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.

Musings, Twitter, Writing

The Lights that Dazzled

Since I was old enough to talk, I used to say that I wanted to become ‘an actress that sings’, or so my mother tells me. I’m sure it didn’t come as a huge surprise; my grandmother was a singer and an actress (as well as a writer and artist), so it was already in the family. And my parents set about helping me to pursue my dream with gusto.

Despite being the middle of five children, and my parents barely scraping by financially, I was sent to a string of ballet lessons, tap, jazz dancing, drama classes, and years and years of singing lessons. I dread to think what my parents had to give up to pay for them. That’s a debt I hope I can repay, somehow, someday, but it’s one that currently weighs heavy with guilt.

I spent so much of my childhood on the stage, completed my Drama GCSE, my Theatre Studies A-Level, and went on to university to gain a BA Hons Degree in Drama and Writing. And this was when everything changed for me.

In my graduation gown

There had always been things about theatre, about performing, that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like rehearsing, I hated learning lines. Technical and dress rehearsals were like torture. I also suffered, and still do, from almost crippling stage fright. Every time I performed, my mind went blank as I stood backstage, ready to enter. I’d step out into the lights, squinting in their brightness, my heart pounding at the sight of the shadowy figures filling the auditorium, and, even then, I wouldn’t be able to remember my first line. Somehow, thankfully, it always came out as I opened my mouth.

But my heart didn’t stop racing, my palms didn’t stop sweating, my legs didn’t stop shaking, until several hours after the performance had finished. And then the buzz hit. The absolute high of achievement. That’s why I did it. That’s what I loved.

But university wasn’t all I imagined it to be. I was living my dream, studying the subject I loved, yet it wasn’t making me happy. University was emotional, and confusing, and, for a girl who grew up in a very small country town, the social aspect was an absolute minefield. I spent three years treading carefully, and screwing up at every opportunity. And I didn’t know how to fix it, because I had no idea who I was, or how I fitted into the world. That’s something that would take me another ten years to come anywhere close to grasping.

Performing, acting, was a huge part of who I was. My identity was pinned on it. It’s all I’d ever aimed for in life, everything I’d always been working towards. And I suddenly found myself realising that this was not what I wanted to do with my life. It was strange letting that go. It was partly a huge relief, a lifting of a burden I hadn’t even realised wasn’t mine to carry. But it also left me identity-less. And for someone struggling to find their place in the world already, losing the one solid piece of identity I did have, it was massive.

As my degree progressed, I let the drama slide a little, I didn’t care as much, didn’t give it my all. It was the writing part that I loved. And I realised: I didn’t want to be on stage speaking someone else’s words, being someone else’s character, I wanted to be writing them myself. I wanted to sit at the back of a darkened auditorium and watch people speaking my words. I watched my classmates relish their time on stage, while, for me, it became a chore.

Back then, the publishing world wasn’t what it is today. I’d barely heard of Amazon, and self-publishing didn’t really exist at all. It would be another decade before the first Kindle came on sale. Becoming an author was, by and large, an unattainable dream. Of course, all of that was going to change.

Geekery and Creepery, Twitter, Writing

Where Are Your Stories?

Victorian correspondence My dad deals in stamps, and postmarks, and the like (you’d be surprised how much some postmarks can be worth!) Every now and again, he gets hold of piles of old correspondence: letters, envelopes, postcards, personal documents. And he lets me take my pick of the items that aren’t worth much.

To him, the interest is in the stamps and the postmarks. He can track and trace them, and that’s where his stories are. Where the letters have been, how much the postage was, where and when they were sent.

To my brother, the stories are in the actual paper itself. That’s what he gets excited over. The embossed pictures and patterns, the scalloped edges, the watermarks.

But to me, the stories are in the words. The names and addresses, the contents of the letters. The lives lived, the news shared. Even the seemingly mundane business correspondence has a story to tell.

This latest batch are all Victorian, dated between 1870 and 1900. Some still have their sealing wax, melted and pressed on more than 100 years ago. And even a Victorian mourning envelope, edged in black, used to inform of a death.

I love imagining these people; what they looked like, how they lived, and how this particular correspondence may have changed their life forever.

Business of Writing, Twitter, Writing

Meeting my Monster

EditingI like shiny things. I’m always getting distracted by them when I’m meant to be doing something else. And new story ideas are the shiniest things of all.

I’ve always enjoyed first drafts the most. I’m a recent convert to plotting, and I still leave enough wriggle room for my characters to chuck in a few curveballs to surprise me. First drafts are exciting and mysterious, they take you on unexpected adventures. They are, for me, the epitome of creativity.

Editing, on the other hand, is a beast. It’s the monster under my bed. I’ve never enjoyed it. It’s tweaking, and touching up. It’s dabs of paint rather than the sweeping strokes of the first draft. I know plenty of authors who love editing, but for me it’s a chore.

What makes it worse, even more monstrous, is the time between finishing writing and starting editing. It’s commonly given advice to wait before editing your new manuscript, to let it settle, so that you can approach it with a little distance and fresh eyes.

In that time, be it a month, a week, or just a few days, the self doubt creeps in. What if my story is worse than I remember? What if it’s not even salvageable? Or the equally terrifying possibility of it being the best thing ever written. It’s a Schrödinger’s cat.

Of course, once I start editing, it’s never as bad as I feared. And a few chapters in, I even start to enjoy it. It’s just hard to pluck up the courage to start, to face it, to answer those questions.

It’s like hearing a scratching in your closet at night.

Writing

Never Write a Blog Post When You’re Hungover

It’s all over. That’s the end of it. I’ve been consumed with this for years, and now it’s done. Just like that.

I’ve finally written ‘The End’ on The Mothers. Well, metaphorically speaking, I haven’t literally written that. But that’s it, the last book in The Paper Duchess series. It’s a weird feeling. A strange mix of triumph, excitement, sadness, and relief. And one seriously huge book hangover.

I wanted to write this blog post straight away, while all the emotion was still raw and genuine, rather than a synthetic version of it. But I won’t post it until tomorrow. I’ve learnt my lesson about sending messages while drunk or hungover.

It is sad to say goodbye to the characters, to the world they inhabit. It may not have been an overly happy world, but they all found their own happiness within it and, importantly, they fought to keep hold of that happiness. Some of them even died for it.

As a cruel, vindictive author, I’ve enjoyed making them suffer. I’ve enjoyed taking things away from them, and crushing their dreams. Not because I enjoy watching them fall apart, but because I enjoy watching them get back up from it. It is somewhat God-like. But I gave some boys some uniforms, and gave them a little power, and things just got a bit out of control.

But you can decide for yourself, when the series concludes with The Mothers, coming this autumn.

The Mothers Coming 2017