Saturday, 2 April 2016

How Not Writing Your Novel Can Sometimes Help You Write Your Novel

It's the Easter school holidays here in UK-Land now. Which means...

*drumroll and fanfare - probably played on a kazoo...*

'Excuses-for-not-writing-of-the-busy-mum-variety' - time!

Put down that tiny violin please, it's not necessary. I worked through my guilt in the week leading up to this one, so by the time it arrived I was already down with having a week 'semi-off.' This is partly because my husband also had a week off, so I knew it was pointless trying to adhere to my usual writing targets. I'd just get my inner Gollum on when I couldn't meet them - "we didn't mean to be bad, preciouss... You failed ussss! Ussselesssss little hobbit!"  So.... it's fine. Really. Not a problem at all.

As well as Easter, Spring has also... sort of started. It's a bit hard to tell here in the UK, what with random raging storms and torrential rain still rearing their spoilsporty heads (I have at least two friends who lost their greenhouses in Storm Katie this week. Yep, we've started naming our storms too, just to make them feel that bit more important.) But the calendar says it's here, and for me that means getting my allotment ready for this years crops - so yeah, lots of digging over plots and sowing and potting up of seedlings. But there's something about losing yourself in the rhythm of digging and garden-pottering that gives your brain time to ponder over the mechanics and machinations of a novel-in-progress, and I've solved many a twisty plot-knot while up to my elbows in mud and weeds.

Equally, while I may not have contributed as much to the actual word-count of Redemption this week, I have found another way to work on it that's really helped me in ways I could never have imagined, so I thought I'd share it here.

I first discovered this strategy by accident a few weeks ago. Neither my husband nor my son enjoy accompanying me on a food shopping trip at the best of times, never mind on a Saturday morning when there's serious gaming time to catch up on, so I usually end up going into town on my own and leaving them to it. However, this week I went in an hour earlier than I normally do, and took a big notebook and pen with me in a rucksack, so I'd have an hour to myself for sitting in a nice cafe and scribbling with a coffee and a snack beside me. I've done this several times in the past, and even talked about it previously in this blog as part of a process for unsticking a stuck bit in your novel. This time I didn't have a specific problem with anything in Redemption, but I did feel as if my progress was slowing down a bit, so, without really thinking about it too much, I opened my notebook, stuck the date at the top of the page and started writing about it.

I started by writing about the scene I'd just finished writing; what I'd changed from my outline and why, how I felt about that, and what else I might now have to change further along in the story as a result. Then I wrote about the scene I was going to write next; where I would stick to my outline and where I might deviate from it and try another angle. As the debating and deliberating occurred in my head I wrote that down too, transcribing each little internal question and argument along with the mental responses that followed. It was part free-writing, part journalling - and indeed, by the time I had written a full A4 page in this manner it did look very much like a diary entry. Along the way I was able to make crucial decisions and answer nagging questions I'd had in the back of my mind about those particular scenes, which I was able to tackle as soon as I sat down in front of my computer to work on them.

So, when next Saturday rolled around, I decided to do the same thing again. By this time, I was at the stage of writing a scene that would need to change as a result of the scenes I'd changed last week. Not a problem; I had all my scribblings from last week's diary entry as notes to help with figuring out those changes. Again I wrote down all the internal debating as well as the solutions I came up with, even if they seemed trivial or irrelevant (or simply repeating what I'd written in my previous entry.)

And as the weeks have passed, I've found this to be exponentially more helpful with each new journal entry (I'm doing at least two a week now, even if that means doing some of them at home rather than in a comfy cafe.) It's not just the nuts-and-bolts decisions and outline alterations that have been useful to record; expressing the doubts and questions still to be answered has been just as useful too. Particularly since the act of writing them down seems to ignite a kind of slow-cooker process in my brain so that, by the time I come to write the next journal entry, the answer is at least half-formed already as I address it again.

When I worked as a software technician for an avionics company they had a standard practice that was very similar - the Project Log Book. Each employee had their own, and was required to record details of whatever code they were working on, progress made and things that still needed to be done to complete it. Of course this was a software environment where only the dry, technical data was to be recorded - putting in your feelings about what you had to do and internally debating whether it was the 'right' thing to do would have been somewhat frowned upon. That may have been why I didn't take the Project Log Book ethos all that seriously when I worked there (mine wasn't just written emotionally, it was filled with silly/cynical cartoons expressing those emotions.)

But now I can see how the basic idea of the software environment Project Log Book, combined with the freedom afforded by a diary format to express the accompanying emotions, can be invaluable to a writer. Done regularly, it offers deeper insights than an outline, helps you devise a plan for each writing session before you sit down to begin it and - best of all - creates a record you can look back over, to observe thought patterns for those particularly troublesome parts of a work-in-progress. And unlike random scribbles jotted down on the nearest piece of paper as and when inspiration strikes - which are just as useful in their own way and not to be dismissed - this type of W-I-P Journal works best as a one-stop location where all decisions and feelings about the project are recorded and collated over time.

Try it, is all I can say. It may well help you as much as it's helped me.

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