Friday, 28 December 2012

Pesky Life... You're Getting In The Way Of My Fantasy World!

Soooo... how long is it since I last blogged?

No, don't go and actually look, please, I'll just be embarrassed... Yes, that question was hypothetical. I know it's been a while, and there are many reasons for this.

Reason number one is discovering that, for Draft Two of The Renegades, I have to actually write a whole new chapter that fills in a lot of stuff currently missing from Draft One. Which means even when I've finished Draft Two, that chapter will still be a Draft One and suck more than the rest of the book, so I'll have to go back and do the whole stew-and-review process again for just that chapter. Assuming I don't find other moments in the story where I have to add in extra chapters of course... and they in turn don't mess up some structure/facts in any of the other Draft Two chapters...

And there I was thinking pregnancy and childbirth was a long and complicated process (although it has to be said my novel-writing process also seems to involve sitting down a lot and eating weird stuff.)

All of which is a rather weedy way of saying that it aint been flowing easily. Writer's Block? Well, I'm not sure if I should succumb to that kind of thinking (see here for my thoughts on that) so in order to not do precisely that I've been doing other kinds of writing instead, to stop my brain getting flabby and bored. But not a lot of Renegades writing, it has to be said. And because this blog is mainly about the progress made with Renegades, not a lot of blogging here either. (I am doing my ashamed face right now actually.)

Reason number two is a bit more universal; it's that thing called 'life.' That blimmin' thing that gets in the way of so many creative endeavours, because most of the time it just isn't as interesting. (Unless of course you are a fabulously wealthy and maybe even a bit famous person, in which case you could probably buy yourself things that would take the edge off the humdrum. But I'm not, so in my case that doesn't apply.) Christmas, for one thing. I realise I'm massively generalising here, but when you are a man, Christmas generally doesn't appear on your mental radar until... oooh, I don't know - maybe December? It certainly doesn't warrant much practical attention until you realise you've heard Wizzard's 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' at least five times in various public places in the last two hours or so. But for the average woman - most especially one with kids - Christmas starts way earlier than that. Planning for it is on a par with organising a war. Presents, food, who's going to who's house on which day, costumes for the school play.... it's okay, I won't go on, because I can hear you all yawning from here. But it eats chunks out of potential writing time, there's no getting away from it.

So there you have it; two potential excuses to choose from for my recent tardiness on Renegade writing. But that's in the past now, I'm glad to say. I'm turning the corner, crossing that bridge now I've come to it (and hopefully not burning it as well) and The Renegades is BACK ON. Hurrah!

So I suppose I'd better get back to it then. As Dory from 'Finding Nemo' says - "Just keep swim-ming, swim-ming, swim-ming..."

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Draft Two - Time To Get Real...

Well, my Date With Draft One of my novel The Renegades hit last Saturday, and I've spent the last seven days reading over it in preparation for the Draft Two process. And I have discovered two things:

1 - I'm not as bad a writer as I thought I was!
2 - I'm also not as good a writer as I thought I was.

It's a strange thing, to reach both conclusions at the same time, but then this isn't maths we're dealing with here, where every question only has one right answer (which probably also explains why I'm hopeless at maths. I'm a rubbish conformist.)

I suppose the best way to explain it is to say that the bits of Draft One that were good were... well, actually good, like a real, proper writer wrote them. While the bits that were bad... well, apart from the fact that I found myself guilty of some of the very things I'd been picking at in the writing of other authors, I also found myself at one point thinking "Jeez, this is note 163 - and I haven't even got three-quarters through the book yet!" (And my numbered notes are just the ones detailing changes too big to write as a one-liner on the manuscript... )

So I've learned something new from this exercise - something that, had I been taught it in a writing class or told it by an experienced author, I probably wouldn't have believed it. It's something I've had to learn the hard way - by actually going through the process for real.

Before now, I always thought Draft One was where I'd be doing the bulk of the donkey work. That the long, hard slog of actually getting the story down, from beginning to end, for the very first time, would be the most time-consuming part of the whole project. Everything after that would just be tweaking and polishing all the stuff I've already got down - editing what already exists. That won't take nearly as long to do - it'll be much quicker and easier than Draft One was. Wouldn't it?

