Blank

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All the gear, no idea

For the first time in a very very long time I have (shhh) writer’s block.

Writer’s block doesn’t really exist: if you write every day, even if it’s rubbish, the ideas keep flowing and eventually a good story comes.

But I haven’t been writing every day. In fact I haven’t written something new since I penned a story for my niece back in April. I’ve either been editing existing works or doing other stuff. Knitting, gardening, moving all the downstairs furniture to make room for the decorators coming next Tuesday.

But it’s November. It’s Nanowrimo time. My audio-typing work is done, the children are back at school. I should be able to bang out a 50,000 word manuscript in four weeks. I’ve done nearly that much in four days before.

But the blank page is defeating me. Dog walking isn’t generating ideas like it should. My brain seems semi-comatose. I can’t even get the kids to give me ideas. My son wants a story about Ninjas or Minions, or he wants to write it with me (!), and my daughter isn’t interested in stories at all.

I even embraced technology, instead of giving in to my technophobia, and purchased a bluetooth keyboard to use with my super-duper new phone. That way I don’t even have to worry if the laptop has charge. But nope. Still nothing.

November is four days old already. Nano is happening all around me. I get the Cambridge Nano Facebook updates and people are hitting 10,000 words already. I haven’t done Nanowrimo for years, but I’ve not forgotten that it’s what got me writing novels in the first place.

But sometimes life conspires.

Actually I think partly what’s triggered it is the feedback I got from Mslexia after failing to make the longlist with Dragon Wraiths this time (it made it a few years ago). Their view was that too many stories start in predictable places: school, home. All my children’s books start in one of those two places. It’s hard to think of something else without plagiarising the fabulous books I’ve read or am reading.

Maybe I’m just trying too hard. When I started my first novel all those years ago, I proper-pantsed it. I had no idea, no character, nothing, just a free-write from a bunch of items on a table at college. Now, though, I know the hot mess I get into pantsing. I need to at least know my character, setting and end-goal.

At the moment I can’t even come up with one out of three! Nothing, zilch, nada.

I refuse to believe in Writer’s Block, but perhaps I can accept that everything has a season, and my season now is home-maker and knitter-extraordinaire.

That blank page still hurts though.

Cake and Karate

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Karate Exam

Once again I have had a heap of blog post ideas floating around my head, but life keeps getting in the way of me writing them down.

Typing, housework, birthday cakes, after school club forms, karate exams, a new book idea.

So this is just a quick update to keep the blog plodding along!

I passed my first karate exam last Saturday, and my son passed his latest grade easily this time too. Despite feeling for my little girl who I think regretted choosing not to Grade with us, I was very proud of us both, particularly my son. Even without his sister, he walked in with head high and 100% focus and breezed an exam I was sure he would fail. His drawing of his exam shows how much it meant to him.

On the flip side I didn’t do so well on my first Proofreading paper. I got a B- which doesn’t sound too bad until you know that I need a straight B to pass. It turns out I edit too much. Ahem.

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Wobbly Cake

I made my son the requested Lego cake. It didn’t rise and was nowhere near the image my son picked out, but he liked it and it tastes great!

But oh my that lettering was far harder than it should be. Despite my many talents, manipulating fondant icing isn’t one of them!

I’m trying to make space for writing something new. Not that there is very much space at the moment between the school run, paid work, and party prep.

But I have an idea and that’s a start. I’ve challenged my husband to write something for the Chicken House competition (deadline December). Not sure if either of us will manage it, but the race is on.

Thankfully I’m at the ‘carrying an idea around in my mind and world building’ which is just as well. I don’t know if it’s the antibiotics (my ear infection came back and it’s definitely made me feel bleh – MTMcGuire I think you’re onto something!) or whether it’s an excited child getting out of bed at 5am yesterday, but I’m definitely a bit fuzzy. Writing a dystopian novel probably requires me to be a bit sharper.

In the meantime I’d better get back to typing and party prep. Who says SAHMs have it easy? 😀

June Journals #27 ~ Onwards and Upwards. Eventually

MargaretMorganKirk

Congratulations!

It’s taken me a few weeks of randomly searching google, but I’ve finally discovered that the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition Winner has been announced – back on 6th June!

The competition rules said notification by 1st July, but I’ve been checking for ages. Nothing. You’d think there’d be an announcement or something.

