The state of the lost dabs project

An update

So it turns out that it’s not as easy as I thought it would be to write a book and update a blog at the same time! One of them always gives way to the other.

When I started writing this blog, I wasn’t doing any writing, I was making notes and thinking about things that affected the book. I wanted to discuss my thoughts with other writers to draw on their experience, and I used the blog to channel this. All my writing was in blog posts and it really helped structure this project.

Now I have moved on to writing my book, I’ve found I don’t have the time to write on here, and it shows. I’m not posting anything, no ones interested in the project – and why would they be? For all anyone knows, I’ve given up and decided to do something else instead.

The word count

So here’s an update. I’m still going! In fact, I’ve been pretty productive this past week. I don’t really want a word count on the blog as word counts are no measure of quality (I might as well write the word ‘porridge’ 70000 times, but that wouldn’t make it a book). However, I feel that as part of an update on productivity, the word count is a good metric to use – you’ll just have to trust me on my own measure of quality!

In my post https://haroldhuscin.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/fixed-deadline-go-flexible-on-the-plot/  bejamin4 added a comment to say that he structures his writing by chunking it up into 10000 (10k) word blocks. The idea that it is easier to get to the end of one block rather than to fixate on the total 70k word book. It’s worth reading his comments in our conversation on this post as they really made sense to me.

So now I’m shamelessly copying bejamin4’s style on writing – and I think it really works. My original structure of a beginning, and end and five middle sections also goes with this – I’m now aiming for them to all be 10k words each, rather than the complicated split of sections I described elsewhere on this blog. I’ve already defined what the sections are going to be about, I just need to work out the detail whenever I start a new section.

I’ve also established a new timetable for writing: write a thousand words every day for ten days. Edit for three days. Repeat. Seven times in total means a book of 70k words in 91 days. I’m planning to edit the full manuscript during December, ready for the launch before Christmas. Sounds easy!

So where am I now? I’ve written 7000 words so far. This was a great achievement last night as it constitutes 10% of the whole. Reaching this landmark has made me realise the end is achievable. The Lost Dabs project is good!!

Going forward

So my question to the world is… what do I write about on the blog? Some of you write loads about your books and I always like to read what other people are doing and where their writing is going. How do you find the time? Do you find it worthwhile to take a break to blog about something different rather than always concentrating on writing the book?

All the comments I’ve had on my blog so far have been really helpful and inspired me to carry on and have steered the way I’ve thought about this project. In my mind, I need to keep reading as I write and take as much collaborative input I can into this process, posting my thoughts as I go along. If there’s anything I’m missing, or any thoughts that are useful to publish, then I’d love to hear what you think. As always, I am completely open to sharing and discussing all thoughts on the writing process, so please leave me a comment below if you’d like to join in.

The hows of indie publishing

What’s the best way to self-publish?

Since starting this project at the beginning of August, I’ve been concentrating entirely on writing: the process and structure around creating a book. I’d assumed that when I’m finished writing, I’ll simply log into Amazon, upload my text, choose a publishing option and release it to Kindle. Job done!

This is one way of releasing a book, but having read a bit on the subject, I’m not convinced it is the best, or certainly not the only publishing route an indie author should take. If that’s the case, what is the best way then?

This post is a call for information. If you have written any posts around publishing or have experience or knowledge on the subject then please write me a note or send me a link to your blog. I’ve created a page on this blog (see Indie Publishing link above) to collate any information, either leave me a comment there or below on this post.

Thanks for any help you can give with this – I’ll resume my regular updates on the lost dabs project over the weekend as usual.

How important is your voice?

What is the voice?

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into planning my book over the past few weeks, mainly around the plot, the setting, the characters and the structure of the finished article. I’ve been brainstorming, making notes, jotting down ideas and descriptions of places and people. I’ve even been doing some short sections of exploratory writing to see how the characters can interact in certain situations.

This has all been productive and incredibly useful, but there’s a bit of the puzzle missing. The voice. What is it? Is it worth considering before I start productive writing? Do I even have a choice what my voice is in my writing? Time for a bit of research.

I’ve been reading some posts about effectively using your voice in writing, in particular this one: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/writing-legend-les-edgerton-teaches-us-how-to-create-a-remarkable-writing-voice/

Les Edgerton discusses how to use your voice in order be a unique you, to speak to the reader and capture them with your words. I like the way he talks about using the editing process to make sure that the things you write sound like you – the words aren’t words you wouldn’t normally use; the sentences are constructed in the way you speak them yourself. It’s writing that is honest to yourself and who you are.

Interestingly, there is a section on getting feedback from your peers to make sure your writing sounds like you – no one knows your voice better than your close friends and family. This is exactly what I was discussing in my last post!

No, really, what is the voice?

Everything said by Edgerton was really useful and thought provoking, however, I have a nagging issue around this.

All that’s being described is writing in a voice that is you. If that’s the case, then I already have my voice – surely it’s how I write already. I just need to pick out any oddities in my writing in the edit. Easy! Or is it?

