Posted in Chronicles in Creation

Writing: Expectation Vs Reality…

I was having a sort out in my room the other day, in the aftermath of nanowrimo and all, and I found something I wanted to share with you all. I don’t … I don’t really know what the lesson is here, but I suppose if we go through it all together, maybe we can figure it out?

So I found my first notebook from way back in the very beginning, at the point when I decided I’d quite like to write the series. Wow, that was a long time ago now…

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Anyway, I dug it out and I sort of wanted to share it with you? As you can see, it’s a bit battered and it’s definitely stuffed to bursting! I carried it around with me on the ride to and from work, which I bring up because the writing’s weirdly neat for me and my bus-writing!

It wasn’t anything ground-breakingly original, nor anything very complex in it’s conception either. It was essentially just a collection of pictures I’d found online (me having no artistic talent whatsoever and thus being incapable of drawing my own) that vaguely fitted either the general vibe of the stories I was looking for, or an effort to try and get a fix on what I thought various characters looked like, how they acted, what their backstories were, all that jazz…

I started work on it initially, if I remember rightly, because I had some many images and ideas and little fragments and flashes of inspiration floating around in my head and I wanted to tie some of it down in one place. I wanted to see what the common threads where, what my imagination was driving at, and having it all down in hard copy in front of me was very useful in that regard.

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At first it was all pretty well-organised; just a few notes, some snatches of Old English and translations, the odd place-name I’d decided on…

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But after a while, things got a little out of hand! Even the notes were trying to escape the confines of the notebook!

One of the more interesting things about having a ratch through this old thing, after several years of it being tucked away safely in a box, has been seeing what ideas I have kept largely unchanged since the very start of this whole endeavour and what has changed, sometimes quite radically!

Whole character arches have been completely altered and swept away, whole others have only had small additions or subtractions made. Sometimes I’ve even stumbled over characters I came up with way back when which I’d since forgotten about entirely, only to realise I’d been trying to recreate them from scratch because my stories still needed them! Talk about inadvertently reinventing the wheel!

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I suppose the big question is: Was all this cutting and sticking worth it? Well…

I feel that it would be dishonest to say that this has been a practice I’ve continued into my writing endeavours today. Just as an example, this is what my current notebook looks like!

I know, glamorous, isn’t it?

And you might be thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, but surely that’s just the outside, right? It’ll be full of pretty pictures on the inside, naturally!’

Nope! ‘Fraid not!

(Sorry Mam, I know my handwriting’s … distinctive!)

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It’s not pretty, but it works!

But that doesn’t mean that all that work on the old notebook was wasted effort.

For some people, I understand that world-building is quite literally the process of building a whole world from the ground up and then populating it with characters to explore it. For others it’s a case of having a bunch of characters and needing to build a world for them to fit inside of. For yet others (and I realise this might not be how most people think of world-building, but I reckon it still counts) the whole thing starts with the story and they build the world and the characters as necessary for the story to take place.

But none of those broad models works for me at all…

The beginning of my writing journey was a mess of origin stories for people I didn’t know would be main characters (and indeed rather suspected would not!), a single clear crystalline image of three wildly different castles, some flashes of scenes in no particular order, and a smattering of world-mechanics for travel and magic and culture. And through of of this, the certainty that it would all fit together perfectly if I could only find a way to fill in the blank bits!

Filling up a notebook like this was a helpful first step towards filling in those gaps. Getting down everything I knew I knew, not worrying about what order I knew things, not worrying about whether I was being wildly different to everyone else, just pushing all that swirling mess inside my head out onto paper and making space for carrying new ideas… It helped me feel like I was getting somewhere, even if – in the strictest of writing senses – I was doing no such thing!

Come the New Year, I think I’ll be dipping into the old notebook a bit more and sharing some choice chunks with you all! Some ideas that sounded good in principle but just didn’t quite stick the landing, some characters I realised I hated already and they hadn’t even made it through the story yet, and one huge integral feature of world-building that made it through several drafts before I realised I’d almost created a monster I couldn’t make myself stand behind.

