Getting things wrong

goodnews

News! Human Resources, the second in the Australis trilogy, is due out July 2020!

That’s the best part of a year away but I’m already getting anxious and wondering if there’s anything I should be doing to promote it. And so I begin to compose an email suggesting a few things that my publisher might like to help me organise: to get on a few convention programmes, maybe a launch event; and to merely put myself at their disposal.

There’s not much I like less than sending emails promoting myself, pushing my agenda or asking for favours. I’ve never learnt the art of the blag. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Couple that with my almost complete ignorance of the way the world works – specifically publishing, conventions and media bookings – and there’s a massive opportunity to get things wrong. But I know that big things are booked way in advance so, at least in theory, now is the perfect time to think about these things. I have about nine months’ grace. Last time, with Night Shift, I missed chances. I should be thinking about this now.

But I agonise over emails; I compose them when I’m in the car, or when I’m lying in bed, and they’re perfect: but get me behind a computer and it all falls apart. Am I asking too much? Am I being cheeky? I lack the necessary arrogance to imagine that people see my emails as anything other than self-serving and grasping. I am an inconvenience, something to be resented.

But the emails have to be sent. I have a book coming out, for goodness’ sake. How wonderful is that?

There is something of imposter syndrome in all this. At least part of me believes that my writing isn’t good enough to be published; that I’ve somehow got away with something. To be asking for more is the height of impertinence, even when our interests collide.

impostre

Besides, I don’t deserve more. Who am I? An end-list nobody, that’s who. Who am I to be asking to be put on convention programmes? They’ve never heard of me. You’ve barely heard of me, and you’re reading this.

But this is where everyone starts from. Everyone feels like this. It’s part of what makes us human and there are a lot of people who get it worse than me. Ha, I’m even an imposter when it comes to imposter syndrome.

Anyway, I have sent the Great Email of Doom. It’s done. It’s off.

Now it’s just a case of waiting for the Great Reply of Terror.

The scene that would not die

DoaS

I am writing the scene that will not die.

I am working on a scene that has, so far, taken over a week’s work. It’s not especially complicated – it’s my heroes breaking into a shop – but it’s taking an eternity to get through. And at least part of the reason is this: I’m not sure what I want to happen. I lack an exit point and I’m not sure just what I’m doing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have no deadline or especial expectations. I can afford to take my time. But by golly it’s hard work.

It’s also not something I’d recommend. I think the best writing is done when you know where you’re trying to get to – even if you have lots of deviations and diversions on the way, and even if that end-point changes – because you have an aim and are less likely to waffle to try and cover that you don’t really know where you’re heading.

It’s always been my mantra: have an end-point. Know where you’re going, if not exactly how you’re getting there. But today I find myself without that pole-star, that lodestone, to guide me. I am rudderless, but finding myself oddly liberated by the ignorance I carry.

There are advantages to going in plan-less. You can draw up the scene in little bits, one step at a time. You can let the story develop around you. You can find your way through the paths your characters take: an organic development, the slowness giving you space to develop your ideas and tell you just where they need to go.

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This is, of course, an illustration of the difference between plotting and pantsing (a word I still hate). I’ve always been a loose combination of both, but in this particular scene I’ve swung decisively into the pantsing camp. And I am finding it oddly liberating.

I’m under no illusions that it’ll need a thorough edit before it’s ready even for a normal run-of-the-mill readthrough. There always is the tendency, when you don’t quite know what you’re doing, to take refuge in description because you yourself don’t know what’s in the room, for example, or precisely what that mysterious masked stranger looks like (or even just who they are). Similarly, you end up saying everything in conversation because you don’t know just what it is you’re trying to say.

And this method is slow. As I said, it’s been over a week in the writing, scratching a line at a time and drinking copious amounts of coffee, procrastinating wildly rather than getting down to the serious business of thinking.

But I am getting through it. I’ve just got to the point where I invoke Chandler’s Law, which opens up new realms of decisions and choices, all of which will take me further into knowing just where the novel will take me next, and beyond that, and beyond that.

The scene that will not die may well end up being the most important in the entire novel. If only I could work out just what I’m trying to do.

All an act

Cat typing

I’ve realised what I’ve done wrong.

Ever since I started working on my WIP it’s been fighting me. It’s been kicking up a stink, complaining and not going where I want it to take me. More specifically, I’ve got up to 20,000 words and I’ve not seen any sighting of an inciting incident or a mid-novel climax or any of the other waypoints that one uses to hang their story upon.

