Posts Tagged ‘Success’

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’m pleased to announce that I made my deadline of the end of March and published a second volume of my short stories.
In keeping with Volume One, Small Print Volume Two explores our relationship with technology and the impact it may have on us in future. These stories have a dark edge. My characters suffer as a result of computers; they rely on machines and experience catastrophe because of their dependency. I see flawed individuals behind these machines, with man-made processes which are frail and subject to failure. It is the human element in their creation and operation that makes reliance on technology problematic and challenging.
I am not anti-technology; far from it. I rely on it on a daily basis and have no hankering to return to a time when it was less pervasive. How we use it in future and how we allow ourselves to be used is something I feel worth considering.
I was asked to write a sequel to Shelley which closed Volume One as readers were keen to discover what happens next. Although the sequel stands on its own, I have included the original story so they can be read together.
Dream Dredger dates from the writing session last summer that led to Volume One. The others were written while commuting by train and waiting in station cafes during the first quarter of 2015. I enjoy this downtime between work and home, as it provides me with the space to consider the “Small Print” that shapes our lives.


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There are many posts dealing with the issue of writers block. I’m unsure whether I can add to the debate. On a personal level I haven’t experienced it. I do have my moments when I can’t be bothered and it takes effort to sit down and write. I don’t view that as writers block. That’s just my in-built laziness and reluctance to face the page. I know if I’m feeling like that, I have to try harder to write. I’ve never had that moment when I cannot write anything.

I can stress about the possibility of block. I am deep in the middle of short stories and have many in outline and draft. I do think at times what if I run out of ideas. To combat this I have a theme which I’m passionate about – technology – and I keep up to speed with new developments in this field. I use this to help trigger ideas for new stories. I find this helps and gives me confidence.

The best advice I ever read on this was write about whatever you are writing about. This was from the author David Bain. Simple but effective. If you feel yourself flagging and want to write, then imagine being interviewed about your work in progress. What would you say about it to an interviewer? Write it down. Chances are you will find yourself going back over plotlines and character traits and realise new angles on your story. You could even have a friend ask you, or someone online to ask you questions and you can jot down responses. You maybe pleasantly surprised how much you can actually write about what you are writing about.

It maybe the genre you are working in is not the one for you. That can be a hard one to face up to. It’s something I’ve been through and it is worth considering. Writing in a genre that you may not have thought was for you, maybe just the thing you need to progress your writing.

Finally, reading and research are also key. I can’t imagine how I could ever write without reading widely and researching areas of interest. I view this as part of the writing process and as important as putting words on the page.

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