Tag Archives: Writing process

When the Writing Stops

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Every now and then my writing just stops.

Whenever I have talked about it before on this blog it has always been in the past tense. Normally, I’ve had a breakthrough and the ability to create a story has come back.

Right now I am smack bang in the middle of not being able to write a word of my novel.

It is the most frustrating feeling in the world; I’m sure there must be a word in some language out there to describe this sort of frustration.

I have the desire to write, but too much doubt to let me because I keep having false starts. I’m more stressed and tense than normal because writing relaxes me. And worst of all I have too much on my mind because my story is in here, but it isn’t coming out coherently.

Essentially imagine you are stuck at the the front of the queue at the grocery store and the people behind you are shouting at you to get on with it, but you can’t because the self-serve machine keeps telling you there is an unexpected item in the bagging area when everything in there is expected or there’s nothing there; the screen keeps freezing and you have to start again; and then you put the wrong PIN number in.

Wait I am describing a scene from Sherlock? Probably.

Well not being able to write feels like that; except the voices I can hear shouting are my characters wondering when I’m going to get on with it already. I want nothing more than to just shout and storm off, except writing is such a massive part of who I am it would be like trying to walk away from sleeping, eating and drinking.

ARGH!!!!

odi et amo scripturae meae

Hopefully I will get to have my breakthrough soon because I’m referencing Catullus now; clearly I’m having problems with originality at the minute.

Which probably explains why I’ve been contemplating writing a book called ‘The Importance of Erna’.

(Go ahead roll your eyes, I did when my frustrated brain came up with that title)

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Book (Re)Writing – From Rewriting to Writing

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i-am-a-writer

This will be the last blog post (maybe forever or maybe just for a while) in my blog series ‘Book (Re)Writing’ purely because I have finally moved beyond the stage where I am simply considering a re-write of my book ‘From the Ashes’ to actually being at the point of writing it again.

When I first conceived this blog series, I called it (Re)Writing because I was personally torn between whether I needed to do a rewrite, or whether I was going to have to write the book again. In my mind there is a difference and I kept it vague using the brackets so that I didn’t confine myself to one or the other. I have finally come to the conclusion that what I have to do is the latter.

I think it will have been obvious to anyone who has read the entire series, that this blog about writing have been markedly different from one of my previous series about writing, ‘The Key to a Great Story‘, which was more technical. ‘Book (Re)Writing‘ has been a great deal more personal, a way of making myself accountable in what I’ve been doing in the process of approaching a rewrite.

It has even become a way of sharing that the processes of writing and being a writer is not easy. Also a way for anyone who might have similar problems to know that they are not alone. On an even more personal level it has been therapeutic for me to share my feelings about my novel rather than bottle them up.

However, I am currently at a very good place because I have finally figured out that it isn’t a re-write in the sense that I’m working on what currently exists and doing a major edit. I have to write the book again from scratch. To me that means I am writing my book, not rewriting it. Some may quibble that definition; let me explain.

One of the key reasons why I have come to this conclusion is because I have finally managed to clear my head and work through my feelings about my book well enough  to write up a new outline for my book. I’ve spoken about doing an outline of what was already existing and I’ve spoken about writing an overall plan for my series, but until now that was all focused on figuring out what was wrong.

I’ve done that, and I’ve now moved onto the new step. A new outline for the book and what has resulted is that I’m writing a new book. I’m not rewriting the one that already exists; the plot is different, some of the characters are going to be refined and I think that I may literally have one scene that will play out in exactly the same way.

The title will be the same, the characters will be mostly the same, but it is going to be a different book. It is going to lead to a different place. There will be major plot points that now are going to end up discarded entirely (though potentially recycled elsewhere) and I have even made the rather major decision to write it in the third person rather than in the first.

That last one for me is the most important reason why I’m now defining what I have to do as writing not re-writing. I am a massive advocate of using first person, but in order to pull off the story I want to tell, for the moment (I might change my mind) I’m going to change the perspective. For me this is all new.

There is another underlying reason, and it is very much a personal opinion on what doing a rewrite means. I associate the idea of editing as something that needs to be done in order to polish work, it is a positive and necessary part of the writing process. Rewriting though has come to mean something incredibly negative; in my mind having to do a rewrite is an indication that I’ve failed as a writer.

I will hold up my hands and admit I am not a positive person. I can be positive about things, but I am a pessimist and I view rewriting as the ultimate failure. I advocate that the first draft (and possibly the second draft) will be shoddy. Rewriting a new draft though doesn’t mean that the glass was just half-empty, it means to me that I missed the glass, the bench and I poured my story on the floor. I did say pessimist.

So for now I’m venturing into the very positive territory of writing my book. Given I’ve just identified as a pessimist, I genuinely don’t mean that sentence sarcastically at all.

I love writing. I love being a writer. The prospect of writing my book ‘From the Ashes’ is an exciting and positive step, because it gives me the opportunity to do it better and to do justice to my characters.

So I probably won’t be writing for ‘Book (Re)Writing’ again, though I’ll never say never, because I don’t know whether I’ll need to, or what I could contribute for the moment, but all I will say is thank you for everyone whose given me support in the process of this journey.

And if anyone is interested in how the writing is going, I’ll tweet about it (@kabrown4).

Book (Re)Writing – The Grand Plan

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focus scope.jpg

I don’t think small.

In many, many ways the fact that I cannot think in small terms is one of my biggest faults as a writer; I find it impossible to write a short story that doesn’t develop into a novel because I just do not know how to stop myself.

However, as a person it is something that I do take a great deal of pride in. I’m not someone who follows the ideas of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to the letter, and you’re not supposed to, it is a guideline, and each personality type themselves has a broad spectrum of differences within it.

For years though I thought that because I couldn’t think on small terms, it was a character fault because my brain would literally run away from the small idea that I really needed to think about and onto something vastly bigger than it was meant to be. On getting to know my MBTI type, which is INTJ, being a visual master planner is what my personality type is all about. I don’t think small, I have a complex imagination that can draw up master plans and implement them, down to the smallest detail.

For years I have been setting myself the same resolution at the beginning of each year. Draw up a grand plan for the books you intend to write.

And I sort of did – I drew up a list of books I planned on writing, a short summary, and there I had it a ‘grand plan’.

Cue Rocket the Racoon and his belly laugh.

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I didn’t have a plan; I kidded myself into thinking I had a plan and then just got on with writing, which is what I wanted to be doing.

And this is how I have ended up in the mess that I’m in now, because I didn’t follow what is actually my greatest strength – I had a bit of a plan, but because for years outlining a story felt like I was killing creativity that seat of my plans writing could bring to me I resisted.

So admittedly, all I have done so far is make a list of books I want to write, but I’m not stopping there. Since I’ve been writing this blog series, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking and I’m going to use that thinking to write a plan first, and then re-write the book.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s actually taken me this long to come to this conclusion. Drawing up the plan first, properly detailed plans is how Terry Brook’s, an author I admire a great deal, describes how he plans his novels in ‘Sometime’s the Magic Works’. He’s successful, and like me he writes high fantasy series that spans centuries in the same story world.

Honestly how I’ve managed to ignore his advice for all these years is beyond me – but then again a lot of people share Stephen King’s advice of write at least X number of pages every single day, so maybe it wasn’t as difficult as you would imagine, and the guilt that comes from not doing that occasionally hits me, but not as often any more.

So, write a grand plan, or a plan, or at least have more than a vague idea of how you are going to get from the beginning of your story to the end, and I recommend the ‘But…Therefore’ method of plotting.

Now brain focus…

The Key to a Great Story – Combining Characters and Plot

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So far in The Key to a Great Story, I have explored the basics of different types of characters, and different types of plot. In my previous post about Driving the Plot Forward, I discussed how you need to use the events taking place and drive the story forward. A lot of how you go about doing this comes from the reactions of your characters, whether pro-active or re-active, and is dependent on the type and source of the events taking place.

