My writing plan for 2020 worked really well until about mid-March when Covid-19 became the only topic of conversation with everyone I know. That's when I discovered - or rediscovered - that I don't work very well at home.
Instead of being able to go out and sit in a library or a cafe and work uninterrupted for several hours, I'm at home with all the things I've been avoiding for the last several months. I'm still avoiding all those things. It's just that being at home puts those things in the front of my head. I can't avoid looking at my desk which has several piles of papers and books more than a foot deep. I can't avoid noticing the storages boxes of painting equipment I've left open on my office floor because I might need them for the next project.
Just the thought of having to sort through every single piece of paper is enough to do my head in.
It means I've run away into my head, but not in a productive way. I'm reading. Mostly I'm reading romance, and most of that is MM romance. I've also just begun a biography on a Deputy US Marshall from the 1890s. A fascinating life and a very tough man.
All this means my writing projects are going nowhere quickly.
Morrison & Mackenzie (1930s historical romance): I've created a scene map to check the structure as it isn't working the way it should. That's it. All I need to do is put all the scenes up on my plotting wall and work out where the dips are so I can plan what needs to go there but it hasn't happened yet.
Tangled up in Blue anthology: This is moving forward slowly, mainly because the other authors are relying on me. One of the authors has just completed a continuity check and now we all have lists of things to fix. I'll get that done over the next week. We've also been talking about the cover and working out what we want.
The murder mystery: haven't looked at it. Instead I've been working (intermittently) on another fantasy story, one I started years ago but put aside because it wasn't working. When I picked it up again it was obvious why it wasn't working. I had too many POV characters and I was switching between adult POV and child POV. I've decided to write it as a YA fantasy and remove the adult POV completely. Already it's working better and I've identified missing scenes at the beginning that are needed for the child's POV but were irrelevant from the adult's.
Now Easter is over and my back is beginning to settle, I'm hoping to do more work on these projects. For right now, sending a couple of emails and doing this blog has used up my sitting time for the morning.
My personal life has changed significantly in recent years, specifically with an increase in family responsibilities. This has meant I've had to try to fit my writing in around a lot of things that have felt more demanding.
I have struggled to find balance and finally admitted to myself that I simply didn't have time to do all the things I needed to and wanted to. Not without falling into a screaming heap. Something had to give.
I've made a commitment to reduce my work load. That was the only thing that had any flexibility in it. I'm not going to skimp on the attention my family needs. They always come first.
This year, as a trial, I'll be working four days a week. I'm planning my day off to be focused solely on writing, and I'll factor in another half to one day over the weekend.
My writing goals for 2020 reflect that optimistic plan. I have a LOT to do this year.
My weekly plan looks something like this:
They say to write what you know. That will give your writing greater depth and believability. It’ll be real. But how far should an author go in the pursuit of authenticity? We can’t all experience every emotion, or every action. For the experiences we haven’t had personally, we can read newspapers, journal articles, research papers. We can talk to people; friends and strangers. One thing we shouldn’t do is groom vulnerable people, make them trust us, then betray them.
It takes a lot of courage for someone who has been hurt to trust again, and even more courage to speak openly about the pain they’ve suffered. For someone to come along and use that courage and vulnerability for their own ends, without permission, is reprehensible.
I don’t usually comment on these things, and certainly not in the heat of the moment. I wait until I calm down and understand clearly what I’m thinking and feeling. I haven’t calmed down with this one; not at all. I am outraged and filled with a deep, all-consuming sorrow.
You don’t need to use and betray others to achieve a feeling of authenticity in your writing. You only need to have compassion and empathy. You only need to respect others and understand their lives are not yours. If you can’t do that, perhaps you’re writing in the wrong genre. If you can’t imagine it, perhaps you’re in the wrong business.
You know where your characters have come from and what has made them the person they are, but what are they doing now and why does it need to change?
Creating a character’s present life is about more than deciding on a job or home for them to live it. You need to know what it is about their life that needs to change. That’s the purpose of your story, isn’t it? Either there’s something about their life that isn’t working and things need to change to make it right, or something happens in the world around them that forces things in their life to change and they need to make it right again.
There are a number of things you can do to get to know what your character’s present is really like. These are some of the things I do:
Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC)
Knowing the character’s past and present will give you exactly what you need to know to be able to write your story. Knowing what your character wants, why they want it, and what’s stopping them from getting it provides plot, setting and characterisation all rolled into a couple of easy sentences. Every character will have a compelling GMC, either internal or external. Your primary characters will have both.
