100 Days to Write a Novel Week Nine

Having not really written for two weeks I am behind. I should be on 45,000 words, but I’m on just less than 35,000. I’ve done half a novel but have used up over half the time.

Lots of things can stop you writing I’ve found. In the War of Art Steven Pressfield talks about “resistance” and gets all spiritual – According to Pressfield, Resistance is a malignant presence that exists to block you. It rises up against you to stop you from doing what you most need to do: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

but I think that’s mostly bollocks – writing a novel isn’t “soul evolution” – I mean you might learn things about yourself and the world writing a novel but it’s not some Buddhist practise towards enlightenment (YMMV).

Bruce Holland Rogers in Word Work talks about procrastination as armour – it serves a purpose (otherwise we wouldn’t do it), it protects us, and he identifies different styles of procrastination – like the perfectionist’s need to get everything right before moving on or the hedonist’s need to put off unpleasant tasks in favour of comfort and pleasure etc.

Of those I feel I am more the second than the first. I come home tired from work, didn’t write much that night. I go on holiday and take the journal and a tablet but don’t open either etc.

Procrastination-1

Why do it now when you can put it off till later?

I need to avoid the ‘do it right before deadline’ in order to avoid the ‘never do it’.

I am on day 61, 39 days/5 weeks to write 35,000 words? starting to look like I need to hit 7,000 words a week from now on… tune in next week to see how that goes!

 

100 Days to Write a Novel Week Eight

There was no week seven. I flitted across the border and took it with me.

In Glasgow, I met with another writer. We spoke, and ate a vegan meal, then watched random music in a basement. Drummer with mouthgag, a band describing themselves as being like ‘a sad wank in a bath’ and the headliners who somehow were the worst of the three. But were very energetic. I didn’t write anything.

In Loch Lomond I took a cruise from Luss and saw an osprey. I didn’t write.

I climbed Ben Lomond. It hailed. I got too hot. It was muggy. It rained. Lots of people passed me going both ways. I got to the top and took a photograph. I didn’t write.

I went to Stirling. The Wallace monument, lost the ticket but they let us in anyway, people in Scotland are friendly and nice. I drove the same road several times, parked in the same car park twice. Spent a few hours at the castle. Bumped unexpectedly into a writer from Bristol. We chatted for a while then went our separate ways. I didn’t write.

I drank a lot of whisky and visited a pub that was closed and one that wasn’t. It drizzled. I didn’t write.

I went to Edinburgh and did the Fringe – comedy, show, theatre, weird wrestling videos with comedians, shows, more shows, more comedy. I didn’t write.

I met a writer in Edinburgh. We drank lots of beer at the book festival. I listened to writers talk about their writing. I bumped into another writer I know who I didn’t know lived in Scotland. He went off to listen to other writers talk about writing. I ate Chinese food and didn’t write.

The tablet and keyboard went unused. Lugged from Glasgow to Dumbarton to Edinburgh pointlessly.

I watched Twitter as thousands of people converged on Dublin for WorldCon and all my writer friends socialised and probably talked about writing.

I didn’t write.

It’s now week eight and the total still stands at 31,000

I have some catching up to do.

<Cracks Knuckles>

 

 

100 Days to Write a Novel: Week Six

And so comes the inevitable crash. I’ve only written 1500 words this week. I’ve been stymied for a variety of reasons – none of which should have been insurmountable. As Mumford & Sons said – “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won”

So that should mean lots of writing to catch up this weekend, right? In the normal run of things that would indeed be the case but I’m about to set off for a short break in Scotland. And have planned to meet friends, go for long walks and enjoy Edinburgh Festival. So it might be tough to catch up.

Still, I’ll be taking the novel with me and a means to write electronically (and on paper) so will just have to snatch time as and when I can. It’s a good job I’m ahead, but that fat is almost gone…

As per last week’s blog I hit that ‘I need to replan’ stage at around 30k (I’m at 31.5) and that’s one reason I hit the brakes. I also, foolishly, during re-reading indulged in a bit of editing to add description & specificity in the first 3 chapters before I realised that was eating up my writing time and editing needs to come when I have a full first draft.

Anyhow my next missive on the blog – 100 days to write a novel week 7 – will be late, but I’ll let you know how I’ve got on writing while travelling…

100 Days to Write a Novel: Week Five

The Certainty of Dust is at almost 30,000 words and this is the pause point. At 30k with both previous novels, it reached the point where forward momentum versus how it matches the outline needed testing at this point. And despite doing better planning, or so I thought, I’ve hit that point now too. I guess it’s just part of my “process” (hah, as if there was such a thing). So instead of adding more words today (or this weekend) I’ll be revisiting the outline – and making sure it still makes sense. I’ve already spotted – while writing – that one chapter needs to come earlier.

