Writing Update April 2019

Its been an unsettled month for writing, but as I prepare to enter May, I have a plan and goals going forward for the rest of the year.

Firstly, the fantasy series

I have stopped work on the fantasy story I have mentioned before. The project wasn’t right for me. Although I enjoyed the planning process I just don’t love the genre enough. This became abundantly clear as I started writing the first draft.

I spent two months prepping the story and had planned for it to span three books. However, I don’t really consider that to be wasted time. It was enjoyable and it has taught me something about myself and the type of writing I want to do.

Secondly, novels

It is now the end of May and I don’t think I will be publishing a new novel in 2019.

Finally, my plans going forward

Starting in July I will be publishing a short story every month through to the end of the year. The first three are already in various stages of production. I am enjoying the work.

Once I have the six shorts for this year finished (or near enough) I will begin working on a new novel for publication in 2020. My plan at the moment is to publish a new novel every year, a short story every month and a blog post every week.

Although this is a lot less than I was publishing at my peak (about a novel a month) I have changed my production process significantly since then, which I believe will result in a much higher quality.

The weekly blogging won’t start immediately. For (at least) the length of May I will continue posting every weekday. My plan, however, is to gradually transition into longer weekly posts. For example, the recent posts about analogue / digital media might have been combined into a single longer essay. Alongside these “essays” I will likely continue publishing monthly updates like this one and, of course, announcements about new story releases.

Why I’m doing this

My number one goal with everything I publish is to make it good. My number two goal is to make the production process enjoyable. These changes are all geared towards these goals.

Editing & Publishing

Yesterday I started editing a short story that I wrote back in January. It doesn’t have a title yet. The idea is kind of Lovecraftian horror. I’m hoping to have it finished and published in May.

Usually I don’t leave such a long gap between writing a first draft and starting the editing. It is interesting to come back to a project after so long and read the words, which I know I wrote, and have them be unfamiliar. It is the closest I can come to reading my work with fresh eyes.

My editing process mostly consists of removing unneeded words and making my meaning clear when it might be confusing. I rarely have to change the structure of the story itself (although it isn’t unknown).

I will go through this edit and then do a proofread to try and catch anything I’ve missed. After that I will check spelling and then move it into the publishing process.

Originally I was going to submit the story to magazines, but I think I will publish it instead. That will mean I need to create a cover, which I do using images from Shutterstock and putting it together in Canva.

I have a word.doc template which I will paste the story into and then use the Draft2Digital tool to properly format for publication.

As I say, the story doesn’t have a title yet. Once I know what it is I will post something here with a link to pre-order or buy if you’re interested.

Starting

After my post yesterday about resistance, I did start work on the first draft of my new book. As of now I am 1,326 words into the first chapter. My plan is to write the first act (which I already have a pretty concrete plan for) and then return to planning for the rest of the book.

I’m relieved to been working on it. A lot of the resistance I was feeling has been lifted and it seems like the right decision for this project.

That wasn’t what I wanted to write about today though.

Starting something new can be daunting. Quite often that manifests in the form of resistance, but there are more concrete challenges. With writing fiction, one thing that I come up against most often is awkwardness.

Writing fiction isn’t the same as planning fiction and it also isn’t the same as writing blog posts. It is unique. And when you haven’t done it for a little while, it can feel strange.

That’s how yesterday went. I found myself struggling to fit back into the tone of voice of fiction and the result is words that will almost certainly be completely rewritten. This happens a lot.

It’s one of the reasons why I try not to go too long between working on first drafts and, in the past when I had more time, I planned and edited separatly to writing so that I always had a first draft on the go. There are a lot of benefits to that approach and if I ever have more time again in the future then I will definitely go back to it.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid this awkwardness. It’s not only due to leaving a gap between first drafts, it’s also because I’m writing about a new world with new characters and we aren’t familiar with one another yet. Over the next few days as I settle into the tone and get to know the characters, the awkwardness will fade away.

That’s not to say there won’t be other problems. As well as Resistance and Awkwardness, I have the Slump to look forward to. Usually that comes somewhere after the halfway point of the first draft when I will begin to doubt everything about the project.

For now though, I’m dealing with the awkwardness of starting something new. That’s what I have to focus getting past.

Resistance

This morning I found myself starting to doubt the story I’m working on. I began asking myself whether it was really the best thing I could be doing, whether I wanted to spend so much time writing it.

Resistance is part of any project worth taking on and I am used to coming up against it. Sometimes I win the battle and sometimes I lose. Quite often, the battles that I lose, end up being projects that I look back on and wish I had finished.

“Resistance in my experience always kicks in when you’re trying to move from a lower level to a higher level or to identify with a braver part of yourself or your higher nature. So it’s that negative repelling force. It’s kind of the dragon that we have to slay every day if we’re artists or entrepreneurs.”
– Steven Pressfield

Even now there are stories sitting half-finished that I think I might return to one day but that I wish I had never abandoned. They are stories that I think would have been really good. Perhaps they were stories which could have pushed my skill to a new level.

So the question becomes; how is it best to handle resistance?

“Don’t prepare. Begin. Our enemy is not lack of preparation. The enemy is resistance, our chattering brain producing excuses. Start before you are ready.”
– Steven Pressfield

Which is where I find myself now.

There is always the possibility that what I am working on isn’t worth persevering with, but I won’t know that until I have some perspective. The only thing I know for sure right now is that most of the projects I have abandoned would have been woth persevering with.

I don’t know if I’m ready to start yet, but maybe I should take the resistance I’m feeling as a sign that I should. There are reasons to wait, good one’s, but there might be better ones to start.

