Revision blues

I have revision blues. I was so excited about starting to revise my WIP but I still have no real understanding of how to go about it, and when I can’t do something it makes me sad. Not very helpful or grown up, I know. If my daughter said such a thing to me I’d tell her it just takes practice and it’s okay to ask for help. She’s three. It’s okay not to know how to do something when you’re three!

I like to think it’s the impossible deadline (combined with a killer cold) that has sucked my motivation, but that’s just an excuse. I’m good at excuses. If I’m honest (in a way you can only really be with yourself at 1am) the difficulty with revision is that it exposes how little I truly know about writing.

I hate being a novice.

I nearly sobbed in rowing today because the coach was telling me I was doing it all wrong. It was only my fourth lesson but I’d done so well the week before it was crushing to be told I was rubbish. No one is more critical of me than me and I get extremely frustrated at myself if I can’t do something. To the point that – like my stroppy three-year-old – I stomp my foot, yell “Can’t do it!” and chuck whatever item I’m holding across the room. (Did I mention I’m more of a child than she is sometimes?)

I read another instructive blog by Kristen Lamb this week, this one was about structure and how it separates the beginners from the professional writers. I confess I didn’t completely understand the blog which probably puts me firmly in the not about to be published anytime soon camp! I do at least own the Plot and Structure book she quotes from: I just need to read it.

So, as well as trying to polish a first draft in an impossible six weeks, just in case I’m shortlisted for the Mslexia award, I’m trying to learn how to write and how to revise all at the same time. It’s no wonder I’ve picked up Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom again. I’m already on Drowned Wednesday. I may not know much about scene and sequel or Goal – Conflict – Disaster but when it comes to displacement activity I’m a master.

The one positive I’ve had so far is discovering a useful revision summary by KittyB78. It doesn’t tell me how to revise but it does give some things to look for, such as scene flow and characterisation. I like the idea of highlighting different parts, like dialogue, internal thought, characterisation, in different colours. There are also some other great revision tips in the comments.

My biggest challenge this year might be resisting the urge to do NaNoWriMo again. I love it and several of my (unfinished) novels were born in November. However the last thing I need right now is another first draft to nag at me and distract me from actually finalising one of my existing manuscripts. Kristen Lamb is always talking about writers being distracted by the next new shiny.

That’s me!

Writing first drafts is so easy compared with revision and yet seems more like Writer work, so I don’t feel guilty for being unemployed as I do most days. If only they could do a revision equivalent of NaNoWriMo, to help and motivate you to beat a Nano first draft into shape. Now that I’d sign up to!

Anyway I think my darling son is finally asleep, despite the tap-taping of my mobile phone and the eerie sight of me up-lit in the darkness, so it’s back to bed for me. I haven’t revised more than a page in a week so must get a good day in tomorrow.

May the muse be ever in your favour.

“Treat your book like your child”

Parenting or Writing, which is harder?

Over on the NaNoWriMo blog, the Office of Letters and Light, they recently interviewed author Karen M. Cox, whose second novel Find Wonder in All Things was written during a NaNoWriMo. Her novel was awarded an Independent Publishers Book Award, which just shows how great NaNoWriMo can be for unlocking the novel in you.

As part of the interview, Karen gives her top writing, revision, and publishing tips for other NaNoWriMo participants.

These are summarised below:

  • Write every day during NaNoWriMo. The days that I started out ‘behind’ were tough days.    
  • When you stop for the day, know where you’re going tomorrow. It helps eliminate the ‘staring at a blank screen or paper’ syndrome. 
  • Resist the urge to edit until you’ve got the thing out of your brain and onto the stone tablet, paper, or screen. 
  • Find people you trust to give you feedback: [people with] no agenda besides reading good material.
  • Throughout the writing process, treat your book like your child. What I mean is love it, treasure it, brag about it, but be objective and open-minded enough to discipline it—through accepting constructive criticism, editing, rewriting—without losing your long-term vision for when it’s ‘all grown up.’ This is harder than it sounds—you have to weigh others’ opinions without pride and prejudice, yet still stay true to what you want for your ‘child’ in the end.

It was the final point that really stuck in my mind as the most comprehensive piece of advice, but the hardest (for me) to follow. On a bad day the advice would mean me yelling at my book over something stupid and then sobbing in the corner for being a terrible writer, destined to go to Writer Hell in a handcart.

As you can tell, I haven’t sussed parenting yet, particularly the discipline part. I find it hard not to take toddler-defiance personally and I’m often more prone to childish tantrums than they are (I like to think I’m the highly strung artistic sort but that’s probably rubbish!)

