Tag Archives: writing a novel

After NaNoWriMo

Not a winner

November did not seem to last very long. With my brilliant plan in place, I only had to find fifteen sessions to write my complete story. not fifteen days, just fifteen writing sessions. I was so confident in what I had prepared, that I didn’t even start on the first day.

The initial sessions were easy, reaching my quota of words and completing each chapter with time to spare for household chores. But a strange thing happened as time went by: I slowed down. It took longer to complete each chapter, and by the time I had reached the 30,000 word mark, I was struggling to stay focused.
Ordinarily, I would put it down to story fatigue, to being tired of figuring out this story as I went along , but I had already done all the heavy lifting in this story: I had an outline of the whole thing and a detailed outline for each chapter. All I had to do was expand that outline into the real thing.

Since I hadn’t been writing every day, I hit this wall around the 21st/22nd of November. I still had 20,000 words to write, and yet I was writing less for each chapter and getting it down slower and slower. I whined about it on social media, and appealed for help, but of course the only real answer was to sit down and get on with it.

By the last few days of November it became clear that I would finish the story by the deadline of the 30th, but I would not reach the NaNoWriMo word goal of 50,000 words. There simply wasn’t enough story to tell, and I wasn’t going to resort to padding just for an electronic certificate. The trial had been to see if the new method I was experimenting with would help me write more in each session and complete a project in a shorter time. The results are simple: Yes.

On average I wrote around 3,000 words in an hour and a half each session. I wrote a novella totaling over 47,000 words in less than a month, when the first e-book in this series (about the same size) took almost a year to complete.

It’s proved to me that planning a project out in advance is a time saver, and a more efficient way to work, which is great because I have ambitious plans for the coming year – 4 one act plays and 2 full length plays, along with at least 20 sketches. There’s also the fact that this book has ended on a cliffhanger that suggest a very exciting third- and final – Eddie and the Kingdom story.

Though I don’t get the certificate, the t-shirt or the commemorative mug, I’m content. I got the book I wanted, and the results I hoped for. I have a new way fo working, and that should be more rewarding than any certificate.

Eddie and the Kingdom” will be on sale at a reduced price until book 2 – “Murder in the Kingdom” goes on sale. After a new cover design and a lot of editing and beta reading. Volunteers for either task, sign up in the comments section.

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All the things I plan to do.

I talk to people, when they check out their books. Part of it is Customer Service, that good old “engage with the patrons” philosophy that makes their trip to the library more than just one more chore on the list. But a lot of it is human interaction that I need, and the genuine desire to share my pleasure and excitement about some of the books I see crossing the desk every day.

If you don't get this, I'm sorry. Go watch "Labyrinth" and then "Game of Thrones". But don't get attached to any of the characters. You have been warned.

If you don’t get this, I’m sorry. Go watch “Labyrinth” and then “Game of Thrones”. But don’t get attached to any of the characters. You have been warned.

Right now, of course, there’s a lot of people checking out the various books from “A song of Fire and Ice”, more commonly known as “Game of Thrones“. If someone is picking up the first, I warn them they’re in for a long haul, and that they shouldn’t get too attached to any of the characters. If they’re picking up something later in the series, like book five or six, we exchange some words about the long wait for the next book, and the chances that the tv series will outpace the novels.

I had a plan on the wall, but it also covered the sofa....

I had a plan on the wall, but it also covered the sofa….

Something I say a lot, when talking about GoT, is that I hope George R.R. Martin has a big plan on his wall. I want it to start with the history he hints at – the Targaryan conquest of the Seven Kingdoms by dragon, all the way through the death of the Mad King and Robert’s seizing of the Iron Throne to a decent conclusion. (Don’t worry if this is all meaningless gibberish to you, I have a point coming up…)

The point is the plan, the shape of the whole story. The books are wonderfully compelling, and Westeros is a great place to visit from the safety of your couch or your favourite reading nook, but I really, really want to know that George has an end in mind, that he’s not just moving his pieces round a Risk board and wondering who’s going to come out on top.

For years, I’ve been what’s known in the trade as  a “pantser”. I wrote by the seat of my pants, starting with a vague premise, or some lines of dialogue and simply following the trail, only able to see a little way ahead as I wrote. It was fun, and sometimes the result was particularly good. Even as recently as “Love in a Time of Zombies”, a chance line in the early pages turned into a crucial plot point at the climax of the play, something a review called a “classic example of Chekhov’s Gun“.

The flyer for the show - you can still get tickets!

The flyer for the show

But the satisfaction of pantsing has been tempered by the number of projects that stalled because I didn’t know where to go next. They reached a quiet point, where the characters stop and turn to you and say “Yeah? What now?” Raymond Chandler once said that when things got boring in his books, he would have a guy walk through the door with a gun. It’s nice philosophy, very much in the Panster tradition, but when they were filming “The Big Sleep”, the director suddenly realised he didn’t know who had killed one of the characters, the Chauffeur. Chandler was called and quizzed, but admitted he had no idea either. It just wasn’t that important to the plot he was building. Pantsing can leave plot holes.

The Big Sleep (1946) Poster

So my last two plays and the two e-books that came before them have been planned. I’ve written a short precis, which expanded into a pitch document, which became an outline, which got broken into scenes on a huge sheet of paper on the wall. Now, instead of aiming for word count targets, I’m writing a scene a day, knocking off sections of the project and knowing exactly how many I have to go before the end. I haven’t noticed any dip in creativity, but there has been a drop in the number of abandoned drafts.

Holidays... Don't you just hate 'em? The sunshine, the calm, the beauty... Ick.

Holidays… Don’t you just hate ’em? The sunshine, the calm, the beauty… Ick.

This last week, staying out in Osoyoos with my parents on their third trip to Canada, I discussed a new play with Mrs Dim. From no real idea, to a neat concept in the course of ten minutes by the pool. When August begins, I’ll start my new planning document, and what is only a sentence now will begin to grow.

So what’s YOUR preferred method? Is planning the writing putting a straightjacket on the creative muscles, or is pantsing an amateur mistake?

Still alive…..

I’ve seen a few headlines in the last couple of days about the potential return of the Black Death. If you’d asked me about that last week, I would’ve told you I was patient zero.

The terrible thing about sick leave is having all this time off work and being completely unable to enjoy it. I have several books remaining in my stack of romances that I thought I might read, and I also had some new Script Appraisals to work through. Unfortunately for me (and my customers) I wasn’t able to raise my head off the pillow for the whole of that first week. The doctor did examine me and confirm I’d had some kind of chest infection, but he was reluctant to administer antibiotics, instead giving me some nasal steroids. “A couple of weeks of that,” he said ” and you’ll be fifty percent better…” And have a terrifically muscular nose into the bargain….

So it’s only now, in my second week of leave, that I’m feeling up to sitting in front of the computer and catching up with my workload. Time’s ticking by, so I’m not going to go on with my reading. I’ve learned from the eight books that I’ve read that there is no magic formula. Romance novels are like any other novel, with the exception of the love story being central and irrevocable. The two romantic leads always end up together (something that doesn’t always happen in other novels).

Thanks to Mrs Dim sacrificing some of her time for work, I’ve been able to rest, and I may be able to start the actual writing this week. We have Tiniest Weasel’s birthday coming up, and there are preparations to be made for that, so I don’t have a lot of time, but I do have a story in mind.

I’ve also decided that, success or not, this will be my last e-book for a while. I think I’ve spent somewhere near two years publishing e-books, and while it’s been fun (and I won’t withdraw the books from sale) it’s proved that selling books is not my strongpoint. Writing the book is only the beginning – you need to package it well, and then you need to sell the book, and keep on selling it, over and over again. That’s not a process that happens by itself, even in this age of social media and mass-communication. The answer is not having a blog, or a certain number of Facebook friends, or reading a particular book. The marketing needs to be well thought out and continuous. Mine hasn’t been.

TLC have started the year with a video conference and agreed we have some ground to make up. Plans are being laid for two pantomimes and other projects have been raised as well. I’m sure there are some plays I can write if I try hard enough, too, and those already have an outlet in the form of Lazy Bee Scripts.

Almost time to try being a playwright again.

New Year, New Project

2013 was a quiet year for TLC Creative, though I kept myself busy by producing a couple of scripts and some e-books, as well as a record-breaking year for the Appraisal Service. This year TLC are back with a vengeance, planning to write TWO pantomimes and a bunch of other stuff.

