Here’s an original blog post for you! Someone talking about writing a novel…not heard that one before ‘eh? Least not in the last twenty seconds anyway…
I realise this is not going to be of interest to a lot of people but it’s part of my journey so I feel compelled (The photos are explained at the end of this post). I’m not going to go too much into the story itself however. I enjoy blogging about the process of writing, what inspires me and the issues a novice such as myself face, so this is going to be more of a practical look at starting a novel. You and I know that there are volumes and volumes of, ‘How To Write A Novel’ books you can buy and there are many amazing people online who offer courses, books and newsletters on the subject for free. There are many more who offer paid courses too. They are all of value, some are exceptionally well known and respected, and you should research if you wish. This is just little ol’ me sharing his opinion and experiences so if you want to read the ‘rules’ of writing a novel then please look elsewhere.
If I briefly take you back a few years to when I decided to take the writing thing more seriously. I took two weeks leave from work and embedded myself and my collection of notebooks into a corner of my local coffee shop. These notebooks (well, some notebooks but in the main just boxes full of scraps of paper) went back to my early teenage years and I wanted to go through every single line to see what I could use. As you can guess there was a lot of embarrassing moments reading back twenty years worth of ideas and a large amount made their way quick-sharp to the bin but there were also things that I genuinely liked and thought could be grounds for stories. There was also a huge amount of repetition, the same ideas cropping up time and time again and although frustrating in one respect, in another quite helpful as it showed me I was consciously (and perhaps unconsciously) interested in certain topics and themes and after a while those repeating ideas, in whatever form they took, were grouped together in my mind to become the basis for what I thought would be my first novel…look at me, first novel, as if it’s a guarantee there will be a second! Don’t get carried away Rob…
After that process of collating I chose the first bunch of short stories to work on and in that naïve and optimistic fashion of starting something you don’t really understand I proceeded to form my own company and self publish. That was over three years ago now…and I haven’t published anything since! Ha! Wow has that time gone quickly. The last three years have seen some ups and downs for me but I have been writing through it all, it is just that nothing is ready yet. The biggest change is, for a multitude of reasons, I quit my job and moved to Spain for a year. While out here I planned to really think about my life and what I was going to do with myself and of course do a bit of writing at the same time. I am fairly happy with the results, I haven’t worked anywhere near as hard as I thought I would (sun, sea and sand anyone?) but it’s been a great year. What I didn’t expect is that it would take me all the way up to October to start working on the novel. I have several short stories at first draft stage and I’ll be blogging about that soon enough but that’s the update for you. Three years and a few life-changing decisions later I’ve got around to penning that first line.
One problem with waiting so long is that you tend to add to your notes…and add…and add…and add, so that by the time you come to look at it properly you have to untangle a vast mass of disparate ideas, scenes, characters, etc. Everyone is different of course and you maybe enormously organized and better at laying out your ideas as you go along than I am, however, I found myself sitting looking at a few dozen pages (in MS Word, for a couple of years now I write my notes up on the laptop straightaway) of bullet points, paragraphs, broken sentences, single thematic words and realizing I had a lot of sorting out to do.
The solution to this was something I had put off for a while – downloading the Scrivener software – knowing that I wasn’t ready to start properly and not wanting to start the free trial period only to see it pass without me trying it out and then having to pay for it! If you allow me, I thought I would share my initial thoughts.
First impressions, it’s great. It seems very straight forward to use, has all the tools I need and is generally quick to get on with. The biggest problem I faced was wondering where the hell to start. I had so many notes that I needed to clean up a little so that my head wasn’t feeling so swamped and confused.
Scrivener allows you to break down chapters and scenes into as many components or sub-folders as you like. You can add notes, images, (most types of file attachments as far as I can see) to each one as well as naming them and using meta-data. It’s very simple and very basic but that is exactly what I need, an easy and straight forward way of separating out all of the ideas I have had, place them all in order (which is very easy to re-order whenever you like) and importantly putting the right notes in the right places. For example, if I have a note concerning a character I will add it to that persons character profile page, if I have a note on a thought for some dialogue or a description of a building, etc. I can put them all in the right place that is easy to find and will be where I need it to be when I get around to that section.
It is a very good exercise in cutting away what you don’t need. I have a lot of scenes that even at this early stage of development are pretty obviousy wrong for this story and don’t belong. That’s very helpful to unclogging the thread of the story. Maybe they could become stories in their own right or can be added to other stories, so I’ll keep them but they’re not right for this one. That has reduced the notes a lot.
It has also been very helpful in expanding on scenes. Now I can see them in short scenes, mini episodes if you like, I have been able to throw in a lot of questions and suggestions into the notes section of that small scene without the problem of simply adding to an enormous ideas list. They are specific notes that are contained within a specific scene only. It seems very manageable and concise and gives me more confidence to be able to attack the book scene by scene by scene.
I’ve started on my character profiles and setting profiles. There were only a handful of characters in my mind to start with but once their lives become more real in my mind and the journey they go though more clear I can predict the sort of other characters that will be needed and it is handy to have a separate folder that I can easily create characters in or edit existing ones. They will of course grow I hope, as I write more and the novel defines itself in the process, but for now it is good that I have a rough idea of who these people are.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m using real people I know for names. That’s not much of a secret actually I know but it’s funny in that I haven’t done that before. Basically I know what roles these characters have but I haven’t fleshed them out yet but in order to write I find it helpful to have at least names for them. I have every intention of changing their names later and I’ll go through a more formal exercise in research names but for now, it’s quite fun to use friends, family and others as temporary names….maybe I won’t change some…
The overall impression I have is…that I have SO MUCH to do. I mean it seems a huge task right now. I feel fantastic for starting it and fantastic for breaking it down and having a more manageable set of targets ahead of me. However, it still seems like the biggest challenge I have ever set myself and as much as it is daunting, I’m looking forward to cracking on with it. Once (if) I feel more confident with its progress I’ll let you know how it’s going.
I’m not going to talk about my hopes and fears for the book. It is far too early to contemplate anything other than just getting on with it. The only target I have set myself other than working on it every day is a first draft date. I haven’t set a specific day but I am really hoping I can get to a first draft by the end of summer next year, that way I could in theory go through the editing process and still be able to self publish by the end of the year. Here’s to wishful thinking.
If you are interested in learning more about Scrivener here is the link to its website:
(Screenshot taken Sunday 5th October at 18:00)
A Spanish Castle and Missing Home
One thing about writing a book set in London is that with every scene I miss home more and more. Not because I am unhappy where I am, as you can see there are some breathtaking places to visit. The photos I have spread throughout this post are from a walk around an old fort/castle about a 45 minute car journey away. It isn’t for the faint of heart as the climb up the mountain uses a pretty narrow road and the drop down the side isn’t worth thinking about, however once you are up there, wow.
So as you can see I am having a great time, but as I have blogged about in the past, it is hard to have to think of home so much in order to write and not be able to pop out and see some of the places I am talking about. I am home in less than three months now so I have nothing to worry about and I in now way want to sound like I am having a tough time or anything, it’s the opposite, but there is a sense of homesickness that I can’t shrug off. It is also quite difficult to write properly because (again, I have blogged about this before so I’ll be quick) I feel like I should be at the places I’m describing. I can almost feel my local park for instance and I don’t think I have any trouble in recreating it in my mind in order to write about, but I want to be there none-the-less!!!
Okay, self-serving blog post over with…I have started the book. There, I’ve said it. I hope I won’t look back at this post this time next year and still be on Chapter One. Oh please I hope not. PLEASE!
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