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.

Writing Goals for 2009

Everywhere I go I seem to be seeing the question, “What are your writing goals for 2009?” I feel stressed when I read the question, let alone try to answer it. But answer it I know I should do.

What are my writing goals for 2009?

First and foremost, I don’t want to put pressure on myself because that is a sure way of not writing a single word. However, I can’t leave it at that, so:

1. I would like to finish Mirror Image. “Finish” meaning a polished version ready for submission. I don’t know how many edits that will take.

2. I would like to fully plan book 3 in my children’s series. I know where it starts and ends, but there is no middle to the story – not one that I’m happy with, anyway.

3. I would also like to continue with the in depth planning of my adult trilogy. I envision the writing of this project maybe next year or the year after.

I’m not willing to say any more than that as I would like to surpass my goals rather than not reach them.

Putting the writing to one side, I am hoping that 2009 is a big year for me on a personal level. I’m hoping to secure a future for myself that will hopefully take underlying stress and worry away so that I’m free to enjoy life. This will lead to more productive writing, I’m sure.

Are you a writer? What are your 2009 writing goals?

Cat’s Eyes: Full Manuscript Requested

I used an email address for the submission of Cat’s Eyes that I rarely receive or send anything from. Moments ago, I realised I hadn’t checked it for several days. Imagine my surprise when I heard the tell-tale “ding” that announces new mail has been received. Immediately recognising the publisher’s email address, I held my breath and prepared myself for a rejection.

So it was an even bigger surprise when I read the email and discovered the publisher liked the synopsis of my story and liked the sample of my writing, and was requesting the full manuscript.

I realise this isn’t an acceptance and the manuscript could still be rejected, but this request has lifted my spirits. I now have a purpose! I now have a reason to sit at the computer and work diligently. I’ve been given hope and that is something I needed.

My plans for the weekend have suddenly changed. I won’t be working on Mirror Image as previously stated, I’ll be ensuring Cat’s Eyes is perfect before I send it off next week.

If there was a mood reader on this blog, it would be saying “happy and excited” right now.

Finding a Way Forward

I actually started writing this post on Sunday 23 November 2008, but never got around to finishing it…or posting it. This is how the post started:

Today, when I complained about the difficulty I’m having with the edit of Mirror Image, someone close to me asked what I was trying to achieve. At first, I was a little taken aback and my defences went up. I thought I was going to have to defend my decision to write to another person who believed everyone wants to be a writer so you’re wasting your time. But then the person elaborated on the question and I realised I had misunderstood what was being asked.

“Don’t writers do many edits?” the person asked. “What are you trying to achieve with this one?”

What was I trying to achieve? In fact, when I thought about it, this was a good question. I realised that whilst I’ve been acting as if I’m trying to turn the first draft into a perfect polished draft (which, at the rate I’m going, will only happen by some miracle), I should be concentrating on something less ambitious and then maybe, I’ll actually get somewhere. As soon as I had this thought, the edit didn’t seem so scary…and hard.

This edit should be all about getting the plot straightened out. If I can fix those large holes in the climax where all the storylines come together all at once; and if I can write the “missing” scene from the secondary character’s point of view; then…and only then…would I be able to say that I have satisfactorily completed the first edit. Only when the things listed above are done should I turn my attention to a second, more intense edit of the actual characters and their reasons for being in the story.

You see, if you think about it, you will agree that the manuscript is actually incomplete in its present state. And that is why I’m having so much trouble with the edit. How can I edit something that hasn’t been written? It also explains why I keep going back to the arc I’ve been working on, instead of editing the minor character’s storylines.

With this in mind, I have decided to change tactics. I will continue to work on the arc for the climax. My progress on that is going well – slow, but well – I have already completed three quarters of the work. Once that is finished, I will start another arc for the secondary character’s storyline. Something went horribly wrong in the first draft and I can’t allow it to remain like it is as the character must provide a very strong message to the reader. In fact, this character is one that I have a lot in common with and I still find it strange that this is the one I had the most trouble with. Anyway, now I need to pull it back into line.

