The journey of my novel and the creative process of writing it will be documented here as I regularly set my intentions, structure the narrative, craft the characters, detail the settings, integrate the symbolism and detail my process. My intention is to document the creative process sharing online what would be shared in person within a writer’s group.
To begin I will revisit what I have written to date to identify gaps. The narrative is taken from an ancient tale, I did this intentionally to take away from the angst of deciding what happens to my characters. This has worked well for writing the main story parts, but I have found myself cycling over and rewriting them rather than pressing forward and claiming the story for myself beyond this.
Fear is also a factor that stands in my way but I’m ready to stand firm and shove it aside to progress with this piece and make it my own.
The idea for this writing collection is inspired by the John Steinbeck work Journal of a Novel:
Not originally intended for publication, this work is a series of letters written by John Steinbeck to his long-time friend and editor, Pascal Covici, during the writing of East of Eden. Throughout these letters, Steinbeck mentions his worries about various parts of East of Eden and provides insights to some of the characters. Readers also see glimpses of the rest of Steinbeck’s life in these letters. He mentions his sons, Thom and John, as well as his wife, Elaine.NATIONAL STEINBECK CENTRE
Time to get writing.
If you’d like to start with the latest writing added click here, to start from the beginning continue reading below.
For the past 10 years I’ve been writing a novel off and on, and now is the time to get it done.
When I couldn’t find a writing buddy to establish a writing habit with, I began teaching. In each session I would write with the group mostly writing toward my novel in an unplanned way to just get it down and get it out. That worked for creating content but not for finishing the task.
Of all the writing I’ve done over the years toward this I have written approximately 20 000 words that I could use so far, of these I’ll most likely throw up to a quarter away. Writing is after all knowing which words to keep and largely about writing down words then throwing them away to craft a piece with the best that you have, much like a carving a sculpture from marble. Words are the raw material, they are beautiful with qualities all their own, but we can’t use them all, some must be thrown away.
Writing toward my WIP (work in progress) in this way has not served the purpose that I hoped for; I have not finished my novel and I’ve had more than enough time to do it. What I have achieved though is a great amount of insight and experience into the value of individual’s creative processes. With this I’ve guided many budding writers toward their goal and now it’s time to heed my own advice, take my own medicine and practice what I preach.
Listening to the words that came out as I talked story, writing and literary devices in my classes I often thought – Hey, I should do that too!
So here I am to do the work and get it done. Now rather than paving the road for others then sitting on the footpath as they pass by, I will take the journey along the road of creativity for myself, all the way to the end.
I took the one less traveled by,ROBERT FROST’S POEM THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, 1920
And that has made all the difference.
I’m starting at the beginning.
I’ve started at the beginning of my story many times shifting the starting point and pondering the origin story – what it is, how to tell it, where and how does it start…
Imagery is important to me, I’m a visual writer often writing what I see in my mind and doing my best to document that vision as I tell the story. Sharing what I see is my story telling method which makes me a sucker for descriptive writing. Using the images that I have in mind also makes the narrative sketchy with gaps at times and at times caught up with too much thought around details that I question as necessary.
With my writing to date I have created a word document where I have pasted my work in order as best I can. I’ve done 3 things with this file for navigating my work to date.
1 – I’ve pasted the writing in sections of chapters as I currently see them to cluster story parts together which makes it easier to find the story part that I’m working on saving me time and frustration when looking for ‘that bit’.
2 – I’ve colour coded each piece of writing to help define different pieces that I’ve written over time, in part this has become unnecessary as I dissect and move the pieces about editing in new writing as I go. Colour coding has and still does help me to move through the writing referencing where I am at visually with colour though.
3 – The file is now my work in progress as I continue to shuffle what I have written, add to it, and use past writing as the bones of what I am working on.
For the past few days I have chipped away at how I will tell the story with a focus on committing to a style. I want to tell this old disputed narrative that sits in the intersecting realms of fantasy, religion, history and origin with a tone that honours all. Can I do this? I really don’t know but I am going to get lost in that idea and give it a go. This type of story has always appealed to me, I get sucked in to the awe and wonder that they embody within their telling. If a story has me questioning I know that it’s a good one, I know that I can lose myself their and revel in my imagination. To root myself in that the lost time that imagination serves up I have a saying of my own that I always come back to when considering any story that provokes me in such a way and that is:
I don’t care if a story is true only if it is good
With that in mind I am taking that feeling of being lost in a story because it is good and doing my best to tell it that way.
I backup my writing in 2 locations but yesterday after much writing I couldn’t open files in either location. It was a scary half hour as I rallied myself to not succumb to angry monkey mentality and begin smashing my keyboard with my fists in frustration. There were almost tears but I got a grip and pushed through mustering patience inexplicably. I tried and tried again and eventually my computer cooperated restoring from the recent files on my version of MS word – who knew that MS could be helpful and not just creepy!!!
Having passed that hurdle I am moving forward now with another level of file management. I am making a separate file for each chapter to keep the content minimal. I will keep a working copy in 2 locations. I will breathe, take my time and always include extra time for ‘computer speed’ or downtime as some know it.
Creating a timeline for writing is not as easy as sitting down to write, even if I write by hand I still have to type it up sooner or later. Writing is never just writing. With this in mind I’ll work at breaking my time into blocks and timing my writing sessions with a minimum timeframe but never maximum so I can write for as long as I’m able, and to my heart’s content.
What I have reshuffled from previously written pieces and added to so far I’m happy with. My work is dense though because I like the implications and ideas behind everything, and for readers to be able to invest their imagination in this as much or as little as they like. With this in mind I know that I’ll have stops and starts to the flow of my process when I stop to check details from resources; some I’ll include obviously; some I’ll ponder and apply with a lighter touch. My aim is not to be precise or correct. I’m not writing a historical novel, I’m not interested in being up-to-date with the latest anthropological discovery or theory, I respect but don’t follow religions so I will construct a story that works for me and to the best of my ability.
My game plan for getting the work done is to keep following the narrative and work through the story chronologically to take myself on the hero’s journey along with my protagonist. Previously I had written according to prompts and whatever part of the storyline the prompt had inspired me to think of. I got a lot of writing done in this way but will not use all of it as I was cycling over what I had already written and found myself stuck in scenes with no clear way into the next.
I’m up to a research point so the actual writing could be minimal today as I commit the majority of my time to collecting information. Even if it’s a few sentences though I will write today to include what I research, this way I will be free to continue writing when I write the next time.
Piecing together what I have written, am writing, researching, past research and the occasional pinch of flow is rewiring my brain. So far it’s a good thing. I certainly have lost time with the focus that I’m applying.
My story is being fleshed out and rearranged every time I pause to read again what I am crafting. I stop and read aloud – yes that’s a thing if you didn’t know it, it’s a great technique for removing your focus from writer/editor mode to just listen to what is there with fresh ears. The trick is don’t stop, don’t edit, just read. To read through without disruption and truly hear the flow and narrative I read it over first to check for anything that will trip me up and steal my focus. Once I’m able to read it without being distracted by words, commas, sentence structure, narrative glitches, etc, I read aloud in one uninterrupted go.
I feel like I’m running on the spot but recognise that editing past sections that I’ve written into new work is enriching the story as I continue. Some of the past sections that I’m working into the new were written years ago and it’s surprised me how much I’ve ended up pulling them apart to slot them in amongst the new words, sometimes sentence by sentence.
I use highlighting and coloured text to define new from old until I am happy that the words now live there, then I change them all to look the same as I complete each paragraph.
Working in this way has helped me keep a running check on where I’m at and how I’m progressing. At times I feel like I’m obsessing with the writing and rewriting of a sentence into place. When I make the final decisions, then reread it, I keep catching myself taking in a deep breath like I’m coming up for air. With each edit I’m secluded into a bubble of creativity where my mind travels to a place I’ve never been. Letter by letter, word after word, the place is coming into focus slowly but surely.
I’m grateful to have words that I’d written previously to work with, it’s adding life to my work to layer in my progression combining details to bring the story to life. New words are sprouting up and into place as I push forward. The trick for me it seems is to keep a straight head, focus, stay there until I’m done and give my creativity time.
The intensity causes me to get up and move away at times. I stretch, I breathe, I look at the sky, I spend time distracted by technology but in the back of my mind sits the next step. What is it? Where am I up to? Do I know where my research is for an upcoming section? Should I keep a character that I wrote in briefly a year ago or not?
Time for coffee then more writing.
First thing when I wake up I am writing. Today before I began I took some time to reflect on where I’m at, how it’s going and what I am doing.
Writing the first chapter with a purposeful patience isn’t easy but I’m happy with my progress at adopting this approach. There’s so much to address at the beginning with setting, character, themes, foreshadowing and tone. I want to include everything but in a spare way that introduces a time, place, world, and people without overwhelming the story itself.
Starting at the beginning of my story as I am gives some back story to the protagonist. To start the protagonist is a child, just for a few pages; those pages are shaping up nicely, childhood will hopefully be left behind very soon.
I’m cutting, pasting and rearranging so many words that it feels more like a game of scrabble than writing a novel. When all the juggling of word placement settles I manage to experience those sweet spots where it flows and everything seems just right – then though, I realise that I need to squeeze a bit in between two paragraphs that I have run together and so the cycle continues…
Checking in with my conscious mind is necessary as the novel writing process has me communing between my conscious and subconscious which is as exhausting as it is satisfying. Chronicling the journey of my creative process here helps me get out of the stop and start progress of writing. The relief that I feel when I sit writing this and can keep going and know that it’s short and will end is aaaahhhhh … great. Writing these planning and progress updates are as helpful as going for a walk in the sunshine.
I am getting a lot done, writing, habit building, creating dopamine.
The speed of this whole process is revealing itself to me and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can only do so much. I’d really like to achieve more at once which I think is a symptom of having this project on the backburner for so many years. It’s been simmering away in my subconscious inhabiting my imagination and parodying itself in the modern-day world. I know it so well that I just want to magic it onto the page, but I am only human, and this is a disappointing reality that I’m digesting and humbly coming to terms with.
The content that I’m writing is growing and changing daily. I’m not rewriting, I’m tweaking.
The story is growing in ways that I couldn’t previously have conceived of but that make great sense within the context of the story bones and character development. I’m beginning to get an excitable anticipation when I write because I’m wondering what will happen next just like when reading a book written by another. I’ve experienced this before but not ongoing and not on this scale as I journey through time and space with my protagonist.
I spent the last day or so tinkering away at what I’ve pieced together all the while thinking that there’s more that I’ve written on this section somewhere in my saved files. Searching through past writing I found what I was looking for this morning. The timing has worked well, if I had found it sooner it would have bent my brain trying to process the repeat writing I have of story parts along with the different angles I’ve taken on scenes, and the varied tone I’ve applied over the years.
Reminding myself of the progress that I’m making is a great motivator. Being real about the fact that progress includes throwing away words as much as keeping them helps to keep my focus on the story and not on the word count. Writing with brevity is a skill that I covet so I feel good about deleting as I go. I have copies of all work that I’ve written saved and filed away elsewhere so nothing is ever lost, it’s just not on the page that’s my workspace.
