Thursday, 15 September 2016

M is for Maybe

Sounds like the title of a murder thriller, doesn't it? Perhaps one of those old-style ones, with a hard-boiled private eye in a trench coat. But alas, no. I've done my bit of detective fiction this year, and although this morning I feel I'd far rather be starting another Ben and Tammy book, sadly I must continue with the task at hand.

Just in passing, though, this moves me to mention (see, I'm staying nicely with the alphabet theme) something that every writer ought to bear in mind in the interests of actually getting anything out. And that is finishing what you start. 

Now I don't by any means recommend that you not start new projects when you already have some going. Not at all. I am hardly in a position to do so. I myself have two novels, both three quarters drafted, two hardcover editions still in formatting, two long stories and six short stories drafted and awaiting revision, another four stories outlined but not started, and I'm currently working on the worldbuild for a new novel and writing new material for the second edition of Grammar Without Tears. I have to admit this does seem rather excessive. However, nothing gets forgotten. I keep track of it all in MS Project, which is probably a bit like swatting a mosquito with a trench mortar, but there - once a nerd always a nerd, and I'm lucky enough to have a copy of it. And yes, it is a legal copy.

Having everything laid out in Project forces me from time to time to confront all of the unfinished projects. It isn't their existence that is the danger - it is the possibility of becoming one of those writers who never finishes anything. You meet people like this all the time in some of the writers' groups - the ones that let absolutely anybody in. They have been 'writing' for years, but nothing has ever been completed. I've seen people who said they had as many as seven or eight novels on the go. 

There is in fact a value in doing a certain amount of this - the value of rotdown. Rotdown is what I call it when I finish something and set it aside while I work on other things. I consider it mandatory when I finish a first draft, and often helpful even while the draft is unfinished. It's no accident that both my unfinished novels are at the same stage - I find endings difficult, so I'm leaving them to rot down a little before tackling them. Part of this is pure weaselly justification of putting off the hard stuff, but there is a kernel of truth in it. When I come back to them, I hope I will be able to see much more clearly where I am going with the endings. Because rotdown isn't just taking a break - it is an actual process. Somewhere in the back of your mind, the story is sorting itself out. 

The project plan also gives me a handy reminder of what is at what stage. It's good to have work at different stages, because although I've found it works better if you only write one thing at a time, having things in other stages allows you to vary your work day, and this makes you far more productive. At present, although I'm only actively working on one writing project (the new material for Grammar Without Tears), I am also doing the worldbuild for my new book, and working on the formatting for the hardcover edition of King's Ransom. 

So, to sum up - do start new things while you have unfinished projects, but be sure that at all times you remain in the driver's seat.

On to work! Today, I am going to tackle another common concatenation error - maybe and may be. The characters for this will be Elizabeth and Lydia Bennet and their mother, which means I have to write it in the best approximation I can manage of Austen's dialogue style. This is not easy, and it takes me almost an hour to write the dialogue, but eventually I manage it, how well I cannot say.

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