Tuesday, 24 November 2020

When NOT finishing a scene is the right thing to do...

Now, I don't mean this for the finished product! I once read a book that had "Make a better ending than this" at the end of a chapter, which presumably had been a note the author had left themselves in the drafting stage and never actually done anything about it (the whole book was fairly ropey to be honest).

No, I mean during the writing of the first draft, it can be the right thing for me to NOT finish a scene.


I can only speak for myself, but during a first draft, the aim (for me) is to get the majority of the story down in a semi-decent way. I'm mostly a planner, and so I have the majority of the key scenes mapped out before I start to write. Admittedly, these often change and there are organic changes to the plot, but the bare bones of the book are mapped out.

Some days, the words can flow and flow and I can see the whole scene - beginning, middle and end - as clear as day. Other days, it flows a bit more like treacle, and I'm not sure where a scene is going or how it's going to end. When that happens, I stick a note to myself, in block capitals, at the end of the scene. These notes can range from: STILL TO FINISH to BLEUGH! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE! When I reach that point, I know there's no point keeping on writing. I leave the scene alone and start on another scene that I can see more clearly. The idea is that I go back to those scenes and finish them off on another day, when my brain has been processing things and has come up with an ending!

Right now, I'm about 70% through the first draft of book #10. The crux of the plot has stayed fairly constant, but some of the details have changed since I started the first few scenes. Those first few scenes were like pulling teeth and after all of the scenes between the main character and one other character, I ran into the sand. I put notes on them (mostly more the 'bleurgh' kind!) and moved on. Now that I'm ~70% in, this other character has never reappeared in the book. He was part of a strand that isn't going to be written and in fact, all of his scenes will be cut (or at least significantly changed). Thank goodness I didn't spend any more blood, sweat or tears on trying to fix them!

For those scenes, absolutely the right thing to do was to stop writing them and leave myself a note, because subconsciously, I obviously knew they were wrong.

Other times, I go back to a scene and the ending to it falls out naturally because of what I've written in the next scene, or in a later scene.

I find it hard to remember that a first draft is always terrible. There are plot holes; the order of the scenes isn't right; whole scenes are irrelevant; vital scenes are missing... I need to remind myself almost daily, that a first draft is me just getting the story sorted out in my head; that the first draft is always the worst version of the book; that no one, not even my closest writer-friends, will ever read the first draft. I constantly want to go back and to polish the scenes I've written, because their awfulness pokes at me and saps my confidence. They sit there, telling me that I'm a terrible writer who can't even finish off a scene.

And then, I go back and look at some of the scenes with the 'bleugh, I have no idea where this is going' notes and realise, no, I didn't ever know where that scene was going, because ultimately it was going in the trash!

If you're writing your first draft, my advice would be not to get bogged down in a scene, but to keep marching forwards, because when you get to the end of the first draft, those 'difficult' scenes might be cut, or their solution may have appeared.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Random questions and Helpful People

As a writer, there are always times when you don't know something that is crucial to the plot. In some genres, that's fine - you could just make it up! But at other times, you need to know the actual answer!

Yes, there is the Internet and your search engine of choice, and I have spent many a happy day getting utterly lost down rabbit-holes after starting out on trying to find what I thought should be a simple fact. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent on the National Libraries of Scotland site, on their map comparison pages (https://maps.nls.uk/)!

But sometimes, the Internet doesn't have the answer, or you need a more nuanced or more detailed answer than can be found online.

Step forward the amazing local knowledge people.

So far, for book #10, I have been grilling a local solicitor about inheritance issues as a key plot point, and a local historian about the building of Fort George and the origins of Ardersier.

The solicitor, Donald, has been enormously helpful (and patient) as I've asked about how long things would take, what paperwork would be involved, checked out minuscule details and asked random questions. He's even given me an amazing quote to use in the book. Donald, you've been a total star!

And Lorna has gone above and beyond with help over Fort George, Ardersier, maps, lists of graveyards/cemeteries, burial lists, and so much more. Hubby and I went up to Ardersier recently and managed to meet up with Lorna, who then promptly found even more maps and information for me. We had a fabulous (socially distanced) couple of hours, with tea, cake and chat in the local café up there, and I came away not only better informed, but with some great new plot points rattling through my head.

So yes, the Internet can be great, but real people can be even better.

Now, I just need to drag myself away from those maps and I might even get close to the NaNoWriMo target I talked about last week!

Tuesday, 10 November 2020


Those of you who know me well, know that I've never been a big fan of NaNoWriMo - the idea that you write 50K words of a novel over the month of November.

It sounds straightforward - write 1667 words a day, every day for all 30 days. Or 2381 words per weekday with the weekend off. Or however you want to slice and dice it.

I've always felt that this was unsustainable for me. I plan a lot. And although on a good writing day I can clear more than 3000 words and I may even sustain that for a few days in a row, I'm not sure I can sustain 1667 per day for 30 days as an average. And I'm even less sure that in focusing on the word count, I will write 50K words that will survive any editing. Yeah - I could write 50K words in a month, but then I'll spend much longer sorting it all out.


Book #10 is planned. Not every scene in full detail, but the bare bones are certainly sorted out and some of the meat. And although I do have other commitments that pull me away from writing full-time, I could quite probably write more per day than I currently do. I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't average 1667 words per day, or the 50K over the month, but I am going to try to get more of book #10 done than my average monthly word count.

I'll let you know in December if I've managed it! But now... back to writing!

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

In praise of housework

Now, that's a phrase I never thought I'd say. Much as I love having a clean and tidy house, I do not enjoy doing housework. But - like knitting - it's a repetitive, low level of brain-involvement type of activity that clearly allows my brain to be working on other, much more interesting things. Like solving a big plot-hole.

Last week, I realised that my Muse wasn't on strike, I was just trying to write the wrong book. Despite being able to see almost all of the book, there was one big thing that I couldn't quite work out. It was a fairly fundamental part of the book which would need clarification relatively early on in the novel, but however much I tussled with it and turned it this way and that, I couldn't see a way to make it work.

I left it alone, with the hope that my brain would figure it out at some point. After all, in every book I've written, I've come across at least one problem like this and every time, my brain has come up with a solution.

Much like last week, when the book essentially fell into place while I was in the shower, this week, the solution to the sticky plot issue came to me while I was cleaning the kitchen sink. At least this time I didn't need to dash through the house, wrapped in a towel, before I could get some notes down!

Now I just have to write the thing! But at least my Muse is talking to me again and I can see the book properly.