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Haven't Even Planned it Yet!

Haven’t Even Planned it Yet!

One of the problems I never thought I’d have with writing was too many ideas.

When I started as an author, I had to do a free-write, and then pants-out the first draft of a novel, to have any idea of a plot or story. If I sat down to think it through, my mind went blank and ideas refused to come.

As a result, I have half a dozen unfinished novels with some potential to be good stories, albeit with a LOT of work. (Pantsing tends to result in huge plot problems unless you have a rough idea of the outcome of the story!)

Every now and then I think I should grab one of those manuscripts and give it the attention it deserves.

At the same time, though, there’s no rush like the rush of starting a brand new project. Especially now I have some vague concepts of planning and character arcs and the like. And I have ideas. Oh yes. Although mostly those ideas come in the middle of the night, or while walking the dog, or are born out of convoluted dreams. (As an aside, I’m reading Gone by Michael Grant at the moment, and boy are my dreams weird and wired!)

On top of all that – the half finished stories and the stories yet to be born – I have a dozen stories already published that need some love. The adult books need promotion and possibly revamped covers. The YA book needs a sequel or two (well, a complete rewrite from part one, actually!) and the eight children’s books need illustrations. Or an agent.

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Recently I had some image credits to use up on iStockphoto, after doing the covers for Josie and the Unicorn and Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero. I dug around to see what other stories were near completion and remembered I have sequels to Moon Pony and Will on the Water that are two-thirds done.

So I did covers for those.

And another idea for a YA book has been kicking around my head recently. So I did a cover for that.

And I’d love to write a period children’s book, as I’ve really enjoyed reading Katherine Woodfine’s stories recently – set in Edwardian London – so I used my last credit on a potential image for that.

To top it all off, I had the vague idea of writing a fun book for hubbie, like I wrote Josie and the Unicorn for my niece. The kids threw in some ideas and we came up with Dad and the Dinosaurs. I wrote the first three-hundred words and ground to a halt.

Arrgghh!

That makes eight potential projects: Two NaNoWrimo projects, two Dragon Wraiths books, two half-finished children’s books, and two new ideas. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Bridport Prize now has a category for novels with a deadline in a fortnight.

So what have I decided to do?

Sleep. Iron. Sleep. Clean. Kill dinosaurs. Sleep.

It’s two weeks to the end of term, and only two months until the children break up for the summer. If I could pick one project, it’s a good amount of time to get stuck in. But with no feedback, no direction, no deadlines or external force driving me, I’m in a quicksand of indecision.

Oh well. At least I’m on top of the ironing!

Revisions and The Raven Boys

My new workstation - the kids' homework desk!

My new workstation – the kids’ homework desk!

I finally managed to get back to some work today, having packed my almost-better children off to school and nursery. I felt guilty about it, because they probably should have been at home, but I needed the space and silence and absence of sick to start feeling human again.

It felt good to work on my manuscript for the first time in ten days, even though I failed at the numbers game. That’s the thing with revision: you write and write and cut and edit and, at the end of several hours, you have 200 words fewer than you started with.

It’s disheartening.

I’m editing and expanding with this novel, so there are still thousands of words to write to fill the gaps. It’s not uncommon for me. When I write my first drafts I tend to write the highlights; something like an extended synopsis. I write for the romantic ending, the big scenes, the turning points. Then, fifty thousand words later, I look through what I have written and think what?! How did I get from there to there? How did she go from hating to loving him? Why have I given all the secrets away in the first chapter? How much backstory? Then I have to go through and unpick the mess. Fill in the motivations, flesh out the hundred-word paragraphs that really should be two-thousand word chapters. It’s tiresome work, because I write to discover the ending. Once I’ve reached the end, I’m not that interested in filling in the spaces.

I read that way, too. I usually have to read a book twice because, the first time through, (if the book’s any good at story pace or suspense) I skim-read whole chapters to get to the essence, the plot point, the drama. I miss all the great language, the unfolding of characters and personalities, the subplots, the themes. I devour the book, barely tasting it, and then have to go back through and vacuum up the crumbs.

