Thursday, 30 September 2010

Inspiration fatigue and burnout

So now the play is put to one side I'm back on the novel. I was well into Act 2 when I left it, so yesterday I open up the last chapter to refresh my memory. Again, it's an anxious moment. What if, on returning to it, I find it's unmitigated rubbish? It could happen. But it's a relief to find it's not bad at all.

I'm coming to the conclusion that having more than one project bubbling away is a good way for me to work. Perhaps I'm not alone in getting so obsessed with a story I get far too close to it and can't exercise good editorial judgement. A week or two away from it and hey, presto! I a can see the glaring flaws I'd missed. Perhaps I'm more of an editor than a writer. But working on several things gives you the chance to flit between them.

I know not everyone works this way. I've seen writers say on forums they have to sit down and churn out their word quota whether they feel like it or not, otherwise the book would never be finished. I don't mind doing that occasionally - I've done Nanowrimo a few times and it is exhilarating - but I know I couldn't do it constantly. I get inspiration fatigue. And worse, I get an aversion to writing which is dangerous. To stop the burnout I give myself days off doing other stuff. As long as I'm writing, I don't worry about it.

It's important to have fun. It's not my living after all and as the saying goes, it ain't brain surgery.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

First read-through

Feeling all of a quiver. I just printed out my first draft of Play and read it through with hubby (who's conveniently on a week's holiday). I always view these read throughs with trepidation - after all the weeks of work will it be ghastly? But it wasn't! At least, I don't think so and neither does he. We got quite caught up in it and my heart was pounding by the end, but it more or less hangs together quite well, I'm pleased and relieved to say.

So now it's a case of shelving it for a few weeks before going back for another look. In the meantime I'll have to scout around and find somewhere to send it.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Another website

Something drew my attention to the free build-you-own-website site Weebly recently, so I've been taking a look and setting up a site for my play. I'm quite impressed with the ease of use and presentation so far. If you're interested you can take a look at it here, and please feel free to make any suggestions.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


The great thing about writing a play is you can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. I'm up to 85 pages on the New Historical Play, and in the process of doing an edit. I've no idea whether it's finished yet - probably not, if past experience is anything to go by - but writing it and reading through what I've written (which I do aloud to get a feel for the dialogue) is very entertaining if nothing else. I'm enjoying the process hugely.

The great thing is imagining the scenes, without being hampered by having to agonise over long passages of description. As I edit I put in odd touches in the stage directions, tiny character descriptions to add some colour. It's the time to check details as well. Being a historical subject, and based on real people, I have to be careful of getting the background facts right.

Now I have to decide which medium would be best. I started it thinking Screenplay, but it's not easy to get historical movies made even after the success of Braveheart and Robin Hood. Then there's radio - might be worth a throw as there's supposedly a huge demand for original material at the BBC and radio is the traditional way in. I'd like to think it could be a stage play too, in fact I think this might be the perfect outlet, but how easy is it to get a stage play produced?

Monday, 20 September 2010

When is it finished?

How do you know when a project is finished?

You do get an excited rush when the first draft is complete, and it's easy to fool yourself that's the work done. But unless you are a prodigy it probably isn't. I put mine away for a while and write something else then go back for another look - it can be very painful to realise it isn't as good as you remember, although sometimes it can be encouraging when it's better than you remember. So then I have another go at it and put it aside again. You can repeat that process until:

a) you go mad or

b) you get up the courage to get some feedback - a crit group is your best bet

Then it's more revisions until you reach the stage that your eyes bleed every time you try to read it, which is nature's way of telling you to:

a) burn it and bury the ashes in consecrated ground,

b) give it up and start again or

c) send it out

Even then it probably isn't finished as agents/editors will more than likely demand more changes.
Good thing you love writing, eh? :)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Which is more important: Character or plot?

People are what stories are about. Readers read to live vicariously through the characters in the book. If they can't identify with those characters, the story falls flat.

Of course a story needs a well drawn, believable cast of characters. But a book with only well drawn characters and no plot is not a story. It's a character study. You need to decide whose story you are telling and what will happen to them at the outset, when you first formulate your premise. Your choice of character is paramount. He must be ripe for this story to happen to him, or your story won't engage.

