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Tag: writing

How to stay sane while rewriting

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Image credit – Flickr – Becca Peterson

Fear seems to be the theme for a lot of my posts so far this year 🙁
I have been steadily rewriting my first draft for a while now, in fact for the first part of my story, this is more like rewrite number four and every time I think I’ve got it in the bag, I realise that there are still far too many aspects of the story that aren’t quite right yet. Admittedly, I have sought external feedback and now I’m having to take that feedback on the chin, which is proving to be very hard. It feels like I will never be done with the rewrites and that fills me with gloom and fear. I am normally a very optimistic person, a great feat considering I have been married for nearly twenty-five years to someone whose favourite band of all time is The Smiths and favourite singer, Morrissey, by extension 😉 I have spent my life being a glass half-full kind of person but since I started my first novel, I have found myself feeling daunted by the uphill struggle that writing involves. Naturally, I have spent some time wondering why this is and here is my conclusion.

Although there is a wealth of advice out there, there is no single tried and tested method for writing a novel and you wouldn’t want there to be. It’s just that there are so many choices. Should you outline or fly by the seat of your pants? Should you just write until you finish then edit or should you edit as you go? Should you aim for a beginning, middle and end or should you have five plot points, maybe even seven? I could go on but I can see you nodding and don’t even get me started on punctuation! I’m just reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ at the moment and whilst I’m enjoying this book by one of my writing heroes, even he would agree that he doesn’t practise what he preaches (see what he has to say about the use of adverbs, for example). As a result, the whole writing process is very confusing for a new writer. It will all be such a relief when we’re writing book number two and we know what to expect!

I read an interesting article by an author called Ryan Casey about five steps you can take to make rewriting less painful. You can read it here. Three of his points really stood out to me, as follows:

  • I found his suggestion about creating a rewriting outline very helpful. He talks of the ‘beat sheet’ idea put forward by Roz Morris in her book ‘Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish with Confidence’. Interestingly, I had been trying to do this very thing in an Excel spreadsheet myself, having seen a synopsis tackled this way by a writing friend. I say trying because I was copying and pasting my scene descriptions from my Scrivener document and it was taking so long, I had become bored and given up! I have decided that I will try and finish this to help me get my head round what I have put into each scene so that when, I said, WHEN, I need to go back and change things, it might be a bit easier.
  • Interestingly, he suggests setting a target of rewriting two scenes a day, in an effort to be realistic about your targets and goals. I have been doing much more than this, steaming ahead on my days off from work which is my precious writing time. The result of this approach for me has been that I now have so much more to put right following the feedback I’ve received. I am under some pressure in that I have joined the RNA’s (Romantic Novelists’ Association) New Writers’ Scheme and this means I have to submit my manuscript for assessment by the end of August at the latest, although I would prefer to do it sooner. However, I think I have to slow down and be patient if I want the end result to be as good as possible.
  • Finally, he suggests that we should work on a new project to boost our creative energy. I have left my Nano 2013 novel untouched, pretty much since the end of last November and this point made me realise that I miss it 🙂

I now have some new goals to help me and hope that I will be able to get back to it with renewed enthusiasm. I know this is new advice and we’re all feeling overwhelmed with it but the trouble is, when you don’t know the answers, what else are you going to do? Of course, we will all do what feels right for us individually and only in doing so, will we know whether it was right or not. Writing this first book to completion will be trial and error and we will either make it to book two or we will give up between now and then. I sincerely hope that what I have learned so far will help me get there and if I have helped you too, then so much the better.

If you’re stuck in the middle of rewriting, let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Facing my fear of writing

egg-timer-154763_150I am now well into the process of rewriting my first draft. I have written a synopsis I am happy with and last week, I started rewriting, following the synopsis as closely as I could. On Monday and Tuesday, which are my days off from my day job, I got so much rewriting done, it was scary but then I reached the point where I could go no further without a massive rewrite and reorder of several chapters. Since Tuesday, I have done no work on my novel at all, even though I have had plenty of opportunity to do so. I wanted to write but I was struggling to put the new scenes together in my mind and I realised they might affect the timeline of my story quite dramatically as well. I felt like it was going to be too difficult, if not impossible to do this writing and so I simply stopped.

