2018 Writing Retreat

It has been some time since I’ve posted on the blog. I discovered that no matter what I try I just don’t have the time to do it all. And I want to, but I can’t. So my fiction writing had to come first.

It is that time of year again, when my writing buddy and I head off on our annual writing retreat. Last year was a great success at 6 nights so we repeated that this year in the hope of similar success. We nearly fell at the first hurdle when someone else had booked our usual time. But the writing gods were with us, or poor planning on their part, and they cancelled and we were in. Every year I say we need to book earlier.

We did our usual drive down together, the little car piled high with bags and computers and a whiteboard. We stopped along the way to shop (for lots of food we then had to pack up and bring home again) and a solid lunch. I left my handbag in the café (for the first time ever) and complete panic set in once I realised but they had put it away somewhere safe, and the older gentleman at the table next to ours was very quick to tell me it was ok when I came barrelling back into the shop.

Supplies purchased, good meal in our bellies and with too much wine packed we were off.

We kept the fire stoked and my writing buddy had her first roasted marshmallow experience. It rained nearly the entire time which was fine but a part of us hoped for snow.

After razzing my writing buddy for leaving the cottage last year, I decided that some exercise and fresh air would be needed. I wasn’t quite as dedicated as her but I did join her for 2 walks and even practiced some of my tap dancing (still a long way to go). I ate far too much sugar and maybe drank a little too much wine.

I’m sure you are wondering about the writing and yes, I did some, in fact I did a lot. I worked through my novel, Raven’s Edge 4 times. One really focused edit, where I added lots, changed lots, chopped bits and rearranged whole sections. Then I read through to make sure those changes all worked, made some more and added notes.

For the third read through I only focused on my added notes – where I had marked where something didn’t work. So it was a little quicker as I wasn’t reading the entire work. Then I went through one more time, reading every word and making sure it all worked. I tweaked some sentences, moved some chapters or parts of and fixed a couple of little bits that still didn’t sit quite right.

Overall I am pretty happy with the story and my brain was tired. I couldn’t look over it again and the next step it to send it out to beta-readers to see what they say. And it just may be that there is a lot more work to do.

That was the main focus of the trip this year, and I spent some time looking over the blurb again – but I must admit that is something I really struggle with. I did a little planning for the rest of Iski’s story and some general writing life planning too.

I did get lots of sleep and despite the amount of brain draining work I do feel pretty good for it. I took a spare laptop as I worried about my old faithful and ended up swapping over on the first full day after repeated warnings and alerts. Last year I managed to get quite a lot of reading done too. This year I only read three or four chapters and a short non-fiction book. I’m feeling excited about this book, and what is to come and I’m hoping I can ride the enthusiasm of the writing retreat for at least the next few months.

2017 in Review

2017 was supposed to be all about writing and maybe some marketing. It turned out to be a lot more about marketing and not so much writing.

I had some huge plans and I hate to admit that I have done the same for next year, but let’s just focus on this year for now.

My main goals for this year were:

  • Read at least 20 books.
  • Publish the Legend of Iski Flare Episodes 5 to 8 (including a box set).
  • Continue to work on my trilogy, The Raven Crown Series and publish books 1 and 2.
  • Plan and outline the next trilogy idea.
  • Continue to produce a monthly newsletter and regular blog post.

 

How did 2017 end up?

I did read more than 20 books. And I could have read a lot more so I’m already revising my goal for next year, but not too crazy.

Iski and I struggled this year. I published episode 5 later than I had planned and I’m still hoping that Episode Six will be released before Christmas. I didn’t get the box set out and not nearly as many episodes as I hoped.

Only published book 1 of the Raven Crown Series, but book 2 will hopefully be out early next year.

I have been working on the plan and outline for the next trilogy and it is better in some places than others, but I will start drafting in January.

I have produced a monthly newsletter but the blog fell away.

I usually end up taking a break from my writing over Christmas, whether I plan to or not. This year I’m going to continue writing to try and get a good start on 2018.

 

I know that I didn’t use my time as well as I could have this year. I spent a lot of time that I should have been writing, researching marketing and trying out different marketing ideas.

I’m trying something new with my planning and outlining processes and I hope that it means I can produce a better first draft faster.

 

Plans for 2018

Next year is already looking a bit ambitious but I’m quietly confident I can get close to achieving everything on the list.

And the list? You will have to wait until the new year to see my plans for 2018.

In the meantime, I’ve been adjusting my website a little. Let me know what you think of the changes.

 

Have a happy and safe holiday season.

 

Writing Retreat 2017

Sun rising over our last morning

What a fantastic time I had this year at my annual writing retreat. Six nights, five full days of writing bliss. Although I was getting a little silly by the end of it and the strangest things were setting me off – such as continuously nodding characters and inappropriate whispering.

Working with someone with the same goals is also really helpful. My writing buddy and I work pretty well together. We can concentrate and write away, shared tools and tips to keep the writing flowing, double checked spelling and pronunciation. 

We could laugh together over silly or strange character behaviour, interrupting each other when we need to ask a question, or pour each other a glass of wine. Sharing helps, particularly when you know you can continue the work and encourage each other.

