The Travel Hopefully Slog

A dead horse?

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Monday 2 November 2009

I told you some time ago that if you didn’t see many blogsposts here, that was a sign things were going well with the Slog – all the words were going into that instead of into Travel Hopefully. I lied.

Seriously considering ditching this Slog.

  • A different, better structured, less linear, more emotive Slog keeps badgering me.
  • The fear keeps looming that even if i rescue this Slog from its mid-point sag, the seam will show for ever. Even in the work of experienced authors, i can usually spot where the go-slow happened. In a first novel with all its other shortcomings, surely it would glare out at the least perceptive reader.
  • I keep reading interviews with successful writers who habitually let go halfway through a novel to write other stuff, with no apparent ill effects.

The biggest argument against dropping it now – at least for a break, if not permanently -is that this was partly (largely!) an exercise in stick-at-it. Seeing if i could stay to the end, not only seeing if i can produce anything worth looking at. (Same mindset as got me through my Finals!) Another thing i keep reading is professionals saying everyone’s ‘first’ novel is actually their fifth or sixth, or twentieth. Just recognising that this isn’t going to be The One is not enough reason to give up on it now. I knew i’d go through doubt; i knew i’d have patches of being sick of it, of feeling incompetent to complete or even continue it; i knew there would be days and weeks (though tbh i didn’t expect months on end) of wishing it was all over, or believing it ought to be. I even knew some siren-like new project would beckon and solicit me, especially while the creativity was flowing well. So when those happen they’re no excuse for quitting.

I’m fine with temptation, i can put my head down and plough through it as if it wasn’t there as long as i know that’s what is needed. The difficulty is knowing whether this is temptation, or wise instinct, prompting me to change direction completely. Is the slog a dead horse… am i ridiculous to keep flogging it? Historically i am known for hanging onto things long after it’s obvious they’re going nowhere. But i’m also known for not carrying ideas through to their conclusion.

The question has been in my head for weeks. I took a step nearer to putting this Slog in the airing cupboard, in the middle of the night last week when it occurred to me i could still get a lot of material from it. The past year (yike! on Sunday it will have been a whole year) wouldn’t be 100% wasted if i turned parts into longer-short stories and suchlike.

{{writhe, writhe, groan}}


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!

Different styles of hammering away at it

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Tuesday 9 June 2009

Iain Banks, in an interview i read a long time ago, mentioned a friend who shared his interest in writing but whose career path as an author contrasted with his.

Banks started submitting work very young, probably while still at school (this is all from my sketchy memory), and went through years of rejection after rejection before getting into print. All the while he was mastering his craft.

The friend talked about writing, read about writing, learned about writing, and presumably dreamed about writing and even did some writing, without ever submitting any work. After many years he took that step, and got published straight away.

I’m not giving up my immediate target of collecting as many rejections as i can (the counted has reached 36 so far (and six pieces currently out)), but still – after more than two decades of thinking about this writing thing – this story gives me hope.  ;0)

ps. Yeek, just worked it out. It’s more than THREE decades.

pps. On the same theme, Wikipedia is encouraging on late bloomers. I knew about Mary Wesley, but she was wearing a little thin through being oft cited.


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!