On completing the first draft of my novel
It’s weird. I expected to feel elated at this stage. After a year of solid work (and 3 years of twists and turns) I’ve finished the first draft of my novel.
Well, yeah, except I feel like I’ve written a pile of shit.
99,000 words worth of shit, to be precise.
Instead of feeling excited about this achievement, I feel tortured by self doubt. Now that I’ve finished something I can see exactly what I have. There’s no hiding from it.
Of course, this is just a first draft. It will get better.
But I think it’s interesting how negative I’ve been feeling since finishing the first draft. I should be happy for fuck’s sake!
Writing: the compulsion that won’t quit
If you write, chances are you will always write. The urge to write is unlikely to subside. Writing is, for most writers, part of their identity. The act of writing – of creating stories – doesn’t stop. The completion of one story just means the beginning of another.
A friend once said, “It will be great when you’ve finished writing.” I pointed out that I would never really be finished writing, and that when I had finished writing my current story, I would start writing my next.
Novel update 25/10/13
After a few hiccups and interruptions – mainly to do with a holiday and then my son starting at a new school – I’m back into the writing habit.
Here’s my progress pie chart, which shows I’ve now passed the 50k word mark, which is more than 60% of my estimated total. Fuck yeah!
I’m still thrilled to have found a writing habit that feels sustainable. Long may it continue!
Paperback writer – my theme tune
We’ve been listening to a Beatles compilation in the car. My son loves the songs (who doesn’t?) and it’s a nice counterbalance to Gangnam Style, which is the only other music he appreciates.
Anyway, I’m especially enjoying Paperback Writer, and am adopting it as my official Theme Tune:
Road cycling in Dorset (Poole, actually)
After a few years of regular road cycling, life got in the way, and I struggled to find the time to ride. But after relocating to Poole a few months ago, I resolved to make the time and explore my new neighbourhood by bike.
But then I got a bit stuck because I couldn’t find decent road routes. I would look at maps, pick a destination and head out, only to discover dull, busy roads that were not scenic, or challenging, or even very pleasant. I clearly needed help finding the right places to go cycling.
I looked online for ideas, but couldn’t find any routes or advice. The local cycling clubs are welcoming but challenging; their rides tend to be epic – not ideal for my rusty knees or limited fitness!
I was feeling a little despondent about cycling in Poole when I spotted a tell-tale gathering of lycra-clad men and women outside Ride bike shop one morning. To my delight, it turns out that Ride organise weekly cycling events – both on- and off-road.
If you fancy cycling with other people, I highly recommend joining the Ride bunch for an outing or two. They offer a few different on-road options, designed to suit all abilities. Their Saturday morning rides alternate between 2 hour rides and 1-hour rides – so if you’re totally new to road cycling or returning after a break, you can really ease yourself back on to the saddle.
My novel writing habit
You may have noticed that I’m writing a novel. In my spare time. That’s the spare time I have left after running a business, taking care of my son, doing the school run, cooking dinner, keeping fit and all the other things that modern life entails.
So this is my novel writing habit, and how I go about writing:
Some months ago I decided to write regularly, because otherwise I struggle to remember what the hell is happening in my story. Unfortunately the only ‘free’ time I have is in the morning, before the start of my family’s morning routine. To have an hour of writing time each day I have to wake at 5:25. Yes, that’s quite early, but it’s not really that bad – once you get used to it. In fact, once you get used to it, it’s lovely. Having an oasis of time in which to write without interruption is a phenomenal luxury.
On getting up early to write
Several months ago I decided to wake up early, before my family, so I could spend one hour writing. But for several weeks I would set my alarm for 5:25, only to slap the alarm off, spend a few minutes debating whether I could face getting up so early, and then drift off to sleep.
In spite of my intentions, and my strong desire to write, I couldn’t overcome my sleepy inertia. I might spend half the day thinking about my characters, and the next scene I had to write, and how to make my writing better, but at half past five in the morning all I cared about was staying under the duvet and sleeping. My day brain was being outfoxed by my night brain. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that my night brain is a lazy bastard and not the sort of brain I want to associate with.
