Return of the Writer

Once again, ladies and gents, you have my apologies. I had hoped to get back into the swing of things long before now but the book took a lot more out of me than I first thought. I really needed some time to recover – mentally more than anything – and to be able to look at all three books with a fresh mind.

Now, I feel like I’m finally at that stage. Oh, and I like puns. You should know this by now (and in case you didn’t get it – shame on you – that’s a Star Wars reference at the top. Can’t believe I explained that).

I’ve not been sitting idly by, however. Some things have been going on. So, my friends, join me on what, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a riveting tale. Maybe. Possibly. Okay, probably not but bear with me.

Where have I been?

I’ve been here and there, keeping busy without exhausting myself further. Or trying not to. I tried reading but that was a little too close to home and I found that even gaming wasn’t as appealing as I’d thought it would be. I did keep up with swimming, other than last week where I had other exercise plans (dodgeball – don’t ask but I do have a medal!). Hell, I even tried quitting smoking.

The one thing that is worth noting is that over the last couple of weeks is that it was the fifth Manchester Children’s Book Festival. I’ve volunteered at every single one to date and this year was no exception, although following the pattern of the previous two, I’m not as involved as previously but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it all the same.

It’s fantastic to see so many children getting involved with reading, writing, performances and much more – anything creative and wacky! It’s been a pleasure to see the festival grow since 2010 and I’m looking forward to next year already.

Expect a more detailed post on this in two weeks. I wouldn’t want to break tradition now, would I?

Finding motivation

One thing that I think has been really lacking for me is motivation. Since finishing the first draft of the most recent novel, I’ve been finding it hard to come back – for whatever reason. Life can work for or against us and we subconsciously associate that with actions, activities, emotions and such. I think when I’m not happy with something big in my life, it stops me from wanting to write as I feel that should be fixed first.

It doesn’t apply all the time but it does have an impact.

I also had a conversation with a friend about writer’s block, which I’m still not convinced actually exists as a thing but yet I’ve yet to encounter a writer who hasn’t used this term when they struggle. That seems to be more to do with ease – we all understand it, from varying sources – so it doesn’t need explanation. Despite that, why is it a thing and is it only a thing because we make it so? I don’t think I’ve had writer’s block as I write at work and generally. Hey, I’m writing a blog post right now! It’s an interesting thought, though.

Actually, I think this is a topic for a full blog post next month. Look out for that!

Putting together a plan

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have three projects to edit. The novella is first up, and I’ll be starting that at the weekend. I like it’s length but the ‘professional’ feedback (from agents and publishers) suggest it would work better as a novel. I’ll decide that as I go through the draft but I’m not convinced yet. There are other things that need to be fixed, however.

After that, I’ll start on one of the novels. The sci-fi project is up first, as it’s more recent and I think it needs less work. The story is well rounded, it just needs to be padded out in places, with a few more explanations and sub plots, supported by a little character development. That might sound a lot, but it won’t be as bad as you might think. Of course, after that comes the nit-picking of later drafts.

Finally, I’ll work on the fantasy novel. That needs a fair bit adding to it for me to be happy. The good thing is, I know what to add, the big question is where it should go. I have some ideas but the edit will help identify weaker areas and the plot holes that I know exist.

If I can get all that done over summer, I MIGHT just have one ready to send out by the end of the year.

If I’m lucky.

It’s time to…edit!

I hoped to post this last week but, according to my schedule, there are still two weeks until the next post so I’m safe (the glory of a five-week month) for now. I teased previously about why I’ve been so quiet lately, with a lot of things on the go and now I’m finally ready to show you what I’ve been working on.

So, here are my three babies manuscripts. Aren’t they pretty…?

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

What are they?

From left to right, there’s a novella in third draft, a novel in first draft and another novel in first draft (yes, that’s a long way of saying it but I’m enjoying my words. Hush). I feel like it shouldn’t have taken this long to get this far but then I remembered life easily gets in the way. That’s a whole different topic.

