Monday, 27 October 2008

Friendly masochist, GSOH, high pain threshold, searching for a slither of sanity

A quarter of the way through this crazy challenge and I have various branches of the Masochists' Guild lining up at the door asking me to sign on the dotted line.

Day 11 of 45 is consigned to history and, looking purely at word count, I'm just about hanging in there - 10,000 words in 11 days, so a grand down overall. In terms of general progress, The Manx Giant and young adult project Quackenbush are moving along pretty well.

Having had the Quackenbush bug, I've eased my way back into the Giant and the joints of that particular project are starting to creak back into action. He's on the rampage again, albeit in a somewhat stumbling Frankenstein's Monster kind of way.

Right now, I'm confident both manuscripts will be completed by November 30. The coming week will be vital - I'm off-Island on Wednesday and Thursday, for work (that which pays the bills), and it's going to throw a spanner the size of Wales into what has been, so far, pretty smooth running.

Throw in Hop-tu-naa (think Halloween, only cooler) on Friday night, and a good friend's birthday on Saturday, and life is threatening to get in the way of a good time writing.

So I need to try and focus - somehow, I must maintain the 1,000 words a day for the next week, ignoring the fact that there really won't be any spare time. If I can do that, things look like they might quieten down a tad by then, and there shouldn't be too much to try and catch up on.

Famous last words.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The pressure mounts...

Day 7 of 45 in the Buta challenge has scooted past and current progress is something of a mixed bag. I've slipped behind on word count - 6,100-odd words in that week, when the target was 1,000 a day. Not good.

However, there is a flip side. On Monday I was envisaging setting Quackenbush, the young adult book, to one side and revisiting The Manx Giant. But there was a change of plan. As I couldn't stop thinking about Quackenbush, I kept going. I've upped the overall word count to 56,000 words, and the good news is that I'm further on with the plot than I'd thought.

I'm just finishing an important scene, which sparks the action into gear and sends both the good guys and bad guys racing towards the climax, and after this is finished, there are just two more major cliffhangers left to write, with the final three thousand words or so already done and dusted.

So, I'm thinking that maybe another 10-15k will polish it off, which is a bonus considering that I was estimating around 25-30k. That said, I could be wrong. Tangents are forever appearing, and I ain't ruling anything out.

Talking of tangents, I had a real buzz tonight - I've killed off a strong supporting character, when I wasn't expecting too, and another minor supporting character has survived, when I had him lined up for an early bath.

It is fascinating the way both a plot and characters develop with each key pressed - I've had folk (non-writers) say to me: "What do you mean you killed a character that you wanted to survive? How can that happen? Surely you know how characters will react in a particular situation. It doesn't make sense."

Little in writing makes perfect sense, and the beauty of writing is that you never know what your characters are thinking, or what they will do when pushed, until it's out of your head and down on screen/paper - even then you sometimes have to do a double take at what you've created.

Looking ahead, tomorrow will create more problems - we're out for pizza after work with some friends and respective broods, and then visiting family, so it's unlikely I'll find the time to claw back the word count I've lost.

However, the weekend is almost here - all being well, I'll be back on track by the time Monday arrives, which will be important - I have to go away next week for a couple of days, and there will be little or no time for writing.

And I must get back to the Manx Giant. He's getting lonely, and not a little envious of the time I'm spending with Quackenbush. Like your kids, you've got to love your characters evenly. Otherwise they sulk and refuse to come out to play, and then your word count is well and truly stuffed.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Still on target

A quick update, folks. Monday has been and gone, and taken with it day 4 of 45 of the Big Buta challenge.

So far, so good. I've just finished for the night, having knocked out 4,106 words on Quackenbush in the first four days. The plan was to average around 1,000 words a day until the end of November, so I'm keeping pace. For now. I'd hoped to get more done over the weekend, to get ahead of myself, but time didn't permit.

I'm really buzzing at the moment, enjoying being back in the fiction saddle after so much non-fiction. However, for the next couple of days I'm returning to the Manx Giant. Should I manage to get just one manuscript completed by November 30th, it's imperative that it is the Giant.

The hope is that within the next few days I'll be able to firm up exactly how far from the finishing line I am with both projects. Until then, I'll just keeping knocking out a grand a day.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Now that wasn't so bad, was it? A bit like your annual appraisal, in fact - never quite as bad as you fear it will be.

I'm up and running, with 1,180 words knocked out on Quackenbush on day one of the big BUTA challenge. It's now one o'clock in the morning and my head is telling me to carry on, but I need to be fresh for tomorrow so it's time to wrap it up.

From a writing perspective, I was expecting to launch straight into Manx Giant, leaving some time aside to read through Quackenbush and get back in the swing of things after so long out of the saddle.

