Not an Aspiring Writer: 2013 365 Challenge #234

Staycation chez Martin

Staycation chez Martin

One of the challenges I’ve discovered with being a self-published author, or I suppose a writer of any kind, is expecting others to see it as a real job. After all it doesn’t pay well (or at all), you have no one imposing deadlines but yourself, and you spend all day dividing your time between gazing out the window, researching random things (skydiving in New Zealand anyone?), designing the odd front cover or giveaway bookmark, and playing on social media.

It’s all work, it’s done with purpose, but compared to a teacher, doctor, project manager or business director, it’s all a bit nebulous.

A friend recently asked my husband, while they were at a kids party together, if I get paid for doing the blog. Tee hee wouldn’t that be nice? I think it was because I couldn’t join my baby group one day in the café as I was racing to get my post live by my 10am deadline (which I’m going to miss today, unfortunately, due to a bout of insomnia). I probably should have missed my post that day and joined them for coffee. But, to me, the self-imposed deadlines, the deliverables, the targets, are all very important. I need to feel like I have a job, a career, or the sacrifices I ask my family to make would not be worth it.

No, I’m not getting paid, but my friend did seven years of university training to be a doctor without getting paid. This is my post-grad creative writing degree taken at the university of life. I’ve never been more serious about a career before or enjoyed one as much.

My creative daughter

My creative daughter

I often read posts on Kristen Lamb’s blog about the importance of not calling yourself an aspiring writer, (her latest is Are You a “Real” Writer? Is This Even the Correct Question?) . I am a writer; a published author. My sales are no fewer than the vast majority of even traditionally published books, which apparently rarely exceed 100, and I don’t think I’ve sold any to friends and family, so they are all genuine sales. (In 2004 c.80% of books sold fewer than 100 copies: The Ugly Truth about Getting Your Book Published. These figures might be out of date but I have read a similar figure recently, just couldn’t find the source!)

In a week or two my second novel will officially go live, in print and e-book format. Then I’ll start on revising my third novel, Class Act. Maybe I will rough draft the sequel to Dragon Wraiths during November’s NaNoWriMo if there’s a scrap of spare capacity. I’ll churn out my 1500 words of blog post and Claire instalment every day, with a couple of pictures, and I’ll answer every comment. I’ll squeeze in some social media and read a dozen posts from my online community sometime during the week. It’s a 40-hour week that drains me and leaves me exhausted.

Despite all of this, I’m never asked about my ‘job’ as a writer by people I know. It’s not taken seriously as a career. Thankfully my husband believes in me, as do my online friends. That’s why I love my blog. The daily challenge is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Every ‘like’, every ‘been there’ comment tells me I’m not crazy, tells me I belong somewhere, tells me I’m on the right path. I believe I’ll make an income one day, when I’ve written enough words, published enough books. I just have to keep working. I am a writer.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire climbed down from the bus and wandered a short way into the bush. After five minutes the pain was too great and she looked around for somewhere to hide with her book for a while. Every part of her body ached, as if she had spent the day before stretched on a rack rather than hiking through volcano country. When the bus driver had told them the morning schedule was for a two-hour walk to see the waterfalls, she’d nearly turned round and gone back to bed.

And as for river-rafting this afternoon, I think I might just opt for the horse riding or discover a love of golf.

It was a satisfying ache; the pain of a body pushed to its limits. But without a hot bath to sooth the muscles, she felt like a wooden puppet every time she tried to walk. At the hostel, some of the other travellers had gone to a natural spring in the river, and raved about the novelty of sitting outside in the autumn while soaking in hot water. It had almost tempted her to go herself, but the thought of the walk put her off.

I miss my car.

Pushing the thought aside, Claire searched for her place in the paperback she’d picked up at the last hostel, and allowed herself to be transported to a different world.

The trill of her phone wrenched her back to reality. Assuming it was either a nasty message from Carl, or a random text from Conor, Claire was tempted to ignore it. Only the vague hope that it might be from Kim made her put down her book and find her phone. The message wasn’t from a number she knew, and she frowned as she opened it.

Hi Claire, long time no speak. I caught up on the blog recently and saw that you’re in my neck of the woods. Are you planning a trip over to Oz while you’re here? It would be great to catch up. Josh.

Claire read the message several times, until the words no longer made sense. Of course she’d thought about him, but she had put all thought of seeing him to one side. Fiona wouldn’t like it, and some scars were best left to heal before they were put under any stress. Would he think it rude, though, if she fobbed him off?

