The Joys and the Perils of Working on Multiple Projects

It’s never my intention to have multiple projects on the go, but almost since the beginning of my publishing journey, this is the way it’s worked out. Currently, I’m juggling a few things at the same time. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is finished, but I’ve sent it out to a small list of publishers. While waiting for rejection, I’m planning my self-publishing launch of this book. A Song For Bill Robinson was sent to beta readers for the first time and I just received the first piece of feedback from a reader. I am now responding to this with a 6th edit of the book. Meanwhile, I made a decision to reduce the planned trilogy to two books by moving the main event of book three to the end of book two. This is in progress. And then there is the four-book series I promised myself I would not start until all these other things were finished! But that’s proving difficult, and I have recently succumbed to writing five chapters and indulging in some research…

I never plan on working like this, and in fact, I’m not sure it’s a good idea at all! I often experience what I would describe as a nervous stomach throughout the day. Unless there is something specific I am worried about, I have no option but to blame it on the thought of my evening writing.

Have you ever juggled more than one writing project? Or would this be your worst nightmare? Here are 5 perils of working this way, followed by 5 joys, because in my opinion, it is fraught with both.

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Perils

  1. Not Finishing – This is a genuine concern. It is the reason I rarely finished anything when I was a kid. During the inevitable slump, my mind would be drawn to a new story and off I would go. This has also happened to me as an adult writer, hence the half-written sequels to The Mess Of Me and The Tree Of Rebels.
  2. Distraction – Working on more than one writing project can be hugely distracting. If your mind is being pulled in more than one direction, it can be really tough to sit down and actually get some words out. It’s not easy to concentrate or commit to one story when you have others calling for your attention. Sometimes I start the evening working on one book, and finish the evening on another, which can feel quite frustrating as if nothing is really getting done.
  3. Panic – This is a definite peril and one I experience regularly. I get a nervous feeling in my stomach like it is constantly turning over on itself. Sometimes it feels like I cannot breathe and I take an extra big breath just to be sure. I’m not exactly sure why I’m nervous about my writing, but I always feel better once I am sat down doing it. I can only imagine that the feeling of panic comes from my struggle to do too much.
  4. Spreading Too Thin – Working on multiple projects could potentially dilute the quality of your work. Lack of concentration, distraction, panic, self-doubt can all be heightened when attempting to do too much at once. This could lead to a reduced quality of your writing, which is something I worry about a lot.
  5. Burn Out – Worst case scenario, working on too many projects can lead to burn out and exhaustion. It could spark off writers’ block. You could become utterly stuck, afraid to move on. I’ve experienced this before, and the only good thing about it is that it does finally force me to slow the hell down.

But what about the joys? Are there any good points about working on multiple projects? Can it be beneficial despite all the above? I might be crazy, but I do think so…

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Joys

  1. Excitement – Writing is exciting. It should be. I know half the reason I get such butterflies in my stomach is that I am excited to get writing. It’s exhilarating to put words to paper, to create and evolve characters, to give them lives, to shape and control their existence, to create worlds and spark drama and emotion. A new project is undeniably more exciting than an old one, which may be wearing thin. I like to stay excited and working on multiple projects keeps it going.
  2. Not Losing Ideas/Words – Now I know the rule is to never assume you will remember a good idea if you do not write it down. How many writers have made that mistake? You must write it down! It’s entirely possible to save future ideas by jotting the gist of it down somewhere safe, then getting back to the project in hand. But what if more words start to come? What if vague characters start to evolve into solid ones? What if they start to present you with conversations and dialogue? There is no way you will remember it all if you don’t write it down! And then before you know it…
  3. Keeps Things Fresh – Editing and revising a novel can go on for years. Writing the rough first draft is fairly easy compared to all that is to come. All the editing, re-reading, rewriting, revising, cutting, rewording and killing of darlings. Editing can be a challenge but it can quickly become dull, and even a torture. Here’s where starting another project can be helpful. Writing something fresh and new! It helps to be disciplined though. I only allow myself a chapter of a new book if I have edited four chapters of the current book, for example. Don’t jump ship! Stay on board and then reward yourself with a little bit of something fresh and new…
  4. Fills In Time Between Beta Readers – If you are anything like me, you will send your novel out to beta readers at different times. I usually have three rounds of beta reads, and I will work on the book in between. But when it’s out, I can’t work on it. What am I going to do? Sit around and twiddle my thumbs? It could be months! So I get my teeth into another project. As soon as the other book comes back from a beta, I down tools and get right back to it, always treating the one further along as the priority.
  5. Increases Productivity – In the indie age, productivity and brand are key. The more books you write, the more brand you create, the more trust you build with readers. Working on multiple projects increased productivity, there is no doubt about that. Simply put, more books are written.

So, over to you guys! What do you think? Do you work on multiple projects? If so, how do you stay sane? How do you stay on track and get it all done? Do you only ever work on one book at a time? Please feel free to share and comment!

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My Bad Writing Habits

I’m currently editing the fifth draft of my YA drama A Song For Bill Robinson. The fourth draft was edited on my Kindle, with me making notes on typos, words, and phrases to cut. Overall, I thought it was pretty good when I went through it on my Kindle. Almost there. On this current draft, however, I have totally changed my mind, because I can now see how many bad habits I have! And it’s so weird, because I don’t seem to spot them until I get to about fifth draft stage. Interesting! Anyway, I thought I would share them with you. And then you can tell me yours!

  1. Over-explaining – I don’t realise I am doing this in a first draft. I don’t even spot it on a second or a third. But eventually, I see it. Usually about now, when I am trying to get the word count down. I over explain things. I do this in real life too. My husband has a habit of quoting Tim from Spaced when I speak; ‘skip to the end…’ I am forever saying, ‘yeah, I know, I said that already.’ This isn’t too bad when talking to people, but when writing books? This is very bad indeed! Here’s an example… ‘And it was he who had suggested she stay the night. It was he who had talked her out of cycling home or going back to her dads for the night.’ (See? Too much explaining. The second sentence is not needed!)
  2. Repetition – This is similar to over-explaining but much more repetitive and needless. Again, I only notice this when editing a later draft and trying to delete unnecessary words. Here’s one I just picked up and this is typical; ‘He didn’t know. He didn’t have a clue and it was driving him crazy.’ You see, I really didn’t need to repeat the fact he didn’t know!
  3. I write too much – My word counts are ridiculous. This is a very bad thing because publishers don’t want to look at manuscripts with excessive word counts, and a lot of readers are also put off by them. It’s also bad when it comes to editing, formatting and revising. And it’s because I do too much overexplaining and repeating myself. I really need to get better at writing shorter books.
  4. Swearing – I’m getting better at this. I’m trying to rein my foul-mouthed characters in and make sure any curse words are absolutely necessary. One day, when I have the time, I will go back over all my old books and delete some of the swear words.
  5. Making Characters Frown – Ugh, so annoying. Again, I don’t realise I am doing this when I first write the book. But on later edits, it is revealed to me in the most cringe-worthy fashion, that there is way too much frowning going on!
  6. Making Characters Raise Their Eyebrows – Very annoying when you read it. There are many, many other ways to imply expression on a character’s face. I cut tons of these out as I edit again and again.
  7. Sighing and eye-rolling – So embarrassing, but it’s true. You think I would have grown out of this by now. But no. For some reason, when I write a first draft, all my characters sigh and eye-roll constantly. I have to calm them all down on later edits. It’s okay to be silent and still!
  8. Trying Way Too Hard To Make The Reader See Exactly What The Character is Doing – eg; ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea,’ Andy was shaking his head and blowing air out through his nostrils.’ Wait? What? Why did I feel the need to mention the fact he is breathing? Of course he is breathing, and the reader is well aware of that because he is talking and shaking his head. Nothing else needed!
  9. Not Bothering To Research Vital Things Because I Am Too Impatient To Get the First Draft Written – I try to kid myself that this is a good tactic. I am writing! I am getting words down, getting the story out! I don’t want to break that precious flow by stopping to research something as small as how a person is actually signed out from hospital! No, I’ll do that much later. (And then find out that I have to rewrite the entire scene…)
  10. Adding Pointless Needless Words That Do Nothing – eg ‘Andy watched rather helplessly’. He’s not watching rather helplessly. He’s not feeling rather helpless or rather that. Rather is a really horrible word actually and I am never, ever using it again.

Well, there you have 10 of my bad writing habits. Of course, there are loads more, but I didn’t want to bore you by waffling on, which is another bad habit of mine! So, come on then. Be brave. Tell me your bad writing habits. We can cringe together!

Second Draft Joy

Back in December, I penned this post Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second, while I was busy writing the first draft of a YA novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I was enjoying the first draft, but also realistic about its ugliness, and I was excited about going back to the second draft for the reasons I mentioned in the post.

Well, three months on, I am now well into that second draft, and enjoying it every bit as much as I said I would! It is easier than the first because the basic framework is there and the hard work has been done getting the story out of my head. I already know I can make it better and I have already listed and made notes of how to do this. The second draft is just fun!

I had to have a think about this earlier. Has this been the case with all my books? And I think the answer is yes. The first draft is the hardest for me. The later drafts are the most tedious because you know the story, and really you want to be writing something new, but you have to polish this thing up, cut bits out, sharpen it and refine it and make it as good as it was when it first appeared in your head. I think of the first and the final drafts as the real hard graft. The second, for me, is much more fun.

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In many ways, the second is more of a read through than a rewrite or a detailed edit. After a break, I am familiarising myself with the story and getting to know the characters again. I read through each chapter, getting a sense of them and their motivations, making notes and finding my way back into it all. Of course, I fix any typos I come across, and I do a lot of deleting unnecessary and repetitive words or phrases. I tidy it up as much as I can, but at the same time, I know the more brutal cuts, the reshuffles and the changes in direction will all come much later. This is still very early days, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t feel the need to make any major decisions at this point.

At the moment, I am totally addicted to this particular story, which is also how I felt when I first wrote it. I suppose it’s more familiar ground for me as an author and a person. A gritty, contemporary YA drama with lots of dysfunctional family behaviours and social issues thrown in. I feel a passion for it. I want to tell these stories. And there are so many stories in this novel…

It’s fast paced. Which is good. I hope! On later drafts I might feel the need to slow things down a bit, my niggling worry being that it might come across as unrealistic for teens to have a life this dramatic. It’s literally a roller coaster of events, repercussions, consequences and drama. It’s full of highs and lows with plenty of unrequited love, dangerous lust, and familial miscommunication and resentment. Oh and of course, a rather wonderful soundtrack (the male protagonist is a talented singer) which ranges from The Four Tops and The Foundations, to Arctic Monkeys and Jamie T. There is just so much to play around with!

And I know I haven’t got it all right yet. I know I need to keep fleshing out the characters and finding stuff out about them. I know I need to work on the visuals, the environment, such as their homes and bedrooms and so on. I tend to forget about all that stuff on a first draft, knowing that no one else is going to read it for a long time. I just want to get the nitty gritty down first.

But at the moment I am enjoying the ride, and just felt the need to share that with you. Adding bits and cutting bits. Reading it like a reader and bloody enjoying the process. I can’t get enough of it.

I doubt I will feel this way by the time draft ten comes around, so this is why I savour the second draft so much. I know the time will come when I almost come to hate this book. I have been there with The Tree Of Rebels many times, and Elliott Pie reached that point just recently before I sent it out to a second round of betas. I was sick of it. I am sick of it. Diving into this much fresher book has been just what I needed.

So, for me anyway, I give my thanks to the wonderful second draft, with the foundations laid down and the really hard work yet to come. I shall enjoy the party while it lasts.

 

Changing Perspective

Last week I explained how my beta readers have shaped the direction of my next novel Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (Beta Readers: How and Why? I mentioned how some of the issues that have been addressed thanks to my betas were pace, showing rather than telling and point of view. So today I thought I would talk a bit about point of view and perspective in storytelling.

It’s a subject that can prove quite divisive. I know I was shocked the first time I realised not everyone loves first person viewpoint! Apparently, some people really despise it! Obviously, it has its limitations. Here are some of the disadvantages of climbing entirely inside the head of just one character;

  • you only get the viewpoint and opinions of one character
  • this can limit the amount of information and back story the reader receives
  • other viewpoints are neglected, including the potential scenes between other characters when the narrator is not present
  • it gives the story one voice, the narrative voice of the character telling the story which can be a bit restrictive
  • if the reader dislikes or does not connect well to the first person viewpoint, it can really deter them from the book
  • it’s a very personal way to tell the story, and can impose biased and subjective viewpoints which may grate on the reader
  • it runs the risk of becoming boring and/or repetitive
  • there is a danger of relying too much on ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’

Now I am not ashamed to admit that I LOVE first person. I think this may have something to do with how obsessed I get with characters. It’s character over plot for me all the way, hence why The Catcher In The Rye is still my favourite book ever. If I like a character, I don’t mind being inside their head one bit. Anyway, these are the reasons I think first person can be a really effective way to tell a story;

  • it allows the reader to fully connect with the protagonist/narrator
  • it’s much easier to gain sympathy and empathy from the reader
  • easier to construct a consistent style and voice
  • can make it easier to explain/justify a characters motivations and behaviour
  • can be much more emotional, drawing the reader in
  • it brings a vivid sense of immediacy to the story
  • done well, can be extremely powerful

But how do you know which is the best perspective for your story? There is also alternating points of view, which can be done in first or third person. Then there is the authorial third POV where the narrator is the all seeing eye of everything and everyone.

I think every author has their preferred perspective to use, but it is important to think about the story being told and what will best suit its needs. I know for a fact I am way too tempted to use first person. I did so with The Mess Of Me; a YA drama written in a tell-all, confessional diary style. We climb inside Lou’s head and never get to see through the eyes of any of the other characters. I could have explored third person, and jumped from character to character, but there was a reason I didn’t. As well as being about body issues, family drama and first love, The Mess Of Me is a story about those people we sometimes have in our lives, yet do not really know. eg Travis, Leon and Marrianne, for Lou are all deeply involved in her life and the drama of the story, yet are all as good as strangers. The story needed to revolve around her mind set and emotions in order to get this across. So it just had to be first person.