Eventually, yesterday, I found an article on LBA Literary Agents‘ website – from 8th June – announcing the winner as Margaret Morton Kirk, author of the Scottish crime novel, Shadow Man.

Well done!

I have no sour grapes. I knew winning, or even getting shortlisted, was hugely unlikely. But I’m a tad irritated at how hard it was to find the results.

That’s the bit I hate about competitions – the waiting. I could have spent June working on Refuge at Riley Road, getting it out there either as a self-published novel or to agents, instead of farting about feeling lost and listless. Or I could have wallowed and baked cakes. Oh wait, I sort of did that anyway!

Never mind. I have an answer finally, that’s the main thing.

Back to writing.

June Journals #22 ~ Write Relief

DragonWraithsMS

Has Potential

I’ve always been prone to bizarre, convoluted, vivid, epic dreams. I don’t generally remember them, but since having children I often get woken up right in the middle of something Spielberg would be proud of, if he didn’t mind plot holes the size of the Mariana Trench and a story with zero logic.

Writing helps to alleviate the vivid dreams.

It’s as if I have this pot of words, ideas, images, characters, and if I can empty that pot during the day there is less available to furnish weird night-time sagas.

Since I stopped writing a few weeks ago, I’ve gone back to having blockbuster dreams.

I wake up exhausted, restless, out of sorts. The emotion of the dreams leaks out into the day, and the lack of sense, of cause and effect, leaves me feeling antsy. It’s hard to describe. It’s like an itch under the skin that I can’t find or scratch.

So today I got back to writing. Well, not writing, but authoring if you will.

It’s always been my intention to do something with Dragon Wraiths, (which incidentally, came to me in a dream!) The novel had such promise, but I rushed it, sent it out into the world prematurely, and have been too afraid to put it right.

The fears are many. Firstly, I’ll have to re-read what I’ve written. I make a point of never revisiting a book once it’s ‘out there’ in case I realise it’s rubbish. Secondly, as it came to me in a dream, I don’t really know how it ends, which means, thirdly, there is a lot of work to do to fix it. I mean a LOT of work.

I hadn’t even heard of ‘Save the Cat‘ four years ago. And, although I read a heap of stuff on structuring a YA romance and editing your novel, I didn’t have a plan (it was a proper Pantser novel) and absolutely no concept of beats or loglines.

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Original Cover

When Dragon Wraiths was long-listed for the Mslexia award it wasn’t even really finished. I had to send off a complete manuscript, and that’s what I did, but the last third at least was utter shite. I’m not surprised it didn’t make the short-list.

A couple of years ago I revisited the novel, to enter into the Chicken House competition. Cut that last third out like a gangrene-infected limb and pretty much put ‘To be continued…’ 🙂

But it didn’t even get long-listed, so I stuck it to the back of my mind under ‘Failures I’d like to forget’.

And yet…

I love that book. I love the characters, I love the first 80,000 words. Just because I didn’t finish the world building, or the story, or even really know how it all should end, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

So I spent the day going back to basics with my friend (!) Blake Snyder, author of ‘Save the Cat’. I worked on a logline and beats for book one, and then started playing around with where book two and three could go.

It’s a bit like limbering up at the bottom of Ben Nevis. The climb looks scary, storm clouds are rolling in, and I don’t know if I’ll make it even half way to the top. But I’m closer than when I was back on the couch dreaming.

And it felt good to be working again. Whenever I think I’m not cut out to be a writer, I take a break and realise that, whether I want it or not, I already bloomin am one.

 

June Journals #14 ~ Silent Uncertainty

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Competition Novel

When I decided to stop working on my novels for a bit, and concentrate on my blog and the garden instead, it was with a sense of relief.

It isn’t the writing that’s hard – well, some days it is – but more it’s the silent uncertainty.

When I write a blog post, even a mediocre one, I know if somebody reads it. And generally at least one or two people do.  If I’m lucky I’ll get a like or even comment. It’s a lovely feeling.

As I have been fortunate enough to stay below the internet troll radar by being boring, unknown, and uncontroversial, the comments are supportive and encouraging.

Not so with books.

I can spend a year writing a novel which even my family won’t read and feed back on, because they’re too close for constructive criticism.

