Looking Back and Moving Forwards

So, the year is almost over, my deadline has been and gone and despite my best efforts, I still don’t have a finished book.

To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. However, not everything in life goes according to plan, and like I said last month, I have no intention of sitting around moping. As far as I’m concerned, you only fail – truly fail – when you stop trying. And I’m not going to do that.

In the new year my position as a student writer will come to an end. I’m also cutting down my (paid) working hours to free up more time, and I’ve decided to take a break from blogging too. I’ll be back when my draft is complete, but until then I’d just like to say thank you – to everyone who’s shown me even the tiniest smidgeon of support. It really does make a difference.

Words of Wisdom
(from my journey so far…)

No matter how much you love writing, there will be times when you hate it.

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse.

No two writers are the same. Listen to advice, but do what works for you.

A desktop hourglass can do wonders for productivity.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open.

Be careful about trusting your memory. You might remember in the morning, but you might not.

Disappointing books can be surprisingly motivating.

You don’t always have to have a plan when you sit down to start writing.

One copy – digital or paper – is never enough.

It’s impossible to please everyone. If you believe in what you’re doing, stick with it.

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Image courtesy of  Dave Morrison Photography on Flickr

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Taking stock: Where am I?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a proper progress update, so here it is:

There is now just one month left until my deadline. One single month. I’ve been trying to write every day – looking at my manuscript, reading, editing, drafting – but the bottom line is this: looking at where I am now, I think it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll make it.

Believe me, it’s not easy for me to admit that. I’ve been saying for so long that I want to have a complete draft by the end of this year, and there are so many people now who know about my target. The thought of reaching my birthday and not having a manuscript ready… it physically pains me. I’ve always been hard on myself. My instinct would be to break down and declare myself a failure.

But when I stop and think – really think – about the past year, I know that would be utterly ridiculous. When I first started My Wordy Journey, I had around 25,000 words for my book and I had very little beyond part one (my book is in three). Now, I have over 60,000 words; parts one and two are perhaps 70-75% complete and part three has several key scenes mapped out.

Over the last eleven months I’ve also started to research agents who might be interested in my work and begun familiarising myself with different publishing houses and the people they represent. I’ve attended author events and connected with other writers online. I’ve built up my own non-fiction portfolio as a student writer for Endsleigh, successfully completed my degree and worked a part-time job on the side. I’ve also managed to gain almost 1,000 new subscribers on my Youtube channel and (just about) keep this lovely blog going.

Of course, I’m not out of time yet. I do still have a month and I’m still going to do what I can to meet my deadline. But if on December 21st I can’t happily declare a completed manuscript, I’m not going to spend the day weeping into my pillow. Instead, I’m going to force myself to think about how far I’ve come this past year and everything I have achieved. I’ve got a lot to be proud of. If finishing my book has to go on next year’s list, then so be it.

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Image courtesy of BK on Flickr.

Can’t write? Walk.

Last Thursday, as part of the 2015 Guildford Book Festival, I got to spend the first half of my morning sipping tea out of fancy cups, eating devilishly good cake and basking in the company of bestselling novelists Giovanna Fletcher, Jenny Colgan and Adele Parks.

It was a pretty fabulous way to start the day.

There are all sorts of things I could write about having spent time with these three incredibly talented (and funny, and inspiring) authors. Looking back on the event though, I remember one point – made by Jenny – striking a particular chord with me: a point about the wonders of walking.

Like Jenny, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about so-called ‘writer’s block’. However, I do know that there are days when I find it very difficult to write – either when I’m lacking ideas in general, or when I know what I want to write about and just can’t seem to find the words.

Days like those are extremely frustrating, and I rarely end up with much to show for my time. However, I’ve been writing for long enough now to know that if there’s one thing that will get me going again, it’s going out for a walk.

