Archive for September, 2011

The skill of prevarication. And why aspiring writers are so important.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

It really is incredible the lengths that I will go to not to write. My husband has just watched me come in from riding, which occupied two hours of my morning, make tea, tidy the kitchen, have a shower, dry my hair, choose my clothes, make coffee, impart gossip, discuss dinner and he then commented “You really will do anything not to write won’t you?”  And I think he might be right. And this isn’t because I’m lazy or ambiguous about writing – I adore doing it. I feel incredibly privileged to have the ability to do it, both in terms of skill and lifestyle, and I spend much of my time waiting to be able to do it. Enthusiasm and inspiration cannot be summoned at will and usually present themselves at very inconvenient times, school pick-up and so on. So after analysing his words (secretly of course, to his face I protested vehemently, pleading beds to be made, vacuuming, etc. – things he doesn’t understand and has no experience of so can’t argue with) I realised that it’s because I’m scared. Scared that when I try and nip back into the world I’ve created, which is becoming bigger and more detailed every minute of the day (and night, sometimes) that maybe this time it just won’t work. Perhaps I’ll be denied access. Perhaps the characters won’t come when I call them. Perhaps the story will be hiding from me. It’s a mixture of all of these things. I don’t know whether I will be ever become skilled enough to know that when I settle down to write it will, magically, happen. I suspect not. I’ve written about a variation on this theme before; confidence and lack of, etc. And I have also learned that the best way to proceed when you’re not really sure if it’s going to happen is just to start writing and keep ploughing on for a good few hundred words. It usually works. Sometimes it doesn’t and you have to erase the lot, but recognising good writing from bad is an essential part of being a writer. I appear to be capable of both extremes and I am definitely ruthless when I see something doesn’t work or doesn’t fit.

Another key factor in the success of my day to day writing is that I need to be absolutely focussed. Which is particularly hard for me because I am easily distracted and easily led. Twitter, facebook and my phone all provide constant sources of distraction, and all my friends know that I don’t work in the conventional sense so I’m usually available for coffee/lunch/general chat. Since the Autumn term started I am being quite dedicated though; the amount of time I spend being productive has increased dramatically, and the amount of time I spend gossiping has reduced dramatically. But the tea-making, showering, bed-making, etc. is all part of me preparing myself to write. I could just walk in the door and sit down and get on with it but then I know I’d be distracted by thoughts of tasks ahead and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. The trick is to be really strict with yourself about which are the essential things and which can wait. And then stick to your decision.

Happily, my latest manuscript is going very well. Though I haven’t actually added anything new to it for a few days, I’ve been editing what I have written thoroughly, which is useful. It gives me a really good feel for the characters and allows me to build them up early. After a few vacillations (and tweets) I’ve stuck with the first person POV. I got concerned about 6,000 words in that I’d made the wrong decision so I backtracked slightly and wrote a section in the third person but that didn’t seem right either. Eventually I went with the first person POV, which is both the easiest and hardest decision because it requires bravery and confidence but also means that I do not have to do an entire 6,000 word re-write.

Another thing that has happened this week is that I introduced my mother to twitter! She’d been interested in the idea for ages but I think possibly age, lack of computer experience and generally not understanding the internet made it a difficult leap for her to take, though she writes a blog regularly (link to the left of this page) and wanted to introduce it to a wider audience. So I was very kind; I took her through twitter, found nice pictures for her background, etc. and showed her the ropes. I explained as best I could how it all works and found people I knew she would like for her to follow. Then I made the fatal error of trusting her to tweet on her own. She’s @JayneBithrey and I think to date she’s tweeted about four times. The last of which was about a week ago. This tells me that she doesn’t know what to tweet about, she needs to find the aspects of her character that she wants to bring to the fore via twitter and concentrate on those. I am convinced that once she gets into it, she will enjoy it. So if anyone has any advice for her then do tweet her. Please. I’m not convinced I can cope on my own.

However I do accept that twitter isn’t always the easiest thing to understand, and this has been well-demonstrated already this week (as it is most weeks, to be honest) by the flare-ups I have seen between aspiring writers and established agents/publishers. Quite often someone who blogs regularly, or is working on a novel, will come to twitter and see it as an excellent way to promote their work. Which it can be. But it is not a platform for formal submission. Unfortunately a lot of these individuals don’t realise that so they don’t go about it correctly. Instead of following the right people for information and opinions, and building up their own, like-minded, follower list they simply bombard agents and publishers with an identical tweet which will read something like: “PLEASE RT!!!! I am trying to get published, I am a person with X career who loves writing, my blog is www.XXXXXX.com” (don’t google that by the way, I can’t be held responsible for what might appear). Anyway, this makes the rest of us almost literally cringe; it’s a horribly lazy, very blatant way to ask for attention and it simply will not work. In fact, it will actually work against you, which is what a few of the agents/publishers point out – and sometimes in a very sharp manner. And I do have to question this, I’m afraid. I understand that these individuals already established in the publishing industry want to use twitter much like the rest of us do without being constantly targeted for submission, but if you are on there in your professional capacity then you need to accept that aspiring writers will target you. It seems to some like an excellent, direct method of communication to some powerful people. Irresistible – and annoying. But, just occasionally, I do wonder whether the agents/publishers might give the annoying people the benefit of the doubt about knowledge of twitter etiquette and just ignore them. No response is the easiest and quickest way to show people doing it wrongly the error of their ways. And those who may have the same idea. A sharp, pointed, negative response will be perceived as ‘horrible’ by people who won’t understand what they’ve done wrong and could potentially discourage them from approaching agents/publishers in the future. And let’s face it – if they don’t the world could lose out on some pretty good writers. All of the world’s most treasured authors were nothing more than people with an idea once. Skill and tenacity is what projected them above others. Aspiring writers are an important part of the publishing industry’s future, and sometimes I think the established professionals would do well to remember that.

Now I have a confession: I may have written an entire blog post – but the only reason I started doing this was as prevarication so I could put off being brave enough to climb back into my manuscript, as per the opening paragraph of this blog. However, the time has now come. It stands at 10,275 words and my aim is to get that to at least 12,000 words today.

After lunch.

xxx

The beginning of a long road.

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

As anyone who follows me regularly on twitter will know I have started writing Manuscript Number 3! It does have a name which I will keep to myself for a while; suffice to say it is one of my favourite words in the world. As the title of this blog says it is the beginning of a very long road so I thought I would write a post about each stage of it because I find the creation of a book a fascinating process. You can never predict what will happen or how it will happen, and right now I am at the very, very start of it all.

If I have one aim every time I start writing something new, it is to plan better than I ever have before. The number of times I look at my screen and just wish that I had detailed notes about what’s going to happen written down next to me is huge. But that would be a massive luxury and I am slowly learning that this isn’t how I work. And when I say slowly, I do mean very slowly  – it’s taken me approximately 440,000 words and six years to learn. I should have realised before, really. I aspire to be an organised person and I’m not. I would love to have set routines every day, but I don’t, I behave very much as the mood takes me. And my writing is no different. I spent about three solid days planning this manuscript and poured hours and hours more of thought into it. As I commented to someone on twitter I felt like I never stopped ‘working’. No matter what I was doing I found myself shifting ideas around in my head, peering through the tangles of potential plot lines, ruthlessly scything away anything that was superfluous and seizing upon all inspiration. It had to sort itself out. Once I had the bare outline of a plot I wrote it down. But I struggled here too; I mean, how do you create one, coherent document of what is going to happen in your book when it necessarily involves relationships between all the characters? I found that I couldn’t. So these are honestly the tags I have taped to my planning notebook (in order):

  1. ‘to remember’
  2. ‘main female character’
  3. ‘random details’
  4. ‘main female character and secondary female character’
  5. ‘main female character and main male character’
  6. ‘secondary male character’
  7. ‘plot construction’
  8. ‘secondary female character’
  9. ‘main male character’
  10. ‘PLOT’

And in between all of this well-behaved preparation the only thing I wanted to do was to start writing and bring the characters to life. And of course once I did the whole thing was out of my control anyway. I will never cease to be amazed by just how much a book constructs itself. Within a very few hundred words I had changed the POV which was a huge gamble for me but it seems to have paid off. I always email my sister chapters of my manuscript as I write it and she critiques it for me.  When I did so this time I deliberately didn’t mention the fact that I was writing it in the first person rather than the third person  and she didn’t  mention it in her reply so I’m assuming she didn’t notice and if she did she felt it worked. I sent her on this occasion the prologue and the first chapter and her comments were: “What’s the character’s name???? And what does she look like, I have no idea what she looks like! And the conversation between X&Y is too long and too boring.” Which wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear but it did make me realise that I had made a grave and fundamental error which I instantly corrected and rewrote the chapter which she much preferred.

The characters do honestly bring themselves to life, decide their own names, where they live and so on and so forth. I have but the barest influence on them. I know that sounds delusional but it’s true. I’d named my characters before I started, nice names I thought, but whilst I was writing the correct names presented themselves to me and of course they were better. And once I had the correct names the characters themselves leaped and flared to life and once they’ve done that they start telling their story far more accurately than I can. It’s an amazing process. And it does feel like having a secret world to creep into. The best analogy I can think of is when you go camping, crawl into a tent and zip it up behind you. That’s what it feels like when I start writing in the morning.

And obviously now the girls are back at school I have plenty of time for writing. My manuscript currently stands at 5,211 words. Most of which was written in one day. I can’t keep that output up, my brain feels exhausted, but I hope to produce an amount of writing every single day. Apart from the weekends, maybe. I haven’t decided about those yet. My eldest daughter has Saturday school so technically I shall some free time but perhaps it would be better to try and stick to a traditional working week? My husband doubles over with mirth every time I tell him that I am ‘working’. But I am. I am sitting down and applying myself and not being distracted by Jeremy Kyle or Radio 4. Disparate potential distractions, I grant you. But I do feel like I’m constructing a new life for myself, I have never had this sort of time before. I’ve either been at school, Uni or had one or the other of the girls at home with me. This solitude and space to write is an absolute novelty to me – and I am loving it. I’m still wondrous every night when I put my younger daughter to bed that in the morning she’s going to get up and go back to school. Every day. I do miss having her around sometimes, but on the whole I feel everyone is going to be a lot happier with this new arrangement. She is thoroughly enjoying school and having a lot of fun, and I am able to be very creative and produce a lot of words, which is great. I wonder how long it will take me to write this book? Another interesting point is that I always feel that the current manuscript I am working on is the best thing I have ever written. I always feel that, and I don’t know why. Is it because I am filled with enthusiasm for the current project? Or is it really the best thing I have ever written because my writing is improving with time and practice? I don’t have the answer yet.

I have no more publisher news.  Which is partly nice because it means that I have no more rejections. It’s an odd feeling to be so far removed  from something that is so personal to me. Out there, somewhere, in some editor’s inbox my manuscript is sitting. And when it is commented upon it won’t be me that receives the news, it will be my agent. There’s a whole step between me and it. Which is nice in some ways; I can get on with writing the next one without having to worry about dealing with the previous one.

See! 1,272 words and it isn’t even ten o’ clock in the morning. I said I was being productive :)  xx

Submission….and rejection. Nine weeks in the life of an anxious author.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I have written only one blog post this summer. That’s it. A far cry from this time a year ago in the run-up to publishing Things He Never Knew when I was writing once or twice a week. This year is very different; first of all I was so burnt out by completing my second manuscript – the final push was tough – that I had little enthusiasm for creating anything, and secondly all I have done for nine weeks is look after my children. Which has been lovely, but not worth reporting here on my blog. There’s only so much playing and plasticine that people want to read about.

