Fail to plan, plan to fail?

That’s a cliché and I think it’s an unfair one. Everyone needs different amounts of information before they begin and I don’t judge. Anyway, as you can probably tell this months WriYe blog topic is all about planning.

Explain your planning process. Do you write a detailed outline or are you more of a bare bones only writer?
Ok I start off with an idea. This could be a scene, a character, a general concept, a world detail – something. I then do a lot of brainstorming, which is basically free typing where I write down everything that comes to mind as I think about the idea. I ask myself questions and try and reason out the answers. I do this until I have answered all the questions. This results in a very long and messy document.

So I then need to pull out all the relevant information and put it into various documents. I’ll have a world building details file. I’ll have a character detail file etc. Then I’ll have the explaining the plot file where I edit the rambles and put it all in order, but it’s still very much long paragraphs. So I’ll create another separate file and make up bullet points for each scene described, so there’s a brief list for reference and not just the long descriptive document.

Ultimately I guess that makes me a detailed outline person – at least when it comes to novels. I don’t tend to go that far with fanfic. I’ll reason the story out and sometimes write up scene lists but I don’t do a scene-by-scene outline, and I’ll add as I go with what feels right and sometimes straight up change things. I’m a bit less flexible with the novel because I plan it more in-depth.

Are you happy with the way you plan currently?
I guess? Sometimes I think maybe I over-plan when it comes to novels and it sort of sucks all the life out of it. Essentially I’m just fleshing out the story, in many ways I’ve already written it. That doesn’t mean I’ve written it sensibly though. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of process I put my plan through, in an attempt to check that I’ve not been dumb – I’ve invariably been stupid somewhere and something doesn’t make sense.

End of 2019 I made a ton of notes on structure and applied them to the outline of the novel I should be writing at the moment (it’s not going so well). As I’ve not finished the draft yet, and thus haven’t attacked it in revision, I don’t know whether that has helped or not.

To be honest I’m kinda set in my ways. I’ve been planning by brainstorming and then pulling it into an outline for well over a decade now, possibly closer to two. It’s just how my brain works. Am I happy with it? I don’t know. I think so but at the same time I’m not happy with the novels I write from it, but then would those novels be any better if I planned another way? I don’t know.

Are there things you would like to try that are different or new to you?
Yes. I don’t do details very well. I need to think more deeply about my world building, and then plan/record those details in an easily referenced document. With the novel I’m currently writing I was struggling to get started and so a friend tried asking me questions, to sort of get my head ‘into the scene’. I didn’t know most of the answers because I couldn’t remember if I’d decided about these details before, or what I’d put if I had. I struggle with description at the best of times and not thinking about the details until revision hurts me.

Top 7 Writing Tips

What it says on the tin aka this month’s WriYe blog topic. I didn’t do last months because it was on balance and hahahahaha I do not have any. Seriously none, zip, nada, no freaking clue. Anyway, I thought I would give this one a stab. I also thought I would try and go for a bit more of the “weird and wacky” rather than the standard. As I read Kandy’s post this morning, which expertly covered everything I would otherwise have said, and I felt like I should at least make an attempt to be different.

So without ado!

Tip #1 – Trackers are your friend
I get down on myself all the time and my brain likes to lie to me. So have some concrete evidence. Now this can go horribly wrong as that evidence can be twisted into a weapon BUT facts are facts. It’s like glass half full, glass half empty, but at least you know for sure how much is inside. So record how many days you write for, record how much you write, go further and time yourself if you’d like. That way when the brain lies and says “you haven’t written in forever and you suck” you can go “nope actually I wrote for 20 days this month” (or whatever the truth is) and that’s better than nothing. Progress may be slower than you’d like, but the progress is still there and it is measurable.

Tip #2 – Don’t fight fate
Kinda ties in with the “track everything” idea, in that patterns will emerge! I know, I super love patterns too. They are very cool except when they are harmful, and I have a pattern that hurts me. Inevitable due to, shall we say life events, I often have a week or so in the month where my head is just not in the game. I get so mad at myself and I’m all “you were doing good, what the hell is wrong with you!?!?” but through tracking I realised the correlation. Now it still irritates the hell out of me but I’m a bit less mad now as I know why. There are things in life we can’t change. If the words aren’t coming, there’s probably a reason for that and that reason might be out of your control. So for instance if you are trying to write and getting frustrated on Sunday’s, then maybe that’s a day you skip. Save yourself the aggro. Less frustration hopefully equals more productivity on days without those issues.

