Tag Archives: Eldritch

Blocked at Every Turn

You know when you see a mouse in a maze, and it’s running up a passageway only to find it’s blocked off, and so then it changes direction and runs down another passageway only to find – horrors! – that it’s blocked off, too, and so on?

Yes. Well. I always had huge sympathy for mice in those sorts of situations. From now on, though, I will have even more, because, right now, that mouse is me, people.

Photo Credit: Rain Rabbit via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rain Rabbit via Compfight cc

You see? I’m so stressed I’m using too many commas.

I’m about three-quarters of the way into my rewrite of Eldritch. My hero is in a bind. He’s trapped in the presence of a powerful, but unhinged, relative who has A Nefarious Plan. Of course, my hero has a secret weapon, but it’s not one he knows about yet – and even if he knew he had it, he wouldn’t know how to use it, anyway. So, as you can see, plenty of scope for dramatic tension.

You’d think.

The first version of this story had the hero trotting off, at this point, on a whole rambling sub-plot about magical creatures which (for reasons best known to the automaton who appears to run my brain) appeared in the story, just because. I got myself all tangled up in their world, their King, their city, their rules and laws – and after about ten pages of this I came to a screeching halt and went…

What is the point of any of this?

So I stopped, forthwith, and went back to the last good point in the story. We have the hero and his relative facing one another down. Cue lots of mwahaha-ing and threatening language and displays of awesome magical power, and in this version the hero accidentally discovers how to use the secret weapon we talked about.

It should’ve been brilliant. But instead it was – flat. Ridiculous, actually. Images which looked so cool in my imagination came out of my fingers like so much fluff.

I junked all that, too, and went back to the first storyline which – if I’m being honest – seemed to flow better in terms of my ability to put one word after another, but I still had the nagging question in the back of my mind all the time. What is the point of any of this? Having been through a substantial edit on another book, I could anticipate my agent reading the work I was doing. I could see her comments. ‘Sorry, but what in the world is going on here? What does this have to do with anything?’ The only answer I’d be able to give her would be ‘Nothing. None of this has anything to do with anything, because it’s just silly. And unless I can find a way to tie it to the larger plot, it’s a piece of pretty decoration but not a lot else.’

Which meant, of course, it has to go.

So then it was back to rethinking the other plot, the secret weapon one. I had to consider what I wanted my character to do at this point; what does he need to learn? He has to overcome a difficulty, sure – but it doesn’t have to be a difficulty on the magnitude of being taken hostage by a bunch of magical creatures and having to fight his way out of their clutches at the same time as trying to fight his deranged relative. He has to learn that he has power within him which he hasn’t tried to tap, yet; he has to learn that when he needs to make a last stand and deliver, that he has the goods. So, there has to be another way – a neater and more pleasing way – of doing that.

There has to be.

So I decided to consider the scene in relation to the story overall, keeping in mind the larger movement of the book. One of the reasons I felt the scene with the magical creatures wasn’t working was that it was too slow, and took the story away from the primary field of action for too long. It wasn’t necessarily a bad scene, badly written or uninteresting – it just didn’t fit where I was trying to put it.

The first question I asked myself was: what is this scene trying to illustrate? I realised that the answer lies in several parts. Firstly, the power of the antagonist, and the lengths to which he’ll go to get what he wants. Secondly, the power – as yet untapped – of the protagonist, who knows not only his life, but also the lives of people he loves, are being put in danger by his relative’s megalomania. Thirdly, it has to hint at (but not give away entirely) the method by which the hero will eventually fight the antagonist, and I don’t want there to be too much repetition going on. As my agent said, repeatedly, on my last MS: ‘Ring the changes.’ As in, don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of using the same structure, plot device or conceit too often. It’s really easy to do, and it can be really hard to fix. I’m still not sure how to distinguish this preliminary battle scene from the one which I’m sure will come later – the showdown – but I think I have a calmer handle on the story at this point. I think. Though I’ve yet to look at it today, so that might all change in the next thirty minutes.

