Keeping myself motivated

It can be hard writing all the time when things are so unstable. I know some people who love that uncertainty, and to a point I do, too. However, I do like a little stability. I like to know I’ve got a job or can get one. I like to know I’ve got money to keep a roof over me and food on my plate. There have been times during this adventure when those things haven’t been so certain and it’s then I find it hard to sit down and write.

I spend too much time thinking about things that aren’t writing. Life problems, you might say, in a sense.

Of course, everything is a wave. There are highs and lows. Now that I’m on a rise, I can think clearly and put everything in perspective.

Sure, I can write a blog post or a short story at random times but for a larger project, like the novel I’m working on now, I like a bit of a stability. Which leads me to…

Getting into a routine

One thing I learned at university was a routine. If I could write at roughly the same time of day (or night) each day then it’d be easier for me to get into the flow and get more done. That has worked for me in the past, but I do like having a set space to work from, which isn’t easy when travelling.

When you get regular hours at a job, then it becomes easier to get that routine going. It might be worth writing at the same time even if those times vary through the week. It’s training your mind to know when it’s time to be creative and work, and that 9-5 mentality is exactly the same.

Seeing other people’s success

This is a double-edged sword but when you see friends and colleagues doing well, you feel happy and want to support them however you can.

Then comes the jealousy.

It’s not that they’re better than you, but they have something of market value then. That just means you have to think about your ideas and what’s out there now. It also means you need to keep trying. Don’t compare their journey to your own, just focus on doing what you do best and do it well. One day, it’ll come to you.

Yes, I’m also telling myself that. We all need to hear it at times.

The occasional pep talk

I’m grateful for the friends I’ve got who keep me going when things look hopeless. A lot of these are writers in similar situations to myself, and I’m more than happy to return the favour. We’re all still young in the grand scheme of things and it’s nice to get a little bit of encouragement amongst all the rejection we get from publishers and agents.

The same rings true for life in general, and those uplifting feelings can transfer to other areas when we need them most. If you know a creative and they’re a bit down, give them some encouragement and offer some criticism to help. You might not be an expert, but you can appreciate it. Let them explain some of their craft to you, let them feel like their skills and knowledge is valuable.

Again, the same is true in life. Look out for people who could use a little lift. Good things can be passed on really easily.

Looking back to how far I’ve come

It may sound a little cliché but it’s great to look back at where I’ve come from – in terms of my journey as a writer. I look back at the projects I’ve completed and remember thinking that I’d never be able to finish it.

These aren’t masterpieces by any means but compared to my writing now, I can see how I’ve changed, how my style has grown, and it makes me proud. I look forward to pushing on and seeing where I’ll be in the future.

Of course, hopefully that involve a published book or two (or ten, maybe more) but the more I travel, the more I learn about myself and there are always things to do and learn. Maybe it’s not what’ll happen but until I know for sure, I’m going to keep trying.

You should, too, whatever your goals may be.

Why I have multiple projects on the go at once

We’re all different, and we do things differently as a result.

That’s great, as variety keeps life interesting. Another way to keep things interesting is to have more than one project on the go at once. Now, I’m talking about writing here, specifically, but it’s advice that can apply to many aspects of our lives.

It’s not for everyone; I know plenty of writers – and people – who prefer to focus on one thing at a time and get it out the way before moving onto the next. That’s absolutely fine but I’ve found it can make things a little…monotonous.

That’s why I mix things up a bit from time to time.

The benefits of switching projects

I’ll be honest here, staving off boredom is sometimes a challenge for me. I write longer pieces of fiction most of the time, and novels feature a big part of that. However, there’s blog posts, freelance work and short stories to do, too.

Balancing all of these projects can be tricky but if I waited until the last one was finished, I’d never do anything else for a year or more (leaning more to the more here, especially as I’m travelling and working, too).

There are also times when I find myself stuck. Call it writer’s block, call it boredom, call it whatever you like – I need to do something different to take my mind off what’s stopping me.

Now, if it’s a problem I’m trying to work out, writing something different can sometimes reveal the solution. Sometimes, it’s just good to finish something – or a draft of something – to add some extra motivation.

However, it’s not as simple as just switching from project to project on the fly.

The downside to doing so

Going back and forth between projects, while refreshing, does make it much easier to lose your flow and get confused. Details from each story might cross over inadvertently or plotlines might merge and confuse the reader.

