Time to make a plan

For the last few weeks I’ve been drifting. I was stuck between writing projects. I couldn’t work out what I wanted to focus on and I felt lost. It’s time to pick a direction and start walking.

I haven’t heard anything from Bloody Scotland so I’m going to assume that they don’t want the story I pitched for Pitch Perfect. Frankly that’s a relief because I didn’t feel ready to finish it. For now Project Cecil can stay on the shelf.

I’ve decided that this year’s NaNoWriMo first draft will be of a story I’m calling Project Academy. It’s another attempt to write some YA (young adult) fiction so I’ll have something that I can share with my kids. I’ve already done most of the pre-November work on this story.

That means that I have until the start of November to work on something else. So I’m going back to Project Kindness, my tale of sexy spies and Celtic gods. I’m sure my beta readers will be delighted*.

I’m aware that for most of my readers this doesn’t really count as a plan. None of this is moving my ‘career’ along. It’s not going to solve any of my real life problems. I admit that I have no idea how to have a ‘career’ and that most of my real life problems are insoluble. I do have the beginnings of a plan for a small part of my real life problems but that is a post for another day.

 

*That was probably sarcasm.

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I’m not dead I just don’t have anything to say

I’ve been so quiet recently because I don’t feel like I have much to say. This is unusual for me but then these are unusual times. It’s hard to find something to say when just looking at the state of the world makes you want to scream.

I try not to be distracted by all the horrible stuff that I can’t do anything about but I can’t pick something to focus on. I’m drifting. I was working on a novel but then I put that on hold to work on something that I could pitch at Bloody Scotland. I’ve submitted my short pitch but I’m not working on that novel just now because I don’t really expect them to want it. I started work on the prep for a new novel so I’ll have something to write for NaNoWriMo but shouldn’t I go back to finishing the one I was working on?

I suppose the real problem is that it all feels pointless. Everything seems pointless. I am one of the little people and there’s not much I can do about anything. I’m at the mercy of events driven by people with so much money and power that they don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions. I’d be better spending my time learning more about growing vegetables and stockpiling cans so we can survive Brexit.

One foot in front of the other

I am not having any fun.

It’s worse than that. I’m having whatever the opposite of fun is, the Anti-Fun possibly, and I’d really like it to stop

Everything hurts, doing anything takes an insane level of effort, judging by the weather someone has opened a portal to hell over Scotland and the rest of the world seems to have gone nuts while I wasn’t looking. It’s hard to believe that there’s any point in doing anything.

I have done some things recently but I’m pretty sure that nothing will come of any of them.  However, since I’m typing anyway, I might as well type an update about the few things I managed to con myself into doing.

I decided which of my novels to attempt to pitch at Bloody Scotland. I even wrote a bunch of 100 word pitches for it and picked the best one with some help from my spouse and one of my friends. However I haven’t sent it in yet. I don’t know if there’s any point.

I’ve been working out with weights a bit. As much as I could manage what with my health and this insane weather. I have no idea if it’s making a difference or not.

I am continuing to wear compression garments for my Lipoedema. They seem to be working but I’m currently awaiting new compression leggings. I was measured for them on the 9th. The manufacturer still hasn’t got round to making them. I don’t know how long it will be before they do get round to it. I had to make phone calls to chase things up. I hate making phone calls.

I am so bone tired that I need a new word for it. Exhausted just isn’t enough. Neither is knackered. I am heartsick of the continued burden of existence. I see no point in anything.

I’m trying to persuade myself that I’m excited about the new series of Doctor Who and the trailer for Shazam. I haven’t seen Ant Man and the Wasp yet. There’s Captain Marvel to come. And there’s Infinity War part 2 next year. I haven’t read all of Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent Peter Grant books yet.

You’ll notice that there’s none of my stuff on that list. I’m not even pretending to care about my own novels. They are important to me. I love them. I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for the idea of showing them to anyone. What’s the point?

Pitching blues

This year’s Bloody Scotland is bearing down on us. There’s a pitch competition that I’d like to try but I’m having trouble working out which novel to pitch.

Until recently I would have assumed that I’d have to pitch a finished novel but that doesn’t seem to be hugely important for the competition. That’s confusing to me since every published author’s top piece of advice is “Finish your shit”.

For this competition I have to write a 100 word pitch and submit that and if they’re interested I get to pitch in person in front of actual publishers and agents and a paying crowd. The live pitch will be in late September at the Bloody Scotland festival. It’s dedicated to crime writing so the publishers and agents will be looking for crime/detective/mystery fiction.

I have to decide which novel I want to pitch because that’s the novel I should be focusing on just now. Let me describe them for you.

Firstly there’s the one I’ll call Project Kindness. It’s the one that’s closest to finished. Close enough that I could have a complete 3rd draft to show anyone who was interested by the end of September. However it’s a supernatural spy thriller. There are some murders and there is a mystery but it’s not what they’re looking for.

Secondly there’s the one I’ll call Project Cecil. It’s the furthest from being finished and I don’t really feel ready to work on it. However it’s the closest to the kind of novel they want. It’s a modern epistolary novel told through emails, chat logs and blogs. It follows a group of friends as they investigate the disappearance and murder of a mutual friend and eventually come to realise that one of them did it. I think I could do a killer pitch of it but it’s the one I feel least able to finish.