Anyway. I think I can safely say I found this technique (wherein I stop running around bashing myself into walls for long enough to think about the actual book and what I want it to do) very helpful. I keep forgetting who’s in charge when it comes to writing; I think of the book as being the one who calls the shots, neglecting to remember that I’m the writer and therefore the shots all lie with me. I also tend to put myself under so much pressure, as though there’s a looming deadline, that it destroys any sense of creativity or fun I might have in my work. There really is no need to panic: the calmer you are when looking for your story, the easier it is to find it.

That’s the theory, anyway. I’ll let you know how it all works out.

The Indefinable ‘Ugh’

One of our neighbours has a beautiful little boy. He’s always smiling, always laughing, and he likes to run around to our house and show off his ‘toy of the day’ – lately, it’s been a small plastic handsaw with which he likes to destroy our garden gate, to a soundtrack of throaty chuckles. Today, he turns two years old, and so – feeling organised, grown up, and infinitely practical – I decided to buy him a birthday card almost a week ago. It’s been sitting on our kitchen table ever since so that I don’t forget to write in it; every time I saw it I cracked a grin, not only at the thought of how much fun he’s going to have at his birthday party, but also in the smug realisation that, for once, I got something done right, and ahead of schedule.

See? Not only cute, and awesome, but *timely*, too, what with all the rockets and planets and stuff. *sigh*

See? Not only cute, and awesome, but *timely*, too, what with all the rockets and planets and stuff. *sigh*

I sat down this morning after breakfast – so early it was still dark outside – intending to make writing the carefully worded birthday message my first task of the day, only to discover something maddening.

There was no envelope for the card inside the plastic wrapping.

I didn’t think to check, when I bought the card, that the envelope came with it. The shop assistant at the register clearly didn’t, either. I guess we both assumed that if a card comes wrapped in plastic, the envelope is included. I was so mad, I could have growled. ‘This has messed up my whole day,’ I told myself. ‘Now I have to reschedule this, and do this differently, and I’ll need to change this…

And then I calmed down and realised (with the aid of a few deep breaths) that it was no big deal. I’ll just go and get another card. I have to go out to the shops anyway; it’s no extra hassle. But the initial whoosh of irritation (with myself), and the collapse of my careful edifice of being organised, was overwhelming.

That’s concerning.

Once, years ago, I was waiting in line for the coffee machine during my morning break in work. The café was crowded; there was a long line for coffee. A woman and her friend cut the queue and jumped in ahead of me, and I felt my teeth smash together and start to grind, of their own accord. My body flooded with rage, to the point where I began to tremble, and I have never felt so close to ‘losing it’ – all over nothing. Now, this may have been severe caffeine withdrawal – or it may have been something larger. Something that perhaps happens to people more often than they realise.

It’s strange how you can be so busy, and distracted, and scattered, and everything else it takes to live life in the modern world, that you become totally out of touch with your body and how it feels. I was unaware, until this morning, exactly how much of my sense of organisation and personal capability was based around a two-year-old’s birthday card. During my queue for coffee that morning in work, I was totally unaware (until it smacked me in the face) exactly how much stress and pressure I was under, and how close I was to snapping. It took these tiny life events – forgetting an envelope, being skipped in a queue – to draw my own feelings to my attention, and to make it clear to me that I was a bit out of balance.

I’ve been working away on ‘Eldritch’ for the past while, and it’s been going, but with difficulty. My plotting methods have proved effective, but progress is slow. I fear my main problem with the work is that I don’t love it – not that I don’t love writing, because I do and will always love that – but I don’t love the story as much as I loved the tale of Emmeline. ‘Eldritch’ doesn’t grab me up in its arms and sweep me away like the other story did; it doesn’t make my heart pound like ‘Emmeline’ did, even after the twentieth re-read. I am afraid that I will never write anything I love as much as ‘Emmeline’ ever again, and that it’s pretty poor to have ‘peaked’ before you’ve even begun.

This is what’s on my mind.

I’m trying to be organised, professional, capable, grown-up, but one forgotten envelope and the whole thing crashes into dust. I’m trying to be a writer, and I’m certainly working hard, but I fear the end result will be the same – dust. It’s like there’s a creature with downturned eyes and a floppy, curled-down mouth and a set-upon expression following me around, whispering ‘ugh’ into my ear every few minutes.