Without Beta Readers, my only sources of feedback are agents and reviewers. They’re not exactly a chatty bunch. If you hear back from an agent at all, it’s a polite, “this is not for me” message, after weeks and weeks of painful silence. Reviews, which are even harder to get, are all or nothing. Black and white. Fulsome praise or scathing disgust. I have come to dread them.

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Out with Agents

As someone driven by external validation, despite years of trying not to be, this lack of feedback on my efforts saps all motivation. Currently I have one novel in a competition, and two with agents, and the rest, as Hamlet would say, is silence.

It paralyses me.

Do I work on a current book, without knowing what’s wrong with it? Do I write another one, without knowing which bits I’m getting right, or whether anyone will ever actually read it. Should it matter?

How do novelists slog at a book for ten years, true only to themselves and their story? Where do they bury their self-doubt?

I should really join a writer’s group, although I’m currently a little thin-skinned for that. I’d probably weep at the first unkind word and give up writing forever.

Except I miss writing.

I miss producing books, discovering characters, creating. Filling that blank page.

So I’ll pour those words into my blog for now and try for patience.

Thank you for being listening voices in the void!

What Happened to April?

Battling Dinosaurs

Battling Dinosaurs

This month seems to have flown by in a gust of Arctic wind and a flurry of chaos.

Our new bathroom is (almost) finished. Ignoring some poorly-laid flooring, terrible sealing, and lethal points on the window sill, it’s done.

We haven’t quite moved in, as it hasn’t quite been signed off, but it’s nice to be clean and not to have to run downstairs in the night for a pee. Plus I’ve had great fun buying matching accessories.

My daughter said this morning (as she was finally ordered into the bath when coaxing wouldn’t work), “Mummy, why have you bought purple towels and white toilet paper?” I had to explain it was like her choosing the right shade of tights to go with her dress. It might be another thirty years before she understands though!

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

The novel I’m writing for my niece is also (almost) finished. I’ve done one edit, and my daughter is currently reading it (and happily pointing out poor word choices and sentence structure. She’s 7.) She asked if she’d get paid for editing it, and I said when I get paid more than a pound for writing it. 🙂

Now I’m torn between doing more editing of previous books (needed), starting work on the Editing course I spent precious money on (probably wise), helping the school fundraise for new equipment when we move sites (mucho kudos), more ironing, house cleaning, and painting (too tiring!), or killing dinosaurs in the Jurassic World game that is the current family Martin addiction.

I have, of course, been doing the latter… Ho hum.

How I Feel!

How I Feel!

That’s when I’m not at my children’s school learning how they teach maths to five-year-olds, taking my son to cricket, daughter to Rainbows, or dog for a walk. Plus we’re off to a festival on Sunday, so that needs planning too.

Ah, now I understand what happened to April. Like every other month it passed in the madness we call life.

The Finish Line or the Starting Post?

Ready for posting

Ready for posting

It’s the last day of this four-week term and somehow, through illness and doubt, computer disaster and credit card fraud (you have no idea how many passwords you have until you decide to change them all), I have a completed entry to send to Good Housekeeping.

It was touch and go. I’ve been distracted by excellent novels (I read Divergent and Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, in two or three long sittings this weekend) and trying to declutter the house. I’ve been distracted by failing to repaint the playroom, and by wishing I’d asked the decorator to put our wallpaper poster a foot to the left.

I’ve been collating things for a domestic violence charity (research for the novel has been a cold dose of reality) and emptying the loft for the builders. Well, hubbie’s been doing that – I’ve been trying not to intervene and protect stuff from being thrown away.

And somehow, I dragged out a 70,000 word first draft. Definitely a first draft, especially as I was aiming for 80,000, and reading Divergent has shown me how much emotion is missing from my work. But the competition only calls for 5,000 words and a synopsis, so a first draft is fine.

Should have gone right to the window...

Should have gone right to the window…

But sending submissions – the 1,000 word synopsis that brutally reduces all that work into a few hard facts – the last proofread, and then just one more – the 100-word bio (do I talk about me or my books?!) – All this is like the years studying for an exam, the weeks revising, and then the two hours you are judged on. It is too much and never enough.

The biggest question is, when I send my submission off, will it be an end or a beginning? I hover between optimism and pessimism: someone has to win, but it really isn’t likely to be me. And I won’t know either way for months.

And until then, there’s the wait.

But it’s the Easter holidays, it’s Spring, the new bathroom is coming. I still have Allegiant to read.

Today is definitely a beginning.

Road Closed Ahead

Flooded Roads Everywhere

Flooded Roads Everywhere

This month I have been writing my first novel using a detailed plan. I am halfway through and I thought I’d share how it’s going.

As I discussed in my last post it took me a long time to get started, although that was partly due to the nature of the story. Ironically the ‘hard’ scenes have been the easiest to write, in as much as they’re the heart and soul of the story. I can get swept up in the emotion, however horrible, and the words flow.

Harder has been the overall narrative. Writing from a plan is a little too left-brain for me. I am analysing my writing too much (groaning over how many times I use ‘then’ or start sentences with characters’ names or pronouns.)

According to a quote I found on the internet, “Left brain thinking is verbal and analytical. Right brain is non-verbal and intuitive, using pictures rather than words.” (Ucmas.ca)

That should mean left-brain is great for writing, right? Not for me. Oh, I probably have fewer continuity errors, virtually no typos and spelling mistakes, and near-perfect grammar. But the story has no flow and no imagery. It’s all words and clichéd descriptions of emotions.

I know, a book is generally made up of words! But I realised on my last quick scan that there is no description after the first page. I mean none. No sounds, smells, sights, room descriptions, setting, weather. Just dialogue and action in a vacuum. That can all be added of course, but I write better prose subconsciously, so it’s more risky to have to add it during edits.

The other problem is that, even though I have drifted from my original plan to some extent, I am still lost without my cards.

I came on the school run today without them. I usually write for an hour in a coffee shop and then head home. I knew what scene I was due to write. All good. Except I’m stranded in town due to flooding, and I’m stuck.

Spending the whole day in a coffee shop should mean I can bang out five thousand words. But I don’t know what comes next. I’m 30,000 words from the climax scenes and I can’t remember how I planned to get there!

On a positive note, however, I do seem to be mostly on track with Snyder’s Beat Sheet, even if I’ve ignored half the scenes and all the word-count estimates. And it was useful, during the 20,000 word dip (that NaNoers might recognise) to be able to look at the next card and keep on plodding on.

I really need to finish this first draft by the end of term, especially if I want to enter the Good Housekeeping competition. Unfortunately the kids break up two weeks today (darn those early Easters) and even though I’ve written 45k words in two and a half weeks, it’s feeling like a huge challenge.

I guess I could just make a start on the climax scenes and plug the gap later. I prefer to write linear, but needs must!

And of course, there’s my final dilemma. In my plan someone may or may not die. I didn’t know during the planning process. I still don’t know. I hoped I would be clear when I got there. I guess once a pantser, always a pantser, even with a pretty set of index cards!

Too Scared To Start

A Book in Card Form

A Book in Card Form

I know it’s been ages since I wrote a post. What can I say? My fortieth year seems to be a time of change. Looking for a job that pays actual real money, de-cluttering the house and fixing things we’ve put up with for ages, trying to lose some of the 30lbs I’ve gained in the last decade without actually going on a diet because, cake.

And, despite my last post, trying to write a book for adults.

After my defeatist post, saying I wasn’t going to write for adults anymore, I decided that was a bit crap. So I downloaded a book I’ve heard great things about, called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on how to write screenplays, rather than novels, but the principles are the same.

It’s brilliant.

Snyder uses a 15-Beat plan to plot a screenplay (or novel) and it’s the first time I’ve seen a beat sheet that actually helped create the plot, rather than just lay it out and break it into acts.

For the first time ever, I have planned a complete novel from beginning to end, set out in 45 scenes, with word count targets, turning points, characters, motivation, conflict and resolution. I usually start writing with a character and an ending and that’s it. This time I didn’t even really understand who my lead character was until I was some way in.

So, I have these cards. This plot. This complete story. And I’m scared.

I’ve never written to a plan before. What if I can’t flesh out the story to do my plan justice? What if I try too hard and it’s stilted, because I usually seat-of-pants my writing, which gives it great vigour and flow. What if, what if…?

Even though I have a complete story there, ready to be written, I have writer’s block. It’s horrible.

