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?

How My Writing Habits Have Changed

I’ve never understood the type of people who refuse to change the way they do things. You know the type. Even if what they’re doing is not going so well, they’ll hang onto the adamant belief that it is the best way to do it, simply because it is the way they have always done it. It’s even worse when it comes to opinions and beliefs. I have strong beliefs and opinions, but I like to keep my mind open and accept that knowledge and understanding are open to interpretation and change. If some new piece of knowledge comes along, I am always happy to admit I was wrong and change my way of thinking. I think the refusal to ever change your mind or admit you were wrong, is actually very dangerous. Anyway, in that spirit, I’ve been thinking lately about how I write now, and how I used to write. You see, over the last few novels, things have changed. And with the WIP I am on right now, and the book I have planned after that, I feel they are changing even more. Here’s how, and why…

  • I edit as I go…Not word for word, not every paragraph, but I do now go back over what I wrote at the start of the session. And I always read what I wrote last before I start writing again. I used to do things quite differently. I would rush out this clunky, crazy first draft. It would be this desperate measure, this way of getting this thing out of my head once and for all. I’m not saying that’s wrong, and I think with some books it’s totally the right way to do it! But I have noticed lately that I’m slowing the process down. I’m going back over what I last wrote and editing out mistakes and typos. Previously I would not care about these in a first draft. I just wanted it done. Now I think I am probably saving myself some time later on, and it is also helping me get to know this story and its characters, to feel and breathe with them as they develop and take form. Reading over and checking what I just wrote is helping me to make sure everything stays on course.
  • I plan more…I used to plan as I wrote the book…so as ideas came to me, I would jot them down and the novel would often change course and follow twists and turns as I wrote it. I would start, not really knowing how to finish. Now, I try to plan the whole novel before I start writing, chapter by chapter if possible. Not in too much detail, and always allowing for change and development and the surprises which will inevitably pop up. But now I like to be able to see where I am going…I like to know the general destination of my journey.
  • I’m aware of my potential audience…This is not to say I am writing anything and aiming it at a certain audience. Doing this with The Tree Of Rebels caused me untold problems (see Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?) so I won’t be making that mistake again. But I do have a better idea of the genre I am writing in before I start writing, an idea of the type of person who would pick this book up and want to read it. I never used to consider this at all, and had a very hard job picking genres and categories for my finished books because of it.
  • I write the log line and synopsis first…Now, to be honest I am only just getting to grip with loglines! They are actually quite hard to do. The idea is you should be able to write a one to two sentence paragraph which explains your book, and if you can’t, you may have a problem. The logline can then help you to shape your synopsis. With early novels, I always left the synopsis to last and found them nothing short of utter hell and torture. How to condense a massive novel down to a paragraph or two? What to cut out, what to leave in? How to lure people in without spoilers? How to pick the right key words? Hard, hard work. With the last two books I penned (The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, both still not quite finished) I wrote the synopsis first. I’m not sure why. It just seemed like a good idea, and I had a general idea of what to say, so I went for it. Neither is perfect and both will need tinkering, but overall, I think they both say what they need to say. Lesson learned. From now on, I work on the synopsis first!
  • I research as I go…This is another thing I used to be quite lazy about. I was in a hurry. I just wanted to get the book written. So I would make up stuff as I went along, noting down that I needed to properly research it later.  Now if something comes up that needs looking into, I do it there and then before I write another word. Again, this saves me time and stress later, and if what I research ends up changing the story in some way, it’s much better to know this early on! Plus it’s fun. I used to put off research of any story because I thought it was boring. Just detail that needed throwing in to make it all sound better. But now I look at it differently. It’s important to the story and I’m also learning new things all the time!

So, over to you followers! Have you always done things the same or have your writing habits changed through trial and error? Does it all depend on the book you’re writing? Let me know!

 

Welcome To My Mind!! (Via my notebooks…)

I have a strange addiction to notebooks. I just can’t have enough of them. I have far too many floating around my writing space, but they all serve a purpose, and if any of them were to go missing, I think the wheels would fall off this operation. My notebooks are the physical version of what goes on in my mind. So, I thought I might share them with you. I would be really interested to know if anyone else writes and lives like this!

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My To-Do List Notebook!

Introducing the backbone of notebooks. The one that holds everything else together! My to-do book. I always have one of these on the go and when it’s used up, I buy another A4 sized notebook to replace it. Every Sunday night I write my to-do list for the week ahead. It usually starts off pretty short and gets added to as the week goes by. It will include things like posting my author interview or guest post blogs, my usual Wednesday blog post, making sure my newsletter is drafted, finishing a short story or article, printing stuff out for workshops and so on. It also reminds me to order dog food on Thursdays, and pay for school trips online and so on! I don’t think I could function without a to-do list book. There is something so satisfying about ticking things off as the week goes on! I feel like I am keeping on top of things in all areas of my life, and I’m sure a lot of stuff just wouldn’t get done if I didn’t write them down!

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My Non-Fiction Notebook!

This A5 notebook keeps me on track with all things non-fiction in my life. I list possible blog post ideas in here and tick them off when I have written and published them. I also write down ideas for articles. I use this book to note down ideas, research, and plans for any workshops I might be running for Dorset Writers Network, or for my own venture Chasing Driftwood Writing Group Anything I read that inspires me, any plans I have for the future, I note down in here!

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Current Work-In-Progress Notebook!

All my books have a notebook. The notebook comes into action once the voices get too loud in my head. This notebook is for my current WIP A Song For Bill Robinson. As Elliot Pie is having another round with beta readers, and I am just not ready to revisit the tricky Tree Of Rebels yet, I am having a stab at a YA novel I first attempted when I was sixteen. There are two stories related to this in Bird People and Other Stories. The book is basically written, I am just having to make it better than it is! (Oh the cringe of reading your own teenage writing..!)

PTDC0094.JPGThe Tree Of Rebels Notebook!

Self-explanatory. This is the long and complex story of a novel still not finished, all wrapped up in one now very tatty A5 notebook! We will get there one day with this one!PTDC0096.JPG

Elliot Pie’s Notebook!

Here it is, Elliot Pie’s notebook. As with all my books, this notebook contains character bios, themes, ideas, plotting, and the many, many lists I make when rewriting, which I then go through and tick off. 

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Plans For Unwritten Novel!

Recently a short story I wrote to include in the newsletter, morphed into something far, far bigger. Something quite epic. Something four books long epic. Something I would love to see on TV as a drama series for kids epic. So far I have written mini bios for lots of characters, several short stories which basically serve as sample chapters, and have loosely plotted the book, or books. It is definitely going to be a four book series, and I need to have Elliot Pie, Tree of Rebels and Song For Bill Robinson all done and dusted before I can bury myself in this little beauty for a very, very long time…

There are actually two more notebooks I couldn’t be bothered to photograph. One I take with me to my writing group and workshops so I can note down thoughts on people’s readings, or make plans, or tick people off etc. And the other is my very secret and special Christmas planning notebook! But obviously, I don’t want anyone to see that one!

So how about you? Are you a list person? Do you need to write things down in order to remember them? Maybe you use your phone, or a calendar? Am I the only one who makes use of copious amounts of notebooks at the same time?? Please comment! I love hearing from you!