I can see now how wrong that idea is. The real, sleeves-up graft is only just beginning.

Draft Two is not just a matter of dusting off Draft One and making it better; it's about upping the game considerably. It's about putting in all the parts of the story that are still missing (and my god, there's a lot more of that than I thought there'd be.) It's about finding and correcting every single plot, character and world mistake (and it pains me to confess there are a lot more of those than I thought there'd be too.) But most of all, it's about making every single part of the whole book better - even the bits that are already pretty good. It's not just an editing exercise - almost every chapter will have to be pretty much completely rewritten.

And that's what I've learned; Draft One is not, as I'd previously thought, the block of marble from which you carve and polish your literary David - it is merely the wireframe on which the whole thing is built. That means it won't look like anything much until I start slapping the clay on top - and that, clearly, doesn't happen until Draft Two, the real donkey work of the novelwriting process.

So... if Draft One was the conception stage, it looks like Draft Two is the pregnancy. I wonder if it causes weird cravings, backache and swollen feet too?

But I'm not downhearted - far from it. It's actually quite exciting, and I'm up for the challenge. Well let's face it - if I'm going to fall at this hurdle I don't have much chance of making it as a bona fide novelist in the future, do I? So bring it on, Renegades Draft Two! Meet me at the computer in ten minutes time -  'cause you and me have an appointment, and I don't like tardiness...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Six Weeks Is Longer Than I Thought

OMG (as I believe people under thirty years old say these days) have I really got three-and-a-half more weeks to go before I can start on 'Renegades' Draft 2? I'm sure weeks weren't this long when I were a little girl...!

I've given up on the kid's comedy novel, by the way. Well no - not given up exactly, just pushed it aside for a future project. Mothballed it, I suppose you could say. Instead I am now working on - another sci-fi novel. Yep, it seems I just can't leave the genre alone, no matter how hard I try, so I decided not to fight it and just go with it. Although I suppose I'd better not get to like this one too much, since I'll have to put it aside again when I start 'Renegades' Draft 2 - and even when that book's fully complete, it's just Part I in a trilogy, so I'm going to have to write the other two before I can go back this new one... Tsk! Get me, with my 'Oooh, I'm writing a trilogy" line - without even knowing if Draft 1 of Book 1 will make the cut yet. Me and my ridiculously lofty future plans!

How on earth do the professonal novelists deal with this? How do they resist the burning temptation to take 'just a little peek' at their simmering Draft One for six whole weeks? Some of them wait even longer. I haven't taken any sneaky peeks yet - but most of my writing thoughts have been consumed with what I remember of it, already debating in my head what I'll probably need to change, cut, add in... Am I allowed to do that? Is that breaking the rules? Ah, Stephen King et al - you give us these rules about 'setting your manuscript aside for a time,' but when we have questions WHERE ARE YOU, eh? EH?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Writer's Block: Like A Unicorn, But Not As Pretty

Well, it's now official; in the past three days I have only written about another 800 words of my 'Avalaff' children's novel; that works out at about roughly 1.5 hours of writing. About a third of the output I set out to achieve for my weekly writing schedule. Pititful. Lazy.

What can I say? It aint coming, it's not working, it just doesn't seem to be flowing at all... now, where and when have I heard myself say things like that before? Oh yeah, I remember...Those times when I fell victim to that curse of all writers. The dreaded malady that no writer ever wants to catch, because it can be crippling, life-destroying - even fatal to the fledgling writer if left untreated for too long. I'm talking, of course, about Writer's Block.

Now even as I speak those two words, I can picture half of you fellow writers out there coming over all funny and having to go for a sit down. And then I see the other half getting a twitchy eyelid and fighting an urge to punch a wall. (I'm not suggesting for a moment that you're all lunatics, that's just the crazy, over-dramatised way my brain works. No offence meant, believe me.) Because, as we all know from all the Writers' How-To books and courses and whatnot, opinions about Writer's Block can be neatly divided into two camps.

