First Draft Frenzy!

I am currently in the throes of writing the first draft of a novel. I shouldn’t really be doing this. I have a book ready and waiting to be published, and another one awaiting its 5th draft. But sometimes, ideas get too loud. Sometimes characters get too noisy inside my head. And sometimes it feels like you have been editing and revising and rewriting for so long, you just desperately need a break from it. I needed to write something fresh and it has done me the world of good. (It is actually a sequel to the book awaiting 5th draft, so not entirely fresh, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, writing the first draft is a lot of fun but also totally insane. I know it is very different for everyone. There are ‘pantsers’ and ‘plotters’ and many who fall somewhere in between. I have never been much of a plotter. What tends to happen is I get the characters first, their personality, flaws, dreams, background, and dilemmas. I get to know them pretty well inside my head,  where they basically treat me like a therapist and start telling me all of their problems. Things inevitably evolve and progress and before long I have a plot of sorts, a loose start middle, and end and I start jotting notes down so I don’t forget anything. As I’ve said before, by the time I start a book I know the characters so well, but it’s the storyline and sequence of events I’ve got to get to grips with.

I kind of envy plotters. They outline and plan every detail, do all their research before writing and probably come out with a far more polished and advanced first draft than I do. I do try to plot, it’s just that it also sort of works itself out as I go along. Generally, I will have the basics, the bones, but as I write, things change and grow and then I will know what is happening about 3 chapters ahead.

My first draft, I am happy to admit, is a scruffy, ugly, clumsy, diabolical piece of writing. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh on myself, but it does tend to be cluttered with question marks (because I am too lazy in the moment of writing to go off and research something, I will just leave a question mark, in other words, get back to it later) I do the same thing when I can’t think of the best or right word or phrase…ahh hell just move along and do it later. The hard work begins in draft 2 and 3 and so on. So perhaps I should take note of the plotters style and try to calm things down a bit. It would help me in the long run, there’s no doubt.

So, why do I do it like this? This crazy, messy, hectic outpouring of events and ideas? It’s because I’m in a hurry. I want to get it done.I will worry about perfection and fine honing later when I am calmer. When I am writing it for the first time I am literally high on the energy and the creativity of it and I want to get it out, get it written, not stop for anything, I want to write without hesitation or worry, knowing that no one is ever going to see this, so it doesn’t matter how shoddy it is, I am just telling the story.

The other reason is, the first draft, telling the story for the first time and finally getting it out of my head where it has been for months even years, is all consuming for me. Like an addiction, I am totally distracted by it and endlessly guilty of thinking about it non stop and not wanting to do anything else until it is done – so sorry family! I don’t want to blog, or promote, or write articles or anything, I turn the laptop on and just want to write and how dare anything else get in the way until it is done!

I am nearing the end now of this current work-in-progress. I had one of those wonderful moments today while out running when all the loose ends tied up and I suddenly worked out exactly how to get to the end. An amazingly dramatic climax also reared its magnificent head, providing a way into book three. (Yes, this has now turned into a trilogy…) This was the moment I had been waiting for. I had total faith that it would come. I believe the whole story is all there in my head the entire time. I just need to pluck it out from all the other stuff going on up there!

Once I have finished this frenzied madness I am currently existing in, I will feel better. Calmer.I will be quite happy to push it to one side and get back to the orderly and professional business of editing and perfecting my two (almost) finished novels. I will be less distracted. I will be able to concentrate on normal life again. I will probably finish up early more often and watch some TV with the kids.

But for all its insanity, I really needed this ugly first draft fiasco. For me, that passion, the addiction, the mind bursting with creativity, characters coming to life in ways you never expected, revelations, inspiration, eureka moments, the weaving together of lives ands tories, the utter, mad excitement and adrenalin of it all, is what writing is all about!

Please feel free to comment and share! Do you plot or just get going and see what happens? Is your first draft a frenzied affair like mine, or something far more organised and sedate?

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When Blogging Becomes A Struggle…

Confession time. I’ve been having trouble blogging for a while now. There are many reasons why, which I will go on to explain, not really in the hope of offering advice to anyone who may be experiencing the same struggles, but more to help myself make sense of them. As always in my life, I work things out better when I write them down! So…

In The Beginning…

When I first started this blog, I did so with great trepidation. I used it to post extracts from my works in progress, which at the time were my novels The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and The Mess Of Me.At that time, they were both unpublished and I had no social media pages or profiles set up. It was all very much the beginning!

I recall how nerve-wracking it was when I first published a post on this blog. I shared it on my personal Facebook page and couldn’t decide what would be worse; having no one read it at all, or having people read it and not like it! It was the start of me sharing my work and it had taken decades for me to gather the courage to do it.