I hope they’re all published one day, obviously, but I’m proud of reaching this stage. I’ve covered fiction, fantasy and science fiction (in that order, respectively) so not completely in my comfort zone but trying something new is always harder than anything else. Maybe that’s why it’s only a novella right now, but who knows what could happen.

If you want to read them – tough! They’re not ready yet but when I’m looking for readers, I’ll let you know.

What’s next?

Editing! The novels are only in first draft and need a fair bit of work. There are plenty of inaccuracies and continuity errors – and that’s not counting the grammatical issues. Who said writing was easy? Then again, I like a challenge. I’ll distract myself with redrafting some short stories in between as there are plenty of competitions to enter. When I find them, I’ll put them up here as normal.

Blogging resumes as normal (I promise) in two weeks. Updates on the editing will come as and when there is something to report. Until next time!

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

After my first swimming session

After my first swimming session

I remember – a long, long, loooooooooong time ago – that I used to be physically fit. I could run for more than ten seconds before running out of breath. I could push myself to do more rather than just get up the stairs. I used to enjoy it.

I used to want to write a hell of a lot more than I do now.

Now, hear me out. I haven’t lost my will or love of writing over the years (although…there have been days…) but I had a lot more stories to tell. My mind would run free and come up with some truly crazy shit, even when I was completely knackered. In fact, sometimes those were the best times to be creative. Then, like now, the hardest thing was finding the time to sit down and get on with it. Only this time, the reasons have changed.

I think exercise is important to a person’s wellbeing but also to a writer’s creativity. I have no proof – though this is the internet, so I’m sure you can find some if you want – this is all from my own experience.

The old days

So, some context.

Back in my younger days, I played basketball at school, and then beyond. I trained four-to-five nights a week, volunteered with the Youth Service, worked, studied and tried to write. It was hard, very hard.

One thing I was never short of was ideas. Inspiration came easily, just not the time to put those words to paper (or screen, for the pedantic among you). I was always busy, and I had a social life. They were simpler days, happy days and that makes a huge difference. As a writer, I draw upon a range of emotions to propel readers through my stories, whether long or short. Happiness is a key part of that – and teenage angst can only take you so far.

Without basketball – or a form of exercise in general – I wouldn’t have had that balance. I was too young to realise it then but looking back now, I’m glad I had it.

The in-between years

Whether through illness or injury doesn’t matter but I stopped playing and training. I replaced it with bar work – and in general jobs that kept me running around a lot so I was getting some exercise. Not only that, I walked everywhere.

I kept this up through university. I had every intention of packing in smoking and joining one of the sport societies but like all best laid plans – it didn’t happen.

I convinced myself that since I was young-ish, my metabolism was high and I had other ways to exercise, I’d be okay. One day I’d sort it. Besides that, my studies kept me writing. Not what I wanted but I was determined to finish this degree and get a good result. Since graduating, I had other priorities (finding a job, mainly) and now, I am trying to balance work, a social life and travelling time with writing.

I ended up with a desk job, public transport and plenty of cigarettes smoked each day (but not as many as others) so, yeah, I had lost the physical exercise. Over the years during university and beyond, this has had a knock on effect. I don’t feel physically worn out, no matter how tired I am mentally. When I do sit to write, I get itchy feet and have to move about quite a lot. It’s hard to find that balance. I knew then that something had to change.

And now, I’ve started swimming

The key word is ‘started’ as I’ve only just (literally) finished my second session. I could barely get through 22 lengths in an hour in the first session but I doubled that tonight. Not for one moment do I expect another jump like that next time but I can already see the difference – see the picture above of how I looked after the first swim last week!

I have to be careful as to what exercise I do. My knees are dodgy and swimming isn’t weight bearing. There’s still a burn but it’s better for me than running, I think. Maybe one day, I’ll try that. Oh, and I’m trying to get rid of the cigarettes. That’s helping too.

