Straight answers are complicated

When talking about writing, I often get asked if I’m trying to get a novel published. I suppose the most accurate answer to that is, I am and I’m not. Straight answers are complicated.

What I mean is I want to get a novel published. I’d love to. And to that end I’ve submitted my novel CNF to agents. But in writing that novel and the current one, the main goal has always been to get it finished and be happy with it. Getting published is a further goal a long way down the line, an additional objective, something of a bonus – not the goal.

I have a ladder of goals in my head. Getting to each rung is a huge achievement and I value reaching each without getting lost in dreaming of climbing higher.

This is how far I’ve climbed:

Rung 1
Finish a novel to the strage where I was happy enough to call it “finished”.
This was always the goal. This was a mountain to climb and I can think of few things in live which have been as rewarding or that I am as proud of.

Rung 2
Submitting a novel to an agent.
I remember the buzz of excitement and physically shaking the first time I pressed ‘send’ and submitted my sample chapters.

Rung 3
Receiving a rejection.
I knew that submitting wouldn’t guarantee a reponse. Indeed it was only when I’d submitted to a third agent that I got a rejection email. That was a thrill. Until then I could never be sure my submission hadn’t been lost in the ether. Someone had taken the time to get back to me. It was exhilirating.

Rung 4
Receiving a request to send the full manuscript.
This happened just the other week. I smiled for the rest of the day. Of course I know this doesn’t suggest anything further will happen or that I’ll ever climb any higher. But someone read my chapters and enjoyed them enough to want to read more. I’ve barely told anyone this. Not really sure why. Blogging about it seems easier.

I’ve been proud with myself and deliriously happy with each rung I’ve reached. I haven’t failed and I won’t be bitter or disappointed if I never climb higher. But if I do, however far I get, I’ll savour each new achievement for what it is; an incredible life goal.



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Cool to hate*

I took a screenwriting module during my postgraduate course. It was taught by a fairly grumpy screenwriter who had a wealth of knowledge and a handful of stories about everyone in the industry he had ever worked with.

I learned a lot from him. But what I remember most is him telling me that most writers hate writing. I don’t think I believed him back then. I loved writing. How could anyone take up a hobby, or turn said hobby into a career, and hate it?

In the six years since finishing that course I’ve written professionally, I’ve written many short stories and drafted and redrafted and redrafted again various novels. And I’ve come to learn that sometimes I do hate writing. I discussed this with a friend the other day. Maybe hate is a strong word, but we both agreed that while writing is something we both love, sometimes it really is a slog. The closest analogy we came up with was execise. I like exercise, while I’m doing it. But getting off my arse to go for a swim can be a real effort. I never hate exercise more than when I’m having to convince myself to go out and do it.

It’s the same with writing. Often I can’t wait to get started on a particularly exciting chapter of a novel. But sometimes I really have to force myself to sit down in front of Word and begrudge everything that comes next. And I think that’s okay. I think it’s fine to love writing, and hate writing, and feel every emotion in between. Sometimes it’s fun work. Sometimes it’s hard work. Sometimes it’s exhilarating work. Sometimes it’s boring work. And I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

*to quote The Offspring

– CS –

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8 months in brief

Yet again, haven’t blogged for a while. Though I have been writing plenty in that time. It just seems that whenever something else gets in the way (working late, moving house, facing redundancy) blogging is the first thing to slip.

So since I last blogged, novel 3 – or PWF to give it its working title initialism – has been dropped. I got 8 chapters in and found it really wasn’t working. I couldn’t get a plot locked down. As the characters developed, the plot had to change around them. Unfortunately I found myself in a place where everything exciting and interesting about the original plot had been replaced with something far less intriguing. I went back through and tried redrafting the chapters but realised that I just couldn’t get that plot and those characters to work.

After I finished my previous novel (CNF), I’d made the decision to begin on PWF over URIMV – to give my other idea its clumsy working title initialism. URIMV needed a lot more planning. The plot wasn’t all in place and a few characters weren’t in anyway thought through. But as I got everything sorted, and even moreso as I began writing the draft, URIMV took on a life of its own far more than PWF.

URIMV is moving forward nicely. It has a more complex structure with more characters than CNF and so I’m not writing at the same pace as that first draft of CNF. But I’m really enjoying it and can’t currently foresee running into any major troubles or grinidng to a halt.

So that’s roughly how my writing’s been going for the past 8 months. I’ll write some more detailed blogs in the future. Hopefully.

