As I said last time, I wrote in secret everyday. I literally opened a file on my computer and labelled it as my book - away I went. At this point I had no idea what I was doing but my struggle became my apprenticeship. I was open minded enough to try anything so whether it be free writing, timed writing, picture prompts or word goals - I'd give it a try to see if I was productive or not by using the method. I soon learnt that for me setting a kitchen timer which bleeps and having a specific window for writing worked. My concentration was best with a thirty minute window especially if I noted my word count at the beginning and the end. I am competitive by nature but not necessarily with other people, simply myself. Back then it felt good to see I'd written 300 words in thirty minutes and improved on yesterday's word count. It gave me the buzz I needed to repeat tomorrow or, later the same day.
I soon realised that my writing was even more productive if I thought about my planned writing session during the day whilst driving, standing in queues at coffee shops, waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for others - in fact any moment during the day when I could be still and quiet. If you start analysing your daily routines you'll see there are plenty of opportunities for the thinking/planning stage. Once settled at my desk the words literally poured from me. Even now, I never settle at my desk without knowing the thing I'm about to write. Thinking time remains away from my desk.
Within a matter of a few changes I had altered my writing output. It felt as if I was on a roll and the positivity in me simply soared which in turn motivated me even more. This circular model of 'think, write and motivate self' became my primary goal. Day after day, I simply repeated the habit.
I then began seeking the answer to my age old question 'how to write a book' was it the chapter by chapter method of write it, read it, polish, polish, polish it to death or not. It isn't. I was doing it wrong. By this time I had spent six years writing a novel called 'Her' which is unpublished but one day I'll rewrite it for publication as it is a decent story. I had also joined the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) which runs a fabulous scheme for New Writers (romance based) where you submit a manuscript and receive a written critique. I'd taken the plunge to join and begun attending their parties to network amongst other authors. Not that I dared speak to many of them at my first few parties I was overwhelmed to be in the same room to be fair. Though I still have 'girl-fan' moments with certain authors as my admiration remains sky high regards their achievement.
Anyway, I booked myself on to a writing retreat with Alison May on which I learnt that you start at the beginning and write to the end of the story or as much as you have planned or not planned as you can (I'll come to planning later) Draft one should look like a straight line from start to finish and not the laborious curling-back-on-yourself style I'd developed constantly revising before moving to the next chapter. Guess what, I tried the straight line writing - it worked. I now think of it as layering because I now write draft 1 then go back to the beginning save the document with the name draft 2 and start adding bits, defining details in a straight line again until I get to the end of that draft. I save the document as draft 3 and reread adding and changing as I go until I get to the end. In fact I never go backwards, I always go forwards and make notes of things that come to mind so I can amend on the next draft. Note: always go forward! It also meant that I always have the last draft should I need it. I'd addressed mistake number one (see previous Aspiring author - part 1)
So imagine, I now have 100,000 words labeled as draft three. I was ecstatic. I'd written a book, hadn't I? Nah, I'd got 100,00 words but not necessarily in the right order or the best sequence. That came as a shock. It suddenly dawned that with the best will in the world I might have ordered the sequence of events in the wrong, addressed issues in the wrong light, forgotten to craft arcs for the conflict, characterisation motivation and development, worse still have no pace - how the hell was I supposed to address those issues? And here is where us authors are divided into two groups: planner or pantser. Planners plan. Pantsers wing it by the seat of their arse and simply write. I had initially written as a pantser - I simply wrote my story but now I was being asked to think about the fine details. I had to go back through and find the bits that needed improving. Yes, finding specific bits in a 100,000 word document - I found that hard. I got through it, I did the best I could but I vowed I'd be planning the next book. Can you see how my writing rules came about by doing it, tripping up and realising my own errors. I'd written 100,000 words but still I hadn't written a book.
I have plenty of author friends who remain as pantsers. I admire them for their bravery, their nerve and their dedication because I did it once but never again. I'm told that pantser spend 25% writing 75% editing to reach the end of a project. Their dedicated time goes into editing/polishing their 100,000 raw words into a book. I am now a planner. I feel I spend 15% planning, 60% writing and 25% editing to reach the end goal of a book. I think that in terms of days or months it equates to the same amount of time but tackled and handled in a different way. Only you know which will work for you. I have realised that pantsers seem to love the editing task (which is a bloody good job given their one and only draft can be pretty raw). And, I've noticed that planners love the writing task but not the editing. If you plan there does seem to be less editing which may decide it for you.
Pantser method of writing:
1. create a document
2. write until the end
3. Edit like crazy
My planning method of writing:
1. find the 'nugget' of your story and create a mind-map showing a multitude of possibilities for that idea
2. I create a note book for each book I write into which goes any details that I might need to refer to e.g., family trees, street maps, character pictures cut from magazines, character profiles and additional notes to myself.