The story bones are good in the extra writing I found. For the rest of the day I’ll switch up my role from storyteller to scavenger and pick away at those bones seeking out the juicy marrow of the story. I’m better equipped to do this now than I was a week or more ago when I was still solidifying style and voice in my mind. Inevitably with this new find I will go back yet again to where I have spent the week already to potentially edit in more past work. *sigh
The task feels like it’s ever expanding. I reflect on where I’m at regularly and just when I get a handle on it, it seems to grow a bit more. It doesn’t feel bad, just overwhelming – being overwhelmed in itself isn’t bad but an indicator of how new this process is to me.
I’m grateful for the time I have to write, I’m happy when I reach a point that gives me a sense of achievement, but the reality is that I’m distracted by images in my mind of me sitting on the couch mindlessly watching favourite films that I know by heart and am not challenged by. I excel at procrastination with a natural ability for it, but it gives me no satisfaction. Using my time to listlessly ramble through the day is something that I’m very skilled at with years of experience to draw upon and it’s calling to me as I sit pondering what will happen next to people who don’t exist in a place that never was.
The curious new thing happening though is that I cannot stop thinking about my story. I look forward to getting to ‘that part’ to see what happens when I develop ‘that bit’ and how my characters will respond to ‘those happenings’. Patience, persistence, and curiosity are taking me forward.
Bottomline – I’m excited about applying myself to this task.
If I was drawing a picture instead of writing a novel then this wouldn’t even be the sketching stage. This would be me in kindergarten with crayons drawing a house and a tree and scrawling my name in the corner for placement on the fridge at the end of the day. Yep, I’m writing with training wheels, it’s helpful for me to accept this to push aside any angst over what I think I should be doing as opposed to what I am doing.
I’m making progress with slow and certain steps. When writing the page is as jumbled as the thoughts in my head, thoughts that are the story in fragments. Pressing through to create some clarity in the form is an unrelenting task. That’s fine though, I’ve accepted that it’s not something that will just fall into place. I have to keep going slowly.
With the majority of chapter one laid out in a document as bits and pieces of writing that I’ve written over time along with detail from different sources of the myth/ folktale that I’m taking some structure from, and character descriptions, and sections of symbolism – it’s all a bit of a mess right now. The writing runs together as a narrative but tells with little to no showing. For the past day I’ve been making notes at points where I want to show what’s happening. Points whereby showing I can get to know the character/s, who they are, how they interact and what they are like as humans. Telling is a good option for sections of this as a tale while arcing the narrative with detail as showing to step into the story with the characters to inhabit their world.
The story is big, the tale is timeless, so I have room to let the story be the star against the backdrop of humanity. If my characters are removed from the foreground of the storytelling it won’t harm the telling of it. I do need to have the characters be up front and centre though to inhabit the role that they’ll play, to let them own it and be it and do justice to the story. These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I progress and why I know that I have to go slow.
On top of all these serious thoughts I keep pondering humour, I’d like to sneak some in. That’s what it is to be human after all isn’t it? A little bit funny, or able to see the funny side of life. Something quirky, silly or absurd could be fun.
Taking time away from the spurt of writing that I had done provided perspective on where I’m at. Reading back over what I had done in the space of a short week left me feeling good about my work. It was difficult to keep up the pace that I had been working at, it wasn’t sustainable for keeping in mind the big picture of what I’m doing. No doubt though, it was good to get through a chunk of writing – I got a lot of work done in those few days. It’ll have to be refined and edited further but it’s good for now, and because I got so much done, I can see better what I’m establishing in regard to both the project and process.
It was difficult to come to terms with the gap that I created by stopping for a few days. I felt like a failure but realise that I should leave the drama for the novel and accept that I can only keep up an intensity like that for stretches of a few days. Working like that had my mind swimming in words, and images, and ideas, and I was too close to everything to see clearly what I was doing. It had to stop, at least for some breathing space. Returning with fresh eyes was an intimidating idea because I’d stepped away when I was no longer able to see where I was at so when I stepped back in again to pick up where I left off, I expected to be disappointed.
When I had my break in writing I struggled with guilt from the idea that I had failed because I couldn’t keep up a constant pace. I’m really annoyed now that I even let it bother me because it’s delusional to think that anything can be accomplished with mechanical regularity by a human being, especially a creative task. I got caught up in the idea that balance and consistency mean doing things without any variation; yet I know that theory and practice are two very separate things in reality.
Striking a balance is perhaps harder than establishing a routine. Balance with anything from miniscule amounts to gigantic proportions can be achieved so I’m left rolling my eyes at the headspace wasted over theorising a conceptual idea to apply to my writing practice. It’s a waste of my time and headspace at best – I have writing to do!
From this point on my focus is shifting to what I have to do rather than how to do it. I’ve discovered that part of ‘going with the flow’ of creativity is feeling it not forcing it.
The pace of writing has slowed down but not the pace of the process. To continue writing with a flow I need to sort out theme and symbolism to carry through the piece, and to give myself a heads-up for clarity moving forward. It’s not that every little part of the novel has to be planned in advance, but I do need a clear direction to head in.
Writing with a flow again is in sight but I’m not quite there yet. I’m keen to get back to it but each time I sit to write I think about another ‘bit’ that I need to research because it directly relates from where I’m at and to where I’m going. When I have a clear view of what I’m writing I do it calmly and get a lot done, when I have a vague idea I get muddled and can’t focus because my mind gets lost in the what ifs and what abouts that I might work in later. I work better moving forward with as clear a vision as I can get sorted in my mind.
The thought of cycling back over the story forever adding little bits and pieces, and inspecting my work retrospectively feels incongruous to any progress so I have baulked at moving forward until I get some things straight in my mind. Yes, I’ll have to go back over my work continuously as I keep writing but I want to do it in such a way that I’m present with where I’m at in the story telling. Chunking together bits and pieces out of sync with their place in the narrative has felt disjointed when I’ve tried that approach before. Writing as I am now chronologically with the bones of the narrative at my side to refer to as a map feels right. I feel like I’m on an adventure because there’s a large unknown element in the writing of it, but I also feel like I know the way.
Pausing to go over my research and add to has opened up the structure creating a narrative that moves through the story in parts much better than I had roughed out to begin with. Revisiting my research with fresh eyes has introduced a new depth to the protagonist who has gone from being a sketchy character in parts to a complex individual who I hope to do justice to by documenting their struggle with the human condition.
I’m learning a lot. I have notes to write in the chapter outlines, story points to add, and new layers of dimension to add to my protagonist. The time researching has been very helpful.
The working model of my novel is broken into 9 chapters that I plan to make approximately 5000 words each. This may change as I progress, but I like the breakdown of story parts and piecing together of the protagonist’s journey into the sections that I’ve mapped so far. Writing the first chapter is slow progress with the establishment of so many things that will carry through until the end of the novel. If I get this right, then it will give my work substance, and allow for characters that have depth and dimension. If I get this right, I will craft a story that I’m happy with. I want to write something that other people will enjoy but bottom line – I want to be happy with it.
The research that I’m working in, to lay the foundations for the overarching story, has caused me to go back and write in some more where I had moved on from last week. Again I have cut and pasted, re-written and shuffled around the order of paragraphs. Another thing that I’ve done quite a bit of is take sentences from paragraphs and put them elsewhere to give another paragraph more connection to the storyline. I’m starting to like this process and flag parts in my mind as I write in new sections that at times don’t quite fit yet. Going back I often find that I have found the perfect spot for parts that I wasn’t certain of moving from where I had created them in the storyline, and it works well.
I’ve written 2800 words that I’m happy to keep for now, the document though has 6500 words, so there’s quite a few words there that I haven’t factored in yet. About 2000 of those words are at the end of the document waiting patiently for me to reach that part of the chapter. I keep writing more so I’m trying to be mindful of not rewriting from scratch because I do have material to work with. It’s tempting to get swept away with writing, but the words that I already have written serve as a good reference for where I’m at and where I’m going.
I’ve spent time blending showing and telling to bring together the tale and the story. The tale being the telling, somewhat like a fairy tale but more as an idea than stylistically. The showing highlights parts of the tale bringing the story to life and shining a spotlight on the working parts of the narrative where things shift and change. The piece covers a lot of time but the folklore tale that I’m referencing doesn’t specify over what amount of time things took place, so I’m inclined to do the same which is why I am dabbling with showing in much the same way. Also the folklore tale exists in more than one culture and time in prehistory, so it has more than one telling of it. I’m working this in as well by integrating the tales in one narrative to stitch together the parts in such a way that it suits me. Referencing stories told by different peoples makes for an interesting exercise in establishing motives with more fodder to play with to stitch it all into one tale, even without this I would have been guessing at motivation to some extent.
Over the past couple of days I created a bridging section to bring my protagonist closer to the next stage of the story. I still have some events to write before moving on, but I needed to create access to this with character and story development. Some of the parts that I had written previously were stand alone leaving them disjointed within the running narrative that I’m writing. It took some time to think through the connecting section to make it all one story but a bit of story tetris can be fun.
Taking my time to develop and write this is giving me the sensation of visiting a place. When I visit places in the real world, I get all of my everyday obligations out of the way and make sure that I’m ready to depart, and it’s become the same for my writing. I have a destination, I know where I’m going, I just don’t necessarily know every little thing that will happen when I get there – I have to be present and open to the experience to get the most out of it.
To help my mind wander into the realms of imagination I’m finding it helpful to wander in reality to a degree. Every other day I’m going for a long walk taking the same path each time and letting my mind be free to the experience of just being. Seeing people, watching birds and the sky, hearing the world about me, and feeling the wind on my face. All of it helps me to consider the place that I’m visiting in my imagination as a real-world experience with the elements and the activation on my senses fresh in my mind.
Well today has been a real test for my focus and progress. I’ve had good news and bad which has distracted me in ways that I found difficult to navigate. Life rose up in my face demanding my attention and time just when I had committed to getting down to some writing. The decision to write today was difficult because yesterday gave me a preview of the day I had today in some respects, I was already distracted, then more happened. Writing about real world obstacles here is unavoidable if I am to authentically document my creative process, because the real world can and does get in the way of anything and everything, not only the task of writing.
I had to take a different approach to my process without the luxury of a block of time. For an hour early in the day I wrote around a piece written a while ago, anchoring it into the sea of words that I am accumulating. Then life happened. Later I returned to copy and paste sections into place to edit in when my focus is better; continuing from there tomorrow is the plan.
What I did complete was worth the effort, I did enough work to make progress. It’s the attention to my work that’s bothering me. I didn’t feel present, I didn’t give the best of me, my head and my heart were elsewhere. This is the learning for me in all of this – how to find balance and how to apply structure to my process. I have done that somewhat so I should feel good about it, but I find myself sighing a lot, that ‘want it, but can’t have it’ sigh of unattainability.
One conclusion that I have made from the past couple of days is that navigating two worlds, between my writing and the everyday, will continue to bring up this problem of distraction despite my best efforts and planning. It’s not so much that my time was taken up, that’s part of life, I’m bothered by the fact that I lost my rhythm for the flow, for my state of mind. The rush has dimmed, and I want it back, but I have to get real and accept that with balance and structure it will return as surely as it will leave again at points in the future.
