Get yourself writing, part five

As I mentioned last time, this will be the final part of this series. I’ve enjoyed sharing these great writing exercises with you, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed them – and that they’ve helped alleviate some boredom during this challenging time.

I’m giving us all a break, there’s a bunch of things to try from this series. There will be more, sure enough, but I don’t want to offer subpar ideas. Once I find a good one, or I’m shared a good one, you’ll have it here.

You can find parts one, two, three and four here, too.

So, let’s get to it!

Changing the medium

What you need: A story you’ve already written, or one you have permission to use for personal exercises.

This is an interesting, and sometimes challenging exercise, but it is a great way to try out different mediums of writing. It’s probably clear to everyone that I like prose. Constructing a story, describing events, scenery, characters and their interactions, developing plots – it’s what suits me the most.

There are plenty of other mediums, such as poetry and script, which have great histories in storytelling for different purposes. The way these stories are adapted for their needs is interesting, and can often lead to subtle differences, if not big ones to fit the medium.

Beyond that, new ways of telling a story have emerged. They might not be recognised by the literary critics but for the purpose of developing your skills and stretching your creativity, they can be great to explore. These include blogs, tweets/social media updates and even image-based updates.

Take a story you’ve written in one medium, or one you have the permissions to use in a personal capacity, and re-write it again in different medium, such as a poem, script or blog format. See what’s missed, or what’s needed, when you compare the two.

Mix it up: Tell the same story across multiple formats. Do it once as prose, again as poetry, and a series of blog posts. Once all are done, you’ll see exactly how the different styles work, and maybe how they can work together.

Retelling a story

What you need: A story told in a different form, a movie, TV show or stage performance.

A lot of films are based on, or released with, a book, which is a very long story to whittle down to a couple of hours or so. A lot of these are details which are present in scenery, characters, settings and items but dialogue and action are a different matter.

Whether you know a film or TV show inside out, even if you’ve read the accompanying book, a great exercise is to watch that film or episode and write it down on paper (or type it on screen). It’s a great way to recall details and events that matter, as well as find out what you miss. This can help you when writing original pieces as you have an idea what you might be missing.

I’m not suggesting you write a full novel here, but a couple of thousand words translating what you see or remember can reveal interesting details about your writing style and interests.

Mix it up: Watch the film or show first and do this task from memory, rather than at the time of watching. You can expand it to computer games, poetry readings and songs, too.

I wonder if there’s more to do with this, or an easier way to collate them. Let me think on it. If I come up with a better way to share these exercises, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Until next time.

Get yourself writing, part four

Anyone remember what ‘normal life’ was like before this started? Before lockdown? It’s beginning to fade for me, too, but there have been benefits. More time and less distractions have meant I’ve been doing more writing myself. Not on short stories, this time, but on my current project. You never know, by the time this is done, I might have the first draft done!

Anyway, back to why you’re here. We’ve had part one, part two and part three looking at different writing exercises, and it’ll continue here. Ready to get going?

Good.

Using words

What you need: A list of words, either from a word generator, a friend or that you’ve created yourself.

This is a relatively simple exercise, and the difficulty changes depending on you. You need a list of words to start, and these words must all feature in what you write – in the exact way you’ve recorded them. No changes, even to alter the tense or make it plural, are allowed.

You should set a word limit on this piece at the start, as that will help you decide how many words to add to your list. A shorter limit, like 500 or 1,000 words, with a list of 20 could be more challenging than a 2,000-word piece with the same list, for example.

The kind of story you create is up to you, but if the list is themed, that might help with genre or setting.

Mix it up: You can do this same exercise in reverse. Take the list of words, or a different set, and write without using them at all. It might sound easy, but that depends on the number of words you have and how long your story is. If it is easy, make the list longer and change the wordcount.

The interview

What you need: A fictional character.

This is an interesting exercise in that it allows you to explore a character more deeply. It can be a protagonist that you think you know well, or a more minor character you want to flesh out and understand better.