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was a different matter. I originally wrote and rewrote this story in third person. Yep, you got every character’s viewpoints, and there are a lot of characters! The action jumped around all over the place. But it didn’t work. I didn’t feel close enough to my two main characters, protagonist Danny and antagonist Howard, and the more I rewrote it and got into their mindsets the more I realised that this was their story. Truly, this book is about their warped and dangerous relationship. So I changed it to first and boy did it work then. I must have worked with a constant smile on my face! You see I knew them both so well by this point that it was a piece of cake to climb into their heads and write from their POV. I used alternating POV from both characters in the first person. You get to examine their twisted relationship from both their views. This is a fantastic way to make first person narrative more interesting and varied.

With the sequel, This Is The Day, I wrote it in third person to begin with and then again switched it to first, but this time using alternating perspective from five characters. This was fun to do because I got to really explore the motivations of the characters who were introduced in the first book. And I think it worked; it was the best way to put the story together.

So, as you can see, there was a growing tendency and fondness to using first person narrative. I had found my comfort zone and made myself extremely comfortable! I forced myself to break out of this warm little zone with This Is Nowhere. (And I would strongly recommend forcing yourself to break away from the familiar every now and then.) Third person. It had to be. But with the chapters zipping back and forth from the past to the present. However, I still stuck to one point of view, Jake’s. This was not intentional at the time but now I can see why it makes sense. Jake’s story is the unpicking of two mysteries; what happened to his mother in 1996 and who he is. The other characters didn’t really need a say in this, although their behaviour and secrets helped pave the way for the climax where Jake discovers the truth about everything. I also think this was the best way to tell the story. Third person worked with jumping between time frames, as we got to see the young Jake and how his mind worked then, helping us to understand the person he was in the present. Other characters perspectives would have made this way too muddled and complicated.

Tree Of Rebels. Uh oh, I was back to the first person again. You see my problem? I really do like that comfort zone!! This book is still awaiting a final rewrite so I will not pass judgement on it yet as there is still work to be done and decisions to be made, but at the moment is feels right to leave it in first person.

Which brings us up to the two latest works. The unexpected rewriting of Elliot Pie, and the quickly thrashed out first draft of A Song For Bill Robinson.

Before I started writing Elliot Pie, I knew it would be written in the first person viewpoint. I think this was because he had been in my head for so long by that time, I knew him inside out, knew what he thought and felt, and how he looked upon the world. It was scarily easily to climb inside his mind and allow him to tell his story. But there are lots of other characters of importance in this story, and there was no way Elliot could know everything about them. I had to switch to third person whenever an adult character stepped into the plot. There was no real intention to do this; it just sort of happened. So, all of Elliot’s chapters were in first person, present tense. Very YA. Very Catcher In The Rye. And all of the adult’s were in third person, past tense. Which felt very grown up and evolved. It actually surprised me how smoothly writing that way became, especially as I had sunk so deeply into the first person comfort zone.

I was initially happy with this, and thought, that although different and challenging, it worked. I told myself it was good to try something a little bit different!A little bit brave.

While Elliot Pie was with another beta reader, I thrashed out a first draft of a YA drama called A Song For Bill Robinson. This is based on a book I wrote but never finished aged sixteen. It was written in third person back then, so it seemed apt to write it again this way. I was also feeling confident after the third person narrrative in Elliot Pie had gone so well and become so enjoyable. Third person, multiple viewpoints worked best for this latest book because again, there are so many characters and so much going on, it really would not work in first person. And also, a bit like with Jake in This Is Nowhere, I didn’t really want to climb into these people’s heads. I felt a bit of distance was needed.

When I received final feedback from betas on Elliot Pie, there were several issues, some of which I discussed in last week’s post and some of which I will probably mention another day. But what dawned on me more and more as I went through them, was how many of them could be solved by changing Elliot’s narrative to third person. Which is what I am currently doing. Just to see how it works.

So far, it’s working. It suddenly feels more adult (it is to be aimed at adults) and I do feel relieved to be out of his head. It gives me as an author a whole new perspective on the story, on his character, and on the best way to tell this story. I noticed there were many problems with writing his parts in first person. For instance, he was rambling too much, daydreaming, going off on tangents, all of which slowed the pace down, and may have proved dull for some readers. However, writing his parts in first person initially have helped me truly understand his character, which I really hope shines through when it is all completed.

The moral of the story today is this; sometimes as a writer you want to tell a story in a certain way, for whatever reason. But sometimes, you have to stand back, take a look and admit that it may not be the best way to tell it. This may concern other things, such as structure and pace, but if your story is not working out the way you hoped, maybe changing the narrative perspective is worth considering.