Tuesday, 9 August 2011

When Plotting Becomes Procrastinating: just get on with your novel!

I've been planning 'Project B' for a while now - and thinking about it even longer. It's been important to me not to rush headlong into into this new novel, partly because it's a departure from my published (or soon to be published) rom-com novels, but also because the experience of having to rewrite Home for Christmas a couple of times has made me realise how important it is that you get the 'thinking' about a novel right before you sit down and start writing.

I know some writers (my favourite chick lit writer Lisa Jewell included) sit down with the sketchiest of ideas and just start typing but that doesn't work for me. I need to know WHY I'm writing the novel I'm writing - what is it that is going to force me to give up large chunks of my social life for months on end? What is it that's going to get me out of bed in the middle of the night to write down an idea for a new scene? Who are these characters that chatter in my head as I walk to the shops and what do they want? Am I excited enough about this idea to see it through from beginning to end (including that awful sticky bit at 30,000 words in where you just want to chuck it in the bin)?

So yes, I've been thinking about Project B for a while and started plotting it (not entirely, I like the characters to surprise me) while I was on the writing retreat a few months back. Plotting was somewhat successful and spelled out the first couple of chapters but there were still things I needed clarifying - who were the characters, what did they look like, what did they want, what were their emotional arcs? - so I did a bit of paper-based brainstorming/mind mapping, did some fact-based research on the Internet/twitter, went on Flickr and printed out 'photos' of my characters, drew a map of the main location in the book and downloaded mind map, index card and storyboarding apps for my new IPad and bought an 'ugly toy' to represent my internal editor so I could throw it across the room if it dared tell me that my idea/writing/story was rubbish.

Hang on! 'Bought an ugly toy'?

Because that's, you know, vital preparation for novel writing isn't it?!

You can see what happened can't you? Instead of getting on with writing my novel I was making excuses why I wasn't ready yet. I still had to research x, plot y or buy z. If I didn't actually start WRITING project B I wouldn't have to face my very real fear that the final book wouldn't live up to its potential in my imagination. And if that happened I'd have failed. And no one wants to be a failure, even if just in their own head.

So you know what I did? I gave myself a start writing date - non negotiable.


And, like I did with Heaven Can Wait, I've given myself a tight deadline. 10,000 words a week, for 7 weeks, to produce a first draft of 70,000 words.

And it's allowed (supposed) to be shit.

This novel isn't under contract, it hasn't been promised to any publishers and the only people who know any of the plot details are my agent and my boyfriend. This is a novel I'm writing for me. It's a story I have to write. And yes, it might be the worst thing I've ever written but it might also be the best and I won't know unless I face my fears and write it. Starting today.

How about you? What are your fears stopping you from doing?

*(500 / 70,000 words written before breakfast. 1,500 left to write today.)


Maria said...


Great post! Very best wishes with your new project.

I'm a panster who really needs to plot, or at least outline. Of course I'll do that next time

In the meantime, I'm at the stage you mentioned, I want to throw it at the wall! And I'm desperately trying to get it back on track.

These folk who think writing is easy have much to answer for...

Love your other comment re first draft meant to be rubbish. Made me laugh out loud.


Captain Black said...

I hear a lot of writers say "I only write by the seat-of-the-pants" or "I plot everything beforehand". What I don't hear much of (and what I'm attempting myself) is to see these and other activities in an "and" relationship, rather than an "or" one. In other words, I plot and I write seat-of-pants.

The trick is not to get into debt for one activity with respect to the other. Too much free-flow writing with no plot can lead to issues. The opposite is also problematic, as you've pointed out Cally. All the plotting in the world is useless if you don't use it and get on with it!

ps. Maria: "panster" is a great term.

thechattychicken said...

Good luck Cally, sounds like something you should be writing. Hope it goes well and you enjoy the next 7 weeks. I'll try and keep pace with you over the next few... Cesca x

Angie Spoto said...

Sounds just like me as a writer! Writing is scary because my hopes and dreams are all wrapped up into what I write...or that's what I think anyway. Since I wasn't getting too far on the novel I've been working on for a couple years, I made it my senior thesis. That is, if I don't produce 100 pages, I don't graduate. Something tells me I'm gonna reach my goal.

Cally said...

Maria - anyone who's ever finished a novel knows that writing certainly isn't easy! Getting over the 30,000 (or 10,000 or 60,000) sticking point is SO hard & it's hugely tempting to ditch your novel for a new idea that seems sooo much easier to write (until you do!). Good luck!

Captain - I'm the same, a mixture between plotting and pantsing! I at least need to know where to start & where I'm heading (and often what happens in the middle)

Cesca - excellent! Am hoping that by making my word count public I'll feel more accountable and get it done. Nothing like public humiliation to get your fingers tapping away!

Angie - that's an ingenious way of forcing yourself to get your novel finished! I know what you mean about hopes and dreams. I think every writer has them, whether they admit to them publicly or not!

Emma_Silver said...

Bloody hell - I know that feeling! I spent a lot of time procrastinating writing my first novel (as yet unpublished!). Easy done. It's a battle with yourself most of the time.

Best of luck with it.



Cally said...

Thanks Em. You're right about the battle with yourself but I can be a stubborn moo at times & this is one battle I intend to win! ;) And now I definitely have to after saying that...

Annabel Banks said...

Well done! I know this sneaky procrastination well. It's right up there with 'dust lampshades', and I really like the firm tone you took with yourself. I shall copy you.

Very excited to follow your writing progress.

Good luck!

Cally said...

Annabel - dust lampshades?! That made me laugh because it's something I have NEVER done! In my opinion a busy writer never has a tidy home (unless they can afford a cleaner!)

liz fenwick said...

Good luck Cally and enjoy...love the ugly toy as the internal critic/editor....brilliant!

Kzee said...

Thanks for a great post Cally. Ugly toy is great - I used to own a small, stuffed AppleMac called a Smac-a-Mac to punch/throw if things didn't go right on the real one. It probably helped avoid a few repair jobs! The battle is on here with procastination...there's just so many things that need doing (apart from dusting lampshades that is!) Kzee :)

Annabel Banks said...

Yesterday I descaled the kettle while on a short break from writing a commissioned story...

I have become a writing cliche!

womagwriter said...

Great post, Cally, and best of luck with the new project.

Cally said...

Liz - I thoroughly recommend one!

Kzee - exactly, procrastination is the enemy of invention (and if that isn't a real phrase it should be! ;))

Annabel - that made me laugh out loud (because it sounds just like something I'd do!)

Womag - thank you