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.

 

 

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Why you should write a logline for your novel

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder - a screen writing book that you can apply to your novel
Save The Cat by Blake Snyder – a screenwriting book you can apply to your novel

Following on from my previous post where I came out (of the novel-writing closet), I thought I would tell you a little more about the novel and share a tip I picked up from reading Save The Cat – a brilliant book about Screenwriting. It’s author, Blake Snyder, believes the one killer question you need to answer before you even begin to write is . . .

WHAT IS IT?

Think about it. You mention to your friend that you’re writing a book. Their first question?

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Cue a couple of minutes of you umming and erring, scrabbling around for way to explain this great story waiting to burst out of your head. After the first thirty seconds your friend – no matter how polite – will start to get that faraway look in their eye. The look that says ‘I wonder what I can have for tea tonight?’ or ‘Did I put the bins out?’. You fail to capture, let alone hold their attention, because you haven’t really stopped to answer that single question:

WHAT IS IT?

The best way to do that? Come up with a logline. That’s a screenwriting term, but it’s just another way of saying ‘elevator pitch’ – a concise one or two lines that capture the essence of your story. It needs to give a sense of who, what and where this story is. Is it obvious in what genre you’re writing? Snyder also thinks it should have at least a whiff or irony about it and perhaps even some kind of time frame.

Drafting loglines in Scrivener
Drafting loglines in Scrivener

Hmm. It’s harder than it sounds. I sat down (after already having written more than twenty thousand words of my story) and began to see if I could boil it down to two sentences. My first effort was something like this:

‘Mickey Blake, an aging safe cracker and mastermind behind one of the crimes of the century, returns to the UK after 18 years on the run. Forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife, Mickey must outwit local gangsters and an undercover copper to stay alive long enough to pull off one last job.’

It’s not terrible. It includes some important elements of the story and it gives a vague description of my protagonist, but it feels too long. I tried two or three more iterations – mainly changing word order and including the additional detail of an estranged son – but it still didn’t sing, didn’t say where the story was set and didn’t really reflect Mickey’s personality. So, after a lot of refining, here’s what I’ve settled on. For now . . .

‘For the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts, acid-tongued safe cracker, Mickey Blake is forced out of retirement to rob a rundown casino in Skegness. He’s got one week to do it and all that stands in his way are a few old scores, two local gangsters and an undercover cop.’

Better? I think so. It has a similar word count to my first attempt, but has more information, gives a sense of who Mickey is and reveals my setting . . . Skegness! Yes, Skegness. For those unfamiliar with it, Skeggy (as it’s known locally) is a seaside town on the East coast of England and these days is probably most famous for being home to a large Butlins holiday resort. I think revealing that location and the part about ‘a son that hates his guts’ provides the ironic whiff I was looking for. I’ve also squeezed in the ‘one week’ time frame and created a mental image of some of the challenges he’s going to face.

I actually think it would work as a ‘one-liner’ – the first sentence does most of the work. Having this ‘one-liner’ has already helped me to focus and means I will at least have a chance at articulating my story the next time someone asks me what I’m spending all my spare time on.

I’m going to be posting regular updates along my novel-writing journey, so let me know which parts of the process you are most interested in and subscribe to the blog to keep up to date. I would love to hear your opinions on my logline and whether you’re intrigued to find out more about the story. So why not give it a try – write a logline for your novel or next short story – and let me know how you get on in the comments below. Alternatively, tweet me.

NaNoWriMo – Why Everyone Should Try Writing a Novel in a month.

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This is the story of how I surprised myself by writing 50,000 words of a novel in less than 30 days, and why I think everyone with even a passing interest in creative writing should give it a try at least once.

I fell in love with writing as a child and even though it’s always been an on-off relationship, with life, work and family often coming between us, you never forget your first love and I always knew we would be reunited again some day.

Although I’ve always kept up a long-distance correspondance by writing lots of songs and the very occasional blog, it’s fair to say it has been quite a few years since I really set my mind to writing anything substantial.

That all changed a few weeks ago when I felt the old desire return, initially with a few short story ideas, and then I stumbled across something called NaNoWriMo and knew the timing was perfect to start from scratch on my failed novel – last abandoned a number of years ago with a wordcount of over 35,000. For the unitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. To take part in NaNoWriMo you need only commit to the idea of writing 50,000 words of your first draft before the end of November. The use of the word ‘only’ being slightly misleading in this instance, as the reality means writing an average of 1667 words EVERY SINGLE DAY for thirty days.

I have a busy day job, a family and I’m a member of a cover band so time is not something I have an abundance of, but never one to shy away from a challenge I approached the task with as much gusto as possible. Whilst I wasn’t particularly confident of being able to reach the full target, I simply treated it as an excuse to get as many words written as possible, to get back in to the habit of writing every day and to kick-start my attempt to write a novel.

I passed the 50,000 mark on November 24th with 6 days to spare and it felt great. Not only because I had reached an arbitrary goal set by NaNoWriMo, but because I had re-engaged with writing again and found my passion for creating characters and worlds for them to exist in. I also found that I still hadn’t reached the end of my story, but having come so far I know I will keep going until I reach the conclusion.

Everyone works differently but for me I think there were a few factors that contributed to my success.

Write every day

Firstly, even on the days where I barely had half an hour to spare I wrote something, anything as long as I made a tiny dent on my wordcount. I think the most pathetic daily wordcount was around the 500 word mark, but it still meant that I wouldn’t have a little zero next to that date and that my novel was just that little bit closer to being finished.

Turn off the inner editor

Ok, so I know that it has become a writing cliche, but that’s for a reason. I realised that when it comes to the first draft, all that really matters is getting to the end of the story – just getting it all out. That means not stopping to finesse phrasing or grammar and not letting a little thing like a gaping plot hole slow you up either. For me, this meant skipping an entire chapter early on because although I knew the character had to get from point A to point B, I had no idea how he would get there and didn’t have the time to sit around waiting for inspiration. I simply jumped to the next scene and motored on – that will need taking care of when I begin draft 2 and the editing process.

Have fun

Again, seems obvious, but if you are not going to try to have fun when doing something as silly as trying to write 50,000 words in a month, then don’t bother attempting it at all. I found that the more I kept writing, the more life my characters took on until some scenes of the book just flowed – seemingly with very little input from me. Hours just flew by and all the time I was creating a story across lots of pages that didn’t exist before November 1st.

Before I started NaNoWriMo, my best case scenario was perhaps reaching 20-25,000 words before December and I would still be very satisfied with that. And that’s the best thing about trying something like this – whether you reach 5,000 or 50,000 words, you will have produced something tangible that wasn’t there before. You will have got back in touch with that wild side of your imagination that seems to become harder to reach as we grow older and more self-conscious, and you never know – you may even end up with a finished novel that you can release in to the world to entertain and inspire others.

So, in short, I will definitely be signing up for NaNoWrimo next year – who’s with me?

You can check out my NaNoWrimo profile here, which includes a synopsis and excerpt from my novel ‘Let Sleeping Gods Lie’.

I would love to hear from others that have found other ways to kick start their creative writing projects or have other NaNoWriMo experiences to share. What’s your story?

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