Claire rested her head against the tree and closed her eyes, trying to analyse her emotions. It seemed that every time men became involved in her life it became uncomfortable and complicated. Easier to push on with her travels and concentrate on the blog. And yet …Yet what?

It’s not like I have so many friends I can afford to lose one. What harm a quick visit?

In the end she settled for a non-committal answer, carefully worded to leave her an escape route.

Hi Josh, lovely to hear from you. Yes, I’m touring NZ at the moment: it was meant to be for a job, but that fell through. Now I’m here, though, I thought it worth gathering things for the blog. I’m on a Kiwi bus for the next few weeks. Budget willing, I can fly home via Oz. Will let you know. Cx

She hit send and tried to pick up the thread of her book, but the words kept dancing on the page. With a sigh, Claire packed it away and walked back to the bus.

***

Pantser and Proud: 2013 365 Challenge #202

Riding on the mini train today

Riding on the mini train today

One of the blogs I follow – Write on the world – had a post today about structure in novels. The author, Mandy Webster, referred to another post called How to Structure a Killer Novel Ending.

I was seduced.

I don’t have a huge problem wrapping up my stories: it’s the flabby beginning – drowning in back story – and the soggy middle that I struggle with. By the time I get to my climax and happy ever after I’ve hit my writing stride. However I know I don’t put enough conflict in my writing so I’m always eager to read about how it’s done.

When I read the post, however, I didn’t come away with a plan to write a killer ending so much as a view that Pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants, rather than plan and outline) only write that way because we’re too lazy or stubborn to do otherwise. That may be true. It may be true for me. Particularly as I’m about to make excuses for why I write that way.

Like a million and one other people, I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I tried, as a teenager, and again in my twenties. I couldn’t get past the first page. Not for want of trying but for want of ideas. No matter how hard I tried to come up with a story, it just wouldn’t happen. It was all boring and predictable.

Grooming Elsie the Shetland pony

Grooming Elsie the Shetland pony

Years of academia has taught me how to plan. I can write an essay outline blindfolded. Well, probably not now, but then, easily. Even in exams I would structure essays rather than just writing whatever came into my desperate brain. I’d been taught how to do it and I did it, and did it well.

With fiction, though, it wasn’t until I turned off that left brain thinking, put my editor in a box with some chocolate and told her to stay there for a while, that anything came. It was a freewrite during my OU creative writing class that sparked my first (and still my favourite) protagonist, Lucy. Nanowrimo came shortly after and Finding Lucy flew from my fingers. I couldn’t stop to think.

As a result I still don’t know how the novel ends. I’m looking forward to finding out, when I finally finish it. I genuinely don’t know which of the two male protagonists, if either, she’ll choose. I don’t entirely know the big secret her gran was hiding, though I have my suspicions. As a result, I don’t over explain or drop massive hints. No need to write RUE over this manuscript – even I don’t know what’s going on. But that’s what’s exciting. I write to find out. If I knew beforehand, I’d be bored and so would the reader.

My Pantser writing has come out most in Two-Hundred Steps Home. For example I don’t yet know what job Claire’s being interviewed for today. When I’ve figured it out you’ll be the first to know (hopefully by 10am!)

The problem, of course, as the author of How to Structure a Killer Novel Ending explains, is that:

“If you engage in story planning through a series of drafts, rather than an outline, you’ll need to write enough drafts to finally understand what Part 4 [the killer ending] should be. Same process, different tolerances for pain.

But there’s risk in that. If you are a drafter instead of a blueprinter (notice I didn’t say outliner—that’s a different process yet, one of several viable ways to plan a story), the likelihood of you settling for mediocrity is orders of magnitude greater. The prospect of rewriting the first 300 pages does that to a writer.”

Model boats at the farm

Model boats at the farm

So if you don’t write to a structure, one of two things happens. You have to do a LOT of rewriting or (more likely) you end up with a mediocre novel because, quite frankly, who wants to rewrite 300 pages. Not me. However, he goes on to say:

“Make no mistake, a rewrite is always a corrective measure. Nothing to brag about”

I’m not sure I agree with that. Redrafting is still writing. Not something to brag about, but something that is necessary for most of us.

