March & April Part I

A lot has happened in the past two months. Unfortunately, I didn’t write a March post at the start of this month due to what I talk about first. Rather than writing a belated March post, I’ve merged it with April’s, as it’s easier to discuss them simultaneously, hence this zeppelin-bloated post which is split, like all greedy blockbusters, across two parts.

FURTHER TROUBLES WITH ANXIETY

Around the start of April I developed trouble sleeping. Most nights since have resulted in one of the following patterns:

  1. After half an hour of sleep, I jolt awake and am unable to return to nodland for another one to three hours.
  2. I’m stuck in light sleep limbo, somewhere uncomfortable between consciousness and unconsciousness. This usually lasts for the first few hours of sleep, but has lasted entire nights.

As you might guess, it’s pretty frustrating. I’m not really sure why it started, though I’m certain it’s my anxiety rearing its restless head—the symptoms certainly match.

What makes it more frustrating is the fact I feel absolutely fine in my mind.

The anxiety is instead lurking somewhere deep below the surface of my skin.

I can only assume this dissonance between mind and body is due to my writing. (What else could it be?) While in my mind I feel like I’m at a good place with my writing and I’m pleased (some days, even confident) with how and where Everborne is going, my body apparently disagrees. It’s bewildering.

Fortunately, my trouble sleeping hasn’t [so far] affected my writing as much as I thought it would. I’ve not [yet] had entire writing days wiped out (or, in more eye-rolling terms, written off.) Sometimes I’m able to hit the snooze for an extra hour, which can be enough to salvage the day. When I’m not able to hit the snooze, I do my best to forget about my tiredness and to focus on the scene at hand. As I say, I currently feel like I’m at a good place with my writing, so this hasn’t been too difficult. Only by Thursday and Friday do I notice my writing strength gets sapped earlier in the day.

Since this began happening at the start of the month, I thought the last thing I needed after a day of writing was to then talk about writing in a March post. Instead, I did my best to switch-off. After the first week of April, I was pretty desperate for a good night’s sleep, so I was willing to try anything and everything to help me achieve that:

  • Valerian root sleeping tablets
  • A sprinkling (truth: dousing) of lavender oil over my pillow
  • Ear plugs
  • Running mid-afternoon
  • A “night time” tea of oat flower, lavender and limeflower
    (I’m much more a coffee person than tea, but this one’s delicious—and, no,  I don’t drink coffee anywhere near close to going to bed.)
  • A cheeky cider
    (Though only at the weekend.)
  • Trying to read for at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed
  • Simply taking deep breaths while I’m reading and as I lay down for sleep

While the combination of remedies above haven’t completely cured my trouble sleeping, they’ve managed to improve them. Hopefully I’ll be able to report more consistent results in my May post.

WRITING STYLE: PLOTTER OR PANTSER?

I seem to forever be saying this:

Since Everborne is my first attempt at writing a novel, I’m having to work everything out by trail and error. This includes discovering whether my writing style is more akin to that of a plotter or a pantser (OR: an architect or a gardener).

For the most part, in true-Tom-fashion, I’ve sat with a cheek clasped to either side of the proverbial fence, with a comfortable tilt towards the latter style.

Back in February, when I was worried about hitting the dreaded writer’s block, I took a short break from writing to plan out Part One. (Of how many, that still remains to be seen!*) I really enjoyed figuring out what my core characters would be getting up to, especially the situations they would be having to deal with and the—hopefully—unexpected results.

I followed this plan for about a month. The result was a mix of “good” and “bad” writing days, in both output and perceived quality. The two Qs of [my] writing—quality and quantity—vary each day. This is something I’ve just had to accept. (Or, if I’m being honest, something I’m still having to accept.)

The more chapters I wrote, however, the greater my sense of unease. Something just wasn’t feeling right

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I had a couple of new ideas. Though ideas might not be the right word. They were more like inklings. They weren’t even scenes, only the potential of them. It was like holding a woolly jumper with loose threads. Only once I pulled on and unravelled each thread was I able to learn what they really looked like.

So I pulled, and pulled, and pulled.

And I unravelled, and unravelled, and unravelled.

And it turns out the knit of the woolly jumper was similar to that of a magician’s handkerchief. Instead of running out of thread, it just kept on going, and going, and going—all the way through April. (This is what is referred to as pantsing, or gardening.)

[*Before I started pulling threads, I was fairly certain I could plan all the Parts to Everborne. Since I started irreversibly ruining my metaphorical woolly jumper, I’m not so sure.
It really depends on where the story goes. I’m reconsidering having two narratives, one set in the past and the other in the present. While I’m steering my present narrative towards a certain direction, new and unplanned obstacles are presenting themselves, making life harder for my characters and the overall story longer. I’m not worried about this as I feel this is exactly what I should be aiming for.
However, if 
the present narrative does become too long, there might not be room for the past narrative. I’m keeping an open mind for now. It may be that I’ll have to limit my past narrative to a small number of chapters. Or, when re-watching The Lord of the Rings last month, I found that all The Hobbit references made the story all the more richer, so perhaps the past will be revealed through enriching references. My decision will be better informed the further I get with the present narrative.]

The more I followed these woolly threads, the more my writing began to feel confident. I was finding myself more excited by the story and more engaged with the writing; hours would slip by unnoticed. As such, this allowed me to understand my previous unease.  I came to realise it stemmed from two things:

I was telling the right story but from the wrong perspective
Switching the POV was instantly liberating. The original POV was that of a prisoner, who I’d intentionally incarcerated inside a cramped cell. I hadn’t even given them a window. Only a bucket. (I’ll let you guess what for.) That’s how deprived I wanted this POV to be. Unintentionally, I had incarcerated the means to tell my story.

Denying the POV character the freedom to move was the same as denying him the freedom to actually do things and be interesting to a reader. I had even lost interest in him! He literally couldn’t do or see anything. The more I wrote from this perspective, the harder it became. What made it worse was I was trying to build a sense of mystery around the character.

To resolve this, I switched to a character who could move and immediately gave them a goal to achieve and, in true story 101 style, failure at. Writing not only became easier, it felt more natural, more right.

Trying to work to a plan was too restrictive
When I switched the POV and gave my new character a goal, I didn’t know what would happen next. All I knew was that he wouldn’t instantly achieve his goal. I had an obstacle to put in his way, but I had no clue how he was going to overcome it. I had more inklings, more woolly threads that needing pulling. The more I pulled, the better I understood where the threads were going.

Once I learnt how my character would overcome Obstacle #1, I didn’t then rush to think about Obstacle #2 and its solution. I came to them when the story did. (Sometimes a little before.) For me, this was far more exciting to write than when I was following my plan. That was too mechanical, too restrictive. In truth, too dull.

This isn’t to say that I’ve ditched my plan. Nearly all of it is still being used. It just might appear in a different way, like being used in the form of backstory. Whilst trying to fulfil his own objective, my new POV character is simultaneously having to discover what I’ve already learnt from my plan. His introduction has given me the extra freedom I needed to be able to switch between the POVs of my other characters, including that of my prisoner.

By writing in this way, I’m making the connections as I go along, rather than beforehand. (I should have known: I’m the type of person who likes to figure something out instead of reading the instructions first—if I can!) I’m also allowing myself to write from a reader’s perspective. I get to be the first reader of my own book!

This post continues in Part II.

IMG_20180422_111646185[A lovely bluebell walk with Emily (and, surprisingly, no dogs) in West Ashling.]

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