The invisible wall

It feels like there’s an invisible wall between me and my novel. Some part of me doesn’t want to work on it and I’m not sure what it is.

It’s not because I don’t know what to write, or because I’m having plot problems. I know where the story is going and how to write it. It’s not because I don’t like the novel or because I’m tired of the characters. I like it and them as much as I ever have.

It feels like I’m scared of something. Or at least reluctant. Could it be that I’m scared of finishing it because that would mean I’d have to query it and that would mean more rejection?

I’ve invested a lot of hope in this novel. I’m hoping that, because it has a better opening, it will have more chance of attracting an agent. I think the opening is good but it doesn’t solve the problem of writing that doesn’t fit easily into any genre. Agents just don’t seem to be looking for the stories that I write. I’ve been trying to build contacts but so far the contacts that I have don’t link up with the kind of stories that I write.

There’s also the problem of my, apparently, terrible grammar. I say apparently because every grammatical problem that gets pointed out is stuff that I can’t see even after it gets pointed out. I know there are rules to formal english but prose isn’t formal. In prose you’re allowed to break the rules. Unless I’m wrong. Unless I should be following the rules of formal English just so that agents will know that I know what they are. Are agents laughing at my terrible comma usage?

It’s tempting to just give up on the idea of ever getting paid, stick a plain cover on it, self publish and then try to find something else to do with my time. It is just so frustrating to put all this work in on stories that nobody wants to read. I believe in them but I don’t know how to communicate that belief in any useful way.

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In Honor of Beta Readers

For those who don’t know beta readers are the people who read your ‘nearly finished’ book as a favour in order to tell you if it really is nearly finished. They’re also the people who tell you if your structure is horribly broken and if your plot makes sense and if they can tell who’s alive and who’s dead at the end of a fight scene and point out when you’ve made cardinal errors like head hopping or accidentally changing a character’s name half way through.

Beta readers are important to the process of turning a manuscript into a novel. I suspect that once upon a time most beta reading was done professionally by ranks of editors and printers. I doubt that Austen, Dickens or Conan Doyle were sending out hand copied manuscripts to their writer buddies and waiting for the notes to arrive by post. But we live in a better educated world where many more books are published by much slimmer profit margins.

I’ve been lucky to have some excellent beta readers. I know at least one of them finds the process immensely enjoyable and actively tries to make me laugh with every errant apostrophe she finds. That makes the process much less painful for the writer. I’ve been honored to be asked to beta read for another writer and I hope my feedback was useful to her because I loved her book and I want to see it get published.

Actually now that I think about it I realise that there have always been beta readers. Most of the great writers left behind massive piles of correspondence. Often they correspond with other writers. And when they weren’t corresponding they were down the pub with each other. JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) and CS Lewis (author of the Narnia books) were members of the same writing group, the Inklings, that met in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. H.P. Lovecraft (creator of the Cthulhu mythos), R.E Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), and Clark Ashton Smith (artist, poet and author) regularly corresponded with each other and borrowed elements of each others fiction.

So when you’re reading your favourite books maybe you should take a moment to be thankful to the people who listened as the author drunkenly thrashed out the idea, to the people who read it when it was raw, to the people who pointed out that there were two characters with the same name, and the villain had no motivation, and that’s not how you punctuate a quote within speech. It’s not just that beta readers make a book better. By believing in the book they make it more likely to be finished.

Filling Potholes and Climbing Hills

For the last week I have been struggling with plot holes. As I wrote before they’re not the novel derailing kind of holes but more like narrative potholes that need to be seamlessly filled so that my readers will not even notice that plot is going on. It’s not the cool or impressive side of writing but it is important.

Fortunately an idea suggested by one of my readers allowed me to make something of the conversation I was writing. I think it’s a funny scene. I think it reveals more about my characters. I hope it hasn’t unbalanced the story because a story isn’t just a sequence of events it’s also a balancing act.

Of course the problem with fixing that one problem is that it reveals the existence of the next thing that needs fixing. It’s like I’m hiking up hill and I’ve reached the summit of the hill only to reveal the next hill that I have to climb and I know that one isn’t the final summit I’m aiming for eather and only God knows how many damn hills are between me and the end of the track.

Having resolved the issue of the conversation that needed to happen I now need to rewrite a sex scene to take into account a change of cast. I think I know what I’m doing with that. Though it’s taken me two days to work it out.

