Sunday Update 24/03

This week I have been struggling to get stuff done and for once it’s not because of my innate procrastination. It’s because my Fibromyalgia has been particularly irritating. I’ve been in even more pain than usual and muscle spasms have made my left arm pretty useless. It’s been incredibly annoying. Nevertheless I have managed to get some work done.

I’ve been staring down the barrel of my big fight scene for several weeks but now that I’ve got to it I’ve discovered that I’ve got much more already written than I thought. There’s still a lot of editing and some rewriting to deal with the change in cast but I might be closer to the end of this draft than I thought.

The downside to all this is that the work that I do have ahead of me is much more finicky. It’s much more about working out who is standing where and who knows what and who can see whom. Some of it is the kind of thing that you just don’t think about while you’re on the first draft. Exactly how do you draw butterfly swords? And how do you describe how you draw butterfly swords. I know what I mean by a reverse grip and thus a reverse grip draw but is that what it’s actually called?

The other thing I’m working on with this novel is the transitions of one scene to the next. I’ve found myself spending ages just staring at scrivener trying to work out if I really need to add another couple of sentences to this scene. Should I break it here and move to other characters or just go straight on with these characters? How much time should I skip? Should I attempt to follow them on this long walk from one scene to the next?

I’ve also been focusing on better ways to track my writing practice. I decided that I needed a spreadsheet to track how many words I write and how much time I spend on useful reading or on editing. However this means that I have to face how terribly I now am at using spreadsheets. Way back in the day, back when computer skills were still quite rare, I used to be ok at using spreadsheets. It was part of my job back when I worked in a lab. But I’m out of practice and technology has moved on and I had to download one that sort of does some of what I want. I think I need to do a course.

This week I’ve also been contemplating the many ways in which I am really quite bad at the internet. I’m ok for someone who was an adult before the World Wide Web was a thing but compared to the younger generations I’m terrible. I don’t really engage with it properly. I think it’s partly because I don’t like being judged and that’s not a great trait to bring to online spaces.

I belong to a lot of craft based Facebook groups but I almost never post on them. I’ve just never got into the habit of documenting the things that I make. Most of what I make never gets photographed. Even when I remember to photograph things I often don’t post the photographs and when I do post them I usually just post the photograph and the fact that I just made this thing. I don’t do the helpful thing of including links to the materials or the pattern.

With crochet in particular I often adapt patterns or create my own but I don’t document the process so not only can I not pay that back to the crochet community but if I want to make the thing again I have to start again from scratch.

I’m not sure how to be less crap at this. All suggestions gratefully received.


Sunday Update 10/03

This week I have been facing up to my procrastination. Since I need some kind of focus or deadline in order to write I’ve decided to start posting my progress on twitter. At the moment my focus is finishing the current draft of the book I’ve codenamed Project Kindness and on doing more reading.

In the coming week I plan to start constructing a complete MS of Project Kindness with all the scenes in roughly the right order and the rewrites of the earlier scenes. Hopefully that document should be ready for the beta readers by the end of the month.

After that my plan is to focus on the completed novel, Singularity. I haven’t had much in the way of feedback from the agents who’ve seen it and I’ve learned a lot from working on Project Kindness. I’m going to take a detailed look at it and then I have a friend in mind for a Substantive Edit. So if you’re one of my friends who reads a lot of Urban Fantasy and can be trusted to tell me if there are major problems with it then you might be getting an email from me asking a favour.

This week I finished reading, The Tattoo Thief, by Alison Belsham, so look for a review post about that next week. I also took my son to see Captain Marvel and there will be a review for that. The book I’m currently reading is the period whodunnit, Death Will Find Me, by Vanessa Robertson. I’m only 50 pages in so far but I’m already mentally casting the inevitable ITV drama in the style of Poirot. Surely that can only be a good sign.

Now I have to get back to wrangling my characters. I’ve got a big fight scene to choreograph.

Procrastination update

I have finished reading The Tattoo Thief by Alison Belsham. I’m not going to do a full review yet because I need to let it settle before I can put my thoughts into words. However I will say that if you enjoy a grim and gruesome, deviously plotted, police procedural then you need to read it.