We had a tv but chose not to watch it. We had no internet and no phone service, other than a landline family could call in.

Day 1 - ready to write

I won’t go over my hours of writing minute by minute, rather I’ll give you an overview of what some dedicated time away from the distractions of life can do. Well, what it did for me and the lasting effects I hope it has.

Over those days and writing, editing and sharing, I achieved a lot:

· I worked through my next book three times. My aim was to  ensured the story works (hopefully), all the main plot points were where they were meant to be, that the climax was apprortiate, the characters where who I wanted them to be, and the right amount of questions left the reader hanging for the next book.

· I restructured the messy draft that was book 3 in the series (still messy but in the right order and a lot more work to do).

· Drafted a short story for the Raven’s Dawn launch.

· Played with some other short story ideas.

· Preped the paperback template for Raven's Dawn

· Read one and a half novellas; and one novel – not in that order.

​It was a very prodcutive time and I'm really happy with wll that I acheived. I always hope that I can continue the productivity and enthusiasm when I get home again. So far so good.

The only possible drawback from such a retreat is that it reinforced for me how much I want to write; how I could spend my days writing and editing and creating new worlds. And that such a life is still in the distance. At least for one week a year I can be the full time writer I want to be.

How long does it take to write a book?

how-long-does-it-take-to-write-a-bookEveryone wants the answer to this question to be simple and the response along the lines of “It’s easy” and “Of course it doesn’t take long!”

But it isn’t.

Writing is hard and it takes time.

I have pumped out first drafts in reasonably quick time frames, but then there is a lot more work required after that.

There are edits required and I don’t care how good you think the first draft is, you are going to need to at least read through it again, and tweak something. And if this is your first book, there will be quite a few tweaks and changes needed.

 

Track your time

I track how long I spend doing different tasks. This tells me lots of things, how long each part of the writing process takes, how much time I spend writing, how much time I don’t spend writing.

Cleary the more time you put into a book the quicker the process. But it does need time to rest and ruminate to help it grow big and strong.

With all the writing and re-writing and non-writing time I spent with the Mark of Oldra it took me years. If I had knuckled down and focused better it would have only taken a fraction of that time. But then I didn’t think it through before hand and I found the thinking time between writing times helpful.

 

Planning and Outlining

I started out a pantser. Partly because I didn’t know any better. Now I am far more organised, at least planning out key points and character arcs before I start writing.

I am already playing with ideas for my next big project. These will expand into a solid outline and then beats for each scene before I start writing. Although I do have some time to do that, I’m booked up with other projects – namely the Raven Crown Series – and I won’t be able to start drafting until 2018. But I am going to be very ready when I start, and hopefully that will make the writing process smoother, and involve less re-writing. And thus speed up the writing process.

I hope to become the ultimate planner.

 

Just how long…

My writing process has taken years of learning, trial and error.

Each writing project teaches you more about the writing process and what that means to you, how you could do it better, how you could do it differently.

I don’t know that I will ever find the perfect system, the perfect process for writing a book. It seems to be evolving and it may be that for different projects what works for one, won’t work with another.

 

I’m not sure that I have answered the question.

In fact I’m not sure there is a steadfast answer that we could all use.

Writing is different for all of us. Life around writing is different for all of us. Our discipline and focus shifts.

Make notes, learn all you can from other writers, and track what you do and how that works or doesn’t work for you.

Determine how long it takes you to write a book and then see if you can apply process that with the next book.

Assuming that my outline and beats are perfect before I start my next project; and assuming my focus is razor sharp; that I’m still working full time; and that my current practices still hold, it will take me about 10 months from drafting to published. This includes a lot of assumptions. It may be that I finish sooner or it may take me longer.

The importance of outlining

 

A well developed outline produces a story to remember
A well developed outline produces a story to remember

As I am well into a range of projects it might be a bit of a strange area to focus on structure and outlining at the moment. But as I rework the Raven Crown Series after the beta readers took it apart it seems the right place to be.

 

Why it is important to outline:

If you have been following my blog for a while you will be well aware that I started life as a pantser. And, until recently I was still pantsing my way through more of my stories than I should have been. I am getting better at outlining before I start, but I’m still far too brief.

There is still a part of me that worries if I have the outline too clearly written out there is nowhere for the characters to go.

A clear outline gives direction and a place for the characters to work within. It also greatly reduces the chances of hitting a hole in the plot or a place where you don’t know what is to happen next. It also ensures that the story hits all the important milestones on its way to the end.

 

Structural tips to build your outline:

I have used a number of different techniques to develop my outlines, including combinations of methods and sometimes that stays the same and sometimes it changes.

The Snowflake method builds up the story and characters from one line to an in depth narrative. I use most of the steps, usually not the last few, and I find it useful as a developmental tool.

KM Weiland is brilliant in structure and out line and it is well worth looking at her books on this. I use her three act structure outline and plug my story into it from the work I do in the snowflake method.

