Speed vs. Quality, Or Writing Around Your Inner Editor

I’m thinking a lot about quality versus speed currently, especially as November lurks around the corner, ready to clobber us with cheap Halloween candy and miserable weather. November means NaNoWriMo, as I’m sure you know, and one of the chief lessons it has taught me over the years is to get the first draft out as quickly as possible and worry about making it pretty later. I’ve done Nano five times now, and succeeded each time (twice this year already, weirdly) so you’d think I’d have this lesson burnt into my brain tissue by now.

 

However, I’m working my way through the Copper Promise* at the moment, trundling along, reasonably happy, and suddenly my inner editor has started to get lairy. You want to go back, it insists, go back to the chapter before last and just fix that one bit where you forgot someone’s name. And go back to the part before that where one of the guards was a bit dopey and make him curious instead. Actually, sod it, go right back to the beginning and make it all fabulous and pretty and word-sexy, and then you can carry on to the final five chapters with peace in your heart and a smug look on your face.

 

I’m trying not to listen. But the Copper Promise is a novelette, about two thirds complete at this point, and it’s horribly tempting. What stops me is the certain knowledge that if I take my eyes off the ending I will lose it forever, and be lost in the world of word-sexy. I will be strong. I will finish. After all, this is only part 1 in a series…

 

* which may well now be The Sea-Glass Promise, or the Crosshaven Chronicles, or Tales from the Sea-Glass Road – I’m fluctuating at the moment. If you have a preference, do let me know!

No Giant Worms

Looking back through the last few entries, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a blog entirely about video games, or my unhealthy obsession with certain sprites. So as a reminder that I do also occasionally write stuff, here is a quick round up of my progress on “stuff that doesn’t involve the Xbox”.

 

1) Ink for Thieves has edged into that strange, twilight country known as “I’m a real book now almost, will someone please give me a home?”

 

2) I’ve just finished my first read-through of The Steel Walk since I finished the first draft, oh, ages ago. I think your writing style evolves over time, so reading back over it is a weirdly frustrating experience in places, as everything seems slightly off and a little wonky. However, with a lot of hacking and slashing (very appropriate for that book) I may well have something readable by the end of it.

 

3) The Copper Promise, which is the working title of my tentative ebook serial project, is happening in fits and starts at the moment. The current plan is to finish the first part (roughly 20,000 – 25,000 words) by the end of October, and take on parts 2 and 3 during Nanonwrimo, with the goal of getting the first bit out there for people to read by Christmas. All while re-drafting The Steel Walk… hmm.

 

4) Short story-wise, I seem to have fallen into a natural break. I have two stories not currently on submission anywhere, but in truth I am not altogether sure where to send them, as they’re both a bit… well, weird. For the time being I’m going to keep hold of the pair and see if something suitable occurs to me.

 

And that’s that! I’m sure you won’t have to wait long for me to be blogging about aliens and big guns again…

An Unexpectedly Sentimental Post

As a result of recent events there’s been a lot of talk online recently about whether or not writing is a business or an art, or if one takes precedence over the other. In lots of ways writing for a living (in that you get paid for it and need those cheques to pay your bills) is very much a 9 to 5 job, with as many deadlines and commitments and consequences as any other occupation. In the end, there needs to be money coming from somewhere, and when money is involved, it’s a business.

 

However, I still believe it is an art first and foremost. This occurred to me yesterday when I finished reading Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy. These books have been a happy surprise for me- a romping dark ages adventure with romance, betrayal, bloody violence and all that good stuff, but also curiously moving. The books talk a lot about legends and humankind’s need to believe in something, even if it is a fallible man who happens to good with a sword, and I find myself still thinking about that book and those characters today. I’m sure, in fact, that they’ll stay with me for a long time, and that’s art, if you ask me.

 

I’ve mentioned it on here before, but Lemony Snickett summed up how I feel about writing in an especially excellent Nanowrimo peptalk- the full version of which you can read here. When I’m feeling troubled about why exactly we do this and how I can possibly drag myself through another page of editing, I read those words and remember that I do it because making things feeds my soul.

 

“Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it.”

The Brave Bit

And lo, we enter the armpit of my writing year, the blind boil on the bottom of my writing schedule; here we come my friends to December, the worst of all writing months.

