If my agent is reading this, I am deep in the throes of plotting and planning and am working in a study plastered with post-it notes and character flow charts. Everything about my next book is going completely swimmingly and there will be no going off piste. Absolutely not. Not this time.
This time I am going to stick with “the plan”. And there will be a synopsis on your desk. Any day now. Truly.
OK? So you can go back to doing lovely agenty things. Pitching and selling (thank you, thank you) and I will get right down to work. Immediately. Right this minute.
Phew. I think she’s gone.
OK – so for the rest of you. Help me. Please help me. Why oh why do I find this whole plotty, planny synopsisy thing so very difficult? Why - so hard to work in a sensible, disciplined fashion?
I do have an outline. Of course I do. And I do have a synopsis – promise. But I don’t want anyone to see either just yet. Why? Well because the whole thing then becomes sort of toxic to me. A straight jacket. Suffocating. If I think for one moment that I am actually going to HAVE to stick too closely to the plan, then I go all weird.
I always start with THE IDEA, you see. Then the characters. Then the plot sort of follows. And yes – I am sure this is vay vay bad especially as the pages are stacking up. Naughty writer. But whenever I try to steer precisely by my first outline, the characters quite frankly get stroppy.
They peer over my shoulder. You serious? You think we would do that? No way. You need to listen to us, sister.
And so I try to tell them about discipline and order. I watch them shrug. Be it on your head, they say. And so I get a little worried. I listen to them and I get charmed and led astray. And I give in and follow them.
I was just beginning this morning to think that this is clearly my big downfall. The reason I have to do so much editing and that my lovely agent has to take so many deep breaths and have conversations involving patience and saints with me and then later today – Eureka! I found this wonderful interview with my new hero Gillian Flynn. I am reading “Gone Girl” just now ( and yes I know I am behind everyone else but please don’t tell me the ending; nearly there) and she admits – wait for it – that she hates plotting too. That she ends up writing two books for each novel because she has to ditch so much stuff and rewrite and rewrite. I quote: “I wish I could plot more efficiently or stick to an outline, but I just can’t”. Are you hearing this everyone? This is Gillian Flynn saying this. Gillian Flynn.
And OK, so she is a complete genius. Point taken. But at least it is making me feel just a tiny bit better…
So then. Where was I…
Post-it notes? You kidding me.
Time for coffee…
If anyone reading this blog is called Sarah, you should know that I (apparently) have a thing about your name.
Weird – this.
I don’t have a sister, best friend or role model called Sarah. This is not a conscious act of favouritism and I haven’t the foggiest idea where it has come from. The truth is it only came to light that I (unknowingly) favour Sarah as a name for my fictional characters when I came to put together a collection of my short stories – previously published by magazines over the past decade.
I realised this little project might throw up a few unexpected challenges. That was the whole idea, actually. I quite like to mix things up (and frighten myself). At a recent lunch with other writers, everyone was talking about what to do with their reverted rights from books/stories out of print so e-books and formatting were centre stage topics. Afterwards I decided to experiment with some of my previously published stories to see if compiling and formatting an e-book was beyond me.
This was a first so I needed to select stories which would, in terms of theme and voice, hopefully complement each other. I realised I would need to source a suitable (and affordable) ebook cover and I didn’t want to pay for formatting so I would need to find some “how to” videos on You Tube. All good so far.
What never occurred to me was that I would also need to change so many names in my stories.
Come to think of it now, I remember the wonderful author Patrick Gale discussing this very topic when I met him at a library event in Devon. He said that he had to keep a sort of flow chart/ record of character names from his novels to avoid duplication and confusion.
At the time this sounded odd to me. Like all writers I think very carefully about naming my characters (or I thought I did). I adore music too so the melody and rhythm of names is important to me. They, of course, need to fit/suit not just the age and circumstance of the individual character but into the broader “mix” and “music” of the story or novel. But I had never envisaged any real confusion. When I am in the throes of writing any piece ( whether long or short fiction) the characters become so real to me that I cannot imagine confusing one with the other. I not only picture them, they quite often walk into the room and chat. (And – don’t, please, tell on me. Sounds pretty bonkers to see that written down here. Oh, well.) Straight jacket aside, the point is - how could I ever get muddled?
But writing and publishing so many stories across the past decade, I see now that I do indeed suffer from name-game memory lapses. And favouritism.
For, trust me - there are a lot of Sarahs in my short fiction.
When I finally selected the stories for this collection (Moments) , I put the compilation aside for a bit then read them in sequence to ensure they “gelled” and that’s when the repetitions hit me. No fewer than four Sarahs. Admittedly three had only walk-on parts in different stories but - no matter. The names had to be changed.
A wonderful mystery, isn’t it, how the mind works? Having written the stories months and in some cases years apart, I clearly had no reason to notice before. Now I keep saying the name Sarah out loud to try to fathom its special appeal to me.
So why not do a quick check/chart of your own character history. Am I alone in this?
Meantime – good news for anyone who is exploring formatting for Kindle.
I’m no kind of techy – trust me. But with the KDP guide and a couple of You tube videos I managed. There was one scary moment (see last blog post) when the cover seemed to upload twice and I had a bit of a panic. But it all came out in the wash.
Not that I am in any hurry to repeat the experiment.
These were stories previously accepted by commissioning editors – hence a re-publishing venture. I hugely admire writers with the guts to indie or self pub their novels, but I don’t think that’s for me.
So it’s back to the day job . Write. Pitch. Write Pitch…
Have a good one (especially Sarahs everywhere).
I have done some scary stuff as a writer and broadcaster.
For years I wrote a newspaper consumer column (battling on behalf of the underdog) which regularly attracted threats of law suits. Thankfully they never came to anything but – trust me - I had some sleepless nights.
Then as a broadcaster I spent half my life with a huge knot in my stomach, waiting to go “live” and wondering if this would be the disaster that would end up on You- tube.
No idea why I worry so much. The broadcasting career went very well, actually. The consumer column was a hit too. But I was born to worry …so worrying is what I do.
Imagine then my terror as I press the publish button on Amazon for my first ebook .
“I think I’ve made a hash of it. Uploaded the book twice. Messed up the picture. It’s a complete disaster. I will be a laughing stock.”
The Husband – well used to this ritual- ignores me. He says that it will probably be just fine and that I should wait and see. I can always “unpublish” if there is a technical glitch.
But what will people think? What have I done? I am a professional. I have standards. . I should never, ever have started this whole ridiculous project…
So while other authors are busy putting together their marketing plan, tweeting to potential readers with smiles and a twinkle in their eye, I am wondering how long it will take me to “unpublish” the technical catastrophe that is my first e-book.
Kindle tells you that you have to wait 12 hours or so before the book surfaces.
TWELVE HOURS ? Are they serious? Do you have any idea how many stomach ulcers I can develop in TWELVE HOURS?
You may well have guessed ( and yes – the Husband has said he told me so) that I am publishing this post on the discovery that contrary to my fears, the book has - well, come out perfectly all right in the wash after all.
I did not apparently upload all the stories twice as I feared. Nor did I mess up the cover upload - even though an ominous warning triangle appeared at one stage.
Miraculously the finished product looks – well, absolutely fine actually.
For those who may be interested in the book – it’s a republishing project rather than a self-pub as the stories have been previously published by a range of national magazines. All the details are on my books page.
I will blog soon on the all the lessons I learned putting this little project together.
But, sorry – not just now.
For now, I need a bit of a lie down.
Teresa Driscoll - journalist, author, mother of two and lover of great coffee.