Novel Writing – Back on Track (again)

TrainTrack
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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Stuck on your WIP? Skip to the end . . .

Stuck on your WIP? Things getting a little like wading through treacle? My advice? Skip to the end! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing after a long spell of procrastination and self-doubt.

Last time I gave you any kind of update, I was still in the honeymoon period of writing my second novel. 25,000 words in. The beginning of the relationship, when everything is exciting and new. Almost a year later, and I’m closing in on 90,000 words, and as we all know, with so much water under the bridge, you have to work a bit harder to keep the magic alive.

Loose-fitting pants . . .

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m a Plantser – I like to have a rough idea of where I’m going but don’t like to spend days and weeks planning every minute detail. These loose-fitting pants have served me well for the current novel (working title: Safe Hands) but, as usual, a couple of unexpected plot events took me by surprise and before I knew it, I’d created several loose ends and was tying myself up in knots. Although I had a vague idea of where I wanted to end up, with every new chapter, I felt I was drifting off course. My output slowed and eventually dried up completely. Anyone familiar with my posts will know that stopping to think for too long kills my momentum and gives rise to the dreaded Self-Doubt. So many times I forget to take my own advice – see Write or Die post from 2014.

Speaking of ‘Skip To The End’ – get to the point!

So, just at the moment I was ready to quit, I remembered my own advice and that of writing friends – WRITE THE ENDING FIRST. As my novel takes place over a week, building toward a heist that my protagonist and his cohorts have been planning, I decided to move directly to the day of the big job and just . . . WRITE. It was slow at first, but as I continued to raise the stakes, the words began to flow freely and without censure (a direct quote from writing friend Maria Smith) and I finally stopped worrying and clung to the fact that I’m writing a first draft. It’s meant to be terrible. The next stage will be editing and I can’t get to that stage unless I actually have something to edit.

The End is Nigh (honestly)

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because I had similar issues with my first novel (still consigned to First Draft Hell). But this is different. It’s a weird feeling. I know I’m tantalisingly close to finishing the first draft, but for once I feel calm and positive about the novel I know this ugly first draft will become. What about you? Do you have to wrestle with self-doubt on a daily basis – ‘of course we do,’ you reply, ‘we’re WRITERS!’ So how do you deal with it? What are your tips for pushing on through to the bitter end? How do you tackle all those plot complications you’ve created along the way? Or maybe you are a planner and merely scoff at all this talk of losing the plot? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

No one said it would be easy . . .

(Hitchcock Calendar - pic by Wayne Kelly) This year has been a scream - can you believe it's nearly over?
(Hitchcock Calendar – pic by Wayne Kelly)
This year has been a scream – can you believe it’s nearly over?

This will be a short post as I still intend to do a “Review of the Year/Looking Forward” type piece to kick off January, but yes, I feel I have neglected the Kelly’s Eye blog of late – my last real post being way back in July. July?! I blinked and now I’m staring down the barrel of 2014. Scary stuff.

I haven’t been resting on my rump though. My day job has been pretty full-on for the past few months, I’ve been trying to keep on track with my writing submission goals, working on a new project with Phoenix Writers and blogging over on the Phoenix Subs blog. Oh, and, you know, living my actual life. So, as a consequence, like a long suffering canine friend, my personal blog has been waiting patiently to be once more taken for a walk.

Whilst I have continued to submit my writing for competitions, I haven’t spent a lot of time working on new content. I did have a month of chairing the Phoenix Writers meetings, which was interesting and rewarding, but did mean that I focused less on producing new material to take for critique and more on ensuring the work of others was aired and commented on.

Having said that, I have written a new short story for an upcoming anthology our group is working on, and have edited and submitted another that I was working on a few months ago. I have also had some excellent advice and motivation from a fellow writer to help me get my unfinished novel back on track. My first draft is stuck around the 70,000 word mark and is so near to completion that I can almost see the words ‘The End’ shimmering in the distance. It is my number one priority to at least get the ball rolling again during the Christmas break.