3. create characters onto which you can hang those mind-map possibilities onto (I find photographs and paste them my note book)
4. note each scene upon a post-it note (this can be as complicated as you want using coloured notes for each character)**
5. try to pin point a theme which is surfacing from your planning - there is always a theme (can this theme be highlighted more?) - add it to your post-it notes where you can
6. I pin my post-it notes to a cork board or stick it the length of the staircase and spend several days looking/changing the sequence
7. I begin writing when I can't not begin writing - at this point I'll be itching to start.
8. create me document template and chapter headings
9. create a spreadsheet showing chapter by chapter the events I've written
10. I begin writing at the beginning and go straight through to the end one post-it note at a time. I create draft 2 and add details as I read through from start to finish. Draft 3 if I need to reread and add more details. Stop writing at approximately 100,000 words.
11. Spell check. Print a hard copy. I then read through creating a note sheet of queries as I go - my main focus is the sequence of structured events. I'm looking for holes in the story too***
12. Create a new draft and amend depending on what I found during step 11.
13. Once happy with the structural order I print a hard copy and begin seeking out the smaller errors then amend as necessary. After this stage, I feel I have a book but not before.
** I plan 75% of my story in this manner I know I'll have moments of inspiration whilst writing and I'll want to include the new ideas to but they arise for me as I write the book.
*** It is a bugger when you find that you've written an event in the wrong place or realise that it would be better else where but then you have to unpick that section and work it in else where.
For me the planning method works. I feel it is more logical and my brain can organise a huge amount of information in this way. I'll do research at any stage of the sequence but it can't take up precious writing time. I usually do research during downtime otherwise it simply swallows up your writing time.
Anyway, I'll love and leave you for today. I have a writing meeting to attend tonight. I have rejoined a large city group as it offers much more scope and has many published and aspiring authors that actually write!!! Unlike the one I mentioned in my previous post. I attend not to read my own work aloud, I have editors and readers doing that, but more because I missed the energy and buzz amongst authors. I enjoy listening to their ideas and giving support where I can.
I'll write part 3 of 'Aspiring author' in the coming days.
Once upon a time, I was an aspiring author. My dream was to write a book and have others read my book. If the truth be told, I'd have done anything to spend time with a published author to know 'how they do what they do' but at the time pre-social media and such like - it was difficult to glean info. My only option was to read 'How to' books on the subject of writing. They were helpful in some respects but not entirely honest. They promised to help me become an author whilst taking my money. But the worst thing was their methods didn't feel like me, they felt like a 'painting by numbers' way of writing. As I read, I struggled to match my imagination with their instructions... the result is I have a shelf of 'How to books' about writing which I never refer to which sadly, didn't really teach me how to write a book.
Last week, I gave two library talks which coincided with the publication of my fourth book 'New Beginnings At Rose Cottage' and several members of the audience asked how I got started. I talked for 90 minutes non-stop - seriously, I did. I'm known for sharing details - I remember how difficult it was for me.
It took me six years to write my first book* - my last book took 108 days from blank page to submission to my editor of 95,000 words! I think you can safely say back then, I was doing it wrong! *This book remains unpublished but one day I'll rewrite it.
Three mistakes I was making back then:
I'd write chapter one then keep reading, rereading and editing it seeking perfection. Then I'd write chapter two and repeat - this isn't how you write a book. Or, it is if you want it to take six years.
I wrote only when the mood/muse inspired me - which means I might go three days without adding a single word to my manuscript - this isn't how you write a 95,000 word book.
I kept thinking that writing had to be some sort of struggle, pained process of creativity which tortured the soul - I'd learnt that detail from my 'How to books'. Yes, I was feeling frustrated flailing around in the darkness without a clear path on how to tackle writing a book but I wasn't tortured, pained and suffering for my art! I really don't think that is the way to write a book despite what the 'How to books' told me.
So, I joined a writing group. Surely there I would be given hints, tips and some direction on how to write a book and that is when a lightbulb moment occurred for me. I soon learnt that many aspiring authors want to write but don't actually write. Some of you may have just sat up and your nerves are bristling at what I've just written. So, I'll say it again just to get under your skin because it might be your lightbulb moment. Many aspiring authors want to write but don't actually write. They are going to write tomorrow, next week, the next free weekend they have, maybe in the holidays or when the kids grow up, when my retirement arrives, when the mortgage is paid or when the new kitchen is fitted... On many occasions, I was the only person who had written in recent weeks and had something to read aloud at the monthly meeting. I ask you, how can a writing group call itself a writing group if the members aren't writing? That would be like a band saying they were a band but they never play music. A dentist saying she is a dentist but never turning up for appointments since 1999! Seriously, my dentist turns up everyday at her dental surgery in order to sustain her job title of being a dentist!
That was my lightbulb moment. Hearing the stream of excuses each month for why members hadn't done the one thing that they were saying was their dream: to write!
It might seem really harsh pointing out the obvious but we all have busy lives, we all have family commitments, we all want to mong on the sofa and stare at the box, are all tired and are all feeling, dealing and coping with a plethora of things in this modern world in which we live. But, writers write! My dentist dentists (I know that isn't a word).
