The End Is Really The Beginning

Over the weekend my excitement and sense of victory was growing.

I was ever closer to finishing the first draft of one of my current WIP’s, Black Hare Valley. To recap, I had the idea for this book a few years ago. At the time, my son and I were both reading Stephen King’s It and enjoying the new film adaptations of the story. I suddenly had an urge to pay homage to the master of horror by penning a story set in a weird and eerie little town, where unlikely heroes (ie teenagers) are pitted against forces of evil. That was all I had. I wanted to create a town though and came up with the idea of Black Hare Valley. This was because I am rather obsessed with hares. Around this time we had also visited a well known iron age hill fort and after a bit of research on folklore and magic, my ideas started to grow. But what we needed first was a map. So, my son and I rolled out a long piece of paper and together created Black Hare Valley. It was so much fun, and as the town grew, so did my characters and their lives. That was as far as it went at the time. I was busy on other books and my son didn’t want to help write it. I folded up the map and tucked it inside the notebook alongside some ideas, research and character bios.

Around three years later, last February we had a 5 day power cut and a two week internet cut. This made it impossible for me to continue editing my 4-book series ready for release (The Day The Earth Turned) or work on what was my current WIP, the spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In The Side; working title At Night We Played In The Road…

With no TV or internet, surrounded by candles and fairylights, I decided to pick up that notebook and unfold that map. I had an idea of how and where to start the story and thought I would just kill some time by writing the first paragraph. The paragraph morphed into a chapter, followed by another, and another, and another. I was then fully immersed and addicted and before I knew it, I had filled a notebook and started another. Since then, I have been scribbling down this story most days. There was a three week break in May where I concentrated on editing priorities and the release of the book I co-wrote with author Sim Sansford, (Hangman’s Revenge.) Also, I was abit stuck.

I had reached a point where I seemed to be heading towards some sort of climax but at the same time, I wasn’t sure what it would be or how it would happen or even what it would mean. This stuck feeling was made worse by the fact I had not yet gone back and read through anything I had written. It’s easier to do this when using Word on the laptop – with a scruffy notebook and illegible handwriting, it’s a bit tricky. So I just kept going, adding notes, extra ideas and so on to the front of the first notebook where my planning and character bios were. One day on a long walk I got the ending in my head and it all made sense. I was nearing the finish line and it felt great!

Knowing how it would end spurred me on and I wrote several chapters last weekend, just trying to get it down. Finally, on Monday night I wrote the last chapter, the last paragraph and the last sentence, followed by those delicious, victorious words; The End.

I felt amazing. It always feels amazing to know you have got there. You didn’t give up. You battled through plot holes and writer’s block of varying degrees, time constraints, lack of energy and all the other books wanting you to work on them! I did it! I was so happy, so excited and I still am.

Now though, the real work begins. For the end is really the beginning. I have a town, some characters, (all of whom need fleshing out, particularly with work on their families and back stories) I have a plot I really need to check through, ideas I need to embellish, scenes I need to add and a whole lot more. In short, the second draft will feel like the real story is being written. What I have here in these five scruffy notebooks, written in my horrific handwriting, covered in question marks and lines and arrows and bubbles of thoughts, is a skeleton waiting to be fleshed out. Waiting to come fully alive. I have the bones of a story, the beginnings of characters, and the idea of a world.

The second draft is my favourite because you find out what you have done. At this point, I am excited and in awe and I feel a bit like someone else wrote it! Was that really me, filling notebook after notebook, at night, in the car, while cooking dinner, by candlelight? Yes, it was me, but I feel like the real me is the one who has to now pick this thing apart and make it shine, make it work. The real work starts now. Well, not immediately now because I am going to give myself a break from it to let it breathe, and so that I can pay the same level of crazed addicted energy to my other WIP.

The first draft is a slog; a hesitant crawl to the finish line plagued by self-doubt and blocks of all sorts. It’s a battle, no doubt. The second draft is seeped in victory but its where things start getting technical. I am really, really looking forward to it. I know there will be countless drafts after the second to really polish it up, respond to beta reader feedback, edit, revise, edit, proofread and so on. But the second draft is all mine. It’s me and this book alone in a room and I cannot wait to get started!

How To Handle A Long To-Write-List

I’ve blogged before about how to juggle multiple writing projects at the same time. For me, it’s almost impossible to work on one thing at a time and I used to worry about this. I don’t anymore. There is always a priority project, one that is the closest to being ready for publication, and that’s the one I work on first every single night. However, new ideas spring up all the time, and if I don’t write them down I run the risk of forgetting an important detail. Also, when I’m stuck in a long editing/rewriting/revising process for a written book, my mind craves fresh, new exciting writing. I decided long ago to just go with it and accept that it’s always going to be this way. At the moment, for example, I’m editing/revising my 4-book YA post-apocalyptic series The Day The Earth Turned. This should be the final edit before it goes to the proofreader and as all four books are completed and almost ready, there is no fresh, new writing involved anymore. I’m also going through the same process with the YA trilogy I’ve co-written with Sim Sansford. Book one is with the proofreader and we’re getting the other two books ready to go after that. These two projects are the priority, but I want to write new stuff as well!

But having a lot of ideas, or a long -to-write-list can be distracting. New ideas can derail you from current projects, and at the same time, if you ignore new ideas until you’ve got time for them, you could easily forget important details or forget the whole idea entire entirely!

