Tag Archives: progress

Even more writing retrospection; or, Fear of Old Stories

There is a piece of music called Reverie by Ludovico Einaudi that I love, but haven’t listened to in over 6 years, until now. It’s a beautiful, calm, emotional piece, that at one time I listened to on repeat for hours. That time was when I was a student, my third undergraduate year and my Masters year, when I was working on a story called The General’s Secret. Friends from that time might recognise the title. I was obsessed with it. It consumed my thoughts, filled my dreams. I have on my computer 33 documents related to this story: notes, manuscripts, scenes, alternative endings, alternative beginnings, character sheets, outlines and restarts. And Reverie was the piece of music I listened to when writing all of them.

Reverie is on Einaudi’s 2009 album Nightbook.

At the time I was writing this story, I was convinced it was a great work, a magnum opus. The emotions I poured into it exhausted me. My obsession with the story led me to make notes about or even write scenes when I was meant to be paying attention to lectures or seminars. I spent time writing when I should have been studying. I pulled all-nighters to get essays done in the nick of time because I’d let the story take over my thoughts, fill my breaks from studying and push them beyond all reasonable boundaries.

In the end I came to the realisation that I had to drop the story, or I wouldn’t get a good grade for my masters degree – or wouldn’t get the degree at all. And when I dropped it, I had to drop Reverie too. The track that had been inexorably linked to the story could derail my determination to study hard.

I can see it in the “last modified” dates of my files. Ordered chronologically, there’s a fairly constant stream of documents from mid 2009 through to 26 May 2011, but then a gap of four months, ending the day after I handed in my MA dissertation. But after that I only created six more documents, none of them long, spread out over the last few months of 2011 and into early 2012: two new starts, three notes documents, one alternative ending.

I was scared of that story for the longest time. I dropped the protagonist and the world entirely from what I wrote about for a couple of years. I didn’t listen to Reverie, and after backing it up on my external hard drive, deleted it from my computer. It wasn’t until 2015 I felt able to return to the world, though the protagonist had changed a lot, and I picked a setting right at the start of her story, long before the events of The General’s Secret. I didn’t look back over my old notes, either for GS or for the other stories in the same world and with the same protagonist. I still didn’t listen to Reverie.

Partly I feared the obsession. If I’d let it get to me, that story could have ended my studies. As it was, it certainly contributed to lower grades than I might have had otherwise; work that I know I could have done better on. It harmed my relationships because I spent my time on that instead of with my fiance and my friends.

Part of it was the fear that I couldn’t write that well without the obsession. I cried when I was writing The General’s Secret. Writing betrayal scenes made me distrust everyone for days after; writing the final departure left me feeling as bereft as my protagonist was. The intensity of my writing experience convinced me that the quality of what I wrote must be incredible. Compared to what I had written before, it certainly felt like it was.

But here I am, six years after the last word I wrote on that project, listening to Reverie again for the first time since then, realising how much utter bullshit I had convinced myself of.

Because it wasn’t a magnum opus. It wasn’t incredible literature. It certainly wasn’t insurmountable quality that I could never even aspire to without also submitting to the obsessive and destructive mindset I had when I was writing it.

I’ve reread it. I finally overcame my fears and worries, and looked again at this story that, even when I was writing about my old stories last month, I couldn’t quite face. That’s how powerful that fear was: even when I was deliberately looking back at old stories to see how far I’d come, there remained a single exception that it has taken me three weeks to get over.

The General’s Secret is a juvenile story with stilted dialogue, contrived plot points, minimal characterisation and a very poor understanding of human emotion and motivations.

Thank goodness I didn’t give up my degree for it.

The reason that I can see that now is that my ability to judge the quality of writing has improved vastly in the last six years. That, I think, it due to a combination of factors: more experience of the world, more exposure to other stories both good and bad, and more practice writing.

But at the same time I can still recognise what I was trying to achieve. The clunky dialogue and contrivances and unrealistic reactions don’t completely obscure the powerful emotions I was trying to evoke. The betrayals, the loss, the realisations, the fears. The problem was that I didn’t have the skill or experience at that time to convey them well. And maybe I still don’t now, but what I do have instead is just enough experience to recognise where the gaps in my knowledge are, and the wisdom to write stories that don’t rely on them.

I won’t be writing The General’s Secret again, I think. There might be something in there that’s salvageable. Themes, worldbuilding elements, names. But not much. I’ve moved past it. My stories have evolved. My writing has improved. But most importantly, my own experiences have introduced me to a whole range of new things to write about. Conflicts I couldn’t have imagined, fears I didn’t understand, and all the beautiful ways that people can be.

And once more, I can listen to Ludovico Einaudi’s Reverie with all the implications of the title, instead of the obsession that I indulged in when I was meant to be studying.


Progress Report: One Million Words, July 2016

I didn’t quite finish Horrible Monster in July. I still haven’t a week into August, but I am close. In total, I wrote 14,084 words in July – somewhat less than previous months, showing a slowdown.

My total as of the end of July was 242,584/100,000, or 24.3% – very nearly a quarter of the way to the million words. On July 18th I reached another milestone: I had written every single day for one year. Not one day missed, not Christmas Day, not New Year’s Day, not my birthday, not the days I worked 16 hours or drive 200 miles. So I’m pretty damn proud of that.

The Story

Horrible Monster is so close to the ending now. I struggled for a week or two exactly how I would get there and which direction I would take that ending, and I have finally made a decision; now it’s only a matter of writing it, and it shouldn’t take long. A few thousand words only.

So what happens to Horrible Monster after I finish the first draft? I don’t know. Recently I’ve been in the “oh god, it’s awful, I hate it” part. I’m not sure if it can stand up. It certainly can’t in its unedited state, and if there is something there worth keeping it is going to take an awful lot of work to get it up to that level. And editing work being the kind I tend to put off doesn’t bode well. I think it’s a “we’ll see” scenario. I’ll give it a few months and see if I feel the core story is worth the editing and rewriting that would be required.

I’ve got a new project lined up. It’s a new version of Kell’s Adventures, with some major changes, the introduction of a second protagonist, Atoni, moving the location of where I will begin, and much more. But it isn’t ready to begin yet. I’ve got a lot of character work and worldbuilding to sort out before it goes anywhere. My approach for this project will be to know the characters and know the world – and then let the plot take me where it will.

In the meantime, I think I’ll work on shorter projects. Prompt-inspired short stories, perhaps a rewrite of Mountain Story, and episodes from the lives of Kell and Atoni from before the start of their story together.

Progress Report: One Million Words, April 2016

In spite of Camp NaNoWriMo, my wordcounts did not go up during April. I wrote a total of 19,060 words, for an average of 635.3 words per day – slightly below March’s average. Still, it was nice to have others to chat to about writing.

At the end of April my total stood at 194,218/1,000,000 – 19.4%. I’m not far now from my next hundred thousand words.

Horrible Monster

I have continued to work on Horrible Monster every single day in April. I am becoming more focused on this now, particularly in the last week. Although some days it feels a bit like I’m writing filler, stalling while I work out where I’m going, for the main part things are moving forward at a good pace. I’m getting more deeply into the various plot lines now.

A problem I am consistently coming across is rushing ahead where I know answers but where it does not fit the plot to get to that point just yet. A few times in April I wrote scenes in which I revealed more or advanced the plot further than I was happy with, so ended up striking out paragraphs or even pages at a time and starting from an earlier point. (Though the words are still counted, for the purposes of my challenge – after all I did write them.)

I think I’m getting better at that now, though. It happened more earlier in the month.

On looming peaks

The only other thing I have written this month is the poem I posted a little over a week ago, plus a couple of haiku. I’ve been sharing the poem widely, reading it out to my friends (in particular those who went with me to Builth Wells for the wool festival). I’ll definitely be looking out for other opportunities to write more poetry.

I found that imitating the meter and other aspects of an already published poem – On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman – was helpful in giving me a framework to then insert the words and story of my own poem, so in the near future I anticipate taking a similar approach. Learning to walk before I try to run.

May’s plans

Going forward into May, I will continue writing Horrible Monster. I intend to keep going until I finish it. I definitely feel like I have momentum on this novel right now, even if my daily wordcounts aren’t all that great. I don’t really want to interrupt it at this stage, in case a short interruption proves fatal to that momentum and I stop working on it. But that would mean, at the rate I’m going, it might be several months before I finish it. And that will mean it’ll be months before I write anything else in prose, since I’ve never done well working on two different stories on the same day. Still, there’s nothing stopping me from writing more poetry. And perhaps as I approach the end my daily wordcount output will increase.

There are a lot of other projects I’ve talked about on my blog which have made no further progress for a long time. The Mountain Story, for example, still largely exists only in a handwritten notebook; Kell’s Adventures have seen no further notes or planning. I am very much focused on Horrible Monster at the moment, but perhaps once I finish it I should take some time to work on other projects – and relax my rules a little to count editing, typing up and making notes as writing activity that doesn’t break my streak – even if it doesn’t add to my wordcount total.


Camp NaNoWriMo: a brief update and some thoughts

I’m 9 days into Camp NaNoWriMo and so far I’m a bit behind. I haven’t topped 1,000 words once – and I need to average that many words to meet my 30,000 word goal for the month. So I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. But I think things are starting to move now. I have a good idea of where things will be going for at least the next two or three thousand words, which is always helpful. And after that there will be plenty of excitement too.

There is a different structure to Camp NaNo compared to the original November NaNoWriMo. In that one, you had access to busy forums that hundreds of other people were posting in every day. With the cabins, it’s quieter, more intimate.

I think I’ve got a pretty good cabin. Only about half of the cabinistas are active in the chat, so it’s mostly the same four or five people I’m talking to, but that works for me. Sometimes when there are too many people you can feel drowned out and insignificant. Especially when – like I often find myself – you’re in a different time zone than most people talking, so you miss the chance to get involved in discussions because they happen when you’re fast asleep. With this cabin, though, it’s quiet enough that I don’t feel the conversation all happens when I’m asleep, I feel involved, and that’s helpful. Even when the conversation isn’t about writing, it’s encouraging and self-confidence-building to simply feel part of something positive.

And I’m not just saying that because some of my cabinmates have started following my blog, I promise.

The chat format, though, can be restrictive. It’s a single feed, with a character limit. There’s a reply function which simply puts the name of the commenter who wrote the comment you’re replying to at the start of your comment, so you don’t get threads and digressions. The character limit forces conciseness (though I do sometimes post multiple comments in a row to say all I want to say; conciseness is not my greatest strength) and the single feed seems to have helped us keep on topic, for the most part.

But I do often find dedicated single-topic discussions helpful. The multiple-thread forum format from main NaNoWriMo and other writing boards allows more in-depth discussion, which the chat doesn’t really. It’s probably a good thing; talking about writing can be a massive time sink, a procrastination activity. Ruling that out is probably good for productivity (though of course it doesn’t stop me seeking it out elsewhere, so it’s not a silver bullet to procrastination).

I will say this: I am very glad I requested to be put in a cabin with people with similar goals and the same genre. It means we’ve got more in common, are more likely to be at a similar wordcount. In the past I’ve had writers around me – whether friends on main NaNoWriMo or cabinmates in the two previous Camp attempts – who have either soared ahead and churned out more words in a day than I can manage in a week, or who are taking a far more relaxed approach and only writing a hundred or two hundred words a day. Either one makes me feel discouraged. With the former, I feel inadequate; with the latter, unsupported. With similar goals I can look at what they’re doing and think “oh, she’s doing well, but if I push myself just a little more I can catch up”. Or “well, everyone’s having it tough right now so the fact that I only managed 700 words today doesn’t mean I can’t meet my goals in the end.”

It’s a lower pressure challenge than main NaNo, which I think is what I need right now. It’s less of a big deal. And yes that means my progress towards my million word challenge won’t be as rapid, but it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, to use an old cliche. This is helping. It’s motivating. It means I’m pushing just a little harder than I did in March and February. And that’s really what I need.


Progress Report: One Million Words, March 2016

March’s numbers ended up being only slightly more than February’s: 20,335. The month ended up a little slow due to a few busy days with limited writing time (on the plus side, I had a great time seeing some live comedy last night). My March daily average was therefore 656 words. Though I did have a few days over 1,000.

That brings my total to 175,158/1,000,000 words, or 17.5%.

Most of March’s words were on Horrible Monster. I’m working my way through it now. I also spent a few days on something else, a short piece that doesn’t have a title.

Continue reading Progress Report: One Million Words, March 2016


Progress Report: One Million Words, February 2016

This month I’ve written 20,028 words, with an average of 690.6 words per day. This is a slight decrease compared to January, but I’ve had a fair few days over 1,000 words – and others down around the 300 words mark.

My current total is 154,823/1,000,000, or 15.5%.

That’s about two novels worth since July, though it’s largely been in short stories and attempts at them, and different versions and chapters of Kell’s Adventures.

This month, after I finished writing the latest version of Kell’s Adventures chapter 1, I took a little time to be indulgent. First I spent a few days writing a silly time travel story involving warning people about the imminent sinking of the Titanic (can you guess what I’d been watching documentaries about?) It was fun, but I had no plan.

Since then I’ve been writing fanfiction, as outlined in my recent post Delving back into fanfiction. But as I stated in that post, I wasn’t willing to dedicate more time to it than this month. That has now come to an end. Maybe on days I’m stuck I’ll jump back into it for a day or two, but for the time being I’m focusing on bigger things.

While I was writing that story, I was working on another: Horrible Monster. I’ve been working out the plot, the characters, the connections and the motivations. I bought a notebook so I could work on it while I’m not at home, because carrying around a PC is a little tricky, especially in a handbag that can only barely fit my Kindle. So I’ve made some progress, worked out a few bits I wasn’t sure about, thought about what I wanted the ending to be and how to get there, played around a bit with the world.

