I decided after my last post that I would keep track of my progress with the writing, to document the journey until I can finally announce some good news (we're not there yet). Between my last post and this, I have not only been getting to grips with my new job but I've also moved house, so I've been juggling a hefty amount these past few months.
As a result I've mostly avoided Twitter. There is still a small part of me that shies away from it - inadequacy is a horrible feeling - and it doesn't feel like I have much to say. So my haunt instead has been Instagram. I find my release in nature; my ambles keep me sane. Creative minds often, I think, need an outlet and this is mine. I've been very lucky in finding somewhere in the countryside to live which can help me with this. It'll keep me going in the coming weeks as I stitch the novel back together again. While I do, I would prefer to show you a side of me which is honest, demonstrating that writing is not glamorous, that the whole process is painful and tedious on bad days and a blessed relief on the good. All pictures and videos I post of me in upcoming posts will be generally unfiltered and makeup-free, to prove my point that the life of a writer is a far cry from the glamour of Jackie Collins.
I should also say that my blog posts aren't going to be a practice in lyrical poetry. I've read some blogs that are beautifully worded, an almost-novel in themselves. I can't - and won't - do that. If anything those fabulous posts written by those fabulous authors make me feel even more insecure about my capabilities; if they can write like that in a blog post, as well as in their fiction, then I have no hope at all. While inspiring and admirable, it's simply not helpful to those who are still trying to make it. Perhaps what I'm going to write won't be helpful either, but it's a reality check, to show that us struggling writers aren't alone.
So. To start ...
I officially began writing again the last week of July. I was still surrounded by boxes and have had to contend with a makeshift desk until the new one arrives. As such my workspace is tiny, and I've been hunched over a too-tall stool that has my back tying itself up in knots and my arse cheeks going numb. I spend most of my time in tatty jeans or paint-spotted leggings and a hoody. Or, if I'm feeling especially lazy, the onesie that I slept in the night before (yes, there are times I haven't even got changed. Today is one of those days), and 9 times out of 10 my hair has stayed greasy, piled on the top of my head. Hey, no one beside the postman is going to see me.
To begin with I re-capped my progress from February and was pleased to feel like the work wasn't a complete waste, that what I had done in the winter was decent, but I knew I still had an awfully long way to go. Three weeks later I've made good progress but there are still around 60k words yet to tackle. It seems a lot - it is - but I had decided a while ago that I had to change my heroine's backstory around which subsequently has had a knock-on effect on the rest of the novel.
The first day was spent filling in the gaps I'd left between chapters 1 and 4. Little lines, phrases, words that I'd intentionally left blank so I could fill them with something dazzling later. Pretty positive most MSs have something like this every other page:
###THATS CRAP THINK OF SOMETHING BETTER###
###WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!###
Somehow though that was easier than I thought (though dazzling remains to be seen), and then I spent the rest of the day researching for the new scenes I'd planned to insert. This was how the procedure went for the first few days until I hit the point I'd left off in February. That's when it started to get a little more daunting ...
The early stages have been about rewriting old scenes, removing needless points, working the new backstory into the old, aiming for a seamless transition. It has been hard work and very often I've been pulling at my hair in despair because it's such an overwhelming feeling when you don't think you know what you're doing; the stress of that really takes its toll. Very soon I was feeling the tiredness creep in and 8 hours sleep doesn't seem to make a blind bit of difference. Puffy eyes now seem likely to be a permanent facial feature.
Copious amounts of tea and coffee have been consumed. The biscuits ran out rather quickly and conscious writing is such a sedentary job I have declined to buy more and swapped them for fruit. But I lapse often. I find food to be a big comfort - my weight often yo-yos - and while I've begun to cook dishes for prep, I've also eating been portions far too large. Spending hours at a time seated the weight can creep up on you without you realising, and 2 weeks in I knew it was time to get out the house. I hadn't run in well over a year and I could feel it! A 2km run took far longer than I'd like to admit, but despite the heavy breathing and aching legs afterward I did feel a lot better for having done it. I have aimed to run every morning, even if it's for just 20 minutes. I haven't always succeed but I've been better than I expected to be and it does help clear the head (unsurprising considering where I'm running).
I have had bad days. I have had mostly bad days. It's horrible liking what you've written one minute and then in the next breath hating it. This video explains it if you have the patience to listen to me tiredly ramble on for 9 minutes (I swear a little):
I remember that during the early drafts I would sit at my desk for a solid 12 hours and more. I didn't sleep much, I barely moved, I never left the house. I've tried a different approach this time, attempting to spend no more than 6 hours at the computer. Considering it can sometimes take 3 hours to do just one chapter (or even one part of a chapter depending on how the creative juices are flowing) this seems like barely any time at all. But it seems to actually work better when the words are flowing (and despite what I've said here, they actually have been). I think if you treat the writing process as an actual job it's easier to produce something you aren't going to cut later. By sectioning the writing off I've still had time for TV or reading or time outside the house (I've turned into a keen gardener which I never would have pegged me for 5 years ago) which has reduced my stress levels and helped get the words on the page. Granted, none of this has changed the tiredness levels but at least I feel like I've had a productive day.
Let's talk however, for a moment, about that deliberating emotion that I touched on in the video and that all of us suffer from: doubt. The amount of times I've picked up a book, opened its pages and thought 'I will never be able to write like this' have been far more than I care to fully admit. Despite knowing it's a cardinal sin to compare yourself to other writers it happens, IT HAS HAPPENED, and the effects are crippling. There is a very great danger here too that you see a word or phrase you love and copy it. I've caught myself doing that a few times. I have even left some of them there and put them in red to remind myself that they have to go, which I will catch in the full edit. The thing is, if you get caught up on these too long then you never move on to the next word, the next line, the next scene. The day I end up with an MS devoid of red notes is the day I know I've finally made it. Anyway, the point I want to make here is that reading other work is a great ingredient for inspiration and doubt, but you must try to push through the doubt and put the emphasis on inspiration, no matter how bloody hard it is to do. And yes. It's bloody, bloody hard.
I'm going to tackle Part III next, which seems like an odd way to do things but this section is considerably shorter than the rest, and my ending has essentially remained unchanged. If I can get that part done, and the niggling red bits of Part I sorted by the end of September that leaves two months to work on Part II and the final edits. I did say I wouldn't put a deadline on things but my day job starts up again in the Autumn so writing time will once again be restricted to weekends and any day I can get free, and I don't want the novel going into 2018 without this draft being finished if I can help it.
I'd like to point out here that this is Draft 6. Draft 5 lay in a mostly dormant state during 2016 while it went out to agents and wasn't touched due to the long waiting process for agent replies. This is the longest time between drafts I've ever had, but Draft 5 was special because it showed that I do have potential as a published writer. It encouraged me to push the boat out a little further because for once I had agent direction, even though no one had officially taken the novel on. The pressure for this draft to be better though is high, and I'm really starting to feel it, and what makes it worse is that my issues here are not with the writing itself but the edits that shape the writing into something better and coherent and worthy of publication. But everyone writes and edits at a different level and pace - in the end it doesn't matter how long it takes, just as long as you don't stop. Even if you're not writing, make sure you're thinking about it. I know this novel has never been far from my thoughts during my quiet writing spells.
I saw this the other day, which shows creativity as a cycle between active production and dormant recovery:
If anyone is struggling through the writing process take a look at this and just remember the very important need to let your brain rest.
I'm well aware that having written this, I'm sometimes guilty of not taking my own advice. My logic here is constantly at odds with my emotions. This blog post is not only a way of showing the honest struggle and of keeping tabs on my progress, but also a reminder to myself to JUST KEEP GOING.