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.

2016 Writing Retreat Report

2016 Wiring RetreatThis year was a disaster – for a start my writing buddy left the cottage, actually went outside, to walk in the fresh air every day, and exercise. I found the break with tradition distressing. And I should have joined her.

But other than that, we actually got quite a lot done. As always, I came away with the feeling that I could have done a little more, but then I did complete what I planned to: the final edit of Raven’s Dawn. It was such a relief to get it finished and ready for beta-readers on my return to the real world.

There were some odd little things that popped up. As I read through the last of it before the final edit on the first day I discovered a problem. I had cut an earlier scene that had a key point that carried through the rest of the series. In a late scene in the book when someone refers to what was said earlier I realised the mistake, for the earlier comment no longer existed. I made a note, found where it use to be in an earlier draft and carried on.

I worked hard through the last edit, moving slowly through each chapter and then revising it as a whole before moving on to the next one. Some only took half an hour or so, others took much longer. But I was happy, the story was working well, the characters appeared on the page as they appeared in my head. Little typos and strange punctuation were tidied up.

And then I swore.

I had come across the same problem. I still hadn’t inserted the conversation into the story to fix my little error. I just needed a couple of lines. I had inserted a new scene with the key characters and so I went back and inserted the required dialogue into that conversation. Re-read. And yes it flowed. Or at least it appeared to.

I finished the edit to elation and fist pumps and a little happy dance that I won’t subject you to again. But I was sure it wasn’t too bad, it might even be good. I have put quite a lot of work into this, although not quite at the pace I could have, but it was a good story and I was happy.

Fingers crossed the beta-readers feel the same.

I realised on that last day of the retreat, that I was so keen to get the work done that I hadn’t even photographed the first day set up as I did every year. But you can be assured that despite my writing buddy’s deviance from tradition, we did sit on the same sides of the kitchen table we did every year, we gravitated to the same couches and despite my offer to change it up, we had our usual rooms (mine musk, hers green).

The kitchen table on the last morning.
The kitchen table on the last morning.

We discussed families and frustrations, American grammar and whether we should be writing toward a particular continent; as well as other projects that would bring in the cash so that we could live our dream and write full time.

Despite talk of trying somewhere different, we feel comfortable there. It is our own little hideaway, that isn’t quite as deeply buried in the bush as I originally thought, but it is distraction free. I didn’t have to worry about the kids or the cats, the ballet exams and the piles of washing. I could concentrate on just the writing and that is what I did. I may have consumed too much sugar and maybe a little more wine than my usual weekend. But I got to live in my pj’s for a few days, sleep well, soak in the bath or simply tie back my crazy curls and sit on the couch with the laptop.

We are going back next year. We’ve already decided. Although, my mother threatened my life is she had to supervise participation in another classical ballet exam; we might just need to double check the dates before we book.

Planning for My 2016 Writing Retreat

Last year's retreat Day 1
Last year’s retreat Day 1

It is time to start preparations for our annual writing retreat. This will be our fourth year away and I think we have it reasonably well organised.

Each year our time away grew and so did the amount of stuff we took with us. But then every year we bring just as much food home as we took – or so it seems. This year we are away for four nights and we are just taking what we know we will use.

In previous years I have taken note books, text books, white boards and far too many pens. This year I am just taking my Raven Crown Series note book, white board and laptop (plus relevant chargers). Other than the writing supplies we don’t need too much, and we get to live in our pj’s for the whole time we are away. Wine and treats is all we need to plan.

Despite the talk of chocolate we are going away to write, and my main aim for this retreat is the Raven Crown Series.

 

Raven Crown Book 1 – Raven’s Dawn

I want to finish it as best I can. My current edit has got it reasonably close but there is still some work to do.

I have booked a slot in with the proof reader for my return so the pressure is on and I’m hoping to have my beta group ready to go.

 

Raven Crown Book 2 – The Caged Raven

I have been working on the first edit, as I drafted all three together.

It runs directly on from book one but I am still working through scene order and finding the plot holes (some of which are huge).

If all going well and I get my work completed (fingers and toes crossed) for Raven’s Dawn, I’ll spend the remainder of my time on this edit.

 

I always say that I should journal more, but never do. While I’m away at the retreat I do at least keep a very good record of what I do and how it is or is not working. As I am electronically isolated while away, I have a great record to create a report for you about the retreat on my return.

I’m so excited. I always come back refreshed and energised despite hours of writing. It strengthens the writing muscles after all.

Finding Confidence

Image coutesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published in July 2014. Over the last few days I’ve been worried about my writing life. That is, whether I can create a writing life around my day job, family and the general struggles assoicated with self publishing, like marketing and list building.

When my confidence takes a knock I avoid the computer, which only makes the problem bigger. Looking over some past posts I came across this one and thought it was worth sharing again.

Once you have the tools go out and use them..

