I am unblocked

I spoke at the fabulous Bath Writing Events (@WritingEvents) the other day. It was my first outing and I wanted to make a good impression. I made notes, rehearsed against timings, hoped I wouldn’t run out of things to say. And then the night before I spotted an unusually long hair growing out of my eyebrow and I thought using a beard-trimmer would be the best way to deal with it. I showed up at the event with half of my eyebrow missing. Fortunately my hosts were too polite to mention it. This morning I went for a walk and I fell over in the mud.

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Muddy but eyebrow concealed…

I mention these two events because they are examples of things just happening, and this brings me, indirectly, to my blockage: I couldn’t get started on Novel Two (catchy title?).

I know what it’s going to be about and I know (roughly) what’s going to happen, but I wanted a loose structure in which to to start writing it – some guiderails to keep me from wandering too far from the path but loose enough to let the story grow naturally; for events to just happen which had yet to be conceived; for the writing to have room to take over. Room for someone to fall over in the mud or shave off their eyebrow, for example.

But that word Structure. It kept getting in the way. Three act, five act, seven act; set-up, conflict, resolution, inciting incident, rising arc, plot points; Plot A, Plot B, midpoint, ascending action… aaarrrgh!! Stop, stop and stop. Please. Enough with the structure. I can’t write with those things staring at me. They take away all the fun. It’s just semantics, I know, but I wanted something… less formal.

So I went back to basics. Stories start and they finish. Was that enough? But ‘once upon a time they lived happily ever‘ isn’t a gripping narrative. So, okay, I supposed I could put in a middle bit too.

‘Once upon a time there was a person who lived somewhere and everything was really good or really bad, and so they decided to do something and everything got even worse or better, and then it all changed so they did something else and lived happily or miserably ever after. The End.

That would do. That was as much structure as I wanted. A reusable and very loose framework. I knew that within, there lurked all the context and character introductions and themes and catalysts and climaxes and so on, but those italicised lines were all I needed to get going.

Now I’m writing scene after scene and some go in the beginning bit, and some in the middle, and some at the end. And things are happening which I never expected. It’s working for me. I even have a rough idea where the beginning ends and the end begins. Although, I don’t mind if they don’t. I’m 20,000 words into the first draft and averaging about 1500 to 2000 words a day. I have a minimum goal of 5000 words a week and I’m on target to complete draft one by mid-June, if not earlier.

At least that’s the plan. Tomorrow, before I start writing, I intend to sharpen all my kitchen knives while sitting on a unicycle… What?

 

 

I’m in control and I’ve got a spreadsheet to prove it…

It’s been a month now since I began my new life as a full-time writer and things haven’t progressed as well as I’d hoped. On the plus-side, I have registered as self-employed and cleared my ‘to do’ list of anything that wasn’t directly to do with writing – other than ukulele practice, of course. I have completed my feedback on my friend’s novel, put the PhD idea on the back-burner and prepared for a  reading later this month. Oh yes, and I’ve sketched out a short-story for a BBC competition. I’ve even been in touch with Unbound and should be getting the page proofs (press ready files) for The Wrong Story to review in the next day or so.

That’s all good. But on the negative-side I have only written one word of my new novel. One word. 1. It is a good word but it needs company. My friend’s novel has 104,000 words. So I’ve constructed a spreadsheet that lays out the challenge. It’s colour-coded with lots of formulae and conditional formatting and pivot tables and all that stuff. It took ages. Then I looked at all the how-to writing books I’ve got, and googled all the how-to writing articles that are out there, and fed that data into my spreadsheet too. That also took ages. But now, just by entering a date, I can calculate when I need to have written the structure, plot points, chapters, characters, scenarios, big scenes, little scenes and upside down scenes of my new novel.

So, let’s see… ah yes. According to my spreadsheet I have to stop faffing around and get writing immediately. Hmmm, I knew that already but I suppose it’s nice to see it laid out in a column.