Timeline Struggles • Writing Thoughts

A few weeks ago I was certain that I’d have a finished draft by the end of February. Well, it’s March now and it’s still not finished, so needless to say I was far too ambitious. I notched my arrow and it flew far past the target. That being said, I’m okay with it. It’s better to do the thing right than do it sloppily in an impressive amount of time.

Although I still have a few scenes to write – tricky ones – the problem for me at the moment is my timeline. I write totally out of order, it’s just something that works best for me. I always endeavour to start out in a linear fashion but to avoid writer’s block I often have to give up on a scene and start a new one to keep my momentum going.

novel timeline

Unfortunately, this tactic leaves me with several different timeline problems.

To give a little information on my book, I have three main characters. Two of them are in totally different social classes but they live in the same country and the other character is a soldier who lives in a neighbouring country. My problem right now is knitting together the different POVs so that they make sense to a reader. The events in the book affect my characters in different ways, but I need to figure out which order the chapters go in before I can call my first draft “finished”.

The timeline is super important, not only to make sure the novel makes sense, but also to create and maintain that all-important page turning tension. It’s a pickle, and it takes a lot more time than you’d think, especially with unfinished scenes.

novel timeline

My plan at the moment is to just finish all the scenes and then summarise them onto cards. Then I’m going to place the cards in a line and move them about as needed. Once I have a narrative I’m happy with, then I’ll put the chapters in the right order. Only then will I consider the first draft finished, so realistically I’m looking at another month of work.

Okay. Plan formulated. Back to writing!

5 Ways To Get In The Writing Mood

It can be very hard to turn off from technology and work commitments and get yourself in the writing mood, but when you’re dedicated to following your dream and becoming a writer, you need to set time aside.

Someone on Twitter put it really well: see it as a daily appointment that you must always keep with yourself. When you think of it like that, it’s much easier to set other things aside and commit to a daily word goal. Make it a priority.

Other than this, there are a few other things you can do to get in the mood to write, write, write:

Sound 

I don’t just mean music. I always fall asleep to the sound of heavy rain (I really dislike silence, it just doesn’t work for me) and I’ve found that anytime I hear it I get very relaxed. I get day-dreamy. It’s a calming, creative space that I’ve created for myself and it’s allowed me to explore a range of new sounds as well.

Nature sounds can be very helpful when writing particular scenes, for instance ocean noises would help place you in your created environment if it was set by the sea or seagull sounds for a scene at the docks. Play around with different settings and see if it helps you.

Get uncomfortable 

This might be the worst advice for someone who likes to write buried in a mound of pillows and fluffy blankets, but I always write better when I’m just a little uncomfortable. It feels more like work that way. If I’m so comfy I can feel myself getting sleepy, chances are I’m going to fall asleep when I should be writing.

get in the writing mood

Whether you’re perched on a hard wooden chair or you’re just a little too cold, try being a bit uncomfortable and watch your word count rise.

People watch 

Sometimes writers forget that thinking is also part of the writing process. You don’t need to have your fingers balanced on a keyboard or a pen in your hands to be in the writing mood. Thinking through a particular scene or a character’s development in itself can make you want to sit down and write.

After all, there’s no point being in the writing mood if you have no inspiration and nothing to write. Spend an hour or two in a café or at a bus station and watch how people move, how they react to the mundane, how they walk down the street and what quirks they have. You might be surprised how excited you’ll be to write it all down.

Set up a routine 

This is an important one if writing is your day job. It can be so easy to get lost in the dull hours of a day and you might find yourself taking “a quick break” only to be engrossed in a Netflix show a few hours later.

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Whether it’s in the morning or at night time or half an hour at a time during meals, make a routine and stick to it. If you write best in the morning, sit down at your desk first thing and bang out 500 words with your breakfast. Whatever works best for you. Make sure to do it regularly, as if it was a job you can get fired from.

Make a steaming cup of tea 

I’m Irish so I believe a cup of tea solves almost every problem, but it’s not just the warmth and comfort of a steaming mug that helps, it’s also the act of tea making. Filling the water and waiting for it to boil, then waiting as the tea bag steeps is a good time for you to go over some of the previous day’s writing.

get in the writing mood

It allows you to think what you’re going to do next and chances are it’ll be a few moments of solitude for you as you throw off sleep and start a new day (and a new page).

What gets you in the writing mood? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!

So Close To The Finish Line • Writing Thoughts

NaNoWriMo finished over two months ago and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (finally!), and in case you were wondering, yes, my novel is filled with cliché, overused phrases just like that one. However, the only reason I’ve even gotten this far is because I’ve put the editor in me firmly on the back burner and allowed myself to just write. 

Many authors agree that the magic of writing is in the re-writing, and I couldn’t agree more. I know there are lots of problems with my draft and there will be plenty of things I’ll have to change, polish or re-write entirely, but for now I’m happy just to finish. That is the goal for this next month, and hard as it is sometimes, I do see myself with a full draft by the end of the month. I’m very excited!

It’s now officially the 5th of February so I have approximately 3 weeks left. In saying this, I’m not going to hold a rope at my own throat. If I don’t finish in the next few weeks I’m not going to make myself feel like a failure. I have a planned deadline that I don’t want to go over (and I don’t think I will unless I come down with dreaded writer’s block), but as long as the draft is mostly done by the end of the month, I’ll be happy enough.

This is just an update as to where I’m at with my NaNo novel (honestly I didn’t think I’d get this far). Once I get the first draft polished, I plan on re-reading it and making more changes, then I’ll approach an agent and publishers. After that, I’m going to go back to my initial story (check out my M.A.D. section to find out more about my first attempt at writing a novel) and create a proper outline for it (I think I’ve finally abandoned the ‘pantser’ life). Then for Camp NaNoWriMo I’m going to try for 50k again!

Phew.

That’s the plan. Fingers crossed for me!

Drawing Maps & Growing As A Writer • Inspiration Wall 02

This was a great week for me in terms of writing. Scenes have been flowing better, I’ve plugged a few plot holes and I’m more confident in the path I’ve put my characters on. It’s a win all round! I don’t like to risk jinxing myself but I think I’ll finish my first draft by the end of next month! I’m definitely feeling very positive.

novel writing

Growing as a writer 

I wrote an article last year on ‘author envy’ – that overwhelming feeling of jealousy when you hear that another writer (especially if they’re the same age or younger than you) has not only finished writing their book, but they’re about to get it published. This exact situation happened in my life in the past year; a girl I know worked hard and finished her book and then she got a publishing deal. I couldn’t bring myself to be happy for her, I just couldn’t. All I felt was my undeniable failure in the face of her success.

novel writing

I think this is just something every writer goes through, and it’s nothing to do with the great achievement of the other writer. It really isn’t. It has everything to do with insecurity and feeling like you’re not good enough, like you’re never going to achieve your dream. It’s odd isn’t it? You’d think seeing someone succeeding – someone who is in the same boat as you – would only serve to motivate you more? For me it didn’t.

I was kind of down for a while afterwards, but I pushed on with my writing anyway. I’m so glad I did as I’m now near the finish line and, as a nice bonus, I can now say that I am truly happy for the girl I know who is soon to be a published author. It really is wonderful because, like me, being an author is her dream. You should keep an eye out for her upcoming book called The Space Between which will be published by Little Island. She’s a fabulous, unique writer so I’m sure it will receive rave reviews!

Map making 

Inkarnate.com is a really fun tool to use if you’re planning out a world and you want to get all your visuals down on paper, so to speak. The software allows you to put a basic map together and you can even add things like castles and different types of trees and land (swampy, desert etc.) to personalise it even more. I had a bit of a tinker with it and came up with a fun visual for me to work off of while I’m writing.

I spent approximately 5 minutes on this so it would be infinitely better if I committed real time to it, but it does what I want it to – it allows me to have a good idea of the sizes of the countries in my book and their proximity to each other.

inkarnate world building

Everything is falling into place 

When I first started writing my novel I was worried about the ending. Mainly because I didn’t have one. This is where the ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ style of writing is inspiring. It can take you to a part of your story that you may never have thought of while carefully planning each scene.

When I was a kid I just wrote any old thing that popped into my head. Planning had absolutely no place in my “process”, so to speak. Now I plan a little and wing it a lot, but one isn’t better than the other. They both have their place, and lots of writers prefer different kind of methods.

