Outlining A Novel And Getting… Somewhere • Writing Thoughts

I’m a pantser. Always have been, and probably always will be. Recently, I’ve taken a more ‘pantser/outliner’ approach, particularly in the last month. What I’ve discovered is that it definitely helps me visualise the big picture a lot better, and I give it the good ol’ college try, but ultimately I go back to old habits.

I’m not saying winging it is a bad thing, it can be a fantastic way for your characters to meander and for you as the author to explore their personalities, but when it comes to putting together a 70k+ novel, you can’t just be a pantser (though I believe Stephen King would disagree with me here).

pantsing author

I’m nearly finished my first draft. I have about 20k left to write (approximately) and with my word goal of 1k per day, I believe I’ll have a wonderfully messy, infuriatingly scattered manuscript ready for editing by the end of the month. However, I’m several weeks away from my deadline and I still don’t have an ending.

Something about picking a path for my characters to walk that leads to the end of the book is terrifying to me. What if I get it wrong? What if I have a solid book up until the last few chapters and I screw it up at the final hour? That’s the kind of thinking that stops any half decent writer from getting anywhere; fear. Useless, taunting fear that offers absolutely no benefits to an aspiring writer. All it does is make you stumble and stall and, for some unlucky souls, it can make you quit.

pantsing author

While I’ve been half-pantsing and half-outlining my novel from almost the very start, but I have a hope that it isn’t too late to get my thoughts together in the form of a clear, concise outline. I have my beginning, my middle and now I just need a solid ending, so that’s my plan for tomorrow. I’m going to sit down with a pen and paper and plot out what’s going to happen to my characters; who’s going to live, who will die and what shocking event is going to happen to bleed into the sequel.

Are you a pantser or an outliner? Which do you prefer and why? Comment below!

Failure And New Year Goals • #50BOOKSCHALLENGE

I started this year with a promise to myself; that I would read 50 books by the end of 2016 to rekindle my love of reading. I used to read so much as a kid and a teenager but school and college and work got in the way and my books grew dusty on the shelves.

The point of the challenge was to make sure I read regularly. Unfortunately, I didn’t reach my goal of 50 books. Instead, I read 36, with approximately 10 still to be finished. Although I’m usually very hard on myself, and failing a challenge like this could have really held me back and made me feel terrible, I’m actually quite pleased.

Thirty six books is still thirty five books more than I read last year. I read some really fantastic stories and some not so fantastic ones too, but ultimately, I read. Even if I had only read ten books, or twenty books, I still opened books this year and saw them through. That’s what’s important to me.

50bookschallenge

Although sometimes the challenge was stressful (for instance during very busy months), it re-introduced me to the joy of sitting down with a good book and a cup of tea and getting lost in a fantasy world.

I’ve decided that, instead of aiming for 50 books, 30 is a good goal to aim for. The reason I’ve done this is because I’m introducing a new challenge to the mix for 2017 – the #100kWordChallenge. If you’ve been following my writing journey, you’ll know I want to be a novelist. It has always been my dream, and after hitting 50k during 2016’s NaNoWriMo, I’m on my way to finishing my first book.

In 2017, I plan on finishing it with another 40k and to start the second book as well. Overall, I hope to write 100,000 words in 2017. To some, that might seem like a walk in the park, and to others it’s a mountain too steep to climb, but for me, it’s my new personal challenge and I’m determined to do myself proud.

Blessings and Happy New Year to all! Thanks for continuing to read my ramblings on here!

The Writing Curse • Perfectionism

I haven’t written in a while. Here on my blog, in my notebook, on Word, on scraps of paper. Nothing. It’s like my motivation and belief in myself has just deserted me entirely. Where has it gone? Why did it go?

Every now and again I come to this dead end and I’ll write about why I’m not writing rather than just pushing through and writing anyway. I know, logically, that that’s how you fix writer’s block. You push through the writing you think is worse than garbage and you keep pushing until it’s good again.

