The Travel Hopefully Slog


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!


Something’s shifting

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Thursday 26 March 2009

It didn’t feel like block. That’s not the name that came to mind. It doesn’t feel unblocked. But today i’ve scribbled maybe 500 words, which DOES feel like relief. Samantha Clark’s advice made me feel i’d had a hug, which helped. It also helped to be told to forget about joining up the plot.

I’ve got my main character, T, in a situation where he needs some secure privacy for about twenty minutes to go through the contents of a bag and assess what he’s carrying. Just realised that i was pootling along trying to find his alone-time. Got him into a public toilet, but the door didn’t lock. Got him a hotel room, but he has to share it. Finally i see that i’m not planning an itinerary for him – i don’t need to be sure he has a Plan B at every step in case he misses a connection. That uses the left brain that i’m trying to keep out of this creative First Draft process; the left-brain, think-in-grids stage is Revision. Obvious, i know.

So i’ve just started from sometime (an hour? a day?) AFTER he’s had his look in the bag. I’ll find out exactly what he saw when it gets mentioned, but i know all i need to: he has enough of the right items, it has cheered him up, he thinks everything’s hunky-dory now and is feeling clever about some of the problems he’s just managed to sidestep. (Little does he know… heh, heh, heh.)

The Reader will need this explaining. When we went backpacking he liked to have the train timetable always open in front of him as well as memorised.

But the Reader (sorry, dear Reader) is extraneous.  80)

What it did feel like was laziness and excuses. But hindsight (we all love hindsight) says it was keeling over cos i hadn’t taken a break when i needed to pause.

It’s only 500 words, and i only know the next two steps – perhaps the next half-hour of what’s going to happen to T. Something is keeping me on a need-to-know basis. My own brain is keeping me on a need-to-know basis! And i’m collaborating with it. How weird is that?

But however sluggishly, the Slog’s moving again. Baby steps, baby steps. Confucius said, ‘It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.’ OK, so it will matter if i’m still only halfway when i’m ninety. But for now, it’s a comforting thought.

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.

Back in harness

Posted in The TH Slog by mand Season on Wednesday 21 January 2009

The feeling was of hammering a nail into some substance too hard to hammer nails into.

I knew whatever i wrote next would be drivel. I knew i had to accept that and write drivel until the good stuff started coming, like waiting for a tap to run hot. Still i couldn’t bear to start cos what i started with would be drivel.

And there’s that word ‘couldn’t’. (Is that a word or two words?) What does ‘unable’ mean, when you pull it apart?

I could bear to. I just wasn’t bringing myself to.

In the end – having run out of excuses – i reminded myself that i wasn’t even obliged to write drivel, i could write bullet points. List what was going to happen next. Then thinking about the bullet points, a couple of logistics tricky bits came clearer in my mind. Then as i visualised that, i began to hear words. And i was off.

This morning in bed, 1,300 words. I thought it was 2,000 until i typed it up, but it was 1,300. Plus 750 from before Christmas, waiting to be typed, which again i’d thought was 1,000. (And, eek, i’ve just realised this post is itself 750 words.) Anyway, that’s a little more than 2,000 added, which takes the total above 24,000.

And i’m in the middle of Chapter Four, which happened by shifting chapter-breaks (in December i left it halfway through Chapter Two), so the bit i’ve chickened out of writing at all at the moment sits on its own as a very short chapter. For now it’s an extremely-very short chapter, being only two sentences summing up what’s going to happen. (When i know the world and the main character better, ie at the end of Draft One, i’ll plan it mechanically and set it for myself as an essay task, but if i were to don that planning brain at this stage i’d lose the imagining brain… which i’ve only just got back, after all.)

This was instead of showering today.

So actually i hadn’t run out of excuses – i could have used the shower to get out of the writing – which makes me even stronger-willed than i’m congratulating myself on being! (I’m careful to remember the congratulations. I’m feedback-motivated. No one else is going to congratulate me on reaching various wordage targets, so that falls within my own job description.)

And in fact some of it wasn’t drivel. The first few paragraphs were, but towards the end the pace picks up, the adrenalin flows, and it got quite page-turny. I think. To sum up, Chapter One opens with an escape, takes the leading character (i’ll have to refer to him more simply – so i’ll call him ‘T‘) into some very dodgy company including F, one of the two major baddies, and keeps him off-balance all the time. It also introduces S, who T knew a long time in the past and doesn’t entirely trust. A new character, B, arrives with a crash, literally, just as the chapter ends. Chapter Two sees T committed to do some work for F, but also committed to do some work for L, who is a bit of a mystery. And of course the two bits of work clash. Chapter Three is the beginning of the work, and isn’t written. Chapter Four so far has him avoiding S, who’s there to make sure he finishes the work for F, but bumping into S after all. This summary isn’t meant to be easy to follow and i don’t mind if no one takes it in.

I could sum up more briefly by saying it starts bad for T, gets worse, gets more worse, and he gets into a very tight corner which he wriggles out of by his innate brilliant cunning, and then events change direction and drop him in shit again. F isn’t on his side, B should be but isn’t, S says he is but isn’t, and L isn’t saying. Yep, that sums it up much better.

Physically, by about 1,000 words my arms were jelly-like as your legs may be after walking fast up a very steep bit. I pushed through physical exhaustion. Not sure if that was a good decision. By the end of the typing my eyes are playing tricks. I don’t care this afternoon, i’m just pleased – and relieved – to have gone from the couldabeen i was yesterday to the future famous genius author that i am today. The more i typed, the more i looked back over what i’ve done, the more ideas i had for the foreseeable next bit. A month off is too long.

Oh, and i wrote a poem called sheep before getting stuck into the Slog.