Telling Myself: A Break is Okay

I promised myself I would do Camp NaNoWriMo this month and, although I’ve almost reached my personal word count goal, it hasn’t really felt like enough. I haven’t been writing every day. I haven’t been pouring coffee down my throat in order to JUST WRITE. I haven’t been locking myself in my room and writing for hours on end.

In short, it feels like I haven’t been focused enough.

But I have been thinking about my characters all the time. And this, I’m telling myself, is okay.

Even though I may not have been writing, it’s all still been there, just bubbling under the surface, working itself into something more tangible and detailed so when I come back to it I’m ready.

So I’ve been doing other things.

In my spare time, I’ve been going to literary festivals, doing fun writing workshops with other people I’ve never met before, meeting amazing authors like Liz Kessler, Anna McKerrow, Lu Hersey and Lisa Glass and even picking their brains about their own writing process when they write their novels.

Meeting Lu Hersey, Anna McKerrow and Lisa Glass

I’ve been taking long walks and sitting in the sunshine reading books and laughing with friends. I’ve also driven up and down the countryside in a couple of days so I could have an interview for a masters degree in writing.

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So I haven’t been writing my own novel per se, but I’ve been doing other things that count towards it. I know this might sound lazy, like I’m even making excuses, but in my eyes it’s not.

Because I’m realising it’s okay to take breaks. It’s okay to step away from your project for a little while, if only so you can see it a little clearer when you do get back to it again. It’s okay not to achieve ridiculous word count goals you might set yourself for the month, as long as you’ve written something.

Breaks are important. Just make sure you get back to your project.

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Because you might find something truly amazing by procrastinating.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Figuring it Out

So I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo and it’s all going fairly well. But as I kept going and going, writing and writing, I  realised I didn’t feel comfortable writing about characters who I didn’t actually know that much about.

Normally, I tend to start writing and my characters develop more and more as I write them. I love doing that, mostly because it means minimal work, also because I can just get right into the story without having to do loads of background research.

But, unfortunately, that just wasn’t going to cut it this time and, as my word count got further and further towards reaching my ultimate goal, I became less and less confident with this project and these characters.

Now, I love my premise and I love my idea. But I needed more than that. I turned to the Writing Resources on the Camp NaNoWriMo wesite and – tah-dah! – I found everything I needed. It has all sorts of tips and advice on how to implement your characters and get to know them better before you start writing.

You can see it here.

Now, usually, I hate this kind of stuff but, right now, I am actually loving it. As lame as this sounds, I’ve conducted interviews with my characters, written and planned out their entire back story and where they will all go in life even after the novel has finished (yes, some of them die). I’ve discovered things about them I didn’t even realise and, more than anything, I feel like I know their place in this novel a lot better than I did before.

What surprised me most is that I’ve developed new plot points.

I still need to keep going with this. I am in no way done. I’m writing the actual project alongside the planning stuff, so it is all still a bit wobbly.

But, hey, at least I’m getting things done – which is more than I was before. Reading all the inspiring blog posts about what people are doing this month – and how they’re managing it – is really prompting me to kick my ass into gear.

It’s a Monday, it’s 8am, and I’ve already written almost 1,000 words today. I definitely think this is progress. I know I just have to keep going, which is the hard part.

Laters.

Emily Barr: Final Writing Workshop

Today marked the last day of the incredible writing workshops I’ve been a part of with many talented writers at Falmouth University. The writing workshops were taught by the fabulous Emily Barr, who is a bestselling (and very skilled) thriller novelist.

Even more exciting, she has a new YA book coming out early next year which is published by none other than Penguin, so watch this space!

These workshops have been amazing and a real gift to be a part of. I’ve learnt so much, from writing about sense of place through to writing about characters with amnesia and how to deal with that. Emily was also kind enough to bring her husband – also a writer! – to these workshops and having him there too was a huge insight into the children’s publishing world, as he’s also a children’s writer.