I’m not one to plot out a novel in detail but I do have some idea of points along the way; I generally have some set-pieces or emotional climaxes that I’m intending to meet. I also have an idea of the ending, so I roughly know where I’m going even if I take the scenic route to get there. I don’t use a sat-nav but rather a list of attractions to call in at along the journey.

So I’ve been writing on, aiming for my markers and trying to hit my notes whilst allowing myself the odd deviation if something of particular interest catches my magpie eye. But now I’m starting to worry that I’ve run out of road when realistically I should have another 80,000 words to go.

Which is not to say that I’ve nothing left to write: I’ve still got all my plot-points to resolve and that’d take me at least another 20,000 words. But I’m not seeing what I should be seeing: my mid-point climax is hiding from me and, without it, I feel like I’m lost and alone.

This is because I’ve failed to plan a novel. All my prep, all I’ve done so far, is merely the first act.

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This realisation may have saved my sanity. I’ve been imagining all my work as a great adventure but really it’s just the introduction. That’s why I can’t see beyond the next chapter: I haven’t created anything yet to see.

So the question is this: how do I proceed?

As I see it, I have two, maybe three options. One is to turn this novel into a novella. Another is to embrace my idiocy and write acts two and three (for which I have an idea but intended to write as the next novel in the series – ie after a good long break). The third option is to carry on exactly as I have been doing and hope that it all turns out okay in the end.

Any guesses as to which I’ll end up doing?

On being an idiot

dunce cat

By the love of all that’s holy, don’t set your novel in a place where you don’t speak the language.

That’s what I’ve done: I’ve tried to write a novel set in France and I now find that it’s full of pesky French-speakers and it’s ruining my vibe, man.

Writing a novel is hard work. I mean it’s seriously hard. Getting the words down on paper is the easy bit; it’s doing all the thinking and plotting and working out settings and characters that’ll make your brain go runny. So, whatever you do, don’t add any unnecessary complications along the way.

I should say that I have reasons for setting it in France, and specifically Brittany. Reasons that have all to do with worldbuilding and history and which make perfect sense. Apart from anything else, it’s quite unusual; not exactly exotic – that’s the wrong word – but how many spec fic novels can you name that are set in rural France? Rural anywhere, come to that.

Yes, I’m writing a rurban fantasy novel, a genre of my own invention and in which I can think of only one other novel (Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch). I therefore claim exclusive rights and all appropriate kudos.

But still, setting it in France really is the height of stupidity.

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The map from the Asterix books,  which, as I intimated last week, has had a suspiciously large influence on my work in progress

I might have to give in and move it to Cornwall, a location which also works but I oddly know less about. Brittany often features in mediaeval British histories; Cornwall, it seems, was only glued on to the British Isles when tin mining because industrialised.

As it is, I’ve already had to remove a character from a scene because he spoke neither Breton, French nor Irish (the major languages of my fantasy Breton court) and unwrite a scene entirely because I realised that my spying character wouldn’t have been able to understand a word of what was being said. A lot of the locals are now suspiciously fluent in English, something I put down to the increasing numbers of ex-pats in the area.

There are ways around almost every problem. I can do this: I can jerry-rig a solution to all the issues – hell, I can even make language issues into plot-points if I try hard enough and the reader is sufficiently involved to suspend their belief hard enough. And it may all work out well enough to be worth the hassle.

Just… why? Why would I do it to myself? Why make things harder than they already are?

Because, dear friends, I’m an idiot. That’s why.

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Writus interruptus

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There is a myth that a writer can sequester themselves in a room, or some isolated lodge high up in the Catskill mountains, and produce a novel. That they can work non-stop from beginning to end and the world will simply pass by their door until they emerged, dishevelled and blinking, with a fresh steaming manuscript in hand.

Truth is that the writing process is full of interruptions. Even allowing for the simple necessities of life, something is going to get in the way. A sick child, paid employment, a sudden commission – they all might interrupt the smooth process (ha!) of creation that popular culture tells us is the way a novel is made.

So it’s without a great deal of surprise that I have to suspend working on my current work in progress. 15k words in, or a biscuit under, and I have to pause in order to earn a little money. Another proofreading request has arrived and I must down tools to get on it.

That, as they say, is life. We’re used to holding many different things in our minds at the same time. Hell, I’ve taken about a dozen looks at Twitter whilst writing this. The postman’s been with a parcel. I can hear my daughter rampaging downstairs. Nothing to do but to make damn sure we get back to work once the interruption passes.

