First, what I have done right is blast out 40,000 words in 20 days putting me ahead of schedule and confident of hitting the goal. Interestingly, at least to me, I think 50,000 words will be all the story needs; that is, this one will be novella length and probably less than 50,000 when revised and edited.
So, what have I ‘done wrong’ to maintain this speed?
Used lazy cliched expressions; I haven’t quite sunk to ‘speaking through clenched teeth’ or ‘the clouds were like fluffy white sheep gambolling in the sky’, but I’ve given the cliche tree a good shake.
Sprayed adverbs like a child with a can of paint on a white wall – the school of ‘she crept slowly and quietly along the dark and gloomy lane, the trees hanging limply – ‘ well, you get the idea. Sure keeps up the word count!
Instead of hesitating whether ‘resolved’ or ‘decided’ is the most appropriate word and getting sidetracked in the process, I write ‘thought’ and hurry onwards. Revision comes later.
When arriving at a complex plot point, instead of hesitating etc as above, I think of any dramatic development and hurry onwards as above etc. I killed off a main character yesterday, much to my surprise and you know what, it works. If I’d pondered and procrastinated, I suspect I would not have done so and the novel would be the poorer for it.
Finally, it brings back the good old days when I wrote my PhD at top speed to crazy deadlines after three years of surfing and partying instead of doing much actual research. A much maligned skill which appears to have lasted a lifetime!
All’s well that ends well as an actual great writer once said.
I love you
Mother and baby are fine
There is no sign of the tumour, we don’t need to see you for six months
I’m coming home
We’ve found your daughter safe and well
The war is over
We loved your manuscript and will send a contract to you shortly
Unicorns and dragons are real
We find you not guilty
Parole is granted
Sold to the man in the third row
I changed flights, I was not on that one
I can feel a pulse, she’s alive
And they all lived happily ever after
yes, l am writing the sequel to my second draft completed and much more work to do novel manuscript. Bizarre, no? Not really.
1. I need distance and time away from my manuscript of 78000 words while I decide whether to do a third draft or to send it to an assessor for independent professional assessment. Writing a novel in a month, the infamous NaNoWriMo exercise, gives me time to reflect.
2. Maybe as important I have had the sequel in mind since early this year; sitting at my computer, sometimes the words flowing and feeling right and other times squeezing out words like dead flies accumulating against a window pane on a hot summer day in Australia. Inspiration struck on how I could continue their story and make my key characters suffer and suffer. Like every writing workshop tells us, right? Make them suffer! Oh trust me, they suffer for their love.
3. So, Tom and Anika are back! Spoiler alert: now you know they survive what is thrown at them on the Camino as they struggle in the maelstrom of murders. Ah, but you do not yet know how they survive and I agree that I have been slack or, more accurately, deliberately withholding, on that score.
3. Writing a sequel is also fun! My characters are so familiar, I know them like friends; what clothes they wear what they eat, how they talk and argue, how they walk, their little quirks and likes and dislikes and how they have aged and changed six years later as ‘the author’ puts them through their paces once again.
4. Writing 50,000 words in a month is quite exhilarating simply to rattle words on the screen without lots of prior planning and without a study full of index cards on boards or Scrivener corkboards! Totally different to my normal approach.
4 days down and 8,200 words in the bag = so far, so good.
I have decided, sober and in the cold light of day, despite much trepidation and every common sense cell in my body saying ‘no’, that I shall participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time. This is a commitment to write a 50,000 word novel draft in one month starting tomorrow. I think 300,000 wannabes took part globally last year, what could possibly go wrong? So, yes, I have to write 1500 words tomorrow morning! That is, 1,500 words ….
Why undertake such a crazy mission? It has taken me two years to have a second completed draft of 80,000 words of the current manuscript and I aim for 500-1000 words most days, so the odds do not look good.
And yet. And yet, I have reached the stage of the current manuscript where I need to put it aside for a time and let it lie fallow (one of the few things I remember from my school days, that plus ‘why sea breezes?’) as I have applied for an ASA mentorship, entered another competition and need to ‘let it go’.
And also – drum roll – I have the plot and characters and setting for ‘my next novel’, published nothing yet, but it sounds good, right? and so I do have a flying start and am, believe it or not, eager to have a go at it and see where it might lead me. By nature I am a ‘plotter’ stemming from churning out academic books and articles in my past life as a university professor, and being a ‘pantser’ will be good for me; a bit like cold showers, AFD’s, clean living and long runs in the morning are ‘good for me’.
Anyway, I am committing myself publically to keep the pressure on myself; please feel free to check on me and keep me honest. Oh and wish me luck.
No, I am not talking on this post directly about my novel, though precisely this does happen to Tom on the Camino, nor about Gone Girl which is a neat re-working of the theme. In the so-called real world, the non-literary world let us call it, what would you do if you become suspicious and then convinced that your lover is a killer?
Infidelity leaves love a twitching corpse, but there is expectation of a full recovery [in time, as they say]. With murder, dead is dead.
