I’ve been rewriting a lot this week. In my day job I am an academic, working in education research. I’m only a baby academic, and I’ve been working on getting my first article published. The manuscript I’ve just been revising is based on a conference paper I gave in 2010. I submitted it in late 2011. In May last year I received a response suggesting I make some quite serious revisions and resubmit it (this is a positive outcome in academic circles!). I spent a VERY long time doing that – mostly because my current job is a teaching only post, and I just don’t have time for much else. I went right to the deadline for resubmission, and got it in in November. Last week I had an email suggesting some minor last changes which I completed and sent in last night, something which cheered me up after a very bad day.
But in general reading reviews/ feedback and having to revise or redraft my work makes me feel very very antsy. I hate it. Usually once I’ve got into it, it’s all fine. I just find criticism hard to take in the first place. I know this is a personality flaw, and one of the requirements for a writing career is a hide of rhino-type proportions.
The bad thing about this is that I’m very good at giving criticism. I mark a lot of postgraduate essays, and I’ve commented on a fair few chapters of friends’ PhDs. I’m horrible about grammar, I am nearly always sardonic, sarcastic and downright rude. I do try to give feedback which improves the writing, but I am aware I do not always couch it in the nicest way (although to be fair I am _much_ more tactful with students than friends!). If it’s something I’m marking, if you follow the instructions, it will go from fail to pass, or pass to great.
The interesting thing about revising the manuscript above, is that a lot of the comments were things I could have seen in other people’s work. I just couldn’t see those flaws in my own. The article is a thousand times better as a result of the comments – those I reworked to address and those I decided not to cave on (which included one where I put in a footnote in classical Greek to avoid caving!). It was an education. And I fully expect the next time I get as far as revise and resubmit, the feedback will be just as educational. And just as painful!
As part of the day job, yesterday morning we had the brilliant Celia Rees in to talk to the trainee teachers about author visits. She explained a lot about her process and how she’d got where she was (tenacity and hard work, to sum up!). She recommended looking at local ghost stories and legends for inspiration – every school she’s ever been in has been haunted, according to the students! Scary stories are of course a genre that have a rich oral tradition among teenagers.
But the really interesting thing was the beautiful scrap books she showed us. Hardback A4 books, clothbound and with pages bowing outwards with the things glued into them.
Celia starts from real people, places and things when she writes. The scrapbooks, one for each novel, contain notes, tickets, photos, maps, postcards – anything and everything related to the book she’s writing. She does a lot of visits to historic houses for the historical novels she writes, and these visits provide rich material. The latest novel has newspaper clippings on returned soldiers.This material keeps her descriptions accurate, and realistic, and can lead to interesting plot developments.
As well as being a fabulous idea for an activity for school students studying a novel (and what a lovely thing for them to keep, unlike most school work today!), this is part of her process as a writer. I am not a visual person – and I don’t tend to spend a lot of time in the pre-writing process, partly because I don’t like planning, as once I’ve planned something the spark has somehow gone. But this is a pre- and mid-writing activity I could get behind.
Celia’s latest novel This is not forgiveness is a contemporary YA thriller and was picked as a top teen book of 2012 by the Daily Telegraph. You can find it on Amazon here.
Not one of his best, poor old Will. The production, on the other hand, was truly excellent.
Last night I found myself, as usual, at twenty to ten, with increasing disengagement, marking an essay (/planning a lesson/ giving advice by email/ rewriting the website* delete as appropriate). Bedtime was coming up. I was knackered after a full day of teaching and I’d hurt my foot.
Then I checked out the progress of my 100k in a 100 days cohort, and found myself inspired. I closed the essay, moved locations and hammered out 1200 words before bed. I just wrote, something which had been in my mind for a couple of days, something that is the beginning of a new story. It felt good. And it was 1200 words I certainly wouldn’t have managed, especially on the first day back teaching, without the challenge and the collegiality.
Anyway, this morning it is back to marking, and the combination of my comments and some strict advice on the role of rhetorical questions which I gave to some postgraduate students yesterday, reminded me of this article in The Guardian. It’s a variety of writers’ responses to Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing (of which number 5 is “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose”, which was the thing which reminded me).
