The Travel Hopefully Slog

Plans – nebulous and, yes, hopeful

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Tuesday 13 October 2009

Couldn’t find the Big Pink Book this morning. I didn’t worry, things come and go in this house; i’ve found it now anyway. It meant i wasn’t sure of the names of a couple of newly-introduced characters and hadn’t the option of checking back.

But i’d already decided not to write today. I’ve only been managing about half an hour lately, and that not every day. (More to do with Life getting in the way and stamina rather than writer’s block or something that would deserve that title.) I set out to…



On the travel-hopefully principle i wasn’t planning at all in the beginning, and then only vaguely. This is still pretty vague but is a step towards feeling happier about ploughing onwards when if i’m honest i don’t know where the hell i’m going. I took T and each of the other main and main-ish characters and gave each of them an arc, expressed in a single sentence (though not forced into sentence structure). A very simple ‘story’ for each character, such as:

  • ‘Knows just enough not to know how much he doesn’t know – this is the ruin of him.’
  • ‘Understands less than F, which saves him [irony] from the sticky end she comes to.’

After that i distilled for each a kernel of significance expressed in one or two words. So against one name i have LOYALTY, against another FEAR, and others picked EROTICISM, ABANDONMENT, POWER, SPIRITUALITY, etc. They chose, i didn’t.

Turns out there are a dozen* of these characters, which i like for its suggestion of the Zodiac with the balance and patterns that go with the psychological and moral symbolism of that. Along the same lines i also found, without having looked for them, a word for each of the three places/regions T visits (or has so far visited).

Don’t know if this would work for other writers but it helps me.

* Before you blurt out that twelve is too many, only 2½ are actually main and at least 3 barely qualify as main-ish. One of them in fact never appears.

That’s all i’m doing today. Between something funny going on in my right wrist and a lot of lost sleep, i’m not up to more. But next time i can screw up my self-discipline, i’ll take the first of these individualised mini-outlines and put some concrete incidents in. If feeling strong i may do several in the same session. And with these ‘plans’ i will feel secure enough to keep going. Having just written perhaps, i don’t know, could be up to 20,000 words of false start, i do need a little of that security. But i hate the idea of anything more definite – for this piece of work at least. After all, taking the slightest hint and blowing it up into a huge story with very little to do with the original meaning, though not useful in most areas of life, is the knack that got me into writing fiction in the first place.  ;0)


Eight hundred and fourteen words written and typed up today

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Wednesday 16 September 2009

Yesterday i caught up with myself: typed up two days’ scribbles plus a bit left over that hadn’t been typed before the summer. I’ve set myself a new target of nine hundred words a morning – nine hundred, cos that is three pages of my Big Pink Book. This week – ok, i know Monday to now isn’t statistically significant, but i’m sure of myself at the moment – i’ve stuck to it. Lower than the plan i used to have in mind but it seems to be what i can realistically do.

This brings Chapter Eight to 4,300 words and the whole thing to 56,000 if i’ve added it up right.  :0)  Chapter Three is for now a sentence reminding me what’s going to happen in that bit; and about 9,300 words are doomed to be scrapped cos i changed history for T. I like to think that cancels out – though of course it is still ten (or eleven) -ish mornings’ extra.

Told you i’d get back into the swing. It feels VERY good to know what’s happening next, and something of why that’s happening – ie what it leads to – and to have a shapeless-but-substantial idea of what happens in the end.* Can’t say i’ve been in that situation ever before, with this story. (In the past i’ve set out to Write A Novel a few times, some of them with a very clearly laid-out plan, but i’m not counting those as they have faded out. One or two are not dead and may one day be resuscitated, but they can’t be included in the evidence for How I Work because on them, i didn’t work.)

* I’m also quite looking forward to where i’m about to take T and what we’re about to encounter there.

I still feel this is ‘nearly halfway’. It’s been feeling like ‘nearly halfway’ for a hell of a lot of weeks. Bit like that middle part of a long walk when you keep thinking your destination will come into view from the top of the next hill, and at the top of that hill you revise that to probably from the top of the next hill, and ‘next’ keeps adapting its meaning. Eventually of course you do reach the pub and sit down for a well-earned and very welcome ploughman’s.

If i had a definite total word count in mind, i’d have a better idea of how far along i am. At this very moment i’m thinking that to produce a finished piece of about 100,000 words, i’ll need a first draft of about 150,000. Don’t know if the proportion i cut from a work this length will be the one-third that it usually is from short fiction. This is why the Hopeful bit’s up there with the Travel title!

Anyway. Having got this lot into OpenOffice, i got distracted researching skinks and tabards. All relevant!

