Stage One – The Promethean Explosion

Stage one of writing a book is all about planning and plotting and background generating. Developing characters, building worlds and developing story arcs are all part of the first stage. Drawing pictures, setting up potential scenes, jotting down essential one-liners for future dialogue. Establishing all that metaphysical creato-matter that’s bouncing around inside the head trying to make its way out. Getting it written down.

Getting it permanently fixed onto a page is important. And fun! But specifically a vital part of the process of writing a book. It gives birth to the creation that was, just like everything hand-made, only ever a simple idea.

I’ve been working on my own stage one (of this particular tale) for the past 20 years or so. Getting it written down onto paper and screen was very much a colourful experience. It’s the most writing I’ve ever done in one go and it took me several weeks, round about this time last year. Vacating the conceptions from my head was a thing of exponential, wordy splendiferousness.

The more I wrote, the more ideas came to the fore. It was like everything I had ever thought about and tucked away somewhere obscure for a later date suddenly all came rushing forth. It was their one chance for freedom and they got it. And getting it all written down helped in the fact it cleared up some space in my head. No more did I need to subconsciously retain this information—which was a great thing too because I wanted to learn some Spanish:

Dónde está la tienda que vende los libros?

Sitting down and writing, writing, writing all the ideas and background of a particular story is very much a liberating experience and hugely important to the novel. Writing everything that goes through the head, even descriptions of tiny sub-characters that may only exist for one paragraph. In fact, especially for those miniscule moments as the more of these there are the more vivid the story becomes. Get it all fixed down somewhere so it can be read again at a later date and then extrapolate, exfoliate and (if need be) excommunicate when the time comes.

Stage one is the part that no-one will ever see (unless, of course, you make it big and decide to reward your reader-base with unabashed follow-ups, add-ons, short stories and unfinished tales) so get it all out. It doesn’t even have to make sense, it just needs to be written down. Don’t worry about remembering why, that’ll kick in when the brain decides it needs to (unless you were drunk at the time — in which case forget about it).

Stage one is getting everything that matters in your story’s universe written down.

 

the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley

- Robert Burns

—First Draft Complete—Phase 3 Activated—Momentum of Seriousness Initiated—

National Novel Writing Month is over and the guys from repair-a-home have just left. My celebrations for winning NaNoWriMo got a bit out of hand but I’m still alive, if somewhat mysteriously balder than a few days ago. Cigars have been embellished, champagne has been adjudicated and writerly prowess has been declared before all visiting dignitaries. There was even some Ferrerro Rocher being passed around but for the life of me, I swear I never had any.

The first draft is completed. That’s what it was all about. Getting the story out in as easy a fashion as possible. Without caring about spelling or grammar or plot-lines or arcs. Just getting the basics of the story into existence, no matter how rough it looks. Now it’s there in black and white it can be worked on.

Like chucking a slab of clay onto a wheel and turning it into a Tuscia d’Arte vase or a block of Bahia Rosewood handcrafted into a Javan Rhino figurine or a flap of soflty-creased paper folded meticulously into an elegant Coscoroba Swan. The first draft is but a slice of beef waiting to be transformed into a succulent steak with just the right garnish and just the right seasoning and just the right accompaniments.

Mmm, steak. And chips. With some fried onions. Garnish. Seasoning.

Just a sec, I’ll be right back…

Ahem, the next stage, then, is the re-write. Not the edit. You cannot edit a first draft. At least, I cannot edit my first draft. It has to be re-written beforehand. The first draft was throwing the words down to get the story out. ‘She did this and then that happened but all bundles of shit happened after that and he felt like something about it all then everyone had a fight and someone died.’  That’s my first draft. That’s me telling me what the story is about and how it all ends. Now that is out of the way I can re-write it so it begins to make some kinda sense.

Re-write until satisfaction. Then the editing comes in. The editing, for me, will be the biggest and most important part of writing the book. This is when things get serious. This is when the real writing starts. This is when the fun begins. This is when the book becomes either a piece of crap from some sci-fi fan who builds computers at lunch-time while working at the local shopping center or a serious contender for an agent or a publisher looking for something honed, refined and ready to go.

The editing is when all the artistry comes into place. It’s working the magic into the words. The editing is when the manuscript is made into something worthy of artistry. A writer is an artist. The art of a writer can and should be unsurpassed. The art of a writer can make you laugh, can make you cry, can make you angry, hopeful, frustrated and make you anguish for more. This is editing. It’s about touching the mind.

During the month of November I learned a great deal about writing. About writing first drafts, in particular. And also about my approach to writing. For me, the first draft, like I said above, was just throwing the story down onto the page. The re-write, the second draft, is when I turn that story into something more tangible. Character names should be uniform through-out the tale. Dates, names and locations will begin to match up in more than one location.

But before I begin re-writing I need to read some books, both fiction and non-fiction, by writers I admire and on editing specifically, just to get the feel on where I should be aiming for. Then I’m going to outline out my first draft. I did only a very basic outline before starting because I wanted my writing to take me on its own journey to the destination I’d already determined. Now I’m there I can use an outline to determine if I’ve got too much going on, if characters need more story-time, where to put chapter breaks, make a timeline/dateline, that sort of stuff.

Next step: get some reading done.

Ooh yeah…that’s right…uh huh…

 

Yeah Baby!

 

That’s what I’m talking about. I’ve only gone and done it. Got a bit hairy near the end. But I fought through. I’ve passed a milestone. Gone and finished something. In your face old History teacher! Ha!

I’m pretty worded out now. Gonna get me a curry. And a film. And a beer to add to the pounds I’ve earned this month. Then I’m gonna smoke that $100 cigar I was saving for when my kids stop asking for money. Thanks NaNoWriMo! From the bottom of my belly!

Fifty thousand and seventy three. Just about ran out of words for November. Need a reboot. More wordificating…next month…

 

First draft done, now the fun begins!

Almost…there…

I can see the light! I can see it! I’m almost there.

MOVE INTO THE LIGHT.

No, don’t, stay where you are.

I SAID MOVE INTO THE LIGHT.

Don’t do it, it’s a trick!

But I’m almost finished. I’ve done 43,016 words and it’s the a.m of the penultimate day. Which, I hasten to add, had got my body wondering if it’s Christmas day because I’m not usually up this early on a Saturday. It is Saturday, right?

NO IT IS NOT.

Uhm, yeah it is.

I think I’ve timed it pretty good. I want to finish on the last day because it just seems right to finish on a Sunday. The last day of the week and the last day of the month and it’ll also be the last day of my NaNo’ing.

I’m going to get a few thousand words written today so I’m close enough to finish tomorrow.

And then a whole load of retrospection, analyzing, explication and harking back.

Who said it wasn’t Christmas yet?

HE DID

No I didn’t.

Writing The Struggle That Follows A Writer. NaNoWriMo’s included!

Ever since I started reading books on my own and not at the instruction of a primary school teacher (in fact there’s a bit of a quandary there. The first book I ever read on my own was The Hobbit but it was only because my primary school class instigated it. While we were reading the book at school I got so annoyed when the teacher stopped at the end of a chapter and we had to wait till the following week to find out what happened next, I went and got the book myself (“Mummy, I want a book called The Hobbit” and voilà, it appeared as if by magic.)) I was so fascinated with it and started reading—and finished the book—on my own. We were doing a class project on The Hobbit which included a mahoosive piece of wall art based on Smaug. I still remember it (35 years on) to this day. It was such a brilliantly memorable experience, one I’ll never forget.

*Note: I first read The Hobbit in the 80’s and I thought it was the most amazing sprout of imagination I’d ever encountered. Okay, I was only 12 years old but hey, that book was written in 1937, forty five years earlier! And it’s still going strong! Talk about a timeless classic! The Hobbit had opened my mind promoting the idea that you could make stories out of anything.

The next book, or should I say, trilogy,  I read (other than the crap the school was throwing at me) was The Dragonlance Chronicles. Wow. I was totally hooked from there on in. I was into fantasy. Low fantasy, high fantasy, epic fantasy, whichever, it was in my blood. My veins had been reforged by Theros Ironfeld and his Silver Arm of Ergoth whilst wielding The Hammer of Kharas!

From then on in it was all kinds of fantasy shit. Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, Runequest & Stormbringer to name but a few RPG’s that I wanted to actually trade my real-life and live there-in. Not that I didn’t enjoy my real-life, it was just…boring at the time, because nothing really happened. There were no cataclysmic events or world shattering discoveries. There were no devastating attacks from demons or dragons, no secret, undiscovered dungeons to explore, no hordes of treasure to fight over. No great eye of evil impending doom to conquer at the very last moment.

But it was deeply instilled in my blood. I was like a sponge for tales on sword and sorcery. If a book had elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, dragons or unicorns… no wait…not stupid unicorns…uhm, wait, let me think about this…(hmm, Terry Brooks wrote about unicorns, so did C.S.Lewis and then there was that film ‘Legend’ with Tom Cruise and also the Unicorn in My Little Pony that my daughter loves to watch…) okay, I’ve decided,  let’s leave unicorns in that list. They can be pretty cool…I suppose.

So, anyway, I was really, right into Fantasy as a genre. But then I matured (a little (in fact- after re-reading this I wonder why does one have to mature from Fantasy? This is a problem I think I’ve been fighting most of my adult life, but one I think I’ll leave for another blog post.)). I wanted something more grown up. More realistic to what life was really like. I started to read stuff from G.R.R.Martin, David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams. All brilliant. All adult reads.

So then, as I got older, into my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, reading everything that the genre had to offer and somewhere in between that time I went on to an urban fantasy extravaganza. I read books which shared my passion on magic and fantastical creatures but seemed to be centered around the present day and age. This was new to me, at the time, I’d never experienced a story like it, the fact that all these supernatural creatures could exist, in a story, in the real world. I was amazed and tuned into a completely new set of life-changing exploitation’s of the mind.

This harvested in me a desire to create my own stories involving this real world and the kind of supernatural, fantastical and downright diabolical pandemonium that could ensue from my own creative meanderings. I was hooked on creative, theological decomposition’s and the infinite proposal of ‘what if’.

Several hundred books later (yes, I’ve literally read thousands of books in my lifetime so far – however, I’m including comics in that count and I don’t care what you say about that) and I’m trying to write a supernatural dark urban fantasy. I love the story I’m writing. It’s more than pretty neat.

The thing is…it’s not epic fantasy. It’s not the kind of writing I love to read. It’s set in the real world but with other-worldly shenanigans, which, I suppose, is just about half-way there. However, my forte, I believe, is in epic fantasy and I’m not 100% sure why I’ve ended up writing an urban supernatural thriller with connotations of mystery and police procedural.

I’m giving it my all. There’s no doubt about that. I’ve written shit-loads of stuff including high fantasy and science fiction but nothing has endured the intensity, the determination, the focus and the single-mindedness that this story has. I’m pretty impressed with myself so far and it’s only the first draft.

However, my goal, many years down the line and after I’ve completed this current epic tale, is to write about a world where the geography is unknown and the animal life is far from ordinary. The world I’m writing about just now is the real world. Well, it’s the real world but maybe taking a step back. But wait!

Stop everything.

Concentrate. Concentrate really hard.

Focus your power. We all have power. Focus it.

And then use it to do whatever the hell you want.

And if you don’t, then you’ve lost…

 

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving  you Americans!

 

 

NaNoWriMo: I’m Going To Kick Your Ass

It’s the very wee small hours of day 22 and I’ve written just over 25,ooo words. I’m over 10, 00 words short of where I should be at this stage. So, with eight days to go, I calculate (with my calculator (Start > All Programs > Accessories > Calculator)) that I need to do about 3125 words per day to WIN NaNoWriMo…

It’s a lot. Currently, I’m averaging between 1500 and 2000 on the days that I do write (3 or 4 days a week) and that takes me between two and three hours a go. Which is pretty much all the spare time I get during a working day.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that weekends are for abandon (in all it’s meanings) and if any writing is to be done at this time then it should most likely be done on a cubicle wall. In fact, I’m sitting on the throne right now, tapping into my smartphone only because I’ve forgotten to bring a Sharpie.

Monday, then, will be my big day. I’m gonna do at least 5,000 words on Monday. That’s my target. If I can do that then I can still complete this game before the time is up. I’m not gonna be one of those under-equipped morons hanging  around the auction house listening to how everyone else completed the end game quest before me.  I’m gonna be one of the no-life, epic wearing, unprofessional, experts singing the praises of a winner!

When NaNoWriMo decided to give me a square go and fight me in the playground at home-time it didn’t realize who it was dealing with. It didn’t realize I was a hard-ass who doesn’t give in, even when it’s too late to matter. It didn’t realize I was one of those idiots who tries, like a madman, to score a goal in the last minute of the game even though they’re getting beat 4-0. When I take a penalty kick, I kick the ball with my toe, not my instep. Full force all the way, every day, baby (except at weekends…). That’s what NaNoWriMo can expect.

My falling behind is my own fault. I blame myself. I’m not going to blame my partner who didn’t secretly switch the internet off, hide the box and pretend it was some kind of fault, while knowing I had NaNoWriMo to do. I’m not going to blame my kids who made me play pillow fights, hide-and-seek, eye-spy and the alphabet game, even though they knew it was NaNoWriMo time.  I’m not going to blame my older son, a young adult, who made me drive him to and fro between friends houses, hair-dressers, off-licenses, supermarkets and golf courses, who, I’m pretty sure, he had absolutely no idea it was NaNoWriMo. Nor am I going to blame my beautiful Netflix, my glorious Xbox, my superb Sky Movies network subscription or my amazing home cinema system with Dolby surround cinema speakers and high definition output.

No, no. This is a predicament I have gotten myself into and I’m going to get myself out of. It is an upward struggle I’ve got ahead. But I’m determined I’m going to do it. I don’t like failure. For me, failure is only failure when you stop trying.  But also, failure is for when you fail. I’m not going to fail.

So, with that being said, here’s to kicking NaNoWriMo right in the nuts! Who’s with me?!

∗raises glass∗

“Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Got My Writing On Speed-dial

Not got much time…writing in progress…

Trying a new approach. Got my desktop on constantly in my main writing room. Got my laptop on constant stand-by in the upstairs bed-room. So, if I’m wandering through the house like a radiated denizen of the apocalypse trying to remember why I walked into any given room and —KABOOM— a great idea is sent to my head by the Creativity Genies, I’m only ever a few dance-steps away from a ready-to-go input/output device w/keyboard peripheral.

Listening to some soothing chill-out, lounge music on Spotify (love it) which is helping keep my mind focused on the task of writing, instead of wondering if there’s anything new on Netflix. Wait…goes to check out Netflix …ok, back. Added some cool-looking new flicks to my playlist…doh!

Living in a residence devoted to Vulcan, the ancient Roman God of Fire—it erupts round about home-time and is a fiery, maelstrom of fury until round about bed-time—it is important to get as much writing done as…oh, wait…goes to write something down in the MS that a friendly but somewhat dark Genie just sent…aaand I’m back, where was I, Oh yes…It’s important to get as much writing done as possible while the house is a nuclear-free zone and — you all know this to be true fellow NaNo’ers — writing blogs doesn’t help the word-count.

Found out that Green-Tea is much more healthier than Coffee (it’s got up to 70% less caffeine for a start) and not only does it do the same job, it also makes you smarter and thinner, all at the same time! Check these cool facts out about Green Tea. And, to use the same construction twice in the one paragraph, not only is it Monday when I usually do more writing anyway, I’m also rocket-fuelled with Superman Tea!

Gotta get back to writing some shit while the shit writing is good to get back to! (Uhh…that didn’t sound as good as…aah forget it.)

Ciao!

NaNo Update

5 days into the month and I’ve got over 11k words done, I’m pretty stoked with myself. This is going easier than I thought. I take a break. A lazy day of a few hundred words then a couple days to spend doing family stuff. Then, wham! I learn what my problem is when it comes to getting stuff done. When I stop doing shit I take ages to get back into that shit-doing motion.

