Embracing your sloppy first draft

stay positive

So I have begun the intimidating and grueling process of creating my ‘first draft’. And honestly there was nothing more scary than setting out to write that introduction.  As I typed out the words, the voice in my head was screaming rather loudly and words to the effect of “Is this the best that you can do?  It’s terrible.  Go bake a cake instead!

Bear with me while I introduce you to said voice.  I lovingly refer to her as Natalie.  I named her Natalie because it is vaguely reminiscent of both ‘nasty’ and ‘Nazi”.  Natalie is both of these things (and a lot more besides!).  Natalie is responsible for keeping me firmly in the land of the procrastinators for years.  And I mean YEARS.  After all, I am no spring chicken (ahem!) and this is not by any means the first novel that I have attempted to write.  I blame Natalie for the fact that in the past I have resorted to all sorts of life-changing decisions in response to the challenge of writing a novel.

Here, for your amusement, is a little list that I like to call “Ways to avoid finishing a novel”:

  • Started a children’s novel and too scared to finish?  Why not get pregnant instead?
  • Started a romance novel and too scared to finish?  Why not get pregnant again?
  • Started another novel of the ‘literary’ genre?  Why not emigrate to New Zealand instead?
  • Got an idea for another great novel?  Why not retrain as a lawyer instead?
  • Know you want to be a writer?  Why not ditch the law degree and retrain as a therapist instead?

The list goes on.  And on.  That Natalie is a real slave driver, I can tell you.

But finally, Natalie and I had to have a talk.  After all, there was nothing more that I could do to avoid writing.  I had done all that I could to distract myself.

I had a lovely life that brought me joy daily.  But I was still frustrated until I realised that the problem lay in my close personal relationship with Natalie.

Having a heart to heart with your inner critic

Like many toxic relationships, my relationship with Natalie was a love-hate one.  I hated her and she loved me hating her.  I listened to her and she loved to be listened to.  It could have gone on forever but I had had enough.  I needed to get real about what I really wanted from my life.  I had to get real about the fact that ‘achievements’ meant nothing if you couldn’t really give a rat’s arse about the thing that you had achieved.

So one night (0ne of those dark night’s of the soul… I know you’ve had one!) I told Natalie that we were through.  I was gracious enough to let her know that she could hang out with me only if she kept her mouth shut.  And this was the killer, I told Natalie, that voice in my head, that I had decided to write a novel and that I didn’t care if the first draft was awful.  In fact I didn’t care if the fifth/ twentieth draft was awful, I just wanted the pleasure of writing these little words: “The End”.

And so I have begun.  Natalie is still hovering but I am ignoring her and embracing the idea of a sloppy first draft.  I am loving the fact that I can breathe into the story and worry about technicalities and ‘art’ later.

An invitation to create slop together:

Today why not join me?  Gag your inner critic (whatever their name is!) and embrace the sloppy glory of your first draft.  It will be worth it, I promise.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to silence your inner critic.  All suggestions gratefully received in the comments….

 

How to set a realistic writing target

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Image courtesy of this site

We have all read the importance of setting ourselves a writing target, but today I am thinking closely about the importance of making that target achievable.  Now that Nanowrimo is over for another year (got as far as signing up this year which is progress!!) it would be tempting to think that we could all churn out 50 000 a month, if only we could get up an hour earlier, or imprison the children for an hour or so every day.  Or, that most insidious of suggestions, relax our housekeeping standards a little.

Mmmm I have to say that I do not want to be the kind of writer who festers in her own dirty pajamas, surrounded by mouldy coffee cups and stinking piles of dirty laundry.  As a writer, I enjoy a tidy desk, and as a mother/wife, I enjoy a tidy home, so there is nothing for it but to try and find a way of having it all.  After all, isn’t that what we are all supposed to be able to do as women in the twenty-firsty centureee!

I considered going all manic and setting myself a mammoth target, piling out the first draft in six weeks max and then going into writers rehab but it just didn’t seem like fun to me.  I suppose it is a little bit like running.  Do you do the marathon approach and ‘train’ for it?  Or do you take a gentle jog every day?

