A Tale of Two Halves – Ugly First Drafts

As a writer I find my confidence in my writing flows in and out like a tide. After a good writing session, I am buoyed up and ready to take on the world. On the flip side, sometimes a bad review can leave you wondering whether you are deluding yourself but often writers do not even need any input from the outside world to doubt themselves. We are quite capable of questioning our own self worth all by ourselves.

The blessing of a creative mind can lead to occasions of overthinking and self angst that if nothing else remind us that writing is a vocation that chooses us rather than the other way round. For who would choose to live in such torment, swinging between two extremes and hoping to catch the odd break in the middle?

Self esteem
Self esteem by Kiran Foster courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dhHCx9 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I was recently lucky enough to be commissioned to write a three part serial for a magazine. I came up with an idea and a setting and plunged into telling the story. I wrote it with the three parts very much in mind. The first part came together swiftly and I polished it up before I moved on to the middle section. Again, this came together fairly quickly and I gave it a polish.

When it came to writing the denouement, however, life got in the way. I managed to crank out the required word count and hit all the beats of the story but it had been written when I was tired and feeling frazzled and it showed.

I shared it with three friends, one a friend who doesn’t write and two who do. My non writer friend enjoyed the story. My two writing friends seized on the last part of the story, one remarking it was like it was written by a different writer.

And she was right. It was.

The last part was me getting the story down in draft with minimum polishing. The first two thirds had had care and attention lavished on them, the last part had been birthed and left.

Unfinished road
Unfinished Road Works by Captn_Jack courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/nLdh1X https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As all writers know, first drafts are ugly. All the hard work is done in the editing, re-writing and polishing that follows. But without that ugly first draft, the writer would have nothing to work on. The last part of my story has now been edited and polished and stands proudly alongside the other parts of the story as the fitting ending it was designed to be.

What is important to remember, however, is that as writers we should never to be so confident as to think that the ugly first draft is the finished product nor so lacking in confidence as to think that ugly first draft can never be transformed into something more beautiful.

Believe in yourself and your abilities and trust that everything will come good in the end. That’s the art of being a writer.

Finish
Finish by Eugene Kim courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ebkkay https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

 

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Confident Beginnings

Confidence is a tricky thing, isn’t it? Like Goldilocks people can have too little or too much. Either ends of the scale are limiting and not particularly attractive but getting it just right? That’s the hard bit.

Milk
Colin’s Fridge and The Three Milks by Alasdair courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/zCANY https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I recently watched a documentary where psychologists were monitoring young children in a play and school environment. Two children stood out and seemed to strike up what, on the face of it, was an unlikely friendship. One was overconfident, a thrill seeker who sought out danger and constantly pushed boundaries. The other was a boy who excelled at maths but who was generally frightened by life and shied away from anything he perceived as dangerous. These two boys, despite their obvious differences in personality, seemed to gel.

Friendship
Friendship by Tomvdh1 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6zvfWy https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

When the psychologists put up ‘Danger – Keep Out’ signs and taped off one of the children’s favourite pieces of play apparatus – a play house reached by a ladder – the thrill seeker immediately wanted to investigate and go into the play house to see what the danger was. The nervous child hung back. So upset at the prospect of his friend doing something that was forbidden, the nervous boy told him that two adults were coming his way, even though no adults were in the area. The thrill seeker reluctantly left the equipment alone and the nervous boy had, in his eyes, protected his friend from danger. One had regulated the other’s actions.

Yin and yang
Yin and Yang by Rolf Dietrich Brecher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/Xpv3X1 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Later, these same boys were confronted with a tarantula spider in a case. When the handler asked if the children would like to hold the spider, the thrill seeker was one of the first to put up his hand. The nervous boy, seated next to him, had already professed a fear of spiders. He hung back and moved away but was still fascinated enough to watch his friend handle the spider and allow her to walk over the back of his hand.

A few minutes later after another couple of children had handled the spider, the nervous boy asked if he too could have a go. At first, he was still too scared to hold his hands flat on the table to allow the spider to crawl over them and was seeking assurance from the handler that the spider would not bite or claw him. Once that assurance had been given, he had a go. Wonderfully, his thrill seeker buddy put his hand flat on the table first and the nervous boy put his on top of his friend’s and the spider then walked over both of their hands.

The nervous boy was delighted that he had faced and conquered a fear and the thrill seeker was pleased that he had coaxed his friend to try something new.

Though very different I could imagine this unlikely pair growing up to be firm friends for life. Operating at either extreme of the confidence scale, you could see how they could help to pull each other further into the middle ground of ‘just right’ thus enriching each other’s lives immensely.

friendship2
Friendship by Alex Isse Neutron courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0 https://flic.kr/p/CwP7Zz https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

For those of us who do not have a friend at the other end of the confidence scale to help push, guide or protect us, we have to learn the hard way by life’s experiences. That’s why older people are a lot less bothered what others think of them than their younger counterparts. They have learned that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter all that much.

Confident beginnings are wonderful but for the rest of us it’s not where you start but where you finish that’s important.

NaNoMyWay – Update

You may recall that earlier on this month I blogged about NaNoWriMo.

November calendar
November Calendar by Stephen Dann courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/r8S1z https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I didn’t have one project to concentrate on during the month – I had a competition entry I wanted to write, a 3,500-word serial I needed to write to fulfil a commission I had been given and two novellas to finish off. I am nothing if not ambitious!

Predictably, I fell short. The competition entry got ticked off the list and submitted and the serial was created, written and polished by the deadline (yay!). The novellas did not even make it on to the screen.

There were two reasons for this, one I always reach for the stars and two life just got in the way. I normally work a four-day week in my day job. In the midst of this month an emergency at work meant I had to work six days on the bounce. Ouch!

As writers, life will always intervene, and it should because the trials and tribulations of life provide so much material for writers to work with. We have to find a way to push through and carry on and so I would like to pay tribute and say congratulations to all those who stayed the path of NaNoWriMo and made it to the end of November with the skeleton of a novel ready to shape and hone.

Pen and Paper
Pen and Paper by Francois Schnell courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9qaJEC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

More especially, however, I want to say well done to all those who gave it a go but who fell short. Committing and trying is every bit as important as finishing and succeeding. Writing is a marathon and not a sprint.

The only failure is giving up entirely.

 

Hold Your Nerve

A few years ago, I had an agent but when I expressed the wish to indie publish my agent and I parted ways. Since then I have indie published two novels and one novella and have sold two novellas to traditional publishers as well as finding success in the field of writing stories for women’s magazine. I went from not published at all to indie+trad published in one year and became a hybrid author.

Fast forward to 2017. I have completed my first crime novel. It’s a bit of a departure from the romantic fiction I have been known for to date and a world away from the light romances I write for the magazines. I have enjoyed the process and thoroughly embraced my dark side. Just as well I’m a Gemini and can write both genres even though they are poles apart.

I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written but then I’m biased.

Submission Hell

I could very easily have taken the decision to indie publish my crime novel and that may well be the path I end up taking. However, having met with enthusiastic and knowledgeable people at the Winchester Writers’ Festival in the summer I have decided to follow up on the contacts I made there and have sent my freshly polished manuscript off to one of the agents I met.

It is a long while since I have languished in submission hell. I had quite forgot how gruelling it can be. I am luckier than most because I gave the agent exclusivity for a limited period and she has promised to respond by my deadline, I at least know when, roughly, I will hear from her.

That, however, is only part of the pain of submission as authors who have trodden this path so many times before will know. It is the agony of the outcome that awaits, that holds me firmly on its tenterhooks, dancing first one way and then the other as my mood takes me.

Hook
Hook by Thomas Sturm courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/RyP7Rc https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Imagination is a vital asset for a writer to have. It becomes less than an asset in situations like these when my mind spirals away into various scenarios, very few, if any of which are likely to come true.

The Fearlessness of Youth

As is so often the case, I can usually find an analogy for life through sport. In the tennis or ice skating worlds you often find a precocious youngster, brimming with talent and utterly fearless, throwing themselves with abandon into their chosen sport, often vying for the highest prizes imaginable without losing their nerve.

Ice Skating
Ice Skating by Fabricio Zuardi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/5uhDnD https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Contrast them to the older, wiser, competitors. They have seen it all before, perhaps were once a precocious youngster themselves, but now the years have passed, they have amassed titles and fortunes and yet they still crave more. Now when they compete they cannot mirror the fearlessness of their young competitors, they know only too well the pain of failure, the soul searching questions that accompany it, the sands of time slowly running in the wrong direction.

I am not as young as I once was. I have known my fair share of failure. It is time, once again, to hold my nerve.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Mash that To Do List

To Do Lists

To do list2
To Do List by Sean MacEntee courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/7HBZHx https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For a long while I assumed that if I wanted to achieve a long and complex task I had to throw as much time and effort at it as I could, usually in big chunks of time.

As I rarely had big chunks of time, these projects tended to moulder through lack of attention.

Then thinking about how I write novels – 500 words one day, maybe 1,000 words the next, it dawned on me that the little and often approach might bear more fruit.

fruit
Clusters of Pinot grapes on the vine by Wplynn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dgw2Em https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I have since applied this idea more widely.  Instead of carving out a whole morning to concentrate on one area, I will identify a single task and concentrate on that such as tidying the household paperwork.  Once that is done I’ll move on to hoover a couple of rooms of the house, then I’ll write a blog piece. Then I’ll prep dinner before illustrating the blog piece and uploading it.  Then I’ll work on the household finances before cleaning the bathroom.  You get the idea.

Mash That List

My free time is a mash up of tasks on my to do list.

Masher
Silver masher by Emdott courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9reRi https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When I tried out this approach I found not only did I achieve more stuff, none of the tasks tackled felt boring or overwhelming because I wasn’t spending too much time on any one of them.

Imagine sitting down to do your tax return.  I know – bear with me.  Your heart sinks. You know it’s important but you also know it’s boring.  It’s an afternoon of your life you’ll never get back.  Now imagine sitting down to do the first part of your tax return and then moving on to something more pleasant like reading a couple of chapters of the book you’re presently enjoying.  Taking that approach the tax return will be done within the week without any of the associated pain or boredom that usually accompanies it.

To my analytical and ordered mind, mashing up tasks took a little adjusting to.  It still strikes me as a slightly messy compromise but I cannot argue with the results.  When I first attempted it I had ticked so many tasks off my list that when I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and reflect I could hardly believe it.   What made the realisation even more satisfying was the fact that I had reached the end of that weekend without feeling tired/grumpy/impatient/bogged down or overwhelmed, all my standard responses when faced with my tsunami of outstanding tasks.  Mashing up not only allowed me to achieve stuff it made me feel better and that’s got to be a good thing.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes