Posts Tagged ‘novel-writing’

Present Imperfect

I am writing.

Did you see what I did there? (sorry)


I stole the title for this post from a post on the Strictly Writing blog by Susie Nott-Bower. She wrote about wabi-sabi – the Japanese art of imperfection and impermanence – and how the concept can be used to whack the Inner Editor over the head and churn out a Shitty First Draft (SFD).

As it turned out, that post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you’ll know that (a) there hasn’t been much of it to read and (b) I had fallen into a pit of procrastination and self-doubt.

I’m 40,000+ words into the SFD of my novel, and it is so S it’s painful to re-read. I tried to emulate Katie Fforde – write 1000 words every day, and before that, edit yesterday’s 1000 words. That might be OK if you’ve got the skills to make your FD not quite so S, but all it did for me was allow me to convince myself that my writing skills are non-existent.

I also find myself having to check back through the text on a regular basis to find out what X was wearing that morning, or what the weather was like, or who was in the room when Y said Z. That’s another opportunity for my Inner Editor (who is vile and vicious, and I believe is trying to make me start smoking again) to tell me how S my writing is.

Three Golden Rules

After reading Susie’s post, I sat myself down and had strong words with myself. Then I imposed three rules:

  1. The First Draft of anything I write is expected to be Shitty. No, actually, it’s required to be Shitty.
  2. Do not, under any circumstances, edit anything until you’ve finished the Shitty First Draft.
  3. Make notes of all important facts in another place so you don’t have to look at the Shitty First Draft until it’s time to turn it into the Barely Adequate Second Draft.

And hey presto, I’m writing again. I know it’s shitty. I know it’s going to take a long time to edit into something resembling a novel. And I expect I’m going to have to impose a whole new set of rules for when I start work on the second draft. But I can’t work on the second draft till I’ve finished the first.

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Writer’s Speed Bumps

I don’t seem to have had much to say lately. I even missed last Friday’s #fridayflash for the first time in months. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, I suspect it’s one of those writerly things that every writer comes up against once in a while.

Only read on if you’re really interested in an apprentice writer’s insecurities…

My novel is rubbish

I’ve written about a quarter of the first draft of my novel now, and it’s getting really difficult to continue. There are several problems:

  • It’s rubbish! Yes, I know, it’s only a first draft, and it’ll be much better once I’ve edited it… but all I can think is it’s badly written and uninteresting…
  • It’s hard work. I knew it would be. Writing 100000 words and polishing them was always going to be difficult. But when it’s rubbish it makes it even harder…
  • It’s so big. I keep forgetting plot details and back story, so I have to read back through what I’ve written so far, which just reminds me how rubbish it is…

All of which means I’m not getting much joy out of the writing process at the moment. Which wouldn’t be too bad if I thought it was worthwhile. But, at the moment, I don’t. The book is going to be rubbish and isn’t going to make me any money and I’ll lose my house and end up living in a skip and drinking meths to block out the fact that I’m an utter failure. (melodramatic, me? never!)


All this leads to major procrastination.

For instance, I’ve spent hours creating a spreadsheet that will tell me how much I’ve done, what my target is for the day (1000 words per day, and if I don’t manage 1000 words it accumulates, but if I do over 1000 words it doesn’t), average words per day, and lots of other stuff, even the estimated finish date. And there’s a graph, which is a simple bar chart showing how far through I am as a percentage. That took me ages to work out how to create.

Also, I’ve become addicted to FarmVille (a stupid Sims type game on Facebook). My house is tidier than it has ever been. I’ve persuaded myself that a glass of wine in the evening will help the words flow, but half an hour after drinking said wine, I need to have a game of Combine (also on Facebook) because I play that so much better when slightly tipsy.

I have, however, stuck to my resolution not to watch TV all evening every evening. I do in fact get a lot of writing done in the evenings, in between Facebook games. Usually the 950 words I haven’t managed to get written in the daytime, admittedly.

The worst thing…

The worst thing about all this is, I don’t enjoy writing at the moment. I really don’t. And that’s sad. I haven’t written any short stories for a couple of weeks, despite having a list of competitions I really want to enter.

I’m hoping two things will get me back on track:

  • Uni term starting. I’m not doing particularly inspiring courses this term – playwriting and literary criticism – but I love studying and maybe it’ll help me see there is life beyond my rubbish novel.
  • Arvon. I’m booked on a course in October entitled Work in Progress, which is absolutely perfect. The blurb starts: ‘Being stuck in the middle of your novel isn’t much fun, sometimes you need to step away from the Work in Progress and just enjoy writing again.’ – exactly what I need.