In theory, it works and it allows you to get on with things and get one step closer to achieving your dream of being an author, but in practice it’s hard as shit. Seriously, writing is HARD. Any writer, no matter how famous they are, has gone through this. The difference between me and them isn’t that they’re better than me, it’s that they had the resolve and the courage to push.

The reason why I’m writing about my failure instead of pushing is because I’m scared. I’m scared of failure. Since I was a child I’ve had these lofty ideas about being a full time writer with trilogies under my belt and a legion of readers waiting with baited breath for my next release. I don’t want to disappoint that little girl who thought she could do that.

I’m so scared that what I’m writing isn’t perfect that it totally inhibits my progress. Perfectionism is a curse. It cripples writers all over the world and it’s not even real! How many books can you think of that were 100% perfect? Books that had nothing – not one single thing – wrong with them? Books that every single person in the entire world loved? I can’t think of one.

I can think of books that came close to perfection, but none of them ever were. They all had their tiny niggling faults, but it didn’t matter. They were beloved and universally praised regardless. So why do we as writers put this impossible goal of perfection in front of us and constantly try in vain to reach it? We’re just setting ourselves up for failure. We’re ensuring that we give up.

How do I solve this? When I’m writing a paragraph or finishing a chapter and re-reading it, it doesn’t scream ‘perfection’ and the quality of it dampens in my mind, and that’s damn hard to forget about. It’s hard to shove that negative, self-deprecating bullshit aside so you can just write.

But all you can do is try. All you can do is remind yourself that perfection isn’t real, that flaws add to a story and to a writer’s journey, that everyone’s first draft is far from the finished product, that the second and third draft are often sub-part as well. The real magic of writing comes in the editing. All you have to do is finish. Finish that story and build upon those bones you’ve created, like adding a picture to an empty frame.

Writing and Getting Somewhere • Confidence is Fleeting

As some of you may already know from reading my other posts, I’m an aspiring writer. I know, I know. It’s hardly an original dream, but you can’t just order the desires of your heart and mind to cease, so here I am.

For the past several years, I’ve experienced terrible writer’s block. I lost all confidence in my abilities and was kind of drowning in my pessimism for a long time; it didn’t matter that I wanted to be a writer, I had to actually have ideas that could be translated properly from thoughts to paper in a way that people would actually want to read. That seemed impossible for me for years.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten my mojo back. I started reading again after a long hiatus and with that came waves of creativity. After years of day dreaming and wishing, I’ve finally started writing my novel, because dreams don’t work unless you do. I’m proud to say that I’ve hit the 6000 word mark, something I never managed to do before, and I’m aiming for at least 50,000 by the end of the year (#50000wordchallenge anyone?)

The problem is that writing isn’t a smooth process – in fact it’s rocky as hell and it takes a lot of dedication and work. However, sometimes that isn’t enough. One day your confidence could be sky high and the next you may think you’re the worst writer in the world and that you were borderline insane to think that you could ever actually get a book published. This is normal in the process, I’ve found.

What I’ve been faced with lately, however, is an aversion to reading books on my TBR list. It feels like I’m scared to read them because, and this is just a theory, I’ll be comparing my unwritten book to a perfectly crafted, thoroughly edited complete novel. And despite the fact I know that it’s silly to compare the two, I don’t think I’d be able to help myself.

The slightest thing makes me lose confidence in my abilities. It’s why I don’t send my writing to any of my friends or family anymore, because even if they offer mostly praise, if there’s a niggling problem somewhere I focus on it until it becomes the sole thing I’m thinking about. Then I blow it up to be this insurmountable monster that I can’t write my way out of and I abandon the whole project. It sounds ridiculous but this kind of thing has happened many times, and I know it’s something I just have to get over, but it’s a challenge.

A first draft is very fragile. I know that many writers say a first draft is always crap, so whatever I come up with will probably read very differently from the finished book, but I’m a notorious editor. I have a major problem of striving for perfection with my writing, and that just isn’t realistic when writing a first draft. There are many drafts to come where I can fix my mistakes, plot holes and dull descriptions.

I can’t help it that I have thin skin; I think I’m so overly sensitive to my writing because it’s a dream I hold so dear to my heart that any critique of what I’m doing makes me think I can’t reach that dream. Which makes me feel like a failure. Nobody likes feeling like a failure, and it makes sense to avoid that.

Despite my shortcomings and my pessimistic writing process, I do think this time is different. I’ve never gotten this far before and I’ve also never felt as strongly about a plot; perhaps the other stories were abandoned for a proper reason, and not just because I gave up on them. Perhaps this one will go the distance and by the end of the year I’ll have a fully fledged draft ready to edit.

Despite myself, I’m optimistic!

Kintsukuroi • Repairing Abandoned Writing

I came across this beautiful image of a piece of pottery with golden veins running through it (it actually inspired a part of one of my stories), and the explanation that came with it was fascinating and really inspired me; kintsukuroi.

Kintsukuroi (or kintsugi) is the Japanese art of repaired pottery and it stands for something very important. If we put effort into creating something beautiful like a piece of writing and it is torn down by criticism, it is easy to abandon it, thinking it a failure. Kintsukuroi is about taking what was once considered beautiful or valuable and building it back up, piecing it back together and making something even more unique than it once was.

This idea really resonates with me as I constantly abandon stories and poems I’ve half-finished because of some ill-conceived notions of failure or a whim when I’m feeling down about my abilities, even if I once thought they were great or at least that they were becoming something great.kintsugi

After coming across kintsukuroi, I’m inspired to take a look at what I’ve given up on to see if I can transform my abandoned work into something to be proud of.

Cinderella Re-Telling • Before The Pumpkin Turns

Note: This short story is a re-telling of Cinderella that I wrote a few years ago for my creative writing class in college. It’s my version of what would’ve really happened in the story. Cinderella is out for revenge against her step-sisters so she steals her Fairy Godmother’s wand and wreaks havoc. 

I’m posting it because I just finished Cinder by Marissa Meyer last month so it’s as good a time as any to publish mine! If you’ve written any fairy tale re-tellings feel free to link me in the comments as I’d love to read them! 

She grinned manically as the throng of people backed away in fear. Her stepsisters knelt in front of her, their feathered hats askew and their hands above their heads.

“Please, Cinderella, let us go!”

“What was that Drizella? You want me to let you clean the floor?” she said, pushing her stepsister’s head down with her foot. “How could I say no to that?”

Anastasia, too, was forced to the ground.

“What do you think of this Lady Tremaine? Do you like the view?” she asked, cocking her head to look below her. Her stepmother was bent over on her hands and knees and Cinderella was sitting on her back, legs crossed and wand in hand. She shot her a helplessly sour look.

“I feel a little underdressed,” Cinderella said, and waved her wand. Members of the crowd blinked and Cinderella was wearing a long white dress that sparkled like the stars, with her golden hair falling in elegant ringlets and heeled shoes made of glass. She looked like an angel, but nobody was fooled.

“Music!” She waved the wand again. 

The quartet that had been playing before she crashed the party were plucked out of the crowd as though by a giant invisible hand and were dropped, squealing, in the chairs beside their instruments. They began playing a sinister song at a quick pace.

“Faster!” Cinderella said gleefully.

Their arms moved so quickly that they were blurry, and their faces blushed red at the effort. Cinderella motioned for people to dance and they were suddenly swaying with partners they had never met, and moving expertly to songs they hadn’t heard before. Cinderella was laughing the entire time, waving her wand as though she were the conductor of a play. 

“Stop this madness!”

The music was cut off quickly and Cinderella looked around to see who had spoken. A young, handsome man was walking towards her, his crown perched neatly on his head. He looked angry.

“What right have you to come here and torment my guests in this way, witch?” he demanded.

Cinderella stood up from her impromptu seat and walked slowly up to him, twirling the wand between her fingers. She was very close to him, to the point where their noses could almost touch, when she whispered, “Everybody loves you don’t they? I wonder how much they’d all fawn over you if you didn’t look the way you do? If you didn’t have the riches and the power that you do now? Perhaps I should shrink you down to size so you can see what it’s like to feel… small.” 

He seemed taken aback and blinked warily at her, his mouth agape.

“How about a kitten? Or a snake? Or… Oh! A mouse!”

“N-no,” he said, backing away from her, his anger dissipating into fear. He never got to finish his sentence, however, because he had shrunk to a fraction of his size and was crawling frantically around in a circle, his now oversized crown forming a kind of prison so that there was no escape for the little mouse who was once a prince. 

The ladies around her gasped in horror, and a few had to be restrained by desperate mothers so that they wouldn’t charge forward in anger and be transformed into animals themselves. 

“Why are you doing this?” Lady Tremaine shouted, unable to move from her bent position.

“Why?” she retorted. “Are you serious? You people took over my house when my father died and forced me to be your personal slave. I’ve spent the past ten years on my hands and knees cleaning for you ungrateful pigs!”

“We’re sorry! Aren’t we, mother? Things will be different this time, we promise!” Anastasia begged.

“Oh things will be different,” Cinderella said, standing above her tormentors. “You three will spend the rest of your lives cleaning my house.” She waved the wand again and Anastasia was no more. In her place was a mop that moved around the floor in wide arcs. Drizella, too, was now a miniature scrubbing brush and she got to work quickly while Lady Tremaine, lazy as she was, became a bucket of soapy water that the other two used to clean the prince’s ballroom.

Cinderella giggled and felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. The guests, unable to move, could do nothing but look on in terror.

There was a loud gong all of a sudden, and Cinderella’s eyes flickered towards the clock. It was midnight. She ran towards the window, looking down at the beautiful, ornate carriage she’d arrived in. In its place was a large, battered pumpkin and several small animals were crawling over it, feasting. She whirled around on the second gong and saw the prince fully formed and crouching down to retrieve his crown, his eyes wide and bloodshot. A third gong sounded and her stepmother and stepsister appeared, sprawled on the ground and covered in water.

She didn’t wait any longer; she fled. She was in the main hall when a fourth gong sounded and she noticed her hair was flying awry by her face, with her beautiful gown fading as she ran. She felt that the wand had left her hand and she couldn’t help but panic.

It had happened too fast. She wasn’t done yet. When her fairy godmother had appeared to her it seemed all her wishes would come true. She finally thought that they would pay. The fairy had tried to offer her the prince, but that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted her stepmother and stepsisters to feel even an ounce of the pain she’d felt over the years. The humiliation. Tricking the fairy and stealing her wand had been surprisingly easy, and Cinderella left for the ball feeling the allure of sweet revenge.

She bounded down the steps, two at a time and heard the call for guards to follow her. In her haste, she tripped on one of the steps and the glass slipper she was wearing shattered beneath her. Although the shards were disappearing as she kept running, the blood from her foot left a trail that anybody could easily follow and she winced at the pain. 

There was a ruckus from behind her and she swung around to see half the people from the ballroom pursuing her. They were yelling obscenities and screaming, out for revenge. Her eyes mad with desperation, she looked for a way out but all she could hear was the angry mob and the gongs of the clock reminding her that her fantasy was over. 

When they caught her, she wouldn’t be formally imprisoned. She had already admitted what her living hell was and they would put her back there. Then there would be no chance of escape ever again. She shook her head wearily. She could not go back there. She would not go back.

The palace’s balcony was in front of her and her pursuers were catching up. She looked at the star spotted sky beyond the palace walls and took a deep breath, running towards it. Her foot burned with every step but she ran fast, and when the pillars of the balcony loomed in front of her she kept running until she was treading thin air. She was flying. And then she was falling. Until she wasn’t falling anymore. 

The guests at the party reached the pillars she’d just jumped over and looked down to see her sprawled on top of the pumpkin she’d arrived in, her body unrecognisably deformed. Her last thoughts were of how powerful she’d felt with that wand in her hand. The lingering satisfaction of seeing her stepsisters as cleaning tools left a smile on her face as she closed her eyes for the last time at the final gong of the clock.