plan for the rest of my current WiP, gathering ideas – and in at least one exciting moment, realising that a rootless, context-free idea I’d had several months ago would now fit quite nicely indeed into my current work, with a few tweaks. You’ve just got to love moments like those, and it proves once again that no idea should ever be wasted. Even if, like this one, it comes at you out of the blue with absolutely no explanation or lead-up, like a blob of gelatinous something-or-other that just splats into your brain from on high. Write it down. Keep it safe. Let it percolate. Eventually, you’ll see something or hear something that’ll spark off a thought, which will spark off another thought, which will lead to a fully-formed idea so awesome that your heart will start to pound, and which you’d never have had if you hadn’t kept hold of that original odd little spark of inspiration.

You know you’re onto a good thing when your heart starts to pound and you can’t write fast enough to keep up with your brain. Those are the moments we live for, right?

After all this feverish inspiration, I wrote a pitch for my current WiP (a useful thing to do, fellow writers, when you want to help an idea coalesce), and emailed it off to my agent without too much thought. ‘Here’s something I’ve been working on,’ I said. ‘It’s not finished, by a long shot, but I just wanted you to know what I’m up to.’ Immediately, I regretted it; she’ll be too busy, or she’ll have far too much else on her plate right now what with judging X competition and accepting submissions for Y event and attending at least three book fairs simultaneously with the aid of holographic technology, I told myself. Really, though, I was afraid she’d email back doing the equivalent of holding my pitch between finger and thumb, looking disgusted, and saying: ‘This? This, here, is what you’ve spent months working on?’ And then she’d wash her hands of me completely.

But she didn’t do that.

‘Sounds great,’ she said, by return of email. ‘I’m excited to read the draft, when it’s done. Here are my questions.’ And she proceeded to ask me probing, useful, interesting things about the outline I’d sent, making me at once understand that a pitch I’d thought was entirely clear had, in fact, skimmed over some things to an unacceptable level and that I had a lot more thinking to do about at least one major aspect of my plot and world-building. In the course of answering her questions, I also realised something else: simply thinking about these questions and formulating answers to them was really helping me get a handle on what I’m trying to write about. (See how good my agent is? She teaches me even without trying to).

I’m closing in on 30,000 words with this draft. The going is slow, but I’m enjoying it. I’m back in a pseudo-historical fantasy setting with characters who are brave and funny and up for adventure, and world-threatening technology which must be harnessed for good, and crafty baddies, and all manner of questing and travelling and discovery, and it’s truly where my heart belongs. It took me a long time to get here, but I think I’ve managed to fetch up in just the right place.

Happy fourth of July weekend to those who celebrate, and happy weekend to those who don’t. Whatever you’re doing, remember to be good, be happy and spread as much love as you possibly can. This poor, tired old world needs it more than ever.

Little Nudges

When you’re engaged in creating a new WiP – or, indeed, any piece of art, or anything in general which is unique to you – it can be hard to know whether things are going okay. Is the idea any good? Have you ‘nailed’ the voice? What of the characters – do they make sense? Are they compelling? Interesting? Dang it all, Jim, are they readable?

Image: addity.wordpress.com  (So, yes. I know this image should really be of DeForest Kelly, the original 'Bones' McCoy, but - well. Didn't Keith Urban do a brilliant job in the newer Star Trek movies? Yes he did).

Image: addity.wordpress.com
(So, yes. I know this image should really be of DeForest Kelly, the original ‘Bones’ McCoy, but – well. Didn’t Karl Urban do a brilliant job in the newer Star Trek movies? Yes he did).

I’m going through this at the moment with my latest opus. It doesn’t even have a name, and so frazzled is my brain these days that I can’t even think of a witty and/or suitable codename for it. Suffice it to say that it is another pseudo-historical MG romp through unknown lands in search of a high-stakes goal, in the company of a boy and a girl who are thrown together by circumstance. There’s adventure, technology, survival by wits, a very intelligent arachnid, a mysterious Machine which does something indefinable but very important, and it’s stuffed full of adults who want, variously, to steal the arachnid and/or stymie the Machine and/or nobble the boy and the girl, or all of the above. It’s standing at just under 20,000 words at the moment, which leaves it about 1/3 completed in its first draft (by my usual wordcounts, at least), and I have a Plan in place for at least the next three chapters. I’m sort of ‘piecemealing’ it at the moment, planning only far enough to get me around the next corner. It’s working admirably so far, Lurgy and anxiety and life-distractions notwithstanding. I know where I want the final scenes to be; I’m imagining them taking place in a spot I’ve actually been to, once, on holiday – the most impressive site I’ve ever seen, I think – and the landscape just fits with my vision.

So, there’s that. I have 20,000 words, a partial plan, and an endgame. And that’s all. Until the other day, nobody else had read so much as a syllable of this work, unless you’ve sat beside me in my local café while I’ve been poring over my printed-out typescript and stolen a glance at a line or two. (Don’t laugh – it happens. People’s eyes tend to be drawn to large piles of paper and a person sitting over them, sighing and scrubbing their hands through their hair. Try it, sometime). I had no idea whether any of it worked, or if it was even worth carrying on with.

But that’s where it can be a great thing, sometimes, to be brave.

A while back, I shared the first chapter of this nameless, shapeless entitly with a person. A person who is not my mother, my significant other, or anyone who owes me money. A person who has no vested interest whatsoever in telling me what they think of what I’ve done. And that person, a few days ago, took the time to say that they liked it. Not only that: they really liked it. And they feel I should definitely continue.

I can’t put into words how much of a relief this was. I felt like a sheepdog getting a subtle nod from the shepherd, or an apprentice watching the barest flicker of approval dance across their master’s face. The person who read my extract is a published author, y’see, who has another book coming out shortly, and so they’re someone who knows what they’re talking about. To be entirely fair, they’re also a very nice person (and I’m damping down my inner voices which are screaming at me: ‘they only said they liked it because they were being NICE to you! That’s all!’), so I hope they were also being objective – but I have no reason (no logical reason, at least) to think otherwise.

All of this means I hopefully have an idea with legs on, a ‘goer’, something worth pursuing, and a voice worth following, so I intend to do that until the bitter end. Being brave and asking for feedback won’t always get you a response like this, of course – but sometimes a ‘No, I don’t think this is working’ can be as useful as ‘Yes, sure, carry on with this’. The important thing is to be brave, both in the writing and the requesting of feedback thereon, and to keep going.

My Lurgy has almost lifted (I hope). I’m feeling better today than I have felt for two weeks. So, today, my friends, will have words in it. And I feel good about that.

Nightmare

I woke last night at about three thirty a.m. straight out of a terrifying dream. For long minutes afterwards I was convinced that noises I was hearing in my room, and from the road outside, were part of the dream-vision I’d just been wrapped up in, and it took me a long time to separate them out into their constituent parts. My own breathing. The thud of my heartbeat. A single, trilling song from a solitary (and early rising!) bird somewhere outside. A distant motorbike engine.

Not voices screaming for help. Not the boom of an explosion. Not the cracking of bones.

I’d dreamed I was in the middle of a warzone, and I was being followed. There were guns. There were rocket launchers. There were bodies, and downed planes, and a man with a wide-brimmed hat, his face in shadow, who was everywhere. He had a low-pitched voice and a sardonic tone, and he knew I could never outrun him. There were razor-topped fences too tall to climb, dotted with gates too far apart (and which were locked, in any case), which led me, funnelled like an animal to slaughter, down to the killing fields along with hundreds of other people. Our fate was sealed.