It’s not all bad

In the meantime, there are enjoyable writing-related aspects of my life:

  • Poetry. I’m in a poetry group that meets weekly, and I do enjoy it hugely. It forces me to come up with a poem every week for workshopping, and means I spend an evening with people who are equally enthusiastic about poetry. That renews my energy levels for a day or two at least.
  • Writing group. Our fledgling writing group is showing promise, we’ve talked about starting a project that could turn into something fantastic if we can get it off the ground. Meeting tonight… hopefully we’ll get something started.

Thank you…

… for listening to my ramblings. It’s been cathartic. And despite all the doom and gloom, I think I’ve reminded myself that there is a positive side to this writing game.

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(or at the risk of being politically incorrect, moron being a novelist – that’s what I feel like at the moment, floundering around and trying to make it work)

I’ve been through the flames of hell since my last post on this topic, which was apparently less than a month ago, although it feels like much longer.

I really thought I was on the right track, off and running, heading for the finish line. Then I went to Caerleon and discovered I was happily jogging across the grass towards the refreshment tent. And then I went to Lumb Bank, where I worked out vaguely which direction the track was in, and even managed to catch a glimpse of it every now and then.

On ignoring advice

Not a good idea, it turns out. Even though it’s often contradictory, a lot of it makes sense, and there are many points everyone agrees on. For instance, Jane Pollard pointed out in no uncertain terms that she didn’t like my main character. I knew the character, so I liked her, but on re-reading what I’d written, I could see Jane’s point. She came across as a totally miserable cow, and not at all likeable. So why would anyone want to read a whole book about her?

If I’d taken the trouble to read a book that’s been on my shelf for a year now – Writing a Novel and Getting Published for Dummies – I might have come across the following:

If your characters badger and lecture the reader, or annoying, tedious, disgusting, boring, or boorish, your reader isn’t going to want to continue reading about them unless you provide a very good reason.

and you never know, I might have taken that on board before writing 23,000 words about a miserable cow!

So part of my writing routine is now going to be spending an hour a day reading a Useful Tome. After all, Authors of Useful Tomes usually do it because they have some Useful Information to impart… and a whole lot more experience than I have.

A stitch in time saves nine

A Darning Mushroom

A Darning Mushroom

My plot had many holes. I blithely assumed they could be patched up as I wrote. Both Jane Pollard and Bill Broady pointed out that some of the holes were too fundamental, and I would be unable to avoid putting tension on critical threads as I wrote, thus enlarging the holes beyond the limits of patchability. So I dug out my grandmother’s old darning mushroom and got stitching.

Now I have a plot that is almost but not totally unlike the plot I started with. Many of the elements are still there, but some of them aren’t, and most of them are in different places. And I’m really pleased with it. It hangs together without any currently visible holes. I’m reasonably convinced that any loose threads that come to light will be repairable (and if they’re not, there’s always quantum flux – thanks Adrian!).

Give the characters a bit of character

I gleaned many tips and techniques from Caerleon to help me sort my characters out.

I’ve written a lot about their histories and relationships with each other, the reasons why they behave as they do, their secret fears and dreams and shames. I’ve constructed a timeline and identified additional relationships that I didn’t know existed – Billy was obviously one of Henry’s best friends, how could I not have seen that before? It explains his behaviour and gives me a whole new subplot to work with…

I’ve started to interview them (think Tony Hill in Wire in the Blood), which is an intense process and knackers me out, so I’m only doing one character every couple of days. It’s a wonderful technique to establish a voice for each character though. One thing I noticed about some of the writing I’d done was that several of the characters sounded indistinguishable… another technique that also helped with that problem was to put them in a room together and get them talking to each other. They soon developed their own voices.

And I’ve persuaded my main character that she needs to suck up to the reader. She’s not too keen, but I think that’s because there’s still too much of me in her.

Just F***ing Do It…

… but make sure you’re doing the right thing!

I stand by the JFDI piece of advice, with the qualification that there’s no point just f***ing doing stuff at random and hoping it’ll all turn out in the end. I think I’m back on track now, but I need to keep looking up every now and then, just to make sure I’m not about to run slap bang into a carrot cake.

What I’ve achieved over the past month

Words written: 23,000
Current word count: 0
Confidence level: +73
Darning skill level: +29

The ridiculously large amount of money I spent on the Caerleon Writers Holiday and the Arvon course (given that I’m a student with massive outgoings and no income) was well worth it. I now feel like I might actually produce a novel worth reading.

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Just a quickie. Am off to Lumb Bank for an Arvon course on novel writing shortly. Doubt very much whether I’ll be blogging from there – it sounds like an altogether more serious proposition than Caerleon. I am taking many bottles of Diet Coke to keep me going.

Rebuilding my novel

I’ve had an interesting weekend. Been thinking an awful lot about writing, but not doing very much actual fingers-to-keyboard stuff. Jane Pollard’s course at Caerleon was excellent, and her critique of my synopsis and first chapter was really useful. However, as a result, I’ve realised my novel is a smouldering ruin. My main character is unlikeable (I like her, but there’s no reason why the reader should, she comes across as a whinging miserable cow) and my plot has some serious problems. I’m not quite sure where to start the reconstruction exercise. Hopefully Bill Broady and Gwendoline Riley, the tutors on the Arvon course, will help.

Reading for fun

Just recently I’ve been trying to read Good Uplifting Novels and Short Stories to Make Me Think. It hasn’t worked. All that happens is I switch off, or get too involved in analysing and critiquing what I read to take in the story. Last night I got fed up with reading and re-reading the same page over and over and over again to try and work out what was actually happening in the characters’ lives, so I picked up the first book in L.E.Modesitt’s Recluce fantasy series. This is pure escapism, not brilliantly written but not so awful that I can’t read it, and a thumping good story. I’ve had the first 14 books in the series for over a year now, but haven’t embarked on them because… well, I don’t know why. Newly-acquired literary snobbishness, I suspect.

So, is it OK for a writer to read stuff like this? I don’t intend to write for this market, I don’t think I could. But sometimes I need to switch my head off.

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got time for. Need to finish packing…

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On Being a Novelist

No rest for the author

I’m in Dorset, on holiday. Less time for blogging, as all my spare time is taken up with keeping up the momentum on my novel. And even there I’m failing miserably. Not managing to reach my target of 1000 words a day at the moment, but I’m doing an awful lot of thinking. That’s my excuse, and I keep trying to persuade myself it’s valid.

How on earth does one write a novel?

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea.

Should one read while writing? Yes, of course. Or no, that would be foolish. Take your pick.

Edit as you go? Generally not approved of. But some people think it’s ok.

Plotting or panting? Know your story in great detail before writing a word. Or just write by the seat of your pants.

Characters – how much to know? Everything. Or sketches that gain detail as you write.

And so on and so on. There is so much conflicting advice around, I’ve decided to ignore it all and just get on with it. The novel I’m writing has been churning around in my head for nearly three years now, and I started the first chapter, erm, can’t remember when but before I’d done any writing classes (and it shows).

The plan is to get the first draft done in the next few months. I’m hoping to finish it by sometime in October. Then I’ll tackle the fun part – editing/revising. At the moment the stuff I’m churning out is awful. Absolutely appalling, and I really hope no-one ever sees it. I shall have to write it into my will that my netbook and all backups are to be destroyed. One valid reason for not reading while writing is to avoid the crushing feelings of inadequacy. But at the moment I’m successfully persuading myself the second draft will be brilliant. And at that point I might let a carefully selected friend or two read and comment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to get the first draft done. So how am I going to do that?


I know the basic plot outline, that’s been in my head the whole time. It is very basic in some places. If it was a sock and my grandmother was still alive, she’d darn it.

I’ve attempted to fill in some of the gaps. I spent a couple of happy days sitting in front of my wardrobe doors with a pile of post-it notes and some coloured Sharpies, getting an outline in place. That was a good start. But now, 20000 words in, I’m discovering that I need to re-do that exercise.

What’s happening is, I’m planning the next couple of scenes as I write, and only vaguely following the outline. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’m worried that the novel might be veering off course. For a short story that’s no problem, but I don’t have time to write this novel to see where it ends up, then re-write it if that doesn’t work.


I’ve got some backstory worked out, and I have an image in my mind of most of the characters. Problem is, trying to distinguish between them. In the first few chapters there are two motherly types, who speak the same way and do the same things – this is Not Good, and the fact that I didn’t realise it was happening as I was writing means I’m going to have to put a bit more effort into developing my characters before I let them loose on the page.

And new characters keep creeping in while my back’s turned. Not sure what to do about them – would electric fences work to keep them out? My current rule is, they can come in as long as they bring a bottle.

Background research

I’m not being completely idle while on holiday. The novel is set in rural West Dorset (it is not a coincidence that this is where my mother lives and where I spent a lot of my childhood), and while we’re here I’m dragging the kids and my mother around all sorts of places so I can soak up the atmosphere and take photos of trees and fields and prehistoric monuments. Mother has gone to bed early today, very tired, bless her. Not before lending me many of her local history books though!

Just f****** do it

This is by far the best advice I can offer so far (from my months of experience). But then I’m an arch-procrastinator, so I need to be told to STOP MESSING ABOUT AND GET ON WITH IT.

Right. Enough of this, I have another 723 words to write today. I’ll just check email, twitter and facebook first…

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