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Blog Circle: Writing Organisation

Another month, another blog topic. I’m so glad this is continuing this year. It’s interesting to see what the different topics are each month. This one seems pretty straightforward, not as soul searching as last months!

How do you keep your writing organized and backed up?
I have to be honest I’m not as good about this as I should be. Back in the day I used to keep all my files on a USB stick so they went with me everywhere I went. I wish I could say that I kept them regularly backed up somewhere but that would be a lie. These days I keep a lot of my files on gdocs and again *cough* I can’t really say I have backups. That at least is on the cloud and therefore isn’t prone to hardware failure but seriously self? Yeah I think I might need to go and do some backing up haha. Plus not everything is on gdocs, I have all my archived stuff just on my removable hard drive.

The one thing I don’t do is ever store any of my writing on the computers actual hard drive. To be honest I don’t store any data on there at all. I’ve had far too many occasions where the computer has malfunctioned and I’ve had to do a complete wipe and reinstall the operating system, so ever be comfortable keeping files on the PC.

So that is how it is stored. What about organisation? I’m not sure whether to answer this here or below as it sort of crosses over. Basically I keep things simple. Back in the day it was word documents, and now it’s gdocs but either way that’s where everything is. I do have Scrivener but I’ve only ever used it to compile ebooks, I just can’t be doing with all the fancy features. I’m sure if I got my head round it then it would be helpful but I’m a creature of habit and I stick with what I know.

For any large project (aka a novel) I always start with a brainstorming file where I just free type. I ask myself questions, I answer them, I call myself names (and type that too) and just general ramble until I work out everything I need to know about the story. I then pull the relevant information out and sort it in a numbers of files: plot info, character info, world details etc. so it’s easily referenced. Sometimes if I have less detail then it’s all just in one file, occasionally I don’t even pull it from the brainstorming file and just work from that (if I’m running really light).

However, for my normal extreme planning once I have all the details in their respective files I do a bullet point scene by scene outline, which is again in another file called outline. On a normal day when I’m writing I usually only open the outline and the plot info file, in addition to the novel itself and my working file. Now what do I mean by working file? I mean everyday I create a new file which is called #file number Day “day of the month” e.g. today if I work on Carbon Scars the file will be #16 Day Two. At the end of the day I copy everything I wrote into the combined novel file.

Why do I do it like this? To be honest I think it was something I started to do during my very first NaNo and it’s just stuck. I guess I like being able to easily tell how much I’ve written in a day. I’m a very linear writer so it’s not that I need it to write out of order but sometimes I do have to go back and rework a draft while it’s in progress (I know I shouldn’t but sometimes I can’t move forward until I do), and then it’s helpful for that as the working file is all choppy and disconnected, but everything is slotted into place in the main file.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share that have helped you?
Well I would recommend the working file method, as it’s very accurate then as to how much I’ve written in a day, especially if I have to chop and change a bit on any previous words. I can highlight any “reused words” in red in the working file, and then at the end of the day (after copying everything into the main novel file) just delete everything in red to get the accurate count.

I would also say make sure you have all your writing files available to you wherever you go. I can guarantee that whatever you forget to bring will be the one file you need. So stick it in the cloud, carry it on a USB stick, just keep it with you. Obviously this only applies to trips where there will be an opportunity to write. However, even if there isn’t a known opportunity, I’d still say keep some method of writing about your person. Whether that’s a phone with a notes app, or a notebook and pen for some handwriting, you never know when you’ll need to jot something down. The biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I’ll remember that” so write it down.

Just be consistent with your organisation too, so there’s never any confusion. If you do every project the same way then it’ll always be clear. Also never delete anything. You never know when you might need to look back and check something. An idea might seem beyond salvaging but you never know, there might be something about it: a detail, a character, a particular plot point etc. which can be repurposed in something else. Plus I think it helps sometimes to look back and see how far you’ve come. So keep everything, just in case.

