Friday, 28 November 2008

Coffee Break from Thailand

Good morning everyone - wherever you are. The world is looking like a volatile place and I’m in a rather anxious part of it at the moment. I could do with a stiff drink but as it’s not quite 10am, I’m going to have to make do with my usual poison: tea.

My second lot of 10,000 words are due with my mentor today. They’re done and ready to send off once I’ve done my email. It strikes me as odd how the combination of mentoring and other Novel Racers’ real live success has spurred me on with my book – at long last. I hope the already published and nearly published Novel Racers will forgive my post today about my baby steps.

The mentoring makes me think in terms of 10,000 word sections because that’s the agreement I have: six lots of 10k words, every six weeks. To someone who’d never got past 24,000 words that sounded intimidating. Here I am though, having completed my second lot and I’m finding faith in myself at last. Perhaps I can do this.

As I go, I play games in my head. I’m already separating the story into chapters as I write, but at this stage they aren’t incredibly important … it’s still that magic 10k chunk, a thousand words at a time… How I love it when the word count flips over to the next thousand! I want to send as close to 10k as I can to the mentor so I aim to write a bit over and then I lose some as I tidy up. However, when I do that, I get another voice in my head. It worries away at me, saying that when I’ve sent off the 10k of words, I’ll have a whole 10k of mountain to climb again … so instead, I write over the 10,000 and then the page is never empty. The words will go off to her today, and I’ve already got 3,000 towards the next 10k section.

It's all head games.

What I’d like to know from everyone today is what games go on in your head? Do you play tricks with yourself to get it done? How do you break down the thoughts in order to manage these big unwieldy works in progress?


Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I've got a mental zoom, which can focus in on a single word or even a single character, and focus out to encompass the whole WIP. I think of it like one of those great big paparazzi camera lenses, whirring smoothly in and out, capturing everything I want to see at whichever level I'm working (word, sentence, paragraph etc). Sadly, it's not yet infallible, but I'm working on that!

DOT said...

Well done JJ!

I've given up doing a word count - it seems to go up and down like a yoyo.

I did find breaking stuff down into chapters useful after Gary had a look at the opening as it helped get rhythm and movement through the text. But I agree that you need a certain volume of work before you can do that effectively - unless you are extremely organised, which I am not.

Debs said...

Congratulations on your brilliant word count. I could do with a nice mug of tea right now too.

I think the only game in my head (a confused space at the best of times) is to aim for 1,000 words each day that I sit down to write. Sometimes I manage it, but sometimes I don't.

My mind is constantly thinking of my wip, and drifting off to scenarios, or mistakes that suddenly come to me.

Have a safe weekend.

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Well done. I like the sound of this mentoring thing where did you find your mentor? My writing seems to work as a full flowing stream and keeps going until I run dry which can be a bit annoying as I tend to find the voices in my head annoyign me when I should be doing the everyday useful things households need to keep running like cooking feeding washing etc

Lane said...

Well done on the word count JJ. I'm on my second coffee so almost alert.

I work in chapters which are fairly short - around 3k ish. I find anything longer to unwieldy to deal with. When I've finished this draft, I'll go back and maybe some chapters will be merged and others shortened, depending on the peaks and troughs.

Have a good week everyone and JJ ... stay safe.

Anonymous said...

Sprints. These force me to focus for two to three weeks on one project, thereby immersing myself in it and getting its word count up. Then comes the next project in the list... And so on...

I try not to get too obsessive about word counts. After all, some days have negative scores: editing, you see.

I also break things down structurally. Not necessarily into chapters, at least not straight away; but into time lines, plots, scenes and storyboards. I like to have a solid plan of where the work is going, before writing.

Having said that, I also work separately on organically growing some parts. This helps when stuck, or to avoid the bits I don't fancy working on at the time.

Well done JJ. You seem to have found a good working practise for getting things done.

Leatherdykeuk said...

I generally write 2K a day, so I try to write 10-20 100-word subheadings under the chapter heading (I use 'Write it Now' as a holing space for all the bits.

A typical start-of-writing might be:

Chapter 8

Gillian rises - phone photo
feeds Lucy
Harold tells her about the angel
and about Louis' offer
Gillian refuses
Azazel turns up
no wings on Lucy
rarity of power = no action
Harold to bed
Gillian and Felicia to hunt

Kate said...

Congratulations on the word count, JJ - and thinking of you over in Thailand, hope you're not being too badly affected. It's been an awful week watching the events in Bangkok and Mumbai.

Zinnia, I love the sound of your mental zoom. I am a simple creature, motivated by word count in the first draft (which is why this week has been hard going as I have been doing some plotting and it's meant the word count has totally stopped, so I am failing at Nanowrimo, unlike another Novel Racer I could mention...).

Then I'm weirdly motivated by negative word count in subsequent drafts - how much I can cut! I'm not good at seeing the wood for the trees and find cutting large amounts very hard, but I do enjoy snipping bits here and there.

