Revamp or move on?

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I’ve just gone through a little computer-filing tidy up, trying to get my stuff in order, especially writing things. I still have a stack of paper ideas to get into a notebook – I’m aiming to have all ideas either in one digital scrivener file, or in a notebook.

I’m astounded by how many words I have written and discarded.

I’m not talking about drafts which eventually led to something finished, either, but something started where I’ve sometimes written upwards of 50,000 words, and abandoned without finishing. There’s three half-written novels and over a dozen short stories. The ‘ideas fragments’ files includes many many more, which haven’t been really developed at all.

So the question I’m now left to ponder is what to do with all of that? I’ve signed up for an Arvon course in the summer which I’m excited about, but I also want to be meaningful – it’s a great opportunity, part funded by a teacher’s grant, and it’s both expensive (even with the grant) and a week of holiday time. So I want to come out of it with something useful. I was thinking about redrafting something that’s been in my head for a long time – the only problem is, I don’t know how to get it out. It’s one of the 50k monsters. I’ve changed viewpoint, voice, tone, location, time period. I can’t figure out quite who this elusive character IS that I have in my mind, other than she seems to fit into everything, and nothing, all at the same time. She pops in and out of my head, but never brings her story with her. I quite dislike the airy-fairy idea of characters really existing – I’ve never really found that idea sits right with me, but at the same time she really does seem to be hiding from me.
I have a few ideas what to do with her – but nothing concrete. And while I don’t, I’m wary of starting yet another version of her story and ending up with thousands of words to discard with all the others.

Do I keep thinking about her, and trying to figure out where she comes from? Or do I move on, either to something brand new or another story that I have but have not finished? I don’t know. I do know that I’m ready to write, and I feel like I’m stumbling over her pushing herself into my brain.

Creative writing inspiration: Northern Lights from space

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Aurora NASA

Northern Lights artist impression

 

Creative writing inspiration: Abandoned rooms

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The last 10%

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I don’t remember where I first heard that the last 10% of any project is the hardest, but I have absolutely come to believe it is the most important.

The first 90% of a project might feel difficult, but that’s the creation section. It’s when you sit down to write and edit your story, it’s when you develop an iOS game, it’s when you build a piece of furniture, it’s when you write the draft of your essay or learn how to play a piece of music. Get the 90% right and you’ll have done a decent job.

The last 10% is making those things fly. Think about playing a piece of music. For ages, depending on skill level and the complexity of the music, you’re learning how to play it. You’re practicing notes, phrases, maybe even a few whole lines, and then you start playing it all the way through competently. You don’t hit any bum notes, you’re playing at about the right tempo/pace and volume. In short, you’re playing the piece and pretty well too. It’s so easy to stop there and call that the accomplishment. Or, you could keep practicing. You vary the tone of the piece, play around with the tempo/volume and bring your own style to it. You develop muscle memory on the tricky passages so that you don’t have to think about the technicalities of it, you can focus on the artistry and how to create that magical moment of audience silence as your last note dies away, the seconds when they’re too stunned to applaud.

Everyone’s stopped before they could have – whether because we’re time-limited, bored, or happy with ‘good enough’. That’s the 90%. It’s good enough, it’s competent, it’ll get done whatever you need doing. But unless you’ve put in the last 10% it’s not likely to have that zing, or flair, or excitement that something genuinely accomplished, polished and finished will have.

Writing my novella has reached its last 10%. It was written and redrafted, so I was done, right?

No. 90% was done – it was good enough, I could have slapped it on Amazon and been done with it. But I want this to be as great in its polish as I think it is in its story, so it needs that extra 10%. It needed the beginnings and endings of chapters tightening to make them as page turning as possible, it needed the first few pages revised because they weren’t as great as what came later, it needed a scene rewriting in a different location so we could hear from another character whose voice is important. It needed proof-reading for typos and odd word clashes or repetition, and my propensity to over-use semi-colons. But for all this, the fundamentals of the story – the 90% – remains unchanged. And then there’s the formatting to provide a good reading experience, making sure the fonts and chapter heading images work well on the device, getting a cover that does it justice and makes people want to buy it, writing a blurb powerful enough that people are inspired to click on the cover and read the first pages. I need to market it, because I need to get them to that page to read the blurb and see the cover, and click on them to read the sample. It’s like the novelist’s version of the house that Jack built, and it starts with ‘hey, have you heard of this?’

So the last 10% takes a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it, because I really believe that this is the best thing that I’ve written yet.

Review: Self-Publishing Attack!

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The full title of this book is “Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books” and, really, what an offer! To learn the things I need to do to create a steady income writing? Awesome!

While this book is pretty awesome in what it offers – and doing it in 141 pages for £2.56 on kindle – it’s also very realistic and honest about what exactly Bell is offering. He doesn’t promise magic, and he doesn’t promise six-figure salaries. What he does suggest is the successful ways he’s found, through his own experience and knowing plenty of writers, to make a decent living. I found myself highlighting madly on my kindle, and scribbling plenty of ‘read this late’ notes.

Bell is mostly discussing what to do when you’ve completely written a book and you want to get it out there to people. He’s talking about thinking like a business, not an ‘artist’ in the airy-fairy way some people like to define artists, and the ways to make sure that you can get you product in front of people. He also does have some comment to make on how to write an excellent book that people want to read – the most important aspect.

What you won’t get here is some marketing plan based on twitter and blogging – while Bell has both of those things, he’s pretty clear that it’s the writing that counts, not the social networking, and that actually these can be a distraction from writing the best damn book you can think of and ways to improve getting it in front of an audience.

Bell covers setting goals and taking actions to meet them, writing great books that work for kindle – opening pages that feature in a downloaded sample and how to include a synopsis in that sample – ways to plot character and structure, how to get a great cover and to format your book. 

It’s incredibly helpful and practical, and the way Bell writes is excellent – honest, up-front, and encouraging. Highly recommended for anyone trying to write fiction to sell themselves.

 

5/5