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

If you’re struggling with that minority language called ‘British’…

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aleazzurro  keyboard

I have occasionally ecountered comments that pointed out my failings – one of them being misspellings.

My spelling ‘mistakes’ often get picked up on Facebook and (occasionally) on WordPress.

I like to think I’m very thorough when I’m writing and take pride in my spelling and grammar.

Yes, I soemtimes mis-type (who doesn’t?) as my ‘want to type’ speed exceeds my ‘able to type’ speed and my fingers become a pink blur above the keyboard.

However, when I begin to receive feedback that I ‘should check my speling’ (sic) and see one-word corrections for my spelling when there is nothing amiss, I begin to see red.

I’ve been told (more than once) that I use a lot of British English (BrE). Yes, that’s true. I’m British, my characters are English and their story takes place in England. That would follow, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not.

Ciara Ballintyne appears to have the same problem and states her case here .

So recently, I’ve been writing British English, but with the knowledge that non-Brits may very well read my work. For instance, my character drives a Volvo ambulance instead of the (correct) locally-sourced type because only Brits would know what a Vauxhall Astra was. However, I don’t compromise on ‘labour’ or ‘honour’, ‘realise’ or ‘criticise’ because Brit readers would hate me for it. My characters use Pounds rather than Dollars. I was astounded when I was told that someone had to Google ‘Biro’ because it wasn’t clear that it was a ball point pen.  What are those cheap, crystalline ball point pens made by BIC known as in the US – BIC pens?

These are things we need to know…

British English

I had considered adding a disclaimer stating that the book contains ‘British English’ just to clarify. In this electronic age, the written word is spread far and wide and a novel in English could easily have been written in Australia, South Africa, Japan or any number of countries. I learned recently that along with Australia, Canada still uses BrE, which was a bit of a surprise. I wonder how many other countries do? I’d be interested to know that Britannia does not stand alone…

Write On!

signature plus n270

A blog post about not blogging…or writing

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newspaper anguish

Life has turned into a bit of a whirlwind for me lately – and it’s caused my run of twice-weekly blog posts, unbroken since the start of the year to…well, break.

It’s a bit weird…I’ve been so busy with all things writing that I don’t seem to be getting any actual writing done.  Anyone else finding themselves deep in this particular rut at the moment? If so, can you lend me a ladder?

Course not. If you had one, you’d have used it already…

The day job, naturally, intrudes the most. What with the continued air travel, driving, hotel-ing and all the associated to and fro involved. Then there’s the proof-reading of my CreateSpace paperback, the (voluntary) read-through of a fellow writer’s eBook, the (lucrative but desperately-needed) ghost writing projects, Author Facebooking and Tweeting, promotional giveaways…

You see where I’m at?

My new (and very welcome) nagger-in-Chief, Peter, called me (again) yesterday to ask how the sequel was progressing. Not a jot, was my unhappy reply. Nothing written for the fifth month, although I did get as far as loading ‘A Vengeance of Angels’ into Scrivener…but that doesn’t really count as progress, does it (please say yes)?.

I am currently on the horns of a dilemma, dear reader. On the one hand, the ghostwriting brings in the dollars – all of which are ravenously consumed by the fearsome credit cards. On the other hand, the long-term project, The Angels of York series, of which ‘Vengeance’ is the second, is stalling.

In an ideal world, I would split my time evenly between the long-term and the short-term work and life would be jolly –  but life allows me little respite in that respect. The short ghostwriting pieces are easier to conceive, write and edit. They can be finished inside of a week. ‘Vengeance’ is a years-long effort, so the temptation is to keep pounding away at the (small) keyboard in order to bring in the cash.

But the life plan is falling further and further behind. Short-term stability is succeeding – but at the expense of the long-term.

Time, methinks, to reassess my (non-existent) timetable and bring ‘A Vengeance of Angels’ to the fore. Any and all thoughts or suggestions would be welcomed.

signature plus n270

Author interview with Draegon Grey

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smoking man

I’ve just completed the first part of an author interview with Draegon Grey.  It surprised me how much fun something like this can be – almost like reliving the whole process of writing the novel over again.  Happy memories, the small problems that seemed so insurmountable at the time and the joy of completing the work…they all came flooding back.

The second part, a character interview with Sara Finn, my protagonist, will follow soon.

In the meantime, you can read the ‘Author Moment’ interview here.

Write on!

The difficult second novel? Nah!

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inspiracion

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently well (15,500 words) into ‘A Vengeance of Angels’ (the sequel to ‘Construct’) and I’m re-discovering the joy of ‘pantsing’.

The writing is flowing well, still closely following the bamboo and creeper framework that I’d lashed together over a year ago when I was still begging agencies to consider ‘Construct’.

And this time around, I’m pleased to report, the writing feels different; more enjoyable.

With a year’s worth of editing  experience behind me, I have a clearer picture of the process from the first rough scratches through to the finished product.

I now know that I can roll along, throwing down my  ideas, comfortable in the knowledge that not everything I put into words will get used.  And with this comes a new kind of freedom from worry.

I don’t have to doublethink every sentence; every word uttered by my characters.   This time around I am aiming for continuity, rough adherence to the (flexible) framework but with a firm path towards the planned ending.

It’s refreshing to know that I don’t have to fret about what I’m writing – that can all be sorted out once the First Draft is complete – following the mandatory month-in-the-drawer, naturally.  What matters is that the ideas are recorded before they are lost to the white noise that is my ever-fizzing brain.

notebook and laptop

Experienced hands will already be aware of all this, so please forgive the egg-sucking instructions.

However, newbies may still (as I did) become mired in the spiralling hell that is the ‘must get that paragraph perfect before I move on’ routine.

Don’t!

Just pound that keyboard and pour all your relevant ideas onto that hard drive, pushing headlong until you have reached the end of your story.  That will then give you something to work with; something complete.

And if your Muse throws Chapter Two ideas at you when you’re racing through Chapter Ten, then by all means nip back, drop in a paragraph close to where it’s relevant and get right back to Chapter Ten.  Don’t (as I did) waste time and effort ‘blending it in’.  Just drag, drop and get on with it.  The idea will still be there in six months (more realistically, a year) when you are reviewing what you’ve written.

I regret now that I spent so much time ‘polishing’ what was essentially an unfinished product – a bit like applying sealant to a bath that was not only still in its packaging, but still on the delivery wagon.

If your story turns out to be anything like mine, in a year’s time, some of those ‘brilliant’ ideas may no longer be relevant.  Your character will (ideally) have grown as you’ve been writing and your original plan for them to rescue that drowning child in Chapter Two might no longer be in character for them.  You may need your character to be tortured and regretful by Chapter Twenty and NOT rescuing that child may be exactly what forces that character change.

So this is the point where, as they say, you don’t sweat the small stuff.  Not yet.

That comes later, once you’ve established all the motivations of your characters and where your story is heading…

Then begins the blood, sweat, tears and fingernail a la crue.

Writing is only the first part of the process.  Embrace the whole.

So;

Have you found that your approach to writing alters with experience?

What one piece of advice (post-it note sized only) would you give to your inexperienced self if you could get a message back to them using Sandra Bullock’s magical post box (The Lake House, 2008)?

Write on!

 

click me if you dare

Brand New Award

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My blogging history has been quite short, unlike my desire to publish a novel, which stretches back to my schooldays in the 1970’s.

I’ve been blogging since 2010, but only produced my first post in June of this year, thereby announcing to the blogsphere that I had finally screwed up enough courage to let others read my random ramblings.

Since then, I have been blessed with an avalanche of hints, tips and encouragement, without which my WIP would not have been catapulted forward to the very doorstep of eBook publishing possibility.  Yes, it’s imminent!

So I say, to all those bloggers who lowered down the golden hair of assistance from the towering heights of publication, a big, heartfelt THANK YOU.

In recognition of those who have helped me most directly, I have created this;

I hope it goes some way to illustrating my gratitude towards aspiring authors those who pause in their headlong race long enough to help us – the stragglers.

They didn’t have to…they could have simply concentrated on their own compelling journey.  But they didn’t – they reached out and shared their experiences; their knowledge.

Ryan Casey said to me; In this age of eBooking, writers are no longer in competition with each other – there’s enough room out there for us all.

And these helpful souls illustrated just what can be achieved if we all work together.

Now, I’m aware that every single post, every tiny nugget of information that a blogger publishes in a post can accumulate to contribute to the whole and this invaluable advice is reason enough to send thanks out to those who share.

But I can’t simply nominate everyone that I follow, even though I am already developing a guilt complex for not doing so.  *sigh.

So, I will nominate a small number of Most Helpful bloggers, those who have most directly inspired me and ask that you spread the nominations in turn to those who have offered you a helping hand along the way.

I’d also suggest that you might want to mention how they helped you and perhaps what kind of a difference their advice has made to your WIP.

Besides the above suggestions, there are no hard and fast rules to this award.  Let it evolve…feel free to improve upon it as it goes.

It will be interesting to see how it develops.

So, without further ado, I hereby nominate the following bloggers for their help, advice and encouragement;

Ryan Casey – for all his eBooking assistance and for pointing me towards Guido Henkel’s invaluable ‘Take Pride’ tutorial.