In theory now, you have the majority of the basics as I understand them in place to map out a story, whether it be a short piece or an epic series. Learning how to combine it all though is an acquired skill; it’s not difficult to acquire it just takes practice. So this blog post is a summary of everything I’ve talked about so far in this blog series, and how I go about approaching the production of an outline.

The first thing you need is a vague idea about the story you want to write. They say everyone has a book inside of them, so if you have even the smallest of inkling of an idea that you want to write, make a note of it. And here in lies the first step in writing.

Now your idea is going to vary from everybody else’s idea. You might have an idea about an interesting character or you have an idea about a plot for a story but without a population to fill up the events. You might have a combination of both, in which case I recommend you start with the element that has the strongest foundation. I’m going to talk about character first, so if plot is your stronger point then start with the plot section further down and scroll back up to character afterwards, before looking at combinations.

Outlining Characters

Now you have a idea about a character. You will read a lot on the internet about lists of favourite colours, music, etc., but for me the starting point is always, is your character the protagonist or are they an antagonist.

Now most people would be surprised to think that a person would imagine an antagonist first, and not the main character, but I know from experience that sometimes you come up with the antagonist first and then create a protagonist to counter them. For a short story I wrote when I was teenager, I thought of a murderer first before I even created his victim and crime. It does sometimes happen. Either way you need to take your character and you need to expand their personality.

By this I mean working out how they would react to certain situations. They don’t even need to be plots you’re considering for your story. A lot of where this character is going come from is you. I wrote more in depth about character reactions in my post on ‘Understanding yourself when creating characters’, and in that post in I wrote two exercises to help you focus on character development. One was a combat situation, that would help you to determine the reactively of your character in an extreme situation The other was the dynamics that this character would have with other characters. Both are extremely useful exercises to use a starting point.

Knowing whether your character is an protagonist or an antagonist will have a different effect on the conclusions that you draw, the reason being that they might have different expectations of the situation. In battle the antagonist might want victory at any cost, whereas the protagonist might be driven by the need to survive and protect the status quo. This difference means the character would react differently.

Exploring the dynamics of how characters interact with each other also has an effect on your choice. In exploring your character you will likely begin to develop other characters to populate your story. For a protagonist you might be developing their friends and lovers, and the dynamics of the relationships that they have together. For antagonists you will be doing the same, and what you might actually discover is that your antagonist is a friend of the protagonist who develop conflict with each other because they have different motivations.

You might end up creating the difference between good and evil in your story, or you might end up creating the complexities of friendship that sometime result in characters becoming a redeemable antagonist.

What you will also begin to determine is the relationship the character is likely to have with others. Are they a puppet or a puppeteer. Are they minor character? Or have you only created a character watching your story unfold from the crowd gathered around to watch. To be able to ultimately decide that though you do need to start considering plot.

Outline Plot

In my blog series I have been talking about the seven plot theory. If you have an idea for a plot then I recommend that you try and figure out what type of story your idea fits into. Is it a overcoming a threat, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy or rebirth story.

Once you figure that out, you have a starting point to begin to figure out the structure of your story. Write down your idea and pinpoint whether this idea is the beginning, middle or end of your story.

For my current work in progress, which is a fantasy series, I actually thought of the ending first, then immediately how I would want to begin the series. The bits in the middle are the harder bits for me to figure out, as I have a very clear idea of what I want to start and end with, but the journey in the middle of how to get there is constantly evolving, even as I write.

Knowing your type of story gives you a go starting point in conceiving the general outline of you plot. What do you want to see happen?

Going any further than that though requires you to know the characters that are going to populate the story. If you haven’t done so already begin to have a look at your characters before moving to the combination process.

Combining Character and Plot to Create an Outline

Now you have a few characters and a basic plot you now need to combine the two together. As you did with the character development where you road tested your characters in certain situations, you now need to test your characters against the plot that you have devised.

Remember you are still creating an outline at this point, so you are entitled to change your mind, in fact I would be surprised if you didn’t change your mind about something. Putting your characters into the plot of your story will surprise you, and many authors say that characters begin to develop themselves and the story that they are in. This is a very organic process, and what I recommend you do is write.

Produce scenes using your characters in certain situations and see what it is they end up saying. Where most of this will come from is from you. It will be how you are reacting to the situation. What takes practise is learning to react differently to the situation, and by doing so you are creating individual reactions for the set of characters. Some of your characters might be utterly terrified in combat, and seek to hide. Other character might find their bravery and step up to the mark. Both are completely natural reactions; fight or flight.

What you will discover in doing this is the complexity of the character dynamics and the complexity of the plot. You will develop the relationships between characters, and how that relationship impacts on a character reaction to a scene. The friends of your protagonists might drift apart for a while as their abilities to cope with a situation or their ideas on how to solve the problems differ.

The complexity of your plot will also deepen, and you make discover new plots and ideas being formed, which will develop you more basic plot, into a more detailed one. You might end up with a mash-up or with sub-plots.

And here in I will place emphasis on the word ‘might’. None of this is guaranteed. Writing a plot and developing character is a complicated process that gets easier with practice. Some people find the process more natural than others, but I strongly believe that anyone can do it.

It might just take more practice for you than it does with others. Writing is parts of the arts. Drawing, painting, playing instruments, and the like come more naturally to some than to others. Perseverance though is a writer’s greatest tool, and giving up means you will never be able to do it.

So if you have an idea, whether it be a character or a plot, you can develop it further. You might never write the story, as you might find it doesn’t work, but it is practice for when you do find the idea that does.

Of course character and plot is not the be all and end all of a story, but it is certainly an essential place where you need to start in order to create an outline.

It’s good to be stubborn, but not too stubborn

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In the writing process in these last few months, as I’ve been planning the longer term prospects for my series of fantasy novels, I have learnt that you need to be really stubborn to persevere with the entire process of being a writer. Sometimes you just have to force the ideas to come to you; my muse frequently leaves to go on vacation at awkward moments and comes back when the house isn’t clean, I need to go to work and until recently I really needed to get on with my university work instead. When the muse is away and you need to write, you just have to stubbornly persevere with the writing and the ideas. It takes practice but eventually knowing what to write next comes as second nature.

And then, you have to edit, a process that is completely different from writing. You aren’t creating anymore, you’re in a way destroying your work and putting it back together again in a smoother, more defined shape than the original composition. Trust me, you have to be stubborn with yourself to get through editing and you have to be tough. Any notions that you might have that writers are whimsical and dreamy, think again; to write means to edit, and to edit means being ruthless. To be a writer you have to be stubborn.

But not too stubborn. I’ve been working on my first novel of the series ‘The Phoenix Spell’, for years. In my previous post, The Inner Fear, I wrote about how my first chapter required work, which is an understatement. I was crushed at how bad my first chapter had been when I’d returned to it after years of not working on it. I’ve been working on my story for the last couple of months now as a rest bite from my dissertation, and in that time I’ve had several clear things in mind. I knew I had a slightly altered first chapter; I knew I had some better ideas about character development throughout the story; and I un-categorically knew where the story was going to end. I have been stubbornly working towards that end for years. Yesterday, when I was totting up the word count, I came to the conclusion that my ending is not the ending of my first book, but the ending of my second. Fantasy traditionally is a longer form of fiction; but there is long and then there is the possibility that in writing one book you’ve accidently written two.

The first half has a different tone from the second, it is a journey towards finding out what love is and understanding acceptance of one’s self. The second half, which is rougher, having only been written in its current form in the last few months, is how that acceptance transforms what my characters are willing to do and risk in the name of love. They are two different books, but it took me letting go of a little bit of stubbornness to admit that where I wanted by first novel to end isn’t where my first novel naturally ends.

So it’s good to be stubborn, but not too stubborn.