It’s been mad the last few days. I had planned to write a post on Tuesday, and suddenly it’s Thursday. How did that happen?
I’ve been sticking to my two nights for writing and it works well – except for when I can’t concentrate, then it feels like I’ve wasted a whole time-slot.
However, I’ve not done too badly. On both Monday and Wednesday I wrote over 1000 words and I’m working through the story. As I’ve already said, my idea to just get the book written (no matter how) and then work on getting it right and refining it.
The concentration issues are easy to explain: I’m tired. There’s a lot going on at work, so I’m continually on the go, Josh is quite excitable in the evenings so I’m busy from early morning to quite late in the evening. It’s not really that surprising that I find it hard to concentrate on writing! In fact, looking at it that way, the thousand words a night are a positive victory!
Had a good day yesterday, just writing whatever and however but slowly working my way through the plan. I’ve found that it even works better for me if I leave spaces where I feel a bit bored or de-motivated – like today when I found I just couldn’t face going through a bit of dialogue. Instead of getting stuck in a rut, I just moved on to the next bit (which I really wanted to write) knowing that I can work on that bit of dialogue later.
My strategy for dealing with the chaos of my first draft is going to be based on what I found from the books I looked through on Friday.
I’m going to aim for:
Directness. Instead of telling readers how something happened, or what someone felt, I’m going show it through actions and dialogue – or at least aim to do that 90% of the time.
Simplicity. Next to being direct is being simple. Just tell it how it is – leave out anything that’s not completely necessary. And not to overdo things – I’ve got a tendency to want to ram stuff home, when it detracts from the story.
Readability. What really annoys me is not being able to read something aloud – sentences that seem ok when you scan them with your eyes suddenly trip you up when you try to read them out loud.
Of course, all this is going to be much easier in theory than in practice! But at least knowing that I’ve got some idea of how I’m going to fix the chaos at the end is keeping my interal critic quiet (so far) and actually letting me get on with writing.
My internal editor (you know, that annoying little voice that criticises everything you write, as you write it) has been getting too bolshy recently.
Instead of getting on with my draft, I’ve been getting myself bogged down with style. I don’t like the way I’m writing. The draft doesn’t have the right ‘voice’ – not even a tiny hint of it. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m not really sure what the right ‘voice’ will sound like; it’s a case of ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.
I can tell my self over and over that it’s more important at first to get the words written than it is to get them right, but my little internal editor is sitting on my shoulder tutting into my ear all the same.
So tonight I turned the tables and put him in the spot. ‘Think you know about good writing, do you? Well, go on and tell me what it’s like, then.’ I pulled a load of books into a pile on the floor of the living room and began to go through them – what’s good in this? I like that bit – why? What makes me cringe at that bit?
(NB. This is one of the things that I like about being single. I can do mad(dening) things like that without getting into an argument or needing to explain myself. Of course, if I wasn’t single then I might have something better to do on a Friday night…)
Looking through the books I discovered one great and obvious truth: it’s far easier to pick holes in something than it is to pinpoint what it is that makes something work. There was always that ‘je ne sais quois’ to all the really good passages – the rightness just dissolved as I tried to get to grips with it.
But then looking for passages I didn’t like was fun – my little editor was in its element. So although I didn’t manage to find the holy grail of ‘how to write good’ I picked up a few tips about what I should try to avoid, and I feel more confident about being able to go back to my first draft at the editing stage and make it better (or more to my liking at least). By looking at someone else’s writing I could be more objective about what it was I didn’t like – and so (my theory is) I’ll be able to see these traits in my own writing and sort them out, rather than just get upset that my first draft is rubbish.
Now I’d better go and get those books packed away!
Tried to write tonight, but just couldn’t. My mind felt fuzzy and unfocused – probably something to do with spending a day at work then coming home to an overtired and grouchy Josh. Not really conducive to getting into the right frame of mind for writing.
I don’t suppose the glass of wine in the evening that’s become a habit since my holiday has really helped either…
But I got some more words down, and better luck next time!
