I’ve gone through a few ups and downs of being published, getting translation deals, or not, good press reviews, stinking Amazon reviews, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you think about writing and the Internet the less good it is for a stable state of mind. But it isn’t easy – the Internet and modern publishing seems to shape you into acting in a certain way. It makes writers competitive with each other (even if most of us won’t admit it) which is futile since we’re all actually on the same side. You can see the jealousy bubbling away if you know where to look. You also start to equate online activity with being proportionate to good sales, but it doesn’t really work like that in 2012 when everyone is clamouring for attention. And if you go down the route of seeking attention all the time, it can really impact upon what you’re here for in the first place: to write. (As an aside, Sam Sykes made a different point about the silence of being a writer, which isn’t directly related to this, but it’s also a good read.)
Anyway, for a while the whole thing was causing a bit of mental anguish. Concentrating on the correct parts of the writing process was replaced by focussing on the peripherals. I wanted to change that, and tried a few things.
But one of the biggest things that really has helped me out is sports. When I was younger, I used to be into plenty of sports, but in my 20s I pretty much got jaded with the British sports industry and drifted away. But, over the past few months I’ve utterly thrown myself – and I mean ridiculously so – into following a certain sport: American Football. I sort of followed it when I was younger, but not really – because being British, for years we got rubbish coverage. You’d find out about results way too late. Games were on at ridiculous hours. But it’s not the same anymore – there is so much more for international fans.
I won’t bore you with details, but having distractions, becoming emotionally invested in a team, statistics, tactics, the drama and so on, has remarkable impacts on my state of mind for writing. Over the months, it’s helped create conditions in which I can really concentrate on writing again and not all the external worries. Emotional ups and downs are invested in something else entirely, which means that the writing ups and downs seem less important. When I sit down to write now, I’m not concerned about what so-and-so said about this or that, or how my online sales rank is doing.
Buddhists among us would point out that thinking of others really is the path to peace, so thinking about sports teams is a no-brainer. I guess ultimately it’s all about not taking your writerly self as seriously as you think you should. So long as I’m writing books, that’s fine with me – that’s the serious stuff. The rest is all a game.
A while ago I was aiming to start a green blog as an experiment, something separate to this, but I’m going to no longer update it, for a couple of reasons.
First, the Tumblr blog format isn’t really appropriate for what I was aiming for. Tumblr isn’t really geared up for thoughts, comments, or deep interaction. It’s about reblogging pretty pictures and looking quickly at cool stuff. Ideal for some things, not quite for what I had in mind.
Secondly, Twitter fulfils a lot of the role of Tumblr in spreading information about certain things quickly, except Twitter is open, which does a better job of broadcasting news outwards, while Tumblr seems closed. Also, you can now embed videos in Tweets effectively, making Tumblr further irrelevant.
Thirdly, writing book reviews for The Ecologist has started to scratch my environmental itches more thoroughly, and takes up way more of my time. I’d rather spend time engaging with interesting texts.
So, the blog was worth the effort as an experiment, and was fun, but is not really doing what I hoped it would achieve, and no longer seems as relevant. Perhaps if I’d based it on a WordPress blog, I’d have done better; but for anyone starting up a blog now, I think people will struggle. The hits were not too bad for a start-up blog though, of course, nothing like this one. For the debates I might have wanted, I can do so on here and on Twitter. There we go. I’ll leave the old site up online as an archive, but I won’t update it.
Even looking at the book blogosphere these days: it doesn’t take a genius to see new sites cropping up each day, so how does any new blog compete with such content? (I think I know the answers here: get lots of people on board to give interesting, varied content, do it regularly, do it well, make it look good, and don’t use Tumblr.)
I’ve also combined this with a streamlining of Facebook. I’m more concerned with privacy on there, and actually maintaining a network with people with which I’m more familiar and correspond with regularly – I don’t want to use it for reaching out. I’m dabbling in Google+, but to be honest, I think that could go the way of Google Buzz at this rate.
So here and on Twitter will be my main hang-outs in future. I don’t think there’s any harm in holding up my hand to say it didn’t really work.
It appears that when I moved hosts there was a subtle change of RSS feeds. The subscription you need is now feed://markcnewton.com/feed/ – previously there was “blog.markcnewton” in the URL for the feed, which was what the blog was originally built on, but now that’s gone completely.
So essentially a lot of people (I have no idea how many feed subscribers there were) have been missing out on a few weeks of posts. I’m looking to see if there’s any possible way of sending an update through the old feed – those of you who are missing out will still probably have no idea there’s an issue. So this blog post is probably pointless. If you know anyone who might have the old URL, then please do pass this on.
While we’re on technical things, you might have noticed I’ve added Facebook comments in – feel free to use either comments section – as well as started covering Tweets. I’m not sure if I’ll keep the Twitter bit, so it might disappear sooner rather than later. I’m tempted to get a whole new comments system put in, to be honest, but that probably needs someone who knows what they’re doing instead of me smashing bits up from the inside.
