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Before I start my blog in earnest, here’s a look at the cover (click to enlarge) for my new novel, August Falling, due out sometime in September with Pantera Press.

The blurb reads:

    The past.
    Sometimes we can’t escape it.

    After a bad relationship, August is trying to piece his life back together. It’s not perfect – his flat is small, he works in a call centre, he can’t finish the book he’s working on, and he’s socially challenged when it comes to women.

    When August meets Julie, he finds she’s everything he isn’t – confident, composed, and purposeful, despite her troubled childhood, and with her, August finally begins to feel he can be himself.

    But Julie has a secret – one that threatens to plummet August right back into the miseries of his past.

    August Falling isn’t a love story, but one about acceptance, choices, and finding a way to be ourselves.

You should go out and get it. Demand it. It’s not printed yet. But demand that it is. Then demand it.

Anyway, I’ll write more about August Falling in the coming weeks. For now, it’s back to my work-in-progress, and the issues I’ve faced this last week.

Somebody asked how me much writing I’d done this week.

I answered, ‘Not a lot.’

‘Why not?’ she asked me. ‘What have you been doing with your time?’

There’s a massive preconception that writers just sit down, and everything spills perfectly formed onto the page. All you need is an imagination. That’s it. Don’t worry about structure, plot, arc characterisations, clarity of expression, etc. It’s not even a question that those things are required, or that they exist. It’s imagination and nothing else.

I wish.

I try to write every night. Some nights, it comes flowing, pure and right and flowing.

Other nights, I struggle to get into it – not only can’t I find the right words, but the right ideas to get me back into the story. It’s like being a voyeur, trying to find the best way to peek in so I can translate what’s going on, but sometimes the view isn’t right. Then what? I can try write what’s happening from my vantage point. Sometimes it might open a better view. Other times, it’s a patchwork fix. Most times it’s just not good enough – especially for somebody as obsessive-compulsive as me. So I’ve got to keep probing until I find the view I need, even at the risk of all it collapsing under me.

Then there’s other times I don’t even realise that it’s not good enough, and I write obliviously. Like every writer, I have an internal gauge of what’s working and what doesn’t, but sometimes that’s awry. I write some scene, think I’ve got it working, then am taking a walk, or washing the dishes, or am lying in bed about to drift off – it’s always once I’m away from the computer (I believe this happens because it’s only then the pressure is off me and I start seeing clearly again) – when it occurs to me that, nope, that didn’t work for whatever reason, and I need to fix it. So then I’m back at it, either trying to make it work, or deleting it and starting over.

On other occasions, the scene itself is right, but the prose isn’t. Usually, I wouldn’t bother revising until the draft is completed, but sometimes it’s such a mess – and a mess might’ve been the only way I had to get it out so I had something to work with, as vomity as it might appear – that it does need mopping up. Or if might contain idiosyncrasies that I’m trying to unlearn as habits, e.g. words I overuse, or repeated turns of phrase. Every writer has them.

And other times a reread of a scene shows it’s underdeveloped. Again, it’s something that I’d usually address in revision. But other times, it just needs to be done because it helps as a foundation for what’s meant to come. Without it, I’d just be building on air. And that’s never going to turn out well.

Or something else that regularly pops up is the need to foreshadow. I’ll be up to a scene and think, Wait, this does need a little bit of setting up earlier. An example is an incidental character – a barmaid the protagonist worked with – this week gained some backstory that she was an aging but (still) aspiring actress. The second scene in which she featured came out fine. But I had to go back and seed some of this new information into her introduction (originally written five weeks ago), even though that was only a paragraph, and it wasn’t going to get much bigger than that.

Or, for all the work of my imagination (imaginations are teases, all alluring and seductive, until you engage with them, only to find they’re difficult, uncommunicative, and – sometimes – not what they first appeared), it just doesn’t want to translate. It’s like watching one of those mediums who operates in abstracts and being left to interpret it. I see somebody tall and fair. It could be a mother figure, or an aunt. Or a cousin. Geez, I don’t know. Sometimes only retrospect does.

And, sometimes, I’m just so blocked up by all the doubt and confusing, that I struggle to produce anything at all.

There’s just so much that could go wrong, and it vastly outweighs what could be going right and what – in a first draft – does go right. The odds are up there with winning a lottery.

Writing takes a lot of building blocks, and it’s not always building up. Sometimes, it’s replacing blocks. Other times, it’s strengthening a section of a wall. And other times it’s improving the foundations. Not all of them will reflect in the word count – not in any substantial way.

But they’re just as important.

 
Last Week’s Lie: Shockingly, I’ve never been arrested for drunk and disorderly, even for research.

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This has been a lacklustre week in terms of productivity for a variety of reasons. One is just general busyness in everyday life – something I’m sure every writer has to navigate. There’s always work, household responsibilities, social obligations, and the list goes on.

I always try to put some time aside every night to write, because I do believe writing – if you’re to be successful in finishing anything you begin – is about two things: routine and momentum. You build momentum, the writing comes easier – you think more about your story, possibilities start occurring to you, you look forward to getting back to it.

You don’t build momentum and it becomes an ever-slowing grinding – you don’t know where to go, you constantly have to reread things to familiarise yourself with what you were doing, and there’s less desire to get back to it.

The other reason the last week hasn’t been as productive as I would’ve liked is that I got to a part where I was really feeling my way through the story. I know what I want to do, and I know of a number of key elements that occur in the story but, sometimes, connecting the dots isn’t easy. A few times I’ve had to stop for research about situations I’ve never encountered before. In one case, this meant getting blind drunk and being arrested for drunk and disorderly to experience for real part of what I wanted to write about.

Another scene in particular plagued me. The protagonist is in hospital, talks to a nurse, and then to a doctor. It took me a couple of days to write those scenes – a scene a day. And, independently, I think each scene worked well. I liked the characters, I liked the interplay, I liked the way the scenes unfolded. But then, as I lay in bed I started wondering: do I really need both scenes?

Each scene had key elements that were required to drive the story, but it started to feel as if I was doubling up and, also, that these scenes were overlapping in terms of their necessity. On top of all that, the second scene began to feel a little bit unrealistic, that information had been delivered in the first scene that should’ve changed the way events unfolded – surely, after what he’s just learned, the protagonist wouldn’t be sitting still to chat to a doctor.

So I spent two days chopping the scenes and cannibalising them into one scene – just the scene with the doctor. The nurse is still there, but only peripherally. Giving some of what he did over to the doctor also required deft shuffling – or what’s known in playing-card parlance as a dovetail shuffle: that’s when you hold half a deck in each hand, then use each thumb to flick each halve so that they interleave into one deck.

Once I was satisfied – and it took a long, long time before I was sure I’d nailed it enough that I could go on – I decided to reread the new whole scene … only to find that a whole paragraph repeated in a different area. That had to be chopped and the edges (above and below it) trimmed so that they could marry seamlessly. And then I had to reread it all over.

It’s amazing that this one scene took half a week, but often it’s going the wrong way – as I’d done originally – that reveals the right way.

Well, at least it’s the right way in my mind. So far. There’s always the chance that as I write, the story will develop in a way that necessitates I go back and revise or restructure any given scene.

But that is writing.

 
Last Week’s Lie: I wrote last week that a journal rejected a short story I wrote, emailed me back several days later to say they actually would accept it, then emailed me a week later to say, no, they would be rejecting it after all. Nope. That didn’t happen … to me. A very credible and big journal did this to a friend.

 
Postscript: From hereon due to other commitments, this blog will be appearing on Wednesdays.