My Writing Past

Previously, I’ve mainly written fantasy. I have manuscripts suitable for all ages. However, I specifically concentrated on children’s books – 8 to 12 years of age – over recent years. The only time I ventured into other genres were for short stories, although one of my first novel length manuscripts is romance (but even that has a fantasy setting).

In order to gauge where I’m heading, I have to know what I have to work with. Here’s a list of all my manuscripts, excluding short stories as I don’t intend to write them in the future.

List of Novel Length Manuscripts

Kingdom of Marlinor Trilogy
(fantasy for adults – needs planning as a trilogy and rewriting)

Book 1 – Whispering Caves
Book 2 – Windy Plains
Book 3 – Butterweed Fever

People of Miu Series
(fantasy for children aged 8 to 12 years – first two books written and edited; book 3 needs planning)

Book 1 – Cat’s Eyes
Book 2 – Cat’s Paws
Book 3 – Cat’s Whiskers

Stand Alone Manuscripts

Blood Red, White Fire (fantasy for young adults) – 22 chapters written of first draft

Isle of Cotti (romance for adults) – complete, 10 chapters rewritten in edit stage, second half needs replanning

Westmore Castle (fantasy for adults) – only four chapters written, needs complete planning and rewriting

The World of Jaishree (fantasy for young adults) – written as a short story that should have been a novel, needs replanning and rewriting

Mid-Summer’s Day (science fiction for adults) – fully planned, but not written

Sam & Arden (fantasy for young adults) – 4 chapters written, needs proper planning

Mirror Image (paranormal/horror for adults) – about 10,000 words of first draft left to write

Non-Fiction Manuscripts

Suicide: A Mother’s Story

Now that I know what manuscripts are in the system, I can decide what I intend to do from this point on. That, however, will be discussed in another post. Right now, I have some thinking to do.

A Change in Direction

On 1 October 2007, I wrote the following:

Now I must move on to the second part of the goal. I have until the end of October to plan book three. This sounds like a long time, but I’ve been thinking about this book – on and off – for some months now and still don’t have any real ideas (except for the ending). For this reason, I hope a month is long enough for the planning. However, setting a public goal and a deadline might just be what is needed to get the job done. We’ll see.

Eight days have passed since then and yesterday I finally started working on that plan. In all honesty, I’m having trouble with the plot and the plan isn’t going well. This has nothing to do with writer’s block or laziness on my part. There’s another reason altogether – another story has pushed its way to the surface and is demanding some attention.

I have attempted to push it aside and return to book 3 of my children’s series several times. I have struggled for over 24 hours to stay focused, but nothing is working. I started a spreadsheet and figured out some of the plot, but this other story is quite determined to have its time in the lime light.

This afternoon, I set up Google Documents and decided that if I type up a quick outline of the other story I would then be free to carry on with book 3. To me, it is logical to think that the story just wanted to be sure I wouldn’t forget key points of the plot and would be satisfied when the outline was written. Yes, well, I was wrong!

Once I opened the door to this “other” story, everything just gushed out and I wrote a five page outline within no time at all. I now have a story title and a complete plot. However, I don’t have any character names. That doesn’t mean the characters are shy. No way. They are right there, and they are pushing their personalities at me as if to say the names are not important – the plot, the personalities, and the setting are.

It’s quite overwhelming how quickly it all came together. I told G a quick overview of the plot and he simply said, “write it.” My reaction was, “I can’t yet” and he asked “why?”

I sat and thought about it for a while. Why can’t I write this other story? Well, firstly, I want to finish the children’s series. Writing book 3 in November would be a mighty giant step to getting that goal completed. Secondly, I don’t like to swap and change between projects because that’s undisciplined, which easily leads to many unfinished projects. I don’t like the sound of that.

But…

NaNoWriMo starts in three weeks and my book 3 plan isn’t coming together. Fair enough, I never planned on doing the full NaNo thing, for me it was always going to be a Mini-NaNoWriMo month, where I aim for 25,000 words. I can manage that. I know it won’t make me turn into something nasty and, at the end of the month, I won’t suffer from burnout (like I did the first time I did the full NaNo thing).