Blog Circle: Success and Disappointment

I didn’t think there was going to be a blog topic this month. I figured perhaps the blog circle just ran for the first couple of months of the year, as that’s what happened last year, but no it was just late! Which is no worries, it’s not like it matters, as it is still decidedly April. Anyway, this month is a bit of a tough one.

What has been your biggest writing success? How did you get there?
I would argue that I haven’t really had any big writing successes because nothing has ever lasted. However, that is quite a negative viewpoint as I suppose a success is still a success even if it didn’t transform into a lifelong accomplishment.

So there are a couple of contenders and both of them go back quite a way. In fact they both happened in the same year – 2016.

In 2016 I wrote 500k which was a big deal. I felt productive and being productive felt good. Now more than half of that was Rumbelle fanfic which wasn’t ideal but I justified it at the time as developing ideas as a lot of it was AU and could be turned original later. That is only partly true now because that was five years ago and people change over time. I’m not the person I was back then and the stories I wrote aren’t as close to my heart anymore. That’s not to say I’ll never do anything with them but they’ll probably be changed far more substantially than I first expected.

Also in 2016 I published two novels. I actually published my first novel December 2015 but I kinda don’t count that one so much as I failed to write the sequel and deemed the whole venture a total mistake. However, these books in 2016 were in the same series. I felt like I had a production schedule and it was all going well (and then it fell flat as November happened and life hasn’t been the same since hence how the success is relative).

Still the fact that I finished those novels, revised them, had them edited, formatted them and deemed them good enough to share with the world – that is a BIG DEAL. Sure subsequently I’ve noticed things about the books I’d like to change (and as I had to unpublish the series due to my failure I can change them if I want) but I did put them out there. I went through the entire process. I did that. No matter what happened next, and how badly it all turned out in the end, I did write and publish those books.

As for how I got there well that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? Because if I knew that I’d hopefully be better able to replicate the previous success and it wouldn’t have been five years of epic failure since then. I guess I managed to push through my fear of never being good enough somehow. To be honest I don’t really recall how I got that confidence, I would quite like it back.

What has been your biggest writing disappointment? How did you bounce back from it?
My biggest disappointment would be falling off the horse in November 2016 and then failing to get going again. I had a big real life disaster happen and I didn’t deal with it at all well, the fallout from that was long-lasting. Anyway I never finished writing Book 3 of my series and so I eventually unpublished the first two books out of shame.

The more time went by, the worse it got and I just stopped. I barely wrote at all 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. I would open the documents, I would try. I resolved to rework the series and relaunch and that never happened. The more I failed, the worse I felt, until I ended up in a very dark place and I’m trying to ‘try again’ but I am very afraid. I said above that I clearly had some confidence in the past or I wouldn’t have published those books. Well whatever confidence I had is gone and it’s a real struggle to even get write the first draft as I constantly wonder “what’s the point? who are you kidding, you suck, you’ll never be good enough” etc.

So in terms of ‘bouncing back from it’ I’d say that I haven’t really – or at least if I have, it’s an ongoing process. I am writing more this year. I have written several stories since last November when I sort of kickstarted things again by writing Sanctuary fanfic. I’ve even finished the first draft of an original story! I’m working on another original novel at the moment. So I’m heading in the right direction because I’m getting words down. The theory is “I can fix a bad page, I can’t fix a blank page” so writing is a good step one.

Whether I’ll ever have the confidence to be able to revise, and call it done, and publish again I don’t know. I hope so because it’s my dream but I just don’t know. Right now I don’t feel in my heart like it’s possible, I don’t feel like my writing is anywhere near good enough for that and I feel embarrassed that I ever thought it was.

I guess I’ll just keep trying to persist and hope that the future will take care of itself. Only time will tell.

Blog Circle: Revision Process

It’s March and there’s a blog topic up already, very cool. These topics seem to run on a similar theme on a month to month basis. I had a feeling that I had done a blog topic on revision before (and I had) but the questions are a bit different so let’s do it again!