Untitled Fantasy Story Book 1

That’s how my current work in process looks.

At the moment I have a lot of stuff that I am 90% sure of, but it remains in flux. What I think is certain at the start may have to be changed by something I add at the end. Or things will need to be added here and there.

It will remain like this until I get to the final stages of editing.

This is an important part of the process for me. The longer I can keep a story fluid, the better.

However, there are exceptions to this.

I find that writing a story is a delicate balance between restrictions and freedom.

The world I am writing in has some fixed rules. For example, despite magic not featuring much in the first book, I already know how it works in the world. I also know how money works, the names of days and seasons. I have a pretty good idea about things like this.

As I work back and forth through the story I will focus more on the smaller things and those things can (and will change) but the bigger things will not.

Of course, once the first book is published, I won’t go back and change anything. At that point even the small things will be fixed. The second book in the series won’t be able to change any of those small things, but it will have its own small things which I will change repeatedly.

Reflections on a month of blogging

It has almost been a month since I took up blogging every weekday.

I will be the first to admit that not every post has been great, but some of them have been pretty good. And, more importantly, I have enjoyed the process.

So as of today the blog page public. Anyone who stumbles upon my website will now see it. I will continue to write here every weekday.

What I won’t be doing is posting to social media as I was considering. During March I deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have no intention of creating new ones. The only exception is micro.blog which I still like for all the ways that it is different to Facebook and Twitter.

Which begs the question: how are people ever going to find this place?

Hopefully many will come from the links in my books. Others will find there way here thanks to good SEO. The only links I am planning to put out are in the comments sections of other websites, if something I’ve written happens to be relevant to something that someone else has written.

Maybe it’s naive to think that I can reach anyone without using social media. Only time will tell.

Tracking

I have been keeping track of the amount of time I spend writing for more than a year now. Before that I was tracking the number of words I wrote each day. I switched because it’s relatively easy to type 2,000 words of crap (I’m a fast typist) and I was more interested in producing quality than quantity. Switching to time also means I can more easily track pre-production and editing.

I also track:

  • The number of books read: I keep a list in my logbook of which books I have finished and the date I finished them.
  • The amount of time I spend on various copywriting projects. Some of them are charged by the hour, but even when they aren’t I like to know how long I’m spending on them.
  • The amount of time I meditate is tracked in the app Oak. I don’t really use this for anything but it’s nice to have I suppose.

Over the years I have tried tracking other things as well. At one point I attempted to do full tracking. That lasted for a few weeks but I’m not sure what, if anything, I gained out of doing it. I have considered trying again, but that would mean I was tethered to my phone and I’m not happy with that.

The thing with tracking is that it can be very useful. Not necessarily for the data that you get out of it (it doesn’t mean anything to me whether I spent 20 hours writing last month or 25) but the very act of tracking itself. It elevates the importance of what you are doing and makes it easier to focus on. If I know that at the end of the day I am going to see how much time I spent writing then it gives me a little extra motivation to work harder at it.

Tracking, I think, is a valuable way to force focus. It gives us accountability to ourselves. And in this sense, perhaps it is better not to track everything. Once everything is being measured then everything is of equal importance. I want to save the power of tracking for the things that are most important to me.

Although I have only given a few examples of things I track above, I also use a form of tracking to build good habits. In my notebook I have a page for the month with the days going down the left side and a number of habits going across the top. When I complete the habit for the day I put a cross in the box. This works well for simple done/not done things.

Pre-Writing is Writing

For a long time I didn’t count the pre-production work I do as writing. But late last year I realised I was wrong and that has made the whole process a lot more fun for me.

When I’m thinking about an idea I make a lot of notes. I’m onto my third (I think) notebook since starting to think about this fantasy story. The notes that I started out writing likely look very different to the ones that I’m currently working on. They could be different stories. And that’s fine.

This process is more than planning. It’s the development of an idea. It’s going down rabbit holes that might not come to anything and building a larger world that just the narrow focus of the plot. It’s building the forest that surrounds the path of the plot (as Phillip Pullman might say) and sometimes it’s fun to get lost in that forest for a little while.

I enjoy this playing stage and I think that it makes for a better final piece. Especially when I’m venturing into a new genre.

And I do count it as time spent writing. Even when I’m drawing maps. Even when I’m listing out names for potential characters or working out what they call the seasons or the days of the week. It’s fun, but it’s okay for writing to be fun. I don’t think I could bring myself to do it every day if it wasn’t.

Naming Characters

When I’m writing I like to have a list of names that I can pick and choose from as I’m going. It saves me having to stop and think of them while I’m in the flow. It also means that I don’t have to type “XX” or whatever to remind myself to add it in later.

I already have the names of the main characters in my upcoming story, but I needed some extras to choose from for characters that I don’t know about yet. This morning I put together a couple of lists, one for surnames, the other for first names.

A couple of invaluable resources for this process are:

Behind the Name

Fantasy Name Generators

I am planning to add more “quick tips” like this. There are a lot of good resources out there and I am always interested to find out what other people use.

Back and forth

I have spent the better part of two months now working on plans for a fantasy series. So far that has all been done longhand, in notebooks.

Today I have begun the transition into digital. A simple .txt file that I am using the type up my current story.

There is no real reason why this has to be on a computer, except that it will be a change.

Sometimes that is an important reason.

This doesn’t mean I will be working on the story on computer from this point on. It means that now I am entering a back and forth process where I will use both.

After I have finished typing up these notes, I will more than likely return to longhand for the next phase.