So: rule 1 for me: switch off the dayjob at some point. It will still be there in the morning.
Well, I’ve had a very busy few days of writing. Contract one is finished, done and dusted, proofread and sent off. Two contracts to go, although the second one is in two parts each of between 5 and 10 thousand words.
The 100k words in a 100 days challenge is not really motivating me to write more than I would be anyway at this point in time, although I have also been inspired to write a couple of thousand words of fiction in the last couple of days. What the challenge is making me do is keep note of how many words I am writing – and that is an astounding number. As of a couple of hours ago I’ve written almost 20,000 this year! This will naturally drop as tomorrow we go back to work (I’ve already had to do the marking and the planning – next comes the actual teaching!). However, it shows how many words we write in the course of everyday, if you start counting. I’ve only included the contract work plus the fiction, but others have included blog posts and plans and all sorts. If only you could write fiction at this rate, you could write a novel in less than a month!
Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, full of cunning advice, actually advocates that in his target-setting post. Smith is a well-established American author who writes in a variety of genres under a variety of names. He mostly now publishes his own stuff, and is a major evangelist for doing so. In his goals for 2013 post he mentioned a friend whose challenge for this year is to indie publish (their preferred term for self-publishing) 25 books. A book can be a short story published standalone, a collection of previously published short stories (about four, cheaper than one short story) or a novel. This equates to a huge number of words, but the model which he espouses is one of huge amounts of content produced. It also applies to the genres in which he writes – which could unkindly be described as pulp. It has to be said, however, that his blog offers a remarkable bank of advice on how you can make a living from writing fiction, if you can make his model work. It would not necessarily work if you consider yourself to be a writer of literary fiction. If you are interested in this model, his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch also makes it work for her, and blogs separately. If you manage to make it work, let me know!
Right, back to the grindstone.
Sometimes it’s hard to get started. Sometimes all you want to do is read the new Wheel of TIme book (8th Jan! Yippee, at last!). Sometimes once you’ve got started it’s hard to concentrate and just get the job done.
The 100k words in a 100 days is, of course, one way of introducing extrinsic motivation to the exercise. The Facebook group has a shared spreadsheet set up by the very clever Gerald Hornsby, into which we can all enter our daily word-counts. Competing with others to get the 1000 words for the day done is one way to keep motivated, as is the public accountability (although we’re all so outrageously supportive that there is really very little shame in not meeting the target). Others are so competitive that they are trying to get the highest number of words in a given day. I am competitive, but I am not sure that this would keep me going. I’ll have to hope it will once my deadlines are gone.
Deadlines are also one way of getting motivated, but I still procrastinate. A better extrinsic motivation for me, at least when it comes to contract work, is a visual reminder of what I’m aiming for. In my case I’m saving for a house deposit. There’s an open pdf in my browser with details of my dream house. By the time I’ve got there, it will have sold already, but the dream is there. Every time I lose focus in my work, I look at the picture and I head back to the words. I love writing, but sometimes I need a little boot in the butt to make sure I’m writing the thing I’m supposed to be writing… Speaking of which…
Sally Quilford, whose blog and writing comps calendar you ought to know if you’re interested in writing at all, is, for the second year running ‘100k in 100 days’, a slightly more leisurely version of NaNoWriMo which will get us into April. The good thing about it is that you can include any kind of writing – even this blog post would count… I’ve admitted to about 7,000 words so far although I’ve probably written more like 12k in the last two days, attempting to catch up with deadlines that flew by due to illness. Another 12k by Monday and I’ll be caught up with that particular contract – although I’ve got some editing to do on another one for the same deadline. Which is why Monday is my day for hitting the novel again. After then I hope most of my 100k words will be on that, although my new year’s resolution post probably provides some other possibilities.
Another option is to write a children’s novel for the Kelpies Prize which only requires 70k by Feb 28th. Unfortunately the novel I have semi-planned is a YA one which needs a slightly older target audience. I’ll keep thinking and see if any inspiration turns up by Monday. Alternatively for a shorter challenge, there’s a free competition for a story about Bingo here. As you do.
If you’re interested in joining us in 100k in a 100 days then the Facebook group is the place to go looking for camaraderie, prompts and some downright impressive word counts.