The End

They should be two of the most satisfying words to write. After months of slogging away at a manuscript it should come with a sense of achievement. A confirmation that you are in fact an official writer. You have written something to completion.

For me those two words have another meaning. I give up. I’m stopping the story here. If I don’t stop now this book will never end.

I’ve been writing since mid-September and 97k words later I’ve stopped. I strayed from my outline, went off on tangents, dropped into plot hole after plot hole but kept forcing myself forward.

It paid off in a way. I have a manuscript to edit. I can upload it to CreateSpace and order myself a paperback proof copy. I can hide it away in a folder to look at in a few years time and think maybe I should rewrite it from scratch…

I should feel more excited about this. But I don’t. It feels like I failed. It feels unfinished. 

Back at the start of my draft I had all these visions of finally writing something worthwhile that I can submit to places. I know that between the first draft and the submission there comes a lot of rewriting and editing but I always imagined there would be some sense of celebration of achievement when I finished the first phase.

Has anyone else had a similar sense of disappointment after their first draft, or is it just me?

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A Bad Workman Blames His Tools

(I wonder if the title should say workperson? Internal editor is in overdrive today.)

I haven’t had much to say about procrastination lately because, well, I haven’t been doing it. I’ve been doing actual writing writing. Writing writing being the kind of writing where you work on the piece you want to finish rather than trying out a short story or a different novel or an old novel in order to avoid facing the horrible mess you made a few months ago. Does everyone do this or is it just me?

After reworking my outline into something that sounded coherent and story-like I set myself a daily word count and a goal for the end of the month. This worked for about a week and a half before my steam dropped off, then I didn’t write for two weeks, then it picked up again at the beginning of October. I’d like to blame the sicky bug I had followed by a sinus infection (I really don’t want to think too hard about if they are related or not, bleugh) but other writers manage to write when they are sick so it’s no excuse really.

All seemed to be going well in October. I wrote every evening and on the days when I was off work I wrote in the daytime too during naptime. Then Thursday last week, disaster struck. I was buoyed up with enthusiasm after a good writing session the night before and I wanted to carry it on. 

I attempted to write whilst my little alarm clock was awake in short ten minutes bursts while she was occupied by a toy or a book (she loves books as much as I do). In between said bursts I closed my laptop and tucked it down the side of the sofa for safe-keeping as she loves nothing more than pressing buttons. Cute but also a nightmare when she hits the power button over and over…

Naptime rolled around after a good walk in the surprising October sunshine and I settled in with tea and chocolate for a good stint. I wrote for a while and then when I tried to save it, it froze. I’m pretty patient with my laptop, I know it will carry on if you give it a while and it’s all good. I drank my tea, watched a bit of YouTube, read a little of James Oswald’s Written in Bones – highly recommended if you like crime and/or supernatural – and glanced at my laptop to see twenty minutes had gone by (oops) and my screen hadn’t changed a bit (crap).

I hard-powered it down trusting in Microsoft Word to do its recovery thing and prayed the last autosave wasn’t too long ago. It wasn’t. I lost about two hundred words. I rewrote them as best as I could remember and saved again. It saved and I carried on. More paranoid about losing said words I continued to save more often than normal and again the screen froze up.

Annoyed I repeated the cycle several times until I decided that enough with the writing. Just restart and let the laptop sort itself out.

It didn’t boot.

Now I rate(d) my Toshiba laptop very highly. It had a nice keyboard. A traditional one more like the keyboard you get with a desktop (I believe the technical term is chiclet) rather than the type that the newer laptops come with. The downside of owning a Toshiba is that the bootup doesn’t behave like other computers. I discovered this after a good thirty minutes of trawling through forums on my mobile phone when I tried to troubleshoot how to start in safe mode. I’m not even convinced that Windows 10 has a safe mode anymore. Shrug.