Take the role of an interviewer sitting down with this character and ask questions about a topic. This topic can be based on real news you’ve seen or something in their world, but I’ve always found the former to be more interesting.

Consider the tone of your interviewer; are they polite or aggressive, pushy or laidback, informed or misleading? This can change the tone of the piece, as your character will react differently.

If it helps, you can always ask a friend to sit down with you and act it out, getting a feel for the setting and take other parts of communication into account, like tone and body language, for example.

This exercise can be done in script and prose form, making it very versatile.

Mix it up: Add in another character, either from the same world as the first or a completely different one. You can have the two complement each other or go against each other but taking the view of the interviewer into account is important, too. Bias, attitudes and topics can bring a whole different side of these characters to life.

This is the fourth set of writing exercises, and I hope you’ve found them useful. I’d originally intended to finish the series here, but there’s been a good reception to these posts and plenty more exercises to share – maybe from you, too. What I will do, after next week, is take a little break. I don’t want anything to get repetitive, but when I find good ones, or suggestions come in, you can sure I’ll share them. Maybe I’ll collate them in an easier to find place.

Check back next week for the last batch (for now).

Until then.

Get yourself writing, part three

Is anyone else feeling the days blur? Are we going by days of the week or the number of days in lockdown? Does it matter?

What does matter is finding new ways to stave away boredom. For some, that’s work and for others, Netflix calls their name. For me, I’m trying to do more writing than normal, while I have the excuse of fewer distractions.

Hopefully you’ve read part one and part two of this series (but if not, use those links to take a look) and you’re ready for the third part, with more writing exercises you can try out. Maybe you’re sharing them with friends or changing them up for a different group or age range – as long as this is helping someone, I’ll keep it up!

Without further ado, let’s get on with it.

Out of place

What you need: A character from your favourite book, game, film or TV show.

This is a great exercise for exploring how characters react, grow and develop. At times, it can feel your characters don’t do much, or the importance is diminished by something else in your story. That could be an event or another character.

While not a bad thing, letting your character fall to the side is unsatisfying and unrealistic – even in the most fantastical stories. How your character deals with this, or anything else that happens, is important to the overall story.

To help with this, use a character you know well, from another book, game or movie, for example, and put them in a different situation. It might be something that happened to you, or a friend, or a news story. It could be the situation you’re writing about.

There will be problems. The worlds are different; the rules, attitudes, settings etc – but that’s part of the fun! This isn’t a serious project, it’s to develop your skills in an interesting, and probably quite funny, way.

Mix it up: Try using multiple characters from different sources and see how they react differently to the situation and each other.

What happens next?

What you need: A story that’s ended. It could a book, film, TV show or game or something else.

This is bordering on fan fiction, but it’s a very good way of tempering your storytelling.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the stories you want to tell but there should be a clear and logical progression. Too many stories fall apart when there are unexplained jumps that change settings, skills and attitudes, and that’s when audiences lose interest.

So, the goal here is to continue the story you’ve chosen. Use the existing characters and continue the story. You want to see if the story can keep going in a believable way. This is harder for some stories than others, as the endings can be definitive.

Remember this isn’t something to be published per say, unless you’re really interested in pushing the fan fiction, but a way to practise developments and scaling in a created story and world.

It would really help if a friend or fan of the story could offer feedback on your story and see if it is believable based on what’s come before.

Mix it up: While it’s easiest to carry on a story that’s just ended, try looking much further into the future. The temptation to jump too far is easiest here and will need extra thought to keep it realistic.

Set the scene

What you need: A picture of something.

This is one of my favourites. Take a picture of something. Some examples I’ve always gone back to are a lighthouse, a cemetery, an empty street, a forest path, a lone house, the rain and an empty lake.

The goal here is to write about it. Take that picture and put it onto paper (or screen).

Describe what you see. Start with the main object or focus of the picture and go into the smallest of details. Is there a chip in the wood? Is the water still? Is the wind blowing, and which direction? Once you’ve one this, I want to be able to form an image in my mind that is close to the original picture.

The next step is to describe the rest of the picture, using the same level of detail. After that, think about what’s beyond the picture, to the sides, behind and above. Your piece should almost act like a full tour of the scene you can see and are creating.

Add in how this scene makes you feel. Are you calm or creeped out? Happy or sad? Hot or cold? You can do this after the description or weave it in. You’ll find no action in this piece. Nothing happens, as such.

What it might do is give you a place to start another project based on, or set in, this world you’ve created.

At the beginning, 500 words might be a challenge but over time, writing more than 3,000 words in this way is more feasible and you’ll learn to construct these scenes instinctively when you see an image and when you need a place for your characters or story.

Mix it up: Combine two or more pictures to create a bigger scene. You can also work on editing this piece down to a succinct amount, which will help you include powerful scenes and settings in other projects without rambling or destroying your wordcount.

How are you getting on? Found an activity that you’ve enjoyed more than others, or have you started a project you’re excited about? Do let me know!

Until next time.

Get yourself writing, part two

Welcome back!

I hope you found the first part of this series useful, and that it gave you some inspiration to start creating your masterpieces. We’re going to push on this week, so if none of the exercises from the last post helped, or they didn’t appeal then maybe these will fare a little better for you.

Don’t despair, either way, as there’s still more to come next week, too!

One line at a time

What you need: A poem, either written or recorded one line at a time

If you’re looking for a little more direction, try writing a story from prompts. Take a poem and read one line at a time. You must then write at least a paragraph based on that line, although there’s nothing to stop you writing more if you feel the need.

This doesn’t mean your story has to be a retelling or adaptation of the poem. Take each line as its own entity and write freely from it. One light might focus on a sound or place, while the next on a person or event. It’s up to you to connect them in the way that makes most sense.

Don’t try and rush this exercise, or you’ll write yourself into a dead end where your project makes no sense. If it helps, record the poem a line at a time and play it to yourself, rather than reading. It also works as a group exercise if done this way. You’d be surprised at how different everyone’s response is.

You’ll get different results with poems of different lengths, as shorter poems require you to really let your imagination take over. You might want to save these for later.

Mix it up: You can do this with monologues, speeches and even songs. For the latter, having the music accompany the words can make a huge difference to the end result, so try it both ways to find what works for you.

These next two ideas come from Kat, a fellow writer and good friend of mine.

Newsworthy

What you need: A newspaper or two, or use an online news publication

Pick a page from the newspaper or website and find a headline that catches your attention. They don’t have to be the big stories – in fact, this exercise works better with the more random, slightly obscure headlines – but whether its funny, outrageous or just plain silly, write that headline at the top of your page.

You can then write the new story how you expect it to be written. This is a great exercise to stretch your imagination while writing in a different medium than you may be used to.

To take it a step further, read the real news story once your done and compare the differences. You might be in for a laugh or two!

Mix it up: Instead of writing a news story, use the headline as the title of a story. You’ll write in a different format and come up with a completely different story. Remember, news stories tend to be shorter than stories, so use that to your advantage.

‘What if’ stories

What you need: A bunch of scenarios that may or may not be plausible:

  • What if pilots were afraid of heights?
  • What if swimmers were scared of water?
  • What if we couldn’t laugh?
  • What if vampires couldn’t smell?

This is a great exercise for anyone, as the stories can be both short or long, for kids or for adults. All you need to do is start with a very innocent “what if” question and build a story around it. The crazier and funnier it is, the more likely it will hook readers.

Moral lessons are easy to include in such stories, which is why they’re great for younger readers, but the premise of some questions can open up a whole new world to explore – and you might find that world appeals to readers everywhere.

Mix it up: Take some existing stories and change it around, from fairy tales to big budget movies. Ideas like:

  • What if the three bears had let Goldilocks stay?
  • What if the big bad wolf was a vegetarian?
  • What if Anakin Skywalker didn’t become Darth Vader?
  • What if Frodo didn’t destroy the One Ring?

So, what do you think? Feel free to keep sharing your favourite exercises and activities. We all need to do our part to get through this phase of self-isolation, and these ideas will still be here in the future, too.

‘Till next time.

Get yourself writing, part one

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been thinking about what I can do over the next four weeks of isolation. I’m still working full-time but I’m using this chance to work more on my ongoing projects, since there’s nothing to distract me right now.

It made me think of all the times people have said to me they wish they could write something – a story, a book, a poem or anything else – and how I had little to offer them. It didn’t sit right with me. Now, given we have more time to try new things, I’ve compiled some of my favourite writing exercises. I hope you’ll find them useful.

Note: I’m not claiming credit for creating or naming these. I’ve come across them from writing groups, university and online sources. There are so many more than the ones I’ll share.

Freewriting

What you need: A timer

This is a deceptively simple task; all you need is a timer. Set a time limit and once it starts, begin writing. The goal is not to stop until the time runs out, regardless of where your mind takes you.

This sounds simple but it’s really not. We are trained to think about what we write, how to structure sentences and paragraphs, follow a lot thread etc. The goal here is to ignore all that. What you write doesn’t matter as much as doing it.

Freewriting is often used before working on something else as a way to get you in the mindset to write. That being said, the randomness and nonsensical logic can unleash brilliant ideas that can be included in other projects or become the starting point of something new.

Mix it up: Vary the length of time you write for to see what works best for you.

Picturesque inspiration

What you need: A picture, a photo, a painting – anything visual.

This is a great exercise, and it only requires one thing: something visual. This means you can do this task over and over with different things, whether a photograph, a painting or even the view from your window. Hell, watch a movie and pause it – then use that.

Set yourself a word count and write something based on what you see. It might be a descriptive exercise if you need inspiration for other projects, or it can blossom into something more. Ask yourself who would be in that scene and why. Ask yourself where it is and what’s around it. Use your other senses to flesh out the world.

If it’s a scene of action, think about what’s happening, or what happened before or after that moment. Who can you see? what are they doing? Even if you know, in detail, what is happening in that scene, let your imagination create something else.

You can do both of the above separately then combine later or evolve into different pieces. This is really two tasks in one and they can fit to your preferences.

Mix it up: Instead of using something visual to inspire you, use audio. A sound, a story, a poem or music. Think about what you hear, what it inspires in you, what the words tell you and do the same as above. You can also change the word count to add another level of depth to this task.

The senses task

What you need: Something you can see, something you can hold, something you can hear and something you can taste (you don’t actually have to eat or drink it, though).

A word count of up to 3,000 is ideal for this task, but you can make it more challenging by changing it, usually making it lower. You must include all of the items you’ve chosen in some way, either as a focus or as a passing comment.

With these building blocks, you can craft anything. Start with the sound or view and build up to why the objects are there, and who might be using, seeing or hearing them. Alternatively, do the opposite!

There’s a lot of freedom in this task and it relies on you to make decisions about the importance, order and reason behind each object. If you find it difficult, start with fewer objects and work up to it. In some cases, they’re integral to the piece while in others they add more depth to a character, location or situation.

This is also a great exercise to work on humour, as the random assortment can sometimes deny belief – especially if you don’t choose the objects.

Mix it up: The simplest way to mix it up is use different items/views/noises. This task literally becomes what you base it on and that means you have endless possibilities. Ask your friends to pick items for you, as they might surprise you with their selections. For a real challenge, ask a different friend for each one. Then you’ll have a completely random assortment.

This is only the first post of writing exercises. I’ve been talking to fellow writers and asking for their favourites, too, so expect to see some of those later in the series. Feel free to let me know how you get on, or if you have any writing exercises of your own!

The hardest parts about writing while travelling

I’ve been backpacking and living in hostels for close to 18 months now, and it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I’ve met some amazing people, seen things that are literally mind blowing and done things I never thought I would (like a skydive, can you believe it?) but one thing has really taken a hit during this period; my writing.

No matter where I go or what I do, I always try and find at least a little time to do some writing, just as I used to do back home. There are some pretty big differences between those two situations, though, and it has slowed me down quite a lot.

With the launch of my new website, and a plan to really start pushing this area of my life forward, I felt it was a good time to lay it all out.

I hope this will be of some use to you!

Not having a dedicated space to write

Every “home” that I’ve lived in has featured a dedicated space to write. Sometimes that comes in the form of a desk, other times it’s a table but it can also just be a corner or area of a room that I can get comfy and sit for hours if need be.

Most of the last 18 months have been in hostels, and if you’ve ever stayed in a hostel, you’ll know what I mean. For those who haven’t; you pay for a bed rather than a room. There are social spaces but not necessarily quiet ones, and since my laptop is a bit old, I need it plugged in constantly. That gets difficult and so I’m confined to my bed.

That’s right, I write in my bed. It’s generally not the comfiest option and these are bunk beds, so there aren’t many ways to get comfortable. Not only that, there are other people to contend with.

Right now, for example, I’m writing this in the dark while others are sleeping.

When you constantly change rooms and hostels, it’s always different and that’s a bit unsettling. It means new people to adapt to (even if you do remain in the same place) and you just don’t know how anyone will react. It’s part of the travel experience I love but it can be distracting.

No consistent routine

Moving on so much means new jobs, and a change to your routine. Sometimes its day work, other times evenings or mornings – hell, I’ve even worked nightshift for a few months while in Melbourne! Switching from different schedules takes time and saps a lot of energy and motivation, which, for me, is counterproductive.

Now, if I sit down and force myself to write (or do anything, really) I will. Eventually. However, what I found back home was writing at the same time every, or at least most, days meant that I was able to dive in easier and get more done in a shorter amount of time.

That doesn’t and won’t work for everyone, which is fine, but I did find it worked for me. If I could write full-time, maybe it wouldn’t be as big an issue for me. That’s the dream, and if I get there, I’ll let you know.

For now, I try and stick to a regular time and if I’m not working, I try a couple of times each day so that when my schedule does change, I hopefully have a few options to fall into.

Losing my preferred ‘setup’

As a part of my dedicated writing space, I had a particular setup I liked. Now, I’m not one for listening to music while I write. Sometimes, I like it but, in most cases, music distracts me and I focus more on that than the words I want to put to page.

There are times, especially if a song or genre resonates with me in that moment, that I’ll listen to music but mostly that happens outside of the writing and I use my memories or the emotions evoked when writing.

What I prefer is to have a TV show or movie on in the background. This is usually something I’ve seen numerous times before so as not to distract me but I can glance up every now and then and know what’s going on before returning to my work. Sometimes, I notice something completely new or inspiration strikes or that particular moment helps me solve a problem.

A lot of the time, it’s just noise.

Now, however, I just have my laptop. That means, to create that ‘noise’ I have Netflix or something similar running in the background but to have a glance, I change windows on my screen. It’s longer and disrupts the flow.

Yes, yes, I know; such a lousy problem to have, right?

I agree, but it is a problem. It’s something I’m trying to adapt to and get over but it’s not proving as easy as that so far!

So, what have I done about it?

I wish I could tell you that I found some great secret that let me fix all of this in one go, but that’s not the case. Life doesn’t work like that.

All I’ve done is redoubled my efforts to sit down and write. Some days, I’m lucky to get 100 words done but others I can get a lot more. Even a little helps and I won’t turn it down – especially with what I’m doing right now.

It means not going out or drinking every night like a lot of people I stay in hostels with. It makes me seem antisocial and boring, I guess, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. It might be having a goal, or being a bit older than most people I meet backpacking – it doesn’t really matter.

The important thing is I’m happy with my life and the things I’m doing. That’s just another step on this path.

How No Man’s Sky Helps Me as a Writer

No Man's Sky
No Man’s Sky

Another tangent this time but this one, arguably, has more of a relevance to my writing. This time, I want to discuss No Man’s Sky, a game I have been looking forward to for many years.

I generally avoid reviews and critics on most things. If I come across something, I won’t run away screaming but I will treat it objectively – I’d rather make my own mind up, even if it’s not ‘popular’ opinion. It goes for games, films, TV shows, books, music – everything. That’s why, even though a lot of people seem to be complaining about No Man’s Sky, it doesn’t bother me. There are specific reasons I want the game beyond just enjoying it for what it is. I want to go into these shortly.

First though, I’ll address some of the elephants in the blog post.

It’s not perfect, by any means

Let’s get this straight right now. This is not the best game in the world, probably not even close. The crafting system is limited, the interface clunky (at least on the PS4) and the lack of direction can be off-putting for some people. There’s also very little in the way of tutorial, you’ve got to try things for yourself and learn as you go.

Look too closely at the graphics and they’re not as impressive as you first thought. The game is very grind-heavy and repetitive, you’ll be doing similar things on each world you come across as you follow the very loose objectives you do actually have.

But, for me, a game doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about overcoming the problems and still succeeding, finding solutions that give the best returns and being inspired. The planets I’ve come across have been awe-inspiring. Standing at the top of a cliff and looking out over the plains with water in the distance. Others are harsh and barren but make me work faster to survive and move on.

As a writer, it has already been a big help

One of the nicer planet's I've found on No Man's Sky
One of the nicer planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky

Now, I’m not just a sci-fi writer, and most of my stories don’t resolve around a being alone and fighting for survival on empty worlds but that doesn’t matter.

The scenery, as I’ve mentioned before, can be great at helping me find the perfect setting for a scene or story. It might only be a small part of it, a section or one particular thing that stands out – maybe on something I’ve been working on before and felt was lacking something.

The emotions I feel as the protagonist can also be applied to stories. As a writer, I draw upon my own experiences and imagination, so anything that can help broaden that is welcome. By immersing myself in these kinds of games, by giving the character a life through role play techniques, I can then use some of what I experience in stories, regardless of genre. It takes practise but over the years it’s become a handy skill.

You need an imagination

One of the harsher planet's I've found on No Man's Sky - with a weird, flying beast
One of the harsher planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky – with a weird, flying beast

Well, you don’t NEED one, but if you want to use the game as I do, then you kind of do, yeah. My character has a background, a story, a purpose (that sometimes goes against the point of the game but it is so free and vast it doesn’t matter) and I use that. It can change each week.

Sometimes I create one specifically for a project I have in mind, while others are existing characters I transfer to this. It’s a big change for them and that’s a good process to explore. It lets me dive a little deeper into their mind and that, in turn – I hope – makes writing that character a better experience for my readers.

I’m actually doing it with a character right now, but it’s all hush hush. Sorry!

So, despite its shortcomings, I still think No Man’s Sky is a decent game for what it is – and for what I expected it to be…like I said above, not one to follow the crowd for the sake of it. The extra value I get from it won’t work for all writers but maybe for some. Hell, any creative may find it of use in the same way I do.

Then again, there are plenty of ways to find inspiration, if we only remember to open our eyes, ears and other senses to what’s going on around us.

Or, you can read this post and get some other ideas from me!

Return of the Writer

Once again, ladies and gents, you have my apologies. I had hoped to get back into the swing of things long before now but the book took a lot more out of me than I first thought. I really needed some time to recover – mentally more than anything – and to be able to look at all three books with a fresh mind.

Now, I feel like I’m finally at that stage. Oh, and I like puns. You should know this by now (and in case you didn’t get it – shame on you – that’s a Star Wars reference at the top. Can’t believe I explained that).

I’ve not been sitting idly by, however. Some things have been going on. So, my friends, join me on what, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a riveting tale. Maybe. Possibly. Okay, probably not but bear with me.

Where have I been?

I’ve been here and there, keeping busy without exhausting myself further. Or trying not to. I tried reading but that was a little too close to home and I found that even gaming wasn’t as appealing as I’d thought it would be. I did keep up with swimming, other than last week where I had other exercise plans (dodgeball – don’t ask but I do have a medal!). Hell, I even tried quitting smoking.

The one thing that is worth noting is that over the last couple of weeks is that it was the fifth Manchester Children’s Book Festival. I’ve volunteered at every single one to date and this year was no exception, although following the pattern of the previous two, I’m not as involved as previously but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it all the same.

It’s fantastic to see so many children getting involved with reading, writing, performances and much more – anything creative and wacky! It’s been a pleasure to see the festival grow since 2010 and I’m looking forward to next year already.

Expect a more detailed post on this in two weeks. I wouldn’t want to break tradition now, would I?

Finding motivation

One thing that I think has been really lacking for me is motivation. Since finishing the first draft of the most recent novel, I’ve been finding it hard to come back – for whatever reason. Life can work for or against us and we subconsciously associate that with actions, activities, emotions and such. I think when I’m not happy with something big in my life, it stops me from wanting to write as I feel that should be fixed first.

It doesn’t apply all the time but it does have an impact.

I also had a conversation with a friend about writer’s block, which I’m still not convinced actually exists as a thing but yet I’ve yet to encounter a writer who hasn’t used this term when they struggle. That seems to be more to do with ease – we all understand it, from varying sources – so it doesn’t need explanation. Despite that, why is it a thing and is it only a thing because we make it so? I don’t think I’ve had writer’s block as I write at work and generally. Hey, I’m writing a blog post right now! It’s an interesting thought, though.

Actually, I think this is a topic for a full blog post next month. Look out for that!

Putting together a plan

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other
My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have three projects to edit. The novella is first up, and I’ll be starting that at the weekend. I like it’s length but the ‘professional’ feedback (from agents and publishers) suggest it would work better as a novel. I’ll decide that as I go through the draft but I’m not convinced yet. There are other things that need to be fixed, however.

After that, I’ll start on one of the novels. The sci-fi project is up first, as it’s more recent and I think it needs less work. The story is well rounded, it just needs to be padded out in places, with a few more explanations and sub plots, supported by a little character development. That might sound a lot, but it won’t be as bad as you might think. Of course, after that comes the nit-picking of later drafts.

Finally, I’ll work on the fantasy novel. That needs a fair bit adding to it for me to be happy. The good thing is, I know what to add, the big question is where it should go. I have some ideas but the edit will help identify weaker areas and the plot holes that I know exist.

If I can get all that done over summer, I MIGHT just have one ready to send out by the end of the year.

If I’m lucky.

It’s time to…edit!

I hoped to post this last week but, according to my schedule, there are still two weeks until the next post so I’m safe (the glory of a five-week month) for now. I teased previously about why I’ve been so quiet lately, with a lot of things on the go and now I’m finally ready to show you what I’ve been working on.

So, here are my three babies manuscripts. Aren’t they pretty…?

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other
My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

What are they?

From left to right, there’s a novella in third draft, a novel in first draft and another novel in first draft (yes, that’s a long way of saying it but I’m enjoying my words. Hush). I feel like it shouldn’t have taken this long to get this far but then I remembered life easily gets in the way. That’s a whole different topic.

I hope they’re all published one day, obviously, but I’m proud of reaching this stage. I’ve covered fiction, fantasy and science fiction (in that order, respectively) so not completely in my comfort zone but trying something new is always harder than anything else. Maybe that’s why it’s only a novella right now, but who knows what could happen.

If you want to read them – tough! They’re not ready yet but when I’m looking for readers, I’ll let you know.

What’s next?

Editing! The novels are only in first draft and need a fair bit of work. There are plenty of inaccuracies and continuity errors – and that’s not counting the grammatical issues. Who said writing was easy? Then again, I like a challenge. I’ll distract myself with redrafting some short stories in between as there are plenty of competitions to enter. When I find them, I’ll put them up here as normal.

Blogging resumes as normal (I promise) in two weeks. Updates on the editing will come as and when there is something to report. Until next time!

What’s the Deal with Word Counts?

Size does matter when it comes to these books!
Size does matter when it comes to these books!

Word counts. In school, we were told to do a page or two for our assignments. In university, it ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 usually (not counting the dissertation) but there seems to be a much more vague answer surrounding novels.

Over the years, novels seem to have gotten longer. It’s a strange sight; books are getting longer yet web content, which is a huge part of the digital space, is getting shorter – and being portrayed in even shorter paragraphs. The contrast here is interesting and e-books sit somewhere in the middle, not favouring one side over the other – although an e-book doesn’t have to be viewed online, it can be.

As a writer, project lengths can be a bit daunting, as well as throwing up some barriers to completing a project. I figured this was a good time to take a look at a few.

Does size really matter?

Let’s avoid the elephant in the room here and stick to the topic at hand (yes, I know what you were thinking – get that mind out of the gutter!) because there is no simple answer to this, even though it may look like it on the surface.

Is it worth writing more and more just to hit a word count that you or someone else has said? You run the risk of waffling; creating sections that have no relevance and will only serve to put readers off. Do that and your story may never be finished – and it can happen the same way with writing.

So, if you’re writing a story that goes on and on and on, is it worth breaking it down in the planning stage so you know what you’re writing and where each part ends, or should you write it and break it later? That comes down to personal choice, if I’m honest.

What matters more than a word count is quality writing and story-telling. The publishers may tell you differently, that they’re looking for certain things but then, what about self-publishing? Who makes the decisions then? The writer.

How important is it to consider during planning?

Very – and what I mean by that is don’t!

Every time I’ve tried to write something to a certain length, it hasn’t worked. It’s okay to have an idea, something to aim towards but if you fall short or go over it’s not a big deal. This isn’t being graded (I always hated that my essays had to be at a certain length, surely going over would be a good thing!?) so as long as it feels right to you, then don’t worry.

Editing and redrafting will help you cut down on parts that are useless or find gaps in the story you need to fill out so why worry about writing a novel that has 70,000 words?

I’m not going to post the lengths of popular or successful novels here. There’s plenty of posts out there for that and, as you probably know by now, I write sci-fi and fantasy mainly. Those novels can be a hell of a lot longer than other fiction novels but there are always exceptions.

Make your plan, and follow it. Use word counts, targets or thresholds as motivation to keep going, not as a way to stop.

What about short stories and other forms?

The key here is the word ‘short.’ I’d advise you to not abandon the tactic of planning and writing them without a specific count in mind. Just like with a novel, you could end up compromising on what you originally planned.

There are plenty of competitions out there, around the world and throughout the year, that ask for different lengths and genres. Writing for a specific competition is an option but you won’t be as invested in the story compared to writing it for yourself. Once it’s done, then look for where you could submit it to, if that’s what you want to do. That means you’ll always have an amazing piece of writing (in the end) that hasn’t been controlled by someone or something else.

Novellas, poetry and other forms all have other rules but in most cases, write first and edit later down to what you want it to be, or if you absolutely have to, to what it needs to be.

Remember, as I mentioned in my last post, writing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole process. Don’t ruin that by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to hit a specific target because someone else said so. You’ll regret it in the long run – unless it’s for a publishing deal, but that’ll normally come a little later in the process so write first.

If you don’t believe me, try it and see.