What about the writing style? Does this count as voice? Who is the narrator – is it written in the first, second, third person? Should regional accents be written out phonetically? Are the characters’ thoughts explained or left to be worked out by the reader piecing together bits of dialogue? Isn’t this all part of the voice?

My book is set on a island somewhere off the coast of Britain. The people there are isolated and will most likely think, speak and behave differently to me. They will have habits and styles that have developed over their years of isolation. Should I try to reflect this in the words I use in my writing?

Should I be developing my writing, purposely creating a new unique voice that may not fit my natural style? The risk is that my voice will wobble halfway through the book and revert to type, resulting in a horrendous offering, neither one thing or the other.

Is this the most important thing to consider when starting writing a book? Am I overanalysing, or has anyone else put time in developing their voice for a particular project, genre or setting? My immediate thought on this is that in order to keep the momentum in my writing, I need to promote my natural style as much as possible. But in a book with such a particular setting as mine, am I doing the reader a disservice?

Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear if you have any experience or opinion on any of this.

Is there any value in posting your work in progress?

The critics

Writing a blog is about drip-feeding your thoughts to anyone who’ll listen in the world and getting immediate feedback on it. Seems to work well. Writing a book is all about the big bang. Landing an entire magnum opus on the reader and expecting them to devour it in one sitting, hopefully emerging full of praise on the other side.

So is there any middle ground? Is it worth getting the opinion of the community on some half-written text before the big release? Does any interim feedback simply serve as self-gratifying validation for the author, rather than gently steering them in the right direction?

I recently wrote a screenplay for an amateur animator friend. It was pretty intense work and included eight songs, all of which I recorded and posted on youtube for her. I sent over the first act and she liked it. Buoyed by this response I carried on with the screenplay and eventually completed it. It had taken about three months but had been a labour of love and a great writing experience.

After sending it over, it took my friend a while to go through it. When we finally caught up, it was a very different conversation. She picked the smallest holes throughout the plot and put up barriers to show why she couldn’t start planning the filming. I guess she didn’t really want to make it in the first place.

So I don’t like a critic, is that the problem? I guess I don’t mind a few general pointers, hints, even criticisms, as long as it’s constructive and not just negative for the sake of it. In my case, I’d written a three act script and eight songs which I was pretty proud of, but I don’t think my friend even listened to them. She just read the words in the script and moved on to where she thought the problems were. I wouldn’t mind, but I’m sure anyone could find just one tiny piece of positive to reflect the obvious effort I’d put in.

Publish as you go

I’ve been thinking about publishing some of my writing for the book on this blog as I go along. Mainly so that I can show a bit of a flavour of where it’s heading, but also to get some feedback on what I’ve done. Following my recent experience, I’m not sure if this is the best idea.

When I wrote the screenplay, I was writing on my own. I showed it to one other person and got their take on it. The other person had some different views to me so we ended in a stalemate – how I wanted to write the story versus how she wanted to animate it. It was my word against hers.

Now I am pitching to a bigger audience, is it a good idea to encourage feedback on work in progress? Does anyone have experience, either positive or negative with this? I am completely open to comments on anything I write, as long as it’s constructive. In fact, I am always hoping to enter into a discussion around everything I do, as long as it helps the learning and improving process.

One issue around reviewing someone else’s work is personal opinion. When I am reading other people’s work I try to be objective about it. I may not like the genre, but if the writing’s good then that’s the feedback to give. If the writing’s bad then I try to say what’s wrong with it and not let the subject matter influence me. This can be tricky but it’s the most important thing about writing – different people like to read different things. There’s a market for everything, and that’s why we do it.

My view is that I want to share as much as I can and encourage all comments and opinion from anyone with an interest. It’s then up to me how much I take on board and adapt my writing accordingly. The only issue is that too much influence from outside could put a strain on the timing of the project, but at least I won’t end up in a one-on-one stalemate like I had with my now defunct screenplay.

As always, I’d really like to hear any comments or thoughts you have on this, and will be happy to discuss them below.

A minimalist approach to writing good characters

What’s in a character?

What makes a good character? It’s an age old question and I’m sure it gets asked all the time by writers in moments of idleness, block or fancy. I’ve spent the day thinking about this and have come up with my own answer, something I hope will simplify my future self’s writing no end.

So what is a character? When I’m writing, I tend to think of my protagonists and antagonists in eye colours, hair lengths, nose sizes, glasses wearers… I don’t necessarily think of them as people with emotions, political agendas or ponderous beings. I simply throw them into situations and observe how they react in my writing.

Readers, on the other hand have a completely different perspective than my writing self. They want to see under the skin of the character and feel what he feels. The reader reads the description about how tall and pimply the new restaurant critic is, but will instantly make up their own minds about what she looks like as she performs the Heimlich maneuver on a man in a dinner jacket who’s just been shouting at his wife. All this means is that readers care more about the person than what they look like. If only we could all be more like that in real life!

So where does this leave me in defining my characters for this project? Am I saying I shouldn’t work out up front all the different ear sizes of everyone on my island? Maybe I don’t need to go to that much detail, but I will need to describe roughly what people will look like, even if this is likely to be adapted or misread by the reader. Although I’ll do a bit of the descriptive and not care too much if it gets changed, there’s something much more important I need to do as well.

What drives a character?

I wanted to be able to describe everyone in a couple of sentences so that when I’m halfway through writing my book and I don’t know what a character will do next, I can reread their description and immediately know how they will react. In any situation.

I’ve done this by describing their motivations for the duration of the story. From the beginning to the end, everyone has a motivation – something that drives them. It might be money, or power, or not being shouted at by your husband in a busy restaurant. It could be having a tidy garden, or making sure you’re always one up on the neighbours. Whatever it is, these motivations will be able to fit into any situation and cause an identifiable reaction.

Does this make my characters one dimensional and predictable? Probably? What if they had more than one motivation, or they had a close friend whose motivation caused conflict with theirs? What if they had a particular motivation that is only realised when a triggering event occurs? Would that make them more interesting? I’m hoping so.

My motivation is to describe all the characters of my book briefly and precisely so I can aid my own writing whenever they are in the plot. If I can do that, I’m hoping I’ll create interesting, diverse characters whose behaviours will become so familiar to me I’ll be able to write them with my eyes shut.

How do you create your characters? Can you really define everyone in your book with just a couple of lines of description or does it take reams of notes and back stories to allow them to really leap from the page? Leave me a comment below if you have any thoughts on this.

Terraform writing – making the world for your characters

What in the world is going on?

I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the biggest problem in the world. Namely, what IS the world? When writing a book from scratch, there are lots of questions that immediately spring to mind about its setting: What does the world look like? What is it like to live in the world? What happens when you walk down the street? Where can I buy some eggs? That sort of thing.

I decided early on (at least a week and a half ago!) that the whole story would be based on an island. I’m not thinking one man and his volleyball desert island story, more an island community living independently, away from the rest of the world. The idea behind this was to give the locals a hard boundary so that their history and development could be kept separate from our real history, while all the physical properties of the island would be familiar to other real places. Eg, the island will be based somewhere off the United Kingdom, so we can assume it’ll be formed in a similar manner to, say, the Isle of Man.

When I first started out on this project, I thought I should be drawing detailed maps of every inch of my new world, making comprehensive notes on every blade of grass, snail trail and pavement slab topped with canine excrement. It seemed to me as if there was no other alternative if I wanted a clear run of writing in my next phase of the project.

A minimalist world

But is this really the case? Does the whole world need to be described in such detail before we begin? I am now thinking differently – how important is this world to the plot? In my case, it’s still the Earth, it’s still set somewhere in the past 50 years, people will speak English. There’s really not a great deal to get wrong with it!

Ok, so there are some major things to think about around the locations where the action will take place. This is fine – I’ve already accounted for most of these in my notes (and a fair bit in my head!), but if the plot calls for a new location as I am writing, how much effort will it be to fit this new place in? In my world, not very much at all!

So the real question here is, what am I missing? Am I way off the mark with this? To me, the characters are the main entities in this story and they will fit into this world as I tell them to. The world will not adapt around them. I know there’s lots of writers creating wonderful worlds for their epic fantasies and I doff my hat to all of you – the work you put in to this is outstanding, I just think it’s outside the scope for the type of book I’m writing.

An Introduction to the World of Indie Publishing

A Project Update

I put a countdown on my blog to keep my ever impending deadline in mind. However, after a couple of days I had to move it down the page so now it doesn’t appear on my laptop screen when I go onto my blog. No one needs to see their deadlines all the time.

So far, the Lost Dabs project is a mere 13 days old. So much has happened in the last couple of weeks of Foundations: I’ve decided on how the book will be published, the timescales for writing and editing, some of the characters details and an outline of the plot. I’ve created a method for capturing all my data around each character and the background facts of the world and developed a method for incrementally writing about each.

However, I’ve also learnt about something that I knew nothing of when I started. All I wanted to do was to publish a book myself using an established outlet. In my mind this was the Kindle Store – it seemed like the obvious choice as it has a large market share, the Amazon Store is something I already know about and, possibly most importantly, I already own a Kindle, an iPad with the Kindle App, an iPhone with the Kindle App… it’s all pretty accessible.

Doing It Yourself

But them I started reading about a whole world of Indie Authors. People who make a living doing what I’m trying to do. I realised that I am in massive danger of making light something that other people have spent years of their lives working on. I realised that I can’t produce any old crap and call myself an Indie Author. I realised I have to be a signed up member of the Indie movement.

This is the best news I’ve had since starting this project – the number of people who are all writing and independently publishing are all part of a great community. There’s massive competition in this market but I don’t want to see it. I want to embrace what other people are doing. I want to eschew the books I’ve bought on my shelves and start reading Indie Authors. I want to see what other people in my position are doing. I want to explore different genres and engage with people who are writing.

It’s the only way the Indie community can function: if I want people to read my book, I need to read and engage with those writing their own books.

As an unpublished Indie Author I don’t feel I can call myself fully part of this wonderful community yet, but I feel strongly enough to make it only a matter of time. Watch out world, the Huscin is coming! The countdown is ticking… maybe I should move it back to the top of my blog?!