It also means each project will take longer to complete. The difficulty here is deadlines.

Even if they’re self-imposed, deadlines are important. It’s goal and lets you manage your time – and this goes beyond your writing. It’s okay to respect that things change, and life can get in the way, but if you set a deadline, it’s important to try and meet it.

That said, if, like me, you like switching projects, you’ll need to accommodate for this in your deadlines. Don’t make them to short or you’ll get stressed.

That’s not good for anything.

How I cope with changing over

The biggest tip I have is to plan ahead.

There are times when I feel like I spend more time planning my projects than I do writing them (and even editing, as hard as that is to believe).

Not only does this help with the writing itself, but it means every time I switch from one project to another, my plans and notes are so comprehensive that I know exactly where I’m at and what I need to do next.

Now, my plans and ideas can change during writing. That’s okay and its part of the editing process to make sure it all fits together neatly in the end. It’s why no one ever gets to read my first drafts – they’re far too embarrassing!

As with everything, you’ve got to find what works for you. I’ve found my balance and until it stops working, I’m sticking with it. What about you?

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!

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

After my first swimming session
After my first swimming session

I remember – a long, long, loooooooooong time ago – that I used to be physically fit. I could run for more than ten seconds before running out of breath. I could push myself to do more rather than just get up the stairs. I used to enjoy it.

I used to want to write a hell of a lot more than I do now.

Now, hear me out. I haven’t lost my will or love of writing over the years (although…there have been days…) but I had a lot more stories to tell. My mind would run free and come up with some truly crazy shit, even when I was completely knackered. In fact, sometimes those were the best times to be creative. Then, like now, the hardest thing was finding the time to sit down and get on with it. Only this time, the reasons have changed.

I think exercise is important to a person’s wellbeing but also to a writer’s creativity. I have no proof – though this is the internet, so I’m sure you can find some if you want – this is all from my own experience.

The old days

So, some context.

Back in my younger days, I played basketball at school, and then beyond. I trained four-to-five nights a week, volunteered with the Youth Service, worked, studied and tried to write. It was hard, very hard.

One thing I was never short of was ideas. Inspiration came easily, just not the time to put those words to paper (or screen, for the pedantic among you). I was always busy, and I had a social life. They were simpler days, happy days and that makes a huge difference. As a writer, I draw upon a range of emotions to propel readers through my stories, whether long or short. Happiness is a key part of that – and teenage angst can only take you so far.

Without basketball – or a form of exercise in general – I wouldn’t have had that balance. I was too young to realise it then but looking back now, I’m glad I had it.

The in-between years

Whether through illness or injury doesn’t matter but I stopped playing and training. I replaced it with bar work – and in general jobs that kept me running around a lot so I was getting some exercise. Not only that, I walked everywhere.

I kept this up through university. I had every intention of packing in smoking and joining one of the sport societies but like all best laid plans – it didn’t happen.

I convinced myself that since I was young-ish, my metabolism was high and I had other ways to exercise, I’d be okay. One day I’d sort it. Besides that, my studies kept me writing. Not what I wanted but I was determined to finish this degree and get a good result. Since graduating, I had other priorities (finding a job, mainly) and now, I am trying to balance work, a social life and travelling time with writing.

I ended up with a desk job, public transport and plenty of cigarettes smoked each day (but not as many as others) so, yeah, I had lost the physical exercise. Over the years during university and beyond, this has had a knock on effect. I don’t feel physically worn out, no matter how tired I am mentally. When I do sit to write, I get itchy feet and have to move about quite a lot. It’s hard to find that balance. I knew then that something had to change.

And now, I’ve started swimming

The key word is ‘started’ as I’ve only just (literally) finished my second session. I could barely get through 22 lengths in an hour in the first session but I doubled that tonight. Not for one moment do I expect another jump like that next time but I can already see the difference – see the picture above of how I looked after the first swim last week!

I have to be careful as to what exercise I do. My knees are dodgy and swimming isn’t weight bearing. There’s still a burn but it’s better for me than running, I think. Maybe one day, I’ll try that. Oh, and I’m trying to get rid of the cigarettes. That’s helping too.

Through all that, I can feel the ideas returning. That can only be a good thing – I just need to balance the rest of my free time to make use of it.

Keep an eye on this space!

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.

Coping with Feedback and Criticism

Apologies guys and gals, I’ve been pretty lax recently. I wish I could say that writing is my priority – I want it to be, definitely – but life likes to throw curve balls. Call it destiny, fate, karma, chance or whatever. It happens.

It happened to me a few months back. I was made redundant, at just what I felt was the worst time as I had just about gotten out of most immediate debt and was making plans going forward. Well, those got scrapped.

Now, fast forward a couple of months and I’m working full time again. Brilliant. However, there’s more travelling and adapting to a new workplace and job and this takes time so while I’m trying to keep up, it’ll take a while until I’m back to ‘normal’ again.

A little inspiration

Before this all happened, I’ve been trying to get my novella out there and hopefully published. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone amazingly well so far. I’m not surprised by this – I expected it and if you read my post on dealing with rejection earlier this year, you’ll know that. If you haven’t, go back and it read it now.

I sent it out somewhere else over the summer thanks to a friend who pointed me to it. With everything that’s been going on, I completely forgot about it but when a reply came, it actually gave me a little hope!

Receiving feedback

Now, I’ve done a post last year on group feedback but I want to go a bit further, and look at this in a different way here.

Whenever I submit my novella I always ask for feedback. Sometimes you’re told not to but if you don’t ask then you don’t get and this time it paid off. Despite the fact that this was, in essence, another rejection it didn’t actually matter. Receiving a reply is good because you get closure on that particular submission but getting feedback means I have something a bit more concrete to go on.

So, what was I told? Well, the first point was the topics that I’m writing about are “really interesting and certainly meaty enough for novel material” and that is a huge boost. While not everyone will like everything, knowing that is like a fundamental thumbs up for what I’m working on. Now, I’ve been doing this as a novella, as I feel it’s a lot sharper and more concise but the “novel material” comment has opened up a whole new can of worms.

I COULD make this into a novel but would I be able to carry over the tension and emotion through an entire book? That’s an interesting idea – and what about my ending? Would that work or would I need something else.

What I need to work on, in this person’s opinion, is making things less explicit and letting the reader, you, figure it out for yourself. That is something I generally agree with but in this case, I’m wondering if I’ll lose part of the character by doing so as he is quite direct and the novel is from his point of view.

There are a few other points but I’m keeping those to myself. You get the idea, however.

Reacting and dealing with it

Dealing with feedback and criticism can be hard at times. When you’ve spent hours, days, months, weeks – maybe even years – on a project, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, a piece of art, music or anything else, the last thing you want to admit to yourself is that there are things wrong with it.

That’s a natural response.

To really improve though, that outside perceptive is essential. I have a couple of people I can count on to proof what I’m doing and offer feedback but even then, I have to weigh up what they say with what I feel, want and know. It’s a hard balance to find.

When an expert gives you advice and feedback, you have to grab it with both hands and really think about it. For every sentence, note, brushstroke or whatever it is you use to create your masterpiece, compare it with what they say. They’re an expert for a reason and if you want to be one, you need to learn from them.

The problem isn’t getting over your pride, though; it’s getting over your fear.

The fear that by editing it further, especially based on the words of someone else, that your project becomes less what you wanted and more of what someone else thinks. You lose the core or essence of what you are trying to achieve. It ceases to be what you want and becomes something else.

It’s incredibly hard and by denying we do this, we give it more power. It’s another wall we don’t need to put up but it’s almost instinctual for any creative person to make sure that we can identify with our work, that others can too and that it represents the best of what we can do in that moment.

Deep stuff, huh?

So, what’s the answer?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have an answer to that. I’m not sure I ever will.

What I do know is that one person’s opinion doesn’t mean that you should abandon everything you think or feel. What I do know is that sometimes there are people who know more about what you’re trying to do than do you. What I do know is that you need to be able to adapt to anything that happens, in life, love, work – anything.

I’m not saying that I’m going to change my entire novella based on one person’s feedback but I have to take on-board what I’ve been told. I’ve gone to them because they’re the expert and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some real advice. I’d be a fool not to consider everything carefully before going forward, right?

Sounds like a good life lesson in general, if I’m honest.

‘Till next time!

Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?

I’m back – again! I lost internet access for a while, making posting the new stuff I let you know about last time a bit harder but I’m back now and kicking off as I mean to go on!

Inspiration is something we all need from time to time to get ourselves motivated. That’s quite a broad and vague statement, as the kind and amount of inspiration we need depends on the project or task at hand. As a writer, one who likes to explore different genres and mediums, I find that the inspiration I want, or need, changes too. It might sound obvious but how often have you thought about it to try and influence where the inspiration comes from?

Now is as good a time as any to think about it.

Inspiration comes from all around us

We take inspiration from everything, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Someone we meet, something we see, things we here and anything we do – literally, it comes from anywhere. It might not surface for a long time but there comes that moment, like a lightbulb being turned on above your head from a cartoon, where something clicks and everything makes sense.

At least, in that moment.

Delain's We Are The Others album
Delain’s We Are The Others album

I take a lot of inspiration from the books I read, games I play, television and films I watch and the music I listen to, like countless other people. I find it hard to work in silence, I like background noise so there’s always something on when I’m writing but over the years I’ve found that if I’m in the mood or trying to write a certain genre or form, it helps if that noise matches that.

I’m not saying I have to watch fantasy to write fantasy, but there has to be something there that encourages me. If I’m reading (or watching) The Lord of the Rings, for example, it makes me want to work on something just as epic, even if it’s not a fantasy piece.

Turn up the music

Nightwish's Highest Hopes: The Best of Nightwish album
Nightwish’s Highest Hopes: The Best of Nightwish album

Music is a big one though, and while I enjoy listening to a lot of different genres and artists (save a couple I’m really not keen on) it’s the lyrics that hit home the most. The music adds to the effect. Much like poetry, there are different meanings you can take from them. You can find out what the artist intended and what was behind it for them but everything like this is open to interpretation.

Recently I’ve been working on two short stories – neither of which is the one I uploaded a few days ago, The (Long Overdue) Journey. One is fantasy and the other is a bit more of a gritty realism piece. Music has helped me focus on both pieces but figuring out what artists and songs was a bit trickier.

Within Temptation's Hydra album
Within Temptation’s Hydra album

For the fantasy piece, I wanted it to start a bit slower and slowly work into something triumphant, epic and uplifting. I’ve always associated the powerful vocals of bands like Nightwish, Delain and Within Temptation with this genre. The voices are powerful and the music adds to that but it’s the voices which I tune into. Watch or read any fantasy and songs are usually sung at some point but there’s no band with them. That makes the words the most powerful thing about them and there are three songs, all a little different, that helped me. These are:

I’ve included links to the best YouTube videos I can find so you can take a look/listen.

Does the genre or form change what inspiration you need?

Quite simply, yes. You may have your favourite go-to songs or films when you need a boost – I know a lot of people who run and work out have a specific playlist they’ll listen to for a good number of their sessions but it never works that way for me. I had so many different playlists it became easier just to change a couple around based on the projects I was working on at the time.

I can quite happily – to the bafflement and annoyance of others at times – listen to the same few songs over and over and over again while I take from them everything I need or want. This can be before I start writing and during it, even after at times. It really depends. I only do this through the initial writing/drafting phase. When it comes to redrafting and editing, I’ll generally avoid anything I used to inspire me while I refine it – unless I feel something is missing.

So, what do you think? Do you think about what inspires you for each project and act accordingly or do you have a go-to? I’d love to hear from you!

Proofing and Editing: Five Tips to Keep You Focused

I’ve been fairly quiet on the blogging front this month – sorry about that! I do want to give Kat a big shout out for her guest post – it seems you guys really liked it and I’m super happy about that! Hopefully I’m going to have more for you all later in the year.

So, why have I been quiet? Well, as you guys probably know, I’ve been working on my novella for the last year or so but the last two-three months has seen me ramp it up and keep on with the editing and proofing of it, getting it to this stage where it’s almost ready to submit! Exciting stuff!

It’s got me thinking though; editing is often seen as the most boring and tedious parts of writing – and I agree to an extent. So, I’m going to share some of my top tips to get you through it without losing any quality. Aren’t you guys lucky?

You can thank me later.

Don’t read off a screen

Okay, I’m not going to lie that I’ve never been a fan of reading on a screen and e-readers in the past, I often find my eyes glaze over after a while and I have to go back and re-read things. The same is true for editing; it’s so easy to miss things on a screen compared to being on paper.

