Red Flags of Research

Isn’t it just that little bit annoying when you get around to doing that pesky bit of research for your novel and realise it doesn’t really work how you needed it to?

I’m through to Chapter 6 of my first round of novel editing and I’ve marked in a lot of ‘research’ clauses so far. Today I sat down and picked out the major one, knowing that it would probably highlight some red flags I’d need to address.

Yes, well – I now have a pretty big red flag metaphorically sitting smack bang in the middle of my living room.


Not something you hope to see when editing the novel

Here’s the issue: My protagonist (recently identified as) Dr Whalley wants to contact his patient’s – Madeline (antagonist) – husband. Except, she hasn’t registered him as next of kin (she hasn’t recorded ANY next of kin) but neither has she explicitly stated she did not want him to contact any one. It’s a bit of a grey area. In the end I need Dr Whalley to choose to contact Madeline’s husband without her consent despite this being a pretty serious breach of professional conduct…

I’ve already started working into the story instances where Dr Whalley has ‘interfered’ in his patient’s affairs by contacting their families  and/or friends previously, in order that his patients do not die alone (he works as a palliative care physician) and with regret. He strongly believes he is doing the right thing and this is a key aspect of his character.

So far he’s always got away with it. One of his Nurse colleagues who used to help him – and has lied for him in the past – has been warning him off any future interest into his patient’s background because she feels he is becoming too personally involved and occasionally taking things too far from a professional standpoint. Therefore he’s moved on to enlisting the help of his lover, Nurse Betsy, who agrees with his assertion that people should not die alone in a room without some friendly support. There might be some scope to work in the possible hope that (if things go wrong) his dutiful lover might take the fall for him.

I think it’s important to ensure that I get the balance right here: he can’t do anything too risky – otherwise he could lose his job – but neither can I have him do nothing because…well, that’s not really how novels work is it?

Protagonists have to make decisions and act on them and then deal with the consequences. My big problem here is that, currently, there are no professional consequences for Dr Whalley when he contacts people from Madeline’s past, and I’m beginning to realise that perhaps there should  be.

So yes, it’s annoying because there is an entire angle of my protagonist’s story that I am going to have to work in  and I don’t have the current knowledge to do it. I also don’t want to stop editing to delve into research just yet, because I’m enjoying this round of edits and I don’t want to find something else later on that will stall me again. Although I have to admit, this additional angle to the story, could certainly up the ante when it comes to creating a climatic end!

What I’ve decided to do is to continue editing. I’ll make notes as I go, identifying sections that could be added in to work up this possible new angle of an  investigation into Dr Whalley’s professional conduct, and keep it in mind as I’m editing other, more minor, issues. Hopefully this should allow me to continue the flow of editing, but also give me some leeway to see where I can improve the plot, heighten tension and really make the story as gripping as it can be.


Who’s who in the Novel?

During my editing of NaNo #1 That which is left, is lost – I’ve been asking myself some of the ‘big’ questions about the novel, including the definition of my protagonist and antagonist. It’s led to some interesting revelations, not least about these how to approach these two simple terms in writing.

It took me a long time to realise that I had my characters the wrong way around. For a while I was so focused on the idea of Madeline that I sincerely believed that she was my protagonist. The novel was about her, it forces her to confront her past and it also summarises her life story. Yet, throughout the book Madeline’s thoughts, feelings and desires are not made apparent. The crux of the story lies, very much so, in that Madeline is a woman only seen through others’ eyes. For a reader, she is interpreted by the characters around her and judged accordingly. Perhaps she even gets what she deserves.

Despite this, Madeline is not my protagonist. It has taken me too long to understand that my protagonist is the one through which I narrate the story: Dr Christopher Whalley. I had believed that he was challenging Madeline, forcing her to admit what her life was and encouraging her to consider all those acts she committed in order to make her see some value to life – perhaps not her own, but certainly to those she had inflicted herself upon.

I, of course, had this backwards. Which, according to the quote below from John Rogers, is lucky for me.

antagonist quote

It is instead, Dr Whalley, in his quest to understand Madeline, that is my protagonist – the main character searching for his answer. He is the one who has questions that need to be answered, that tries to ignore his fascination with this patient but can not and thus gets drawn into her web of deceit and extraordinary life. At the end of the novel he is the one left to pick up the pieces and reflect on how this experience has changed him, how it has influenced his life and why it all happened to him.

