bwainOMG! I finally finished the first draft of Blindsided!

This is my third novel and seems to have been the hardest one to finish. The other two had their moments but this one was like giving birth to a rhino with 9 legs.

I started on 14th September 2012, had my usual late winter freeze with two months of plotting and no writing, I then hit another wall and also had the nightmare of losing 5,000 words. I finished the first half of the first draft at the end of August but then rushed on with a mountain of momentum and finished the second half only 3 months later.

Here might be the answer to this conundrum.

With my first two novels I did quite a bit of research, substantially more plotting and they were more dystopic/speculative novels. Literary sounds too heavy but Blindsided is definitely not sci-fi, I guess you could classify it as ‘Contemporary fiction’.  I did zero research and very minimal plotting, I just dived head first into it. It felt good at first but I soon became lost in the lack of plotting, and without a big dystopic idea to hold on to, I found it harder to make so-called ordinary, everyday lives readable and interesting.

My big fear in going back in for the second draft is; I haven’t.

Finishing this novel’s first draft was also a bit of an anti-climax for some reason. I think it’s because I’ve got a few nagging doubts but the more time goes by, the happier I am with it. I arrived at the finish in a slightly different route to the previous two novels, so maybe I’m having to adjust to that.

Maybe I’ve become more of a gristled, cynical, disillusioned writer and that brief sweet taste of victory at the end is now meaningless. I hope not!

I’m looking forward to the second draft. It’s probably my favourite draft. The first draft is a daily battle against blank pages, the third draft and onwards are basically touching up. The second draft is serious editing, rewriting, fixing, assessing, understanding and the first reading where you know how it all ends.

It’s currently 57,000 words long which isn’t long enough to be traditionally published but I always skimp on description and musing in the first draft, so I’ll be looking to finish the second draft at around 65,000 words.

I’m going to have a break between now and the second draft though. A break from Blindsided but not from writing, I plan on self-publishing my first novel Railroaded. A whole new sphere of headaches, no doubt!

make-up I’m on the home straight of my novel, ‘Blindsided‘, just 4 chapters to go and I’ve now gone and got Manflu which usually renders men useless and depressive oafs.

Now I’m thinking this novel is probably crap; the story is boring, characters are one dimensional, there’s no flare or finesse, along with the fact my first two novels are going nowhere fast.

So why bother?

I read a traditionally published novel this year similar to one of mine and I thought it was pretty poor. Others on Goodreads thought it was pretty poor too. Mine is of a similar genre , and I think better, yet I get rejections coming out my ears and this other one gets the full professional treatment.

Maybe I’m biased and bitter.

So the following tweet I saw struck a chord…

If I allow the paracetamol hit to wear off and finish my hot lemon drink, I might be able to grab some positives.

Finishing the first draft of a novel is something to be proud of. No-one’s going to see it. The subsequent drafts is where I can add finesse and depth.

In the break between first and second drafts, I’m planning on self-publishing my first novel which is something I’m very much looking forward to. If I could get 2,000 people to actually buy it, that would be amazing.

Writing is a waste of time if you look at it financially or logically. It’s a crazy waste of time but, to paraphrase Churchill, ‘What are we fighting for‘ if we don’t indulge our creative sides.

I could better spend my time painting fences, learning to cook, learning Spanish, working more overtime, etc but I wouldn’t be as happy. I should remember that sometimes; the act of writing and making shit up does make me happy even if it doesn’t always make itself immediately apparent.

fuckedThis is a tale of pain and despair but it should be enjoyable…for you, because it didn’t happen…to you.

In a nutshell, I lost 5,000 words (3 chapters) of my latest novel, ‘Blindsided‘, after getting up some good momentum.

I’m a switched-on technology user, well versed in the various methods of backing up your stuff but I have been defeated. I’ve been using a MacBook Air for about 3 years now and I only really use it for writing so I’m not a bona fide 100% Apple Genius, but I’m no mug.

That’s what I thought, anyway.

