Friday 28th April 2017
As you know, I like to write each edition of The Climb at the end of the day and then edit the next day. In the interests of full disclosure, this one was written at the start of the next day (for reasons you’ll find out).
My current schedule is leaving me exhausted. I’m so knackered by the end of the day that my writing has slowed down the last couple of weeks. As a result, I’m not as absorbed by the novel as I want to be.
About four years ago I made the decision to change my writing style. Up until that point I was the person who largely discovery wrote. I knew the first 3rd of a novel as if it was a movie. Even though I’d not written anything down, I could probably tell you anything about that first 3rd. It was vivid to me.
The middle was always a bit woolly. I’d have a few key scenes, usually major plot points or action scenes, that would be every bit as vivid but how things got to that scene or from it to the next would be very vague.
And then there was the end. The last few chapters would be every bit as vivid as the first third, but again, how things got to that climax was a little unknown.
I would write a chapter and if I wasn’t happy with it I would write it again. I was going off gut feeling. Did that scene leave me with the impact I was after? Was I moved enough? Was the last sentence enough of a cliffhanger? Did the characters grow as I wanted them to through this chapter? Had I added just enough foreshadowing?
Nowadays, I think I’m better at identifying a chapter’s needs, although I am still learning. But back then it was all based on instinct. So I’d write a chapter, find it lacking and then rewrite it.
It’s no word of a lie that I wrote the first chapter of The Four Realms over fifty times. It became a running joke with my friends that I’d never finish the novel. The Four Realms ended up taking me 13 years.
Now, I learnt a lot about writing that way and I’m proud of the book The Four Realms became, but my writing style was really counter to my ‘strategy’ (if I had a strategy) as a writer. I hated waiting years for the next book in a series I loved and I wanted to be one of those writers who always seemed to be having a new book coming out.
So after the infamous leggeddon and about 4 years ago to this very day, I made a decision to make a massive change to my writing.
I read every book on productivity that I could. I immersed myself in business books on the subject. I wanted to take the techniques that business leaders used to get through enormous workloads and then apply it to my writing. One of my big breakthroughs was an article on Joss Whedon where he mentioned a book that had come up in my research: Getting Things Done by David Allen.
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a very dry topic. I actually wouldn’t recommend reading the entire book because I read a lot of business books, and I couldn’t finish this one.
However, I read enough to understand the principles of organisation, and then using ToDoist, an app that gives me my To Do list across all my devices, I was able to break down the work I had to do and triage it. I still use ToDoist today although I find I tend to be more casual about it unless a number of projects are falling behind (which is when I lean on it heavily).
I carried this level of planning across to my writing. Instead of having an idea of the novel in my head, I started plotting it out. I use Scrivener as my writing tool and I make good use of the card system. I start by mapping out what I know, which unsurprisingly looks a lot like a great number of cards at the beginning, a few at the end and the odd one or two in the middle.
I spend as much as a few weeks working on the cards. Each one represents a chapter, and contains about a paragraph length summary. They get changes, they get re-ordered. What am I looking for? I want the pace to feel right. Like my early attempts at writing, I want my gut to feel right about the tone of the chapter. I want slow, introspective, quiet chapters to come before or after a big action scene. I want that revelations come at just the right place. I want to get a sense of the reader’s need to stay up late and read one more chapter.
The first book I wrote using these new methods was an experiment. It was called Black as Knight and I think I can safely say it vindicated the work I put into my process.
My sticking point always seems to be about two-thirds to three quarters of the way through. It’s where the narrative moving forwards, meets the climax moving backwards and they always clash. A lot of that work is done by letting it sit, putting on music and mulling over it.
But even when I have the plan, the work isn’t over. Before starting on each chapter, I use Scrivener’s Document Notes to plan out the chapter. I always do it just before I start writing so it feel fresh. I plot it out, noting major things I need to include. I can then write efficiently, because at any moment when I pause typing to think “what do I write next?” I just look at the notes and take the next point.
It means I can sometimes get as much as 2000 words written in an hour. The finished chapter gets done in one or two sessions and I don’t linger on it, instead moving onto the next. It’s rough and full of typos. Some are brilliant chapters. I think my car chase chapter, for example, will not change a lot from now until publication… the chapter I’m currently on, I already know will need to be totally rewritten.
The trouble is those other ones. If I spend too long on a chapter, I’ll start to notice its flaws and want to rewrite it more. I’d like to think that as I improve as a writer, I make less flaws that an edit couldn’t fix. But the longer I spend with a chapter, the bigger those flaws seem. So I need to write fast – fast enough that I don’t see the micro flaws, but slow enough to ensure that I end up with something that future me can edit.
So with the day job being so busy right now, I’m coming home too exhausted to write very much, which means my writing is slowing down, the chapters are feeling worse, and it’s getting me down.
I should be at the stage where I’m whooping towards the end but time is working against me and turning it into a drag.
So as a firm believer that happy writers write better prose, and given that we have a bank holiday weekend, I came up with a plan.
Friday night I gave myself the night off. Yep, that may prove a terrible decision (especially given what happened) but I need Saturday to Monday to be a happy slog. What if I could get the book done by Monday? I could then go and see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on Monday night and everything would be right with the world.
So I bought myself a bottle of Fireball (the drink of stormchasers!) and chilled in front of the computer watching Youtube videos and drinking. Now I can knock back Fireball better than I can if it were water, so needless to say I excelled myself.
I’m not the greatest drinker. I’ve got to that age where I don’t enjoy hangovers to the extent of taking measures to avoid them (like not drinking too much), and whilst I love Fireball, it does leave me feeling like a Unicorn shitted in my mouth the next day. So I can go weeks and even months without a drink. I can just make up for it when I do! Sometimes it just needs a single beer to take the edge off the day but sometimes, a good drinking session is a pressure valve for me. And weirdly, I seem to drink to the level that my brain needs. I can almost look at how much of a bottle of Fireball I’ve drunk in an evening and get an idea of how much stress or internal clutter my brain had.
If I drank any more than once in a blue moon, I’d probably be worried, but outside of social drinking at conventions, given that these seem to be once every six month type events, I’m not too worried and think they actually do me some good.
And so that’s how I ended up going to bed at around 8pm this evening knowing that I’m going to regret elements of this tomorrow but in desperate need of the sleep.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
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