I had coffee with a writing friend today. She dealt me a stern telling off for not finishing the current draft of my spy novel, the one I’ve been calling Project Kindness. It’s probably fair. I’d be the first to admit that my working process is rather chaotic and going back and fixing the point of view for earlier scenes before finishing the draft is possibly a bad idea. I’ve probably been putting off finishing it because I still have no idea how to properly wrangle all the characters in the big fight scene.

I’ve also just learned that my finished novel, Singularity is too long to be commercial so I need to go back and cut it down before attempting to rope someone in for a substantive edit.

I’m thinking about dealing with my procrastination by making regular posts about my progress. Would posting my wordcount and editing progress here be a good idea? Would it force me to do more while providing encouragement for others? Or would it just clog up my blog with a lot of nothing posts?

Sunday Update 03/03

This week I’ve found that the further away I am from my novel the happier I am about working on it. I’ve been making all kinds of plans about tweaking and rewriting scenes but the moment it’s on a screen in front of me my mind goes blank and it’s as if I’ve never written anything before.

I don’t know how to deal with this. My instinct is to try to push through it because that’s how you write a first draft but so far that approach isn’t working. In general when you hit a creative block on something it’s best to go and work on something else and give yourself a chance to look at it with fresh eyes. As you can see these two approaches are at odds with each other. I have no idea which one is better.

I’d love to follow the ‘go and do something else’ advice because that means I get to not work on the thing that’s driving me nuts. However I know that I’m lazy and if I don’t force myself to work on stuff nothing gets done. I’m scared that if I stop working on it I’m giving in to the laziness and that if I don’t push on it will never be finished. So I should just push on then? Just sit and stare at Project Kindness in silence until I’m forced to improve it? Which is what I’ve been doing for weeks and it isn’t working.

I’ve also been dealing with an extremely dysfunctional sleep pattern. I’m used to keeping weird hours. I’m an extreme night owl and I’m not really happy if I’m awake before noon. I’m also prone to both insomnia and fatigue. It’s not unusual for me to be tired but not sleepy, to go to bed at the usual time and just not be able to fall asleep. It’s also not unusual for me to be suddenly overcome with tiredness. So if this is all normal for me what do I count as extremely dysfunctional?

For over a week now I’ve been falling asleep several times a day, having multiple naps with little or no warning, sleeping for up to four hours at a time and with no pattern to it. How can I plan ahead when I don’t know when I’m going to be sleeping? When do I take my tablets? When do I put my compression leggings on? What counts as daytime and when is it night? I’ve lost what little routine I had and I don’t know how to get it back.

So that’s where I am this week. I’m not writing, I’ve got no daily routine and I’ve got no plan to deal with either problem. It doesn’t feel good. This lack of purpose and routine makes me question what I’m even alive for. What am I doing here if I’m not making anything? I’m just taking up space.

Sunday Update 24/02

This week has been dominated by discovering a slow leak in the inflow pipe for the toilet. We discovered it when the leak got worse, saturated a patch of the bathroom floor, and started dripping from the kitchen ceiling. That’s the kind of thing to put a crimp in your week.

The other thing that happened this week is that a friend of mine published a book. It’s called Death Will Find Me. I can’t gush about how good it is yet because I haven’t read it. I’m still reading The Tattoo Thief. I should make more time for reading.

It’s been a busy week. I had a couple of appointments and I was supposed to be meeting a friend and I managed to cock all three of those up. I completely forgot about the first appointment. I turned up a day early for the second. Which left me with too few spoons to meet my friend and go back for the appointment so I had to cancel on my friend. Which sucks.

It’s been a bad week, physically. A lot of pain, terrible sleep patterns and my fingernails are still wrecked. I wrecked them pulling on the heavy duty compression garments that I have to wear to treat my Lipoedema.

I’ve been trying various things to repair/reinforce my nails with only limited success. During the process I developed dermatitis on the skin around my fingernails (but only on my left hand because my body is weird). I assumed that the dermatitis was caused by the chemicals I’ve been using in my manicures. However the doctor suggested that it might be the cold weather drying the skin out and making it more fragile. I got some cuticle oil and tried moisturizing the area, as suggested by the doctor, and it seems to be working.

So what’s ahead? I think I need to focus more on Project Kindness, my spy novel. I have been slogging through it and I think I’ve finished the rewrites of the early scenes where I changed the point of view. Now I just need to tidy the rewritten scenes up and then I can get back to rewriting part 7.