But as it turned out I just picked up where I left off two years ago on Quackenbush and the words, which had to be coaxed out at first, were soon flowing. Putting a project to one side (for any decent period of time, never mind two years...) is an essential part of the writing and editing process. Reading it back, it feels like someone else's book; the characters seem new and fresh and you feel somewhat distanced from the project, which helps you look at it from a different perspective.

One reason why it came so easily to me is that I'd already polished off the ending - the last few thousand words are done and dusted, which helps focus the mind on the way forward.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the start, although I'm barely out of the front door in terms of the whole journey. There will be much tougher days than this ahead, believe me.

With the weekend here, I need to take advantage over the next two days and earn some breathing space (and Brownie points) in case I run into engine trouble during the coming week.

Quirky's morale-ometer - fine and dandy

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Move over Nano. Big Buta is here...

Okay. Here we go. I’ll lay it out for you.

I’ve been feeling pretty lousy recently, in terms of writing. Moping around feeling sorry for myself. Never enough time. Too tired. Too many other commitments. You know, any excuse will do kinda thing.

The reason, as outlined in Monday’s post, was that I missed the deadline for The Manx Giant. It really knocked me sideways, so much so that I’ve barely looked at the manuscript in the past three weeks. On top of that, other ideas for plots have been burrowing into my mind, even though I know only too well that my simple brain can’t take the thought of having any more unfinished projects hanging over me.

And with Nano next month, I kept thinking back to 2006, when I had such a superb time taking part. I really wanted to try it again this year, but knew that to do so would mean starting yet another project, which would be just plain stupid.

I felt stranded, watching the days slip by into weeks and wondering what the hell was going on. My frustration culminated in Monday’s post, which I somehow knew would break the spell and sort me out. By admitting to our faults and facing up to our issues – this is the way we move on with life.

It took three days, but it’s worked. It’s time to cut all the bullshit and get back in the groove.

So, here it is – forget Nano. This is war on procrastination. This is Quirky’s BUTA (boot up the arse) challenge. I’m refreshed and raring to go.

In the 15 days that remain of October, and the 30 Nano-ing days of November, I’m setting myself a challenge so huge you could stick a tail on it and call it a brontosaurus.

By November 30, I will have completed The Manx Giant – and also have finished the first draft of my young adult novel, which has been stuck at the 50,000-word mark since, well, November 30, 2006.

It’s a big ask. I’m estimating that to complete both will take in the region of 45,000 words. That’s 1,000 words a day, which doesn’t seem so bad when to hit the Nano you have to knock out 50,000 in 30 days. However, writing non-fiction is deceiving – when you’re having to read historical research documents, cross checking facts as you go, you can work for five hours and come away with a solid 500 words completed, and feel like you’ve done 5,000.

Getting back into The Manx Giant will be easy – it’s all still fresh in my mind and I know what needs doing. Delving back into the world of the YA project, getting to know Tom, Megan and Quackenbush all over again... that will take longer. First job on that one is to dust off the hard copy and read it again. The juices will flow soon after.

While this won’t be an official Nano, as far as personal challenges go, this is the biggest I’ve ever taken on. It’s going to hurt, if November 2006 is anything to go by. The long hours, the constant clock/calendar watching as the days tick by and you question your sanity. Thankfully, I know a few other writers who are attempting the Nano, so I will be staying close to them, feeding off them as all Nanoists do off each other.

So there you have it. Quirky’s BUTA challenge. Feel free to tag along for the ride – I’ll be blogging regularly during the next 45 days, providing quick updates as to how I’m getting on and maintaining a running total of how many times Emma (and the kids) has threatened to bottle me.

Finishing two books in 45 days? Can it be done? Right now, I haven’t a clue. But it’s going to be fun finding out.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Whooshingly depressive deadlines

On my desk at work is a present I picked up in last year’s secret Santa at the Christmas bash - “30 Hilarious Desktop Signs” and it includes that old chestnut, amended and borrowed from the late Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I especially like the sound they make as they go whooshing by.”

It’s a good one, even though I’m actually quite fond of the little beasts. They focus the mind, stop procrastination in its tracks and offer a sense of achievement, not to mention allowing you to put one project to bed and move on to the next.

So, when the deadline for The Manx Giant went whooshing by recently, it was a real kick in the teeth. I’d been confident that it would be met without too many hitches, but sometimes life isn’t so facilitating. Recently, the months seem to have had fewer days in them, and the days fewer hours. And this erosion of my time isn’t showing any sign of easing up. I’m told babies do that to you.

The upshot is that the book will not be in shops before Christmas, with publication now likely by summer 2009 at the earliest. On the face of it, not a huge blow, just a delay. If only it were that simple. First, I won’t see any financial return from the book in the next twelve months, which isn’t ideal, even if we’re talking peanuts compared with what JK Rowling earns in a minute. (In fact, the anticipated income from the Manx Giant is probably somewhere around the amount JK spends each year on peanuts).