When I walk, I think. My body’s moving, my mind feels it should be moving too, and when I leave it to its own devices, it’s amazing the progress it can make. Words, sentences, stories… they’ll bubble up in my head, my imagination will run wild, and before I know it, I’ll be powering back home again, desperate to get back to my laptop.

Of course, it doesn’t always work quite like that. A half-hour walk doesn’t always solve all my problems – results can vary hugely. But for me, walking is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to overcome writing difficulties. The only thing I do find frustrating is having to endure so many looks of bewilderment and concern when I’m out. I may be by myself, going round in circles, pulling strange faces and/or muttering to myself (it’s hard not to when you’re imagining dialogue), but I’m not going mad, honest. In actual fact, it’s quite the opposite: as a writer, those walks are keeping me sane.

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Image courtesy of Diego Sevilla Ruiz on Flickr

Taking Chances: ‘Things We Have In Common’ by Tasha Kavanagh

I am, first and foremost, a chick-lit reader. I like to lose myself in fun, light-hearted books – books with nice happy endings – and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Sometimes, however, I like to try something different.

TWHIC

When I first heard about Tasha Kavanagh’s Things We Have In Common, I wasn’t entirely convinced. ‘Pitch-black’, ‘chilling’, ‘twisted’ – the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, but it just didn’t appeal to me. It was only when my local bookshop – the wonderful Barton’s – held a signing with Tasha that I really considered giving it a go. Well, it had a teenage protagonist (like my own novel); it had nice dogs on the front cover; it had a lovely author. Maybe it would be okay.

Okay? It was, quite simply, remarkable.

It’s not an easy book to describe, Things We Have In Common. It’s a book about a teenager, and yet to call it a teenage read would be decidedly misleading. It’s dark and eerie, but it doesn’t have the fast pace of a typical thriller, nor the nice neat ending of a typical mystery. It’s complex without being inaccessible, serious without being even the tiniest bit dull. If I had to narrow it down to just one word? I might be inclined to say ‘weird’. But it’s weird in a wonderful, wonderful way.

Needless to say, I don’t regret the decision I made that day in Barton’s. But why am I talking about all of this on my writing blog? Well, partly because reading is a big part of My Wordy Journey. My writing is undoubtedly influenced by the books that I read and the authors who inspire me, even if I’m not always conscious of it. I’m also a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due, and Things We Have In Common is, in my eyes, wholly deserving of both readers and recognition. Above all though, it’s because I wanted to remind people just how rewarding it can be to step outside of your comfort zone.

Life is short. It’s understandable wanting to play it safe, wanting to stick to the ‘tried-and-tested’, and I for one don’t think I’ll ever be someone who’s wildly adventurous. But there are a lot of amazing things out there, and when you take a chance on something and you do strike gold, it feels pretty darn good.

(On that note, if anyone fancies taking a chance on my own book when it comes out, you’ll be more than welcome!)

Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh:
Format: Hardback (paperback due for release Feb 2016)
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publication Date: 07/05/2015
ISBN: 9781782115946
RRP: £12.99
Support your local bookshop by purchasing through Hive.

Word Counts

I have decidedly mixed feelings about word counts.

At university they caused me no end of grief. The numbers always seemed to go up incredibly slowly at the start of an assignment – painfully slowly, even – and yet as soon as I’d found my stride, BAM! Somehow I’d be over the limit. Yes, word counts tormented me, and as time went on, I became increasingly afraid to look for fear of what I might find.

Working on my novel, however, they’ve definitely had their uses. Over the last few months, setting myself numerical targets has pushed me to find time for my novel and pushed me to actually write – to get the words out of my head and down onto the page. They’ve helped me to become more disciplined and they’ve made it all feel significantly more manageable, too: it’s not nearly so daunting, sitting down to write when you know you’ve got a target that’s within reach.

And yet these past few weeks, I’ve found myself pulling away from the numbers again. My manuscript’s pretty substantial now. It’s approaching 50,000 words, and when I flick through, I feel there’s a decent amount there. But I also know that I’ve still got a huge amount to do, and although there are certainly gaps that need filling, there are also creases to iron out, plotlines to weave together, final bits of planning to do – fiddly tasks that won’t necessarily translate to a rise in words.

If I’m going to finish this book, I know that I need to keep driving forwards, but if I carry on doggedly chasing x number of words a week I suspect that my ‘progress’ will end up being rather superficial. That’s why, for the moment, I’m shifting my focus slightly and adopting a more task-based’ approach. It may be nice, seeing the numbers go up, but ultimately it’s ‘what’ rather than ‘how much’ that matters.

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CC Image courtesy of Yann Duarte on Flickr

Advice: Take It or Leave It

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Yes, My Wordy Journey’s had a makeover. Why? Well, partly because it’s been rather a long time since my last post and it was starting to look a bit neglected – and I couldn’t have that. But mainly, it was because I kept finding sources advising bloggers against the use of light text on dark backgrounds; apparently it can be difficult to read, put off followers, and it’s just generally not a good idea.

Oops.

It can be difficult to know how to respond to advice. On this occasion, I took it – and I took it fairly readily. As fond as I was of my original colour scheme, I don’t have a great deal of experience blogging and if a slightly different theme makes my site more accessible, it’ll be worth it. However, I have to admit, I’m not always so quick to embrace other people’s suggestions, particularly when it comes to my novel.

Whatever the situation, I’ll always try to listen and consider. I think that’s important. There are a huge number of people out there with advice for aspiring authors, and you can learn a lot from the experiences of others. I’m only 21, this is the first book I’ve ever tried to write, and it is hard. Tips, recommendations, pearls of wisdom – if they can make the process any easier, or save me from making costly mistakes, brilliant. But sometimes I’ll be reading through an article or pondering the advice someone’s given me and my gut will just tell me no. I don’t want to do that; I don’t think it’s right for me and for what I’m trying to do. And you know what? I think that’s okay.

At the end of the day, everybody’s different; we work in different ways, have different passions, different goals. Do I like it when somebody chooses not to take my advice? No, not particularly, and I certainly don’t think we should be afraid of accepting guidance. However, it’s our differences that make life interesting, and as long as we listen to others and accept responsibility for our decisions, I don’t think we should be resented for choosing our own paths.

Progress report: 44,500 words

Finding Comfort in Quotes

Today is a rather special day.

First of all, for us here in the UK, it’s Father’s Day. It’s the day we single out to honour and celebrate male parenting. It’s also our summer solstice – the day we enjoy the most hours of daylight, usually taken to be the start of summer. Finally, for me more personally, today is my ‘half birthday’. It’s exactly six months until I turn 22 – and in turn, exactly six months until my deadline for my novel.

I love writing, but I’m not going to lie, I’m not finding this easy. Some days, I feel like I’ll never make my deadline; other days, I feel like I’ll never finish at all. I haven’t given up though, and I don’t intend to. When I start to struggle, there are lots of things that keep me going, but I find quotes can be particularly powerful. These are five of my favourite.

1) When I’m feeling insecure about my style of writing…

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

– Bill Cosby

There are so many fantastic books out there, and whenever I read one that’s entirely different from my own, I inevitably feel a little insecure. My novel doesn’t have a thrilling, fast-paced plot, it’s not bursting with historical details or set in a vivid, imaginative, alternative world, and this quote reminds me that that’s okay. I’m writing the sort of book I’d like to have read when I was a little younger. Hopefully it will please some, but it’s impossible to cater for everybody.

2) When I feel like I don’t know where I’m going…

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E. L. Doctorow

Some days, I feel confident I’m going in the right direction with my novel; other days, I feel decidedly blind. This quote offers me a little bit of reassurance. Okay, so I may not be able to see the road right to my destination, but if I just keep going, I’ll get there in the end.

3) When I’m reading my work and getting more and more disheartened…

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I’m not normally a fan of swearing, but for this quote I can make an exception. It’s short and blunt and it makes me grit my teeth and push forwards – even when I want to curl up and cry.  This is a draft I’m working on – a first draft. It doesn’t need to be perfect, I just need to get it finished.

4) When I find myself procrastinating…

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”

– Dan Poynter

I never seem to have enough time for everything – even now that I’ve finished uni – and yet when I do have a little to spare, I often find myself reluctant to open my novel simply because I’m not feeling inspired. Deep down, I know I’m not going to finish my book that way, and this quote forces me to acknowledge that. I want to be a writer, not a waiter.

5) When I’m starting to doubt everything…

“Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”

– J.K. Rowling

This is my ultimate go-to quote for when I’m struggling with my writing, because sometimes I do – I start to wonder whether I should just give up. When I’m having a bad day, sometimes I doubt myself and whether I really have anything worth pursuing, but when I read Rowling’s words, I realise I have to try. It may end terribly – I may end up with a disaster of a book that no one wants to read – but at least then I’ll have given it a go, and more importantly, at least then I won’t be a complete failure in the eyes of one of my biggest heroines.

motivation

Planning

When it comes to writing, I’ve never been very good at planning.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. On the contrary, I must have racked up hundreds of hours trying to outline pieces of work over the last few years, producing quick, bullet-point plans for smaller projects and more thorough, detailed plans for more complex pieces of work – even devoting whole days to it in the hope that the actual writing stage will then be wonderfully smooth and free of problems.

Unfortunately, no matter how much time and effort I invest, it never seems to work out that way.

I always start with good intentions – I do. I tell myself I’ll be disciplined, that I’ll stick to my plan and that I won’t stray. But the thing is, my mind doesn’t stop when I start writing. I inevitably think of changes I want to make, things I want to add, things I want to leave out and different ways of putting everything together, and the result is that my carefully devised plans tend to be abandoned incredibly quickly.

Despite my appalling success rate, I usually still make some sort of attempt to plan my out my projects. I just feel I should, and even if I don’t end up sticking to my original decisions, the process does get me thinking more generally about what I’m trying to achieve – and that’s always a good thing.

However, with my book, things happened a little differently. You see, unlike many writers, I didn’t have a ‘lightbulb’ moment of inspiration that prompted me to start writing. I didn’t set out with a Big Idea in my mind; instead, my book was born out of lots of separate pieces of work – pieces I’d written over the course of several years for no purpose other than to satisfy my need to write. I was simply reading through them one afternoon and I found myself thinking that they might work as part of something bigger. I very much fell into it.

As a result, I sort of by-passed the traditional time for planning. I already had perhaps 10,000 words when I started thinking about a book, and although I only had a very rough idea at that point of how they might all go together, I didn’t really want to stop and work out all the finer details; I just wanted to carry on writing. So I did.

Almost 30,000 words on and I’m amazed the lack of planning hasn’t caused more problems. There have been moments when I’ve wobbled, yes, but I haven’t had any major issues. However, recently things have started to feel decidedly unstable, and I’ve been growing increasingly wary about carrying on simply hoping that it will all fall into place. I may have managed to produce shorter pieces with very little planning in the past, but a novel is just so much more complex, and I really, really want this to work.

I’d originally given myself a target of 700 words for today, but it’s already early evening and so far I’ve managed a big fat zero. Am I sorry? No. Not in the slightest. Instead of pushing on with the writing, I’ve finally spent some time just thinking about my story, considering the ins and outs of it and how it’s all going to fit together – a sort of late, slightly backwards planning session, if you will – and I’ve ended up making a fantastically colourful calendar for my novel. I’ve been marking on important events, trying to decide exactly where my scenes will fall and how I’m going to develop the plotlines in-between, and although I haven’t finished yet, it’s already proven an incredibly worthwhile exercise. I can see my story as a whole now. I can see where I’m starting and where I’m finishing, and looking at it as a finite period of time is not only making the task feel more manageable, but it’s also making my story feel infinitely more real.

Perhaps I should have done it earlier. Perhaps I should have tried to plan more, to work everything out at the start rather than letting myself get carried away writing and then having to piece bits together. As well as making everything feel more organised, my ‘calendar’ exercise has been highlighting all sorts of niggling continuity issues (a conversation on a Saturday that refers to ‘school tomorrow’, being one…) as well as a couple of bigger, more significant problems, and spending time planning might have prevented those from cropping up. Then again, with my track record, it might not have done, and I’ve definitely enjoyed being able to go with the flow. I think it’s been good for parts of my novel, too – I feel like it’s given my story the chance to develop more naturally. No, it may not be a perfect strategy, but this ‘half-time’ arrangement does have its plus points, and with ‘real’ planning apparently not my forte, it’s currently feeling like a reasonable compromise.

1795624513_dcc216adb2_z   Image courtesy of Jenn Vargas on Flickr

Wasting Time

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If there’s one thing I really, really hate, it’s feeling like I’ve wasted time.

Last Sunday I started writing a blog post. I wasn’t planning to write one that day – in fact, I already had more than enough things on my to-do list – but an idea popped into my head and I thought it had potential. I never wanted my blog to become just simple progress reports about my book and I’d been lacking in inspiration, so it seemed only right to grab the opportunity when it presented itself.

I spent most of the day working on it. With my most recent posts rather short, cop-out affairs, I wanted to write something really interesting, something thoughtful and compelling and deserving of people’s time. Unfortunately, even when the light was starting to fade (which is pretty late for us in the UK now), it was still a bit of a mess. I had something, yes, but it wasn’t a complete post, and something about it just wasn’t really working.

Of course, after spending all that time on it, I couldn’t just give up. I didn’t even consider it. I didn’t want to start again, either – that seemed too extreme. But when I failed to sort it out the next day, or the next, or the next, I came to realise I couldn’t continue. As much as it pained me, I was going to have to put it to one side and admit (at least temporary) defeat.

It would have been a little different had it been an academic assignment, or a piece for professional publication, but at the end of the day, My Wordy Journey only lives because of my book. I wanted to have a stunning post this month – I really did – but would there really have been any point if it came at the expense of a week’s worth of writing time? I hated storing that file away, and I’m still hoping some of the content might be usable, but sometimes it’s a case of looking at the bigger picture. Potentially losing a few days’ work is bad enough, but the thought of my deadline slipping past and life taking over and never managing to finish my novel is just too much. All those months of work – years even – with nothing to show for it..? No.

So I’m sorry; I haven’t got a wonderful, thought-provoking blog post this month. However, in spite of my little fiasco I do feel I’ve made some reasonable progress with my writing these past few weeks. I’ve now passed 36,000 words, I’m starting to get into the habit of writing regularly, and hopefully this way it won’t be too long before I have a whole book to share with the world. And I don’t know about you, but I reckon that’s far more exciting.

CC Image courtesy of becosky… on Flickr

A New Chapter

Okay, I have a confession to make… Since my last blog post, I haven’t even looked at my novel.

I know, I know, it’s not good – not good at all. I’ll never become a published author if I carry on like that. But that’s not going to happen, because at approximately 4.22pm this afternoon, I submitted my very last university assignment. That’s it. They’re all in. Which means I can finally make my novel a real priority.

It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Right now I’m still swimming in that horrible, post-assignment-submission daze, trying not to think about all the mistakes I might have made (and then cursing when something does pop into my head), but even once this phase has passed, I think it could take a little while. A life without academic assessments? After so many years of education, it just doesn’t seem possible. But the thought of being able to focus on my writing – properly focus on my writing – is definitely fantastic. So here’s to a new start – a new chapter, if you will. I have just over 7 months left until my deadline, and I’m going to give it my all.

– Oh, and for anyone who’s curious, this is one of the more interesting projects that’s been demanding so much of my time these past few weeks: