Tag Archives: writing a first draft

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.

Strategy

It’s a well known fact about me that I’m useless at Scrabble. This is despite being quite good, all told, in the word department and having a vocabulary which is bigger than the GDP of most countries (or, these days, their national debt). I do so love words, and I love spotting them in jumbles of letters, and I adore setting them down on the board with gentle care – none of which, of course, is any good if you’re trying to win a game.

Image credit: SJ O'Hart Taken during a recent-ish game, the only one so far in which I've managed to beat my husband. Hoo-rah!

Image credit: SJ O’Hart
Taken during a recent-ish game, the only one so far in which I’ve managed to beat my husband. Hoo-rah!

If one could gain points in Scrabble for making pretty words, or unusual words, or ones which force your opponent to check the dictionary, then I’d win hands down every single time. But, sadly for me, the only way to win in Scrabble is to be good at something I’m utterly useless at.

Strategy.

My husband – who is, more often than not, my opponent on the Scrabble board – is brilliant at strategy. Not only does he think like Machiavelli, but he also has an incredible ability to place his tiles over the high-points bits of the board, and he’s great (like, frighteningly great) at doing that ‘combining’ thing, where you get to count tiles twice because you’ve made two words out of them… or something. Anyway. You’re probably beginning to see why he beats me all the time; he understands how to make the tiles work for him. I, on the other hand, think in straight lines. I don’t get much more complicated than making my word intersect with one that’s already on the board. Opportunities to clean up don’t even occur to me. I could sit looking at the game for hours and a massive juicy 40-pointer could be staring me right between the eyes and unless someone gave me a nudge, I’d never spot it.

I also notice this when I’m watching TV programmes, particularly murder mysteries and/or spy-related things. Other people tend to guess whodunnit a lot faster than I can. It’s strange; I’m pretty good at reading people when I see them in reality (better than most, I’d wager), and I love nothing more than people-watching and looking at body language – but when it comes to spotting the televisual murderer, I’m pretty useless. This, of course, means that I get to enjoy the suspense a bit more than the average person, but it does make me worry a bit about myself and my utter lack of guile.

I have no immediate plans to take over a neighbouring country, or to enter into the cut-throat world of business, or anything like that. Strategy, on the whole, doesn’t play a huge part in my life. On a more personal level, I don’t understand game-playing or emotional manipulation (though I was pretty good at it as a toddler, by all accounts) and I’m pretty much a ‘take me as you see me’ type of gal. All of this would be fine, if plotting wasn’t part of what I do on a daily basis.

Not plotting to commit crime, of course, or to do anything more interesting than move my WiP from chapter to chapter. But plotting, nonetheless. And, in its essence, all plotting is the same – you’ve got to be able to see the big picture, anticipate how every player in the situation is likely to move, and see the endgame before it’s immediately apparent. You’ve got to be able to spot the intersections on the Scrabble board, essentially, and tell who the killer is from their first appearance. It’s a skill I’m a bit too straightforward to possess, and it’s something that worries me.

I’m working through a WiP at the moment, and it’s going well. I like the characters. Already, they’ve embroiled themselves in two scenarios I hadn’t anticipated (currently, they’re still in the middle of one, and I’m not one hundred percent sure how they’re going to get out of it – but that’s what’s so interesting about writing). I figure the story is pushing along at a reasonable rate, and I’m happy with it. But then, I think about Scrabble and TV mysteries and me, and I wonder: am I, as a person and a writer, complex enough to write proper plots, ones that aren’t immediately obvious to all and sundry, ones which twist and turn enough to keep a reader interested?

Well. I’m not sure, frankly. I’m not even sure I know how to find out.

At the end of The Eye of the North, when the story was reaching its conclusion, the final bit of the plot took me by surprise. There was a moment when things just went click, and I saw – like a piece of film on fast-forward – exactly how the story could and should wind up. It was great, because up until that moment I hadn’t been certain I knew where to go with it. I loved the idea that it had come out of nowhere, even for me, and while it was a natural progression from all the set-pieces I’d placed right throughout the novel it was also slightly unexpected, and maybe just twisty enough to be exciting. Well, the book has since sold, and (hopefully) before too much longer you’ll all have a chance to read it and tell me if I was right. It’s staking a lot to expect this to happen again, and again, but maybe I should just trust my simplistic little brain to come up with the dastardly stuff while I’m not looking. While I’m cooking up clever dialogue and funny characters and set-pieces, perhaps there is a secret plotter inside me, whirring away, mixing up the threads of story that I’m feeding it and getting them nicely tangled. I hope so.