To be honest, I know nothing about running because I am pretty sure that I am allergic to the mere idea of moving my body at speed, but as a writer, I can, of course imagine that the metaphor is somehow apt.

I knew that setting a word count target was important.  I also knew that it was impossible for me to write every day.

So here is what I did?

HOW TO SET A REALISTIC WRITING TARGET

1. Decide how many words you would like your novel to be roundabouts.  I chose 100 000 words because it seemed like a nice round number and is about the average wordcount for a decent novel.

2. Decide when you would like to complete your first draft.  I decided that 16 weeks was a good aim.

3.  Divide the figure from 1 by the number of weeks that you have set as your timeframe (2).  In my case that is 6250 words per week.

4. Divide the figure from 3 by 6.  This gives you a day off for good behaviour.  That gives me a writing target of 1042 words per day.  Which I have to say is totally doable.

5.  Create a pretty chart on which you can colour in the columns for each day.  I even set little smaller targets of 250 word increments. When I have written 250 words, I colour in that day up to that number and so on.

6. Buy yourself some gold stars.  When you hit your target for the day, give yourself a gold star on that column.

7.  When you have got five gold stars, give yourself a little treat.  Because you are so worth it, Beautiful!

So there you have it, my handy guide to setting realistic word targets.  16 weeks is like four months.  If you need longer, go for it.

Because you can do this.  And you know it.

How do you motivate yourself to hit a word target in your writing?  All tips gratefully received.  Leave a comment below….

when you fall off the wagon, get right back on again

flowers-widescreen-wallpaper-bicycle-fragrant-wallpapers-image-wallwuzz-hd-wallpaper-18885Image from:  http://cdn.wallwuzz.com/uploads/flowers-widescreen-wallpaper-bicycle-fragrant-wallpapers-image-wallwuzz-hd-wallpaper-18885.jpg

When you fall off the writing wagon, or blogging wagon for that matter, it seems that popular wisdom tells me to get right back in the saddle again.  I confess that, true to my plan, I have desperately fallen off the writing/blogging wagon over the last couple of months.

I make no apology because the fact of the matter is that life got in the way.  I had an overseas visitor and a serious soul-searching date to grapple with and something had to give.  Blogging was the thing I had to let go of.  So I did.  Just like that.  Gone!

A few times, I sat down at my computer and told myself to just write a blog, write a paragraph, just write.  But I couldn’t.  There was nothing there.  The well was dry.

So rather than moan about it, or stress about it, or see it as some sign from the universe that this was all going to custard.  I rested.  I played.  I took little steps like planning chapters, or doing research, or creating character profiles.

Rather than resisting the urge to stop, I decided to go with it and see where it would lead me.

When you feel the need for a rest, listen to it.

So instead of pushing myself and telling myself to be a disciplined person, I listened to my body and gave myself some time off.

I am so glad that I did.  Not only did I decide to tackle a completely different novel from the story that I had originally envisaged writing first, I also discovered the joy of movement.

Instead of sitting in front of my computer screen, I took myself for a swim.

Instead of lying around thinking, I went out walking.

And it felt good.

Because the fact of the matter is that I want writing my novel to feel good.  I want it to be fun.  I don’t want to imbue with the urgency of unrealistic time allocation and reaching targets.  I was able to trust that, in time, those things would put themselves in place naturally (More on this in the next blog post!).

So instead of feeling bad about falling off the wagon, I took the time to recharge and regroup.  I even took the opportunity to alter my course a little.

I am so glad I did.

Today then I invite you to consider how you can use your down-time to make you a happier writer.  That’s right – a HAPPIER WRITER.

Because writing should be fun.  It should feel like soul food.  It should feel satisfying.

How do you keep yourself happy as a writer?  Leave a comment.  Let’s talk!

Using “the Hero’s Journey” to tame your story

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

As I embark on the process of trying to get the trust of my story and draw it to me, I keep myself busy by reading around the subject of writing.  There are so many books there which extol the virtues of planning and setting rigorous writing targets.  I know that in time, when I actually put pen to paper, this guidance will be of use.

