My 2019 So Far, Part I

We’re four (!!!) months into the new year, and a lot has happened. It doesn’t feel good (particularly in my fingertips) to be cramming four months’ worth of updates into two posts, but the reasons for this will become apparent…  

DECEMBER

[I’m aware this month falls under the old, bin-bound calendar, so try to think of it as a Prologue to 2019…] 

December was one of those (thankfully) rare months where life—rather, job applications—got in the way of my writing. The hours I would usually spend working on my novel were usurped by the desire to have an income. Other than the notes I collected, which were vast, I made no further progress in terms of the actual word count. I started to feel like I wasn’t working towards my dream of becoming a published author—because I wasn’t. (Daydreaming and note-making aren’t the same as writing.) As a result, my mood became very low.

December made me realise just how important writing is to me.

Life, as it does, had gotten in the way before. (Two brothers getting married within the space of five months will do that, and travelling across Texas with Emily for three weeks the previous month did little to increase the word count either.) But life had never before gotten in the way of my writing to this extent.

When you’re on holiday, it’s OK to be away from your writing. (After all, that’s what a holiday is.) But it’s another thing entirely to be in your usual day-to-day environment and to feel like you’re not making any progress in the pursuit of your dream.

I realised two things:

  1. I always need to create time for my writing. That, no matter how important something else might be, I can’t let it consume my writing time. It’s sacred and it needs to stay that way.
  2. I really want to become a published author. I may have mentioned this already, but it is my dream. When I feel like I’m not working towards it, I feel like I’m wasting my time.

I realised something else, too: you can’t write a progress report for a month you make no progress in.

JANUARY

Two months had passed since I’d properly written anything, but that doesn’t mean I hadn’t been working on my novel.

I used to keep a pocket-sized notebook and pen in my (you guessed it) pocket, as part of my holy trinity quartet of keys, phone and wallet when I left the house. This was a great way to record ideas on the move, which I would type up and order at a later date. When this became tedious, I switched to a digital notepad. A simple Google Doc that I saved to my phone so I could write my notes on the move and also access on my laptop, removing the drudgery of having to type them up.

At the start of the new year, I had over fifty thousand words of notes typed up, two-thirds of which I had produced since going away to Texas. As incredible as that was, I had yet to order them…

When I first began the current draft, I was very experimental with my writing. I took my initial handful of ideas—a bare-bones plot, a small cast of semi-realised characters, a far-off glimpse of potential scenes—and began writing, discovering more about the story as I went along. This was a great way to develop my plot, characters and scenes further.

But when I sat down at my laptop at the start of the year, I had over fifty thousand unordered notes, which ranged from editorial comments on what I’d so far written; to potential plot points, scenes and other ideas for what I had yet to write; to snatches of description and dialogue; to story lines for later instalments.

In other words: my idea for the book had changed a lot. As such, before I wrote another word, I wanted to organise my notes to better help me see the way ahead. As E.L. Doctorow said:

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I hoped organising my notes would be like switching to main beam.

Thus I created my organic plan! The fact it is organic makes it super-important. It also served—and continues to serve—as a reminder: a plan should never be rigid—it should develop with the story while it is being written.

The notes I’d complied were essentially these developments. By ordering them into an organic plan, I was making it clear to myself that the changes would remain on-going.

My organic plan involved a table with four main columns: Chapter, POV, Summary + Edits to be made, Est. Words; breakdowns of the three acts and the four quartiles; and a general ordering of my notes. These became split under headings like characters, settings and world building, which in turn became split under subheadings like races, religion, creatures, geography and so on.

Once I had a good idea of the overall shape of the novel, I started to focus on the more immediate story right through to the first quarter. Then I began outlining the eight or so chapters I would write next. I called this Writing Block 1.

Since the plan was organic, I decided the rest of the story could be more thoroughly outlined once I’d completed WB1. Afterwards, I could plan the next eight or so chapters, i.e. Writing Block 2, and write them before moving onto the third, and so on. Each writing block would work between the two pinch points, mid point, and second plot point (in layman’s terms: the “main event” building blocks, or signposts, in every story).

My hope was that working in writing blocks would help to break up the seemingly endless task of actually finishing the novel, as well as gaining a more tangible sense of progress—much like working to deadlines at university.

Being the start of the year and all, I really wanted to make as much progress as quickly as possible. I was working a lot of late nights and weekends (to the point I had no time to work on a new blog post. Even if I had, writing about typing up notes doesn’t make for an interesting read…).

While I was making a lot of progress, I was also burning myself out.

This post continues in Part II.

IMG-20190109-WA0006[Me reading in bed to Monty, Emily’s wiggly-waggly Springador.]

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