Madeline, meanwhile, is the antagonist pulling the strings in the background, encouraging Dr Whalley to jeopardise his professional conduct, waiting to see how far he will go. She is the one that lures him into contacting various individuals that will place him in an uncompromising position, that will lead to Madeline being able to interfere in his life just as he has interfered in the end of hers.

Interestingly, I have also discovered that my protagonist and antagonist want the same thing. They both want to ensure that Madeline does not die alone, that she is remembered. After all, isn’t that why Madeline – in the final weeks of her life – tempts Dr Whalley into investigating her past: so that he will contact those she herself is too afraid to face?

More importantly, however, is that the means by which they want to acheive this goal are very different. Madeline doesn’t want to admit defeat or request forgiveness: that isn’t who she is. Dr Whalley wants to ensure that Madeline doesn’t die alone because he has compassion for her, because he believes that no one should have to face death without companionship and support. Yet Madeline just wants a show: she wants to believe that she is leaving behind an interesting life, one that will not be easily forgotten. And what better way to do that than to orchestrate a pantomime that will eventually lead to the ultimate lie?

It’s an interesting concept, this protagonist-antagonist relationship. In many ways Madeline and Dr Whalley are similar, but while it is these similarities that link them, it is the means by which they communicate and interpret them that stand them apart. It’s taken me too long to realise this, but now that I have it will only serve to make the thread of my novel stronger and to heighten the opposing forces that are represented by these two characters.

All in all, it makes the story fun to write. 😉

In sickness…

So….I’ve been unwell. Quite unwell as it turned out. Not only did I have a disastrous M.E. day on Thursday, but on Saturday morning I awoke very early to discover I was suffering from Gastroenteritis. Not pretty.

All of this put a huge spanner in the works with regard to the to-do list – not to mention Story a Day. I’m not doing too badly now, but I’m aware my body needs to rest so am trying not to over-do it. Thankfully the Bank Holiday means no ‘day-job’ for me tomorrow which is a huge relief.

Surprisingly, a fair amount of my to-do list still got done:

To-do List Review
20th – 26th May

1. Write a Story a Day and add it to the collection on the Story a Day 2013 Page – Unfortunately I only managed to go uninterrupted to May 22nd. I might pick this back up for the final week, but it’s still a good achievement and, looking back, I wrote 22 stories for the same challenge last year (maybe this is my natural limit). It has been really good fun, and I hope you’ve also enjoyed the offerings I’ve been posting on my page

2. Print and edit major issues in three chapters of NaNo #1 – I did, in fact, manage this one. Chapters, 3, 4 and 5 all have red pen scribbled on them and I’m beginning to identify some interesting alterations to be made. I’m quite enjoying this process. 

3. Make changes identified in new draft for NaNo #1 – I have, thus far, only managed to type up the changes I red-penned in Chapter 3. Chapters 4 and 5 should get done tomorrow (hurray for Bank Holidays!).

4. Identify ONE competition/submission to be made before 1st June – I’ve decided to leap out of my comfort zone and intend to submit a 300 word story to Daggerville Games – stories about murder mysteries. Their theme this month is ‘The Locked Room’ and I’ve already had some fun with a few ideas. The genre is new to me and the word limit is tight: so it’s a good challenge. Entries are due in before 31st May.

5. Attend Creative Writing Group at Library (Wed AM) to meet other local writers – This was an experience I really enjoyed. It was great to hear the talent of some other writers who live nearby and although I wouldn’t say I made any new ‘friends’, I did get some information about a local writer’s group looking for new members that sounds like a really good opportunity. I plan to attend their next meet. (yay!)

As you can see, despite illness, I did pretty well with my to-do list I think. I am disappointed that I haven’t made it through the whole month with Story a Day in May, but I am still proud of the accomplishment so far and I’ve enjoyed taking part – which is the whole point! I was also lucky enough to provide Friday’s prompt – even though I didn’t manage to participate on that day!

So, with the Bank Holiday providing an extra day to indulge in some writing (and spend some time with my partner), here’s this week’s to-do list.

To-do List

27th May – 2nd June

1. Complete, and submit, 300 word story to Daggerville Games Facebook page before 31st May

2. Type up changes to Chapters 4 & 5 of Digital Draft of NaNo #1

3. Print and edit major issues in three more chapters of NaNo #1

4. Add changes to Digital Draft of NaNo #1

5. Continue with Story a Day by writing five more short stories

Let’s hope my health improves so that I can concentrate on the writing this week, I don’t think I can cope with another week away! I guess this just proves how integral writing is to my life now, as I honestly felt really disappointed that I couldn’t write, edit or even read when I was ill. I’m looking forward to getting back on track!

The honest truth

Here is a glimpse into my life…the non-writing side of it.

Yesterday I got up, had some breakfast, walked the dog, had a shower and then dried and straightened my hair, adding some make-up for good measure. A fair amount of concealer was required beneath my eyes.

Then, instead of going to work, I drove to the library and parked up. Not too far away – perhaps a 7minute journey. I was fortunate to find a parking space just outside. Once inside I returned my overdue books. I had a £5 fine. Whoops. But, given the state of funding for libraries at the moment, I’ll happily contribute to ensuring that my local one stays open.

After choosing a few new books to take home, I went to sit in the pre-prepared circle of a group of strangers. There were perhaps fifteen or sixteen of us. I had enlisted on a free Creative Writing session that was being offered as part of Adult Learner’s week.

We spent just over an hour writing from prompts – first a quick word prompt, then a longer one based on a random sentence from a book, followed by a final one taken from a selection of 19th Century postcards of the local area. We each read and listened to every piece we had written. It was lovely to spend a morning writing with other people.

Afterwards, I spent perhaps fifteen minutes chatting with various people. I found out about a local writing group hoping to secure new members and I enquired about the next meeting date. I told the woman I would look forward to it.

Then, I climbed back into the car and drove the 30minutes to work.

Once there, I had a five minute break waiting for my computer to load up. I managed to eat a satsuma. Once the PC was ready, I quickly fired off some emails, printed off a couple of sheets and dashed to a lunchtime meeting with my colleagues. For the next hour I talked ‘shop’ whilst eating a small ham sandwich and eating another satsuma.

I had time to answer a few more emails before another meeting. Once that meeting was over I returned, once again, to emails. At quarter to five I intimated that we should leave (I work in the same office as my partner). Fifteen minutes later, I was out the door.

I spent the 40minute car journey venting about various work things. We had to stop at the supermarket to pick up some things for dinner. It would be a quick meal, so we decided on pasta. My partner drove home and as soon as I got in I changed, pulled on my walking boots and took the dog out for his walk.

When I got back in, my partner was dozing on the sofa. I proceeded to prepare dinner. I admit, I was a little cranky. I sourced something for us to watch with dinner and, while my (now awake) partner doled out food onto plates, I set up the TV.

We ate dinner. At 7.45pm, show over, my partner made me a cup of tea. I fed the dog. I drank the tea in a hurry because he’d taken 15minutes to make it and we had to leave the house by 8.15pm. I recall fastening my shoes whilst I was in the bathroom.

My partner drove us to our dance class – the first one we have attended in a couple of years. We’ve been having private lessons every two weeks to catch up. For the next hour we struggled through remembering steps and avoiding other dancing couples to the following dances: Quickstep, Rhumba, Waltz, Cha-Cha, Tango, Paso Doble and Jive. It was a long hour, and I’d forgotten to take a drink with me.

My partner drove us home where I collapsed onto the sofa with a large glass of Sarsparilla. I actually don’t recall what I did for the next 40minutes. A cup of tea was likely involved. But, regardless, at 11pm I pulled myself up from the sofa and took the dog on his pre-bedtime walk. Not a long stroll, but the cold air made my teeth chatter.

After putting the dog to bed, I clambered into my own and wrapped myself up in the duvet. I wasn’t sleepy so I decided to read for an hour. By midnight I was sufficiently exhausted that, for the time it took my partner to undress, brush his teeth and climb into bed beside me, I was asleep.

This morning I woke up feeling like I had not slept for more than a week. My knuckles were swollen just enough to make my hands look like bear claws and it hurt to either ball them into fists or straighten them out. My shoulders ached and my neck wasn’t entirely happy with having to hold my head up, but I managed to convince it to co-operate.

It took me a while to get out of bed. It took time to make breakfast. I then took a short walk with the dog, relieved that I could come home and have a lie down after so much exertion. I spent the rest of the day on the sofa, curled in a blanket, reading a few pages of a book at a time, then resting and returning to the reading when the letters stopped jumping around the page.

If any of my comrades with M.E. are here reading this – well done for getting this far in my tirade of daily chores. I know how difficult it is to read so many words. I hope I spaced the paragraphs out enough that it didn’t make it impossible.

For those here who don’t suffer with this illness, know this: I am considered to be “recovered”. The entire list of activities I outlined about my day yesterday defines me as someone who is completely capable of rejoining life and no longer ‘suffers’ with the acute condition of M.E. But that was yesterday. Today I am a sufferer. Yet, still today I am capable of so much more than others who share this disease.

Today, for me, isn’t a day when I can really consider writing a story or editing a novel. The very fact I’ve been able to write this post is enough for me. This will be the sum of my achievements today, at least to an outside view.

For those on the inside, I have accomplished so much more – I got up, I got dressed, I brushed my teeth, I walked to the living room….I did so many more infinitesimal actions that we all take for granted: but today these are achievements, because today my body is racked with M.E.

Tomorrow…I will go back to work and pretend to be ‘normal. But perhaps this time I’ll take my allotted breaks, eat lunch properly, have a snack or two to keep me going, meditate for a while and rest when I get home. Wednesday was too much for me – even though it was a day like any other for most.

The danger of ‘too much’

Editing takes time. It also eats into creative time that might be better spent. There needs to be a balance in my writing life that allows for me to explore both. Finding this is not easy.

I recently read a post about writing process by a writer I greatly admire for her verve and courage – given that she attempted, and succeeded, to write a novel a month in 2012. And it got me wondering about my own writing routine. Now, I’m lucky to only work part-time – but unlucky in that the reason for this is because I now have a disability called M.E. – but I get to spend some of my spare days writing.

In order to be productive I have had to get to know my routines. Thus, I know that trying to be creative in the afternoon will only lead to frustration with the inner critic because I’m tired and more likely to be suffering a post-lunch coma. I book-end my days with walking the dog – straight after breakfast and then again late afternoon – meaning I have at least two hours both in the AM and PM to spend on writerly pursuits.

Morning is my best time. Not the “can’t keep my eyes awake and want to smash the alarm” type of early: I really did try The Artist’s Way on that one but just ended up being exhausted. I prefer that late-morning glow having settled into my day after a walk in nature and having let my thoughts percolate for a while. Typically I can get a couple of hours of writing done any time between 10am and 1pm.

Afternoons…These I reserve for blog writing and editing. I’m much more critical once I have a post-lunch haze. All I really want to do is curl up on the sofa to nap, and woe betide any words that get in the way! Being accountable here online helps to motivate me in the blog post department. I encourage myself by promising I can have 15m of ‘down time’ (read: meditation) after I’m done writing said post.

This routine has served me pretty well over the last six months or so. Generally speaking, I tend to catch-up with my favourite blogs over breakfast, speed read through Twitter a couple of times a day and devour any interesting articles as a reward for my afternoon tasks.

However, I think I’ve become a little too comfortable. Things aren’t really getting done. I am not making progress the way I would like. Balancing the desire to improve my writing self along with life, a job, a dog, a partner (with kids) and my M.E. is challenging – mainly because of that last, tiny, little issue. If I ramp things up too fast, then I slow down. A lot.

I want to go all in. I want to throw myself into the possibility of writing. But I can’t. I have to take it slow. I have to have balance. I can’t suddenly decide to spend 8hrs on my days off solidly writing and editing with breaks only to walk the dog and eat a hurried lunch. This would result in catastrophe for me – a debilitating, painful kind of catastrophe. I have to be sensible – as should we all.