However at present I am sitting still and waiting for my story to present itself.  I have had a tendency to rush into new projects with all the joy and enthusiasm of a five year old at the art table.

I get easily burned and so I am learning to be still and rest.  Not just into my story but also into the whole idea of myself as Writer.

I have hidden from it for so long.  So afraid to truly embrace that this crazy stuuuuupid idea is not going away.

I think that is why the Hero’s journey a la Joseph Campbell by way of  Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
strikes such a chord with me.

Because the fact is that writing a novel is a journey too.  We must be heroic to face this challenge.  We must as writers step out of the ordinary world and accept the challenge.

Yes I can use the hero’s journey as a nifty little plotting tool, but perhaps I can also use it as a guide on my own journey through the writing process.  I know that I will have to tackle my demons if I am to write this story.  I know that there will be threshold guardians (possibly the bank manager….)  I will meet allies and make enemies (not you dearest reader, I hope!).

So for those of us who are embarking on this journey, here is the route that lies ahead:

1.  Ordinary World – you know, just trundling along finding distractions to make you feel normal and pay the bills.

2. Call to adventure – it’s the middle of the night and The Story arrives and won’t let you go.  Or  (as it was for me) you are washing the dishes and a whole world opens itself to you whispering “write me, write me…”

3.  Refusal of the Call – “me?  A novelist?  Don’t be stupid – I have responsibilities, jobs to do, things to finish off.  It’s not the right time.  I would if only I had….   I’m not good enough…. What’s the point…”

4.  Meeting with a mentor – website, youtube, library, amazon – mentors are everywhere these days, don’t you know!  Just take your pick.  WARNING: just the act of choosing a mentor can be a subtle form of procrastinating, perhaps??

5.  Crossing the first threshold – could be buying a new notebook and scribbling down your notes, could be opening up a new file on the computer and trying for those first few words.  The blank page is our first threshold as writers and the thing that makes it such a challenge is that the page represents all our fears, insecurities and limiting thoughts.

6.  Tests, allies, enemies – oh this will be a journey of stamina.  Perhaps we will meet allies through social media.  Perhaps the enemy is time, space, “real life”, stamina, discipline – you name it, they are all going to come out of the bag when you attempt a literary marathon.

7.  Approach to the Inner most cave – I imagine that this will probably hit at around 35 000 words when I suddenly feel uncertain as to whether I can even make 40000 words let alone 90000.  Here is where I will face my fears…

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

8.  The Ordeal  – do I continue or do I abandon?  Do I allow my fears as a writer to tell me to stop being so stupid and get a real job, or do I push through and use all my strength to finish the task?

9.  Reward – the first draft is done…. time for a coffee and a nice slice of cake.  Perhaps even a trip to the Office Supplies store???

10.  The road back –   editing, redrafting, printing off the first draft and feeling inordinately pleased with myself

11. Resurrection/ Climax – “this first draft is absolutely rubbish.  It needs completely redoing.  Why did I ever think that I could be anything?  Why did I waste my time?”

12.  Return with the elixir – publication?  the call from the agent?  hollywood battle for the rights?  multimillion dollar advance???   Or perhaps just the wondrous satisfaction of knowing that I finally finished my novel.  I battled with my demons.  I did it.  Little old me…

Who knows how my journey will turn out as a novelist.  But here is where I begin.  I am still in the ordinary world at present but I have had my call to action, mentors are presenting themselves to me.

The Threshold Awaits…..

What teachers have helped you at the start of your writing journey?  I would love some recommendations for great writing resources and inspiration.  Post a comment below.

Happy writing,

xxx

ps the book I was referring to can be found here. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition

How to start a novel?

How to start a novel? 

The million dollar question….  I think in the past I would have been rather methodical about he whole thing.  I would have planned each chapter and a word count, created a writing schedule and stuck to it.  I would have banged out the words to get the quota.

