Tag Archives: Progress

Chopstick wisdom

The other day I was washing some chopsticks in the sink, and while rinsing them I accidentally dropped them down the drain. I think if I had been trying to do it I wouldn’t have managed to get them lined up so perfectly. When I realised to where they had magically disappeared, I couldn’t help but laugh.

But this left the dilemma of how to get them out. I knew that if worse came to worse I could unscrew the pipes and pull them out, but it would be messy and require probably more strength than I have. So I got creative. I grabbed another chopstick and globbed on a nicely worked (and therefore warm and sticky) piece of blu-tack.

It only took three attempts to get the first chopstick out, but the second one proved far more difficult. I brought out the hairdryer in an effort to dry the down-the-drain chopstick so it would be more likely to stick, but even this had only limited success. The chopstick would come part way up, but as soon as I started to pull the blu-tack through the drain opening the stick would drop like a stone.

It was a bit frustrating and I wanted to give up, but I realised there was a good lesson in life here. I could give up and live with a chopstick in my drain, catching all the goop, and no doubt eventually blocking the drain, or I could persist and maybe succeed. I did persist and only two more attempts later I managed to snag the chopstick and pull it out.

The thing is, you never know which time you will pull the chopstick up and it will hold long enough for you to get it out. The only thing you can be sure of is that if you stop trying to pull it out, it will stay there. If I keep sending out my writing, it will get picked up some time. If it stays on my computer and never sees the light of day, it will never get out into the big wide world.

So, I’ll keep sending out my stories. I’ve pulled out a few chopsticks before, so I’m confident I can do it again if I just keep trying.

Jan-No-Wri-Mo Week 4

I might be going out on a limb here, but I think I’m going to hit this week’s target. I kind of have to, because even if I do get to 44K by the end of today, that still leaves 6K to write to get to 50K by midnight Wednesday. I think I might still be writing up until midnight Wednesday -which coincidentally is about what time the lunar eclipse is going total in Adelaide, so I wanted to be up anyway.

Will I finish the novel? I think so. Are there some gaps in it; yes without doubt. This will definitely be the scratchiest of any of my scratch drafts to date. It’s the first time I’ve written stuff like <describe the house in more detail here> in my manuscript. I’m cool with that. If something was going to hold me up, or I needed to research it to get it 100% right, then I’ve left those bits for the edit.

Would I do JanNoWriMo again? I don’t know. First of all, I am not sure if I’ll ever get all of January off work again, and there is no way I would have managed the 50k if I was working. Secondly, January is super hot! We had so many days either over 40°C or near enough to. It was awful trying to sit at a computer in those conditions, and probably not terribly healthy. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my previous novels were written over winter.

Finally, I don’t know that I did the novel justice. I suspect I will have whole chapters that are going to get cut. I also feel like I pushed the characters along in places they wouldn’t necessarily have gone if I had given myself a few more days to ponder. As it was I had to take a three-day break mid-JanNoWriMo to massively brainstorm to work out what was happening next. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do. I guess I’ll find out when I go back to do the edit.

Next week I’ll let you know some of the lessons I learned from JanNoWriMo, as well as letting you know what my next project will be. Besides finding a job, of course. I guess I’d better start thinking about that too!

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.

Lists

I love task lists. Their big brothers are Excel spreadsheets, which I also adore, but task lists hold a special kind of magic for me. They are a promise of achievements yet to come. Just writing the list gives you a taste of what it is like to complete them.

I have an ongoing list of stories I want to complete. Each title has a box next to it for me to tick (in red so it stands out) when it is completed, and a space for the date. This list is constantly growing, but also looks very nicely actioned. That’s probably my favourite list.

I also have a weekly list of 20 tasks; 10 personal items, 10 writing items. Anything not completed by the end of the week gets rolled over to the following week. I try to always achieve a pass mark, but sometimes I only scrape a ‘C-‘. I’ve been doing these task lists for over 10 years.

This week I ramped it up a notch. After writing my 20 tasks I divvied them up into daily tasks and allocated them to each day of the week. This was in an effort to stop me from getting to Sunday and finding I have 15 things to complete (as is often the case).

I still have one day of the week to go, but it has worked brilliantly! Even on days when I thought I had my evenings free, but then they turned out not to be so, I still completed my tasks. I skipped out on most of my usual TV viewing for the week, and got to bed a little later than usual on two nights, but the tasks got done.

I won’t lie, it was a lot of work and a bit of stress, but as I ticked off those tasks at the end of each day, I had an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Not only that, but for the first time in months I’m going to be getting at least an A level pass even if I do nothing for the rest of Sunday –and that feels fantastic!!!

For those not used to task lists, a good way to set them up is to think about your major goals (finish writing your novel, go back to Uni, whatever) and then break those down into smaller and smaller steps toward the big goal (write novel plan, find academic transcript etc.). Those are the steps you put on your weekly task list. If you find you are not getting around to ticking them off, break them into even smaller steps. It is amazing how much you can achieve. Try it!

Caring about characters

This week I finished writing another novel. That’s four novels completely finished off in my life, two in the last 18 months. With the first three, when I got to ‘The End’ I bawled my eyes out. This time I didn’t. I don’t think that bodes well.

When I cry it is not because the books are so soppy at the end, only one was really, but it is because I know I’m leaving the characters and I won’t see what happens in their lives any more. It is like breaking up with a bunch of friends all at once.

Does not crying in the last book mean I don’t care what happens to these characters? If that is the case, why would anyone else care about them? If a reader doesn’t care about the characters then they will have no drive to turn the page. I think as soon as I can work out why I have no emotional ties to these characters then I can fix the book.

On the up side, I got my beta-reader feedback about my other novel, and I am so excited to get back in there and incorporate what was given to me. I can’t help but think some of that excitement is because I miss those characters and I want to spend more time with them. I think that is how I should feel with all my books.

 

Croquet writing

I’m in the middle of my next novel, and after the success of my last attempt at pantsing, I was tempted to try that again. This time, however, I’m on a very strict timeline, so I can’t run the risk of running totally off track. If I do that I might not be able to finish it before I’m forced to go back to work.

So in an effort to capture the speed and agility of pantsing, but have the dependability of planning, I’ve come up with a marriage between the two which I’m calling croquet writing. I’ve set some target events that have to happen, but how I get between those is anyone’s guess. So like the hoops on a croquet lawn, I know what I’m aiming for at any point in the story.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I haven’t invented anything, it is just planning but with a bit less plan, but it might be exactly what I need. So far it is working, I have the same feeling of having no idea what I’m going to write when I sit down at the keyboard that I had when I was pantsing, but unlike pantsing, I can clomp through a rough patch to get onto the next plot point and then run from there.

I suspect there will be a lot of editing required for the rough patches, but maybe not as much as for the pantser where I had to cut out whole chunks of stuff that went off on a tangent that was never realised, or where I had to go back and insert foreshadowing for stuff I didn’t know was going to happen.

I’m at the half-way point now, which is past my usual fall-over spot in a novel, so with any luck I’ll be writing those magic words soon; The End.

Script

The past two weeks I’ve been trying to write a movie script. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to write a movie. I actually wanted to make movies before I learned that books could be just as cool and so I changed my target to novels instead. So thirty years later I thought I’d go back to the original goal.

‘Show don’t tell’ is never as true as in a script, because telling isn’t really an option given that the audience watch the movie. True, you could do a voiceover, but people don’t go to movies to listen to a story, they’d get a talking book if they wanted that.

This means most thought, self-talk and observations are out the window. It also means quick bits of back-story need to be said aloud, not glossed over in a sneaky paragraph. All this is fine, I’ve watched plenty of movies in my time so I think I’m across all that, but movies have something books don’t have; viewer point-of-view.

This means you not only have to think about what the viewer is seeing, but how they see it. The story doesn’t just unfold for you as a writer, you have to know from which direction you are looking at it, who is sitting where in relation to what and all sorts of other things that I rarely ever mention in a story.

I know the director takes on a lot of this work when they actually film the movie, but if I want the viewers to notice something, in the script I have to do a CLOSE UP of it. I also have to CAPITALISE all the visual and sound effect as well as every character and any major props. It is very different to writing a novel where I just capture what is happening any way I can.

I’m not going to give up on the script, it is something I would like to master, but I’m not progressing very well and my time off is limited, so I’m going to spend it on what I know I can do. So back to the YA novel writing for me, the script has waited over thirty years to be written, a few more weeks or months won’t do it any harm.

Editing… still

In my opinion, there is nothing exciting about editing. It doesn’t drive me to the computer like new words. New words are like a wave that you catch and ride and you have no idea how far or how long you are riding until you collapse on the shore at the end, exhausted. Editing is like wading through mud. Well that’s how it is for me.

To make things even more tedious I found a time glitch in my novel. It is a Were-story, so the full moon is pretty important, and I realised the date (which I never mention) has a full moon happening on a Friday when it can’t happen. I need my people to be people on that Friday night, not Weres. I was writing the story with the calendar up behind me, so I thought I had it covered, but I must have misread it. That’s what editing is for; double-checking everything and finding all the places where you got it wrong.

So two hours of research later I had new dates that would fit and keep my Friday human-only. Two hours of research that probably didn’t really need to happen because I never mention the date anyway, but I would KNOW that I had it wrong. Editing won’t let you keep going if you know you have something wrong. Editing nags a bit.

The up side is that editing does not require you to be overly motivated, this is red-pen work after all, so you can force yourself to do it in small snippets or large chunks, whatever time you can spare. For me I can stop mid-paragraph if I need to, so it means I’ll get it finished in the timeframe I set if I can keep forcing myself to sit down and do it.

The problem is I am getting a bit sick of being muddy, I’m keen to ride another wave.

Editing

I know many will disagree, but I think good editing can turn nearly anyone into a good writer. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to edit your work if you want to present your story in the best light possible. I just wish I didn’t hate doing it so much.

I’m editing the pantser novel at the moment, and just by the very nature of pantsing there is a lot of editing required. I have to insert foreshadowing, play up character traits to help make secondary characters more recognisable, sometimes insert them into scenes where they previously weren’t present and generally cut out any questions that were raised in the novel that I never went on to answer.

It is hard work.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes to edit the pantser novel compared with editing my more traditional planned novels, which generally just needed a prose tidy-up. I think what I am seeing now is the compromise that comes from the much faster pantser writing process. It is almost enough to put me off trying it again. Almost.

Targets

I know it is the last post of the month so I’m meant to be doing my author top ten, but with my last day of work quickly approaching, I just wanted to expand a little on my expectations for my time off.

Firstly, let me quell any concerns you may have if you think I’m expecting to write and sell a novel that is somehow going to make me rich. Even if Penguin did reply to my email and said they wanted to publish my novel, from that moment to the first royalty cheque would be at least 18 months, more likely 2+ years. This time off is not about making money out of writing, I know that I will be going back to work at the end of it.

For most of us who write, it is not a choice. We get grumpy and guilty when we don’t do it, and we are happy to miss out on everything else in life when we do write. After a while it isn’t about how many people read your story (and let’s not even talk about how many actually like it) eventually it is just about getting the story written. You want to breathe life into that thing that constantly haunts you.

In the past few years I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everyone likes what I write. My story Stanhope’s finest was a lot of fun to write, and it is the sort of thing I want to do more of, but lots of people don’t like that story, some have said they hated it, but I know there is a small group out there who like Greta as much as I do.

So this time off is not about getting anything published, I will try, don’t get me wrong, but if I come out of the next 3 months with a finished first draft of my next novel I’ll be happy. The best thing about that target is it is 100% within my sphere of influence, unlike getting published which seems to be about 60% luck.