Ugh. Don’t bother trying that. You know it won’t work.

Ugh. Really? You think this is what a real professional person does? You think this is the appropriate way to behave?

Ugh. Haven’t you learned anything? You’re no spring chicken, you know! You need to get a handle on things!

I think I’ve had quite enough of that.

So, today will be about remembering to smile, and breathe. It will be about being kind to myself, and taking a walk. It will feature buying a new birthday card and writing a happy, fun-loving message in it, and delivering this card to the bouncing boy who has brought so many smiles to my life, and then, once all that is done, worrying about work.

And, after all that, I’ll give the Indefinable Ugh a slap across the chops, and tell it to be on its way. I’ve got stuff to do, and I don’t have time to listen to its nonsense.

Success! (ish…)

All the notebooks! All the wiggly lines! All the markers!  This, kids, is what plotting looks like.

All the notebooks! All the wiggly lines! All the markers!
This, kids, is what plotting looks like.

Today, November 11th, always fills me full of feelings. My mind is on battlefields and gently waving rows of blood-red poppies and ranks of simple white gravestones, and on the harrowing losses of war. I’ve already shed a few tears this morning, and I’m sure I’ll shed a few more before the day is out – but that’s not what I want to write about, today.

(It’s not because I don’t care. It’s because if I started writing about the War, things would get messy very quickly, and nobody wants that).

So instead, I’m going to write about plotting (still), and how well (or badly) my ‘method‘ has been working out for me.

The first thing I did yesterday was print a copy of my own post, Conducting a Story, and lay it out flat on my desk to get an overall reminder of the ups and downs which every plot should have. Then, I  made a list of the core things about this book – significant themes, important events (by which I mean they’re interesting while they happen, but they also cause other things to happen, thereby advancing the story), the primary characters and their relationships to one another, some of the imagery which I’d consider to be essential and – something which took me by surprise, a bit – a box in which I mapped out all the places in the book where the characters have a choice about what way they’re going to act, and where they don’t, and whether there’s a balance or any sort of symmetry between them.

I was almost finished doing this last bit, mapping out the choices, before I understood what I was doing it for, actually. Strange, sometimes, how your brain just takes over and gets the job done if you give it the space it needs. It’s important when you’re putting a story together that you show your characters being active, making choices (even or especially if they’re ‘wrong’, or don’t lead them to the desired outcome straight away); that’s something I have a particular problem with, so this is why I focused on it. When you’re plotting and structuring your story it can happen, without you even realising, that you’re constructing your story around your characters’ needs and thereby giving them no space for their own agency and decision-making. Things happen to them, not because of them, and that makes for a boring story where your character is simply awash on a flood of events out of their control, going with the flow and doing whatever they’re told – and who wants to read about that?

Nope. You want to put them into complicated situations and twisty dilemmas, where the choices aren’t always clear-cut. They need to be shown wondering if they make this choice over that choice, what difference it will make; who will be affected (besides themselves) by their choices; what the long-term ramifications of their choices will be, and what the endgame is, as far as they can predict it.

So, basically, just like making a decision in real life.

The important thing is that they have to make decisions and act on them, and – importantly – that this is made perfectly clear to the reader. These decisions can’t all be internal to the character, and left to the reader to decipher. While writing ‘Emmeline’, for example, there were several instances where things appear to simply ‘happen’ to Emmeline, and contrived coincidences, none of which were intended, abounded. One of the reasons for this was that I hadn’t made the motivations of other characters around Emmeline clear – they had their own reasons for doing things, which had nothing to do with her – and because she seemed to be carried along with their actions, making no decisions for herself at critical junctures, it turned into a major mistake. To fix it, I had to bring her thought processes to the fore, showing how she was using things to her own advantage, and also change one scene subtly to show her directing the action, instead of simply acting once the decision had been made. Because the writer is clued into the characters’ thought processes it can be hard to spot where you’ve simply not explained why a character is making a particular choice – or seeming not to – and so I found it useful to make a list of the pinch-points in ‘Eldritch’ where choices need to be made, and who makes them, and why.

