Blog Block: Breaking the Silence

4eb37dd13f42674acbd12e3530d6f979-the-face-beautifulCan you hear them? All the blog posts I have written in my head over the past few months. Mostly at 2am, when my terrible sleep pattern has me wide awake, brain working, body dead. Unfortunately, by the time I’m up at 5.30am, the body is awake and the mind is numb.

They’ve been great posts though, I wish you could have read them. About my new obsession with the soundtrack from the Hamilton Musical and, as an offshoot, my undying respect and love for Lin-Manuel Miranda (look them both up: awesome!)

Posts about parenting anxious children, and wondering how much to interfere. Following a lot of Go Zen posts on Facebook (very useful: look them up!) and realising that the issue is very much more mine than theirs.

The parallels between running and writing: that was one post (in my head) I was particularly proud of. Sure to go viral (a girl can dream.)

Knitting. Christmas. Being self-employed. Writing competitions. Rejections.

Problem is, I know I’ve written about all the topics before, and I know how much it annoys me when the kids tell me a tale I’ve heard a million times. But maybe that’s life. It is circular after all. The same issues and achievements rock around for all of us, again and again. But sometimes reading the right advice or anecdote at the right time is the key to survival. Meaning there’s a point to the same posts rewritten ad finitum.

Anyway, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but one thing listening to Hamilton daily does for you is give you a sense of your own lack of purpose and motivation. So I am trying for a little more motivation. My husband bought me a t-shirt with one of the key lines from the musical: ‘Young, Scrappy and Hungry’. I’m only one of those things, and only in the sense of hungry for chocolate, but perhaps it isn’t too late for me.

I read this morning about how to make children resilient to failure, to life: about the fact that much of it is how we interpret the things around us, drawing either the positives or the negatives from a given situation. I’m very much a glass-is-practically-empty-and-it-is-all-my-fault kinda gal. Lately it’s been all about having no income. (I got refused for a credit card for the first time in my life. That sucked.)

But I realised, in the car driving home from my coffee in Waitrose this morning, where I had sat doing counted cross-stitch for a gift for my daughter, that I’m the luckiest person on earth. I get to do all the creative things I wanted to do when I was stuck twelve hours a day in a job I hated. So I’d better make the most of it and stop stressing about getting a minimum-wage job and how unfair it is when I have a bunch of qualifications. It’s my life, I need to live it and quit whingeing.

I’ll leave you with some words from Hamilton, that I’m going to try and live by. And if I find myself on the sofa watching Murdoch Mysteries re-runs, I’m going to forgive myself and move on. Because, you know, life.

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A New Page

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My new obsession!

2016. We’ll that happened.

Whether you look externally or internally, whether it was euphoric Andy Murray world number one male tennis star, or terrifying politics both sides of the pond, or tragic loss of too much talent (and about half my teen idols) it was a year to remember. And forget.

I don’t do New Year generally. Since the children started school, my fresh start and broken resolutions begin in September.

But, like many, I have dragged myself over the finish line of 2016 so very ready for a new beginning.

Not resolutions, well not like lose weight and quit wine (as I read somewhere on Facebook, no one likes a skinny sober b!tch anyway). More like kick up the bum thoughts.

I got to the end of 2016 without really knowing what happened. Personal achievements were few and hard to recall. I only wrote one book and I feel ambivalent about that one. I did help edit a memoir, and found it rewarding. And we did loads to our house. But still.

I’m a mess of anxiety and contradiction. My kids called me lazy yesterday because I keep hiding in the bedroom, often asleep for hours at a time. I did point out that their 5.30am starts might have something to do with it (although that just makes every parent I know smugly point out that their children have been trained not to wake them until at least 7am. I must have missed that section of the parenting course. Oh, wait…)

But actually I’m hiding from myself. The mess of guilt and duty and boredom of being a work/stay at home mum. I loved helping another author bring their book into the world, but working on someone else’s deadline was ‘real’ work. The kids did childcare (and hated it). The house suffered. People ran out of clean/ironed clothes. I realised however much being a SAHM sucks sometimes it’s easier than self-employed mum.

But.

I was a person, I was appreciated. I was paid.

So, 2017, my plan is for structure. Goals, achievements. The children can adapt to a working-a-bit-more-often mum, just as they adapted to karate mum. This time next year I will have written novels, plural. Perhaps edited a few for others. Maybe even sell some craft on Etsy. Exercise. Read more. Hide less.

Yesterday I took the children swimming and was able to swim away from them (while watching over my shoulder) properly for the first time. They didn’t drown. They did fine.

2017 I’m going to swim away from Mummy towards Amanda. But I’ll still be watching them. Because Mum is a job for life. Just maybe not my only one.

Happy New Year.

Circles

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Lego Party Bags

I spent this morning cutting out circles.

There’s nothing like a monotonous task to make you reassess life. And there’s nothing like trying to cut out neat circles to make you feel like a failure. (Try it, it’s impossible.)

September is like January for me. It’s a time of new beginnings and resolutions. A mixture of hope and ache, looking forward and feeling lost. The mornings are chilly but the days are warm. The children go back to school, and I’m free. But free to do what?

It’s also a birthday month. I love doing prep for birthdays because it’s fun and creative and the sole purpose is to make someone else smile. I like doing things for other people.

I’m not so good at my own birthday. I want to feel special, but don’t like being the centre of attention. I want people to lavish me with gifts, but I hate waste and can be a horrible sulking six-year-old feeling sad and guilty in equal measure if I don’t like what I’ve been given.

Poor family.

And today, for the first time in a long time, I feel lonely. Crazy, huh? I’ve spent the last six weeks pining for five minutes to myself and now I feel vulnerable in the emptiness.

The first week of school was okay. There was so much to catch up on, and I was on the ball. I organised clubs and Brownies/Beavers uniform. I dug out football boots and ironed shirts. Filled out forms, wrote cheques, and monitored homework. I even got around to finishing and posting off my first proofreading assignment.

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Can you tell what it is yet?

But now the novelty and urgency has worn off. I still have birthday party prep to do – I’m dreaming about Lego cakes and spending my days making chocolate bricks and a Lego head pinata. But I’m trying to do it on a budget because I’ve had a spending splurge recently and no income to off-set the guilt.

I don’t even feel like knitting.

I think the gaping hole is meaning. Without the children at home, I don’t have an identity or a purpose (or an excuse). Without working on my books I’m not an author. But I’m also not a very good house-person or a very nice wife either. I don’t want to iron or paint my daughter’s room. I don’t want to do romantic things for my tenth wedding anniversary. I don’t really want to do anything.

Sigh.

My equivalent of the January blues, except it’s sunny outside so the weather doesn’t match my mood.

Maybe I should carry on writing, despite the metaphorical bruises from bashing my head against a closed door for six years. Perhaps you can be a writer without anyone actually reading what you write.

Maybe I just need a really good idea for a new children’s book.

Or maybe I should shut up, stop feeling sorry for myself, put it all down to deafness-caused-by-a-horrid-ear-infection and get on with things.

Answers on a postcard!

 

June Journals #22 ~ Write Relief

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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!

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.