Monday, 4 November 2013

Another Year, another NaNoWriMo

I’ve gone and done it. I’ve signed up for a second year of NaNoWriMo in the hopes that it will boost my productivity. It’s ridiculous really. I wrote last time in this blog about procrastination, yet I know I can put in the hours and achieve huge chunks of writing – pleasing writing, that I am more than happy with as a first draft – in a relatively short time, when I set my mind to it. However, it seems that I work much better to a deadline. I’ve always been the same, whether it was essays at uni, or my very long list of projects for work, I become much more productive the closer I run to the line.

My new novel is no different. I wrote my first chapter ready for critique by the writing group in early October – 920 words done. I sorted the plan out in mid October and wrote my second chapter, again ready for my writing group deadline, a week later – another 1423 words written. Today I sign up for NaNoWriMo. It is the 4th of November and NaNo has been going for 3 days. I am already behind. I sit and write, despite the disturbing sounds of builders fitting external insulation to the row of council houses down my street, and lo and behold I have completed 6,026 words. Slightly less that I need to keep on my NaNo track, but at this rate I might even finish early, after all, I only have 43,974 to go. 

Oh, and this blogpost adds another 300 words to my NaNo word count, because one of the good NaNo tips I’ve picked up is that you should include any and all your writing for the month of November. I wonder if that means job application letters too?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Procrastination is my Middle Name

Actually, it’s Karen.

I’m not sure if I was named after the actress Leslie Caron, but I’ve always blamed her as the namesake who doomed me never to be elfin or sylph-like. Oh, but that’s a whole other story – see what I mean about procrastination?

I mentioned in my last blog post that I was starting a fresh project. In between sending off my first novel to agents and publishers and draping the dust sheets over its sequel, I’ve been researching and plotting my new novel.

The opening sentence came to me in the middle of the night some time in September, and was quickly followed by the first chapter and the character of my protagonist, who will be living with me for the next few months, but since then I haven’t written a whole lot more. I haven’t even made changes to this first chapter following some excellent suggestions and comments from the children’s writing group I go to. 

I’ve researched plenty though. I love researching. I love the way one pathway can lead to another, sending me on a voyage to so many interesting places, but for me it is also a trap of procrastination and I think I’ve fallen into it.

Google is also my biggest distraction, and while in theory I could just not use it, could even turn the router in the cupboard off, I don’t. I sit and play on the computer. Oh, I don’t play games. No Candy Crush for me. I can’t allow myself to get into that. It’s bad enough that I have Yahtzee and Rummy 500 on the computer. No, I follow weird and wonderful Google searches, which take me to interesting sites where I learn what zentangle is or where I get sidetracked by articles about 80s bands.

How much I procrastinate came home to me quite powerfully when my husband and I took ourselves away in our little van for a few days.
Beautiful Northumberland - Dunstanborough Steads
Just the process of travelling up to Northumbria in early October provided valuable ponder time. I learned the importance of mulling over the story when we pootled off in our van for our ‘Big Trip’ in 2010. Drive time (husband driving) lets my brain tick over. It might look very similar to procrastination, but it’s not. Plot lines are being developed and sentences are rehearsed. Sometimes I even remember them and write them down.

Husband reached Scotland
By far the best thing about being in our van though, in terms of my writing, is the absence of an internet connection. Our ‘Big Trip’ was when I got most of my Tudor novel written, over many, many days with no internet, so I hoped that this week in October would help me develop the plot, and the perfect opportunity arose in the form of a whole day when my husband went for a bike ride (Beadnell Bay to Kelso), leaving me and the dog in the van with, importantly, no internet to distract me.

There were potential distractions, I’ll admit, but really, there are only so many dog walks on the beach I’m prepared to do in a day, so it was just me, the computer, my notebook, two packs of felt tip pens (fine and broad tips), coloured post-its, a Prittstick and some A3 paper. Have I mentioned that I’m a primary school teacher by profession? It might explain my approach to planning and my choice of tools.

Pommie shows no interest in my writing

I began by gluing 3 sheets of A3 together, and set out my plan based on the ‘Ten Scene Tool’ I picked up from a useful book – The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr. This is where the post-its come in. One colour is for the most important ten scenes in my story – only I can’t quite get mine down to ten. Twenty-seven scene tool doesn’t sound as snappy, but the post-its are a lovely lime green. Alongside the plot post-its are another set for characters (bright blue), which I can add to as I decide on names, ages, looks, personality, personal journey – whatever. I also have (white) post-its for miscellaneous ideas to address, research to undertake when I eventually get back to the internet or questions to answer.

It took me the whole day, and many post-its bit the dust en route, but by the time the cyclist returned I’d cooked a delicious soup and sorted out the basic plot details. No internet meant no procrastination. I was very pleased with myself.

Last November, for NaNoWriMo, I found it so much easier to crack on with writing 2,000 words a day after I sorted out my plot, so my expectation on returning to South Cambridgeshire was that I would do the same. Have I? Not a chance. How many words have I written? A big, fat zero. Do I have excuses? I’ve had a nasty cough and cold, but it hasn’t stopped me sitting at the computer. I’ve been here, with the internet. I’ve found out why the dog might be biting her bottom (trust me, you don’t want the results of that search). I’ve found lists of books to attract reluctant readers. I now know how much vaguely Art Deco bathroom suites cost, and that a turmeric/honey mix is reputed to be very effective in easing a hacking cough (it does, but tastes completely disgusting, especially if you let it get cold).

You see, I’ve been procrastinating. Maybe procrastination is actually my first name. Procrastination Hale – it sound quite Amish, don’t you think?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Starting a New Novel

I’m excited to be starting a new project, but with several ideas banging about in my brain, choosing ‘the one’ to run with has been difficult. I’ve wanted to do something with the 3,000 words I wrote on an Arvon course. It centres around my grandfather and the East London docks, and works as a character study, but I haven’t yet got the whole story worked out. There’s also the first chapter of a children’s novel about a half-goblin who’s a detective, which my nephew keeps asking if I’ve continued. If that’s caught his imagination it should be worth taking further, but at the moment I’m rather taken with the Iron Age, so have plumped with that for my new novel, in the hope that the revised primary history curriculum will need some fresh children’s books.
An Iron Age torc will feature in the plot.

Even though I studied history, I know little about the Iron Age, so getting stuck into a completely new era is great fun and odd bits of information I come across spark off new ideas for the plot, though the plotting itself remains the slow bit for me. Once I’m into the writing things seems to flow quickly, but I agonise for ages over the story line, regularly waking in the middle of the night with ideas. I’m considering trying my hand at NaNoWriMo again this year, which gives me just one month to sort myself out with the story.

It’s all early days, but it is proving a lot harder than starting a sequel, which is what I did last year for NaNo. Just knowing all my characters back then, as well as the world they inhabited, made the task so much easier, so one thing I have to do early on in the whole process is dive into some writing to get to know my main character. It might be something I never even use, but unless I get a protagonist down on paper and start living with them I can’t seem to sort out ‘stuff’ for them to do.

I know about Medieval villages. How different will an Iron Age village be?

I’m also drawn to making a map of where the story is to take place. I did this for my Tudor novels and, as well as helping me with the world as it was in 1594, it helped me match my protagonist’s emotional journey to his physical one. For this, as yet untitled, Iron Age story, part of which will be set in the present, I need something which also includes a bit of geological detail. I’m on the hunt for chalk and I daresay I’ll be using a fair few post it notes on the map as I build up my world, past and present.

One thing is for sure, there’s masses to do and I can’t afford to keep putting it off until tomorrow. I stopped writing after NaNo last year, as starting a new teaching job took up all of my time, and it has been proving harder than I thought it would be to get back into the swing of it. At the moment I have much less on my plate, so there are no excuses, I’ve just got to get my head down and crack on. Now, where’s that map to print out?

In this book I plan to spend time somewhere on the Icknield way.