I’ve finally put to bed the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel. Tentatively titled ‘RedSpot 2.0’, it’s a horror set in a corporate environment. RedSpot is the software system at the heart of a company that definitely doesn’t have the phrase “do no evil” as its motto.
I managed the first 50,010 words in November, narrowly meeting my NaNoWriMo challenge, but then (for one reason and another, including the intervention of Xmas and a few more personal trials) I stalled in early December.
I had hoped to finish draft 1 by Xmas day, but failed. So, in the style of all good project managers, I shifted my delivery date to the 31st December (“Absolute latest, Stoddart. No more excuses!”) and de-scoped my expectations just a wee bit.
Success! I finished ahead of my new target today and to the tune of 66,548 words. And yes, I really was hoping to hit 66.6k words. Just for the hell of it.
“Good stuff,” I hear you cry. “Now what?”
My plan is to shove RedSpot 2.0 in my virtual desk drawer for a while. It’s very raw and needs a substantial re-write if it’s to become anything readable, let alone publishable. I like the story, the themes, the characters and the complexity. It’s all good. It’s just been written at speed. I suspect when I’ve finished draft 2 it will be longer, rather than shorter as there are more themes and sub-plots I want to do justice to. Then, I’ll need to edit it back down again.
One thing I’ve learnt out of this exercise is: I can write fiction at speed for long periods. Although there have been days in the last two months when I have written very little (and some days when I was not able to write anything); there have been many days when I have written three, four or five thousand words, which is very heartening. I put this down to de-camping to my writing shed and minimising distractions, as well as having a (self-imposed) deadline to write to (the first time I’ve really done that).
I’ve managed to avoid writing at weekends. I like to keep that time separate and inviolate, so I can spend it with my family. I admit, I’ve broken that rule today; but, hey – they’ve had me all Xmas the lucky so-and-sos.
Whilst I’m waiting for RS2 to magically mature away from the light of day, my plan is to go back and revisit my first novel, ‘Waterguard’.
With hindsight, I think there are some elements of it I’m not proud of. It needs a fairly major re-write (and it’s already on draft 7 or so), which I’m now in the mood to do. Before that, I might just get a couple of shorts out the way I’ve been itching to attack.
Longer term, I’m want to begin the first draft of Novel 3 – which will be a horror set in either a medieval or Roman setting.
Happy New Year to everybody and keep on scribbling!
If you’re not a scribbler, then, for all the gods’ sakes, keep on reading. Some of us need an audience!
PS: If anyone can think of a reason not to call it RedSpot then please let me know!
Yellow – The 2018 Anthology of the Inspirations Writers Group
Over the weekend, I was delighted to receive my author’s copy of Yellow, the 2018 anthology of the Inspirations Writers Group. It’s the third in the series; the first being Red, the second Orange… I’m sure you can see where this series is going. I believe there are a few of the earlier books still available. Alas, I was late to the party and I’m not in them. Yellow will be formally launched to the public in January, but you can already order a copy, here, on Carol Salter’s website. I believe Amazon are also selling the e-book.
Carol is chair of Inspirations Writers and has just published her third novel, Gristle’s Revenge, the sequel to Witch on the Warpath.Congratulations Carol! I’m looking forward to reading them both – but my good lady wife has pinched them before I had a chance. D’oh. Buy your own copy here.
I’ve been going to the group for about six-months now. Regular readers (there must be one or two?!) will know that I go to a number of different groups over the course of a month (most recently, the Write-ins for NaNoWriMo organised by Thanet Writers).
I get different things from different groups. Inspirations Writers (at Westgate Library, fourth Saturday of the month from 1030; should you be interested) has really helped me to move forward on my writing apprenticeship. Great critiquing and lots of advice, mini-workshops and, yes, HOMEWORK.
I really like the homework. It forces me to write about something I haven’t previously considered or in a way which is new to me. It makes me think. I’ve used the homework on a number of occasions to springboard into a longer story. From the Diary of Jane Pugin (see the Free Stories page) and Ham, Egg and Chips (watch this space!) are good examples. So is Johnny in the Waiting Room. It was a story I had an idea (and a title) for, but no urgency to write after a couple of false starts. But, it felt like a good story for the anthology, particularly with the link to the robes used by the Spanish Inquisition. Different colours having different significance. Yellow, being the colour of the penitent heretic.