I feel as if I’ve discovered a secret path which will take me through a maze I admit I was lost in. This makes me feel excited and eager to get back to work, which I think I’ll do right now. 🙂

And that’s where I had stopped writing last Sunday. Having read over it again, I can see that I did finish the post, but never got around to adding it to my blog (or doing the writing I said I was going to do). Now, however, what has been said isn’t actually true as I haven’t done any of the things I said above. On Monday, I received some news that has made me think about other things for most of the week – private things that I will not go into here. I’ve spent every moment of every day focused on this other thing. I could even say I’ve been thinking about while I sleep because I’ve dreamed about it too. My writing hasn’t been given a thought in this time, but I found my thoughts straying to Mirror Image yesterday so I opened a character’s storyline and read it right through.

It was the other secondary character; the son of the secondary character I’m having trouble with. He is a character I enjoyed writing and it really does show in my words. Everything about him is so different to me and I felt as if I was on an adventure when I wrote his story. I admit that it needs some work, but overall I’m pleased with the way it turned out. I even found tears welling in my eyes in one spot. His message is strong and clear.

Anyway, in reality, this means that I’ve edited four of the six viewpoints. The only two left are the main character and her mother. I’ve decided to go back to my original plan and fix up the secondary character’s (the mother’s) viewpoint.

I’m a woman. I’m allowed to change my mind. 🙂

The Perfect Manuscript in One Draft

Imagine if we could write the perfect manuscript in one draft. How brilliant would that be? Of course, I’m dreaming here as very few writers would be able to do this with any amount of success. I feel it would be impossible to write 100,000 words and not make one single error of any kind. In fact, I think it would be impossible to write any manuscript of any length without a typo or some kind of grammar problem or a sentence that isn’t all it should be.

In reality, in order to get a manuscript anywhere near perfect a writer must not only write the manuscript but they must also subject themselves to rewriting and editing that work numerous times. Some people can get away with only a few edits, but most will have to plough through the same words over and over and over and …

I’m not keen on edits. I find them hard and frustrating because it means I have to iron out all those problem areas I was never quite confident about in the first place. Come to think of it, I don’t like ironing either. No wonder I’m finding the edit of Mirror Image so hard…and draining.

The first draft has huge holes in it. I suppose I should be thankful that I’m aware of this. There are a few problems:

Firstly, the main character’s storyline falls flat right at the most critical time – the climax, of all places. At the moment, the scene could be compared to a plateau when it should be a steep mountain. I’m still working on the arc I mentioned a week or so ago, so when I get around to rewriting this scene it will be much improved.

Secondly, another primary character’s storyline falls to pieces in the middle. Each storyline was planned, but this one kept going off in other directions until eventually even I became confused. In the end I stopped writing and moved to a spot in the storyline that got the character back on track and continued from there. This means, I have an enormous section of mess to fix…once I work out what went wrong!

Thirdly, the three minor character’s resolutions have to be played out in the climax, which is from the main character’s point of view. Once I reach the climax I cannot go back to these other character’s points of view. It would ruin the suspense and flow. However, these resolutions are important as they round the characters out and they are also important to the overall message of the book. The real problem is that the main character is in such a state by this stage, that in reality she wouldn’t be taking in what’s happening around her. So I have to provide quick snippets of information that provide the information needed to complete the minor character’s storylines without interrupting the flow of the climax, which should be quite intense and emotional.

The above is three major problems, which I’m finding hard to deal with. I haven’t come to a complete stand still, but I’m hovering close to it and that worries me. I’m tempted to put the manuscript aside and work on something else for a short time – give myself a break – but I know that if I do this I’ll never return to Mirror Image. I don’t want that to happen, so I’ll continue to struggle forward…even if it means I’m taking the smallest steps you could ever imagine.

Please excuse me while I day dream about how brilliant it would be to write the perfect manuscript in one draft.

Planning a Scene

I was recently at Jim Butcher’s blog – author of the Dresden Files. There is a lot to read there, but I was especially interested in the article about using an arc to plan a story. His suggestion is to simply draw an arc on a piece of paper. Naturally, the beginning of the arc is the beginning of the story and the end of the arc is the end of the story. Then you place “markers” across the arc which coincides with crucial events in your story. Finally you add in more markers for other important scenes and anything else that moves your story forward. This is a good idea.

