My 2017 Writing Goals Vs The Reality

This is becoming a bit of an end of the year tradition for me now. Having outlined my goals for the year ahead, as that year draws to end, how did I do? How much did I achieve? Time to have a look at the goals I set myself at the start of 2017 and examine the reality!

  1. Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress A Song For Bill Robinson (literally days away from this now!) – Yes! I achieved this and a lot more. A year ago this gritty YA novel was days away from the completion of the very first draft. Right now, at the end of 2017, I have completed four drafts of this book, penned a sequel and started a third! This novel has become a trilogy! I’m still really enjoying it and I plan to get the whole trilogy written before I think about releasing the first book.
  2. Leave that aside, and go back to Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for a final draft read-through on the laptop, followed by a final read through on my Kindle – A year later, this particular book is still not done. A final draft became another draft, and then another and another. It went back to beta readers and I made several changes. A few weeks ago I thought I was finished but decided I really needed to cut the word count down. A decision was made to cut out an entire character and just days ago I finished this edit! I have now sent it back to my Kindle for another read on there, to pick up typos and make another list of things to cut out. One more draft should do it!
  3. Find a cover for Elliot Pie! Which is going to involve a lot of thinking and research and approaching various people as I really, really need to get this right- Not achieved, obviously, as the book is not ready, and I will be sending this one off to potential publishers just in case. In the meantime, I have been thinking about covers and will need to start doing some research soon.
  4. Devise a promotional plan for releasing Elliot Pie, which will involve online and real life launches, promotional material and so on – Also not achieved as the book still not ready!
  5. Release Elliot Pie!! – Another one sadly not achieved, BUT I did release The Tree Of Rebels instead!
  6. Go back to The Tree Of Rebels and rewrite it until I am happy – Achieved! Weirdly, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie swapped places, with The Tree Of Rebels being ready for release first.
  7. During this time, I suspect I will delve into a second and possibly third draft of A Song For Bill Robinson. I don’t think it will be ignored for an entire year!- Achieved! I actually managed four drafts, plus a sequel and a third started!
  8. Early in the new year, follow up on the initial contact I have made with two schools through my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business, and arrange to go in and speak to them about my project proposal- Achieved! I have one school on board and have had several meetings with them. I also decided to turn my business into a Community Interest Company. Once I get this through I can apply for the funding for the school project and many others!
  9. If they are on board, I then need to secure funding for the project!- sort of achieved! I have a school on board, but just waiting for my CIC to come through so we can get onto funding applications. (Though I have already secured a small amount of funding for another project!)
  10. In March I will run my first adult workshop under Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Having done various workshops now for Dorset Writers Network I am ready to take the plunge on my own and run a workshop on building your author platform- Achieved! This went really well and I put on another workshop myself in the summer.
  11. At this workshop I will be introducing my ideas and plans for a Dorset Pop-Up Book Shop, where indie authors can come along and sell their paperbacks in a pop-up shop, hopefully, to be welcomed into libraries, literary events and so on- Achieved! The Pop-Up Book Shop is in progress and will be one of the projects I hope to get funding for once my CIC is in place.
  12. At some point in 2017, I hope The Tree Of Rebels will finally be fit for purpose and I will then be planning another detailed promotional event and releasing it! Fingers crossed!- Achieved! I released The Tree Of Rebels in August 2017 and to date it was my most successful release, with a three-month launch plan and a Facebook release day event, among other things.

I achieved 8 out of the 12 things on my list, and I actually achieved a hell of a lot more than I had set out to! Although a year in indie publishing is always a bumpy ride, with things going wrong (Pronoun shutting down!) and things going right (lots of writing done!) it’s actually really helpful to sit down like this to examine the reality. It just shows that the best-laid plans can change dramatically. It does me good to list my achievements and anything not achieved on this list will be top of the 2018 Writing Goals list which will be my blog post next week!

What about you? Did you set any particular goals for 2017 and if you did, how well did you do?