As I suggested in my comment on the original blog (it’s probably as well I couldn’t comment on the killer ending one as I’d have embarrassed myself!) I hope that, one day, I’ll understand structure, conflict and stakes as well as I once understood writing a good essay. Maybe one day I will be able to outline without killing my muse, or maybe the blueprint for structure will be in my subconscious and will come out in my right brain first drafts. Either that or I’ll have to be able to afford a damn good editor!

Here’s hoping.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Do come in, Miss Carleton, sorry to have kept you waiting.”

Claire looked up at the careworn woman holding open the door and felt her palms prickle with sweat. Reaching for her bag, she headed towards the room, nearly tripping over a low table lurking unnoticed in front of the uncomfortable fake-leather sofa she had been perched on for forty minutes.

With a wobbly smile in greeting, Claire followed the woman into the room. She let her gaze take in the full horror awaiting her, and had to mask a sharp intake of breath with a cough. A pungent cloud of aftershave caught at the back of her throat and the cough became genuine. It was several moments before she could stop.

“Would you like some water? I apologise for not bringing you tea or coffee while you were waiting; I’m afraid we’re a bit short staffed at the moment.”

Short staffed? There are enough people here to play doubles tennis and have an umpire.

Claire turned away from the row of blank-faced men and nodded at the woman who had ushered her in. She wondered if she was the secretary, then admonished herself for the sexist thought.

Sipping gratefully at the water, Claire allowed herself two or three deep breaths to calm her agitation.

Come on, it isn’t the first time you’ve had to present to a gaggle of stern suits who last smiled in 1962.

The words were no comfort. Yes, she’d given presentations before, but not in an interview about something she knew nothing about.

“Please take a seat.”

The low voice issued from the second man from the left. He gestured at a single plastic chair, facing the long desk and the seated men. It felt more like a court hearing than a job interview.

Forcing herself to walk slowly, Claire crossed the room and sat in the chair. There was a small table for her water but, as it was at elbow height, Claire viewed it suspiciously. Placing her glass as far away as possible, she retrieved her notes from her bag and rested them on her lap.

Eventually, hoping her make-up hid the worst of the panic, Claire raised her eyes to face her interrogators. No wonder the last interview over-ran. How can you learn anything with five people asking questions?

She glanced at the woman who had shown her in, hoping for some female support, and realised her first assumption about her role was the right one. So, five stiff suits and a secretary. And they want me to work for them? I don’t think so, somehow.

Except she didn’t have the luxury of walking back out, head held high. Not since resigning from her job at AJC. Stupid girl.

“Good afternoon, Miss Carleton. Thank you for joining us. I understand you are here for the role of marketing director?”

No, I’m your stripagram. Biting back the retort, Claire nodded.

The man addressing her was in the centre of the five, and she guessed he must be the boss. Grey streaks speckled his short black hair, and her first impression was that he was in his fifties. His face was unlined, however, and something about his demeanour suggested to Claire that he was ten or twenty years younger than that. He oozed presence.

With a shiver she dragged her eyes away from him and tried to differentiate the other men. It wasn’t easy. They all wore dark suits, some grey, some navy. The man second from the left, who had asked her to take a seat, wore a pink shirt.

He was the only one who looked under 35. Claire guessed he was her age, maybe even younger, although with men it was hard to tell. As she gazed at him, he flicked his eyelid in the merest hint of a wink, and Claire felt the warm flood of gratitude spread through her limbs.

An ally. Thank god.

“In your own time, please present to the group your vision of the future for Isle of Purbeck Tourism, and the unique elements you will bring to the role.”

Claire wrenched her gaze back to the man in the centre, who she was fast thinking of as Mr Mean. He hadn’t even introduced himself or his colleagues. How could she present to the faceless five, without knowing their roles in the organisation?

Fear ran through her limbs, until it met rage bubbling the other way. No. I won’t. I won’t sit here and be humiliated by yet another self-satisfied stuffed suit who thinks he can treat me like crap because I’m a woman.

Sitting up straighter in her chair, Claire fixed her gaze on the dark eyes four feet in front of her. “Of course, it will be my pleasure. I wonder if, first, I could know whom I am addressing? It is easier to present when one knows one’s audience, I find.”

Where did that posh plummy accent come from? Behind her mask, Claire quailed, waiting for annihilation. It didn’t come.

Flicking her gaze at the man she’d dubbed Mr Cheeky, she saw a twitch at the corner of his mouth. Realising he was trying hard not to laugh, Claire exhaled through her nose, releasing the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding. She felt her own lips twitch in response, and dragged her eyes away to gauge the reaction from the rest of the group.

The two men to the right of Mr Mean looked bored. Finance and maybe IT she decided, assuming a tourist company had an IT Department. Her expectation for the interview had been a quiet chat with some lovely harassed woman who needed an extra pair of hands. In her scariest nightmares she couldn’t have imagined that the people in charge of tourism could be so humourless.

The last person, to the left of Mr Cheeky, was taking notes, alongside the secretary. HR, definitely. Strange to have a bloke. HR personnel are usually women. What a boys club. Oh well, New Zealand it is then.

She heard Mr Mean clear his throat and was gratified to see a faint blush of embarrassment. Is he bothered because I’ve pulled him up for being rude, or because he just got outplayed by a woman? Honestly, guys, this is the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth.

With the knowledge that she definitely wasn’t going to be given this job, Claire sat back in her seat and prepared to have some fun.

***

Stealing Memories: 2013 365 Challenge #132

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

As a writer it is difficult to know how much to borrow from the people around you. I often have stabs of conscience regarding writing about the children on my blog, particularly as I use their names (I’m not a big fan of calling them child 1 / child 2 or anything).

I rarely share stuff about my husband or friends, particularly not names or specifics. But utilising stories, that’s different. I need other people’s lives and experiences. I have a great set of my own memories to draw upon – I’ve had a varied and not always easy life – but there are also many things I haven’t done that my friends have.

I have a doctor friend, two teacher friends, a nurse. They share titbits about their lives that I end up weaving into stories. Never the exact tale, certainly never exact people, but definitely flavours. And it does make me feel uncomfortable. How else to find stories though?

My Dad how I like to remember him

My Dad how I like to remember him

Right now I am borrowing my husband’s memories, combined with my own, to write Ruth’s story in Two-Hundred Steps Home. My father suffered from cancer and eventually lost his battle (not specifically with cancer, but associated complications). My relationship with my father was rocky, though, and I live more with the guilt of not doing enough, than with the memories of caring for him. If I’m honest I could have done more and been with him more, but he didn’t want to burden us with how bad it really was and it was too easy to take him at his word.

My husband lost his mother to a brain tumour, a year or two before I met him. They were very close and he felt the loss deeply. He has spoken of it many times and the memories of his last few months with her are raw and beautiful.

I haven’t recreated either scenario completely in Two-Hundred Steps Home (or in the Nanowrimo manuscript I wrote last November, that also features hospital scenes), but I do ask Hubbie about details to make my stories authentic. It feels wrong, though, to ask personal questions just for the sake of my writing. When does it stop being acceptable and become a bit icky? I suppose that’s one of the many unanswerable questions that comes with being a writer.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Mummy, Auntie Claire says she’ll pay for me to go to ballet again, can I go, can I, please?”

Sky’s rush of words made Claire’s tummy squirm. She looked up guiltily at Ruth, remembering her thoughts about why the ballet lessons had stopped. Don’t say anything spiteful about the ballet teacher, for goodness sake. Then Sky is bound to tell you she met up with her father and said ballet teacher’s baby.  

The morning with Sky and Ruth had not been an easy one. Sky’s chatter, irritating at the best of times, came with the added burden of fear, worrying what titbit from her ten days with Claire she might toss out for Ruth’s entertainment. On top of that, Claire could see her sister was sagging under the weight of endless words, but didn’t want to let her daughter out of her sight.

Mouthing, “Sorry,” at Ruth, Claire fished in her handbag for the iPad. “Sky, poppet, would you like to play that word game I downloaded for you, so your Mummy can have a rest?”

Sky’s head spun quickly, her hair whipping Ruth across the face. She scrambled off the bed and climbed onto the pull-down mattress next to Claire. “Can I paint nails instead? Pleeeeease.”

Claire’s cheeks flushed red-hot in the stuffy room. Great, now Ruth’s going to blame me for letting Sky play silly computer games. This isn’t how it was supposed to go: I was meant to drop her back home and carry on with my assignment, not sit and listen to all my Auntie-Fails being revealed.

She studied Ruth’s face to see what level of censure it contained, and exhaled in relief at the sight of her closed eyes. Poor thing. I find Sky exhausting, and I’m not sick.

