What I’m Working On – Click

Stephen’s eyes flickered open as the sleep gave way to a blinking light. A bleeping machine brought him back into consciousness. His blurry eyes tried to focus on the white ceiling and the light bulb swinging back and forth.

Easing his head to one side he watched the green lines jumping like tadpoles up and down the black screen. Wires and drips fed both his heavy arms. Stephen attempted to initiate movement, slowly lifting up his hands. It took it out of him. There was a white gold ring on his left index finger. He tried to picture his wife’s face, but drew a blank as if the memory of being married had been erased.

Stephen tried to move his toes but they failed to engage with his brain. He looked at the clock on the opposite wall. It read 7.30. Damp light seeped through the misty window. Stephen couldn’t be sure if it was morning or early evening. The seconds no longer ticked by, time had ceased a long time ago.

Pulling the wires out of his skinny and pale limbs, he massaged his thighs and willed the blood to bring them back to life. Stephen could not tell when he had gone under or why but he was acutely aware the world was not as he had left it. It was too visceral, surreal and for all he knew he may still be in that coma.

Stephen lurched aimlessly out of the sterile room and into a corridor. Boxes of medicine emptied over the floor, overturned wheelchairs and abandoned trolleys created obstacles for his ailing legs.

“Hello?” Stephen croaked, but only his echo responded. His throat stung.

There was a chill in the air, Stephen felt the cold zip up his spine. He staggered  his way through the hospital corridor in bare feet and a gown loosely hanging over his frame. Recognising the urge from his bladder, Stephen headed to the nearest bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he searched the reflection for something familiar, but it may as well have been a stranger looking back. Pale, gaunt and in need of a clean shave.

His stomach twisted into knots. Stephen knew he needed to eat and drink. He felt lightheaded and his heart pounded. Leaning on a nurses station to rest he helped himself to a chocolate digestive. It tasted like soil.

On the floor were a few handbags and a camera nestled in between them. He picked up a camera, a good looking one with a screen and big lens. There was no film inside nor a place for it. He had never seen one like it before. There was a lead attached which led to the power socket in the wall. Stephen unplugged it and hung the camera and strap round his neck. There was a TV on a wall bracket, he tried switching it on but only got static. Not tuned in, he thought.

Stumbling out into the street, Stephen took a deep breath, refilling his lungs with air. It was not at all as fresh as he remembered, the smell was sulfuric and made him gag as it hit the back of his throat.

Stephen walked into the park with the camera hanging loosely around his neck. It was a placed he remembered, but didn’t know why. He recalled how it was usually brimming with people picnicking and sun bathers. What was once an oasis in the middle of the city, now lay abandoned and not even the hum of traffic lingered in the air.

Knees weak and ankles ready to buckle, Stephen let out a long scream. He wasn’t sure whether it was terror, frustration or an attempt to eject himself from the nightmare. He collapsed on the grass and looked up at the sky. It was blue, but the clouds were yellow. A small rumble rippled across the grass, just as a beautiful rainbow cascaded past the clouds. Stephen stood up, a deep hum demanding his attention. He lifted up the camera and adjusted the zoom. In the distance he could just make out a figure standing near a group of trees. Zooming in closer he saw two more figures in blurry outlines. They were running towards him.

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George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984

George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984.

I stumbled across this article from the Fiction Desk which details pages from George Orwell’s manuscript for 1984. Over the past few weeks I have been focusing on the process of editing and redrafting. It can been a tedious and depressing task, going over everything you have written with a very critical eye.

As writers we are the first to criticize our own work and hack it to pieces. When I was about to give up, this reminded me that no first draft of anything is perfect. Far from it.

Becoming a writer is all about that painful first read, it is when you start  bring everything together and turn your story into more than just a good idea. I am sure there are some authors who can produce beautifully polished prose first time round, however for most the process is a lot more complicated.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Happy to Fail

It has been well over a month since I last posted on here having decided to give the blog a rest until the end of NaNoWriMo. I fully intended to have a successful month of writing but it didn’t quite go that way.

I would like to name a few reasons why I might have failed this year.

My piano, after ten years apart we were finally reunited which meant hours dedicated to writing were reassigned. Secondly, my writing ‘space’ was compromised. There is a little room in our house where I can hide away and write. Over the past few months this has turned into a dumping ground and therefor I no longer have a quiet space just for me to escape to. Thirdly, it was my birthday and heaps of family members and friends descended upon us most weekends. Last, but not least my sister gave birth to her little boy making me an aunty. Could not be happier and I am so, so proud. Any spare moment I have has been spent cooing over my gorgeous nephew. So it’s safe to say I have been distracted.

However, despite these distractions, I know should have at least managed 25,000 words, not 10,000.

At the start of November I was very hopeful that I would be able to draft my second novel of 2012. Something I now realise, was an absurd ambition.