Maybe what I need is a better writing routine? Maybe if I just sit and stare at the thing for an hour every day it will force me to actually get some stuff done. Now I just need to work out how do get me and my ADHD to follow a routine.

Sunday Update 17/02

This week I do not have writer’s block. Because writer’s block is not a thing. Also because writing isn’t the problem. Editing is the problem. Is there a word for that thing where you open Scrivener and jump back and forth between various scenes not changing them in any way and then minimise the window and play Minecraft instead?

I’ve reached the stage of editing where my current draft is like a tangle of yarn. When you’re untangling yarn you have to do it in the right order or you just end up making things worse for yourself. I’ve you pull on the wrong loop you just turn the rest of the tangle into a snarl. Maybe you end up with knots. Maybe some of the knots have to be cut out.

Writing earlier drafts has not prepared me for this. When you hit a problem with a first draft the solution is nearly always to just jump in and write your way out of it. When you hit a problem with a second draft the solution is usually to either change the order of scenes or write an additional scene. The worst thing that can happen is that you have a bunch of words that you can’t use in the current project or you spend five minutes fixing continuity.

I’ve already made editing errors on my current work in progress that have cost almost as much work to fix as an entire first draft. I had to rewrite a couple of scenes that I’d already rewritten once. Then I had to move one of them. Moving a scene this late in the project is not a five minute job. It causes a cascade of changes to other scenes and I have no idea if moving the scene was right.

At the same time as I’m working out how to move these scenes around and what needs to be changed to fit I still have major problems with the last part of the novel. Do I finish the rewrites of the earlier scenes first or do I fix the the last part? If I pick the wrong bit to work on then I could be creating more work for the future.

Or maybe I need to take a long hard look at my process. Maybe the real problem is that I don’t have a robust enough back up system so it’s hard to just revert to an earlier version?

The other thing I’ve been thinking about this week is sleep and how maybe I should stop trying to resist it and just go to bed every time I get sleepy.

When I first became ill, or at least no noticeably ill that I couldn’t continue to pretend that I wasn’t ill, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). When I was later diagnosed with Fibromyalgia I just sort of assumed that I the CFS was a misdiagnosis. Now I’m not so sure. The waves of tiredness that have been overcoming me recently do sound a lot like CFS. Maybe I have both. Which means I have to do some research into the current thinking about CFS and how to manage/treat it.

It would be great if the next thing that goes wrong with my body could be something simple, treatable, and uncontroversial. I am so over chronic, untreatable disorders that a significant minority of the medical profession prefer to pretend don’t exist.

Sunday Update 27/01

This week my main challenge has been trying to get back into the habit of writing. It feels like I’ve forgotten how to write regularly if I don’t have a deadline of some kind hanging over me. Did I ever know how to do that? Have I always relied on an external pressure to keep me writing?

It’s not that i’ve been avoiding writing. I’ve written a couple of blog posts, done a short writing course on skillshare, discovered the Story Grid system for editing, started a skillshare course on essay writing run by the glorious Roxane Gay and spent a lot of time looking at my writing planner. But that’s all writing adjacent activity and not the writing I actually want to be working on.

I’ve also been ill. I’m fighting off an infection, taking antibiotics, and dealing with a rash on my left hand that’s affecting my ability to type. I can’t tell if the rash is contact dermatitis, or an allergic reaction, or something else. I hope it’s not shingles. At least I know it’s not caused by the antibiotics because it predates the first dose. I’ve also been struggling with spasms in my arms that not only affect my typing but also my ability to crochet. It’s as if my own body is trying to keep me from doing anything useful.

I have written a bit this week. I have continued to make things in the face of my own body’s attempt to stop me. I’m just dissatisfied by how little I’ve done. I want more. I want to be productive. Why am I stuck with this recalcitrant body and semi-functional brain? It feels like I’m wasting my life because I get so little done. I know I could make great things if I could just do stuff. It’s so frustrating sitting around waiting to be able to do… just… anything.

It’s hard to communicate how angry I am that my life is like this. My creativity is constantly hamstrung by my frailties and every attempt to overcome these frailties backfires and makes things worse. The more I push myself the sicker I get.

I have a duty to all these characters that I have swimming round in my head. When I die I’ll take them with me unless I can get them out of my head and onto a page. But I also owe it to them to do a good job so I have to keep going back and making what I’ve already written better. It all takes so much time.

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.