Category Archives: Writing on Writing

Moan, moan, complain, complain …

write for love

Once again, I’m inclined to write about the ability (or otherwise) of writers to achieve commercial success and / or recognition for their writing. This follows complaints from some would-be authors:

a) An indie author complains that their books aren’t selling enough to enable them to give up work and write full time.

b) An unpublished author complains about continuing rejections from agents and publishers.

Both complainants stated that they’d been working hard for some time to produce the best books they could, and they’d paid out for editing services – one of them, a considerable amount, well into four figures in dollars.

I know, I know. I sighed, too.

But the thing to remember? No one owes you a living. And the other thing to remember? The best books don’t necessarily sell, and some bad books sell tons. Fifty Shades of Whatever-It-Was sold HUGE numbers, but everyone freely admits the writing was a bit dodgy. Dan Brown is a multi-millionaire on the back of his conspiracy thrillers. Quality of writing? Meh.

If you look at the best sellers in any book list, you might be surprised at what you see. I’ve just looked, but I’m not surprised. The first fiction book (Girl On A Train) comes in at 14th . And it’s the only fiction book on the list. The rest of the top 20 is made up of colouring books and food / diet / body and mind health books. How can you expect to make money writing fiction these days? What can you do?

I know.

WRITE

It’s simply that. Too much time is spent on whining about making money from writing, when time can be better spent actually, you know, writing. Because that’s what writers do. And if you’re already self-published, what’s the best way of increasing sales? Write more stuff.

Slowly, authors and self-publishers are realising that they’re shifting away from the core desires that got them into this game in the first place. They want to tell stories. But self-publishing has turned authors into entrepreneurs. Even traditionally-published authors are requested to have a presence on social media, and run a website and blog, and update on Facebook. Although that is important for sales, it’s sometimes tempting to do too much of that, and less of the storytelling.

So make 2016 the year that you write some more new stuff. Novels, short stories, any creative fiction. You won’t regret it.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Here’s Joe Konrath: http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/pay-writer.html

Here’s Kristine Katherine Rusch: http://kriswrites.com/2015/12/30/business-musings-the-upcoming-year/

Here’s Elizabeth Hunter: http://elizabethhunterwrites.com/2015/12/28/ten-things-i-learned-about-publishing-in-2015/

Hitting the wall

Hello. I’m Gerald, and I write. I write lots. In my Works In Progress spreadsheet, I have 36 titles. Yes, 36. Over 1.1 million words. But out of all those words and titles, I have only 4 finished first drafts containing just over 200,000 words.

Really? Are you kidding me? What’s going on?

You may well ask. A lot of those unfinished titles were written as part of NaNoWriMo.

So, the big question is: why do I have so much trouble actually finishing off my novels? And the truth is: I don’t know.

However …

I’m not alone.

I watched an hour-long programme on TV about Ian Rankin (he writes crime novels, and one of his main characters is John Rebus, just for information). He’s very famous. Very prolific. And Scottish. But that’s nothin’ to do with nothin’.

There was this one little bit, where he shouted down from upstairs when he was writing. He was fed up, depressed. His wife said: “It’s page 163.” It might have not been 163. It might have been 263. I don’t know. But it was about 3/4 of the way through the novel. “This happens every time,” she said.

Cut to closeup of Ian Rankin. Looking very depressed. “I hate this book,” he said. Again, I might have paraphrased.

But the key thing here is: even a prolific author like Ian Rankin suffers from Three-Quarter Syndrome. Or TQS. There. I named it.

And during this NaNoWriMo, there was a guest post from Neil Gaiman. He’s a writer, too. Here it is:

http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman

The key extract here:

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

So there you have it. That feeling you’re having just now? Ian Rankin and Neil Gaiman have it, as do scores of other writers. The feeling is that your novel is poor, pointless, not worth completing.

And I’ve been there, too. Lots of times. But the difference this year? I knew about it beforehand. I was expecting it. Goddamn it, I even gave it a TLA (Three Letter Acronym).

So, we’re all sitting in this cess pool of writing. We’re about 3/4 of the way through. HOW THE HELL DO I FINISH THIS THING?

First thing – there is no magic bullet, alas. I’m sorry. No one is going to come and sprinkle fairy dust on your laptop keyboard, making the words appear magically on your screen.

So, you have to write. You have to grit your teeth. You have to have an idea of where your story is going. But you really have to sit down, and type words. Not just random, fairy dust words, but words that move your story on, scene by scene, line by line. Find out what you like writing. Is it long and rambling descriptions of landscapes? Do it. Is it fractious and tetchy conversations between two characters? Do it. Is it an account of a journey in a 2,000 horse-power Einstein machine? Do it. As long as it moves the story towards that ending. You can even write the ending now. No, seriously, you can. Write that final scene, the one everything’s been leading up to. I’ve done this, and then worked backwards. That worked for me. But you have to write. No one’s going to write it for you.

Because it gets easier. Honestly. I have found this many, many times. Break through this stupid wall, this word-desert, because this is where typists give up, and writers carry on. You want to tell this story. You NEED to tell this story. It’s in your head, and if you don’t get it out, it’s going to make your brain explode. No, really. See if it doesn’t.

SO WRITE THE DAMNED STORY.

Hello, 2015!

No New Year Resolutions here.Hello-2015-2 This is a resolution-free zone. Just some goals, smart targets, desires, that sort of thing.

* I’d like to think I shall be writing at least a quarter of a million words this year. Last year, I wrote more than 276,000, but that was with very little editing, and no publishing. I now have an office, so I have no excuse (I actually have hundreds of excuses, but I’m keeping those for this time next year). With a scheduled two sessions of #100kwords100days and a #NaNoWriMo, there’s 250k right there. Of course, I’d like to do more, but we’ll have to see about that.

* I’d like to be publishing 3 novel-length books this year. This is self-publishing, of course. Something I’ve done before, but it’s been a couple of years since I last self-published. My collection of short and flash fiction (previously available as two books) is being squashed into one publication, and will be available soon in every outlet I can find.

* I want to expand the Writer Chat channel, and maybe do just one chat a week, but with a wider variety of writers. Anyone have Stephen King’s email address?

If I achieve those three things, then 2015 will have been a win. And they’re all within my own control. I can do these if I want to, and no one can stop me. Except the Stephen King thing. That might be a stretch.

Here’s some writing motivation to start off the new year:

First from Dean Wesley Smith:

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/new-world-of-publishing-failure-must-be-an-option/

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/new-world-of-publishing-control/

And then from Chuck Wendig:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/11/26/why-its-important-to-finish-your-shit/

and finally from Russell Blake:

http://russellblake.com/2015-predictions/

Thought-provoking, huh?

I hope you have a great 2015, and it will be a year of success, however that might be measured.

 

Goodbye, 2014

Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

goodbye 2014My wordcount for 2014 topped 276,000 words. Most of those were written during two editions of #100kwords100days (January and July) and NaNoWriMo. That’s quite a lot of words.

More impressively (for me, anyway) that the total includes three completed works-in-progress – one to first draft stage (42k of dark horror), and two to draft zero stage (one at 70k, and one at 54k, both apocalyptic fiction). I’ve got several other works part-completed, too. I’ve got two crime stories standing at nearly 30k, which should be completed early in the new year.

Publishing? Not so much. Despite a wish / hope to publish several things this year, nothing got done. I’m a bad finisher. I love the act of writing, of creating stories and tales, but the grind of editing / rewriting bores me. Sorry, but it does. So that needs to change.

My personal writing website got created at http://gerald-hornsby.com/ and I managed to transfer my blog over to the sub-domain, http://gerald-hornsby.com/blog/ The website is a bit sparse at the moment, but I’m hoping to get that tidied up in the next week or two. The blog is trundling on, which is where you’ll be reading this.

I also started a new venture – http://writer-chat.com/ where I interview one or more writers via a Google Hangout. I think it went really well, mostly featuring local writers during NaNoWriMo, but I had some non-local writers on there, too. Look out for more chats coming up in the new year.

So that’s about it, writing-related. 2014 was a good year for writing. Three completed first / zero drafts of longer works? I’ll take that.

tomorrow first page of book

NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part IV Tips 8-10b

TECHNIQUES

Here are some techniques I use when actually writing my NaNo piece.

