Folks – I’m back blogging after quite some time, and it’s safe to say I’m in full swing again. Unfortunately I just couldn’t set enough time aside over the last few weeks to write this post, despite best intentions every day. The topic I will cover is one I’ve wanted to post about for a while now, and finally I’m able to get my thoughts on the subject out to you guys. So without further ado, let’s get straight to it. A break from writing – why is that a good thing?
To bring the question directly into context, let me briefly update you all on my own writing progress. Due to unforeseen events in my life recently, I was pulled away from my writing for nearly two months. Not ideal or desired of course, and at the time I felt very stressed thinking about how I was behind in my work and how I wouldn’t make the deadline I had set for the first book of my trilogy to be completed by year end. However, I came to realise that taking a break from writing is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it can be very much the opposite. Coincidentally, I attended a work related conference during this time and one of the speakers said something that really struck a chord with me. He expressed his views on innovation, quoting that innovation is stepping away from something for a period. That thought really stood out to me amongst the man’s presentation because I interpreted it in relation to writing to mean that taking a break would allow new ideas to come. And after I took a break (although not by choice), that’s exactly what happened to me.
Fast forward to October of this year… I sat down one day to start writing chapter 22 of my book and suddenly I was faced with a big problem. After a tough time trying to write the first paragraph, I realised that I couldn’t possibly expect to just launch into writing again; I needed to refresh my mind on the previous twenty-one chapters. It had been too long since I was writing frequently, so I felt it was important to review everything to date before I furthered the story. The decision was made at that moment. I knew what I had to do. And so I began to read over all my work, right from the Prologue. As you may be guessing as you read this post, it was during this review that I seen windows of opportunity to not only develop parts of the story, but I also spotted sub plots that needed to be altered for the better. I must admit that the idea of changing certain parts of the plot had already came to me prior to review, but at that time I wasn’t sure when the right time would be to do the revisions. That is, until I read through the twenty-one chapters I had and seen that the parts in question most certainly needed to be rewritten. This realisation brings me nicely onto my approach for rewriting, which I will be kicking off this coming weekend. Before I forget, I will briefly discuss early morning writing later on in this post – something I’ve already posted about many months back, but an important approach I used this year again (however, from 3am instead of 5am!).
So then back to my approach to the rewrite. Whilst I am now well and truly behind on my plans to finish Book 1 of my trilogy by the end of December, I have accepted that my writing cannot be rushed; nor can it be forced for that matter. I am taking the revisions/rewrite in five-chapter instalments because I feel this is the least overwhelming way to do it. This week I went to my local library and printed the first five chapters of my written work on the book, ready to attack with the dreaded red pen. On the pages I intend being ruthless with myself and my work – it’s necessary, isn’t it? If you can’t be your own worst critic then you’ll struggle to take feedback from pre-publishing readers (peers) or editors. At least that’s my view on the subject. I want to scrutinise and challenge every word. Every sentence. Every paragraph. Every chapter opening. Every chapter closing. Every character. Every description. Every scene of dialogue. Every name. Basically, EVERYTHING. Once I have done that analysis on the printed copy of the first five chapters, I’ve came to the conclusion (after much thought) that the rewrite should happen immediately. I will take my red pen notes and sit down on my laptop and rework those chapters until I’m happy that the story is improved to the highest standard it can be in order for me to move on to rewriting the next five chapters. Yes, on one hand this approach of mine will slow down my progress with the book, but again I made another decision to not force or pressure myself with deadlines and timings anymore. If I do that, I’ll only disappoint myself again and again and again. This book of mine will be ready when it’s ready, and not before. The end date is now TBD, but I’m happy with that. It’s in the interest of myself as the writer to take it easy and just write what I can when I can. Between my busy job and other things in my life, I believe it’ll all come together. Well I don’t believe it will actually, I know it will. Disappointment is not good for the soul and I’ve set myself at this stage a lot of different dates for completion, none of which I’ve even come close to. Unexpected events in life occur regularly and what may be my biggest priority in life is pushed down the list, much to my dismay. Sh*t happens and we have to just go with it. Let’s have faith in ourselves, dammit!
The latter thought leads me to share another failure on my behalf, occurring only recently. At the end of October when I finished reading the twenty-one chapters I have written so far, I had a great idea to do NaNoWriMo; with my own little twist though. I was so pumped and excited after reading all my work to date that I came up with a plan to set myself the goal challenge of writing 50,000 words across the month of November. It would have been 1,667 a day; quite a lot for someone who unfortunately isn’t in a position to commit to writing daily. Of course NaNoWriMo is supposed to involve the writing of a new novel from start to finish, but the twist I had in mind was that I would write 50k words of my own book, which I hoped would allow me to complete the first draft of the book in its entirety. Essentially I was setting myself that goal so that I could get a first draft down on paper quickly, knowing fully well that first drafts are always destroyed and rewritten several times before being considered a final product. But, it was the glaringly obvious sections that needed a lot more development that made me see the light and accept that there would be no escaping a revision and rewrite. It simply has to be done now, at this exact moment in time. I cannot continue writing the last eight to ten chapters of my book based on content I know must change, especially when that confirmation is at the forefront of my mind. And so that plan was thrown in the bin, and I made my way to the library to print those first few chapters. So… here I am, ready to rock and roll this weekend. I am excited for what the output will be of the much needed revision.
Before I round up this post, I want to touch on just two extra subjects. Firstly I want to revisit early morning writing. Some of you may remember around this time last year that I got up at 5am to write, and I can truly say that during the course of the few months that followed I wrote a lot of kickass material. For me, there is no better time to write than first thing in the morning when the mind is fresh and the imagination runs wild; free from distraction. To add to this best practice from my point of view is the even earlier time of 3am, the hour of creative people. Earlier this year towards the end of Q1 and for a decent chunk of Q2, I rose at that seemingly ridiculous hour of the morning and wrote until 6am, sometimes 6:30am, before preparing to go to my job. At the time of doing this, I didn’t write a post to cover the advantages of it and my personal successes, but I can say now that it is the most productive writing I’ve produced to date. I’m very proud of the work I achieved during those three hour blocks those mornings. A colleague of mine gave me a book on loan upon hearing that I was taking that approach, and the book was titled Daily Rituals (or maybe it was Daily Routines, come to think of it), which detailed the routines of famous writers, inventors, poets, etc. You’ve guessed it – a lot of them started work at 3am, hence why I previously referred to it as the hour of creative people. From what I’ve come to understand, many creative individuals (such as writers) work from this time early morning for the same reasons I did and still do when I can. They do it because it’s productive. Proven productive, more to the point. So folks, if you’ve not tried it I highly recommend you do. Even for a week. Try it and monitor the results against what you usually achieve at other times, be that evenings or weekends. Unfortunately I can’t always manage to do this because of tiredness and other factors, however I plan to start it up again as many mornings as I can once I’m back writing chapter 22 onwards.
The second and last point I’d like to mention is that I attended two writing courses/workshops in October; one centred on characters and the other on dialogue. As a writer who finds dialogue difficult to master, I gained vital information on how best to write powerful and meaningful dialogue. For now I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but I will post a separate update on that at some stage soon, especially since I covered the topic last year here on this blog during times of struggle with the technique. Two pieces of advice I will give though is that reviewing and playing with verbatim transcripts are a great way to practice perfecting dialogue. One task we had to do in the Dialogue workshop was to cut down a transcript of a conversation between two Irish politicians so that we were left with the real nuggets of information; the hard-hitting dialogue. Last but not least, plays are a great way to look at best practice dialogue because of course they consist of just conversations; spoken exchanges.
Well, I hope this post has been an interesting and somewhat useful read for you folks. On a closing note, I promise to post more frequently. I’m embarrassed with my lack of contact, and as a result have been planning further posts for sending your way shortly! It is hard to keep up to date with this blog when I am also struggling to find as much time as I would like to write my book in itself, so I’d like to ask that you bear with me. Take care everyone – and hey, don’t ever give up because no matter what hurdles or disruptions we face, we’ll get there in the end with our books 🙂