Oh and I am loving Dr Wicked, my latest tool for writing fast: Though it worked against me the other day as I accidentally copied the same bit into my MS twice so I thought I'd done 1200 more words than I had...dph!

Sipping champagne this week as my Secret Shopper's Revenge book is out in paperback and I'm meant to be having my first ever press ads this week, in today's Sun and Sunday's MoS!

Fiona said...


I'm dyslexic which makes organisation of thoughts, schedules or anything which requires order, very difficult but I do try.

On working days I have two hours to write without family around. I write a lot. On my two non working days, I have five hours and I mess around. So I guess that having a window of time that you HAVE to write in, helps. Get that egg timer out.

You take care of yourself out there, JJ. Thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be easier to get the book finished if you had a mentor. I do as much as I can without really aiming at anything. I am going to try and change that however, in the new year. I really need to press on now and take my book more seriously.

CJ xx

Cathy said...

I tend to write in quite short scenes and chapters which may need to be padded out and merged later. My new policy is to set myself 10,000 word targets as thinking about the whole 80k is just too demoralising.

Keep safe, JJ!

Flowerpot said...

A mentor sounds a great idea and just what you need - well done on the word count that's amazing. I suppose I don't think too much about the novel as a whole in length while I'm writing it - it'd freak me out too much! I just work with that particular chapter or scene and how it fits in with the rest of the book. Is it necessary etc? What does it add? And when things are going really badly - as they have been this week - I reason that we all get weeks like that. Or something.

Rowan Coleman said...

Hello everyone - sorry I've been absent for the last couple of weeks, that pesky real life thing getting in the way again. JJ - congrats on your word count!Zinnia - I am jealous of your mental zoom, sounds wonderful - could you patent it? Like Fiona i too am dyslexic so for me first draft is always a bit of a free fall - a term I borrowed from another dyslexic writer because it fits so well. But I do plot a little bit first and having jut sent my proposal to my publisher for next book and finding out that they are all really excited about it is a great spur on. Keeping postive and purposeful is my tatic. Knowing other people are on you side is a big motivator. Also I write when my little girl is at school - that school bell keeps me focused too! Like Kate in 2nd drafts I too love to cut, i find it sort of cathartic, don't know why, it also makes me feel a bit like a proper writer - not something I've ever really properly felt like. Not sure anyone ever feels poperly like a writer - never yet met anyone yet who wasn't a bit worried that they might get found out at any moment and sent back to do a proper job! Anyone? i've missed you all.

CC Devine said...

Sounds like you have it sussed JJ. I like to break it into manageable chunks because otherwise it's seems impossible that you'll ever reach your target.

I tend to aim hit a certain daily limit, which fluctuates depending on the writing time available each day, and to achieve a total word count for the week. I can get a bit hooked on reaching, or better yet, surpassing my limit but I find this works for me with the very first draft where I'm just keen to get it all down on the page.

It's the editing and reworking - the stage I've been stuck at all year - that takes forever. It's good though as you have lightbulb moments with restructuring an awkward scene or tweaking a plot thread.

I love Leather's idea about writing subheadings within each chapter. Must try that on Novel 2.

Have a great weekend all. It's wet and miserable in London today but somewhat more stable than in other parts of the world. Thinking of you JJ.

sheepish said...

I can only write in the mornings, my brain seems to stop being creative after lunch!! so other work gets done then. And I have been totally disorganised in my approach, I started out with only an image in my head and the story has grown as and when its ready. Although of late I have tried to do some plotting to see where the story is going now. I'd like to think that the experience I am gaining with my first wip will stand me in good stead for no. 2 which is already trying to encroach on my subconscious.
I just wish I could type the story directly but I am still too slow. I would love a mentor to push me but I am not yet ready to show my work to anyone. I am a wimp. Stay safe JJ.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I have a 300 words a day minimum. Which may seem low, but that makes it achievable, and I invariably exceed it.

It's a bit different at the moment as I'm doing rewrites/edits. With that, I have to do a chapter at a time (although my chapters this time are short, so sometimes I'm managing two in a day).

I've only fifty pages left and then my baby starts its perilous journey into the outside world.

JJ said...

Just want to interrupt to say thank you for all your thoughts of us. We'll stay safe. JJx

ChrisH said...

Hi JJ,
My thoughts go to you and yours. I play games on a spreadsheet, set up a timetable and how many words I need to to each week and have one counter going from the total required down and one counter going from words written up - how tragic is that?? I spur myself on with threats like, 'If you don't get a berludy move on the boat will leave without you'!

NoviceNovelist said...

Hi JJ, Thinking of you in Thailand - have that stiff drink!!!! I'm with ChrisH - I'm a simple soul who needs a plan and lots of threats/rewards. Doesn't always work but I need that scaffold system!