When a new idea comes along, it can feel so bright and exciting, that it becomes tempting to quit or ‘rest’ your current WIP and jump to the new one. Young writers do this a lot, and so they should – writing should be vibrant and exciting and I think young minds should respond to the influx of ideas they’re getting. However, if you’re a published author, you need to stick to your goals and work through them one at a time, or it can all become a bit of a mess.

My 8-book to-write-list

So, this is how I handle it. I prioritise one project until it is published, but also allow myself to work on something new a few times a week, and jot ideas down in notebooks for future books. Currently, I’m working on the first draft of what will stand as a spin-off book to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. (Working title, At Night They Played In The Road.) I’m at chapter twenty-three and only write it every now and then, but it’s constantly on my mind and will definitely be the next one to bump up to priority position. I am also scribbling a diary style story into a notebook every now and then. This is my Zombie apocalypse story which is honestly just a bit of fun at the moment, and a long way down the list to take seriously. I can’t resist adding to it every now and then though.

The other day I decided to organise all my future book ideas into a sensible to-write-list. You can see in the image that I have eight future novels outlined. I’m not exactly sure of the order these will be prioritised in. Sometimes books at the end of the list get louder and push their way forward, shoving others out of the way as they do. I just hope I don’t get any more ideas, as this list is plenty to keep me going for several years! I’ve listed them below in the order I THINK I will tackle them and added a brief description of the book idea and how far developed it is at the moment.

Working title: At Night They Played In The Road. A spin-off to my 5-book series The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Written 23 chapters so far and characters are developing well. Notebook contains plot ideas and structure, character bios, and chapter outlines so far.
The Mess Of Us: The long awaited sequel to my debut YA novel The Mess Of Me. Written about half of it in first draft. Know exactly what’s going to happen. Notebook contains ideas for the plot, chapter outlines so far and half of a hand-written first draft.
We Hate The Cool Kids: (working title) I wrote this a few years ago! The first draft is done, except the ending needs some sorting out. It came out of nowhere and just wrote itself into a notebook, longhand. I haven’t gone back to it yet because it jumped the queue and I wanted to concentrate on publishing The Holds End trilogy and The Day The Earth Turned series. It will be great to get back to this soonish as it is basically done and ready for it’s 2nd draft! It’s a YA psychological thriller. Notebook contains character bios, plot ideas and structure and chapter outlines, as well as almost the whole book written in longhand.
I’ve popped it here in the list but it might jump the queue a bit and it should get done fast as two of us will be writing it! A year ago Sim and I started writing a YA supernatural trilogy together and it’s now done and each book is heading one by one to the proofreader. Once we’ve done final, final edits on that, we will start this together! It sprung from a short story I wrote. The idea grew and grew and it’s definitely one Sim and I could make work. It’ll be another YA. Post-apocalyptic/dystopian, possibly?? Notebook contains the short story the idea came from, character bios, plot ideas and a possible introduction.
A few years ago me and my son were writing fanfiction together when I had the idea for an ‘IT’ style horror series about unlikely young heroes battling evil in their strange little town. We drew an intricate map of the fictional town and I started writing plot ideas and character bios. My son then lost interest and I tucked it all away for another day. This story has grown a lot since then and its one I am really excited to start! I’d say Black Hare Valley will be a YA supernatural/paranormal/horror series. Notebook contains a huge fold-out map of the fictional town, character bios, ideas for the plot and research on local folklore and legends.
Diary Of The Undead came about thanks to my obsession with The Walking Dead, which started a year ago when I first watched it! A few months ago I got the idea for a diary style book from the POV of an unlikely teen hero and couldn’t resist starting it. I’ve nearly filled an entire notebook but it will be some time before I treat this one as a priority. I will continue to add to it when I feel like it. It’ll be a YA horror series. Notebook contains character bios and plot ideas and almost a whole notebook of the first draft in longhand.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 271812543_4674392729263890_6121548804389490490_n.jpg
This book has been growing in my mind for a few years, but all I ever really had was a large, dysfunctional family and the death of a child. I have a lot more than that now so it got it own notebook the other day and I’ve started adding character bios already. I came up with the title quickly the other day but it will probably change. It’ll be some years before this one gets written! It will be a psychological thriller/family mystery aimed at adults. Notebook contains basic plot idea, ideas to explore, structure ideas and a few character bios.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 271785787_4674392725930557_4293487203447839916_n.jpg
This is last on the list as it’s calling to me the least but who knows? It might climb higher. This is an idea based on a book I almost finished writing when I was in my late teens. It didn’t have a title back then but was essentially about a terrible crime and the revenge that follows. I’ll use the same characters I had back then and the basic storyline, but it will flick between the past and the present now and will probably fit the adult thriller market. Notebook contains character bios and basic plot ideas I had from back then.

Sorting each book idea out like this has really helped me feel in control. Not all of them had notebooks and some of them were just ideas and characters floating around in my head. I feel like I’ve contained them somewhat now! And the good thing is, I can add to these notebooks any time I get ideas for plot, character or dialogue. This means that when each book finally gets its turn, it will feel like getting in touch with an old friend. Everything will be in place to get going.

Do you have a long to-write list? How do you take care of future ideas? Feel free to comment and share!

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?