Project 2012: It’s June

Somewhere near Esk in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

I’m a pretty organised person.  I like to plan things out so I know exactly what I’m doing when.  I’ve got a full time job, a child and an addiction to Diablo 3.  There is no such thing as spare time.

I planned out this year from January to December with the ultimate goal of submitting my first novel in January 2013 while also completing the first draft of a new novel.

How’s it going, I hear you ask?

Well, you might as well say I planned to drive to Melbourne and ended up in Darwin.

Okay, so it’s not that bad.  But the original road map has flown out the window.  The novel I wanted to work on turned out to be not strong enough to be worth it.  So I put that away and decided to work a completed novella up to submission status.  That, I’m pleased to say, is coming along well.  I’m 3/4 of the way through the second pass.

In the meantime, I finished an 8k short that had been languishing on my heard drive for 5 years.  I completed a 10k short that I want to submit to Extreme Planets anthology.  I’m 3.5k into a novella for Crossed Genre’s Winter Well anthology.

I can’t help it, I just love short stories.

But while I’ve been doing this, I have also been thinking about my next novel draft, and I have one in my sights.  Writing starts 1st July.

So while I’m nowhere near where I planned to be, I’m not upset.  I’ve revised my plan and kept moving forward.  I’ve been writing and revising the whole time (except for 2 weeks where I angsted over some words that were really giving me trouble).

I could have thrown my hands in the air and given up.  I could have let the failure of that first novel send me into a spiral of writer’s block.

But I have learned three important things from writing and selling short stories.

  1. Not every story will work, no matter what you do to it.
  2. New ideas will always come along, demanding to be written.
  3. If you keep writing and learning and improving, you will sell stories.

I am not at all upset that this year didn’t fit in with my big plan.  Because I still have that big plan.  The end date has just blown out a little.  And in the meantime I have explored new stories and learned more about the craft of writing and revision.

Never let a wrong turn make you miserable.  You never know what you might see along the way.  Just keep driving.

Your turn: how has the first half of the year gone for you?  Have you lost your way?  Are you still driving?

Project 2012: Scheduling Quarter 1

I’ve been happily pottering along in my revision, and realised today while talking to Cassie that it’s already halfway through January and I haven’t posted a timeline for those who are looking for guidance.

Quarter one, as you may recall, is all about the big picture of our story.  In the first 3 months, we’re aiming to gain a better understanding of the story journey, the character arcs and the flow of events.

We’re also writing the first draft of a second novel, so by the end of March we should be at least 10,000 words into the draft.

If you’re currently panicking, relax.  This is a very modest proposal.  The first quarter is all about thinking and exploring, both in the revision and in the first draft (unless you are continuing a half-finished draft, in which case, just keep going).  There’s not a lot of actual writing time, just lots of notes, jotting down ideas, and spending time in your own head.

The important part is to spend some time with your story each day.  It could be in the shower, or driving to work, or a dedicated time in the morning/evening.  Just remember to keep a notebook handy to jot down those lightning bolts of inspiration.  But keep it all ticking over in your head and your subconscious will come out to play with all sorts of ideas and solutions to make your story stronger.

This stage is very important.  We’re trying to get deeper into the story and the characters, to move beyond a simple edit of sentences and structure, to actually identify the weak points of our stories and characters, and make them stronger.  And that is a fully creative exercise.  The more technical part comes later.  For now, we want to be creating, as if we were writing the draft from scratch.

And that’s why it’s easy at this stage to start your second draft.  The brain is in creative mode.  We are already brainstorming one story, so it’s easy to brainstorm another.  So we develop the two stories in tandem.  By the time we get to the technical part of the revision, we will have enough momentum on the new story to keep writing through our editing process.

You might think that you can’t brainstorm two stories at once.  You might be concerned that the stories will meld together in your head into one single story.  It is a valid concern, but one that we can work around, using the following strategies.

1. Make sure the stories are significantly different.

Don’t try to write two high-fantasy stories at the same time.  If you are revising a sword-and-sorcery extravaganza, think about writing an urban fantasy.  Or if you are writing in the same genre, make sure that the stories and protagonists are different enough that you won’t get confused.  I’m revising a science fiction story with a male protagonist and writing a science fiction story with a female protagonist.  One is a political thriller, one is space opera.  They have nothing in common, other than being set in space.

2. Keep your notes separate

Get a different notebook for each story.  Stick pictures on the outside to represent the story, something visual that will cue you in when you pick it up.  This helps your brain click over to the right story before you even begin writing.  If you use spreadsheets, colour the backgrounds.  Use any visual trick you can to get you into the right story at the right time.

3. Spend time in blocks

If you find it hard to have 2 stories running at once, or you struggle to switch between stories, consider working on them in blocks.  Spend 3 weeks on one story, then switch.  As a bonus, when you come back to the first story, you will often find that working on the second story has allowed your subconscious to come up with all sorts of interesting ideas on the first story.

4. Go with the inspiration

If you really, really can’t focus on two stories, then let your inspiration lead you.  Work on one until you get tired of it or stuck, and then switch to the other.  If inspiration hits, go with it.  This isn’t the most practical way to do things, but who said being creative ever followed the rules?  In the end, the process has to work for you.

So now, some dates and times.  These are a very, very loose guideline to make sure you progress towards the next stage.  Work out the timing that suits you, but no matter what, keep moving.  Keep thinking and writing.  If you’re 2 weeks in and you’ve not made any significant progress, then you might need to set yourself more stringent daily goals.  Work with what you need.

January 31:

Revision: Read-through of manuscript completed.  Plot and character spreadsheets completed.  Should have significant notes on what needs to be changed, and might also have some ideas from brainstorming.  By now you will know everything about your first draft, and where the weak points are.

First draft: Main characters should be solid.  General outline of story, type, location, outcome.  Plotting may have started.  By now you will know what story you are going to write, and how.

February 29:

Revision: New plot outline, connecting hook and climax should be complete and solid.  All character arcs showing growth and characters de-cliched.

First draft: Plotter: Outline should be ready to go.  Pantsers: Why aren’t you writing?

March 31:

Revision: Getting into the nitty gritty of theme, message, tension mapping and beats.  Scenes rearranged for maximum impact.  All these should be firmed up ready for Quarter 2.

First draft: Plotter: You should be 10,000 words in at least.  Pantser: Why aren’t you writing?

Like I said, it’s loose.  But you will find that you can’t just work on one thing at a time.  All parts of the revision are interconnected.  So look for general progress, rather than “I’ve finished that bit”.

Good luck!  Questions and panicking in the comments.

Project 2012: First check-in

So have you started yet?  Have you pulled out the old manuscript, blown off the dust and opened the first page?  Have you developed your spreadsheet and started to read Chapter 1?  (If you want more information in your spreadsheet, have a look at the one developed by Kerryn.)

Or have you looked at this daunting task and wandered off to re-organise the bathroom cupboard contents by colour?

Or maybe you are caught up in plotting your new novel?  How’s that going?

This is a check-in post!  If you are participating, write a comment on your progress. This is also an opportunity to ask for help from myself and the other writers who are participating, or talk about some aspect of revision or writing that you would like more information on.

Talk about your fears and aspirations.  Get excited!  And if you haven’t already, pull out those manuscripts and get started.


Bob the Builder’s advice to writers

This looks a bit tricky.

Never be afraid to tackle something outside your comfort zone.

Stretch yourself.

Don’t say maybe.

Say Yes I Can.

Because if you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can do. Continue reading

Techniques to get you writing, Part 2: working with goals

Read Part 1: The Psychology of Failure here.

If, like me, you are relatively green when it comes to writing novels, you’ll find that your brain is not yet willing to work with you through the hard times, and has to be coaxed, cajoled and occasionally threatened into cooperating.

As Thomas Edison said, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”, and never a truer word was spoken.  All the good ideas in the world will go nowhere if you don’t have the perseverance to keep going until the end.

Procrastination usually sets in around the point where the momentum from your brilliant idea slows down, and you find yourself having to think about what you are writing.  This is the point where “inspiration” becomes “perspiration” and, if you don’t recognise this and work to overcome it, can result in yet another unfinished manuscript.

Continue reading

Techniques to get you writing, Part 1: The psychology of failure

Over the next month I’m going to post a series of articles on how to deal with the problem of actually getting words on the page.  This series was originally posted over at Kiwi Writers as part of their SocNoc Challenge.

This series isn’t aimed at the people who are going to write “one day” or the people who are “waiting for the perfect idea before writing”.  This series is aimed at the writers who really want to write, but who haven’t yet developed the discipline or courage to sit down and blast out that first draft.

And yes, that group includes me, which is why I developed this series in the first place. I’m talking about the people for whom the inner editor is louder than the narrative voice, and the fear is greater than the drive.

Continue reading