I believe that good writing is about good characters and believable dialogue, but it’s true that plot is vital, too. Having said that, I could forgive a weakish plot if the characters are fabulous, but I could never forgive poor characters in a cracking plot. Perhaps it’s just as well I’m not trying to be Agatha Christie; I certainly don’t have her way with storylines! But let’s hope I’m just complicated enough to write plots that will be interesting, vaguely surprising and full of enough warmth and heart to keep everyone interested. Fingers crossed!

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.

When Things Are, Surprisingly, Okay

It’s Monday. Not traditionally my favourite day of the week, but this week I’m feeling – well, okay.

I did some writing last week. It wasn’t as much as I’d hoped I’d do, but I’m reasonably happy with how it went. I have yet to read over it, of course, which is always akin to ripping off a sticking plaster, but we’ll get through that. Things went in slightly unexpected directions, and steps were taken towards the development of a plot, and so that has to be good. Right?

Skeptical cat is skeptical. Photo Credit: wadam via Compfight cc

Skeptical cat is skeptical.
Photo Credit: wadam via Compfight cc

Well, we’ll see. This is the fourth incarnation of this particular story. I’ve junked a draft of twenty thousand words, and over the past three or four weeks I’ve managed to write a draft of almost twenty thousand words, and I really want to bring this draft to a satisfactory end before I get heartily and irrevocably sick of the entire thing. Much as this tale has dogged my steps for the last decade, if this draft doesn’t work, there won’t be a draft five.

I’m not at that stage yet, though, which is – of course – another good thing. I’m constantly reminding myself that life is full of good things, if you know where to look (and you keep your eyes peeled). It’s hard to remember this when you feel constantly bombarded with Bad News and the horrors of the world, but it helps to bring things back to a small focus, sometimes. We’re okay. I’m okay. This moment, right here, is okay.

So, despite the fact that it’s blowing an absolute gale outside, I think today will be an okay day. I’m ready to get cracking, and let things come as they will. It’s good to remind myself that a day in which I get anything written (in the jaws of everything else that’s going on in my life/head) is a good day, and that a day in which I get a thousand words down is better than a day in which I get five hundred down, and a day in which I get five hundred written is better than a day in which I stare, burned-out, at the screen, blinking away my own scalding tears.

Today won’t be a day like that. Today, I’m feeling okay – and I haven’t even had my morning cup of tea yet. Today, I will write words. I may not write a thousand, but I will write some – and that is all good.

I’m probably feeling okay today because I had a happy weekend, spent with my dear one, and yesterday the weather was glorious, so we took a drive around the countryside. It was such a soul-lift to see sunshine in the fields and a blue sky overhead (even if the wind was still cold enough to freeze the blood), and I hope that feeling will remain with me throughout this week. Of course, chances are it’ll have dissipated by lunchtime today, but no matter. It’s here now, and that means things, right this moment, in this tiny time-bubble, are okay.

So, I guess I’d better get cracking.

The best of good luck with your projects, and your work, and your life, this week; I hope you’re all feeling okay, too. If you’re not, I recommend going and looking at some nature, and taking a few deep breaths, and feeling the aliveness in your veins and muscles and bones, and taking a moment to be thankful that you have a moment to be thankful in. It usually works for me.

Feeling WiP-ped

The poppers have all been popped. The bubbly’s been drunk. The streamers have faded and the clean-up’s been done and life, in short, has had to return to normal.

So, yes. I got a book deal. It’s fabulous, and all, but it doesn’t mean all my work here is done, or anything. Quite the opposite: it means I’m at the start of something which will, hopefully, take up the rest of my working life.

Writing books.

Photo Credit: srgpicker via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: srgpicker via Compfight cc

I’ve been working on a new WiP for the past few weeks, and the other day I took my word-count past the 20K mark. This, I have to admit, feels pretty good. The story is flowing (so far); things are holding together; I’m even enjoying it, despite the sheer slog. For, even though my mind has been all over the place these past few weeks, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels; rather, it’s time to push forward and keep going. One tiny victory doesn’t mean the battle’s won, and all that.