Then, I moved on to mapping out the ‘corners’ – the turning points, I guess, which are vital to the story’s structure – and I divided the book up into four rough quarters. I hoped that each of them would be equal, or nearly equal, in terms of length and that each corner would have a moment of crisis which led to a change, and that they’d fit together, one leading to another. Then, I took my ‘story beats’ – Change, Crisis, Choice (1), Change, Challenge, Chase, Crucible, Chance, Choice (2) and Calm – and mapped them onto my corners, in the hope that the major plot events as they stand now would fit roughly into this schema – and they did. Not as evenly or in as finely balanced a way as I would have liked, but it was a pleasant surprise to see the book’s structure come together. The story isn’t exactly where I want it, yet; there are things I know need to happen, and I’m not sure how best to arrange those scenes, but it’s a major positive to feel that the overall shape of the book will hold. I had been feeling rather despairing about salvaging ‘Eldritch’, but now I feel there may be hope.

And isn’t hope the best feeling in the world? I think so. Have a hopeful and positive Armistice Day, everyone.

 

 

 

Diagramming

Good morning! It’s misty, it’s moisty, and it’s cold, but at least it’s ours, right?

I’m back to work at the word coalface this morning after a busy weekend spent away from my usual routine. It’s funny how life can sometimes serve up to you these things you have to do, and places you need to be, and events you’re privileged to attend, right when you need time away from something work-related which is bothering you. I did do a little thinking about my current WiP (which is, technically, a revisited old WiP) on Saturday morning during some downtime, but besides that I took myself away from anything which smacked of fiction for two full days and lived completely in the real.

It was weird. But it was good.

I didn’t even do any reading – besides half a newspaper – and that’s really unusual. I left the book I’m currently halfway through sitting at home, and it’s still where I left it, gathering dust, bookmark gallantly guarding my place. I plan to get back to it later, but that’s a secret, so don’t tell it.

And why am I rejigging an old WiP, you may be wondering? Well, there are a few reasons.

I was asked several months ago to become part of a critiquing group for children’s writers in Ireland, which was an amazing honour. I immediately accepted, despite worrying that my relative lack of experience would impact upon the usefulness of my feedback – but so far, so good. Some of the members are fully-fledged published authors or people whose debut novels are forthcoming, some (like me) are those who’ve gained agency representation but not a book deal, and some are people who are aspiring to gain an agent or who simply like to write. All of us share one thing: we’re interested in improving. The group is fantastically well-organised, supportive, interesting and also demanding – which is a good thing. It’s important to give feedback which is as full and useful and honest as possible, and that takes time and effort, but it’s time and effort I have no problem expending.

I haven’t yet had to submit any of my own work for critique, though. That’s happening next month – or, in about three weeks’ time.

So.

I can’t submit any of ‘Emmeline’, because I don’t think that would be appropriate. So, I thought, what shall I submit?

Well. The first book I wrote after the initial, monstrous draft of Tider (if you’re an old-timer around here, you may remember this as ‘Tider Mark I’) was a story named Eldritch. It’s never really left my mind, even though it’s changed dramatically since I first wrote it. It was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy (now, it’s going to be a standalone); it once featured a very hard-to-pull-off narrative style which I’ve had to sacrifice in favour of picking one narrator over another (still not a choice I’m entirely happy with); it once featured a prominent girl character, who has now fallen beneath the editorial knife.

So, it’s a different beast, really. The characters are still in my head, though, and I know there’s something to be told here, a story which does exist, somewhere, and it’s up to me to find it. It’s changed, it’s morphed, it’s become something different from what I first imagined, but I know I have to try to tell the tale – and that the only thing which will allow me to see it properly is to try to look at the whole thing, the bigger picture. I want to submit the first three chapters to my critique group in a few weeks, and I want them to be three good chapters; I’m looking forward to learning from the incisive suggestions of my peers, of course, but I would like to do my best, all the same.

What I’m going to do, in order to get a handle on this book, is tape together several sheets of printing paper and do out a large diagram of the story, based around the ‘beats’ every plot should have. I’m then going to see if I can find the ‘corners’ of my story – the scenes I really want to include, the non-negotiable bits – and plot those out, in order to see how to connect them up in the most logical, interesting and dramatic way. It’s easy to get lost in the words when you’re trying to find your way through a story, and for them to become meaningless after a while. It’s like trying to scope out a landscape from ground level – it’s very hard to see beyond the next hill. If you’ve done a draft of your plot and it’s become ‘stuck’ in your head as the only way to complete a story, it can be hard to see another way to get from A to B, a way which could be far more elegant, interesting and neat. I think doing out this large diagram, then, is the way to go. I know my characters, and I know where they start off and where they end up, and I know what they need to go through in order to get from start to finish – and all that is important. But it’s the plot, and the ups and downs, and the intricate niggly bits, that I need to fill in, and for that I need a wide view.

So, it’s out with the paper and markers (I’ll refrain from using glitter, though, if at all possible), and hopefully my critique group – and my agent, who will no doubt be interested to know what I’ve been working on since I submitted ‘Emmeline’ to her nearly two weeks ago – will get a good, strong piece of work to dissect. I can’t wait to get their learned opinions, and to see what other eyes make of this revamped Eldritch. It’s a story close to my heart, and I hope they like it, but if they don’t it’s important for me to know, and to know why.

It’s good to start a new week with a refreshed sense of purpose and a determination to change up your perspective on an old problem, and I hope my attempts to sketch out a map to my imaginary world will be helpful. Stay tuned for more on how it all works out!

It’s the Most Busy Time of the Year…

Ding, dong, ding, dong!

So, yes. November. How are you? It only feels like a week or so since you were last here but apparently it’s been an entire year. (Did anyone see who made off with the last twelve months?)

November, my favourite month in many ways, and my least favourite in so many others. Loads of family events on (no fewer than seven birthdays among my friends and family, and that’s just the beginning of it), plenty of travelling all over the country going from the in-laws to the outlaws and back again, an important work event for my beloved, and an important work event for me (luckily on different weekends!) – and before we know it, December will have rolled around.

Time really does go quicker the older you get, I think. As I approach a painful age (one I’d really rather not face up to) I realise that the days are galloping past with gleeful disdain, hurrying my steps. When I was a teenager my mother used to say to me – pained expression turned up to max, of course – that she felt like a sixteen-year-old inside and that it was only like ‘yesterday’ since she was young and sprightly and that I was wasting my one and only youth and would I ever get out of that chair and put that book down and go out and meet people?! I used to think she’d lost her reason. Nobody I knew was more interesting than the people I met in books, and anyway I thought (as we all do when we’re teenagers) that I would feel young and capable forever.

Well, huh. It just goes to show your mama always knows best.

I have aches and pains in places I didn’t know I owned until they started to hurt. I’ve started making ‘old lady noises’ getting into and out of chairs. I have a dodgy knee. I don’t have any grey hair yet, but that’s possibly because my eyesight is failing. I am feeling every second of my age, and November reminds me that I’m getting older, for one of the birthdays I’ll be ‘celebrating’ during this month is my own.

*Sigh* Yeah. I feel your pain, young lady. Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

*Sigh* Yeah. I feel your pain, young lady.
Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

Luckily (I guess?), I’ve relieved myself of one mental burden this month, and that is ‘Emmeline’. I have returned the edits to my agent and I now have everything crossed that she doesn’t hand the book back to me pinched between thumb and forefinger, nose wrinkled, going ‘what on earth is this, then?’ The aim is to get the book good enough – good enough to catch the eye of a publisher, good enough to get a team of acquisitions people excited and enthusiastic, good enough to fall beneath the scalpel of yet another editor – and I can get on board with that. If we were trying to make it perfect, I think my brain would have clocked out a long time ago. I can’t deal with perfect; I can deal with good enough.

And so that means today is the start of a new-old project. I’m going back to basics and revisiting the first book I ever queried Polly with, one which she enjoyed and which she told me was good enough to engage child readers and make them look for other stories by the same author (which is catnip to anyone who writes, let me tell you); it wasn’t good enough for her to sign me, not at that point, but my aim is to bring it up to the same standard as ‘Emmeline.’ I like a challenge.