After all, if we don’t share out mistakes, other people have to go and make them for themselves, don’t they?

Have any of you found old notebooks lurking long after you’d finished with them? Did you find buried treasure or ghouls best left forgotten?

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Posted in Chronicles in Creation, Nanowrimo

Nano-Wrangle: Week 5

Greetings, Everyone!

It’s over!!!

Yep, November’s over, Nano’s done, I no longer need feel guilty because I’m too tired to remember how words work, and I can just go to bed instead…

That one’s … actually, that one’s not that much of an exaggeration at all, now that I think about it.

I nearly didn’t write this post, but some of you have been very lovely all the way through this saga and it felt too much like cheating not to. After all, I promised you honesty when I started this blog, and sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, you know?

Final Chart Nano 2019

Basically, the long and the short of it is that I rather tapped out of Nano this past week. It all got to be too much for me, I sat down to write after work one evening and I got shaken awake at my desk by the security team late into the night, like i was a student the week before finals all over again.

I’ll say this about Nano, nothing has ever made me feel more like I did when I was 20 in years; essay-crises, late-night studying, frantically drinking more tea than is advisable while squinting at my hand-written notes like the Rosetta Stone may need to be called in to translate at any minute… Never wish to feel younger kids, remember that Time’s relentless march forwards is just pushing you further and further away from the Dark Days!

Anyway, that was definitely the stage when I thought to myself, ‘Self? Why? Why are you doing this?’ and I packed it in for a few days to catch up on sleep and remember when keyboards weren’t a constant source of mild fear and guilt.

The good news is, as a result of that, I can’t say that my quiet fears from last week that I would end up finishing November loathing the very notion of writing has not come to pass. Hurray!

The bad news is that I am being sassed by my Nano page right now:

Words needed today

Ouch.

Am I disappointed that I didn’t finish? A little.

But it’s not all bad news. I might not have reached the 50,000 word target, but I still feel like I did pretty ok in the end, certainly more than I ever have done before for Nano!

Final Total

See, that’s something, right there!

And I’ve learned a fair bit about my writing tendencies, about some of my weaknesses which I can now spend the next few months working on, and – even if I never managed to consistently write over 1,500 words every single day – I did manage to get much better at taking every possible opporunity to write at all, which can only be a good thing for my writing in the coming months and years.

So rather than calling this a failure, I’m firmly taking this as a writing assessment of a sort. I’ve certainly learned plenty doing this, and though I’m sure plenty of you already knew this already, I figured I’d share a few of the highlights:

  • You’re never as prepared as you think you are. I’m a planner and that’s fine, but no plan is perfect, and no plan is helpful if it’s months and months old, you twit!
  • Some gaps in your knowledge will only be found by tripping over them. Look, you plan things out, you do your research, you think you have a good basic knowledge base to tide you over. It’s all going to be fine. And then your new character makes their entrace, or the plot moves to the next location, or you just straight-up need to move onto a new plot-point and … nope. Error 404: Item Not Found. Just sigh, mark the holes at your feet on your map and accept you’ll need to fill them in sooner or later.
  • Everything gets harder when you don’t sleep. Learn this. Know this. Live by this.
  • Be flexible; sometimes everything goes to plan and you can start at point A and work your way through to point Z in a calm and logical manner. Sometimes you cannot. Although if, as I did, you bounce around too much then you do start to lose your coherency pretty quickly, so… Jury’s out on that one.
  • Have a back-up project. Want to do Nano but tend to be a multiple projects person? Definitely have a few things planned to switch to. But even if you’re not? Still have a spare project or two lined up. Sometimes a story just doesn’t want to be written, and especially when you’ve got that whole daily word count thing going on, I defintely found the only way I didn’t completely lose the will to live was to have something else to reach for and pick up writing on.

Anyway, that’s Nano over with for this month! I’m still going to try to keep up the writing thing as much as I can, as I said, I haven’t learned to hate it yet, so that’s always a plus! Prepare for some fairly silly posts coming up in the near future, and possibly also a bit of the analysis stuff I haven’t done in a while!

Did you do Nano this year? How did it go? What did you learn from the experience that you didn’t necessarily know before?

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Posted in Chronicles in Creation, Nanowrimo

Nano-Wrangle: Week 4

Greetings, friends!

Well, this week… this week has been a bit of a disaster writing-wise.

In total fairness, I’m amazed we made it this fair before things properly fell apart; it’s certainly been further than I’ve made it before.

Now, don’t worry, I haven’t given up really, I promise! Just… Things haven’t been as productive as they were in previous days:

Nano - progress wk4

I think it might be time to admit that November is just a spectacularly bad time for me to try doing Nano at all: busiest time of the year work-wise, body struggling with the early nightfall, and nowadays the added time pressure of outfitting the panto too. It’s just getting to be too much, and the stress is doing dreadful things to what writing I have managed.

People who know more about Nano than I do; is it true that there is another version in springtime? Or that you can just set a couple of dates and let the website chivy you along under normal times? Because the whole running tally and chart thing has proven to be very encouraging for me, it’s just fighting a losing battle against the forces of … November-ness. That’s a real word now, I say so!

And in keeping with helping me not feel like a total failure, the week did bring me another badge! Very motivating things, badges…

Nano Badge - 14 day streak

So that’s something, isn’t it? If nothing else, I’m gaining a lot of practice in learning persistence and not giving up just because I’m busy…

In terms of what’s actually being written, I regret to say that for all the discipline I’m gaining from this month, I’m also gaining a realisation of how much I didn’t know I didn’t know abotu the story I wanted to tell! Maybe I’ve run into a problem which many pantsers I have told me happens to them: that they plan it all out and their brains decide that they’ve now told the story and refuse to go back to it? Maybe I just hadn’t planned and developed out my characters as real people as much as I should have? Maybe I just need to try a different story for a bit?

That said, maybe the problem is that I’ve bitten off more than I coudl chew this month and didn’t have the sense to pack anything in, trying instead to do it all. I’m exhausted and taking my crankiness out on my book, which  is certainly better than taking it out on other people, but sadly you can’t publish people either!

Come December I’ll focus on other things, I think. There’s some posts for here that I’ve been holding onto in the background, so maybe that’s the ‘Something Completely Different’ that I’ll turn to instead? Because I do certainly want to keep up the writing momentum, but I think by the 30th Novemeber I’ll be ready to throw the book draft out of the window!

Until then, however, we keep making what progress we can!

Nano - week 4

Until next time…

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Posted in Chronicles in Creation, Nanowrimo

Nano-Wrangle: Week 3

Well, folks, we began Week 3 with me thoroughly paying for running myself into the ground last week. Seriously kids, don’t push yourselves so hard, it never works out in the long run, and one day I shall learn to practice this instead of constantly ending up as the demonstration model in why we keep teaching it…

So yes, writing while battling through the migraine brought on by exhaustion and far too many far too late nights? Not fun. Don’t be like me, kids.

Nano - buddy2Something I forgot to tell you all last week was that I now not only have one nano-buddy, but two! Yes, another mutual friend heard us chatting about it and has bravely undertaken Nano this year as well. To both of them go the full credit for encouraging me to stop beating myself up about my writing and actually make time to sleep, and for this I cannot thank them enough. We often talk about writing buddies as people who encourage us to keep writing and finding inspiration, but I feel that we must also give them the credit they deserve for encouraging us to take care of ourselves and stop undermining ourselves. Thank you both so much!

So writing progress this week has been… mixed.

Nano - week 3

Very mixed.

It’s fine, I managed to get at least a little bit of writing done every day, so that’s good, and at this point I’m just aiming for being comfortable in my writing rather than giving myself grief for not churning out a consistent amount every day.

Speaking of things which are different from last week – and indeed speaking of things that I’m not beating myself up for anymore! – I’ve also relaxed a bit on only having one Nano project on the go.

Some things you only learn about yourself the hard way, I suppose, and one thing I have most certainly learned over the course of this month is that I do not deal well with only having one writing project on hand. I’d previously assumed that my tendency to have upt o five stories running through my head at a time was some form of procrastiation, where I hid from difficult bits. And you know, maybe it is? But to steal one of my favourite character descriptions from John Le Carré for a second, I have “a mind like the back of an envelope” and I seem to be far more productive when I hop between stories whenever I have a brainwave or feel in the mood for a different tone of story, than I am when I force myself to keep staring at the same story every day and wind up hating the very idea of it. Or worse, the mental toll it takes on you when you do give in and work on a different story for a while, and then spend that time feeling bad because you’re working on ‘the wrong story’ all the time.

You shouldn’t hate your own stories while you’re writing them after all. That’s what editing is for…

(Thank you again to Icklespan and lsilverlock for helping me reach this realisation and showing me that it’s not a bad thing to have multiple stories to tell!)

If you are like me and need to have a few things on the go at once, and you want to do Nanowrimo and thus need to keep track of your word count, this is my Top Tip:

Nano Word Counting

Have a random unsaved and untitled document open and keep copying and pasting your words and paragraphs into it as you write. No order, no worrying about paragraph breaks if they don’t copy over, no nothing. You’re not keeping this, after all, all you’re going to do is delete it all at the end of the session. All you need is for all the words to be in there at the end of the session or day of writing. Then just note your number down and enter it in! It will save you the headache of needing to juggle a lot of different numbers and you’ll get that nice sense of accomplishment in seeing all your hard work in one place.

This also helps me when I’m back filling parts of a story too; if I’ve had several chapters or sections in a story and I’ve known the start of every one of them, then I can get all that down, then go back and work out how each section progressed from that flash of inspiration.

And I’m happy to say that the results have certainly paid off because instead of just sort of enduring Nano for the sake of feeling like a ‘real writer’, I’ve relaxed a lot and had a bit more fun and a sense of progress. With the additional reward of another badge!

Nano badge - 7 days update

Now, in terms of the main Nano project, i.e. The Book, we have hit a bit of a – what do they call these in workshops and things? Oh yes – a learning opportunity/experience. So I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been struggling so much with large chunks of the book, because it can’t all be due to the foolishness of trying to write the book 18 months after I wrote the plan. (Don’t do this to yourselves, kids! Don’t be like me and get scared of your own story…)

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 2Anyway, what I realised eventually was that for all that I knew how the story was going to go, I’d competely lost sight of my fairy characters. (If you’ve been here for a while, you might remember me talking about creating them back in the day, but if not, here’s Part 1 of 3) Like … I’ve completely lost them. All the stuff I need to know in order to write conversations: how do they talk, how do they address each other, what gestures do they make, which of them is a pacer and which of them sits perfectly still and barely blinks? All those things? Not a sodding clue!

Thankfully, that detailed plan continues to be useful, because I could sit down with it and highlight all of the scenes which are just the humans doign things and I’ve been concentrating on that. It’s avery disjointed way to write a book, I’m not entirely sure I like it the longer I do it, but at the very least it means that I am still writing something for the book rather than sitting there feeling lost and stranded in Chapter 2…

So yes, progress is being made, but not always in the way I was hoping for. But all progress in our creative endeavours is worth celebrating and cliched as it is, sometimes the most valuable thing really is the lessons you learn along the way!

Nano - progress wk3

How’s everyone else’s Nano going? Does anyone have any tips, especially for conversations? But also just generally anything helpful you’ve discovered during Nano this year that you want to share, do leave them in the comments below!

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Nano-Wrangle: Week 2

Greetings friends!

So, Week 2 was always going to be harder than Week 1… I mean, for one thing it’s a lot longer than just two days!

Anyway, Day 3, I learned from Day 2 and knuckled down straight away to finish the 767 words to finish off Chapter 1. Something to check right off the list from the get-go.

Putting in that word-count straight away was a nice feeling; it meant I didn’t spend the day feeling anxious that I wasn’t achieving anything and also prompted the Nano website into giving me the badges I really should have got on Day 2:

Nano Badge - 2 day streak

This one I was expecting, though I’m still confused about why it waited until Day 3’s updated wordcount to ping up. The ways of websites are confusing, I suppose!

The one I had forgotten was a possibility was this one though:

Nano Badge - 5000 words

Sadly this meant having to sit staring at my plan for Chapter 2 and try to remember what I was thinking when I wrote the notes up. Even going back to the earlier more detailed notes didn’t help much. The motto of this mini-story is this: don’t write up your notes and think you can just pick the story up again six months later. No matter how detailed they are, they will still end up looking back at you as if a martian wrote them…

In general the middle of this week has been a masterclass in why I have never managed to finish Nano before. Work exploded into chaos, through no fault of its own, but sometimes things just happen, my drama group finally decided what they wanted for costumes, but had some very tight turn-arounds and of course at my ancient age, the days when sleep was an optional extra are long gone!

And this is both the good and bad thing I find about Nano, because having told all of you lovely people and my friends about how I wanted to do it, even though I didn’t make my target for the day, any writing I could do was a little bit of writing, you know? Some days I manged 255 words, or 200 words and that wasn’t a lot but it was something.

But on the other hand it also meant that I had insane days where I’d done a full day of work, worked straight through my lunch break while I was at it, then made costumes after work, arrive home very late and very tired, made myself dinner and rather than go to bed would sit up and start writing. And kids, let me tell you; that’s no way to go through life, not even temporarily. By Thursday I was dead on my feet and had to have a stern talking to myself in the mirror about how this was supposed to be a fun thing to do, rather than an endurance challenge.

Side note, I can’t remember if we had a daily counter graph in past years, but I wish there was a way to make it disappear so much…

No matter which form it’s in, there was nothing like this graph to make me feel bad that I wasn’t writing as much per day as I was last week. If you’re like me and you get stressed by not meeting totally imaginary targets, this graph? Don’t look at it. That’s a Top Nano Tip from the wyvern this year…

Nano word count 2

Anyway, Day 9 – being a Saturday – was much more successful! Having gone to bed early on Friday night, reasoning that burning the candle at both ends – during the academic term no less – was a quick way to make myself ill, I woke up with a lot more coherency, and decided rather than beating my head against the brick wall I was stuck on, to try a totally different bit.

And guess what? It worked!

I managed to churn out over 7000 words in one sitting before I looked up and realised that it was past lunchtime and I was still in my pjs! So the graph of failure looks a little bit more friendly!

Not to mention another badge was won without me expecting it (look, I’m bad at maths, so I never keep in my head how far along I am for total word count until a badge pings me:

Nano Badge - 10,000 words

So if nothing else, the detailed plan of details has proven itself to be a very useful bit of work after all! It doesn’t matter that I can’t do Chapter 2, because I could go for Chapter 7, which I can picture very clearly and tackle that instead and then fill in the blanks at a later date. Sure, there’ll be a few continuity and style issues from writing a story in such a disjointed fashion, but that’s what the second draft is for, right?

Also I am fully aware that this day is a total fluke; it’s not going to be my output for next week by a long shot and I have firmly promised myself that I will stop beating myself up about Nano targets.  Some days will be good days and some days will be bad days and it will all average out just fine in the end, and sleep is a non-negotiable feature of my life!

We’ll see what the next week brings, but despite everything we’re still a little ahead of where we should be, and the month’s nowhere near over yet!

Nano Progress - week 2

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