A general rule when you’re writing is: never gather dust. As in, when you’re waiting to hear back from an agent, or when you’re chewing your nails as competition results loom, or when your book is out on submission with publishers, or – as in my case – when you’re in that limbo between accepting a deal and getting on with the necessary paperwork, the best thing you can do is keep writing. Work on something else. Take your mind off what is, no doubt, the giant crater of stress which has smashed its way into your tender, tender psyche. Soothe yourself with more words, and do whatever you can to keep yourself from dwelling too much on things you can’t control (like the entire publishing industry). Plus, the fact that my deal was for two books means that anything I write which goes towards a second book is a good thing. (I’m conveniently ignoring the fact that my publisher has yet to see, sanction or even vaguely approve of this second book I’m writing, but we can worry about that later. Right?)

It might interest some of you old-timers around here to know that my new WiP is (drumroll…) Tider. Mark III. Yes, yes, I know – haven’t we been down this road before? Well – we have. Tider was the first book I wrote when, as a newbie with no idea about word counts and such, I created a 150,000 word beast of a novel which was part SF, part epic fantasy, part YA and all rubbish. I rewrote it last year in a much neater package, remodelling it as a futuristic MG story about a fracturing family and one girl’s bravery, and it was loads better.

Loads better, but still not right.

The idea for Tider is one which has been in my head for years. I have been tormented by it for at least a decade, now, and every so often the babble of the characters becomes too much. I thought, when writing the last version (the futuristic MG), that I’d cracked it, but it proved not to be the case. The core of the idea is still there, waiting to be told properly, and this newest version is my attempt to finally put it to rest.

I’m a bit afraid that, much like my beloved Inigo Montoya when (SPOILER ALERT) he finally kills the Six-Fingered Man, my life will fall apart when I finally tell this story the way it should be told, and get it out of my brain for once and for all. ‘I have been in the revenge business so long,’ Inigo says, ‘that now that it is over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.’

Preach it, Inigo.

Image: twitter.com

Image: twitter.com

I have been thinking about Tider for so long that now that I’ve finally written it*, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.

Well. I can always move on to my next idea, which is already starting to take shape. I have a heroine, and she has a name (and it’s amazing), and she has a very cool pet which she’s trained to do incredible things, and she…

But, yeah. *ahem* We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, here. Write the current WiP first, and then think about the next. This time, I’m determined to write Tider the way it should’ve been written all along, but if it doesn’t work – again – then I think I’ll hang up my spurs. Maybe I’ll sell the idea to Neil Gaiman and see what he makes out of it.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad plan…

Happy weekend, everyone. Tune in tomorrow for my review of a brilliant, and astonishingly accomplished, book, Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and with any luck I’ll see y’all back here on Monday.

 

*Fingers crossed I’ll be able to say this in a few months!

Finding the Path

Recently, in conversation with other writers, a discussion about plotting came up. Ideas were shared about how to plot, and different techniques for sketching out story arcs and character arcs were examined, and I found it very useful and interesting, even if I didn’t have a huge amount to contribute.

Photo Credit: mpclemens via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mpclemens via Compfight cc

I’m not sure I have a ‘method’, as such; my most successful draft (which was ‘Emmeline’) was written largely on the fly, in a haze of inspiration, and honed to its current state in round after round of edits. I enjoyed that process hugely, and I’m hopeful that I’ll have an experience like it again with another book. You can’t help feeling exhilarated when writing this way, as though there’s a universe of story that you’re being allowed a glimpse into, or a momentary chance to link your brain with a larger plot, one which encompasses everything (if that doesn’t sound too ‘out there’). My current book, however, is different. It’s another beast entirely. It’s not flowing like ‘Emmeline’ did, which may have as much to do with my frame of mind and the situation I’m at in my life as it does with the actual story itself, but whatever the reason, it’s scary.

One of the writers I spoke to described how, when she’s plotting a novel, she plans out every chapter, to the point of writing a page or two on what’s going to happen in that chapter, and that essentially all she then does when creating her first draft is expand upon these detailed notes. This struck me as being a very good idea, and it isn’t something I’ve tried before. I don’t like being too detailed when I’m plotting, because I prefer to leave space for improvisation and last-second ideas, and I love to feel a plot resolving itself as you write, but I also feel entirely stuck right now. So, it’s time to try something else, and I decided I’d give her method a go, as much as I could.

So, yesterday, I wrote a chapter plan for this new book, a book which doesn’t exist yet. I won’t say it’s complete, or anywhere close; it certainly needs a lot more revision and work, and there are gaps in it which I’m trusting myself to figure out later, but the important thing is: I did it. And it helped. Not only did it help me to see that I do have a story to tell, but it showed me that there are more problems with it than I was willing to face up to before, and it also gave me an idea about how to wrap the story up. Again, it might come to nothing or change completely by the time it’s written, but I’m considering it progress.

Most importantly of all, it gave me back some of the enthusiasm I’d lost for this story, and made me eager to tackle it again (even though this will be the fourth time I’ve tried to write it!) I didn’t make notes as full as the ones my writer friend described – they’re far from being two or three pages per chapter (more like two or three lines!) – but at least I have a partial road map now. It has all the major landmarks, but it’s missing some of the finer detail. I’m hoping all that will become clear the closer I get, and I’m determined to get on the path and stay on it until this story is told.

However, as always, I beg you to send me a little of your finest luck. Truly, it seems clearer every day that each book written is a collaborative effort. I’m glad to have y’all on my team!

When You Know, You Know

I’ve been working on a new WiP for a while now – since, perhaps, last November. Things have been going slowly; I’m at just under 13,000 words, which isn’t the worst, but it’s far from where I’d like to be this far into a project. It’s a story I’m enthusiastic about, it has great characters, it has an awesome baddie (hopefully, at least), and I’m fairly sure I know where I want it to go. Every so often I get ‘flashes’ of scenes I haven’t written yet, and they’re deliciously creepy and dark, and different from anything I’ve written before.

But, nevertheless. Something’s not working.

Yesterday, as I struggled to the end of a new chapter, I decided it was time to think about some tough issues and make some hard decisions. I think it’s time to let this proto-draft go, and to start afresh, and that’s upsetting.

I’ve been caught in a dreaded ‘never-ending editing’ loop with this book, too, which doesn’t normally happen to me. I end up reading the whole thing from the beginning every time I try to add to it, instead of just picking up where I left off. This isn’t a bad thing, as such, but it makes for painfully slow progress, and it means that the book’s opening starts to seem unbearably stale and unnervingly boring. However, because it’s not something I normally do I think it’s my brain trying to tell me ‘there’s a problem here.’

Photo Credit: privatenobby via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: privatenobby via Compfight cc

I think the problem is that things in this story escalate too quickly. Basically, it’s a MG tale with a contemporary setting, into which a malevolent and magical force appears, and instead of building up to things gradually – hinting at the creepiness, giving small indications that all is not as it should be, and working on the characters – the full force of the supernatural just bursts onto the scene all in one go, and it comes across as rather melodramatic and over-the-top. Instead of being scary, it seems a bit Hammer Horror-esque.

This, needless to say, is A Bad Thing.

I think there’s only one thing for it, and that’s to start again from scratch, pick a different starting point, and firmly establish the ‘real’ world before I start to bring in hints of the ‘other’. Perhaps it was enthusiasm, perhaps it was stress (I’m leaning more towards stress, to be honest), perhaps it was self-pressure caused by my intrinsic need to be doing something, to be constantly moving forward, but I’ve made an error of judgement with this story so far, and with writing as with so much else in life: when you know, you know. Sometimes, writing is a struggle, and that’s to be expected: it doesn’t always flow like you’re taking dictation from a higher power. It’s work, at the end of the day. But when writing feels like hacking through solid rock, it can indicate a problem, whether it’s with your writing or your life in general, or both. It doesn’t always mean you need to stop and move away from what you’re doing (sometimes taking a rest is enough), but sometimes it does. This is one of those times.

So, today will be spent picking through my original plan for this story (for some reason, the draft I was working on diverged rather a lot from the initial ‘shape’ I’d envisaged; some of these changes were good, and will be kept, and others not so much), and making some tentative steps towards beginning again and finding a new ‘voice’ for the story. Hopefully it will be clear pretty quickly whether I’ve managed to make things worse or better, and I can take it from there.

Of course, the fact that it’s January probably isn’t doing a lot to help. It doesn’t do to overlook the depressive power of the first month of the year! But there’s more to it than just that, I know. There’s only one thing for it, and that’s to keep putting words on the page – but I’ve got to make sure they’re the right words, in the right story, and that writing them doesn’t leave me feeling vaguely empty and unsatisfied inside. I’m hopeful I’ll find the proper path again, and I know this experience has been a valuable one. You can only find the right path when you’ve been down a few ‘wrong’ ones… So, I’m strapping on my hiking boots and getting on with it.

Happy Wednesday, everyone. I hope the world is well with you today, wherever you may be.