Tonight I started writing it. I dare say the title – and the nickname of the eponymous thief – will change. That’s an element which goes right back to the dream where the whole story started, and is now one of only two surviving elements from that dream (the other being the core element: a law enforcer chasing down a thief). Anyway, I finally got one more thing worked out and was ready to begin, so rather than mess around any more with the fanfic, I thought it best to dive right in, and I’m fairly happy with the result. Might need trimming down a bit, but the essence is there.

The plan for now is to continue working on Horrible Monster for as long as it takes. This is a novel-length story and now I’ve got things sorted out I want to capture it while I can. Assuming 80,000 words when it’s finished, and February’s rate of writing, it should take me 116 days – a little under 4 months. Of course, that ignores possible blips, days when I’m struggling and write something else instead, or move over to another story entirely for a week or three. But even with that, it’s something I should be able to manage by the end of summer.

In the meantime, yesterday I came across an opportunity for writers living in the west midlands (or possibly just the West Midlands, with capital W and M – the county rather than the region – in which case I’m not eligible, as I’m in Shropshire) to be featured in a radio show or podcast. I sent off the Dragonbane story I wrote before Christmas, since I’ve always felt it’s better spoken than read. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be asking my lovely fiance Matt to read it aloud and I’ll soundcloud it for all to listen to. If it does work out, I’ll probably take some time out from Horrible Monster to write more short pieces – or try writing them alongside HM.

So for March it’s likely to be a lot of Horrible Monster progress. Kell’s Adventures is taking a back seat at the moment. My passion for the project has dried up rather. More thought needed.


Progress Report: One Million Words, January 2016

It’s been a busy month in January. I got a second part-time job and I have booked a table at this year’s Christmas fair to sell crocheted gifts and decorations, so I’ve had a lot to be getting on with besides writing. Still, I’ve kept with it and written every day.

I’ve written 22,881 words in January, for an average of 738 words per day.

My current total is 135,225/1,000,000, or 13.5%.

Continue reading Progress Report: One Million Words, January 2016


Progress report: One Million Words, week 25

This will be the last weekly update, finishing off 2015. Future progress reports for the One Million Words challenge will be monthly. I am aware that they are not popular posts and would prefer to spend my time on Monday mornings more productively – whether that’s writing fiction or planning more interesting blog posts.

So on to this week’s progress. This week I wrote 5,449 words, bringing my total now to 114,031 words/1,000,000, or 11.4%.

Day by day summary

Monday: 1,150 words (Coronation cloak)

Tuesday: 862 words (Coronation cloak)

Wednesday: 731 words (Coronation cloak)

Thursday: 589 words (Coronation cloak)

Friday: 388 words (Coronation cloak)

Saturday: 1,166 words (Coronation cloak)

Sunday: 563 words (Broken bridge of Anqas)

Continue reading Progress report: One Million Words, week 25


My 2015 in numbers

2015 was a busy for me. In the last six months I’ve taken on a new challenge – writing every day, with the ultimate target of 1 million words at some point in the future. I’ve read more, written more and submitted more than any year before.

So here are the stats:


Words of fiction written, since I began counting in July. This does not count the first half the year, during which I wrote


handwritten pages in a notebook, working on the Horrible Monster story. This is probably around 6,000 words in total.

My best day saw me writing


words. This was on the 11th of November, during NaNoWriMo.

Since July I have written for


consecutive days. As I go into 2016, this number will continue to rise.

During that time I have worked on a total of


separate stories, including everything from prompted stories I spent a day on up to Kell’s Adventures, which I was writing for over two months in various drafts. I’m not counting different drafts of the same story as separate stories.

Of these, I have submitted


story to paying fantasy fiction markets. So far I haven’t sold it, but I’m still waiting back on the most recent one.

I’ve also read


books, which I will have to improve upon in 2016 as that’s a lot fewer than I was aiming for. Though I may have forgotten one or two, and unfortunately my local library’s website doesn’t seem to have a functional loan history feature so I can’t check. Maybe I should use Goodreads more to keep track of these.

So there we go, that’s my 2015 in numbers!


Progress report: One Million Words, week 24

This week’s total is 5,917 words. In spite of Christmas I still managed to write every day. Christmas Day isn’t a good enough excuse to not write. Having said that, I’m not so sure about what I have written this week. More on that later.

My total is now 108,582/1,000,000, or 10.86%.

I have written for 162 consecutive days now.

Day by day summary

Monday: 367 words (Horrible Monster)

Tuesday: 1019 words (Horrible Monster)

Wednesday: 594 words (Time travel prompt)

Thursday: 1,560 words (Time travel prompt)

Friday: 1,120 words (Horrible Monster)

Saturday: 438 words (Horrible Monster)

Sunday: 819 words (Coronation cloak story)

Continue reading Progress report: One Million Words, week 24