Friday, 8 April 2016

Extrinsic motivation

The sky is bright(ish), the birds are singing: this is a new day! And with it, my motivation has come back! Hurrah, rejoice, etcetera.

I spent some time last night talking about it, and it helped. I also re-read my first chapters and quite enjoyed it, so the can't be that awful. I have a few ideas of how I could tweak the beginning to add more tension, but today my 20k so far don't seem so terrible. So I am now raring to go!

This is to help get motivated:

Well, extrinsic motivation has never really worked on me. It's more of a treat, because, hey, it's the holidays (for a few more hours at least) and I've worked hard!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Banging on

Eureka! I see the light! I have finally figured out what was bothering me, what was blocking my progress, why I had lost my muse.

That was the good news. The bad news is that it's this: my story doesn't start with enough of a bang. Which means:
1. I have to revisit my plot
2. I'm not sure what the heck I'm going to do with what I've written so far
3. I still don't know what bang to put in!

I kind of need everything I've written. It's super important for my subplots. But it means my main plot isn't the driver of the start of my story, which is a problem. I had added a prologue to add a bit of tension, but I don't think it's quite enough.

So... what to do? What do do?

I'm thinking of books I've read that I really liked and what gripped me. The thing is, I often find book beginnings difficult as a reader. I don't often get hooked until later.

So what hooked me in Harry Potter for example? It was book 4, I should say. And I started reading it from a third in. Ok, bad example. But still, that prologue is soooo creepy, I find it quite powerful. And although it takes a really long time to start, the creepiness, the missing people... you get this sense all along that something isn't quite right.

Am I normal Yet? is another one that got me hooked. I think I just loved Evie's voice and her problem is very obvious as a reader. I suppose it's a bad example for me because it's such a different sort of book. Issues in contemporary YA often feel a lot more mundane (you know, fitting in, dealing with your mental issues), which is not to say they aren't gripping or important, they are, but they don't need to 'bang' so much.

I'm not sure where this leaves me. More thinking needed.

Chasing the muse

If you are observant, you might have noticed that there is a new icon on the left hand side of the blog saying I am a Camp NaNoWriMo participant. Yep, that's right! And although than a lower wordcount, I'm not even a rebel: I'm writing NEW words (you know what I mean).

I had no other plans than write (and do a bit of homework) for the holidays, so I figured I'd be able to do quite well. I had a few unplanned things that came up last week, but it wasn't April yet, so who cares? I was in the starting blocks on the 1st April, ready to go! I wrote 2700 words. Which isn't bad, but not the high words counts I was expecting. Then the weekend happened, which wasn't great. Monday was much better, and it looked like this:

Pretty good, huh! Then Tuesday wasn't bad. Yesterday I did some work and then today...

I have lost my mojo. I don't know why, the story's just left me. I had a plan, and was going with it, chapter after chapter (they're tiny chapters) and even had a few surprises. I don't know if it's taking a break or what, but today I am staring at my computer screen thinking, 'This is sh*te, I don't want to write this.' Some people call it writer's block, but it's not that my mind or my page are blank, it's that the inspiration isn't there, and I feel that what I write is just that: uninspired.

There's a famous quite (although no-one agrees on who said it or what they said exactly) that goes something like this: 'I only write when I am inspired. But I see to it that I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning.'

I'm trying to sit down, grit my teeth and just get on with it. But instead I'm browsing pinterest boards, reading CampNaNo articles and, well, writing this. Let me be clear, it's not the process or the activity of writing itself that I'm avoiding, it's this mess of words that just won't come out, this feeling that 'it's just not quite good enough, so why bother?'

Come on, Muse, or denial-about-my-own-writing-ability, whatever you're called: come back!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

2015 in books

I love mornings like this. It's Saturday, I don't have a lot to do and so I can be a bit lazy and read in bed.
Also, I just finished a good book, and that's always a nice feeling.

Going into my Goodreads folders (to update the book from 'currently reading' to 'read'), I looked back at what I had read this year and realised I had been quite busy. So I decided to do a '2015 in review' post, inspired by fellow writer Catherine (who by the way was a finalist at the 2016 Undiscovered Voices competition, so check her out!).

Books are in the order I read them and I will use the Goodreads star system. My personalisation of it is this: I only give 1 star to books I actively dislike (I think the Alchemist is the only one I would give this to, but I read it a while ago), so 2 stars is the lowest I tend to give. It doesn't mean it's a bad book, but just that it wasn't for me. It either annoyed me or I didn't enjoy it - or I enjoyed bits of it but the annoying parts were sooooo off-putting that overall I didn't like the book. 3 and 4 stars I enjoyed. 5 stars I obsess about (and I don't care about the bad bits, I love those books flaw and all!).
The difference between 3 and 4 will be dependent on how much I enjoyed the voice, the pace, the characters and the extent to which the bits that annoyed me could be trumped by the bits I loved. 