It’s easy for me to appear to be a fantastic, productive writer in November. Nanowrimo surges me through the month on a tidal wave of word counts, calendars, countdowns, word sprints and all nighters, presenting me gleaming and victorious on the other side with 50,000 words and a certificate of win clutched in one triumphant fist. I write my socks off that month and kick writerly ass in all directions; I even wrote a short story this time, as if I didn’t have enough to do, and managed it all with, if not grace, then at least relentless cheeriness.

So it is always painful to come immediately to the bumhole that is December, when you have so recently bathed in glory and achievement. In December I am exhausted, for a start, burnt out from all the late nights and early mornings of the previous month, and there’s the sudden looming horror of Christmas, which I am inevitably underprepared for because I’ve been throwing my heart and soul into Nanowrimo. I suddenly need to figure out what I’m getting people and how, and when, and with which magical beans, and there are social gatherings happening that might require my attendance and for me to wear something other than an old chocolate encrusted jumper.

And the real bitch of it is, thanks to Nanowrimo I’m also at the hardest point in the book, that stinking gulf of words between 50,000 and 70,000 words where anything and everything can go wrong, and usually does. Every time it is the same for me- this is the point where I desperately want to give up and start something new, where I’m convinced I’m a terrible writer and the story I’m telling is boring, pointless and barely makes any sense. Every word is an agony and all attempts to make something new and shiny shrivel and die on the page.

Oh December, what fresh hell is this?

So this is the Brave Bit. Nanowrimo makes you look exciting and bold and impossibly glamorous, with your thousands of words under your belt, but if you’re like me and the book needs another 50,000 words to finish, then December is where you show your true bravery; where you screw your courage to the sticking place and bear down for the sheer excruciating agony of writing. You’re in for the hardest part of the journey now and there’s no comforting community to keep you going, no sense of a joyful challenge or even the false assurances that you’re not that bad a writer- there’s only all those blank pages to fill, a worryingly tight shopping schedule and a parade of increasingly threatening Santas.

So, I’ll come back to it all in January, yeah?

Dark Fiction Magazine’s Twelve Days Anthology

So Nanowrimo is over, Dead Zoo Shuffle is half way through, and hopefully I’ll be back to blogging again regularly. Phew!

Just a quick note today to do a brief snoopy dance of Christmas joy- not because I’ve actually done all my Christmas shopping (pressies bought = 2) or because I remembered to buy an advent calendar, but because my short story “Milk” has been chosen as the “maids a milking” section of Dark Fiction Magazine’s Twelve Days Anthology.

All the details are here: http://www.darkfictionmagazine.co.uk/blog/twelve-days-anthology-the-winning-stories/

I’ve also been lucky enough to have another one of my stories included in Dark Fiction Magazine in Episode 2: Dystopian Desires. If you haven’t heard it yet, On the Last Wave is here: http://www.darkfictionmagazine.co.uk/episode/issue-2/

Obviously, I’m dead excited about this because it means my name is appearing next to some authors who I really admire- a truly fab christmas present. 😉

Dead Zoo Shufflings

At risk of jinxing myself, since I haven’t actually crossed the finish line yet (800 words to go!) I thought I’d do a quick post about this year’s nanowrimo experience, and the first 50,000 words of Dead Zoo Shuffle.

It started off rather peacefully, with a week in less than sunny Cornwall to bash out as many words as possible. Despite being largely sozzled much of the time I did manage to get a reasonable amount done on the incredibly long train journey, and in small country pubs with roaring fires. Really, I wish the entire Nano experience could be as picturesque and relaxing.

The following three weeks however, with work and my occasional attempts at a social life, have flown by at an alarming rate. So quickly in fact that I think I’ve barely been on the Nano forums this year, and have had none of the usual encouraging nanomail chats and banter. I’m a bit disappointed about that, as I always enjoy the sense of writerly community November brings, but it seems this year I had no time to do anything but get my head down and write.

Dead Zoo Shuffle itself is proving to be an interesting book to put together. I knew it would be a challenge, because it was both crime and science-fiction, both genres I don’t normally have much to do with aside from reading them, and I wanted it to be in the First Person. Since the only other book I’ve attempted to write from that viewpoint was a massive failure I half expected to give in during week 2 and make the whole thing third person after all.

