Writus interruptus

interruption-ss-1920-800x551

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.

shirt

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

How to rite a novil

your-plans-vs-the-universe-plans1

I don’t sit down and outline every scene before I set pen to paper, though I often wonder if I should. Nor do I set out writing without any sort of idea where I’m going. I am neither a plotter nor a pantser. I am something in between, as I suspect most people are.

The way I write a novel is this: badly.

Just kidding (maybe). To be serious: a novel starts with an idea that then spends a long time revolving around the cranium as the tone, characters and locations simmer and settle. Then, maybe a year, maybe several years after the initial flame, I’ll come up with a starting point and an end point and I’ll start writing.

I’ll then stop writing as I realise I don’t know what I’m doing. So at this point I’ll do a bout of planning; of writing down some key points I want to visit; some key characters and intrigues and betrayals. Then I’ll start writing again.

This time I’ll get a bit further before I find I’m writing myself into another hole; that what’s going on the page isn’t covered by my sketchy notes and I need to stop again. There then follows a bout of soul-searching. More notes are written, crossed out and reassessed, like so:

Notes

…and so the endless circle continues. I see a little ahead. I write. I realise that this thread is going to cause me problems. I get depressed. I stop and try to think. I see a little further ahead so I write…

Does this make me a plotter or a pantser? Of course it’s neither, which is why I find the terms so reductive as to be useless. (Plus I hate the term ‘pantser’. It’s such an ugly mangling of the language, and such an ugly image is conjured.)

Unless it’s just me. Are there really people out there who can write a whole novel by the seat of their pants, without any sessions of brain-work at all? Can you really be led entirely by the flowing of the pen?

Are there really people who plan out every scene in detail before committing pen to paper? I can just about imagine there are, but if so… how? Do you need to be an expert in narrative structure or something, because I’ve never managed to fill in all the gaps before starting. Surely it’s a thankless, joyless task to fully outline a story without giving it some blood in the writing?

What sayest thou?

Of course, I write this post just as I reach a brick wall in my own writing; a state of stuckness that makes me reevaluate my decision to ever start this novel. Ploughing onwards isn’t getting me anywhere so I must pause and try and gain some big picture perspective. But that’s damn hard work and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box. Or at least I’m not today.

Whatever the method, it seems that there’s nothing easy about writing a novel.

plantser

One-star

1-star

The only sane way to deal with reviews is to ignore them.

Sadly, that’s not always possible. I, for example, was checking mine out in the hopes of being able to boast about my scores to a prospective agent. That’s when I came across my first one-star review.

Hurts? Well, I skimmed it pretty quickly; I don’t see much point in analysing it blow-by-blow. (Except I really want to. I came across this a few weeks ago and I’m not forgotten it and moved on, which must tell you something.) I’m actually more hurt because the reviewer, I realised, is someone I follow on Twitter.

Someone I respect hates my work. This is pretty tough.

But it is absolutely their right. Books are subjective things; some things I love will be detested by others. It’s just the nature of words. They can hate something I’m intensely proud of – and it will hurt, that’s for sure, but what can you do about it?

1star

It helps that I’m fairly secure about Night Shift. I wrote it long enough ago, and I know I can write better now; I don’t have all my ego in one basket. Praise surprises me a lot more than criticism, and I’m constantly trying to remind myself that there is actually some damn good writing in it. And there is. I believe that.

I’m much more nervous about the response to book two, when it finally comes out. I worked so hard on that and my ego is much more exposed. Hopefully it’ll have had time to crust over before it’s finally released in 2020.

And, if the worst comes to the worst, I must try and remember my own advice.

Never try and argue with the reviewer. It doesn’t end well.

bookburning (1)

Little victories

victory.jpg

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

Something new

Quill
I’m not entirely sure if I’m capable anymore, but I’m giving it a go. I am starting again. I am trying to write a new novel from scratch.

This is really down to necessity. I’ve recently re-edited two older pieces, both of which need going through at least once more, but my gut is telling me it’s too soon to re-read them yet. They need more time to simmer before I return to them, more time for me to forget the contents so I can see them with clearer, more objective eyes.

I can’t bear to be sitting here without some kind of project on the go so I am forced, against my will, to try and scratch out something new.

This might not work. It’s been so long since I tried anything this ambitious – or, frankly, with any ambition at all. So I am on the beginning of a slippery slope of brain-entangling doom. Especially as the story I’ve envisioned is incredibly complicated and convoluted and full of false-flags and betrayals and serial killers and werewolves…

At least I have a certain amount of faith in my ability to set one decent word after another. It may prove to be totally misfounded, but my limited excursions into fictiondom recently have produced wurdz I am not totally objectificational to. This is encouraging.

Now I just need to carry that development – for I’m sure I have got better at the craft of writing over the years – into the realms of characters, plotting and causality. Otherwise I’ll be back on this blog crying in very short order.

Deleting characters

dead.jpg

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.

The three-pass rule

write-without-fear-300x300

I have a rule. No, that’s not true. I have a theory, an idea, and it’s this: after every big change you need to make at least two more passes of your manuscript before you can send it out into the great wide world.

At the moment I’m doing major revisions to my latest work-in-progress. This is a good novel (I think) but one upon which I stuffed a little in the character department. I have a plan to combine two characters into one easy-to-swallow morsel. This obviously involves a lot lot lot of work.

So what I’m going to do is this: I’m going to concentrate on that job. I’m not going to worry so much about the actual words I use. I’m not going to worry too much about little slips or finding the perfect prose. This draft is for big things: for who does what and when and how. Not about perfecting the micro-expressions or the tiny gestures.

And that’s why I’ll need another draft when this is done. I’ll need a troubleshooting pass, a precision-engineering job after the great earthmoving of pass #1 (actually pass #6, but it’s been a while since the last one). I need to make sure the voice is right, the silences are on cue and the smiles are from and to the right people.

So: two passes, one for heavy engineering, one for precision. So why is this a three-pass rule?

Truth is that two might be enough, but I’m not happy – I don’t trust myself enough – that this is enough to catch all the imperfections with this little work.

But before that, it’s time for a break.

writers-block (1)

Such intense work is likely to take you extremely close to the material. So close, in fact, that you start to lose objectivity and focus. So it’s my plan that before I go on for a third pass I take a long, hard go at something else before coming back to the work in question. This isn’t my idea, of course; it’s in all books of writing advice and the like. I’m just trying to (finally) put it into practice.

That’s where I am at the moment with New Gods, the last in my Antarctic trilogy. I did a major overhaul then cantered through it to fix obvious errors. Now I’ve set it to one side to let cool and to give myself a little distance before I go through it again.

This would also be the time to get beta-readers involved but I fear I’ve already blown all of mine on earlier drafts.

And, while I wait, I’m on to the next task. For writing is a production line and there should always be something on the conveyor belt.