Shirt Sandwiches

Yes, this is exactly how neat and organised my workspace is. Exactly. Not.

You all probably know by now that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. That is, I’ve been writing a novel this month of November, aiming to get 50,000 words written by the end of the month. It’s been fantastic fun.

You may think I’m insane, but I have been enjoying myself immensely.

That is not to say that some days it is very hard to sit down and write the required 1667 words. And I don’t think I’ve had even one day where things have flown so well that I’ve not noticed the time go by and have looked up to find 4000 words on the page. It hasn’t been like that at all.

It’s been hard work.

Nouns and Verbs

I listened to Simple the other day and Tsh was talking about nouns and verbs. I’ll let you listen if you want the whole story, but the upshot was, you don’t get to be the ‘noun’ if you don’t do the ‘verb’.

For example, 

  • you are not a writer unless you sit down and write.
  • you are not a baker unless you spend hours in the kitchen getting all floury
  • you are not a runner unless you spend time outside sweating and puffing and dodging geriatric dog-walkers

A person who sits inside on the couch and watches running videos all day may be very interested in running, they may love the look of running, but they are not a runner. Not unless they run.

A shirt sandwich.

Whatever you decide to do with your life, there are good parts of that thing and there are bad parts. But if you really want that thing, you’ll put up with the bad parts. 

Mark Manson asks this question (and I’ll give you the ‘The Good Place’ interpretation):  ‘What’s your favourite flavour of shirt sandwich?’

In other words, you need to look at the work involved in an idea and decide if you’re willing to do that work. If you love, like I do, sitting at a laptop and bashing out a couple of thousand words a day, if you’re willing to do that, then you may be ready to be a writer.

If you love, like I definitely don’t, pushing your body to the limit, watching your toenails fall off, and getting rubbing rashes, then you’re good to go to run a marathon.

There are payoffs for everything, but you need to be willing to do the work.

I’ve been employed in the arts since graduating.

This week on the podcast we talk with Catherine Gaffney, an actor and voice-over artist. She said she’s so blessed that she’s been employed in the arts since she graduated from her undergrad degree about twenty years ago. That made it sound like she’s had her dream career, that she’s been acting all her adult life. But when we pushed a bit further, it turns out that she hadn’t been working on the stage all that time – sometimes she was in the box office, sometimes coaching or teaching, sometimes narrating audio books, and yes, sometimes on the stage. She hasn’t stood on her dignity and refused to do anything other than act. She’s accepted that some of the work is less fun than other parts. She’s grateful just to be in the arts.

This week I wanted to make you think, what is it that you are willing to do some hard stuff for so that you’ll get the payoff? What is your shirt sandwich? What are some drudge jobs you are grateful for because they keep you going with your dream?

I’d love to hear your answers.

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The writing

Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you still writing?’

Yes. Yes I am still writing.

I thought I’d tell you all the story (so far) of my story.

I started writing a novel in 2014. I knew at that point that I wanted to write, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write but I knew I wanted to write something. The first attempt was incredibly schmaltzy, really hopelessly dreadful. And I didn’t finish it.

I had a chat to my super talented writer friend (STWF), what was I to do? She recommended a process called ‘The Snowflake Method’ which was a plotting method where you start with one sentence that encapsulates the plot. You take the sentence and expand it to a paragraph, then a page. Then you write the plot from the point of view of each of the characters, and then you expand again to four pages and so on.

So I worked that method and in the end I had a number of headings for scenes, a timeline, a whole heap of characters, and a story. A murder mystery. And I worked to fill in the blanks.

I was writing at night at that point. I would work, come home and do dinner, go for a walk (sometimes), and around 9-ish I would sit down to write 500 words. I found this stage fairly easy (at least when compared to what came after). It was a bit like reading a story, but it was a story coming from me. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, and nearly finished the first draft of my second.

