Writing by Numbers

OK, so…

Yeah, alright, I get it. For anyone who actually is reading this, they will see that my posts have become so irregular, I may as well consider myself a spontaneous occasional producer rather than a regular blogger, and to improve upon that, I will have to get a better grip with what a schedule is, and find appropriate subject matter to talk about. Book reviews and opinions of writing seem to be a good start, though whether I should also get more controversial on everyone is also an interesting question, especially with all the nonsense that’s happening at the moment that I have strong opinions about…

But until then, I did want to post this, if only to have some kind of outlet for myself if nobody else will read this. Because it relates to a lot of the thought processes that go on whenever I sit down to write.

As of right now, I am still waiting for contacted agents to get back to me about my Private Tuition manuscript. I’m well aware that this is par the course for new writers, but I’m sure all those who have been in that situation would also agree that it can get quite demoralizing. Especially when you’re also looking for a job and get a whole heap of rejections or silence ad nauseum, but never mind that right now…

In waiting, I haven’t just ceased writing and am now working on the first draft of another novel, this one within the young adult contemporary genre, and I’m glad that the category it fits into is a little clearer this time. Perhaps more on that in another post at another time.

However, this particular work has been subject to intense review, as I made it the bulk of my major project for my postgraduate Creative Writing course! And as a result, it got some hefty scrutiny. As it is, I ended up passing with merit, but what was said about my earliest draft was definitely interesting, and it got me thinking, sometimes in enthusiasm about my work, other times in despair. Because, as of right now, I have no idea if what I write is remotely marketable. I can only know if people actually decide to sell it, and and people actually buy. And for all that people say about what makes a marketable read, I honestly think it might be one of the great unpredictables.

There is a ton of advice on writing out there, much of which I consume and much of which I give out myself (like, uh, right now), and most of it is well-meaning and good chunk of it is extremely useful. The problem is is that there is by no means any one-size-fits-all approach to writing anything, and this is especially true of fiction, and anyone who tells you otherwise is kidding themselves. Following every single rule you’re ever given as rigidly as possible with no allowing for wiggle room will just render you the ultimate example of someone who paints by numbers, or, as the title suggests, writes by numbers. Whilst it may be a story a lot of people want to buy, is it worth it if it’s not your story? For anyone who says yes…well, great, but if money’s all your care about, you shouldn’t have tried to make it by writing, for God’s sake. Furthermore, it never seems to be the formulaic works that find success (with exceptions, sure), rather those that actually make the imitators want to imitate it. Think of the wave of dystopian YA fiction that followed the success of The Hunger Games – how many of them really had a lasting impact?

Of course, this isn’t an absolute metric. Magical schools were very much a regular feature in children’s fantasy literature before Harry Potter came along, but nevertheless, I do feel there was something about this series in particular that it had in terms of wide appeal and storytelling that previous examples, such as Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch and Anthony Horowitz’s Groosham Grange lacked, for whatever reason. Obviously, that’s quite subjective, and discussing the successes and merits of the Harry Potter series is honestly something that deserves probably several posts. But the point stands – determining what will guarantee a work’s success is so contingent on other factors, it seems futile to put it down to a formula. There’s a quote relevant to this by the successful Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami that I found on one of my bookmarks, because, y’know, random stationery is the perfect thing to find inspiring. And, I’m going to quote it with the beautiful quote tool WordPress has that I was too much of an incompetent dork to use before:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Yeah, that didn’t go entirely according to plan, but now at least you can see where the quote is…

And I think he’s right about this, and it also stands to reason that this follows for writing advice – if you only write based on the advice people have given you, you’ll only be able to write what everyone else is writing.

Now, I exaggerated a little in this case, because actually, some advice when it comes to basic grammar, syntax and other foundational matters is pretty fundamental to follow. However, the more abstract and nuanced the subject matters become, the less fundamental the advice seems to be.

There is a lot of advice out there on hooks and inciting incidents when it comes to your story’s opening, and any normal three-act structure whatsit will tell you as much. For someone who had always enjoyed slow burn stories as much as fast-paced ones, and began to write a lot in the former category, partially because I seemed to enjoy the experience so much, this made me feel a little despondent. I couldn’t see ways for my story to serve a fast-paced plot. Now, hooking your reader early on is important, but what I eventually realized was how you do it is subject to a lot of different factors, primarily, what kind of audience you’re catering to and what they would find enticing. If you’re not sure on your audience, consider what you would consider enticing. They say you should write what you’d want to read, after all. Bear in mind that you’re already privy to the plot and will know if exciting moments occur later, but remember – the audience doesn’t know that. You will have to give them something to look forward to. Try and put yourself in their shoes. But, and this is a really important but, don’t fall into the trap of mistaking a hook or inciting incident for something massive, dramatic, action-packed, or fast-paced.

You may be tempted to make the hook or inciting incident the formerly mentioned things because you’re afraid of boring your audience. But honestly, audiences and readers are unpleasable, which I know, because I am an avid member of both categories. Besides, being bored of certain aspects of something doesn’t translate to disliking a work. As of the time of writing, the book I’m currently reading is New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I’m enjoying it, but by all accounts it’s certainly not a fast-paced read. Apart from being over 600 pages in length, so many scenes are dedicated to well-timed reflections of characters and the important conversations they have. Some people don’t enjoy people chatting for ages in a work of fiction, but I do (possibly influenced by growing up with Harry Potter, where the ends of each book are usually filled with massive info dumps that I kind of just got used to), and so for me, that’s engaging enough. That’s not to say that everything is – New York 2140 is unabashedly socialist, and whilst I definitely have sympathies with that point of view, it does mean a lot of the book is given over to talk of markets, financing, business cycles, funding and all the rest of it, and to be honest, that side of it is just straight-up boring. It doesn’t help that one of the book’s POV characters works at a hedge fund and won’t fucking talk about anything else unless he’s distracted by his sexual frustration or having to constantly rescue two boys from drowning (it makes sense in context), and he is a desperate bore of a character. That said, the rest of the book is enjoyable enough for me to get to nearly the end of it.

This point about hooks is particularly poignant for the fact that I’m writing within the young adult contemporary genre this time around. That particularly section of literary works is absolutely filled of character-driven stories, and people who enjoy reading character-driven stories, so it seems entirely sensible that any hooks of enticing incidents in the early pages of such books should be character-based – internal and emotional, rather than fast-paced and bombastic. This seemed to be the impression made with John Green’s Looking for Alaska (which I have reviewed here), where the first chapter is merely dedicated to the protagonist’s internal ponderings, where he eventually concludes he wants to go to boarding school to seek a ‘Great Perhaps’ which gives you an insight into how he views the world. For me, though, the bigger hook was the fact that the first chapter was not called ‘chapter one’, but rather ‘one hundred and thirty-six days before’. Before what? The question isn’t answered until you’re well into the novel. By many an assessment, not a great deal happens in that book, it’s mostly the day-to-day life of this particular school, but, as mentioned before, it is the characters and how they all interact that really makes the plot.

This became much clearer upon reading Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay (reviewed here), which, in my opinion, does an even better job in telling an engaging story via very little happening externally, but a whole lot happening internally with the main characters. I won’t go into too much detail here, but check out my review for fuller details.

Given that I opened this particular topic by framing it in advice and feedback I had been given at uni, I just want to affirm that this isn’t to say what the advice and feedback I had been given was basically useless. Most of it was pretty informative, and to be honest, I still feel like more has to be done regarding developing characters in a sensible way and giving enough of an impression of them at the correct moment. It’s the first draft still, so I should be fine given enough time (which, y’know, is something we can never be sure of how much we’ve got, nice and morbid for you). I guess sometimes looking at what other people were writing and being asked specific questions about certain story beats made me despair of my work, because I had too closely associated these kinds of questions with stories that followed formulaic structures. If you feel your story cannot be pigeon-holed into any specific description, relish in it. The concerns for marketing can wait, just write what you want to. First and foremost, the most important thing is getting it all down. And, as I was wisely advised, take risks. You are in complete control of this world and its characters, do whatever you want with it, until you find a solution.

And on that megalomaniacal note, I bid you farewell and thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, and I may return to this…at some point…



The (Other) Unveiling

Oh, look, I still exist.

OK, so I know I’ve been neglecting this blog like nobody’s business, but in my defence, it’s been pretty busy. Even outside of the everyday goings-on of Real Life, there are many difficulties a writer must shoulder – trying to make a living, dealing with the omnipresent bane of plot holes, and dealing with the fact that postmodernists want us dead. Worse is going through the many checks and preparations and self-doubts that precede trying to find a literary agent that might get you in connection with a publishing deal. But, and this is a rather ominous and harrowing thing to confess, after many weeks of such agonizing, I’ve finally sent a sample of Private Tuition to a literary agent.

So, now it’s out there. And this is when things change…kind of. I mean, I know this is only the beginning, the agent in question actually needs to like my stuff, and I need to get to work in contacting several more as well, but for now it definitely feels like something has shifted. This is the next big phase, and it’s probably worth commentating on.

And on top of the nerves and palm-sweating, I’ve constantly been paranoid that every single formatting blunder I make is going to be an issue raised by anyone who receives my manuscript or its chapter samples and they’ll scream blue murder at me (I mean, probably not directly at me, they’ll just do it to themselves imagining my gormless face is in front of them so they get a kick out of it) about how awful I am and as if anyone would publish your garbage!

And it gets worse when I acknowledge that, yes, when disclosing my contact information, I seem to have made a slight blunder…but hopefully that won’t register and the agent will just be content in contacting via the email they got the manuscript from…

I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait, or whether any next phases are going to be successful, but until then, it does feel like an achievement. Have I ever published a book? No, not yet. But I’ve got closer than I’ve ever been before.

And at the end of the day, that’s really the most transformative thing. I have written, shared and finished stories before, but actually taking important steps to putting them out into the world is something utterly new and highly pivotal. I have no idea what will come of it (and I’m certainly not ruling out abject failure all around as a possibility because my anxiety won’t let me), but this moment won’t easily be forgotten. I should celebrate with a glass of champagne and a ceremonial cigarette. But as I value my liver and lungs, I think I’ll content myself with…orange juice and QI? Eh, why not?

I will hopefully post a little more regularly (though I’ve said that before), starting with a review for a book I finished yesterday, and I also have a new author website, courtesy of my university which I’ve been working on which includes details of my plans for future works and will be updated with news as soon as I get it.

Until next time (whether that’s tomorrow or nearer the Heat Death of the Universe), take care!

O Christmas Work…

Oh, look, I reused a featured image. Sue me.

So, yeah. This is that obligatory post about Christmas for that time of the year that Christmas tends to come about. It’s usually December. In fact, I can’t remember a single year that it wasn’t in December. Imagine that.

In my previous post, I talked about how I’d started my postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing, and had started drafting my new novel. So far, that’s been going alright – I’ve now got nearly 10,000 words, and hopefully with plenty more to come along, but there have definitely been delays and issues with the process of getting it together in a swift, organic progression, and you can partially blame my course for that.

It’s not as though I’ve not had my creative work scrutinized before, it’s just that I have to remember that in this case, it’s often the person who’ll be marking me who’ll be making suggestions of what I can change. I can imagine, whatever other difficulties may be associated with the job, that’s one you can be quite self-satisfied with.

“That’s right, just write me the stories I want to read…oh, you don’t want to? Well, that’s fine…as long as you don’t mind a mark reduction…”

OK, I’m pretty sure it’s not actually like that, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had that image cross their mind – or else this is mighty awkward.

On top of that, in having to submit a prose piece for an assignment due in January, 3,000 words is the limit. That’s fine – I’ve already got a lot more than that. The problem is, the way I write tends to involve a lot of establishing. If you’re waiting for an inciting incident, you’re probably not going to get it until the second chapter. If that bores you, well, pffft! You might as well watch a film! Or read a book with an inciting incident in the first chapter…

