Tag Archives: Writing

Notes on writing

Jan-No-Wri-Mo Week 3

Look, I’m not going to make the week 3 target either, but I’m still at a higher word count than I’ve ever managed for a WriMo before, so I’m not too worried. Also I know what I’m like; when I see the end I’ll make a run for it and push out a lot more words. With any luck we won’t continue to have as many days over 40°C in the next week and a half either. Okay, enough with the excuses…

The project I’ve picked to work on is a pantser novel (no plan).  I chose this because my previous experience with a pantser project was the fastest I’ve ever written a novel. But even then, it took nearly 3 months. Part of the reason why is that I was working full-time, but the other part is because I really turned stuff over in my head before I sat down and wrote. 31 days of January doesn’t give you as much time to do that.

My new way to counter this (only started this week), as well as getting a little more exercise, is to go for a dawn walk. It’s summer here, so dawn is the best time to walk because of the heat, but with all the birds singing around you it is also really inspiring to start thinking about what the novel is going to do next. I realise that I used to do this on the bus ride when I was working, and that was missing in my #JanNoWriMo equation.

So yes, the word count is not on track, but I always knew week 2 and 3 would be bad, so I’m not letting it get to me. I think I’ll get there in the end. I’m also getting to know my community a bit more; there are a lot of dawn walkers out there. I wonder if any of them are trying to write novels?

Jan-No-Wri-Mo

NaNoWriMo is a global event that most writers have tried at least once. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that you write 50,000 words over the month of November. The thing is, NaNoWriMo was invented by people in the northern hemisphere, where November is cold and everything is starting to slow down.

In the southern hemisphere, exactly the opposite is true. The weather is warming up, people start socialising and often we begin our Christmas catch-ups in November. The last thing you want to do is lock yourself away from the first of the beautiful weather and write a novel.

That’s why this year I’m going to do JanNoWriMo. January Novel Writing Month. January is hot in most of Australia, so staying inside an air-conditioned room to hit a word target is very attractive. January is also (for many) holiday time, actually giving us the time to write. And finally; January is 31 days long, giving us one more day than in November to hit our word target.

We are just over half way through December, more than enough time to plan your next project. I’ve got one in mind so I’m going to get as much of the pre-work done in the next two weeks as possible so I can hit the ground running on January 1st.

Can you think of a better way to start crossing off your New Year’s resolutions than by writing your novel in the first month of 2018? Who wants to join me?

#JanNoWriMo

Lonely occupation

Something you will hear time and time again is how ‘lonely’ it is to be a writer. I’ve always thought people said that because of the long hours you spend alone at the computer writing. This has always seemed a bit of a contradiction to me, because if you are writing you are spending time with your characters so you are not alone.

This week I got hit with the full brunt of the lonely occupation. After 329 days (and of that over two months spent in the ‘number 1 in the queue’ position) my novella got rejected. I really liked that novella and thought it had a chance. To really rub salt into the wound it was a form letter rejection, so much so that it went to my junk mail, and I opened it just before I started a particularly taxing day at work.

There was no-one I could tell. My work colleagues think I’m wasting my time with my writing, so it would just be confirmation to them that I’m being foolish, and my friends and family are all working through fairly serious issues at the moment, so I didn’t want to burden them with the ‘problem’ of my dreams not coming true. Instead all I could do was think to myself ‘that sucks’ and get back to work building intranet pages.

I have got a writer friend who I will burden with my disappointment when we catch up next week, but I know by then I will have gotten over it and integrated it into my reality. But I can say that this week I felt like a lonely writer. Then I felt guilty for not appreciating all the good things in my life. For me, writing and guilt go hand in hand so I guess I’m normalising already. But I’ll chalk this up as just another sucky week and move on. At least gay marriage was legalised, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Non-break break

I’ve been saying for a few weeks that I’ve been on a break from writing. It was only when I was explaining what this meant to a non-writing friend the other night that I realised that my idea of a break is probably not most people’s idea of a break.

The past month I’ve been spending a LOT of time thinking about stories. I’ve been trying them on for size, working out which one fires me up the most to spend a lot of time with it. The other thing I’ve been doing is reviewing a lot of old writing. I’ve been checking out where I got up to on old stories, reading plans for stories, updating all my excel spreadsheets so I get a good picture of all my non-finished stories. Basically getting an overview of everything outstanding.

Interestingly, I’ve also been writing. While not working on a new project just yet, I have been prepping stuff for send-out, giving work to beta-readers and writing this blog each week. I haven’t counted any of this as writing.

My new definition of ‘writing’ is when I am totally immersed in one project. When I come home from work and get onto the computer instead of the TV. I think about it when I’m on the bus, walking to the shop, or even (scarily) when driving familiar roads. Writing for me now is when I have made a commitment to a story to get it finished.

That’s what I’ve not done over the last month, and that’s why I say I’ve been on a ‘break’. But I think it is time to take the plunge. By this time next week, I plan to be in a committed relationship… with my next novel.

