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!

The Chaotic Joy Of Co-Writing A Series

About a year ago my business partner and fellow indie author, Sim Alec Sansford, messaged me asking if I had ever considered writing a book with someone else. The answer was no. It had never occurred to me and I have always wondered how on earth writers manage collaborative writing projects. It just seemed far too complicated and not at all something I would ever want to try. Sim had an idea for a book and wondered if I would consider writing it with him. I think if anyone else had asked me I would have given an instant no. But Sim and I get on really well as business partners at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and feel the same passion for writing and for our characters. I’d read some of his work and he’d read some of mine, and I had to admit, it felt like we could possibly pull it off.

So, I agreed. I figured, at the very least it would be an interesting experience and one I could learn from! Little was I to know how Sim’s tentative request and fledgling book idea would snowball!

Roughly a year later, we have completed two books in a paranormal YA series and we are currently racing towards the finish line of the final book in the trilogy. We never set out to write a series, but we soon realised that’s exactly what it was becoming.

I’ll probably blog again when the books are finished and I’ll spend more time telling you about them, but for now I just wanted to write about how the whole process has worked. Because it’s worked in a really strange and unexpected, dare I say, chaotic way!

So, as you probably already know, I have a certain process when I write a book. It goes a bit like this:

I get a character in my head who grows and grows until they get so real and so noisy, I have to start writing it down.

I start a notebook and start adding the ideas for a story, and it’s the character suggesting the ideas, not me.

When I’m able to start the book, I plan out a certain amount of chapters, write all my character bios, and get going.

I do any research along the way, as and when I need to. The first draft normally takes me about three months then I will spend probably about a year doing further drafts, edits and rewrites. By about draft 5 or 6 I will send it to beta readers and then do another rewrite/draft depending on what they said. Eventually it will go to my wonderful editor and proof-reader, then back to me for another round and then finally I will start to organise the publishing process.

Everything goes in the notebook, so I can have it there handy as I write and can jot down future ideas for chapters and scenes, character info and more. In my head at least, it’s kind of an organised process. It might look messy to anyone else, but it works well for me.

Writing books with another author has been so different!

We started off with good intentions and I even started a little notebook of ideas and character bios so we could keep track of who was who and so on. I also started writing chapter outlines to send back and forth so we could keep an eye on what we had written and ideas we had coming up.

All of this fell by the wayside though as the story took control!

Somehow, and I am really not sure how, we have managed to write almost three books in a year purely by swapping messages with each other on Facebook!

Initially Sim had a vague idea and we started creating a character each. He wanted to write the female character, Darcie and I wanted to write the male, JJ. I’m not sure when we decided that they would have super powers, but we did! I wrote the first chapter purely by instinct and luckily it seemed to be what Sim was thinking too. He quickly responded and off we went. Mostly it has been a really fast process, with us swapping chapters most days or every couple of days. We both work and write our own books too, so I am surprised we got so much done. We did keep each chapter fairly short and snappy and ended most on cliff hangers to set up the next chapter, so I guess we helped each other out a bit there! We really didn’t get too stuck too often.

Every time we read the other’s chapter, we would send a message asking what ideas would work in ours so we didn’t mess up the flow of scenes. We would both suggest stuff that could happen and with every chapter we wrote, more and more of the story unfolded before us. We got really excited and our messages reflect this! Once we got going, there was really no stopping us. We whizzed through the first two books and inevitably our original ideas grew more complex, we introduced more characters and storylines and sub-plots.

I think it’s fair to say that we are both totally in love with these characters we have created and the world they live in. We have created a strange little town called Fortune’s Well, which is loosely based on Sim’s childhood home of Dorchester. I recently visited Dorchester and was so excited to see in person some of the locations we have used in the books!

To start with we were both a bit nervous when writing the other person’s character into our chapter. But as the story grew and the characters evolved, we both felt we knew JJ and Darcie equally. Now I think it just feels natural to write both characters and we don’t feel we have to check with each other that we got their mannerisms or speech right.

So, the usual way I write books kind of fell aside and our original plans for writing these books also got left behind. Somehow we just muddled our way through using messages. I’m surprised it worked but there you are, we are nearly at the end of the trilogy and both of us are so excited to share it with everyone when it’s ready.

It’s been a really refreshing and fun addition to my writing life. Most evenings I work on my current WIP, but if I get sent a chapter from Sim, I will read it, digest it and then respond as soon as I have an idea. This way we have both managed to carry on with our own work as well as our co-writing project. Our series is so different to anything I have written before (paranormal, kids with super powers!!) and that’s been really exciting as well. We both love YA but I normally stick to gritty realism, so to dip into supernatural/paranormal/super powers territory has been the best fun ever. I really love this series and these characters and it’s inspired me to try these genres more in the future.

It’s been crazy, unexpected, exciting, challenging, messy, and above all else chaotic, but I have loved every moment of it. So much so, that we have already decided to work on another series together when this one is finished. This time its based on an idea I had that came from a short story I wrote. I think that if writing together worked once, there is every chance it will work again!

I will post about these books another time but for now, here is the blurb Sim came up with!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?

Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

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?