The Cycle Of Writing A Book

Truth is, I often struggle to know what to do with myself after finishing a new draft.

The cycle goes something like this:

Start a new draft > Struggle through the first couple of chapters > Settle in to the story > Forget the concept of ‘spare time’ even exists for a month or two > Finish the draft > Rejoice > Spend a few days catching up on housework, bingeing on tv shows, etc, while fighting the feeling that There’s Something Important I Need To Be Doing > Force myself to relax, and to not start writing something new > Twiddle my thumbs…

At about that point, I do one of two things, each of which might have a good outcome or a bad outcome, depending on the situation.

A. Start planning/writing the next book.

Good: I leap into it with the fire of a thousand suns, using the momentum from writing the last book to get me on a roll with this one. It gets written fast and well.

Bad: I struggle along for a few days, realise I don’t have the mental reserves or the plot/character ideas to write this thing, and stop. Sometimes I come back to it at a later date. Sometimes it gets abandoned forever.

B. Don’t start planning/writing the next book.

Good: I give myself time to rest and recharge. My mind needs it. Usually two weeks to a month is about right. At the end of that time, I come back to writing refreshed, all cylinders firing, and with enough momentum/enthusiasm left from the last book that I don’t take too long to hit the flow again.

Bad: I give myself time to rest and recharge. A month stretches into two… or maybe six. By the time November and NaNoWriMo rolls around, I’ve basically forgotten how to write a book and every word is like pulling teeth.

I finished the draft on September 6th, exactly a week ago. Right now I’m in the “Twiddling My Thumbs” stage. Yesterday I started planning the rest of the series in more depth — and mate, this thing is huge! As in, multiple-spreadsheets huge — but I’m not going to start writing the next book for another week or so.

I’ll give my brain a rest, let my batteries recharge. I might even give myself all of September off and start the next book on October 1st. That would take me through to the end of November with that draft, if it’s as long as I think it will be, which will overlap nicely with NaNoWriMo.

Or I might start it earlier if I’m ready sooner. Plans change.

I’ll see how I go.

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At The Edge

Must say, I’m looking forward to this anthology coming out in June – and not just because I’ve got a story in it. It’s a fantastic collection with great writing from authors on both sides of the ditch.

The cover:

At the Edge_front cover

Isn’t it gorgeous? Great art from Emma Weakley.

And the publicity graphic I created:

AtE Poster

Spread the word!

At the Edge: TOC and Cover Reveal

Very pleased to announce that one of my short stories is GETTING PUBLISHED in an anthology from Paper Road Press.
THIS IS THE BIG NEWS, MY FRIENDS.
I’M GETTING PUBLISHED!

Paper Road Press

Paper Road Press is pleased to reveal the cover and table of contents for our upcoming anthology At the Edge!

Edited by award-winning duo Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray, At the Edge is shaping up to be a stunning collection of short science fiction and fantasy from both sides of the ditch, Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. Dan and Lee are thrilled to announce that among the line-up will be a reprint of Phillip Mann’s short story The Architect. Phillip was short-listed for the Arthur C Clark Award in 2014 for his novel The Disestablishment of Paradise.

Without further ado, the table of contents for At the Edge, in no particular order except alphabetically by author surname:

Joanne Anderton, “Street Furniture”
Richard Barnes, “The Great and True Journey”
Carlington Black, “The Urge”
A.C. Buchanan, “And Still the Forests Grow though We are Gone”
Octavia Cade, “Responsibility”
Shell Child…

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On Writing: Motion, Emotion, and Truth

You shall know the truth.

We are, each of us, unreliable narrators. We write every chapter of our life’s story an instant after living it, so that we are ever in motion, perpetually trying to catch up with ourselves. For every event and happening there are dozens of perspectives – and for our own perspective there are a dozen angles, a dozen ways of phrasing a sentence or using a word so as to make us appear better or worse or smarter or more powerful, beautiful beyond belief, more handsome than in our wildest dreams. To write our story using the right words, to say only what happened: this is what we must strive for. To say nothing more and nothing less than what we really mean. To find the one perspective and the one angle out of hundreds of thousands that reflects only the truth.


What is truth?