But I haven’t. It’s hard, and I struggle with some of the twists and turns, but so far Dead Zoo Shuffle has managed to do something quite rare- it’s kept my interest at all times. Not to say that I’ve been bored shitless by my previous books, but there’s almost always a moment where I think “Ye gods, if I have to write about one more night by the campfire I am going to kill someone” or “How can I make their journey over to this place remotely interesting?”. DZS, with its teeming city planet of dodgy bars and even dodgier mercenaries, with its aliens and spaceships and artificial moons, has been strangely refreshing. Dead Zoo Shuffle has so much to keep me occupied I can barely keep up with it.

So hurrah for Nano for providing me with another interesting November. And here’s to the next 50,000 words!

Nanowrimo & the Small Plastic Dragon

So we are ten days into Nanowrimo. I’m glad to report that it has been proceeding reasonably well, and Dead Zoo Shuffle is 15,000 words in at Chapter 5- amazingly enough, exactly where I am supposed to be. The first five days were relatively easy, given that I was on holiday and had the rather lovely landscape of Cornwall to look at (which is always fabulous, even in November- possibly especially in November, with all the mists and autumn trees and fierce waves. If anything I was vaguely disappointed I wasn’t writing an epic fantasy of the sort that starts out in grassy hills and ends in perilous mountains…). I did my writing on the train, at the dinner table and in small country pubs, and had no trouble reaching the daily word count.

Writing while also having to go to work is a little bit trickier, but luckily I have formulated a routine over the last few months where I sneak into libraries and coffee shops and get it all done before I even have to think about the day job. This has set me in good stead for Nanowrimo, although that’s not to say it isn’t a struggle; the pace and the pressure are somewhat more extreme, after all, and I can’t give myself the night off just because I’m feeling sleepy.

The book itself is both hugely fun to write and incredibly challenging. I’ve written in the First Person before for short stories but keeping it going for an entire novel throws up all sorts of difficulties, not to mention the complications of writing about a human character on an alien world- and at its heart this is more a crime novel than a science-fiction story. But I’m loving Dirk Marshall and Zootsi, even Fredo and his dubious personal hygiene, and the dialogue in this story feels more natural than I’ve managed before.

So in celebration of my wobbly progress, I offer up some things I have learnt over the last few years of Nanowrimo that seem to have helped me:

Tell everyone you know that you’re doing it. I found this awkward and embarrassing the first year, as trying to explain why you’re writing an entire book in a month isn’t easy (“Yes, 50,000 words… Yes, I have to write them all myself… No, you don’t get a prize or any money at the end of it… well, it’s more about having, you know, written an entire book…”) but if everyone is expecting you to be flourishing 50,000 words worth of manuscript at the end of the month you’re less like to give up when you’re feeling a bit tired.

Rewards! Yes, the book at the end is the true reward, ahem, but that’s not to say that you can’t treat yourself with cool stuff as well. Don’t save it all for reaching the end either; 20,000 words is especially sweet when you can finally eat that special bar of chocolate or buy that CD. This year I have a Duncan the Grey Warden action figure on order for my future glory (What? Toys are rewards. Toys are allowed).

Speaking of toys, see if you can find a writing space! They probably aren’t essential, and to be honest I have used mine exactly 3 times so far this month, but having a little nook that is dedicated to writing and your book can help you feel like you’re taking it seriously. My desk is surrounded by pictures of things that interest me, and covered in toys, or, uh, writing mascots. This year I am assisted by Charlie the My Little Pony (a Nano veteran), Tyrion the Small Plastic Dragon and a couple of gaming dice for the cat to push onto the floor to wake me up (hopefully, they will soon be joined by Fully Articulated Duncan).

And there you go, those are my three main tips for Nanowrimo success, or at least, Nanowrimo fun. And if you are doing it this year, tell me what you’re writing about- my favourite form of procrastination is reading other people’s synopsises…
Good luck!

Stealth post!

Hello! Yes, here I am! I’ve cocked up the last couple of weeks, bloggingly speaking, so here is a random update.

I’ve been away mostly because a) I finished The Steel Walk finally (thank christ) and b) threw myself immediately into planning the Nanowrimo book, which has a working title of “Dead Zoo Shuffle”.

The Steel Walk was a rough journey at times, and it very nearly went all tits up at the 60,000 word mark (I seemed to be cursed at that stage of the book) but I dragged myself through and although I believe it is somewhat flawed, I’m glad I got to see what happened to Eri, Joseth and Saul. In that weird slightly lost state you have after finishing such a big project, I started to think about what exactly I’ve learnt over the course of the last four books, and what I’ll take with me into Dead Zoo Shuffle. I actually wrote some of it down, due to my memory being like one of those things with wotsits in.*

1) You need a subplot to balance the main narrative.

2) I like writing about cities. Lots of trees- not so much.

3) You’ve got to have some idea where you’re going. Let’s not do another “A Boy of Blood and Clay”.

4) Stories are secretly all about people and how they deal with each other.

5) Know your characters.

6) Don’t worry so much. You’re trying to find your own voice.

7) Chapters are useful. Try and keep track of them, yeah?

*holes!

From the Dark Side Anthology

Hello all! I was very naughty and missed my blog window last week. I know, I shall send myself off to bed without any tea tonight. But to make up for it slightly, today I have a super exciting blog with links and a video and very exciting news! See? I’m not all that bad.

The From the Dark Side Anthology is very close to being released. Soon you will be able to get your mitts on some excellent short horror fiction and poetry from some up and coming authors of towering talent and amazingness. And I have a story in there too. If you would like to see some excerpts to get you in the mood, do go along to http://jennybeans.net/ where our illustrious leader Jennifer Hudock has been putting up some groovy little teasers of the fiction on offer.

It’s not just about getting some chilling stories for a weeny amount of cash though- the From the Dark Side Anthology has been put together to benefit the Office of Letters and Light, http://www.lettersandlight.org/ . Now anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while will know that I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo, that crazy event in November where thousands of writers get together to encourage, cajole, bully and often bribe each other towards writing 50,000 words in a single month. Without the Office of Letters and Light we wouldn’t have NaNo or any of the other lovely events they organise- events that encourage everyone to follow their creative dreams and get that secret novel out into the open where it can breath. These are important things, if you ask me. Their Young Writers Programme in particular opens up the world of writing to kids- I wish when I was little there had been such a fabulous group of people around to say “You go ahead and write that Unicorns in Space Saga- no one else will be able to tell that story quite the way you will!”

So watch the trailer, read the excerpts (mine is here http://jennybeans.net/2010/07/02/from-the-dark-side-excerpt-jennifer-williams-the-twin/ ) and then treat yourself to a copy on Friday 9th. Because we all deserve a bit of dark lovin’.

It’s that time of year again…

Oh 2009, how shall we judge you?

Annoyingly, I am something of an optimist and normally reluctant to judge a year based on perhaps the last six months or so; if that were not the case, I would merrily tell 2009 to take a running jump off a prickly cliff. But I’m always looking for the silver lining in the dark clouds (or the smarties in the dog turd) so I shy away from condemning it completely. It’s time to look, perhaps, at what I hoped to do in 2009 and what I actually did, as awkward and slightly embarrassing as it may be:

By the end of this year I wanted to have finished Bad Apple Bone, written an entirely new novel, and a novella during November (which would also be finished).

What I actually did: Well, I did finish Bad Apple Bone (when was that? May? I think it may even have been on Star Wars day…), which was a major achievement I suppose, after two years writing the bugger. It was my first book, and my first real attempt at writing anything, and remains the truest thing I have written, I think.

I did start writing an entirely new book, A Boy of Blood and Clay, and even got 61,000 words into it, but made the rather silly error of mistaking research for planning, and found myself halfway through the book with only the slightest inkling of what was happening. Plus, I really loathed one of the main characters, and wanted to kill her off. Except she was already dead. Oh.
So that book remains at rest currently, “composting” as my favourite art tutor would put it. And the NaNoWriMo novella? Well that little bugger turned into an actual full length book, full of dirt and ooze and I’m-Not-Even-Sure-What-Happens-Next mystery, which made it brilliant fun to write, even as it grows in scope by the minute and I have no chance of finishing it this year.

In conclusion then, I have one finished novel, and two unfinished full length books; not exactly where I wanted to be, but, I have to look the bright side (or the Skittles in the dog plop); this year I have written, not including finishing Bad Apple Bone or any short stories that popped into existence, around 120,000 words. And I can’t really complain about that.

2010 will be the year I learn to give up my time properly to this fabulous craft, and start treating it like I really intend other people to read it some day. This year is The Year of Writing Dangerously.