– CS –

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A good cuppa

I love tea. It solves everything and I can’t function without it. I don’t like it brewed, I like it stewed. I like tea with an oily slick on the top, that you can stand a spoon up in and that strips the enamel from your teeth. With full fat milk. From a mug.

When I wrote Novel 1 (the one I left at Draft 4), I invested a lot of myself into the main character. Specifically, he was addicted to tea and, though trivial, I liked the fact that he liked tea.

When it came to writing Novel 2 (the one I finished), I found my protagonist just couldn’t be addicted to tea. It didn’t fit his character and it didn’t fit his world. The novel was noir-inspired. My protagonist drank coffee. Surely no-one puts whisky in their tea. What a waste of tea. And whisky.

So now I’m on Novel 3 and I’m probably more happy than I should be that it fits that my main character drinks tea. I’m taking every opportunity to give him a cuppa, out of a mug stained from never washing it. He’s sharing tea with friends and wasting time as he waits for it to stew.

I plan on finishing this novel too, not getting stuck on Draft Whatever. I plan on finishing a novel where the protagonist is addicted to tea. That is all.

– CS –

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Coming alive

I’ve reached the point in the new novel where the characters are really starting to take shape. It’s both exciting and relieving. I was slightly concerned that my protagonist in this novel wouldn’t find his own voice – that he would simply be the recycled hero from my last novel. Thankfully, this doesn’t feel like the case. What’s more is that the characters around him are shaping up nicely and the plot is starting to bend and meander around them.

I’ve started tuning the plot, changing events, moving things around as my characters come alive. I enjoy the challenge of realising that the plot point I had planned no longer fits in with my characters’ personalities or motivations, and have to change things. New possibilities and ideas open up as the characters flesh out.

Characters should define the plot as opposed to the plot defining the characters and I’m at the point where they are doing just that. So yes I did sit down to start this novel with a plan of where everything was going and a good idea of where I’d be when I finish, but the further I get through the draft, the more the final draft appears to differ from the original vision. Exciting times.

– CS –

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Word count

Maybe it’s a little bit of OCD, maybe it’s a preoccupation with Excel spreadsheets or maybe it’s just habit, but I find myself obsessing over word counts with novel writing. When I first attempted writing a novel with the aim of getting to the end of the first draft, I created a spreadsheet with a chapter-by-chapter word count. It felt satisfying completing a chapter and adding in the count and watching the total jump up.

As I moved onto second and third drafts I compared the word counts, seeing where I cut down chapters and where I expanded upon ideas. Quite frequently I was guilty of under-writing as well as over-writing.

So now on Novel 3 I have a new spreadsheet and the counter’s just ticked over 20,000 words. Although in reality I will have written double that. Rewriting is easier than writing and so when I sit down with a new chapter I might write 1,000 words. I’ll have a break and when I come back I’ll rewrite that first 1,000 words and move straight onto the next 1,000 and so on. But it’s still the words on the page, not the words I type, that count.

There’s not really much more to this point, but I wonder if other writers obsess over word counts too.

– CS –

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Sometimes words pour out of me.

Sometimes simply opening the laptop seems like a chore.

In a good week, when the words flow easily, I’ll write more than I plan to when I do write. This makes up for the days when the words just don’t want to come, so I still hit my weekly word count.

But sometimes I have to find a way to push those words out. I’ve forced myself to sit at the laptop when I’m really not in the mood. More often than not, what I write in these situations is rubbish. If I don’t feel the desire or the passion I’m just playing a numbers game, writing 500 words just for the sake of it. After days like these I’ve frequently gone back and deleted it all.

I’ve found I need to give myself the desire and the passion, to find the motivation to write. There are certain movies, ones I’ve watched many times, that work. Most of these are SF, unsurprisingly. Watching SF movies I admire, with interesting concepts, worlds and visuals don’t inspire me as much as give me the motivation to create my own. There are certain movies I’ll put on to get me in a certain mood. Bleak movies, those that deal with death, with life, with inspiring awe. My last novel was inspired in part by neo-noir films and I found movies such as MementoDriveBrick and The Machinist gave me the motivation to write when the words weren’t flowing.

Sometimes it’s about putting on the right music. There are certain albums and soundtracks I find particularly useful. Lately War Stories by UNKLE and the soundtrack to Les Revenants by Mogwai just need to start playing and I get that desire to write building slowly.

With starting a new novel, the motivation comes a lot easier and I haven’t had to rely on these methods yet. I’ve had a good summer so far and looking like I should hit my desired word count by the time I head back to work. We shall see.

 – CS –

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