Tag Archives: word count

Stolen moments

I had such a lovely writing day today.

I don’t take any of my writing time for granted: it took years for me to pluck up the courage to put pen to paper at all, and when I was teaching full time I rarely had the headspace to write anything longer than flash fiction, or sometimes a bad poem.

Getting stuff written has moved much higher up my list of priorities since I became a mum, but between entertaining a three year old and a growing smorgasbord of employment it can still be hard to find the time. I’m still working on making mornings work, and otherwise guiltily catching up during Arthur’s afternoon nap when I should really be focusing on the rest of my to-do list.

Today, though, was different.

I dropped Arthur off at forest school at 9.15. That may seem like an innocuous statement, but it was actually the first time we’d left him with anyone other than my folks, and the first time he’d been in an ‘educational setting’ for longer than the hour his gym class lasts. I wasn’t worried: the couple of sessions I’ve been to with him convinced me that it was exactly the sort of environment I wanted him to be spending his time in. Still, though, his wobbling lip and wide eyes almost weakened my resolve.

But I have a deadline to keep. And I’ve already put it back twice.

I wandered off through the little village of Stoke Gabriel, heading for a cafe by the waterfront. It was such a beautiful morning that I decided to start off outside, pitching myself up with my laptop on a bench overlooking the weir. There’s definitely a lot to be said for not being tied to my desk.

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After the first few hundred words, I decided I needed a coffee. So inside, for a flat white and a glass of water and a few more hundred words.

Then when I hit a wall again, I went for another meander. I didn’t really know where I was going, but I figured it would be difficult to get lost. I found a bench, up above the road with a view down towards the river, just at the point when the next flash of inspiration hit, so I stayed there for a while.

My last port of call was a pub, for a pint of lime and soda and a little burst of internet. Despite being connected to the world I still managed to get something written, ending my morning’s mobile session at 2,669 words.

What was especially wonderful was that I hadn’t had to rush. I had almost four hours of writing time in total, broken up by walks to kick my brain into gear again. And in that time I could let my mind wander too, and find new ideas in my daydreams.

I’m not sure how often I will have days like today – in the time I was gifted or the headspace to use it well – but I am grateful for this one I had.

And, at the end of it, I am that little bit closer to achieving my goal…

 

Writing Bubble

Writing in transit

Up until recently, I have been very much tied to my desktop when it comes to working on my novel. My trusty Scrivener is not available on the iPad, and besides there is something about this space that focuses me. Both of my first two novels were written here in their entirety, and there is an energy and an association of success that makes it (relatively) easy to get the words on the page.

Except…

Lately it has got harder and harder to find the time to write. Even with getting up early, my progress towards my word count target has slowed, and various excursions to London and further afield have meant my desk has been a very long way away just when I needed it most. So I have finally got round to dusting off my old laptop, dredging the (limited) depths of my technical expertise to get it working again, and setting up the Scrivener and Dropbox combo that means my novel can be with me wherever I am.

It’s taking a bit of getting used to, but it seems to be working. I’ve had a couple of writing stints, one on a train, the other on a plane, where I have found the words pouring out – so much so that arriving at my destination has ended up being quite frustrating!

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It seems there is something about being on the move that is quite conducive to writing. I have always found the ambient noise of trains and planes quite hypnotic, and in this instance it seems to have shaken me out of my comfort zone and help me see things differently. It is as if the physical shift in time and place has helped me get over the initial stumbling blocks that the changing landscape of my story had presented.

Whatever, now that I am back on solid ground I am very much closing in on my end goal. Even the tricksy issues of structure are beginning to find some sort of resolution in my mind, and I have some ideas that I’m really looking forward to exploring when this first draft is done.

Most of all, though, I’m looking forward to the potential freedom in my future writing life – one where the inability to be at my desk does not translate into an inability to write, where I can use my environment to my advantage as I develop different aspects of my stories.

I have always envisaged a life as a writer where I can be free to travel, and work wherever the mood takes me. Suddenly that possibility seems closer than it ever has before.

 

Writing Bubble

In praise of tired

Early morning writing vibes have been strong this week. The word count is creeping up (13, 423 at last count) and I actually quite like most of those words. My characters are continuing to lead me through their story, opening my eyes to new aspects of their world and the people that they are becoming as they embrace their teenage years.

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Admittedly I have not exactly been leaping out of bed at 6am: it’s been more like 6.30 by the time I’ve got to my desk. But I’m beginning to realise that there are definite advantages to writing whilst I’m still not quite awake, and I’m hoping that embracing that might make the task I’ve set myself ever more achievable.

I remember when I was working on my first two novels, both written (the first drafts at least) before Arthur was 18 months old, I had a sense that the sleep deprivation was actually working in my favour. As long as I had a vague idea of where I was headed in each writing session, the constraints put on my brainpower by being utterly exhausted were more useful than you’d think. It meant I kinda had to focus on the task in hand: my brain did not have the energy to wander, nor to get caught up in battles of will between creative confidence and the demons of self-doubt. I just wrote, and worried about whether it was any good or not later.

I think I’m getting to a similar place by writing first thing in the morning now. I’m tired, but it’s not the (much less helpful) end of the day tired, where all the things I’ve done (and haven’t) have secreted themselves amongst my brain cells thus stripping them of any useful function. At 6am (or 6.30) my head is emptier. There is space for my narrative to spread itself out, for my characters to wander round and find their paths. But still not quite enough spare energy for my psyche to put up its niggling barriers against that story being told – that my ideas and/or my words are not worth spending precious time on.

In fact when it comes down to time, the only other thing I would be doing in that time is sleeping. And whilst I do (really, really) love my sleep, I reckon this is worth the sacrifice.

 

Writing Bubble

 

So I think I’m nearly done…

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I reached an important milestone in the edit today. I made it to the end of the novel. Again.

My manuscript now stands at 91,150 words, as opposed to 92,300, though rather more than 1,150 have been cut. I reckon at least 5,000 have been exchanged: unnecessary exposition for punchy dialogue, descriptions of actions for descriptions of emotions. I kind of wish I knew exactly how many, but I don’t suppose it really matters. It is interesting, though, how I find myself wanting to hang on to little things like word counts as a way of measuring progress.

The real progress has been in how much happier I am with the general mood of the novel. The first draft felt too cheesy, the second a strange combination of the banal and the melodramatic. I think I’m much closer to getting the vibe I’m after now – closer to knowing what that actually is. I think it’s darker, emotionally. And yet more hopeful too. Which makes the climax even harder to stomach.

It’s not 100% there yet. I had a bit of a breakthrough about halfway through this process, one where I gave myself permission to let go a bit with my description – to bring a bit more of myself into the world I was creating. That was important, because I’d abandoned some of the elements of the book that made it about me for the sake of making the characters more engaging. What I think I realised is that that uniqueness, that idiosyncratic way of seeing things, belongs more in the fabric of the prose itself than in the events in the story. I’d let go of that in a desire to make the story more accessible, but I think I’d got it all topsy turvy.

I have no idea if that makes sense, but it’s where I’m at.

Because that breakthrough happened relatively late, I want to go back to the beginning now – to look at the manuscript yet again through the new lens I have acquired. I jumped around a bit, adding things in and taking things out so I didn’t forget them, but I need to make sure I haven’t lost continuity in the process. And there are sections early on that might need more work too, just to make sure that I am saying all I want to say in the best possible way I can.

This is gong to be the hardest bit now I think. This final sweep through, attempting to keep every one of those 91,150 words in my mind as I make sure that each chapter, each scene, each exchange fits comfortably within them.

But I am nearly done.

I think.

With this edit anyway.

Wish me luck!

 

Muddled Manuscript

Cutting to the chase

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If there’s one thing I’ve become aware of as this second edit of my novel gets underway it’s that it really is more than a little inconsistent.

Overall I’d say my writing is pretty concise. I’m not very prone to waffle, and whilst I like to play with language to conjure up worlds and atmosphere I think I’m generally fairly skilled at selecting my words carefully so I don’t use one where ten will do.

But the more I re-examine my writing in this manuscript the more I realise that whilst it is on the whole pretty tight, there are still big swathes of text that really have no business being there at all. I thought they did, obviously, first time round – but looking at them now they add nothing, and if anything detract from the story I’m trying to tell.

On the flip-side of this there are other scenes that I’ve skipped over, related from a distance when really I needed to get stuck right in. Getting to those bits as I work my way through is actually the highlight of this whole process: realising that I can write more, can get lost inside my characters’ heads again even if only for a few minutes.

The cutting, though, is another matter altogether.

I almost entirely ignored it first time round. The process of editing my first draft was mainly one of tweaks and additions. I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of the dead wood – couldn’t even bring myself to notice it was there. But now, finally, I’m seeing things a bit more clearly.

It’s made me reflect a bit on my writing process actually. When I was creating that first draft I was working to a pretty detailed outline, one which I’d broken down into chapters, each with their own word-count target. I needed that structure at that stage – something that would make me get the words on the page, get the story out and give me something to work with. But of course the story itself didn’t fit those boxes I created quite as neatly – and it’s only through being more flexible that it’s beginning to fall into place.

I’m almost halfway through the edit now – well, halfway through the manuscript at least. I’ve cut and combined some chapters, and even with a few necessary additions the overall word count has dropped from 92,300 to 88,313. It pains me slightly to think of the (over) 4,000 words that I laboured over as I crafted the initial story, rejected and consigned to the scrapheap.

Even as I write that I realise I’m living one of the age-old cliches of editing a novel – it might be relatively easy to get the words on the page but cutting the ones it turns out you don’t need is a whole other matter.

Now that they’ve started to go, though, I can feel new life being breathed into the story. There is a stronger sense of urgency, and neither the narrative nor my characters can be accused of dragging their heels.

I’m curious to see where things go from here. There’s more dead wood to cut, I know that for sure. And as it falls I can see new shoots growing in its place, scenes that will draw the reader into the story rather than make them switch off. It’s those scenes that are keeping me going, but it turns out the cutting isn’t too bad. Strangely liberating, in fact. And most definitely necessary.

 

Writing Bubble