Essentially, I’m trying to make my agent fall in love with my work all over again. It’s a bit like a marriage, this agent-author relationship. It takes work and enthusiasm and openness and trust on both sides, and it can be dang scary – and one thing you should never do is take it for granted. So, I’m going to take everything I’ve learned from the editing process I’ve already been through, and bring it to bear on Eldritch, and hope to find a story I can polish.

No time like the present. Let’s begin!

 

Scraping the Bottom

Yesterday, I battled my way to the end of draft 1 of ‘Eldritch’. Today, however, I’m wondering why I bothered.

You might ask ‘Why? Surely it’s good to have reached the end of another first draft?’

Well. The reason for my disillusion today is, of course, that the quality of the work produced goes down very fast when you’re feeling tired, or uninspired, or unhappy in any way with any aspect of your life or your writing. I knew yesterday that my bucket was scraping the stones at the bottom of my well of inspiration, but I kept sending it down anyway, expecting it to be full when it got back to the top.

Of course, it was – but it was full of mud and rock and surprised, wriggling insects not used to seeing the light of day, and perhaps a clump or two of mouldy moss, too. The clear water was all gone.

Photo Credit: Kash_if via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kash_if via Compfight cc

I got the work done, all right – I got the story told. But I couldn’t have been less happy, even as I was writing it, with the work I was producing. Once I’d taken the story as far as I could, I saved my file, closed down my computer and sat with my bone-shaking tiredness for a few minutes, my mind feeling disconnected from my physical body and the world around me. Even as I sat there, literally having just typed ‘The End’, I started to understand what was wrong with the story as I’d written it.

A short list of What’s Wrong with My Book

– An unnecessary meeting with several unnecessary characters.

– A complete lack of character development for the antagonist, and not enough time given to his reasons for his actions.

– A total fail in my world-building, and not enough time devoted to working out my magical system.

– The story is far too heavily weighted at the front – in other words, too many pages are devoted to the first ‘half’ of the adventure, and not enough to the second. The only positive in this is the fact that the ‘finished’ draft came in at just under 62,000 words, which is a lot shorter than my norm; there’s plenty of scope for expansion.

Yesterday, when I finished writing, I felt hopeless. I felt despairing. I began to question whether I should even continue with my plans for my career, and I began to fret that I wasn’t deserving of all that I’d accomplished so far – having several stories published, gaining an agent, slowly building a following and a readership on social media. This feeling didn’t last, of course, though the thoughts, and the deeper insecurities, took a little longer to disperse. I’m not sure they’ll ever really go away, but so long as they stay quiet long enough for me to get on with the work, I’ll be happy.

Luckily, I slept well and have woken this morning in a much better frame of mind, with a clearer idea of what I can do to ‘fix’ the story. It’s not a total waste of time and effort, as I thought yesterday. It’s not the worst thing ever put on paper (though it’s probably in the same ballpark!) It’s not unsalvageable. I know that I can fix it, and bring it to a point where I won’t be ashamed to share it with other people. Right now, if my agent read it I’m sure her hair would turn white and she’d burn our agent-author agreement; I know it won’t always be this way. It’s going to be a big job, but I’m equal to it.

However, today is not the day I’m going to start working on it.

Today is going to be a day for getting to all the other tasks I’ve been neglecting for the past couple of months while I’ve been up to my neck with writing. There are jobs to be done in literally every corner of my house, and there’s a book to be read, and there are walks to be taken, and there is (if I have any energy left!) baking to do, and I’m looking forward to the sort of good, clean tiredness that comes from having an exhausted body, instead of an exhausted mind, at the end of today. I’m hoping that, as soon as I take my eyes off my well of inspiration, that it will slowly start to fill up again, and that the good clear water I need to sustain me will start to trickle through the stones again. I’m not planning to send my bucket near it for a while.