So, without further ado, I give you...

2015 in review!


Providence Unveiled (Memory's Wake trilogy #3) by Selina Fenech - 4*
14-14 by Silène Edgar and Paul Beorn (French) - 4*
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld - 4*
Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld - 4*
Specials (Uglies #3) by Scott Westerfeld - 4*
Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas - 2*
The Dragon Keeper (Rain Wild Chronicles #1) by Robin Hobb - 4*
Dragon Haven (Rain Wild Chronicles #2) by Robin Hobb - 5*
City of Dragons (Rain Wild Chronicles #3) by Robin Hobb - 3*
Blood of Dragons (Rain Wild Chronicles #4) by Robin Hobb - 3*
Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis - 4*
The Territory by Sarah Govett - 2*
Half Bad (Hald Bad trilogy #1) by Sally Green - 3*
The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward - 4*
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Noughts & Crosses #1) - 3*
Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1) by Laini Taylor - 2*
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness - 4*
Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne - 5* (Yes, I am now obsessed!)
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho - 3*
The Sin-Eater's Daughter (The Sin-Eater's Daughter #1by Melinda Salisbury - 3*


How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity an the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough - 4*
Dear Agent - Write the Letter that Sells Your Book by Nicoa Morgan - 4*
Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that's Transforming Education by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica - 5*

I'm not very good at finishing books I don't enjoy, which I think is why my ratings tend to lean towards the positive - I don't rate books I didn't finish. I also don't read a lot of non-fiction (as you can see), so for me to finish it, I must really enjoy it!

So there! 23 books read in 12 months. Not bad going, huh? I have to admit, apart from non-fiction they are all either YA or fantasy, and most are both. I also didn't put all the picture books I read (you know, for school, not *just* because I like picture books). In fact I haven't added any books I read at school. Maybe I'll edit the post some time to add them too.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Getting cracking on book 2 - finally!

WARNING - Minor spoilers

I wasn't going to post an excerpt from book 2, because I'm worried about spoilers and the freshly-written, unedited (read: needs a lot of work) chapter 1 is full of them.

However, I'm so bloody proud that I've FINALLY started writing book 2, and a whole chapter to boot, that I can't resist posting a little bit. And it is from the point of view of a character who's only got a minor part in Book 1 but becomes super important in Book 2. So important, in fact, she's a POV character.

*Edit: Ok, now re-reading it, I'm not sure it deserves pride of place on the blog, but I'll leave it here just because it has been such a long time since I've written anything.*

So, for your eyes only, I present...

Book 2 - The Timekeepers' Island

Chapter 1

June knew her sister thought she was stupid. Otherwise, why would she bring her to all these private meetings? Summer thought June too thick to understand what was going on, that was why.
And it was true that when Summer asked her stuff, June gave her the silent treatment and it didn’t make her look bright. But Summer was too superficial to stop any further than appearances, and whenever June opened her mouth, her lisp and her stutter were exactly where Summer stopped to assess her intelligence. Besides, why should she say anything about what made her cry at night to total strangers?
‘Times have been very tough for us, Mister Galloway,’ Summer would say in her sweetest voice, dripping like honey all over the fat sorcerer. If they had any money, they were always sorcerers. ‘June, won’t you tell Mister Galloway how hard things have been for us?’
At other times Summer would act angry, the righteous kind of anger, like today.
‘What of our hard work?’ she shouted now to the men in the room. ‘They call us roaches and lazy, but do you know how much magic is used each day to restore and grow food for our people? Free magic, which costs nothing to the governors! June, won’t you tell these gentlemen how hard our people are working? And for no rewards! Until our work is recognised as worthy, how can we stand a chance of making a contribution to this society?’
The five men and women were seated around a large polished table made of one slab of mahogany. Like everything else in the room, it screamed of understated opulence. The war had obviously not reached this part of the city. The table alone could have fed June’s school for a week.
June never said anything at these meetings. She didn’t want to do anything that would help her sister and she didn’t like the pity-disgust in the gentlemen’s eyes when they looked at her. She knew exactly what her sister was trying to do, which was to get Faerie back on the map and move back there, and June had no intention of ever setting foot in that damned place again, and if the spirits wanted to curse her for swearing, let them! As far as she was concerned, not struggling against her sister’s grip and sitting there looking like a dirty street urchin to make rich sorcerers pity her was as much as she would consider doing for her sister’s cause. Even if it made her look like a stupid, dirty street urchin.
But June wasn’t stupid, and as her sister droned on and on, June’s head was full of schemes to escape her sister’s clutch.