By yesterday, I had decided that this could not carry on, I had to do something about it, but what? First of all, I made sure to get all my jobs done so that I would have a clear day for writing today. Unusually, I have to work tomorrow but I didn’t want to miss out on one of my writing days so I checked off that goal by the end of the day. My plan was to make a start on writing this morning at nine o’clock and to write as much as possible throughout the day. Well, nine o’clock came and went as I wasted time on Twitter and put off having a shower. I was getting very annoyed with myself but seemed incapable of doing anything about it. Then help came from an unexpected source, although it was another writer so I shouldn’t have been surprised since I have found many generous writers on this journey so far 🙂 Helena Fairfax is another romance novelist and member of the RNA and she told me about a technique she uses to help herself get down to writing. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique and you can read about it on her blog here.

The basic idea is that you write or edit or do whatever other task for twenty-five minutes and then take a five minute break. When you have done four stints, you can take a longer break. This is said to improve your mental agility and I should really have heard about it before but haven’t, although I have come across similar things. Somehow though, this has allowed me to face my fear and to conquer it and I have now done six, yes, six, separate stints today and may well fit another one in before cooking dinner. By working in bite-sized chunks like this, I have kept focussed, putting my ‘phone and my computer on silent, and I have felt such a great sense of achievement at writing that difficult chapter and coming out the other side.

The trouble is that there are so many distractions and it’s easy to get side-tracked and I’ve often felt very disappointed when I come to the end of the day and find that I have done so little. Now I must admit to feeling a bit smug today but do you know, I think I deserve it 🙂

With grateful thanks to Helena. I hope this helps you too as you face the fear but if you have another tried and tested technique, do let me know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.

A review of the first year of My Writing Life

As the end of 2013 approaches, it seems like a good time to review what I have achieved this year and to set some writing goals for the coming year.

I started writing my first draft of my first novel in April 2013. I finally finished it in October and by this time, I had learnt that first drafts are usually not that good so I would have to spend the next several months editing what I had written. At first, I felt only despair at the mammoth task this would be but then, after a lot of research, I knuckled down and got on with it. Unfortunately, I had thought that I would be able to do this at the same time as taking part in NaNoWriMo 2013! Mad fool, I hear you cry. Well, I came to my senses pretty quickly and decided that I would just use November to read my WIP aloud and make editing notes as I went along. This became my first round of edits and I will have completed this by the end of the year. Yep, by tomorrow. I feel very proud of that, as well as the fact that I was a NaNoWriMo winner, writing just over 50,000 words of my second novel. I have also managed to find two critique partners to accompany me on my editing journey and I know their help is going to be invaluable next year.

In June 2013, I started to blog about my writing life. I wanted to write about my experience on this journey, sharing what I learnt along the way and I am amazed to see that I have managed to blog every week since then. Not only that, I have found new things to say and have made a few good friends along the way. I really enjoy writing the blog as well and I enjoy reading other people’s.

I also joined Twitter and started to build a following by following other writers and people dedicated to helping writers. I have found this much more fun than I expected, although it has also become a bit of an obsession!
It has been a year in which I have learnt so much and most of it from other writers, for which I am very grateful. I am looking forward to the new writing year immensely.
So my goals for 2014:

  • To finish editing my first draft of ‘From Here to Nashville’, hopefully by April which would be a year since I started writing it. I would like to have it professionally edited ultimately and I have a couple of ideas about how to manage this.
  • I plan to work hard with my critique partners to make my work as good as it can possibly be.
  • I would like to finish the first draft of my second novel too. I don’t have a deadline on this but it would be good to have finished it by the time NaNoWriMo 2014 comes round!
  • I would like to attend a writing course or two this year to help me progress my learning.
  • I am thinking of taking a proofreading course as a way of supplementing my income now that I work part-time. It would be great if longer term, the proofreading could pay for some of my other goals 😉 I am realistic about this though (honest!)

A good year then, all in all. I hope your writing year has been good and that you have set yourself some sensible goals for next year. Best wishes to you all for 2014 and thank you for reading 🙂

I’m a NaNoWriMo 2013 winner and it feels great!

I finally finished NaNoWriMo 2013 last Friday, having written a grand total of 50,007 words of the first draft of my second novel, provisionally titled ‘Seeking Approval’. It felt so good to meet the goal I had set myself of writing a minimum of 1,667 words every day during November. I think there was only one day when I didn’t write and so I was able to catch up again quite quickly. I worked really hard to follow the advice and keep my ‘inner editor’ at bay, only changing what I absolutely had to in order to keep writing. Some mornings I would wake up, knowing there was a massive plot-hole and that I wouldn’t be able to write any more until I had fixed it so I did that but nothing else in terms of editing. The final story is pretty solid so far and I think that’s partly because I wrote an outline, this time. I haven’t stuck rigidly to it but it certainly helped me when I found I was getting stuck and gave me the push I needed to keep going on several occasions. I suppose that I had a certain clarity of vision when I wrote the outline and that helped me when things got a bit ‘blurry’ further down the line.

I took the weekend off from writing to recover a bit, and to put up Christmas trees, you know, essential stuff like that. 😉 We have a family tradition of putting the tree up on the first Sunday in December (lucky for my kids this year!) and so I had an obligation. It was fun though and allowed my brain time to think about what I needed to do next in my writing life.

So, today, I have gone back to editing my first novel, ‘From Here to Nashville’. I am still in the first phase of self-editing, which I have designated the ‘reading aloud’ phase, following all the advice I’ve read. This has flagged up lots of little things that I will tidy up afterwards. I’m still only about halfway through though – it really takes a long time to read aloud, which I’d forgotten. I reckon it will take me to the end of the year to finish this phase and then I’m going to have a go at all the editing levels suggested by the other writers I follow on Twitter. I will post links to these as I go through, in case it’s of help to anyone else.In the meantime, I thought I might try my hand at a Christmas short story, taking inspiration from many other writers out there who seem to be doing the same. I’ve never written a short story so I think it would be a good discipline. It will also take my mind off the two things I’m waiting to hear back about: a first chapter critique for ‘Nashville’ and also, whether it has been accepted for a free manuscript assessment. Busy, busy, busy.

What’s your writing life like post-NaNo? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Bye for now.

The End of NaNoWriMo is in sight

Just under a week to go now till the end of my first NaNoWriMo and I am on target to finish my 50,000 words by the end of November. I am so pleased that I have managed to achieve this but there have been a few ups and downs for me during the month, as I’m sure there have been for other NaNoWriMos.

At the beginning, the idea of writing 1,667 words every day seemed hard. Where would I find the time, especially on work days? However, it was the excitement of starting a new project that kept me going in the first week and despite having one day when I didn’t write at all, I still caught up and kept at it.

Then as I moved into the second week, I got into a routine and I was surprised to find that I was adding ‘Writing’ to my list of things to do each day, making time for it alongside all the other things I MUST do every day. Once it took on that importance, I suddenly found that I was getting faster at typing as well. I haven’t participated in any actual word sprints via Twitter but I have been completing some sprints of my own and the sense of achievement I feel every day as I update my word count on the NaNoWriMo site and I study my stats is so gratifying, it’s almost ridiculous 🙂

My story has flagged a little at times and I know I am going to have to do some serious work on it when November is over but I have kept writing and that is what’s important. So by this time next week, I will be back to editing my first novel with a  vengeance. I have been reading it out loud during November, as my first stage of editing and there are many, many chapters to go! I have also applied for a manuscript assessment to help me with the structural edit I know it needs so I’m really keeping my fingers crossed about that one.

The final thing I want to achieve by the end of the year is to sign up for and complete The Society for Editors and Proofreaders ‘Introduction to Proofreading’ course. This is step two in my plan for my new writing life and will start me on the road towards step three next year. If anyone else has done this course, I’d love to hear how you got on with it.

Good luck to all NaNoWriMos out there for this final week. Feel free to let me know how you’re getting on.

New York! New York!

