I realise I’m probably shooting myself in the foot with that blog title, because my great plans usually come to naught, but it’s worth a try. You see, I was staring at my bookcase this morning (as you do), thinking about all the great series I bought years ago, loved at the time and haven’t read since. Some of those series are still running, others are long finished, but neither reduces my enthusiasm for the original books.
Which got me thinking: how many of those books would I still love, if I read them today? Some I suspect I would, and others… Maybe not.
And so, time permitting, my plan over the next few months is to start re-reading some of those series to see how they stand up today. Will they feel horribly dated? Will I be appalled at how childish they seem, ten years down the line? Or will they be just as brilliant the second time round, still deserving of a place on my shelves?
Time to find out!
My writing schedule has been a bit of a mess lately. In fact, I’ve really gone from writing 2-3 hours every morning and one in the afternoon, every day, to never knowing from day to day whether I’m going to write at all. Of course, my output has suffered as a result, but in the process I’ve developed ways to keep myself writing, no matter how hectic my life becomes. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up:
- Notes, notes, notes. When you can quite easily go a full week without even looking at your latest project, it’s imperative to keep copious notes. Sitting down to your latest WIP and discovering you haven’t the faintest idea what happens next can completely throw you off balance, leaving you wasting time and potentially taking your novel off in a direction you hadn’t intended. And notes aren’t just useful for first drafts: I have lists of potential blog posts to write, plot ideas for future novels, and changes I want to make to my current second draft novel (in this case, a detailed, chapter by chapter list to keep me on track even when I can’t remember what changes I made before). Notes and planning will help you remember what you’re supposed to be doing, when your head is full of everything but writing.
- Alternate projects. I have a bad habit of never being able to work on just one thing at once (I never read one book at once, either). There’s the novel to edit, the serial fan-fic to write, this blog to maintain, a writing course… The only way I’ve found to deal with so many projects is to alternate between them. Yes, progress can be slow, but this way I have much shorter gaps between working on each project (I might spend an afternoon on each at least once a week, for example), meaning I’m less likely to forget where I’ve got to on any single piece – and meaning I keep up with the rolling deadlines for my serial fiction.
- Write in any spare moment. This is one you’ll hear a lot from busy writers, but it’s quite a skill to master. I still prefer to have an entire free morning or afternoon before I start writing, but sometimes you can be just as productive in a spare half hour. Being able to sit down and focus straight away takes practice, but you can accomplish a lot this way – as long as you remember those notes!
- Life both is – and isn’t – all about writing. Working out how important writing is to you, and how much time you want to devote to it, is another tricky skill to master. If your life is already full of things you have to do (like going to work), you have to decide how much of your limited free time you want to spend writing. Do you go to the cinema with friends – or do you write? Do you spend a sunny afternoon in the park – or do you write? (I know what I’d do: write in the park!) Even the most dedicated writer is going to feel the strain if all they do is write, but whilst it’s important to take breaks, sometimes you have to make sacrifices, too.
Writing when you don’t have much time can be hard work, but there are plenty of successful authors who started out writing for 10 minutes every morning before work, or every evening once the kids were in bed. Remember, always, what you want to achieve: to finish this story, edit that book, submit to a favourite publisher or sell to a favourite ‘zine. And remember, too, that it’ll all be worth it in the end!
I may have mentioned once or twice (ha!) recently that I’m in the middle of editing a novel. Editing has always been a long and tortuous process for me, far more so than writing the first draft. I’m constantly have to teach myself new techniques, to improvise and to make guesses, and that’s if I can even get myself to sit down in front of the computer. Still, I have actually reached the halfway point in my edit, and one very simple lesson has started to jump out at me: you can’t be afraid to delete.
Now, clearly you don’t want to lose work, particularly when you might decide to reinstate something after previously chopping it. If you’re working on a computer though, any concern about losing work becomes virtually meaningless. Text documents, small as they are, can be backed up almost endlessly. If you choose to keep something safe from hard drive failures, computer crashes and spilled cups of coffee, it’s easy to do so.
And this is where the first part of my ‘don’t be afraid to delete’ mantra comes in. Making yourself get rid of words – paragraphs, chapters, half a novel – is hard. Every time I contemplate ripping out anything from a single sentence to a few paragraphs, my brain starts screaming at me. “You can’t do that! Think of all the hard work that went into that! What if you’re making a terrible mistake!” Thankfully, technology comes to my rescue. Saved to my hard drive, and to several back-up locations, is a pristine copy of my first draft, safe from the ravages of my edit. If I decide I’ve made a mistake and really have deleted some pure gold prose? I can simply go back and copy it from that first draft, into my second one.
There’s a phrase in that last paragraph that set me laughing. I wonder if you can see it too? It is, of course, ‘pure gold prose’. The idea that any prose is really perfect is laughable in itself, but considering anything from a first draft ‘pure gold’ is even more ridiculous. Sure, you’ll sometimes hit on just the right sentence, the right line of dialogue or description, first time. However, there is nothing you write that cannot be improved upon in some way – and that’s the biggest editing lesson I’ve learnt. Worrying that I’m deleting writing so good I’ll never replace it is pointless. Unless you genuinely believe the sun shines out of your every orifice (and if you do, you’re probably not going to be reading writing blogs like this one), your work – no matter which draft number you’re up to – can always be improved.
In the end, to edit a novel you need both an awareness of your work’s failings and a bucketful of self-awareness, too. Of course we can strive for perfection – most of the fun is in trying. However, knowing there’s always room for improvement is incredibly liberating and makes editing so much more enjoyable. Go forth and delete! Rip out those ‘perfect’ sentences – murder your darlings, as the saying goes – and write something better.
I feel rather like I start every new post here at the moment with an apology for how long it’s been since the last post – life is busy, my writing continues to creep along entirely uneventfully, and I just don’t have much to blog about.
Rather than worry too much about apologies today, though, I want to point you instead towards my Fiction page, where you’ll find the links to the entire first chapter of the serial story I’m writing for Chronicles of Tyria. Not only that, but CoT is adopting a new posting schedule, which means new installments of Amber’s story will be appearing every second Monday.
So, my life may be a jumbled sequence of house-hunting, novel-editing, occasional blogging and all the other miscellanea, but I will still be writing – and if this site is starting to feel a bit empty, hop on over to Chronicles of Tyria via that link about and see what Amber has been up to. I can guarantee you, her life is a lot more exciting and filled with sword-fights than mine is…
Once again, I’ve been somewhat negligent towards this blog recently. It’s full steam ahead on the editing of Root, and on the writing course I’ve started, but every other bit of writing – and blogging – has flown out of the window.
This morning, though, I just wanted to share something I found in my spam comments list. It’s one of those comments that’s trying to look clever and legitimate, but has either been very badly translated by an online translator, or has perhaps been cobbled together from other comments and then pasted all over the internet.
Pretty component to content. I just stumbled upon your website and in accession capital to say that I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing for your augment or even I achievement you get admission to persistently quickly.
My first reaction was just to laugh at the randomness of it all. My second though, though? ‘Subscribing for your augment’? For me, the word ‘augment’ immediately conjures up images of SF-type advanced humans – perhaps post-humans or cyborgs – with augments being the machine parts added to the human. Add to that ‘subscribe’ and, in this increasingly connected world, I start imagining subscribing to a future cyborg’s augments as casually as we’d subscribe to a blog’s RSS feed today. I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere…
So, from spam comments to SF story ideas. As ever, it pays to be on the lookout for plots wherever you may be, and often in the unlikeliest of places!
Not a ‘Writing Life’ post as such, this one, but I thought it was about time for an update on my current writing progress, and yet another project (this time a course) I’ve dived into.
First of all, Root, the novel I’m editing. I have to admit, my progress on this one has been almost painfully slow, but I’m generally pleased with how it’s going. I’ve been steadily chipping away, working from copious notes that mean I should be able to edit a chapter at a time and then call the whole thing done (fingers crossed). I’m at chapter 12 out of 38, and although some of the later chapters need a lot more work than the earlier ones, I’m at least happy with what I’ve done so far.
And now we come onto the new project. A couple of years ago, I did Holly Lisle’s ‘How to Revise Your Novel’ course, using it to revise a previous novel – I’m using those same lessons in revising Root, which is why the process has been so much more organised and thorough this time round. However, Holly has a number of different online courses available, and it’s her other big one – ‘How to Think Sideways‘ – that I’ve now enrolled on.
HTTS is subtitled ‘Career Survival School for Writers’, and sets out to teach you how to make a living out of writing, working on every stage from idea generation to publishing. My hope is that it’ll be a kick up the backside in terms of getting me to focus more on my writing, and a means of learning new techniques that’ll turn my frequent writing into frequently getting published. Whether it’ll have either of those desired effects in the long run, I can’t say, but I’m hopeful – and it’s nice to be so busy!
There’s a perennial saying that floats around the internet in writing circles, and which I’m certain I’ve mentioned on the blog before: writers write. Its meaning is simple enough: you’re not a writer if you don’t write. Okay, that sounds fair enough. In the grand scheme of things, if you were never to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you’d never be a writer. You’d perhaps be someone who dreams of being a writer, or plans to become one, but that’s not quite the same thing.
This, then, presents me with a problem, the same problem I’m sure many aspiring writers face. This week, I haven’t written anything. I didn’t write anything last week, either, and maybe I won’t next week. Have I suddenly, and rather ignominiously, ceased to be a writer?
Enter this blog post, by Stephen Deas, which I saw linked on Twitter recently. Deas raises a couple of important points, one being that telling someone they can’t be a writer because they don’t (or can’t) find the time to write is an appallingly ‘authoritarian devourer of possibilities’ (I had to quote that because it was just so good). I’d agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. No-one has the right, be they agent, publisher or some bloke you met down the pub, to tell you what you can and cannot aspire to. If you want to be a writer, of course you’ll need to find time to write eventually, and finding a little time every day is useful, as Deas points out; but if you can’t find that time, don’t lose hope. Cling to your dreams. Make them happen. Don’t let anyone tear them away from you with well-meaning, but ultimately unhelpful advice.
And then there’s a second point: ‘fallow times’. This links more directly to my current situation. I haven’t written much these last few weeks. Does that mean I’m no longer a writer? Well no, not in my book it doesn’t. For a start, I’ve been picking away at any number of different non-writing activities – I’ve been planning and making notes, researching, occasionally doing a spot of editing, submitting stories, blogging (although there’s a whole different blog post to be made on the subject of finding time to scribble and blog, without getting round to the actual writing).
Secondly, I’ve been writing fairly consistently now for about ten years. Does taking a a few weeks, a month, six months off writing suddenly stop me being a writer? I would argue it doesn’t. Of course, you can’t let that writing drought stretch on too long, as you’ll lose momentum, if nothing else. Taking time off can be vital, though, and is one of those luxuries unpublished writers sometimes need to make the most of. It can be planning time. Researching time. Recharging the batteries time, or even oh-shit-my-life-just-exploded-in-a-million-different-ways time. Like I said, time off can be a luxury – don’t let it turn into abandoning writing altogether, but make the most of it, too.
So, can you be a writer if you don’t write? Overall, no, but that’s an answer that needs qualifying. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot be – no-one has that right. And if you’re already writing, but find yourself needing to take a break? Then take it, make the most of it, use that time as productively as you can; and remember that, even if you’re not hammering the keyboard every hour of every day, you’re still a writer at heart.