I’ve never gotten this far in a story before (65+k), so I’m pretty sure that I’ve found my sweet spot. Here’s to many more thousands of words next week!

novel writing

Using Irish culture 

As I mentioned in my first Inspiration Wall, I’ve been looking into my culture more and taking a few elements that I find really beautiful and fascinating to weave them into my story. Some of these things are really small – just details, really – but it’s not just the big, obvious parts of a tale that make it so memorable to the reader. I want to make my story unique.

One of the things I plan on using are ghillies, which are little black Irish dancing shoes that you lace up under the sole. One of my characters dances in an inn and she’ll mention these in one of the scenes. Another thing I plan on including is a rag tree, which you can find in many areas of Ireland. Rag trees are regular trees (usually near a Holy Well) where people with problems or illnesses tie a piece of their clothing/a rag to the tree. It’s said that the problem or sickness will go as the rag rots.

rag tree novel

I loved that Leigh Bardugo included some elements of Russian culture in her Six of Crows duology, as I looked up a lot of the words she used out of interest. It would be fantastic if someone unfamiliar with Irish culture looked up aspects of it because they read my book!

Also, it’s not surprising but I’ve been listening to a lot of Enya this week (LOVE her, she is a national treasure!) and if you’re writing fantasy scenes featuring elves or witches or magic then this music will inspire you. She’s responsible for helping create the stunning LOTR score so, you know, trust me on this one.

 

What gave you inspiration this week? Let me know in the comments below!

Writing People of Colour & Irish Culture • Inspiration Wall 01

I’ve decided to do a weekly Inspiration Wall so that I can talk briefly about writing resources I’m using, pictures that inspire me, books I want to read, things I’m listening to etc. during the week, so read on if you want to know what I’m up to in between writing sessions!

Firstly, a few inspirational quotes for the week!

writing quote writing quote writing quote

Writing people of colour

In my novel for NaNoWriMo – which I’m currently still working on (note to self: must come up with title) – one of my main characters is a black girl with natural afro hair. One of the things that’s always made me a little nervous about writing is how to describe different ethnicities, particularly East Asian and black characters.

Obviously I don’t want to write characters in a way that’s offensive (not only is that insensitive, it takes away from who the character is rather than what they look like) so I decided to search online to see if there were specific words that were particularly frowned upon to be aware of when I’m writing.

I found a great site called Writing With Color, which discusses different suitable and unsuitable words used to describe people of colour. One of the words in particular that I had intended to use was “kinky” to describe my character’s hair. I thought it was a good descriptor but the people who run the site aren’t super fond of it, and I actually picked up much better suggestions while scrolling the site.

writing people of colour

Other words not recommended for usage included “nappy”, which is a derogatory word for natural afro hair, and “wooly” due to the animal connotations. Needless to say, I learnt a lot on the site and I’m glad I checked it out as I feel much more confident about writing people of colour now.

There are so few people of colour in fantasy books that I don’t want to create a black character and then describe her in a problematic way. Quick research like this is so easy to do and can make a big difference to readers who don’t often see themselves represented in fiction; there’s really no reason not to do it.

Main character inspirations 

I have certain ideas in my head of what my characters look like, but I love searching for models/pictures of people who resemble them so that I can properly visualise them as real people.

I’ve finally found three girls that look very similar to how Anika, Neave and Thea look in my head. Thea is the girl with long black hair, Anika is the red head and Neave is the girl with natural afro hair that I spoke of above.

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I’m currently about 60,000 words or so into my story and I know I’m nearly through the tunnel (and into the trenches for the many editing sessions that are coming my way!) Here’s to the next 60k for book 2!

As well as looking for character inspiration (I find that sitting in a café and people-watching is a fantastic way to round out existing characters – the mannerisms and habits and flaws of real people can help make your character seem more 3D) I love checking out aspects of different cultures that I could weave into my stories. I’m Irish myself and we have a very rich cultural tapestry spanning thousands of years, so I’ve been looking into Celtic myths and legends lately.

Irish myths and culture irish culture

One thing in particular I’d like to add to my current story is the style of Irish dancing dresses. If you’ve never seen one, they’re quite short and covered in triple spirals and Celtic-inspired designs. They’re also usually very colourful and bright (and topped with a curly wig). I wish I was any good at art as I’d love to draw out my idea for traditional dresses worn by the women of the country I’ve created in my novel. Basically the colours will be muted in comparison to the loud and proud hues of traditional Irish dancing dresses, but they’ll still feature the heavy spiral designs and they’ll be floor length.

Music to set the scene 

I’ve also been taking some inspiration from sean nós singing – which is a very old, traditional style of singing as gaeilge (in Irish) – as well as Enya (pretty much her entire body of work) and choir music. I don’t know if you write while listening to music, but I’ve recently gotten into it and find that it can really help set a scene in your mind.

Wish listbook wish list

I’ve heard so many good things about ‘Binti’ and ‘Akata Witch’, both written by acclaimed writer Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m not exactly flush with cash right now so I’ll have to wait to buy them.

What has inspired you this week? Let me know in the comments!

50,060 Words • NaNoWriMo 2016 Recap

50,060 words 

Like many NaNoWriMo participaints, at the start of the month 50k words was my goal. However, I truly didn’t think I’d actually be able to do it, even when I hit 43k words and 45k words and even at 47k when I had so little to go. I really didn’t think I’d do it. I thought I’d lose all motivation and give up on myself like I always do.

Needless to say, I’m immensely proud of myself. The furthest I’ve gotten to that number ever before was 20k words and that was over the course of a few months. I managed 50,060 words – coherent words at that – in just under a month. I finished on day 29.

One of the reasons I think I did this was because, for one thing, I was excited about my story and my characters. And secondly, I paced myself. I wrote a post halfway through November called ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race’. While other participants on Reddit’s r/nanowrimo and Instagram were boasting about their 20k word counts after just a few days, I took my time.

Even when I was on a roll with a scene, I stopped writing after approx. 2k words because I wanted to be able to start the next day on a good note. I never wanted to create a situation where I was facing a blank document with nothing to write because I used up all my creative energy the day before. There is something to be said for strategic writing.

Something I was surprised at was the fact I didn’t need a rewards system to keep me going. I put a chart on my wall featuring mini word goals with spots for gold stars. I filled the chart in for about 10 days and then stopped doing it. It didn’t feel necessary for me, and I’m quite glad of that. It shows me that I don’t need to bribe myself to keep going which, to me, is a good sign for someone who wants to make a living as an author.

Overall, the experience was a great one. Not only did I learn discipline and the art of writing every day, even if it’s only a little bit, I also wrote half of my first book in what I hope will be a trilogy. I expect the rest of book 1 to be covered in another 40k words or so to round it off at 90k. I know these seem like lofty goals, but after achieving so much in such little time, I feel like I can do anything.

I hope that high lasts.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race • NANOWRIMO 2016

It’s day 4 of NaNoWriMo 2016 and I’m about to start writing my words for the day. I’m feeling confident about the scene I’m writing so I figured I’d take a few minutes to write an update on how the challenge is going!

My total so far is 5,300 words, which I’m delighted about. It’s taught me that even writing a little bit a day is so important and it’s something that I’m going to try and continue after I’ve finished my draft. That’s another thing as well; I’ve realised that I am capable of writing a novel despite all my crippling insecurities. Hard work and commitment will get me there.

I absolutely know that I will finish the challenge at the end of the month with 50,000 words under my belt, something I’ve never managed to do before. I’m already planning on how I’m going to celebrate and I’m feeling so happy with how my story is going that I genuinely think I’ll continue editing it and adding to it over the next few months. So all in all, NaNoWriMo couldn’t be going better!

write every day

One thing I worried about was reaching the 1,667 word goal every day but it hasn’t been a struggle so far. Yesterday while I was lurking on the NaNo sub on Reddit, I noticed that a lot of people were posting about their word counts (some of which were five figures already) and it made me a little nervous about my own figure, even though I’ve exceeded my goal every day.

This is one of the reasons past participants have warned about comparing yourself to other writers/checking their progress against yours and other detrimental things. You start to doubt whether you’re doing as well as you thought, and that only leads to demotivation and procrastination and, finally, giving up.

From my experience so far, I think the approach of ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is the best course of action. Obviously, everyone is different, but I think it would be easy to burnout if you went hell for leather in the first few days. On day one, for instance, I had a good idea of the first five or six scenes I’d write, but I’m glad I didn’t try and do it all at once. Not only does this give you a bit of breathing room (and time to think of other details for the scenes), it also gives you something to start with each day. There’s nothing worse than facing a blank page when you haven’t the faintest idea where to start.

writing nanowrimo

Now if you’ll excuse me, I should be writing!

Are you participating this year? What do you think so far? Best of luck to everyone!