What I’ve learned from Ghostwriting.

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As I pass another significant milestone in my (crazy?) attempt to write one million words in two years, it occurred to me how much my outlook on the craft of writing has changed in eighteen months.

(Image: At night, by Georg Charwat)

In 2015, I embarked upon my personal challenge to write half a million words before the year ended. By the end of December, I was able to claim 502,000 words written in the form of stories, outlines and synopses. I’d fully intended to throttle back in 2016, but a busy first few months saw the numbers continue to rack up. As March came around, I realised I was already on target to complete 125,000 in the first quarter (4 x 125k = another 1/2 million, yeah?).

So I thought, why not go for the full million?

Yes, I know I planned to calm down in 2016, but my momentum was building, and by July, I’d achieved 3/4 million, and was (almost) on target to complete the full million by the end of the year.

It was an irresistible target.

*Pauses for breath*

Those who know me will have noticed I’ve been less active on social media and blogging since I began this crazy journey. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and something had to give. But just so you know, I’m planning to throttle back, to calm down, and take it easy with the writing in 2017.

Maybe. 🙂

But eighteen months of writing at near-NaNo pace has taught me many things.

First of all, I realised I needed to be organised.

Although my spreadsheet is not yet as graphic as the one on the NaNo site…

graph

…I managed to put together a useful sheet that charts every word I write, although it still lacks the nicety of a graph(I will address this soon).

At the end of each day, I have a list of stories, both current and historic, on which I manually insert the word count of the project I’m working on, and it updates this, the daily count sheet.

target screen shot 2

A third sheet then tells me how many words I still need to write in order to reach my target of one million.

target screen shot 1

If I write less, the requirement rate rises. If I have a good day, and manage to write a few thousand, the requirement rate falls. You get the idea.

Without this, I would have little idea of my progress, and couldn’t plan my writing targets. Heck, if I hadn’t counted up how much I’d written in the first place, I could never have aimed for the half-million!

The uppermost spreadsheet allows me to chart my slow days, and my best days. Most of my writing happens mid-week, so I have an additional target cell for the ‘four day week’ period. If can fulfil those days, the rest of the week takes care of itself.

The second thing I learned was the need for self-discipline. It’s a quality needed by any writer who is serious about their craft. You might already know this, you might be learning this the hard way, or you might be blissfully unaware of the need, in which case, enjoy writing at your own pace. It’s wonderful, but not necessarily productive.

For me, the spreadsheet keeps me motivated. Creating a target of one million words is a harsh motivator, but an effective one. It’s quantifiable. If I don’t work hard, my assigned workload creeps up, and if left unchecked, it would reach a point where it becomes impossible. For now, 1,600 words per day is feasible, although I would have preferred it to be lower. That will only happen if I increase my output, but I only have a finite number of free minutes in my day.

You might prefer to set yourself number-of-chapter targets, or number-of-minutes per day targets. Work with whatever fits best into your life. For me, the word count ties in nicely with my short story work, which is measured (and paid) by the number of words produced.

The third thing I became aware of was the need for constant inspiration. My clients, for the most part, leave the subject matter up to me, although I’m supplied with a few words to point me in the right direction (e.g. romance, adventure, vampire, shifter, werecat, paranormal, time travel, sci-fi etc). This means I constantly need to dream up new scenarios for as-yet unwritten characters, and the stories must differ enough from each other to avoid brain-mashing confusion as well as potential plagiarism (of my own work!) issues.

The plus side of this is I often end up with spare story ideas, which I can then use to create short stories under my own name. Several times, I’ve begun writing for a client, only to realise the story has greater potential for an extended series, so why waste the idea on a one-off?

With that in mind, I keep the proto-series idea for myself, and write something new which better suits a one-off HEA (Happy Ever After) tale.

Win-win. 😀

Finally, I had to embrace closure. Seasoned writers will appreciate how it’s possible to get close to characters, to want the best for them and leave them happy (or not, depending on the genre). Perhaps it’s so difficult to let them go, that sequels spring up, even a whole series. Not so with Ghostwriting. It’s necessary, even essential to learn to let go. Once they’ve flown the nest, they never write, never call and very rarely do they return for new adventures. I have fond memories of some of my creations (my Valkyrie women, to name one), but they’re gone, and I must move on…

I’d be interested in hearing from other ghostwriters who haunt the blogsphere. What has writing for others taught you? Do my experiences ring true, or do you feel differently?

Now I must return to my laptop and fulfil my allocation for the day (2,821 words) or I’ll fall further behind (it’s been a slow week).

I wish you all well in your endeavours.

If you enjoy it,

you should;

acern270ginger write on

PS I’ve now added a graph to illustrate my progress better. Plus, it adds a little colour. And it illustrates graphically that I’ve fallen behind my target. 😦

screen shot progress graph

Wednesday Worries

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worried

It occurred to me last night that most, if not all, writers fret about their content and I began to wonder about the whole process of worry and uncertainty.

Do natural worriers make good writers?  Do we excel at creativity because our brains are always active, imagining events that range from statistically probable to those that will never happen even in the pages of a bad novel?

My mind, sadly, seems to be on a constant drive towards pessimism.  Some days, when my fret gland is active, my Muse goes into overdrive, conjuring up a series of ‘what-if’ scenarios that leave me questioning my sanity.

For example;  I can be driving past a police car and my Muse will whisper; ‘What if they decide to pull you over?  What if some of the flour that you bought last week leaked onto the carpet?  They might think you’re a dealer and arrest you.  You could end up in a holding cell with a vicious biker gang that’s out to make a headline.  They could kill you.  By the time the police realise it’s only flour you could have lost an eye, or a limb.  And then what would happen to your writing?’

This is the point where I look my Muse directly in the eye and say;

‘Seriously – WTF?’   

She will calm down and take her meds as prescribed and become lucid for a time, but then, without warning;

‘You know how you think you turned the gas cooker off, but you’re not sure because you might be remembering turning it off yesterday and only think that you did it this morning, but you might really have forgotten and when you get home and you turn on a light, it could set off a spark and blow up the whole house?’

Me;  FFS – The house is all-electric.

Muse;  Oh.  I worry too much, don’t I?  I think I will take a tablet.

Me;  Thank you.  Please do.

Muse;  *Pauses with the tablet close to her mouth*  ‘But did you ever wonder about Lenticular clouds – you know, the ones that look like flying saucers?  What it they really were flying saucers in stealth mode and they were watching us?  And what if flying saucers weren’t aliens but visitors from our future and they want to know why it all went wrong so that they could guide us to a better tomorrow?’

Me;  Now, look…

Muse;  I know. I’m sorry.  I’ll take that tablet now.

Me;  No, no.  *searches for a pen*  Seriously, that last one is a great idea – tell me it again so that I can write it down.  It could become a novel – a series, even.  Maybe Hollywood will pounce on it and offer me millions.

Muse;  *swallows tablet* Hmm?  Sorry, what idea?

*Andy groans*

hiding face

So, is your mind naturally over-active?  Do you, as a writer, constantly ponder the (often far-reaching) consequences of your actions?  Does your Muse deliver a stream of possible and impossible scenarios – one of which might be a gem of a story?

For the sake of my sanity, I hope it does.

For your sanity, I hope it doesn’t.

Please let me know if I’m alone in this.

If I am, I will seek immediate help from the family of accupuncturist hedgehogs that live in the fairies nest at the bottom of my garden…

.

Write on!

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