Look, I’m sure I’ll post some other time about why I choose to open a story the way I do. I’m sure I can find justifications for it, but actually my experience with this course has made me doubt how I write blogs too. We had a published author do a workshop talk this one time, and it was all very nice, pleasant and interesting, but when I raised the subject of keeping up a blog online, she advised me that it probably wasn’t a good idea to write for free, because she feels that it robs from people like her who make a living through writing. Well, as you can imagine, that wasn’t easy to hear. Writing is my oxygen, and is anyone really going to pay me for it at this stage…? Nobody’s reading this blog and offering me cash to splurge some random nonsense on a webpage! I just do it for personal reasons, and honestly, isn’t that why most people go into writing for pay in the first place? It’s a bit of a minefield. So, if you do hear of writers starving to death anytime soon, you can probably blame losers like me for it. Or, alternatively, lobby your pathetic government for a decent minimum living wage, rather than having them focus on building a wall or wasting parliamentary resources on trying to lip-read someone who might have muttered something mildly insulting under his breath whilst you were turning legislative processes into a literal pantomime to hide that you’re making a massive cock-up of Brexit…not that you can really get that right.

Oh yeah, this post was supposed to be about Christmas. I guess it’s just way easier to throw political shade than it used to be.

The weird thing is, unlike so much else, Christmas is just the same as it ever was. Still the same old agonizing over not knowing what to buy people, the same old disasters that are inevitable when you’re wrapping presents with dyspraxia and the same old making sure your cat doesn’t wreck your decorations once she’s discovered how much fun they are. And in the midst of that, some genuinely nice moments of just kicking back and having fun, overindulging in Shloer (PRODUCT PLACEMENT) and chocolate and slowly watching your weight go up in preparation for the big day.

I guess that’s what Christmas has done for me this year. Looking back, this might have been the most dynamic year for me since…well, my birth. Graduating, starting a master’s, being on the verge of sending my Private Tuition manuscript and synopsis off to whichever publishers seem likely to have me (which I’m going to get on with as soon as I can)…and all this has been interspersed with some rather fun outings, including spending two days in Brighton with one of my best friends in time for Pride and managing to miss Rose and Rosie in the parade despite them being feet from us (NOTICE ME SENPAIs…), and attending a talk in my own crappy little hometown where I got to see and hear A.C. Grayling and Femi Oluwole talk about how much Brexit sucks. OK, sorry, I’m going to try and keep this as apolitical as possible…

But as well as these very obvious external events, there’s all sorts of dynamics internally as well, and I don’t mean that I’ve had organ transplants. Perhaps it’s an effect of my course or the current political climate, but my desperation to know everything, or at least be well-read in multiple areas of philosophy, sociology, biology, physics, political theory, economics, global issues, ethics, epistemology, culture, literary criticism and just simply having a much wider repertoire when it comes to creative artifacts and art has reached the point where I’m genuinely getting frustrated at how much I still don’t know, and my bookshelf is already overflowing, which isn’t exactly going to get better come Christmas…

But at least Christmas is something that is normal and standard and familiar. Midwinter celebrations have their origins in trying to keep things fine and dandy during blistering cold and bleak darkness, so perhaps it’s fitting that Christmas will hopefully serve as a break from the rather rapid changes going around. That’s not to say all these changes are bad – I’m rather looking forward to what 2019 brings. Well, unless it brings me failure in my assignments, in which case, perhaps I’ll prefer this year…

Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year.




The Unmoving

[NOTE 1: I’m aware the title of this isn’t a real word, but I can do what I want.]

[NOTE 2: Sorry, this isn’t a Halloween related post. If you want to be scared, just look at Trump’s cabinet.]

So, here’s the real question – how do you know when you’ve finished a book?

I don’t mean reading one – obviously final pages do the job of signifying the end very well, unless you’ve got a vandalized copy where the last few pages are missing, and you have to go on a intrepid search – I mean when you’re in the process of crafting one. You may have picked an ending for your narrative and that’s all fine and good, but then you’ve got to get into drafting, and how do you know when you’ve finished that? It’s an enigma, a mystery, a riddle that I have wondered about and now I have to think carefully about.