I generally write a character’s GMC in two different ways: in a table and in a sentence. I use both for different reasons. I’m a visual learner so I like to have things written down or in diagrams or mind maps. I don’t use mind maps very often because they feel too chaotic for me to keep track of. I prefer to use sentences, lists and tables. GMC works really well in tables and sentences.
The table allows me to ensure I have all the necessary elements of a GMC addressed. All the boxes have to be completed. The sentences written from the table let me check that both internal and external GMC make sense, are logical, reasonable and believable.
The examples given are for Jonah from The Planet Whisperer.
See also: https://au.pinterest.com/eemontgomery11/goal-motivation-and-conflict/
Saturday mornings is usually reserved for writing my blog post. Yesterday I did my tax instead. My cousin came over, sorted papers and read numbers--in short, he made it easy for me to complete the spreadsheets so I could take it all to my accountant next week. He's a gem.
Now I have one less thing crowding my brain and I can put something else into that priority basket.
Something tells me it had better be my next book. My writing lately has been very patchy. I'm happy with the results, just not the volume. I have two weeks now to spend some quality time with my computer and get something written. I just have to make sure I don't let myself get distracted.
That about sums up my mind lately. It's been very cluttered, a million things tugging at me all at once, and I've struggled to achieve any of them. Getting my tax done is a huge relief. It's one of the big things that bothers me every year at this time.
I have plans during the week to find somewhere quiet that I can be uninterrupted for several hours at a time. That will, hopefully, help me clear the rest of my mind so I can focus on my story again.
Just as an aside: it's only two weeks now until the release of Warrior Pledge. I'm really excited about this one. It's totally different to anything you've seen from me before and has some really fun elements in it: voluntary gender changing, dragons with a sense of humour.
I’m on retreat this weekend. If you’re anything like my family, you’ll be saying ‘again?’. If you’re like my writing friends, you’ll be saying ‘again?’, but with a very different inflection.
There are six of us this weekend. We’re staying in a little place near Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. We’re on the top of the mountain with a magnificent view and totally exposed to whatever the weather wants to throw at us. Last night it was a huge windstorm. We sat in the living room with the fire going, toasty warm, while all around us the wind howled and twigs and branches slapped and crashed. It went on through the night, gaining in intensity, until, suddenly, it stopped. That was about 2.00am.
At 3.30am the possum came home. I woke to scrambling and thumping in the ceiling above my head. I count myself lucky that the possum doesn’t seem to have access to the whole ceiling so didn’t go running all over the place.
I finally got to sleep around 4.00am, only to wake before 7.00am with the sun streaming in my uncurtained windows. The courtyard is filled with leaves, half a tree came down in the neighbour’s yard and all the mandarins fell of the tree in the front yard. Luckily, where we parked the cars seems to have been protected, so there’s no damage there.
Oddly, after spending all night editing, and with the prospect of more writing this morning, I’m not feeling tired at all. That might change after a few hours.
Last night was really productive. I finished the line edits on Warrior Pledge - just the global edits to do before Tuesday. I also critiqued a chapter for a friend. Today I'll be working on character profiles, plot and first chapter of the sequel to Warrior Pledge.
Life happens. It gets busy. It gets stressful. And then I realise it's been days, sometimes weeks, since I've written anything and I get more stressed. After a while I begin to lose motivation and confidence. I get cranky, short-tempered, and my family begins to point up the stairs and say, "Go to your room!". They know I need to write.
Last week I talked about writing groups and how they help me stay focused and achieving. A couple of the groups I'm in also organise retreats--weekends away that are focused solely on writing. Having time away from all the distractions and responsibilities life entails, where there's a number of us thinking of nothing more than putting words on paper, or improving those we've already written, is incredible.
I always come away from those weekends with new enthusiasm--and a lot more accomplished. The picture is where I'll be working this weekend.
I have a long list of goals for this weekend. Typically, I won't do them all, but I know I'll have more done on the retreat than I would if I stayed at home.
Job number one is to write a synopsis and blurb for No Evil Star, the sequel to The Planet Whisperer. I have three paragraphs written so far, but only the first one is worth keeping in any way. I'm expecting there'll be at least six versions before I get something approaching a reasonable synopsis. (Have I mentioned how much I hate writing synopses?)
E E Montgomery
About writing, life, and random thoughts.
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