It’s all happening (again) – yay!

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Friday 12 June 2009

In the last just-over-a-week i, tubigripped, dressing-gowned and mixedpollened, have done 17 handwritten pages, which i estimate to be about 4,000 words or more if i’m lucky. It’s hard to guess as my coverage of the paper is so variable. (I also have a chunk not typed up from before the hiatus, so the 41-nearly-42,000 words so far could be approaching the 50,000 mark; it’s nice to think so.)

And TODAY it started ‘flowing’ again. Good ol’ persistence arrogant pig-headedness.

Yes, it has been very hard getting back into it after the break. But for a month before taking that break, i was struggling to get back into it anyway. Without skipping a single day, i’d got myself out of it.

I don’t think it was about the travelling-hopefully principle – i do not think it was because of having no plan, or too vague a plan. I’m still in that state; i know roughly the end in a non-concrete kind of way, and i know (at last) what’s just about to turn up. I think it was because i kept going when i’d got lost.

UPDATE: Also, i think, it was having taken T out of his native country into another, very different, environment. I was muddling through without any real feel for the place. Normally i don’t need to think about a setting – not with my conscious mind. Normally i just need a vague visual impression and each detail shows up when a character focuses on it. For once, that wasn’t happening. So without going backwards for now, from here on i’m changing this second land into something else. They do say one of the best bits of writing is playing god…  😉

It’s interesting that my confidence isn’t back as fully as my words. I’m looking ahead to a lively conversation between T and a new character (not until tomorrow; i have my physical limits). I can hear their voices and i know exactly the outcome of the conversation. But i don’t feel i can do the actual words. T will talk his way out of a situation, and that’s one of the ways we differ – he has the gift of the gab and i definitely do not, at least not out loud (not so bad on paper, lol). I don’t feel i can put the sneaky, nimble words into his mouth that i know he will come up with on the spur of the moment.

It will depend on EITHER inhabiting the character, OR working really hard in an artificial-feeling way. That’s not the point. The point is that i, today, have no faith in being able to do it, which is unusual for when i’m in this it’s-flowing state of mind. Which i diagnose as a hangover from being choked by the hiatus. I’m interested to find out about the anatomy of this difficulty. I have had ‘writer’s block’ (not the term i choose) before, but have never come from it back into the work it sprang from. Until June 2009.  🙂

Lucky i do, really, know dialogue is one of my strengths. Dialogue, emotional truth, atmosphere. (Not as sure about atmosphere as i used to be, but it may be that i’m more ambitious with my settings nowadays.) Plot, realistic props, etc, not so strong. Can’t decide where to rank myself on world-building but otoh i don’t need to, do i? 😛 When i get the hang of plot, and stick that onto the things that come easily by nature, i can’t help but knock ’em dead.  😉

And now OpenOffice won’t open, which may be about Firefox so i will go offline and see if that is it. Though i only have nine tabs open this morning, about 1/3 as many as yesterday when OpenOffice was fine. But i’d better go and put some clothes on as well.

ps That was all typed earlier, though i had to get into OpenOffice to check my word count – and walk the dog and give her my lunch – before actually posting this at 3.30pm. I don’t want anyone thinking i sit around this late before getting dressed!


Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Wednesday 3 June 2009

I have tried several times, but couldn’t get beyond a few hundred words (less than a page) because of pain in my fingers / wrist / elbow. Coinciding with a big stumble in plot direction / arc / heck! it has stopped me for quite a while. It hasn’t had a good effect on blogging, either.

This week, even though my fingers have been hurting even when I wasn’t doing anything with them – using a spoon has been bad, as well as using a pen, keyboard or mouse – for some reason I’ve managed more. It’s not that I finally know where I’m going, cos I don’t.

The question of planning vs travelling hopefully has been much on my mind this last few weeks; I have a blogpost half written on the subject. This whole Slog has so far been on the understanding that no one, including me, knows what may be round the next corner. My principle is that as long as I know the end, I can write my way to it, and that’s always worked with stories – all my best stories, I think, happened that way.

My theory now is that I got bored, and that made the writing boring, and then that made me more bored, and that was the hiccup. I couldn’t have formed this theory before the mojo came back to me. (It may be a little premature to say it’s back, but hmf.) I don’t mean I got bored with the process of writing. That’s supposed to be boring – if boring means repetitive, never-ending or seeming like it, hard work, in short a slog. My boredom was with the content itself. And why was that boring me? Cos I was trying to be sensible.

This started out as a pretty surreal experience, an odd character in an odd place with odd things happening that he had to deal with. It still is, but as the things happened and he dealt with them, the logic kicked in. Consequences, y’know. I did carry on for a good month on the basis that ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair’ as I spotted today and immediately retweeted. I believe that, and uncannily the internet has been telling me it emphatically all through this, erm what can I call it, hiatus. But I also believe that if you keep ploughing on with admirable determination in your straight line and were one degree off course when you started, you’ll be more and more miles from your intended path the further you admirably plough.

I kept solving little nitty-gritty practical, logistical problems while being thoroughly bored by them. I should have leapt a day into the future, plonked T into a situation I found interesting, and got on with it from there. Getting on with it when I was lost didn’t get me very far at all.

So now I do believe what I’ve been hoping was true: I needed this break. Regardless of all the exhortations and admonitions there are around the place. Regardless of the fact that it’s ten times harder to write after a break from it. Yes, it is ten times harder (well, I haven’t actually measured the hardness) and it’s nothing like starting from scratch, cos at the beginning you’re full of that beginning-a-new-project thing. But what’s harder, compared with impossible?

Anyway I’ve done harder things even than this. Ye gods, I’ve done marriage. And kids etc, and the top of Helvellyn, and revising for exams I thought I had no hope of passing. And queueing when I was too polite to say I was in severe pain and needed to sit.

And btw I’ve done it again: submitted to one of Duotrope’s 25 Most Challenging Fiction Markets.  This time it’s to Futurismic, and am now convinced I have SO little chance I have made a fool of myself by even thinking of it. But hey, the Slog’s back in my life, so who cares!

I once read it’s common to clog up around 30,000 words.

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Monday 23 March 2009

[Wrote this three days ago, and somehow managed to save it as a draft only. So here it is – not out of date at all.]

Passed 30,000 words and felt great. Momentum sustained. I’m better than those more feeble authors!

I’ve clogged up at 40,000.

I didn’t start by worrying – i had known to expect this. I slogged on.

Became aware that it was closer to chore than i was comfortable with. Not quite a chore, but close. (At least bored writing is the one way i get my boredom that doesn’t make me snack.) I have no objection to pushing through reluctance, but i also know that if the writer’s bored, the reader will be bored. So i’ve been toying with the question of whether to take a break from it.

I’m also losing my grip on the arc of the story. No, that’s an exaggeration. I’ve got hold of the arc, but it’s doing what those possible-future trees do, splitting into several and diverse arcs, and i can’t see how they wind together. Whether they ought to wind together. I’m beginning to forget that it doesn’t all have to work first time – beginning to be afraid that if a really big inconsistency happens, not just saying something took four hours and coming back when it’s finished two hours later, i won’t be able to re-tie the frayed ends of arc when i have a huge 400-page printout sitting there.* That unconfidence is making me hesitate to throw in odd difficulties when the story flags. You know, when it sags in the middle, kill someone. Or have two men burst into the room with guns. Never fail to keep the pressure up on your characters. I’m fine at thinking up unexpected hitches n glitches, fine at launching T into situations you never would have thought were round the corner, but lately i’ve been thinking: If i drop him in that, i won’t be able to find him again.

The quiet but incisive voice of my creategenie exhorts: ‘A step back will give you a clearer view of the canvas. Get your nose out of the nitty-gritty and let the silt settle. The shape will appear to you and the connections between curly bits will fade into your vision. (At least the beginnings of them.)’

The slightly spikier, in-your-own-best-interests voice of my workgenie insists: ‘Drop it for three days now, and you’ll have dropped it for good. Even if you pick it up next week, the join will always show. No, the only way is to force through this murk. Keep shoving and it will fall away. When you have a complete manuscript, you can cut these swathes of drivel.’

Thanx, guys. Do you two ever talk to each other?

Well, the creategenie won. Not just cos he was being kinder. In life in general i’m learning about not flogging dead horses, and in Slog i’m implementing that philosophy. I don’t mean this is Slogquit, but i recognise when need a rest. Today i believe it will be a rest of about a week. Ask me in May if that was a poor estimate…

Just letting you know, in case you notice. I am still jotting down the odd poem, one or two of which i’m happyish with. Some of the local poets have begun meeting again, which is good, as my poetry in the last three or four years (since the writers’ group folded) has been wilting. I am still blogging. AND i am finding out that i can’t write to a deadline.

If you happen to be a writer, especially if you’re a published novelist, do share what you do when this happens. How do you talk to yourself? Are your genies polite – and more, do they shut up when you ask them nicely? Please tell.


* Notice i said ‘when’ and not ‘if’ or ‘if and when’? Yay.