So, hi, everyone. I’ve been editing Private Tuition for a while now, and I’ve discovered several things. Firstly, how you take to a scene is going to be different depending on a whole host of contexts. One day when looking at a scene or a conversation I wrote, I might have come back from a conversation myself, being quite elated and fairly distracted and consider it a work of art. Another time I might look at the same scene and find a whole host of problems, because perhaps I’m agitated and eager to get things done and have spent too much time in just my own company. And these thoughts can be cyclic, and they can be combined with the fact that you’re trying to focus on other works of fiction…

Yeah, since I last posted, I’ve started my postgraduate course in Creative Writing and Publishing. Seems very fitting, and it is – there have been a few teething problems which I can’t throw shade about now, but generally I’ve liked it. However, part of the course requires us to prepare a new creative work to work on throughout it. (so more or less the whole course…)

This is fine with me. I already had several different ideas in mind to work on after Private Tuition was done, and I selected one of these as part of my course.

But here lies the problem – I intended to work on these ideas after Private Tuition was done, and it’s still in its editing phase. Not only does this leave me more confused as to when the editing is done, it also leaves my next project feel somewhat premature. I’d barely made it out of the planning phase before I was required to write a scene from it. Oh, the mess that it caused…here’s to hoping I’ll get my head on straight soon enough to work on both these things separately.

Recently, I have been hoping that my editing of Private Tuition will be done soon. That’s not always easy to tell, because sometimes you think you’re done, and then discover you’re not…but I am going to shift to the formatting stage of my manuscript soon, and then work out how this whole publishing thing goes. This stage has, so far, been much harder than the writing phase, so, realistically, I should be looking forward to just getting a draft ready of my next work. It should be child’s play!

Well, let’s see…

The Unveiling

Oh gawd, it’s been a while…

So, I’ve been going through several drafts of Private Tuition over the last several weeks/months/years, and when I got to the point that I felt that it was vaguely presentable, or at least, there was nothing more I could edit without outside opinions, I decide to send these drafts to some beta readers.

However, it occurred to me quite quickly that I wasn’t entirely sure who would count. Bear in mind this is completely new territory for me. When it used to come to posting stories such as fanfiction and their conspiratorial ilk online, I never checked the damn things, just went with what I had. This is perhaps not an admission that fills many with confidence about my abilities when they hear it, so, be assured in that it’s not a habit I partake in any more.

Point is, I wanted to get a diverse range of opinions in for my novel to get a better picture of how different people would react, but I was also reluctant to include strangers in that list. Suddenly, the problem became apparent. How many people did I actually know who would be willing to read this garbage proto-novel? Furthermore, as with many things in the process of making your writing an actual book, a lot of those who assist you may want paying for their work. Understandable, of course – they need to eat. But with my impoverished financial concerns, you can imagine this’ll make me reluctant too.

As it happens, I have now actually received feedback from a few people, and it’s mostly been very positive, with some question marks, nuanced suggestions for improvement and a whole host of other things that have been welcome. But my gut instinct tells me that I need more, and whilst I’m at it, as has been suggested, I really need to work out who my audience is meant to be.

This is not something I thought with give me that much strife, but it seems to be the most debilitating thorn in my side at this stage in the writing process. Well, that and the omnipresent doubts about whether the story is actually decent or just a terrible work of art that should be regarded with scorn in the centuries to come.

The traditional genres of fiction have never really been solidly defined. They are fluid, and sometimes fitting midway categories that would be better deserving of their own, new category. An example of such uncertainty is the line between science fiction and fantasy. What defines the difference? Well, science fiction tends to focus on the potential of future technologies or future developments on the impact of society, whereas fantasy is more steeped in mythology and supernatural elements, right? Well, maybe. So, where does Star Wars fit in? I mean, it’s not about the future. The famous tagline even describes it as taking place a long time ago. The technologies in it are not the most realistic even for future projections and it is steeped in mysticism, complete with warrior knights and magic swords.

Can’t wait people to tell me I just don’t get Star Wars

And whereas science fiction can contain fictional or (probably) impossible technologies, such as easy to use time travel devices, teleportation that doesn’t kill you and faster-than-light travel, the magic elements in certain fantasy works can sometimes feel a lot more down-to-earth and mundane than the fantastical technologies in certain science fiction, with what’s known as functional magic, or, for the innuendo-happy, HARD magic, and indeed, applying actual zoology to fictional fantasy creatures.

It was a bit of a tangent, but I feel that the same can be said for the genres of adult, new adult, and young adult. Whilst the audience they’re aimed at naturally determines what genre they belong too, what in the substance of the novel determines who they’re aimed at?

Given how young adult, especially in recent years, has fitted itself into genres as diverse as contemporary, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic dystopian, semi-autobiographical and so on, what features and tropes do we have to look for to classify and story as young adult, as opposed to new adult or adult?

Perhaps the most fitting definition of YA fiction I’ve heard is that a consistent theme of it is that it relates to what it’s like to be an adolescent. But even that isn’t particularly clear cut – Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire features three teenage as the main characters, with two as POV characters, and yet the book is aimed at adults. And if even if this seemingly clear-cut example isn’t so clear-cut, I don’t know what help my book’s got.

The protagonist is 28 years old. Adult, surely? And hey, a fairly important supporting character, a work colleague of hers, is also an adult! But wait, most of the other major characters are in their late teens, still at school, and the a good chunk of the plot moves forward based on their character arcs. So, is it actually young adult? But what about things detailed within the pages that the moral guardians might get antsy about? There’s no shortage of swearing, and it practically thrives on talking about sex. Someone gets fellatio in a cupboard – is that going to be a problem? And what about the fact that it constantly goes on about contemporary philosophy and ethical debates? If John Green has proved anything, then there’s no issue with YA being full of philosophical musings. But is there a line to draw?

For now, I’ve settled on the idea that it might fit best as New Adult. This genre’s supposed to be aimed at the 18-30 age bracket, which not only are most of the main characters in, but also me too. According to Wikipedia, that ever so reliable guide, this genre generally deals with issues related to leaving home (not really, but the characters tend to thrive on independence and many in standing apart from their parents’ expectations), developing sexuality (yeah, apparently…) and negotiating education and career choices (also seems to fit). So, have I found the appropriate thing to label it as? Well, again, the doubts come back. The publishing industry is not hugely fond of this genre, and it does seem to exist as a sort of nowhere-land label. It’s not a category you find in most bookshops, and apparently the readership isn’t there, although I know plenty of 18-30-year-olds who read books, so…

If anyone on this site, or Twitter or Facebook is willing to beta read this, feel free to contact me to talk about the possibility, because I definitely want to expand the potential room for opinions, but I want to know who I’m sending it to first.

There are still a few other people lined up, but the specific opinions are looking for explicitly include those of:

LGBTQ people – The novel contains quite a few characters who are LGBTQ, but as I’m not, I think it’s important and I know what you think, because representation is important, but good representation is probably even more so.

People around the sixth form age or slightly older – Might be worth it. As there are many characters who fall into this age bracket, I might want to see if it has the appeal to people of that age bracket. If not, that might give me a clearer idea of which age demographic to market to.

People interested in philosophy and ethics – Pretty much a given.

So, there it is – a slightly reluctant call for more beta readers. Maybe my anxiety will strike again, and I’ll decide not to be so open about opening up the market for betas, and just keep it among people I know. But hey, maybe something will come of it.

If anyone who reads this is interested, contact me and we’ll take it from there. And if anyone just generally wants to talk about the novel, contact me also, I’ll be happy to talk about it.

The Undying

Just a short one, but here’s something to think about – isn’t it amazing how your perceptions of things can change?

If my last post was anything to go by, I was experiencing too many doubts at once about my writing, and wondering whether it was even worth producing a single novel if I couldn’t do it in a professional, grown-up way. Now, those thoughts are definitely still there, but yesterday, I felt a random stroke of inspiration about a nice addition that could be made. Sure, it bumps up the word count quite a bit, but, pfft, thinking how it looked before, it was practically naked without that!

I guess it’s something that just happens the more you go through your prose – you discover more about your characters, connect the dots that you probably laid out but didn’t notice, until eventually you’ve got a clearer picture. Here you have a character that’s somehow transcended their creator, and as evolved quite considerably from where they originally were. The character you originally conceived way back then isn’t quite the same as before, but somehow it feels absolutely right.

Or maybe you’re actually being subject to a hostile takeover of fictional characters, I don’t know. However, if the world does come to a premature end, a fictional character apocalypse would definitely be the best way to go. It’s a question of who’d be the most likely to bring down the final blow…

Thus, a general update about my writing has turned into me speculating in the world as we know it coming to an end thanks to fictional characters, which is always nice…

Speculations (though perhaps not those ones…) are great though, because they are providing plenty more inspiration for me, not just with this novel, but ones hopefully to come.

So, that’s about it for now. Any insights into drafting, editing, publishing and marketing that anyone else would be greatly appreciated at this stage.

The Unravelling

You know, this editing process is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I mean, sure, it’s pretty vital when you’re working on a novel, but if the mindset is right (or wrong, as the case may be) it does suck a good chunk of joy out of the crafting process.

So, updating from my last post, I have indeed being giving my first draft a read-through and making notes of what I think needs changing about it. Depending on the chapter, those lists have been quite short and vague, or long and self-deprecating. Any writer will be familiar with the process. When you’re actually doing the writing, the sparks are flying, the scenes are playing through your head in delicious detail and you’re convinced that the masterpiece is on its way. Then you read through it and you decide you were lying to yourself and you’re just the worst. THE WORST, I TELL YA.

For me, as noted, it does sort of depend on the chapter itself, and the mind-frame I’m in at the time. Right now, I’m very curious to see what it is about some chapters that I wrote in a way that I consider more bearable, and what it is about others than I’m convinced are the biggest problems ever encountered by anyone EVER. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent pattern.

One thing I have noticed is the nature of the issues I find myself agonizing over – the story itself and its main themes I still have a lot of faith in. It’s the way I tell it that’s the problem. Every writer has the bring their own tools and experience to a story, and when there’s just one person’s direct experience telling the experiences of a diverse range of people, and, indeed, the universe in general, you definitely get some translation errors. Here are just some of the thoughts that have been harrowing me as I’ve gone through this process.

“The way you portray your protagonist is racist, sexist and biphobic and you know it.”
“Nobody talks like that! Well, except you, of course. You have to use these words to make up for the fact that you can’t write.”
“Now it looks like you’re subtly pushing an agenda. Maybe you are.”
“You can’t rectify this! Now everyone’s going to think your heroes are total shits, and you are too, by extension.”
“Get out more. You don’t know what it’s like to be a normal person with an actual life.”
“Raisins are nice.”

Yeah, they’re not bad, actually. But back to the point.

I’m well aware that these concerns are normal, and, to a degree, they’re healthy. If I’m aware of the problems that might arise, I’m in a better position to avoid them as best I can, and I’m also willing to take points where I feel they’re relevant. Maybe all of this is just paranoia, maybe it isn’t. Either way, I’m confident that any mistakes I’ve made, I can rectify. So far, I’ve already dealt with a glaring continuity error, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. I’m still enormously looking forward to hearing other people give their thoughts on this work, regardless of what they are. It’ll to be great to hear an outsider’s take on what I can produce. As someone who feels I can rarely express myself in real life, this’ll be an unveiling. I hope I have an audience for it.

I guess my final point is – even if you have a firm and important story to tell, don’t be afraid to make a few changes. They may even tell your story better than you thought possible. There’s a fine line being making a few improvements, and compromising your story. The difference will become clearer the more you go on.

Anyway, should probably get back to it.

The Awakening

I might have chosen to pick a less ominous title, but to be honest, I think any more words than necessary in it would cause a lot of problems. Overly wordy titles can often seem quite corny and irritating the more they’re said, which can be an even bigger problem if the substance is anything but corny and irritating. As an example, my favourite anime series of all time, that is honestly so damn beautiful and well-crafted, with animation, storylines, music and characters that might possibly be greater than any other work of fiction I’ve ever seen, has an incredibly stupid title, which I probably don’t even pronounce properly.

But I digress. The point is, I’m here to announce something big, impressive and slightly important that will probably dominate the rest of the blog posts I make for a little while. The vast majority of the things I’ve posted on here relate to me as a writer, and so I feel it was necessary to make a post to announce…

…that after many months of blood, sweat, toil, tears and eating too much chocolate, I have finally completed the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on.


