Steps forward and back

craft

So since I last blogged here, what’s been going on?

  • I’ve written about 80k of my MG novel, possibly even more, spiralling around in myriad directions
  • I rejoined and actually became more active in SCBWI, including going to the conference in Winchester last November
  • Through SCBWI, I’ve found a brilliant critique group
  • This month I’m doing ReFoReMo and shortly will be starting Kristen Fulton’s Non-Fiction Archaeology course.

In short, there’s still writing happening (life got in the way a little bit too, with some health stuff and a house move) and paradoxically some confidence issues after some people were nice about my work. More on that later.

But I realised that much as I was having fun just writing, I was getting demoralised by the fact that there was no discernable end in sight. Even if what I’m writing isn’t ever published, it’s important to me that it’s finished, and then that it’s polished. I need to believe in the story, and love it, to keep faith with it through that undeniably lengthy process.

From reading more critically, and various useful techniques that I gained from the Urban Writers’s Six Month Novel course, and from SCBWI conference sessions, I realised that despite having all kinds of ‘story’ experience (editorial background, degree in media and screenwriting) it was time to go back to basics and improve my craft dramatically. Hence all the courses and “learnin'” that’s going on around here at the moment.

Sometimes going backwards is just as much fun as going forwards.

The small issue of logic

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Hands up who else gets ‘synopsis dread’? Writing a pitch line is one thing. “It’s Vanity Fair meets Fight Club in East Grinstead.” I’ve tried so hard to be a plotter – and I believe it’s improved my writing and my process – but still I can’t help veering off on tangents. When you need to write a synopsis for something that still in draft, you start to realise what a big hoary mess it’s become and stripping it back for a coherent synopsis is a terrifying prospect.

In a recent #ukmgchat with Sarah Odedina from Hotkey books, she said the most important thing to remember in writing for a Middle Grade (MG) audience is LOGIC.

 

I have become reasonably obsessed with this, as I think it’s true. As converted pantser, no matter how hard I try to stick to an outline, it tends to veer off when OOH A PLOT BUNNY crosses my path and I just throw him into the mix regardless.

I’ve realised it’s important to make sure that each scene advances each participating character’s “wants” – that their actions propel them towards whatever it is that they want (to be left alone, to climb Everest, to rob the convenience store, to make the perfect cannoli) every time, regardless of plot bunnies. And I need to see that in front of me.

Scrivener is a great tool but I’d love if it had some sort of timeline (and also an iPad version) so I’m going analog. As suggested by some other SCWBI members, I’ve got a roll of wallpaper, and I’m adding some name labels. Going to make the mother of all timelines, check that the logic and ‘wants’ are king, work out what character ‘knows what when’, as Rachel Aaron suggests in 2k to 10k, and note the plot bunnies that need to be shot and boiled. 

I’ve got Sharpies and I’m not afraid to use them.

Almost finished a shitty first draft

Get on with it

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Since March I’ve been doing Urban Writers’ 6 Month Novel Bootcamp as one of the first guinea pigs. I started a bit late, and then wound myself up in knots for a while, but I’m about 40k into my first draft. 

Most of the group have finished and are into editing now, I’m a bit behind. Also I kind of started editing already as I was happy with the beginning (which I know, I know, defeats the purpose of banging out a shitty first draft and then fixing it) but I’m actually pretty pleased with how it’s going. When I’m not wailing to myself about how terrible it is. The usual angel on one shoulder and devil on the other that I think most people go through when writing? And I feel happy about having a lot of help and tools to get it finished. Good old mob mentality, this has been a bit like a 6 month Nanowrimo, with an inbuilt crit group to boot.

It’s funny, I cast my mind back to before I was a mum and I would have been throwing all-nighters and weekenders at this to get the first draft done for the 1st August deadline – hah! But now I also value sleep and a bit of sanity. Still, in the four months of writing time that we’ve had I’ve produced more work than in about three years.

Now to make it better.

Photo from Donovan Beeson‘s Flickr stream under a Creative Commons licence

Chained to the desk

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Where else would I be today. 

I’m lucky enough to have a writing day so it doesn’t matter if it’s bloody tropical outside. Truth is, I burn quicker than plastic white bread anyway so I’d probably be in the shade or whining if I was outside.

Instead I am inside, and whining, because I’m stuck. I’m on a six-month (online) novel writing course and it’s kind of a crunch time – midway through the writing and I haven’t written enough; my outline is problematic and I don’t want to just feck time away writing towards no likely end point; and I guess I am just generally having a panic.

The current solution is that the sloping office ceiling above my head is getting covered in post-its and I’m trying to see past all the bits of ‘story’ I’ve written and make them into some sort of ‘plot’. 

There’s going to be a tree’s worth of post-its up there soon. 

Banished by Liz de Jager

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Saw on Twitter earlier this evening that there is an excerpt  of Liz de Jager’s debut novel Banished up on Tor’s website. I’ve been looking forward to this, Liz was one of SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices and I think was picked up really quickly as a result. Go read for yourself – can’t wait to get my hands on this one! You can preorder it, I just found out on her blog. Go!

Writing for Teenagers online course

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The very lovely Keris Stainton is running an online course in August, Writing For Teenagers: It’s not all OMG and LOL. She’s written three very successful novels, Della Says: OMG, Emma Hearts LA and Jessie Hearts NYC, the lady really knows her stuff. And you should follow her on Twitter, she’s funny. 

It’s six weeks and sounds fab. Off to reserve a spot now!