jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
Two things:

1. I'm an idiot, and
2. I love LJ

Why? On October 31st , we had a really useful conversation here on LJ about how I was going to overcome my writing fears after a long writing absence. At the end of the conversation, I decided my best approach to the fledgeling MoulderingBook, and to tackling my lost writing confidence, was to simply freewrite for a while. I also decided I might try working up a full outline for this book. I've only really outlined in part for previous projects, and for a number of reasons, I realised I might be doing myself several favours if I tried out the full-outline approach.

15K words and a month down the line, I'd forgotten that plan, and found myself in the pickle I told you about the other day.

And that's why I love LJ (one of many reasons, in fact). Because the record of this conversation on LJ preserved what my brain hadn't, and reminded me of my intentions.

Essentially, I can now reassure myself that the 15K words — mis-step and need to rework and all — are just a freewriting exercise that's served its purpose: I've put the Procrastination Pixies and Rampaging Ogres of Doubt back in their box and I'm writing again. Hurrah! Now it's time to head back to planning and persuade the story into a proper shape.

Maybe I'm just playing games with my inner Writer Jenny to make myself feel better, but hey, what does it hurt?

Which brings me to a few questions:

In the past, I have outlined to a degree, but have never worked up a full and lengthy outline in the way that some writers do. I think full-outlining is something I'd like to try and I wondered if those of you out there who do produce full outlines have any tips to offer on how to approach it. How long do your full outlines run? How much detail is in them?

The main thing that has put me off full outlines in the past is that the only time I attempted one, it killed the story for me, as it felt like I'd already written it, and all enthusiasm and creative delight vanished. How do you get past this?

Any and all advice welcome (thanks).
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
I think I've taken a wrong turn in MoulderingBook (formerly known as AutumnBook).

I found myself too early to depart for work yesterday morning, so I plunked myself down on the stairs and used the spare ten minutes to think about MoulderingBook, and the next scene I would be writing. I'd been feeling a little squirmy about it, the way I do when something's not quite right, and I realised as I sat there on the stairs that I may have mis-stepped.

Um ... quite significantly.

The problem has to do with the focus of the book, I think. I'm around 18K into an envisaged 90K story, and I've yet to introduce a key element (a particular house and its family). Which is fine to an extent, because that house and the family are the mystery the MC has to encounter, become involved in, and then solve, and there's ground to lay before she arrives at that point. Hence the 18K words to date have been concerned with the MC's arrival in the nearby village, and discovery of 'something weird' about the place, and introduction of significant village characters.

Part of my plan was that she would befriend a group of local youths, who would tell her what the older generation are too afraid to speak of, which will lead to her entering the Main Mystery Story.

However. Hmm. However.

I'm now wondering if I should shift my focus and concentrate less on the MC befriending the local youths, and devote more space, and from an earlier stage, to the significant house and its family. Also, there are a goodly number of members of that family, and I don't want to overburden my story with lots more characters if the local youths would be better relegated to more secondary roles.

The more I think about it, the more it feels like I'm right. Moreover, I can't just write forward from this point, merrily pretending all is well and that I'll fix it in the next pass, because my brain doesn't work like that. Besides, the alteration in focus is too significant.

Which means ... yep ... rewriting those 18K words at this stage.

Rats!

I find comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. Maggie Stiefvater refers to the 10-15K words stretch as "The Slow Realisation that You Did Indeed Write Crap Phase". I'm not feeling that my 15K words are crap, or not entirely at least. However, I think I'm at what Maggie calls "The Rematch Phase", which is to say the point at which I need to revisit, rework and rearrange the first 0-15K words.

Yeah, I think I'm due a rematch.
jennygordon: (Water Lily)
Apparently [livejournal.com profile] readthisandweep and I simply cannot behave ourselves at the moment (it's her fault, she's a bad influence, not to mention old enough to know better! Er-hem).

Earlier this week, I posted about how much fun I was having with AutumnBook, my "strange, mouldering little Gothic tale." Things subsequently got out of hand (see our conversation in the comments). Which means ....

AutumnBook is now ...

*drum roll*

MoulderingBook

Thank you, thank you.
jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
So, I hit the 10K mark with AutumnBook the other day, which was rather a pleasant surprise.

