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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.

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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.

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The Importance of Habit

WritingLast month I didn’t write anything new. May came in off the back of April’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and it was a month of editing, plotting, book releases, and marketing. I wrote nothing new.

June came, and I duly sat down to write, to create, and I found myself empty.

Getting words out of me was like torture, it hurt, and I found myself stopping after just a couple of paragraphs, too frustrated and exhausted to continue. It felt like it might actually kill me. Slowly. One unwritten word by another.

I needed to rediscover the fire, the passion, the creativity that had, evidently, buried itself so deep inside me that I couldn’t find even a hint of it. After taking advice from my peers, I turned back to a tactic I’ve used before. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself, but, sometimes, you need someone else to tell you. It’s not always so simple to take your own advice.

I began reading what I’d already written during April, from the beginning, gently editing as I went. That’s where my mojo was. Not in the air, in the clouds, not in words I hadn’t even thought of yet, it was in the solidity of what was already penned. It took just two chapters. And then I was ready to go. The story came flowing.

So, that’s my lesson learnt. I can’t take a month off. I need to write, every day, even if it’s something that will never come to anything. Creativity can dry up, albeit temporarily, but it’s far better to keep it burning.

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.

Business of Writing, Thursday Thoughts, Twitter

They’re Not Always Right, You’re Not Always Wrong

ReaderWe all need advice, a helping hand, a guide. And that’s when we can turn to someone with more experience, who’s been there and done it, so that, hopefully, we can avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls.

Whether you’re just starting out, or already seasoned in publishing, there’s always more to learn. Technology and the internet changes so rapidly, and strategies that worked yesterday, don’t always work today. As authors, we can never stop learning and adapting. But with that, comes the feeling that we’re still inexperienced, still naive, just stumbling blindly along the path, and it can be all too easy to follow those ahead of you, blindly, assuming they know exactly where they’re going.

These people, and their advice, aren’t difficult to find. There are countless podcasts and blogs and books covering just about every aspect of writing, publishing, and book marketing you can imagine, and even some that you hadn’t yet thought of.

For the most part, they know exactly where they’re going, and you can happily follow them. But it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes, their destination might be different to yours, or, even if it’s the same destination, their route might be different to the one you wanted to take. And occassionally, you’ll meet one of those people who speak with absolute assuredness, but they’re actually completely lost.

So, how can you tell the difference? How do you know when to follow, and when to make your own path?

For one, trust your instincts. Will they always be right? No. But if you stay true to yourself, and to the kind of author you want to be, you can’t go too far wrong.

And second, don’t be scared to make mistakes. We all do. All the experts have too. And we learn far more, and far quicker from our own mistakes than we do from other people’s. No one has a flawless journey, there will be roadblocks and detours, dead ends and circular routes, but if you remember where you want to go, you can find your way back.

Always stay open to advice, to trying new things, to being persuaded and changing your mind. Always. But listen to your gut too. You’re a lot smarter than you realise.