Do you confront your lover? Well, you had better be right in your suspicions because if you are wrong you can kiss that relationship good bye.
Do you empathise and understand? Maybe the victim ‘deserved it’ or you convince yourself it is so; maybe it happened a long time ago, maybe you can find extenuating circumstances.
Do you simply love them and accept it – ‘love conquers all’
What is your moral responsibility?
Do you turn a blind eye because it is all too hard and horrible?
Do you watch and hope to learn more,sleeping with one eye open?
Do you ‘do your duty’ and turn them over to the law though it tears your heart apart?
And what if you are wrong?
I have written scholarly books in a previous life, so I have omitted the stuff I knew; for example, writing is hard work [oh yes!]; there is no other way to start than to write one word and then another and then a sentence and a paragraph etc; if it is boring and unclear to you, well, it will be to everyone else and it is amazing what the human mind can conjure up to avoid sitting in front of the blank page and creating a masterpiece.
No doubt these are the staple of writing workshops and you already know them, dear reader. I did it the hard way.
1. Have in mind for whom you are writing – note that I am old-fashioned and cannot end a sentence with a preposition. Write for an audience, not simply for yourself.
2. ‘Nice’ and ‘good’ characters are boring; make them complicated and imperfect.
3. What makes me most uncomfortable and even distressed as a subject is what turns out to be my most authentic and engaging writing.
4. Insert ‘shame’ in 3 and it is doubly so.
5. Eliminate the adverb.
6. Avoid generic descriptions and declarations, always make them personal and specific to the characters’ points of view.
7. Show, not tell. Yes, yes, a total cliche but especially important to me as I spent years as a university professor teaching and writing to explain and analyse. Great for teaching, death for a novel.
8. Following from 7, ‘less is more’.
9. If it feels flat or inauthentic to me, it will to a reader. Dump it and try again; perseverance no matter what is not always the answer.
10. Swallow hard – gulp – and be prepared to discard entire drafts.
I had 50,000 words of draft 4 of my novel-in-progress and all had been running smoothly; heavens, I was even writing in Paris! Okay, not in an attic, still you get the picture and then boom. The plot became bogged, main character motivations became muddied, key turning points were arriving too early or too late in the narrative and the whole boat was listing badly, if not actually taking in water and sinking.
What had gone wrong?
I had been rattling along and feeling pretty good about my writing and thinking hmm, I should have draft 4 finished and ready to send to the assessor by the end of this year. By late yesterday I knew that it was not working: the narrative arc stalled exactly as I had read about and been warned about in writing workshops.
We have all read novels which start with a bang – original, tightly paced, sympathetic characters, interesting location and all the rest – and then it loses momentum, becomes flaccid, drifts, labours to make points and seems stale. Then we hit Act 3 and we pick up steam and sail into port (to muddle a few metaphors).
What to do? Back to the assessor’s comments to see what I had forgotten in the excitement of being in my own little world of writing every day and then, painfully, back to read the manuscript from page 1 to see where it had stalled. I was horrified to discover how much I had ‘forgotten’ of the detailed assessment discussions and reports and was able after a couple of hours of close reading of my manuscript to see where it had fallen flat. More sighs and then major surgery: deleting chunks of ‘fine writing’ which slowed the narrative and added nothing and bringing forward 1 turning point and delaying another.
Time will tell if the problem is solved. I comfort myself that at least I could tell when the words were dying as they fell from my pen.
Back to work with a lighter heart ….
No do not despair, those readers who are still sitting on the edge of their chair wondering what is happening on the Camino with Tom and Anika and the mysterious pilgrim deaths.
Your beloved characters will return after our little diversion into Coast to Coast mayhem. After all, I am in Paris and it is August, the traditional time for some rest and relaxation and even a small literary folly or two.
I saw this sign in 2013 while walking the Chemin de Saint Jacques and I sat on the grass and absorbed its simplicity and strength and the power of the image. It was a small moment which has stayed with me and which meant more than many a grander monument. In a small way it captured the essence of the pilgrimage.
As a virgin blogger and a virgin reader of blogs, I have been struck by the number of bloggers who state explicitly that blogging/writing/sharing has been a way of helping them get through difficult phases of their life and/or working through difficult personal issues; often these difficulties and issues are ongoing. There is a long history of writing as catharsis and my comment is pure cliché territory [nothing to see here, move along please]. Who doesn’t have an unpublished autobiographical novel lying in a drawer [or in drop box these days], some of us even have a pile of short stories of similar ilk. What has inspired me to comment today is how others’ experience of blogging may be linked to a comment made by an assessor on my novel-in-progress, referring to my main female character. I had written her as a strong, independent and badly damaged person seeking redemption; the assessor saw her as a manipulative, self-centred, needy and generally unlikeable person. Not at all what I intended! Close re-reading confirms that the assessor is correct. So, what is happening here? How do our characters ‘take over’ during the writing process? What is happening consciously and unconsciously? What cathartic processes were taking place without my knowing?
Of course all this may be the product of my poor writing, though the assessment of the manuscript overall was very positive.