It’s turned out to be really fun writing today taking an adventure back through ground already covered. I had the sensation of reminiscing through an old photo album with memories coming alive and new insights with what I know now. I covered a lot of ground connecting words written at different times in different places from prompts over the years. The outcome was good, the work I’ve put in previously is useful, and I’m pleased. When I’d read back over it in the past the disconnection between pieces had bothered me, I’d wondered if I’d wasted a lot of time on words that don’t matter. The tone is different in some, others have a different narrative POV, while other parts were written in a different tense. Over the years I had written whatever I had felt like writing at the time, or with whatever method I was teaching for the session, with no regard for the larger piece coming together. Of course I can’t use all these as they were written, but I have been surprised how I can marry together words written in very different pieces.
Restructuring sections into new writing creates a depth that I would’ve had to contemplate for longer if writing only fresh words now. There are parts that I had forgotten that I’d written and other parts that I’d written more than once, which provide a variety of perspectives on scenes, reactions, motivations and story.
The word count for the chapter one document is nearly 10,000 words. I’m depositing sections of writing at the end of the document by copying and pasting them their as I pick through and scavenge from my past work. Some parts I’ve already flagged to consider for other chapters because they work better with the development that I’ve done this past month restructuring the narrative. Other parts I’ve slotted at the end because I have taken what I need, I’m just keeping them there in case I have use for them while I work on the chapter. The writing to keep as chapter one is nearing 5,000 words which is too many, more words will have to be culled before I can move on beyond chapter one.
There’s a real sense of being on the home stretch for this chapter, what that means in terms of how many days, I don’t know. What I do know is that the end is in sight for chapter one – first draft. Chapter two is in my mind. The focus remains on chapter one though, I’m only allowing details of chapter two to creep into my mind with regards to where I am going to connect the chapters together.
I’ve sifted through all of the sections that I had in my chapter one file, edited them in together and created a flow of narrative with them.
The feel of it is makeshift at best but it serves its purpose to take the fragments of story that I’ve been writing and bring them together as one. If a simile could be applied, it would be like a broken vase hastily glued together to resemble the vase it once was. I can see the shape more clearly now of the story that I’ve only had glimpses of in my mind for so long. It has surprised me how much of the story I hadn’t included when I had written in fits and starts because it makes sense to me to write the narrative in the way that I have now.
My aim has been to make each chapter a tidy 5000 words. I’m currently over 5000 words and haven’t finished the chapter. I’ve written all the way to the end of the chapter but provided no segue to the next chapter so I have some more to write before I can leave chapter one behind. With all of this in mind I think that my word count will be closer to 6000 words, I am expecting to edit heavily when I do a serious second draft though.
There are points of the narrative that I am still circling over in the plot where I have written more than I need to. Working through story points has left me feeling dizzy at times dodging back and forth through the words and having little ability to clearly address too many words when my focus has been locked onto how the narrative reads as a flowing story. I will cull some of these points of the story that stand out to me as too much before I move onto chapter two. It feels right to go back and address these areas, I am hesitant though because I love words, I have too many words for this reason. I’ve written too many words in some of these parts also because I am creating a turning point in the story, or a crucial moment of some type, something that I want to be significant where lots of words seemingly gave the story points a physical weight on the page.
With chapter two well in sight I’m mindful of not rushing into it, I want to be able to read and digest the work that I have done on chapter one. I want chapter one to be the most progress made on my work in progress with clear insights into what I have done and what I have created to work with regarding the whole novel.
I’ve managed to delete about 500 words to bring the chapter one word count below 5,000 words. It feels good to have done it, it was easier to delete words than I thought it would be, and it highlighted the story by removing what served only as fluff. Reading through to cull words and sentences as a task though was a challenging exercise because it was difficult to be mindful of the flow at the same time. There are sections that need more attention regarding the flow of the story. Less is more is a great rule that can serve to bring what’s important into the foreground. I want the story to speak to the imagination and carry the reader along effortlessly. Whether I can do this or not will be in the reading of it by another which is the next step when I put this first draft of chapter one aside.
Time has been eaten away so easily when I have read back through my work. It was a worthwhile exercise; I have rewritten some sentences to better convey the story and without these read-throughs I wouldn’t have managed to do that.
There are so many things that I could continue to fuss over that would keep my attention fixed on chapter one for another week to a month. There is character, symbolism, doubling up of language, and the tense. The tense has been doing my head in. The story passes through a large stretch of time already. The whole story is told in the past, and it begins in the past, but steps into focused points of time for some parts, which are still in the past, but more immediate… So many pasts in one story. This shifting of time does serve the purpose of relaying a time lost, a questionable time, a timelessness that is part of this tale. Keeping track of the tenses has made me tense in real time, it can potentially eat up a lot of my focus.
For now I’m more interested in getting the story onto the page than making it perfect. Chapter one is ready for some fresh eyes to read it, so I’ll pass it onto a friend who has volunteered to read for me. I’m very lucky to have had this offer, I only expect to get another’s insight and feedback. If feedback includes editing, tense and/or story notes then that is even more of a bonus for me. Really, whatever my friend wants to contribute re: reading I’m grateful for their input. A new perspective on my work will be very welcome.
I’m ready to move on to chapter two.
What will happen next? No matter what I’m doing my story remains present in my mind like a demanding child pestering me for attention asking what next, or which way. I’ve hesitated at starting on chapter two, I had to revisit the structure of the chapters that I’d laid out before I began the first draft of chapter one. The direction that chapter one took me in with the narrative structure has caused me to now go back and consider reshuffling the order of some of the chapters.
All of this is consuming my thoughts, I want to get back to writing.
My progress has been reading and research, the writing flow has halted making me feel stuck. The irony of being fixed on a point that requires choice about the direction that I’ll take isn’t lost on me, I’m causing my protagonist to wait in the same manner. My protagonist has more than one transitional period in the novel that takes them through an introspective period of change. To write through these turning points in the narrative I can interchangeably use different sections that I’ve fleshed out in reference to the different versions of the tale that my story is based on. I want these mythical foundations to serve to highlight the human experience, I want to take the fantastical and make it an everyday experience.
Regardless of the choice that I make to move forward into the narrative I will be moving into the unknown as much as my protagonist on their journey. I’ve been digesting this and doing my best to integrate my human response into the humanity that I’m trying to capture. It’s scary going into the unknown whether it’s a physical place or not.
To confirm my decision I’ve been re-reading the folklore that I’ve used as the bones for my story, I want to keep doing this at the beginning of each chapter to capture the same over all feel in all of the chapters.
Re-reading, thinking, being with the story to give it time to gestate; all of this has broken the rhythm that I established with writing chapter one. I miss being in the middle of writing, I want to be back in the thick of words that I need to get out because I know what’s happening next. When I tried to dive in and just get to writing though it was a frustrating exercise that left me confused. Taking the time to understand where I’m headed is essential for me to progress, I need the clarity. Learning to enjoy the respite is part of my creative process that I have to learn to embrace.
The groundwork has been established for chapter two, my protagonist is in forward motion and things are happening in my fictional world. It was difficult to get going and I did dither.
For the past week I’ve been shuffling through the chronology of my story in my head disagreeing with my decisions, disputing myself, and trying not to have reason-based conversations with myself out loud so I don’t appear cra cra… I was repeatedly cycling over points contemplating on how to best proceed with different scenarios in mind. I went back to the beginning in the end which helped me to reassess why I had made the choices about the narrative that I had long ago. This was all helpful, but gradually my process descended into a procrastination exercise.
Recognising this I came at it from a different angle and launched into research of the original folklore tale that I am using as the bones of the novel; this was very helpful. I was able to step out of my head and get off the merry-go-round of maybes that was plaguing my progress. I still have some more reading to do to solidify the direction that I’ve chosen to go in, but I was inspired to write before I could complete all of the reading that I’d assigned myself.
It felt so good to get back to writing.
Reading the research in parts is a more practical approach for me as it keeps the information fresh in my head. I find that when I do large amounts of research, I lose detail. To remedy this I keep notes in my chapter document to include certain points, I bullet point them below where I am writing and work them in as I progress. Over the years I have read lots about my chosen folklore tale so I’m familiar with most versions of it from different times and civilisations, but I’m less familiar with the version referenced in chapter two. New ground is being broken in terms of how I view my novel; for so long I thought that I knew what it would be but now I’m mixing it up and feeling good about it.
The decision that I made about my narrative and what will happen in chapter two requires a lot of new writing. The writing that I have done over the years towards my novel worked for a lot of chapter one’s content, and will for many subsequent chapters, but chapter two is all new. I’m excited to be writing fresh again, reworking past work into chapter one became tedious at times so it will be good to have a break from that approach for chapter two.
3000 words in two days, I think that I’m on a roll! My aim is for 5000 words per chapter, so in two days I’ve written over half of the first draft of chapter two.
I’ve been getting to know my protagonist as they begin their journey. The sketchy ideas I had in mind are gaining clarity with each word that I write. I focused on one key question – who are any of us without other people?
There’s only so far that any one person can go alone before limitations and lack of perception stand in their way. That’s the pivotal point that I’ve addressed in chapter two. My protagonist has gone into the world not knowing anyone, not knowing their way or their options. My protagonist is alone for the first time but all the while coming to terms with the fact that they always have been alone.
The main idea addressed throughout chapter two is trust; trust in others which denotes self-trust. Without the world at large and other people the exploration of trust would be a hard idea to demonstrate. The happenings in this chapter serve to provide some inner direction as well as outer direction within the world for my protagonist to carry forward as they discover the unknown.
Traditional stories are rich with archetypes that serve as markers on the journey through life, and with chapter two I’ve begun to work in the first of the archetypal characters from the folklore tale. Based on my recent research into the tale that is at the heart of my novel I have decided to write in this character. Getting to know this character has been enlightening in that a new perspective on my protagonist has been revealed to me. I’ve established depth that I had wanted to work in but hadn’t before perceived how to do that. Part of what is working for me here as that this character doesn’t have a lot to say and doesn’t do a whole lot, yet they make a big impression upon my protagonist by giving them a reason to trust. Writing this character has become about what they don’t say, what little they do say, and of course what they do; this new character serves to bring to light what my protagonist was previously unable to perceive from their sheltered existence.
Along with creating momentum for my process I’ve also gotten into a rhythm of saving and backing up which I was slipping at previously. Things are travelling along well at present, and ideally this will be the working model that I will take with me into the future. Of course I wouldn’t have arrived here without time to reflect on how to move forward so I’m mindful of the ebb and flow that makes up the creative process.
I finished the first draft of chapter two. It’s done, I sent it to my reader, it’s shorter than I intended at 3700 words or so but to write anymore would have been unnecessary. The story rolled on giving me the sensation of it writing itself which is an expression that I’ve heard but never experienced firsthand. Next, I want to dive into chapter three. Most of chapter three is clear in my head but I do need to tidy up some details with reading and research before I get lost in the words. Chapter three will introduce another new character, and like chapter two will also be fresh writing with nothing previously written towards it. Whether it flows as easily as chapter two remains to be seen, if it happens though I welcome the happy buzz that I’ve gotten from polishing off chapter two’s first draft.
Finishing chapter two so quickly has surprised me, but I have had more time to focus because I’ve had my internet off for most of the week. Every time that I used the internet in the past week, I intentionally turned it on then turned it off when I was done, and I’ve had more headspace and focus because of this.