Silence spread through the room, punctuated only by the buzzing light and the whir of technology monitoring Ruth’s life-signs. Claire let her mind drift, wondering where Robert had disappeared to, and whether Carl had noticed yet that she hadn’t blogged a new hostel.

I’ll have to call in and book this week as holiday. I have no idea how long Ruth is going to be in here and it doesn’t seem right to dash off to whatever remote destination boasts the nearest hostel. Carl will just have to sod off.

Settling back against the wall, Claire shifted until she was vaguely comfortable, then she followed Ruth’s example and closed her eyes.

When Claire woke, Sky was no longer sat next to her on the bed. Heart hammering in panic, she flicked her gaze towards Ruth’s bed. Ruth was still sleeping, but her daughter wasn’t with her. Rising slowly, trying not to disturb her sister, Claire crept from the room and prayed her niece was out in the corridor.

Maybe she’s gone for a wee. Yes, that must be it. Claire trotted to the ladies and called out for Sky. When there was no answer, she went back to the nurses’ station and asked if they’d seen a blonde child.

“Yes, she went up to the canteen with the man that came in this morning. Mr Carleton? Is that Ms Carleton’s husband?”

Claire frowned, wondering if Chris had come to the hospital. How would he know? I can’t believe Ruth would have called him. Then the penny dropped. Mr Carleton. Robert, of course.

With a smile she shook her head at the nurse’s assumption. “No, that’s our brother. He flew in from Geneva this morning.” Another thought teased into her brain, scratching at her mind like a briar. Mr Carleton? Not Mr Carleton-Bise? Since when did he drop Francesca’s surname? I thought they loved that whole double-barrelled thing.

Claire’s mind whirled with conjecture as she walked the now-familiar route to the canteen. I wonder if everything is alright with him and Francesca. She recalled their conversation over coffee what seemed like days ago but in reality was only that morning. Now I think about it, he was acting a bit odd. It made the knots in her stomach tighten even more. Robert and Francesca had been together since she was a teenager. The idea that anything could shake their marriage gave her the shivers.

***

The Long Silence Explained

SylvesterIt occurred to me after I posted my essay on guilt yesterday that I forgot entirely to explain the long silence, despite putting that in my title. Making it a separate post possibly gives it too much weight, as if anything more than normal life has been going on in the last four weeks. It hasn’t. That said, there has been a convergence of events since the beginning of November, creating something like a maelstrom in my life. Some I’ve mentioned already – my husband being made redundant for example – but others happened amidst the whirlwind of NaNoWriMo and beyond.

NaNoWriMo in itself was a struggle this year. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and about the life of a Writer (with the capital letter firmly in place.) I didn’t start NaNo until several days into November because my brain was frozen after weeks of editing. Ideas don’t exactly spill out from my tired mind on the best of days but I had truly exhausted my imagination writing and editing Dragon Wraiths in nine months (ready for the Mslexia competition – more on that later). So in the end I opted to write up a story idea I had for NaNo back in 2010 (abandoned for something easier due to having a tiny baby to care for).

The idea excited me because it combined my favourite things – love stories and Georgette Heyer. The basic concept is a girl auditions to be an extra in a Georgette Heyer movie (based on the book Sylvester) but ends up being cast as the lead role despite having no acting experience. Various plots and dramas ensue and it ends with a love story.

But oh the writing was hard. I know next to nothing about making movies – not something that would normally daunt me, that’s what Google is for. But researching during NaNo is difficult as it breaks the flow. Then I realised I had no story arc, only character arcs, so I was writing into the dark. Again not something that normally bothers me, but this time (whether due to sleep deprivation, mental depletion or just a rubbish story idea) I drove into the dark to find only more dark.

nano_12_winner_detailI managed to limp over the 50k mark with two hours to go, but it was the greatest struggle and I was happy to abandon my half-written novel for Christmas Shopping on 1st December. Will I pick it up again? Hopefully one day. I began to understand my characters and get interested in the intrigue, but it is a draft that requires a complete rewrite so it’s likely to languish for a while. What did I learn? That maybe I’m not a Pantser writer after all. Perhaps, now and then, I need a better idea of where my story is going, other than that it will end with a happy ever after. I learned, too, about sitting down and just getting the words out. I had a week of no writing towards the end, leaving myself a 20k target for the last couple of days. I know I can write that much, but only when the ideas are flowing. This time I dragged myself along, like someone finishing a marathon long after the wall has been hit. And it was good. Good to know that I can write even when the ideas aren’t flowing, when the sleeping isn’t coming, and when I’m praying every day for my last novel to fly. Maybe I could make a career out of writing if I ever find an agent.

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

That brings me on to another event – Mslexia. My novel didn’t get shortlisted for the Children’s Novel competition but I did receive a very encouraging (group) response to suggest why. I was told that there were many strong novels written in the first person (like mine), many covering contemporary issues such as climate change (like mine), many with strong individual voices (hopefully like mine) and where there were two books covering the same topics only one was shortlisted. So maybe mine was just nearly good enough, rather than way off mark. Either way I believe in it, which is a first, and happily started sending query letters to agents the next day. The month before Christmas is probably not the time to be querying but I shall start again in the new year after reading through my newly acquired Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

artintheheartThe other things that have been happening are that I have had some paintings accepted into the gallery Art in the Heart, despite my view that they would think them insufficiently arty (see earlier post). It was fun getting all my paintings out of the loft and choosing four to be displayed in January, alongside my miniatures and cards. It was nervewracking too, trying to narrow twenty paintings down to four, and writing an Artist’s Statement that was both interesting and honest. I still have much to do – getting new business cards and flyers and promoting the gallery through social media, as indicated in my contract, – but it was great to temper the disappointment of the Mslexia competition with a success.

www.amanda-martin.co.uk

I might have to expand my website – Author/Artist/Photographer/Mummy isn’t covering it all any more!

Finally I had a job interview last week for a Marketing Manager (although really a Marketing Director) role. I had to pull together a presentation with a day’s notice, and despite tears and tantrums (mine and the kids) I managed it. I was rather relieved not to get the job as it turned out I would be managing 8 staff – I find it hard enough managing two pre-schoolers – but it was wonderful to put my heels on again and remind myself that I used to be good once. It’s funny how, in this slash-slash generation, you can forget the lives you lived before. Funny, too, that Artist and Marketing Manager should both come back as Writer and Mummy were under pressure.

PublishingLogo2cmSo, where next? I have decided I need to try harder to start my own business, to use those brain cells that have been long dormant. I rather-jokingly came up with 3AD Publishing when I prepared Pictures of Love for self-publishing, so that I would have a publisher’s logo on the spine.

My husband has started 3AD Solutions to promote some of his Product Management ideas. I think it might be time to combine forces.

The cover I designed for my sister's book

The cover I designed for my sister’s book

I have enjoyed preparing texts to self-publish (I did one for my sister and her husband for Christmas, as well as several of my own) and I loved designing the front covers. There must be a market out there for those services!

Whatever happens, Writer/Mummy will continue, even if she morphs into Artist/Writer/Photographer/Mummy/Marketer/Designer/Editor.

Phew.

Bring on 2013!

NaNoWriMo irony

 

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

I’ve been really struggling this week. Not just with a bad cold, conjunctivitis and a newly-unemployed husband at home scuppering my writing routine. None of those things has helped, of course, any more than the freezing rain, or the end of British Summer Time that has resulted in my kids getting up at 5.30pm every day.

No, what’s really killed my Muse at the worst possible time is the appearance of an unknown character in my head: my Willing Editor.

I’ve met my Inner Editor before – that nasty critic who stops me writing before I’ve even started and tells me everything I write is rubbish. I’m even on nodding acquaintance with my Reluctant Editor. The one who half-edited Pictures of Love before getting bored, and who tortuously ploughed through Dragon Wraiths to meet a deadline.

But to want to edit? To want to edit more than write something new for NaNoWriMo?

Unheard of.

Until now.

I think the change came when my husband commented on how much easier it was to read the second draft of Dragon Wraiths and has told me several times since how impressed he is at how good my editing was.

Praise – it works every time.

Also I’m deliriously happy that I managed to edit Dragon Wraiths enough to make the darn thing actually made sense. For the first time editing has produced tangible results rather than just giving me a headache. Hurrah.

The irony?

Well it’s Nano. I wasn’t going to do it this year, knowing I had too many projects on and am neglecting the family as a result. But I got swept up in the online chat, the excitement, the buzz (although that’s not being helped at present by the fact I’m not receiving the pep-talk emails. I really miss them and hope the guys at Nano fix the problem soon.) I persuaded my husband and my best friend to give NaNoWriMo a try this year. I wrote my top tips which said just get on and do it.