Then something went *clunk* (you know, that noise your car makes just before it breaks?) and I ground to a halt. I coasted into a layby and slumped onto the steering wheel, glowering out of the windscreen into the fog that had risen out of nowhere up ahead.

Then I realised: it's okay, this always happens at the 10K mark. And I also realised that I have to remind myself of this fact every single time!

By the 10K point, I'm usually beginning to find my stride with the voice and tone of a story. Important pieces are in place, players in play, and setting evoked. And then ... and then ... that initial surge of excitement at the new-and-shiny story that has swept me along before it fizzles. The enthusiasm is still there, but I need to take a breather. If I continue writing at this stage without pausing to plan what comes next, I will inevitably take a wrong turn, and while those wrong turns can occasionally be fruitful and fun, more often than not, they're just a frustrating waste of time.

"The 10K Lesson" (it's most definitely A Thing for me) has been one of the Big Important Lessons I've learned along my writing path. Once upon a distant time, I would have given up at this point, ditched the book and moved on to something new. But over the years, I've learned that's not a very clever thing to do.

So, back to my other notebook I go, thinking trousers buttoned, I need to sit down and plan my next move. Whereabouts am I in the story structure? Am I on track in terms of the shape I want this story to be? What do I need to put into play between here and the next staging post? I return to my rough outline and gather the scenes that belong in this next section, then I conjure the scenes which also belong here, but which are missing from the plan at the moment.

I might also take a moment to check that I've not missed anything in the first 10K. Once upon the time that came after the 'ditch the whole thing' stage, I would retrace my steps and rewrite the whole lot, but I generally find nowadays that it's better to simply note down whatever I've forgotten, pretend it's not missing from the text at all, and address it when I tackle the rewrites proper at some future time. Otherwise, you see, I end up in an endless loop of working on the first chunk, with the rest of the as-yet-unwritten book receding ever further into the distance, which is rather disheartening and enthusiasm-squashing.

And I'm all for not squishing enthusiasm.

With that in mind, I'm off to check I've seeded enough clues about the underlying mystery in AutumnBook ...
jennygordon: (Rossetti - Veronica Veronese)
One of the things always at the forefront of my mind when I'm writing is creating the right "feel" for my story. The right mood or atmosphere: it's both of those things, but it's also something less tangible. Something to do with the way I want to make my reader feel when they're reading it. It's something in the voice, the pervasive weather, the word choice, the sustained metaphors. Something ...

For me, the "feel" of a book is almost a character in its own right. When done well, that "feel" can be the single aspect that lingers in my mind long after the details of plot and character have faded.

The strange Gothic grandeur of Edgar Allen Poe. The best of childhood dreams conjured by Erin Morgenstern in 'The Night Circus'. Young Adult author Brenna Yovanoff is wonderful at creating a "feel" in her stories, both short and novel-length.

The "feel"/atmosphere/mood of a story is something I work hard at invoking. Not always successfully, because of its subtle nature. I read authors who manage it and try to work out how they've achieved it.

It's about more than simply reams of descriptive prose and scene-setting. It's something more ellusive and powerful.

AutumnBook is very much a story that requires the right "feel" (sorry, I can't find a better word for it). I find myself wandering around trying to sense it, to smell it, hear it, taste it.

Fallen autumn leaves after days of rain.

Homemade lemonade left out too long in the sun.

I do my best to steer clear of cliche, to create other touchstones of mood and atmosphere. To create that subtle soundtrack which flavours everything else.

It can become all-consuming.
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
I'm having so much fun with AutumnBook. My strange, mouldering little Gothic tale. I think the MC's voice might be too grandiose for it to qualify as a Young Adult novel, but what do I know? Or, frankly, care? It is what it is. Which is to say, it comes from the mouldering little Gothic heart of me, and that's what's important. Besides, the MC's voice is so strong there's nothing I can do to change it, so I just listen instead, and let the story sweep me up.

I feel like I'm jumping from pool of light to pool of light. Imagine streetlights flickering to life, one at a time, along the road, and me leaping from one to the next. Each pool of light is a scene, and I capture each on the page as it lights up in my mind, then pause and wait for the next to flicker to life.

My MC likes to play around with words — who knew?

One of the twins is an inventor — didn't see that coming!

While I always do a certain amount of plotting/planning/outlining/call it what you will, in advance, I also need to have plenty of wriggle room for such unexpected aspects of the story to emerge as I discover the story by telling it.

