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NaNoWriMo and the The Fourth Notch

I haven’t posted for a while, mostly because I haven’t had five minutes to spare, to be honest.

November is National Novel Writing Month and for the first time ever, I decided to take up the challenge. And why not? When the Mask Falls was posted away for editing at the end of October, and is not due back until mid-December so I figured I had the time!

If you have never heard of it, it works like this: during the month of November you are challenged to write a fifty thousand word novel, and that is about the long and short of it. Fifty thousand words over thirty days averages out at 1667 per day which is about two hours work, depending on how fast you write. Sixteen hundred words feels perfectly achievable on some days of the month, but I have a day job and several other projects that are also running, including being a blogger for Zatu games and for Wifi Refugees, and lets not forget about all the extra work that I had forgotten about, and still needs to be done, in relation to the upcoming launch of When the Mask Falls, so trying to fit that amount of work into every single day of the month has been a little challenging at times. Saying all that, as of today I have managed to get ahead of schedule, hence a moment to write my own blog, so fingers crossed I will finish well in time.

The best part of this process is that I have been forced to experiment with a whole new way of writing. I tend to write and edit as I go, that means that it can take hours to get even a few words on the page, my usual method involves a lot of writing, deleting, researching, more writing and more deleting and quite a lot of dissatisfaction. The plus to that is that when you finish you have something much closer to a final draft, there will still be edits and re-writes but not nearly as many and you will feel that the quality of the work is fairly good. The downside is that this way of working can take a lot of time, some days you might get a couple of thousand words down and they will be good, but other days you can spend hours deliberating over just one paragraph and only add a few hundred to your word count. This is a very frustrating way to write and as you can see is not a particularly fast way to 50k words.

To achieve NaNoWriMo’s target you have to just write, you have to turn off the critical side of your brain, stop worrying about grammar, or doing too much research, or even punctuation, at times, you have to just keep going, no matter if it is good or bad, just get the words down. It sounds like a terrible approach to writing but it has been great for me, just giving myself permission to turn the critical brain off has been extremely liberating  and I will try to adopt this approach to all my writing in the future. Knowing I can edit it and change it later, if I want to, allows me the freedom  to stop worrying about niggling details, and allows my characters the freedom to start telling their own story. This allows the story to become pacier, and I just sit back and become the story teller, tapping away frantically to keep up with my characters as, in the case of The Fourth Notch, they fight for their own lives.

The Fourth Notch is the working title of the novel I am currently working on for NaNoWriMo, the title came to me at about the halfway mark although it relates to a moment in the first chapter, so it could have come earlier, if I had put any thought into it. I will admit that I had started coming up with some ideas and thoughts, and one of the main characters was clearly in my head a week or so before the start of November, and the first chapter was written too. This may well have given me a good head start but you certainly can’t just start writing a novel at this pace without a little advance planning, and it’s for this reason that many have failed to finish. Even people with plenty of ideas don’t make it to the end, so at this stage I am feeling quietly confident and pretty chuffed with myself.

Of course, I haven’t finished yet, but I have plenty of material to get me through to well beyond the 50k word target and I am really pleased with what I remember writing, of course, after I have finished my very rough first draft I will have to go back over it and start editing it and turning it into an enjoyable novel.

We’ll see at the end, whether the process is any faster overall, or if I ended up with a better piece of work for it, but I will definitely keep you posted on that, maybe this time next year you will be buying The Fourth Notch for all your friends as Christmas gifts, or maybe I will still be editing it!

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Self-Publish Vs Publishing Deal

It’s no secret that I have chosen to self-publish When the Mask Falls and take it to market myself, as opposed to taking the more traditional route of seeking out publishers or agents, submitting my manuscript according to their strict guidelines and then sitting back with fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

I will admit it was a hard decision and I went back and forth on it A LOT; there are considerable downsides involved in self-publishing; it’s a lot of work, it’s stressful and it’s also expensive so why would anyone do it? I will add that this is not the first time I have self-published a book, I published a non-fiction title a few years ago and I learned a lot from doing that, I also made a bit of money from it and still do actually, so I know the mechanics of it all which definitely helps and I know what to expect from it all. I also run a business in my day job, so that side of things does not scare me either.

