On a break, or “I hate downtime”

When looking for tips on writing on a book, one of the big ones you’ll be given is that once you finish each draft you should put it away in a drawer for x amount of time. This gives you a break, letting you relax your brain and come back to it fresh.

What they don’t say is how hard this is!

Writing is, by its nature, something that totally engrosses your mind. You’re crafting something by putting yourself in the middle of an imaginary world, creating, destroying and rearranging every little piece one by one. First you work in broad sweeps, then slowly dig deeper and deeper until you’re swapping words and punctuation back and forward as you try and find the perfect configuration of language. By the time you’ve finished a draft you’ve thought and rethought over ever bit of it so many times it becomes impossible to see the wood for the trees. You can remember every change and option not chosen to the point where you honestly can’t tell whether or not you made the right choice.

This is why giving yourself that space is important. You need to be able to clear out your mind and come back to it later with a new perspective. It’s a simple thing, really. Often, problems you couldn’t get through for love nor money suddenly give up obvious solutions you just couldn’t see before. The mistakes that need correcting become clearer, as does the realisation of which bits work and no longer need as much attention.

The problem is how suddenly having nothing to work on is something I’m not good at.

After so long trying to cram as much writing into what free time you have – especially when you have a day-job or family – suddenly having that time free just feels wrong. Today on my lunch break I’ve gone through some messages, organised some photos from the holidays on my phone, browsed social media a little, and written this blog post. And there’s still ten minutes left to kill.

But all I want to is get on with my book!

I think a large part of this is down to the fact that when you’re still looking for your big break its hard to fight the feeling you’re not moving forward. I can’t get an agent without sending them my work. I can’t send them my work until it’s finished. It’s not finished until its good enough. It won’t get good enough without my putting time and effort into it.

And when I’m not actively writing, then it doesn’t feel like I’m trying.I want, more than anything, to get my writing career off the ground. I have a – relatively – organised mind and I know each of the steps I need to follow. But the main step – the process of actually writing the book – takes so long that it can feel like I’m not moving forward at all. I hate the people who say they want something and then don’t try as hard as they can to make it happen. I don’t want to be one of those people, but I can’t help the fact that’s how I feel between drafts.

And so here I am, not working on my WIP, and forcing myself to believe that’s okay.

Luckily I have the fact that there is no point in my working on my WIP until I get notes back from my Alpha Readers. Currently I’m waiting on two more people to give me their notes, and until then it’s pointless my doing any work. And so I’m forced to stay away from my manuscript until they’re done.

I often wonder if this feels different for established authors. I know they have a entirely different set of worries, but when you have a agent and a publisher, when your work has been published before and you have a solid book deal in place, and when you can know that whenever you finish your WIP it will almost certainly get published, is this need to keep writing to get to the point where you can actively push forward with the “real” steps towards getting published still such a big thing? Or are you able to step away when you need to without feeling guilty?

Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back at this post and answer my own question. I can but hope.

The Æther Collection – latest draft

So yes, it’s been a while. As I laid out in my last post, I’ve been a little busy recently. Would you like to see what’s been keeping me away?

This.

The Æther Collection - 4th Draft

The Æther Collection – 4th Draft

I present to you the latest draft of The Æther Collection in all its glory. A collection of 13 short stories coming in at just under 80,000 words. I can’t really say what number draft this is, as the redrafting process has been a little haphazard. At the start, when I was posting each story on here as it was completed, I worked on one story until it was done and then moved onto the next. Later I began working on several at a time and the process became more linear. And so this means that different stories at at different levels on completion depending on when they were written. Some of the entries are basically done, while others will still need work. But for the sake of clarity I’m calling this the 4th draft, as it’s the forth version I’ve exported and saved in its entirety.

Now I’ve handed copies of the manuscript over to my usual Alpha Readers to make a start. Hopefully in the New Year they’ll start getting back to me with their notes and I’ll begin the next stage of revisions. Hopefully I won’t get any points back along the lines of “this one is awful, get rid of it”, but we’ll see what they think. Then comes the traditional fooling myself that I only need one more draft…

So what do I do while I wait?

  1. I have several more ideas for short stories than just those that fit into this collection. The problem is when you are focusing on one project you work on any old idea as you’ll never get anything done. But now I finally have the chance to work on these for a change. I have at least one that’s half done and has been sitting on my desk for months waiting redrafting. Hopefully I’ll that one done and still have time to at least get one more into decent shape before I need to get back into the Collection again.

  2. I need to start working on designs. I’ve already got Emily – my sister and designer – to put together the first version of the cover image for The Æther Collection, and it looks awesome. When I’m at home over Christmas we’ll go over this and start working on the final versions. This time I have a far better idea of what I’ll need. One of the problems I had with The Serpent’s Eye – it being my first self published bookwas that I didn’t know what I needed until I needed it. This meant that every time I wanted to put the cover image on a new website I had to go back to Emily and get her to work on it fresh and send me a new version in a different layout or resolution or some other strange variation. This time around I can make a full list of everything I used last time and get her to create everything (hopefully) in one go.

  3. In preparation for book completion I need to start working on my Scrivener-foo. I absolutely love the programme for writing, and I know that in theory it’s great for laying out a manuscript and exporting it however you need. However, at the moment my abilities are pretty much limited to trial and error, which leads to hours of frustration as I desperately try to work out how to make it do what I want. I’ll definitely be spending some lunch hours watching online How-To guides.

  4. I’ve spoken on here before about how advertising and promotion are not my strong suits. However project management is. Therefor I’m intending to make my promotional efforts far more of a structured project this time around. This one is the hardest, as (a) it’s not directly linked to the creation of the book, and (b) I don’t enjoy it. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put the effort in if I want to get my work out there. So, time to start thinking in advance about these things.

I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with. I’m also hoping to give my social media a bit of a kick and get connecting with people again. Focusing on redrafting does tend to put you in a very inwardly focused world. But then I suppose writing as a whole does that. I just have to get my head around the culture shock of wrapping up the writing side of things and focusing on the other aspects of life.

Fun.

Cover Reveal

So I’ve finally finished the last draft of The Serpents Eye. This one comes in at 42200 words. That’s a 2700 increase. Which I do think it needed. Once it was pointed out to me, I could definitely see the second act was a little sparse. It had been written as I had planned it, but sometimes you can be so focused of seeing something out as you planned it that you don’t see there is a slightly better way of doing it until someone else highlights it. I hadn’t done these bits badly, they just could have been better.

They also pointed out a plot point that made no sense and needed removing. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s just say I need to buy an atlas…

I’m confident that the rewrite has improved the book as a whole. As much as the rewrite involved much changing of past to present tense, and then much double checking I’m done this correctly, its done its job.

So while it’s going through its final proofread, I thought I’d do a reveal of the cover art, as done by my talented sister Emily.

tom book a3 jpeg

I always hoped she’d come in useful one day. I’m loving the image she created. I think it gives a great vibe of the old 18th Century books that have inspired this story, but with something more modern mixed in with it.

And so now with the cover finished and the last copyedit on the way I can refine my timelines a bit. Depending on the speed of my copyeditors, I’m now looking to get The Serpent’s Eye out by the end of May. I will keep this blog updated to any changes, but hopefully I’ll finally get to see this story out there in the real world.

And then we’ll see what people think. That’s actually the scary part.

Working hard, or hardly wor… no, definately working hard

So yes, there’s been a bit of lapse between posts. Sorry about that. I really don’t like leaving so long between updates, but sometimes life gets busy.

The main reason I’ve been this lax is that I’ve got a new day job. I’m not complaining. As much as I enjoy getting to write full time, until I can start earning proper money through doing so I need a dayjob. And this one is great, and so if I can’t be writing full time I’m glad I’m doing this instead of some terrible wage slavery.

However is does mean that the amount of time I have for writing has plummeted. From as much time a day as I wanted, I now have little more than an hour a day. And that’s if I don’t have something come up that takes up my lunch break.

So what does that mean for my current plans. Well, I’m definitely not going to stop writing. I’m still going to be working on The Æther Collection. I fully intend to finish that collection, but there will be a longer gap between them now. I have one story waiting for a final draft, and another two all planned out in my head. They will come, but currently they are on the back burner.

The reason for this is that I’m currently working on the latest draft of The Serpent’s Eye. My last alpha-reader got back to me with some very interesting notes that have lead me to do a little bit of rewriting. It’s not a massive change, just smoothing out a couple of points to make the story flow a little more organically. And it has meant breaking up some sections and reordering them. This has meant more effort and restructuring than I was planning at this stage, but it’s all worth it. Before, when I was writing full time, I probably could have got it all done in a week, two at the outside. Now it’s taking a little longer.

And of course this means that there are fewer updates coming up onto the website. I’m looking forward to working on short stories again. With my truncated writing hours, the short story format is a very appealing form to me right now. Shorter work means it gets done sooner, and I can post more updates.

But the novella is my main focus right now. I really want to get this out in the next couple of months. My sister has put together an amazing cover design, and I’m excited about having it in its finished form and getting it out there.

But things can’t be rushed. There is no point in sending stuff out before it’s ready. There are so many terrible, half finished books being self-published these days, and I refuse to let myself join the ranks of wannabe authors with no quality control.

So my apologies for the delays, and please keep reading.

Proof reading

This post is sort of a follow up to my last. As I wrote last week’s post I found I had branched off on a couple of tangents, and so decided to cut them use them later. This was one of them, and the other will come next week.

I wrote before about how poor spelling can cause me issues as a writer. This week, I’m going to talk about proof reading my own work. In that I’m not very good at it. I’m not talking about editing. I can decide which sections need to be trimmed, expanded or otherwise tweaked. I mean actually proof reading and copy-editing the final product. My problem is that when reading my own work, I can sometimes simply not see spelling or grammatical errors, even when they are right in front of me.

I will always check my work, double checking every word, reading it aloud slowly, taking extra care to ensure I miss nothing. Then, having determined that I’ve caught and fixed all the errors, I will pass it on to someone else. Then, they will inevitably spot a dozen mistakes and typing errors that are blatantly obvious, and I look like an idiot.

It’s not spelling errors that cause issues here, as such. The miraculous tool that is Spell-Checker will highlight those for me. No, what gets me at this point is incorrectly used words. Words which are spelt correctly, but still wrong. Such as accidentally typing “spot” instead of “stop, or “weary” instead of “wary”. Or words that are redundant.

You want an example? Recently, a reviewer on YouWriteOn.com pointed out that in an excerpt I had posted of The Serpent’s Eye, there were two or three instances where I had left in unnecessary uses of the word “that”. I checked, and saw that they were quite correct; in the places they had mentioned, the word was utterly superfluous. Having fixed them, I decided to go through the entire manuscript, just in case I had done this anywhere else.

In the end I removed exactly 200 redundant “that”s.

Once it was pointed out to me I could see it easily, and using the Find function allowed a surgical search and removal. These redundant words were hangovers from the original vomit-draft, where I don’t worry about grammar and spelling and just get the story on the page. And over the course of the four following drafts, I just hadn’t seen them. Each time I re-read, my brain kept skipping over those extraneous “that”s.

It is deeply, deeply frustrating. I believe that the root of this is connected to the problem I have with spelling; when I am reading my own words my brain knows what is meant to be there and so often skips over the mistakes. But knowing this does not help the fact that it is still highly embarrassing to show your work to people and have them highlight myriad basic errors and mistakes. I know, as much as I don’t like it, that those of you who have read my blog posts and short stories on here must have spotted a bunch these errors. Just please believe me that these aren’t out of laziness. I’m trying, I’m just a bit rubbish.

I want to consider myself self-sufficient. That, if I needed to, I could write and polish my own work without needing any help from others. But I know I can’t.

This is yet another reason that alpha- and beta-readers are so important to the writing process. Sometimes you can be far too close to your writing, and you need honest, outside opinions of what works and what doesn’t work. And, in my case, to do my copy editing for me because my brain tries to be too clever.

Damn you brain!

And, as with my spelling, the only way I will improve is with practice. The more I read and critique, the better I will get. This is why sites such as YouWriteOn.com, which I mentioned before, are invaluable. Not only does this site allow you to get feedback on your work, it only gives you that feedback if you read and critique other people’s work first. This has given me the chance to see the kinds of mistakes others make, helping me to learn to spot them in my own work. I am better at proof reading other people’s work more than my own, so hopefully I will be able to develop this skill for myself.

At least, I hope that’s the case.