The biggest issue with missing the deadline is the knock-on effect this is having (and will continue to have) on my other projects and, indirectly, my sanity. When I heard the deadline’s whooshing sound, it took the wind right out of my sails and left me becalmed. I couldn’t focus on the Giant, or indeed anything else I tried to dabble with. Complete stand still.

A couple of weeks have passed, and I’m over the initial hit. But the ‘to do’ list continues to grow, and at a faster rate than I’m striking my pencil through items. The young adult novel I’d planned to have completed by the end of November is floating somewhere in the ether, stuck at the 50,000-word mark, as are the ideas for the short stories I was determined to knock out, not to mention a cracking new plot that floated into my subconscious a few weeks back and started the action bells a-ringing. The latter has been dumped unceremoniously on the burner that sits just behind the back burner, as have any plans to do next month’s NaNoWriMo.

It’s at times like these, in terms of writing, that a mild depression sets in. Having missed a deadline, I know I must double all efforts on completing that project. And yet my train of thought is already snaking off in different directions, eager to move on, to explore different plots, to create new characters. It’s bloody difficult to rein it in, and that is where the frustration arises – because I don’t want to rein it in, to have to wait while time ticks by and everything feels like it’s being dragged down into the quagmire.

Ho hum. There’s nowt for it but to get me head down and keep pressing on, in the knowledge that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you don’t know in which particular tunnel you’re wandering.

Accompanying John in the madhouse this week:

The Black Book of Secrets, F.E. Higgins

Monday, 6 October 2008

Writing orgies, sweet apples and sadistic nuns

There are times when you know you shouldn’t do something.

When the only outcome is going to be trouble, such as the time when I climbed the tree in the play area at the back of our convent (I was six) to grab an apple, egged on by a bunch of peers and a girl called Sally, who I had a huge crush on (as did every boy in the class, to be fair).

I’d have done anything for Sally, but I ask you, what kind of sadistic bloody nun puts an apple tree in a kids’ playground and then gives them a slap for trying to nick one?

I’m kind of in a similar dilemma now, although it doesn’t involve Sally or nuns. Or apples, for that matter.

Next month is crazy month, when 100,000 writers, give or take, around the globe will lose all reason and embark on a 30-day orgy of writing.

National Novel Writing Month it’s called, or NaNoWriMo, or just plain Nano to us veterans. I say veteran, but I’ve only attempted it once, two years ago. I’d have had a go last year too, but a wedding and two-week honeymoon meant I’d have received a nun-sized slap around the chops if I’d even considered it.

The target each year is to bang out 50,000 words in those 30 days. To someone who writes full-time, that’s a stretch, but manageable. For a writer who grabs the odd hour here and there before and after everyday work and life get in the way, it’s a hell of a tall order.

I managed it, just, and I was on leave for a week. Fortunately, I regularly write past midnight, into the early hours, so the time was there – I just needed to utilise it, instead of procrastinating (I’m pretty sure procrastination wasn’t in the dictionary until the day I was born).

Not everyone is a fan of Nano – some critics suggest it is all quantity of quality, and they are right, to a degree. Anyone who cannot turn their inner editor off for the month shouldn’t waste their time attempting it. If they do, I’d suggest being locked in a padded cell with just your laptop and no sharp objects.

Because Nano does that to you. It drives you nuts. You know that each paragraph that you conjure will need to be fine-tuned at best, completely rewritten, or binned at worst.
Writing 1,600-odd pages a day, every day, for a week is tough. For two weeks, it’s bloody hard. Multiply that by two, and the dedication and focus you need to show shouldn’t be laughed off lightly.

While 50,000 words won’t give you a full novel (unless you’re writing for kids, perhaps), it does provide you with a) the knowledge that you can cut out all the bullshit and write when you put your mind to it; and b) 50,000 more words that you had a month earlier, which is never a bad thing. Sure, it will need a severe dose of editing and some rewriting, but you will have broken the back of your novel.

The main plus I took away from Nano was the realisation that I didn’t need several clear hours to get some writing done. Previously, if I didn’t have at least an hour I’d just give up. It took me that long to get in the mood, get back in the swing of the piece I was writing. That’s what I thought. Nano cured me of that garbage. Give me five or ten minutes now, and I can do a few words. They all count, the words and the minutes, and they all add up.

So, here I am, two years on from my first Nano and desperate to try it again. I know I shouldn’t bother. I’m juggling several projects that need finishing, including polishing off the first Nano that was unceremoniously dumped to allow me to finish The Manx Connection.

It would be foolish to embark on another project. I’ve told myself to think about 2009 and have another go then. What’s another year, as Johnny Logan once asked. Nowt.

And yet... it’s like an itch I need to scratch. I’m trying not to think about it, and certainly haven’t been over to the Nano site to see how preparations are going.

And yet... the plot for the project I’d like to Nano is fully formed in my head. It’s a young adult adventure/horror – think The Goonies meets Amityville – and it’s scratching away desperate to get out.

I must be strong. I must resist the Nano.

And yet...