Sonya Loveday – for her love, encouragement and going ‘above and beyond’ (ie without sleep) to provide critique.

Pat Wood – for her constant encouragement and witty repartee.  Thank you, Ms. Arborea!  :)

Candace Knoebel – for blazing a Ravven-coloured trail that showed what could be achieved with hard work and dedication.

CA Hustead – for providing constructive comments when they were needed most.

Michelle Proulx – for inspiring me with her blow-by-blow descriptions of her ePublishing adventures.

Jon Simmonds of Jumpingfromcliffs – for his wise, thought-provoking comments and words of wisdom.

M D Kenning – for his guidance, hints, tips and experiences with eBooking and social media.

I also extend an open-armed and warm-hearted thank you to everyone else who has inspired me – even indirectly – and ask that you continue to share your wisdom and experiences so that we may all benefit and flourish as writers.

Write on!

It’s all about the journey

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I’d long been an avid cynic of reality TV shows such as X Factory, Pop Idle, Big Brooder, (disparaging mis-spellings intentional) et al, citing them as simple ratings magnets that were all hype and no substance.

I’d avoid them like the cliche, eschewing Saturday night television altogether, tutting at the oft-hyped results and the acres of tabloid coverage they seemed to generate.

But little by little, weekend visits to a friend’s house resulted in the television (which seemed to have no ‘off ‘ function) drawing my eye and ear towards the (often hapless) auditionees on ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ every Saturday night. 

I found myself becoming intrigued, for no reason that I could fathom.  I didn’t know these people, these fame-seeking wannabes (only some of whom were quietly talented and later became successful) and yet I found myself increasingly drawn into their stories as they inched their way towards the stars.  I followed them from their earliest beginnings.  I saw their spotlight-dazzled faces as they shuffled reluctantly onto an over-large stage to croak out a few nervous bars of their favourite song.  And then I watched their eyes light up as the crowd called out its approval.

But why was I watching this IQ-sapping drivel; this thinly-disguised attempt to solicit viewers (and before you mentally compose hate-mail, please let me finish), this apparent waste of valuable writing time?

It suddenly became clear to me when I unexpectedly became hooked on yet another reality TV show – Masterchef.  

Hooked? Why?  I know nothing about food.  I can barely make mashed potato or an edible cheese sauce.  To this day I am still able to slide rock-hard frozen food onto a microwave platter with only a basic idea of why it emerges twenty minutes later as a hot, steaming meal.  I have no aspirations to create Langoustine consommé with lemon tuiles and pea puree, or to begin experimenting with molecular gastronomy (although liquid Nitrogen does look like a wonderful toy).

The chemistry of food defies my kind of logic.  It’s a pleasure to eat, true, but the assembly is an alien process to me and most likely will forever remain that way. 

But there I was, week after fascinated week, watching untrained but enthusiastic amateurs, their fumbling fingers creating elegantly-assembled dishes of confit duck on a bed of celeriac mash to Michelin-class standards.   But why?  In the name of the knife, fork and spoon, why??

Then it finally clicked.  The title of this post says it all.  It was about the journey.

We aspiring writers have very similar goals to those clumsy cooks, those shaking singers, those jittering jugglers.  We are all on the same journey of self-discovery – with the hope of our own selves being discovered.  Or our work, at least.

I realised that by watching these rising stars gain new skills and achieve undreamed-of heights, my thoughts were paralleling their journey with my own aspirations, because I hoped that I would also (one day) experience a similar journey. 

My mind had latched onto these stories in an unconscious act of self-preparation.

It may be that every individual who achieved the final three of Masterchef, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent has already inspired me; proved to me that it IS possible to lift our (literary) voices from behind the background noise of society enough to be heard. 

Ordinary mortals like us can achieve great things.  But it takes time.  It takes a measure of confidence.  But it can require a good measure of encouragement from our peers too. 

It is perhaps because of all of this that I am mentally prepared for the next step of ePublishing, the quiet, stealthy equivalent of seeing my work in Bookers or Waterstones.  I dare to touch my toe to the chill waters of public consumption and say to them ‘nibble on that,’ whilst thinking ‘pleasedon’tbite, pleasedon’tbite!’

The journey from ‘I could write a book’ through ‘could I write a book?’ to ‘I have written a book’ is moving forward.  Who was it that said; ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’?

But where is your journey taking you? How far have you already come?

Have you been inspired by stories of success or sheer determination? 

Have you watched others climbing the ladder towards success, feeling that your journey was headed the same way?

Do you feel (particularly with ePublishing opening up new possibilities) that the impossible is now possible?

Share your story with us.  Tell us where your journey is taking you.

Write on – and encourage others to do the same in every way that you can.

  

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