It’s also nice to reach novella length and almost half novel length (which for genre is 70k as usual lowest target) which it’ll reach next week (if all goes well, that’s 35k next week hopefully)

On Twitter on Wednesday I asked a research question which went sort of viral. Without too many spoilers Jackie, the main character of the novel, has to sing at a funeral and I wanted to know what the saddest song she could sing could be. But Google let me down, none of the songs it threw up were that sad (to me). So I asked people to give me the songs that make them cry and I have been overwhelmed at the response. Many, many thanks to everyone who has tweeted me songs that make them cry. I am very grateful & will try and acknowledge as many as I can in the book (definitely for the ones I use).

And after taking a hit on productivity due to a combination of factors (including Brexit setting the country on fire, sorry for so many political tweets folks!) but mainly due to being shortlisted for the BFA for my first book along comes something else to set expectations and re-awake that whole fear of success (fear of success is odd, but very real). My previous book, Seven Deadly Swords, has been longlisted for the Not The Booker. Although I have no expectations with regards to getting on the shortlist (not enough people have bought and read my book and the barrier for voting – having a Guardian account and leaving a 100+ word review will put off most of the people who have actually read it!). But just being on a national list is big. I have no idea how it made the list, and in fact hadn’t noticed it was on the list until Dave Hutchinson pointed it out on Twitter. I’ve explored this more in this post

As ever I’ve been reading writing books – as described in this post I’m kinda addicted to reading writing books, especially while writing a book. This week has been no different, I’ve finished The Making of a Story I’ve been reading it for some months on and off (it was recommended by Neil Gaiman no less, good but very thick!) and read 10 Core Practices for Better Writing (Aimed at beginning writers and people who have never heard of Amazon :-o) and Creative Writing (which I read in a couple of hours and picked up some tips so I’d recommend that one.)

The last piece of news is that I’m a judge for the British Fantasy Awards Best Newcomer

Best Newcomer (the Sydney J Bounds Award)
Tomi Adeyemi, for The Children of Blood and Bone (Macmillan Children’s Books)
Cameron Johnston, for The Traitor God (Angry Robot)
RF Kuang, for The Poppy War (HarperVoyager)
Tasha Suri, for Empire of Sand (Orbit)
Marian Womack, for Lost Objects (Luna Press Publishing)
Micah Yongo, for Lost Gods (Angry Robot)

And have been receiving these books in the post over the last couple of weeks – so I’ll be reading ‘professionally’ for a while…

Happy Reading & Happy Writing!

 

 

 

100 Days to Write a Novel: Week Four

The Certainty of Dust is now just under 24,000 words. I’m still ahead (basically due to the boost during week one). Although behind on the week – which means more writing over the weekend. Essentially it’s now novella length and half novel-length (if we accept NanoWriMo’s definition of a novel is 50K)

As I tweeted recently: “I’m leaving comments in the WIP that I know future me will curse me for. Like <better description here> but it allows me to work fast rather than spend long minutes trying to come up with something pithy. But is it false economy because I’ll need that later? *shrugs*”

This seems like a common practice for writers. As I mentioned before the way I work is underwriting and I have to add layers later. I tend to need to add sensory detail in later edits as well as descriptions and maybe also character blocking (where they are in the space).

I also fiddle with the structure (with Seven Swords this involved the whole index cards and moving chapters around – but that was much more complicated than this one, which is more linear)

So even at the end of this draft – I know there’ll still be a lot of work to do.

Still, onwards and upwards! Happy Reading & Happy Writing

 

100 Days to Write a Novel: Week Three

Another 4,000 odd words added, and, as usual, plans for the weekend – so I might not catch up to the target – but I hope to add some words in my lunch hour… Not quite at the panic, must work all hours stage, but if this keeps up I think it’s likely that in a month or so I’ll be there.  Still, I’m only 19 days in, but that’s almost 20%. But then: 20% of 70k is 14k…

I’m approaching the point that occurs 20-30k in where I know, on a deep visceral level, that everything I’ve written is crap, the premise is trash, the structure is awful and the very best thing to do is to abandon plans and start again with a new outline.

Obviously, the key to writing a novel is to ignore that voice. But oh it’s so sweetly plausible and convincing.

In the past I’ve attempted NanoWriMo twice and been a total failure both times. In fact when I calculated that I wrote less in NanoWriMo months than ‘normal’ months I was obviously disincentivised by the process. Tim Clare discusses a few reasons why this might be the case on his excellent podcast  which I’ve been listening to a lot recently. Essentially not hitting the daily target can have a depressive effect.