I also have plans, and they begin with a project I mentioned last year. Fascinated by the volume of “Harlequin” romance novels that cross my desk at the library, I decided to investigate the appeal. On the 2nd I booked out 10 novels, chosen pretty much at random from the stacks, and am working my way through them, taking notes.

There’s a perception that these novels are written to a formula, that there’s nothing clever or noteworthy about them. The readers themselves will often be dismissive about them, calling them a “guilty pleasure”, like they were junk food.

I’ve only read four so far, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The stories hold up well, and the characters are more than just sketched in. The prose is a little flaky at times, but overall is better than some other professionally produced books I’ve endured.

And I haven’t found a “formula” yet. You’d think four books would be enough to spot a pattern, but there doesn’t seem to be one. The only constant is that in each book the lead male and lead female are introduced right at the beginning and there’s a mutual attraction. Sometimes that attraction is welcome on both sides, sometimes it isn’t. But it’s always there. Whether that feeling gets acted upon sooner or later, whether circumstances or personal duties get in the way, that’s the stuff that varies from book to book.

I imagined this would be a relatively easy challenge – read a bunch of books (something I’d be doing anyway) and throw down 35,000 words or so (something I’ve already done several times.) Yes, the deadline might make it harder, but simply because of the logistics of getting the words down. I didn’t think WRITING the story would be difficult.

But now I’ve read a few it’s clear the bar is higher than I thought. I’m still going ahead with it, still running some potential storylines through my head, but it’s going to be a tougher job than I expected.

The lesson I’m hoping to learn here is about determining what I write for myself. I’ve mentioned before my desire to be a Sci-Fi author, and how I feel it’s stymied by the stories that turn up in my head. If I can write a Harlequin Romance, then I can write ANYTHING. And I think I can. These stories are all about love, about two people feeling an attraction and working through whatever is preventing them being together. I can think of dozens of other stories where the same is true, but they’re spy stories, adventure stories, space stories…. Love is a constant theme in most tales, when you come down to it.

I mentioned this challenge on G+ and a friend came up with the suggestion that this might be a good challenge to formalise. Are there any authors out there who might be willing to take on a genre challenge in March? Spend February reading books from a genre you don’t normally tackle, then produce your own in March, with cover artists taking on the illustration during April? Let me know in the comments below.

Writing for profit…

Ask yourself - are you in it for the booty?

Ask yourself – are you in it for the booty?

Ransom notes.

That’s how the old joke goes: “What kind of writing makes the most money?”

“Ransom notes”

The truth is that no one really knows the secret to making piles of cash from writing. When Bloomsbury were accused of somehow influencing people to buy the Harry Potter series, they were openly scornful. One spokesperson said “Really, if we could do that for JK Rowling, we’d do it for all our authors”. Of course they would, it’s their financial success too.

One thing a lot of writers agree on, though, is that setting out to write something because other things like it are selling is a huge mistake. For one thing, by the time you’ve completed YOUR dinosaurs-on-a-spaceship novel, everyone might be rushing out to buy Zombies on a Bobsled fiction instead. For another, it’s hard to write well when you’re not interested in your subject matter, and if you’re writing it with dollar signs in your eyes, then you’re not interested in the story and the characters, you’re interested in the money.

There’s one crucial point to make here, though. You CAN write books with the intention of making money. In that situation, you are organised about the way you write. You work to a schedule, you have an overall plan for the book you’re writing and where it’s going. You negotiate with an editor and a cover artist to produce the best version of your book that you possibly can. You create a network of friends and writers and readers who read and review for you, and who spread the word about the completed book. You keep that book hovering in everyone’s consciousness while, in all probability, you are  writing the next book. And you keep going, even though those first two, three or four books have not catapulted you into the ranks of the mega-rich.

The sections above are dealing with fiction writing of course. Writing non-fiction is a different thing altogether, and it’s a matter of finding a subject in which you are something of an expert, and tailoring the book to your experiences OR having access to other experts who will contribute to the book. But unless you’re working from a commission for the book, you’re still going to be the one pounding the virtual pavement and banging the drum for people to buy it.

The other way to make money from writing (WARNING, CYNICISM AHEAD!) is to write books on how to make money writing books. Do a little research, and you will be amazed, staggered and eventually a little sickened by the number of people telling you how to write best selling books, when the only best selling books THEY have written were about…writing best-selling books.

I believe that your first reason for writing, the first person you should be trying to impress, is YOU. Write because you must, because that story demands to be told. If it’s good, or if it can BECOME good with some polish and judicious surgery, then pursue it. Get help, take a deep breath, take advice and take the plunge.

DON’T rush out and write a story about sparkly vampires.*

I’m wondering if I wrote this piece because my latest book is a zombie novel, and I’m worried that I’ve not just missed the boat on that genre, but that the boat has sunk and sent a Tsunami towards the shore that is threatening the town…. Nonetheless, I have to see the story through, and since I’m enjoying it and people have liked the preview (available in “Troubled Souls“) I’ll self-publish again.

 

 

 

*This should be generally considered as good advice regardless.

Don’t tell me about it….

Firstly, an apology. This entry will sound arrogant and dismissive. Sorry.

Nearly two years ago I started writing this blog because I wanted to have a record of the emigration I was making with my family. Don’t tell me I should’ve kept a diary, because I know I wouldn’t have. Tried that, didn’t work. Blogging involves the computer (score!) and the chance to regularly appeal for other people’s attention (score!) as well as the opportunity to check statistics and combine endless hope with depressing reality (score!).

Along the way, it’s naturally evolved to take into account my writing efforts. I’ve talked about the production of my e-book, my occasional frustration with projects that haven’t worked out well, and of course, having to give up full-time writing to go and get a proper job. I like to think that these are as much part of the emigration process as buying a house and learning about the school system – a change of life we’ve made as a result of coming to Canada. But, because I blog about writing, I’ve been reading OTHER blogs about writing. Many, like the previously mentioned Mr James Moran, or Jane Espenson, or Lucy V Hay, are fantastically good. Not just because they are ‘proper’ writers, but because they write their blogs well. They are interesting. The ones that make me groan are the ones that say “I am writing my first novel, and am going to use this blog to chronicle my progress.”

Now, by all means, write your first novel. Please. Writing is wonderful, and your first novel may turn out to be THE book of the decade. By all means, write a blog. It’s useful to have a place to vent your feelings, and an idea is never fully realised until it is expressed. But before you combine the two, please think carefully. What is it, exactly, that you will be chronicling? If you are not careful, you’ll end up sounding like Ernie Macmillan from “Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix”, boring everyone with his recitation of how many hours of revision he has done each day. When you’re writing a novel, word count per day is important to you, obviously. You want to feel you’re making progress, that the number of pages to go are getting fewer. But would you want to read a blog that goes “Wrote another fifteen thousand words today! Started just after breakfast, had a break around ten thirty when I walked the dog, but then got straight back into it and reached a real cliffhanger moment just as I broke off for lunch!” Who, honestly, will care?

What your readers would like to know is what’s going on in the story. Yes, if you’re writing your novel, it would be more interesting to tell us about the developments in the plot as you go along, but you know what? No one ever will because then by the time the blog is complete, who needs to read the novel? We’ve been spoon-fed the whole thing! And what about re-writes? Assuming you get someone reading your blog, aren’t they going to use the comments section to tell you exactly where you’re going wrong?

I think these are the reasons that the blogs I’ve read seem to peter out shortly after they begin. Writing doesn’t seem to be something you can blog about. A writer’s life may be, but only if you have something to say about that: Being a single mum who’s working on a novel – if you have time to blog about that and still be writing the novel then I not only take off my hat to you, but I’ll comb my hair and bow too.

Why should I blog about the failures of other blogs? Well, because this week has seen me wrestling with my rock musical screenplay again, and I’m conscious that the writing projects I talk about tend to be the ones that work, or the ones that fall flat. I don’t, as Felicia Day says so sweetly in “Commentary”, discuss my process. The reason I don’t is that it would be at best dull, at worst, incomprehensible. I talked about the mechanics of writing in the entry on collaboration, and even I struggled to stay awake during that one. So, today’s moral is this: Forge ahead with your writing, but forge a more interesting subject for your blog.