So my first big change was I would write everyday - which erased mistake number 2 (see above). I made it a rule in my life. I wanted to be a writer so I would write everyday. It didn't matter what I wrote, whether I wrote on computer or paper, for how long or how many words. The rule was simple: write everyday... and I still do. The knock on effect was that by the end of the week I had pages of written words, I'd clocked up lots of minutes being a writer and the best feeling in the world was I began to feel like a writer. I suspect my dentist feels like a dentist after doing dentistry all day.
I still didn't have a structured path or know what I was doing regards writing a complete book but, I was writing everyday!
I need to go and write now so, I'll publish this blog and explain how I addressed my other 'two writing mistakes' another day. But before I go, I do need to say that I was writing in secret. My writing was a secret because earlier in my 'dream of being an author' I'd chosen to share my dream with the wrong people. These people then constantly asked 'published yet?' when it was quite obvious that I wasn't as I'd have been dancing about and celebrating if that had occurred. My lesson here was that not everyone is going to support you and my inner writing goddess can do without the constant jibing, questioning and put downs. So, my second rule was to only share on 'a need to know' basis. In my world that came down to a tiny amount of people. I felt back then, and still do, the need to protect myself from any negativity be it comments, certain people, situations, even news clips and films scenes - it does us no favours in this world. Having now been published, I do realise that some people who I didn't tell could have been supportive towards me - I failed to give them the opportunity but they've been utterly fabulous since my publication so, I harvest that now. Back then, I didn't share that I wrote or had a dream of writing a book. I just didn't. Though, it felt kind of awkward once I'd signed a publishing contract and had to inform my family what I'd actually been doing for near on two decades. Oh yeah, sorry if that comes as a shock but that's how long I was secretly writing for. But as I said earlier, I was doing it wrong!
Anyway, I need to go... I have book to write and, if you're an aspiring author so do you!
Regular followers will know that there are occasions when I take myself away from the family home simply to write. Last week, I did just that. I didn't go far, simply to Birmingham city centre where I booked an apartment and set up camp. It might seem strange to some and a little decadent to others - to me, it is necessary.
I have a daily routine in which I constantly juggle my writing time with other aspects of my life and a day job so, to have a dedicated week, alone to focus upon a specific idea is the most productive thing I can do. My intention was to submerge myself in a specific project and write without distraction, responsibility or interruption. And, this is what I did.
I realise some people may struggle being on their own for the entire time - which isn't a problem I have. I am a pretty solitary creature by nature.
I stocked the food cupboards, rearranged the apartment's furniture to suit my needs and literally lived, breathed and slept my project for seven whole days. I took my sketch pad and pencils providing a creative activity for my downtime and a reading book.
It was heaven.
I managed to plan, research and write during my retreat time which now, that I'm home, becomes the backbone of my focus over the next few weeks.
I have previously attended writing retreats organised by authors: Alison May, Julie Cohen and Roman Coleman which have been three day affairs with other writers - which have a structured routine of workshops, one to one appraisals and plenty of interaction with other authors. My solo retreat might seem extreme, it might sound indulgent but other writers may find they benefit from a little bit of 'author time' away from daily life.
Publication days are exciting there is no denying that but today, the eve of publication is also special to me. Today, is the final day when myself and a handful of people (editors, proofreaders, bloggers and reviewers) know the story whilst the readers are kept waiting. From tomorrow onwards, the story is free available to anyone who wishes to invest their time in reading my latest novel. From midnight tonight the ebook will download onto various tablet devices and the story will be out in the big wide world. In the morning the paperback deliveries will begin arriving and I will be sent lots of wonderful photographs of readers with their new book.
Tomorrow, readers will devour it in approximately ten hours and will have their own opinions on each of my characters, plot lines and location. There will be reviews, blogs and stars awarded based on their opinions, understanding and relationship towards: Benni, Ruth and Emma.
Some readers will create a magical world in their head of locations whilst others will recognise many landmarks in and around Brixham. Some readers will connect with the backstories of the three female characters and perhaps reflect upon their own circumstances.
Amongst the story line and the characters, I have dotted little bits of my personal history. I do this in each of my books as my creativity comes from deep within and is inspired by the life I've led. My first full-time job after leaving education was as a bank clerk for NatWest bank in Tamworth, my paternal grandmother lived in a bungalow in Redwood Drive, Burntwood and my paternal grandfather used to demolish brick cooling towers - each is mentioned within the book.
And finally, Rose Cottage is a beautiful holiday let in Brixham in which I stayed during August 2018 for one week thanks to a kind invite from good friends. It is in the small rear garden that I sat on Thursday, 23rd August 2019 and wrote the synopsis which was to become tomorrow's publication.
Today, the eve of publication is filled with excitement and delightful memories knowing that tomorrow my readers can share in my latest novel 'New Beginnings at Rose Cottage'.
Available to purchase Amazon or Waterstones