Revision leaves me feeling like this

Revision leaves me feeling like this

I’m reading the sequel to The Raven Boys – The Dream Thieves – at the moment (despite my rant about the abrupt and unsatisfying ending of the first one) and I’m utterly hooked. Now that I know it’s a four-parter, I’m not worrying too much about story resolution (although I’m still skimming ahead for the drama, of which there is plenty). I feel that I’m reading the book in a language other than my native tongue, as if it’s in Old English or something, because the writing is dense and complex and poetically beautiful, but for some reason that’s okay.

But it hasn’t helped my revision. Because, when I put the book down and reluctantly get back to work, I read through my oh-so-obvious story line, with my two-dimensional, unintriguing characters, and I want to chuck the lot in the bin. My Alex and Rebecca are pale imitations (not imitations, because I wrote them before I read Maggie Stiefvater, but you know what I mean), pale shadows of Gansey and Ronan, Adam and Blue. And I want them to shine and live, like Maggie’s characters do. It’s exhausting.

No one says writing a novel is easy. Actually, writing it is the easy part. Making it make sense, making it shine: that’s the impossible task. Reading the words of a master is at once both inspiring and crushing. Never mind. I shall slog on, ignoring the expert sprinting past to the finish, and climb my own climb, one step at a time. It’s worked before. I have faith. I’ll see you at the summit!

More Amazing Milestones: 2013 365 Challenge #200

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Today is a milestone day. Two-Hundred Steps Home reached 150,000 words and this is the 200th installment in my daily blog challenge for 2013. Wow.

It seemed fitting for Claire to receive some recognition, so I’ve given her a little pat on the back and sent her to a gorgeous-looking hostel that I quite fancy visiting myself! (I investigated, but it would be cheaper to stay in a hotel, although not the same as a Victorian Gothic Manor House!)

I’ve also been playing with Wordle: creating word maps of the most frequent words used in the novel (top 150 and top 200 words). I’m concerned that ‘like’, ‘felt’, and ‘thought’ are up there: a bit too much telling and not enough showing going on! Making word maps was a lovely way to spend an hour listening to the cricket when I should have been writing. I’ve found a breezy spot at the kitchen table, but the brain is still full of fog.

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

It seems fitting to use a milestone post to talk about my second-ever piece on this blog.

As I mentioned yesterday, I originally had the intention of discussing writing craft on Writer/Mummy. However I began following great blogs like Novels from the Ground Up (sadly no longer updated, but still with some great posts worth reading) and Daily Writing Tips, and a hundred others, and realised that I was in no position to preach.

Re-reading those early posts, though, I do think I had something to share. Many people want to write a novel but have a zillion reasons why they can’t. That was me, five years ago. The posts talked through how I turned that around. However, of my top tips for How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot), I only wrote posts on half, because it turned out I didn’t have enough experience to cover them all (even though I was teaching Creative Writing at the time!).

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

These were my top tips:

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

As you can see, I only wrote posts on the first four points. When it came to writing about beta readers, critique groups or social media I hadn’t a clue. I was too scared to join a critique group and I didn’t have a beta reader, except my husband. The same went for finishing a novel (to final edit, not just the first draft), undertaking critical editing or getting to a point of releasing a book into the wild (either traditional route or via self-publishing).

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Now I feel I can write about those things. Apart from critique groups: that fear still stands (and it’s harder to fit that in around a sporadic schedule than any of the other elements.)

It will be difficult not to reinvent the wheel, but at the least I can direct people to some of the amazing websites I’ve since discovered (like Catherine, Caffeinated: the self-publishing guru!)

I just have to decide whether to write them as standalone posts, on top of my daily blog, or cheat and combine the two! I think I’d prefer to do them standalone, and re-blog all five original posts as well, but that might be overkill: what do you think?

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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 made it back to the car without crumpling. Her hands shook as she tried to fit the key into the lock and, for the first time in weeks, she missed her Audi with its central locking fob.

Will they take my car back? Claire climbed into the Skoda and ran her hands around the sticky steering wheel. Loathe as she was to admit it, she would miss her little Stella.

Perhaps they’ll gift it to me as a leaving present. Her laugher filled the enclosed space. The idea that anyone would miss her was a joke. I haven’t heard from a single person in three months.

Although Claire had discovered how deep her work-friendships ran at her leaving party, it still hurt to realise she could vanish so completely from their lives without so much as an email to say farewell.

The adrenalin continued to rush through her veins, giving the sensation that she could scale a cliff face or run a marathon. Knowing the payback would be vicious, Claire pushed aside her emotions and shoved the gear stick into first.

Wandering around town earlier, Claire had toyed with the idea of staying the night in Manchester. Maybe Great John Street hotel, where she could lounge in the roll-top bath, safe in the knowledge that someone famous would be sleeping in a room nearby. By the time they saw her expenses it would be too late to challenge the cost.

Now, though, she had no desire to linger in her former home town. Her nose itched with the grit of traffic fumes and her temper frayed as she jostled with the sleek silver commuter cars heading for the suburbs.

Choosing the route south, Claire ran through the map of hostels in her mind, trying to decide the nearest one that she had yet to visit.

I don’t think I stayed in all the Peak District hostels round Buxton. If I have to work to the end of the week, I may as well stay somewhere pretty.

*

Claire pulled up outside Gradbach hostel, glad to finally come to a halt. The drive had taken twice as long as it should have, due to rush hour traffic leaving Manchester. In front of her was a building that looked like an old mill, nestled deep in the trees. Drinking in the clean air as she might a chilled glass of rosé, Claire felt the space and silence surround her, and smiled.

The reception desk welcomed her with polished wood and bright lights. A smiling lady, with a smart dark bob and glasses, approached with a question on her face.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m hoping you might have a bed for tonight?” Claire’s tummy rumbled and she remembered she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, twelve hours earlier. “And somewhere to eat?”

The woman’s face fell and she shook her head. “I’m so sorry; this hostel isn’t open to the public during term time. School and group visits only. We have a group in at present.”

As she said the words, Claire heard the sound of chatter coming from deep within the converted mill. Disappointment dragged at her limbs and she grasped the reception desk for support.

I could be lying in a bubble bath, looking forward to a rare steak and a gin and tonic.

With a sigh, Claire raised a smile and directed it at the hostel manager. “Can you tell me where the nearest hostel with beds is, please? Or do you have internet so I can get online?”

With a nod, the woman began tapping away at a computer. A frown pulled down her dark eyebrows, and Claire felt ice slide into her stomach.

“Hartington Hall has a vacancy?”

Claire shook her head. “I’ve done that one. And Ravenstor, Yougreave, Eyam.”

Her words brought a puzzled smile to the woman’s face. She turned, as if to speak, but seemed to realise it wasn’t her concern. “How about Ilam Hall?”

It didn’t ring a bell. “Hang on.” Claire pulled out her iPad and looked down her notes. “No, I don’t think so.”

“There’s nothing showing on the website, but I’ll give them a ring. They sometimes reserve a bed or two for emergencies, or someone might not have turned up yet.”

Claire flicked through her guide book to find Ilam Hall. She took in the pictures of the Victorian Gothic manor house, with the double-height windows and sunny, beautifully decorated, rooms. It knocked spots off Great John Street hotel, which she had felt was a bit dark, the one time she had stayed there.

This is why: This is what it’s about. Gorgeous, undiscovered properties. Who knew they were here, or that you could stay in them for a small amount of money? Okay, they’re not all like that, but enough. Who needs the Maldives, or New Zealand, when there are such gems right on the doorstep?

Claire held her breath, as the hostel manager began talking to someone on the phone. Please have space. My soul needs this.

As the woman smiled, Claire felt her heart lift and began to breathe again.

“You’re in luck,” she said, as she hung up the phone. “They’ve had a couple of girls call up to say they’re staying in their current hostel a further night. It’s only a dorm room bed, but I assumed you would take it, given how late it is.”

Claire looked out the window, surprised to see it had gone dark. “Oh yes. Will I still be able to get dinner?”

“I should think so. I’ll call and tell them you’d like to eat when you arrive.”

“Thank you, and thank you for your help.”

The woman hesitated, then spoke in a rush. “I have to ask. Are you the lady writing the blog? About the hostels? Only we’ve really enjoyed it and I wondered when you might come here.”

Surprised, Claire nodded.

“Will you come back? We’re open in the school holidays for families and other travellers.”

Claire thought about her meeting earlier with Carl, and her interview later in the week. “I don’t know. I am thinking about doing something different for a while.”

The manager’s face fell, but she nodded. “I understand. It must be exhausting, moving every day. Let me know, if you do decide to come. We’ll make sure you get a nice room.” With a shy smile, she added, “I understand you probably stay anonymous. Otherwise how could you write a fair review? It’s been great learning about what the other hostels are like. I haven’t been to many. I don’t have time!” She gestured at the mill around her and laughed. “Anyway, I’m detaining you. I’m sure you’re ready for dinner and bed. Do you need directions to Ilam?”

Claire shook her head. “No, I have satnav. Thank you, though, for reading the blog. It’s nice to know the words aren’t just disappearing into the ether.”

With new food for thought, Claire made her way back to the car.

***

Training Day: 2013 365 Challenge #197

Team Day: I wish my bum still looked like that!

Team Day: I wish my bum still looked like that!

Today I gave myself a training day. Just as a good marketer or manager needs a day out of the office to refresh her knowledge of the essential aspects of the job, so a writer needs to brush up on craft.

However, I found it as hard to have a metaphorical day out of the office today as I did when I had a ‘proper’ job. Whenever it was suggested, I used to whine about workload and deadlines and productive use of my time. Particularly if the day out was for quarterly strategy updates or *shudder* team days.

Oh what I wouldn’t give now for a day riding quad bikes and shooting clays, or pretending to do a school sports day (see photos) with a barbecue lunch and a free bar and – best of all – getting paid to do it! How our perspective on life changes.

I did at least get lunch made for me on my training day today, as hubbie’s contract finished on Friday and he’s at home again. So, when I should have been writing Claire installments or chasing the proofreader for an update, I read through Nigel Watts’ great craft book, Writing a Novel, which I discussed last week.

It’s a chatty book, full of great little quotes, which I have been adding to Twitter and Facebook today. The advice is neither new, profound, nor extensive, but I like the book all the more for that. I read through around half today – before the muggy heat sent my brain to sleep – and I’ve been mapping the advice on structure against Baby Blues, Class Act and Two-Hundred Steps Home.

School Girl Amanda (six years ago!)

School Girl Amanda (six years ago!)

It’s interesting to see that Baby Blues contains more of the necessary components than I realised, although I suspect I don’t have conflict and resolution in every chapter – I know that’s a personal weakness in my writing thus far.

I also struggled to verbalise Helen’s key motivation or pinpoint the exact nature of her character change. I came up with ‘finding a purpose in life’ or ‘creating a happy home’ as her motivations and her main change in terms of character growth as ‘takes her own decisions rather than letting life dictate them’.

For Class Act I had more detail in some places, less in others. I’m still not happy with the name of my lead protagonist and that is actually hampering me. The fact that I don’t have a name means, to me, that she isn’t fully formed in my mind.

The main reason for my training day was to figure out what to do with Claire and Two-Hundred Steps Home. As I’ve said before, the story is finished. She’s been through most of the stages of the eight-point structure. She’s made crucial decisions and dealt with the climax: assisting Josh to reunite with his wife even though she fancied him, looking after Sky despite her fear of children, standing up to Carl, and freeing herself from Michael.