After a few weeks of failed attempts, I spoke to my wife about my problem. I’m lucky (!) enough to be married to a psychologist, and she’s very good at getting you to assess what’s important to you. My wife helped me to realise just how important writing is to me, and she made me feel embarrassed for letting a little thing like sleep stand in my way. She also recorded me an alarm message in which she calmly encourages me to wake up and write, and reminds me of my goal. It might sound silly but it worked! My wife’s voice cut through my sleepy brain and got me hopping out of bed (quietly!).
And once I’d woken once at 5:25 it was easy to do it again.
In fact, I’ve done it every weekday morning since then (I started in mid April 2013).
Momentum + will power = you on fire
I recently heard will power described as a muscle. That comparison makes a lot of sense to me. There have been times in my life when I’ve struggled to summon will power, and other times when I have an abundance of self-control. But one thing I’ve noticed is that building up will power usually starts with something small. As soon as I make some small change, or a decision, or whatever it might be, then my will power muscle grows a little, and then the next choice becomes easier. And with each act of resistance or control I become stronger at sticking to my plans.
So if you are struggling to stick to your plans, try creative ways to get yourself to do it just once. The first time is the hardest. After that, your will power muscle will grow stronger, and you’ll find it easier to do precisely what you want to do.
Writing little but often
It would be great to be able to write for hours every day, but I just don’t have that luxury. Instead I spend one hour every weekday, doing nothing but writing. And while one hour isn’t much time, it’s enough for me to write 500 words. Writing for just one hour has benefits:
– I don’t get bored of writing.
– I don’t get distracted by the Internet.
– I don’t get frustrated by the difficulty of writing.
When I do occasionally have longer stretches of time to write I often procrastinate terribly. With just one hour to write I refuse to be distracted by anything.
My novel is already plotted out. I’ve also made a fairly comprehensive list of the scenes, though these may well change. I want my novel to get people thinking, but primarily I want it to be entertaining. So the story needs to be emotionally engaging, inducing the reader to care about my characters. I would personally find it very challenging to manage the plot and keep the reader involved without planning the story first.
Writing freely, without plotting first, is great fun, but it rarely produces the most engaging stories. Certainly not when I write.
I’ve been researching components of my story for a long time, so I can now just sit down and write. There are still lots of questions I need to answer though, but I simply mark gaps in my knowledge in square brackets within the prose, so I can return to them later. If I stopped writing every time I had a question about continuity or location or history then I would probably write 100 words each day instead of 500.
So that’s my novel writing habit. What’s yours?
Novel update 14/06/2013
It’s Friday. For me, Friday has a special significance, because it marks the end of my writing week. And usually it signifies booze, too.
I write every morning from Monday-Friday, but down tools over the weekend. This is a great way to make sure I focus on my family, although I do find that on Monday mornings my brain takes a little time to get into gear. It seems that the two day break is enough time for me to lose the writing rhythm I build up during the week. But the effect is not massive. I’m still writing regularly, which is more than I’ve done for many years.
It’s been a good week of writing. I’ve consistently written for one hour each morning, producing 500 words each day.
I’ve written a total of 26,000 words now, which is roughly 30% of the way towards my goal of 80,000 words.
Writing the way I do (very much the part-timer) is very slow, but that’s okay, because I’m making progress. It’s obviously better to write a novel slowly than to never write a novel.
Are you writing something? Tell me in the comments!
Track your novel writing progress with this spreadsheet
Writing a novel can be a slow, uneventful and thankless task. Anything that helps you get through the lonely journey to the end and overcome the vicious emptiness of the blank page and the mocking metronome of the cursor – well, anything that helps is to be embraced.
One little gem which is helping me plod onward is a spreadsheet which converts my word count into a pie chart.
So instead of just seeing the number of words I’ve written, I can see my unwritten words shrink as the days pass.
This tool is freely available thanks to the generosity of science-fiction writer E.G. Cosh, who I once met at WriteClub.
Pop over to her website to download your copy of the Novel Progress Tracker.