However, on the other side of the sex scene is a scene that marks a major change of direction. My protagonist’s suspicions crystallize, two characters who’ve been passive up to this point begin their own active arcs and it marks the first appearance of the overtly magical/supernatural. This is one of those scenes which will make or break the whole novel. If I cock this up it’ll be the point at which people stop reading. If i get it right people might not even notice it.

Isn’t writing fun?

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Dispatch from the editing trenches

I’ve reached the stage of editing where it feels like I’m trying to wade through treacle. My brain keeps rejecting the very idea of looking at the work in progress. I am not having any fun.

I’m a little surprised that I’ve been able to keep going. I think it’s because it feels like I owe it to the book. Which is weird. The book comes from me and I don’t feel like a owe myself anything. The book feels external somehow, almost like a child. It’s as if now that I’ve brought the book forth I owe it a continued existence.

Anyway here’s a thing inspired by one of my favourite bits.IMG_0189.jpg

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Editing hell

That’s where I am right now. Constantly vacillating between, “This line is brilliant, people will be wearing it on T-shirts,” and “This is trash, I am a hack, why did I ever believe otherwise?”

Once again I find myself wondering why I pick such hard stories to tell. Why would I choose to open a story on a scene where a bunch of people who don’t have names (for reasons of plot) are all talking to each other? Also why can’t I just write a normal book? Lots of people write regular mysteries. Or what about a nice historical drama? Or a romance? Why am I writing a spy thriller featuring Celtic Gods?

And why am I trying to get it ready for this pitch event? I’m pretty sure no-one there is going to want it no matter how well I write it. It could be perfect and still be the wrong book for any of the publishers and agents there because it’s just too weird.

At this point I’m fairly sure that I’m only working on it out of stubbornness and a need for purpose.

Everything is feeling a bit pointless at the moment. I spent a year updating this blog three times a week and it doesn’t seem to have resulted in any change in the reader numbers. I spent six months trying to work myself into starting a t-shirt shop and when I finally did, well, I’ve got no idea how to build it as a business and I’ll be closing it at the beginning of next month because I can’t afford to keep it open.

I’m trying to work out how to continue to move forward in a life where everything seems doomed to failure. If you know you’re never going to get anywhere than it should be possible to plan around that. There has to be a way to just do the things that I find satisfying and not care that nobody outside my circle of friends is ever going to see my work.

If you have enjoyed this whine why not buy me a coffee with Ko-fi. Or pop into the Shop of Doom before I have to close it.

Epic displacement activity

In my ongoing quest to avoid rewriting part 3 of my current novel in progress I have finally discovered the ultimate strategy. I set up an online business.

I set up an online shop. I designed t-shirts, mugs and tote bags. I put together a website. I may even add a blog to that website so that I’ll have two blogs to avoid writing for while I’m also avoiding writing my novel. With so much work to avoid I’m bound to accidentally get stuff done.

One thing that I have proved is that I have to stop saying that I lack all the skills necessary to be an an indie author. If I can design a pleasing t-shirt that people will actually buy then I can design a book cover that will persuade people to read the blurb.

Working on the designs did make me think that maybe I should post more visual stuff here. So far I’ve posted a lot of words and not much else but other people’s blogs usually seem to have more pictures or videos. Would that be an annoying and pointless change or would it be refreshing and welcome? Or both to different readers?

Anyway, here’s a link to the shop:

Madame Q’s Shop of Doom

And here’s a picture that you can buy on a t-shirt.

Not exactly blocked but…

I didn’t get a blog post out yesterday and I’ve barely done anything to my novel in progress since Thursday. I’m not quite sure what’s wrong.

The lack of blog posts feels like it stems from me no having any ideas for posts. But I do. I think of them all the time it’s just that when I sit down to write they seem wrong. I can’t even quite define why the feel wrong but that’s one of the problems with creative work. You’ve got nothing but your instincts and if you stop trusting those then you’ve got nothing. You might as well be making mud pies with your keyboard because you’ve given up on quality control.

With the novel it’s a plot problem. I’m deep into re-writes and I’m trying to fill a hole so I can’t use any of my usual forward momentum tricks. I can’t skip the scene cause that’s what got me into this mess in the first place. I can’t go and write some other scene because I need to know what’s going on with this scene to continue. I don’t know where the scene should be going and my attempt to wing it went nowhere.

This isn’t writer’s block exactly. It’s more like being lost in the mist. A block prevents movement. The mist renders that movement meaningless and potentially counterproductive. Do I stand still and wait for the mist to clear or do I pick a direction and strike out and hope to eventually reach the edge?

I’m writing the best book ever but it’s trash.