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

This dream was too easy to picture. I see images like this every single day. The news headlines, the papers, the internet, even movies; all of them fed into it. I know having a dream about a situation like this pales in comparison with actually living through it, and I’m not trying for a second to suggest they’re the same thing, but I wonder in some ways whether we’re not all under siege, no matter where we live. If we’re not experiencing these terrors first-hand, we’re experiencing them through our media, 24/7, burning out our minds as we attempt to come to terms with what’s happening in other parts of the world, wearing ourselves thin as we realise that there’s nothing we can do. People are dying, every single day, in abject horror, and there’s nothing we can do.

And I wouldn’t want to swap with them. Not for anything. And that makes me feel like the worst sort of human being.

It took me a long time to fall back to sleep. I was afraid of re-entering that same dream; this happens to me, sometimes. I preferred to lie awake, listening to the night, than to slide back into that dark world. As a result, I’m a bit less than my best today, but at least the dreadful terror passed with the rising sun. The world is back to normal, now. I am lucky, and I know it. For many hundreds of thousands of people the nightmare never ends. I wish, with everything I have, that it wasn’t so.

I’m not the kind of person who thinks dreams ‘mean’ something (as in, they’re not prophetic, or in any way significant, of course – they’re just a by-product of the processes of your mind), but I do think they can reveal a lot about how you’re thinking and feeling. In my case, then, I shudder to think what my dream reveals. It’s strange how you can be living your life, feeling reasonably okay (and having had a great weekend, during which your country felt like Carnival, with the beautiful weather to match!), and yet your mind finds a way to tell you that there’s fear, and doubt, and anxiety, deep inside you which needs to be expressed. I feel rather like a fraud these days: I’m not particularly happy with most of what I’m writing, and the bits I am happy with are going so slowly that they’re practically glacial. My other work is better left unmentioned. I’m worrying about my future, again, and where I’m going – not to mention where the world is going.

Perhaps this dream was a useful wake-up call, in more ways than one. It’s not good to keep trundling on regardless; it’s not good to squash away your fears and stresses, expecting them to just go away. I’ve seen before that this doesn’t work, and I have no idea why I keep doing it.

So, here’s what I’ve learned: I don’t have to write at the speed of the wind just because other writers do. I don’t have to compare myself with anyone else. I don’t have to work in a particular way. I don’t owe anyone anything.

Well, that’s not quite right. I owe myself the sanctity of a peaceful mind. I owe the world my best self. I owe my work – all forms of it – my utmost effort. I owe my mind its best chance at uninterrupted sleep. But I don’t have to explain myself or account for my existence, or feel like an unworthy person. I am not being hunted.

And now. I all calmness and control, it’s time to get back to work.

The Deathbed Chronicles

You know, in classic novels, when people are described as ‘invalids’ – lying about on couches looking sort of wasted and pale, possibly covered in blankets, snapping at the servants and insisting on keeping the curtains closed because they can’t even be dealing with the outside world – and how you always thought it sounded a bit, well, dramatic?

Yeah.

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

I did, too, until I developed the Ague That Will Not Go Away (No Matter How Hard I Beg Of It), and I realised how close this depiction is to reality. All I’m short of is the laudanum drops and the strategic application of leeches to my person. I had a break from feeling ill for a few days, which lured me into thinking I was back to optimum functioning again, but over the weekend it struck once more like a hammer-blow from the heavens. No exaggeration. So, yesterday I spent most of my time in a semi-conscious fog. barely able to summon the strength to get to the corner shop for essential provisions. Today, luckily, I’m a bit better – well enough to be upright and typing, at least – and we’ll see how the rest of the day goes.

It’s no huge surprise, then, that I don’t have much to report on the writing front. I did complete a draft last week (in a strictly technical sense, as it’s one I’ve been working on for a very long time), though I don’t feel it’s really up to much. I have a reasonable beginning to another draft floating around in the ether which I need to get back to. I’m about to start edits on The Eye of the North, which should be terrifying and exhilarating and may, quite possibly, push me right over the edge into full-blown loopiness. All in all, it’s the wrong time for me to be feeling less than functional. Whatever brain cells I can muster, I need ’em now. (If you have any lying about that you’re not using, by the way, feel free to package ’em up and send ’em my way. I’ll wash ’em and return ’em as soon as ever I can, Scout’s honour).