8. DO NOT DELETE

Ha! Of course you wouldn’t delete some of your magic words. Would you?

Yes. I’ve seen it done (or at least, I’ve been told about it on the forums). Someone deleted several chapters because they didn’t fit in with how the book was developing. Err … hello? This challenge is all about writing words, and is all about the word count at the end of the month. By all means, delete stuff on December 1st. Delete the whole damned novel if you wish. But for now, leave all those nice, and not-so-nice words where they are. You wrote ‘em, you should have ‘em counted.

9. Interact, but not too much

There’s writing, and then there’s writing about writing.

Don’t spend too much time on the forums, or in Facebook groups. The NaNoWriMo forums are a great place to find inspiration, discover great software, ask and answer questions, or just shoot the breeze. It’s lovely to talk to other people who are going through exactly what you are. But do that after you’ve completed your word count for the day. Don’t start by checking the forums, because half an hour (500 words) disappears in a flash. Write first, chat later. This is also a RULE.

There is, as with most rules, an exception. Which is: sprints / word wars / call them what you will. These abound on the forums and in Facebook groups. What will happen is that a number of NaNos will agree to start writing at, say, 20 past the hour for 15 minutes. So, at the agreed time, someone types “go”, and everyone disappears off the forum for the 15 minutes, and comes back and tells everyone how many words they typed. There’s no prizes, there’s no shame, it’s fun. No, really it is. And it really does work to get words into your manuscript.

10. Turn off the internet

This is a bit drastic. But try just closing the browser window for an hour. The world won’t end, the government will still be in power, and the earth will continue to spin while you’re not surfing the web. But it’s amazing just how much difference that simple act can make. As I write this, I have my browser open behind the document, and I can see Facebook updates happening, which is a terrible distraction. Fortunately, I’m loving doing what I’m doing, and I’ve already completed my wordcount for the day.

There are a number of dark screen programmes around, which will make the rest of your desktop disappear whilst you’re typing. Scrivener has this facility too, which I do find actually works. I make it all disappear, write write write, and by the time I come up for air, there’s another 350 words in the document.

We can’t all have writing studios to shut ourselves away, but try and get used to writing with distractions – TV on, kids playing, wife / husband / partner moaning about the lack of food in the house. Try to get used to writing in non-ideal situations.

10a. Back up your data

Oh yes. This is a favourite of mine. And yes, I do know we’ve already had 10 tips. I planned to write 10 tips, but my plans changed as I wrote (see what I did there?)

Please, please, please back up your data. You are going to spend at least (I’m guessing) 50 hours of your valuable time writing. Are you going to trust this cargo of words to that collection of metal, plastic and magnetic whirring disc platters, without having a copy somewhere?

Of course you’re not, because you’re a sensible writer.

Copy your data to yourself in an email, use Dropbox (other online storage options are available), copy the files to a thumb / stick drive, or a USB hard drive. Just do something to make sure that if the worst happens (and don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be a catastrophic failure – some nefarious scroat could come and nick your computer, or someone could inadvertently spill beer / coffee / wine / champagne / perfume / nasty stuff all over it. Back your wonderful words up once a day. That’s right, once per day. Without fail. I shall be checking.

10b. Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself 

And finally, my 10+2th tip (think of it like 20% extra for free), – enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be, at least a little bit, enjoyable. Write what you want to write. Write in first person, third person, second person, fifth person, whatever. Write in rhyming couplets, write without any punctuation, write stories about great fables and legends, about naughty nannies and creepy car mechanics, write about a writer who does this stupid writing challenge every November, write about the birds and the bees, the fruits and the trees, write about nice people, nasty people, friendly people, weird people, mad people, people who all look like Tim Jones, people who talk in stilted form and add a ‘hic’ to the end of every sentence, write about pilots, sailors, astronauts, drug dealers, cops, robbers, cowboys, lathe operators. WRITE WHAT THE HELL YOU LIKE. It’s your novel, it’s your NaNoWriMo, enjoy it 🙂

And that’s it! I hope you find these tips useful, and that they help propel you through November and come out at the end with a novel to show everyone!

NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part III Tips 4-7

WRITING DURING NANOWRIMO

4. Get off to a good start 

Oh yes. This is probably THE most important tip. Get off to a good start (there, I repeated it for you). Work hard and get that first 2,000 words in on the first day. I know, I know, it’s more than the 1,667 that you need, but believe me, you will want those words in the bank. If you can, write more! Don’t stop.

I have seen the heartbreak posts so many times now. “I’m 1,000 words behind, but I’ll catch up at the weekend”. No you won’t. “I’ve had a slow start, but I reckon I’ll be able to write double tomorrow”. No you won’t. “I’ve not actually started yet, and I know it’s the end of the first week, but things have been so busy for me, and I know I’ll have some time during the second week, so I’ll catch up then”. NO. YOU. WON’T.

You might, though. I would say, 1 in 10, or maybe fewer than that, actually catch up. Writing is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it withers away and dies. You have to exercise it every day in order to keep it in top trim. So, during all the hype and excitement of November 1st, write 2,000 words. Next day, write 2,000 words. Next day, the same. After that, you’ll breeze through the challenge. Your writing muscle will be fully developed, and it’ll be itching to get working as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.

5. Short bursts

This is a technique I’ve used in the past couple of years. I write in short bursts. Or rather, I develop the ability to write in short bursts. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. Maybe half an hour.

We all have busy lives, and many, many distractions from our writing. Finding that two-hour golden writing time ain’t gonna happen if you work, have families, or friends, or strange habits. How many times have you said: “It’s not worth starting to write now, I’ve only got twenty minutes before …”

Poppycock. I would guess that most people use laptops. Keep your work open, and just put the laptop into sleep or whatever mode it goes into. When the advert breaks come during your favourite, can’t-miss programme, pick up your laptop, and write a bit. When you’re not writing, think about your novel. Plan what you’re going to write next. As soon as you open the computer, start typing. Don’t think, or look up to the ceiling in your best Hemingway pose. Write. I can write 1,000 words an hour. In 5 minutes, I can 80 words. During an evening’s TV watching, I can write half my NaNo words for the day, without finding any writing time, per se.

Or – spend a month not watching your normal soap operas. Two soaps an evening, half an hour each, makes 1,000 words. Over half my daily requirement.

Or – write in your lunch hour. 1,000 words, right there.

Or – get up half an hour early. A third of your words done before everyone else gets up.

Don’t expect to find two hour slots for writing. It ain’t gonna happen.

You might also look up the Pomodoro technique. Here’s a link to get you started: http://pomodorotechnique.com/ It’s doing stuff in short, but prescribed, amounts of time. Makes the task less onerous, and is surprisingly effective. Also, in the NaNoWriMo forums, people have ‘Word Wars’ or something similar. One person will ask “anyone up for a word war?” (other phrases like “word sprints” are sometimes used), and a group of you will write solidly for 10 minutes or half an hour. At the end, you compare amount of words written, no prizes, no boasting, and you’ve added to your word count. Get used to writing in small chunks.

6. Write every day

Don’t take a day off. Don’t think because you’ve worked hard all week, you deserve a day off writing. Writing is fun! Writing is inspiring! Writing might be financially beneficial – how are you going to know unless you write, eh?

If you’re fully engaged with your story, you’ll want to write. If you love your characters, and can’t wait until that next kink in the plotline, you need to keep writing! If you’ve had a really rubbish day, retreat into the make-believe word of your novel. Writing isn’t something you squeeze in when you’ve got nothing else to do. This is one month in a year, when your writing should take priority over many other leisure activities. Say: “I’d love to come to the pub, but I can’t come right away, BECAUSE I’M WRITING!” Say: “I’ll do the washing up in an hour, because right now, I’M WRITING!”

If you write every day, force yourself to put your novel first for a change, then you’ll notice something different by around the 10th day. You will really *want* to write your novel. It will start to rise up the list of “things to do”.

So – write every day. This is not a tip – this is a RULE.

7. Plough through

Yes, I’ve been in those situations. Where your characters are doing nothing, or you’ve done the writing equivalent of painting yourself into a corner, or you’ve got a dead body, but no idea who it is, how they got dead, or who did it.

Plough through. Just keep writing. Don’t put your head in your hands, telling yourself that you suck at writing, telling yourself this was all a stupid idea, telling yourself you’ll never be a writer.

Invent a new character. A space alien with a fine taste in ladies’ shoes. A mean down-and-out who just happens to be your hero’s twin sister. Or father. Or have a building suddenly collapse. Or have lightning strike something important. Or (as I often do), have a character suddenly die on you. Even better, have the main character die. That’ll get the creative juices flowing again. But don’t, whatever you do, stop writing to analyse what you’ve written so far. Plough on through.

Next time – tips 8-10 (plus a couple of extra ones for free)

NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part II Tips 1-3

BEFORE NANOWRIMO

1. Write what interests you as a reader.

There’s no point choosing a genre that you don’t enjoy and know nothing about. Some people like to choose books which might be ‘popular’ (e.g. sparkly vampires or very naughty businessmen with a penchant for violence). This is a recipe for disaster. There is an old saying” ‘Write what you know’. This is obviously not true in all cases, because there would be no science fiction. But you need to write with authority about a subject. I can’t write humour, and I can’t write romance. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work. So I don’t, no matter how popular those genres have become. I know I enjoy writing short dark fiction, crime novellas, and longer thrillers. I find them to be the most enjoyable. So for this NaNoWriMo, I’m either writing (you’ll never guess) short dark fiction (to make a set of short stories); crime novellas (for my crime series books); or a long novel-length thriller (either techno or political – I have ideas for both).

2. Plan

Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Variations of this abound all over the internet, but the idea is the same. People who don’t plan are called “pantsers” – they write by the seats of their pants. I’ve tried this, but it just doesn’t work for me. I have to know where the story’s going, who the bad guys are, and who gets killed in the end. That’s not to say I stick rigidly to the plan. Characters change sides, gender, even sexuality sometimes. Good guys get killed, bad guys prosper, and the creepy guy from up the road with the camera turns out to be a hero. But you must have the plan, the outline. I don’t think I’ve had a NaNo where I haven’t deviated from the plan. But that’s okay, because by then, I know where my story’s going. Create some story ‘beats’, from a few lines to a couple of pages that says who does what, to whom, and with which unearthly creature. Believe me, this will help you later on in the month.

3. Have backup ideas

Ha! Yes, I have some great story ideas. Some wonderful characters jumping and screaming in my head to tell their story. Beautiful locations, cunning plots and twists.

And then, 25,000 words in, I see it all is rubbish. The fascinating characters are paper thin, the plots are boring and stereotypical, and the locations are less interesting than that dark and smelly place behind my garage. It would be easy to throw my hands up in horror, and go and sulk. But when stories stagnate, I turn to my “ideas” folder on the computer, and zoom through a few of my story ideas, and start writing a new story. It’s okay, The NaNoWriMo people don’t mind. You then become a “rebel”, but you can still count all of your words towards the total, and get access to that all-important badge at the end of the month. It’s much better to have succeeded, and have 50,000 words under your belt, than to fail mid-month.

Tomorrow: Tips 4-7 Writing During NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part I Introduction

Firstly, what is NaNoWriMo? It ’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month. But it’s more international, rather than national (it was started in the USA), and what comes out of it is rarely a novel.

So that’s what it isn’t. So what is it? It’s a challenge for writers and would-be writers. And the challenge is to write 50,000 new words of a novel between midnight on the 1st of November to midnight on the 30th November. Thirty days, to you and me. The mathematicians amongst you will be able to work out it’s 1,667 words per day.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. You might be able to write 1,667 words today, but can you write the same tomorrow, and the next day, and … (well, you get the idea)?

I’ve done it before. My first time was in 2003, and I ‘won’ (completed the challenge). In all, I’ve attempted it every year since then, except in 2008 when we were moving house. Pathetic excuse, I know. I ‘failed’ in 2006, but in 9 attempts, I’ve succeeded 8 times. Not a bad batting average.

Back in the first paragraph, I said that at the end of November, with over 50,000 words under your belt, what comes out is rarely a novel. That is so for two reasons:

1. 50,000 words does not generally a novel make. Novels, by publishing standards, consist of at least 70,000 words, or more. This ‘rule’ is more flexible these days with e-publishing. When all we had was print books, it was difficult for publishers to set a realistic price for short writing which could amortise publishing overheads and pre-publication costs. So, a ‘novel’ (70,000 words or more, remember) might cost £7.99 in today’s market. Something which was 50,000 words, or less, would still have to cost at least £6.99 (paper and ink is relatively cheap), but the perceived value is less, since it’s a thinner book. Therefore, a harder sell to the public.

Self-published ebooks have tiny overheads, and can be priced according to the perceived value. This has created a market for smaller writing, especially in genre fiction.

2. The speed at which you have to write, especially if you have a full-time job or a busy family and social life, means the writing can be of a lesser quality. Characters are less interesting. Plots have some whoppers of holes in them. Locations are monochrome and boring. It’s generally accepted that NaNo ‘novels’ need some severe editing and rewriting on them before they’re fit for publication.

So, in short, you can call it a novel if you wish, but I wouldn’t expect to see it on the shelves of my local (or not-so-local) bookseller anytime soon after the 30th November.

What are the potential pitfalls of NaNoWriMo?

Apart from developing an unhealthy taste for energy snacks and coffee, there are a number of problems that NaNo-ers can encounter along their journey.

* You run out of story. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. Despite planning, I get to 30,000 words, and I’ve said everything I wanted to say. My characters end up doing the equivalent of those little motorised puppies at Christmas fayres, when they move along the table, hit a buffer, turn round, and go the other way. My characters talk to each other, visit different places, but very little happens. If you find yourself in this situation, you can either: a) start writing something new (see tip no. 3 below); b) Evoke Chandler’s law http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChandlersLaw – “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” or c) create a new character, it doesn’t matter if they have no backstory in the right place, just continue writing.

* You fall behind (see tip no. 4). This can be demoralising, as you see your targets and graphs fall back, and you realise you need to find even more time to write than you’ve been able to find so far.

* You spend all of your time talking about writing instead of doing it. The NaNoWriMo forums are fascinating places to chat, or discuss writing, or ask and answer questions. You can quite happily spend an hour or two, easily, wandering around the forums. It’s an interesting place. But that time could have been spent writing instead. See tip 9 below.

Next time: Tips 1-3 – “Before NaNoWriMo”

Write well, or write well enough?

I can write good. Oh yes, I can (the first sentence excluded). I’ve been involved in many online writers’ groups and critique circles, and although I never got anywhere near winning any of the prestigious competitions or being published in highbrow periodicals, I had some of my short fiction featured in now long-defunct publications and I did win a very minor competition (for which there was no prize).

But I’ve had my work critiqued enough to know that, at times, it can be pretty good. And if I take my time, work at it, review it, I can feel proud of what I have produced. Some of it even got into my two collections of flash and short fiction, Bleak Midwinter Tales and Bleak Midwinter Tales 2. There is a BMT3 coming out sometime in the not-too-distant future.

For my longer work (greater than 50,000 words, approaching novel length), I have struggled. I have eighteen pieces of writing in progress, most of which have been produced as a result of time-limited writing challenges, such as NaNoWriMo and #100kwords100days. Each of these has been a strain and a struggle to get through. Recently, I have managed to complete not one, but two novels (one is 45,000 words in Draft 0 form, and the other is 65,000 words in Draft 0). *

But, coming back to the point of this post (see what I mean about podgy and moribund middles?), I wonder how good my books need to be.

They should be the best they can be, right? Well, yes, but there is the 80/20 principle, and a definite dropping off in the effort / value ratio as I spend more time agonising over individual words and sentences. I love the fact that people are reading what I write, and some of them like it so much they take time to email / message me and tell me. Which is wonderful. If I can make a few pennies on it, so much the better.

But I’ve seen some horrific writing out there. But what’s more horrific is that some people seem to like it. To the tune of tens of thousands of people buying the thing, and 5 star to 1 star ratings ratios of 30:1 or better on Amazon.

Whaaaat? When I read the same book, I see paper-thin characters, dreadful clichés, stilted, unrealistic dialogue, and ludicrous plotlines. But people seem to love it. And the writers are earning (presumably) a reasonable amount of money from it. “Can’t wait to read more from this author!” “Couldn’t put the book down!” “I loved the main character – in fact, all of the characters!” Are they even reading the same book as me?

So I sit here, with my 18 works in progress, and wonder how much effort should I put into making them the mostest, absolutest, bestest they can be? Should I spend a couple of years on each, editing and brushing-up and polishing until it sparkles like a gemstone in the Alterian twin suns? Or should I cobble together something quickly, throw it out like yesterdays newspaper, and write some more rubbish as quickly as I can and hope someone buys it?

I suspect the answer will be “somewhere in between”. I should work at my writing until it’s good, with no mistakes, no spelling or grammer snafus, and no plot holes or pointless dialogue; and until it is formatted perfectly, and with an appealing and professional cover. Then usher it out with a gentle hand behind it and some encouraging words in its ear.

And then write the next damned book!

 

* Out of interest, Draft Zero is my version of a first draft, except it’s less good. My Draft Zero is a very rough, clunky, badly-written story, but it is complete with a start, usually a podgy and moribund middle, and a long floppy end. But the story is told, and I will then take this, smooth out the rough bits, tighten up the floppy bits, and give it to my Alpha reader for feedback. Thence (once I’ve stopped crying), I will edit and restructure and replot it until it looks a bit more like a finished work, whence it will be dropped upon unsuspecting Beta readers. After a few more tears, and more editing, it should be ready to be thrust out into the world.

Late summer update. Busy busy busy.

Tonight, I had cause to log in to my WordPress account, in order to comment on a friend’s blog. No problems occurred, but I did look at my blog, and saw that the last item was posted way back in early April. Ugh. Bad blogger.

As a way back in, I’ll give you an update on what’s happening. Summer is happening, that’s what. For once, the UK, and especially the Eastern side, has been bathed in beautiful sun for what seems likes weeks on end.

Which makes it hard to write.

It always seems that there’s something else that needs doing, whether it really needs it, or whether that need is perceived. Gardens need tidying, planting, cutting back, mowing, watering. Summer houses needed to be built, which necessitated quite large changes to groundworks in the back garden. Social events had been organised, and enjoyed.

Cycling happened. A lot. I rode from London to Paris in less than 24 hours. That was fun. Shortly, I’m going to be riding from Shenfield (bottom of Essex), through Harwich / Hook of Holland, to Bruges (or Brugge, if you’re Belgian). And back again. There’s various other cycling-related things going on, too, either watching or actually doing. And a new bike has entered the collection, which is lovely and a joy to ride.

Oh, and I’m doing #100kwords100days again.

The group seemed to have an appetite for more of the pain and anguish, although word counts have been somewhat down on the winter version. I suspect others have the summer distraction thing going on, too. This one runs from the 1st of July through to early October, when we’ll breathe a sigh of relief before girding our loins ready for NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing about the end of the world again, albeit this time in a fairly small area in the USA. But there’s death and destruction going on, forces unimagined by man (or woman), and I have a strong female lead. Again.

On word counts, I’m somewhat down on the target. I’m at 41,579 for the story and 48,435 for the challenge (the challenge includes blog posts and other creative writing). I am supposed to be somewhere near 66,000 words right now. My rolling average word count per day is creeping up and is now 734 words per day, which is pretty good, and I need to write an average of 1,517 words per day between now and the end of the challenge to reach the 100k.

More importantly, it looks like I’m going to finish this work. Mr. Work In Progress might actually get to finish something (unlike the other 17 or 18 WIPs which lay unloved on various parts of my hard disk).

And how has this been achieved? I think it has been achieved with more structured planning, clear and interesting characters, a vision for the whole story from start to finish, and using the classic 3 act / 8 sequence structure, often used in film making. I’ve been able to keep my story on track, writing scenes (In Scrivener, of course), and kept the plot rolling along.

I also have an outline for another long piece, which may end up being my NaNoWriMo project. When this story is complete, I shall put it away for preliminary editing, and take up my crime short novel series. I really would like to get 2 or 3 of those written before the end of the challenge.

Wish me luck!