This a much delayed post that was originally titled, Happy May. I was working on a Monday to Monday basis and then it all just ridiculously busy!
However, the writing has still continued and the manuscript marches on – so I feel quite proud of myself. Not that I haven’t been struggling at points. I worked out in January that if I continued at my then current pace that I’d be finished, edited, polished by mid-June. This will not be the case. But I am over half-way and satisfied with what I’ve achieved. I’m always going to want to go back and tweak things, expand threads and themes and cut back on anything unnecessary but the chapters are sound. They’re a good foundation. Hooray!
But what have I learnt or re-discovered in the last few months? This has turned into a directive for writing manuscripts and is a lot longer than I thought it would be. But maybe someone will find it useful?
- It’s important to stick to the schedule you’ve set yourself. The first time I allowed myself a night off because other things took priority…was the first step on the downward spiral staircase to leaving it week after week without getting back into putting words on a page.
- Once you’ve stepped onto that downward staircase…it’s harder to climb back up. I felt guilty for not writing and it coloured my experience of the months. Once I did start writing again, I felt it wasn’t as good and that I’d lost my flow, maybe even any latent talent or ability I had, had just drained away!
- You’re on the descent – don’t panic! Start as soon as you can. It’s important to turn around and start making your slow and at this stage, painful journey back up the stairs again.
- If you make a start, even if it’s just two metaphorical steps, or a couple of paragraphs, make sure to reward yourself. Fantastic! Today for the first time in a week, a month…more months, you’ve started writing again. No it hasn’t gone smoothly and it probably isn’t your best work, but you’ve made a start put the guilt to one side and relax. This will make it easier to write a bit more tomorrow. Build up an aim for each day, even if it’s just a sentence. Before you know it you’ll be writing more and more and the story will start to flow again.
- It doesn’t matter that you’ll therefore have patches of writing you’re less than satisfied with. When you make it to the end of the journey, have climbed the thousand steps, you’ll have made it. You’ll have a first draft and honestly, some of the best advice I ever received was ‘it’s okay to write a rubbish first draft.’ It gives you something to work with. You can’t edit a blank screen.
- My technique is always (at the moment at least) to write in pen on paper. I’ll start with scribbling down at the top of the first page what the chapter should include. Followed by a random list of which characters are in it, and what they want at this point in the story. It could be minor, they might just want a sandwich. But it gives me a guide of points to hit as the chapter progresses and means that it is an active part of the story. It drives the plot onward. What is the crux, I ask myself, the crux of this scene? This has led to pointless scribbles down the side of pages saying ‘A crux, a crux on all your houses.’
- Over a few days I’ll write a chapter by hand. It might sound silly but I aim to write at least ten lined pages (A5) per chapter. This will translate to somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 words when typed later on. If I’m writing with pen and paper and I finish the day unhappy then I know there is still work to do before I even start transcribing. I’ll scan what I’ve written for stand out images and phrases. It won’t (hopefully) all be abominable. Sometimes having to go through a handwritten section means that although I’ve written the chapter, it’s the wrong chapter, or the wrong thing has happened or I’ve tackled the subject from the wrong angle. Re-writing at this stage brings me back to the overall arc of the story and sometimes I scrap the start completely and start with a clearer image once I’ve bungled through it once. If there was anything that you wanted to keep – include it. The scene might flow naturally in that direction – but if not then don’t worry. Set the image aside and maybe it’ll come up again. It’s better to keep text then to scrub it violently from the page.
- Then I’ll type the chapter up. If an idea seizes you or the dialogue lifts, roll with it. Remember to bring it back to the hand written scene at the end though to remain focused. If you’ve dragged yourself through the scene a couple of times by this point already you’ll have a strong idea of where to go. This is a first edit and usually I feel confident once it’s complete. There’s a buzz of satisfaction and excitement, before the budding dread of: ‘oh no…now I have to write the next chapter, what if it’s awful? What if it’s all been a lucky fluke so far!?’
- Move on. Don’t let chapter dread get in the way of you finishing that manuscript! Put down the first words and write as much as you can before calling that first day of handwriting a success. The going back to it the next day will hopefully be easier and before you know it, you’ll be starting the next chapter, and then the next.
- Write and type at least two more chapters before going back with a critical editing eye and at that stage try and expand instead of cutting. Ensure there are no spelling mistakes of obvious grammatical errors. Then you know. Edit edit edit. But more on that another day.
Please remember to leave me a comment and let me know if this is any help to you at all 🙂
Good luck writing!