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Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

NaNoWriMo 2016 was different this year. The background to this began about eighteen months ago when I started writing the first draft of a novel called The Clockmaker Conspiracy. I continued with subsequent drafts until the beginning of 2016 and then paused, unsure of what to do next. I hoped I could write a series of books based around the characters and the world I created so set to work on book two. By June a couple of drafts were complete and book one had been passed to an editor. The plan was to bring book one to a finished state that could then be passed to agents.

I paused again. I recalled a piece of advice from a published author, which stated I shouldn’t think about securing an agent until I had three novels edited and completed. The thinking behind this is many writers are unprepared for being signed and for the subsequent pressure of deadlines to produce a second and third book. Having a cushion behind you and the knowledge you survived the editorial process three times will stand you in good stead. The publisher may not be initially enthusiastic over material you have, but you have something to work with rather than start from scratch.

It’s probably true that the reality of a publishing deal is never what you imagine it to be and after the initial excitement and euphoria, the fact you have to sit down and do it all again can be daunting. That is obvious, but it’s worth taking time to think about. You will more than likely have to write to a deadline set by someone else. You manage to submit, but there is a chance your writing may be considered unsuitable. It’s unlikely you have made enough money to give up the day job so the rewrites will have to be fitted around your life as it is. One of the joys of being unpublished is you set the deadlines and write in relation to getting on with your life. Once you are signed it will be different. The trend appears to be producing a book a year. If you’re work rate is falling short of that I would question yourself why and start preparing for it now. Writing for publication is not a part-time activity.

As book one was completed to a state I would be happy to self-publish, book two was reaching the point of being passed over for editing. By this time I was keen to expand my series to seven books (why seven is another story). I knew from my notes I had a third book in me to resolve the plot and complete a trilogy. By the end of October I had ten thousand words to rewrite of book two and was outlining ideas for a book, which would follow on, but expand the plot further without padding the story for the sake of it. What started to nag me was, could I push through and produce a third novel, which didn’t rely on the material I had? The idea of finding out took over and come the first of November I started drafting book three. Good news is I only used part of the outline I prepared and went into free-fall for the bulk of it. This has left me with further material to work into book four. The draft took twenty-two days and I confirmed I could go beyond a trilogy. I was advised to ensure each book resolves itself and not leave it on a cliffhanger so I stuck with this and finished the draft with a satisfactory conclusion.

The plan is to have book two finished for January 2017 and pass over for editing and then write up book three. By then I will be in the frame of mind for approaching agents and understanding the process involved. My goal for now is to write and to finish what I’ve started. In my mind I can now see seven books in this series and maintaining my work rate is key here, not only for my personal goals for the series, but also in preparation for approaching the business professionally. I want to be as prepared as I can for submitting to agencies or taking the Amazon route during 2017.

I noted at the start of this post that NaNoWriMo was different this year. I’ve participated a couple of times (I don’t sign up and register, it’s not for me), so I was confident of finishing. What was different was the ease I slipped into it with a brief outline and the deliberate goal of seeing whether the result would mean an end to this project or a new beginning for it. The process also made me realise that if I didn’t work full-time or gave up my job to write full-time, I couldn’t have written any more than I did. It’s often remarked that writers don’t find time to write, they make time to write and I believe this is true.

To conclude, you will read the advice that you should put the initial draft away and come back to it months later with a fresh pair of eyes. That may work for you and if so that’s great, but it’s the last thing I do. I forget what I write and I want to see what’s happening so I get stuck in and start to plan and tinker with it in preparation for the proper rewrite when I’m ready. Remember, if you are signed up, are you going to be allowed the luxury of drafting a novel and then putting it away for months? I doubt it.

All the best with whatever you are up to and if you are writing don’t take Hemingway’s quote about the first draft of anything is shit to heart. I like my first draft and I’m pleased with having finished it. It reads like shit, but I can fix that.

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This is the first take of a trailer for Book One of the series The Clockmaker Conspiracy. I wrote and recorded the soundtrack and took the photographs.

 

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I am drafting a novel and thought I would jot down some thoughts on the process I am using. At the time of writing I have finished draft three.

Draft one consisted of writing the story, one chapter to the next as quickly as I was able. I ended up with approximately 50K words in three weeks at which point the story naturally came to a conclusion. I was writing from a plan and had the chapters outlined in advance. This allowed me to produce around 2400 words per day. This draft skipped over detail, had various notes as reminders to flesh this part out later and didn’t pay much attention to the words I used. My aim was to see whether I had a story.

Draft two was completed in around four weeks. Here I remove all the words that clutter the page. I’m aware I write them as I work through draft one, but I use them to get my characters from A to B to C. In draft one I’m not concerned about repetition, passive voice, how many times my characters laugh or smile, nod their heads and sigh, sit down, stand up and turn. Draft two sees me delete all ‘had, ‘that’, ‘just’, ‘seem’ and various other words I use in draft one.