Chuck Wendig wrote a great post on 25 Ways to plot plan and prep your story. There is something for everyone here but be warned, he’s not afraid to say it how it is and some may find his straight forward approach offensive.

Libby HawkerTake off your pants book on outlining:

I found this interesting as it uses the main character’s flaws, wants and needs. I thought this a useful tool as it gave me a better picture of my character. This produced a fairly good outline in just one page and reasonably quickly.

You only have to google plotting or outlining to find lots of outlining ideas.

 

How well that seems to be working:

Overall I use a combination of the different processes I have found. I’m slowly working out what works best for me. But the key points I’ve discovered are:

  1. Know your characters
  2. Keep the story moving forward
  3. Make it interesting/exciting/engaging.

 

Where to next:

As I review my series outline and ensure my story moves forward in an engaging manner, I have a clearer idea of what should happen.

Now I need to implement the changes in the outline to the story itself.

 

How easy do you find creating an outline?

 

Other useful plotting links:

http://www.novel-writing-help.com/how-to-plot-a-novel.html

https://www.writersedit.com/how-to-outline-your-novel-11-easy-steps/

Working with Beta Readers

Chapter 8 editingI recently sent my novel out to a group of beta readers. In the past I have begged a few friends to read for me; this time I put out an official request for volunteers on Twitter and the various Facebook groups I belong to. And I was really stoked with the response.

I warned readers from the get go that it would be a short turn around and the dates I wanted it read. In all I got 10 beta readers sign up.

Not everyone was going to love the story but it was a good cross section and I thought it would provide a great range of views.

To make life easier I used Mail Chimp to send it out. That way everyone had the same file and instructions and there wasn’t the chance of leaked email addresses. But I came across a couple of problems.

Firstly, if an email was incorrect and bounced it was then deleted from the list. Thankfully I had downloaded the list before the send and so I could see who was missing but it took me a few days to work out why they were no longer on the list, then track them down and check details.

What I would do in the future is have a section in the list that tells me where I captured the reader from. And I need to check regularly after the email goes out to see that it all went well.

Secondly, Mail Chimp does not like gmail addresses. I remembered vaguely reading this somewhere but although it says it sent the email it doesn’t seem to arrive at the other end. I had to individually send out emails to two on the list as they didn’t get it with everyone else.

But the overall benefit that all the information was kept together and secure made it worthwhile.

Then it was the waiting and waiting for them to come back to me with comments and the like. Although it wasn’t really that much waiting as I had a two week turn around and other things to do while they read.

Once I had most returned I combined all the comments into one document via a fancy trick I picked up for Word. This allowed me to read through and correct as I went with all the comments in one place. Other than the one friend who printed hers out and used a pencil, but that’s ok too (I manually added hers).

 

What I discovered was:

Firstly, not everyone will follow through. There were some non-responders and several after the deadline. It is worth setting a dead line a bit sooner than what you actually need (something to remember for next time).

Secondly, a week was a stupid amount of time to get the responses together and make corrections and send to the proof reader. I was going to need a lot more time to make sure this story was as good as it could be.

Thirdly, everyone reads differently. I had a couple of responses that just picked up the typos and marked where they got a little lost or confused or a sentence didn’t read well. Others found the timeline tricky, the setting not detailed enough, some characters shallow and the plot not thick enough. All of these comments were excellent and raised some really interesting points.

 

What I did with the comments:

After the panic subsided as to how much work I really needed to do on this book, I remembered I had the same experience with my last novel. And clearly I hadn’t learnt from that experience.

I pooled all the comments together and then glanced through them.

Had another panic.

Then, with a deep breath, I took in what they were saying and dissected the novel. I marked out each chapter, the POV, the main conflict and possible problems/issues and the main structural points I should have been seeing.

As I did this some solutions came to mind. Ideas about changes to the plot (mostly small), things characters could do differently to show their thinking better, changes in setting, extra scenes, scenes to delete or change POV.

There was a lot swirling around in my head. But although there was a lot to do I was only looking at what would make this stronger.

 

Where I am now:

I am starting the process of actually rewriting/editing the novel to implement the changes outlined above. Part of this is an edit, either moving scenes around, expanding them or killing them off.  Part of this process is writing, creating new scenes or ideas and fitting them in. I am reviewing the main plot points to make sure they are clear and relevant to my protagonist.

The best piece of advice I have received through all of this is from one of my beta readers, who got it through a course he did.

That is to keep asking myself as I write/edit/plot –

“Why is this scene needed? Why is it needed here?”

I am trying to take that into account as I work through this edit.

 

When will you get to read it?

As I first pulled the comments together I really hoped I could get this work done before Christmas. I need to be realistic about the amount of work required, the reviewing process, proofreading, preparing for publication and so on.

I want you to get the best book I can create, so as I go I’m reviewing my plan and timelines but it looks like early next year at this stage.

 

Beta readers

No matter the comments they are all useful. If you are writing, I would strongly suggest a getting a group of readers to have a look. To make sure it does flow on the page as well as it does in the mind of the writer. And it doesn’t have to cost you. Ask around, you might be surprised who puts their hand up to have a look.