Then I got Writer’s block on a scale I’ve never experienced before. It has taken me five days to even settle on a topic and the one I have chosen is an old novel idea that’s so technical I keep getting dragged off into research. Thus far I’ve managed 1600 words including the synopsis.

Oh, and I’ve edited 30 pages of Pictures of Love. Properly this time. And do you know what? I think I enjoyed that more!

What if anything has derailed your NaNoWriMo this year? Will you get back on track? I now have a dual target of 50k words and 500 pages of editing for November. Apparently I work best under pressure.

p.s. one of my best NaNoWriMo-avoidance activities this week was making a mock front cover for Dragon Wraiths so I could print a copy for my mum for her birthday. It’s not what I’d choose for a final cover but I was pleased I managed to turn a word doc into a printed Lulu book (interior and exterior) in eight hours!

Always get a second opinion

I love a printed manuscript: it LOOKS like 7 months’ work

This week my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, got long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. I would like to say I was thrilled when I received the email, but I’d be lying. It came only hours after I had typed up the last second-draft-edit amends and vowed to put the darn novel in the bin/cupboard/big pit in the garden because, seven months after starting it, I still had no idea what it was about.

Instead my overwhelming emotion was fear. How could I send my manuscript off, all 112,500 words of it, with my name on the front (though thankfully the competition is judged anonymously) when I KNEW it was a pile of crap? But I had come so far, invested 7 months of my life, not to say thousands of pounds of nursery fees, plus the competition entry fee. I wasn’t giving up.

So I called in the troops. Sent the novel to my mother and pleaded with her to read it and tell me the most awful plot-hole-disaster bits so I could focus on fixing them before sending the manuscript off a week later.

That was Thursday night. On Friday, when I took the kids over to see her as usual she had to tear herself away from reading the book. My book. Friday night she sent a copy over to my step-dad’s iPad and Saturday morning (early) I got a text to say he was so engrossed she couldn’t get a word out of him. That of course spurred my husband to start reading it again, the edited version this time. I have learned an important lesson about waiting to give out the edited version because he soon couldn’t put it down. (He sat in the car while I took the kids to an indoor play centre on Sunday on the excuse that he had a cold and it was too hot and noisy, when really he wanted to keep reading.)

By Sunday night everyone had finished it.

My step-dad (who isn’t an avid reader, but loved the Twilight series) said “Book 2 Please”.

“What about the plot holes?” I asked, perplexed.

“Well, apart from saying she’s never been camping in part 2 when part 1 pretty much opens with her camping on a hillside, we didn’t find any plot holes.”

“What about the ending? Doesn’t it all feel a bit forced?” It took weeks of agonizing to try to make sense of it all, with me cursing my Pantser habits all the while.

“Ending was great, it all made sense.”

I sat and stared, open mouthed.

So instead of spending this week desperately re-writing huge chunks of my novel I have been calmly tweaking the one or two weak scenes my husband highlighted. Today I printed out all 462 pages and posted it.

Dear manuscript, all my blessings go with you

Leaving me free to start NaNoWriMo tomorrow.

Of course, that’s a different ball game entirely. I was going to rework one of my romances for Nano this year, but now I’m thinking about starting a sequel to Dragon Wraiths. Who knows, unlikely as it seems to me, it might actually go somewhere.

 

What have I learned?

I’ve always been too scared to relinquish my work to a critique group for fear of being told to give up writing and go back to the day job. I know family members are biased, but my parents don’t give up their weekends lightly. If they read my book non-stop to the end it was because they wanted to. That must count for something. Maybe I need to have more faith in myself.

Writing is a solitary business and editing is worse because you don’t even really have your characters for company. It’s easy to forget what’s good about your novel. You get too close, you lose the ability to feel the suspense, to be swept up in the drama.

My advice? When you have torn your novel apart and rebuilt it from the ground up, and you still think it stinks, remember – ask for a fresh opinion. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

 

Writer Wednesday – Interview with Chris Baty (founder of NaNoWriMo)

 

There is a great interview with Chris Baty (founder of NaNoWriMo – see previous post) over on the Bookinthebag blog. I wanted to paste the entire interview here, but it’s probably best just to go and read it!

My favourite answer:

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone has a wealth of stories in them, and that folks who who claim to be storyless just need a good deadline and a tiny bit of encouragement to help get things flowing

via Writer Wednesday – Chris Baty.

There you have it in a nutshell, all the reason you need to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Go on, you know you want to. 🙂