Explain your revision process. Do you go through multiple stages of editing?
It depends on what I’m working on as I confess I don’t put as much effort into revising fanfic, as I do into original work. With fanfic I’ll proof-read it and make minor changes. With Our Darkest Hour I rewrote parts of a couple of scenes, cut a couple of scenes, and made some dialogue/voice adjustments, in addition to checking for typos etc. However, original work is a lot more extensive.

I don’t like (and I never have) that the terms editing and revision seem to be used interchangeably because to me they are two entirely different things. Revision is about structure, plot, the meat of the story. Whereas editing is about grammar, word choice, making it pretty and proof-reading for errors. There is no point in my mind to edit before revision, because what’s the point in polishing something that is going to end up cut or rewritten? The more time/effort goes into something, the more attached you get, so best to keep the draft rough until then.

A decade or so ago I took Holly Lisle’s “How to Revise Your Novel” course. I’ve adapted the process to better suit me after using it repeatedly but the core revision structure remains. Basically finish the first draft and print it out. Remind yourself why you wanted to write the story in the first place. Then see what you have. Go through the draft and find world, character, plot, story problems. Mark it all up and say why it feels wrong. Also, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, if something is awesome and on point, mark that up too so it doesn’t get thrown out accidentally. Only once you have identified the issues, then you can start analysing how to solve them. Form a coherent plan, replot the story, mark up all areas that need adjustment and then do a redraft.

Once the second draft is done, print it out again and do a mini-version of the above analysis. The idea is to get all the problems the first time round, so you aren’t repeating work/effort by adjusting something you then need to change again. However, I certainly like to check that there aren’t any lingering issues and I usually spot a few, something I thought was a good idea on the fix turns out not to work so well. So I’ll fix any remaining issues

Now I would be a lying liar that lies if I said I didn’t do any polishing before this point. Making minor edits when you see them is just impossible to resist. However, it is at this point that I make an effort to ‘edit’ if you like, to the best of my ability. I really should leave this until after the next step but I want the story to be the best I can personally make it, otherwise I’m too embarrassed to show it to someone else, even someone I’ve hired to help me.

Now I’m holding a third draft.

Or just one and then leave the rest to the professionals?
This is when I like to call for some help. I see things the way I see them. Sometimes because I understand my story, I know what I’m trying to say, I don’t realise that it’s not clear to somebody without that background. So it’s beta reader time. Basically getting story/plot/character issues from the perspective of somebody else. In the past I have hired a beta reader and I probably will do so again. I mean it would be nice to have a handful of perspectives (a team of friends) but I don’t really have that so I go with what I can get.

Once I’ve got feedback from the beta reader I make changes. Now I might not agree with everything they say but I always make myself think very carefully about why I’m disagreeing. It’s just their opinion so they aren’t necessarily correct but I’m not necessarily right either. Ultimately it’s my story but I want it to be the best story possible. So yeah I make considered changes based on feedback and then I’m holding draft four.

Do you/will you use professional editors?
Yes. This is when I go for a professional copyedit. I did sign up for an editing course in the hope that I would maybe be able to save myself some money and edit my own work. I know that’s risky because (as I said above) it’s my story. It’s always best to get different eyes on it. However, I have to be honest people that know good grammar and punctuation must be among the smartest people on the planet. I understood the theory no problem but applying it? Yeah I really couldn’t get my head round it. So there’s no debate about whether to hire a professional – I will be doing so!

When I hired a editor in the past they marked up all the edits on Word ‘track changes’ and then I went through them. Mostly I agreed but there were some word alterations that I didn’t agree with and a couple of other stylistic points.

That makes for draft five aka the final finished draft. It’s then complete and ready for formatting.

Blog Circle: Inspiration

It’s February and there’s another WriYe blog circle topic.

What inspires you?
The question ‘what if?’ more than anything to be honest. I mean we don’t like in a vacuum right? So it’s not that controversial to say we’re influenced by everything we interact with. However, it’s probably a bit controversial to say that I follow the maxim of “stealing ideas without actually stealing them”. You see I get inspired when I love something and in general terms I take what I love and make it my own.

For instance I’ll watch something and they’ll be one aspect which makes me go “hello!” and this can be anything but for the ease of this example I’ll go with a relationship. Anyone remember Alias? Jack Bristow and Irina Derevko intrigued me and I knew I wanted to do something with that. In broad strokes they are spies for opposing agencies, Irina seduced Jack to spy on him long term and then committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with her mark (or so I saw it) – it was a tragic love story.

