A Dry Month

Regular readers may have noticed I’ve not updated this blog in a while and missed the end of March progress report. After a busy few weeks with work and moving house, things are finally starting to settle back down again and I’m back to writing.

In the end March proved fairly successful in its first three weeks, with more days written on than all of February, but from the 21st onwards, until yesterday in fact, I haven’t written a word. This is due to needing to travel for work, including five nights in a hotel, and the long process of moving into a new flat, with all the paperwork, legwork and busywork that involves (today I put up curtains!) With everything going on writing took a hit – even in the days I’ve had access to my PC and the time to write after hours of overtime, I’ve not had the energy.

But now the work deadline has passed and the move is just a matter of waiting for the last bits of furniture and packing my bags and moving my stuff over, I can get back to writing. And with some time off coming up over Easter, I’ve got plans.

This week coming I hope to resume my old schedule of writing for an hour a night. There could be a couple of days I don’t manage that – Friday and Saturday, when I’m actually moving my stuff, probably – but after all those nights in a hotel I’ve had time to think about the novel even if I haven’t been able to write on it, so I’ve got some ground to cover and I’m eager to get moving.

I’m taking Easter Sunday off because it’s my birthday, and watching the Chinese Grand Prix. I think I deserve that. I’ll be watching from the new flat, if the last bits of furniture arrive this week.

But then there’s Monday to Wednesday after Easter I’ve got off work (and possibly the Thursday and Friday too, depending on scheduling) and that’s where the fun is going to start. With three days free of work, free of the stress of moving (I hope – I don’t want to jinx it!), I’ve got time for writing.

While I’ve been writing this novel (still bearing the working title “Penal Colony” until something better comes along), I’ve had a fresh idea. Well, I’ve had a lot, but there’s one in particular I like and have gone some way towards developing. It even has an outline! The story hasn’t the depth of Penal Colony and the protagonist is less pensive, more active, more ruthless. I think it could work as a novella and I think it could come in somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 words. So on my days off over Easter, instead of writing Penal Colony, I’m gonna give this story a go and see if I can manage to write the first half of it in just three days. With good time management, I think I can do it.

The plan is this: I split the day up into three blocks. In each block, I am sat down at my PC for two hours. Those two hours will be broken up into four twenty-minute writing sessions, one ten-minute planning session, and three ten-minute breaks. I’m an early riser, so my sessions will be 8-10am, 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm. In between I will eat, crochet, watch TV and generally relax and recharge ready for the next block. If I am able to write at a similar rate to what I normally do, I’ll easily cover the majority of the story, but even at a lower rate I should be able to reach the half-way point.

My reasons for this are many. I want to have a shot at a character who is very different in temperament, goals and thought processes. Penal Colony is a slow-moving thing, where the establishment of character relationships are important and where there’s a central theme which is a question to which my protagonist Fiarra frequently finds new answers. With this new story I’ve got a different pace entirely, a more confrontational protagonist with a very different motivation and a far darker side to her personality.

I want to try a different approach, too. Penal Colony is going to take a long time. Not only is it longer – I’m estimating a final wordcount of 150,000 at the moment – but its ponderous, nuanced approach, with a lot of internal thoughts from Fiarra, and complex relationships, mean I need to take the time to think properly between each writing session, or what I write comes out wrong and I end up discarding a day’s work and rewriting it differently. The more straightforward plot and protagonist in this new story will mean I can move forward more quickly and take less time thinking about phrasing and impressions and relationships in between writing. That means the kind of schedule I have planned becomes possible. It is a schedule designed to imitate a day’s work, and not only show me what I am capable of and what working full time as a writer might entail, but also to produce a work in a short period of time as I might expect to if I was making a living from writing.

This story also gives me the chance to play with magic. I’ve generally avoided magic in most of the stories I’ve written in the last ten years. Where it has existed, it’s been a background force, not an active one, not something human characters can manipulate. My protagonist in this story, though, is a mage. It’s time I stopped avoiding magic and embraced the possibilities it presents instead of being worried about the obstacles it puts in my path. Penal Colony is entirely without magic, but with a mage protagonist, magic will be at the core of this new story. I’ve got some idea of the magical system I’ll be using, and I’m happy with what I’ve got so far, but it needs refining before I start writing.

For this week, though, it’s back to work on Penal Colony, with the goal of finishing the scene I’m on and moving to the next one. I’ll need to work a little on the new story by finalising the magic system and getting into some key characters, and work out where to start the story, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.

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