So, Yellow sees the birth of Johnny in the Waiting Room, amongst a host of other works by local writers from the group: shorts, flash and yes, even poetry. It’s a celebration of the group and the achievements of the people that go to it. I hope you’ll grab a copy (order here!) and I hope you enjoy it!
If you’d like to just read Johnny in the Waiting Room, you can read it in my Free Stories section, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a lovely paper copy? Go on, you know you want to!
I’d particularly like to thank Karen Ince for doing the final edit and proof reading on Johnny in the Waiting Room. Find her here. There were also two anonymous rounds of critique. Obviously, I don’t know who read my efforts (I have my suspicions), but thanks for the thoughtful feedback!
50,010 words finished @ 19:00 on the 30th November.
Cutting it relatively fine, but at least I wasn’t typing until midnight! Feels so good!
Today I’ve managed just more than 4,200 words – the most I’ve ever put down in a day. I even managed to come up with a title, about mid-morning; so, I’m feeling a bit smug.
Now, all I need to do is carry the momentum forward, because the first draft isn’t finished. I think there’s probably in the region of 20k still to go. Then it needs reworking, editing…etc.
Congrats to everyone who took part – whether you made it or not. It’s taught me a few lessons, but I’m too tired to write about them now!
But, the most important is this. I have learnt I can write volume. Consistently large word counts every day. Although there’s been one or two days where I haven’t written (for one reason or another I won’t be drawn into), when I have written I’ve done 2.5-4.2k per day. A respectable rate, I think. In fact, if you include this mini-blog, today has been more like 4.5k. Result!
Thanks to everyone who supported at Thanet Writers particularly Alice who’s been there every week for us. It’s great to see our Friday Write-In session spawned a small group of new writing friends who will continue to meet to help each other, critique, natter and drink coffee at Cliff’s Café in Cliftonville (and thanks to them for hosting us!).
The H.G.Wells Short Story Competition 2018 Anthology: Peace
Sunday was an eventful day. After months of reading, judging and general preparation, we (the H.G.W.S.S.C) had our annual awards ceremony and launch of our 2018 anthology, ‘Peace‘.
We were very fortunate that many of the shortlisted senior and junior entrants managed to make the awards lunch at the Grand Hotel in Folkestone. Long-distance attendees came from Dublin and St. Andrews but we had entrants from all over the world this year, including India, the USA and Australia – a result of focusing on social media marketing, I think.
It was a real treat to hear authors read selections from their own work. Several of those who couldn’t make it sent in video readings which we enjoyed over coffee and desserts. Every time I hear authors read, it’s drummed into me how important it is, when promoting your own work, to really be able to bring it to life. Take some time to practice. Read it out loud. No, act it out loud. There were two in particular who really stood out from the others – taking their time, speaking clearly and giving the characters a genuine voice – really portraying them as an actor would, with passion.
Congratulations must go to all those shortlisted, but especially our eventual prize winners. Wendy Riley (from Australia) won the senior (over 21) prize with Yue’s Story, but – remarkably, in a competition that is completely anonymous until the shortlist is announced, also managed to secure a second shortlisting with Laila’s Story. The junior (21 and under) prize went to Abaan Zaidi (UK) for her fabulous In the Light of the Crescent Moon.
It was a hard fought competition this year with around 400 entries from across the world, so it’s no mean feat to be shortlisted, let alone win.
I’d also like to thank Norah Perkins of Curtis Brown for being our guest speaker. I’m sure all our authors really benefited from her words of wisdom. Afterwards I noticed a fair few having a quiet word with her in the corner.
Hopefully, HGWSSC will have a video up of her speech soon along with pictures from the day and video readings from our shortlisted authors. Norah’s session is well worth listening too – it is very enlightening.
Finally, we announced next year’s theme: Time.
Close to HGW’s literary heart, of course, but entrants are free to interpret it any way they choose. Closing date for entries will be 8th July – a little earlier this year to allow us, well, more time to go through the growing number of entrants we receive year on year.
Want more HGWSSC updates? Need to find out what the entrance criteria and rules are? Click and follow here.
My second piece of news is that I’m very pleased to announce that Thanet Writers have today published a fourth piece of my work. From the Diary of Jane Pugin is a re-imagining of the death of Augustus Pugin with a horror twist.
I’m delighted to see this one published – its one of my personal favourites and came to me as a result of a) some homework from Inspirations Writers Group and b) a particularly good bacon sandwich I was eating outside the café on the clifftop behind his home. You can find it here in the free stories section or, see it in all its technicolour glory, on line at Thanet Writers.
Quick NaNoWriMo update, anyone? I’m roughly 35k in and I have five days to go. That’s 3k per day which feels achievable, although I’ve just spent the last two hours sorting out HGWSSC stuff, posts about FtDoJP being published and general blogging! Friday is also going to be less than 100% productive as I have a couple of meetings to go to…
D’oh. So that’s more like 3,750 per day to be sure! Hmmm…
I’m reasonably pleased with it so far. Just blasting it down does seem to work for me. The story feels good – but will need a fair bit of refinement. As will the characters, and, well – everything actually. It’s very much a first, very rough, draft!
But, my coffee is in front of me, so its back to a steaming keyboard I go.
Every time I hear it, I think Mork and Mindy are going to make an appearance. Say it three times, and strange things might happen, Beetlejuice style.
But, it’s a real thing. If you are at all interested in writing then it may be for you, although this year might be a little too late. Sorry.
Let me tell you about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s an American thing, but seems to have got quite some traction this side of the Atlantic. You can find them here: nanowrimo.org.
However, I’ve come to it through the good people at Thanet Writers, who are supporting it through a series of workshops. Find them by searching for NaNoWriMo Write-Ins on Facebook.
The idea is very simple. Write a minimum of 50,000 new words towards a novel over the course of November. Fifty-thousand unedited, original words. Any genre. You can prepare in advance by creating plot lines, character sketches, etc. But, you aren’t allowed to draft a single word before 1st November.
When you do start writing the ‘no edit’ part is important. This is all about blasting that first draft down, drawn from your creative brain, unconstrained by that nasty, time-absorbing analytic side of your brain that, if you are anything like me, seeks to ambush you at every turn. It’s doing it now. I have an almost irrepressible urge to go back and check my last couple of chapters.
No – arghhhhh. Get thee behind me, left brain.
Fifty-thousand words in thirty days. But I like weekends off to be with the family and recharge. So, that means I have to do it in twenty-two days. I have to average 2,272 words a day. That’s a lot for me. I’m usually happy if I get 1,500 down. When I started writing, it was more like 500.
The good news is, I’m finding it very motivational. I’ve forsworn editing and re-drafting sections and yes, I’m just blasting it down. As of the 14th November, that’s day ten of twenty-two, I’m just over 24k in – which works out at about 2,400 per day – just over the required daily target. But, I’m picking up speed as I get into the guts of the thing and, if I keep up my current rate, I’m going to hit more than 60k. Which, hopefully, will be a complete start to end first draft. If I can manage that, I will be very pleased.
It has literally (!) glued me to my desk. I’m obsessed with the challenge. A couple of days in the last week, I’ve hit 4k words. That seems to me to be a ‘proper’ rate for a full-time writer after seven hours at my desk.
I’ve eschewed all distractions, apart from the cat who comes to visit me twice daily, to check on my progress. I’m out of the gym and at my desk for 9am. I work until 12pm and break for half an hour or so. Then I’m back typing until 5 or 6pm – depending on where a natural break falls in the plot.
Today, I ran out of steam at 3pm; so, I’ve diverted myself with this blog, which, my To Do list tells me, I’m due to do. But, I’ve managed about 3,200 today, so I’m happy.
I’m excited by the developing story, and I think it’s moving at a pace. Hopefully, when I come to my first edit, it won’t be complete gibberish!
Just one final thought on this. I’m doing this full-time. I know a number of people who are doing this in their spare time, after a hard day at work, or looking after the family. Respect!
