Tag Archives: planning

A writing recovery plan

I’ve said it before, but it’s a game of peaks and troughs this writing lark.

I had a real burst of motivation after my last little dip, reminding myself why getting up early was good for my soul as well as a handy window for escaping into the world of my novel.

But since then life, as it is wont to do, has thrown me a bit of a curve ball. I’ve taken on some new responsibilities for the Connecta Lives blog, I have an epic to do list to help get Shoalstone Pool ready for summer, the school where I am a governor is facing a new raft of challenges. And perhaps most importantly right now the #THISislearning campaign that I have set up with Maddy in protest against what the SATs are doing to our children is gathering steam and demanding a lot of our attention.

All of this is good, and important, and exciting. But none of it is doing anything to give me the headspace I need to write – not even with 6am starts and lemon water.

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The lighter mornings have thrown another challenge into the mix. They are great on one level: the creeping peachy light of the morning sun across the bay is undoubtedly much more conducive to getting up than inky blackness. Unfortunately this also applies to Arthur, and whilst he is remarkably good (for a three year old) at keeping himself entertained in his room until the gro clock says it’s morning it is getting increasingly hard to hold on to that little window of time as my own.

I still have to write, though – to meet my goals, and to release the pressure in my brain. It’s not that I have nothing to write about – I know the direction this story is going in, and my characters are clamouring for my attention. It’s just that it is hard to hear them over the noise of everything else. But I have to find a way.

So I’ve come up with a bit of an action plan. Nothing fancy, but enough hopefully to keep things ticking over and move that progress bar from orange to green.

YESTERDAY I measured up and ordered some blackout blinds for Arthur’s room. I’m not entirely sure how we’ve gone three years without them, but they are definitely needed now.

TODAY I am going to take stock (starting here) and clear as much as of my to do list as I can, hopefully clearing out some space in my brain in the process.

TONIGHT I am going to really make the effort to get an early night, and give myself the time to wind down from screens before then. I’m drifting back into night owl mode, and the lack of sleep is slowing me down.

TOMORROW morning, and every morning, I am going to make sure I write something – anything – to keep the progress on my novel going in the right direction. My daily targets have crept back over the 1500 word mark, and for me that is very rarely achievable. Any words are better than none though, so I’m not going to let the fear of not meeting those targets stop me from writing anything at all.

Next WEEKEND, and two weekends after that, I am going to maximise the time I have on the train for two whistlestop visits to London to catch up and get myself properly back on track. When I set my targets in the first place I didn’t include the weekends in my writing schedule, but now it is time to make the most of that little buffer.

It doesn’t really matter (not to anyone other than me) if I miss my self imposed deadline and the writing of this first draft spills over into June. But it’s hard to juggle writing with everything else that’s going on, and if I don’t set myself some boundaries (and do my very best to stick to them) I worry that I may not find the time to write at all.

And now I’ve set this plan out in black and white I’m hoping it will make it all the more likely that I’ll follow it. Not least because you lot can help keep me on track if I don’t…

 

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On the edge

I am so nearly ready to take the plunge into this first draft.

I’m teetering on the edge at the moment, peering tentatively into the deep, pulling gently on the multiple strands of the safety harness I’ve constructed with my plan just to test their firmness and wondering whether it’s safe to dive in.

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My plot and characters are so much stronger now than they were a week ago. Every time I sit down to add to my notes I find new links, new dimensions to shore things up just that little bit further.

I’ve made a decision, I think, about how I’m going to approach the writing of this story (if not the telling): a chronological approach is making more and more sense. Even though I envisage the final structure to be considerably less linear, I think I need to let the characters grow as organically as possible. I don’t have reams and reams of notes about them, only pointers – and as their futures will inevitably depend on their pasts it seems logical that I should start somewhere near the beginning.

Even as I write that though I’m having doubts… There are some moments later in my characters’ lives that are so vivid to me, maybe by writing those I will get a clearer idea of the journey that brought them there?

Hmmm… Not quite ready yet, it seems.