So why have you chosen him? What is he lacking that he needs to learn from going through this experience? How will it change him? Get this right and your character will react and drive the plot as they sort out their personal issues. It's called a Character Arc and it's as old as storytelling itself. For a more detailed analysis check out these books:
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth by James N. Frey

Your character should be interesting rather than likeable - some of the most compelling literary characters are utterly deplorable human beings! - and they should be flawed in some way they are not aware of.

How to make characters real? To write a convincing characterisation you have to know them as you would a friend. There's more to that than a list of attributes and a CV. To flesh out your characters you could try an online journal or blog. Write in the voice of the character, play at being them. It's a good way to explore their attitudes and background, but don't fall into the trap of trying to put all that information into your book or you'll end up with the dreaded info dump!

Monday, 13 September 2010


I've been inspired, over the weekend, to resurrect a project I've been fiddling about with for years - honestly, I first got bitten by the bug nearly 20 years ago. It's a story from the 16th century, well documented but still a mystery, which I've researched on and off during that time, always searching for new angles and insights. But none of my half assed attempts to retell the story have amounted to much. In the end I give up, telling myself it's a hopeless task. But obviously some part of me still hankers after it. Hence my weekend inspiration.

It was prompted by watching The Lion in Winter, the 1968 movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. If you haven't seen it recently it's worth a trip to Youtube. Hepburn alone brings this potentially dry story to crackling intensity, but she's helped by a marvellous cast including youthful Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. The film was based on a stage play and the action takes place one Christmas when Henry II gathers his feuding and plotting family to discuss the future of the monarchy. Limited sets, no special effects, just great dialogue and wonderful acting. It has inspired me to use the device of a single weekend and a gathering under one roof to tell my own story.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

When to give up?

I've seen a few of these posts lately on the many boards where I lurk.

"I've spent forever on my book, sent it to every agent and publisher in the English speaking world, got nowhere with it. Should I attempt yet another rewrite or give up on it and start something else?"

Some are even more profound. After years of trying the poster is wondering whether to throw in the towel altogether.

Tough questions. And they're not the sort there's a simple answer for.

Time was when publishers and agents were the acid test of what was publishable - if they didn't want you it was a fair assumption you weren't good enough so maybe you should call it quits. But the times, they is a-changin'. How do you measure your worth when the publishing industry is in a recession and even previously published authors are finding themselves on the scrap heap? You could drive yourself mad endlessly rewriting a book that's perfectly acceptable in the mistaken belief it will bring a book deal closer. All the time the book deal isn't there, however good you are.

I've read a couple of interesting blog posts this week which touch on the changes happening around us. The Book Deal touches on the issue of self publishing as a real prospect for getting noticed by mainstream publishers. He speculates this may be the source for publishers' mid list in the future. It's a controversial suggestion - a couple of years back no industry insider would have entertained the idea. But it's indicative of the way the landscape is shifting.

And here is an interesting interview with Writers' Digest publisher Jane Friedmann about how she sees the role of agents changing in the future. Food for thought.

Friday, 3 September 2010


I read somewhere - probably in one of the million or so books on writing I seem to have purchased over the years - that in order to write realistic fiction you have to do even more research than you would for non-fiction. Not only do you have to know the facts about the world you are creating, you have to internalize them to such an extent that you can create real people to live in that world.

I don't know how true that is, never having attempted non-fiction, but I would say research is something of a quagmire for me. It's so easy to get absorbed in the details and carried away with immersing yourself in an area of research you can find yourself drifting away from the original point of the exercise. At the moment I'm looking into faded stately homes for my current WIP - it's not a major plank of the book but it helps me visualise the setting for the main part of the story. The upshot is I can spend far too much time trawling through books on the subject. It's not a hardship by any means - I've always loved visiting stately piles and looking at classical architecture - but maybe that's the trouble.

But for all the pictures I can't seem to lay hands on architectural plans for these houses. Any suggestions?