The research that I’ve done this week required internet, also posting and reading latest posts of accounts that I follow on wordpress were internet sessions, along with emailing. That’s it though, no social media, no time guzzling youtube watching frenzies, and no rabbit holes of random information. The internet for the last week has been a tool for information and communication and nothing else. My imagination has become my entertainment. I’ve had breaks in my time too with old movies that I have on file, I’ve seen all of the films I have many times before which makes them the equivalent of a battered favourite childhood book. I’m bored of them very quickly and tend to only watch parts of those films. My only other distractions have been tending my small garden and walks in the park. Thinking through my story at times I’ve also inexplicably found myself cleaning my drains and sorting my sock drawer; mundane tasks help me when I have a mind full of thoughts. Life isn’t always this way for me, but I have less distractions from the outside world right now, the only distractions at hand come with scrolling online so I put a stop to it.
The result has been surprising. I don’t know if it’s realistic to give full credit to less internet being the biggest motivator, but it has certainly made a difference to me. I tend to spend a lot of time online looking for information of all sorts – I’m a self-confessed information junky for better or worse. In structure freedom can be found, this is a regular reminder that I give myself. It may not work for everyone but for me it certainly helps me to have limits to work freely within.
At almost 4000 I’ve finished the first draft of chapter three. I’m on fire and trying not to jinx myself with reality checks about if this is sustainable. The pattern of going back to the folklore tale when I reach the next ‘bit’, along with time to think through where I’m at and visualise the happenings is really working for me. Writing this chapter was enjoyable; I had fun and think that I managed to include a tongue-in-cheek sense of fun in the writing of it. Internet use has stayed at a minimum also. I’ve gotten so much written in the last few days.
For the rest of the week I will have to step back a bit from this pattern, I have work to do, people relying on me and life in general to attend to. Working the way I have been has taken me out of any constructive patterns in my everyday life but that seems to be the payoff that I need to make. When my protagonist gains some ground, I tend to lose some and vice versa.
Each chapter that I’m writing is a distinctive part of the prebiblical tale I’m using, each chapter is from different tales about the same character that I’m melding together as one narrative. The next incarnation of this character for chapter four I have written toward in the past. I’ll revisit my previous writing for this section to edit into new parts that I write. There’s some sections that I wrote years ago that I reread a few months ago and it still reads ok. I’ll use it and am looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.
With the momentum that I’ve gained in the last week one aspect that I really like is that I’m curious to see what I come up with. Yes, I have plans and notes and ideas but creativity, for me at least, is about the unknown. Discovering the unknown in my own project is a buzz. The gaps in my writing before, and the disjointed approach that I applied didn’t provide the opportunity for the flow of work that I’ve tapped into. Working in that way before meant that I didn’t continue into the unknown or conversely at times I only wrote in a deliberate way with detailed plans. Working as I have been, I do both interchangeably as needed to serve my story and it works really well. The one ingredient needed for this though is time; I need stretches of time to get lost in my work.
Years ago I read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, at the time it really resonated with me but now it does more so. I really get the time and space factor that is essential for work to be done now that I’ve made some real headway.
**Note to self – TAKE TIME TO WRITE!! – Don’t make time to write, it’s not the same…
It’s been slow going this week. Getting started has been a challenge for me with lots of distractions and an unclear vision in my mind of what’s next. I wrote 500 words to kick off chapter 4 and begin my protagonists’ journey through the chapter, but I’ve faltered there. This chapter is an introspective chapter for my protagonist, for me to capture this I need to have clear symbolism and connecting elements travelling through the undercurrent of my writing to bring it all together. What the chapter ‘needs’ though I really can’t determine until I get into the writing; I have to get writing. The clear vision that carried me through chapter three though isn’t available to me for this chapter; chapter three was more directly based on a folklore tale whereas with chapter four I’m using very little of that approach.
Chapter four only gives a nod to the folklore tale leaving me to navigate the tale and integrate my own writing in as I go. Along with this I’ve also written over 5000 words in previous writing bouts towards this section, so I’m reading and sifting and cataloguing in my mind what to do, where to put parts and how to proceed.
Sections that I have written for this chapter previously could be used in chapter seven which in some respects is the inverse of chapter four and the protagonists’ journey through it. Thinking about this takes my mind away from chapter four scattering my attention across the novel, its chapters, where I am at, where I’m heading, then again, I circle back in my mind to thinking – get writing! This all leaves me experiencing a state of confusion which my natural response to is avoidance, but I’m onto this fact and side-stepping avoidance as best I can because I have proved to myself so far that I respond well to time to think in a deliberate way about how to next proceed. With this in mind when I feel the fuzzy edges of confusion creeping in, I make a list of tasks – my current list is:
- Read previously written work for chapter four and seven
- Add new writing to prewritten work in chapter four
- Research deserts
- Research Camels
- Write without stopping for at least one hour today
- Write without stopping for at least one hour tomorrow
Having a clear vision of where I’m going is essential to me, without it a sense of hopelessness overwhelms and I’m lost to indecisiveness.
I’m reminding myself that I have already had periods where I don’t write, I regroup and then there’s an outpouring of words when my vision is clear. Processing time is important, I need to take the time to think it all through and then the words catch up on the page when I dive back into the flow.
Through chapter four my protagonist is finding their way into the unknown, and again as with previous chapters, the irony of me being in the same headspace isn’t lost on me.
A checklist has helped me to keep on track so far and I’ve written another 500 words for chapter four. When I got going it flowed but the going’s slow working through sections of story to integrate past writing with new. In this chapter I want to capture a new world and show my protagonist’s ability to change and grow with the world around them. To show how they roll with the punches and survive in the unknown without a helping hand; this chapter serves as a coming-of-age period in some respects.
Writing over the past few days with no clear vision in mind about what exactly I would write started to be a chore and I became intimidated by the idea of writing. It shouldn’t have been though. I overcame this by breaking the work into sections to write about in turn which made writing manageable for me. Navigating to this point has established a clear working model for me to write my novel. The next few chapters will benefit from the knowledge that I’ve gained so far with writing this WIP. The current chapter covers time progressively in a more precise way than preceding chapters, and chapters five and six introduce more characters. To continue working consistently through the different points of focus within these chapters I’ll have to keep breaking down the story into manageable parts while giving myself time to reflect, research, and then write.
Thinking through multiple sections at once, or projecting forward to where I’m going, is too much when it’s not clear in my mind. This has become a problem for me lately; I’ve struggled and avoided and puzzled over what and how which has taken my focus away from creativity to how to best manage myself. The progress that I’ve made has become about more than just writing a novel, I’ve made some real inroads in addressing how I approach and deal with challenges. This isn’t all new to me, I’ve faced challenges before and completed many tasks, but I’ve never completed anything that is my own project without a client or a class to teach or a cast to direct or a qualification to complete. In the past I’ve always had some sort of requirement to facilitate for others, which I do like doing and this may be why it’s never been an issue.
So back to lists which work so well for me that I’ll continue to make a simple list as I need to for structuring and navigating the task. To complete projects in the past I used lists as a response to time management rather than for structuring and motivation.
To do list:
- Read previously written work for chapter four
- Add new writing to prewritten work in chapter four
- Research folklore tale details
- Write without stopping for at least one hour today
- Write without stopping for at least one hour tomorrow
Writing about landscapes… how they change, what’s different about them, what’s the same about them, how they connect and morph from one to the other. What lives there, how does life survive, how much imagery is needed to reveal the place, what details create a vista for the reader… there is a few considerations. There’s so much to consider when writing about places yet there seems to be so few words to describe these same, but different elements now that I’m getting into it. Traversing different landscapes with a feel for how they connect to one another takes a lot of focus. It’s left me contemplating what makes a place.
Chapter four takes my protagonist through a changing landscape into a harsh one and then onto a new land that is unknown. These places serve a purpose symbolically relating to the folklore tale as well as being the places where the story happens. In writing about them I want to capture what each place means as well as what each place is, which is tricky at times. The challenge is to not overwrite things for the sake of writing in what I want to convey thematically along with what is happening. As a solution I’ll write less and let some of the underlying points of story that I hoped to touch on slip by lightly with little emphasis on them. Making a point of every little thing will come across as heavy-handed if the reasoning is not clear to the reader; it may even come across as just plain confusing.
To move forward I’ll tread lightly through the story that underlies and place attention on what’s happening. I want the focus on actions to lead the reader through the story with the subtext providing a subtle richness that isn’t essential to understand the journey of the protagonist. Much like life really, we comprehend so much without ever fully understanding everything.
Another 1000 words have gotten me to this point in chapter four but at 1500 words in total this chapter I still have a way to go before I’m into the rhythm of it. Making the decision to let the storytelling elements that speak to the subconscious fall into the background where they belong has been an aha moment for me. I don’t have to craft things to the point where they are forced, I can let the words and action within the narrative have some breathing space. With this thought in mind writing many places has felt easier. It’s as if by giving myself space to work within, without so many elements intentionally worked in, I’ve also created space to stop and look around at the places that I’m creating in the story.
The narrative in the part of chapter four that I’m writing is sparse. The section is based on a folklore tale that has lots of sketchy detail and imagery that is far from reality. How much weight in reality my novel has is something that I have struggled with in the past. It has previously tripped me up and stopped me from getting into writing. What is reality anyway? How “real” does a story need to be? Is truth stranger than fiction? In reality people believe in ghosts, some cultures honour their ancestors as if they still live, and people build their beliefs and values on things that they cannot see, touch or experience. When is something far-fetched? Does it matter? Can I write questions forever without ever answering any of them? All these questions and more plagued me for a long time but then I came to accept that none of the questions have to matter.
The world is made up of individuals who have unique experiences and are able to identify with others based on the shared experience of the human condition. That is my understanding and logic of what reality is, and based on it I no longer struggled over the idea of reality within the context of my novel and writing my novel began. I need to be clear about what I’m writing and not lost in the peripheral variables of the unknown.
With all of this in mind I decided to skirt along the edge of reality making things questionable with the use of language and imagery. Just like life it may be hard to determine at times what is real or what is a vision. There are points where reality shifts through personal realisations and the world looks different. Characters will grow and change and transform in ways they could not foresee. People will face challenges that provoke a response in them that they would not otherwise have had causing transformation in both inner and outer worlds.
So I’m still chugging through chapter four making progress but not at the speed I want. There’s been demands on my time and distractions taking my focus away from my novel, but I am still writing regularly. That’s my resolve; even if I don’t have the blocks of time that I want to apply to writing I will still write with regularity, and I am doing this. I’ve added another 200 words which is not as many a I’d like but they read well for first draft work. The last few days I have been off track from my list so I’m back onto it with at least an hour writing each day at the top of my list. Research is up to date with this section so the writing of it is what needs to be done. Time for me to get real and get writing.
A new character is about to be introduced into the story. This character is one that I have been musing over for a long time. I feel like I know them, and I don’t like this character very much. Approaching this section feels like preparing to go and spend time with people that I don’t particularly like, part of me has switched off to prepare for the experience. I’m trying not to have a fixed mindset and to be open-minded, to let go of pre-conceived notions; it’s difficult. My response is emotional, it’s deep-seated and I just have to get over it and shake it off.
As much as I can I want to write whole characters that have depth. My characters don’t always have a lot of time on the page so capturing an authenticity of character when they are introduced into the story is important. People and characters don’t have to be likeable to be of value and being hard to like does not make someone a bad person. I’ll press through to let my character be who and what they will using the world around me to observe and hopefully learn from watching without expectation or judgement.
Knowing that this character is on the horizon is perhaps one reason that I’ve dragged my feet through chapter four. The more ground that I cover, the closer I am to writing this part. One thing that chronicling my creative process here has taught me though is that the angst is worse that the practise. Avoidance is based in uncertainty and I can’t be certain until I just do it. (…get over it, shake it off, just do it – I’m on fire with the catch phrases and slogans tonight…)
Writing through chapter four has progressed more. I have written another section making my way to the halfway point. The story points that I wanted to address to get to where I am in chapter four had been larger in my mind. I thought that they would take up more space on the page and in the story. The ideas that I had about this have baulked me at times when I sit and stare at the page wondering what to add, thinking to myself that surely there must be more. Then I snap out of it realising that the story is what is important not the word count, and that I’m working on a work in progress. That’s key for me to acknowledge, it’s in progress, things change, it needs room to grow, and I should proceed into the unknown to make it known.
Preconceived notions cause feet dragging. With that piece of knowledge kicking around in the front of my mind I’m going to spend the next day relaxing into a state of aware open-mindedness. I don’t know anything, I need to observe, I will allow the unexpected to occur. That’s where I want my head to be as I proceed so that I can write as much or as little as I need and also let a new character grow beyond my narrow-minded view.
I dropped the ball there for a few days but not for lack of trying to keep it in play. No excuses, just the facts, I’ve been busy with other things. Time for writing has become sparse, it is not non-existent though. I have written, I’ve crossed the halfway mark in chapter four nearing 3000 words. The pressure of less time made my last sitting to write seem easier than the ones before. In the meantime my challenges writing this chapter have been playing on my mind causing me to have a wee epiphany. I kept cycling over in my mind where I was up to and what I had written and kept thinking that I had missed something. Then it came to me. Motivation, my protagonist’s drive that is beyond words. The unspoken subtext, thoughts, comparisons, and the self-referencing that all of us experience, that forces our hand in life. Why does anybody do anything? Because they can is a likely answer but there are many other unfathomable reasons as to why choices are made. Personal, subconscious and determined by an individual’s origins.
With this in mind I went back over what I had written in chapter four to date and added symbolism, imagery and small happenings that addressed ‘the why’ or motivation in an indirect way. The subtext is as important as the text.
I didn’t add big sections or seek to make the profound out of the simple. I wanted to weave an extra thread through the fabric of the story to bring it all together as a whole piece. My intention was to stick with the ‘less is more’ ethos but it did need a little more.
A new character has been introduced to the story and the protagonist which is a turning point that foreshadows what is to come. Writing that I had done previously on this moment of meeting has worked in nicely with what I have newly written in. Leading up to this new character has taken the protagonist, along with my imagination, into a new realm of the story. The gears are shifting in my creative process.
The next few chapters have large sections already written that I will pull apart to re-edit in with new work. This is playing on my mind as a distraction; anticipating what is to come detracts from where I am at. Knowing this is helpful to acknowledge when I am distracted jumping ahead with ideas and maybes instead of being focused.
So back to keeping the ball in play. I’ve got to keep my mind on the ball and my eye on the game, or something like that.
It reads well, I made the transition that I wanted to in the narrative taking my protagonist on a journey of physical struggle that confirms their mental resolve to keep going in the direction that they chose. Chapter four took the protagonist on a journey through the world where they travelled alone creating a parallel inward journey.
Other characters need to be introduced now. Chapter four had the introduction of one new character, but it was a meeting of few words. Chapter five will have the introduction of some major players in the narrative moving forward into the story, so chapter four was just a warmup exercise of what chapter five will present as challenges.
The protagonist begins chapter five full of hope, ready to embrace change and harbouring a naivete that is a left over from their past. For the protagonist chapter five is meant to be the happily ever after chapter where they can settle into life, but life has other plans.
The characters that the protagonist comes to know in chapter five challenge their way of thinking and perspective, and conversely the protagonist challenges those that they meet. All these differences are marks of each individual’s character causing all concerned to dig their heels in. A lot will unfold, important things will happen, but I want to write it as matter-o-fact. Big things happen in life for all of us and a lot of the time it’s not until later that we realise the significance of happenings in our lives. That’s what chapter five is about, big decisions, big reactions, big moves. Responses and reactions in life tell us about who we are and shows us who those around us are. Important events can lift a veil that we didn’t know was there and this is the underlying driver in chapter five.
Some of the big events may spill over into chapter six, the writing of this chapter will reveal if I need to spread out the narrative to cover more ground; I certainly don’t want to cram things into one chapter for convenience. The story needs room to breathe and unfold.
The next few chapters I have written parts of in the past and I will work these pieces of writing in with new work as I go. Working in this way is slow at times as I stop and start to accommodate what I want to include along with what I newly create. It’s helpful for me to keep this in mind as the slow progress can be hard to push through at times but I have found the results, being how much work I get done, worth it.
My role has changed from writer to editor with over 16000 words written towards the chapter that I’m working on. With a 5000 word wordcount being my goal for each chapter I have quite a bit of work to do. This large word count of 16000 words has been accumulated over the past 10 plus years, it is not in order, is not all in the same mood or tone, or even following exactly the same narrative. I expect to throw away a lot of sections, some I may use in the preceding or following chapters. Sifting through this collection of pieces that make up the chapter content to date has been a big task.
Reading through my past writing I have read sections I’d forgotten that I’d written, which has been a nice surprise at times. The volume of words read together capture my changing attitude towards, and hopes for, the novel over the years that I have been writing it.
Having such a variety of pieces all on the same part provides me with different perspectives that I hope to work together to create depth in the narrative at this point of the story – In writing so much I’ve given myself choices, which I hadn’t planned on doing. There has been a complete turn around on the protagonist’s attitude in some parts, and relationships between the characters have varied greatly over time. My plan of attack is to take the best of it all and make it one piece.
I’ve read through what I have then stepped back to digest it, then read it again. Slowly I am gaining an image of the happenings that I can edit these pieces into being, with new writing too of course. With so much writing to work with I plan to continue to read and reread it while gradually editing it into a whole.
The fact that I had written so many words seemed like such a big plus when I first realised but since I have begun working through the work, I am frustrated that I don’t have a clearer picture in mind. Having so many words it seems logical that I would be familiar with this section and ready to bang it out without too much effort. The more that I work through the words though the more I realise that I kept writing and rewriting to address my lack of clarity.
Slow and steady is the winning pace! I have a rough sketch of a first draft of my novel with nine chapters in mind so with this being chapter five I’m almost past the halfway mark. I will work through this chapter making it work as a first draft as best I can, then it should be down hill to the end from there.
Chapter five, first draft has had me muddling through and scratching my head so far. This chapter includes events that cause my protagonist to step into the unknown with no direction in mind. Previously the risks that they took were aimed at an outcome but within chapter five things do not work out, direction is lost, and rational thinking gives way to emotion. How this plays out is what I have to decide. When rationality is lost that does not necessarily mean that someone is irrational, when emotions drive a decision that does not mean that the decision is illogical. Tempering reason and emotion into human expression is the tricky part here. The turning of events that this chapter culminates in effects a few of the characters including the protagonist so I have a situation to realise that involves diverse motivations.
I am undecided as yet about how exactly this chapter will read. I’m tempted to capture a ‘what just happened there?’ feel as can happen to any of us when swept up in emotional situations. I’ve been musing on making it a something-for-everyone section where the weight of circumstances is spread evenly amongst the characters so all ‘sides’ can be experienced. Also, I’ve been mixing and matching what I have written over time in the past trying to determine where the strength of the writing lies then to edit the story into being accordingly.
3000 words have been culled so far and the narrative organised from the overlapping writings from the past. There is still just under 13000 in the file that is chapter five, draft one so far meaning that another 8000 plus words need to be dispensed with to make the chapter a manageable 5000 words. Getting rid of sections of writing has taken time as I have shifted them about in the file copying and pasting to see how they read in part in different positions within the story. Some have been repetitive so to select and delete was the obvious answer, others captured a feel very different from the majority of the words that I intend to keep. Click and drag to select then delete, save to update and move on; that’s the rhythm that set in as I have puzzled my way through the bulk of writing coming and going from the work in an effort to keep a fresh perspective. With less words I have a clearer view of what I’m working with, but I still am struggling with the feel and details of the chapter. There’s enough to work with to select a focal point, I have enough to chop and change and skew things to present the story in different ways.
The whittling down of words feels like writing in reverse, to bring it all together I think that I’ll have to get the word count down to 4000 words at most then write new words to solidify the chapter as one piece.
The jumble of words that I had written over the past few years had confused me enough to need a timeout. Time to reflect, time to reassess, time to understand what I was trying to achieve with the parts of chapter five that I had written with large gaps in between each writing session. The gaps in time are very obvious with a different feel to each piece. How to best use what I had and decipher something coherent was very challenging and I didn’t know how to get started.
Then I had an epiphany. I went to one of my storytelling happy places, a place beyond words, beyond characters, beyond setting and out of structure. A place that I enthusiastically discuss with any who will geek out with me about a book read or film watched, or even a painting. Symbolism! Words are secondary to what we can convey without them. It took me a while to shake off the cycling over of ideas and words that I had written down to go beyond to what it’s all about.
I’ve embraced the polarities of light and dark to ease into chapter five and it has worked, I’ve managed to let go of my angst over details and settle into the bigger picture. The symbolism that I am exploring and including is more than just light and dark, but I need to keep it simple to work through the dizzying cloud of words that have clogged up my vision. The other symbolic elements that I want to work in will come as I write through the highlights and shadows.
I came to the realisation of what I needed to do when I couldn’t sleep, I have a habit of thinking through my story when I can’t sleep to stop the monkey mind from keeping me awake. Lately I’d avoided this practise because I felt defeated by all the words and neglected the fact that for me thinking about it as a sleepy preoccupation leaves no room for words. A bit of a downside though is that I can’t sleep when I get in the flow of the story and so sit up into the night tapping away at my computer feeling tired but also satisfied. At the same time because I am tired I can only work for so long before I have to stop which gives me time and space to reflect before I write again. At times when I write wide awake and clear-headed, I write for so long that I feel detached from the process and resentful of it, when I have shorter sessions I have better momentum.
I’ve made a dent in the first draft of chapter five and although I have only just begun to write it but I have covered a lot more ground with the 1000 or so words that I’ve kept than I have in the past couple of weeks.
I’ve waded through the soggy marshland of pretty words from times past to copy, paste and delete another 1000 or so. The word count is nearing 3000 words that are keepers for the first draft of chapter five with the backlog that I’m squelching through whittled down to 12500 words. At times I’m overwhelmed by the excess that I’ve written over the years and the task that this has created in the present. Words have bogged me down and I’m swamped, but enough with that metaphor…
As I work through the characters are transforming from who I thought they were with revealing glimpses at who they may become as the story unfolds. I’ve found heartache and hidden motivations; I’ve stumbled into broken dreams and disillusions; it’s been very revealing. The words that I’d originally crafted into fragments of narrative came together to reveal a different story that has left me curious about my characters. They are a fragile bunch who are all wrapped up in their own perceptions, wanting to be heard, wanting to be loved, wanting to be happy.
Even though the setting touches on fantasy I can’t make it so fantastical that they can all have their needs met so heartache will prevail for most, perhaps for all – if so, that will almost make it a biography.
The largest parts that I have been cutting are bravado, that is the writing about the character’s public faces and acts towards others. Removing the outside perspective is bringing me closer to my characters where I can better observe them. The parts that I’ve kept show the soft underbelly of the characters, who they are and how they came to be the way that they are. Motivation is key after all, well for me anyway, I need to understand why people do the things that they do to best capture the small things that mean so much.
My intention of writing this story was to show one person’s story but I find that I cannot write about one person without including the stories of all involved. To write it any other way would to be to surround my protagonist with two dimensional characters who would ultimately belittle the protagonist’s struggle; all people struggle in life.
Previously I had worried about creating the right setting and authentically capturing the landscape but increasingly I’m coming to realise that the story itself is the landscape and that the characters create the setting.
At just under 5000 words I’ve finished my first draft of chapter five. It was a doozy. It had me nearly whipped a few times, but I nailed it, I’m done, it’s in the can. For now anyway. Chapter five is my problem child, or chapter as the case may be. It will need more attention than the other chapters I’ve finished the first draft for so far. Chapter five raises the stakes for my protagonist, it takes the narrative in a new direction, and for the first time in the story a direction with no destination in mind for the protagonist. That makes chapter five more than a turning point but a marker for development of person and tale being told. This chapter holds story elements that many will be familiar with so I want to honour what the many and varied may identify with within it while also taking the ideals within and discarding them in favour of simple storytelling about a person trying to find their place in the world.
The original story that I have based this chapter on is an epic tale but I’ve reassigned the big happenings to a short time span giving it what I hope is a whimsical and fantastical feel. I’ll have to see how it reads when done in full and until then keep pushing forward.
Along with chapter five needing future attention chapter one will also need to be reworked. I don’t plan to change a lot but will revisit it when done with a view to honouring who the protagonist becomes with further insights to where they came from. When writing chapter one I was aware that I was beginning a story about a character that I didn’t understand fully and cannot until I am done writing the whole novel, for this reason I’m expecting to add, change or edit out some of the first draft of chapter one. I have to push through to the end to complete chapter one last.
Next is chapter six with the protagonist out in the world again forging through life and circumstance. I have some writing toward chapter six that I have written over the years but it’s sketchy at best with an indefinite storyline. I’ll have to do some thinking on the working parts to select the best narrative devices to drive the story into the next part. Chapter six is a pathway into the beyond for my protagonist, I’ll do my best create a gateway to a new world that will do the story justice.
For chapter six I’ve written just over 800 words that I’m really happy with. It only took about an hour or so of writing to get them out and get them down, but it took nearly two weeks of thinking about it before that. Also, before I began to write I added to notes for the chapter development, revisited the chapter notes to the previous chapter and began a new file to charter the theme, imagery, and character development of the protagonist throughout all chapters. All that along with the angst that accompanies bouts of not writing, the guilt that underpins it and the self-involved dramatization of sense of purpose. My mind has been busy even if my hands haven’t been busy banging out the words on my keyboard.
Introspection has been a necessary evil to keep my headspace aligned with the protagonist as they too have been traversing their sense of self and coming to terms with their progress through life. My navel-gazing then has been of value in this respect. At the top of my list for honouring my process and progress is to mindfully observe myself, where I’m at and how I can integrate my human experience best into my creative experience.
With all of that in mind I sat myself down today and wrote. My approach was ‘don’t leave the room’ aka Limitless style. I found it hard to get started which is why I wrote notes. I’d been thinking about the notes I added for the past couple of weeks, so it was good to get them down and make space in my head for other words and ideas. Once I had the notes in order I had a clear picture in mind of where I am up too in the story and wanted to get writing.
I wrote about 300 words and stared disappointedly at the word count as I was certain that was all that I had in me. One good thing about that thought though is that I am often wrong so it became easy to ignore. I read over my 300 words and added more that needed to be there. The word count grew with the image of the scene in my mind, each word I wrote contributed to the clarity of my vision as the scene came into focus. The other side of the 300 words flowed out of me as I more than doubled the wordcount to write the opening of the first draft of chapter six.
I’m inching my way through chapter six’s first draft with a lot of new writing. I have over 6000 words written for this chapter already from past writing workshops and prompts but I’m not feeling this chapter the same way as when I wrote in the past. The bones of the story haven’t changed, I’ve added a character to create some depth to the action and I’m messing with the sequence of events a bit from what I originally planned. The way that it’s coming along I think that I will be able to integrate some of what I think needs to be added to chapter five. I’ve put chapter five on the back burner, but it keeps coming to mind with thoughts about if I should expand it to be two chapters making it chapters five and six and taking my proposed chapter total to ten chapters rather than the original nine chapters. These thoughts about chapter five haven’t stood in the way of me progressing they have actually enhanced the writing of chapter six with more consideration about theme and imagery and prompted me to write notes for previous chapters to work in when I go back to do second drafts.
The further into the story I get the more I realise what I couldn’t have known when I was starting out. The saying ‘a story writes itself’ is making more and more sense to me as I progress.
I’ve written another 1000 words for chapter six in the past week. I would prefer to have finished the chapter, but it is what it is and this chapter seems to require more reflection as I tip toe into the writing of it. When the words weren’t flowing onto the page, I resorted to writing a list of story points for the chapter to get the events that I wanted to happen solid in my mind. Rather than staring at a blank page, or the blank part of the page, I now have a narrative ’to-do’ list that stares back at me. The list has really helped as this chapter has my protagonist moving from one location to another in a way that isn’t planned so it felt disjointed in my mind and I kept getting lost as to where I was up to. The list in this case has provided a reference point rather than having to repeatedly wrap my mind around where I’m at.
I expect that for the rest of the chapter I’ll use some past writing of the 6000 words or so I’ve previously written along with some new work which will make up the end of chapter six. I also suspect though that I will have enough space in my wordcount before it caps at 5000 words to go back to the start of the chapter and write in some of what was unwritten in chapter five. This might work, it might not, I’ll have to see.
Chapter six is coming along nicely with the story shedding the extra story points that don’t serve it. When planning the chapters I had added points that I thought needed to be there to make sense of the world that I’m creating but in the writing of it they are overkill. I did the planning before I wrote my protagonist into the story and before I began writing regularly. The bits and pieces that I wrote before only glimpsed at who my protagonist has revealed themself to be. With this the story has become a bit player rather than the star, the story is settling in with the rest of the piece as I progress.
While writing chapter six I kept dwelling on chapter five. It was really bugging me because I knew that I hadn’t included at least two crucial parts of the story that will be relevant in later chapters, and to the climax of the novel. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why these two unwritten parts are important and how to best use them. Listening to music has helped, especially music with lyrics because it speaks to what’s on my mind and inspires my thinking with a fresh perspective. So, with a new take on my self-made story development dilemma, I had a few aha moments that have helped to shape how I will integrate these two parts of chapter five. I want to have fun with them, so I’ll double back after the first draft of chapter six is completed to clean up chapter five with additions. Also, it made sense to move the end of chapter five and make it the beginning of chapter six; it reads better.
Writing regularly has fallen by the wayside in my routine over the past couple of months. I’m not happy about this. The problem is that I’m juggling so many things and it’s easier to not write at times because I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff that I have to do. I’m not complaining, just being real. To address this, I spent time making a six day breakdown of all the stuff that I have and want to do. The days are numbered, I haven’t assigned particular days at this point. I’ve grouped tasks together so that my brain doesn’t feel stretched trying to process all the things that I’ve scheduled myself, now I only have to process one day at a time.
Writing chapter six first draft feels like baby steps as I inch through the storyline toward the chapter completion. Each baby step is monumental though, each step is a new action, another happening, a story point that pushes the action forward. I have written parts for this chapter in the past, but they are rough sketches of the action that I’m fleshing out as I go by combining what I have already written with new writing.
The slow pace feels tedious but at the same time writing in the new parts is fun. Characters are unfolding in ways that I hadn’t planned with the birth of new personalities in the midst of the narrative. Along with the characters and the action the protagonist is also changing and growing through points of reflection. To integrate this I’ve covered ground in the story having the protagonist journey through the landscape as they journey into themselves. The writing of these parts took some time with the combining of these two events into one.
As I develop the novel moving through each chapter in turn, I’m finding that I have a clearer picture of not just who and where but when I’m writing about. The time period is coming to life in my mind and I hope also on the page. In writing about a past time my aim isn’t to be accurate but more so representative. My focus is on fiction and story, not historical accuracy, also the period that I’m writing about is ancient history so the information available is often sketchy or absent.
There are some things that I can’t plan, to plan to that extent would make the work feel contrived with no space for things to evolve as they should. With this in mind I’ve resigned myself to the slow pace of chapter six for now. The bottom line is that I’m getting a lot done with new nuances to the story and characters coming from the inconsistent pace.
With past chapters I’ve had some seemingly channelled through the keyboard with record speed, or others that were slow in the writing through and through. This chapter has been different in that I have a very stop-start, sit and think, rewrite, tidy, then do it all again kind of flow going – if that can be called a flow.
The stop and start feel to the whole exercise is difficult to navigate. I keep finding a reason to start later rather than sooner, then stop. Distractions stop me. Really unimportant distractions like: I need a snack, I’ll just check my email, the rubbish needs taking out, I’ll watch that video for research, make a phone call, do the dishes, the list goes on. It’s like herding cats when you are both the cat herder and the cat.
My Pollyanna gene is failing to have an affect on the rest of my physiology. Usually it over-rides or at least ambushes any Cassandra-esque tendencies, but not this week. I have fallen off the writing wagon with a spectacular crash. There’s been bumps and dips in the road caused by outside forces. The biggest roadblock has been technology – my computer keeps freezing and I lose the flow, then I get side-tracked searching for a solution that eats up my writing time. MS word has become obsolete demanding payment, which was bound to happen, but before I fully grasped this I tried to make it all work. Poor Billy G must need some extra change to pay for his divorce, I’m sure he can sort it out without my funds. Thankfully I’ve come to realise that Libre office is a writer’s best friend.
I’ve also had hard drive issues and internet connection problems and I’m sure that I’m not the only one to have these hiccups and the twitching eye that comes along with it all. None of these issues are life threatening or earth shattering but they have relentlessly and repeatedly followed on from one another seemingly working together with tag team precision. It’s been frustrating to say the least.
The past week or so has taught me a lot at the expense of my writing time including how to better recognise time wasting for the sake of an outcome that’s just not going to happen, and that hissing at the computer doesn’t make it work but does make me feel a little better.
Yes I know that I can walk away from the computer and write in a notebook, and I did, but I still have to type it up eventually. Even with this as a solution personally I prefer the cut and paste on the fly technique that’s available to me when using a computer for writing.