Then there are the questions: the little white index cards that are rapidly getting filled up with things I feel I need to know. At least half of the story takes place in the seven years around the year of my birth. I have a bank of research and cultural references that I’ve built up from my own and others’ experiences, but I’ve found myself doubting this week whether I’ve got enough to draw on.

It’s in those moments that I’ve stepped back from the edge and retreated into something that will enrich my sense of the time I need to immerse myself in – movies and music, mainly. Only snapshots of course but something still that will anchor my prose when I finally dare to jump.

It’s a familiar sensation, this excitement and anticipation. But each time it’s new, too – a bit like how I imagine it might feel to have another child.

I’ve been here before, I know I can do this. As much as I can plan and research it will never be quite enough to fully prepare me for what’s ahead – and besides, its the new things I will discover that will make the journey most worthwhile.

I just need to work out where to start writing.

Or maybe I just need to start writing.

Maybe I just need to write.

And there it is again, that little piece of advice I keep finding myself coming back to:

Just write.

 

Writing Bubble

Bringing order to the chaos

After months of not quite managing to get focused for one reason or another, I finally sat down last night with a pile of index cards to make sense of my latest novel idea. The length of its gestation so far meant that my thoughts were somewhat scattered: some had made it into Scrivener, others were caught up in ramblings in this blog, most were in a scribbled stream of consciousness in the notebook I bought for this project many moons ago (and took TWO DAYS trying to find this week, finally discovering it beneath a pile of clothes under my dressing table just as I was about to give up hope).

Part of me felt like I was being a little unfaithful to my second novel. It is, after all, not yet finished. I mean – it is finished, but it still has a way to go to complete its journey. Grace and I have spent so much time together that I feel I owe her that sense of closure; but it is, for the moment at least, out of my hands.

And actually mostly it felt fantastic to be pulling together all the strands of this next project. Terrifying too – an idea that seems strongly formed when it exists only in your mind can dissolve into smoke and mirrors when you try to hold it up to scrutiny. But there was plenty there to work with, so work with it I did.

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I knew from the start that the narrative for this project was going to be more ambitious than anything I’ve attempted before: different voices, different times, all telling the same story from different directions. And before I work out exactly what those directions are going to be I want to make sure I’m clear on what the story is – the bare bones of it at least.

And that’s where the index cards come in. The pink ones are for the past, the blue ones for the present. Yellow for characters, green for settings, and white (a late addition to the mix) for questions. There are quite a lot of those.

I think I have collated most of what’s written down elsewhere. It ranges from really specific scenes to more general periods in time, as well as the people and places I think are going to be important. I want to spend a bit more time with my cards this week – noting down the thoughts that haven’t yet made it out of my head, filling in some gaps. And I guess I’ll see where that takes me.

I haven’t planned like this before – but then I haven’t attempted anything so non-linear. I think it’s going to really help, having those physical cards, when I come to the next stage of working out how it all fits together – both in terms of how the story happened, and how I want to tell it.

The final decision is going to be how I want to write it. In the past I’ve always written things ‘in order’ – but that could mean so many things this time round it’s not so clear cut.

So there’s still, if I’m honest, quite a lot of chaos.

But at least I’ve made a start.

 

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Broken beginnings

broken beginnings

I have been trying to get started on my third novel for what feels like forever.

The idea began to germinate almost two years ago, inspired by a dedication on a local bench. Since then I’ve written various scenes and character studies, carried out a fair amount of research, and even began to think about how the novel might be structured.

But it seems that every time I’ve been close to actually starting to WRITE something else has got in the way. Novel number two, mainly: I hadn’t anticipated quite how many redrafts that would need, and I’m pretty sure I’m still not done on that front. I don’t begrudge that, though. I’m not writing these novels for them to sit on my hard drive after all – and I know it is getting better and better with each wave of work I do.

I’d thought I might be able to get stuck in to this new idea in the gaps between rewrites. I don’t think I could manage to juggle both concurrently, but I could probably have managed to get a fair amount of writing under my belt whilst waiting for feedback and allowing it to sink in. Naturally, though, life had other ideas.

Like successfully standing for election to my local council. Something which has satisfied a lifelong urge to become more actively engaged in my community, but hasn’t left much time in the day (or in my head) to birth a new novel.

I’ve found it impossible not to worry about what this all means in relation to my ambition to be a successful novelist. Surely I need to be able to knuckle down and focus, to actually write rather than just think about it, to move between projects in different stages of development? But then, as a new window of writing opportunity opens up in front of me, I wonder whether this novel might actually benefit from being so long in gestation.

My first novel was swimming around in my mind for several years before I was finally able to thrash out a first draft, and by that point I knew the characters so well that everything fell into place pretty seamlessly. There were a few niggles, of course, that needed ironing out – but so much of the novel had essentially written itself in my head that often it was just a matter of sitting down at the computer and the words would flow through the keyboard and onto the screen.

There is, after all, so much about writing that happens when you’re not actually writing. I’ve found myself in idle moments mulling over certain turns of phrase, deciding which is most apt for the voices of my two main characters. And there’s the plot too – the story I’ve been telling and retelling myself as I’ve been yearning for the time to write it down. Each time it has got a little more detailed, a little more interesting. And hopefully that will be borne out in the draft to come.

Despite all this, I do need to get writing soon. My plan this week is to use the index cards I bought months ago to note down all my different ideas for scenes, characters and settings and begin to map out how the story unfolds. I know its structure isn’t straightforward, and whilst I haven’t decided yet exactly what order I’m going to write it in it would be nice to have some sense of how it will all hang together in the end.

 

Writing Bubble

 

Him

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Now that I’ve submitted the third draft of my second novel, I have once again found my mind meandering to novel number three.

The scene that follows flashed into my mind when I read Sara’s prompt this week. It’s really not very cheery, I apologise. But, as these things often do, just writing it has helped me tease out some more details of the story…

It’s rough and ready and might not even make it into the manuscript itself, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

***

This was always the night of the year that she sensed his presence most strongly, and it was almost too much for her to bear.

She thought of their son, of course. Of the pain he had caused her as he had fought his way into existence. They had all said that it would be easier for her to handle, being so young. Her mother had refused to even begin to discuss it with her, and that had suited her just fine, but she’d never quite understood why the midwives hadn’t told her the truth.

The contractions had coursed through her body again this afternoon as she’d struggled to engage Year 10 with the themes of Henry V. More than once she’d had to grip her desk as she’d watched the minutes tick closer to the time when he’d been found.

She knew that it was not the memory of childbirth that had overwhelmed her.

Her colleagues knew nothing of her pain: knew nothing of him. She preferred it that way. She was certain of that, even if something in the deepest reaches of her soul sometimes called out for recognition, for acknowledgement.

She had no idea how they would react if she told them the truth.

So instead she bowed her head and complained of a headache. Of the time of the month. No-one questioned her – they tried to distract her from her agony with stories of their own, pushed paracetamol into her palm as if it might actually do some good. She took it gratefully before secreting it into the bin when no-one was looking.

Even now, alone in her flat with her cat nestled at her feet, she would do nothing that might push him away. There was a bottle of wine in the kitchen. That might have helped. She could have even scored some weed if she’d wanted to, sat with her back against the wall, knees raised and feet flat on the floor as she rolled a joint between them. Her downstairs neighbours had offered often enough.

But she owed it to him to be here, to be present as he was. She owed it to him to feel every molecule of her being shrink, raisin-like. She owed it to him to fully inhabit the gaping holes between those molecules as she searched for him, again and again.

Tears ran freely down her cheeks as she carefully undressed, folding her clothes neatly on the chair by the window. Her pyjamas were waiting cautiously underneath the pillow and she slipped into those now, trying to ignore the silent dripping of saltwater against the wooden floor.

After plunging the room into darkness she scurried beneath the duvet, making herself as small as she could to disguise the shuddering sadness that consumed her.

