Taking a little break

So, I’ve been a little quiet on the writing front recently. Some of you may have seen that I finished the second draft of my second book, and I felt so relieved that it was done, as at times it felt like a real slog, that I realised I needed a break.

Most of you will know that I’m doing a lot of travelling right now (and if you don’t, feel free to take a look at what I’ve been up to) and this creates some challenging environments and situations in which to focus on writing. That being said, there are plenty of positives, too.

While I tried to keep everything together, and balance the travel, work and different living scenarios, it proved really taxing. That meant that when the draft was done, I was nowhere near ready to do anything else for a while.

Normally, I’ll blog more or work on some short stories, but I couldn’t even face doing those activities, too – despite how much I love writing!

A couple of months later and I’m back to it, so there’s some catching up to do on my regular updates but also a lot of short stories I want to redraft as well as some new ideas to put into writing. I know already what I want to do for the third book of this trilogy and I’m going to start the first draft of that story in January.

Compared to the first book, which I completed fully before starting the second, this is also a little bit of an experiment for me. It will keep the world and characters I’ve created fresh in my mind but in a different part of their story. I’m hoping that when I come back to edit the second book, it’ll be easier to keep track of everything, fixing mistakes and refining the novel without as much back and forth and fact checking. I have a lot of notes, but things do change during the process.

The other reason for doing things this way revolves around my longer plan. I’ve been submitting the first book to agents since late 2017 and I’ve had no luck so far. That’s a shame but I’m not prepared to give up on it, yet. All the reader feedback I’ve had (select friends and some strangers I’ve met on during the travels – not all of which are science fiction fans) has been constructive and positive.

Most of the questions they’ve raised are points I wanted them to pick up on, the story and writing style are enjoyable and the characters interesting. This is enough to keep me pushing ahead with it. If at the end, I have no luck, I’ll consider self-publishing the first book once the first draft of book three is done. Then I can edit book two while pushing that, before editing book three while getting the second book out there.

There is a plan, and while it’s not going as I’d hoped right now, it’s good to have some goals. Over the next couple of months, I’ll have some new stories to send out and post, so you’ll see more of what I’m working on, too.

That’s it for now, ‘till next time!

I didn’t write last week…

…Except, I did.

When I’m working on a novel or similarly lengthy project, I set myself a target. It used to be 1,000 words a night back when I had one job and a stable lifestyle. I didn’t always meet it, but I did get some writing done every day, no matter how little.

With my current lifestyle, where I work three jobs and don’t have my own space, I set myself a different target; to write four chapters a week. I rarely meet it but usually I can get three done a week without too much trouble.

This week, I didn’t write a single word.

Except, I did.

I write five days a week in my current job. So, in reality, I actually wrote a lot. Writing I have to do to get paid. I need that money to live and continue my travels later one.

But, when it comes to my own project, I wrote nothing.

Instead, I worked my second job on four of those days and nights, after my main job (which is a 9-5). Again, there are benefits to this, but I didn’t write anything.

And I feel guilty.

I’m close to finishing the first draft of this project, and my goal is to get it done this month. That should still be doable, I hope. Not writing for a week is just going to mean I have to do more in a shorter time.

This is what I want for my future, and I feel bad that I’ve been so lax. I can’t even say I did anything exciting or had a good time. Don’t get me wrong, the people I work with in my second job are great but it’s not the same. I have no stories to tell, no pictures to show and no writing to mark that passage of time.

I didn’t write last week.

I feel guilty every time I let an opportunity pass me by. Sometimes I am too busy, others I know I’m not in the right frame of mind to do so. I still feel guilty. I’m trying to change that, to accept the decisions I make in my life, for whatever reason, are the best they can be in that moment. Maybe things would be different if I took those chances, but maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure.

I’m getting better. This has become a bit of a mantra for me, one I wanted to share. It’s okay that, as a writer, there are times I don’t write. It’s okay there are others I do. It’s okay to enjoy other things or prioritise other parts of my life.

I’m not there yet, but I’m improving every day. Every week.

I did no writing last week, except, I did. Then again, I also didn’t.

And that’s okay.

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.

Writer Problems: A Not So Comprehensive List

We all have problems. Some are serious, some not so much. How big or problematic they are depends on our view at the time and with the passage of time, they seem to get smaller until we wonder why it bothered us in the first place.

That being said, some are more annoying than anything. They can be ironically funny, blindingly frustrating, facepalm cringeworthy or many other colour adjectives. Writers are no different. So, here is a list of writer problems. It’s not extensive or comprehensive but they’re all problems I’ve encountered (and not always solved) as well as those of other writers I’ve met and spoken to.

Hell, they probably apply to many creatives and professions – but you’ll have to tell me that.

Pets like getting involved

Not much to say about this one but any writer with pets will know exactly what I’m talking about – our lovable companions just KNOW we need their help.

My dog 'helping' me work
My dog ‘helping’ me work

I can’t deny it’s true at times, but when I’m on a roll and my dog decides to jump on me or my laptop, that’s more hindering than helping. Still, wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Feeling guilty over a lack of productiveness

I don't work right up here gif
Something’s wrong with my head, I think

I’m starting with one of my favourites. I like to take a break between big projects and drafts. It helps me put some distance between what I’ve just done and what I’m going to do next. It can be a week, a month or even a year – it really depends on the project and how drained I feel.

So, FREE TIME! That’s what I tell myself. I’ll catch up on my favourite TV shows, go to some gigs, tick off a few books in the ‘to read’ pile and get some gaming done. Actually, no. Very little happens because I feel guilty about not writing or editing! So, I find other work to do, whether it’s planning something new – or related – to the current project, doing some redrafting etc. It’s great but everything else listed above, well those piles, lists and such get bigger. Who knows when I’m going to get around to them?

Oh well, I keep up with Facebook…

The anticipation of feedback

I like to think that I’m pretty patient while waiting for feedback. I do understand that people are busy and have their own lives and things to sort. That’s what I tell myself and hope it conveys that way to others.

I just have a lot of feelings gif
WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?

However, on the inside I’m screaming ‘READ THE BOOK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!’ every day until I get it back. Sometimes I can’t wait and I break my rule and ask. I feel guilty about that too. Thankfully, my writer friends understand that…I think…I hope!

The infamous writers block

I got nothing gif
I relate to this way too much

I could write 1,500 essays on this subject. It. Is. So. Annoying. And frustrating. And has a particularly awful sense of timing. Countless are the times I’ve been on a great role and the one day it just stops. And I end up staring at a blank screen four hours searching for a particular word or phrase.

Sometimes a film, a show, a song, a book, a game, a word or accident can snap me out of it. Other times, I need a good sleep or swim to clear the head. Other times, I think it’s a way for the mind to tell us to take a break. Maybe to organise our thoughts or think about a problem – or just give us a rest. We’re not machines, we do need it every so often.

Knowing what you want to say without having the right words

Use your words gif
How I feel with my mind when it blocks me

Sort of related to the last point but how many times have you had the PERFECT idea for that scene or chapter that’s been bugging you for weeks but when you come to put it on paper or screen, you stall. It’s not a block because you know exactly what you want to say but it just won’t come out. Damnit.

This is a fantastic example of why redrafting is so key. I’m all about the flow of my work and stories but sometimes you’ve got to force past it and just get it on paper. The editing lets you find those parts and smooth them out to match the rest of the story. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear someone’s arms off when it happens, though.

Not being able to stop the inner monologue

Maybe this is just me, but sometimes I wish I could switch my brain off. A CTRL+ALT+DEL function would be amazing. Simply amazing. Someone do this and I will love you forever.

Facepalm gif
There are never enough facepalms for this

I find this more when I’ve been writing for a while or working for a long time on a project; I just can’t stop. I know I’ve got work in the morning or an early start for whatever reason – or I’m supposed to be meeting friends or family or whatever – so I stop writing but that monologue is just going on and on.

The worst part is, whether I cave and get up or return to it the next day, the ideas are gone. Potential writing gold gone for good. That’s when the facepalm strikes.

The conflict of how to tell people what you do

All is good, you’re at an event, seeing some friends and there’s new people around. You strike a conversation and then they ask you one of the worst questions ever; ‘what do you do?’

Why is life so hard gif
Sometimes this is easier than changing words on a computer…

Where to even start with this? I write words and hope it’ll make me money is one option. I tell stories sounds childish. A writer sounds hipster and clichéd. Aspiring writer makes it seem like you’re trying too hard. Author? Not a chance, not till I’m published. Usually, I tell people I’m working on a book. They’ll either be interested and ask more or they won’t. It’s a safe option but why is it so hard?!

Not knowing when to stop

This is another favourite of mine. How do you know when it’s finished? The amount of times I’ve done the final draft of something only to come back in six months and let my inner voice yell ‘WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, THINKING THAT WAS DONE?’ until I cave in and do another draft.

I’m not always convinced the new draft is better. Surely there’s a point where what you started with or tried to achieve has been lost through so many edits you have something new completely. Is it still one story or is it two? If I find an answer, I’ll let you know.

Getting published!

Cats headbutting each other gif
It’s not a brick wall but very cute…and painful

I saved the biggest problem for last. It is one of THE biggest hurdles any writer who wants to make a career out of putting words on paper can and will face – unless you’re incredibly lucky. If you are, don’t forget about this blogger/writer/Scot.

I’ve not explored this much compared to others but even what I’ve experienced I can liken to headbutting a brick wall over and over and over and over. And over. Repeat until brain becomes mush. Hunting down and acquiring an agent is much the same. And yes, I’ve headbutted a brick wall (a lot as a child and once recently to test out this experiment. It hurt. A lot) so take my word for it.

Any other big writer problems I’ve missed? Let me know!

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.

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!

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!

Planning a Novel

So, we’re almost into October (or we are, depending on when you read this) and that means just one month to go until National Novel Writing Month. It’s at this time when I start to wind down my other writing activities (don’t worry, the blogs are safe) because I want to give myself a break before such an intense month hits. However, it’s the perfect opportunity to start planning the novel I’m going to write.

Some people like to write on the fly, and I’ve done it myself in the past but I think having some sort of structure to work towards will improve my focus and that’s essential in November, especially since I’m still working full-time, so I have less time than usual!

On a side note, apologies for the lack of pictures this time – I’ll make up for it in the next post!

Reconnecting to old friends

Is it weird to refer to my characters as friends, especially if I haven’t written about them for a while? Actually, I don’t care, I’m doing it.

I’ve spent so much time with these characters that I know them very well and I should hope so since I created them! More than that, I’ve seen them at their worst, their best and beyond even if they haven’t made it that far in the story yet.

It’s always difficult to decide how far each has to or is going to grow and develop at any given time. Too much or too little development can drastically alter a story so it’s not as simple as saying that “this” is going to happen and when if the overall story doesn’t match up.

Does that make everything a little bit too convenient? I think so, yes, but how many books are made from stories of an everyday life? If there are stats on that, get in touch but I’m pretty sure I can guess it already. Fiction is an escape, even if it’s a realistic setting, and it’s important to remember that we read for entertainment and enjoyment just as much as we watch TV for the same reason.

Planning bigger

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year’s NaNoWriMo project is a sequel to my first success. That’s a four year gap to fill in. It’s good to go back over old ground and see what I’ve done and where I plan to go next. I have a plan of where the whole series is going to go but it’s easy to forget details and that’s not a good thing – who wants to read the same things twice, especially if it’s an accident or shows gaps in the story?

Exactly.

There needs to be something new, and that usually means bigger in some way. A bigger challenge, a bigger adventure, a bigger threat – something bigger, whatever it may be. This is where problems can creep in if something wasn’t meant for a sequel or it was but it went too big too soon. There are plenty of examples of this in both book and film. I’ll give ten points out to everyone who can give me a good example with a bonus five for a reason.

The prize? Ummm. I’ll get back to you on the prize.

Finishing the novella

If you’ve been keeping track of my work this year you’ll know there is something else that I have to do before November starts – finish my novella! Well, get the first draft done anyway. I’m two thirds of the way through so far and once I get into a rhythm, I’ll get through the last third easily. It’s finding the time to get into that mind-set that’s the problem.

The benefit of doing it is that I can have people looking over the novella through October and November while I’m working on NaNoWriMo and so once I’ve taken a week or two off in December, I can get back on with the editing and I’ll hopefully have something ready early in the New Year – if not before.

It’s going to be a busy end to 2014 but I’m sure I’ll do it!