Calistro said...

Oh yes I'm all for the mental tricks when writing. When I was writing HoWG I'd say to myself, "You can stop writing when you hit 1,000 words" and then (if I was behind in my overall word count and needed to push myself on) I'd tell myself, "You can't have another cup of tea until you've written another 500 words".

I also (and I don't think I ever admitted to this on my blog!) gave myself presents for hitting certain landmarks. Originally I thought my novel would be 90,000 words so said that, for each 30,000 words I wrote, I'd buy myself a paperweight (no expensive presents for me!). Because my desk was in the window I could put each paperweight on the sill and just looking at it made me realise how far I'd already come. Now I have 3 very pretty paperweights reminding me that I wrote a whole novel! May have to do something slightly different for novel 2 though as I don't have enough space in my flat for an enormous paperweight collection!

What else?

Oh yes, on thing I used to do to make it easier for me to start writing the next day was to stop writing in the middle of a scene. That way, when I came to it fresh the next day there was no danger of being immediately blocked.

K.Imaginelli said...

Congratulations on all your progress, JJ. It's very inspiring.

I use little shopping rewards to keep me going (I can buy x once I finish the first draft, etc). It doesn't take a lot of mind tricks to get me through the 1st draft because I'm having fun telling myself the story, but I've found that I need lots of little treats and rewards to get me through revision.

Lucy Diamond said...

Hi everyone
JJ, I love the sound of your system with your mentor - breaking it down into do-able chunks like that makes a novel seem much less daunting. And well done on that fabulous word count! (and, as everyone else has said, I hope you and yours are okay at this time.)

I am a terrible one for the word count addiction. In fact, if I decide a page or two has to go while I'm writing a first draft, I can't quite bring myself to delete it (and thereby lose all those precious words) so I just shove it to the bottom of the document and tell myself I'll delete it later. Denial. How sad is that?

Hitting a new 5,000 word mark is a good moment though, and gives me a bit of a boost. Because I'm always writing lots of different things at any one time, I have a big chart where I can keep everything organised, and I add on each chapter number as it's written. Also deeply sad, yet it works for me and I feel VERY satisfied as I see the numbers creeping up and up!

I'm feeling very chipper this week - have had big thumbs up and lovely words of praise and encouragement from my editors and agent on the first 20,000 words and outline of Novel 4, so I feel totally revved up to write the rest of it now. Hoorah!
have a good weekend, everyone

wordtryst said...

JJ, thinking of you and your family. Keep safe!

My first novel pretty much wrote itself: I sketched an outline and just went at it every night after the household was asleep. The second was a different story! It let me know in no uncertain terms that it wasn't going to write itself, so I made a word count spreadsheet and worked at moving forward in 5,000 word chunks, which is the most comfortable figure for me. Every time I advanced in one of those 5K increments I felt the glow of achievement and that motivated me to keep moving.

I like the reward system mentioned by Calistro and will give it a try because the editing of #2 has been a beast. And it's not the work; it's me.

I can't imagine working with a mentor: I'm far too bullheaded and opinionated. I value feedback - at the end! But different methods work for different people. I'm intrigued by Zinnia's method though. Tell us more!

liz fenwick said...

Thinking of you JJ!

I don't find the first draft too difficult...words tend to tumble out but this book I am working slightly different from the last.

I am not yet breaking the book into chapter only scenes. As the book is told from too view points this is easy.

I have also divided the book in three sections roughly 30k each. So the first section is done and I am into the second now.

I am finding that thinking of the book in the three chunks works for roughly what I know will happen in the book - however as i don't plot much things keep changing!!!

Good works on the words JJ. I think having amentor would help greatly. When I was editing ACH - it helped when a cp read the first 100 pages and said I needed to cut heavily for pace. So feedback in the first draft might be very helpful indeed!

Paige said...

Late again! Oops! I've been missing Coffee Breaks recently because of that pesky NaNoWriMo - which I am pleased to say I did! But hopefully things will get back to relative normality now.

Firstly, well done to you JJ. You are doing so well. I love the idea of having a mentor. I'm glad to hear you're safe too. :)

I tend to write in chapters with small scenes and then build on them later.

And I use a time line on Spreadsheet/Excel so that I know when stuff happens before, during and sometimes after the novel. I start with the characters births and any significant date between that and the start of the novel, then I note down dates and chapter numbers. It helps keep everything in order.

I'm sorry for being so absent lately - hardly visited any blogs and not been to many coffee breaks. I really hope to make amends.

Hope everyone is well.

KAREN said...

I love Leatherdykeuk's idea!

I have a writing buddy and we email each other a chapter every Friday morning at 8am to review! It doesn't matter how long or short the chapter is, but knowing I have to do it spurs me on and I think I've got further than ever have before (bit like having a mentor I guess!)

Glad you're staying safe JJ :o)