One good thing (hello, perhaps my Pollyanna gene is in tact), I thought for nearly a week that I was up to chapter five when I am up to chapter six and over half way done with writing it.
All the stops and starts and unfulfilled writing scheduling has left me very keen to get into it and claim my writing time back. I want to sit and write and only think about my writing and get lost in the world of my imagination. I’m used to distractions being of my own making so it has been a rude shock to have them come from elsewhere and a valuable lesson in wasting precious time when I could be writing.
Back on track and into it with a good rhythm and pace – I have finished chapter six. In chapter six I had planned to fit more of my plot in than I managed to so I may write an extra chapter into my original nine chapter plan. With the additions to chapter five along with the extra not in chapter six it might add up to two more chapters making eleven in total. The finer details of this are not important as I press on to finish. Part of the new progress that I have made is letting go of what I think should be happening and when according to what I had planned. My approach to the story has relaxed now as I am writing more and more into unknown territory. Acknowledging this helps with progress, I’m not as concerned about getting this or that part ‘right’ or ‘correct’ according to some plan that I thought that I needed to get work done.
It’s all been stripped back to get it out and get it done. Working in this way I’ve begun to make notes in my writing by highlighting sections to revisit and expand. Also I’ve put points at the beginning of the chapter files to refer to regarding themes, imagery and any other parts to remember.
How the story unfolds and ends is a mystery to me because I haven’t written it yet. With this in mind I want to get the action down and tidy up, polish and rewrite or expand where needed when I have a completed body of work.
Next is chapter seven. Another new character is introduced within this chapter that is pivotal to the protagonists development along with a new scenario that the protagonist has never encountered before. Finally in chapter the protagonist can stop running away from problems, take stock, look at how others live their lives and make choices about who and what they want to be. There will be challenges and adventures of a new kind with the discovery of personal power being the driving theme for this section. What decisions are your own? Why do you think certain things and in certain ways? How does another person’s way of being fit when we try it on for size? These are some of the questions that I want to toy with as subtext, I’ll see how I go.
The character that I have introduced into the story in chapter seven is like none my protagonist has ever met before. This character is legendary, mysterious, formidable; they leave an impression on all who they meet. Few have ever met this character in the land that I am writing, but they have heard of, or know stories about their exploits in the world. For these reasons and more I need to write the character into the story beyond simply being relative to the narrative playing out for the protagonist. This character deserves to be more than a reference point to carry the weight of who they are beyond the chapter and into the time when the story is alive.
Over the years I have written background scenarios and some origin stories about the players in the tale that I am telling, I’d considered using these before but poo pooed the idea. That idea has been reignited with this new perspective that is emerging with the body of work and the development of my creative process along with it.
Once I realised this addition was beneficial to the story as a whole I began to reflect on all of the back story writing that I have done on the other main players that transit the protagonist through the major story points, and how I have included some of who they are in the chapters that I have written.
The mark that these interactions make on the protagonist are significant. They are more than background players that are happen-chanced upon, they are the story as much as the setting making their mark on the protagonist enough to influence in the moment and into the protagonist’s future. Without these characters the protagonist would have no emotional or spiritual landscape to navigate – we all need people to know who we are, personal evolution doesn’t happen by staring into a mirror.
With this in mind I came to realise that knowing these characters beyond their experiences with the protagonist creates a richer world and more complete story. It will work better to edit in these characters before or as they appear in the tale with some of each chapter dedicated to them. When writing this in I want to make the format rhythmic with regular intervals of introducing the next influential player as the chapters and narrative unfold.
This feels like a good decision. The right decision for a cohesive tale of players that shape the world and life of the protagonist and many others who live in the world that I am writing.
Chapter seven is 4000 plus words done of the 5000 words I’ve planned to write, so the finish line is in sight. This chapter has always been a rough sketch in my mind that lacked the narrative articulation of some previous parts that I’ve worked through. Up until this chapter the protagonist has been experiencing gradual growth and development within themselves, and has been unaware of the fundamental change that this causes within them. Chapter seven is the character becoming aware of the change that is happening and recognising that they can make choices to participate in this change. I’m trying to capture the realisation that I expect everyone goes through at some point when they understand that something big is happening within them that they can’t explain or reference but only observe as a point of change.
I have found this difficult to write; when I tried to push through by writing more and more I became frustrated so I stepped back from the keyboard and took a lot of long walks where time and space allowed me to think through what the actual point of this chapter is. This chapter has caused me to stop and take stock of where I’m at and where I’m heading story-wise. The long walks have served their purpose by providing perspective. I walk and observe the world around me, myself within it, nature, the ‘vibe’ and step back from my thoughts to make room for what is beyond thought. I’ve managed to get out of my head by literally walking away from overthinking. This has facilitated descriptive writing that I have used to ‘set the scene’, provided real-time perspectives on people to consider when writing character, and been helpful for processing the world through new eyes which I require of my protagonist to demonstrate transformation.
The protagonist has reached a point in the story where other people’s influence has fallen away as it never had before, leaving space in their mind beyond reacting and responding. They are able to be alone with themselves without being inundated by thoughts that are triggers instigated by others, to be alone with themselves, to connect with their potential and realise that they can exist without outside influence. I have come to understand that this chapter is not about testing boundaries as previous chapters have been in different ways, but about discovering boundaries set by and for the self.
I keep pushing to the front of my mind that I am writing the first draft so can refine, refine, improve and polish when the time comes, but I really want to lay a solid foundation for profound yet potentially elusive personal evolution of character in a realistic way. It’s part of the human experience, we all have our aha moments, many that happen without us identifying them until later in life. It can be a little voice, a shift in our way of being, ‘growing-up’, or a change that comes about because some old structure falls away leaving room for a self deep within who’d had no space for growth. Either way, in the present moment or in reflection we observe ourselves and that is what I’m attempting to write without it being a big moment that feels forced.
My original outline of chapters was nine in total, I now expect to write eleven at least, perhaps more. The extra breathing space that I was looking for in the process of writing and the clearer vision of the story that I’m telling, I have found in doing the work. More time and focus would be even better but hey, I’m just learning when it comes to writing a book.
Chapter eight is coming into view along with strengthening themes. With the conclusion of the novel coming into sight the story ground that has been covered is marked with the imprints of themes that have emerged in the wake of the protagonist’s movement throughout. Factoring in the themes that over arc the narrative was one of the considerations that I circled over in my mind for years. I wanted to figure out how to do justice to the themes and how to capture these ideas with imagery; when sitting down to write I’d get hung up on an idealised version of the outcome. Working through each chapter in turn, as I have for this first draft, has taken away the frozen moments where I sat awaiting the perfect words that would serve the story on every level from telling to showing and beyond.
The closer I get to the end the more I think about the earlier chapters. I want to revisit them and bring them into line with the story that my novel has become. Even with this though I still don’t have a clear vision of how it will end, or even the lead up to the end. The bones of the story are there but the details will be revealed to me when I write them.
For most of the story the protagonist has travelled into the unknown with little direction and few people met along the way. The last chapters veer from this course driven by a new found certainty that the protagonist has connected with. The journey through the pages has no extra information on the path that should be followed but the experiences from preceding chapters have brought to light things previously hidden as choices available. There is still a way to go but I am coming full circle in my thinking about the narrative and again wanting to make it funny, make it fun, make it real. The story type is the hero’s journey formula which brings together the beginning and end as it circles back on itself; at the beginning I wondered how I could add humour. At the beginning the story was about someone who knew themself and their world, or thought that they did; nearing the end they have begun to recognise themself again. The humour that I want to use is to capture the sense of fun that comes with knowing who you are and laughing because something is funny even when no-one else thinks so.
I had some sad moments writing the part that I’m working through when I wrote about the protagonist being in a busy marketplace with a diverse crowd where there is the buzz of humanity all around going about their lives while standing shoulder to shoulder. I miss crowds. To get the feel of it I really had to stretch my mind back to think of different experiences I’ve had in life where there has been a large, busy crowd caught up in the everydayness of life with everyday worries.
The crowd served as an essential element, a character made up of endless characters if you like, that provided contrast and a point of comparison between the masses and the individual.
The story has had many twists and turns but with the new chapter that I’ve written 1000 words towards so far the protagonist is off in a new direction altogether. A sense of self and realisations from a different perspective have allowed for a new course of action and a literal new course through the world by navigating in unexplored territory.
This section is a turning point in the story where the finer details are unclear as yet so I am focusing on the happenings as they happen by writing through the bigger, more obvious elements. With the end of a first draft novel in sight I am becoming blasé about writing the detail and more concerned with churning out the content. It’s a shift in gears for my approach to the process that I’ve been developing since the beginning of the year. At first I began struggling to get beyond perfecting a point, a scene or an idea then moved beyond that to writing through with the narrative playing out and have progressed to laying down the bones. I’m still writing as much as I was when I sit down and do the work but my mindset has certainly changed.
There’s still chapters – plural – to write before I can claim to have completed a first draft novel but with the end so near I feel like I’m running down hill with the result being my focus has become covering ground rather than contemplating each step.
Before I am even there I have begun to plan how I will shape the second draft and even pondered a third draft. Beyond that I don’t know, and coming back to well before that, it’s back to work with the end in sight.
At the midpoint of the current chapter there is a pause to stop in the past going back to what was, to where that place exists, to facing the past by speaking to the people there. Some characters are still there living as they had been and diminished by the powerlessness they submit to in a world where there is no room for exploration, others have been ignited by recognising the limits to push beyond and are ready to shrug off identities that no longer serve like heavy winter coats on a summer’s day. New characters have appeared here also, and when the protagonist meets them they are able to see more clearly who they were compared to who they have become, and the bullet they have dodged by moving on – although I am writing about a time when no bullets existed so, of course this metaphor will not apply within the novel itself.
A sense of letting go, getting on with it and moving on accompanies a path of exploration into an unknown that previously had been so unknowable that it was inconceivable. This tangent into an unrealised reality has revealed an aspect of the protagonist’s character that provides comfort and an acceptance of constant change within the self and the world around them. Old structures have been uprooted in the recognition of this inner shift, stories of identity have been let go and depth of self has been recognised allowing for a sense of freedom rather than being bogged down by constraints that no longer serve any purpose. The change in the protagonist is recognisable by other characters who want to inhabit that change for themselves but cannot because they must seek their own change, so must seek out their own true character.
There’s different kinds of epiphanies, big ones are most notable but they also come as smaller moments that ultimately have a big affect on the individual. The protagonist has had a few already as they’ve journeyed through the narrative seeking out things that never came to be. With each unrealised goal a realisation of different sorts has emerged from the experience. Given that these moments were born out of a lack of knowledge of the self they were bigger, different, and new experiences of the self for the protagonist. As I write into the last chapters the protagonist’s sense of self grows and the ‘new’ becomes less surprising. The superficiality of change has crept below the surface and the protagonist has settled into the discovery of their depths with a backtrack over old ground on the journey into the new, which serves to highlight the change that has occurred within against the backdrop of an unchanged landscape. The tale that I have chosen for the bones of the story fits the hero’s journey model as many ancient tales do; the hero is now transiting the return, or return to self.
Well I’m back in the saddle again and can’t get the song out of my head (The Gene Autry version not the Aerosmith version).
