Sunday Update 20/01

This week I have spent a lot of time with planners and diaries, trying to organise myself.

I do not organise well. It does not come naturally to me. Partly because I find it hard to keep my mind pointed in any one direction for any length of time and partly because planning is pointless if you don’t have the resources to follow it through. But then everything I do is pointless so I might as well add planning to the list.

I’ve also spent a lot of time this week on Project Kindness, the spies vs gods novel that I’ve been working on. I realised that I had to go back and rewrite a couple of earlier scenes to make the point of view more consistent. When I’ve fixed those scenes I’ll be able to get back to finishing part six of the third draft.

I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny 2 on the PS4 and I think I have some thoughts about it that I want to blog about. Hopefully I’ll manage to do that this week.

Health-wise this week has sucked. I keep getting hit with incredible tiredness that seems to come out of nowhere and requires me to lie down and maybe go to sleep. When it hits I can’t keep my eyes open. I can’t tell if this is just the latest Fibromyalgia bullshit or if it means I’ve picked up some new health problem.

In fact I had to stop typing after that paragraph and go and lie down because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Then I had to call my spouse to help me get my bra off because my triceps just weren’t working. I’ve noticed problems with my upper arms recently and I’ve been trying to stave it off with exercise. But there’s a limit to what I can do. I don’t have the energy to exercise much and if I push myself too much my arms will be useless for the rest of the day.

I wasn’t even trapped in a regular bra. I’ve mostly given up on those because I can’t reliably fasten them without help. The bra that tried to strangle me was a pull over the head sports bra. I’ve spent a lot of money on those as replacements for the already expensive bras that I couldn’t get on.

I now have a drawer full of expensive bras that I either can’t get fastened or can’t get off. I do not want to give up on bras, and nobody wants to see me out in public without one, but I’m not sure I can afford any more. If any of my spoonie sistren are out there and you have any tips on bras that are easy to get into and out of and will fit my mighty 44H chest please let me know.

The other thing I’ve been doing this week is research into self publishing, I’ve taken a few tiny steps in that direction. I still don’t know if it’s a path I want to follow but at least I now have a slightly better idea about what that path looks like.

So once again I have spent a week doing… stuff but I don’t actually have much to show for it.

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Narrative blues

I’m still deep in the rewrites of Project Kindness, the sexy spies and celtic gods novel, and I am pissed off with modern narrative conventions. In theory there are many options for the narrative point of view but if you pick the wrong one you risk any prospective agent assuming that you’re a rank ammateur.

I assume that most of my readers know what first, second and third person are and are aware of the different types of each but not everyone does. Also I don’t have an English Literature degree and it’s been a long time since I passed my higher so I’m almost certainly using some of the terminology wrongly. Therefore I’m going to start with an explanation of the terms I’m going to be using. Feel free to skip ahead if this stuff bores you.

First person

“I did, I saw, I felt.” The Narrator is a character in the story. They might be the main character (Hunger Games), or they might be chronicling the deeds of a friend, (Sherlock Holmes) or they might be documenting events that they lived through (War of the Worlds).

With some narrators the reader feels like they’re inside the narrator’s head experiencing things as they happen like in the Hunger Games books. Stories like these are sometimes written in the present tense and they tend to feel very immediate. The foreshadowing happens in events and dialogue or in the mind of the narrator, there’s never any of that “If only I’d known then what I knew later” stuff.

Some stories have the feel of the narrator having experienced events and then gone away and written about them later. All of the first person Sherlock Holmes stories feel like this. These stories can have a kind of meta narrative going on because the narrator already knows how the story is going to turn out. The Final Problem, the story in which Sherlock Holmes goes over the Reichenbach Falls, is shot through with Watson’s grief and anger.

Some stories feel more like they’re being told to you by the narrator either during or immediately after the events. It feels like you’re down the pub with them and they’re full of this thing that just happened and telling you all about it with accompanying hand gestures and funny voices. Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books feel like this, particularly if you listen to the audio books.

Second Person

“You did, you saw, you felt.” Mostly used in choose your own adventure books or in short stories. I’m sure there must be some successful Second Person novels out there but I wouldn’t have the first idea how to write one. I believe there’s a fair bit of sexy, second person, fanfic out there where the reader is a character in the stories. Taking the self insert character to its logical conclusion.

Third Person.

“He/she/they did, saw, felt.” I think this is the most diverse narration and there’s multiple kinds of Third person with actual names that writers are expected to know.

Third person omniscient – the Narrator is God, or at least godlike. The narrator knows all and sees all and they get to decide what the reader gets to know. If the narrator dispassionately describes what everyone in a scene is thinking as well as what they’re doing then it’s third person omniscient.

Third person objective – the narrator is a person reporting on the narrative from the outside. They’ve done research, spoken to the survivors, read the clippings, and if possible visited the scene and they’re telling you what they found out. Very popular for true crime and faux true crime stories. Also used by CS Lewis in some of the Narnia Chronicles, particularly The Magician’s Nephew.

Third person limited – the narrative follows a single person’s point of view, everything is seen through the lense of their experiences, but since that person is not actually narrating we don’t get to know exactly what they’re thinking. It’s as if the camera of the novel was following that person and only that person.

Third person variable – very like third person limited but the narrative isn’t always following the same person. Usually the point of view switch happens at very clearly delineated points such as with a new chapter or at the very least a new scene.

Third person multiple – like variable but the point of view switch happens inside scenes. Easy to screw up, hard to get right. When done badly it tends to read like a failed attempt at third person omniscient. Either that or as ‘head hopping’, which just confuses the reader about who’s doing what and to whom.

The Blues

So much choice. Surely there’s a narrative option to fit any story? Yes and no. If you’re writing a novel and you’re not already a respected professional and you’re planning on submitting it to an agent then you might have to stick most of those options straight in the bin.

Third person omniscient, for example, used to be super popular. A lot of literary classics were written that way – Jane Austen was fond of it for one. In recent years it’s fallen foul of the oft repeated advice to show, not tell. It’s the same with third person objective. You can’t get away from the fact that that someone is telling a story and for a busy agent that might lead straight to the rejection pile.

‘Head hopping’ is a complete no-no so it’s best to avoid third person multiple. That also means you have to be careful with third person variable. If you don’t make it clear enough that the point of view has switched then a hurried reader isn’t going to look back up the page to check. That way leads straight to a form rejection email.

I want it to be clear that I’m not criticising agents. I don’t even know for sure that they do react that way. I just know that it doesn’t feel worth the risk. It’s not enough to avoid amateurish mistakes. You also have to avoid stuff that might look to the hurried glance like an amateurish mistake. With so many other writers clamouring for attention why would they spare the time for a second glance?

There’s a part of me that thinks that the real problem is quality. I just need to ‘git gud’ and then I can write things how I want to write them. There’s another part of me that disagrees with that. That part thinks the problem is time. From the moment a reader starts reading there’s a timer counting down to the point at which they lose interest. I your story doesn’t grab them somewhere tender before that timer runs out then you’ve lost them.

The author name on the front of the book affects the starting time on that timer. My name isn’t Neil Gaiman, or Sir Terry Pratchett, or JK Rowling. I don’t have much time to prove that my story, my writing and my characters are worth sticking around for. Part of that is demonstrating that I’m a professional. And that means that sometimes I have to choose to rewrite a scene so that it’s not as good but does more closely conform to the current narrative conventions.

Sunday Update 13/01

The first Sunday update of the year.

As I mentioned very briefly in the last update of 2018 I did get a new writing chair. It’s a proper rise and recline chair that allows me to write with my feet up and will help me to stand when I need it. Writing has been so much easier with it. Everything has been easier.

The chair was super expensive. I was only able to afford it because years ago I had a credit card with a somewhat shitty company that got in trouble with the Financial Services Authority and was recently forced to send refund cheques to a bunch of people. I spent mine on a chair that I absolutely need but could not otherwise afford. I should have been able to get one on loan from the Occupational Health department of my local council but there aren’t enough to go round.

At the moment I’m working on Project Kindness – the sexy spies and Celtic gods novel that I’ve was working on for most of last year. It’s been interesting to get back to it after some time working on other stuff. I’ve realised that there’s two massive scenes that need complete re-writes to change them from novel equivalent of a floating camera to the novel equivalent of a following camera and a voice over.

The annoying thing about the change is that I don’t think the new version of the scenes will be as good. I’m doing it partially so that they’re more consistent with the rest of the novel and partially because narrative conventions have changed and I’m unlikely to hook an agent if the first 40 pages of my novel contains the sort of sweeping ‘camera shots’ that used to be fairly standard narrative devices.

The other thing I’ve been working on is planning. I’ve been pouring over my two (2) new diary/planner things. One is focused on writing, the other is more generally focussed on setting and reaching goals.It’s too early to tell if I’ll be able to stick with either of them or if they’ll be any good to me. In theory structure and order are the best thing for someone with ADHD but they’re also the absolute hardest things for someone with ADHD to impose on ourselves. Kind of like how the best treatment for eating disorders is moderation. If we could eat in moderation we wouldn’t have eating disorders.

Welp I’ve hung around depressing myself for so long that this blog is now late. I’m starting this year as I mean to go along.

I’m back.

Here we are. 2019 and the world still hasn’t ended. I am also still alive, somehow. I know, it’s a constant surprise to me too.

Since we’re all still here I thought I might try that whole planning thing that seems to be all the rage. You know, that thing where you decide what you want to happen and then work out what you would have to do in order for that to happen and then do those things. Apparently if you do that then the thing that you want is supposed to happen. Seems fake to me but some people swear by it so I thought I’d give it a go.

This year I have three writing goals.

  1. Finish Project Kindness and pursue traditional publishing for it (query agents, pitch it etc).
  2. Properly cost out self publishing and consider that for my already completely novel, Singularity.
  3. Diversify my writing by working on short stories, working on my YA book, Project Academy, and by writing something completely new for NaNoWriMo 2019.

I absolutely do not want to do any of these things. What I want to do is to finish the current rewrites on Project Kindness, shelve it, and start work on the sequel to Singularity. Or alternatively go back to bed for the rest of the year and never have to think about anything or make a decision about anything ever again. Neither of these options would get me to where I want to be so for now I’m going to do the work.

I don’t know how long this is going to last. My experience of life has been that the planning thing doesn’t work for people like me. Between my poor health, my poverty and my lack of connections I don’t really have much leverage. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

If you want to help me on my journey towards… um.. success of some kind, you can buy me a virtual coffee with Ko-Fi.

Sunday Update 09/12

I am still fighting off a virus and it has robbed me of most of my spoons so apologies if this post is short and incoherent.

Everything hurts. I am exhausted. I’m even too tired to be angry that Jack Dorsey of Twitter thinks that mediation might help people with chronic pain. Today it took me an hour of meditation to martial my resources enough to close the blinds.

I have to go to an education meeting at my son’s school tomorrow. That means I have to be awake and vertical and dressed and if at all possible showered as well. Today it took me an hour to close the blinds.

I have to go to the meeting even though there is literally no point in me being there. Nobody in the meeting will care about anything I have to say. None of the information they give me can be used for anything. My only purpose in being there is so that I can say I went. If I didn’t go then the meeting would be slightly shorter and that’s the only difference my absence would make.

When things are this bad it’s like being trapped inside a giant robot body that you don’t understand and can’t make work properly. There’s a million things I should be doing right now but I’m stuck in here trying to get the alarm signals to turn off at the same time as working out why the arms won’t do anything.

But at least I have a new writing chair so that’s a thing I’m trying to feel good about.

Final NaNoWriMo 2018 Update

I won NaNoWriMo for the 15th straight year. I hit the 50,000 word mark with 4 days to go but then slacked off the pace and had to scramble to make my personal goal of 60,000 just a few minutes before midnight on the last day. The story isn’t finished but I do have a workable first draft of a novel that I’m looking forward to working on. So that’s a double win.

I’ve taken a few days off since finishing, partly because I’ve come down with a virus and partly because my brain needs the rest. I will get back to Project Academy but not right away. I need to get back to the rewrites on the novel I was working on before, Project Kindness and at some point I have to take a look at the novel I tried querying and decide if I want to do anything with it.

In the meantime my spouse and I have been using Minecraft creative mode to build a replica of the setting for Project Academy. It’s slow going, partly because I’ve been so under the weather and partly because of the limitations of Minecraft. Also we’re pretty sure we have the scale wrong so that’s a problem. I can recommend it as an exercise for authors though.It’s nice to do something imaginative, that’s related to your novel, but is totally unlike writing.

The other thing I want to do this month is to clean up the first couple of chapters of Project Academy. My mother will want to read a bit of it just to see what I’ve been working on and for once I don’t have to worry about the sex, violence or swearing.

NaNoWriMo Update 4

Five days to go and I’m currently less than 3,000 words from the 50,000 word target. I could hit it tonight. I still have another 10,000 beyond that for my personal goal of 60,000 words and it’s looking like I’m going to have trouble fitting in all my scenes.

I’m also having trouble actually writing scenes. I keep sitting down to write a scene that I have roughly blocked out and then realising that I can’t actually write it yet. That I have to write an earlier scene or three so that I actually know what’s going on. And I’ve discovered a massive plot hole in my plan for the climactic action scene that I don’t know how to fix. But it is NaNoWriMo so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

No problems at all with my characters. They are wonderful. I love them all but I am a bit worried that I have too many of them. That’s the problem with a school setting. Even with a tiny school roll there’s still the pupils and the teachers and the support staff and my main character’s family and I’m starting to see why there are so many horribly under supervised orphans in YA fiction. It’s as much about keeping the cast down as it is about narrative.

