Blog Hop, Business of Writing, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Twitter, Writing

How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 2)

PlottingAs promised, here is the sequel to How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 1), where I’ll share more about the strategies I use to plot and write my books.

These strategies are the result of several years of practice, of learning from others, of tweaking, honing, and adapting. This didn’t come to me overnight, and, for the last two books I’ve started, the strategy has slightly changed again. It is, and always will be, fluid. I’ll forever be tweaking it, finding new ways that work better, and abandoning others that don’t.

For one thing, I’m never simply working on one book at a time. I always have at least two books on the go, sometimes three. But never at the same stage. A first draft requires me to be fully, and undistractedly, immersed into the world of that book. I only ever write one book at a time. But, I may well be writing one, plotting another, and editing a third.

I break down the book writing process into five basic stages:

  • Plotting
  • Writing
  • Editing (which includes the beta reader stage)
  • Publishing (which includes cover design and formatting)
  • Marketing (which is never-ending)

Writing is the only stage that is sacred and exclusive. One book at a time. But, if I can market all of my books at the same time, I can also work on more than one book in the other stages of book production, right?

Plotting is the section that has seen the biggest changes over the last year or so. This is the place where my strategy will either speed up my production, or slow me down. This is the vital part. I work to a story structure. I’ve looked at loads and loads of these over the years, and they’re basically, by and large, the same, they just call all the different sections different things. They’re not hard to find online. Search, and find one that sits well with you. So, before I even start plotting, I know what my basic structure is going to be. That work is already done for me.

I take my time over this stage. It doesn’t matter if plotting a book takes as long as writing it, because I’m concurrently writing another, so my production is still up. I plot in notebooks, always handwritten, and that notebook goes everywhere with me. For me, this is an important distinction. I plot by hand, I write on my laptop. It keeps the books separate in my head by separating them physically (and allows me to indulge my notebook addiction.)

My plotting notes differ. Some chapters may just be bullet points, and nothing more. Other chapters are almost completely written in my notebook; description, dialogue, everything. As I plot, I am also updating my series bible (or book bible for standalones), where I keep all the vital details that I’ll need to refer back to. Another trick to speed things up. When I move to the writing stage, I can fly through the chapters that are more heavily plotted, stumbling only when I’ve written something like ‘big fight scene here’. (Writing me never thanks plotting me for that one!) The more detailed the plotting notes, the faster the first draft is. And so, I never worry about plotting taking me a long time. While the first draft is my favourite stage, plotting is the most important.

Beyond that, I’m not doing anything special or different. I edit like a snail trying to get blood out of a stone (lots of coffee and cake required), and while my book is with beta readers, I get on with the next one in the chain.

While it may sound like I’m running a book factory, just churning out books, don’t be mistaken by that analogy. Every single book means the world to me, and includes my heart, my soul, my tears, and my blood. They are my babies, and I love every single one dearly. This is just how I work. My head is busting with more book ideas than I could write in my whole lifetime, and they itch in my fingers, keeping me awake at night, until I write them.

Because that’s one important lesson I’ve learnt; creativity attracts creativity. The more I write, the more ideas I have, the more come. While the brain being like a muscle is a tired old cliché, it’s true: the more weight I lift, the stronger it gets, and the more weight I’m able to lift.

But, this is me. This is what works for me, and it’s never going to work for everyone. You need to find your own way, and remember that you’re not in competition with anyone else. It’s not a race. It’s a path that we’re on together, and some people walk it, enjoying the scenery, while others sprint. There are turtles, and there are hares, and any one of us could burn out, retire, or gain ground at any time. Find your speed, find your route. That’s what matters.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Blog Hop, Got Goals?

Got Goals? Feeling the Heat

Big Goals BloghopLast month, I didn’t post a Got Goals? blog post. And I’ll tell you why: just two hours into the start of the summer holidays, my two year old son had a nasty fall and broke his femur. He’s still in a plaster cast now, and will be for another three weeks. Which means life can’t go back to normal until then. Not completely.