For over a month now I’ve had plans to write, to get writing and to keep on writing but life got in the way. Nevertheless I followed through tonight and got another 1000 words written.
When I revisited where I had left off I was surprised to find that I had written more than I remembered, and I was happy with what I read over before I started writing again. The flow that I had been in when I wrote before had been good and the ‘all downhill from here’ feeling came back along with a satisfied smile.
The 1000 words that I wrote are for chapter 8.5, well that is what it is called for now while I push on through the last happenings of the narrative to wrap up the chapters. My original plan was for 9 chapters but through the writing of them I began to think it will be 11 chapters for the first draft, and may even make it to 13 chapters or so by the time I finish with the next draft.
Chapter 8.5 is the spilling over of chapter 8 into a new self contained set of scenes that needed to be included in more detail than I had anticipated. On the cycle of the hero’s journey formula this chapter is the hero’s return in a personal sense for the protagonist as they come face to face with the embodiment of who they had been asked to be and who they had failed at being. Beyond this it is also the return to a point of their life where they were a victim and now return as a victor ready to save another from a certain fate, but having to come to realise that all must take their own path regardless of suffering.
Having saved themself the protagonist hopes to save another but instead comes to terms with the fact that they can only be their own hero and must leave others to also be a hero to themselves and become triumphant in their own lives.
Chapter 8.5 most likely will become chapter 9, I’ll leave the number as 8.5 for now to save confusion chopping and changing numbers along the way. Once I have written to the end and can see what I have to work with I will do a number reshuffle of all chapters.
I have read back over and made a few adjustments but I’m nearly done with another chapter. It was a good chapter to write with some ideas that I’d thought about a lot but never written previously. There was some back and forth of ideas that I’d not considered that happened as the words appeared.
A main scene in the chapter belongs to three characters which had me thinking and writing in such a way that I hadn’t before. The writing of it took this three handed scene in a direction that I’d not considered causing me to create gaps that I filled after rereading then rereading again to make further adjustments and fill in those gaps.
I kept returning to it after thinking it over in much the same way that I do in real life when I think I should of said/done/thought such and such a thing at the time. The difference between writing the scene and real life though is that I could shape it as best I can with hind sight stepping into real time to guide the interactions.
Writing this chapter has also had me reflecting on the background, bigger picture, undercurrents and sustained elements that are the story travelling along through the narrative accompanying the action and words. To map this and create a consistency that I am happy with I’ve created a new file to map the chapters which includes lists of imagery, themes and other elements that inhabit the spaces in between the happenings.
The wrapping up of the story is about to begin. To tidy up the details I’ll have to write one chapter, then another for the climax and resolution. How all this will work I don’t know until I write it. So when I am done with this chapter I have at least two more to write, of course that could change though.
The work that I have to do is becoming clearer the closer I get to the end of the first draft. There’s a lot of work still to be done, work that I want to get started on, work that is the next level from where I’m at, but first I need to finish up draft number one.
I’ve reached the next chapter. It’s such a big statement for me to make, I’m nearing the end of the first draft, the protagonist is closer to the end of their journey, change is recognised and letting go of what was is in play. This all applies to my creative process as much as to the narrative itself. I’m reflecting on what I’ve written, what has happened and how I got from there to here with the objective now being how to tie it all together.
How do I want it to end?
At the beginning of this process I would have asked myself that question with the intention of answering it and having practical steps to follow that achieved exactly what I intended. I know better now though.
How I want it to end versus how it ends will likely be two very different things.
I’ve come to enjoy this uncertainty. I’ve come to understand that there is no point wasting valuable time in speculation, I’ve realised through practice that I can only find out what I’ll write through writing.
It all seems fairly simple and logical but previous to this documented and (mostly) regular writing process I’d taken a lot of time and effort thinking through what, how, why, etc without achieving anything but a flair for cultivating angst.
Recognising myself in this process, my anxieties, the second guessing, my failings and susceptibility to the human condition have all become a handy reference point for content development. A main point of focus for this project has always been that it is a story about anyone and everyone – a story about being human. As I’ve written through the past year I’ve come to embrace my humanness more and more relishing the insights that I’ve gained in translating the human experience by acknowledging my own.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been inching my way through the current chapter stitching together a transition between who my protagonist was and who they are becoming with a changing landscape that reflects their changed state of mind. The landscape is the same … but different. The person likewise is the same, but different. It’s more than perspective because there is real change and this has been part of the challenge of writing this chapter for me. I want to demonstrate change in such a way that it’s subtle rather that having a sharp shift in reality.
I’m working through the point of return to self for my protagonist on their hero’s journey so I want to capture the return of something familiar along with demonstrating the change that has occurred. There’s an intangibility about the things that make up reality that I’m finding challenging to capture – I like a challenge though.
The story is set in a different time period from the one that we live in now, nevertheless I’m writing my way through a human experience that we all have. In our time it most likely equates with that feeling when you are almost home. When it’s the last leg of the journey and everything that felt far away feels so close once again. You know, when you’re in the car, about 20 minutes away after travelling already for 2 hours or more, when you’ve been away from home for a week or more. You’re close enough to home to feel as if you’re already there but still far enough away to only be experiencing an idealised version of reality in your mind?
That’s where I’m at.
I wrote about 500 words more since I last posted. Not a lot but still it is written and I’m happy with it. The chapter that I am writing has passed on to the next part; I had found it difficult to process where I am at in the story. Initially I had planned for this to be the last chapter, but that was long ago before I could envision where my words would lead me and now I find that I will need to write another chapter or two beyond this one to tell the tale.
The circle is almost complete in terms of the heroes’ journey formula with my character taking fresh steps on a trodden path with new insights. With that I have been mindful of capturing the change along with the familiarity and hope that I can do this idea justice.
Next is the ‘anticlimax’ for ‘final challenge’ where my protagonist will confirm above all else the change within by demonstrating innate change within their world. I want this to be more of an internal recognition; I want the protagonist to quietly surprise themself with the change that they demonstrate. The best way that I can think to do this is by demonstrating an emotional shift in reaction to the world about them. An enactment of them handling their shi(f)t without the need for an external reference point.
The closer I get to the end the more keen I become to return to the start with fresh eyes after having written so many words since I began. There is a cohesiveness that I plan to weave through with imagery and themes and ideas. If I can pull off what I have in mind I’ll be happy with the result and that will be very satisfying indeed.
I had a realisation about my first draft that came with a wave of relief – I’m done!!
I’d had in my mind that I needed to write more, two chapters perhaps, to follow the ancient tale that I’ve taken the story structure from. To do that though I’d be paying lip service to the architecture of the narrative rather than writing the story as it needs to be with the underpinning structure sitting in the background as support for what I have written. Having the storyline to keep me on track has definitely kept me from looping into creative angst where I sat paralysed within the scope of my imagination unable to write the words because I couldn’t commit to what happened next.
For me, in reference to my creative process at least, there has been freedom within structure.
So my protagonist has reached the end of their journey; the circle is complete.
Today I am beginning the process of second draft writing. Some chapters will need more work than others with all chapters needing to be revisited. I’ve already created a file with notes on the work needed including changing the structure to create flow from one chapter to another, the idea behind this is to give the whole novel rhythm. Other major points of focus for the second draft are imagery and themes being woven together and carried throughout the piece. Also, there’s the task of throwing away words which will be hard but needs to be done.
I’m feeling a little shell-shocked to have reached this stage and beginning to explore the reality of publishing. It’s still a while off but I am one step closer, closer than I have ever been before, and that feels good. My publishing plans are non-committal meaning that if I have options to publish then great, if not, then I’ll do it myself for myself. I’ve chosen to write this novel because it’s good for my soul to do so, or heart and mind, or self, or whatever works to best refer to that inner need for self expression.
Today I completed the 2nd draft of chapter two, and I have three people reading to give me feedback which is three times more than I had for my 1st draft. The word count is dropping as I slash away superfluousness with a flurry of backspacing, and I’m now frowning half as much when I read back over what I have written.
My love of words has taken a turn from wanting to keep them all to trashing every attention stealing syllable that could distract from story, narrative, or the focus of a reader’s imagination. After many years of adding more words, more ideas, and more story it’s time now to start taking away.
So, my writing journey seems to have shifted from the words to the numbers.
Getting it all out and getting it all down has worked a treat for me with room to play with my words on this second pass of my work. To do this I have made copies of my 1st drafts and named them as 2nd drafts so that I can edit away indiscriminately with only the story in mind while still having my 1st draft copies untouched.
The other main focus while writing the 2nd drafts is to restructure each chapter with an idea that I have for story formatting to assist with the flow between characters, settings and story stages – well, that’s the plan.
I can feel a new rhythm setting in now that I’m into 2nd draft territory and it is a relief. As I reached the end of my 1st draft journey I was beginning to feel disconnected from my work, I felt a kind of creative limbo caught somewhere between nearly done and ready to begin again afresh.
Writing the 2nd draft is going well. I have finished chapter four now. Chapter three before that was easy, it has been my favourite chapter to write the 1st time around and I really enjoyed revisiting it.
Chapter four was harder to work my way through, it had been a lot harder to write and I had left it half baked. This, it seems, will be the flow for writing the 2nd draft with some chapters needing a whole lot more attention than others.
To finish chapter four I cut out pieces and moved them to include in chapter five, other parts I just deleted. When I write the 3rd draft of the novel chapter five will need further attention – it just hasn’t come out as I want it to. Not quite right is the feeling that I get when I read back over. I do like what I have written, it reads well, the elements that I wanted the chapter to include are there but it is missing something, or has too much of something, or, I don’t know … it can be better.
For chapter five and six I expect to have similar challenges with clarity for myself in writing those sections. To get the work out, down and done when writing the 1st draft I moved through some chapters and left them in a state of incompleteness knowing that I would be coming back for a 2nd pass, 3rd pass, and I don’t know how many more. These revisits though have left me forewarned and forearmed as I come back to revisit them with the angst gone that I had when writing them.
Chapter six 2nd draft is done and it wasn’t easy. When I wrote the 1st draft of chapter six I didn’t have a clear vision of the happenings in the chapter. I knew what I wanted to include as story points but not how it would play out in the writing of it. There are certain interactions, events and characters needed for the narrative to progress which are all big things storywise, what I needed to do though was write matter-o-factly to maintain a feel of progression despite events rather than cataclysmic happenings. Well, that’s what I’m going for and it remains to be seen (or read in this case) if I have captured the feel for the story that I want to tell with the words that I have written.
I rewrote a lot of this chapter. I changed names, edited out sections, rearranged the layout of the chapter, researched with fresh eyes to develop new parts, and laboured for weeks over words while questioning my choices. In the end I sent it to a friend to read and will wait to hear feedback so that I can assess whether the chapter does what I wanted it to do.
For each chapter I have a game plan of writing 3000 words for the 2nd draft which is edited down from 5000 words in the 1st draft, for the 3rd draft I expect to have 2500 to 2000 words per chapter. Chapter six 2nd draft came in at about 3500 words even though I was deleting with each read while being as ruthless as I could.
It’s strange for me to realise that I’ve gotten to this stage. There are three more chapters and then I’m done with the 2nd draft.