Naptime over I decided to let my husband have a go when he got back from work. He couldn’t figure it out either but he did at least manage to get into a menu that allowed you to repair start-up errors, reset Windows and some other technical BIOS related options that are beyond me. Nothing seemed to work so I tried to use my bluetooth keyboard and phone in the meantime but I felt really disheartened by the whole thing a soon gave up and went to bed.

Friday I ended up not writing which depressed me even more as I had been doing so well, so Saturday I got up with the determination to fix my laptop. I decided that the repeated cycle of hard powering down my laptop because it was stuck on boot up meant I had corrupted the registry files and I needed to reinstall Windows. I wasn’t too worried about it. All my writing was backed up to Dropbox and my photos to Google so it would be easy to get my laptop back to the way it was. Just reinstall some programmes maybe. I did it. Go me.

And it came on. I reinstalled Dropbox and automatically my files started to download onto my Laptop again. This did take all day, mind. The laptop felt really slow and clunky. I was patient and waited for it to finish whatever it needed to before I shut it down the proper way. After the in-laws left I switched it back on again and just got the boot screen followed by the dreaded Repairing errors or checking disc message – I can’t remember which now.

That’s when my husband realised that it probably wasn’t a problem with Windows but a problem with the harddrive. He thinks that when I tucked my laptop down the side of the sofa I covered all the fans and caused it to overheat.

So… the moral of this long waffling tale is make sure you take good care of your tools. Especially if you use a laptop. They’re a great tool for writers but when they break it can cause major headaches and heartache over those lost words and time.

A few little tips just incase you don’t know them already:

  • Keep those fans aerated. Not just the one on the side but the ones on the bottom too. 
  • Don’t use a pillow or a quilt to lean on while writing, a hard surface is much better. 
  • use a cloud service to back up your files. Flash drives are good too if you can’t always access the Internet but they have a life expectancy and eventually will corrupt your files no matter how good you take care of it.

On the plus side I’m now back to using my mini-lappy (Asus netbook) which has Linux Mint installed on it and LibreOffice and I’ve managed to get back into the flow of writing again. I don’t know how the formatting will translate to CreateSpace for when I want to buy a printed copy of my book (just for me, I’m not thinking of self publishing … yet) but that’s a problem for future me.

Happy writing all! Also fingers crossed your technology behaves itself!

x

Restarting a stalled project 

  • Chuck it in the bin and start on something new
  • Take up a new hobby e.g. knitting
  • Start a major DIY project (it is advisable to have your own house to smash apart or at least get permission from the house owners first)
  • Go shopping
  • Go on holiday
  • Take a course

    I’ve been working on a novel on and off (mostly off) since November last year. It started life as a Nano but that was more of a kick to get it going. I hit 10k words pretty easily as usual then every 5k words since has gotten progressively harder and harder.

    Now I’m at 30k and I’ve ground to a halt. That is pretty normal for me. If I ever make it this far in a story I’ve usually fell out of love with my plot, noticed how flat my characters are and am plagued with the foresight that the end will be the ultimate in anticlimaxes. So why keep going? What’s the point?

    Seriously, how do professional writers do this for a living?

    Anyway, enough with the moaning. This is how I’ve rekindled my motivation and I thought I would share it with you in case any of it is helpful in restarting some of your stalled projects. If you have any. I’m jealous if you don’t.

    • Accepting the story is fatally flawed

    Especially if this is the first draft. There are going to be some major holes. It’s hard to see whether or not a plot is going to work until you get it down on paper. The plot has to work with the characters and no matter how much you plan beforehand, sometimes they just do something unexpected or they say something that twists everything you envisioned on its head. Try not to mourn the wasted time put into meticulous outline planning, instead hope the new story will be something better.

    • Look over your notes

    Go back to the beginning of your notes and read from the beginning to see what plans you had for the story. It helps if you have all your notes in one place. (Mini tip: organise your notes as you go – I use a bullet journal for this) Make a list of any new ideas that occur and also reiterate any points you think you’ve forgotten about but that are still important to the story.