I know I’m not alone in struggling to knuckle down to any focused writing at this time of the year. Everything is so manic, at work, at home and everywhere else that when I do get the odd half an hour to sit at the keyboard, my mind is zipping off in several directions at once or cloaked in the fog of exhaustion. For the past few weeks I was battling with this, beating myself up about not being as creative and productive as I would like, but then I realised I was fretting about a lot of things that are out of my hands.

I was getting stressed about ‘not doing enough’ when really I should have been pleased with the things I was achieving. I have managed to consistently submit work since joining the Phoenix Subs Group, I’ve written a new story and I’m regularly attending critique sessions. These are all positives and I just need to ensure that I make the most of the rest and relaxation I will have over the Christmas break.

So, what about you? Have you found the lack of daylight and the stresses of modern life have been affecting your creative endeavours or do you thrive on the extra pressure? If it’s the former, take my advice and go easy on yourself, stay positive and enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas and take a minute to comment below. I would love to hear how you are all doing.

15k in May – Final Update

15k in May . . . It's all over now.
15k in May . . . It’s all over now.

Ok . . . excuse me while I just slap on a fake smile and put some positive spin on this . . .  ahem . . . there we go. That’s better.

So, 15k in May is over and the big question on everyone’s lips (ok, just the select few who are interested) is did I reach my word target? The answer is no, but I did make a lot of progress on my novel, writing around 12,000 words over the month. Better still, I highlighted some major issues with the denouement of the book and now have a much better idea of what I need to do to fix it.

I began brightly enough, throwing down words with reckless abandon, despite the fact that my outline chapter plan ran out several thousand words ago – and therein lies the problem. This novel is very heavily plotted, which is fine, but does mean that I should have really taken the time to properly devise how I was going to satisfyingly bring it all together for the climax of the story. Over the last few days of the challenge I ground to a halt, realising I had written myself further in to a corner and limited my possible outcomes to outlandish coincidences and conceits that will jar with the rest of the work.

All of this means I have to scoot back a few thousand words, to where I believe the problem started, and take some time to adequately weave everything together. I have begun to do this – with 500 words of notes written on the last day of the challenge – but it will be a work in progress over the coming weeks and months.

This is my first attempt at a novel and, like most forms of writing, it is a learning experience and a chance to create something I am proud of. Clutching this positive thought to my chest, like a childhood teddy-bear, I will continue the journey and keep you abreast of my progress. I am over 70,000 words in to the project and not about to give up so easily!

In the spirit of full disclosure, here are my final daily word counts for the challenge:

May 23rd – ZERO

May 24th – ZERO

May 25th – ZERO

May 26th – ZERO

May 27th – ZERO

May 28th – 663

May 29th – ZERO

May 30th – ZERO

May 31st – 500 (notes)

FINAL WORD COUNT FOR CHALLENGE: 12,289

Although I didn’t reach the target, it was a fun exercise and a great excuse to do more work on the book. It also gave me the opportunity to meet and learn from lots of other great writers, as listed in my previous post here. Thanks to everyone who took part in or supported the challenge. See you for 15k in May 2014?

 

15k in May – Writing Challenge. Week 3 Update

2 Weeks gone in the 15k in May writing challenge
3 Weeks down for the 15k in May writing challenge

Only a very quick update of where I am in the 15k in May writing challenge – my attempt to add at least another 15,000 words to my WIP by the end of this month.

I’ve found this week to be very tough going and have had 3 ZERO days and also a measly 75 words on another day! Despite this I am still pretty much on target. With 22 days gone, my wordcount should be at 11,000 – and as of tonight I am at 11,126 so just about hanging on in there. I could complain and say it was mostly due to busy work and social life (some of which is true) but it would be more accurate to admit that I have been struggling with self-doubt as I approach the end-game of my story. My mantra of ‘just keep writing’ has taken me this far, but it has also created gaping plot holes and a number of problems that need to be resolved before I can reach a satisfying conclusion. This has meant that I have had a lot of ‘thinking’ time and not as much ‘writing’ time.

However, as of this evening, I think I may have cracked it (or at least given myself a fighting chance) by writing something that at the very least surprised me – so I hope it does the same for my readers!

Here are my wordcount figures for the past 8 days:

May 16th – 714

May 17th – ZERO

May 18th – ZERO

May 19th – 75 (!)