Anyway, I don’t need an arc for my current manuscript – Mirror Image. It’s well and truly passed the arc stage. Not being one to pass up a good idea, I figured that the most important scene in my manuscript – the climax, which is long and complicated – needs a lot of work and I could adapt the arc for improving that scene.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been drawing arcs everywhere. But something good came from all that physical labour. I realised that the scene has to be cut down into four crucial sections and each section needs an arc of its own. This will enable me to focus on the emotions of the MC and therefore build the tension accordingly, which is something that didn’t quite happen in the first draft.

What I did was, in blue, put in essential “events” from the character’s viewpoint including what the character was feeling at the time. These were added to the top of the arc. Then, in red, I added events that other characters contributed to the scene, which affected the MC and in turn affected the overall scene. I added these to the underside of the arc. I’ve done this for Section 1 of the scene and will do the same for the other three sections over the next few days. Then I’ll have a comprehensive plan for the climax. However, I will not be tackling the edit of this scene for some time yet. I am currently working through each character’s storyline and I need to finish doing that because I might find other things that must be added to the arcs. However, it was because of this that I discovered missing elements for the characters I have done. The storylines feel unfinished yet once the climax has been reached I cannot go back to these other characters and give them their required resolution. In other words, this information must be added to the climax. I have no choice. I did say the scene was complicated, but hopefully using the arcs will help me get it right eventually.

Let Me Think About It…Please

The minor character in Mirror Image I mentioned a few days ago – the one who started out one dimensional – is now a fully fledged person. It didn’t take much work – several days of thinking about it, then finding the right place to add in additional information and then the actual edit of his three scenes. His presence in the manuscript isn’t much longer than before, but I am happy with the change in him and the overall effect it will have on the plot. In fact, his story is quite sad and I felt sorry for him when I reread his scenes.

I did have one other problem with this character. His resolution – the big ha-ha moment – comes right in the middle of the climax of the story, which is told from another character’s point of view. However, I know without doubt that I cannot swap view points at the crucial time as it would be detrimental to the manuscript. And it is impossible to return to his character later as, to put it simply, it would be too late.

I have spent a couple of days thinking about this and I realise the only thing that can be done is to write his resolution from the main character’s point of view. But…it’s the climax and the main character has some pretty heavy stuff happening at the time, so she isn’t the least bit concerned about this minor character’s resolution. It’s going to be difficult to write, I’m sure, but I must find a way of getting the information to the reader without the main character’s storyline being affected. Luckily, I’ll be editing that character last so I have plenty of time to think about how I’m going to do that.

I’ve now moved onto editing another minor character. This character is female and she wasn’t as flat as the male character, but she still needs some work.

It seems this first edit mainly consists of days thinking about how I’m going to fix things. This troubled me at first, but after seeing the result of those “think” sessions I can see it’s time well spent.

Minor Characters Deserve the Same Depth

I started the editing phase for Mirror Image on the weekend. There are six view points (I thought there were five, but discovered I was wrong) so I decided to create six files and work on each viewpoint separately. Sounded like a good plan to me. That is, until I tried to edit one of the files.

There are three major character and three minor character view points. I decided to work on the minor characters first. The character I chose only has three scenes in the entire manuscript. The scenes make perfect sense, but the character feels one dimensional. He’s made out of words alone. There’s no substance to him. That’s bad!

Naturally, this made me feel as if I’d hit a brick wall. But, determined not to let it beat me, I let my mind mull it over for three days and that’s when I suddenly realised what I had done wrong. The character does his part in the story, but doesn’t gain anything in return. Again, that’s bad!

As mentioned, this is a minor character, but he is a character with a life and reasons for choices made and I have neglected to show any of that when writing from his point of view. I managed to knock down that brick wall that was holding me back and have started giving this character a real reason for being in the story. When I’m finished, he won’t feel used and abused any more. He’ll be a legitimate character, with real conflicts, real objectives and a real personality. Now, that’s how it should be.