So, my first tip is to print it off and read a physical copy. You will be able to focus easier and your eyes won’t get tired as quick, which is a massive help.

As a side note, I think e-readers, Kindles and tablets in general have gotten a lot better over the years – especially the ones designed to mimic paper – and I do have one myself but not for editing purposes and I still prefer a good old fashioned book!

Use a pen and get messy

Following on from my last point, if you have a printed or hard copy you can make notes as and when you spot them. So many of my old drafts are literally covered in notes in all different pen colours (I have so many around that I use whichever one comes to hand first) and I use these notes to help me make changes in future drafts.

Never lose these drafts because you might want to look back to your old versions later to see the changes you’ve made and be sure they work better. Whether you keep digital copies or hard copies – or both – doesn’t matter. Make a note of everything, it’ll make you a better writer each time you edit something.

Be ruthless

This is probably the hardest part for many writers; deciding what exactly to take out, change or add. I’m not going to lie to you guys, it isn’t easy – and there isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer. Sorry.

In the end, you’ll have to decide what works best. The beauty of writing on word processor or similar program is that changes aren’t final (and this is why you should always keep your drafts somewhere safe).

To keep it simple though, if you have any doubts about a particular word, sentence, paragraph or entire section – get rid of it. You might need only small changes to make it work but you’ll know this straight away. Whatever the specific part is you have doubts about, remove it and see how it works. You can then add something else in. Don’t be afraid to try new things, it’s how we learn and grow as writers.

Set realistic targets

This is also really important. Unless you have a full day, don’t say to yourself you’re going to proof and edit 5,000 words every day – it won’t work. If, like me, you have a job to manage too, work out what’s manageable but make sure you have breaks where you put it aside for the day/night.

My latest project had chapters of around 2,000 words. The first few edits I did 1,000 words a night or so. By the final edits I was doing an entire chapter but I was only picking up final mistakes and changes – nowhere near as much as the early stages.

Editing is mentally exhausting – more so than the actual writing. There’s less creativity and more focus and thought so you need to take that into account. If you have other responsibilities, maybe make it 500 a night or even say 30 minutes. You might come back to it later that night and do another 30 but these are bite size chunks you can handle without sacrificing your focus and quality.

Reward yourself

Finally, give yourself a break every now and then. Watch an episode of your favourite show, some chocolate, buy a little gift (I stress little or you’ll be bankrupt in no time) or something that you can enjoy before getting back to work. Every time you meet your targets, do this and you’ll be more inclined to do it again.

Even if you don’t meet your targets in that period of time, make sure the rewards are there. Give yourself an EXTRA reason to do this on top of getting your writing done. It will help, trust me.

Obviously, this is by no means exhaustive so please share your own tips and methods if you have them. These are just the main thoughts I keep in mind and work to when it comes to the editing stage of any project. Happy editing!

Finishing the First Draft

Word Count
My novella’s word count

Hello! Apologies for the lack of blogging this month – it’s been manic! My birthday earlier this month and striving to finish my novella before National Novel Writing Month begins. I did it, the first draft anyway and I’ll return to it in November. More on that in a bit.

This project has hit 24,300 words. I was hoping to get a bit closer to 25,000 but there may be a little bit more to come in the redrafting process. Either way, I need to think a little more on my ending. I’ve got a few people to read it for me though, so hopefully they’ll give me some valuable feedback.

What has this taught me?

Well, it’s not over yet. There is still so much more to do in terms of editing and redrafting and me spending countless hours analysing and obsessing over every, little, word. If you’re a writer yourself, chances are you know what I’ve got coming up. I’ve been there before and I’m not looking forward to it but the novella is good (or it will be), the idea is very good and I can’t stop now.

This is far out of my comfort zone. There’s no fantasy, science fiction or horror in this story and those are the genres I usually write in. This is set in the here and now and explores mind-sets, attitudes and the lifestyles we live in, or have lived in. I’ve spoken to a lot of people to create a scenario and protagonist that people can relate to, on at least some level.

There are even some of my thoughts and experiences in there but it’s not purely about me – even though people will think this is about me on a deeper level. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

It shouldn’t have taken me this long to get to this stage but I’ve been lacking motivation this year. I have been able to write when it counts though and that’s promising. If I can keep this up, I might finally start to feel like the writer I was before and during uni – only (hopefully) a lot better.

A Song of Ice and Fire

A Song of Fire and Ice
A Song of Fire and Ice

Or, as people seem more familiar with, A Game of Thrones – a series I’ve heard so much about, both in book and television form, and yet I’ve not actually read or seen them. This shocks a lot of people as it seems right up my alley. They’re probably right, too.

I don’t want to watch the TV show until I’ve read the books, even if it’s in stages and my reading list is HUGE. However, for my birthday this month, I did get the three most recent so now I have all seven books published. Expect me to talk about these in 2015 – they’re big books but I can read fast if I get really into them, as is the case with anything.

So, next month

Have you been keeping up with my plans for the year? If so then you know that November is NaNoWriMo and, once again, I’m going to give it a shot. I’ve succeeded only once in completing this madness of a writing challenge but I’m hoping that this will be the second success.

It means that I’ll be writing every day and my target is 2,000 words a day. It might not sound a lot but it will be very taxing, especially working full-time! I must be mad to do this but, hey, what’s new? For the next month, you’ll get a NaNo update each week, letting you know how I’m getting on. It’s also for my benefit so I can see where I’m doing well and where I’m failing.

It’s going to be a fun month, keep checking back!

Planning a Novel, Part Two

Hello, again! Last week, I talked about how to plan a novel and some of the things to keep in mind. I did this with a focus on characters and settings used already, so a sequel or series but I got some good responses from it and even more questions so I thought I’d do a follow up – even though this stuff is probably what you should know first, if you want to write the first in a series or a standalone novel/story.

How do you plan a novel?

There are a number of ways to plan a novel (or script, poem or other writing project) and I don’t know them all. There are also different pieces of software you can use too but I just stick to bullet lists, and I’ll come back to that shortly. Some people use diagrams, storyboards, audio notes and any number of methods to plan a project. There’s no reason it has be a digital plan either. Get your notebook out and write it the old fashioned way. Get all your ideas down, put them in order and you have a structure to work from.

Warning; some people may tell you they don’t plan but most of the time this is wrong, they just don’t realise that their plan is their plan. Notes can be a plan too and if you keep a plan in your head, it’s still a plan. I’d tried writing without one and it didn’t work very well. Also, trying to write from a mental plan caused me so many problems because I couldn’t remember what I was meant to be doing and when to make sense.

The one thing I’d advise you to remember is that a plan does not mean everything is set in stone. You can make changes.

Giving myself the freedom to change

An example of a plan I use
An example of a plan I use

This is one thing that always bothered me about planning when I was younger was that I thought plans had to be followed to the letter – if you wanted to change anything then you had to go back through the ENTIRE plan. I’m sure some people do that, and enjoy it, but it was far too restrictive for me. I wanted a bit of freedom to adapt, change and grow as my stories did – as I did as a writer and as a person.

So, that led to my preferred method, and it goes in stages:

  • Stage one – Create a list of about bullet points that I want to happen throughout the novel, usually one per chapter but sometimes more, or sometimes less
  • Stage two – Create a separate list of subplots that can be included in the main narrative
  • Stage three – Expand on this list by creating five or six bullet points that fill out each chapter
  • Stage four – Write each chapter by expanding on each bullet point, almost like connect the dots. This is the best time to involve sub-plots, narrative and character development

This means I have the backbone of my story straight away, as well as subplots to choose from (although sometimes I come up with more during the writing) and I have the freedom to be creative when I’m writing around these points. The image is just an example of a plan I might use – the real thing would probably be a bit more fleshed out so I had more to work with when it came to writing but you get the idea from that.

Finding out what works for you

Knowing a fair number of writers, I can tell you that there is no set way to plan a novel, story, script or poem. You need to find a way that works for you and then adapt it to make sure it does everything you need and actually encourages you to write.

You can gather ten, twenty, thirty or any number of writers and we’ll tell you our own ways of planning our projects. In fact, do that. Ask as many as you can and then choose what sounds best to you. Some people like strict plans that can act as the base for the writing while I prefer to have a bit more freedom, as I’ve pointed out.

There’s no right or wrong, just what works best for you. Now, go, young (or old) writer – go plan that book and then write it!