 

Dealing with Self-Doubt

Writers are often plagued with crippling self-doubt and I am no exception. It’s always there, lurking, waiting for opportune moments to show up and throw me into a panic. I’m preparing a book for release, and I always find self-doubt shows up in a big way around about now, so it is something I am currently dealing with. But there are lots of other times I’ve experienced self-doubt about my writing, so I thought I would list them here as well as my tips for dealing with it.

  1. Childhood. When I was a child, I didn’t know what self-doubt was. Sure, I was shy and introverted, but I also had the child’s innocent optimism and I was utterly convinced that one day I would be a world famous author. Of course, life happens to children. Reality is dictated to them. You can’t do that, you can’t be that, you won’t make money, not many writers are successful, and so on. The worst thing you can do to a child is squash their creativity. If you were that child, be kind to yourself now. Remember that people probably had good intentions. Perhaps their ideals and aims in life differed greatly from yours. And if you know a child who wants to be a writer, for God’s sake don’t crush their dreams. Let them make mistakes. Don’t pick on their grammar, their spelling or their lack of plot. Just let them write! It can all too easily be discouraged in children these days.
  2. Adolescence. Writing helped me get through my teenage years. Without a doubt, it was my greatest friend and comfort. From the diaries I wrote daily, to the lyrics I scrawled onto my bedroom wall, I wrote endlessly. I was in a constant dream and my head was full of wonderful words. Self-doubt had found me though, and I now accepted I needed a realistic Plan B. I would have to decide on a day job to pay the bills. My advice to anyone at this stage would be this; keep writing. Keep dreaming. Don’t worry about structure or plot, or how many drafts it will take, or how similar your work is to your favourite films or books, or how pointless it seems putting down words that are unlikely to be read by anyone else. Perhaps right now they are only meant for you. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not useful, worthwhile or beautiful. Keep going. In private, in your bedroom, in your head, in snatched moments. It will all take you somewhere one day.
  3. Writing Group. Self-doubt may lead you to attend a writers group and they can be a wonderful help. Just remember not to compare yourself to anyone else. No doubt you will all be of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. There will be people there with more and less experience than you. There will be people there with a better grasp of grammar. There will be people there who can write the most beautiful prose. Don’t be intimidated. You are not them. Only you can do what you do. Use writing groups as sound boards and listen to any advice that is helpful but don’t let exposure to other writers encourage self-doubt. You are there to get better and to move forward.
  4. Twenties. Real life. Graduation. Jobs, Careers. Marriage and babies. All these things get in the way when you are becoming an adult, leaving less and less time and energy for writing. This is the period of life when so many leave writing behind, viewing it as a childish, foolish habit they must move on from. After all, very few writers earn a living from it, and there are bills to pay and rent to find and debts to cover and there will just never be enough time to sit down and write like you used to. And then every now and then someone you used to know will ask if you still do the writing. And saying no, not anymore, will break your heart. So write anyway. Even if it’s just a diary. Or a blog. Or scribbles and rants into a notebook. Even if it’s five minutes or ten minutes a day. Even if you don’t think it will ever go anywhere. Get back in the habit. NOW.
  5. First draft, We all get there eventually. The first draft. Self-doubt will plague you more than ever before. Are you wasting your precious time? Is everyone laughing at you? Is everyone expecting you to fail? Can you even write? Is anyone ever going to care? Something keeps you going, but self-doubt is clawing at you every step of the way telling you to go back, to quit, to stop before you waste any more energy. Don’t listen. Keep going. The first draft is just the beginning of a long journey, but if you can get it done, if you can get over that hurdle, then all the rest will come. You’ll have fostered the stamina and grit needed to pursue this idea until the finish.
  6. Feedback. Getting feedback is hard. You need it, but you dread it. You sort of hope everyone is going to gush over your work and say it is the best thing they’ve ever heard. But being realistic, what you really need right now is the cold hard truth. You need to be able to take it. If your characters suck, if your dialogue is stiff, if your middle drags or your ending is unsatisfying, you need someone to tell you. Then you need to take the time to think about it, digest the information and decide what you agree with. Don’t let self-doubt hijack you now. Writers never stop getting better. That is part of the fun.
  7. Submissions. Submitting your work is a brave step. Maybe it’s competitions, or magazines, or articles. Maybe it’s your novel to agents or publishers. You’ve done all the hard work and now you are handing it over to the ‘experts’. If you are lucky you might get some feedback. It might sting, it might be encouraging. Or you may get the long cold silence. Whatever happens, self-doubt will creep in to remind you that you are a crap writer and nothing you write will ever be published by anyone. Just keep writing and remind yourself that the more you write, the better you get. That rejection is part of the process for ALL writers and that all you can do is learn from it, and refuse to let it make you quit.
  8. The Final Draft. Nearing the end of a project is exciting and thrilling. Seeing the end in sight after a bumpy road of stops and starts and endless highs and lows, can be a huge reward for a writer. You have finished the book. You have rewritten and edited and proofread and copyread the book and you have probably done all of this so many times you have lost count. In your head, at last, the book is ready. It’s done. It’s the best it can possibly be so it’s time to let it go. But hang on…suddenly the doubts are back in full force. A dark paranoia that you were wrong all along, that no matter what you do to it, no matter how many more times you rewrite or go over it, it still hasn’t worked. It’s not the book you had in your head. It’s failed. You’ve failed. I don’t know why this happens when the final draft is done, but it always seems to happen to me. One moment I will be basking in the relief and the joy of a completed, polished manuscript, ready to move onto the next project, and the next I will be doubting every single word I have written. I will want to change my mind entirely, consider scrapping the entire book even. The only way I get through this is by reminding myself that I felt exactly the same about the previous books. And would I change anything about them now they are out there? No. When it’s time to let go, I think you get a gut feeling, followed by a flood of doubt and fear. Try to accept this as natural and ease it gently to one side.