Top 10 Writer things to do – Tell people you are a writer

This one took me a long time to do. I’ve been writing stories for my own pleasure since primary school, but it wasn’t until I turned 30 and had the first of my (what turned out to be annual) mid-life crises that I decided to tell people I was a writer.

It was a really big deal for me when I first did it, and I was nervous. I hate that question ‘what do you do’ when you first meet someone, but now I had something more honest to say than whatever career I was lolling about in at the time. So I put on a confident face (totally faked) and said ‘I’m a writer’.

I was nervous because I expected to be ridiculed or pitied, but that didn’t happen. Sure, you get the occasional eyebrow-raise, but for the most part people are supportive and interested. And more than a few of them confess to aspirations of writing as well.

After we establish that I write sci fi/horror/fantasy they usually look at me a little differently (I haven’t dressed as a goth since Uni, so look a little beige these days). Many will even ask if they can read something. I love this request, I see it as a really supportive thing to say, but I also never hand anything over. My rule of thumb is wait until a person asks three times, because that means that they really want to read something.

To be honest, since I’ve been saying I’m a writer I’ve only found one downside… People who don’t write sometimes have ‘this great idea for a story’ – which invariably is not great, not original, or only makes sense to that person. My standard come-back is that they should write the story, and to be honest, they should. They have the vision and they know the story, so they should write it. Then there can be another person out there who can proudly proclaim themselves to be a writer.

Motivation

Writing a novel takes a lot of time. Editing a novel (for me) takes even longer. There are a lot of hours in a novel, or even in a long ‘short’ story. My experience has been that exuberant enthusiasm has never held on for long enough to get me to the end.

Motivation to write generally falls into two different categories; carrot and stick. The carrot is things like imagining typing the words ‘the end’, visualising your novel in a book shop, or the burning desire to get your characters through this testing time and see them out of the terrible situation you put them in.

Then there is the stick, which is where pretty much all of my motivation comes from. The stick is things like not wanting to stay in your day job, knowing how disappointed you’ll be in yourself if you get to the end of the week without having written any new words, and the old chestnut of all-pervasive writer’s guilt – which sucks the joy out of all non-writing moments, rendering even the most delicious Haigh’s chocolate unpalatable.

Recently I have tried to find a different carrot method by looking at other successful people and asking myself ‘what would they do if they wanted to be a writer?’ These people don’t have to be writers, they just need to be people who have pulled their finger out and succeeded at something through hard work and determination. They also need to be people you genuinely admire.

How it works is this; you find yourself spread out on the lounge with the cat curled up beside you and some terrible reality TV on the screen. You’ve had a tough day in the office and you are considering finishing off that bottle of wine you opened on the weekend. Then you ask yourself ‘What would <insert person-you-admire’s name here> do right now?’ If you’ve picked the right person it will hopefully get you off the lounge and into your novel.

I’ve been using this for over a year now, and it has helped me get to the computer time and time again. By the time I write my first sentence it all becomes about me again, and wanting to finish the story, but when it comes to getting the computer fired up and the TV turned off I really need to give credit these other people.

Of course the previous two weeks where I didn’t write a word show that this doesn’t work all the time, but it has worked often enough that I’ll continue to use it. And to be honest in the last week I have written nearly 5,000 words and the question I’ve been asking myself is ‘what would *I* do if I was serious about being a writer’ and that feels a whole lot more positive. It also means I can appreciate my Haigh’s chocolate again.

Wake up call?

In the past two weeks I have done no fiction writing. I don’t feel bad about it (like I usually do) but neither do I feel particularly good. If I’m honest it has left me a little empty. I have also been struck by how much free time I actually have. Now I understand why my friends with kids and families to organise question what I do with my days. I had no idea how much time I filled with writing until I stopped.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not spent all that time on the lounge in front of the TV (but a big chunk has gone that way). I’ve been gardening, exercising, cooking proper meals and giving my friends and family the attention they deserve. I’ve enjoyed this time away, but I can feel the hole inside me opening wider every day. I chose to ignore it, until now.

Yesterday I started coming down with my first cold in many months. Maybe even years. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a cold. I can’t help but wonder if my dropping the ball on my writing might have contributed. My body is telling me that I’ve got the balance out of whack.

I know people will think it is a long stretch to draw this conclusion, but I am a big believer in mind over matter, and I know that right now things feel wrong by not writing. I wrote more in the past 24 months than I had in the previous 6 years and I have been pretty healthy in the past 24 months. I truly believe my life was nicely balanced then. Now it is not.

My muse is not with me, and I have no ideas for stories, but today I’m going to write. Just putting those words down has sparked a flicker of excitement in my belly. Let’s see if I knock this cold on the head before it really takes hold. If it does, then I think I have to accept my fate and commit to writing for the rest of my days. I really like that idea.

Top 10 Writer things to do – get an online presence

I did think about not putting this one in. I have to be honest, I’m struggling with the whole online presence thing at the moment and am starting to question how much value there is in it. But if you do get published, it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for people to find more of your writing if they go looking for it. That means being online.

After seven years of blogging, I wouldn’t sing the praises of doing that, besides which, I’ve heard that blogging is so ‘naughties anyway. I know that kind of begs the question about why I am here now, well… I’m very pig-headed and when I start something I struggle to let it go. I also find the weekly blog is good for my discipline.

Nearly all writers have at least two social media accounts; twitter/Facebook/Instagram/stuff I’m too old to know about, but I also think that going the whole hog and setting up a website is worth the effort. Even if you don’t get many hits for the first few months (years/decades) it is the place that someone who finds a short story of yours will invariably end up if they like your writing. This gives you an opportunity to let readers know a little bit about you, provide links to more of your writing, and even give you a place to publish stories.

As for using social media, I would encourage you to set up a writing-specific account/page. Look into the rules for the app in question, because some do not allow for multiple accounts for one person and if you do it they can shut you down. In those cases, set up a sub-page or something that is just for writing info. You need somewhere that you share just with your friends for when you want to do your Trump rants after a few too many red wines, that somewhere is NOT your writing account.

Finally, set guidelines for how much time you are going to spend on this side of your writing career. Particularly when you are not making money from your writing it is easy to burn hours chasing a few more followers which really won’t translate into much value compared to if you spent that time creating your next story. There is no point having writer presence online if it means you stop writing!

Find me at:

Twitter: @nataliejepotts (yeah, I know, I should have gone for something much shorter)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nataliejepotts/
Website:  www.nataliejepotts.com

P.S. I’m no online expert, so please don’t look at my content as an example of what you should do. Think of it more as encouragement to just to do something!

What would I know?

Okay, so I thought I had the answers about how to get stuff written. I was wrong. This new, dark novel is killing me. It’s like wading through a cold tar pit in the dark with a blindfold on. I have no idea where I’m going, my progress is slow and it is terribly uncomfortable. I’ve decided that I can’t spend this much time is such a bleak space. It is making me depressed, and this isn’t what I want from writing.

I get the feeling I would need to be in a super-happy place in my life to have the resilience required to write this novel, and something tells me that if I was fortunate enough to find myself in that place I wouldn’t want to write the novel. I really can see that there is a reason why I have only written dark short stories before. If you can’t close the door on the story with a ‘the end’ before you walk away from the computer, it follows you around.

So for the first time in two years I’m going to have to concede defeat; I’m quitting the novel. I have decided it is best for my mental health, and it is much better to make this decision two weeks into the project rather than two months (or more). It also leaves me quarter of the year to finish something else. And after the two weeks I’ve just had, I think it is going to be something fun.

It will be interesting to see how my outlook on the rest of my life changes (if at all) when I start spending my imaginary life in a better place. I think there might be a much bigger crossover between my two worlds than I realised. I’m still not sure what is crossing over which way though. I hope changing the fiction will change the fact. I can’t keep eating this much chocolate.

Project promiscuity

Okay, I know I’m inviting a bunch of really bad spam from that title, but it was the most accurate way I could think of to describe my old approach to writing. I’ve been writing all of my adult life, and until the last few years I was a big believer in writing what I felt like writing. Our moods change a lot, and when you are happy you don’t really want to get bogged down in a depressing or dark piece of fiction. So I always used to have a number of projects on the go at once.

I ended up with a lot of novels that only got to chapter 5. I also had a lot of partially written short stories. What I had very few of was finished pieces. I also did almost no editing because the lure of new words always won.

About three years ago I decided I needed to finish stuff, so I tried to focus on just one project at a time. It didn’t work, as soon as I got to a difficult bit in my story I’d set it aside and start thinking about another story. Thinking turned into writing, and next thing I knew I had another novel that only made it to chapter 5.

Not many people know this, but a few years ago I spent a week believing I had a brain tumor. My doctor prepped me for it with too much conviction, and due to a whole manner of mishaps it took a week between the doctor’s diagnosis, my CT scan and getting the results that the doctor was wrong. I had a bunch of really bad symptoms that gave incredible verisimilitude to my incorrect diagnosis, so needless to say I did a LOT of thinking about the future, and more specifically, how short that future might be.

Above everything else I wanted to finish my novel. Despite my symptoms and stress, every night after work I came home and wrote like a machine. I’d hit a tough bit and I would slog through it to get to the next part where I felt more comfortable about what was happening. I didn’t let any other projects distract me.

By the time I discovered my brain was clear (and disappointingly showed no signs of secret microchips implanted by alien abductors), I had realised that I could force myself to focus. That novel was EveryWere, my pantser novel, and I finished writing it in just over 3 months.

That was a game changer for me. Since then I have picked just the one project at a time and regardless of mood, inspiration, or haunting writing daemons, I work on only that project. I have finished another novel, two novellas and five short stories since then. Probably more completed words than in my entire writing career before that time.

A lot of people enjoy project promiscuity, and they can make it work for them. But if you are like I was, and you aren’t finishing anything, then don’t wait for a terminal diagnosis to get yourself focussed. Try being faithful to just one project. You might go through some tough times together, but you may also find yourself in a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your writing than you have ever had before.

Happy writing.