About Writing: What I Learned

When I embarked on writing In The Can, my latest novel, it began much like any other project; fun and engaging. But it soon turned into a hard slog, felt like a chore, and became a real bane, right up until the moment I finished the first draft. In fact, it was the least fun I’ve ever had writing something.

Out Now

Real life kept getting in the way, though that wasn’t the issue really, just a good excuse to ignore the real problems.

So, here’s what I learned over the past few months.

Deadlines Are Your Friend

Even if you set yourself an arbitrary completion date, even if it’s a spec project, set that deadline and stick to it. Don’t let anything prevent you from doing so. My original plan was to finish at the end of December 2012, but I let other matters get in the way, and come the New Year, I wasn’t even half way done.

The problem compounded itself when I failed to set a new deadline, and it was only when I finally gave myself a firm finishing date that I knuckled down, worked through the difficulties and got to the end.

Set A Work Schedule And Keep To It

I do this often, especially when script writing, but for some reason this time round, I didn’t for the longest time. I didn’t settle down at the same time every day and do my allocated word count. I didn’t get enough done each day, and I didn’t force myself to turn off the Internet and focus.

But these are all just symptoms of the real problem.

No Matter How Much Planning You Do, It’s Never Enough

I put together a chapter by chapter breakdown, as always, and it had the effect of making me want to start writing. But I wasn’t disciplined enough to wait, to do more planning, to confront every problem at this stage and solve it.

So, when I got to say Chapter Eleven, I realised I only had a scant idea of what needed to happen at this point of the story.

I found that while I had my overall plot structure mapped out, I didn’t spend enough time on breaking the chapters down. Some chapter plans had no conflict, which is the death of story. Some didn’t seem to have a point, some didn’t drive the plot forward.

And instead of fixing this, I ploughed on, hitting the same wall with each new chapter. I came to resent each new writing day, which is so unlike me. It was only when I took that step back and returned to the planning stage, mapping out each chapter properly, that I got back into the swing of things.

But by then, the damage was done. I had lost confidence in the story, I didn’t like my characters; they just reminded me of the slog.

I’ve never felt that way about something I’m writing before, and it was unpleasant and counter-productive.

As a consequence, I have no idea how successful or otherwise In The Can is. I can’t appraise it with a clear head; I just remember the resentment and the hard work. I remember rubbing my eyes and temples, growling at the keyboard, each paragraph another wall to knock through. It might even be alright, but I suspect not.

Luckily, that’s not for me to decide. It’s done now. I can take what I’ve learned and remember the best way that I work, and hopefully I’ll have more fun with the next project. This one is a script.

In The Can is out in paperback and for the Kindle, available from your local Amazon store.

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