And all in a sparkly purple notebook that's a joy to write in.

*Sigh*. Writing bliss.
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
Like I said before, I'm not Nano-ing. And it's just as well, since a killer headache wiped me out for the better part of the last few days, rendering me able to do little more than brush up on my dribbling skills.

That said, I did manage to throw down another 1,500 words of AutumnBook on Saturday, before the pain (in so many, varied and interesting senses of the word) kicked in.

Rather than getting frustrated with my body for letting me down, I decided to shrug and go with the flow. Maybe it was that Zen frame of mind which showed me that, even though I wasn't actually writing, there are many other pursuits which contribute to the writing life:

  • Once the drugs had kicked in, I thunk thinky thoughts about the story, conjuring the next scene in my mind, and realised that the names I'd given the two characters to be introduced in that scene don't work, so came up with new ones which do.
  • I read Maggie Stiefvater novels, which, as well as being wonderful escapism from the headache, are always an object lesson in subtle character- and world-building.
  • I went for a brief walk and in the hopes that fresh air might scare the headache away. It didn't, but I collected some willow-withies, which I wove into circles ready for my next crafting project. It might not have been writing, but exercising creativity in whatever way still feeds the source.

It's so important for those of us who aren't always able to write when we want to (and surely that means all of us at one time or another) to remember that our creative brain is rarely switched off completely; like a CPU, there's always a part of it working away in the background, whether we realise it or not. We might not actually be writing, but the Writing Life is fed in so many ways.

I've written a bit about how Life has prevented me from writing much over the past year. However, I certainly haven't stopped creating, and that magical CPU in my brain has been busily working away. So much so that when I recently dug through the various notes made and images collected over the past months, I discovered I actually have the seeds of three novels. While they're not a directly related to one another, there are links between them, which excites me. I like series in which the books aren't direct sequels of one another, but which are connected in some way, perhaps with cross-over characters (usually a minor one in one becoming the main character in another).

Still, I do hope I'm able to get back to actually writing this coming weekend ...

jennygordon: (Roe Deer fawn)
I realised last night that I wrote around six thousand words of AutumnBook over a four-day period last weekend.

Anyone would think I'm NaNo-ing (I'm not)!

There are few things in life more delicious than seeing a notebook filling up with pages and pages of self-crafted wordage. I'll try not to let it go to my head.

*Blissful sigh*
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Woman)
"Writing is flying in dreams. When you remember. When you can. When it works. It's that easy."  — Neil Gaiman

It's true. It's so very true.

At the weekend, I turned off technology, locked my door, and settled down with notebook and pen.

And I wrote.

I have no idea if it's any good, and that really doesn't matter anyway.

I wrote.

Pages and pages.

For hours.

And now, once I've hung my washing out, I'm going to go and do some more.
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Woman)
* Alan Bennett.

One of the cases I lingered over the longest on my trip to the Pitt Rivers Museum was that containing keys — all kinds from all eras.

The keys to what? I wondered as I gazed at the pretty filligree examples from the sixteenth century. What did that huge hefty one secure?

IMG_3447

IMG_3449

When did keys cease being objects of beauty and art and become merely the mundane, ubiquotious Yale kind?

IMG_3448

At various points during my life, I've worked with historical and archaeological artefacts, and those that always speak to me the loudest are the small, intimate, personal items such as keys. These are the objects that carry stories of the lives of folk like us: everyday folk.

Keys are symbolic of so many things. Only a few days prior to my museum visit, a straying muse dropped by to let me know that the MC in AutumnBook has a key. It is the key to a mystery, to the story of her ancestors, and to what she has inherited from them.

Imagine my delight when, on my way to the Pitt Rivers Museum, I wandered through an Antique and Collectables Fayre and found me a key of my very own.

IMG_3468

It's Georgian, which means it's over 200 years old. Imagine the hands that key has passed through down the centuries before it reached mine. What did it once unlock? And what might it now unlock for me? I hold it in my hand as I think about AutumnBook, and it grows warm with possibility.
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how I was wandering in the Word Forest, exploring. I'm now newly emerged, twigs and burrs caught up in my tangled hair, jeans all grubby, blackberry stains around my mouth. But in my fist, I'm clutching an outline for what I'm calling AutumnBook. The outline is pretty grubby too, but it's definitely an outline of sorts, which surprises me a little in a pleasant sort of way.

