Thursday, 25 August 2016

On writing gush-free reviews

I was recently reading a first novel by someone I won’t name. The cover carried a quote from a fellow YA writer which suggested that the novel was utterly marvellous and gripping. Inside were a dozen more such quotes from well-known writers. Now of course, I understand that writers want to support other writers they know, and it’s also possible that these writers share an agent or a publisher who asked them to read and quote. But can you trust these quotes? Probably not. All that gush strikes me as so much luvvy back-patting. (Though I will say that I did enjoy the book.)

Friday, 5 August 2016

500 words a day – update 3

Current yearly total: 125,245 words

Keeping up with my 500 words a day is proving tricky at the moment. I’m deep in a major new draft of a book I’ve been working on for a couple of years and I have a deadline to finish it. That means, whatever else happens in my day, I need at least a couple of hours to devote on this. My head is right in the rather complex world of this book a good deal of the time, which would be great if I needed to write more of it – I could easily dash off 500 words of stuff that would fit. Unfortunately though, what the book actually needs is streamlining, which mostly means cutting. And that means that after I’ve done my redrafting work on this book each say, I have to tear my mind from this world and find another one to play with.

Now for a good part of the year, I was working on a new book – let’s call it the witch book – for which I had created a meticulous plan (you can find out something about it here). Each individual scene was mapped out and although I didn’t necessarily know the detail of what was to happen, I could conjure up 500 words from these brief scene notes fairly easily. The key was, I suppose, that having all the detail there made slipping out of the world of the book I’m editing and into this one easier. 

However, about a month ago, I ran out of planned scenes to write. All I had left were the final, wrapping everything up scenes and try as I might, those just wouldn’t come.
Since then I’ve been much less efficient with my 500 words. I’ve written blogs and reviews – I can always witter on about books or writing for 500 words and over on the Paisley Piranha blog we’re having Classic YA month, which required more reviews than usual. I’ve also been writing a bunch of totally unplanned scenes for a sequel to the witch book (I have a vague outline of four books in a series). This new thing would come together much better if I had the time to plan it properly, but, until I’ve finished the redraft I’m working on and can devote time to serious planning, I thought I would write a scene involving each of the characters, get to know them a bit and discover the place where my witch, Rowan, finds herself by stepping into the unknown next to her. I’m sure it’s not very efficient, as writing goes; I suspect I’ll end up getting rid of most of what I’m writing, but it’s quite fun to pick a character and write, knowing nothing about them but, for example, that this is someone who will end up being sympathetic but seems antagonistic at first.

Thinking about how this 500 words a day has worked for me over the past few months, I’m trying to work out the best way to use what I’ve learned when the year is up. I don’t think I’ll carry on with 500 a day every day. If I do that, I’m going to end up with thousands of first-draft words and no time to hone them. I currently have three first drafts almost complete – it’s always the endings that come later for me – and there’s no point in churning out all those words if I’m not going to go back and make them into something worth reading. Words need plenty of honing, and they need time to settle between drafts, so you can work on them effectively. So I think I’ll aim for new books to start with an intensive planning session, probably a week to make sure I’ve done effective plotting and given some thought to setting and characters before I start. Then I can write 500 words a day using this plan (as I did with the witch book), so a 60,000 word book would take about four months to write. I can do lesser edits on other projects, proof-reads and so on during these writing months, but I think I’ll lay off trying to do the new words and the deep redrafting at the same time. I don’t think I can do intense editorial work for more than a couple of months before the words start to be meaningless, but that’s fine: I can schedule a couple of months for that and then back to writing something new.

Will this work? I don’t know. It rather depends on how much the rest of life intrudes on my time and energy. You’ll note I’m only talking about the lonely-author-in-her-garret types of work here. At some point I’m going to have to accept that now and then I need to step out of the garret and jump up and down and shout so someone will read what I’ve written!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Tourist

I’m spending a little time in Canada, visiting family, and as you do, we got to a point when they said, “What would you like to do?” and obviously, being me, I said, “I’d like to go to a bookshop.” Because that’s what you do, don’t you, when you’re book-obsessed – you look in bookshops wherever you go, even in countries where all the books are in languages you can’t read. (My husband, who is bicycle-obsessed, seeks out bike shops wherever we go.)

So the question is, when you enter a bookshop in another country, what do you look for? Well, first, you need to browse, just to get the feel of the place. I thought I might find here, in this English-speaking country with its historical links to Britain, that the shelves were full of familiar British authors plus all those ubiquitous American authors. My knowledge of literary Canadians is limited to Margaret Atwood, L M Montgomery and Carol Shields – though I’ve just looked up a list of Canadian writers and found that I’ve read several more but hadn’t realised they were Canadian. I was pleasantly surprised to find the small independent bookshop we visited full of unfamiliar names and lovely books from publishers I’d never heard of – though of course Harry Potter and the Cursed Child did take up a large display table and most of the window, but then, bookshops have to make their money from what’s going to sell, even lovely little independent ones.

First stop, something historical and Canadian for the husband (whose other obsession is history). Slight feeling of not knowing where to start, but my brother (who lives here) pointed out something perfect. Deep breath. Now to indulge myself.

Momentarily considered buying books for my daughters, but to be honest we all read each other’s books all the time, so I might as well just suit myself (plus I’d already bought chocolate for them). I did head for the young adult section first though. If I’m not directly buying YA titles to give to the girls, I can always pretend I’m buying them for research if anyone asks (though you and I know this isn’t true). I had one rule: Canadian authors only. Which turned out to be easier than I thought it would be as so many of those on the shelves were by Canadians. So I got a couple of YA books (one with a title I recognised from somewhere – who could forget Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend when they had heard it once) and then moved on to the adult fiction shelves for a couple more.

As souvenirs go, books are definitely top-end in terms of price, and weighty in your luggage too, but what could be better as far as taking home a little bit of the culture from your visit? Take home a picture or a piece crafted by someone native to the country and you can look at it and remember what it felt like to be a stranger in that country. Take home a book and you can inhabit the mind and the life of a Canadian for a while. (Plus Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend – once you’ve seen that on the shelves, don’t you just have to read it?)