Tasha Suri asked on Twitter how people wrote around their day jobs – my facetious reply was “slowly” but there are a lot of answers to the question from other writers. It all boils down to “carving out time” which is difficult, always difficult – because you want to have a life as well, right? Maybe you have kids. There’s a TV show you need to watch, household chores, games, books, Twitter and Facebook and the imploding politics situation (which you’ll notice combined with Twitter is my own personal time suck). But you just have to do it. As I said in a previous post I’m currently writing for the length of time it takes to listen to two albums – Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Maurice Jarre’s L’echelle de Jacob. Although this week I’ve snatched less time than usual so most writing sessions have been to Pink Floyd only.

As its a third novel I’m also aware of having to make it fresh and say something new. Constantly interrogating my characters – is character x in Certainty too much like character y in Seven Swords? etc. That’s a new issue I wasn’t consciously aware of before. Seven Swords and Sick City are such different books I didn’t really compare the cast of characters – and I don’t think there are samey ones across the two books. But Certainty is more like Sick City (plot and setting wise) than Seven Swords so now I’m worried that the main character, Jackie, is too similar to the main character, Susan, in Sick City… So that’s something new to worry about.

It’s also an attempt to stick to the atmosphere of Sick City – that one reviewer said “It’s not quite Lewis Carroll or Douglas Adams; maybe more Franz Kafka: reality with a half-twist.” I’ve not read much Kafka (only the short stories) and I’m not sure it’s a good comparison (but it’s always nice to be compared to the greats). However Certainty is more like a fever dream whereas Sick City is more that reality isn’t what you think it is. Despite that I’m hoping the atmospherics are a highlight in the same way they were in Sick City.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings I’ve used up my tea break and it’s back to work.

Happy Reading and happy writing!

 

 

100 Days to write a novel: Week Two

4,300 words this week so far. obviously, I won’t be taking the whole weekend off this time – I need to do at least 1 more writing session to bring it up to the target 5k. At this stage, with the words flowing, I’m tempted to do a couple of sessions and try to get ahead for the inevitable setbacks. But I’m off to a friend’s for a birthday thing – and there are a lot of household chores that need doing… At this stage, 1/7th of the way through I’m not ditching real life to get it done just yet.

It was my writing group meeting yesterday night. We were doing critiques, of two writers at very different stages in learning the craft. It’s an interesting comparison: for one we were discussing improving general prose levels and making it more a story and the other was more how to make the prose really shine, and alternative endings.

I know there is a feeling, in some circles, that you can’t teach creative writing. I’m not entirely sure that’s true – obviously, some people will show a greater aptitude and facility to learn than others. I feel I get more from critiquing others than being critiqued (which tends to be story specific detail) and I find it just as useful to crit a beginning writer as an accomplished one.

In my own writing this week I’ve put some thought into layering and interiority, both things I struggle with in first drafts. I spent some time wondering how to improve my process so that I don’t have to add this in a later edit – but seems that’s the way it’ll go. I have to write in a fingers faster than the conscious brain mode first. if I overthink it I don’t slow down, I stop.

Some years ago a friend of mine got married and his stag do included clay pigeon shooting. In a group of around twenty men, I got the lowest score. I earned myself a giant clay pigeon in a “wooden spoon” type award. The guy in charge spotted that I started out well but got progressively worse – whilst some people started out badly and got better, and others were just good at it. He nailed my problem. I’d started thinking about it and my brain is slower than the swing, gun, finger, bang needed to be. That’s how I feel if I try to bring more intentionality into the writing. So that intentionality comes in the planning stage and because I can’t hold it all in mind and write at the same time, there need to be fairly extensive edits and revisions. I underwrite. It took me far too long to realise this. I’d read Stephen King’s On Writing and he’s an over writer and describes that the process of writing which, for him, included cutting by 25%. I thought I was doing it wrong. It wasn’t until I was at a workshop and the tutor said about the fact some people overwrite and others underwrite that the penny dropped.

Underwriting doesn’t always mean that you don’t add extraneous words, have unnecessary repetition or don’t have flabby prose. That’s all there with me and editing does involve cutting as well. What it also means (for me at least) is that there is a mismatch between what’s in my head and what’s on the page with regards to what’s communicated to the reader in order for them to understand the story. Some writers tell you too much information, not allowing you, as reader, to do any work. Spoonfeeding you more information than you need. I’m the opposite. I also have to add in context and blocking. So I’m sure after the 100 days to write a novel there’ll be a 100 days to edit it too!