Through all that, I can feel the ideas returning. That can only be a good thing – I just need to balance the rest of my free time to make use of it.

Keep an eye on this space!

Apologies

I’m sorry for being so quiet lately. I hope to be back up and running smoothly next month after my workload drops a little. Before then, I’ll share what I’ve been getting up to and what’s been keeping me so busy but until then, bear with me.

There are some great posts coming up, too. I’ve had a lot of ideas over the last six weeks or so but no time to write them with everything going on.

Once again, sorry for the disappearance but once you find out why, I’m confident you’ll understand. Until then!

What’s the Deal with Word Counts?

Size does matter when it comes to these books!

Size does matter when it comes to these books!

Word counts. In school, we were told to do a page or two for our assignments. In university, it ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 usually (not counting the dissertation) but there seems to be a much more vague answer surrounding novels.

Over the years, novels seem to have gotten longer. It’s a strange sight; books are getting longer yet web content, which is a huge part of the digital space, is getting shorter – and being portrayed in even shorter paragraphs. The contrast here is interesting and e-books sit somewhere in the middle, not favouring one side over the other – although an e-book doesn’t have to be viewed online, it can be.

As a writer, project lengths can be a bit daunting, as well as throwing up some barriers to completing a project. I figured this was a good time to take a look at a few.

Does size really matter?

Let’s avoid the elephant in the room here and stick to the topic at hand (yes, I know what you were thinking – get that mind out of the gutter!) because there is no simple answer to this, even though it may look like it on the surface.

Is it worth writing more and more just to hit a word count that you or someone else has said? You run the risk of waffling; creating sections that have no relevance and will only serve to put readers off. Do that and your story may never be finished – and it can happen the same way with writing.

So, if you’re writing a story that goes on and on and on, is it worth breaking it down in the planning stage so you know what you’re writing and where each part ends, or should you write it and break it later? That comes down to personal choice, if I’m honest.

What matters more than a word count is quality writing and story-telling. The publishers may tell you differently, that they’re looking for certain things but then, what about self-publishing? Who makes the decisions then? The writer.

How important is it to consider during planning?

Very – and what I mean by that is don’t!

Every time I’ve tried to write something to a certain length, it hasn’t worked. It’s okay to have an idea, something to aim towards but if you fall short or go over it’s not a big deal. This isn’t being graded (I always hated that my essays had to be at a certain length, surely going over would be a good thing!?) so as long as it feels right to you, then don’t worry.

Editing and redrafting will help you cut down on parts that are useless or find gaps in the story you need to fill out so why worry about writing a novel that has 70,000 words?

I’m not going to post the lengths of popular or successful novels here. There’s plenty of posts out there for that and, as you probably know by now, I write sci-fi and fantasy mainly. Those novels can be a hell of a lot longer than other fiction novels but there are always exceptions.

Make your plan, and follow it. Use word counts, targets or thresholds as motivation to keep going, not as a way to stop.

What about short stories and other forms?

The key here is the word ‘short.’ I’d advise you to not abandon the tactic of planning and writing them without a specific count in mind. Just like with a novel, you could end up compromising on what you originally planned.

There are plenty of competitions out there, around the world and throughout the year, that ask for different lengths and genres. Writing for a specific competition is an option but you won’t be as invested in the story compared to writing it for yourself. Once it’s done, then look for where you could submit it to, if that’s what you want to do. That means you’ll always have an amazing piece of writing (in the end) that hasn’t been controlled by someone or something else.

Novellas, poetry and other forms all have other rules but in most cases, write first and edit later down to what you want it to be, or if you absolutely have to, to what it needs to be.

Remember, as I mentioned in my last post, writing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole process. Don’t ruin that by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to hit a specific target because someone else said so. You’ll regret it in the long run – unless it’s for a publishing deal, but that’ll normally come a little later in the process so write first.

If you don’t believe me, try it and see.