By way of an update, I’m delighted to say that Ham, Eggs and chips was rejected by my first-choice short story publisher (who will, naturally, remain nameless). Why delighted? Because a) I actually made the effort and got it submitted and b) it’s one less before they DO accept something from me.
However, I have heard that I’m to be published in Yellow, the Creative Inspirations group anthology. It’s being launched on 24th November at the Old Kent Market, in Margate, opposite the Turner Centre. It’s an anthology for local writers. If you can, please support it by popping along and buying a copy.
I’m also delighted to say I got wind that Thanet Writers are publishing The Diary of Jane Pugin on the 26th. It’s a short horror story set in Victorian Ramsgate and my fourth ThWri have been kind enough to unleash on the world.
FL is a new online book shop and coffee store (combining two of my favourite things!) located in Thanet. It’s run by a lovely couple – Martin and Hannah – who I had the pleasure of meeting last week. They’re interested in promoting and profiling local writers (ie Thanet / Kent based) and would love to hear from authors who have something to say or sell. Please contact them through their website contact form.
It’s taken me an absolute age, but I’ve finally submitted ‘Ham, Egg and Chips’ and I feel mentally drained. Its a 4,600 odd word piece set in a post-apocalyptic Thanet with, I think, quite a good twist at the end.
It started as an exercise at the Creative Inspirations group in Westgate. Write a 250 word scene or story using the following three things: a quill pen; late autumn and ham, egg and chips. OK, I know. Arguably, thats five things.
My first draft was 500 odd words (I don’t tend to keep to the rules on these exercises if it constrains me too much) and I got all those things in, although the quill felt forced.
It also felt like a story that had longer legs. So, I dumped the quill and wrote a new piece. Draft 2.0 was 1,200 words. I read it…lots to change. Draft 2.1 was 1,500 odd. Better.
Unfortunately, first feedback was not overwhelmingly positive. Way too much exposition for a short piece. I was disappointed, but couldn’t escape the grim fact that my genial critics were right. It was like the research notes for a real story. It felt like a bit of a knock back, and I as I’d read along with the group, I knew it was true.
But, I loved the concept, and didn’t want to abandon it. Back to the keyboard I went, to build more of a story and not just a future history piece.
Draft 3.0 felt good and got a much better reception. Just over 5,000 words at this point, there was much more dialogue and action. But I was a wee bit worried about the reception of the strong female protagonist. Was she credible? How would a female audience view her actions given the context I’d put her in?
This is where I went out for some expert help. I managed to secure the help of five fabulous volunteers to read it, all of whom have great writing credentials and were qualified (from a gender perspective) to pick over the faults of my lead character. They know who they are. Thanks to all of you! Feedback was, happily, pretty good on the whole with some room for improvement.
Time for another editing session. Hey-ho.
I thought I’d nailed it with draft 4.0. I just needed one more review. I put it in front of my regular sounding posts. I know you aren’t supposed to use family, but how could anything go wrong here? I just wanted to know there were no howlers in the spelling / grammar stakes. I’d already passed three self-imposed deadlines to get this one finished.
Tammy (Mrs. S) and Ciarán (son and prodigious reader of SF / fantasy, etc) hated some of the changes I’d made. Big edits needed this morning. Draft 5.0.
Now it’s done. Finished. It’s taken me, I would guess, at least 50 hours to produce 4,600 words. I’m not sure I could face another session with THAT DOCUMENT open on my desktop, at least for some time.
I THINK its the best piece I’ve written. I am pleased with it. I’ve had some really good feedback from people I respect. I still enjoy reading it: I like the characters and the setting, it feels reasonably paced, the story arc feels strong and I love the twist at the end.
Now, it’s time to see if it can convince a publisher. I HOPE it can. It is, after all, a business of opinions.
I’m sure this is a very familiar story to anyone who writes. I’m not suggesting I’m unique. But, I wonder how many readers are aware of the effort that goes in to even a short story? I don’t think it ever really crossed my mind before I started writing, but this one has really driven it home. Even now, I don’t know if it’s good enough, but I feel a release as I file it away, not to be looked at again until I get a response. The mental swamp is drained. At least until the next time.
It’s finished. I can move on. Submit and be damned.