So, a shift in focus is what I’m putting in place:
Mornings will be spent being creative for competitions, submissions, possibilities for publication. I will dive in feet first and land, eventually (hopefully), standing tall.
Afternoons shall be reserved for blog posts and the editing of a chapter of the novel and/or a piece for submission. Nothing too taxing, lest I stumble and fall.

Short term goals and long term desires need to be spread evenly and equally. I don’t want to spend more than three ‘sessions’ on any one short piece for submission in case I get too bogged down in it. Hopefully this will work.

This will be the balance that will help me achieve all that I set out to do. Not all at once, not all together, not all in – but cautiously, patiently and diligently. I’m going to keep moving forward and hope my explorations yield results. *fingers crossed*

And the word is…Fear

This week is ending with me in a state of insecurity. I read over my writing and see the potential there, but struggle to believe I am the one to be able to tease it out. The editing of the novel appears insurmountable, even though I have printed off three chapters to read through and highlight mistakes. But this just serves to challenge me further, as once I have mended the larger issues – inconsistency in viewpoint and over use of adverbs – I perish the thought of having to go back and identify further problems. What if I have to re-write the whole book?

Perhaps it’s just the monstrosity of the task that lies ahead that has me shaken.

It’s also the lack of any response to the writing I have sent out. Granted, it’s not that much and I’m fairly inexperienced when it comes to submitting. I never expected it to be easy. Yet, some of my hopes have been quashed. I thought I was good at this. But good doesn’t seem enough any more and I am stumbling wildly in the dark.

I’m beginning to believe that I haven’t invested my full self into the effort of ‘writing’. I haven’t tried hard enough, nor am I challenging myself enough. And it’s because of fear. I’m afraid that if I do push so hard that I’ll have nothing to show for it and my hopes will be crushed.

Every writer must go through this. I don’t know why I thought I might be different (every writer probably also thinks this too).

The only thing I can think to do is to get lost in the writing. Keep going. Work long and hard enough for the feelings of insecurity to be put to one side and the fear to be forgotten. I need to be more proactive – submit more writing so that I don’t pin all my hopes on my last piece (the one that my beta readers said was ‘powerful’ and ‘made them cry’).

In the end, I want to make it. I want to know that I really tried and didn’t just pretend to try – this is something that seems to be an epidemic in society today; the pretence that we’re making a real effort when really we’re just going through the motions. And it’s the abject terror of failure that holds us back. That, and the real possibility that we might succeed. These days we’re equally afraid of both being a failure and a success. After all, if we succeed at one venture, then the stakes are raised and the idea that we might fall from a further height becomes not just a possibility, but a probability.

So it’s all of this, and more, that makes me tentative and fearful. Perhaps the only way to conquer the fear is to confront it. If I’m afraid of being a failure, I’ll just continue to try until I succeed. If I’m afraid that success will lead me to high probability of failure, then I’ll have to learn to accept this as a consequence. The important thing is to move forward. Not let the fear immobilise me and take away the essence of my dream.

Therefore the to-do list is back with a vengeance. I won’t let the insecurities beat me – I’ll use the energy to forge on ahead instead.

To-do List
20th – 26th May

1. Write a Story a Day and add it to the collection on the Story a Day 2013 Page (please read and comment if you have the time – a part of my insecurity lies in the fear of my writing not being read!)

2. Print and edit major issues in three chapters of NaNo #1

3. Make changes identified in new draft for NaNo #1

4. Identify ONE competition/submission to be made before 1st June

5. Attend Creative Writing Group at Library (Wed AM) to meet other local writers

Wasted Time

I was given the morning off work today. I had some time in lieu to take and it was suggested that because the meeting I had planned to attend was cancelled, I should take advantage of the chance to take my time back.

So I did.

After a pleasant stroll with the dog in the sun, I made myself a cup of tea and pondered what I could do. I felt a pull to print out Chapter 2 of NaNo #1 and edit it. I resisted. Instead I curled up on the sofa with my cuppa, a healthy apple and watched my missed episode of The Apprentice.