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The workshops were held over a period of five or six weeks and, inbetween this, I was lucky enough to have two focused individual sessions with Emily, where we talked about novel writing, what it’s like to be signed by a top publisher like Penguin and copy edits. What was even cooler was how she persuaded me to bite the bullet and follow my own writing dream, which is to travel out to Texas and do some research on the novel I’m writing – a YA novel set against the backdrops of the rural South.

I’m planning to go during Easter break but if that doesn’t happen then there’s always the summer. I’ve already saved up some money for the trip (I have been saving since the first year of my undergraduate degree: that’s three years). I just need to take someone with me, if only to make sure I come home and don’t run off with a cowboy, which is an actual true danger.

These writing workshops have made my writing stronger, they’ve made me listen to other people’s writing with more precision and clarity, and to be more confident about reading my work aloud. I always struggled with this before, so it’s great to have a balance between reading your work on the page and reading it out loud to other people.

To be a part of such a great writing community every single week has been really special and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m sad that it’s over but feel so lucky to have been a part of it all. But it’s not over yet! We have one more last personal session with her on Wednesday and I’m excited about this. Afterwards, we’re all meeting for drinks, so now I guess I can say I’ve shared a few drinks with Emily Barr! Yay!

But, seriously, it’s been so wonderful. Even better, I feel like I’ve made some new friends as a result of this great workshop and gotten some awesome new skills!

Until next time.

Writing About The South

 

Right now I’m writing at university because it’s warmer than being in my house. This is a legitimate reason. I am not kidding. But writing on campus can be fun because:

  1. There are no distractions
  2. It’s a working environment (so I actually feel like I should be doing something instead of tweeting.)
  3. It’s really quiet here right now because it’s evening!

So I’ve set myself a deadline. By the end of tonight, as in midnight, I will have written 1000 words to the opening of my new novel-in-progress which is – ta dah! – all about the Deep South … as in Texas.

Because I love it.

This new novel is a project of mine which I have been striving towards since the very first year of my degree. I’ve been holding off until now to write about it and now it’s here it’s kind of terrifying. The novel project is a part of my dissertation, which is all about the Deep South and the ideology of the cowboy as a romance figure in literature.

So my novel is a cowboy romance set in Texas. *unbelievably happy about this*

I’m writing different beginnings to the novel so far and I’m going to keep writing until I hit the one which I know is right. So far, I have four different openings. I think I know which one I love best, but I know it’s not quite there yet. More work needs to be done!

But, like Hemingway famously said, “the first draft of anything is shit.”

I think I always come back to that piece of advice when I’m writing a first draft and finding it hard. Because if you can’t have faith in Hemingway as a writer, then who else are you going to believe in?

For research, I’ve been reading snippets of DEEP SOUTH by the wonderful travel writer Paul Theroux which came out late last year. (I don’t know how many times I stroked it in bookshops before actually buying it. Sorry Waterstones.)

I read this book in the sunshine today and it was bliss. I’ll probably write a raving reveiw of this book once I’ve finished it but I’ll tell you right now that this book is amazing. It really gets you into the mindset of the South and opens up a world perhaps not so explored in travel writing. It’s a world of vivid colour and backroads and thrift stores located on old highways, where “the past is never dead” and where “poverty is well dressed in churches, and everyone is approachable”.

It’s a world I can’t wait to get into and one which I find hugely inspiring (hence the idea for the novel). I’ve always loved the South ever since I was first pulled into country music.

So today I pored over its pages, ready with a bright pink marker pen to highlight certain passages, and fell a little bit in love with it all. So tonight, I aim to write about it. Or at least develop some ideas about it which I can one day turn into fiction.

I’ll try and keep you updated on how it goes along as I try and figure it out.

In the meantime, it’s back to writing!

Writing a Novel: Almost There!

Okay. Some of you may know that this summer I decided to embark on the huge task of writing a novel. I’ve always wanted to do it but never thought I would actually make it. Not unless I kicked my silly ass into gear anyway.

So this summer I did just that. I super kicked my ass into gear and I got through it.

I wrote almost an entire fricken novel.

I’m still writing it so I’m not even finished yet but to say that I’ve written 51,200 words over the space of this year is stupid crazy. Like I don’t even wanna mention how crazy. I seriously never thought I’d get this far.

Before, I only ever did things like this:

  1. Start a new novel idea
  2. Completely fall in love with it
  3. Never finish it
  4. Or worse, throw it away.

Talk about killing your darlings.

But I’m on the way to the end now and – Oh my God – I am loving it.

In July, I wrote over 20,000 words through signing up with Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I would’ve made it without fellow campers cheering me on – virtually – until I got to the finish line. They were so helpful!

Now, it’s officially NaNoWriMo 2015 and although I haven’t been writing everyday like most talented people, I’m getting back to it after a bunch of uni deadlines and the flow is finally kicking back in. Get the kettle boiling and the teacups ready because this girl is on it!

As a writer and a reader, my heart lies in teen fiction so this is mainly what I write about. The characters I’ve created have stayed with me this long that I feel like I’m totally discrediting them if I don’t finish this story. Their voices need to be heard. So by Christmas I will have finished it.

This is both a promise to myself and to them. I think I definitely owe them that (not to mention myself!)

(On a side note, God knows how many cups of tea I’ve had while doing this project. My guess is in the hundreds.)

So, basically, my message to you is this. If you want to write a novel – even if the tiniest part of you thinks that you might – then go for it. Because your dreams are tangible.

You can create something out of nothing and, more importantly, only you can tell this story that’s in your head. I guess that’s what makes it so fun. Plus the feeling you get afterwards is amazing.

I’m so excited to finish this writing project.

So go write.

This summer I’ve almost written an entire novel

Ever had so many ideas for stories in your head that you feel like you might just explode?

I have but it was mostly when I was teen. Lately, I’ve been picking up the pace a bit more and it feels amazing for my creative head space.

So far, I’ve had three novel ideas. That is, for young adult fiction – the market I desperately want be in. I’ve had a couple of ideas for a sci-fi novel or two as well. But these require a lot of research and I’m not sure my brain’s cut out for all that right now. I’m thinking perhaps in my late twenties is when I’ll hit my sci-fi writing stride. A lot of my ideas involve space travel, time travel and if I’m really indulgent then a little bit of dinosaurs too. But I’ll save that for another time.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.

So, like any writer does, I scribble these ideas down. I have an abundance of notebooks. And these tiny put-away-like-they’re-nothing ideas that might someday turn into something I keep hold of. You never know. One day these put away thoughts might well hold the key to my success.

I’m writing a novel right now – a Y/A one which I actually and genuinely love. I think, for a little while, I forgot what it could be like to let yourself get lost in fiction and how it feels for a project or a story to completely engulf your own world, for it to be all you think about.

I’m ashamed to admit it but as I got older I lost that creative bubble I used to never peep out of. I thought this was normal. I slowly became focused on the editorial side of writing that my fiction world consequently never even got past page 20 because I would slam it so hard it couldn’t fight hard enough to breathe. I was, to use a cliche, my own very worst critic.

I was beyond brutal with my own writing.

But this summer I’ve conquered that bad habit. I’ve been writing. (Ergo, sorry for the lack of posts). I’ve been getting lost in my own fiction world and I’ve almost successfully written an entire novel over the course of this long, hot and notoriously beautiful summer. (I live in Cornwall, so almost every day is beautiful here, yay!)

(A view from just over the road where I live)

I even signed up as a camper at Camp NaNoWriMo and even though I always seem to do this and it never usually gets me very far, this time I stuck at it and I completed my goal of writing over 10,000 words in a month. I can’t tell you the joy I got over achieving that goal.

For me, it was pretty phenomenal. So I’m carrying on with it.

