Attempting to Take My Life Back with a Goal

Originally posted on another site on 3 March 2010.

Over recent days I’ve been reading a reference book called Writing Fiction for Dummies. When I purchased the book, I was mainly looking for inspiration even though I know I’m a bit passed the “dummy” stage. It seems my impulse has proven to be correct and I am feeling the urge to write stir within me.

Now, before I move on I want to explain that the lack of the urge to write has nothing to do with writer’s block (which I don’t believe in anyway), burn out or not wanting to write. It is completely due to exhaustion from the long hours I am forced to endure. I worked it out that 14 hours of my day is used up in travelling and working and 7 hours is for much needed sleep, which leaves me 3 hours to do everything else – including chores, eating, spending time with my family…and writing. Often, all I feel like doing in that time is sitting like a brain-dead vegetable in front of the TV because I simply don’t have the energy to do anything else. Yes, I could do some writing during the travel time, but at the moment…in the morning, I’m just too tired; and in the afternoon, I read but I’m thinking of changing my routine in coming weeks.

Anyway, let me stop whining and get back on track. I purchased the reference book with the hope of finding inspiration. I knew a lot of the information would already be well known to me, but I was hoping for quick and easy tips to help me get stuck into the planning of Whispering Caves.

Luckily for me the book is co-authored by the snowflake guy (you can find a link to his website at the bottom of this page). And, I recently purchased a copy of Snowflake Pro (the software for the snowflake method of writing a novel). I use the snowflake method all the time, so any tips are always welcomed and I’m finding them in the book.

I feel inspired!

The question is, what am I going to do about it? I cannot write in the morning. The conditions are perfect for writing – it’s always quiet on the train at that early hour, it’s not as crowded either, but I feel so tired that my eyes water, I can’t concentrate and my sight goes blurry because I want to close them and not think. Writing in the morning is not an option. Writing when I get home from work is not an option either – there’s not enough time and my family deserve some of my time. I’ll just have to learn to write in the noisy afternoon crowd instead. There’s nothing else for me to do.

This weekend, I will install Snowflake Pro on my mini-laptop. Starting next Monday, I will trial writing on the train in the afternoon and see how it goes. As the train is really crowded for the first half hour, I’ll read during that time and then I’ll bring out the laptop and write for the rest of the trip.

There, I’ve set a public goal. Now I just have to wait and see what happens from that decision. I will, of course, let you know.

Snowflake Pro

Originally posted on another site on 19 February 2010.

On the weekend I did something impulsive, I purchase a copy of Snowflake Pro. This is software associated with the Snowflake Method of Writing a Novel. I figured that since I use that method to plan my stories all the time, it would be worth buying the software. I’ve had the software for five days, but unfortunately haven’t had time to really try it out, so I can’t give an opinion on it at the moment. I’ll do that once I’ve used it thoroughly.

The software sells for $100 (US dollars), but if you buy a copy of the creator’s book “Writing Fiction for Dummies” then you get the software for $50. I downloaded the Kindle version of the book for $13, got the software for $50, which means I still saved money. I intend to read the book soon (Monday, probably). I also intend to start using the software soon (as early as tonight, if I’m not too tired when I get home from work).

I have a high opinion of the Snowflake method, so I expect to get a lot from both the book and the software. I’ll report again on both soon.

Introduction to Whispering Caves

Originally posted on another site on 2 January 2010.

Long ago, in a land far, far away…oh, hang on, that’s Stars Wars not Whispering Caves. Anyway, a long time ago, when I was young and unhappy I wrote a manuscript (two, in fact) that was 200,000+ words. This particular one was written as a form of escape from real life and it was a romantic fantasy in which all good things happened and all the characters were lovable and perfect. Everything was tinged in rose coloured happiness. It was beautiful, but, it wouldn’t have made a good best seller. Actually, it would have been the biggest flop in history! But I loved it.

Back then I was a closet writer, writing for my own enjoyment only. Since then things have changed. My life is no longer unhappy and I am a writer who strives for publication. I have grown in all ways, especially as a writer…yet the manuscript is still a favourite of mine.

Over the years I have tried to transform the manuscript into something other people would be willing to read, and hopefully enjoy. Yet on each occasion, my efforts were unsuccessful. I have always been the first to admit that. In the last six months, I have found myself revisiting the manuscript yet again and, this time, I believe I have the knowledge and know how to do the job properly. This time, I’m willing to give my characters flaws. I’m willing to give them real hang-ups and real problems. I’ve managed to pull myself away from them and tell a real story. A story with a plot, with conflict and emotions. At long last, I’m willing to put these characters through the wringer…and high time too.

I scraped the previous story completely, but kept the setting and the bare bones of the characters (ie their names and parts of their histories). Over the last few months I have been rebuilding the story from the ground up. The setting has been tweaked, as have the characters. A new plot is unfolding slowly. There are still a few unsure bits that I can’t fit into the puzzle all that well, but I’ll find a reason for that with time. And…to my delight…I wrote a short story which tells the events of how my people came to be in the world I’ve created. Everyone were given names and backgrounds and the setting was blended especially well (if I do say so myself) into our own history. I wrote this backstory in the form of a journal written by the main character, in first person. This allowed me to explore reasons and methods for what was happening. By the end of the short story, I felt I had a solid background for Whispering Caves. Almost none of this information will be included in the manuscript, but it’s important I know how things started, where names came from, why some traditions were kept and others discarded. The result is that I have a firm foundation to build the story upon now and that makes me feel very confident that this time I’ll get it right.

Using Mind Mapping to Plan a Writing Project

Deborah Woehr has written two inspiring posts on this topic:

1. Experimenting with the Mind Map Technique, and,
2. How to Draw a Basic Mind Map of Your Characters.

I say these posts are inspiring because they lit something creative inside me that forced me to try mind mapping in my own writing. I’ve been having trouble moving forward with my projects, so trying something different certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Due to the life issues I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to put Mirror Image on a back burner for a while as I’m not mentally strong enough to deal with that manuscript at the moment. Having made that decision, I turned to my other projects and felt myself drawn back to my children’s series. It was whilst I was combing the internet looking for inspiration that I came across Deborah’s first post.

Immediately, I felt the urge to try one of the software programmes she mentions in her post and I quickly found myself stalled. I was a little annoyed by this so I returned to the internet and revised my search strings, but continued combing the internet. At this stage I found a hand drawn image that resembled a mind map. In the middle was an untitled oval which had five “arms” going in different directions. At the end of the arms, where five simple words:

1. How?
2. When?
3. Where?
4. Who?
5. Why?

With these words, or questions, freshly planted in my mind, I returned to my stalled mind map…and away I went. It was such a simple thing, but these words had a powerful effect on my mind and allowed it to “open” up at last. Finally, my mind map started taking shape and the project is moving forward at last.

Thank you, Deborah, for putting me on the right path.

TiddlyWiki

Resuming work after a nice break is always difficult, but it has to be done if food is going to be put on the table. Today, I returned to work after a break of almost three weeks. *sigh*

However, I won’t dwell on that. Let me tell you what I’ve been doing – in terms of writing – since the beginning of the New Year. I’m pleased to be able to say that I have spent many hours every day on my writing projects. I haven’t actually written a single word, but there’s more to writing than the actual written word.

A friend told me about TiddlyWiki and showed me her files, so that I could see it in action. It’s free to download and use. There’s a tutorial if you need help understanding how a wiki works. Once downloaded, you just copy the file, changing the name of it (by doing this you can use the downloaded file over and over again) and then you can start using it straight away. There’s no real installation and it’s loaded onto your computer. You don’t need an internet connection to use it either, even though you use your browser when working with it. The file is small enough to put on a USB flash card too. It’s so easy!

I have used an online wiki before, so I understood the working of it, but needed a reminder how to do things like using the bold, italics and underscore features, and also how to insert images. There are plenty of other things you can do too ie ordered and unordered lists and blockquotes.

But what am I using it for? I know you want to know. It’s ideal for planning writing projects and for gathering all the research (including images you collect) associated with that project, into one file. Every aspect of the planning can be cross referenced too, which is brilliant! If you set up the wiki correctly, it will make your writing project organised, efficient and everything will be at your finger tips.

The first wiki I set up was for the Marlinor Trilogy. I have a lot of research material, which was placed in folders according to subject, but even so it was getting almost impossible to find anything (even when I knew the information I wanted was there…somewhere). Now that information is categorised, cross referenced and tagged…and there’s a search function too! Apart from that, I’ve also set up the planning for the story – world building, character lists, storylines, themes for each book, plots for each book and an in depth history, which also links to the research material to prove authenticity. It’s absolutely the best way to organise your planning.

Then I created a second wiki and started doing the same thing for the children’s chapter books.

I literally spent hours every day working on this, but the result is fantastic. I discovered I had changed the spelling of character names between book 1 and book 2 of the children’s series. That is now fixed. I discovered information in my original planning that had been lost or forgotten. That cannot happen again. I believe the children’s series and the trilogy will be better because of the time I’ve invested in getting these wikis right.

Now I intend to create a third wiki for Mirror Image. This is the project I should be editing, but I’m having trouble with. I’m hoping that, by creating the wiki, I’ll work out what the stumbling block is and get passed it.