I had trouble finishing the first draft of my second novel. I realised that the guy I had thought would be my perpetrator just wouldn’t have done it. He didn’t have the nerve to do the job. At least not the way it was planned. The character had come alive and told me that it just wasn’t going to work. That was an exciting moment. I had heard that characters come alive like that, and to have it happen to me – I felt like a real writer.

But I had to put that all on ice. November 2015 I decided to do NaNoWriMo. For the month of November I wrote 2000 words every day. I wrote a background book. The idea was firstly to see if I could put that much effort into writing, and secondly, to get to know my characters better. The most memorable moment of that month was when the mother of my main character died. I cried, no, I bawled. It was really sad. So incredibly sad. Which is hilarious because I created her to die. The whole point of this woman was that she would die and give my main character some motivation to change her life. But still, it was heartbreaking when she actually died. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. *Sniff, sniff*

I found that I could, definitely, write 50,000 words in a month. But that it was exhausting. But everything was exhausting towards the end of 2015.

After NaNoWriMo I went back to my first novel. It was time to take the first draft out, read it again, and do some serious editing. Ah, editing was harder than just writing the stuff. I had to be able to think, not just vomit words onto the page. I wasn’t able to edit at 9 in the evening. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m pretty useless after 930pm (see the Pumpkin Time blog). The problem was, when would I be able to edit? I cut my working hours down so that I could take a whole day (Fridays) to work on my writing. I hoped to see great things. What I saw was exhaustion.

Turns out, I was sick. I had Graves disease, an overactive thyroid. There was a reason for my exhaustion. It wasn’t great, but it was treatable.

Throughout 2016 I kept slowly working at the novel but I didn’t feel like I got very far at all. It was slow going. And while I was dealing with my Graves disease and getting better, I picked up another day’s work in my day job and the novel felt like it was slipping away. But I finished my fourth draft and gave it to my STWF to read.

The whole month of July I didn’t write at all. I gave myself a month off and spent it reading craft books.

My STWF gave me feedback. She was encouraging, super encouraging, but she also said ‘this is draft 4 of a 7-draft book’. Oh how right she was.

After my big break from writing I picked up my book again and looked at it with fresh eyes. I confess, it was a pretty low moment. My book was boring. At least the beginning was. I think if you picked it up to read it, you’d put it down fairly quickly. By the middle the pace picked up. By the end it was good (with a few plot holes) but you don’t get readers by writing a book that’s great by the time you get to the middle. The beginning has to hook people, draw them in. My beginning put you to sleep.

More editing. Actually, editing is a really misleading term. I needed to rewrite. Throw out thousands of words and start again.

For the whole of August and September 2016 I worked on the first scene. I know the dates because I keep a special journal all about my writing.  When I write, I start by writing in the journal, writing about my life, what’s going on, and what I’m going to write about. Then I write the novel, then I write about what I wrote in the novel (though I don’t always do that last step). It’s great to keep the record, I can write down plot points or ideas, and I also clear my head before writing. The journal idea wasn’t my own, I found it is a book called The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo – a book I’d recommend to any beginning writer.

The beginning of December I read another book called ‘Get It Done’ by Sam Bennett. The main message I took from that book is to work fifteen minutes a day, first thing, on my project. She calls it your fifteen minutes of fame. And since December that has been my aim – to work fifteen minutes a day before anything else, on my novel. I have made sure I’m in at work early, I put a timer on my phone and I write, or rewrite, or edit for fifteen minutes. The timer goes off, I close Scrivener, and I get on with my day. Occasionally I manage another fifteen minute block or a bit more, but mostly it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The book is being transformed, slowly, in fifteen minute increments.

So yes, I am still writing. And I hope that soon (you know, in the next year or so) I’ll be putting a finished novel out there for my beta readers to read. And getting it edited by a professional editor, and finding a book cover designer, and once all that’s come together, then it will be time for the really scary step – putting it out there for the world to read. I truly believe it’s becoming a great s

tory, an encouraging and fun cozy read that many people will enjoy. So I’ll keep working on it.

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath, turns out writing a novel (even a short one) takes a long, long time.

Table and plan
A special writing weekend – working on draft 4