Now, why did I chose to slob out in front of the TV instead of work on my novel?
I’ll tell you.

sandclockTime is that very rare thing that eludes even the most organised of individuals. I appreciate this. Therefore, typically, when I am handed time back that I expected to be spent on something else I tend to use it wisely. I’ve experienced the waste that time can seduce us into believing could be worthwhile. I’m privy to the tricks it can play, seemingly speeding up or slowing down at the most inconvenient of moments.

Well, this week for me is a privilege. I have no to-do list. No expectations. I certainly don’t feel that I have the energy or drive. Therefore when I felt that urge to print out more pages and take a seat with that red pen of mine – as I did only a day or so ago – I dismissed it. Just as my writing time is my writing time – if I dedicate an hour or two for writing, then that’s what I’m going to do – then my own time shall not be dutifully stolen by my muse on a whim.

I’ve been struggling for a few weeks – ever since I set to the task of editing my novel – and I deserve some time away, without the pressure of feeling that I ‘should’ be doing something. This is why I turned my back on editing today: because I felt that I ‘should’ be attempting it, rather than actually wanting to do it. When something you enjoy becomes a duty, it can suck all of the enjoyment out of it.

So I decided to waste the time that was given back to me. I suppose it will same me from wasting it later in the day, but this way, I feel in control of it. It can be all well and good to surrender to the hard work of novel-editing, it gives you something to show for the day, but in those chunks of time when you’re surprised by desire it can be just as empowering to put it to one side as it can be to embrace it.

Experienced writers tell us to set aside time for writing everyday, or at least set up a routine. This, it is said, regulates the muse so that they are more pliable and accepting when you truly require their aid. So, couldn’t the opposite be true also? I’m given time to do with what I will – if I acquiesce to the demands of my desire to duty – however rewarding – then am I not allowing it the freedom to control me?

That’s not to say I won’t do any writing today – I am, after all, writing A Story a Day and contributing to my blog. But…and it’s a big but…I’m permitting myself to enjoy the peace that comes without pressure or expectation or frustration. I wanted a simple morning, one not complicated or challenged by sentence structure and inconsistent mistakes in point of view. I wanted to relax, and editing is not the way to achieve this for me.

My morning is now complete. Any time from this point forward is back in the realms of normality where expectation and duty have remained. I am still free to choose how to spend my time, yet if I waste these moments it shall be the responsibility of no one but myself. I think I’ve wasted enough time for one day though…

The ‘No Pressure’ technique

When I woke up this morning, I knew that I didn’t have to do anything. I hadn’t written myself a to-do list for the week and so I could choose whatever it was that I liked.  What did I decide to do? Edit the first chapter of NaNo #1! Sometimes, when you aren’t meant to be doing something, it makes it irresistible to the itchy fingers and their red pen!

Chapter 1 Draft 1

Some red pen action!

As a result, Chapter One has been rewritten with some further notes on a need to check facts on the type of cancer I have given Madeline. Now, this was written way back in November 2011 when I started my first ever challenge of NaNoWriMo and I had not yet quite settled into a routine of writing everyday. So throughout the words written I realised I was terrible at sticking to a consistent viewpoint.

One second the narrative was told from Madeline’s viewpoint, the next paragraph Dr Whalley’s thoughts would be expressed, and then oh, are those the cheeky considerations of Betsy the nurse? Yep. Awful. However, not so horrific that I couldn’t fix it. I had obviously started the novel with no clear understanding of who would be telling the story, only working out later on that Dr Whalley would be my protagonist rather than the enigmatic Madeline Tailor. After all, how mysterious a character would Madeline be if the reader were in her head all the time?

I also identified an annoying little practical issue. For some reason I started the novel using single apostrophes  – ‘ – to denote speech. Later on I know I use the more traditional double mark -” –  which meant that I needed to address this problem and decide on a rule. I’m sticking with “-” which means I need to change all the single apostrophes to doubles: not a simple case of just searching and replacing all, given that the single is also used in possessives and contractions.

However, despite these (and a few other) changes, I’m quite happy with the redrafted Chapter One. When I reached the end of it I wrote down exactly what it is that it tells the reader and this is what I got:
– Madeline is dying
– Dr Whalley is concerned that she is going to die alone
– Madeline believes she deserves to die
– Dr Whalley wants to help by finding support for Madeline, despite Madeline not wanting this
– Dr Whalley and Nurse Betsy may be having an affair

It seems like a lot of information, but I think for an initial chapter it provides the novel’s big question (Why does Madeline believe she deserves to die alone?) and establishes some key facts that the narrative will explore. In total it’s around 3,000 words long. I’m not sure how this will compare with other chapter lengths but that is possibly something to consider in a later draft.

It seems like, sometimes, giving yourself the space and time to step back can actually make it easier to step forward. Just by taking the pressure of my to-do list away, I’ve actually managed to achieve something I didn’t expect.

PS: I’m still doing Story A Day – check out my stories written each day on my Story a Day 2013 Page.

Nothing Vs Something. Why I prefer a blank page to a written one.

A Soul Destroying Page (Corrections from Balzac)

A Soul Destroying Page
(Corrections from Balzac, Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve had a challenging week. At the moment I don’t feel I am reaching my potential. It is as if I am striving for something that is currently out of reach. Perhaps it’s the recent considerations regarding aspirations and defining success. I’m feeling a bit lost again – not in what to do, but in myself: in finding the motivation and passion for the editing process that I am now struggling so much with.

Taking part in Story a Day is demonstrating to me just how much I enjoy the creative process of initial ideas, of jumping straight in and building the scaffold for an imaginary world that transforms the page from blank to meaningful. I’ve had lots of practice at this by now, so this process doesn’t intimidate me. Editing, however, still does and I’m not convinced I really know what it is I’m doing, so I stumble. As a result I lose confidence, willingness and become afraid to try. This is certainly reflected in my tasks attempted this week:

To do list Review

May 6th – 12th 

1. Type up as much of Cecelia’s section of the novel (NaNo #1) as possible – I managed to type up about 1,500 words. Typing up seems to take longer than actual writing, which I didn’t expect. Am going to continue this throughout the next week. 

2. Finish writing Cecelia’s section of the novel – final four scenes – This, I decided, is best done after I have completed typing up the previous scenes. I don’t want to lose the flow of the character, and I feel I will be better able to achieve the right ‘voice’ once I’ve rehashed the previous scenes. When I did sit down to try and do this, I drew a blank, even with my prompt cards telling me what I needed to write about. It’s not ready to come yet, so I’ll leave it to steep. 

3. Write a Story a Day and post it up on my Story a Day page – I have really, really enjoyed doing this. A year ago it seemed like an effort to sit down and write a story a day, but now with a year’s experience behind me, and two NaNoWriMo challenges done, I feel much more confident in sitting down every day to write something. The ideas come easier, the writing flows quicker and the reward is that I feel like I am really achieving something that will take me forward over the month. 

4. Sketch out Goals, Motivation and Conflict for minor characters in NaNo #1 – I almost started writing another novel thanks to this task! I already have an idea based on one of these minor characters of Madeleine’s life – her daughter – and how this could be turned into a kind of ‘sequel’ to the current NaNo #1. Therefore, when writing Rachel’s GMC’s I got a bit carried away. On the plus side, I now can’t wait for November because I’ve decided this will be my next NaNoWriMo writing challenge: NaNo #3! 🙂

5. Complete Bingo Story for submission – Another failure here I’m afraid. I read it over and over, edited it down, played around with some ideas but nothing convinced me. For some reason I dislike this story now and nothing I do appears to make it worthy of my attention. I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe it’s ‘good enough’ and so sending it off would only be applying for failure. 

Having a plan and sticking to it are staples of my everyday routine. I thrive on to-do lists and get so much more done when I know what it is I am required to do. Yet, editing is still a new thing for me. So far I haven’t successfully discovered the right way to do this: nor do I have any outside acknowledgement that what I am doing is right.

Give me a blank page and I know what to do with it!

Give me a blank page and I know what to do with it!

It feels the same way as when I started on the path to write a novel in the first place. Except now, I have the bare bones of the story and the characters and the words that created them, but I have to go back to the beginning and start over with it all. I’m used to starting with nothing, with a blank page to do with what I like. Starting with something, that is what poses the difficulty now and I don’t know what to do with it. Who would have thought it?

