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Posted on 31 July 2017 14:17

Yesterday, I experienced a profound sense of accomplishment.

 

The four-month writing period of the Six Month Novel Programme is coming to an end, and I actually finished writing the last scene of my current draft about three weeks ago.  That felt pretty great, not least because it happened on a writing date with a friend who was also there when I finished my first draft of the novel nearly two years ago.

 

My task for yesterday was to put the whole thing into one document and then go through it to indent all the paragraphs, separate all the individual scenes, and add in the chapter breaks.  I thought it would just be a tedious exercise in formatting, and it did indeed take many hours.  However, along the way, I spotted a few easily correctable errors, expanded the climax scene, and added in a few lines that significantly improved the thematic pay-off in the epilogue.  All those felt like important changes, and I was glad to have made them.

 

What prompted my surge of satisfaction with the novel, though, was just the act of seeing it as a cohesive whole.  Even though I wasn’t actually reading it, I still scanned through the whole thing, discovered where the natural chapter breaks fell, and got a real sense of it as a proper story.  It’s 93,000 words long, and it tells a complete tale with characters who change and develop, and a world I have created, which faces challenges and comes out the other side.

 

Much more so than typing THE END at the bottom a scene that was just one of many I wrote and edited over the last four months, this act of creating one file with all the words in one place has made me feel as if I’ve really written a novel.  And it feels really, really good.

 

There’s still a long way to go, of course.  Editing boot camp starts next week, and only really focuses on the first 3000 words.  After that, I need to go through the other 90,000 words myself, ask some good friends for more feedback, spend several months rewriting, and then hopefully submit it for agent responses at Winchester Writers’ Conference next June.  That’s a lot of work to get done, for an uncertain outcome nearly a year in the future.

 

But I have a novel.  And I have a plan.  And it suddenly all feels very possible…

 

XXXXX

 

 

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Posted on 05 June 2017 17:09

I didn’t write anything all last week.  Then, I had a tiring, somewhat stressful but ultimately enjoyable weekend away at a gaming event, getting home later last night than planned.  And I’d completely forgotten about my dentist appointment this morning.  All I wanted to do with the rest of today was sit on the sofa and watch TV.  But I had a writing date scheduled with a writer friend this afternoon, so I duly made my way to Brick Lane to meet her.

On my journey, I thought about how fried my brain was, how tired my body was, and how much I didn’t want to spend the afternoon writing.  I was feeling demoralised about the intensive novel drafting programme I’m in the middle of, and the short story with the looming deadline felt like a millstone around my neck.  I was sure I wouldn’t be able to focus, that I’d get nothing done, and all I would get for my trip out would be more despair.

Then, I arrived at the cafe, got myself some tea, chatted for a while with my friend, and settled in to write.

Three hours later, I had edited two chapters of my novel, written an entirely new (and very exciting) scene, completed 1,200 words of the short story (only 2000 to go), and pruned another short story to fit the word limit of an upcoming competition.  I had also found multiple new submission opportunities in the back of Writing Magazine, my go-to place for where to send my completed work.

So, after failing to schedule writing time last week, and feeling as if I would never write another word again because it was just too hard, I had a tremendously productive afternoon and now feel very pleased with myself.  I’m also enthused about getting to the wholly new section of my novel, rather than being terrified of it, and I am confident I can complete the short story in plenty of time before the deadline.

An assigned slot of two to three hours, outside the flat, with another writer to keep me focused and provide companionship *always* produces good results, no matter how I feel on the day.  But this is a lesson I have to keep re-learning, as my brain is so very good at persuading me I have to be in the “right frame of mind” to write, and that today is not it.

At least the lesson was very fresh in my mind when my friend suggested we meet again on Sunday for more of the same.  I said a very enthusiastic yes, and now it’s in my calendar so I’ll have to go!

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 17 April 2017 16:46

After two writing weeks on the Six Month Novel Programme, I am six chapters and over 30,000 words into the new draft, which is way more than I anticipated.

The outline has changed multiple times, I’ve discovered major issues with the order of events, my favourite character has disappeared from the story altogether, and I’ve tied myself up in knots over making sure all the most important plot points are covered early on.

But, overall, I feel pretty good about what I’ve got so far, even though my plan for how to go about it went out the window after the first scene.

My original intention was to do a blank page re-write, without referring to the original draft.  Now, the reason for doing this was because I have a lot of new material to incorporate and I had no idea how to insert this into what I already had, without getting in a mess and potentially screwing it up completely.

