It’s been just over a month since my last update, but I’m trying really hard to keep updating as regularly as possible. Once a month seems about right for this series. So what’s been happening since last time (writing first)? Writing problems and solutions!
I’ve been writing reasonably seriously for about four or five years now, mostly short stories, with a couple of novellas. I want to get a novel written. Something longer. Do I have it in me? I hope I do, but I don’t just want to write 70K words and call it a novel. I want to write 70K words that make sense, that go together in a way that makes an actual story. I don’t need it to be an instant best seller, I just want it to be complete. I’ve been doing a lot of my growing here on the internet and have shared (and continue to share) some of what I’ve written, which I realise leaves me open to criticism as some of what I’ve written in the past is not as good as it could be. I do hope, however, that the quality of my work has improved over the last few years. I think it has, so that feels good to me.
In terms of novel writing, I consider myself a novice, so I hope some of the situations I find myself in and some of the things I’ve learned, you will be able to relate to.
This month I’ve been continuing to make steady progress towards that first novel, but I’ve been held up by a couple of key things. One I think I can read about and learn to improve upon, the other is a bit more tricky and takes a little bit more effort. I hope I’m not the only one that struggles in these areas, but let me know what you think:
The Second Act
I mentioned last time about my efforts to plot a novel for the first time, using the three act structure. When I looked at the whole structure and its constituent parts, I understood it. I understood that the classic story structure starts with some kind of hook that gets the reader interested; to keep them reading. I like to think I’m reasonably good at this part, or at least, I feel that it is one of my strengths. I think that comes from writing short stories – there is no time to waffle!
Then there a number of ‘disasters’ that come in at the end of act 1, the mid point, then at the end of act 2. Then there is a climax and conclusion.
Easy, right? Well, when I type it as quickly as that, it sounds like it, but let me tell you, that stretch between the exciting end of act 1, and the introduction to the climax in act 3, comes one loooong section of the story, which is:
I’ve really struggled with this second act in the past, and now that I look back at my last 2 incomplete attempts at novel writing, I think this is the point at which it all fell down. I’m hoping that as my ability in this area improves, I can go back and pick them back up.
So how have I been addressing this problem?
The first thing I did, was break the long second act down into four sections, separated by ‘pinch points’ and the 50% point. A ‘pinch point’ is nothing more than something in your story that reminds you of the power of the antagonist; when everything is moving along smoothly for your protagonist, something comes along and bites him and says ‘Hey, don’t forget me!’ That means that instead of one long piece, the second act now looks like this:
Plot point 1 (end of Act 1)>>
Pinch point 1>>
Plot point 2 (Midpoint)>>
Pinch point 2>>
Plot point 3 (end of Act 2)
For me, this made things a little easier, as I now had several more points to hang the plot structure on, changing my Act 2 from this:
If I imagine Act 2 as a long line strung between two points, I can see why my story was struggling to make it all the way through, because it was sagging so much in the middle! With the addition of the Pinch Points (aside from making a vaguely rude diagram), the story is tightened up, reducing that sagging feeling.
Now what goes in there is up to you, and I still need to look at ways to keep the energy up as I’m working through this long act, but I think that will be for next time. I hope this has helped you visualise how you can keep your story from ‘sagging’ in the middle!
I can’t pretend to be the innovator here. There are many excellent sources of information you can get on story structure, and the second act in particular. You could try The Writing Cooperative or one of my favourites, Helping Writers Become Authors, which also has a huge database of films where you can see how the pinch points fit into the overall story.
The second thing that has been holding me up is:
This is something I’ve struggled with for a while to be fair, and is not limited to my writing. But in this particular case, it has been tormenting me for a while. I’m about 60K words into a first draft and when I read back through some of what I’ve written, it’s quite clear: It’s not good. I don’t just mean the words are all in the wrong order, I mean that there are plot holes that keep popping up, not to mention continuity errors (a character name change half way through, anyone?) and just bad prose.
How have I dealt with this?
The truth is, that sometimes I don’t deal with it very well. Sometimes I come home from work, and can’t face the idea of sitting down and adding to this pile of garbage. On those times, whereas before I might have beat myself up about that, now I try to be more rational (easier said than done). I have decided the following, which has helped:
Accept that on any given day, I might not be able to sit down and add to my first draft. This is difficult of itself, as I know that I should be sitting down to hammer the words out, even when I don’t feel like it, but I think: Why? I know where my writing is, and where I am in my progression. I know that if I miss today, the world will still turn, and tomorrow, I’ll try again. I also have to battle with my MS and beating myself up for something that is out of my control is not going to help me.
Being realistic – again, easier said than done, but realistically, can I expect to be great first time? Deep down I suspect the answer to be yes, but realistically, I know the answer is no. Ernest Hemmingway had a great quote that keeps me going on my worst days:
The first draft of anything is shit – Ernest Hemmingway
By that standard, I’m right on target!
Setting SMART targets
I’ve written previously about SMART targets. Is it realistic to write 60K words that are brilliant first time? Probably not. Is it realistic to write 60K words? Yes. Is a 4 week timeframe realistic to get these words down? Not for me. Can I do it in 16 weeks? More realistic.
That’s what I’ve done this month. Yay me.
My health this month has been surprisingly stable (said in a hushed voice with crossed fingers). I think my MS has finally moved fully into the secondary progressive stage, which is a bonus, as before, I was secondary progressive with superimposed relapses, which meant that even though I was gradually declining, I would occasionally have bigger drops in function, which sucked. Big time.
The function in my left hand has declined to the point where my writing time is limited to an hour or so at a time, unless I want to do the one hand approach, which I’m not keen on! I know I can get speech recognition software, but at the moment, my budget won’t run to that – I have more pressing matters to attend to, number one being to put carpet down in my new extension! The work was completed on my downstairs extension back in November (see that HERE), but that’s where the money ran out. It has taken my wife and I from then to now to save up money for carpet, but as we speak, the carpet is going down! If it gets finished before I post this update, I’ll include photos!
After the carpet, we’ll need to purchase a new bed – the one we have at the moment is about thirty years old and is ready for retirement! But just think, when that’s done, I’ll be able to start work on the downstairs bedroom, which will mean no more crawling up to bed at night! I’m very excited!
The other thing I have started trying relates to medication. I have purchased six months worth of Cannabis Sativa tablets– hemp seed oil. I’ve been taking one daily since Christmas now. I’ve read various reviews that suggested this ‘may’ help with some of the pain I have. The result? So far, I am experiencing no pain relief, but my wife says my mood has chilled quite a bit. I know the usual cannabis properties are not in these tablets, but perhaps something is happening?
What I really want to try is CBD Oil. What is it?
According to Netdoctor
Previously viewed as an option only for the seriously ill, CBD oil is gaining traction among wellness fans, with its promise of being able to provide relief from everything from pain to depression and anxiety. But what exactly is it and are there any associated risks?
Is CBD the same as cannabis?
CBD is one of 104 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, that can be found in the cannabis plant. It’s a naturally occurring substance, which can be extracted and mixed with a carrier oil – often hemp seed or coconut – to create CBD oil.
Unlike the most well-known cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), CBD is not psychoactive, meaning that it won’t make you ‘high’ – the sensation most commonly associated with cannabis. It is, however, reported to offer a range of health and medicinal benefits – the reason behind its growing acclaim.
As of November last year, the Government rescheduled cannabis-based medicinal products, making it legal to prescribe them, although it would need to be a specialist like a neurologist and not a GP and even then all licensed treatment options need to have been explored.
It seems to be useful for pain relief and muscle spasticity. Click HERE for more info from the MS Society.
If you’re interested in where to find these products, you can try The CBD Brothers, who offer a wide range of products.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone that has any experience of CBD Oil. How have you found it? Has there been any positive change? Are there any side effects?
That’s it for February! The only thing left is for photos with carpet down, as it has just been completed!