So, I don’t have any servants to snap at (nor, in fact, very many curtains to keep firmly closed; we’re a Venetian blind-sort of household around here), but I have the long-suffering look down pat. I am, however, blessed with the robust colouring of my peasant ancestors and so the ‘pale and wasted’ thing isn’t really working for me. I am continually a fresh and healthy shade of pink, no matter what my internal reality might be, so I give the impression of being as healthy as a horse, albeit one which looks rather put out at its lot in life. This was a problem when, as a kid, I was continually suspected of pretending to be sick so that I could bunk off school.

(Fools. They should have known I was a dyed-in-the-wool nerd who actually enjoyed school. Why would I want to bunk off? Anyway).

So. Let’s hope for a return to good health for one and all, a speedy turnaround on my edits, and fresh inspiration for my new writing projects. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Remix

Fwish fwish! Fwish-fwish!

That’s the sound of me mixing it up around here, just in case you weren’t sure what you were listening to. I’m aware, of course, that this is a Tuesday, and that it has become my habit to blog on Mondays, but yesterday I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent well. So, my blog had to fall by the wayside, just once.

It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had, but it does give me the chance to use this nifty mixer-upper tool. Fwish! I could get used to this, you know.

Think of me like Zorro. Except female. And short. And prone to toppling over unexpectedly.

Photo Credit: armadillo444 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: armadillo444 via Compfight cc

In fact, actually, don’t think of me as Zorro. That was stupid. Let’s start again.

Right! Hello! How’s your week going so far? Mine’s going pretty fairly well. Now that I’ve recovered somewhat from feeling woeful, that is. I’m writing again – it’s going slowly, but it’s going. I think *crosses everything* that I have the bones of a fairly decent story beginning to form, but in writing you never really know whether your story is going to work until you write it. What might seem shiny and bright and fantastic in the planning stages may turn out to be rickety and rotten underfoot as soon as you put any weight on it. Of course I hope this won’t happen, but (as I never tire of reminding myself) in this game, there are no guarantees.

This is the thrill, and the risk, and the heart-crushing sorrow, of trying to create something from nothing. It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with. For whatever reason, during this year so far almost everything I’ve started has ended before it was supposed to – in terms of writing, at least. Ideas have sputtered out and stories have whittled away, fading down to an embarrassed throat-clearing noise as the universe reshuffles, hoping nobody noticed the big enormous failure that has just happened. I feel a lot like everything I’ve tried to do this year has been akin to fumbling in a darkened room, where there are scary, nasty (and quite possibly dangerous) things hidden in the murk, lurking beneath dusty sheets. Sometimes discovering these things can be good – once your heart rate returns to normal – and sometimes they can be bad. Sometimes, they can be the death of your tiny storylet, and that’s a dreadful feeling.

So, I’m fully prepared for this new story to go the same way. But I’m also hopeful that it won’t. On the plus side, I think I have mastered one important thing, which is the voice of this tale; once I have that, I think the rest of it will slot together, eventually. Finding the right register for your characters is, for me, a prerequisite to telling a tale – you want a tone which expresses their individuality, hints at their world, seems to ‘fit’ them and their personality, and it’s much harder to do than you’d imagine. Often, the first ‘voice’ you start writing in isn’t the right one; I’ve had this happen more often than I want to remember. Also, once you’ve begun a story in one ‘voice’, it can be really hard to see your way through to writing it in another, and your desperation to get it ‘right’ can sometimes be its undoing. And then sometimes, as with ‘Emmeline’, the voice hits you right away and the story practically tells itself. I’m not expecting that to happen again (I think what happened with ‘Emmeline’ was a once-in-a-lifetime thing), but it would be amazing if I could just keep going long enough to build a firm foundation for this idea, something which grows stronger with every addition instead of more tangled and confused.

Let’s hope for the best.

