Let Me Digress

Kathryn Hore - Writer

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Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths

For anyone who’s ever pondered the Answers to life… I’ve a story called “Answers”, in a new antho from Left Hand Publishers.

Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths v2. It’s a wonderful anthology and you can buy it here.

I’m not promising you’ll find the answers to life, death or humanity in my story (and if you do, it might be time to seek some therapy), but it is a story about deity-like, omniscient, maybe-gods engaged in eternal opposition… who are just as confused to the meaning of it all as the rest of us.

Also, the fine folks at Left Hand Publishers have created the most beautiful book trailer. Seriously, give this a watch:

 

Why hello there, 2018

This writing lark is a fickle business. I fizzled out on NaNoWriMo 2017 because my heart was with a different project and I just couldn’t devote the thinking time to the NaNo one, let alone the writing time to it.

Then December hits, I play around late one night with an old manuscript idea from a few years back because I’m too tired to do anything serious, kind of figure out where the scene was going, and…

…next thing I know, I’ve written 65k words on a new project in five weeks.

Bad first draft words, obviously. Not good words, not by any stretch. And I’m still not quite finished the story yet, so I’m ploughing on until I do, get a full Draft Zero down on the page to kick of 2018. It’s a nice way to start the year, if entirely unplanned, because frankly the last thing I need is yet another long-form writing project to think about.

But hey, whatever works.

It has made me revise my 2018 working plan, though. So, here’s my current whiteboard:

Yeah, I know, the image is a bit unclear, but that’s deliberate. There’s a few scribbled notes on there that are my thinking/planing I wanted to have blurred out for the rest of the world. But to give you a thrust of the main bits, these are my writing goals for 2018:

Long Form projects –

  1. Continue querying/subbing the completed MS (a.k.a. The Cards One), trying to find a nice publishing home for it. This will take as long as it takes.
  2. Finish Draft Zero of new project (a.k.a. The Thief One), however bad the words, just get it down on the page and then let it sit and percolate untouched for a while. D0 to be completed before the end of Jan.
  3. Finish editing/redrafting to Draft 2~3 of the current WIP (a.k.a. The City One), getting it to the point where I can seek professional feedback/structural editing feedback so as to identify where to focus efforts on the next draft after that – work on it through Feb/March, and maybe another cut in July/Aug, depending on time taken for other projects.
  4. Edit/redraft/polish the Novella (a.k.a. The Library One) that was originally drafted in 2016-2017, and submit it to an already identified novella market in Sep/Oct. Work to begin in March(ish), after Project 3 editing round 1 is done.
  5. Either – 5(a) redraft The Thief One to a coherent, sensible, readable-by-others Draft One which can be shown to peers for feedback, or 5(b) work on redrafting of The City One after professional feedback received – timing entirely depends on the other projects above
  6. Bonus Project #1: if there’s time, finish Draft Zero of a full length manuscript version of a novella written 5~6 years ago (a.k.a. The Western One)
  7. Bonus Project #2: start thinking about the other contemporary story that’s been kicking about in my head for a while (a.k.a. The Wedding One) for possible initial drafting in 2019

Will I get time to do all of the above? No fucking way, folks. But I think I will get through a good chunk. I’ll finish this Draft Zero of The Thief One I’m on a current roll with. I’ll finish editing The City One and hopefully get it to a point where I can seek detailed professional feedback. And The Cards One, the completed manuscript, will continue to be sent out to the publishing & agenting world with fingers crossed throughout the year.

I really really really want to finish the Novella – The Library One – but I’m feeling a bit dodgy about the overall plot at the moment and it really needs some concerted thinking time attached. We’ll just have to see how that goes.

And none of this makes any room for short fiction, which I’ve been promising myself I’ll get back to writing more seriously soon, because while I have a couple of short stories lined up for publication in the next few months, and while I have a couple of others waiting to hear back from possible publications, I really want to be submitting more stories more often to more markets. Publishing short stories is a numbers game. You’ve just got to keep sending stuff out there.

But I’m a lover of novels at heart, reading them and writing them, and so short fic keeps getting pushed out the way. Ah well. I’ll try to squeeze some in through the year somewhere.

Right, that’s my year planned. Not counting my professional full time day job, being a mother to my two little kiddies, one of whom starts 3yo kinder this year and the other starts primary school, squeezing in exercise and trying to achieve some physical health goals, plus occasionally remembering to see my family every now and then.

So, you know, 2018 looks busy. Lucky I work best that way…

 

The problem with plans…

Yeah, NaNoWriMo fizzled out on me this year.

I got to about half way through the month before I could no longer avoid the lumbering grey metafauna dancing a jig in the middle of the room. I was putting down words just for the sake of putting them down. I’d slipped out of Bad First Draft and right into Incoherent Rambling Mess. Time to call it quits, at least if I actually want to finish this project properly at some stage, which I very much do.

Plus I put aside editing an early draft manuscript so as to focus on NaNo new words, but my heart still lay with the other manuscript (coincidently one born from NaNo a couple of years ago). I’ve written a stack of new words this past November, just only a small percentage of them on the NaNo project.

So I called it. Not this year. But gee it’s fun, even when it all falls apart.

So what went wrong? You know, considering I’m supposedly the Queen of Bad First Drafts and NaNo entirely suits my style of writing, which is to vomit everything up onto the page in the first instance, before doing the really hard work of editing, rewriting, redrafting and polishing after?

Well, I actually do more thinking ahead of the writing than I otherwise let on. I was once a complete pantser. Never planned a thing. Just put words to the page and let it go, see where it went. Which sometimes worked… and sometimes ended up in half a million words with no end in sight and a structure one might loosely describe as huh wot?

Then I started trying to write novels that might actually come in complete at under 100k one day and actually resembled a story with an satisfying ending. For that, it turned out, I needed to do me some planning.

Still pretty loose. I’m hardly a pin-cards-on-the-wall type girl. But I need to know generally where the thing is aiming overall, you know, the big climax, and I need to see in more detail at least one chapter beyond the one I’m writing, and I tend to do a load of thinking. Just thinking. Daydreaming. Every spare moment, in the shower, while walking, while driving the kids in the car and desperately hunting for any which way to block out whatever latest high pitched poppy novelty song my 5 year old is currently obsessing about and which has played a dozen times this trip alone.

The problem with NaNo for me this year was I really hadn’t done that thinking. Mentally I was still grey-matter deep in the other project. Oh, I’d made a stab at it, set aside time and tried to broadly outline the NaNo project, even got myself a whiteboard that looked like this:

My whiteboard

But when I was standing on a train platform waiting for delayed public transport, or walking to the office of the day job, or going slowly mad from novelty pop songs in the car, all that idle thinking time that any day, even the busiest brings, the story I was thinking about was…

Not this one. It was the other one.

And without that ongoing pondering, the idle daydreaming, the everyday thinking in between essential tasks, it was a project going nowhere. Entirely stale, every bit forced, and mostly generic. Not showing any signs of me, of being my story, of something only I could have written.

That’s the death knell of any story right there, I reckon. Every writer is unique and their writing has to be their own, or else it’s just going to be a derivative jumble of words that inspire no emotion whatsoever.

Thing is, I really like this project. I wrote 30k words at the beginning of the year on it and it really works for me, I have a passion for it. So I didn’t just want to force 50k out that clearly wasn’t working and meant nothing and destroyed the whole thing. I need to wait until I can think about it. Until I can devote that everyday thinking time to it.

There’s a lot to be said for ongoing pondering and idle daydreaming.

So I called it about half way through the month, went back to the other project, and have been going gangbusters on it since. Because there’s nothing like having other priorities you feel like you should be writing to make a second priority project take off 🙂

 

 

Ready for NaNoWriMo?

I am. Oh, I so am. Which means I’m so totally not, but I’m hyped for it anyway, because I love NaNoWriMo and will do it any year it can possibly be slotted into the work schedule.

I’ve no idea how I’ll manage it this year. I’m working full time, have two kids under 5 and a whole host of writing projects on the go. But there’s a novel I’ve been trying to knock off the first draft of for some months now and this is a good excuse to focus. I’ve 30k words already written, so if I can get 50k more in a month – and that’s a mighty big near impossible if – I figure I’ll pretty much have completed the thing. Bad first draft thing, anyway. Which is what NaNo is all about, really. Bad first drafts.

And I’ve said before just how much I love writing bad first drafts.

In terms of writing, 2017 for me has been about polishing up the final draft of the major WIP, gaining some professional editorial feedback, and starting to  shop it out to the world. I also wanted to get a few more short stories out there, which I’ve managed to do, with a couple of acceptances in the publishing queue for 2018. But those short stories were already drafted, and the full length manuscript is almost five years in the making, so it’s been a while since I was really focussed on writing new, new, new words onto the page.

Since I sat staring at that blank page waiting for me to fill it up, I mean.

So I’m hanging out for NaNo this year. There’s something entirely freeing about throwing words onto a page and not needing to worry about how good they are or it they’ll make sense to anybody other than myself. Stephen King, in his oft-quoted memoir/book of writing advice, On Writing, talks of the first draft being a ‘closed door’ draft. It’s just for him. The redrafting process is about opening the door, turning that bad first draft into something readable by other people, but initially, no-one else is allowed in the metaphoric room. Screenwriters I know call it the vomit draft. The best writing advice I ever received from a creative writing teacher was to allow myself to write badly.