Despite having a little prior experience, I was well aware that the world of fiction is very different to non-fiction so I did a serious amount of research and spent time with people that know about this type of publishing, agents and authors mostly (published and self-published), sometimes at pre-arranged talks and lectures, some paid for, some free and on one occasion at a BBQ, which I was invited to – just thought I would clarify! I also did a lot of internet research, although you have to be sceptical when using the internet as a source of advice.
At this point I would like to point out that this is not a bitter route to self-publishing, my book was looked at by an agent and they liked it. I made this decision consciously for the sole benefit of the book, me, my pocket and the experience!

Its a dead cert!

So, my reasoning started here; if I opted for the agent/publisher route the book could take upwards of two years before it hit the shelves – assuming of course that it made it that far, in which case I was back to self-publishing anyway. If I did it myself, I could have a book print ready in a matter of hours! Of course, I want a beautifully created book so it would actually take about six months, but still a lot faster, and a dead cert!
New authors advances are usually very poor, and understandably so, a publisher has very little idea how they will be received by the public which makes them a high risk. With this in mind, many new books are only ever printed once and publishers don’t tend to invest a lot of time or money into promoting their new author either, which means that much of that first print run can end up in discount stores! Taking control of the whole process means I can do promote myself and my book with full force, do as many print runs as I like and really get the most out of it.

Handing my sweat and tears over to a third party also means that they get to make decisions about most aspects of the book including the design and layout, how it is edited and even elements of the story. That might be less stressful, but anyone that knows me will know how fussy I can be, so this would be a hard cord to cut.

There are downsides to self-publishing, and they are biggies! Distribution is a major one, as a self-published author I would easily be able to sell paperbacks and e-books via Amazon, but getting them into bricks and mortar stores is a whole other kettle of fish. Store owners are very nervous of unknown authors, they are in business to make profit after all, and the big names sell! It’s a no brainer for them. However, not so many of us still buy books in stores, sadly. Amazon really dominates the market, so how much will it really affect my sales?

Its not cheap!

And then there is the money! I could do it on the cheap, but I want a beautifully crafted piece of work that I can be proud to say is mine, and that means spending a bit of cash. Creating beautiful novels takes quite a lot of cash actually, as I am finding out, and is the main reason that new authors find it so hard to get book deals. Your initial print run alone could set you back thousands, (the more you buy the better the price per book), good quality artwork isn’t cheap either and a massive chunk will go to your editor. But they are all necessary costs if you want something that will stand proudly on the book shelf.

After all that deliberation, I still decided it is the best option for me and I will figure out the issues as I go. As for the cash needed? Well, I have an interesting plan for that, watch this space…!

What would you have done?

What route do you think I should have taken?

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The Japanese say everyone has three faces; there is the one you show to the world, the one you show only to close friends and family, and a third that you never show to anyone!

I love this idea, but I would go even further and say we actually have many more versions of ourselves than just those three. What about your dating profile, how does he/she measure up to your true self? How does that person differ from the version of yourself your boss gets to see, and what about your parents, how much of you are they genuinely allowed?

In fact, we get a unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves everytime we meet someone new, to be the person we wished we were, to live a fantasy version of ourselves, and I think we are all guilty of a little personal tweaking to make ourselves appear more desirable to a new audience, whoever that might be.

The idea of identity and the hats we wear fascinates me so much that I couldn’t wait to explore it more deeply, and the character I had created in that early writing exercise seemed the perfect candidate for it.

When Alice meets Jonny she grabs that golden opportunity with both hands and slips out of Alice’s dissatisfactory married-with-two-kids life and Susanna drags her towards a life of excitement, and Jonny!

Of course, when so much of you is fake, it’s only a matter of time before your lies start unraveling. What starts as a bit of fun quickly turns sour as she realises what exactly it means to cheat on Mr Mundane!

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Inspiration for When the Mask Falls

I have found story ideas in lots of places over the years; my favourite comes from overhearing snippets of conversations and letting my imagination fill in the gaps, but I have also taken inspiration from a note I once found folded up and tucked in a gate, from quotes and sayings, other books I have read, and even on walks with the dog; but inspiration for the When the Mask Falls came from a warm up exercise I had once used to get me past a stall on another piece of work!

I had chosen the exercise specifically because it helps me get out of the habit of trying to edit as I write, a very bad habit many of us writers suffer from, so I sat down with the intention to just write something, anything at all, but most importantly to not stop!

I  have a terrible habit of expecting only perfection to spill from my fingers which can mean that sometimes hardly anything gets written at all, or if it does, it quickly gets deleted, re-written, deleted again, and so on until I eventually give up, decide I am the worst writer in the world and make some tea! So this is a good exercise for me to do and I try to make myself do this as often as I can, even when I am writing updates on my Instagram!

Usually I find this exercise hard but today I got a thousand words down surprisingly quickly, so before I got too carried away I sat back to review the nonsense, which is usually what I produce when I do these things, only this time I really fell in love with the character I had written about; she had a very dry sense of humour, she was unsatisfied with her boring, routine life and wanted more, not all that dissimilar to me at the time.

It had taken around and hour to write those first thousand words, which have since formed the basis for chapter two of the book, but they didn’t leave me, the character haunted me and I couldn’t wait to find out more about her, and me I suppose, and really push her to her limits so I asked her a big question!

“What would happen if…?”

With that in mind, I set her off in pursuit of a more exciting life and we find out the answer to that very important question in all its glorious, and often grisly, detail.

As an aside, despite trying a few times, the other book is really no further on than when I took that break, but I do intend to go back to it at some point, maybe I will be half way through another piece, seeking a moment of brilliance, when I find myself re-inspired and finally get it finished!

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My First Post!

For my first blog post I would like to have a little rant about the insanity of social media, I know I need it and now I have it, but why does it all have to be so flipping complicated. I sign up for twitter – great, then I sign up for Instagram – still good, I link my Facebook and Twitter to my Instagram and that’s where things start to go awry! Anyway, I waded through the tick boxes and permission requests, confirmed phone number and emails, checked, unchecked, and then re-checked tick boxes and through the grace of luck stuff now works, or so it seems, and as long as I don’t sneeze, hopefully it will remain that way!

Got my website working too, evidenced by the fact that you are reading this post on it! That was a drama too, the last time I made a website you just downloaded some free software, made a page, entered your server details and voilà, you had a live website. Not anymore it seems, nowadays you have to buy hosting to get the free software – no good if you already have access to free hosting on your own server, still scratched my head, uttered a grumpy word, or two and an hour later my partner had it all figured out, and am pretty happy with the result.

All in all an unnecessarily stressful weekend, thank goodness I can get back to the relevant job of creating a final-final draft of my When the Mask Falls, although I think I may have taken my internet fatigue out on the first chapter quite harshly as it hit the bin within minutes of starting – that may have been a little heavy handed, I will have to reconsider that decision in a little more detail over the coming days, although if it is to stay it really needs a lot of time spent on it, definitely not my best work as it stands.

Extreme editing aside, and presuming I will have something long enough to publish by the end of this apparently ruthless process, I will need a cover for the book and my mind has been distracted by that over the last few days. I have had a few ideas which I have been mulling over, and which I will be discussing with my favourite photographer over the next week or so, so very much looking forward to that and seeing what he comes up with. Am considering whether I should volunteer to be in the picture or not – would certainly save a few quid on a model, but the question remains as to whether that is a good idea or not, too vain maybe, what do you think?