And the summer has been tough. Really tough. All of our plans had to change, and I faced a summer of entertaining a toddler who can hardly do anything (beach is out, playpark is out, most things are out), while saving my five year old from losing out on his summer holidays too. It was hard. There have been tears and meltdowns, and all of them from me. But, I’m not going to go on about that. If you’re interested, you can read all about my adventures with that here.

While We Were WaitingSo, let’s get back to the writing. July was Camp NaNoWriMo which, against all odds, I managed to complete to my set target of 25k. I finished writing While We Were Waiting, and moved onto starting my following book, The Notary of Gotliss Street. While We Were Waiting was subsequently edited (slowly), and sent out to beta readers, and will be released on September 18th. A month later than I’d originally planned, but there you go. I can’t control everything, and I need to learn that.

Other than that, the summer has been a bit of a bust, with me missing goals all over the place. But I can forgive myself for that, and I learnt a lot from it, about my limits, my time management, and what happens if I push myself too hard. Next summer will be entirely different, because I’ve learnt my lessons this year.

So, what’s in store for September? Obviously, the release of While We Were Waiting, which means final edits, dreaded formatting, and the joy of ordering a paperback proof (which, with the merging of KDP and CreateSpace may not go as smoothly as I’d like. We’ll see.) I’ve also been reading ‘Mastering Amazon Ads’ by Brian D Meeks (highly recommended by the way), and I’m hoping to start on that new adventure next month too.

But, it looks like I’ve rambled on enough here, so I’ll sign off now. September’s going to be busy. In fact, the rest of the year looks set to be pretty manic with two literary conventions where I am a guest author. Wish me luck!

How did you do with your August goals? Join the Got Goals? Bloghop here.

Mum Life

Toddler in a Hip Spica: Cast Care

Hip spica cast careYou’re pretty much alone, when it comes to cast care. And it’s far more than simply keeping it as dry and clean as you can. With a toddler that’s dragging themselves around the floor, the cast goes through a heck of a lot wear and tear. It’s unavoidable. And it is already patched up here and there with extra padding to try and stop all the edges from rubbing. It looks like a child’s craft project gone horribly wrong.

Day 10

We had to go back to hospital today because the boy broke his cast. It cracked around the hip of his broken leg, and was barely holding on at all. I phoned the plaster room in something of a panic, and they were totally calm, and a little flippant about it. I guess it’s not a big deal. So, off to the fracture clinic to have it patched up.

And that’s all it was; a quick patch up. It took, probably, less than ten minutes. And my son screamed and fought through the whole thing (leaving me with some impressive bite marks on my arm). He just associates hospitals and medical uniforms, and having anything done to his leg, with pain. Understandably.

I said to the plaster technician “I bet this happens with toddlers all the time”. She rolled her eyes and nodded. “I expect we’ll be seeing you again pretty soon,” she replied. Great.

Day 15

Two weeks in, and today I discovered that we’d been doing his nappies wrong all this time.

When his cast was put on, they put his nappies on in surgery, so I didn’t get to see how it was done. Afterwards, the first poo he did, I asked a nurse to help me change him. She whipped off his under-nappy so quickly that I didn’t get to see how it had been done. All we’d been told was to ‘tuck the nappy into the cast’.

So, what we’d been doing, was tucking the nappy in around the legs, and then fastening the top of the nappy around the outside of the cast. What this meant was, everytime he did a poo (and he does pretty epic ones), it was free to shoot straight up underneath the cast front and back. It was impossible to keep clean, and he ended up with painful sores where his skin was rubbing against the wet, dirty padding. We couldn’t understand how we were supposed to prevent it.

So I looked online. I checked the Steps Charity website, and downloaded their information document. For the first time, I saw the advice of ripping the tabs off the nappy. I went on to their YouTube channel, and my suspicions were confirmed. Two weeks of doing it completely wrong. One stinky cast. One sore toddler. The nappy needed to be inserted fully inside the cast, left undone, and tucked up and under at the front and back. Now it made sense. Then a large nappy secured around the outside of the cast to hold everything together. Two weeks of doing it completely wrong. There is just not enough support given in hospital to prepare parents for taking their children home.