Why is a tiny piece of me so eager to push book 3 aside? Why have thoughts of doing a full NaNo this year been swirling around my head all day? I’ll tell you why. Because this story is so full and vivid in my mind, I feel I could easily reach 50,000 words in a month. I also feel I’d be a fool not to use the NaNo experience to write the first draft of a new novel while the plot, setting and characters are so real to me. I also think that a change of “scenery” will do me the world of good.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. There’s a change of plan. I’m heading over to NaNoWriMo right now to register and I’m going to write the first draft of Mirror Image this November. Yoohoo!

Edit: The NaNo website is offline. With the increasing number of writers doing this each year, the website can’t handle the traffic. I hope the problem is sorted real soon, otherwise, there’s going to be a lot of upset NaNoers in November.

Half an hour later: I’m registered!

Part One of Public Goal Complete

This weekend has been a long weekend for us – Labour Day. Personally, I don’t care what name the holiday is labelled, as long as I get a day off occasionally. Yes, that sounds selfish and I don’t particularly care. I’ve worked long and hard throughout my working life and enjoy every spare moment away from the office that I can. The next break for me won’t be until the Christmas break. Two whole weeks, now that’s a holiday!

Recently, I set a public goal. I had to complete a story arc for both manuscripts one and two of my children’s series in order to start planning book three. Today, I finished the second story arc, which means I’m on course so far.

Now I must move on to the second part of the goal. I have until the end of October to plan book three. This sounds like a long time, but I’ve been thinking about this book – on and off – for some months now and still don’t have any real ideas (except for the ending). For this reason, I hope a month is long enough for the planning. However, setting a public goal and a deadline might just be what is needed to get the job done. We’ll see.

The People of Miu Series

Over recent weeks I’ve felt a little overwhelmed with the amount of things I have needed to do. On top of this I became ill, which didn’t help with motivation or energy to do these things.

However, most of those issues have been dealt with (including the illness) and I suddenly find myself in the position to start thinking about my writing again. With the coming of November (and NaNoWriMo) just around the corner, I have decided to set another public goal.

This goal is geared at getting my children’s series – The People of Miu – completed in first draft (although the first book is in the final stages of polishing before being ready for publication and book two will be entering the third draft stage soon).

In November this year I want to write the third (and final) book in my children’s series. I know how the story ends, but that’s about the extent of my plans for the manuscript at the moment. As I’m a planner and not a “seat of the pants” writer, more planning has to be done prior to writing the first draft. And…as this is the third book in the series, I want to tie the three books together.

I decided to develop a story arc for the first two books – noting the characters and main events of each scene together with hints for the future books. I’ve completed the arc for the first book – Cat’s Eyes – and intend to work on the arc for the second book – Cat’s Paw – this weekend (which is a long weekend).

Once these two arcs are complete, I will give myself until the end of October to have a workable plan for book three – Cat’s Whiskers – so that writing of the first draft can commence on 1 November. The first draft will be completed by the end of November.

Using Index Cards

No Plot No ProblemLast night, I finished reading No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. (I admit there was a long break between starting the book and finishing it, because I was extremely busy.)

There’s a section at the end of the book that gives tips on rewriting your NaNo manuscript if you think it’s got potential. There are six steps to the rewrite, and in summary, they are:

  • Read your manuscript through from first word to last and make a note of each scene on the manuscript itself in any colour pen except red (red is strictly for editing). At the beginning of each scene write down who is in the scene and a brief summary of what happens in the scene.
  • Transfer these notes onto index cards (or a spreadsheet) exactly as you wrote them. Now lay the cards out in the order they appear in the manuscript, using a vertical divider (Chris recommended a pencil for this) to group the scenes into chapters.
  • Scan the cards, removing any that don’t move the story forward. Check the remaining for characters that don’t seem to do anything or are doubles of other characters. If a character doesn’t have a reason to be in the story, get rid of them. However, if the character is needed but their story arc isn’t properly represented create new cards and place them where they should go. Ensure all characters are well developed on the cards before moving on to the next step.
  • Now shuffle the cards and place them down in alternate ways to ensure you have the best storyline possible; not forgetting to ensure you have the best pace and tension too. You may find you have to slice and dice some more scenes/characters when you finally decide on the best layout, so delete and create more cards if necessary.
  • Now return to your manuscript and cut and past the document so that the scenes are in the order you decided was best with the cards. Don’t edit! Just put everything in the right order. If you have added scenes, type in a place marker by writing four or five lines of a quick description of the scene. Remove the scenes that you no longer need.
  • Rewrite (or edit) your story – slowly and line by line.

This sounds like a good plan for my chapters books. I’ve written two, but I feel they need improving and I thought I could use the index cards I’ve already prepared and see what happens when I follow the steps (starting at step 2, of course).

Today, after returning home from a lovely morning out (we went to see the latest Harry Potter movie and had lunch), I decided that I’d start. However, my index cards were nowhere to be found. I pulled my bedroom apart (that’s where I normally write), but nothing. I then went into the computer room and ended up having a spring clean in there too, but still nothing. I don’t know what happened to them, but they are missing and I have a strong feeling I will not be finding them anytime soon. You know that “safe place” everyone has, well that’s where they must be and we all know no one knows where that place is.

I guess I’ll be doing the steps from the beginning, instead of cheating and starting at step 2 now. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I just wish I knew what happened to those cards.

Finding the REAL Problem

Last week I wrote about My Writing Future and a few days later I gave a Dilemma Update, and now I’m going to write about finding out what the real problem was.

For as long as I can remember I have always NOT enjoyed writing conflict/battle scenes. I tend to skip over the top of them when I read published novels, because I’m not interested in this part of the story. I suppose I want to skip over them when I’m writing too. However, I have written smaller – contained – fight scenes that don’t go on forever. I don’t particularly like them, but I manage. Where I have a problem is the conflict scenes that are on a much larger scale. You know the ones I mean – the Lord of the Rings or Magician type battles.

That narrowed things down for me a bit. It has nothing to do with genre, or what I had for breakfast, or my doubts about my writing…it has something to do with the actual battles in my stories. But what?

Then a friend asked me what magic my antagonist and protagonist could do. And then I was asked to describe that magic from a non-magical person’s point of view.

Excellent questions if he had asked someone who knew the answer. But he didn’t ask someone else, he asked me and he was referring to my story, which is something I should know ALL about. Right? Wrong!

Now we’re getting to the real problem. I don’t know anything…and I mean anything…about my world’s magical system. Is it any wonder I sit in front of the computer and play Minesweep or Pinball instead of writing? How can a writer weave their magic when they don’t know anything about magic? I’ve been writing long enough to know that it can’t be done. “Write what you know” means that if you haven’t done it personally, then research it until you can convince people you have. I’m a planner by nature, yet I completely pushed the details of this important scene to one side in the hope that it would write itself. And believe me…I waited for that to happen.

A simple question lead me to doing what I should have done before I started writing the short story…I researched magic. I built a magical system, I created attack and defence spells and I feel as if I can now tackle the scene because of it. In fact, the scene is three quarters written.

Here are some of the websites I visited in order to get me started in magic spells, systems, types, and how to put it all together. I hope you learn from them as much as I did.

The Rules of Matrin’s Magic by Holly Lisle – I think she’s talking about magic in one of her books, but it’s a good read for anyone wanting to use magic in their own story.

Tolkien, Fantasy and Magic by David Grubbs – This is talking about magic in the Tolkien series, but, again, it’s worth a read.

Spells of Dungeons & Dragons – Even though this one is written about Dungeons & Dragons, it will give you ideas about type of spells that your world might have.

Dilemma Update and Thanks

The following is the reply I posted on my message board and writers’ email group. I’m posted it here too, for the same reason I posted A Writing Future? a few days ago – this is an important part of my writing journey and it needs documenting.

First off, I’d like to thank everyone for taking my dilemma seriously and offering advice. I truly do appreciate your time and suggestions. I’ve read all the suggestions/thoughts and I have put a lot of thought into what’s stopping me from writing.

I was asked privately how I would feel if I was faced with the prospect of never writing fantasy again. Admittedly, the question shocked me, but it also helped me put things in perspective.

If I were told that I could never write again, I’d be devastated. I know I would be defiant and I’d write anyway…in secret if I had to. I love writing. I want to write. And I will continue to write. So writing is not the issue.

If I were told that I could never write fantasy again, I’d be upset and probably a little angry. Given time, I would get used to the idea and I know I would find another genre to write in. Not writing fantasy would not end my world and I think, for a while, I believed that writing and fantasy came hand in hand. I couldn’t do one without the other. That is not the case, however, and I think I can see that now.

I have many unfinished projects. All of them have stopped where the major conflict starts. All of them only need a few chapters written in order to see those manuscripts finished (some of them only need a few pages written). All of them are not written in the fantasy genre, although a majority of them are. I understand now that fantasy isn’t my problem, writing conflict is.

I admit that I have a fear of failure and a fear of success. I believe the fear of success used to be the dominant one and that’s why I wanted to use a pen name. My thoughts were that if anything published by me was not well received I could hide behind the pen name and no one need know it was me (especially family and friends). At this time I also need to admit that I kept my writing a secret from the people closest to me. However, I believe that has since reverted to a fear of failure, because everyone now knows I’m writing. As a result, I guess that makes it impossible to hide, so now I fear failure.

Reading this, I wouldn’t be offended if you saw signs of “empty nest syndrome” – a reluctance to finish the project and let all those strangers see my work; or, not wanting to let go of something precious. It’s strange, but I know I can brush this aside without a moments thought. I want these projects finished and out there. How can I be published if they are sitting in a box in a spare room? I’d be pushing my fear of failure to the extreme by having empty nest syndrome too. No, it’s just not me.

My problem is a lack of confidence when I’m writing a conflict scene and maybe a lack of imagination too…if I’m totally honest. As a reader I often skip over the top of these scenes because I find them boring. As a writer I can’t skip over them and that annoys me. However, all stories have conflict of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a huge epic battle scene to put the brakes on, even a two paragraph push and shove gives me the shudders (although I find verbal battles are less stressful). I don’t like confrontation in real life and I guess I don’t want to face them in my stories either. Old habits and all that…

I’ve isolated the germ, now I have to find a cure. Unless I decide to write non-fiction, I’m going to have to face this hurdle in order to move on with my writing. Many of you have made worthwhile suggestions, so what am I going to do to help myself?

The one consistent suggestion was “practice”. On the positive side, I have a lot of work to practice on, but if I think in those terms I’m going to push my brain into overload as it’s too much too soon.

Someone suggested a ghost writer for these scenes. I drooled at the suggestion. Wouldn’t it be heaven to write all the good stuff and leave the conflict/battle to someone else? Yes! The person who suggested this also said that I probably would find that I’d have to edit the scene to make it fit in with my style and perhaps I’d learn from that experience. Maybe after three or four projects I’d feel more capable of writing the scenes myself. Whilst a part of me loves this idea, an equal part of me hates it too. Should the story be published, I would feel as if I’d cheated. I think I’d be embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t write the entire story myself.

Maybe I need a coach instead. A coach would guide me through the scene. I guess they would ask relevant questions to get me going and then coax me into writing a paragraph or two. They would go over the crud I’d write and suggest something stronger, better. Maybe it would build up from there. Maybe those questions that got me started would form a template for future conflict scenes. And maybe the coach would help me with a couple of my projects until I got the hang of it. I don’t really know how it would fall together, but the list of questions to help me get started is something I would definitely like to pursue.

One of you has already provided a list of questions. They are:

1) Whose POV will you be watching the scene through?
2) What is the outcome of the fight? Do several people die? Are some of the goodies/baddies badly injured/killed?
3) Are the goodies going to win?
4) What weapons are involved? Will your POV character have one already? Find one during the fight? Or manage to take the baddy’s?
5) Is there magic? Does the POV character have magic? Does another character have magic and so the POV may only see flashes of light or thunderous sounds?
6) Does it finish with action or dialogue?

Do you have anything else that you think should be included?

In conclusion, I know an extra effort from me is required. If I let a thing like this make me back away from writing, then I have no right in calling myself a writer in the first place. I want to learn how to write these scenes and I humbly request your help. I’m open to how that help is given.

In addition: I had many writing friends step forward and offer me help. The response was amazing and I’m grateful to everyone. One of those people is currently helping me through this scene. I’ve already learned a lot about myself as a writer, but that will be explained in another post…on another day.

A Writing Future?

This is a modified version of a post I wrote and submitted to two writing communities, where I asked for help. I never intended to include in here, but as I’m at a important crossroads in my writing, I feel it should be documented on my own website.

I have a dilemma and wish to ask your advice/opinions.

I read fantasy novels (young adult and adult). I rarely read other genres, but I am trying to force myself to in order to broaden my horizons.

I write fantasy – young adult and adult in the past, but more recently my target audience has been children (8 to 12 year olds).

Now for my dilemma: Lately, over the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling as if I’m actually writing in the wrong genre. I love fantasy. I love reading it. But that doesn’t mean I’m good at writing it. I hate fight scenes; always have. I’m not imaginative enough for the insertion of magic into my work and often avoid it. I feel pressured because of this and often find I don’t write because my stories should have these elements in them.

That made me start thinking that I’m writing in the wrong genre, but, many years ago I started writing a romance (not the Mills and Boon type, more general romance). The first ten chapters flew onto the page with no effort on my part, but as soon as I reached the part where the major conflict came into play…I stopped writing. I knew exactly what had to happen. I knew exactly how the story would end. But I stopped writing. So maybe it’s nothing to do with genre. I have several other unfinished manuscript because of this too; all of them have stopped where the conflict begins.

Now, I’m rewriting a fantasy short story. I know exactly what happens from beginning to end. I’ve even written the closing scene, with is where the planning actually started. The story was built on the ending. I have written the beginning, but now I’m at the climax and I’ve stopped writing. For heavens sake, I have probably two or three pages to write and the story is finished, but I simply don’t want to write it. I feel as if I can’t write it. I feel as if this is going to make me stop writing. I’m serious.

Someone suggested that I have “empty nest syndrome”, but I disagree with that. I want my stories to be finished. I crave for it. I just don’t like conflict scenes…and I often skip over them when I read books too. I don’t like them and I don’t want to write them. But all stories have them!

I’ve been borrowing and buying writing books and reading them through (partially, anyway). I’ve been writing posts that are meant to inspire (me more so than visitors to the site). I used to see the scenes in my mind, but I simply couldn’t write them. Now my mind gets to that section and skips over the top of it leaving me with a vague impression. I know I’m not interested in that section of the story. I keep telling myself just write the damn thing in point form if I have to and build on it later, but I can’t do it. I had intended to make it a public goal, but I can’t even force myself to do that. I spent all day (on and off) Sunday writing. I don’t have writer’s block. I just don’t want to write the scene. I really want to use a swear word about now. I feel so angry with myself.

Writers write; everyone else just talks about it. I wrote that on this blog. It was meant to be a guilt trip aimed at me, but even that didn’t work. I’m “everyone else” and that is not good enough.

The whole thing is starting to upset me. I love writing. I hate writing the major conflict. This is the section that most writers can’t wait to get to and love to write the most. Why am I shunning it? What can I do to get over this? Am I writing the wrong genre? Is there a place to learn to write these scenes and feel comfortable doing so? If I don’t do something soon, I think I’ll back away from writing altogether…or maybe just go back to writing excessively long manuscripts just for me. At least there was no pressure then.