    • Print it out and read

    (If you are concerned about the environment or don’t have a printer you can always convert it to an ebook or read it on screen. I prefer a paper copy so I can write notes over it as I go)

    Read your draft from the beginning as objectively as you can. Look out for things like inconsistencies in character or plot, plot points that were introduced and then never explored, info dumps however small, and descriptions that don’t quite capture enough or the right details. Also jot down any new ideas that occur as you read.

    Make a list noting the chapter, page number, the issue and idea. Then make a parallel list noting how you will resolve the issue or incorporate the new idea along with a check box or chapter and page location of where you resolved the point.

    Here is my list as an example in case I haven’t explained it very well. 

    • Revisit your planning

    Go back to your outline and redraft it. (Or write it down again if you have it on paper like me). For the bits you have written, now is a good time to summarise it all while it is still fresh. Also include your new ideas in the places you them to appear. If they have no home yet then keep these in a separate document, part of the document or on a different page. When you hit the parts you haven’t written yet, outline the story you want it to become, not what you thought it was going to be initially.

    • (Optional) Change your workspace

    I find a new location to write or new equipment to be highly motivating. At the moment portability is key as is minimal accompanying ‘stuff’. I never know when I will have time to write or if I will be too tired at the end of the day. Also our house is being extensively and messily decorated so space is limited. All this means that sitting at a laptop with my drafts and notes all spread out beside me is no longer an option. Instead I use a single notebook to contain all my notes including plot, characters, backstories etc. It sounds chaotic and really, it is, but I’ve adapted the bullet journal system to organise it all and it’s really working for me. I’d recommend giving it a try if you haven’t already, if nothing else it’s a great way to procrastinate. For the actual writing part I use Dropbox and a combination of my laptop and my phone/bluetooth keyboard depending on how much time I have to write. 

    So here’s to a good stint so far of editing and renewed interest in writing. Fingers crossed the momentum carries over into actual writing, but actual writing is not something I’m known for.

    Happy writing x

    Losing Focus

    Is it normal that I spend more time watching YouTube videos than regular TV? Something about the short 10 minute bursts of tutorial is addictive to me. I get filled with a sense of being able to achieve anything given the right materials. 

    You might think as an aspiring writer I would spend my YouTube time learning how to be a writer. That would be very sensible. 

    Of course, I don’t.

    So far this year I have purchased over £200 worth of stationery I most definitely did not need in order to recreate some of the “Bullet Journals” I saw. Last year I spent a shameful amount on professional makeup that I will probably never use up before it goes off. And now, I have a unsupressable urge to buy a Silhouette Portrait and make my own stickers.

    Why? What is wrong with me? Nothing is helping towards actually writing anything. I’ve barely even managed a blog post for the past four months as every time I get my phone out I’m clicking on the red square with a white triangle instead of the blue circle with the fancy W in it. (This is a very rare exception, obviously.)

    I should perhaps feel guilty that I haven’t been writing. Or that I’ve failed on some level. Truth is, I’ve really enjoyed being creative this year. I am even considering taking up knitting so that I can knit cute teddy bears to sell on Etsy and earn myself enough of a fortune to afford a writing office in which to sit and not write.

    I wonder how many teddy bears that would take…

    Application for the Job of Writer

    Dear Mr. D. Job

    I would like to apply for the job of Writer.

    The open-ended work shift pattern for little to no money really appeals to me. I require almost no supervision, training, or guidance, preferring instead to flounder about by myself for years on end with no success. I think this is really character-building and will eventually make me a better writer.

    I have twenty years’ voluntary experience in the field and think it is about time that I settled into a formal role rather than farting around like some kind of university student on a gap year / study break.

    My recent work experience in a busy sales admin office involved filing so I’m really good at my alphabet. I now only have to sing letters L-T, the rest I know off by heart. I also answered the phone a lot before I went part-time so I heard genuine dialogue for at least five hours a day, five days a week. I reckon I could accurately capture on paper all of those accents and readers do love to read a good accent. Especially when it’s in every dialogue exchange or if it’s a really thick accent. Also I had to check orders for errors which really helped to develop my self-editing skills. I almost never include order forms within my stories by accident.

    I also own a small child so spare time is really limited. I need something to soak up those last few precious hours that I used to spending relaxing or sleeping.

    Yours sincerely,

    Aspiring Author / Professional Procrastinator.

    I have a little problem

    My name is Laura and I’m addicted to stationery.

    Supportive applause.

    I’m pretty sure the reason I decided I wanted to be a writer was because of all the pens.

    There’s nothing quite like the plasticy rattle when you dig through your pen box (because pen cases are too small) to reach a biro you acquired from a hotel you stayed at five years ago or a fountain pen that was the first pen your now husband gave you when you went off to uni.

    Someone who owns multiple pen boxes, a large plastic storage box full of blank pads and notebooks, a shelf full of ‘in-use’ notebooks and folders and still struggles to keep their monthly stationery spend under £20 has a tiny problem…

    I wonder, what are other people’s reasons for wanting to write? Hopefully they’re a little more writerly than mine.

    Also, I’m really looking forward to April. Thank you eBay and Amazon 🙂

    Excuses why I didn’t write today…

    • It’s 9.30pm and I’ve already been wearing pyjamas for an hour … On a Friday night
    • I went to work today. Surely that’s productive enough for anybody?
    • My deadline is still 7 days away 
    • I did some editing yesterday
    • I did some writing last week, I mean come on!
    • I really really just want to watch the next episode of Broad church (I’m a late comer and am currently binge watching the first series.)
    • I’d rather doodle in my bullet journal. At least I’m making words…

      Although overall my writing output has increased this month, it’s still pretty irregular. Today is most definitely a non-writing day!

      Not A Book Review

      I’m not reviewing a book, merely recounting my experience of reading it. Which, sadly, hasn’t been all that great.

      I’ve spent the last couple of weeks struggling to get through the latest installment in a Detective series that I’ve followed since its infancy. The first book I read when it was still self-published by the author. Then it got picked up by a Big Six Publisher and went on for a further six books. I loyally and hungrily read each one, enjoying the easy reading style of non-literary fiction. These books were written purely for entertainment.

      I’m not normally one for crime fiction. I don’t like that I can’t help myself from trying to guess who the killer/criminal is. Everything could be a clue. I can’t sit back and passively read, I’m always trying to second guess the writer. I don’t like this, and I think I’m alone in thinking this way. I just want to enjoy the story being told to me. Passive reader. Lazy reader. That’s me.

      This series, however, grabbed my attention (mostly because the first book was free, I love free books for my Kindle) because it mixed the supernatural and macabre with crime. I was no longer trying to figure out who the killer was but how the detective was going to explain away the supernatural elements of his case. How was he going to turn it into a rational arrest?

      So, this last book arrived a couple of months before Christmas but I didn’t read it straight away because I had a ton of jobs to do around the house, other books to read, and my own book to write. Having put the latter to one side for now and the former being picked at as and when I feel productive, I finally got around to reading it.

      Sadly, I’ve been struggling to enjoy it. The supernatural creepiness has been pushed to a side-plot which I’m guessing will have an important role to play in the book’s finale. Or at least I hope so. But it’s not just this that has stuck in my craw, it’s the descriptions. Every time a side character makes an appearance, we get the same observation about them. A mannerism designed to show us something about the character, chronic smoking habit, ever-present latest technology etc. It’s repetitive and presumes that I haven’t remembered what happened in the last chapter. I do. Whenever the main character gets home his pet makes an appearance, in the same way with the same attitude and the same inference is drawn every time. I get that continuity is good but if it’s not adding to the story then once or twice is enough. Otherwise it’s just boring to read.

      I don’t know why the style suddenly strikes a discord with me. Perhaps because there is less creepiness, perhaps his editorial team has changed, perhaps he has grown tired of the series or changed the way he writes it. Perhaps since becoming a mother my own tastes have changed and along with them my ability to enjoy a good, trashy book. Whatever it is, I’m still going to read it to the end and buy the next one in the series once it drops to £3.85 on Amazon – my prerequisite for a printed book. You know, just in case it was a one off.

