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.

A Room of my Own

I used to have a room to write in. The spare room in our little two-up, two-down terrace. I had a big desk and plenty of space. Most importantly, I had a door that I could close. After my son Jude was born, it continued to be my office, although sometimes when he had a difficult night I had to share it with him in the morning. When he was six months old my office became his bedroom. That was five years ago now.

Since then I’ve worked in a variety of places. At the dining room table, in coffee shops, on my lap. It wasn’t a problem.

When we bought our new house the plan was to use one of the bedrooms as a laundry room / office. But as we tore down walls and built them up again, as we decorated and furnished, the spare room was never a priority. Again, this wasn’t a problem. I was used to working wherever I could open a notebook.

I have written previously about the number of meetings I have at my day job. It is an hours drive away and I’ve been getting frustrated with doing that journey just to sit at my desk and sit on conference calls. So over the weekend I bought and built a small desk and wedged it into the spare room. The walls are unfinished, the carpet isn’t laid. There is no light in the ceiling and it still smells a bit like plaster. I’m sitting there now and I could not be happier.

It wasn’t until I got the space back that I realised how much I’ve missed having a room of my own. Or, in this case, the corner of a room. There is a door that I can close and that makes all the difference. Finally I have a place where I can go to write, or to work, and feel comfortable.

Don’t Stop

I’ve been brainstorming the first book of my fantasy series for almost two months now. The old me could have planned, written and published a book in that amount of time. I was starting to wonder whether I’d made a mistake, and potentially wasted two months of productivity. I was losing the excitement that had been pushing me on.

Then last night as I was working through the plot for what felt like the hundredth time, something happened. It clicked. Suddenly a dozen disconnected fragments came together and turned into story.

This is one of the things that I love most about writing. When everything seems to come together out of nowhere.

Now I think about how close I came to giving up on the project and wonder if there are other stories that I gave up once which would eventually have come together in the same way.

There is still a long way to go before I’m ready to start writing in earnest, but now I know that I will get there eventually. I just have to keep working on it and not stop.

Time & Tools

Time. Where does it go? It seems there’s never enough of it.

I seem to have a hundred projects on the go at the moment; at work, at home and writing. Everything is getting very busy.

I’m not sure that I’m keeping on top of it but I’m trying. It’s a real challenge to my analogue productivity philosophy.

Things could get even busier. Now is the time to make sure I have a robust set of tools and workflows to make sure I can handle it.

This was not supposed to be a post about the tools I am using, but here we go.

The primary tool I have is habits and routines. These are things that I have been building over the past few months (and will continue to build) that mean the day to day things are taken care of. I have time to work on fiction, I am eating well, I am exercising and I am spending time with my family. These are the bedrocks that I build upon for everything else.

My task management needs work. I am floating somewhere between several systems and have different systems depending on whether it is work, personal or writing. Ideally I would like to consolidate these things, probably using Todoist. Then I have about twenty different calendars in Google. The process I follow is to visit each of those sources every day and create an analogue day plan. This goes in a dot-grid medium Moleskine – although I will be changing that to a LEUCHTTURM1917 shortly because I carry around so many Moleskine notebooks that I can’t tell which one I need at any given time. My day plan includes all of the habits, meetings, and tasks that I plan to accomplish. Generally I split the page in four so that I have two scheduled breaks and a lunch. This only covers my day at work, my mornings and evenings are essentially habit focused with little variation.

One place where I think this can be improved is by also scheduling my weekends. It is something that I plan to look into.

Notes are another big part of my workflow. I use a pocket Moleskine for when I am out and about and Standard Notes for at a computer. This is an evolving system.

Then I have a series of notebooks for specific purposes, a “general writing” book which is where most of my writing starts off, fiction and non-fiction. A logbook which I use as a kind of diary to keep track of the things that I do each day.

Most of these ideas are from other people and a lot of the tension I’m feeling right now is probably a result of not having moulded them into a coherent “system” of my own. It feels like a process that I can’t rush, or I’ll end up skipping from system to system and never settle. It’s a cycle that I’ve gotten into before.

A few of the sources that have inspired my system which are worth checking out if you would like to know more:

Fantasy

I’m working on a fantasy series.

I have dabbled in writing fantasy in the past. The Girl Who Dreamed The World and Son of the Sea are two of the most relevant examples, although most of my stories have fantasy elements. They were both a lot of fun to write, but also a lot of work and at the time, my focus was on publishing as much as I could, so I decided not to pursue the interest. Recently though my focus has changed.

At some point, no doubt, I’ll write about the tools I use, but suffice it to say that they are mostly analogue now and that already means that everything takes longer. I’m fine with that, I enjoy the process much more this way, and it has caused me to re-evaluate my stance on publishing speed. At the same time I have started reading a lot more fantasy and remembered how much I enjoy it. So it was only natural that I would want to play in that world.

When I think back to the earliest stories I wrote (as a child, so nothing to link to here) they were mostly fantasy. I enjoyed the slow process of building a new world from the ground up and that is what I am enjoying again now. It’s a very similar process actually. I’m filling up notebooks with thoughts and plans and everything feels very fluid. Most of it won’t even be included in the series, but it is important that I know it.

All of this means, that I’m not sure I will release any more (new) books this year. There may be a few short stories, and I am targeting December to release the first book in the series, but I haven’t worked this way before, so it’s difficult to judge how long it will take. I will write more about the project here so you know where I’m up to. I think it will be worth the wait. In the meantime, there are plenty of other fantasy stories for you to read.