Feelings of self-doubt are part and parcel of being a writer. They follow you about, peering over your shoulder and niggling at you. They will never go away, and that is perfectly normal. If we were full to the brim with endless confidence, I suspect we might start turning out some pretty poor writing. Self-doubt forces you to aim for perfection, to question yourself and your work again and again, until one day you know you have done all that you can.

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.

can you tell I'mhaving fun-

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.

 

It’s Not Done…Until It’s Done!

I often get asked how I know when the book I’m working on is finished. If you’ve been following my struggles with The Tree of Rebels, you will know that I have now lost count of the amount of drafts I’ve done of this book. It’s got to be up to ten, at least! The same applies to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. There were so many rewrites and drafts of that book that I lost count completely, but at a guess, I would say it easily passed twenty.

This is not true of all my books however. I think there were five or six drafts of The Mess Of Me, only three of Bird People and Other Stories, and probably around five or six for both This Is The Day and This Is Nowhere. For some reasons, those books were just all kind of done by the third draft, and just needed proofreading and polishing after that.

So, how does a writer know when they are done?

yuno

Well, I sort of have a system. If you can call it that.

I’ll explain it using my current work in progress, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. As you may already know, Elliot Pie has been written almost alongside The Tree Of Rebels, with me jumping back and forth between the two novels. If one was with beta readers, then I was working on the other one. If I needed a break from one, then it was the other one I’d stick with. Well, it now looks increasingly likely that Elliot Pie will jump past The Tree Of Rebels and become the next release. This is because I’ve decided to stick with it until it is done, and stop jumping between the two books. I also feel it is very close to being finished, much closer than The Tree Of Rebels, which requires a bigger rewrite, with added storylines.

But back to Elliot Pie. How do I know I’m nearly finished? Why is it likely to have a  lot less drafts/rewrites than other books? And how will I know for sure when it is truly ready?

It works a bit like this;

The first draft; ugly, clumsy, galloping, mad, hungry and glorious. An outpouring of ideas with a basic sequence of events, a strong theme, developed characters, all held together by an accompanying notebook of notes, dialogue, bios and so on. While writing, I constantly added items to a list in the notebook; things to add, (extra scenes or dialogue) things to question, research, embellish and so on, or things to reword or cut out. In other words, things to sort out on the second draft!

