Last year, I posted a picture of the plan for novel the first (NTF). I use the word plan in vain: what I had was a loose timeline with a few important events marked in and something a little bit like a mind-map that explained something about some of the characters.
At the time, that felt like a plan, even a pretty detailed one. But it wasn’t. I found this out when I got stuck for the first time and looked back at the multi-coloured lines to see if there was a solution there. There wasn’t. Of course not: one of the colourful blobs that had filled me with such satisfaction when I first drew the plan said ‘other big event’. That’s a problem, not a solution. Identifying problems upfront when you start a project is useful but it is not the same as solving them. This happens when I plan: I get so far, then I realise that something else is needed but I’m not sure what that something is. (I once submitted a partial story to my writer’s group with the word ‘epiphany’ where said event needed to go. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I knew I needed one.) Then, being an eager kind of person, I get writing, powering through the parts that I know something about and writing myself into a corner.
At one point, I tried to make a better plan and wrote a chapter breakdown. I got a detailed breakdown of the first half. That was the half I’d already written. So, not really a plan.
I learned a lot writing NTF, but I need to learn more before I get something I can send out. That’s why I’m moving on to novel the second. This time I’m planning it properly. Yes, the first draft of my plot spreadsheet looked something like the colourful drawing I made last time, but as I’ve revised it, questions have popped up (and a few answers – so far mostly to events in NTF, so yay!, there’s hope for it still.) and I’m forcing myself to deal with them. This time, I’m thinking about pacing and emotions before I start writing. I hope this will give me a better book. Practice isn’t just doing the same thing again and again but changing your technique to improve it. Hence my tweaking from a more planned approach – pantsing it, to miss-quote Chris Hill, didn’t work for me, so I need to change something. I also think I need to be more focussed, to think about it more, and work faster, so I’m allowing this story to take over most of my spare brainpower.
Obsession, planning and focus. It’s the way forward.
I’m short of materials and ideas, so I decided to write a short story a day for the first seven days of this month. We’re on day four. How is it going?
It’s going great but not in the way I expected it to.
No, I haven’t written three short stories and I won’t write one tonight either. But I have written three scenes for my novel and a short story that is a prequel to the novel, about one of the supporting characters. I sat down to come up with new ideas and my brain started galloping around my magical universe, looking out different characters’ eyes, weaving in new threads and setting things up for the sequel. It’d be dumb to fight it.
It’s been difficult to get the last bit figured out and written. For a while, I thought I had lost interest in this set of characters, this entire story. It would seem I haven’t.
I can always write short stories next week.
Or the week after.
Last year I achieved five of seven goals. This year, I’ve changed my goals a little and some of last year’s goals, sending a story out at least five times before retiring it for example, is now just part of the process. Likewise, I now assume that if I write a story, I’ll send it somewhere, so writing ten stories implies submitting ten stories. I’ve realised that it’s not realistic to write one per month – some months I don’t write – but ten over the year should be doable, even if I’m working on a novel.
This is what I’d like to achieve this year:
- Get four stories published. One down, three to go. I’ve got six stories out at the moment: one’s in the second sift, one’s in a competition I do not expect it to win, one I won’t hear about and the other three could go either way. I’ve got new markets lined up for most of them so I can send them out again as soon as they get rejected.
- Make £150 from fiction. To do that, I’m submitting to paying markets only, and starting with ones that pay at least $50 per story.
- Write (and submit) ten short stories. Super-flash stories (100 words or shorter) don’t count. I’m planning three long ones (5-6K)*, three of ‘literary’ length (2K)**, and four flash pieces (<1K)***.
- Do four spoken performances. I don’t have anything lined up so far so I might struggle to meet this.
- Do Story Shop. I didn’t get in last year. This year, I really, really want it. If I get it, it counts as one performance.
- Complete novel number 1. In progress.
- Start novel number 2. It (and another, shorter YA novel) is plotting itself quietly in the back of my head.
- Collaborate. Working with someone else will be fun: I think it might change how I work. And I know who I’m doing it with so this one should be easy.
- Get an agent. The main purpose of this year is to find an agent. This one task is more difficult than all the other goals put together.
I know what I need to do and it can be summed up like this: write, submit and read. Business as usual, then.
* Two of which already have working titles: Jonah’s Story and Fingers in the Dirt. Watch this space as they get written.
** The first one of these, The Foods of Lara’s Loves, is looking for a market.
*** One for each performance.
I had targets and goals. A plan. It’s been four months since my last update so it’s time to have a hard look at where I am against it.
- Send out one new story per month: it kind of depends on how you count it, but I think I’m still behind by one story. Editing. I need to finish editing the three stories that are sitting in my pile, waiting to be finished and submitted.
- Send each story out at least five times before retiring: in progress. I have five stories doing the rounds at the moment.
- Start plotting novel: I won’t claim that it’s entirely complete, but I’m far along enough that I can get started.
- Start writing novel: started. I’ve got some 15,000 words which means I’m behind.
- Apply to Story Shop: total fail. My story did not get selected. Better luck next year.
- Do three spoken performances: three down, one to go.
That was as far as I got the last time I took stock. Since then I’ve added goals…
- Make £75 from writing: done. Once the cheques arrive.
- Get four stories published: three down, one to go. (The Wolf at the Door was on Flashes in the Dark in May, Foundling will be in New Writing Scotland 30 in august, and Salanntúr will be in The Seven Wonders of Scotland in October.) I’ve got five months to sell one more story. Wish me luck!
OK. This is it. It is June and that was when I was going to start writing.
Plotting started in April and took a frantic turn in May. There’s still some research I need to do and a couple of character studies that need a bit more of a polish (What really drives Anna’s mum? I need to know!) but I’m in a position to start.
The starting line is an oddly scary place to be.
I’ve only just put fingertip to keyboard but I can already tell you something about the difference between NaNoWriMo and doing it for real. When you do it for real, the pressure is on. I can feel myself reining myself in even before I’ve started. The writing of this novel isn’t just about having fun but rather about creating something that I can share with the world. This is not high literature, that’s not where I’m going – not with this one – but at the end I want something that I’m not embarrassed to ask people to read. After all, the point is to share it, as widely as possible.
On Saturday, I had a second acceptance. This wasn’t for a paying market, but I’m still very pleased. Martin is, in his short form, finally getting published somewhere. On May 25th, The Wolf at the Door, the short version of Liz & Bob that I read at Illicit Ink last year, will appear on Flashes in the Dark. Flashes in the Dark is a flash fiction site that serves up a daily morsel of horror.
I’m pleased that someone liked my story enough to share it with their readers but I’m also pleased that I found out just in time to add it to my list of publications before submitting a story for Story Shop.
Story Shop is part of the plan. I’m hoping (fingers crossed, wood knocked on, superstitions engaged) that they’ll take my story so I get to read at Edinburgh International Book Festival. It would be the coolest thing ever.
A couple of months ago I took my plan for the year public to goad myself into sticking to it. It’s time to reflect and see how I’m progressing against my goals.
- Send out one new story per month: behind by two stories. I’m not going to catch up this month but I want to be behind by only one story by next month.
- Send each story out at least five times before retiring: in progress (am circulating Neon Tetra Suicides, Space Carrot, L.V.I.S. and the flash version of Liz & Bob). It’s been suggested that sending them out five times isn’t enough so some of them might go out a few more times.
- Start plotting novel: I’ve started and am making progress. I’ll publish some of my scrawls later for the fun of it.
- Start writing novel: planned for June.
- Apply to Story Shop:
looking dicey since I haven’t managed to get published yet I’m keeping an eye open for the call for stories. Last year it was released in May.
- Do three spoken performances: I’m upgrading this to four and am two down.
I have a plan. It’s a five-year plan, sort of, and somewhat fluid, but it helps me figure out where I’m going. For this year, the plan is to:
- Submit one story a month, on average, for publication. This part of the plan has been in force since September last year. I’m a little behind but working hard to catch up. I’m not just sending things out willy-nilly, it has to be to a likely market.
- Re-submit each story at least twice after rejection. It’s statistically realistic rather than defeatist to assume that some, if not all, stories will be rejected. I’m trying to write for calls rather than find markets for stories I’ve written to try to optimise my hit-rate but still, there will be knock backs.
- Start plotting a real novel. I’ve learned that having a plot really helps so to ensure that I build a good story I have to start with the structure. First: develop plot and characters. Then…
- start writing a real novel. June seems a good month for this.
- Build a platform. That means getting readers for this blog which, in turn, means getting it out there. Sharing it, reading other people’s blogs and commenting on theirs in the hope that they will read mine. Advertise my self wherever I can. Do spoken events. Network. Comment and encourage. Post on blog logs. Join memes. Tweet and Facebook what I’m doing. All that basic marketing stuff. All things I’m too shy to do right now.
- Do three spoken word events. (I might up this goal to four since I have one under my belt already and another on planned for early March.)
I’ll let you know how I get on.