My story keeps branching out. Tiny details of setting or character keeps leading to new stories that I definitely want to tell. It’s a little intimidating. It’s as if I started to dig a new flower bed, found a few Roman coins, excavated a corner of a villa, and now it turns out I’ve found a street and I have no idea how big the town is. I’m starting to feel preemptively guilty because there’s so much potential there and I’ll never have time to write it all.

Wish me luck.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 3

I am continuing to write. I’m well ahead of where I need to be to hit the official target of 50,000 words but am slightly behind on my personal goal of 60,000.

My story is feeling really episodic. Not so much a coherent plot line as a series of scenes that don’t really connect to one another. That failure to transition properly from one scene to another is something that I can fix in the edit but I know that it’s going to be really annoying. I’d like to save future me from that soul destroying task but I can’t do that without slowing down. And I cannot afford to slow down.

I’m also having trouble with one of my characters. I have a character that I’ve described as a ‘trans boy genius’. Throughout the story everyone treats him as a boy and I always use male pronouns. How do I show the readers that he’s trans? My main character is meeting him for the first time at a point in his life where he’s already on puberty blockers and everyone he knows has got used to using his male name and male pronouns. You could argue that I don’t have to bring it up at all, trans boys are boys, but if I don’t then I’m concealing a part of who he is and denying my trans readers the representation they deserve.

I’m also having intermittent problems with my finger joints. Following my last appointment with the doctor I now have anti-inflammatory gel to apply when they start to swell and hurt but it’s not magic. It doesn’t work instantly and it’s not fixing the underlying problem. Can the underlying problem even be fixed? Is this just another example of life kicking me in the teeth? My continuing existence is going to be more unpleasant and there’s nothing I can do about it?

The worst thing about the finger pain is that it feels like a betrayal. I’ve never been pretty or fit or anything but I used to be able to rely on my hands. My hands were always steady and quick and strong. I could touch type, and crochet, and make jewellery, and I could learn new things to do with my hands quickly. My hands looked good too. They looked considerably better than the rest of me. And now my little fingers are crooked and the joints are swollen and it’s probably only a matter of time before the rest of my fingers look like that. Eventually I won’t even be able to paint my nails to cheer myself up.

I’m going to finish this post with some pictures of that time when I accidentally co-ordinated my nails with my iPad case. I don’t know how many more pictures I’ll want to take of my hands.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 2

NaNoWriMo is going super well, thanks for asking. Ha ha. No, don’t look at Scrivener.

Damn.

Look I can totally explain all the red text. Those are just notes. About how badly it’s going and about how I don’t know what order things should be in or when things happen or which characters to use in which scenes. And also about how I’m not totally convinced by my own plot.

Joking aside, my word count is fine I’m just worried that this novel is going to take even more editing than my writing usually takes. Which is annoying because when I can work out what a scene should actually be the scenes usually come out pretty good.

I now have a new writing table which means I can sit on a comfortable seat while writing. Hopefully this will help. However I am deep in procrastination. Things that I have done when I should have been writing include manicures, mobile games, stress eating, online shopping for Xmas presents, multiple trips to the pharmacy and housework.

I finally got to see a doctor about the question of whether I have rheumatoid arthritis in my hands. Apparently my inflammatory markers are only slightly elevated so maybe not and if I do then it’s very early days. I’ve been prescribed gel NSAID painkiller to apply to my hands. It seems to work. Now I just need to remember to use it even when my hands are not hurting.

So good luck to all you other people NaNoWriMoing this year and my the writing gods have mercy upon our souls.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 1

For the duration of November I’m going to be focusing this blog on NaNoWriMo because I’m focusing everything else on NaNoWriMo and I like things to match.

As I write this it’s day 4 and I’m on track to hi 50,000 words early and hopefully get to the approximately 60,000 that I think is a good length for the first draft of the story that I’m trying to write. Things are going well. I don’t hate my characters yet, the plot still works and my body hasn’t started rebelling.

This year my support team (by which I mean those of my friends and family who are not taking part in NaNoWriMo) are being unusually supportive. So give them a quick virtual cheer. It’s pretty thankless being an unpublished writer’s support team. They get most of the hassle of NaNoWriMo but they don’t get the creative rush or the potential feeling of accomplishment and it’s not like there’s any money in it.

Good luck my fellow writers. May the words come easy to you.