May 20th – 268

May 21st – 328

May 22nd – 851

TOTAL FOR 8 DAYS – 2236 words.

TOTAL FOR CHALLENGE – 11,126

WIP TOTAL – 73,024

How are you finding your writing at the moment? Perhaps you have given yourself some other challenges to work through – how are they going? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback so please follow the blog, follow me on Twitter or comment below.

15k in May – Update for Week 2

2 Weeks gone in the 15k in May writing challenge
2 Weeks gone in the 15k in May writing challenge

I am currently in the midst of the 15k in May Writing Challenge.

Despite posting another zero day on Day 9 and a miniscule 177 words on Day 11, I am currently ahead of schedule and am happy to be writing most days. Even though my 15k is only words written on my novel, I am still writing blog posts and flash fiction, including my 2 latest posts:

The Other Woman – 150 Word Flash

Don of The Dead Ep3 – Don Goes Shopping

Speaking of Flash Fiction – this week’s top tip is to use writing prompts, photographs or anything else and simply WRITE. ANYTHING. I was rapidly losing momentum with a particular chapter and yet after spending a short break working on some flash fiction I had recharged my creative batteries and had my biggest word count of the week. If you have read my blog before, you will know this is something I am passionate about and you can read more tips on how to ‘beat the block’ here.

Other inspirations this week have come from the always entertaining Chuck Wendig and his excellent book ‘500 Ways To Be A Better Writer’. It’s jam packed full with useful, motivational and occasionally very sweary writing tips. His blog is also good to dip in to for his thoughts on writing, publishing and lots more. Purely coincidentally I am also reading one of his fiction novels, the urban fantasy, ‘Blackbird’ which is proving to be a great little page-turner and keeping my creative fires stoked.

Another tip is to join the challenge or just surround yourself with like minded people who want to help you achieve your goals. There is definitely strength in numbers and our little group has now grown to include:

Maria Smith
Dee Kirkby
Ileandra Young
Ruth Livingstone
Lynne Collins
Rinelle Grey
Alison Wells
Lisa Redmond

Make sure you swing by their blogs to see what they have been up to during the challenge.

So . . . 2 weeks of the 15k in May Challenge down and here are my word count stats for this week:

Day 8 – 444
Day 9 – ZERO
Day 10 – 724
Day 11 – 177
Day 12 – 905
Day 13 – 685
Day 14 – 500 (exactly – weird!)

TOTAL FOR WEEK 2:  3435 words

Total for Challenge: 8890 words

First Draft Total Word Count: 70,808

We may be half way through the challenge but it’s never too late to join in, so follow #15kinmay on Twitter, comment below or follow the blog.

15K in May – my next big challenge.

Join the 15K in May Writing Challenge
Join the 15K in May Writing Challenge

Am I mad?!

Having just completed one challenge (the A-Z Blog Challenge) only yesterday, it’s time to move on to the next! This time it’s the 15K in May challenge (#15kinmay) and I will be updating you on my progress every Wednesday during May.

Starting today, and for the rest of the month, I am aiming to take a big step towards finishing the first draft of my novel, ‘Let Sleeping Gods Lie’. As the title of the challenge suggests, the aim will be to add at least another 15,000 words to my current word count by the end of May.

With a little help from my friends . . .

Fortunately I have the inspiration and support of the other 2 founding members of 15K in May to help me towards my target. Maria of First Draft Cafe and Lynne from Lynne Lives are also taking part. We are all approaching the challenge in our own way, splitting the target in to a daily or weekly target, or focusing on editing a certain amount of pages.

I am aiming to write at least 500 words every day – which sounds very achievable, but I do have a busy day job, family and all the other stuff that likes to get in the way of finishing something!

YOU can help too!

My current word count is just shy of 62,000 and as well as the support of my fellow 15Kers, I would love your help and motivation throughout the challenge to help me get closer to 80K. I will be updating you on my progress on a weekly basis – as well as regular tweets using #15kinmay, so follow the blog, monitor the hash tag and please give me the gentle push/kick up the backside that I will inevitably need during the tougher days and weeks that lie ahead.

Join in . . .