The loneliness of the long-form writer
Writing is clearly something that most people do alone, but I do wish writing a novel was less solitary.
I wish I could write with people around me, but I know they would only distract me.
I wish I could talk about my story, but I know the chatter would only distract me.
I wish I could share my work in progress, but I know any feedback would only distract me.
It seems that when you get to the editing and review stage writing becomes more sociable, and you can happily discuss your work with family, fans and critics. Until then, I’ll continue alone.
Novel update 31/05/13
I’m still writing. And, as someone who has often struggled to find the time, enthusiasm and energy to write, that’s something I’m delighted to report.
My novel progress tracker tells me I’m roughly 25% of the way towards my 80,000 word goal.
It may seem silly to focus on numbers when you’re writing a story, but seeing the finish line slowly emerge is surprisingly important – particularly when you’re engaged in such a solitary pursuit. Writing is always a lonely act, a challenge that only you can accomplish, so anything that can spur the motivation is welcomed.
I’ve written roughly 500 words each day during this week (Mon-Fri). It’s quite slow progress, but it is progress. I’ll continue writing steadily and eventually write to the end.
And then the adventures with editing / publishing / promotion can begin.
In the meantime I’m reading depressing blog posts about the realities of the publishing world (and trying to STAY POSITIVE):
Writing a novel: progress report
I’m writing a novel.
I don’t expect you to be excited about that. Some days, it seems like everyone is writing a novel.
But back to my own novel… I started writing it ages ago, after being hit with inspiration while waiting for the tube. My inspiration came days after the start of NaNoWriMo in November 2011, and while that month encouraged me to make a solid start on the book, I was still working on it nearly one year later. I eventually finished a novella, and began trying to decide what to do with it. This all coincided with my re-discovery of sequential art, or comics, so I began thinking about turning my story into a graphic novel.
While dallying with various publishing modes and learning how to write comic book scripts, I had the good fortune to read a few books about writing, which helped me to see the flaws in my novella. Eventually, the flaws in my novella outweighed the strengths. My novella died completely when I realised that the story was only half-told; I had much more to write.
So I’ve started again, and have written roughly
13,000 18,000 words of the new and improved novel.
Join me on My Learning Journey
Right now, I’m learning a lot about writing. And I intend to share that learning here, with you.
I’ll talk about the books I read in another post.
I’ll also talk about the inspiration I’ve been getting from other writers online, and the writing routine that I’ve established.
I’ll discuss the barriers I hit and the elements of writing that I struggle with.
I’ll also provide monthly progress updates so you can see how the book progresses. I’m writing this novel in my spare time – so progress will be slow and steady.
I’ll tell you all about how I choose an editor and my first readers. And I’ll discuss the process of choosing and working with an artist to create an amazing cover.
I’m currently planning on self-publishing using Amazon’s Kindle service, so I’ll let you know how I get on with that too.
Thanks for stopping by.
Decompression in comics: a valid storytelling technique…?
In comics (or sequential art), ‘decompression’ is the technique of slowing down the pace of the story in order to reveal subtle details about the characters, mood or plot.
How can you spot a comic that uses decompression? Well, it might include sparse panels low on information. The panels may focus on one moment in time, or they may show one interaction or event from a number of perspectives. Decompressed comics are sometimes criticised for giving readers less story – though this only applies if you believe that the ‘story’ is merely a series of events or plot-points.
A waste of space?
Critics of decompression in comics complain that the technique delivers too little substance, stripping valuable action from their $3 comic. Some readers want action and events instead of the comparatively worthless reflection, introspection and consideration that decompression can provide.
Personally, I feel that if a comic doesn’t take the time to build an emotional connection, then I can’t give two shits about whether a hero wins or loses their next Epic Battle. Unless you slow a story down, you can’t speed it up. And unless you cause your readers to care about your characters, they can’t feel their pain, or fear their demise.
It seems that critics of decompression want their comics to be a moronic succession of significant plot-points, with little or no time spent establishing the characters, their moods or their motivations.
Here’s a page from Warren Ellis’ The Authority (claimed to be a popular example of decompression in American comics by Wikipedia):
Compressing a decompressed comic
A blogger who doesn’t appreciate decompression (he interestingly equates his enjoyment of a comic with the time it takes him to read it, with a longer read being desirable) edited Justice League 1 to compress the story. This is a fascinating experiment and I applaud him for his efforts to compress a comic which I thought was quite densely packed to begin with. Unsurprisingly, his compressed pages of Justice League 1 lose their weight, their emotional power and their cinematic qualities.
Take a look:
Research for fiction, but faster
Once upon a time, I wanted to write a story that revolved around Genghis Khan. It was a crap idea, but I was young and didn’t know better. The trouble was that before I could write a word, I had to read loads of stuff about Genghis Khan. And by the time I was half way through the first book my enthusiasm had vaporised and the story never happened. I’ve since discovered another way to research vital elements of a story, a method that’s quick enough to keep my ideas alive.
Resarch your story by talking to experts
When possible, talk to experts to find out what you need to know. Books offer great overviews and in-depth information on any subject, but the knowledge you need may be buried within hundreds of pages of unnecessary stuff. By asking the right questions of the right expert, you can get straight to the information you need. You can also ask hypothetical questions about scenarios specific to your story, uncovering insights you can never find in a book.
As well as exposing you to new ideas and bespoke advice, consulting experts is real and vital – and it’s always a treat to meet new people working in different fields.
Cartoon County: Brighton’s own comics hub
Last night the Cartoon County group met in the Brighton’s Cricketers pub – and I went along to chat to other comics enthusiasts. As well as meeting the legendary David Lloyd, I got to chat to comics creators such as Joe Decie (check out his awesome web comic What I Drew), Karrie Fransman (creator of the beautiful graphic novel shown above: The House that Groaned) and loads of other people who make comics, study comics, and enthuse about comics!
The Cartoon County group was incredibly friendly and welcoming. It’s great that people in Brighton have a place to gather and meet likeminded folk.I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Preparing for the Dunwich Dynamo bike ride: what’s required?
So, you want to ride the Dunwich Dynamo? Good for you!
Once you’ve booked your ticket home from Dunwich, there are a few things to consider…
Food and drink
Fantastic halfway-point refreshments are available at Great Waldingfield, but remember that you’ve got to cycle about 60 miles first. How much will you need to eat and drink to take you 60 miles?
Remember too that you could puncture on your way to the rest stop. You could puncture, get lost or turn up to the village hall too late to get a sandwich. So aim for self-sufficiency – at least enough food to help you cope with a few surprises. Aim for variety too. Sugary energy gels and drinks are great, but you need to balance them out with something more substantial, something less sweet and something more food-like. Sugary things can leave you feeling queasy.
Food doesn’t have to consist of expensive sports-specific snacks. Try:
- malt loaf (Soreen is great!)
- fig rolls
Your body is going to have enough to do on this ride, so don’t make it any harder by allowing your bike to needlessly fail. Get your bike serviced if it’s overdue a checkup, but otherwise check:
- nuts and bolts (including cleat screws!)
Some people do the DD with teeny LED lights that can barely illluminate a dusty cupboard, while others use super-bright mega-lights that turn night to day. What would you prefer? If you’re going to do a few night rides consider investing in proper night lights. I love cycling at night, especially when I can cycle faster, more safely with good lights.
It’s hard to prepare for every eventuality. But whatever the weather, you’ll spend most of the DD exercising vigorously, so your first consideration is about dressing for exercise. Cycling shorts and jerseys make a good starting point, because they provide good physical comfort while you’re working hard.
Late in the night, when the temperature cools and the sun is long gone, you’ll probably want something to cover your arms and legs (although in 2010 the night was so mild that shorts and short sleeves suited many cyclists throughout the journey).
Flexible items like arm and leg warmers are perfect because you can easily adapt to changing conditions without being burdened by bulky clothing.
It may rain – indeed it could rain all night long, so be prepared to cycle through it. If bad weather is forecast you may want to include waterproof gear.