***

If you’d like to read more about this story you will find further glimpses here:

Smoke

Thirty

Gratitude

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes

Weaving a world

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Slowly but surely the world of my next novel is beginning to take shape…

I’ve had two really interesting research meetings so far with local people who responded to my request for information about Brixham in the 1970s. Last week I finally made it into our local museum to see some artefacts from the past. And as I walk through the streets of my town its history is beginning to become more and more apparent.

I’ve learnt about the changing face of the harbour, with working shipyards once occupying the sites of luxury flats. About the Seaman’s Boys Home which is now a flourishing outdoor education centre. About the holiday camps which saw people flocking to Brixham, enjoying diving platforms off Breakwater Beach and pedalos at St Mary’s Bay that are now long gone. My imagination was piqued today by talk of an untamed Berry Head, and of the hippies who used to attract admiring glances to their paintings by day and raise eyebrows with their skinny dipping by night.

I found interesting too the description of the local community as incredibly friendly and welcoming on one hand, and yet closed off to outsiders on the other. I can recognise that to some extent. However much I’m coming to love this place, I know I’ll never truly be able to call myself a local.

But I’m beginning to see where my two main characters might fit in here, forty years ago. Where their grandparents might have lived, where and how they might have spent their days, where they might have socialised, and where they would have escaped to when they needed some privacy. There’s still more work to be done – the local library’s my next port of call (always takes someone else to point out the bleeding obvious), and I’m going to try to fit in a visit there this week.

And then I think I’ll call it a day, for now at least. I believe there’s a fine line between not enough research and too much, and I want to get this story flowing whilst it still has space to breathe. The people I’ve spoken to so far have very kindly offered to do some fact-checking once I have a first draft to show them, and I’m sure our conversations will be able to be much more specific once I actually have a story to share.

I have to say I’ve really enjoyed my face-to-face research so far. I was nervous at first – I’m naturally quite shy, and feel much more confident seeking out information from the comfort and security of a keyboard. But there is most definitely much to be gained from talking to people, especially when the world you’re seeking access to is in the past.

I just hope I can mange to do their memories justice – and I’m very much looking forward to trying.

 

Muddled Manuscript

 

Some thoughts on structure

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As the building blocks of my next project begin to take shape, I’ve been pondering on how I’m going to put them all together to form a coherent whole. If I’m going to stick to the plan of commencing a first draft in January, then I’ll need to have chapter outlines worked out in the next few weeks. Well I know I don’t have to, but that approach has worked for me so far so I’m kinda keen to keep it going.

How the novel’s going to be structured isn’t a decision I need to square away completely now, of course. I can still play with the structure right into the editing phase. But in my mind what I write – and particularly what I reveal – will be influenced a lot by the order in which the story is told.

If you’ve been following my thoughts on the story so far, you’ll know it takes place in two distinct time periods: the teenage summers of the 1970s, and the grown-up days of thirty-odd years down the line. There might be some moments in between that need exploring, but I’ll deal with that when I come to it. It definitely doesn’t feel like the story is going to be a linear progression between the past and the present. Things will swing back and forth, and not necessarily in any particular order.

It all oscillates around one particular event. I’m not going to tell you what that is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to reveal it in its entirety until the end of the novel. There will be hints and clues along the way, but I think the truth needs to stay hidden for as long as possible.

I know I could just work on alternating chapters, jumping back and forth between past and present, but I feel like I want something that flows a bit more organically than that. I was watching a film last night – Begin Again – and I really like the way it tells its story. Flashbacks are triggered by concrete things which shift the narrative to a different time and place from where it works its way up to a key event that is retold several times from slightly different perspectives. I liked the way that approach built up the story, like layers of paint on a canvas. I might try to do something similar, though it would take some quite complex mapping to get right.

Just writing all this down is helping. I’m starting to see how the pieces might fit, and that in turn is actually adding to my ideas about the plot and characters. I can see a very large piece of paper with numerous post-it notes in my near future… And yes I know I could do it on Scrivener, but it’s just not quite the same.

 

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