She had tried many times before, and been successful on a few occasions, but then had been caught. She knew she would be caught this time too, but the question was always: when? How much time could she buy for herself? Time free, away from the bullies at school and Summer’s snarky remarks, from the expectations and the meetings. Time to just be June.

~ Edit, 28th March: I did some editing on this today! Whoop whoop! I won't post it as this is meant to be a raw post, and also because I am sure it will change so more. ~

The nice kind of no

I said a few months ago that I was on a 'want to get an agent' swing (you know, from my to self-publish or not to self-publish conundrum). I'm still on it and it doesn't look like I'm coming back down anytime soon. Well, not until I've exhausted all possibilities. I've given myself to 20.

A long time ago (read 'when the first draft was finished'), I sent the manuscript to 3 agents. I can't remember if I've ever mentioned this. I didn't really tell many people at the time. I was more testing the water, I suppose, which is a really stupid way of burning a lot of bridges. But I was young and naive in the ways of publishing (hum...). Anyway, needless to say I only got rejections.

Then in September I contacted 4 agents. I got nos one by one, and hadn't heard from the last one so this weekend, having some free time, I contacted 6 more. So that's 10, half of my target, but also probably the ones I had the best chance with.

Then this morning I got the answer from the 4th agent I had never heard from. Quite a coincidence!
Anyway, until now all the rejection emails I'd received had been fairly bog-standard, a polite "thanks but no thanks."

The one I got today was slightly better, and so far the nicest no I've received. I know I shouldn't put too much stock by it - at the end of the day, agents can be nice people too, even when they're rejecting you, so it doesn't mean my novel is any good - but it does feel like the comments are personal and part of me is hoping. Hoping that this is a good sign.

Anyway, this is the email:

Dear Soizic,

Many thanks for sending me the first three chapters of your novel to me. I thought this was imaginative, well-written, gripping with strong and original characters – it was an entertaining read with plenty of pace and had a good commercial premise. Lacie was a nicely empathic character with a good voice and strong narrative drive.

However, while I did enjoy this and think it an engaging read, I’m afraid I didn’t love it quite enough to take it any further. That’s not to say another agent may not totally disagree.

I do wish you all the best with your writing and thanks you again for sharing your novel with me.

Best wishes,

Look! "Good commercial premise", she says. "Nicely empathic character with a good voice", she says. As nos go, this one has got me quite excited! I just need to stop myself from over-analysing and getting my hopes up. After all, she did say no.

Gosh, this agent thing really is like dating, isn't it?

The one-track heart

I have noticed something.

I can't focus on more than one thing at the same time. No, I'm not talking about sex.
What I mean is I can't give all my energy into more than one project at a time. I can't care about more than one thing. I have a one-track heart. You know, not the organ that delivers blood to your body, the part of your mind that is full of passion and worries and obsessions (it's not my fault if our forefathers thought that was located in our ribcage rather than our skull).

This is my explanation for not doing any writing recently. My job was all-consuming. It was the thing I thought about before going to bed, had nightmares about and seemed to be the main subject of conversation I had with pretty much anybody. Now that I am not going to work every day and instead am doing a research proposal, that seems to be the thing on my mind all the time (and which I talk about all the time - sorry, Mark!). I've had more free time in the last few weeks than since the summer holidays. And yet I haven't been able to think about writing, because all my energy and brain-space has been devoted to my research proposal.

The problem is that if you want to write something, it's probably best to do a little bit every day (did you know this also applies to research theses? What do you mean I'm getting sidetracked?). But, especially in fantasy, you need to immerse yourself in the world your have created. It means my one-track heart needs to stay focussed on the writing - and that's only possible if there's nothing else in my life I care deeply about. You know. Like my career.

What happens is that I won't write for ages. Then, like now, there'll be some freed up space in my head, and my writing waves frantically in the background so I take a closer look. But by the time I've re-read what I'd written, remember what the heck my dates mean and why I'd decided the make those changes last time, the free afternoon has evaporated and I haven't written a word.

I don't know how other people do it. HOW DO YOU DO IT, PEOPLE? I mean people who have a day job that they care about - hey it's easy to find time to write when you're bored out of your mind. I know. I've been there. But how do you juggle up your head space to make room for writing?

I'd like to know.