Little did I know that Lion OSX has a ‘unique’ feature where it ‘locks’ documents that haven’t been used for 2 weeks. I’m not sure how my novel got sucked into this helpful fucking ‘fix’ but it did. It hardly goes 2 days without being amended, let alone 2 frigging weeks.

The other helpful feature is that you can still USE a fucking locked document so it behaves like an ‘editable’ document.

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toshJust finished the first draft of the first half of ‘Blindsided’! You have to celebrate these little milestones otherwise life is just a series of smashing blank pages without reward.

This novel is a game of two halves with a little bit of an epilogue of extra time at the end.

That’s where the football metaphors end.

(I suppose submitting it to agents is a penalty shoot-out, but nevermind…)

Each half is written in the first person of a couple. The first half as the guy after they split. The second half is through the woman as they get together.

Just spent some time today getting into the mindset of the woman and what she’s going to do throughout this second half which actually comes before the first half, chronologically. So, there’s that to get my head round too.

How’d the first half go, Ben? Thanks for asking, not bad. Some bits I really like, others I was thinking I’m going to have to rewrite this whole bit as I’m writing it. This is a different novel to the previous two and it’s been a different experience writing it but as with the previous two, the second half feels as though it’s going to get easier as the momentum builds and you gain confidence from seeing the word and page counts rise.

The first half is always a bit of a slog with doubt and second thoughts creeping in but funnily enough, as soon as that first half was completed it immediately felt better than it had all the way leading up to it. It’s completeness adds something positive to it that you can only see once it’s complete.

I love rewriting. I think it’s probably what I love most about the whole process because you’ve done the hard creative stuff and slogged through the first draft. Rewriting is tarting it up, correcting errors and making it flow – and I’m looking forward to doing that with the first half. I think that’s a good sign, right?

DEAD-HORSEI’m trying to stay positive after another rejection but sometimes it’s like saying no to a tasty dessert or a beautiful ex that dumped you, you know you should walk away but it’s soooo hard.

I’m getting close with ‘Railroaded‘. I’ve been sending it out to be ignored and rejected for nearly 5 years! (Christ! I didn’t know that until I just referred to my submission spreadsheet. That sounds even worse now). I got a couple of requests for the full MS, a few positive words but mainly I got a form rejection.

Here’s the cold hard facts; I submitted to a total of 44 places – 26 agents and 18 publishers. 6 of those agents never replied and 8 publishers didn’t reply.

When do I stop torturing myself?

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readerI’m getting back on it and I have evidence. I’ve just finished about 3 chapters over the past month or so which is good going for this novel. 26,000 words in total.

It’s been a struggle at times as you can see in previous posts but with a little help and new momentum I’ve been moving on quite well, writing most days.

So what stopped me?

Well, I had other things going on which were taking up my mind and creativity, also this novel has been the one I’ve done the least amount of research and note taking before starting – it’s a more of a fly by the seat of your pants approach – and I also realised I was reading a lot less too.

There’s this quote by Stephen King that seems to pop up in my Twitter timeline once a week;

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

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June 30, 2013

stuckThis is the first post in a while. I hit a wall with the novel and when that happens everything else writing related takes a hit too.

I’m about a third of the way through my third novel, ‘Blindsided’, and had no idea where else to go even though I had the general structure done and was happy with it. The problem I was having consisting of building a compelling story and not just filling in the gaps with crap. I still went to the coal face and chipped away at a few sentences on a regular basis but, generally, it was pretty poor progress. I always had my fingers crossed, hoping inspiration would strike and away I’d go again, rejuvenated.

It never happened.

Then a close friend asked how it was going. I gave the usual shrug of the shoulders and hoped that was the end of it. You write by yourself, right? How can someone else help?

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March 17, 2013

writing-later This weekend I’ve finally cracked open the laptop and written some more of my 3rd novel. This is after about a 2 month lay-off.

(Ironic since my last post was about improving my productivity).