However, by putting together a detailed outline over the last month, I can easily see how existing scenes fit into the new structure, where the new information needs to be added, and what of the original can potentially be kept in the new draft.  So, instead of opening a new document and just writing the whole thing again, I’ve actually been cutting and pasting bits of the old draft into what I’m doing now, and then editing them as required.

It sort of feels like cheating, but then why duplicate effort unnecessarily?  I’m not simply shoving them in wholesale, with no thought as to how it all fits together.  I’ve had to do quite a lot of revision to meet the new POV structure, and I’ve been editing as I go, to address some of the stylistic issues that came up from previous feedback.

I was worried that just re-writing everything might be boring, and that it might lead to be skipping over important scenes, or missing out vital moments altogether, so I’m avoiding that, and making more progress more quickly than I thought possible.  However I approach this draft, I’m going to need to go through it all multiple more times in the revision stages, so I don’t think it’s too much of a problem using old material at this point.  I have good writer friends lined up as fresh eyes to give me feedback once I complete this new draft, and that’s when I can really work on the stylistic stuff.

I hope I’m not just finding arguments to justify being lazy.  I don’t think I am.  The purpose of this new draft is to get all the exciting new action into the existing story, and it feels like I’m succeeding with that so far.  Things will inevitably get tougher as I get further through the story, as I’ll need to create more and more new material, so my method in these early days feels like a good way to get back into the novel and comfortable with working to an ambitious schedule.

Regardless, I have over 30,000 words, and they feel like good words.  So, why question it?

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 02 April 2017 14:40

When I wrote the first draft of my novel, it took five years, a lot of teeth-pulling, and a gradual progression from the original 1,500 word story to the eventual 90,000 word novel.  There was a lot of mystery and excitement along the way, coupled with periods of staring into the void, wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

Now, I’ve signed up for the Six Month Novel programme, and I’m in a whole new world of plotting and outlining.

This process is entirely new to me.  Oddly, considering how much I plan and schedule every other part of my life, I’ve never been a planner when it comes to my writing.  But, if you’re intending to complete a whole new draft of a novel in six month, you really need to know where you’re going with it!

So, I’ve created bullet lists, identified four point-of-view characters, categorised the main arc plot and a couple of sub-plots, and done character studies for the most important people who populate the story.  And, today, I completed a proper outline chart, with scene and chapters and outcomes, and everything!

Somehow, along the way, though, my favourite character seems to have disappeared from the story altogether, and I’m really not sure how that happened.  I got halfway through the outline chart, and discovered I hadn’t mentioned him yet, and I proceeded to the end of the plan without needing him to appear at all.  That was quite a shock, I can tell you!

This time around, the novel starts in a slightly different time and place, so the introductory scene for that character has been cut.  Meanwhile, a character of a similar personality and background has come more to the foreground, with his own point of view scenes, and it turns out I don’t need both of them.  The point-of-view character can do everything the now-defunct character previously did, and this will likely make their sub-plot tighter and more impactful.

Apparently, outlining can be brutal!  But, I’m hopeful that the exercise will result in a leaner, more focused, and more interesting novel.  And that can only be a good thing.  I believe it’s called ‘killing your darlings’ and you don’t even have to be intentionally armed with a pruning implement to do it.

Now, it’s on to the actual writing, which starts tomorrow, and will continue apace until I have 100,000 words by the end of July!  I wonder if any more characters will have disappeared by then…

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 13 March 2017 20:04

Whilst on the retreat in Devon last month, I got to talking to my lovely host, Charlie of Urban Writers’ Retreats, and she mentioned she was taking applications for her annual Six Month Novel Programme.

Since I had just reached the conclusion that the next step for my novel was a blank page rewrite, I went upstairs to my room and submitted my application that afternoon.  It was only after I had been accepted onto the programme that I really thought about what it would mean.  And that was an intensive four-week plotting bootcamp, four months of writing 5000-6000 words per week, and a four-week editing bootcamp to round things off.

Considering I’m currently working four days a week in a department that is chronically short-staffed, and I have a very full social calendars of exciting trips and events to look forward to, perhaps committing to writing a novel in six months was not the most sensible thing for me to do…

I started out terrified and very anxious about the whole thing.  However, we just started week two, and the amount of thinking, planning, discussing and brainstorming I have done is phenomenal!  After months of languishing in notebooks and on my PC, my novel is now firmly back in my head and the second draft is rapidly taking shape, and in really interesting ways.

The Six Month Novel community is warm, welcoming and active.  Our fearless leaders, Charlie and Amie have provided a brilliant structure and lots of encouragement and advice, and the whole thing suddenly feels quite doable, and really rather exciting.

I was having lunch with some friends today, and telling them all about it.  One of them pointed out that, by the time we go on holiday together in September, my draft and initial editing will be done, and (considering I haven’t actually started writing it yet) that was a really weird thought.  But a good one.

I’ve already decided who my four POV characters are, drawn a rough flow chart of the main events, planned a brainstorming session with some good friends to hash out some of the world-building and, crucially, decided on the opening scene.

So, here’s to a crazy few months of creativity - and a new version of the novel at the other end.

Check back here for updates, and let’s hope they continue to be as positive as this one!

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 11 February 2017 09:16

I'm part of a collaborative writing project this year, called Narrathon.  It's being organised by NAWG and involves 19 writers completing a chapter each to produce a children's novel for publication in the second half of the year.  The project is now open for donations, and all the money will go towards the upkeep of NAWG itself.

Mine is chapter three - and it was tremendous fun writing it in January.  I can't wait to see the book in print and get to read the whole thing!

 

Posted on 22 January 2017 17:52

The very day I pretty much decided to abandon my novel as a 'useful first experiment', I got an email telling me I've been long-listed in the UK Novel Writing Competition!

Out of 3,112, mine has been selected along with 249 others to go forwards to the next stage of the competition.

So, yay!  I'll find out if it makes the short-list in March.  In the meantime, perhaps I should put the novel back on my list of projects for later in the year...

 

Posted on 09 January 2017 16:35

I’ve been thinking about my writing goals for the year, in conjunction with my renewed pledge to write 150,000 words for Get Your Words Out in 2017.  And, interestingly, my main goals for this year are actually about writing less, rather than more.

 

1) Put the novel in a drawer and forget about it for at least six months. Then, take it out again and decide if it's worth saving. If it's not, let it go and be happy about it.

This came about because I got a very interesting report from Cornerstones, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of my novel.  I was aware of most of the weaknesses already, but the report suggests there is more work to be done on it than I feel willing or able to do at the moment.

This is not a bad thing.  The purpose of writing the novel was to see if I could.  And, regardless of its actual quality, it exists as a 95,000 word piece of fiction that tells a coherent story.  So, yes, it turns out I can write a novel!  Whether or not I can write a good novel remains to be seen, and is a challenge for the future.  I may come back to work on the one I’ve got, or I may start something new with the lessons I’ve learned.  I don’t know yet, and that’s okay.

 

2) For every short story submitted somewhere, get at least some feedback and do at least some proper revision before submitting it. (This will mean I submit a lot less, but hopefully what I do submit will be better.)

I had some success with publications in 2016, and have already had some more in 2017.  But, I know I have a tendency to dash off a first draft and just submit without taking the time to let it sit for a while, and then revise it.  So, my plan is to attempt fewer submissions, and schedule in more time for revision, which has never been a strong point.

I’d also like to take the stories that have been rejected multiple times and see if I can re-work and improve them before I send them out to more places.  Outside feedback is going to be essential for this task, as I find it difficult to see how to improve my own writing, even when I know it has flaws.

 

3) For every entry submitted to Hour of Writes or Fandom Weekly, leave at least a day after completing a first draft and read it through again before posting.

As above, even for the short and fairly frivolous things I write, I want to spend more time on them, and particularly ensure I have enough time to leave them and come back to re-read them before I post.

 

4) Spend more time on my reviews and make them proper analyses and recordings of my reactions - to offset the reduction in word count I'm anticipating on other stuff, I've decided to count my reviews in my tracking this year (I didn't last year), so I need to make sure they are worthy of being counted.

This feels a bit like cheating, since it’s a large number of words I left out of my tracking last year, which is going to boost this year’s word count significantly.  However, now that I’m advertising my reviews a bit more, I want to put more time and effort into them.  And, if I do that, I think it’s fair for me to include them in the tracking.