You ever read a book and think, ‘I could’ve done better than that’? Well, it turns out that I’m doing it, even if only just to say that I’ve written a complete novel.

I don’t want to be someone who waits until their retirement to get everything out onto the page. I want it now.

I know that when I’ve finished, that’s when the hard part really begins which is the editing process. Apparently, this is where a lot of the real writing gets done, to quote the theory books and all the other famous writers out there.

But I’m moving forward. I’m at just over 46,000 words so far and I’m probably not going to stop until I hit 80,000 which is the average length of a complete novel. As well as that, I’ve also found the time to submit to other writing competitions. I’ve hit a productive writing/creative streak and it’s not stopping.

My thoughts in general are that this summer has been a blessing. But in the end, I know, it all comes down to yourself.
Your motivation.
And whether you believe in yourself to do it.
And maybe if you can’t, then find someone else who does. Ride their motivational current to get yourself where you need to be.

You never know, it might be worth it in the end.

So, be right back. I’m novel writing.

Book Signings!

Last night I met Sarah Winman, author of bestselling novel When God Was a Rabbit and the recently published A Year of Marvellous Ways. The first time I read When God Was a Rabbit I was mesmerised and immeasurably hooked. I loved it so much I even cracked the spine a little bit (something I rarely ever do with books).

So I’m certain that A Year of Marvellous Ways will hold just as much magic for me as Rabbitdid, if not more.

To meet an author – published, famous, and successful – always washes a tidal wave of excitement over me. And, of course, last night was no different on the crowded shop floor of Waterstones, Truro, the tiny capital city of sunnyside Cornwall. There was an informal interview between Sarah and a lovely employee of the iconic bookstore which weaved the stories of Sarah’s childhood memories, the people she’s known in her life and, ultimately, how the book and its characters came about.

I was captivated.

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The evening went on and, as she was talking, I became hugely gratified to discover that, when she writes a novel, she usually writes roughly 1000 words a day. This, for me, was monumental, in that while I am currently writing my own novel I also tend to write 1000 words a day.

(In no way am I comparing myself to this bonafide successful writer, but hearing those words gave me hope: it said, ‘I can do this!’)

It was truly a comfort in itself; knowing that an author like this also simply writes 1000 words a day and still gets the novel finished on time.

Because, you know, when you aspire to be a full time writer yourself, you always imagine bestselling authors to be hammering out 5000 words a day or more, scribbling page after page after page.

She read clearly and calmly, with just the right emphasis on the right characters when speaking their own dialogue. Her words written on the page and then spoken from her own mouth were entrancing and not even for one second did I actually find myself bored.

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To my joy, she signed my copy of her book which is now sitting on my shelf. And, not only this, but I asked her if she would sign my own journal; a notepad I use to scribble all my thoughts and story ideas in whenever I’m on the move. She complied and asked if I was a writer too. I told her yes, I was, and she listened as I spoke about my own fiction writing and the novel I’m continuing to write over the summer.

She listened.

Of course, I was in a queue so had to hurry along, but she gave me the utmost hope for my writing (not to mention a truck load of inspiration) and told me good luck with my writing adventures and said that, if I stuck to it, I could publish a book too one day (with a lot of hard work and torturous rewrites. I know.)

Everything takes a little bit of time and a whole load of patience, and most importantly, a great deal of work. As a current participant of CampNaNoWriMo, I’m mostly keeping to my word count goal of 500 words a day, if not 1000. Watching my stats go up is like watching a plant grow; it can be really, painstakingly slow, but the progress is still there and visible!

By way of word count, my goal is to have 36,000 words of my novel by the end of the month in total. But, the way I’m going, I’m hoping I can totally beat that!!

So, ultimately, here’s to Sarah Winman – on a brilliant and captivating debut novel and what I already know to be a truly wonderful second novel in A Year of Marvellous Ways, even though I haven’t read it yet.

Here’s to inspiration.