After all, we are all trained to work like machines and unfortunately we are often told that writing is no different.  Bum on the seat, fingers poised, stopwatch on and off you go.

photo credit: lucidtech via photopin cc

photo credit: lucidtech via photopin cc

I am sure that such a mechanistic model is very effective.  Just like I am sure that SMART goals work and that going to the gym on a regular basis will get your body in shape.  These are all proven methods.  They produce results.

But

I am so tired of being SMART.  I am exhausted by the punishing targets that I am setting for myself.  I have realized that as a boss of myself, I am a real BITCH.

So for this new novel, this first proper novel, I am choosing a new way.

I am retreating into my dream space.

I am resting and allowing the story to come to me.  Like a wild animal, my story needs to learn to trust me and in order for that to happen, I need to trust myself.

photo credit: lanuiop via photopin cc

photo credit: lanuiop via photopin cc

I need to rest into my writer intuition.  I need to trust that I have all it takes to tell this story.

Now, instead of thinking of plotting as Stage one of a project, I am retreating into the dreams.  Allowing the fragments of my story to drift to me, piece by piece.

I have set no words to these little pieces of ephemera.  I record them as they come in my trusty Moleskine.  I cut out pictures or pin them to my Novel Inspiration board.

I am trusting this new process.  It does seem rather right-brain and just a little bit dippy but, you know what, I am LOVING it.

Today why not join me in making a writer’s pledge to give your story the space to come to you.

Sit in the clearing of your imagination and allow your characters and their lives to creep out from the shadows and feed from your hand.

Here’s to intuition my friends.

What is your process for starting a novel?  Are you a planner or a dreamer?  Leave a comment I would love to know…

Juliette

How to start a “writer’s blog”

So you want to be a writer?  You have read the books and all of them talk about ‘platform’ and the importance of having a blog.  But how do you start a writer’s blog?  What the devil is really supposed to tantalise and excite your future readers?  Are they really interested in the ramblings of yet another wannabe writer?

Good questions indeed and the very questions that I ask myself as I sit at my keyboard to bang out this first blog post.

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The bit where I give you some background:

I will admit that this is not the first time that I have started a new blog.  This will be my fourth blog actually.  Am I seasoned blogger who knows the ropes and can tell you what works and what does not?  I wish.

Fact is that I really don’t have much of an idea about blogging and how to do it successfully.  I could write a book about the theory:  deliver good content, find your niche, be of great service.  Yes indeedie, I could tell you the theory and then some.  But now it seems that it is time to test those theories again…

And I am not all that excited about this prospect because I know that stats can be dismally depressing (I am not supposed to care but I do, sorry!).

I know that I am supposed to be tweeting and pinning and status updating and all sorts of other socialmediarie that is required of a “platform builder”.

So you know what, here is my declaration:

I declare that this is a blog that will possibly only be updated irregularly, despite my current intention to be very “regular” poster.

I will probably deliver content that is at best relevant but probably never “useful”, although obviously that is what I would like to think that I will do..

I am not an expert.  I have no niche.  Therefore some/ a lot of these posts will seem unrelated and possibly even, dare I say it,  tangential….

I am a writer who is just coming to terms with the weighty realization that if I don’t get off my backside and write this bloody novel then I could end up being one of those bitter old ladies that I really don’t like very much. I am just looking for a way to record my journey towards the writing of my first proper grown-up novel.

I am not a hot young thing dashing off text between parties and my job in the city.  I have ….ahem…responsibilities!

I imagine that I will find out lots of useful stuff along the way.  I also imagine that I will have to weather disappointment and failure.  There may be some rejection.  There may be tears.

But there will also be things to smile about.  There will be days when the words fly off the keypad.  There will be days when I wake up with whole chunks of razor-sharp dialogue just waiting to be caught.

But it is all yet to come.

This is DAY ONE of my writing journey. 

I am armed with a Moleskine and a coffee.  My ugg boots are warming and there is a granny blanket over my knees.

Watch out world – another lady writing!!

Again…..

Juliette xxx
photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc