Novel Writing – Back on Track (again)

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Obligatory Clichéd Track Photograph

This is one of my weekly updates on the progress of my debut crime novel, Safe Hands, about an ageing safe cracker forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts.

In last week’s post I laid out the reasons for my poor writing performance (lack of planning) along with some idea of how I was going to turn things around (making a plan). Seems obvious and simple, because it is, really.

And it worked. I definitely achieved a whole lot more in the last 7 days, than the previous week. Did I achieve everything I wanted to and spend all of the time I’d alloted? No. But I was pretty close and I’ve got 1200 new words down and a lot of restructuring done.

Aside from the extra planning, the other reason for the improvement was linking up with writing buddy, Maria Smith. Our mid-week check-in by email really helps us both to stay on track. You should definitely follow Maria’s journey over at First Draft Cafe, where you can also pick up loads of tips and inspiration to help with your writing.

That Was The Week What Was

Here’s how I got on compared to the objectives I set . . .

  1. I will complete the structural overhaul – specifically removing all of the chapters that will now not make sense in the current draft.

COMPLETED FOR FIRST DRAFT. I cut thousands of words and a number of redundant sequences of the book.

  1. Based on the critique received from my writing group on the opening chapter, I will complete the edit of Chapter One.

NOT COMPLETE. I’m saving this job for the next phase of edits.

  1. I will write a brand new chapter, containing the minor character I feel is now needed to flesh out the back story of my antagonist, but to also add more tension and conflict to the main narrative.

NOT COMPLETE BUT . . . Instead I wrote 1200 new words of a key scene in the novel, between Mickey and his son. The location of the original scene was changed and I did a complete rewrite from scratch. The initial response from my critique group was positive and I’m confident that the novel will benefit from the new chapter.

The Week Ahead . . .

I’ll try something different this week and will share with you my target for the amount of time I will spend on the novel and just give a general overview of the areas I’ll be working on. I’ll spend a minimum of 3 hours on the novel – aiming for six 30 minute sessions over the course of the week. This was my target last week and I finished 30 minutes short of my target.

In terms of the areas I’m working on, I’ll definitely attempt the chapter that introduces a brand new minor character. This isn’t some arbitrary decision based on wanting to write a new person into the story. It came from the work I did recently, using character monologues – specifically the monologue I wrote for my main antagonist, Graham Southey. The new character arose as part of his backstory and will now allow me to more elegantly solve a narrative issue I picked up in the read through of my messy first draft. I need to illustrate the extent of Southey’s dark side and just what depths he is capable of sinking to. It should add extra tension and suspense to the story.

I will also complete the chapter I’ve been writing this week, where I have to finish a difficult scene of conflict between Mickey and his son.

Once again, it’s been great to get inspiration from a successful author, from my little bonus chat with Crime writer, William Shaw who passionately believes the secret to improving your writing is to . . . well, WRITE! That podcast episode will be released over at Joined Up Writing in the next couple of days, so be sure to check it out.

In the meantime, let me know how your own writing projects are going. What are your tips for making time to write? All at once or little and often? Let me know in the comments.

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Novel Writing – Fail to plan . . .

Last week I talked about the work I’ve begun on redrafting the beginning of my novel, ‘Safe Hands’ – focusing specifically on my opening chapter and prologue. This week, the ‘plan’ was to complete the structural work on the novel – by discarding the current end section and working out how and where to add a new minor character I feel the narrative now needs.

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The more observant of you will notice I’ve placed the word ‘plan’ in quotation marks, because the fact of the matter is, other than the scant few sentences I devoted to it in last week’s post, I failed to really outline what I intended to do and – more importantly – I failed to schedule in the time to actually make it happen. And as we all know . . .

Fail to plan, plan to fail

I won’t bore you with all the reasons/excuses – but the lack of progress has really brought everything into sharp focus for me and made me realise I have to get back into the habit of planning my week ahead and specifically scheduling in my writing time. Like many of you, I’ve got a very busy day job, this podcast, my family and everything else to fit in and the fact is . . . if I don’t plan when when I’m going to sit down to work on the novel then it simply won’t happen. So this week has been a wake up call and after a chat with my writing buddy, Maria Smith over at First Draft Cafe, we’ve both made a pact to get our shit together and make ourselves more accountable. That accountability will be two-fold. We will be accountable to each other – a forfeit system of having to get the coffees in and other sanctions is currently being formulated – but also through our blog posts. In other words, I’ll share with you what I want to achieve on a weekly basis and I’ll be brutally honest if and when it doesn’t work out. Deal? Will you prod me and spur me on through thick and thin?

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This week’s plan

So . . . this week, the novel work will be as follows. I want to do six slots over the course of the week and spend a minimum of 30 minutes on the novel each time. I know – it probably doesn’t sound a lot to some of you, but it’s 3 hours over the course of the week and I’m hoping that making it a daily habit will get me back into the swing of things and on some days that half an hour will become an hour or more. Think of it as me warming up, doing my stretches.

In terms of the specifics . . .

  1. I will complete the structural overhaul – specifically removing all of the chapters that will now not make sense in the current draft.
  2. Based on the critique received from my writing group on the opening chapter, I will complete the edit of Chapter One.
  3. I will write a brand new chapter, containing the minor character I feel is now needed to flesh out the back story of my antagonist, but to also add more tension and conflict to the main narrative.

My writing goals are only one part of an overhaul of the way I divide and plan my free time. Outside of the scope of this blog is the work I’ve been doing over at Joined Up Writing Podcast – including my recent interview with author, William Shaw – not to mention my day job and other committments. However, I’ll continue to audit how much time I have and try to focus on what’s important. What are your Time Management and Productivity tips? Share them in the comments or tweet me @MrKelly2u

My Debut Novel, ‘Safe Hands’ – The Story So Far

I have mentioned my debut novel from time to time on this blog, but it’s been a while so in preparation for my upcoming weekly updates, I thought it might be an idea to bring you up to speed with what it is and where I am.

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“Cracking a safe doesn’t mean dynamite. No oxecetyline torch. And definitely no fucking stethoscope. It’s laying your hands on cold steel, feeling the tingle in your fingertips, caressing out each part of the combination.” – MICKEY BLAKE, SAFE HANDS.

Told in first person, ‘Safe Hands’ is a crime novel about an ageing safe-cracker, Mickey Blake.  For the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts, Mickey is forced out of retirement to rob a run down casino in Skegness. Between Chinese and Russian gangsters and a crooked undercover cop . . . it’s going to be a tough week.

How it came together . . .

What began as a short story, has wound up being a messy first draft of over a hundred thousand words, with a few too many plot complications, an under-used character or two and some obvious structural issues. The good news is the rewrite is underway and I’m beginning to see the wood for the trees. Using Scrivener has meant that I can easily move around my scenes and chapters and anything I ‘throw away’ can be saved for another project or re-used somewhere else in the book.

I completed the first draft back in the spring of 2017. Since then, I’ve transferred my chapters onto index cards. Yes, it’s a little ‘old school’ and I could do this digitally in Scrivener, but I wanted to employ techniques learned from my experience in scriptwriting and doing it the old fashioned way has necessitated a much deeper analysis of my story. Structural issues became obvious and the inconsistency of my antagonist stood out as something that needed to be resolved. On that last point, I decided to write a character monologue from the perspective of my antagonist. It was a rambling couple of thousand words but left me in no doubt as to who my character was and what he really wants. It also created at least one new plot development that will definitely improve the story.

This week . . .

This week I’ve written a new scene between Mickey and his wife and have re-written a number of later scenes in the book. The plan for the coming week will be to introduce a new sub-plot that arose from the character work I’ve been doing with my antagonist.

I’ll report back on my progress next week, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear how you’re progressing with your own WIP. At what stage of the process are you? Have you discovered new techniques? Perhaps you are struggling and would like some help? In this week’s episode of The Joined Up Writing Podcast, ex-policeman and now writer, Matt Johnson has lots of help and inspiration for new writers.

As always, I’d love to hear from you, so do leave a comment below.

How Hosting a Podcast Has Changed My Writing Life

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Hosting a podcast is changing my writing life.

I know, I know. We’ve been here before. Me talking all excited and motivated. Telling you about how I’ll be blogging every week. But this time I mean it. Honest. Wipe that smirk off your face and get with the programme, will you? I’m trying to be serious here.

Joking aside, for the past couple of months I have been putting out regular content, with my weekly podcast – Joined Up Writing. Originally conceived with and co-hosted by Leah Osbourne, the show began in 2014 based around the idea of two aspiring writers talking about all things writing. Over time it developed to focus on long-form interviews with established writers, from the world of Traditional and Indie Publishing. After a sporadic release schedule at the beginning of the year, Leah decided to move on and I relaunched the show in August with a packed roster of guests and new quick-hit bonus episodes called The Epilogue, which run between the longer interviews.

JoinedUp Twitter pic 2017

The ethos behind the show – and the inspiration for its title – was always to connect with and promote other writers and share their stories and advice with other writers to inspire them on their writing journeys. It’s now expanded to include promoting other creatives, like book bloggers, with a new feature called Book Blogger’s Corner. I’m still on the lookout for more ideas and topics to cover so if you have any tips, do let me know in the comments below or over at Joined Up Writing.

On a personal level, going solo has thrown the focus back on to my own writing and my show introductions now include a quick update on the progress with my debut crime novel, ‘Safe Hands’. I realised this is what I used to do on this very blog and have gotten out of the habit. So, in line with the weekly releases of the podcast, I’ll be giving you an update of where I am with the book in the hope that you’ll be able to identify with some aspects of my journey, but also to make me more accountable for my progress.

However, it isn’t just talking about my own writing that has inspired me, so much as the guests I’ve been lucky enough to chat to. Guests like Thriller writer, Simon Toyne talking about how he took a risk and gave up a lucrative day job to write his first novel. Or Angela Ackerman and how she set up the One Stop For Writer’s website to help other writer’s achieve their goals. Nathan O’Hagan shared his struggles of fitting his writing around a pressured job – something many of us can relate to – and Melanie McGrath told me how the tragic death of her father inspired her to write. There are many more recorded conversations, that will be released in the coming weeks and months – chats with Indie Publishing guru, Joanna Penn, crime writer William Shaw, literary author Claire Fuller and ex-cop turned Writer, Matt Johnson.

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It was my recent chat with Joanna Penn, in particular, that made me realise I have to start knuckling down, stop procrastinating and actually commit to getting the book out into the world. In fact, look out for Joanna’s episode in November, for an important announcement about my novel.

Speaking of the novel, my next post will bring you up to speed with where I am and what I’ve been up to, but for now I just wanted to lay out my manifesto and give you the ‘why’ behind my decision to start posting again on a weekly basis.

So what about you? Where are you with your writing projects? What’s inspiring you and getting you back to the page? Share your stories and comments below. I’d love to hear from you. In the words of my podcast . . . let’s get ‘Joined Up!’

 

 

New Year Goals – don’t say the ‘r’ word!

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New Year’s Day is for nursing hangovers and banishing the regrets of last year, which is why I’m writing this on January 2nd. Yes, it’s that time again. Time to lay out my reso – NO! DON’T SAY IT! Let’s use goals, targets, milestones – anything but the ‘r’ word. Call me superstitious but any time I make a new one of those, it’s nothing more than a distant memory by Valentine’s day.

As this is mainly a blog about Writing, I’ll save all my empty promises of more exercise and less food for my loved ones. Bearing in mind I have to fit my writing around a full time job, here’s a run down of what I want to achieve this year.

THE NOVEL

I will finish a major rewrite (2nd draft) of my WIP by next Christmas. This means having it in good enough shape to either go to a professional editor or be ready for beta readers. This will be no mean feat. I’m currently up to 94k words and I’m pretty sure it will be well above 100k by time I’ve gone back and filled in gaps to complete my first draft. I do this in full knowledge that I will probably lose around 20k after the first major edit. It’s not the most efficient way to write a novel but it seems to be the only way I know how!

SUBMISSIONS

I want to sub AT LEAST one thing every month – to average at least 12 subs over the year. These will include short story submissions for competitions and publications.

NEW WRITING

I want to write 4 brand new short stories by next Christmas. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – infact, it sounds pathetic! – but the novel really has to take priority this year. In 2016, focusing on the novel was great, but it was at the cost of my new work and I didn’t write any new short stories.

WRITING PODCAST

With the help of my co-host, Leah Osbourne, I’ll be producing at least one new full-length show of The Joined-Up Writing Podcast. We feature interviews with guest authors, screenwriters, editors and agents. We began the show back in 2014 and it’s going from strength to strength, with 50 full length episodes and more than 30 episodes of our Two Minute Tips (TMT) series. We’re always looking for new guests and ideas for topics to cover so feel free to get in touch. The full archive is available here and you can subscribe on Stitcher and iTunes.