Luckily, it went well. It was a positive experience, as a number of Facebook friends started to read the extracts and enjoyed them so much, they asked for more. And for a long time, that’s all this blog was used for. Extracts of work in progress, read by a very small amount of people who already knew me. Ahh, easy. Not much to worry about back in those days!

And then came the books…

But things progressed. Eventually, I self-published both of those books and decided to set up my Facebook author page, Twitter and Goodreads accounts. I was reluctantly embracing the realities of the indie life and the cross to bear that is self-promotion. By this point, the tone of the blog had changed a little too. Now that some of the books were available, I no longer shared extracts from my work. Instead, I started writing about everyday life. Thoughts and feelings and memories. Anything that sprang to mind. The reason for this was quite glorious. I had been bitten again by the writing bug, and the result of that was that the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and the more I had to say until I began to feel like I was bursting with it. This felt like a very good thing.

I didn’t have many followers, but those who did read those first honest essay style posts, left lovely, encouraging comments. I had no urge to blog regularly. I had not even designed the blog site or customised it in any way. It was all still rather basic, but I was actually having fun. Every now and then, I would feel the urge to share something, and I would spew it out onto the blog, refine it, redraft it a few times and then hit publish. Again, fun times. Now that I had the hang of ‘blogging’ I was really enjoying it.

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I began to feel like a real writer…

As time went on, I published more books, as well as articles for Author’s Publish and a local parenting magazine. I began to feel like a real writer and described myself as one. Tentatively, I began also blogging about writing. Writing tips, writing problems, that kind of thing. Nothing too heavy-handed, after all, I was hardly in a position to advise anyone, but I did feel I had enough knowledge under my belt to share a few things and I enjoyed doing it. My blog was growing and evolving. It was becoming more confident and so was I.

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Around this time, a friend of mine also gave me some much-needed advice on how to make the blog more user-friendly. I customised it a bit, added the various share buttons and started using images and tags, and generally, became a tad more savvy about it all. I was still having fun. No pressure. I blogged when I wanted to. Sometimes once a month, sometimes more often if there was a lot to talk about.

I rebranded…

And then over a year ago, I rebranded the blog, again taking valuable advice from another friend. I thought about what one thing my books all had in common and realised that it was that all of my characters were outsiders. Proud ones. I renamed my blog The Glorious Outsiders, I thought more about who my audience was, what kind of people would like my books, and focused on drawing them in and talking to them. I decided to blog weekly from then on, having read lots of articles about how important it was to blog at least once a week.

It was easier than I thought to begin with. I found that the more I blogged, the more ideas for posts I got. I had undoubtedly put pressure on myself though. I decided to release posts on Wednesdays, which meant I really needed to have another idea decided on by Thursday, and a rough draft of it completed by Monday. I was now aiming to be a lot more smooth and professional about things, which meant I started putting much more effort into my posts, crafting them with more care, that sort of thing. Basically, they took longer to write and perfect. Or was I just getting picky?

Which brings us to now…

This routine has worked very well up until very recently, but now I have to admit I am struggling. I am struggling for a number of reasons. First, is time. Being an indie author means you do everything yourself. I go through phases of quite enjoying promotion, and phases of actually hating it and backing off from it entirely. I have so much I want to write, and like a lot of indies, I cling to that thin hope that the next thing I write will be snapped up by a big publisher, or will hit the big time, make me famous, bring me success and end my money worries. We all dream! But it’s not just a dream, it’s something you actively work at, day in, day out. Because I’m trying so hard to write better books, I’m getting fussier, and it’s taking longer each time to get them finished.This means, the many, many other books planned and plotted and waiting to be written, have to wait even longer. I just sometimes feel I do not have time to devote to weekly blogs if I am ever going to get these books written! And then other times, I know I have to blog and promote and be seen, in order to try and sell my others.

Decisions, decisions! Do I spend time on this or that? Crafting a blog takes time! It’s not just the wording and the structure and the focus, it’s the images and the tags! I am rubbish at finding images and making memes. Sometimes I will ditch a blog post just because I can’t be arsed to find images for it!

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And because I am getting fussier about my books I am also getting fussier about my blog posts. I go over them again and again. Have I lost confidence? I don’t know. I can’t say what it is. But I must have about fifteen unpublished blog posts now. I keep writing them and not publishing them. They just don’t feel ready. They just don’t seem to have a focus. Am I running out of things to blog about? No. definitely not. I have a list and the list grows weekly, so maybe that is the problem? Another case of too much to write and not enough time to write it?

Maybe I am having a crisis of confidence? I’m pretty sure we all do from time to time. Being a writer is a delicate business and we all have fragile egos. I’m lucky that I have never had unpleasant feedback or criticism, not on my books or on my blog, but that could just be a reflection of the small number of people reading them. Still, I think blogging was easier when I didn’t think anyone at all was reading it!

Over the last few months, my weekly blog posts have diminished to fortnightly ones. I’m not going to be hard on myself for this. I would rather post nothing, than post something I am not happy with. My personal life is a bit fraught, and I can honestly say I have never known what emotional exhaustion is, until now. There is just only so much a brain can deal with, I guess.

So, you might ask, why bother blogging at all? Why not have a big break from it? Why put the pressure on myself at all? I don’t know. I suppose pressure is part and parcel of the indie life. I want to sell books because I wrote them to reach people. I know how much effort is needed to be seen, and I don’t want to go backwards or be forgotten. And also, I enjoy blogging. I love this little blog of mine and the journey it has been on. I’m quite proud of it really, and a bit like writing a diary when I was a kid, it gives me an outlet. A chance to express my views on just about anything. I’m not the best talker, but writing a blog post gives me the opportunity to argue back, to make a case, to ask questions, to reminisce or just be silly.

So, in conclusion…

I’m still here. And I have every intention of always being here. Thank you if you’ve been following me from the beginning and are still with me today. And thank you to anyone who is a new follower of this blog. I suppose my advice to anyone about blogging would be this. Yes, it is important and yes, it should be fun. Lots of fun. But if life gets in the way, and other issues suck up all your time and emotions, then don’t be hard on yourself. Your blog will still be there waiting when things calm down again.

 

I Am Never Just Me and I Am Never Alone

I remember standing outside school when I was about four or five, trying to understand why I was only me. Why my thoughts and feelings were limited to just mine. I looked at my friends and my mother, and stared into their eyes, and realised I could not climb into their heads and become them, I could not occupy the space behind their eyes and see the world as they did. I vividly remember thinking how amazing, strange and sad this was.

But I soon found out that this does not really apply to writers. If you are a writer, you are not limited to being just one person or living just one life. As a writer, I discovered that I was never just me, and I was also never, ever alone. When I started to write stories, they were about animals, lost and neglected, looking for love and embarking on adventures. I became them. I was them, just as much as I was Chantelle. I had to quieten them and hide them when people asked something from me. I had to climb back out of their minds and fully inhabit mine. But I would try to get away with not doing this in full. I’d be eating my dinner, sniffing the air, sure I had picked up the scent of trouble, my eyes darting from side to side, planning an escape. I wasn’t just me. And then when dinner was over, the stories would continue and I would slip back into character.

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Throughout my life, I have been all the people I have written about. I have not simply created them, written their stories and then cast them aside. It doesn’t work like that at all. These people come to me, somehow, for some reason. They start off small and grow bigger and bigger, louder, more complex, more real. They are all from me. It blows my mind. It’s like they find me and ask me to tell their story, but that’s not really it. Somehow, they come out of me, because they are me.

And then I am them. I become them in order to write their story, in order to feel what they feel, and do what they do. I don’t really know how I do this. I just think about them so much, picture them, hear them, study them. I lie awake at night, and they are there. Characters from books already written, and characters still developing in my head for future books.

Danny (The Boy With The Thorn In His Side)is still the most constant visitor because he has been in my head since I was 12. We grew up together. Me, lying in bed, watching him in my head. Hearing the words I put in his mouth, though it never felt like that, it always felt like he was the one saying them. His story is an action-packed tragedy of violence, music and friendship that plays out endlessly inside my head, even now. I lie awake and watch scenes that exist. Then I see new ones, ones that happened in his life, but never in the actual book. He’ll never go away. He is me. As are the other characters in that book. It still slightly concerns me how easy it was to climb inside the twisted mind of Lee Howard. How I was able to understand and even empathise with his warped motivations and desires.

Others come and go. Lou (The Mess Of Me) is another fairly constant visitor. This is because she is the one most based on myself, on my life and my thoughts and feelings. Her story, like mine, is not over yet, and until I get around to writing her sequel, she whispers in my ear on a regular basis. We share the same dark thoughts and our worst enemies are ourselves.

If characters are still waiting to be fully told, they will talk a lot in the day. Walking down the lane, I listen to Reuben and Chess, the characters from a YA series I am planning. They have conversations constantly. When I least expect it, they pop up and start talking or arguing. They are helping me to write the book.

The same goes for current ones, characters from my works-in-progress. I learn new things about them every day. I will be washing up or making dinner, and suddenly there they are, having a conversation that just needs to be written down. Because of these people, I am never, ever lonely. I don’t know what it feels like to be bored or alone. Because of them, I don’t know how to have just one train of thought in my head. I don’t know how to have a quiet mind.

Yet, to those that know me, I am often described as quiet.

Sometimes I think the people in my head are the best thing about being a writer. Creating worlds and weaving plots, sharing your work with readers, getting reviews, these are all fantastic, magical things, but being more than one person who is never, ever alone, has to be the best and maybe the most unexpected.

 

It’s Ok To Ask For Help

I’ve never been very good at asking for help, and I blame my parents for this. With the best of intentions, they brought us kids up to be polite, and not ask for things. It was one of the most repeated mantras of my childhood. ‘Don’t ask for anything! Wait until you are offered!’ I can see why they drummed this into us. They didn’t want their children to be brattish or demanding. They thought children who marched into someone’s house and asked for an ice lolly were rude. I can clearly remember playing in the garden at my Nan and Grandad’s house on various hot summer days. We knew the ice creams were kept in the chest freezer in the cellar. We knew our doting Nan would give us one if we asked, but we didn’t dare. We kept egging each other on, urging one of us to go and ask for an ice cream. I expect we worked up the nerve eventually, but it definitely took some time!

Not asking for things in sweet shops and toy shops was the norm. My mum would have given us ‘the look’ if we had ever dared. She always said it was much nicer to give a child something they had not been expecting. But the trouble is, not asking for treats becomes translated by a child into not asking for anything, including help. Take me in the classroom, all the way through my education, too scared to put my hand up for any reason, including going to the toilet!

I’ve had a problem with asking for help my entire life. I hate asking anyone for anything. If I have any kind of problem, I will do everything I can to try to solve it on my own, before I give in and reach out for a helping hand. It really is quite ridiculous. I can’t help assuming that asking for help annoys the person you are asking, puts them out, or means they will begrudge you.

This has also made things harder as an indie writer. Indie writers cannot do it all alone. They just can’t. But in the beginning, this was how I approached things. I struggled with so many aspects of indie publishing, from formatting, to cover design, to marketing, to gaining reviews, and I was absolutely rubbish at asking for help! I truly didn’t want to bother people.

Fast forward four years and six books later and I am beginning to change my mindset. For my sixth book, The Tree Of Rebels, I actually had a book launch.  I wasn’t quite brave enough to do a real life one, so I opted for a Facebook one and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was amazed by the response and the positive results of sales, reviews and follows. I’ve also started asking for help more by sending out ARC’s for the first time ever. I would never have done this before, but now I am trying to live with the mantra; ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get!’ Out of the 45 people I asked, 31 responded positively, and I have received 18 reviews on Amazon UK and 6 on Amazon US. This has without a doubt given this sixth book a far bigger kick into orbit than the others have, and I will learn from this and do an even bigger and better book launch next time!

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Learning to ask for help is not easy when it has been indoctrinated into us to be polite. Last week was a really hectic one for me work-wise. I had all the normal bits to do and a rather big dog walking/sitting job as well. I love my day-job as a dog walker and sitter, but I’ve only gone back to it fairly recently as it was too tricky to combine with my youngest when he was first born. Last week I was so busy walking back and forth, that my blog post didn’t get written or posted and I only managed to scrape in an hour or two of editing Elliot Pie each day. There was one day in particular when I had a lot of walking to do, washing to hang out, a parcel to post that had been sitting there for weeks, washing up to do and God knows what else. Instead of trying to do everything myself and then getting grumpy, I reached out to the kids and got them to help. Two took the parcel to the post office and one hung out the washing, and wow, what a difference it made just having those two jobs crossed off the list! I felt I could breathe again and calm down and it made me realise how rubbish I am at asking for help at home too.

I do what my mum used to do. I do everything myself get worn out, feel unappreciated and then moan about it! I must stop doing this! I have four children and the oldest three are more than capable of helping out. If it involves the animals, they jump at the chance anyway, so why the hell am I trying to do it all by myself? Again, I think the reluctance to delegate chores goes back to being told not to ask for things as a child.

I don’t want my children to grow up unable to ask for help, so I am trying to set them a good example now. I’ve told them all about the amazing response I had when asking for help to launch the latest book. I want them to see that asking for help doesn’t make you weak, or needy, or annoying. Yes, you should strive to be independent and proactive, but when you genuinely need help from others, you should not feel ashamed to ask for it. And it makes such a huge difference!

Have you ever found it hard to ask for help? How did you overcome this? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment and share.