I forced myself to write a couple of scenes this morning, just to get going. But it was HARD. To make it worse, I have accidentally written a plan for a story that is tough. Difficult scenes, not-very-nice characters. Grief, angst, worry.

As part of his lessons, Snyder recommends that you choose a hero that, “offers the most conflict in the situation, has the longest emotional journey, and has a primal goal we can all root for. Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, and fear of death grab us.”

I don’t normally do conflict. I don’t like writing tough scenes. Writing the suicide-attempt scenes in Two Hundred Steps Home made me unbelievably miserable. But somehow, Snyder’s book created this tense, conflict-driven storyline. And now I’m too afraid to write it.

I get very affected by what I write. I remember being horrible to my husband when writing about Daniel in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes. I go out of my way to avoid arguments and upheaval. Just being around my constantly-squabbling children at the moment is exhausting. So why would I write a book about horrible things?

Because it should be a good book, that’s why. Moving out my comfort zone, upping the conflict, should make for a page-turner. If I can do it justice and make a character I can root for.

While I haven’t started, all that is wonderful potential. As soon as I begin, I will realise I don’t have the skill to pull it off. Maybe that’s why I’m a pantser at heart: not because I can’t plan, but because I don’t have the self-belief to put a plan into action. Pantsing involves a lot of writing from the subconscious, switching off the critical, analytical part of the brain. Writing to a plan is going to make that so much harder.

But nothing good ever came easy, right? So I’ll plod on. Like losing 30lbs, it has to start one day at a time. One biscuit fewer, one mile more. One paragraph, one card, one page.

My book is called, “It takes courage.”

It certainly does.

Why I’m Giving Up Writing for Grown-Ups

Georgina the Giraffe says write for kids!

Georgina the Giraffe says write for kids!

I read recently on Sally Jenkins’ blog about a writing competition currently being promoted in the UK magazine, Good Housekeeping. 10k advance and a potential publishing deal, don’t mind if I do. The two categories are Crime/Thriller and Women’s Fiction.

Well, I thought, I’ve written Women’s Fiction before – my first novel, Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes, falls in that category, and it has a bunch of nice reviews. As I’m in my plot-hole mire with the latest children’s book, I thought it might be nice to write in a different genre for a while.

Being in my January sludge, I struggled for an idea (I need a character, a theme, and an ending to start writing these days). But Hubbie came up with a neat Fairy Tale reversal story, so I began playing around with that.

And that’s when the trouble started.

Write what you know is advice often given to wannabe authors. And, for women’s fiction, I always reach into myself for a character, as I feel that’s the best way I can empathise and understand motivations and so on.

But, as I researched my new character, I realised it was becoming some kind of therapy session for elements of my life I wish I could change. Enlightening as it was about my own past, it didn’t make for a great novel.

So scratch that, I thought, I’ll enter one of the two novels I’ve finished. Baby Blues is a bit long for a Women’s Fiction novel, and is actually doing okay on Amazon, so I turned to Class Act. It never flew. My two Goodreads giveaways resulted in awful reviews. Perfect for a rewrite, yes?

Then I re-read the reviews, and they sounded very similar to a review I got on Baby Blues recently. In essence, Okay writing, but I HATE the leading lady.

“…the way Rebecca’s character was written made her quite unbearable.”

Ah, yes, about that. I never loved the leading ladies in Baby Blues and Class Act all that much either. My love was always for the leading male, or a secondary character. And, with the distance of a few years, it’s obvious. In some way, they’re both me. And I don’t love me very often.

I have no idea what makes me likeable. Hubbie can’t tell me (not in a way that wouldn’t be better suited to 50 Shades) and I don’t really have close friends. I don’t know how to write an amazing leading lady because I don’t really know any.

Perhaps that is why I’m enjoying writing the kids’ books. If the characters are based on me (and I don’t know if they are), then they’re not deep enough – the stories aren’t long enough – for people to hate them. But more likely they’re based around traits I see in my kids, in the children at school, and from the books I read and love. They’re stories of bravery and daring and magic. My women’s novels are about the hardship of being a grown-up!

So I think I’ll walk gracefully away from the real world and leave the grown-up story writing to those who can create more sympathetic characters. Tempting as a 10k advance is, I’m not going to win a competition with a bunch of characters no one likes (when they’re meant to!)

I don’t mind. Give me magic ponies and talking cats any day.