Before I get started, I'd just like to put out an appeal again to Alessandra @ Out of the Blue, who still hasn't contacted me with her address to send her copy of Shadows on the Moon. Now, I confidently expected to be posting the prizes out on Saturday - until I realised that it was New Year's day and everything was closed. Then I realised that Monday would be a bank holiday too. So that means I'm not sending anything until tomorrow. But if I don't hear from Alessandra by the end of the week I'll have to draw another name because it's not really fair to all the others who were so keen to win this prize. Please email me Alessandra!
Okay, today I have three reader questions related to writing, from Isabel, Nara and Megha - so I'll try to be a little more succinct in my answers, instead of rambling on (and on and on) like I normally do, or else this post will be way too long.
NARA: Something that's been bothering me of late is how to keep to the main focus of the story. At the moment, my plot just feels incredibly messy with too many things happening that are not important. Even today I had to cut out an incredibly exciting scene because it just wasn't linked to the main focus of the story. Any tips on how to maanage these sub--plots and events?
My main piece of advice on this would be to not TRY to manage them, Nara. If you're still writing your first draft there will always be unexpected plot off-shoots, characters developing in unforeseen ways and events that bulge out and turn into different ones, and that is a good thing. That's your brain working feverishly away behind the scenes to give you what you need to create original and brilliant stories. If I had tried to cut off all the unnecessary bits while I was still writing Shadows on the Moon, I would never have written the ending that I did - a completely unexpected ending which was never in my synopsis but which turned out to be *perfect* because it played on several parts of the story which had developed spontaneously as I was writing.
I know how confusing and frustrating it can be when your story seems to be flying off in all directions and even you aren't entirely sure what the main point of it is anymore. But that's what the second draft is for. That's when you put the manuscript aside for as long as you can, then read it again, and start making colour-coded pie charts or using coloured Post Its to keep track of different subplots, and get ruthless by cutting out scenes and characters that don't serve your story. You WILL need to do this (and if you go back and look at these posts, that might be helpful). Not in the first draft though, or you might end up nipping the most vital and interesting parts in the bud and killing the story in the process.
MEGHA: Zoe, do you ever feel you have nothing to write? That seems to be my excuse right now. I just got nothing.
And, do you feel like that even when you're working on a novel? Because that happened to me when I was working on my first proper story and felt that... eh... everything's over, all fine and fit, the problems have been resolved, but there's still no way I can end my story like this.
What do I do when I'm stuck in this situation?
I'm afraid it sounds like a typical case of writer's block here, Megha. This could be because:
- You've written all the interesting bits of your story and it doesn't have enough interesting bits left to make a full book.
- You haven't thought things through completely and you've written yourself into a corner where you can't see what should happen next.
- You really do know what should come next but you're dreading writing it and so you're stalling to avoid that.
- You've just pushed yourself too hard and used up all your writing juice, and it needs a chance to replenish itself.
I don't mean give up on your story. I mean, carry on reading, watching the films and TV shows that you love, carry on fiddling with pieces of poetry or other stories and try, hard as it is, not to worry about it. Believe me, the more you worry, the longer it takes. And eventually, if the problem is 2, 3 or 4, something will randomly spark at the back of your brain (out of the blue, usually with no apparent rhyme or reason) and you'll *need* to write again, just like that, and what's more, know what to write as well. However, if the problem is 1, then after giving yourself a bit of distance you'll realise that and sadly bid farewell to the story, and move onto something else.
ISABEL: I have a problem. I've always written very slowly. Not literally; I type fast, but my progress is always very slow. This is because I always feel as if everything has to be *perfect*. I always have to think about a sentence a bit before I write it, because I can't live with a piece of writing that I don't like much. Do you follow? It's kind of hard to explain. I always tell myself, "It's okay, just scribble something down now and you can edit later," but it always bugs me when my writing isn't that good. I don't know how you could help me with this, but I thought I might mention it to you. Have you ever had this problem? Do you know what i mean?
Well, there's nothing wrong with writing slowly, you know. I mean, I *can* produce 25,000 words a week if I want to - but they won't be very good quality words. And while some people (including friends of mine!) are happy to scribble 'Touching scene of reconciliation' or 'Vivid descriptions of the view from the palace rampart' in the margins and leave it, I've been known to spend an entire afternoon labouring over three or four paragraphs because I know that they way the turn out is vitally important to the way I'll write the rest of the chapter, or even the rest of the book.
I know that I always say: Give yourself permission to suck. And there's value in that, especially if you're scribbling notes in your lunchtime or putting together a rough sketch of a scene that you fully intend to flesh out later. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have fun playing with language, or tell yourself off for taking care and polishing your words before you move on, if that's the way that feels right to you. If working more slowly means that you're happier with what you produce, then work slowly. If there are places where you get stuck and you desperately want to leave them and move on, then that's fine too!
I hope this has been helpful for you guys - thanks for leaving your questions and trusting me to answer them. As always, if there are any other queries about writing or publishing, just email me through my profile or leave them in the comments.