      Happy reading and writing! x

      How to use Standard Manuscript Format

      In manufacturing, a standard refers to a set of rules the manufacturer must follow for their product to qualify. If you go into any multitude of manufacturers, their rule set will be identical, so long as they are working to the same standard.

      That same logic does not apply to manuscripts…

      At the end of last year I entered a competition that stated all stories must be submitted in “standard manuscript format” which I vaguely knew as double spaced, 12pt, regular font, not wingdings etc.

      Not wanting my submission to be auto-rejected due to bad formatting I decided to research what was meant by Standard Manuscript Format. I found several articles, all with detailed pointers on line spacing etc, but not one of them had identical ‘rules’ to any of the others.

      Some specified that you must use Courier New as it was the most like a typewriter font. Also you must use — instead of ( or ). Another stated that you must never use Courier New, it was a thing writers did in the past during the early days of computers. Now publishers wanted it in Times New Roman. Each article had its own unique variation that the writer claimed was integral.

      Eventually, even more confused than when I began, I gave up. I went for Times New Roman, 12pt, 1 inch margins and double spaced lines. I did the cover page (which the competition did give guidance on) used page numbers and a header. Trying to get page numbers to start on page one and not appear on the cover page was a mission in itself… Not for the faint of heart or technophobic.

      I think in future if the competition or publisher doesn’t link to a specific article or give clear guidance on what their standard is then I’m just going to rehash this format.

      What format do you use? Is this standard thing a myth? Do publishers really care so long as it is readable?

      Happy formatting x

      How To: Use A Character Arc

      Character arcs are one of those things that the “how to write” books tell you you need in order to develop a character that will suck your reader in and empty their pockets buying all the sequels. Not so much in those words but “how to write” advice seems to be mostly about maximising profit rather than playing around with a hobby for fun. (If that’s your game then great, I may sound bitter but it’s only because I’m jealous.)

      A character arc is their journey through your book. Essentially they need to have goals and aims that evolve as events in your book force them to grow or change. Then they need some kind of resolution at the end.

      I found it easiest to plot out a character arc alongside my story plot – if I went down this route of planning, that is. I use various planning methods, the more the merrier. Anything to put off writing the actual story because for me, this is the part I enjoy most.

      • Initial goals & conflicts – these are their personal aspirations that they have before the story begins and also what is holding them back from having it already.
      • Inciting incident – story plot point
      • New goal & conflicts – how does this incident affect or replace initial story goals
      • Setbacks – various events that prevent your character from achieving their old or new goals (this will most likely be made up of your plot points if you are the type of writer that really likes to make your characters struggle – mwah  ha ha haaa)
      • Any new goals? – this is your character’s growth. They may have changed their personal aspirations or their story goals dependent on the plot. Or maybe not. Perhaps staying true to themselves is more important.
      • Resolution – again this will coincide with your plot points. Tie up all the questions you have raised about your character, or maybe leave some of the lesser ones open for a sequel. Or a big question, it’s your story. Don’t listen to the experts if it doesn’t fit with what you want to say. Let the publishers persuade you otherwise!

      The best methods for drawing out your arc are:

      • physically draw out the arc, an artistic impression of your character and any other details you feel are relevant here. Use lots of lots of A2 paper and then plaster used sheets over the walls in your writing office / space. Contemporary, quirky wallpaper – great stuff.
      • use an Excel spreadsheet. (or Google Sheets also work) Is it just me that loves creating forms to print out and fill in by hand. Yes? *hangs head*
      • write it out as a list in your notebook using as many different colours as your pencil case allows. Optional: if you find your list is in monochrome then treat yourself to a nice set of multi-coloured fineliner pens.

      I hope the above gives you some inspiration for avoiding writing for at least another day.

      Happy writing x