Writing is such a bittersweet experience. I love the novel I’m writing but I’m also sick to the back teeth of it. I adore my characters but I think that most of them are arseholes and I’m killing a lot of them. I think the premise is either brilliant or cringe worthy and sometimes both at once.

My male lead has turned into a ‘strong male character’. That’s like a strong female character only, you know, male. I think that’s a brilliant deconstruction of the genre except when I think it’s lazy and derivative.

I love my opening. Except for when I’m sure that someone else must have done it before and done it better. I love the way my characters are introduced but I’m also sure that it’s taking too long to get to the plot. But I can’t see anything in there that I can cut. But it’s definitely taking too long.

That plot is going to take my characters to some interesting places and I am absolutely sure it sounds properly nuts. No one is going to take me seriously if I send them this but at least it isn’t derivative. Apart from all the bits that are.

Is it too gay? Not gay enough? Is the sex too straight? Should I just cut out all the sex? Should I add more?

AGGGGGGHHHHH!

Writing. It’s so much fun.

 

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My tarot deck keeps telling me that I’m trapped by indecision

It’s not wrong.

I have done very little this week except vacillate on the subject of my writing “career” and I’m no closer to a decision than I was last week. I still have a novel that I was querying that I don’t know what to do with. I still have the novel that I was working on that I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. I still have many potential future novels and no idea where I want to go.

Back in 2016 when I pitched my finished novel at XPOnorth it was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm than I had been expecting. So much enthusiasm that it led me to believe that it was good and that people liked it and that my pitch, and therefore any query letter I wrote based on it, was persuasive.

That was the last time I got any positive feedback from anyone in the publishing industry. Everything since then has been form rejection. If there’s something wrong with my novel then I’ve already blown it’s chances with the best agents to represent it. I have one beta reader telling me that there are massive problems with the first chapter that need to be fixed or I will never sell it and one telling me that it’s okay apart from a couple of spelling mistakes. I’ve got no idea if there are any agents left who’d be interested in it even if I could fix it.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the novel I was working on and then fix the other one later once I’d worked out what I wanted to do. Only now I find that working on this novel seems pointless. It has the same setting as the other one and though I could tweak it slightly and make it the first book set there I’m starting to wonder if the problem is the setting. Or if the problem is me. What if all my books are too wierd? What if they’re just not sellable?

I started thinking that if they are too weird to sell to an agent or a publisher then that’s not necessarily the end. I could self publish. Only I’d be doing it badly because I still can’t afford an editor, or a development editor, or a designer, or cover art.

Maybe the answer is to write stuff that’s less weird. I did try that for NaNoWriMo 2017. I wrote a first draft with nothing magical or supernatural or sci fi. It was ok. I’m not sure the novel has much potential but I wrote it. Maybe I should concentrate on that. It would be much easier for me to break into the industry via crime. But then I would be stuck writing that sort of novel. I’d have built the wrong career.

So what do I do? I’ve got a finished novel that isn’t really finished. A work in progress that might not be worth finishing. A bunch of weird first drafts that I might never be able to interest anyone in. A not weird first draft that I’m not ready to work on and that might be a move in the wrong direction.

Should I just drop the lot of them in a drawer somewhere and try writing something different? Maybe I could write some generic fantasy? Maybe I should give up on selling, give up on re-writing, and just stick them all on the internet for free.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a right decision or if they’re all equally wrong. I don’t know what I want to do either.

All I know for sure is that I am spectacularly, incandescently, outrageously angry.

Maybe I’m not a writer?

Today I got a report from a beta reader about the opening of the novel that I’ve been querying and it’s making me wonder if I really am deluded about being a writer.

There’s a grammar problem right at the beginning that’s bad enough to drive off an agent and I can’t see it even now that it’s been pointed out. Also it’s apparently unclear who kills who. Which is a huge problem. If I can’t make that sort of thing obvious then what hope do I have for the more complicated and nuanced stuff.

I don’t know how to fix any of this. I don’t know how to build the skills necessary to fix it. I don’t even know if I should fix it.

I have so few spoons on any given day. Maybe I should stop wasting them on something that I have so little aptitude for. My house is a mess. My body is a wreck. Maybe I should be concentrating on those instead. But what’s the point of a tidier house and a slightly less fucked body if I’m not making or doing anything?

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’ll look at the comments tomorrow and I’ll know how to fix it. Maybe the beta reader is wrong about some of it.

Maybe. But it seems much more likely that I just suck at writing. I suck at most things so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I suck at this too.