Tag Archives: amwriting

Dirty drafting

my writing deskAre you a ‘dirty drafter’ or a detailed planner?

I’ve decided I’m the former even though I would dearly love to be the latter. Given the plot driven nature of my stories, I really should be a planner, but I kind of wing it a bit.

Why? Well, the answer is simple. I love the feeling that the manuscript is becoming something more than you planned. It’s almost like giving birth, albeit a lot less painful (physically, at least). You imagine what you might be making/have made, but it ends up an entity of its own. When characters become that little bit darker than you wanted, or you wake up in the middle of the night and realise they have to do something completely unexpected. That’s the feeling I’m after.


So as the countdown to National Novel Writing Month begins – now T-9 to lift off (or write off) – I’m reminded of why I like to bash down as many words as possible in the first instance. Just as the author of this article about drafting suggests, the more you write, the more you want to find out what happens next.


Of course, I’ll never go back to the dark days of no planning whatsoever. I’ve learned over the course of the last three years and two manuscripts, that you need a compass. Stephen King calls it his ‘what if?’ question, which is, as I understand it, a kind of ‘mashup’ of two or three ideas or events which make an entirely new entity you can use to kick off your novel concept. Faber Academy and other creative writing courses like to you get an elevator pitch down before you start – theory goes, if you can’t get the basic concept into one of these 25 word pitches, it won’t fly. This is probably true, by the way. But great long reams of planning charts and characterisation cards? No, this is not for me.

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Paulo Coelho’s Manual for Climbing Mountains

Kirsten and Francesco Arcadio with their guide at the top of the Corno Grande Gran Sasso

Kirsten and Francesco Arcadio with their guide at the top of the Corno Grande Gran Sasso

On a recent climb up the steep side of the Gran Sasso ‘Corno Grande’ in Abruzzo, Italy, I was reminded of Paulo Coelho’s Maunual for Climbing Mountains. It’s super relevant, not only to the subject of my work-in-progress novel, Split Symmetry, which is set on a mountain, but also to my life, and specifically to my writing progress.

In his blog, Paulo says:

“A] Choose the mountain you want to climb: don’t pay attention to what other people say, such as “that one’s more beautiful” or “this one’s easier”. You’ll be spending lots of energy and enthusiasm to reach your objective, so you’re the only one responsible and you should be sure of what you’re doing.

B] Know how to get close to it: mountains are often seen from far off – beautiful, interesting, full of challenges. But what happens when we try to draw closer? Roads run all around them, flowers grow between you and your objective, what seemed so clear on the map is tough in real life. So try all the paths and all the tracks until eventually one day you’re standing in front of the top that you yearn to reach.

C] Learn from someone who has already been up there: 
no matter how unique you feel, there is always someone who has had the same dream before you and ended up leaving marks that can make your journey easier; places to hang the rope, trails, broken branches to make the walking easier. The climb is yours, so is the responsibility, but don’t forget that the experience of others can help a lot.

D] When seen up close, dangers are controllable
: when you begin to climb the mountain of your dreams, pay attention to the surroundings. There are cliffs, of course. There are almost imperceptible cracks in the mountain rock. There are stones so polished by storms that they have become as slippery as ice. But if you know where you are placing each footstep, you will notice the traps and how to get around them.

E] The landscape changes, so enjoy it:
 of course, you have to have an objective in mind – to reach the top. But as you are going up, more things can be seen, and it’s no bother to stop now and again and enjoy the panorama around you. At every meter conquered, you can see a little further, so use this to discover things that you still had not noticed.

F] Respect your body: you can only climb a mountain if you give your body the attention it deserves. You have all the time that life grants you, as long as you walk without demanding what can’t be granted. If you go too fast you will grow tired and give up half way there. If you go too slow, night will fall and you will be lost. Enjoy the scenery, take delight in the cool spring water and the fruit that nature generously offers you, but keep on walking.

G] Respect your soul: 
don’t keep repeating “I’m going to make it”. Your soul already knows that, what it needs is to use the long journey to be able to grow, stretch along the horizon, touch the sky. An obsession does not help you at all to reach your objective, and even ends up taking the pleasure out of the climb. But pay attention: also, don’t keep saying “it’s harder than I thought”, because that will make you lose your inner strength.

