A Letter To The People In My Head…

Dear Characters,

First of all, thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for showing up, as you do, without fail, time and time again. Thanks for that! Because none of this would be able to happen if you didn’t.

Thank you for many things in fact, like keeping me entertained and ensuring I am never, ever bored. There’s no such thing as a quiet moment to myself because if I should find one, you like to join me too, don’t you? Same thing at night time. Hello characters, there you all are. Old ones, current ones, future ones. So thanks for that. It would be nice if the rush of ideas and revelations could wait until morning, but it seems you can never wait. Between 2am and 3 am seems to be the golden hour for you guys to suddenly need to share things with me. I’ll let you off, because it’s always riveting stuff, but you don’t seem to realise it keeps me awake for hours after you’ve told me. I appreciate the insight, of course, but I also need my sleep!

I wouldn’t want you to ever stop though. I’m grateful, really I am. You know more than I do, that’s the thing. Because you started all this. You came to me. Your voices, your stories, your lives. You interrupted mine when I was a kid and you’ve been doing it ever since. I never decide to write a story about a 16-year-old alcoholic singing sensation, or a 30-something woman who can’t leave the house anymore because she hates people so much, you guys just show up! I don’t know how you find me. I guess somehow you know that I want to listen.

You surprise me again and again. When you first show up, out of nowhere. When you start getting chatty, warming up, revealing yourselves. I respect the honesty, because let’s face it, none of us are perfect. You lot are a pretty flawed bunch. But I think that keeps things interesting. You go on surprising me after that. Usually mid-plot. Throwing unexpected twists into the storylines. I suppose you must surprise yourselves too? A sequel? Didn’t see that coming but yes, I can see how you would want to talk about what happened next…A trilogy now, is it? Okay, if you’re sure, if you think you’ve got enough drama, I will keep it coming if you do. And don’t worry, I have already plotted most of the third book, and yes, I will end this one by writing the first chapter of the next. Your incessant babbling has seen to that.

Thank you for keeping me excited. It’s not enough to say you keep me from being bored because it is so much more than that. I have to thank you for the fizzy lurch in my belly every time I think about writing, that excitement, like Christmas, as the time draws nearer. I wake up in the morning and think about writing. I travel through my day and perform my duties, still thinking about writing. You people, you are there, all the time, paving the story, laying it out piece by piece, showing me the way. I race to the laptop in the evening, still excited, and then I bang away at the keyboard, and the excitement never seems to fade.

Thank you for teaching me about people, about human nature and society. I’ve always been fascinated by them, a people watcher from an early age. People pass you by on the street and you watch them go and wonder who they are, what secrets they hold, where they are going, and what they dream of. Being a writer allows me to explore these thoughts and answer all the ‘what if’s…’ You guys, my characters, you keep me curious. You show up with these messy, complex lives. You’re all tangled up, the lot of you. It’s my job to unwind you. To figure you out. Some of you are pretty vile. Some of you have done some very bad things. But all of you are teaching me something about how this life is full of human cruelty, courage, heroes, and villains. I thank you all for that.

You get pretty noisy. You certainly wear me out. I’m always relieved when a first draft is over because you tend to get quieter after that. Sure, some of you still show up years after your story has been told. Maybe you miss me. Maybe you still have something to say. But generally, once the story has been blurted out into an ugly yet victorious first draft, you tend to give me a break, and believe you me, I’m looking forward to it this time! I’m just days away, just chapters away from finishing a first draft. I know there is more work to be done, and yes, somehow you current characters have talked me into a third book in this series, and honestly, I’m grateful and I can’t wait, but I am looking forward to a brief reprieve. I know you’ll start up again pretty soon, but if I get to the finish line on this story in the next few days, maybe you could let me have a few night’s sleep as a reward? What do you say?

Then again, second thoughts, scrap that. If you have something to tell me, don’t hold back. I would never ever want you to fall quiet.

Cheers, guys xx

 

Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

 

 

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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?

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.