It was a ropey start to say the least. I didn’t begin writing until a few days into the month. Even then I had to force myself to embrace the concept of the story and what I had to turn it into. Despite planning, structuring and developing characters, nothing clicked. I struggled to turn the story into something bigger than it was ever supposed to be and because of that, I lacked the drive to keep going.

With my JuNoWriMo novel, it was a story that had been in my head and planned for years, yet it lacked structure and characters were created almost by accident. Over the month I found my writing voice and discovered I quite enjoy the thrill of writing about crime and grit. By the end of the month, I had a draft. It is rubbish, but it is there and has potential.

This time I attempted romance against a melancholy back drop. After writing a few chapters, I started to loose my way and it sounded contrived and petty. There was no desire to write. In truth, I don’t think I have the ability to turn the story into what I envisioned it to be. Before I started NaNoWriMo, I re-read parts of On Chisel Beach, Ian McEwan as it was that style of writing and pace I was trying to emulate. Maybe that was my downfall. Yet now, at the end of November I don’t feel like a failure. The story I know, will work well as a short story so I’m not going to pull it into pieces and turn it into something it clearly shouldn’t be.

This month I have learned that crime is my forte and that I have the ability to recognise when a story doesn’t work. Having said that, Iris Murdoch said that ‘Every book is the wreck of an idea’ so you never know, in a few years, I might revisit and think differently. Plus I would like to thank Victoria Writes for recommending a documentary about Ian Rankin. It showed that even the most successful writers are plagued by doubts and the fear of writing.

The Novella Blues

I need to vent my frustrations, I am suffering from the novella blues. I have been writing a novella for a little under a month, in the hope that it will be all finished and edited by the end of November or early December at the latest. However I am completely losing confidence in it at the moment.

The story started off as a piece of flash fiction, which then developed into a short story. From there on it grew and now I’m pushing around 6,000-7,000 words. Correct me if I’m wrong but for a novella I know it generally has to be 20,000 minimum and to meet my deadline I have to push on and get all the words down in the next couple of weeks.

As I have imposed a deadline on myself, unlike when I took part in JuNoWriMo, I need to make sure all the plot holes are covered and that the first draft is not completely shoddy. Each evening when I sit down the words don’t sit right. Everything seems tedious and I am unsure on the pace. At times I don’t think I am even scratching the surfaces of the character’s depth. The dialogue is extremely sparse, but then I sometimes wonder whether we try to conform our writing to what you think it should be, rather than what comes naturally when writing the story.

It feels like a completely new challenge and very daunting. I am feeling very tested at the moment in regards to my faith in my story and my stamina to keep on going. Each time I read back on certain parts, it feels like I’m wading through sticky mud. My biggest problem at the moment is making the transition from sub plot to plot. The story takes place over a long time period which is probably where I went wrong. It is looking back on the protagonist’s life over the past seven years and how she came to wanting to run out on her fiancé on their wedding day.  I have got the structure for the story, the key events, when things should unfold. But changing it from a 3,000 word story to a 20,000 word novella is in fact very hard.

I am going to set myself a timetable, and write at least 500 words each night between now and end of October, I should hit my word count target. In all honesty, 500 words a day doesn’t seem too bad. I’m starting to feel better already.

Have you ever written a novella and are the challenges you face completely different to those you face whilst writing a novel? How do you beat the writing blues?

Chapter Extract from First Draft

Jerry sat in the chair and waited for the man to come over with the needle. The room was covered with art work of dragons, Chinese symbols of mythology and girls etched in different characters. From each year since Jack was born, Jerry obtained another tattoo.

He had twelve, all over his body. None of them could be seen without him bearing skin. His brother hated them, branded him as common for succumbing to the clique that he had managed to avoid. However Jerry was an addict. His hair-line had been receding for a while and he loathed that every time he looked in the mirror, an old man was staring back. His face was rough from the years of working outside and lugging around heavy loads. He also laid blame on his sister-in-law and nephew. They caused him no end of hassle, the stress was hard to bear and there were times when his temper got the better of him. He knew he had to control his urges but it was becoming more difficult.

Since Jerry could remember, the anger had always been with him. It was unexplained and irrational. The violence that had gone alongside it seemed as natural as eating and breathing. He wanted to hate himself but he didn’t. There was no remorse nor was there any pride. It was just what he did. When he was ten years old he remembered beating up a bully in the playground who had singled out Bill. His brother would come home in tears, unable to defend himself. Their mother vowed to go into school and sort it out. However Jerry had sorted it before she had the chance and the lad never bothered Bill again. In fact he never bothered anyone, too afraid to be in the same room as Jerry.

He looked at Jack sometimes and saw Bill in him. Jerry did think a lot of Jack, to say that he loved him would be too much, but he was certainly fond of him. At the same time he saw him as a liability. Even though he had taught him a lesson for his snooping, Jerry was worried that unlike his father, Jack was clever. His mind was always ticking, always thinking about what was going on around him. His morals led the way he acted in life and although he was weak, he was not malleable and easy intimidated. Jerry feared that one day, Jack would turn his back on the family and turn them in. He would certainly have a lot to say which is why he had to keep a very close eye on him at all times.

“What we having this time Jerry” asked the burly looking man, arms covered in tattoos and ears full of studs
“A scorpion” Jerry handed him the picture he had sketched himself “Got a spare patch on my back, think it could go there”
The man nodded and studied the picture “No problem”
Jerry could feel the ink penetrate his skin and he breathed a sigh of relief. As the needle went in, the evil flowed out and for a few hours he felt no anger.

How to Write with Speed… Go, Go, Go!

As some of you may know I am currently taking part in June Novel Writing Month in a bid to get the first draft of my novel finished. I used to be a serious edit-as-you go kind of person and it was getting me absolutely no where. I understand this does work for a lot of people but I found it restrictive.

Now I am in full swing again with this new form of speed writing. Still a little bit behind target but I am catching up, I have miraculously managed to write about 15,000 words in the last few days. I never thought that was even possible.

I know what is on paper is complete waffle but just sitting down at the laptop and bashing out a few thousand words each night has become a little ritualistic. Some evenings it is like pulling teeth but the point is if you keep going, something amazing happens and you start to form a story. Like magic.

I urge you all to give it a go. Here are my top tips for starting your first draft and hopefully finishing it (from someone who is still yet to reach the end!)

Plan ahead

Some writers like to plan out the plot meticulously however for me just thinking throughout the day what I will write about in the evening works well too. If you don’t like any form of planning, just sit down and let you mind wander as you type

Do NOT edit

This is crucial. Do not look back on what you have written. Yes the temptation is great but the moment you start going back and editing it is no longer your first draft. You are a writer and you have permission to produce a shitty first draft, make it sparkle during revision phase only.

Give yourself a break

Do not bring yourself down with the ‘this is rubbish’ and ‘No publisher will ever be interested’ talk. Also if you get tired then stop and take a break, don’t be a slave to the word count.

Switch off the phone

I can’t deal with distractions. Sometimes you don’t have a choice and you have to work around them however if you can sort out a quiet place to work then it will help you get in the zone.

Ignore Twitter/Facebook/Blogs

All too tempting to have a peak and see what other people are up to instead of facing a blank page

If faced with a stand-off against a blank page…

…. then walk away, get a drink or a bite to eat, go for a walk, anything. Just don’t sit there. The words are in your head, you just need to lure them out. Another tip if you’re in this predicament is to write garbage or about your day. It limbers up your mind.

 

Fire the Critic and Build a Novel

It has been nearly two weeks since I last posted on here. Last week I was on holiday and my blog is now looking rather neglected. In truth I enjoyed taking a break from writing as I noticed a lull in creativity and everything I wrote felt a bit stale. My brain needed to be recharged so I injected it with a good amount of fiction and over the past week I’ve read three books and just started on my fourth. I’ve been listening to music I haven’t heard in years, went on long coastal walks, drank lots of wine and caught up with my favourite TV shows. Now I’m feeling really inspired, refreshed with ideas and ready to write.

At the moment I am taking part in June Novel Writing Month and pushing to get that elusive first draft completed. In truth I started the novel years ago and it has already been through the mill a bit. Since then the plot has changed completely thanks to losing everything that I had initially written. It was a story I was incredibly proud of so was devastated when I lost all 15,000 words. When I went back to rewriting, I literally lost the plot and all enthusiasm for the story I was trying to tell, convinced that it would never be as good.

So instead of grappling with the beginning and getting nowhere, I jumped to halfway through the story and pleased to report so far so good. From what I’ve gathered so far is that writing a novel is all about knuckling down, making sure you are committed, dedicated and excited about the story you are telling. I haven’t meticulously planned my novel, mainly because I like getting stuck in and allow the ideas to flow and see where the story takes me.

I have chosen not to edit as I go, ignoring that annoying little voice in your head which likes to tear your work to shred before it’s even taken form. To silence the inner critic requires a lot of discipline as the temptation to go back and edit what you have done is just plain hard. However by allowing the writing to take over and abolishing the critical side from the initial creative process has allowed the story to develop into something rather interesting.  Now the novel is slowly, but surely taking form.

I read somewhere that you need to visualize your novel as a sky scraper. You need to get the foundations in first, such as the plot then add structure and reinforce with words. Once the bare bones are up and stable, you can then start making it look pretty.

So this week I will also be taking part in Friday Fictioneers. After gaining some pretty good and honest advice a few weeks ago I am looking forward to putting that to use.