Why? Real life getting in the way. Nothing drastic going on but I found my creative energies and focus were being directed elsewhere plus I had written myself into a place which wasn’t obvious how I could get out of it.

So how did I get back on track? What I wanted to do elsewhere had been achieved so it was just a question of knuckling down and getting back down to business. I still don’t really know where I’m going with this novel and there’s a huge gaping hole in the second half of the paper thin structure I’ve got in my mind but once you sit down and start typing it’s amazing how easily the words and the images in your head can flow together.

That is the most enjoyable part for me.

So now all I have to do is keep this momentum going until I finish. I’ve done about 11,000 words so probably about 65,000-75,000 more before I call it a day.

I’ve also found that not caring what anyone else might think about what I’m writing down helps. This is a first draft so I can always rewrite anything I don’t actually like later but caring about what others might see during a first draft is a stupid way to think. Leaving that baggage behind is liberating.

You don’t really even have to care if the whole thing makes sense or is ‘exciting’, just write down what the characters are doing. If they’re interesting and compelling enough, they’ll do interesting and compelling things all on their own.

This novel has been the one I’ve done the less amount of research and note-taking on but thinking about it, maybe I should be doing even less and simply focus on doing more writing.

* and on a side note, I’ve finally committed to the title ‘Blindsided’ and have updated the side menu link. I’m finally getting shit done.

productiveIt’s a new year and with it comes all these crappy feelings of ‘I must do more than last year‘…’I must be better‘.

Coincidently, I read a tweet (can’t remember from who) that linked to this YouTube video – ‘Don’t break the chain‘ by Charlie – showing how he uses this idea to keep up a decent level of productivity.

There are more details of ‘Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret‘ on Lifehacker.

Basically, you keep a visual calendar of the days you work/exercise/kiss your wife, ticking everyday you do something and the idea is you don’t break the chain, e.g. don’t miss a day.

I got a calendar for Christmas and thought I’d use this with a couple of marker pens…then, Holy Christ! I found an app! The ‘Wonderful Day‘ app is great and a snip at 69p. Easy to use and allows you to track multiple goals. Currently I’m measuring Writing, Reading and Exercise.

I’ve used it for a week now and it gives you a great idea of how you’re doing. I was never terrible at doing stuff before but I like the recording and visualisation aspect of the app. I’m not going to put pressure on myself to not break the chain either. I figure that achieving 80% per month is good enough, e.g. exercising/writing/reading 80% of the days per month.

So what actually counts?

  • Exercise – gym, running outside, swimming, playing sport. Walking down the shops doesn’t.
  • Writing – novel, blog post (I can tick today off!), poem, short story, thinking in front of my notebook and actually making notes. Thinking during the day at work doesn’t, neither does writing a shopping list.
  • Reading – I’ve already noticed a big improvement with the amount I’m reading recently. I used to just let it slide and go to sleep but now I’m actually making time so I can add a tick onto my app!

All these little daily achievements will hopefully go towards my overall goals of; finishing the first draft of my 3rd novel this year, read more books than last year and complete at least two sprint triathlons and one 10km.

If I don’t achieve these than it cements my belief that I’m a horrendous, abomination of a human being.

Yeah, that’s pressure!

It’s been a while as I’ve moved into home-ownership, waited for the internet to be set-up and started decorating…well, paying pro’s to decorate. This sudden break out of the void is sparked by a rejection but also a confirmation that I can research adequately enough for a dodgy old writer.

I came across this article in the i paper today – Scientists warn of sperm count crisis – which confirms a widely held belief that sperm counts are shrinking but no-one thought it was by this much, almost a third!

My novelette, ‘Branching Out’, the prequel to my second novel ‘Broken Branches’ is based on the number of fertile men falling so sharply that these men can carve out a living purely by selling their sperm…and not in test tubes but via a direct-to-client relationship, like thoroughbred horses.

That’s it really.

A novelists mental state is a delicate thing, especially after a rejection. So please congratulate me on using factually correct scientific data…if not compelling enough prose or characters.