Fwish! I’m off. Have good Tuesdays, all y’all. Feel good. Try to keep your eyes on the happy stuff, for without it we are all lost. Create something. Give something. Share your brightness with another. That way, maybe there’s a chance for everyone to rise.

Whistlestop Weekend

Well.

What a weekend that was.

Over the past three days, I’ve travelled hundreds of miles, met my brand-new baby cousin, attended a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society (which involved several friends having their heads shaved/chests waxed/hair dyed various colours, and which can still be supported here for a short while), and tried to catch up with as many friends and family as possible all in a very tight space. It was fantastic, and just what I needed, and I enjoyed every second.

But, whoa. Now I have to turn around and function, for five whole days in a row? Sheesh.

If anyone wants me, I'll be on the couch... Photo Credit: abbamouse via Compfight cc

If anyone wants me, I’ll be on the couch…
Photo Credit: abbamouse via Compfight cc

The good news is, I made a substantial start into a new WiP last week, mostly on a whim. It came out of my ‘cataloguing’ urge, which I mentioned the other day, and I was so overwhelmed with enthusiasm for one particular idea that I thought I may as well just start writing it. Now, what may well happen is that it stutters to a halt again in another few days – but perhaps it won’t.

And the important thing is, I enjoyed writing it. I’m only about 5,000 words in, but I’ve already begun to create a world with its own systems and class structures and economy, and a family who struggle with money and ill-health and hard work, and a curious hero who wants to step out from under his big brother’s shadow, and a brave heroine with her own family to support who falls foul of a too-tempting opportunity. Part of the exhilaration of this point in a project is discovering what sort of ‘voice’ to use – I had started this WiP in an entirely different sort of voice, using a dramatic and tense omniscient narrative style, only to find after a chapter that it wasn’t working very well. It was making things seem leaden and dull, when what I wanted was for there to be a light, sparky, almost cheeky feel to the tale, as befits my curious hero. So, I started again with that in mind, and from the very first scene – when the older brother boots the younger out of bed long before dawn in order to begin their day’s work – there’s more humour and dynamism and three-dimensionality to their relationship, their dialogue, and the story.

I still might find myself beginning from scratch. This is always a possibility. But gradually I’m trying to understand that beginning again, and again, and again, isn’t a sign of weakness in writing. It’s a sign of strength, and a developing sense of quality control. If I know something isn’t ‘right’, or isn’t working, then the only responsible thing to do is reconsider, and if that means starting again then so be it. Sometimes, a story will be at the back of your mind, gradually taking shape, but the images and ideas that dance in front of your eyeballs and come sizzling down your fingers are slightly less refined and complete than the larger story arc itself. Enthusiasm has a lot to do with this, as does inexperience, but neither of these are bad things. They can lead to some wondrous and unexpected connections and plot developments.

They can also lead to false starts and frustrated re-writes, but that’s all part of the fun. Right?

Not including The Eye of the North, which is at an advanced stage in development, I have ten ideas (some partially written, some existing only in fragmentary form, and at least one of which has been drafted, but which will in all likelihood never see the light of day), and sometimes, when I get panicked that I will never write another good word and that my only novel is behind me (and believe me, these days happen with paralysing frequency), I remember that I have these ideas, queuing, waiting for their time to ripen and be written. Cataloguing them, as I did during last week, really helped me to focus, and to see that the ideas are all quite different, not just in content but in how I imagine them on a page (for it’s important to always have an ‘end product’ in mind, in order to keep yourself motivated if nothing else). Some are long chapter books for 8+ readers, and some are shorter works which I can imagine as highly illustrated stories for slightly younger readers, and some have a historical focus, and some are entirely fantastical, and some have magic in them and some don’t. It’s really easy to convince yourself that you’re not having good, or any, ideas, and that if you are having some that they’re stupid, and it’s really important to vanquish that sort of mindset as early into your writing career as you can. Writing lists helps me; maybe something else will help you. It’s up to each writer to find their own path through the tangled forest which chokes out all the life and strength from their fictional worlds. None of the ideas on my list may ever be completed, but even if they’re never written, I know one thing: They’re not stupid.