I do keep an eye on point of view, I don’t know why. All I know is it helps with subsequent drafts. I also avoid dialogue tags. I find that fairly easy to do, but I suspect some slip by. I like to think I avoid adverbs – we will see.

Draft one is all about getting the story out and down on the page. Draft two tidies up the known bad habits and rewriting of sentences that contain them. Spelling and punctuation are also tidied up at this stage. I transfer any paragraphs or scenes that appeared a good idea at the time, but don’t look so good reading them back. If my gut feels they are cluttering the flow, I remove them to my notes document. Anything that can go without affecting the story or anything that looks possible, but can still be removed for now is taken out. There will be time later to review and put in the necessary effort should it be needed. At this stage I don’t need roadblocks to slow progress. There are other things to fix. I concentrate on the quick wins, as these boost confidence and take me one step closer to finishing. I would expect draft two to be cut by around 10% without losing any of the story.

Draft three I treat each chapter as I do my short stories. Each one is taken in order and finished to a point I would be okay with others reading it. This doesn’t mean it’s ready for publication; it means it doesn’t read so bad I’d rather burn it and start again. With this current novel it took a little over two weeks.

If I had to sum up the key lesson (which is personal) to date, it is this – do not be afraid to delete and rewrite every page. I doubt it would ever be as drastic as that, but you need to keep it in mind and be prepared to do it.

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Ernest Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit.” I’ve been drafting short stories this week and this quote is always in the back of my mind. It’s disheartening to read back a draft and see how poor it is. I often feel panic coming on at the thought of the hours that stretch before me to work through subsequent drafts. At that moment doing anything other than writing appears an attractive alternative. I know from experience that at some point I will read a future draft and it will look like its taking shape. At that point I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the bulk of the work has been done and all that remains is to refine it. The satisfaction that comes with knowing how bad the initial draft was and recognising the improvement in the final copy makes the process worthwhile.

I drafted a story called The Bridge. Coming up with ideas I find easy; a good title is something I struggle with. The draft was written out quickly and remembering Hemingway I sat back to read through the story. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was shit, but the initial draft was better than expected. It has taken a number of rewrites since, but I still recognise a lot of the initial inspiration. This could be a fluke; it could be I’m becoming more skilled at writing. I certainly believe the practice I put in has helped. I know I will always treat first drafts as shit; it would be naïve of me to assume otherwise. Writing takes effort and good writing doesn’t simply happen without hard work. On the days when, for whatever reason, the words flow easily, those days should be thanked.

Small Print Vol 3 has now moved from first draft status to one that is approaching final copy. I’m hoping to put this out by end of August. I’m flitting back and forth from story to story as that seems to work best for me. The stories are complete and at this stage I happily jump into the middle and start editing. If I stall, or struggle with a sentence or phrase, I move on to another story and continue with that. This will continue for some time until I realise I have to take each story in turn and sign off each paragraph as complete. That may seem an odd way of working, but it works for me. I don’t like sweating over words for more than a minute or two. If I can’t resolve a phrase I know has to go, then I move on and return to it later. I find this an efficient use of time. I find naming characters a problem. Rather than stress about it, I use the first name that comes to mind and write using that. Once the story is complete, I usually have a clearer idea of what the name should be. I can see from this current draft I have used the same name in two different stories. Again this doesn’t cause me a problem. I will have made the changes by the time my deadline comes round.

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Age and growing older has been in my thoughts this week along with the impact it can have on creativity. There follows some random observations, which I hope to work into something more coherent at a later date.

In the field of popular music there does appear to be a trend to produce good work early on, which is often not matched in the minds of the public in later years. There are exceptions to this of course and you will have your favourites. In literature there are great examples of work produced by writers all the way through their career and writing does seem to favour the passage of time and the impact life has on each of us.

Perhaps some people get lazy; perhaps success takes the edge of the drive to create; maybe self-doubt creeps in to hamper their creativity to the extent they can’t complete to a standard they feel comfortable with – I don’t know. I like to see artists bringing out new material and pushing forward regardless. It must be hard for some to be aware of being compared with their younger self in a less than favourable light. That can’t be good. However, as anyone reading this who has work available in the public domain, criticism in all its guises is something we live with.

It niggles me when I hear people say they can’t wait for retirement to have the time to write or paint or even read. I have to bite my tongue on these occasions, as I feel if you are not doing it today then it’s unlikely to happen when you retire. Generally people just don’t turn on the ability to learn and be creative. It’s something anyone can develop, but in my experience I have seen too many people failing to fulfill their expectations and I find this sad. Perhaps I should say something the next time, but I worry over how to phrase it. If you think you want to create something, whether it be a short story, a drawing, a song, learn an instrument, a language, whatever, resolve to start today.

I was advised this week to watch the impact my drive and enthusiasm for CPD (Continual Personal/Professional Development) may be having on my well-being. Due to commuting I’m away twelve hours a day and fitting in study around work is tough. I don’t really relax and am constantly doing stuff and that’s okay. It’s the way I am and I like to be focused on working up new ideas for stories. However, it was a good point and I need to take it on board.

I’ve recognized and accepted that up till now I was dismayed with the concept of growing older. However, I’ve realized as I age, my ability to learn new things appears to increase, which I thought was at odds with accepted thinking. This is a good thing and quite a revelation to me. I am the sort of person as soon as they create or achieve something I dismiss it and resolve to do better next time. I feel my work is improving and in the end that is what matters. So having a hang-up about ageing is ridiculous in light of this, as it is this process that is allowing me to improve. It’s not perfect, but in an imperfect world, it’s pretty close. I should welcome the fact I have experience with all its imperfections and build on that, rather than worry about the passage of time. Age is no barrier to creativity and shouldn’t be seen as something that affects our ability to be creative.

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I am finishing up volume two of Small Print, my series of science fiction short stories. As with volume one I have struggled with character names. If a name doesn’t come to me the moment I start to write, I use John or Hollie and then proceed to write out the draft. I find it odd once I have lived with my characters with those names to see them change as the draft reaches its finished state.

I know many writers choose names that have significance to the character or plot and I feel I should be doing this. However, I have very few names I like – I don’t like my own – and am very reluctant to choose names of people I know. Looking back I have in fact done that, but I was desperate by that point. There have been occasions when friends have asked me to use their name, and I’m okay with that – makes life easier for me.

For me a good example of how not to do names is Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. A great book, but for someone who is not good at remembering peoples names, this proved challenging. Take a look, I can recommend it. Not only could I not remember who was who, I couldn’t pronounce them either.

There are thousands of names to choose from and perhaps I should look them up with their meanings. There is part of me however that is lazy, likes to procrastinate, loves looking out the window, especially in cafes, so having to deal with names is one thing too many on my list. Perhaps it doesn’t matter in my writing. I certainly don’t want to distract from the flow with a name that attracts attention every time it appears. That would be unhelpful.

In Thoughts on Writing Part 71, I discussed my short story Shelley, which is one of the rare times I have deliberately chosen a name because it has resonance and was relevant to the story. I would like to do more of this.

I am interested to know how other writers go about selecting names for their characters; whether they decide before they begin or whether they are open to change as the character develops on the page.

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As in previous years I will add to this page as I finish up each book. These brief notes are not reviews but are simply some personal observations. There are no spoilers.

Autobiography by Morrissey
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Richard by Ben Myers
Exodus by Drew Avera
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark
Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair
Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
2,000 to 10,000 How to write faster by Rachel Aaron
Writing about Villains by Rayne Hall
A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss
Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf
A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
THe Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog by Chad Orzel
On Writing by Stephen King
Black Sands by Carl Goodman
Black Vinyl White Powder by Simon Napier-Bell
Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin

Autobiography by Morrissey

I liked how this was written for the first hundred pages though it was very dense at times. It then changed and spent a few hundred pages going over the court case. The last part of the book jumped from gig to gig providing impressions of being on tour and how he felt.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I found this difficult to start with (I think I was really tired at the time). I left it after 20% and picked it up again later. It then started to make sense. What a great story.

Richard by Ben Myers

Reading this was like looking into a mirror and thinking there for the grace of God. A fictional account of the last movements of Richie Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers. The book switched between his journey and that of the rise of the band. Very difficult subject matter. I feel the book could have been a little shorter and I’m going to have to read it again as I haven’t made my mind up how successful it was.

Exodus by Drew Avera

Indie science fiction book. I liked the story.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Entertaining at times and infuriating at others. I feel he could have edited it to make it shorter. Having said that when he got it right it was brilliant. I love how these authors would just stop and say that what their characters were going to talk about next is of no interest so let us follow these ones instead. Never get that sort of stuff past an agent today.

How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark

Sub-titled 200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published. This was hilarious and invaluable. I will keep this book on my desk to refer to.

Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair

One of those books I wish I had read last year. However, maybe it wouldn’t have had the same impact if I had. I think this is invaluable and another book I’m keeping on my desk.

Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock

Really enjoyed this. This is the first time I’ve read him and it was recommended to me which was nice. Always love a bit of time travel.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I loved this. What a story. Brilliant. One of those books that will live with me forever. Hardy is just one of those writers that everyone should make the effort to read. I didn’t know anything about this story and I’m glad of that as some of the twists took me by surprise. I would recommend not reading any spoilers and get on and enjoy the book. Despite its age it’s surprising how much there is to think about.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Such a lovely story. Completely captivating.

An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield

So many good things in here to take on board and work into my own life. Makes you want to try harder and do your best. As someone who is interested in space it was a must read and didn’t disappoint. Putting the details aside about space, the relevance to his journey to all of us and how we behave is truly inspiring.

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

I hadn’t realised I was yet to read this. Weird. When I noticed it I immediately started reading. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s like he is looking inside me and picking up on parts of my life and using them for his stories. I’ve said before he is my favourite writer and this again reinforces it. This is a volume of short stories, set against a background of an earthquake. Quite astonishing and inspires me to continue to write and do better. Reading such great writing doesn’t dishearten me, it only spurs me on which is as it should be.

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