Now I messed around with this and I think I wrote 4 or 5 drafts of a story I called Perfidy. I altered a lot of details, introduced a ton more characters, obviously the main plot was my own. First draft was two years after the betrayal I think, and they had to work together to stop a nuclear bomb? and had to face their feelings because dammit even after everything they still loved one another. One of the later drafts was twenty years later, they had reunited long before and left the spy business, but they got pulled back in by this billionaire who wanted revenge for his brothers death.

As you can probably tell this example didn’t actually succeed in a draft I was ever happy with. However, a few years back I wrote a short story using the same concept. It was set in space, on a sci-fi world where there were two warring factions. I like that angle a lot better to be honest because it avoids messy Earth politics. Then I decided that would work well if I meshed it with some nebulous thoughts of a series I was developing at the time. So two warring factions on a planet, have now become two warring worlds, and there’s also a third enemy and then people from Earth show up (there’s a lot going on).

So I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t think there’s any harm in wanting to play with what is effectively a trope. Rival spies who fall in love and there’s betrayal and stuff is hardly an Alias exclusive. Jack and Irina inspired me but stripping it back to basics means I made it my own, and maybe one day Galaxy of Fire will be a thing.

How do you hold onto that inspiration through less-than-inspiring times?
I try and remember what made me love the idea in the first place, what the spark was that made me go “hmm yes it’s going to be you” and pushed me to develop the story.

Honestly though this is a hard question because holding onto inspiration isn’t easy. Sometimes I feel an outpouring of love but quite often I want to burn my drafts in fire. Writing is hard. Inspiration is fleeting, I try and focus on discipline. That often fails too but “butt in chair” is a phrase for a reason you know?

Is inspiration different than motivation for you?

Continuing from the last question because it sort of blends together. Yeah inspiration and motivation are different for me. As I said inspiration is often fleeting, and hard to pin down. It’s the bubble of “ooooh” I get when the story idea first strikes, or when I have a breakthrough when planning and details start to fall into place. The whole story then sort of spreads out in front of me and I bask in all the glorious potential.

Once I start writing inspiration often vanishes. Like I said I try and remember why I was keen on the story in the first place, but really the actual writing is all about perseverance. Motivation is always there because I do want to finish stuff, I really really do. Sometimes I think it seems like I’m not motivated because I don’t do things but that really isn’t true. I’m not doing things because of my mental health, not because I lack the desire to do them. I always want to write and complete my projects, it’s just reality isn’t that easy.

WriYe: Goals and Plans

January and a blog circle topic!

What’s your WriYe Word Count goal for 2021? Why did you chose it?
Technically it’s 75k at the moment. However, I put on my progress thread “starting small, dreaming higher” and that’s precisely what I’m doing. I picked 75k because it’s the length of a full novel draft. At minimum I want one completed drafted full length original novel. So those two goals are compatible BUT I’m going to be writing other things. I’m continuing with the fanfic and my first original project in 2021 is a novella.

Basically I hope very much that I will far exceed 75k. I have secret dreams about smashing past 75k in February if I’m honest. However, given how last year went I thought picking a low goal wouldn’t be intimidating, and then when I smashed it (thinking positively here) I could increase it and then feel good about that.

What are your writing/editing plans for the year?

As I said above I’d like at least one full length novel written. I’m starting with this novella and there’s fanfic. To be honest I haven’t thought further than those goals quite deliberately. I don’t want to scare myself off. I’m focusing on January and what I’m working on now. When I finish my current projects I’ll focus on February, and what I’m going to write then, and not look too far into the future.

I’m feeling like if I take it a month at a time, a project at a time, then that might work like NaNo which went really well last year. I had my project, I worked on it all month, and I wrote ‘The End’ on the 30th and it felt great. So I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I have a lot of different possibilities about what I can work on but I’ll pick when I get there. For now I’m focusing on the novella (Fall of Camelot) and my current fanfic (Choosing Fate).

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
Smashing my goals? Haha oh I don’t know. I’m trying to be positive here. Seriously, what I want the most from 2021 is to make progress, to move forward, to finally get somewhere. There is nothing I want more than to get to the end of December in 2021 and type up a yearly review, and to list all the things I accomplished.

I want that glow of satisfaction, of being able to feel like yes I did something good. Not that I’m saying the writing will be good (although I’m trying not to make myself panic about being good enough right now!). What I mean by good is, I don’t want to get through another year and feel like I wasted the time again. Like I said I really want to feel like I made progress.

So yes, that is the only answer I can give really. In 2021 I’m most looking forward to (hopefully) feeling accomplished, to being productive and getting words written.

WriYe: Year in Review

The blog circle on WriYe has been absent since March but quite frankly it’s been that kind of year. I just went back and read my 2020 January post detailing my plans for the year… oh we had no idea did we?

A real gem here: “It’s going to a brand new decade. I really hope it’s better than the last one.”

2020 is almost over (yay!). In a very unpredictable and unstable year, sum up your year of writing.
Did you meet your goals? Did you survive? Barely hung on?

Right my goals were as follows:
“150k target. I want to be consistent with my writing. 4thewords – I intend to use it everyday next year. My aim is to maintain the 444 word streak on the site to make incremental progress everyday. I want a couple of drafts by the end of the year – I want to feel like I made progress ultimately!

In 2020 I intend to move forward with my writing, with the goal to being in a position to start publishing in 2021, and I also want to leap forward with my drawing if I can and do a drawing a month and complete the ‘How to Draw the Marvel Way’ course that I was given ages ago.”

Did I meet them?

Bwhahahaha yeah no. Not even close, not even a little bit.

My 4thewords streak is technically intact but that’s only down to rampant cheating. I’m not sure how many days I actually wrote for but it’s possibly in the region of about 50, if that and only then if I include planning days probably.

I have zero novel drafts. In fact I have zero progress on any original work whatsoever. You see what happened is (well I’m going to quote myself again). I wrote in that 2020 January post: “I know how rusty I am and that everything I write to begin with is going to be even more shit than normal. However I’m not going to get past that and write anything ever potentially decent if I don’t forge on.” but unfortunately panic doesn’t understand logic.

Even before 2020 took a turn for the crazy I wasn’t doing well. I spent a good chunk of January planning out an original novel and I was all set to start, I sat down and kept having panic attacks. I think I wrote 500 words and hated them all. I couldn’t get over how awful I felt it was and I just felt like I would never be good enough.

I haven’t done a single drawing this year. I’m working on one now (in December) but that will be my only 2020 drawing. I didn’t touch the course. I basically achieved NONE of my goals.

Give us your biggest triumph and what you are most proud of!

Well I survived the year. So there’s that.

I’m going to end WriYe with about 70k and that’s entirely down to November. I did the Sanctuary fanfic and I smashed it. Almost 67k and The End. That is my singular success story this year. I suppose that proves that I can write, just in a limited fashion. It wasn’t original work so I managed to bypass the paralyzing panic/fear that stops me from writing normally.

I’m glad I managed to write something, even if it was fanfic, because something is better than nothing. I mean I said that in my NaNo post, “this might as well happen” because nothing else was happening. It was fun writing that in November. I liked writing again. I liked completing the quests on 4thewords. I want to do more of it but I’m just not sure what right now. I need to have a think.

It’s that time of year

Ok let’s be real writing has been a disaster for me since November 2016. I tried to keep writing after it but within six months I’d ground to a complete halt. I’ve not successfully completed a single story, and definitely not NaNo, ever since.

2017. 2018. 2019.

All gone, didn’t happen, I don’t think I even attempted it last year at all. I had big plans for this year but well it’s 2020 – the year of the unexpected. I’m trying to not be too hard on myself for it.

Anyway, I’ve been going back and forth over what to do. NaNo used to be the highlight of my year, it used to be magical and I miss that feeling. I had some time to think this morning and I came to some conclusions:
1) not doing NaNo isn’t an option. I need to try. It matters to me.
2) whatever I write has to reach the 50k or I’ll feel like it doesn’t count.
3) I love my ideas I really do but I’m too scared to attempt them and if I try I won’t get very far.
4) I remember Her Happy Ending (yes it is story time).

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