The second draft; in this case, a read through with a few minor corrections here and there with my list to help me. I was actually surprised by how happy I was with the first draft and at the time, figured I only needed to polish up spelling, grammar and maybe cut out a few bits here and there.

Beta readers; feeling exceptionally brave and over-confident, I made the unusual decision to send it out to two trusted beta readers at second draft. I wouldn’t normally do this so soon, but there were two important things I needed to get their opinions on before I proceeded. One, the tenses change. Elliot is written in first person POV and everything is in the present tense. The adults of the story are written in third person POV and past tense. Don’t ask me why. No decision was made! It just happened this way and I liked it. A lot. Luckily the readers didn’t actually noticed the tenses, but they did have feedback on other issues, such as the middle part dragging and certain bits feeling repetitive.

Third draft; scary, self-conscious, tail between legs, unsure what to do or how to do it. Slowly I came to terms with the critique offered and realised how true it was. I did a lot of cutting out, rearranging and rewriting. I also made a list as I went through, plus I was already using the list I’d made from the readers comments. Things got ticked off the list as I went, so I knew I had answered various questions, or researched particular parts in more detail. By the time I got to the end, I had a new list. I still hadn’t set up a timeline, and one was needed, due to the main character’s disappearance at the end of the novel. What day and time was he last seen and so on?

Fourth draft; list in hand, questions in mind, I tackled it again. Obviously I was correcting typos, spelling and grammar issues as I went through, as well as removing repetitive phrases or words. I had things to add and things to change, for example, I realised too many of the characters were only children, so I had to add a sibling here and there. I also added the timeline and made a list of the exact times and dates the events took place. I needed to exaggerate certain things, leading the reader a particular way, for example, making certain characters darker than they had been. I also added a new scene to the ending and rewrote the first chapter, tightening it all up and hopefully creating more impact. In fact sharpening things up and cutting things out went on a lot!

Fifth draft; (where I am now) another read through, this time on my Kindle. It’s amazing how many more things you pick up on when reading in a different format. Spelling and grammar for example are far more noticeable on an ereader! I’m making another list as I go through, advising myself to reword certain parts, cut out words here and there etc. In fact, quite a lot of my notes this time around involve just cutting words out that do not need to be there as they add nothing to the scene. There is also a separate list above my correction list, which I add to any time something springs to mind. So, for example, while out with the dogs today I realised that a certain object needed to be found and mentioned in a certain scene, as it would add impact and credibility. So far I have seven items on this list; things to add to dialogue and events, things I simply thought of while going about my daily business.

Sixth draft; I will go back to the laptop with this current list in hand, and go through the manuscript methodically correcting the issues, cutting out the words, adding the things I’ve thought of, and so on.

If by the time I get to the end of this draft, there is yet another list on the way, then I will know a seventh draft is needed. Of course there will also be an even more thorough grammar and spelling check, and a proofreading, which will involve sending it back to Kindle to pick up errors.
patience.jpg

So basically, I’ll know the book is as good as I can get it when there are no more things being added to the list! When the list is ticked off and stays ticked off, it will be done. But it also more than that. I have to have the right feeling about it. And as I have mentioned before in other posts, I have yet to have that feeling with The Tree Of Rebels, hence it being held back for now.

I have to feel completely happy, completely satisfied, not just about grammar and typos, but about the actual story. Are all the characters doing what I need them to do? Are they fully alive and realised? Could they walk off the page and into my house to converse with me about anything? Is the beginning interesting and powerful enough? Does it raise questions and curiosity? Is the middle doing its job; developing the story, but keeping a steady pace, keeping the reader coming back for more, making promises? And does the ending satisfy, as well as tie things up if need be? More importantly than all of this, does this book make me smile? When I read it, what is my face doing? I’m pleased to say that at this stage, it is making me smile a lot, and I simply cannot wait to share it with you. I hope all the hard work will be worth it and that you will fall in love with Elliot as much as I have!

Now, over to you! Please feel free to comment and share! Do you ever worry that your book will never get to see the light of day? How many drafts is too many? How do you know when it’s done?