Of course, there is nothing to stop you joining in and setting your own writing goals for May – even if they are less than 15K – so feel free to let me know what you are up to and tweet the hash tag.

You can find out more about ‘Let Sleeping Gods Lie’ in my recent WIP post, but in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts, tips and inspiration as well as any goals you might be setting for yourself, so please comment below.

Z is for Zero – the word count no one wants to see!

Filling the page is not always easy . . .
Filling the page is not always easy . . .

When writing, keeping a tally of your daily word count can be a great tool to keep up the momentum.

My first experience of this was last November, during NaNoWriMo where the aim is to write 50,000 words in a month. To achieve this you need to write, on average, 1667 words EVERY SINGLE DAY. The great thing about NaNoWrimo is that they have an easy to use online system which allows you to input your total every day. It’s really inspiring to see the various totals change – words written, words to go, percentage of completion, daily average etc – and as I described in the post that I wrote on completion of that challenge, I missed having that incentive and I am yet to find a method that works as well.

What are your Word Count Tools?

I did ask other writers if they could recommend any blog plugins or phone apps that have similar word count tools, but aside from creating a spreadsheet (I HATE SPREADSHEETS) there doesn’t seem to be anything else available. As I am about to undertake another challenge (15k in May) I thought I would use this post to ask again – do you have any suggestions as to online tools I can use to record word count, and get other useful data from?  I would love to hear your suggestions.

Write SOMETHING!

Of course, recording your word count seems trivial in comparison to actually achieving a word count! For me, the main consideration is to at least write SOMETHING every day. Overall targets and daily averages are good, because they allow you to break it down in to more manageable daily chunks – ever mindful that if a day is missed, it will only increase the amount you need to do the next day, or the next.

If you want to keep your writing momentum going, any daily word count is positive – just make sure you avoid that big fat zero, and eventually you will reach those 2 words you are longing to write . . . The End.

The End?

And on that note, I want to bring to a conclusion my A-Z Blog Challenge for this year and thank all of you who have got involved, written your own posts, commented, followed, liked and shared. If you missed any of my posts, or just want to see how the whole thing panned out, you can find an amended list of my A-Z content here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post, and your comments on the challenge as a whole. Did you find it useful? Will you continue to blog regularly now? See you all next year?

T is for Thief. There’s no such thing as an original idea.

We're all guilty of being influenced by the ideas of others.
We’re all guilty of being influenced by the ideas of others.

“It’s not where you take things from . . . it’s where you take them to.”

The above is a quote from ground-breaking French  film maker, Jean-Luc Godard.

Godard wasn’t afraid to take influences from his favourite works – be that in film, literature or music – and put them in to his own work. He was supremely confident that his unique creative voice would ensure that what he produced would be just as powerful as the original – sometimes more so – because he had taken it in a new direction or put a different spin on things.

As creatives we can spend too much of our time fretting over whether our work is too derivative of something else. Once you accept that there really are only so many stories you can tell, you can focus all of your creative energies on ensuring you bring your own personality and viewpoint to an idea.

Is it original?

You only have to look at a genre like Horror to see that despite a relatively small number of set situations and creatures (werewolves, zombies, vampires etc, etc) there are millions of different stories out there and new sub-genres are being created all the time.

Often, it’s more about using a genre to tell the story or explore the themes you are interested in – as Sci-Fi was used in 1950’s America to reflect the growing threat of The Cold War.

Get personal

Steven Spielberg famously wanted to tell a story about how the divorce of his parents affected him as a child. This resulted in what he describes as his most personal film – E.T – the Extra Terrestrial! There have been scores of films about aliens visiting from another planet – and yet Spielberg’s film seems fresh and original because he has focused on telling the story from his very personal standpoint.

As writers we should do the same. Go out there, absorb all these fantastic influences of film, music, literature and culture and create something new.

Become a thief and your work will be all the better for it.

Do you worry about being derivative? What influences your work and what stories are you interested in telling?

This was my 20th post for the A-Z Blog Challenge. Follow the blog during April for more writing tips, inspirational life posts, short fiction, film-inspired articles and more songs with audio recordings. Next post – U is for Uncommon Courtesy, a rant.

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