Day 16

Less than a week since the last patch-up, he’s done it again. Looks like it’ll be another trip to the hospital today.

Mum Life

Toddler in a Hip Spica: Day 5 – Day 9

Standing up in a hip spica castDay 5

Today, I took my little boy into town for the first time with his broken leg. We strapped him into the buggy (despite his insistence that he wanted to walk), reclined him back, elevated his legs on the footrest and lifted them with a cushion. Because of the angle he had to sit at, his baseball hat didn’t shade his eyes from the sun, so he also wore a pair of his brother’s sunglasses.

I was worried about it rainin. I was worried about people bumping into his leg that extended out past the corner of the buggy. I didn’t want to go anywhere too busy. I was anxious.

About halfway there, it did start to rain again. Only lightly, but I had come prepared. I pulled my thick hooded jumper from under the buggy and laid it over his legs like a blanket. He loved it, and refused to take it off when we arrived in town. I wanted people to be able to see his cast, so that they would take care around him. But no, he had to have his ‘blanket’ on. I shouldn’t have worried so much. Of course, it all went without a hitch. No one bumped him, and he even got to eat some lunch in a cafe perched on Granny’s knee. He did ask to go to the playpark, but we managed to side-step the issue without too much fuss.

By the time we set off for home though, he was exhausted, and crying, and desperate for ‘Mummy hugs’. So I lifted him out and carried him. All the way home. About 20 minutes. It’s not even so much the weight, it’s the awkwardness, his inability to bend, the sharp angle of the top of the cast poking into my ribs, his repeated requests to be allowed to walk. But we did it. First trip into town done.

Day 6

He’s been standing up in his cast again. There’s just no stopping this child!

A buggy ride in a hip spicaDay 7

Went out for a walk with the boys today. We headed off to visit a community farm not far away, but, unfortunately, it was closed. But, a little further along the path, we did find a small conservation area, so we took a walk through the little woodland. So, we didn’t get to see the sheep, goats, and chickens, but we did eat blackberries and meet a wonderfully soft poodle called Saffron.

Day 8

Yesterday, the little one ate some incredibly chocolatey cupcakes. Today they repeated on him. Serious nappy explosion. They had warned me in the hospital that, by the time the cast came off, it was going to stink, that there was no getting away from that. I think it might happen way before that.

This poo had shot right up under the front of his cast, and up the back too. Good job. Took forever to clean and his cast is, of course, covered. The plaster technician gave us some replacement adhesive padding, so I’m going to have a go at changing that. Wish me luck.

Day 9

Not satisfied with standing up in his cast, today, he figured out how to get on and off the sofa, how to get off the bed, he stood up unsupported, and he’s been shuffling around the room holding onto the furniture. Seriously, does he even realise that he has a broken leg?

Blog Hop, Business of Writing, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Twitter

How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 1)

PlottingI started out as a discovery writer, setting off on the journey of my stories without any kind of plan, and with very little, or even no idea where I was headed. It was exciting, like exploring. It was also slow going, and the editing stage could turn out to be pretty epic. But it worked for me. At least, it did then.

I shunned plotting, scorned it even, insisting that it ‘didn’t work for me’. And I was right, it didn’t. At least, not then. In fact, there was one year that I decided to hit November’s NaNoWriMo event with a fully plotted novel. I worked on it throughout October, and faced November 1st with confidence. I had a map for my journey, I knew where I was going. But, once I had hit around 15,000 words, the characters took over, and pulled the story off in a direction completely unrecognisable from my plan. All I could think, was that I’d wasted an entire month plotting, only to end up with a completely different story.

In 2015, I started publishing. I started up my own imprint, purchased a pack of ISBNs, and suddenly, writing wasn’t just a hobby anymore. And I had to get serious about it.

I started out publishing two books a year. It took me, from conception, to hitting publish, 6 months to produce a book. But the more I learnt about the business of indie publishing, the more I realised the benefits of upping production. And I know indie authors who are releasing a book every month. Over the last two years, I’ve gone from publishing two books a year, to publishing four.

I’ve had a lot of writers asking me how I do it recently. I’ve had people call me ‘lucky’ to be capable of it, for being a fast writer. But, you know what? I’m not a particularly fast writer. I’m just a hard-working writer. And it has nothing to do with luck.

But people don’t see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. They don’t see the sacrifices, the lost sleep, the stress to hit pre-order deadlines. They don’t see the work I’ve done on honing my skills, on tweaking my approach, all the experimentation it took to find the perfect formula for me. They don’t see the daily 5am wake-ups, or the notebook balanced on my knee whenever I sit down, no matter where I am.

I have a very specific strategy in place that really has taken a long time to perfect. But it works for me, at least, it does at the moment. Because that’s the thing with writing; a strategy that works for me now, might not do so in five years. It’s all about being adaptable, about being willing to try new things, being open to changing things up.

This blog post is pretty long already, so I’ll write a second one explaining my strategy, showing how I mange to write and publish four books a year. Check out How a Discovery Writer Learnt to Read Maps (part 2)

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Mum Life

Toddler in a Hip Spica: Day 2 – Day 4

Home at last in a hip spica castThe morning after surgery, we were discharged from hospital, and allowed to go home. Other than nappy advice, and cast care, we were given very few tips about how to actually deal with this.

Day 2

Luckily, we have a nice big buggy and, with his broken leg stuck out to one side and the back reclined, he fits into it. At least we can take him out and about, even if we won’t be going to the playpark for a while. We wheeled him out of the hospital, bid everyone goodbye, and there we were, on our own with a toddler in plaster from chest to ankle.

He doesn’t really fit in his car seat, but we only live five minutes’ drive from the hospital, so we did what we could. Perched at an awkward angle, the straps straining to reach the clip at their full extension, and a rolled blanket pushed in behind his back, we managed to get him secure, at least. A careful drive home, and here we were; about to embark on a long summer of who-knows-what.

He can’t sit upright, so there’s no meals at the table, just a messy affair on the sofa, with a chest covered in crumbs. It also means finger food is best. We’ve laid a big cushion on the floor, and he loves lying on his tummy, with all his toys around him. He happily drags himself around by his arms (I guess I won’t be the only one getting muscles over the summer), and is enjoying demanding this, that, and the other, and having me jump to it every time.

He also likes to crawl around my bed upstairs (which is now bolstered all around the edge with pillows and blankets tucked under the fitted sheet) where he can watch back to back Peppa Pig and Mr Tumble on the bedroom TV. He’s taking it all as a fun game, it’s Mummy and Daddy who are stressed out (cue one meltdown from Daddy, and one exhausted Mummy from carrying a twice-as-heavy-as-he-used-to-be son up and down the stairs all day).

But every time I start to doubt myself, doubt that we can survive this, I just look at that tiny, skinny, two year old boy. If he can do this, and with a big smile on his face, then so can I.

Day 3

Through all of this, it’s important to remember that I have another son. He’s five, and currently staying with Granny and Grandad on the other side of town. Today, I left littl’un at home with Granny, and took the big one into town with me. Of course, I came home from hospital to a house devoid of fresh food, so I needed to go shopping. I also took my son to the library to sign him up to the summer reading challenge.

It’s his summer holidays too, and we cannot forget that. He needs to have a fun few weeks, especially as our plans to spend four weeks with my parents, back in Paignton, Devon, in walking distance of no less than four beaches, have been completely scuppered. My Mum also informs me that they’ve added a Komodo dragon to the collection at Paignton Zoo.

Day 4

So, he’s already stood up in his cast, supporting himself on the edge of my chair. Way too ambitious yet, little buddy. I found a video online of a young boy actually running around in his hip spica. I have no doubt that we’ll see that too. Just not yet, little one, please.