Talking about fuzzy brain – I just noticed that I saved my last post as a draft instead of publishing it. Doh!
I really wanted to get a good start back to writing after my break, but it was hard to get into writing again. Some of the distractions were external – Josh couldn’t sleep (I think he was thinking about going back to school) and the cat was still annoyed with me for putting her into kennels for a week.
But to be honest most of the distractions were created by me: I’d be sitting down to write quite happily, and then get this amazing urge to check on something completely random, like how much milk have I got left? Are there any more potatoes? Has anyone emailed me? Hey, I could grow runner beans in the garden next year. I wonder when I need to plant them? You get the idea…
I’m a great procrastinator, so I just jump at the chance to follow that internal voice that takes me away from what I’m supposed to be doing. A certain amount of procrastination is normal, but I do worry sometimes that I take it to extremes – especially when it comes to the Internet. (I mean, I’m at work at the moment, but there’s the Internet just a mouse-click away. Hey, why not write a blog post? Ahem.)
So I’ve decided to do my writing on my old laptop. This is because it won’t connect to the Internet, it’s too slow to run any interesting programs and the CD drive is broken so I can’t install anything else. It does recognise my memory stick, so I can just save my work onto that as I go (I don’t trust it enough to rely on having anything stored on its hard drive!)
Now all I need is an isolation tank and/or a will of iron to ignore all the other forms of displacement activity at my disposal.
Had a break from writing (and blogging) because I’ve been on holiday. All my good intentions went right out. I didn’t:
- do any research
- write my morning pages (there were no curtains in the cottage. I was woken by Josh as the sun rose. There’s a limit to what you can achieve in a cottage containing four adults and two young children. Morning Pages are not included. )
- read through what I’ve written so far and make a detailed character list.
But I did:
- eat too much (fresh baguette, butter and cheese!)
- drink too much (especially vodka orange one night in Vierzon. Ouch)
- swam every day (in the freezing pool at the cottage. Josh would jump in and gasp at the cold. His lips would be getting blue before he’d come out to warm up before getting back in. I had hoped to get him swimming by the end of the week, but at least his confidence has improved)
- visted two chateaux (Valencay and Chennonceau)
- broke my parents’ car (but it was ok in the end)
- read Tell No One.
I didn’t really expect to get anything done on the novel, but it’s going to be hard to get back into the swing of things again – especially the morning pages. I also came back to a mountain post which included a rejection for a short story I sent to Mslexia. I didn’t really expect it to be accepted, but that doesn’t help me to ignore the little nagging voice inside that tells me to give it all up now…
Off to do ironing and watch an episode of Danger Man to take my mind off writing and the french-bread-and-cheese in the evening habit I’ve developed.
I finally finished typing up the handwritten sections. I don’t think I’m going to handwrite any more: it’s nice to get away from the screen, but I can type so much faster than I can write that it makes sense just to get it on to the computer straight off. (When I say ‘type’ I don’t mean copy-typing, at which I am atrocious for some reason – which is why the whole transcribing exercise took so long. Not to mention that my handwriting is almost illegible after the first few lines! Second-guessing myself didn’t exactly speed up the process.)
I’m going to print out what I’ve got so far and have a look through it while I’m on holiday. Or that’s the plan, at any rate. I want to make a list of all the characters, names, what they look like etc so that I can be consistent through the book.
I was writing my morning pages today, and I suddenly had an insight about motivation. I’ve always believed that to achieve a goal (say writing a novel) you need to focus on the goal – but I realised that often the best way is NOT to focus on the ultimate goal, because that ends up being a distraction. If I sit down to write and think about getting the book finished, I find it hard to write, and anything I do write doesn’t really work. But if I let myself focus on just telling the story, the words begin to flow. By not trying to get the book finished, I actually progress further!
(I got this insight because I realised that focusing on my ultimate goal of ‘getting my three pages written so I can get breakfast’ was actually working against me. Once I let go of getting the pages written, and focused on writing them, before I knew it, I had finished.)