Firstly, there are those who know, with sharp, icy fear in their hearts, that it is completely real, it does exist and anyone who says it doesn't is lying through their teeth because they think denial is the only way to fight it, the poor, deluded fools..! These are the ones who have known the pain of sitting in front of a blank page/screen for what seems like days, weeks... hell, hundreds of years sometimes... waiting for something to bubble to the surface in their brain, and getting precisely nothing. Or, worse, a load of bubbly brain farts that are about as welcome on that blank page/screen as they would be floating around in the air. There's no way of knowing how long they're going to suffer from it, and there's nothing medicinal they can take to make it go away (although popular 'home remedies' include junk food, nicotine and alcohol.) All they can do is hope that it will go away eventually, and their mojo will return once more.

And then there's the other camp, who say that Writer's Block is a big, fat myth, a lie, and a conspiracy. There's no such thing, they cry - it's just procrastination and laziness masquerading as some kind of giant mental fog that threatens to engulf your creative brain! These are the ones who get angry with themselves and go straight into full-on Fix It Mode whenever that stream looks like it's running dry; "Too many distractions, that's what it is - I'll shut down my email... and my web browser... in fact, I'll come off the computer entirely, hah! Yeah. In fact, I won't even write here at my desk, where I can keep getting up to make coffee and go to the toilet and stuff, 'cause that's more distractions. Yeah, I'm gonna go and lock myself in the broom cupboard with an A4 pad and a biro! And I'm not gonna let myself out until I've written at least two pages of something decent! Right, here we go then, get myself comfortable, let's DO this... Damn! Where are my Jammie Dodgers? I can't write a word without my Jammie Dodgers... I'm going to have to go out and buy some more before I do anything else... Damn, damn, DAAMMNN!!!"

(Again, the above is likely to be a mild exaggeration of Real Life. I can't help it, my brain just does that, okay?)

I would like to propose a third theory, if that's alright with everyone. And that is, that Writer's Block is like a unicorn. Most of us at the very least suspect that it doesn't exist and has never existed - even if we can't actually supply conclusive proof - but for those who do believe in them they are very real indeed, and they don't need to gallop across your telly screen with Clare Balding commentating in the background to justify their existence, thank you very much. If you believe in something, it's real for you - and if you don't, it's not. Simples. So let's not fight about it, and instead try to think of ways to cure those pesky bouts of Writer's Block/Procrastinatitus, shall we?

Well, perhaps it helps to first define what the 'Block' is in the first place. For me, at the moment, it's this blimmin' Avalaff novel. Don't get me wrong, I'm very fond of it and feel it has potential as a 'keeper' work... but I've hit a speed bump with it now, and my creative stream has dwindled to a sad little trickle over the past three days. But does this stop me writing anything? Well, no... I'm writing this Blog right now, for starters. So, if it is a Block, it's only with this particular piece of work. Which automatically doesn't make it Writer's Block - just 'Writing Avalaff' Block.

So, maybe the answer is to just acknowledge that, and instead work on something else for a couple of days. After all, the important thing to keep yourself going is simply to write - to come to the page/screen regularly and keep those writing muscles toned, like athletes do when they're training. (Although I don't think they're allowed to scoff junk food, nicotine or alcohol at the same time, so that's one-nil to the Writer's Life already - woohoo!)

So, however much I may want to adhere to my 'schedule' of sticking exclusively to writing 'Avalaff' until my six-week stewing period for 'Renegades' is up, I think I may have to cut myself some slack on that. Switch to something else for just a day or two - probably something completely different in feel - and give the 'Blocked' work a little time to breathe.

I suppose it's a bit like crop rotation really. After a field's been used to grow crops in for two or three years in a row it needs a period of time to 'lie fallow,' where it's left to rest and replenish its nutrients ready for the next planting session. But the farmer still grows crops in the other fields - one of which will be a field that lay farrow last year, and is therefore ripe and ready for planting new stuff in.

Yes, I know - I can hear you saying it out there, and you're right; it is alright for me, I'm not on a deadline, having to finish a piece of commissoned work that someone's screaming at you to get done. Well my answer to that is that I think it's good to have an alternative bit of writing to do anyway - even if it's something that's never going to see the light of day - for just these 'Block'-y periods. After all, surely the alternative is sitting in front of a piece of work for hours and not getting anything done anyway? Might as well fill your time up with the equivalent of 'writer's star-jumps' - it's got to be better than 'non-inspired writer's facepalms.'

