My terrifying timeline

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Knole Park, 2016
Fighting through problems, and smashing deadlines.

Do I dare? Do I dare put dates and deadlines to what I’m trying to achieve, and have to acknowledge publicly when I miss or make those targets? Is my book, my weird Young Adult Arthurian Genderfluid Fantasy Coming Of Age novel really going to become accountable?

Yeah, why not? Chris Baty is big on accountability. Also deadlines. He invented Nanowrimo around those core principles in 2000 and that is now a venerable institution.

In Nanowrimo you write a complete 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’ve participated eleven times, aced it seven times, (one story is now a Sherlock Holmes time travel Dracula fanfiction love story here) and it taught me how to write fast.  So given that writing fast is what my next goals require, this should be a cinch.

  • Middle section – approx 20000 words – by end of July
  • End section – approx 40000 words – by end August
  • First draft generally whipped into shape, to be a novel of perhaps 90 000 words- by end September.
  • Sit back and take a break. -I’m kidding.
  • October – Start the rewrites.  My aim is to have something on the Kindle shelves by the end of the year. This year.

Yes, these are quite distant deadlines, by Self Publishing School standards. SPS founder, Chandler Bolt, reckons you can outline, write and launch a Kindle book in 90 days. I’m sure you can. But I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years, and I know that the next 90 days are pretty likely to hold a few brick walls from Real Life. Worrying about work deadlines doesn’t help climb over those walls. So there’s leeway here. Maybe too much leeway? What do you think? Am I being soft?

My real issue is that I have other writing projects ongoing as well. Some purely for-fun ones which I nevertheless want to complete (three of them, two nearing the end and one really not…) plus my ongoing involvement with The Write Practice; plus I want to continue to make short stories and submit them to possible markets, just for the practice of the craft.

So OK. I have these deadlines. Are they crazy – crazily lax, crazily tight, or what? I don’t know. Let’s find out.


Accountability: write more words!

Reading Time: 1 minute
Write, write like the wind! (Fuerteventura, Canary Islands: my usual speed-tourism in a hired Jeep.)

This week I need to make some writing progress: 10,000 words in a week. This is perfectly achievable given my prior history of writing 12,000 words in one day. But to be sure, I am setting myself no other targets.

-Except to write and workshop a short story for the Fiction Break contest.

Also to continue working on my novel outline as a background task (which means every time I get in the car. Road signs are merely decorative to me.) CS Lakin’s book is helping.

Also to continue my Dark Ages research. I have Neil Oliver and Michael Wood on hand for this.

Also to research Amazon fiction categories to see where my book might fit. Amazon categories are… fascinating. If you thought Japanese street fashion contained highly specialised niches, check out Amazon categories.

Plus you know, my job. But I have already cracked 2000 words, and I will have time to write this evening. I need to write my main character off an island, over the ocean, and onto a totally different island via some disasters.


Target: 10, 000 words added to my novel by Friday.


Writing skills – battle scenes

Reading Time: 2 minutes
I carry the torch for big, cinematic settings, so where can I put my climactic battle?

My current novel is an adventure story so I always imagined it would climax with an epic battle. Only problem – I’ve never written a battle scene. I have written action but always small-scale, and always based around an emotional moment. I’ve never tried to co ordinate armies –  and personally I glaze over during those clash-bang scenes in films and books. Yeah yeah, troop movements, just tell  me who wins and who dies, OK?

Here’s KM Weiland’s take on the thing, and I’m relieved I’m not the only one who finds big sweeping action dull unless there’s some character development to draw me in:

She uses an example from the screenwriting book Save the Cat, which is on my shelf…ahem, and never read. So there’s one task on my list for this week.

Maybe this week’s goal is to get inspired for the war which is about to break out.  Maybe that’s my breakthrough in my outline – all is about to end for my lead, and then phew, war breaks out, except not phew because everything is now much much worse. Yup, that could work.

OK, this week’s tasks:

1.Read some battle scenes I liked. Or might like. Narnia? I had to skim most of the GoT stuff as it was so violent. My book is not gory. Yup kids, welcome to my new genre: cosy war.

Diana Wynne Jones has some big fights in her Chrestomanci series, plus Howl’s Moving Castle. That’s more my level. The stakes are high but nobody gets eaten by hounds.

2. Practise writing some individual action for example scenes where:

  • AP singlehandedly fights off the bandits torturing a bird which is actually M
  • M faces off to MK above some kind of towering abyss (channeling my inner Star Wars/Indiana Jones here).
  • F and M escape the prison, fighting with the guards

Those small scenes might help me with the big scene.

3. Investigate settings. I’m always inspired by real places, or places glimpsed in fantastical movies. Glancing through fantasy art on Tumblr is good too. That would be some very pleasant homework!

4. Climax/battle setting. My big battle needs a great setting. A cinematic setting. In my fanfiction I always tried to have the big emotional scenes at big filmic settings – Statue of Liberty*, abandoned hospital island, etc – so I need one for this. It’s notionally set in Britain so there’s scope for more ‘research’ there. Think  Man dangling from the face of Big Ben, or Woman clinging to the mast on the Eiffel Tower, for the level of drama I want.

Ok. CJ Cherryh does great ‘big’ scenes, so does Michael Crichton and Lee Child, but those all focus on a single character or small group of characters, in a tight spot – often literally for Crichton, the master of claustrophobic tension. I think that is far more my forte. Big setting, but tight spot. Food for thought there.

Right, this week’s tasks are set. Go!

PS* (I haven’t yet written my Statue of Liberty scene. It’s for Elementary fanfiction and it involves stolen gold. I’m just quickly getting this novel out of the way first…)





Outlining challenge- finish my novel outline in two days

Reading Time: 2 minutes
New York bull, 2014
Am I caging my novel by creating an outline? There’s no way to find out without trying.

This week I have a mission – to finish the outline for my book. I’ve been working on it for a few weeks, by reading from some experts, plus actually drafting some outlines, mind maps and scene lists. I think it has helped, but now I have a sneaking feeling that the main point of all this has been writing avoidance. And so I’m going to finish my outline.

 In two days.

To do this I will need my skills. Here’s a quick review of those:

Things I know I’m good at:
  • Openings and hooks
  • Foreshadowing
  • UST 
  • Romantic intimate scenes
  • Humour
  • Cliff hanger chapter endings
  • Mimicking a voice I know well e.g. for fanfiction
  • Sounding confident
Things I know I’m not very good at:
  • Structure
  • Endings
  • Fulfilling on the promise offered in early chapters
  • Balance of length across chapters – actually, dividing things up into chapters at all
  • Outlining. I barely do it, have barely ever done it, but like self-editing* I now need to learn how to do it
So it seems like I know where to concentrate my efforts. But I don’t; all these elements are opaque to me. I’m starting with outlining because that gives me a shape with which to work on the rest. It’s been far too long since I wrote a spine-tingling finale. Time to change that and craft an outline for this book that will have me itching to get to the good bits.
  1. Complete reading the James Scott Bell book on Superstructure.
  2. Build on my theme mind map and add to it with a scenes mind map. Anything goes – just get it all down.
  3. Build up an order of play for my scenes, based around my theme.
  4. Check my outline against the various structures suggested by Bell and others.
  5. If there’s time, work in reading another book on structure. KM Weiland  has one, there are many others.
I still want to really study structure and outlining as I feel this is the main missing tool in my skill set. Given how well and fluently I can write, imagine what I could achieve if I had an actual plan before I started.
Hence my target for this week: a completed outline. I’m now sick of not having it done, so I need to do it.
Also …  I joined the Accountability thread in the SPS community, so now I have to. Yikes.

I’ll update on progress when I’ve finished blogging and made some.

PS: If all else fails, then there’s always this: Planning to Outline Your Novel? Don’t

*There will be more on self editing. I never used to do this and then fanfiction. Suddenly I was faced with the idea that not every word I wrote was golden. Imagine. And so I had to learn how to do things like re-read my work, and even delete some of it. I’ll share my tips for this soon.