Summer has gone so quickly! Staring down the gun barrel of nine weeks of childcare is always daunting, but before I know it the diary is filled up with playdates, visits and weekends away – there’s always something going on – and oh so quickly September is here and they’re back to school. It’s extra poignant for me this year because now it’s time for my younger daughter to join her big sister in the main school as she starts Reception. As I’ve said before Alice has a genetic abnormality called 22q11 deletion, and when she was born I didn’t know if she would ever go to school, so preparing her big girl’s uniform for her has been extra-special. I’m not an over-protective mother by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t deny feeling a little anxious this time round. However she is going into a class with lots of her friends from the Nursery and she is happy and excited about starting school so she is as well prepared as she can be. Which is more than can be said for me as I attempt to return to some semblance of routine with both girls occupied Monday-Friday. I decided back in June to give myself the entire summer away from writing, partly because of the intensity of finishing Daisychain (my manuscript) and partly because it’s impossible to be able to focus on anything with two girls to entertain, and unfair on them to try. September however heralds a return to writing…..hopefully….

At the beginning of the summer I wrote a blog post about the submission of Daisychain; after it had been approved and I had cut 30,000 precious words from it (easier than it sounds, actually) it was sent to five publishers. I was told to expect a four to six week wait and probably longer because it was summer and everyone would be away. Or sitting in the sunshine, drinking cider in a beer garden somewhere. No, she didn’t say that really. Anyway, exactly four weeks to the day it was submitted I received my first rejection. From Headline. I had a lovely email from them forwarded to me by my agent which was the nicest rejection I could have received – but it was a rejection. And I was hit far harder by it than I had ever anticipated. As any author, aspiring or otherwise will know, rejection is very much part of being a writer. Inevitably, not everyone who reads your work is going to like it. I’ve never been that bothered by rejection from agents however, most of the time I doubted they had read it anyway and if they had I respected their opinion that it wasn’t for them. In fact, strange though it may sound I didn’t see rejection as dispiriting, I saw it as a challenge – and I love challenges. I shrugged metaphorically and turned elsewhere, hoping that I was simply a step closer. I had a lot of confidence that I would be taken on by someone one day – whether this is due to the sometime positive feedback that I did receive, or just my over-inflated sense of ability I really don’t know. But I do know that you can never give up hope. And this is something that I clung to in those days after my first rejection from a publisher. It was far more of a blow because I thought finding an agent to represent me would be a lot harder than getting a publisher to accept the manuscript. Now I know that the reverse is true. And each publisher rejection is a further signature on the death warrant of the manuscript; if they all reject it there really is nowhere else to turn, I shall simply have to put it to one side and move on. And four weeks after the first I received a second rejection, from Ebury this time, which whilst it didn’t shock me as much as the first, it certainly didn’t help either. Though I’m loath to admit it I was plunged into despair, convinced that I would get five rejections and my confidence to write anything else disappeared entirely. And this was a real problem to me. I like to be quite organised and as the end of the holidays approached I wanted to be in a position to start writing something else as soon as the girls were back at school – but I had absolutely no confidence in my ability to judge the appeal of a plot. If my manuscript is being rejected surely that means there’s no market for my writing? Surely I’m writing the wrong stuff? And at that point I had ideas floating around my mind but nothing definite, and try as I might I simply could not twist them into something compelling enough for me to start planning. So then I started wondering whether I should change my writing style, choose something a little more light-hearted perhaps? But no, that would be silly and weak I decided. Whatever I write has to be true to me and if the market isn’t ready for it at the moment then perhaps it will be in the future. I can’t try and predict future trends and tailor my writing to them; that would be crazy. No, I just had to be patient and hope inspiration would come. And tonight it did. An idea that I’ve been toying with for a while suddenly morphed into a tangible shape and took on contours and colour. It truly was a Eureka! moment. Before I knew it I had the title and the cover image flooding into my mind and my heart was beating faster and I was thinking – this is it! That’s when I reached for my phone by the way and quickly the tapped the news into twitter. My idea was seconds old but I had to share the birth of it immediately. And at that point I understood – it’s not about having confidence in your writing – it’s about being passionate enough about an idea or a plot that you would write it anyway, even if everyone else hated it, just for yourself. You can’t write specifically for a market, first and foremost you need to be true to yourself. Or I do at least, anyway. So I haven’t got any further with it at the moment, but I don’t need to because it’s there, ready and waiting when I need it. The girls go back to school on Thursday and straight away I shall be knuckling down and working on it, kneading it into shape and bringing it to life. I can’t wait.