Diary of an Author with Multiple Sclerosis. Christmas Edition

Author with Multiple SclerosisSo it’s been a while since I updated this diary. Quite a bit has happened in my life since the last update, some of it connected to writing, but mostly not. I’ll try and fit it in where I can below. Here’s what’s been happening, writing first:

Writing

I started October off by joining the Chapterbuzz 10k Challenge. It was like a mini version of NaNoWriMo, in that the challenge was to write 10k words in the month of October. I have successfully completed the NaNo challenge the last two years, but this year, that felt like a stretch, so I opted for this slightly easier goal. So I started work on a novel (a nice and easy goal!). It’s an idea I’ve had rattling around my head for a while and this seemed like as good an excuse as any to get it out.

I’ve previously only ever written using the ‘pantser’ method – writing by the seat of your pants, or making it up as I go. This has led to several stories that I am pleased with, but also several stories that have just wandered off down blind alleys, leaving me with 30-50k words that go nowhere. I’m sure I will get back to these at some point, but for now, they will just sit in a folder on my Mac waiting to be rediscovered and renovated. I don’t feel they were a waste of time; rather they enabled me to improve my writing, ready for when something else came along.

So now this new idea has come along, I wanted to try something different, which is why I turned to the planning approach. Now I do not in any way claim to be an expert in planning a novel, much smarter people than me have suggestions for that (I particularly used advice from author KM Weiland), but there are a few things that I have learned:

thought-2123970_640.jpgWhat have I learned?

I’ve learned that story telling generally follows a structure, and the one I chose to follow was the three act structure, and it goes like this:

It starts with a hook – something to get the readers to read beyond the first page, the first paragraph, the first line!

An inciting event and a key event – The inciting event is what sets the story in motion and the key event comes after it and ties the protagonist to his main course of action.

The first plot point strikes at approx. 25% mark and marks the point of no return for the main character.

The first half of the second act is when your characters react to the first plot point. This is often split into two parts, separated by a

Pinch point – where the antagonist reminds you that they are still there.

At the midpoint comes a realisation and the protagonist moves from being reactive to being proactive, and contains the second plot point.

The second half of act 2 is split with another pinch point, leading to act 3 that begins with

Plot point 3 – the protagonist has no choice but to face the protagonist and can often begin with what seems like a success, but turns out to be possibly the biggest disaster so far.

Then comes the Climax – the highest tension point.

Finally, a resolution is needed if there are any loose ends to tie up.

Using this bare-bones structure, a pen and paper and Scrivener, I was able to plot out the whole novel, sniff out any plot holes and work on the main characters. Once I had a few sentences down for each of the main points in the story, I have been using the Snowflake Method to flesh everything out. You can learn more about the Snowflake method HERE. The basic idea is to start with a couple of sentences to describe a scene, then expand that to a paragraph, then a page, and so on.

If you are considering attempting a novel for the first time, you can do a lot worse than checking out the above links as they provide A LOT of useful information. A particular favourite of mine is KM Weiland’s Story Structure Database, where she uses popular movies to highlight the different parts of the three act structure.

Planning and writing my first novel is partly what’s kept me from updating this blog more than I would have liked. I say partly, because the other factor that has held me back is

 

Disability Multiple Sclerosis

In the last three months, much of my time has been taken up with having building work done on my house. I have had an extension on the back of my house, which will give me a downstairs bedroom. Over the last few months, I have been finding the stairs increasingly difficult to manage and have only been able to sleep in my bed because my wife lifts my legs up the stairs, one step at a time, sometimes putting a shoulder in my backside to prevent me from slipping back down. Now I’m not a big guy (82KG or 180pounds in old money) but neither is my wife (not a big woman, not big guy… you know what I mean) at 5 feet 2inches, 60kg. It’s hard work for her (and me), so a downstairs bedroom seemed the way to go. The only problem is that it’s so EXPENSIVE. Who would have thought? The cost of the one room is almost twice what I paid for the house. I have received some support from the local authority but as my wife and I had saved for the extension, they took that into account and reduced the grant accordingly. I would have been better off financially if I had not saved at all and let the local authority give me more money.

But anyway, the work is now complete but I am still not able to move in, as we’ve ran out of money (got to pay back what we borrowed!) and can’t afford carpet, oh, and a bed. One day soon though…

It put me in mind of a report put together by the Extra Cost Commission about the extra cost of being disabled. I wrote a post on that HERE, but basically, the report found that it costs, on average, £500 per month extra to be disabled. I wish I’d known that before I got MS, because if I had, I wouldn’t have bothered!

Also, I was made redundant from my job in October, but the good news on that front, is that the charity I worked for have set up as a separate entity and have re employed me, which is amazing, as they have known me for eight years and stillwanted me to stay! The charity is Disability Direct Nottingham and we provide free advice and support for disabled people, older people and carers. If you get a minute, have a look.

We were uncertain about funding for this for several months, and it is amazing how stressful it can be when you have an uncertain financial future, in fact, we all worked several days with no pay before we had confirmation of the funding. Not good when you’ve just borrowed a shed load of money to pay for work on your house!

Physically, I’m still taking the same meds, although I have had a new one introduced for pain – Zapain (great name). I’ve been taking it for a few months, but my pain levels are still high. I’m finding that by the time I get home from work, my pain levels are such that all I want to do is sleep and sometimes that urge is so powerful, I can’t resist. I have always known that fatigue is one of the more debilitating factors in Multiple Sclerosis, but I had always figured that was a figure of speech. Hell no.

This level of fatigue has made it difficult to keep up with the writing. I know that writing can sometimes be hard and that the advice is to sit down every day and write, even when you don’t feel like it, but I’ve found that hard to do when I’m asleep! It’s not like I choose to sleep at those times. I get home from work and the next thing I know is my wife waking me up on the settee a couple of hours later. Does anyone else experience this?

And finally, and most annoying, is that I am finding typing incredibly difficult. I now only have one useful hand and most days, that hand only has one useful finger (it’s the middle one, which is helpful). I find that the other fingers want to sag down and press other non-related, keys. I have come up with several clever ways of keeping these fingers out of the way, mostly using Cellotape. I have access to speech software at work, but now I am not able to bring my laptop home, and the software is Windows, not Mac, so I can’t even ‘borrow’ it. At the moment, the cost of software for my Mac is prohibitive – I need to be able to buy a bed and carpet first!

Pictures!

My new room! Here’s the view from inside my kitchen, looking into the new room. The room is going to be my new living room, with my current living room becoming the bedroom.

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The new back door, and my new ramp! I can now get out the house and in to my car all by myself (how grown up am I?)!

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Inside the room. Loving the high-level windows. The sun pokes through there in the afternoon.

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I’ll stop now, as everything is seizing up! Let me know what you’re working on, and how you are facing and overcoming the challenges in your own life.

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