Yeah, it took, it’s time, but now it’s done, I honestly feel like the most enjoyable stage has passed. Clocking in at around 110,000 words, I now need to go through that and decide if any changes should be made. And looking back over what you’ve written isn’t usually fun, as any writer will know. Even if you’ve polished off the first draft that, in your head at least, gleams like the all the great works of art that will go down in history, and there can’t possibly be that many changes to make. Then you look back through it a little later and discover that actually, you could have done a hell of a lot better there. And there. And actually, when it comes down to it, why did you even write this in the first place?

Then there comes the doubt, the attempt to fend off plotholes and problems, only to create more of them, then the overwhelming feeling of despair of disappointment, you go and cry in the corner of your room playing an unnecessarily aggressive rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before thinking you may as well give up and go and live in an orange tent in Bulgaria selling fidget spinners and second-hand novelty condoms.

OK, well, maybe don’t go that far. Nobody buys fidget spinners anymore.

Have gone through the process of re-reading, I definitely know how it feels, but I’m determined that the general crux of my story this time round is worth maintaining, even if some details need to be changed.

Of course, once you’ve developed a final draft you’re happy with, however long that might take, then there comes to process of getting it published and sold. Yes, I’m going there. And I’m kind of bricking it.

I mean, what do I know about marketing? I have the charisma of a road accident, and a sex appeal to match. Obviously, I’ll have to rely on making sure the story can be explained in a succinct and an interesting way, which is proving difficult every time I try, but maybe I can improve on it later, I don’t know. Of course, publishing is even more difficult. How do you ensure a manuscript gets accepted? Pfft, I don’t know, it just seems to be one of those mysteries that only publishers know.

Of course, I could always go the self-publishing route, although that would require I have some editing and graphic designing skills I currently lack. Well, I guess this decision can wait for now, probably…

OK, so even though I feel the author within me has been properly awakened, there’s still a lot of work to do. Fortunately, I’ve managed to surround myself with people who know about these things and can help. And maybe that will include you, dear reader, giving advice on how to make this dream a reality. And, in case this is the sort of novel you’d be interested in, I’m going to try and summarize it as best as I can now.

The working title is ‘Private Tuition,’ but may be subject to change later, depending how I feel. We follow Sasha Knight, a Religious Studies/Philosophy and Ethics teacher in her late twenties, starting a new job at a seemingly inoffensive school whilst trying to put some trickier areas of her past behind her, where she was, largely by choice, under the thumbs of other people. Many students in her A level tutor group, however, pique her interest in elements of their intrigue and cryptic behaviours, shielding a great deal of personal problems they have. Determined to help them anyway she can, she finds that the easiest way she can get them to open up to her is if she opens up to them first – sexually. Eventually, she finds herself have intimate encounters with many of her students as part of her duty of care.

OK, so for those among you are teachers or know teachers, clearly this is a massive professional faux pas, and I’m not trying to glorify adults in positions of trust having inappropriate encounters with children. But the situation being painted here is more nuanced than that. Everyone’s of age, these encounters are all mutual, and they’re something that I, as the author, am not trying to make too many heavy judgement calls either way, because certain meta-ethical matters are worth discussing, and that’s what I want this novel to do.

Sasha’s academic subject is chosen very deliberately. The meta-ethical considerations of deontology, consequentialism, virtue, cognitive vs non-cognitive and so on tend to be left to the navel-gazing philosophers, even though we draw from their ideas when it comes to important matters everyday. Studying philosophy and ethics at A level is one of the things from my time at school that I’m probably going to remember most vividly, and I guess I wanted to recreate that experience in perhaps a less conventional setting. Very good teachers, which are mostly woefully underpaid, can make a difference in such a pivotal period in one’s life, and I think a school-based setting when considered in that regard isn’t always appreciated.

In merely presenting the reader with a situation of someone who chooses to bend the rules in order to do what she thinks help, I’m leaving them to immerse themselves in the characters and plot and make decisions about who and what they really are.

Oh, and I promise it’s not all entirely navel-gazing – I’m rather pleased with the characters I’ve crafted and I know other people are too. I’ve tried to include a diverse cast, plenty of scenes of just people being people and I hope those parts of the plot are enjoyable too.

So, if you’re interested, feel free to follow my process of crafting this story, which I should hopefully be posting about regularly, and I’ll be sure to let everyone know if and when it’s finally found its way to book form.

I sincerely hope that day will come.