A month ago I was mired in writer’s block, or to put it another way, feeling so despondent about my current novel that my mind went blank every time I opened Scrivener. I’d been like that for months. At first I thought it was the usual ‘half-way-through blues’, my demons telling me it wasn’t good enough so why bother. But after a while I felt there was something more and the block became self-fulfilling,
Then the magic happened. I found myself with an hour to waste in a town I didn’t know, so settled in a coffee shop (with a cake, naturally) and returned to pen and paper. The words flowed – no, gushed – and I was sorry to stop to meet my appointment. Since then I’ve managed to write most days, even on the laptop.
And last night I finished the first draft. No champagne nor balloons – this is where the work really starts.
I think the problem, and perhaps the solution, was that I’d changed my routine. My pattern over recent years was to go into town with my wife every Friday, then sit scribbling in my notebook while she did what she had to do. This was augmented a couple of years ago by a similar activity earlier in the week. Producing this material, typing up the longhand, and developing it in the ensuing days, meant I was in a discipline of writing regularly. Then a couple of things changed and my trips to the café stopped for a while. Even when I had the chance to go my mindset had shifted – an ‘I’m not writing so why go to the café’ kind of thing.
Until today I hadn’t realised what the problem had been, I only knew I’d got over it. Just goes to show how difficult and fragile this writing process is. So, if you’re facing the same, try changing your routine, or look at what you were doing when you were writing, and try going back to it for a while.
One of the speakers at Ennis Book Club Festival last weekend said that he starts a new novel as soon as he completes one, within a day. This started me thinking about how he gets his ideas and I tried to come up with what I might write when I’ve finished my current project. No luck.
Then someone sent me a character profile we’d discussed, something I’d become stuck on and she’d suggested a new pair of eyes might help. This gave me the idea for an exercise.
Firstly write a profile/backstory for a character e.g. Georgina is now in a wheelchair. She’s 27 years of age, black and has just lost her job. She was secretary to the boss of a meat canning factory until she told him she suspected someone was tampering with the health and safety reports. Her boyfriend of the last five years has also dumped her … etc, etc.
Make this as brief or as extensive as you like.
Then do the same for two, or possibly three, more characters. Perhaps think about varying their ages, social position, location, etc.
Then ask the question: What connects these people?
If you’ve also set up questions within the profiles, for example, why is Georgina now in a wheelchair, try answering them.
Hopefully this might lead to the outline for a story. If not, you can always use the characters somewhere else and the exercise won’t be wasted.
Let me know if it works for you.
I’m a procrastinator in my writing. In real life I’m pretty good at making decisions and figuring out the shortest path between two points. My creative self is significantly different.
First of all I plan. Some time ago I discovered the joys of Scrivener after working my way through FreeMind, Writers’ Cafe and half a dozen other programs designed to supposedly increase my output. I can’t help thinking that if I’d dedicated half the time to writing as I did to mastering (huh!) the software I’d have finished my first novel in half the time. Still, you never know if the effort is going to be worthwhile before you put it in. I’ve certainly been impressed with the way Scrivener has helped but it’s a shame it took me so long to get to it.
Secondly, I commit that cardinal sin warned against by writing pundits – I edit as I go along. I’m not sure why it is but I read and rewrite every sentence, every phrase, two or three times before I move on to the next. Not that it stops me making mistakes, nor enables me to write faultless prose, that would elevate it to the status of being time well spent, it’s just something I do.
Finally, I have a need for accuracy and this leads me to endlessly research history and location. My family and friends tell me this is because I prefer the chase to the feast and I’m afraid they might be right. Today, for example, when writing two short scenes, I happily Googled 1930s women’s fashion, the distance on foot between Alexandria and Suez, and the names of British troopships sailing to Cape Town in 1852. I thought, perhaps, I was going too far when I typed ‘how far can a donkey walk in a day’ into my browser. I was going to include the answer in this blog but decided you can waste your own time if you really want to know!
A couple of years ago I damaged my back so now find it difficult sitting at a desk for long, consequently I use a laptop in a good armchair when I’m writing. This still wasn’t a problem whilst doing the edit on a paper copy, the way I prefer. However, over recent weeks I’ve been transferring the changes on to my digital copy and balancing the manuscript on the arm of my chair whilst typing has been a real pain. Then this morning ‘Eureka!’. I came up with an idea that’s transformed the situation – my music stand.
Now, with paper copy firmly displayed and Scrivener on the laptop I’m flying.
I even have a ledge for my pen – magic – I may stay like this forever.
I tend to write in the first person and in the past tense. I’m in the process of redrafting my second novel and discovered I continually tripped over a particular passage, though couldn’t work out why. Then I made a couple of minor changes, just to see how it looked, and hey-presto, no more tripping. I then realised it had been the tense which was incorrect, not in a seriously ungrammatical way, simply in the context of the feeling I was trying to convey. There are plenty of sites, blogs and even good old books, which explain about tense so I’ll not add to that body of knowledge here – even if I could.
However, the lesson for me is that there are subtleties in deciding which tense to use which are perhaps beyond basic grammar. This was highlighted even more as I began to think about my use of the past tense in these two novels. They’re both crime mysteries featuring a detective inspector, James Given. James is clearly narrating events from some point in the future, but how far? It has occurred to me that each scene can’t be written from the standpoint of when the case is completed, otherwise, for example, James wouldn’t need to muse over the suspects or follow red herrings. He’d know who’d committed the dastardly deed but then he’d be left with no story to tell.
So I have to assume he’s looking back from no further forward than the end of the current scene, possibly even less. I write ‘assume’ because I don’t know, I simply put down the words as best they come to me but when I think about it, most crime novels written in the past tense must be the same.
Any thoughts and similar conundrums most welcome.
Last time I blogged I thought I was facing a major rewrite but over the past few days it’s become clearer I simply need to make some small amendments, a line here, a word or two there, then deal with the resolution differently and all should be fine. As I haven’t written the resolution yet this shouldn’t be a major problem.
It is fascinating how, as authors, we devise seemingly insurmountable barriers for ourselves which, in the cold light of day, are little more than molehills which are easily levelled or skirted around. My wife is also a writer and we share our tribulations so I’m lucky. If she can’t help then I also have a support backup in my writers’ group who can either offer a solution or at least act as a sounding board until I find one for myself.
As the BeeGees once sang ‘it’s only words, but words are all I have’ – shame they’re such awkward sods sometimes!
This week I visited The Four Masters bookshop in Donegal Town to ask if they’d take some of books. To my surprise, and unbounded joy, they already had them on the shelf. I was so impressed I’ve put a photo as my new header image.
I’m plodding through my redraft of my current novel, though it is something to be undertaken in small bites. This morning, due to associated research to check what was in the news in March 1939, it took me around two hours to get to 300 words. I feel that accuracy is important but sometimes it takes so long to find material which will only provide half a line in the manuscript. Still, it is easier than trawling through a physical library. Actually, it was an interesting time historically, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, finally bringing Europe to the brink of war and the siege of Madrid was almost at an end, cementing Franco as head of Spain and bringing the Spanish Civil War to a close.
Also, as an avoidance technique, I’m checking my Amazon ratings from time to time. Aren’t they strange? I had a very nice review on the Crime Fiction Lover website a few days ago and it must have resulted in some sales, I imagine only 2 or 3 , but I shot several hundred thousand places up the ratings on Amazon.