I've realised that, although I'm always open to new methods, my approach at the beginning of a project tends to follow more or less the same course:

  • I catch sight of a bright, shiny idea. This is often a location, a character or two, and a vague premise. I'm often inspired by an actual image (visuals are important to me)

  • I jot some notes, polishing the idea until it makes a kind of sense

  • I collect a few inspirational images (Pinterest is my scrapbook of choice these days)

  • I start writing, usually throwing down around 5K words to find my way into the story, figure out a bit about the main character(s) and their voice, work out whether first or third person, past or present, works best (this is always open to negotiation further down the line)

  • Throughout, I continue jotting notes until my notebook becomes too unwieldy to be helpful. That's when I hit the PC to type up an outline.

The outline helps me see the shape of the thing and where the gaps are; it brings a bit of structure to my whirlwind of notes. I need some structure at this stage, otherwise I know I'll go rambling wildly off course. Writing the story tends to cease while I'm getting my thoughts into some kind of order.

Mind you, I don't really think of the thing I end up with as an outline. It's more of a map for when I plunge back into the forest; a tool to help me figure out where I go from here.

Right, where did I put my waterproofs and sandwiches? I'm going back in ...
jennygordon: (Froud)
Funny, the games we play with ourselves as writers.

After a year of barely being able to write at all (due to Life with a capital 'L' happening), I recently settled down with some enthusiasm to a project called FallingBook. It was a reworking of an existing manuscript of a story that's been with me for around 15 years. At least, it was to have been a reworking, because as time passed, I realised that it's not exciting me. Curious, I peered into my head and heart to see what the problem was, and ultimately discovered that FallingBook isn't what I'm supposed to be playing with at all.

Maybe it's because my head's not in the right place. Maybe I'm being a flake. Maybe it's because I should simply leave the manuscript as it stands in its 2010 version; not because it's a thing of beauty, but because it's time to move on from that particular story.

More than anything, I think I was unconsciously playing games with myself. See, returning to writing after a year of effectively not, is scary! I suspect playing around with an existing story was my brain's way of easing me back into it.

So, I've bitten the bullet, set FallingBook aside (for good? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?) and begun a brand new project. And you know what? It's scary as all hell, and it's thrilling as all hell. I'm fairly riddled with doubts - can I even do this writing thing after so long without? But I'm mostly ignoring them and simply sitting down with notebook and pen and letting my imagination romp.

I'm feeling a little fragile and superstitious about the whole thing at the moment, so forgive me if I don't reveal anything more about the project for now. Suffice to say: it's fun. After all, that's what this writing lark should be.
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Woman)
So, it turns out I was pixie-led through my writers' forest. For days, I followed the trail with the story growing before me. But something was missing. In my heart, I felt it, and doubt nibbled away at me.

I paused to watch the wind in the trees, to listen to birdsong, and to voices carrying to me from elsewhere. And suddenly the world tipped on its side and twisted my nice, straight path around and about and upside-down until I was laughing at the fun of it.

Dangling, like the Tarot's Hanged Man, from a branch, I saw my story from a new angle.

Not this, but this, I realised.

Turn it around.

Twist it upside-down.

And, from my topsy-turvy postition, dangling from that tree, the path ahead was abruptly far more interesting.
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
Sometimes, in this writing life, we stand at the edge of the forest and gather ourselves to enter with only instinct as our guide. An idea whispers on the breeze, a fleeting kaleidoscope of images flutters tantalisingly, almost ... almost ... within reach.

The whispers may be nothing more than leaf-murmur; the images only light dappling through branches, but we follow them all the same into the ever-darkening shadows as the forest closes around us. We seek the tracks in the earth, gather the clues caught in brambles and snagged on twigs. We press the story-sign between the pages of our notebooks, wind the story-thread on our pens, spooling it in.

The forest is a-riddle with false paths and deadfalls to block our way. There are rivers of churning confusion to be crossed, and pixie lights that would lead us astray if we let them.

At the moment, after four solid days exploring the forest, I am wandering along a trail that seems clearer than the rest I have followed. My pockets are full of intriguing found-treasure, and I can almost hear the words in the leaf-whisper voices.

"Patience," they are telling me. "Watch the sun-dapple on the forest floor, and watch your step. Between the two, you may find the path you are seeking."

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