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Because the biggest fear when we put a project on hold is that it’ll remain on hold indefinitely. It takes courage and perseverance to get back to a project that’s been held in abeyance, especially if it was proving recalcitrant in the first place.

My current WIP, for example, has been a bit of a pig to get down so far. It’s not flowing easily or freely; every words seems to have required its individual blood sacrifice.

But I will persist. I will keep going. I’ll try and use this pause – which should only be for a week or two – to refresh my mind, to build internally upon a story that needs a little thought and reflection every now and again. Or maybe a bit of blankness with de-congest me; either way I hope to get back to it with freshness and vigour.

Failing that – and far more likely – I’ll be back to ploughing my especially claggy field, drawing up a word at a time and taking days over every small decision.

All that matters is that I get back to it and keep moving forwards.

Incidentally, I’ve been calling it my work-in-progress because I haven’t got a name for it yet. I’ve toyed with The Indomitable Gauls (for the Asterix reference, you understand) and Claws but my current favourite is Our Kind of Bastard.

No doubt that by next week I’ll have changed my mind and possibly have a whole new trio of possible titles. Once I’ve finally settled on one I’m sure I’ll remember to let you know.

Peace out. x

Little victories

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I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. Trying to build a novel, yes, but… how? It’s been such a long time since I sat at a computer and tried to pour words to a blank screen.

In order to write you have to know what you’re writing about. And, though I have a story and an idea of a plot and I know what key the story will be in and the characters all waiting, I really feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

This is not special. It’s not unusual. This is what makes writing so difficult: the vista of all possible options spread in front of you in the form of that accursed blank page. The impossibility of making choices. The collapsing of waveforms into a single, informed reality.

It doesn’t help to know that nothing is unchangeable: that you will inevitably make missteps and that’s what editing is for. It should help, but it doesn’t. You still have to make those decisions, get the words down on that page.

People who plan out their novels in great detail before setting metaphorical pen to paper probably have the right idea. I’ve never been able to do that, although this current project has involved some fairly heavy-duty forefront thinking.

Even then, when you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve in each scene, it’s never easy. The blank page resists. Writing can be like wading through treacle; the words seem to drag at you, to want to pull you down into inertia, to drown you in liquid amber.

This is why any progress, no matter how small, is a success. 50 words? Good. Even if they only put off a problem, they’re 50 words that didn’t exist yesterday. Decided on the next scene? Even if you change your mind and delete all you’ve done, it’s easier to work from a positive decision than it is to work from uncertainty.

If you’re a writer and if you’ve decided to write you’ll know how tough it can be. The small victories are all we have, sometimes – especially when we’re just starting out and are still fighting through the beaded-curtains of indecision.

So take those little victories and recognise how much of a fighter you are. You’re still scrapping forwards, still fighting the tide that threatens to wash you back into a little ball of unfulfillment.

You’re doing it. You’re moving forwards.

You’re brilliant.

And I don’t know about you but it makes me feel absolutely 0% better.

Smolvics

Deleting characters

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To lose a character should be one of the easiest of editing jobs. Isn’t it just a case of reassigning his actions, redistributing his words and a bit of a spit and a polish to cover all the hack-marks?

Turns out it is, in fact, bloody hard. That’s currently what I’m trying to do; to kill my darling and reassign all his delicious lines to other members of the cast. And I’m still not sure whether I’m making things better or am just cruelly imbalancing scenes by making another character a ‘know-everything’ and, frankly, a bit of an over-voluble, overpowered menace.

Still, it’s what I’m doing, for reasons. And at the moment it feels like I’m editing with a paintbrush. Everything’s confusing and blocky and ill-rendered; it’s blurry and it’s ill-defined. But it’s the stage I have to get through before I can sit calmly back and decide whether the change works at all.

This is step one in my three-pass rule. Get the work done. Get it done badly – or at least roughly – and then take another sweep to work out what needs refining and what just hasn’t worked. To make big structural changes is a pain in the bum; for now we’re concentrating on architecture, not decoration. I am making some changes to speech to make it sit better in other character’s voices but tuning the acoustics is another thing to focus on in another pass.

Or, at least, I’m supposed to be doing this. Actually what I’m doing is, due to an unusual conjunction of circumstances, holidaying in the Dordogne. Hence the slightly truncated post.

trichotfromgarden

The chateau where I may well be found

More moaning next time. Possibly about the heat.