And another thing: I’m going to give them all the best fighting chance I can.

So, off I go, into the unknown. It’s a new week, and time to make the most of every second of writing time I can get. If you’re joining me on the path, good luck and happy travels!

Getting Back on the Horse

Last week, I spent a lot of time working on a proofreading/copy-editing project, and it was very rewarding. There’s nothing my inner pedant likes more than slashing through unnecessary sentences and correcting misspellings, and there’s nothing my inner nurturer (and, perhaps, the vestiges of the English tutor which still lie within me, semi-dormant) likes more than offering advice, suggestions, and ways to make things sound better.

The only problem is, of course, that focusing on one project like this takes me right away from my own work, and as a result I haven’t done any real writing for a while. I have written a couple of pieces of flash, one of which (hopefully) will be published later in the year, and with which I’m quite happy, but my longer form writing has stalled again.

What I wouldn’t give for a time-turner. Or two brains. Or, indeed, a clone.

In any case, despite the fact that it is already Wednesday (eek!) I have decided to make the most of this week by getting back on the horse.

Photo Credit: the lost gallery via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: the lost gallery via Compfight cc

Sadly, of course, it’s an inevitability that I won’t look quite as spiffing as this fine gentleman (imagine me flat out along the horse’s neck, gripping it for dear life, screaming into its poor delicate ear as it thunders along, teeth bared), but one can only do one’s best.

I’ve decided it’s time for an Ideas Audit, by which I mean creating new documents for each idea currently rattling around inside my knucklebox brain, and writing them up in pitch and synopsis form. Then, if I’m feeling particularly energetic, I will write chapter plans for them. I’ve done this with some of the ideas I’m currently toying with, but not all. There’s one in particular I’d like to flesh out a little, and I feel it’s my interest in this idea that has given me the impetus to get my inventory sorted out, once and for all. This doesn’t mean I’m going to write all the books which these ideas represent (and it also doesn’t mean that the books, if written, will be any good), but it might give me a bit of peace, and a sense of control, and a feeling of achievement. And that’s half the battle, in writing. If you feel out of control, out of your depth, not sure which direction you’re going in, then you’ll hardly be in a good frame of mind to create something new.

So, I’m back to my list-making and my mental organising and my neat, clean files, and I’m hoping that they’ll give me the control I need to get myself going again. I’m also doing this because it’s important not to leave it too long between writing projects. People will tell you this is because writing is a muscle, and like as happens with any other muscle, if you don’t use it you lose it, but I think it’s also to do with the fact that writing is hard, and if you give yourself any sort of long-term break you’ll start realising how much easier life is when you’re not doing it. This doesn’t mean I don’t love writing; I do. But it’s bloody difficult. Working on the writing of other people is, I have to be honest, a thousand times easier – even with deadlines, and complications, and pressures, and the stresses of trying to get things exactly right.

But, after a while, you’ll start to wish you were writing for yourself again, and if you’ve been away for too long it can seem much more complicated to haul yourself into that saddle than it used to. The stirrup seems much further away from the ground. There appears to be a mad, reddish glint in the horse’s eye. Does he seem bigger than before? Maybe it’s best not to disturb him.

‘Nice horsie,’ you say, backing off carefully. ‘Good horsie.’

And then you turn and run.

So, it’s important to keep at your writing, because – even if it doesn’t feel like it – every time you get into that saddle, you’re improving. Every time you encounter a plot problem and solve it, your horse is clearing another hurdle. Every time you come to the end of a project, you and your mount get a big shiny rosette each, which you can wear with pride. And all the hard work and struggle becomes worth it.

Of course, when all this is happening inside your head, it can be tough to stay motivated, but it’s really important to try. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off with my handful of sugar-lumps to chase down this old nag of mine… And happy galloping to you all!