I highly recommend TiddlyWiki. However, if you want to do the same thing online, from any computer, then I recommend PBWiki, which is free and you can change the settings so that only you have access to it. If you’re not using a wiki to organise your writing, then you should try it. I doubt you’ll be sorry.

Getting Inside Your Character’s Head

This week I’ve been too caught up in promoting the online book launch party for the anthology to do any writing. However, the weekend is here and I refuse to let spare hours in the day not be put to good use.

Let’s talk about writing for a change.

The first draft of Mirror Image is in the last stages of writing. Currently, I’m on the second last day of the story, but a lot has to happen in the coming hours which will take the story to the climax. The events have been fully planned, so I know exactly what has to be written and, generally, I’m having no trouble getting the words down.

However…one character does some research in a library to find out what’s happening to her. I’m having trouble writing the scene because, even though I know the results she’ll find, I can’t find the right words to express those findings. I suppose this comes back to “know what you write”. The subject matter is something I have experienced first hand, but it is something I have never researched. I guess I believe I should include some technical information to make the research results sound more plausible.

I spent some time on the internet tonight doing a spot of research, but couldn’t find a single website that was “believable”. Now I’m wondering what would happen if I went to the library and did the research my character is doing…what would I find? It’s an excellent question, in my opinion, and I suppose I’ll have to go to the library and find out!

My Writing Decision

After much thought I’ve made my decision as to which manuscript will get my attention first.

If you look at the list, you might think it would be fitting to finish the Cat’s Series as two books are already completed, leaving only the third book to be written. This would seem like the natural course to take, but I’ve decided against it as the second and third book cannot be published without the first book being successful (the first book is written as a stand alone, whereas the other two books are definite sequels and must be read in order). Due to this I feel it would be better time management to put my efforts into submitting Cat’s Eyes (book 1) to publishers instead, which is what I will do. I will keep you updated on my progress.

The Kingdom of Marlinor trilogy is a favourite of mine. In the past I’ve rushed the planning and have been sorry afterwards. This time, I intend to do it properly. All three books! Completely! As I mentioned in a previous post, I have already started researching important issues for the trilogy and this will continue until I am satisfied with the information I have. I will then use the Snowflake method to produce a proper plan.

Planning isn’t actually writing though and I feel I should be getting words on paper (or on the computer screen) while I feel in the mood because who knows when the mood will disappear?!? With this in mind, I’ve decided to plan one story and write another.

The manuscript that has been given the number one slot is Mirror Image. With only approximately 10,000 words to write, I feel this isn’t a huge hurdle to face at this early stage and, besides, I want to see the first draft finished, so this is the story I’ll revisit. Upon its completion, I will decide what to do next.

However, I’ve said only one manuscript is the “winner”, but in actual fact three manuscripts are winners. Cat’s Eyes will gain my serious attention for submitting. That has to be a good move. Kingdom of Marlinor will finally be planned the way it should have been years ago. That’s definitely a positive step. And the first draft of Mirror Image will finally be finished. It will feel great to cross it off my “unfinished projects” list.

The Story Within

My NaNo project is falling together like you wouldn’t believe. I’m extremely pleased with the result and can’t wait to start writing this project. I’ve already started warning my family that November is “Karen Month” and I’ll be spending a lot of time behind closed doors. However, I’ve also be telling them that I’ll be accepting visitors bearing gifts of cups of tea and encouragement who don’t want to chat for too long. They didn’t seem overly impressed or willing. Never mind. I’ve still got time to talk them around.

Anyway, during this in-depth planning I realised that the supporting characters where just there to look good and didn’t actually have much of a part to play. I knew everything about them, but not their storylines, so I had to fix that. I used the Snowflake method to sort out that problem. Now they are real characters with real problems and I’m now sure their presence will improve the overall story.

I then set about “fattening” the plot so that I don’t run into problems in the middle of NaNo and anyone who has done NaNo will know that we can’t afford to flounder … and there’s definitely no time to sit and think … in the middle of the month. No, we must be able to type, type, type. I’ve broken the story down into five parts – the beginning, three cycles (borrowed from Helen Parocha’s Dynamic Tension Charts) and the ending. During November, this type of planning will help me stay focused, but will also ensure I don’t come up against a brick wall and stop typing. This is exactly what I need, because not having a plan like this will only cause me stress and stress will stop the words from flowing. That will only lead to disaster.

Finally, on the weekend, I realised that this story has another story within the main story which must be told in order for the whole thing to make sense. Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day planning out this mini story. At the end of the day I felt content that the two stories, when merged, will make a powerful combination. More than that I will not say at this stage.

Now I have to merge the plan for this second story into the plan for the first story, so that both are covered from the beginning to the end. Once I’ve done this I’m pretty well ready to write. I even know what the first sentence will be.