This time last year I was starting to feel increasingly more stuck with my writing. That stickiness eventually hardened into an unplanned, protracted break. If it wasn’t for the love and support of those closest to me, I would have given up on Everborne.
Now that I have a year-old retrospect of that time, I can view it as the setback—although painful and challenging—I needed in order to get me to where I want to go. I certainly feel a lot better now compared to how I did this time last year.
So shall I tell you how this month went? I think I May.
[Don’t bother, I’ve already rolled my eyes for you!]
While I’m no longer lying awake in the early hours, or needing to read in the hope of returning to nodland, I’m still having trouble sleeping. Each night is different, with one week feeling like progress and the next feeling like regress. Overall, there have been some improvements.
It’s not been the steady return to normality as I’d hoped. Rather, the improvements have been achieved on average.
Some nights, it might take me (much, much) longer than usual to fall asleep. Others, I get stuck in light sleep limbo, that uncomfortable place somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. Fortunately, this has stopped lasting for entire nights.
There are nights though where I simply sleep. [It feels good to be able to type that. It feels even better to be able to experience it!]
It’s hard to say what’s helped me most, seeing as I tried everything I could think of (and that Google could tell me, of course). The Valerian root sleeping tablets have seemed effective getting me to nodland, as has reading for at least half-hour beforehand, while ear plugs have helped to keep me there for longer.
Although my anxiety has seemed tenaciously rooted in my body, it’s helped to have taken a mindful approach in dealing with it. By the start of the month, I was tired of being tired. For about a week, this frustration (and exhaustion) helped me fall swiftly asleep. When it didn’t, I tweaked my routine before bed.
I found giving myself a half-hour window in which to fall asleep in was counter productive. This cushion of time [excuse the pun] didn’t reassure me like it was supposed to. I would lie awake thinking I have twenty-five minutes before I need to be asleep… twenty… fifteen… To overcome this, I would close my book and think, Right, that’s it, time for sleep.
If that sounds simple, that’s because it is. But it helped.
It’s reassuring to know my productivity isn’t necessarily hampered by a bad night’s sleep. The week just gone is the only one to have suffered. It sucked because it’s always nice to end the month on a high, but it’s not the end of the world. I strongly believe that when you write you’re entitled to have bad days just as much as you’re entitled to have the good ones. I also strongly believe that you can’t have one without the other. You can, I find, have more of the good.
If you’re lucky.
I’m still writing in the same pantser/gardeneresque style that I semi-consciously adopted the previous month when I began pulling on woolly threads; the inklings of almost-scenes, or their opening lines. I think this is very much the way forward for me.
I’m constantly making digital notes of new ideas—planning that not only goes alongside the writing but comes out of the writing. I also know a lot of the key plot points of the overall story. Yet I’ve found I struggle to write heavily pre-planned scenes. While it helps me to jot down ideas and any key points that need to be covered, when it comes to writing the scene itself I much prefer doing so when an idea comes to mind.
That’s not to say pulling on woolly threads is always easy. (Especially when you’re overtired.) I’ve had to get comfortable staring at a blank screen, waiting to uncover the right snag.
This sometimes depends on the point of view I’m writing from, as some characters are easier to write than others. I focused on two character POVs this month; a prisoner, who can be quite hard to write, and a guard, who I often find much easier. I think this is largely because the focus, in the current place of the whole story, is on the guard’s story. The prisoner, while a main character, is for now better left with more limited, leaner scenes—his time will come.
Whenever I find myself languishing, my subconscious is often there trying to make me aware of something. I spent a few days struggling with one chapter from the POV of the prisoner. It was only once I switched POV to the guard that I realised said prisoner’s chapter could be jettisoned, as doing so would generate more tension. While it’s important for me as the author to know what’s going on with the prisoner, the overall story might be better served without it.
Having struggled with this chapter for a few days, you might think I’d be disappointed to then reach this decision. I wasn’t. Rather, I believe it’s part of the process needed to write the strongest possible story. I find such decisions interesting and they also help me to keep perspective: at this stage there’s no point toiling over single words, it’s more important to get to the end of the story first.
I’ve always advocated that reading is essential for any writer, aspiring and established. Recently, however, I’ve found reading to be a double-edged sword, particularly when I’m inspired by the author’s writing style. [Most recently, it’s been The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.]
Admiration becomes imitation. This is worse when it’s unintentional. The author’s voice slips into my own. My focus shifts from being on my own story to unconsciously comparing what I’ve written to what I’m reading. I think less about what’s happening and more about how it’s happening. This disconnects me from my own natural voice (which at this point I need to be honing) and slows my writing down.
I think Lee Child said it best:
‘Name any author. He or she is the best in the world at writing his or her own book. No doubt about it. Me, for example. Lee Child is the best in the world at writing a Lee Child book. No one else could do it. Michael Connelly is the same. Could I write his books? No way. I’m always knocked out by other people’s work. But that is them and this is me.’
This cartoon comes a close second:
Story of my life.
But it’s a tricky one. While I need to learn from other writers, I need to do so without it impacting my sense of progress. There still needs to be a me in my writing. Strengthening my writer’s voice is better left to after the initial drafting stage, not during.
Having said that, reading remains far more beneficial to any writer than it does a hindrance.
When I was stuck with my aforementioned prisoner’s chapter, it helped me to look at the book I was currently reading, as well as one I had read before, to see how both authors presented a certain aspect. In this case: how to balance a character’s thought process with their surroundings whilst not being physically active. I was able to see how how much thought could be needed, as well as ways to prevent the story from becoming stagnant, even though the physical activeness of the character very much is.
By being more aware of how authors write particular aspects, it can positively inform your own writing. Once you know how one author does a particular thing, you can try it for yourself and see how it works. It doesn’t matter if you change it later on. The more important thing is to get unstuck so you can keep the story going.
THE DREADED WORD COUNT
I didn’t look at my word count until the very end of the month. That’s pretty impressive for someone who little over a month ago was checking their progress every two hours! (I wish that was an exaggeration.)
What isn’t that impressive, however, is the amount I achieved. 14,362 words. This was 3,600 words short of my target, and rather disappointing. Having said that, there’s not much I can do about it. Other than remain positive and tell myself to keep going.
Keep going, Tom!
This puts my overall word count at 77,000 words. To give that some perspective, I expect my first draft to be a minimum of 200,000 words. I envision Everborne to be a long novel, but the fantasy genre is well-frequented with novels of such (and much, much greater) lengths. I’m currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s so far excellent The Way of Kings, its 384,265 words split across two parts.
For [what I aim, hope and dream to be] a debut novel, keeping below the 200,000 word mark is a more realistic target; it will seem like less of a risk from a publisher’s perspective. But that’s getting ahead of myself. I need to actually have a first draft before I can think about being as ruthless as possible to eliminate all unnecessary words…
Writing this blog helps me to keep perspective. Which is just as well, as I often lose it. I think the reason I fell short of my target this month was largely due to me being influenced by the authors I was reading. I’m not blaming them; this is definitely my own fault. Bad Tom.
As I said above, these influences slowed me down. In particular, I would slip into a more editorial mode, especially when starting first thing in the morning. Next month, I’m going to ban myself from editing. My focus is to get to the end of the first draft.
To do that I need to keep going!
[Cassie promoted herself from lawn-lounger to flowerbed-flattener!]