And, while you're about it, why not have some more junk food, nicotine or alcohol?*

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*Disclaimer: Yes, Mr. Lawyer-type, I  will of course stress to impressionable writers that indulging in any of the above substances may be harmful to their health, no,  I am not under contract to endorse Jammie Dodgers and yes, other biscuit-related products are available.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

This Week I Have Mostly Been... Procrastinating

Well... it's Confession Time, I guess.

During the writing of  'The Renegades: Redemption' I was cracking out a steady pace of about 10-15 hours a week of work on it. Yeah, alright, I'm not asking you to faint with admiration, don't worry. I'm well aware that's not many hours compared to, like, a full-time job or anything. But when you're a mum and housewife you don't get many hours that you're 'allowed' to call your own for 'indulging' your 'little hobby.'

 ( I HATE that word - 'housewife,' by the way. Makes me feel like a mindless drone. 'Domestic Engineer?' Makes me sound like a plumber or something. Not that I've anything against plumbers... it's just not a very accurate description to apply to running a house and bringing up a kid, that's all. We need something more dynamic that doesn't sound like a patronising mickey-take. Future project, perhaps? Anyway, I'm digressing...)

The point I was making, just before my brain randomly took a wander away from it, is that I had myself a nice little writing schedule whilst writing Renegades and - more importantly - I stuck to it. Now I've had to put it aside to stew for a while, and work on something else that's about as different from that as it's possible to get, my schedule's gone... a little wonky, it's fair to say. To the point where this week, for the first time in about six months, I am unlikely to achieve my minimum 10 hours of writing.

Okay, as Crimes of the Century go, it's hardly up there with Grand Larceny. But it's made me feel twitchy. Does it mean I'm Failing As A Writer? Aren't writers supposed to bounce out of bed every morning going "I want to write today, I was born to write, let me write right now, damn it!" ...Or something like that.

I've got to be honest, I haven't felt like that any day of this past week. Now that I'm working on this other project, it's been more like "Oh god, I suppose I'd better do some work on this again... nothing's coming... aw jeez, I'm not sure I can even do this..." It's not because it's not a 'fun' thing to write; it's a comedy, after all, so it should be ten times the fun of the predominantly giggle-free Renegades. And, if I'm completely honest with myself, it's also not because my six-year-old son is still off school, and doesn't go back until Wednesday next week. Sure, he has the energy of a Tasmanian Devil, and I've long run out of ways to get him out of the house that don't cost tons of money, don't need a car to get to and don't - JUST DON'T, MUMMY - involve going anywhere near shops to buy ANY things that aren't new toys or games. But that in itself is not what's slowed my momentum down. So what is the cause then?

Perhaps I'm 'missing' Renegades. After all, I devoted six months and some 200-plus hours of writing to it - and once I start on Draft 2 it'll be at least another 200 more before it's completed, I'll wager. Perhaps I'm just having trouble adjusting to the shift in perspective, from dark, gritty sci-fi to children's comedy in the space of a week. Or perhaps I'm just subconsciously trying to 'take a week off work' and feeling too guilty about that to let it properly happen. I can't imagine that, if I did, my Writing Brain would really shrivel to the size of a pickled walnut and I'd just be sitting there drooling and grunting the next time I tried to write. But it's there, in the back of my head, nagging away like an exasperated parent. The Fear.

Is that the Writer's Ultimate Nightmare, I wonder? That you somehow 'lose the muse' forever if you stop, for even a couple of days? Or have I just become as nerdy about my 'schedule' as I am about many other aspects of my life? Maybe I should join a support group or something.

Or maybe I should kick myself up the bum and get back to my writing, like a good little writer. *Sigh*... okay, ta-ta for now then...

Monday, 27 August 2012

New Novel... New Identity Crisis

Okay... while Draft One of my sci-fi novel, 'The Renegades: Redemption' sits and stews for a while, I've started another one. Well, it keeps me off the streets, doesn't it..? Anyway, this one is a childrens' fantasy novel, and is completely different from Renegades in the same way that Joyce Grenfell's humour is completely different from Frankie Boyle's. Which has got me thinking, for the first time, about the thorny issue of Pen Names.

Y'see, my sci-fi novel is very 'adult.' No, NOT in the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' sense - but certainly not the sort of thing they'd consider televising on CBBC any time soon, if you catch my drift. If, in the magical world of Dreams Come True, it gets published with one name attached, I'm going to have to think about using an alternative name for any kid's books I write - purely to avoid the scenario of some innocent mum going into a bookshop and thinking "Ooh look, a Wendy Christopher novel. She wrote that jolly tale about the king of Avalaff that my little Tyler liked so much - I think I'll buy this 'Renegades' one for his seventh birthday..." You know what I mean. Don't want to be accused of corrupting the nation's youth.

So... how do I want to play this? Which genre would I want my real name on, and which one the pen name?

And no, before you ask, I would not do that thing where an author has "Jenny Bloggs writing as Matilda Saucebucket" or whatever. I've never understood that. I mean, I understand a writer wanting to write novels in different genres under different names, so as not to be pigeonholed... but surely announcing the fact on the front of your books just makes you seem like you have sort of multiple personality disorder? Isn't it a bit like an undercover policeman turning up to his 'case' in full disguise - and then lifting up his fake beard in front of the crims and going "Woo-hoo! It's me all along - did you guess? Oh whoops - sorry, just pretend you never saw that..!"

So no - if I'm going to use more than one name, I won't be listing them all on the front of my books like some sort of Pick Your Own Alt-Fest. I will be using them purely for the altogether higher purposes of deception and subterfuge.

This is of course, assuming that ANY of my novels get published. I have to have the attitude that they will, because otherwise my confidence will crumble like a sandcastle and I will just give up on my writing dreams and - in all probability - go completely insane, which is not something people approve of in suburban Maidstone.

So I'm bigging up my own ego for entirely altruistic reasons. I'm glad we got that cleared up.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

I Think I'm Finally A Novelist..!

This week I finished the First Draft of my science fiction novel, The Renegades: Redemption (working title that will probably become the actual one unless I can finally dream up something better.)

That's 'finished' as in 'actually got to the bit where I get to type 'THE END' when the final chapter's been written.' This is the first time in my life that this has happened to me!

Sure, in the past I've written the lyrics for two musicals (both of which were performed in the USA) and had a couple of short stories and parts of collaborative short stories published - but when it comes to novels... well I've got enough halfway-through and only-just-started ones to stock a library (admittedly a very rubbish library, seeing as none of the books would be finished.) Until now. Now I've actually FINISHED a novel!

Well okay - I've actually finished a first draft, which isn't quite the same thing, as I'm sure all the proper novelists out there will tell me. But for me, this is still A Big Thing. For one thing, it means I'm not the big old, lazy, procrastinatin' lightweight I thought I was (well, okay then - I'm a little less like it than I used to be.) And second - now it means I actually have to find out if I've got what it takes to reach the next stage - completing Draft Two.

In six weeks time I will need to unearth my Draft One copy and rip it to pieces with my distance-critical eye. I might discover it's so awful that actually taking it to Draft Two stage could be considered a crime against literature, and while that will probably hurt at least I will have discovered it early rather than late in the journey. I'm hoping that won't be the case, of course - I invested a lot of time and effort in it, after all. I even made an Excel spreadsheet to track my hours spent writing it, for crying out loud. (I know - dead nerdy, but it seemed to work for making me write each day. I suppose seeing those little numbers adding up in my Total Hours columns guilted me into keeping at it.)

And then, if said Draft One proves to actually NOT suck, I will be able to dive headlong into the process of creating Draft Two. And heck, I might even finish THAT too. Providing an asteroid doesn't hit the planet and vaporise us all of course, or some other natural disaster of a world-ending nature. (That would be just typical of my luck, that would; finally get my posterior in gear with my writing and then get wiped out in a global crisis of bad B-movie proportions.)

But no! I must think positive, happy thoughts. Today is the first day of the rest of my life as a novelist. Not necessarily a successful one - but a novelist all the same. This calls for a celebration!

I may well eat a colossal amount of chocolate tonight...