I know all the theories of good discipline and on a good day, with lots of sleep, I can be that parent, calmly instigating time-outs and positive rewards. Much as I know the theory of what constitutes good writing and on a good day I can be that writer too, editing with consistency and a clear mind. On a normal day, however, I have as haphazard an approach to editing as I do to parenting: I do what I can do, get frustrated that I’m not doing it better, and constantly fight the urge to throw in the towel.

Maybe I need to write all my first drafts now, play with them and enjoy them, and get to the task of revision and redrafting when I’ve worked out how to be a proper grown-up parent person.

Oh dear, I might never finish a novel.

Life, recycled

www.amanda-martin.co.ukBefore I decided to try my hand at writing, and discovered an overwhelming need to pen novels, I took various other paths to a creative future.

I worked in marketing, designing the horrible colourful mailing packs that arrive on your doormat, which you chuck in the bin. I worked in PR, writing the internal communications magazines and announcements that make you chuckle and shake your head in disbelief, when you get them from head office.

I went self-employed and tried to make money selling my abstract paintings. I took a study course with the Open University to improve my photography and tried to make that my next endeavour. I set up a small company, Daisy Chain Marketing, and built websites for small businesses.

Nothing really took off, mostly because they all required me to sell myself, and it turned out that was the one thing I was rubbish at.

When I found creative writing, and nanowrimo found me, my whole world changed. Writing was what I wanted to do. That self-selling part is still a sticking point, but in terms of time, I only have to worry about it at the end. I can write merrily for nine-months before I have to poke my head out my shell and worry about what to do with my work.

Having found writing, I then berated myself for not finding it sooner. All those years, pre-kids, when I was farting around trying to be an artist, a photographer, a marketer, I could have been writing novels.

What a waste.

Except it turns out not to have been a waste at all. Because I’m at the sticky end now: I am thinking about selling my first novel. And I am discovering that I can recycle all those old skills I learnt. Skills I didn’t know I had, or took for granted.

Need a book cover? Easy. Source an image online, using all the marketing sites from old. Need to put it in the right format? No worries. Use the adobe photoshop software from my photo-editing course. New website? A doddle. All that time building simple websites with Mr Site meant I could knock one up on a Saturday afternoon, while watching the kids build sandcastles in the garden. Need to send out a press release for the forthcoming publication of Pictures of Love? Not a problem. I have press release templates a-plenty.

Okay, so nothing looks quite as good as it would if I had paid a professional to do it. My front cover probably screams self-designed/self-published. My website is a bit sparse and basic (I don’t do html). The press release may well get consigned to the waste-paper basket. But it hasn’t cost me anything, and I have had a lot of fun.

And who knew those old redundant skills could be recycled so effectively?

Another by-product of my sporadic career is subject matter. In Pictures of Love, Helen wants to be a photographer. In The Real Gentleman, my leading lady has a painting exhibition. Sam, from In bonds of love, travels around New Zealand, and a chunk of Finding Lucy  is set at the kind of corporate events I used to help organise during my time in Internal Comms.

I guess write what you know is easier if what you know and what you’ve done covers a lot of ground. So, there you go, when I thought I was being flaky, I was actually building up a stock of experiences to write about later and a whole bunch of skills to promote it afterwards.

What skills from your former life have you found to be useful during your writing/publishing?

P.S. you can find my website at www.amanda-martin.co.uk. If it would be useful I would be happy to write a post about any or all of these ‘skills’, such as designing book covers or building easy websites.

 

Writer’s Block

Chick Lit

It’s amazing how the act of trying to think up a brilliant idea can bring on Writer’s Block. Normally I don’t suffer from anything like writer’s blankness, only writer’s fatigue. You know, when even you are a bit sick of your characters and the woes that continually befall them.

I’ve never opened my laptop on a writing day and failed to write five hundred words, even if the quality of said words means they’ll be on the cutting room floor at some point in the future. (Or not, as is too often the case. I’m a terrible editor.) Today, though, after finally locating dry wellies for the children and packing them off to nursery, grateful to finally be writing after missing Monday due to the bank holiday, I came up against the wall of the blank word document.

I was sat in a car park, waiting for someone I was due to have a meeting with, and I tried to at least freewrite about my surroundings. Describe the wind through the trees or the wall surrounding the car park. I managed a painful two hundred words before giving up in disgust.

The thing is, I know the cause. It comes from my desire to enter the Bridport prize.