Even this year’s Nobel winner, Kazuko Ishiguro, went the bad first draft route with his most celebrated work, Remains of the Day. Four weeks of focused, obsessive, putting words onto the page. “…and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come…”

So there you go. Maybe it wasn’t officially NaNoWriMo, but it was effectively the same process. And Ishiguro scored a Nobel for his efforts.

This will be the third time I’ve attempted it. The first, I got to about 45k and was well on track, when a publisher asked me to submit something and I had to switch gears right at the end of the month. The second time, I got the 50k and then some, yay, and now I’m just going back to that manuscript and pulling it together into something interesting. I’m thinking I might even redraft and refine that one further.

Third time lucky. I have less time this year and I can in no way imagine managing to write a full 50k, but I’ll give it a damn good go. And after a year of editing and revising and redrafting and submitting, I’m looking forward to going back to a bad first draft for a few weeks, writing just to please me.

So if you’re doing it to, come buddy up – here’s me: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/kahmelb

And after NaNo, I’ll be refreshed and ready to get back into the actual hard work once of redrafts and edits and rewriting for an audience of other people.

Care deeply and DGAF

This was retweeted into my timeline the other day:

And damn if I didn’t relate to that more than anything in the world, right at that particular moment.

(Don’t ask me about the next moment. This is Twitter we’re talking about. Meaning is transient and ethereal and forgotten about by the next day, and in the world of social media, epiphanies can happen every half-hour or so.)

But I’d just sent out a handful of writing submissions the day or two before, a couple of short stories to magazines, a novelette to a competition. That’s nothing new, I shoot stuff out on a semi-regular basis, not as often as I should perhaps, but often enough it’s got its own chapter in the SOP life-manual in my head.

Enough to be able to shrug off the rejections as part of life and just get on with the next market and the next submission and the next story, in other words.

Which is what you need to be able to do in this writing game. Rejections are part of the job. Acceptances are delightful, but if you can’t handle rejection then you’re not going to get anywhere as a writer, at least not a writer who seeks publication.

Hence my relating to this tweet, because if you’re going to create anything, you must care deeply about it. You must be emotionally invested in it with everything you’ve got. It’s a part of you, it’s your artistic, creative baby. You’ve got to care for this work with all your soul.

And once you send it out into the world, you’ve somehow got to be able to forget about it and not give a fuck.

Yeah, easy as, right?

But it’s true. Once you’ve sent it out, there’s nothing you can do. It’s beyond your control. And if somebody doesn’t like it, you’ve got to try and not give a fuck. Even though you’ve put heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears and your very DNA into this little creative baby of yours.

Welcome to the wonderful world of being a writer. Or artist. Or creator of any kind. Got a thanks-but-no-thanks publication rejection? Shrug and submit to the next market on your list. Got a go-back-to-the-day-job review? Deal with it and move on. Not everyone’s going to like your stuff. And even if someone likes it, that’s no guarantee they’ll publish it. It’s not always going to fit the editorial vision, or the publication requirements, or the publisher’s marketing plan, regardless of how fine the writing.

All this is playing on my mind a bit at the moment, because while I’m an old hand at the short story rejections these days, I’m about to do something new in my world. I’m about to start submitting a full-length novel manuscript for the first time.

And that’s all a bit terrifying, really.

I’ve been working on this novel for around five years. That has encompassed seven (or is it eight? nine?) major redrafts, with a million minor drafts in between. Some chapters have been redrafted dozens upon dozens of times. Some only four or five. But because I’m someone who knocks out bad first drafts very quickly, the hard work for me is in the editing, the rewriting. It took me around 6 weeks to write the original Draft Zero of this manuscript. Followed by 5 years of rewriting, because that’s where my time gets spent. In turning that bad first draft into something readable by other people. Into something publishable, in other words.

I think I’ve achieved this. I’m happy with this manuscript. I’m proud of it. I’ve sourced feedback from just about anybody who’ll give it to me, and then I engaged a professional editor to read and assess and provide expert feedback. I’m confident this manuscript is of publication standard. It’s good. I know it’s good.

But that’s still no guarantee it’ll achieve publication and history says I’m up for a round of rejections before I can even hope to find a publishing home for this creative baby of mine.

It’s one thing to work on a short story for a handful of weeks and care deeply in that time, then shoot it off and switch to Don’t Give A Fuck mode. That’s not easy, but I’ve learnt how to do it in the last few years of sending out short fiction. But with the full-length novel manuscript, it’s not just 5 or so weeks – it’s five years invested here. Five years scrounging for writing time between having two human babies and raising them into little children (my first human baby starts primary school next year!), finish studying my Prof Writing & Editing qualifications, working part-time, then working full-time, and writing short fiction as much as I can to try and get that published in the meantime.

So this novel, this manuscript, it has been my baby for a long time now. And I’m about to send it out into the world. I’m about to wave it on it’s way and then I have to try and pretend that I Don’t Give A Fuck.

As if.

As if that’s even possible.

*sigh*

 

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