First drafts inevitably give me angst–fear, dread, misery. They generally start off snappy, whimsical, full of life and dreams but at some point all those bright lights fizzle out and it becomes work. I do not believe in divine inspiration for my work (stone the witches who do!). At some point, I write myself into a plot wall.
Instead of staring at the same page/sentences/chapter over and over again, it’s best to try something different and break away from that first draft angst.
- Start with a blank page Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because I do this every time I write. EVERY TIME. But really, try it. You will feel freer without yesterday’s words and ideas tethering you. Maybe also consider starting from a completely different place in your story or novel. Who said you have to write chronologically?
- Find the plot I write first, ask questions later. Which is great to get a word count and to have the story flying but often the dreaded plot wall happens. This is terrible if you are penning a longer work like a novel or novella. Try an outline. Really, try it. I hate index cards. Hate. Them. But do what feels right to you: whether that is something super organised or a mind map.
- Skeleton The first draft doesn’t have to be organ meat and flesh. It can be small scenes, vignettes, notes–as long as it gets you to the end. Writing in chunks is a-okay. If you’re stuck on something, stop it. Move to a new scene or character and write a chunk, then another chunk.
- Get to know your characters Traditional character sketches have never been my bag (gag me with a spoon), but I’ve come around to character sketches, in a sense, during a recent plot wall. It let me think clearly about the plot and negotiate certain scenes. I asked myself questions about the characters and tried to answer them the best I could in regards to the story, plot and how they relate to the other characters.
- Sprints Block off a day or half-day and dedicate it to writing. It doesn’t have to be good writing or anything like that, but set a target (word count, chapter, plot outline, character sketches) and write in sprints. You’ll be amazed how much you get done and how much you don’t care if it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ writing. It will be writing! As an example: write for 30 minutes, take a 10 minute break. 30 minutes, 10 minute break, so on and so forth. Adjust as necessary. If you have an accountability friend to sprint with you, the more the merrier.
I’ll write more about Find the plot and Get to know your characters, but hopefully, this will help break that plot wall. If you missed it, also 5 Writing Tools for That Writing Project.
Do you have any recommendations for breaking the dreaded plot wall?
Lockdown life has been a difficult time for so many reasons for everyone. At the beginning, concentration was a rare bird and I was happy to find a Netflix series I could bare to watch.
But reading and writing has returned for me, and I think it has for a lot of other people as well. During this time, beginners have also turned to writing. So for both those newbies and those longtime veterans who may feel stuck, I’m offering suggestions for the writing tools that I use that help me bash out thousands of words.
These recs are also either free or low cost, so hopefully something or a mix can be within everyone’s reach.
- Scrivener: This is the classic writing tool for writers. It is powerful software that can be used for all sorts of projects: book length and short story manuscripts, scripts, dissertations, you name it. I also use it for multiple drafts of articles and all sorts of editorial projects. Find what you need it for and don’t get bogged down in all of its super powers. £/$ – Free Trial available
- Scapple: Mind mapping. A recent find. When your notebook doesn’t cut it anymore. £/$ – Free Trial available
- OmmWriter: Elegant distraction-free writer. My favourite part about this is the typewriter key sounds every time you type. You can make it silent, have ambient sounds, different keystrokes or a combo. It’s a simple word processor with no grammar/spell-check and I always have a high word count when using it. £/$ – Interactive demo available
- Pure Writer: This is another distraction-free writer, but with a bit more oomph. I also have a Chromebook that I use when travelling around (travel–how novel). As much as I love my Chromebook, it doesn’t support Scrivener. So I need something similar as Google Docs (or the like) just doesn’t cut it for me when it comes to creative writing. It allows you to organise much like Scrivener but is a simple text editor. There is also a note taking aspect. I set the typewriter feature which greys out all previous lines, which allows me to only focus on the present. FREE (there is an upgrade, but for now, the Free version is fine for me)
- Writers’ HQ: This is not software, but an excellent resource that I found during the lockdown period. During the best of times, they run in-person retreats to motivate writers towards their targets, but these past weeks, they’ve hosted free online writing retreats. I highly recommend these. I’ve written thousands of [messy] words but I’ve still written more than on my own. Also, WHQ has many other resources that they have thrown online. Free resources (if you have the cash to spare they also have monthly or annual memberships)
Are there any tools you use for creative writing and productivity?
The official trailer for Shirley, the new film releasing everywhere on VOD on June 5, is available. For the love of all that is Shirley Jackson, watch it, watch it again, mark June 5 on your calendar, read some tarot and wonder who those 14 people are that put a thumbs down on this trailer on YouTube.
Which spells could we possible curse them with?
Sitting printed out in my stack of unread articles has been “Upstairs’ downfall: The decline, death and afterlife of the English country house in five ghost stories” by Lewis Hurst at Sublime Horror.
With the London gloom and the chilly air, I have finally had a chance to bundle up and find a quiet moment to read through it. It was a pleasure to learn of five new ghost stories that were not on my radar; especially ones touching on crumbling greatness.
I am currently reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger so it is perfect timing for this supplementary article.
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Look at those pretty ladies! I am very excited to get cracking on these three as the days become darker and shorter. I’m finishing up some other reads currently (secrets, ghosts, lost loves), but hopefully my eyes can turn to my new acquisitions as I shockingly have never read these titles.
As the founding editor of the literary magazine, The Wild Hunt, I’m super excited for our first theme issue: What Is On the Very Edge of the Wood? Once you’re done carving pumpkins and filling up on too many sweets, send us your fiction! The deadline is the 1st of November 2018. Anything spooky, weird, Gothic, dark, etc. is welcome as long as it interprets the theme to some degree. If you have questions, feel free to drop me a note in the comments.
More info here.
Only today did I hear of the term “Tasmanian Gothic” to describe the blend of European Gothic traditions with the wild and remote island of Tasmanian. How I have lived my life not realizing this?!
While reading the Wikipedia page, I saw that I have already encountered a few of these works, but never knew of their own distinction. Hopefully, some free time this weekend will allow me to explore more of this and update my notes.
The post arrived this week with a new copy of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (Vintage). It is a personal favourite and I’m delighted to be part of an edition slated for next year. I have to get cracking as I’m writing an introduction to a new American edition. I’ve already started digging through the catalogue at the British Library and after months of my absence from the stacks, this is a perfect reason to dust off my Readers card.
Justified Sinner is an 1824 novel by Scottish Writer James Hogg. It’s wicked and mysterious and of course an example of early Gothic literature. It will be a big project–and of course I’m already busy with loads of other things–but happy to be back to writing literary interest essays for public consumption.
I’m sure I’ll be posting more snippets of my notes while researching and writing this project.