10 days into the month and I’ve still got over 11k words done. Why couldn’t the month have started on a Monday ’cause I like starting stuff on Mondays? I’m like one of those big juggernaut trucks that, once they’ve hit cruising speed, they ain’t stopping for nothing. But once they’ve stopped, hell, the driver may as well go get his meal for the night, set his kip and get out the foot-spa ’cause he ain’t going nowhere until he gets some food down his gob, watched a decent film and had a good night’s sleep (with nice-smelling feet).

So, because I stopped for a couple o’ days my engine seized and because it was only Friday when I realized I wasn’t doing my NaNo’ing I was somewhat screwed due to, you know, not wanting to start a thing till stupid Monday’s. Hence my 5-day extravaganza became a 10-day trickle.

But not to despair! Magnificent Monday has arrived and my writing has spluttered back into first gear. Just need to throw it up a few more gears and I’ll get back into the roll. Note-to-self then is to maybe treat the writing as more of a daily-work-type experience instead of a try-and-get-some-writing-done-when-the-house-is-quiet-type thing.

Let The Games Begin! (The NaNoWriMo Games, that is.)

Okay!

So, in less than an hour, the National Novel Writing Month that is November (November is such a lucky month—it also has Movember, St Andrew’s Day (big in Scotland), Guy Fawkes Night—aka bonfire night: we get to light big fires! (big in the U.K. and New Zealand), Thanksgiving (big in the U.S.A.) and lets not forget—for the sake of WordPressNaBloPoMo) is going to begin.

Phew. My head hurts from all that linkage. Or it may be the wine. But more on that later.

Fifty thousand words within a month equates to one thousand, six hundred and sixty six point six, six, six words per day. Now, initially, I thought: great, I have a target to reach every day. My second thought, however, was: wait, sounds a smidgen too satanic for my liking… Then my third thought was: Okay let’s just call it sixteen hundred and sixty seven. If not entirely accurate, it sounds much better. So 1667 it is!

For the past several days I’ve been doing a wee bit more planning and plotting than I normally do for my writing. This is my first draft I’m working on, it’s already started and I’ve already done what I think is enough planning for the novel. However, I’ve felt, based on recommendations from previous pep talkers, compelled to do a bit more planning so the writing doesn’t come out all hibberdy-jibberdy (aka a pile of crap). It’s mostly background planning but I reckon it’s enough to get the ball rolling when the time comes.

Strategy is to write as and when I have free time. Which is dependent on whether the kids want to engage me in whatever they are doing or not as, in my book, the kids come first. However, I’ve recently employed for them a couple of babysitters called Kids Netflix and Xbox One who seem to be, on such a surprisingly attractive wage, doing quite well for a couple of nannies with very little adaptability.

The tools I’m using are many and listed herewith:

  • Desktop Computer – This is my nerve center. Everything is controlled from here, from my wireless network to my weekly shopping. A copy of all my writing is always on here.
  • Laptop Computer – This is becoming more and more an essential item as I find different spots within the house that seem to emulate a writing atmosphere. Very much an ideology that needs to be explored further for it’s potential for advanced contemplative thinkerology. It may even involve some outsidering. A copy of my writing on here too.
  • Wine – As stated earlier, the fermented juice of the grape does wonders for loosening up the theoretical tongue. When the muse is out of town, Dionysus will wipe that frown. Especially if it’s the weekend, it’s pay-day and it’s way past the kids bed-time! Ernest Hemingway would be proud of me.
  • Beer – Less delicate than wine — beer, ale or lager will suffice, especially when left over from gatherings and get-togethers where individuals have been speedily ejected from the premises with the sole purpose of procuring said other’s legally-gotten alcohols.
  • Spellchecker – Should be self explanatory due to the above two notes.
  • USB Flash Drive – My portable filing cabinet bears the weight of my precious manuscript.  It is carried from computer to computer with all the aplomb of an ancient, armour-plated, fire-breathing dragon with only a single, itsy-bitsy hobbit to worry about.
  • Dictionary – No. Wait. It’s not needed. It’s a first draft. (Yeah, right, tell my perfectionist brain that.)
  • Big Book of Notes – All my notes, particularly names, dates and places of things in my novel, are in a big book. I need it badly as my memory cells don’t work so good as they used to. Also, I put names and dates in this book. Wait…(Damn you, beautiful wine!)
  • OpenOffice - Does everything Microsoft Office does and then some. Best part – it’s free!
  • And some god-damned (hey, I sense a theme forming…) peace and quiet. Night time, for me, is best for that.

My plan of attack is going to be, primarily, a night time affair. Get as much writing done when all is nice and quiet and then try to make up any discrepancies during the day, hangover permitting. But I got a couple of minutes left so I’m not going to be able to edit this as I would normally, spending hours and hours before posting a simple couple of paragraphs. So, mistakes permitting, here goes NaNoWriMo. Good luck to everyone participating.

What’s That Coming Over The Hill…It’s NaNoWriMo, It’s NaNoWriMo!

This time last year I was thinking how great it would be to do the NaNoWriMo thing. November was on it’s way and the adverts were appearing all over the web. It made sense for me and I wondered why I had waited so long until now. Writing a book in one month…wow, sounded amazing. I hadn’t really investigated it much but it sounded great. So, yeah, definitely, I love writing, I wanna write a book, this is like some kinda gift from god saying ‘here’s your chance’.

I signed up. Researched the shit out of everything it had to offer. Signed up for all the local, national and global events. It was great. You get so much support. From peers to bona fide successful authors, moderators, helpsers, editors and agents alike. All giving advice, free and easy. Wow , it’s truly a spectacular event, if you’re a wannabe writer.

National Novel Writing Month – November 1-30. The world needs your novel. That’s how it’s proposed. The world needs your novel, and, hell, that sounds great, doesn’t it? You sit down for a month and write a novel and the world ends up a better place. Excellent, I thought while rubbing my hands together and promptly got stuck right in as soon as November kicked off. However, after a day or so I was all: Hmm, I need to edit this shit 

So the thought of being able to write a novel in 30 days began to seem ridiculous. Somewhat of a dream that one could write a novel in a month. But then, that was my perspective because for me a novel must be perfect before it is released to all and sundry. It needs to be edited, rewritten and edited again before you can show it to anyone. That was my line of thinking, at the time, so I couldn’t do it. 

I was being a bit overly critical on the whole idea, thinking too much about it instead of just doing it. Henry Ford once said – ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t — you are right.’ I thought myself out of it. Told myself I couldn’t do it and Mr Ford’s advice turned out to be spot on.

Now, a year on, I’ve had a change of mind — helped by the fact that I’ve spent the last year trying to write my very own first draft, which, itself, has been a painstaking juggernaut of learning on what a first draft of anything really is. It’s getting the words down. Simple as that. The first draft is just getting the words down. Those bloody elusive words. Just getting them onto the page, one after another. Sentence by sentence. Easy.

So I’ve learned that NaNoWriMo is not the big bad monster of the editing world I previously thought it was. I now understand that you can do the editing later and that even though it may be merely the first draft, it can still be a novel—just one needing edited at a later date. Later being the operative word here.

1667 words every day for 30 days. I can do it. People do it every year so I can too. The words may not be the best that my little perfectionist brain may be able to think of, given time, and they might never even see the light of day but, by Ford, they’re gonna get put on a page. I need to be positive. It’s a first draft. Just write the damn thing.

This is the perfect opportunity to get fifty thousand words added onto my first draft. Hell, now I think about it, maybe I’ve subconsciously been waiting for NaNoWriMo to come round again so I can utilize all the positive attributes it has to offer. Maybe I’m one of those guys who can only do something when someone else is pushing me to do it, or I can only do it when I’m part of something bigger. That would be a bit of a bummer – only being able to write productively during November and writing like a slowpoke, dilly-dallier dreaming about writing rather than actually writing. But there I go again, getting all critical and negative. Just write, you fool.

National Novel Writing Month here I come! And so should you too.

 

You’re a fool. You know that, don’t you? Because only a fool would try a stunt as crazy as this. You want to write a 50,000 word novel in one month?! Do you have sawdust in your skull?

Piers Anthony’s NaNoWriMo Pep Talk