All the early mystery has been revealed and the suspense answered. However, as Rinelle pointed out in the comments, Claire still hasn’t resolved her work situation. I know she has the strength to do it, but she needs a reason. Maybe that will be driven by love or lust (falling for Mitch and leaving for NZ, though I don’t think that’s likely as they didn’t hit it off), or maybe it’s the job offer in NZ (again, unlikely). Her motivation has always been pride – saving face, not being out done, not letting people (Carl, Michael, Josh) get the better of her. Now, though, she’s ready to move beyond pride. I need to figure out where to.

I effectively need to start a new plot, with a new trigger and a new quest. I just have no idea what that will be!

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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 hung up the phone and grinned. It had taken a dozen phone calls and not a small amount of patience, but she had managed it. Now for the difficult call. She stared at the piece of paper in front of her, with the all-important name and number on it, and resisted the urge to put the call off until later. Now. It has to be now, or I’ll chicken out.

Tapping her pen against the table, she waited for the phone to connect, the contents of her stomach doing the hula.

“Good morning, Ruth speaking.”

“Hi, it’s me.” She heard the wobble in her voice, and wondered what was causing it. She was helping, wasn’t she?

“Hello, why are you calling? Is everything okay? I thought you were on your travels again. Did you speak to Mum?”

Claire swallowed. She’d forgotten about her conversation the previous evening. “Ah, yes. She and Dad are away, at a spa or something.” She prayed her sister wouldn’t ask any more questions. There were mental images that were best forgotten.

“What? She didn’t tell me she was going away. Who is going to collect Sky from school? It was all I could do to get her there this morning.”

Ignoring the stab of irritation at her sister’s attitude, Claire reminded herself that she was sick and needed all the help she could get.

“That’s why I’m ringing, actually. I’ve been thinking about it since I left. Mum and Dad need some time to rebuild their bridges-” She heard her sister’s intake of breath, and rushed on, “-Not that Mum minds helping you, but it must be frustrating for you, to always have to ask her for help. I thought about what you said – about needing a child-minder – and I’ve found one.”

“I told you, I can’t afford childcare.” Ruth’s tone made it clear what she felt about Claire’s interference.

“You don’t have to. It’s my gift to you. I should be helping, but I’m stuck doing this stupid challenge. The least I can do is let Carl fund a child-minder for you. They’re still paying me, and my outgoings are minimal. Anyway, it’s all arranged. It might be a bit make-do this term, but Jenny assures me she’ll have plenty of space next term.”

“That’s September, Claire. Four months away. I can’t make-do for all that time.”

Claire inhaled and tried not to react. She’d known it wouldn’t be easy to help her sister.

“All Jenny means is she will have to share the childcare with Mum, as she doesn’t have space every day. But she lives near you, so bringing Sky home won’t be a problem. Even if all she does is walk her home from school, that will help. Won’t it?”

Silence followed her words. Sensing it would be a concession too far from Ruth to admit that, Claire shrugged and let it go. “I’ll text you the details. I’ve asked Jenny to call you about collecting Sky from school today. I’m guessing you’ll have to get it authorised. And Ruth,” she hesitated, then decided nothing ventured. “Try and accept the help, okay. Think of it as recompense for me still doing this awful challenge when I’d rather be playing with my niece.”

She hung up the phone before her sister could respond. Realising she was breathing hard, Claire was about to head down to reception to check out and continue to the next hostel, when the phone rang. Oh, Ruth, don’t be a dummy. Take the help.

Glancing at the phone, she realised it wasn’t her sister calling back, but a withheld number. Hoping against reason that it was Kim, Claire answered the call.

“Hello, is that Claire Carleton?”

“Yes, speaking.”

“Ah, Claire. My name is Linda Small, I work for a recruitment agency. I have a position that might interest you, if you’re in the market for a change of role.”

Claire sank back onto the bunk bed, and listened with wide eyes to what Linda had to say.

***