Finding the tools you need to achieve

I have been reading a lot lately about writing, motivation, goal setting, confidence, business practice, editing, and more about writing. This focus on non-fiction is to find new tools to improve my writing practice; and in part to research what tools could work for others (that’s you dear reader). We write differently and use different processes. Although I may do some things like you do, I may do others like someone else. And what works for me may not for you and what works for someone else may be good for you and not me, or both of us…

Anyway, amongst this reading I came across website that is a supportive network to help people build resilience and confidence in working at what they love…it could be termed self-help (if that title works for you).

One post discussed people that read all the books, do all the workshops yet find that life is not getting any better and that things are not improving.

The author’s words of wisdom: Don’t just read the books, act on the book, don’t just sign up for the course or the workshop, you must do the activities and find the tools that work for you and use them.

“Well duh!” I hear you say, although one or two of you may have mumbled something like “Oh, really?”.

 “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” Bruce Lee

Not everyone is prepared for the work that goes along with following your dreams. That to meet your goals you have to take action on them. Lists alone will not get you there and reading a book is not a quick fix.

We also need to be careful not to get so caught up in finding the tools to make it through the day that we have wasted the time we could have spent doing or changing or acting.

I know this can be a struggle, for I have struggled myself at times to take action but we won’t get anywhere without it.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

There is only one person that can act on your goals – you.

It is up to each of us to find the tools to help us take that action. There are no quick fixes and there is no easy route. Because we are working toward something we care about then that action should also be enjoyable. Half the fun is in the journey after all.

Do you have a useful toolbox to help you take action on your goals?

Creating an Engaging Blurb

The Mark of OldraOne of the challenges of self-publishing is creating a blurb or appropriate description for your book. Summarising the story so that others want to read it, all while making it sound intriguing and engaging.

Steps for creating an engaging blurb:
  • Know your main character

You know them, you have lived with them for however long. Now you just need to summarise who they are, what they want and how they got there.

And if you can show that, even better.

  • Know your antagonist

This isn’t always as easy. But be aware that the antagonist may not be another character, it could be the environment.

  • Setting

It is important where your story takes place, in space, medieval world, alternate world, or modern day Hobart. Because setting will say a lot about the genre and help the reader determine if this book is for them.

  • Plot twists and turns

You want to hint at your plot twists without giving them away. Give an idea that things might not be as it seems.

  • Present tense

All blurbs are in the present tense, no matter the tense of your book.

  • Not too long.

I start with a short single sentence. But overall keep your blurb under 170 words.

Examples for The Mark of Oldra:

I started with a single sentence:

Protagonist Versus Antagonist, in Setting, with Twist.

‘Gerry Ryder has been dragged by the snow into a strange new frozen world where more hides in the shadows than expected.’

Not brilliant and not very clear – this is more for me, to try and pull a whole novel into a single sentence and it takes some work and knowledge of your key points.

So after a lot of work, thinking about what is important, trying to show rather than tell. I also add some detail to the main elements so that a reader will care about, or at least be interested in reading to find out more.

 

The final version:

Gerry Ryder shivers violently as the snow settles around her. Huge, black trees glisten with frost as their naked branches clatter in the wind. She isn’t sure if it’s hard to breathe because she’s scared out of her mind, or if this strange, new world is so cold that the air freezes in her lungs.

Gerry struggles to be the soldier the Penna needs her to be. Her dark dreams and visions don’t help. Although she craves a place in Essawood, she really wants to go home.

It is only when the shadows of her dreams appear solid before her and the power of the Oldra is revealed that Gerry can find her place in the snow; a place where a greater threat lies beyond the shadows. One that will devastate everything she thought she knew. One the snow whispers it is her destiny to defeat.

 

I hope this helps you to create an appropriate blurb or description for your book. I’m off to work on the blurb for the next Iski Flare episode.

The Mark of Oldra paperback coming soon.

Do you have any useful tips you have for creating a blurb? Share in the comments.

What Fiction bloggers can blog about

Blogging topics for fiction wirters

My aim is to post on my blog every week. Sometimes it is easy to come up with topics around what I’m doing, sometimes it isn’t.

I don’t think it is always that easy for fiction writers. We need to appeal not only to other writers but to our readers as well. I’m not sure that I have this right yet and each week is an experiment. Here are some things that I blog about or have thought of blogging about.

I like to share my processes, because I enjoy reading about other writer’s processes. I like to see how people do things differently or similarly and what I can learn from their experience. I hope that there might be other writers that could learn something new from me.

I like to share my learnings – what I have discovered along the way to improve my writing or my processes and again how that might help others.

Where my writing is at – partly because I am all about the story – I love it when my story is out there and ready to go and I hope you do too. And how that story grows and progresses over time.

Excerpts from stories – I haven’t really done this yet, I did share a short story for Easter based on Iski Flare and his travels. Developing a story takes time and I’m not sure if it is worth sharing a story that takes time away from my other writing projects.

I have an interest in immersive writing and so try to weave that into my learnings and processes. I also have an interest in time management and energy management but in terms of writing and fitting writing around a busy life. I’m sure I’m not the only writer trying to write around family and a day job.

Here are some ideas from others about what you can blog about:

 

What do you look for when you read a fiction writer’s blog?