In an effort to cut myself some slack and give my brain a rest from the ravages of attempting editing when I just don’t feel secure with it, I am taking a week off from my ‘to-do list’. This could be a mistake. However, it could also be just what I need to make me realise that the next stage of my journey is a very different one, just as significant to the process as the initial writing phase but that requires the same amount of focus, determination and the faith of trial and error.

The Secret to Success

As promised, here is the second part to my thought-provoking reading this week: all about how to define success as a writer.

I am fortunate to receive e-newsletters from Cathy Yardley (whose book ‘Rock your Revisions‘ I was waxing lyrical about in an earlier post). In this month’s e-news she posed a question that made me stop and really think about my writing. This question was, “What’s standing in the way of your writing success?”

But this was followed up by another consideration that almost flummoxed me.

“What exactly does ‘successful’ mean?”

The interesting thing here is that success can mean many different things to many different people. Whilst some writers consider that just sharing their work with others is a success, there are others who believe that success only comes with being paid for your words, or even being published. Even the publishable route stands for further scrutiny in the guise of success, as one group see success only in the realms of being recognised by a traditional publishing house and having physical copies of their novel, whereas another is quite happy self-publishing their work and basking the glory of that success.

I don’t really know why I have a compulsion to write. I suspect it has something to do with wanting recognition. I want to be remembered somehow and writing is the only legacy I feel comfortable leaving behind.

What does writing success mean to me? How will I know when I have succeeded in this goal?

Well, in one sense I feel I have already succeeded. I am a writer. I am no longer that ‘aspiring‘ writer I once longed to be that could not exist because I only ever intended to write (see yesterday’s post for more on that). I have written so much in the last couple of years – more so than ever before I think. I have two draft novels that total around 200,000 written words, along with numerous short stories and hundreds of blog posts.

I write: that in itself is one form of success.


The Success Circle

But, what next?

I want to see my writing published. In part, some of this can be addressed in the fact I ‘publish’ my own blog. But, what I really mean here is that I want the recognition to be provided by an outside force that will validate the writing I have produced. I want my short fiction to be published by someone else.

Does it matter if I am paid for this goal? Not really, not at this stage, not to me. It might in the future, once I have succeeded in the element of my goal to be published and recognised as a writer ‘out there’ in the world. Perhaps that will be the next marker of success: for someone to pay me for my efforts.

Then, maybe, I might set my sights higher and assume that success is wrapped up in the publishing of a novel, instead of short stories. After that (assuming I get this far) it might be write a novel that is recognised as a ‘top’ seller in it’s genre, or has pride of place in a bookshop, or reaches the top ten in Amazon…

I suppose what I’m attempting to demonstrate is that the idea of what success is can change depending on your circumstances. However, what is important is that you never forget to mark the moment when you achieve your goal of being successful, no matter how quickly you might move the goalposts.

Don’t forget to celebrate each success as you reach it. And, if you immediately define success as the highest possible standard that any writer can set – reaching the NYT bestseller list, or out-selling Harry Potter, or being able to quit your job and live a life of luxury from your one amazing novel – remind yourself that there are smaller successes on the way to the ‘big one’. Revel in these, because not everyone reaches them. Not everyone is successful, in our terms or their own.

Make sure that you allow yourself the option of realistically obtaining success and you will probably find out that you have already missed some of the more successful moments of your journey. Don’t take them for granted. One success can lead to another.

Often, the only thing standing in the way of our writing success is ourselves. Be that because we want to be a writer and don’t write, or because our expectations of success are so overwhelmingly huge that we constantly feel unsuccessful in comparison. But if you set goals that are realistic and that you can succeed in then it all builds up until, one day, that success that you thought might never be yours is suddenly right around the corner. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t dream big – by all means, dream HUGE – but when it comes to success, we need to realise the steps we take everyday form parts of the whole: take a look at the Success Circle to demonstrate this (image above). Each one of these things is a success in itself, because it is one step further than someone else managed and one step more than you’ve made before.

Allow yourself the chance to be successful and celebrate those times when you are.
That is how success should be measured.