As I’m getting through to the end of an epic fantasy series, I’ve found the way I’ve planned my novels has changed massively over the years. My general approach to planning is way different to way it used to be. So I wanted to talk about telling your story. Whether, as a writer, you think about the bricks and mortar, the scaffolding, the engineers, the builders with their copies of The Sun stuffed down the front of the van windscreen, or whether you’re happy to wing it. That sort of thing.
When I worked in editorial positions, I always noted the sheer varieties of ways people went about their planning. The important thing to remember is that it’s whatever works for you, not what some idiot on the internet says, least of all me.
I used to be a story traveller. I had a few loose story ideas in mind, but I mostly wanted to go exploring. It was fun. I had a bunch of characters or a setting as a starting point, and tended to work outwards from there. It’s not a bad route: you get to know your characters well, you get to explore a world through their eyes. Everything feels very, very natural, and you can capture a lot of nuances of human interaction because you’re not trying to fit round things through a square shaped hole to make your plot move forwards.
The downside is you can wander off anywhere, kind of forgetting that plot unless you knew instinctively where the characters should be heading. Wandering is good if you’ve a strong sense of place and you want to explore that. It’s useful for that travelogue element of SFF, of discovering places. It puts your imagination in centre stage (though you better have a good one). It’s possibly even useful for some cool character interaction. But I wouldn’t want to write an intricate crime novel this way, and nor is it useful for making calculated story structures.
These are the types of writers who need to plan the plot out in immense detail before they’d even go near the actual writing. I’m talking about a far extreme on this writing spectrum. Some folk want to know not just the beginning, middle and end, chapter by chapter, but every little detail in the middle. That’s cool, of course. You can do a heck of a lot of clever stuff this way. You can not only tick off the kind of structure you want (three acts or more?) but you can make intricate things happen, or see plot issues before you get stuck writing them. You can research the hell out of a concept and nail, for example, a classy piece of period detail. Some say it’s a great way of preventing writer’s block, too, because you know absolutely what you’re going to write about.
Personally, committing fully to this approach takes away a lot of the fun. I like the element of discovery through characters’ eyes, which can then impact the plot, and what if I want to tweak the plot half way through, if things don’t feel right? What’s more, I can’t even get a feel for things until I begin putting prose on paper. Perhaps things can seem a little forced – as if characters are simply jumping through hoops and not acting like human beings at all. It’s not the case all the time, of course, but this is the internet and it was made for sweeping generalisations.
The lighthouse seeker
You’re the kind of kid that sits somewhere in between. You need those markers to aim towards, perhaps the general story acts you have in mind. You can go for runs or a long walk and dwell on nudging things in certain directions; that creative freedom is there. But you can’t be doing with the rigid planning. In fact, rigid planning is just so 1980s, and makes you feel like you’re wearing Spandex. You know instinctively, however, if your story does not hit those certain points at the right time, you’re going to be royally screwed. You story will collapse quicker than a tower of cards.
I used to be like you too, for one book, then Trying To End A Fantasy Series happened to me.
The fluidly fluid approach
Now this is how I’m currently finding my planning efforts. I’ve got in-depth character sketches. I’ve got my worldbuilding all done. I’ve got a series to end, a fairly rigid plot in mind but I need the fluidity of being able to shift things around. To make pieces fit. To make characters resolve their personal plot-lines, to clean up four books of a sprawling mess of ideas. There’s a whole fuck-ton of juggling that’s going on right now, and I still want to maintain that individual novel essence, rather than this book end up being a linear coda to what I’ve done before. No clean-cut approach to planning will work. I need to respect the novel.
I guess in the days before Scrivener this could easily have been arranged with a bunch of Post-It notes and scrapbook scribblings, but on screen, in that wonderful programme, everything is much easier to control. I can move back and forth between a plot or sub-plot, and my writing, which then informs the plot, which then informs the writing, and so on. With Scrivener, I’m totally on top of everything. The idea of sitting down and planning a beginning, middle and end seems laughable right now – I’m picking up ends from two other books. Likewise, if I just went into this blindly, I’d be a moron. Having simple checkpoints doesn’t seem to be enough either, and a world without writing software fills me with fear. Who knows how this will end?
It’s important to say that there’s a whole load of other stuff to keep in mind. You’ve got the worldbuilding (real or secondary), the style to choose (first person or third?), the characters to make real and give lives to, but I’m not going to harp on about those parts right now.
Like you lot, I find the process fascinating, because it shows much about the mind of a writer as it does explain their end results. So, how do you go about planning yours? Are you anally retentive or a free Bohemian spirit who eats writing rules for breakfast?
You may notice some changes around here. You may not.
Essentially, we’re importing all the rest of the site onto this WordPress blog, and are designing the site around it. And you can see that starting to happen at the top, where there are reviews, extracts, photos and whatnot.
In fact, we’re very nearly done, but are still in the Finding Annoying Problems phase, and this is usually to do with Internet Explorer; and also, more specifically, my complete lack of knowledge of stylesheets versus my urges to tinker with them.
Anyway, play away at the top and let me know if anything is wrong.