I knew this title would grab your attention but it IS relevant, honest. Next year will see our 25th wedding anniversary and we have been pondering, with our children, where we might go for a special holiday break to celebrate. The thing is that our kids are now 12 and 16 and they’re looking for something a bit different these days and we’d like to go somewhere we’ve never been before. We’ve considered New York before but for some reason (mainly expense and timing), we’ve never managed to get there. Well, now the time seems right. It will be decent weather in April hopefully and if we plan this now, we might even be able to save up for a five day break between now and then. So I’m feeling very excited today and I keep bursting into song as I wander around the house, all Sinatra like, well as much as I can given that I’m female 😉

So how is this relevant to my writing I hear you cry? As you may know, my first novel is provisionally titled ‘From Here to Nashville’ and during the story, the two main characters, Rachel and Jackson, spend a few days in – you guessed it – New York! A trip to the city will therefore allow me to do proper research like a proper writer! Woohoo! I am really looking forward to going and we’re all buzzing with the things we want to do whilst we’re there. The only problem might be fitting them all in, oh and the fact that one daughter is vegan and the other would like to live on burgers but apart from that, we should be fine!

Otherwise, I have had a great NaNo week, keeping up with my daily word count and I feel quite pleased with the progress of my second story so far. My brain has also been constantly referring to my ‘Nashville’ story, putting right some of the plot problems I need to sort out in December when NaNo is over. I am also quite impressed with my own self-discipline today, writing this blog post so early in the day because I was inspired to do so and it feels good that this has become such an important part of my writing routine. I now feel warmed up to write my NaNo words for today and all before lunch-time too! I might have to go and have a lie-down after that.

Let me know how your NaNo week has gone or connect with me as a buddy. My user name is wood_beez48.

Is there such a thing as too much advice?

So, what have I been up to this past week, from a writing perspective that is? Well, I’ve read lots of advice about structural editing for one thing and to be honest, some days, it has left me feeling quite depressed. There is just so-ooooo much advice out there that I can’t see the wood for the trees – oh no, cliché alert!!! and too many exclamation marks too, aargh!!! Let’s get specific then:

  • I have dipped in to Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and found that useful but will have to wait till I get to the end to see how I can apply it.
  • I looked at Alexandra Sokoloff’s site and tried to apply her method to my novel but although this is a useful structure, it just didn’t seem to work for me this time. I may use it for my NaNoWriMo writing this year though because it has a lot of merit and I’d like to give it a try. Have a look and see what you think.
  • I tried out the Snowflake method. The problem is, as you may have realised, I have already written my first draft and so I am trying to ‘impose’ these methods on to my novel after the event and that makes it doubly hard.
  • Finally, after looking at some really useful posts on this site, I found a method of plotting that seemed to work for me. Janice has a way of explaining difficult things in a really simple way that I understand, maybe it’s just me 😉 But judging by the positive comments on the site, I don’t think so. This method by Michael Hague – The 6 Stage Plot Structure – fits my novel really well and has left me feeling much more enthusiastic about checking my story for plot holes. It’s going to take me a while to carry out this editing stage but I do feel more confident about doing it now, thanks to Janice.

I have started to read my first draft out loud as suggested by many people on the internet as my first proper editing step and this has already helped me to pick up on some important points. For example, I write dialogue very formally – I always write ‘I have’ rather than ‘I’ve’ which is what we would say to each other of course so I have tried to correct that tendency wherever I spot it.

As this week is half-term week in my part of the UK, I am not sure how much writing I will get done with my own kids around but I wanted to keep up with my blog and I also intend to start NaNoWriMo on Friday, come hell or high water!

Another busy week then. Let me know if any of these methods work for you or if you have another suggestion for structural edits of your first draft. Good luck with your writing in the coming week 🙂

Attempting a structural edit of your first draft

Last week, I was overjoyed to have finished the first draft of my debut novel and was looking forward to the course I was going on to help me with the next phase. Then I found out that my course had been cancelled! Cue much disappointment and even despair on my part. What was I going to do?

As a beginner writer, I know that my first draft is going to need a lot of work on it and I don’t really feel equipped to do that on my own but I don’t have lots of money to spend on asking a professional to do it for me either.
So finally, after much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing (not just figuratively speaking!), I knew I had to get on with it. I had come across a really useful website earlier in the week that someone doing prep for NaNoWriMo had recommended.

This got me thinking that I should apply this to my story to help me see where the gaps are and hopefully, begin to tighten things up. I found out that Alexandra has a couple of useful books too and I downloaded one of those today from Amazon, aimed particularly at romance writers.

I have spent a lot of useful time thinking about this today and it has helped me a lot but it is going to take me a really long time. I know that this is partly because I didn’t do all this preparation first and I truly regret that now but I have no choice but to try and get on with it. My aim is to make my novel better and so I am determined to plod on and do the best I can with the wealth of information there is on the internet and by buying one or two recommended books for writers as well. Wish me luck!

Are you doing a structural edit or have you tried to do one for one of your novels in the past? Have you got any tips you could share? Any comments will be greatly appreciated as always.

The Joy of Finishing your First Draft!

I have finally done it, finished the first draft of my first ever novel. I have written nearly 4,000 words today in a final burst of energy that I found somewhere but don’t ask me where! I guess it was knowing that the end really was in sight and that was spurring me on. So now I have to take all the advice I’ve been reading and leave it alone for a bit before I even think about editing. I’m OK with that as a concept but what else am I going to do with myself now that I have established this routine of writing as much as I can on my days off from my teaching job?

Well, this calls for a list, methinks.
1. I’m going to go on my first ever writing course on 27th October. This is the one I’m attending, just to remind you, if you’re interested. I am really looking forward to it, as I ponder the pitfalls of not only editing but polishing my story and making it worthy of publication. I am sure I will be talking about this a lot over the coming months.

2. I am going to take part in this November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a  month, that’s 1,667 words a day in case you’d like to have a go as well 😉 Some of you may think me mad, hell, I think I must be mad but I’m going to give it a go and kickstart novel number two. I’ve even started planning it in Scrivener and talking about my plot with anyone who’ll listen! I feel really excited and optimistic about it too.

3. I am also looking forward to hearing how the first chapter of my debut novel has fared in the Festival of Romance’s New Talent Award 2013. I don’t feel quite so optimistic about this because I don’t have much confidence in my abilities as a writer as yet but I’ve paid for a professional critique of that chapter too and I hope that will at least be interesting. I should receive that report in December and then I can set to work on their suggestions, eek!

4. I am going to get on to the task of finding some beta readers for ‘From Here to Nashville.’ I feel a bit unsure how to go about this. So far, some family and friends have read the first part of my story, as well as a number of very helpful people on Authonomy. The family and friends have been kind, as I knew they would be but they haven’t offered much in the way of constructive criticism. I did have some useful comments on Authonomy but I was also finding some of the comments unhelpful at this stage of the process and in the end, I realised that I had just put my story up there too soon. It’s only my first draft and it needed to be finished before others started to criticise it. I was also getting people offering to read and review my story if I’d do the same for them but none of those people were rating or backing my book so it seemed a bit one sided at times. I have therefore reluctantly retired from Authonomy for the time being.

So plenty of to-dos on this list to keep me busy until the end of November and beyond. Please let me know if you are editing your first draft and how you are managing it. Or are you going to take part in NaNoWriMo for the first time and need a buddy to see you through? I’d love to hear from you.

Booking my first writing course!

Since I started writing my debut novel this year, I have been considering a number of different writing courses to help me learn more about the craft of writing and also how to self-publish. I have picked up lots of information from the internet of course but I still feel that a face-to-face course would be beneficial. So I was very pleased yesterday to see a tweet about just such a course in London at the end of October.

I’d not come across this site before so that was a bonus and I bookmarked it at once, as well as following Charlie, who runs the site, on Twitter. What really persuaded me  to book the course is that it’s being led by Joanna Penn whose website I have been following for a while so I know that she really knows her stuff.

As well as this, it is perfectly tailored to where I am on my writing journey. The course is called ‘How to finish and publish your book’ and I am hoping, no, confident that I will have finished it by then so that I can really make the most of their advice on the day.

I have had a fantastic writing weekend this week and am really steaming towards the end now. My aim is to finish very soon so that I have a couple of weeks before the masterclass to rest away from my manuscript before starting the process of editing proper in November. However, by then it will be NaNoWriMo and the challenge I have set myself for this year, is to make a head start on the first draft of my second novel! Woohoo, how about that?! I am starting to feel like I’m a writer now, not just an aspiring one which is why I changed the title of my blog last week too 🙂

I hope your writing is going well. I’d love to hear from you about it so do leave a comment about the ups and downs of your writing week.

Sky, fog, and clouds on a textured vintage paper background with grunge stains.