To know the truth we must know ourselves; to know ourselves, we must open every crusted scab, every half-closed wound, every partially healed gash and make peace with what flows from within. Acknowledge the deep-seated anger at the injustice of the world; hear the grief in the cry of every orphan, fatherless before his time, and every widow, robbed of her husband; walk in the shoes of those with no hope, know what it is like to go hungry for days on end, feel the craving for the next hit spiral through our veins, infecting every waking thought and restless dream. Hear life in the squeal of a newborn infant; see strength in the decision of an addict to start over again, again, again; find hope in the sheer resilience of humanity. There is courage to be found in those who walk in the dark places. There is determination in those making a new beginning. There is love in those who would have you think they themselves are unable to be loved.


What is truth?


We must be honest with ourselves. As writers and narrators of the darkest and lightest parts of humanity, we feel so deeply. We must let ourselves feel. In these feelings and emotions we find places that call to us, resounding within us: The solemn silence of a country churchyard. The cautious curiosity of an unexplored alley. The shrouded malevolence of deserted streets at night. The glory of a mountain-top at sunrise and the calm of the saltwater ocean at dusk. They amplify the emotions, letting us feel, helping us to say nothing more and nothing less than what we really mean. We must do this, and we must always, always remember: we write our stories an instant after they have happened, but there is One who wrote them before.


I am truth.

On Location

You’re neither blind nor stupid, I’m sure, so I’ll dispense with the usual cliched triple repetition of the word. Writing it once will suffice.

Location.

Whether it’s a poem, short story, or novel, the setting of a piece of writing is paramount. Character and Plot are significant cornerstones of writing, but Character and Plot without Setting become meaningless. You could have the most attractive 50-year-old grizzled cop with obligatory tragic backstory in the world; you could have a compelling serial killer, the newest twisted motivations and psychological methods, the best cross-town car chases and parking lot shootouts; and it would all be for nothing without a good setting.

Setting tells the reader where these interesting characters are rooted: where the villains are plotting their dastardly plots, what hometown the hero is from, where they’ve chosen to work and play. A basic setting can give away the genre; it can separate High Fantasy from Urban Fantasy (I’ll give you a clue: forest or city?). A more detailed setting can do wonders for the mood; it can tell the reader whether your forest is a sunshine-filled glade brimming with singing elves or a dark overgrown tanglewood.

Not having a location means your characters are performing in a white box. Setting anchors your story. It doesn’t have to be described down to the paint chips on the windowsills, but it does have to be more than just “a house.” Is it an abandoned shed out in the middle of nowhere? A busy city apartment? What country is it in? What time period? What does it feel like, smell like, what can you hear? Detailing the setting adds depth to your writing, makes your reader believe for a moment that they’re really there.

And then you have the choice of using a fictional location or a real location, or some combination of the two.

For example, in the first two books in The Christchurch Chronicles seriesmy characters travel down Lake Tekapo (a real place) and into the Tekapo Canal (see the picture above; also a real place, albeit somewhat modified for the purposes of my story) in a solar-powered hydro-pod (completely fictional, to the best of my knowledge). Basing fictional events in a largely real place allowed me to research the location, checking river names and compass points so that the events of that scene could conceivably happen in that place to those people in the future.

The level of realism to use when drawing from real locations depends on the situation and the writer. In real life, the Tekapo Canal flows out of the south end of Lake Tekapo; if I’d said in that scene that it flowed out of the east side, it would be a breach of reality that would throw anyone familiar with the area right out of the book.

If I’d used a fictional lake, I could have made the canal flow out of any side of it that I liked, and it wouldn’t have mattered. But because I was basing that scene on a real location, I needed to get the details right. Get the details wrong and your readers laugh at you and put the book down; get them right and it enhances the depth of experience to no end. The wrong details will leave the experts shaking their heads and the amateurs believing false information; the right details teach them as much about the world as any paragraph in a high-school textbook.

Setting enriches the writing, informs the reader, and helps you as the writer to see the world you’ve made. How do you pick settings? Do you prefer real-world locations or fictional ones?

World in Shadow: A Poem

Poetry isn’t my forte, I freely admit it.

But sometimes it’s the only way the words will come out.



This world where money grows on trees

like leaves

where knowledge is the hollow timber

branches, branching, spreading –

not straight but crooked, twisted, limber –

outward, onward, and the bedding

of this forest is the long forgotten

wisdom

of ages past

now trampled underfoot and rotten

slow and strong forsaken

for weak and fast

And in the shade where we now dwell

they tell

of a Sun so strong it lit the world

of warmth that made the green things grow

of light that made the dark uncurl

and flee, but here it is not so –

here is only the everlasting night

of rage

and greed and death

that chokes and clogs, consumes, a blight

upon our frail frames until

we take our final breath.