 

So, everything this year is going to be focused towards honing my skills, revising on a more regular basis, and hopefully producing a smaller, but higher quality, output as a result.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 21 November 2016 08:22

I’m supposed to be finishing a final polish of the novel, ready to send it to Cornerstones for a professional edit report.  My deadline for doing that, set by my wonderful husband who is paying for report as my birthday present, was 2 November.  But it’s now nearly three weeks later and I’m only halfway through.

This is because I’m constantly being distracted by other projects, that are quicker to finish, have more concrete deadlines, and add more words to my target for the year.  This blog post is one of them…

One of the things I’ve focused on this year, though, is getting more of my work out in the world, and this is starting, slowly and agonisingly, to pay dividends.  I went to a London Writers’ Cafe meetup yesterday - a Q&A session with Sean Preston, editor-in-chief at Open Pen, talking about short story publishing.  What I mostly got from it is that everything I’m already doing is exactly right for aiming to get my stories published.

My submission routine follows a regular monthly process, which starts with the arrival of Writing Magazine in the post.  The first section I always turn to is Writers’ News near the back, where they list many, many upcoming competitions and publication opportunities.  I read through each entry, circling all the ones I may be interested in, and then I add the details of each to my rolling submission spreadsheet.  Here, I keep a record of everything I might be interested in submitting to, with the word count, theme, submission link and deadline included.  I highlight anything that closes within the next month in yellow, and that’s where I go for inspiration when I’m looking for the next project to work on.

This provides me with motivation, focus, and often inspiration for my shorter writing projects.  It also gives me ideas of where to send pieces that have been rejected and are ready to be reworked and sent back out to try their luck elsewhere.

And it’s working!  So far this year, I’ve sent out 82 submissions, and have had at least some level of success 17 of them, and a 20% success rate feels pretty good to me.  At the meetup yesterday, Sean said success in short story publishing is 50% good writing and 50% effective targeting of submissions, and I would totally agree.

However, it’s also important not to lose sight of my larger overall ambitions, so I’d better crack on with polishing the novel.

XXXXX

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Posted on 09 October 2016 08:44

In this month’s Writing Magazine, author James McCreet analysed the first 300 words of my novel, doing a line-by-line commentary and providing a summary overview of his thoughts, as well as a suggested re-write.

When I first heard that this was going to happen (so many months after submitting that I’d forgotten all about it), I was pretty terrified.  McCreet’s analyses don’t pull punches - but I also generally agree with what he says about other people’s writing, so it felt like a great opportunity to get some really good advice about the most important part of the novel.

So, when the magazine finally arrived this week, I checked the competition winners first (no luck for me this month) and the letters page (but they did print my letter about NAWG Fest), before turning to page 48 to see my novel go Under The Microscope.

And it was fine.  Better than fine, in fact - and mostly, I think, because I’ve spent a long time cultivating the ability to take criticism, and I approached the whole thing with the attitude of wanting ideas on how to improve my work, rather than being precious about it.  Admittedly, a lot of what McCreet had to say was quite positive, which made me very happy indeed.  But, it was also telling that the things he picked out for improvement generally had me nodding my head in agreement (whilst also despairing just a little bit inside) because they were all things I already knew about.

I definitely have some work to do, to make the opening paragraphs of my novel more engaging and pacier (pace is something I’ve always struggled with) and I’ve known that for a long time.  But, now I have a step-by-step guide to show me exactly what to work on, and potentially help me improve the rest of the novel as well.  So, I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to receive some constructive criticism from a source completely unconnected with me.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just following all the advice, since I’ve already had wildly conflicting reactions from family members who’ve read the article.  One very much prefers McCreet’s rewritten version, while another says they prefer my version (and has enough points to back this up that I believe they’re not just saying that).  And someone else disagrees with McCreet’s take on cliches, saying that filling the writing with unusual descriptive language will just throw the reader out of the flow and cause a distraction.

I went to a London Writers’ Cafe Meetup recently, which was a Q&A session with a literary agent, and the most important thing she stressed is that fiction is a very subjective thing.  One person will hate what another person will love, and there’s no one formula for creating a bestselling novel.  Now, I’m certainly not expecting wild success with my novel, but I would like to make it as good as it can be, in the hopes of maybe one day getting an agent who could sell it to a publisher.  And this analysis from James McCreet will certainly help me on that road.

But, at the end of the day, it’s my novel, and I’ll ultimately have to make the decisions about what to change and what to keep the same.  Since, it seems clear that one man’s glaring cliche is another man’s comfort zone - and, no matter how much advice I get on my writing, I still want it to sound like me.

Posted on 18 September 2016 16:37

Writing is a tricky business.  It’s the thing I most want to do with my time, and it’s the thing I least want to do with my time.  This seems to be true of all the writers I know.  We desperately want to create amazing things - and in fact can’t imagine life without writing - but we find it so difficult to actually sit down and get on with it.

This is what makes organisations like Urban Writers’ Retreat so valuable.  Why would I pay £45 to spend the whole day writing when I could just easily do that at home for free, you might ask?  Because I know I won’t do it if I’m at home, and I’m prepared to pay good money for the opportunity for some forced focus.

Charlie, from Urban Writers' Retreat, provides a bright, airy, comfortable space for the day, where up to about 12 writers gather to work on whatever projects they want.  Phones must be switched off, there’s no talking allowed - only the gentle tap of fingers on keyboards punctuates the silence.  And it’s glorious.  Charlie sends out a goal-setting worksheet a couple of days beforehand, where you can plan out your writing day in slots of about an hour, but the day itself is largely unstructured.  Lunch is provided, along with a welcome (albeit brief) break from the intensity of concentrating in an unfamiliar way, and then we all go back to work again.

It’s such a simple concept, but every session I’ve been to has been full, so it’s clear other writers benefit from the external motivation just as much as I do.  Having an appointment in my calendar, which prompts me to plan various writing activities, and involves travelling to a specific location in central London, creates a productive mindset that would never be possible otherwise.  It’s also lovely to feel part of a community, while taking part in such a solitary activity, and it’s even better to have a whole day set aside with the sole purpose of getting on with some writing.

Today, I started a read-through of the first section of my novel.  This is with a view to getting it professionally edited later in the year, and it was really fun to go back to the beginning again and remember how much I love the world and the characters I’ve created.  I’m terrified by the prospect of getting feedback from a professional, but I believe I have something of merit, and I want the push and the guidance to get it into publishable shape.

In between times, I wrote a couple of articles for an online magazine and worked on a theatre review for a print magazine.  The combination of quick wins, interspersed with editing sections of the novel, worked really well to keep me motivated and energised all day.

Hurrah for days like this!

 

Posted on 12 September 2016 12:55

Way back in October 2010, I signed up for an Open University creative writing course, with a good friend of mine, who is also a writer.  The very first assignment was to write a 1500 word short story, on any theme.  The idea for my story came from a conversation I had with my husband about magical tech support for wizards in Harry Potter.  The course tutor wasn’t wildly impressed, but my friend’s response was, “You could develop this into a novel.  I’d want to read it - write me a novel, based in this world!”

So I did.  And, oh, how easy those three little words make it sound.  In actual fact, I didn’t finish the first draft until September 2015, during a glorious week on an Arvon novel-writing retreat at Lumb Bank in Hebden Bridge.  Five years of adding a bit more to the original story, gradually developing the world, adding a bit more, working out the overall arc plot, adding a bit more, bringing in new characters and a couple of sub-plots, adding a bit more, and so on.

I can’t say I approached writing my novel in a very systematic way.  I didn’t plot it all out beforehand (I find if I do that, I get bored with the story and don’t want to write it), I didn’t set aside specific times to write (though I have learned since that this is a very good idea), and I didn’t have any idea how long it would be when I’d finished (I’m still not sure about that).  I just forged ahead from that little story, and let it take me where it would.

Along the way, the characters did some very unexpected things (I love it when they take control), the plot expanded out to include some quite serious themes (though the story itself is still pretty light overall), and the possibility of a sequel reared its terrifying head (just don’t ask me how that’s going).

On this blog, I intend to talk about the process of writing my novel - both what I’ve already achieved, and what comes next.  I’ll post news about my other writing projects, and hopefully soon details of some publications that actually contain my writing!

My focus in 2015 was on finishing the first draft of my novel (which I did), and my focus in 2016 is on getting my writing out into the world.  My little corner of the writing universe has recently become quite an exciting place, with lots of little successes that I hope will eventually lead to bigger things.  But getting distracted by the shiny opportunities of short story writing is a dangerous thing, and I don’t want to lose sight of the novel in the process.  I believe in the novel, and I think it deserves more care and attention than I have given it of late, so this regular update of my progress on it is designed to give me the motivation to have something positive to say each time I post!

I invite you to join me on my literary journey - I very much hope it will be fun!