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.

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Sunday Update 03/02

This week I have been mainly dealing with Executive Dysfunction. It’s a thing I’ve mentioned before, somewhere, but I can’t be arsed finding the previous blog posts. Or maybe that’s the Executive Dysfunction talking.

This is a disorder where you want to do a thing and you’re capable of doing the thing and you’ve decided to do the thing but you don’t actually do the thing because the part of your brain that does the deciding (the Executive) can’t properly communicate with the rest of your brain. Humans tend to assume that we have unfettered free will, so we often think it’s procrastination or laziness. We think that the reason we’re not doing the thing is because we’ve decided not to do the thing, even if that’s clearly not true.

Executive Dysfunction is commonly found in people with ADHD, particularly adults who were undiagnosed as children. It’s also found in people with Depression or on the Autism Spectrum. It leads to this horrible feeling of unworthiness. This sense that you’re fundamentally unreliable which itself leads to a fear of committing to anything because you’re so scared that you’re going to let people down.

You might be thinking that my Executive Dysfunction can’t be all that bad because here I am writing a blog post. Well… I’ve got two emails that need replies that I somehow haven’t written even though I’ve had two days. My travel coffee mug got broken and I should be looking online for a replacement but I’m not. I should be working on my spy novel but I’m not. I have a bunch of finished crochet that I need to parcel up to send to people and it’s a month late. I have a pair of crochet mittens that just need to be sewn up to finish and they’ve been sitting around for two months. If I turn my head slightly I can see a bunch of cardboard boxes that should have gone out to the paper recycling bin weeks ago.

Of course part of the problem for me is that, because I have a chronic pain condition, I have an invisible extra step between deciding to do the thing and actually starting to do the thing. The act of will required to disregard how much additional pain doing the thing might cause. It’s a lot harder to just get up and take the cardboard out to the bin if you know that there’s a significant chance that getting up will feel like you’ve been stabbed.

It’s kind of amazing that I ever get anything done at all. Or maybe it’s just amazing that I am somehow still going in spite of being such a disaster.

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.

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.

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.

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.