Suddenly I’m back to the person I was four years ago, before I discovered freewriting with the OU, before I was introduced to Nanowrimo, before I was given permission to just write, without peering over my own shoulder critiquing every word that appears on the page. Because, of course, just writing isn’t going to be enough for a Bridport entry. It needs to be a moving or clever story with compelling characters and amazing momentum. The kind of story that lingers long after you’ve finished it, that hovers round your mind and raises new thoughts, new questions.

I don’t even know where to start.

Chick Lit, now, that’s easy. It’s genre writing; there’s always somewhere to start. But coming up with something original, something unique enough to get through round after round of vetting? I’ve as much chance learning how to fly. I’m not even sure I can write good chick lit because I’ve only sent my novel to one agent so far, and I know that my synopsis doesn’t do the novel justice.

I think it is time to focus, stop faffing, concentrate on what I can do, and put dreams of £5000 prize funds and fame and glory away for another year.

Besides I have a synopsis to write.

How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot)

The Mummy part of Writer/MummyDuring the month of November 2011 I wrote 50,000 words of what has become my third novel, Pictures of Love. Depending on how much you have written in the past, that may sound easy or it may sound incredible.

It felt incredible for me, not just because, before 2008, I had never written more than 100 words of a novel, but because I am a stay-at-home mum with two children under three, a mad labradoodle and a husband who travels a lot. Oh and at the time I had a solo exhibition of my artwork at a Gallery in Stamford, and was running the odd live painting demonstration.

I’m not one of these super-mummies with a full-time job, immaculate house and beautifully behaved children, who still finds time to teach them sign language and who bakes cookies with them on a Sunday.

Well, I do bake with them occasionally, but usually only when we’ve run out of chocolate.

If you want to learn how to be a good mummy, you’re on the wrong site. I try (not always successfully) to accept I’ll only ever be good enough at being a parent.

However if you want to learn some tips on how to be a writer/mummy then I might just be able to help.

I meet many people who “have always wanted to write a book”, whether a novel or a non-fiction work. Since calling myself a ‘writer’ (rather than, as previously, ‘marketing manager’, ‘consultant’, ‘artist’ or ‘full-time-mum’,) I have been amazed how many people have said to me “oh I’ve always wanted to write, but I just can’t because xxxx,’ fill in excuse here.                                           

“I don’t have the time,”

     “I don’t know where to start,”

        “I just can’t write,”

            “My writing is boring.”

I apologise for being blunt.

It’s for your own good.

They are just excuses.

Really.

I know this, because I have used every one of them in the past. And, if I hadn’t signed up for the Open University Creative Writing module when I fell pregnant with my first child, as a way to keep my brain moving, I would probably still be trundling out those same excuses.

Two things changed.

Firstly, the OU course taught me that you just need to start writing. You can’t edit a blank page. I learnt many different styles – poetry, life writing, fiction – and lots of excellent techniques on how to be a good writer. And it might have remained just another qualification to add to the vast array I’ve amassed (being an academic junkie who has a perverse pleasure in studying), were it not for the second thing that happened.

Nanowrimo.

I stumbled across Nanowrimo, a couple of months into the course, and my life changed forever. Literally.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writers Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It doesn’t matter what words. You could re-write the phonebook, if that was your desire. The important thing about Nanowrimo is to just keep writing. (If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, think of Dory singing ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming’.)

That first November, I only started half way through the month, and still wrote 28,000 words of what became my first novel, Finding Lucy. It’s not quite finished, more on that later, but the point is it currently stands at 78,000 words. That’s a novel, even if it doesn’t have an ending yet.

And you could do it too.

The following two Novembers I wrote another two 50,000-worders (although the 2010 year was only weeks after I gave birth, and so it is more a journal of round-the-clock feeding and the challenge of having two kids under two.)

The point is, if I can do it, Queen of Excuses that I am, you can too.

I can’t help you sell a £100k three-book deal, because I haven’t done it. 

Yet.

What I can do is tell you how, in three years, I have progressed from someone who couldn’t get past the first chapter, to someone who has four novels in various stages of completion, including one that I’m getting ready to sell as an e-book for the kindle.

All whilst also doing some teaching, painting, the occasional consultancy project and, of course, caring for my young children (I sketched out the last five chapters of Finding Lucy just a few hours before going into labour – five weeks early – with my second child)

Without even realising it, a dream I had harboured all my life came to fruition. And it all came down to confidence: being told I could be a writer, and then being given the push to go ahead and prove it.

So, here are my top tips on how to get started, how to keep going and, most importantly, how to finish your first book.

(I will add detail to each section in subsequent blogs)

1. Throw away the excuses

2. Write what you know

3. Carry your story with you

4. Get Professional Help

5. Find fabulous friends

6. Finish, Finish, Finish

7. Put your critical hat on

8. Get it out there