Finishing a novel isn’t easy. It takes focus and dedication and bloody-mindedness. You need to have a story you can’t rest until you’ve finished telling, and you need to have some idea – even only in outline – of how you’re going to get to the end of it. Even so, a first draft is likely to have missteps and forced steps and illogical steps and errors, but that’s all right. Getting the skin over the bones of your story, even if it’s stretched, is good. Once that’s done, you can go back and settle it properly. If you force it, though, what happens is you begin to think there’s not enough story, or you haven’t done enough work in the writing of it, or you aren’t enough, and slowly but surely you lose hope. I’m sure many thousands of stories have fallen at the first hurdle, but I should think many thousands more have fallen at the last. Beginning a story and clip-clopping your way through the middle can be fun; bringing everything to a conclusion is tough, and chances are it won’t work right the first time you try it. But all I can say is, don’t give up when you’ve got that far. Leave it alone for a bit, and come back to it once your mind has had a chance to forget all about it.

Stop scraping the bottom. Let your well re-fill. Once you do, there’ll be plenty of water for all the stories you have nestling within you, waiting for their time to bloom.

Photo Credit: ViaMoi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ViaMoi via Compfight cc

 

The Kisses of Autumn

This morning is the first I’ve noticed where there’s a real tinge of autumn in the air. It’s cool and crisp, and spiderwebs are shining in the early light, and the sky is cloudless blue. The trees at the end of our garden are rich with leaves on the turn. It’s no wonder that this is my favourite time of year. I’m thinking towards the falling into winter, the gradual darkening and slowing down of life, and it’s making me grateful for the light and brightness that this summer still holds.

It’s also making me think towards the future. I’ve been asked to take part in a critiquing group, which is very exciting, and can only help to hone my own powers as a story-dissector; it will also be a huge chance for me to learn from others, people who are further down the road than I am. It’s a little scary to know I’m going to have to place my own work beneath their scrutiny, but that seems to be the name of the game for me, this past while: getting over, again, my fear of being read. It’s an old and primal fear, one which beset me awfully at the beginning of my attempts to be a writer and which took extreme willpower to overcome. I managed it then, and I hope I can manage it now, too.

Setting sail... Photo Credit: fiddleoak via Compfight cc

Setting sail…
Photo Credit: fiddleoak via Compfight cc

Weather, and its changing, always has a profound effect on me and my mindset. The beginning of autumn is a reminder to slow down and go with the flow; nobody is bigger than the seasons. It’s a reminder of your place in the grand orchestra – play your own note, at the right time, and let the rest worry about itself.

That’s the ideal, at least.

I wrote almost 3000 words on Eldritch yesterday, and then realised I was starting to go down a wrong path. I deleted more than 800 of the words I’d written and stared at the screen for a while, hating the flashing cursor. It took me longer than you’d think to work out it was time to leave it to one side. There’s a great saying, often quoted to me by my parents: You can only do a day’s work in a day. Often, I forget this, and I want to write the entire book in a day, or I demand of myself that I reach the 5000 word mark every single time I sit down to write.

It takes such effort to overcome your natural tendencies to want to do everything now, and move on to the next thing before you even have a chance to think about what you’re doing. It takes such work to treat your creative life with care, and to realise it’s not on a switch. It has ebbs and flows. It has the heat of summer, when things flow freely, and it has the frozen heart of winter when even writing one word is too much. It has times like this, when you have to remember to be gentle with yourself, and with your words, or risk having the whole thing fall to pieces. It’s too easy, when you’re beset with the stresses (half of them imagined, no doubt) of dealing with editorial feedback and beginning a new phase in your engagement with other writers and thinking long-term towards your career goals and navigating all the complicated, simple things that we all have to live with, like paying bills and keeping house and managing not to put your clothes on back-to-front, to let it overwhelm you and to lose the ‘control’ you’ve convinced yourself you have. Much better to realise that things will take their own time, and all you’ve got to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other.

One thing at a time. Everything in its proper sequence. Dance when the music plays, and don’t worry about the steps.

Do you find your moods and/or mindset are affected by the changing seasons? How does the approach of winter (if you’re a Northern Hemisphere-r!) make you feel? Any tips for remembering to slow down and take a step back when things start to get overwhelming?