H] Be prepared to climb one kilometer more: the way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think. Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near is still very far. But since you were prepared to go beyond, this is not really a problem.

I] Be happy when you reach the top
: cry, clap your hands, shout to the four winds that you did it, let the wind – the wind is always blowing up there – purify your mind, refresh your tired and sweaty feet, open your eyes, clean the dust from your heart. It feels so good, what was just a dream before, a distant vision, is now part of your life, you did it!

J] Make a promise: now that you have discovered a force that you were not even aware of, tell yourself that from now on you will use this force for the rest of your days. Preferably, also promise to discover another mountain, and set off on another adventure.

L] Tell your story: yes, tell your story! Give your example. Tell everyone that it’s possible, and other people will then have the courage to face their own mountains.

taken from “LIKE THE FLOWING RIVER” (Kindle Edition)


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Top ten things which might turn readers off your novel

I love this – two hundred comments by readers on what turns them off whilst reading a novel: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/05/21/bookish-turn-offs/comment-page-3/#comments

The main beefs seem to be with:

  1. Characters they don’t and can’t care about, who are too passive and flat
  2. Boring beginnings – first three chapters are key
  3. Dull storyworlds
  4. Too many points of view or wandering points of view (ie starts in third person closed and goes omniscient)
  5. Sexual violence
  6. Clunky prose with no unique ‘voice’
  7. Preaching of any kind (ie the moral of the story is this and you’d better believe it)
  8. Poor writing and/or editing
  9. Plot holes
  10. Slow pace (they don’t seem to like this!).

I do some of these…. so time to get back to editing.

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Life after the first draft

So. I managed to write to the end of my first draft, my own personal ‘first hurdle‘.

Whilst I’m pleased about this, my first draft is little more than a skeleton. I have written out all my characters, the main plot and some of the themes.

I know that I still need to add considerable flesh to my characters and to their inner journeys, layer up my themes and add depth to my story world and generally tighten up the story.

I must make sure my story makes sense, that it will satisfy at least one reasonably sized reader segment. In doing this I will make a final decision on predominant genre and then add or subtract scenes, characters, themes and style to my manuscript depending.

In practical terms I am working through all of Joanna Penn’s tips on what to do when you get to the end of the first draft:

  • Structural edit – my manuscript is with my Faber Academy tutor and will shortly go to the Writers’ Workshop.
  • Beta readers – several trusted readers are looking through my story now and will look at again in June when I’ve done my post structural edit revisions.
  • Line edits – I need to look for a freelance editor to help me with this in the summer which I will do shortly.

The end of the first draft is a difficult stage to get through. I know there are many more hurdles to jump after this but if I can get past this to the next step, I’ll be pleased!

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Get writing regularly

Having just read this brilliant article about writing routines, I was thinking about how crucial regular writing is.

At the beginning of a recent creative writing course I attended, course participants were first asked to write down how and where we write. I was interested to see how varied people’s answers were.

My writing routine

My answers  were as follows, and I have not changed them during the course of my studies:

  • Write every day without fail. If I can’t do a section of my novel, I’ll write a poem or start a short story. If I can’t do any of those, I’ll resort to morning pages, which works every time to get me into the swing of writing.
  • Write wherever I can in order to get the daily writing done. As I’m out and about a lot, work, have three children and a load of other distractions, I write on whatever I have to hand – usually the notepad app on my iPhone or iPad. Sometimes a notebook. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get my writing done on my laptop in my home office.
  • Write at the same time every day – I try to write earlier rather than later in the day, as I know that after about 6pm the writing suffers. Some people write better at night though.
    Separate writing time from editing time – very important. This is one area where I need to be firm with myself. If I’m writing I can’t be editing in the same session and vice-versa – just doesn’t work.
  • Close the door. If I can’t shut the world out physically, I’ll put headphones and music on. Some way or another, I have to isolate myself.

These procedures work for me, but the key to it all is discipline. Whatever you do, you probably need to do it regularly in order to make any real headway on a writing project.

Happy writing!

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