Why I Love Writing # 5; Sometimes It’s Pure Magic

Actually, it’s pretty magical most of the time. Of course, there are days when it feels like anything but. When you’re revising the hundredth draft of something, when you feel like it’s a complete waste of time that no one will ever want to read. There are days when you don’t want to do it, days when you feel rejected and uninspired and full of self-doubt.

But the magical days for me, outweigh the negative ones. They can happen at any time during the creation of a finished novel. I often find the writing of a first draft a magical thing. That first line, first paragraph, first chapter is so daunting, so impossible, yet suddenly you’ve done it. It’s there. And then strange things start to happen. Magical things.

Characters you had a loose idea of start to come alive. They flesh out and invade your mind. They start talking to you and you talk back. That’s magic. The magic of make-believe. And then there’s the plot itself. I often have a good idea of what’s going to happen in a book before I start writing, and I would have made lots of notes before starting the first draft, but at some point, something else seems to take over. Unexpected things happen. The plot takes another direction, or parts of the story start to weave together in ways that are genius, but like something out of my control. Sometimes it feels like there is something else at play, controlling the whole thing.

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Often I know where I am going, but not how I will get there. I never worry too much about the finer points because I have learned to sit back and let the magic happen. And it always does. Out of the blue, never when I expect it to, it will all just come together. This happened to me recently with the six book series I am working on. Books 1-4 are written, and book 5 has had one very rough draft. I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in book 6, what storylines would be continued, but I didn’t know how I would end the book, or indeed, the whole series. I didn’t stress about it because I still had work to do editing books 3 and 4, and book 5 to write a second draft of.

But one day, out walking, it just suddenly came to me. My mind pieced it all together without me even trying, without me even consciously deciding to think about it. I suddenly just had it. How to end the book and the entire series, and it was perfect.

How does that work? How does that even happen? I have no idea, but like I’ve already said, sometimes I really feel like it’s not me in my head, working things out. Moments like that are so satisfying, and magical, they make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.

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First Draft Relief as The Voices Fall Silent!

I’ve blogged before about the delirious happiness involved in getting to the finish line and completing the first draft of a novel in The Gloriously Ugly First Draft .

Last night, I was thinking about that blog post and about how wonderful it is to finish the first draft, because I was in that position again. Actually, I’ve written two as of yet unreleased books since that blog post, but they are still waiting beta reader feedback and further edits!

As I mentioned in the other blog post, I have a constant problem with characters interrupting me when I am already working on something. It’s really no good me having plans because they get ripped up at every turn. So, while still working on Elliot Pie, I wrote A Song For Bill Robinson and it’s sequel, Emily’s Baby. Enough to be dealing with, right? But as usual, my characters thought I could handle more.

For a long time, I’d had these alternative endings in my head for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. I wrote one of them into my short story collection, Bird People and Other Stories and the other one I started working into a screenplay. I’ve always loved the idea of this book becoming a TV series, so for fun and for a challenge, I started writing new material for these characters. Once I started I could not stop, but it didn’t really get in the way of the novels I was working on, as I used a notebook and pen and just wrote in spare moments, moving the book around the house with me. I got so addicted to this new material, that the characters got louder and louder all over again, keeping me awake, telling me their story was not over and finally enticing me into writing a whole new book.

I will explain all this in more detail in a later blog post, but what I finished last night was the first and gloriously ugly first draft to what will be called The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part 3. This is a whole new book, new material, new problems for these characters, and with the original ending moved to the end of part 3. As I said, I will talk about this in another post.

This is about the relief of a first draft being finished and last night felt incredible. As it always does when a first draft is completed because although I know the hard work is yet to come, and that potentially years more work will be needed, I get the relief in my head of these people falling silent. That’s what happens as soon as the first draft is done. They shut up and go to sleep. Okay in later drafts, they occasionally pop up and steer me in a different direction, but generally, it’s over and I can sleep again. The story has been told. I’ve spewed it out! I’m free of it! And that is a huge relief. Especially with this story, as let me tell you, it’s been keeping me awake at night since I was 12 years old! I am really, really hoping that this does it for them. I am really hoping they will now be at peace and leave me alone! As much as I love them…I have so many other books to work on!

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And of course, now that those characters are silenced, the ones waiting to be heard have suddenly got louder.  I’ve planned and plotted a four book YA series, which keeps getting pushed back due to these other projects, but today on a dog walk, wow did they pipe up! Streams of dialogue were coming out of nowhere…my every thought whilst walking was about these books and characters. So I guess now it’s their turn to keep me awake!

 

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!

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!