Thirdly there’s the one I’ll call Project Dingo. It’s about half done. It’s the funniest. It’s set in 2012 and it’s about a locked room mystery that nobody wants to solve. It’s the closest to a traditional mystery novel in structure but it has witches and other weirdness in it that might make it a harder sell at Bloody Scotland.

I can’t make up my mind. I feel like I should pick Project Cecil because it’s the one they’re most likely to want. But I don’t want to work on it. I’m not ready yet. Then I want to stubbonrly pick Project Kindness because ‘Finish your Shit’ and because it’s the one I’ve been working on recently and it’s in my head. But then I want to pick Project Dingo because it’s the balanced one.

I don’t know how to make up my mind. Suggestions are welcome in the comments.

And if you have enjoyed this indecision you could show your appreciation by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi.

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.

Immobility

I’ve been sitting at this computer, trying to write something, for the last two hours. This is not writer’s block. This is ADHD and I would really like it to stop.

ADHD means that I don’t always get a choice about what to focus on. Sometimes I flit from project to project unable to settle. Sometimes inspiration strikes but then it’s gone by the time I’m able to sit down and work on it. Sometimes a shiny new idea will hijack my mind while I’m trying to work on something else.

I have techniques that can wrangle my attention to where I want it to be but they don’t always work and they tend to rely on external supports like deadlines. If I commit to writing something by a certain date I’ll usually succeed but if I don’t have a plan then I tend to just drift and get nothing done.

That’s the problem. I don’t have a plan.

It’s not the only problem. I also don’t know how to make a plan, I can’t decide what sort of plan it should be and I’m having trouble convincing myself that it’s worth the effort. I have stories that I want to tell but I don’t know what to do with those stories once they’re told and if I don’t do anything with them then what’s the point of finishing them.

And now I’m convinced that the effort of writing this has been wasted. The sentences seem stilted and I’m sure that it makes no sense. I hate it. Writing it has been like trying to drag body in a velcro suit across a shag pile carpet. I’m going to post it anyway.

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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Alternative Win Conditions

Today I closed my online shop (that’s today as I write this on Tuesday 8th May 2018). It didn’t make any money. It barely paid for itself. Just the latest failure in my continuing quest to get paid for literally anything I’m good at.

I’ve been thinking about my definition of failure. Not ever making any money is only a failure if your goal was to make money. I think we can all agree that I am never going to make any money so I can either roll over and die or I can redefine my goals so that they don’t include making money, paying bills or even covering my costs.

One possible goal would be to continue writing stories that please me and the three other people who actually want to read them. That would be a bit disappointing because I feel that I owe it to the books I’ve written to get them in front of more people. I could give them away for free in some format but that just makes it harder for other writers to get paid so I don’t want to do that.

I definitely want to help my friends to get their books finished. Obviously I can’t help them get published since I have zero expertise there but at least I can humorously threaten people until they write more words. It’s not ideal as goals go because the success or failure isn’t under my control.

I feel like there should be more than just those two but I don’t know what to aim for. I need to do something with my life. I need purpose. And I need to stop including financial success in my win conditions because that’s just not going to happen. That’s hard for me. I’m a working class person. I’ve never had elevated ideas of producing great art. I just wanted to be able to support myself. It doesn’t seem like that should be beyond my reach but it appears to be.

I’m open to suggestions.

Reasons why I’m not writing

Ok, technically I am writing because I’m writing this blog post but I should be working on my novel and I’m not because…

In this case I have a very specific plot hole that needs filling. It’s not a plot hole in the ‘oh my God my plot doesn’t work’ sense. It’s the plot equivalent of a pothole in a road. It still needs fixing if I want my readers to have a smooth ride but it’s not major building work.

You’d think that would make it easier to fix, wouldn’t you? Just patch over it with the narrative equivalent of bitchumen and go onto the next scene. But the problem with this sort of fix is that it needs to be seamless. I have to slot a little scene-ette into an already existing scene without breaking the scene or losing the mood.

Specifically I need one character to call another character so that they can have the brief conversation that will signal to the audience that they are moving beyond a disagreement. I can’t skip the scene because it needs to be resolved. I can’t cut out the disagreement because other stuff relies on it. And I can’t work out why that one character would pick up the phone rather than fuming silently about it. She tends to be a self sufficient silent fumer. She needs a reason to call.

My mind is a blank. There are literally millions of things that could precipitate that call but instead of coming up with one my brain is doing the brain equivalent of turning circles on the spot while singing snatches of every song I’ve heard in the last month.

ME: Ok so could she have found something in the files?

MY BRAIN: the last, the last, the last…

ME: But seriously there’s bound to be stuff in there that she’d need to talk about

MY BRAIN: How big, how blue, how beautiful…

ME: That way I could set up the later revelations…

MY BRAIN: Somebody once told me…

ME: Oh for fucks sake

So… Chocolate? I’m thinking chocolate. And possibly booze. And maybe a brain transplant.

 

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