SCREENWRITING WORKSHOP

In addition to all that, I need to write and deliver my first writing workshop to the members of my critique group – a bunch of people I have huge admiration and respect for. No pressure! The working title for the workshop is ‘Screenwriting Tips For Non-Screenwriters’ and I’ll be delivering it in March.

So, I think that’s enough to be going on with – at least a good baseline. Anything else will be a bonus. Who knows what 2017 will have in store for us, but I’m sure with a bit of positive thinking and alot of hard work, we can make it a happy and productive one.

What are your plans for the year? Are you sharing them with the world? Any hints and tips you want to share? Feel free to share links to your own goals and blog posts in the comments below and I wish you all good luck for 2017.

 

 

Giving myself a stern talking to – Write Up to Date #5

Get a grip!
Get a grip!

It’s time to give myself a stern talking to.

It’s been a few weeks since my last update and that isn’t good enough. I detailed the reasons for my malaise in that post, and won’t repeat them again. In any case, it doesn’t matter. For ‘reasons’ read ‘excuses’. The time for procrastination has passed.

In terms of actual fiction writing – putting pen to paper, or type to screen – my output has been non-existent. Poor show. This will be rectified this week.

I did write another blog post, which means I at least hit one of my targets. I have also submitted TWO stories to the Writing Magazine Crime competition. They both required heavy edits to fit the word count, but I’m confident that they are both all the better for it.

On a positive note, our regular weekly podcast Joined Up Writing, is going from strength to strength, with a growing listenership and loads of exciting developments coming up. If you haven’t already, please head over to have a listen and subscribe.

So, this week I am going to ease back in to some Wordsmithery with a little free writing – just to get the juices flowing again and to limber up for some more strenuous activity. No hard word count goal this week – the aim is to JUST WRITE SOMETHING! If I don’t pull myself out of this creative lethargy in double-quick time, I’m in danger of losing all of my momentum.

Finally, I want to give a big thank you to my literary sparring partner, Maria Smith for giving me weekly jabs (via email) to make sure I’m not laid out for the count. She too is feeling the rigours of everyday life jostling for your writing time and always makes time to check-in on her writing friends.

I’m lucky to have a good network of writers and creatives around me to keep pushing me to run that extra mile. I’ve been down, but I’m not out. (What a delightful collection of mixed metaphors this post has been!)

How have you all been faring in my absence? How do you deal with creative dips in your life?

Write Up to Date #4 – Coming Up For Air

Resurfacing - Photograph courtesy of Anita Gould - Flikr
Resurfacing Photograph courtesy of Anita Gould – Flikr

If anyone has been paying attention, you will notice I am more than a week late with this post. Life and, unfortunately, Death pushed my writing to the sidelines for a while.

Sadly, my Grandad passed away on May 1st. It was sudden, unexpected and in a foreign country, which complicated things even further. He will be sorely missed.

There has been lots to deal with – both emotionally and practically – and I am only now coming up for air. It will be a while before things return to normal, but my desire to write again is resurfacing and I will be pushing myself to reboot and start again this week.

Target Review

A quick review of the targets I set two weeks ago:

1. Summarise end of Novel Number One and type THE END – COMPLETED (more on this in a future post)

2. Write 1500 on the crime story – 300 WORDS

3. I WILL sub at least one piece this week – NO SUBS

4. Edit and release this week’s Joined Up Writing episode – COMPLETED BETA READERS EPISODE

5. Complete Phoenix Writer’s challenge – NOT COMPLETE

Completing the novel – even in a very roughshod, abbreviated manner, was a big milestone that I still haven’t really had a chance to consider.

This week’s targets

I still don’t feel completely back in the game, but let’s try some light creative stretching for my first week back. This week’s targets:

1. Write 1000 words on crime story.

2. New Blog Post.

3. Record new Joined Up Writing Podcast.

Wish me luck and I hope you are all feeling productive and positive. Let me know what you’re up to and make sure you hold me to account!

Happy Writing.

Write Up To Date #3 – He shoots . . . He misses!

My trademarked ‘I’m Sad’ face

Let’s get straight in to it. Here were my aims for last week, along with the mixed bag of outcomes:-

1. Write minimum of 1500 words on novel – 300 words written.

2. Write minimum of 1500 words on crime story – 1100 words written.

3. Record, edit and release this week’s Joined Up Writing Podcast Extended episode on Character now available.

4. Complete Phoenix Writer’s Challenge before Saturday – COMPLETED.

5. Sub one piece of work to a competition or for publication – NO SUBMISSIONS.

Pretty bad week. No excuses, but a mixture of work and life obstacles sprang up to slow me down. The main factor for the failure to get near my word target for the novel, was the work itself. Try as I might I can’t escape the fact that I’m so far away from where the story needs to be, ploughing on regardless is only causing me more difficulty. The story is broken and can only be fixed with a MASSIVE rewrite. With this in mind, I will be bringing the novel to a close THIS WEEK – simply by writing a few closing paragraphs that bring the story to an end. I gave it a try, but I need to type ‘THE END’ and put away the manuscript – both literally and metaphorically – so that I can clear the decks for Novel Number Two and my other writing projects.

I didn’t quite reach the target for my crime short story either, but that was only because I wasted time on the novel. I’m really enjoying writing this and I’m getting good feedback from my critique group. I’m currently planning a heist (fictional, of course) so it may be a little slower going this week as I will need some thinking time.

BUT we recorded another two episodes of Joined Up Writing and I released the scheduled episode.

A flash of inspiration meant that I completed the writing challenge for Phoenix Writers. It had to be based around eating and discovering something unpleasant in your food. Here was my take:

Sing a song of sixpence, a mouthful of blood / Four and twenty blackbirds wedged in good. / And when his mouth was opened, the King began to scream / Oh what a witch, that evil bitch, the nasty, wicked Queen.

So . . . Let’s shake off the disappointment and plot some targets for this week:-

1. Summarise end of Novel Number One and type THE END.

2. Write 1500 on the crime story.

3. I WILL sub at least one piece this week.

4. Edit and release this week’s Joined Up Writing episode.

5. Complete Phoenix Writer’s challenge.

Ok . . . I’ve stated my Writing intentions – what are yours? What are your thoughts on my proposed solution for dealing with Novel Number One? Let me know below and have a great week.

 

 

Write Up to Date Post#2 – The Nearly Man

                          Did I hit my targets?
Did I hit my targets?

It’s that time of week again. No excuses. Last week I set my writing goals for the week. Here’s a summary of what I was aiming to do – along with how I got on:

1. Write minimum of 1000 words of novelACHIEVED – 1200 words written.

2. Write minimum of 1000 words on my short story (working title ‘Cops and Robbers’) WHOOPS – 600 words written.

3. Submit 2 short stories for competition or publicationACHIEVED.

4. Record new episode of our writing podcast, Joined Up Writing with Leah OsbourneACHIEVED.

5. Complete Phoenix Writers challengeACHIEVED.

Ok – 4 out of 5 ain’t bad? If I’m honest, I’m a bit annoyed about not hitting the target on my crime story. It was a relatively low target to begin with and all I managed was 600 words.

However, let’s be positive. I made a big stride towards completing the first draft of my novel and it was fun to write.The podcast recording was squeezed in and released on schedule. I subbed another two stories and, thanks to the support of the members of the Phoenix Writers Subs Group, I have more ideas and leads to follow-up. I completed the challenge for the main critique group and also read the first section of my crime story, receiving some helpful feedback.

It has been a busy week with lots of band commitments – including two gigs and a rehearsal – and I still managed to push on with two different WIPs, record a podcast, sub my work and complete my Phoenix Writers homework. It’s a positive start to the new regime and I think both myself and fellow writer Maria Smith over at First Draft Cafe, are glad to be making plans and moving forward with our writing goals.

Speaking of goals . . . here are this week’s:

1. Write minimum of 1500 words on novel – I want to increase last week’s word count and maintain the momentum.

2. Write minimum of 1500 words on crime story – same again, but no excuses will be allowed for failure two weeks in a row!

3. Record, edit and release this week’s Joined Up Writing Podcast – due for release on Thursday.

4. Complete Phoenix Writer’s Challenge before Saturday.

5. Sub one piece of work to a competition or for publication.

What are your writing goals – long and short term? Have you tried teaming up with another writer to motivate you to achieve? Let me know what works for you? Leave your comment below or tweet me @MrKelly2u.

See you next Sunday for the next update. Happy writing and have a great week.

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