Remember that all your equipment and food adds to the weight you carry – so think twice before adding items to your pack. You want to be prepared, not overburdened.
The morning after
Depending on how quickly you ride, you could spend 4-8 hours on the beach at Dunwich, waiting for your ride home. That beach can be rather chilly, so pack a jumper or something to wear when you’re finished. I was also oddly grateful for the toothbrush and wrap of toothpaste I’d packed. And make sure you have cash to pay for a fry up from the Dunwich cafe!
Fast or slow?
There are two schools of thought:
1. The DD is a fun ride and a social event. It’s a slightly bonkers experience that takes you through the night on a magical tour of flat wilderness. The DD is to be savoured at your leisure.
2. The DD is a race! It’s fun and weird, but it’s a race! How quickly can you get there?
Most people view the DD as a fun ride – not one to rush. How will you ride the Dun Run?
Cycling the South Downs Way – how not to do it
I recently attempted the South Downs Way Randonnee – a mountain bike ride organised by the British Heart Foundation. It went rather badly. In the hope that you might learn from my failure, here is how and why I failed to complete the ride. 😉
I think my first mistake was to start late. The first riders were leaving Winchester at 5:00 AM. I left at 6:45. Leaving earlier gives you a bigger window of daylight to complete the ride. Given that anything can happen out on the Downs, it’s wise to have the biggest window of opportunity possible.
To avoid my first failure: start any ride as soon as you possibly can.
When I got a puncture after about 2 hours on the ride, I realised that carrying only one spare tube was a stupid idea. Having used my spare, I would have no way of dealing with a puncture. So I was probably one fifth of the way through the journey, with no puncture repair options.
To avoid my second failure: take plenty of spares. Is one tube enough?
After repairing my puncture and having a minor fall, I noticed my cleat was a little bit loose. Not only had I failed to check that my clipless shoe cleats were tight before the ride, I wasn’t carrying any allen keys, so I had no way to tighten them mid-ride. By the time I found a cyclist with allen keys, one of the cleat bolts had sheared off, leaving me with a cleat that was only attached to my shoe at one point.
Then I discovered that I couldn’t remove my shoe from the pedal. So I was stuck to my right pedal. No problem, I thought, I’ll just keep on cycling until I find a rest stop!
This was a stupid idea because the South Downs Way was a mudbath, having been deluged with rain over the preceding week. So there were stretches of path that were uncycleable, and there were also plenty of gates and steps to clamber over. When faced with these, I had to unstrap my foot from my right shoe, and slip and slide my way through the mud with one shoe and one sock.
This was not the fun bike ride I had imagined.
To avoid my third failure: carry basic tools.
Just when I thought having my shoe stuck to the pedal was fairly miserable, it came unstuck. I felt a moment of joy at having my shoe back, until I realised how little grip my cleatless shoe had on the pedal! So I had one good foot/pedal combo, the other was a free-floating ice-skating mess. While I could just about nudge the pedal with my cleatless shoe, I could not grip the pedal or use it for support or balance. So careering round the muddy bogs and steep hills of the Downs was additionally dangerous.
During all of this I was sustained by the belief that the first rest stop was manned by a mechanic, who I imagined sitting next to a box full of allen keys and cleat bolts. So I trundled on, slip-sliding my way cautiously along.
Sadly, it took me so much time to reach the rest stop that the mechanic had moved on to the next rest area. Hearing this, I was so deflated, so disappointed, so mud-covered, scratched and dejected that I realised I was beat. The next rest stop was 15 miles away. 15 miles of boggy, slimy, slidy Downs. And me, with only one pedal.
While I could have done it (perhaps), I was losing too much time. At the rate I was going I would never reach Devil’s Dyke (my destination) before dusk. So I abandoned the ride, and caught a train home.
To avoid my fourth failure: don’t rely on external support. Aim for complete self-sufficiency. If you hear yourself thinking, “I’m sure someone else will have one of those,” realise the risk and make your own plans.
Despite all the problems, I’m looking forward to trying it again next year. And finishing.