Writing: Working Towards the Future

For many months I have been working on a manuscript called Mirror Image. It is a project I have always felt was worthy of telling – not only for the story itself, but for the underlying messages too. It is a manuscript I believe in and I know that, if I were to write it well, it is a story that would catch editors’ attention.

However, it is also a story that runs parallel with my own life. Whilst it isn’t the story of my son’s suicide, it closely travels the path of what my family went through. This makes it a manuscript that stirs emotions in me that I cannot control, cannot combat. And I doubt I’ll ever be in the situation to face the heartache that the manuscript puts me through when I’m working on it.

After much thought and soul searching, I have decided to put this manuscript aside…permanently. The pain it causes me isn’t healthy. The feelings it stirs in me makes me depressed, which leads to not being able to sleep and when I do…I have nightmares. In turn, the sleep deprivation causes me to feel irritable and angry towards other people. And I don’t mean just angry, I mean really, really angry – to the point of wanting to hurt someone, anyone. This isn’t my character at all and it scars me. I thought I could pull myself through it and I thought it would become easier with time, but I can’t and it isn’t. For my own sake, I have decided that I have to put my health first in the hope that my emotional strength will improve over time.

I have also decided, finally, not to tackle the manuscript I had planned and started to write called Suicide: A Mother’s Story. If I can’t write a fictitious story about suicide, there’s no way I’ll be able to write the true story.

Having given myself permission to stop, I feel somewhat relieved…and free. I didn’t realise these two manuscripts were like dark clouds hanging over me until the decision to stop was finally made. There’s no guilt, which is something I expected. I do not see the time spent on these manuscripts, especially Mirror Image, as a waste of time either. I can chalk the time up as writing practice, but more importantly I see the writing as therapy. Maybe that’s all I really needed from the manuscript. To face the emotions and torment I felt. Maybe I’ve spent the last two years working on something that has made me face my past so that I can move on to my future.

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Knowing When the Time is Right

It’s been almost three years since I lost my son. This morning, after spending several hours on another project, my thoughts returned to the manuscript I started less than a year after his death. I thought I might pick up where I had left off and see it through to completion in the next year or so.

I thought about how I would structure the manuscript, what would be included and how I would tackle the more sensitive issues. To my surprise, I found a way around the ever present issue of the possibility of offending people with my words. I started to think, “I can do this!”

Then I sat at the computer and opened the old documents. I read through what had previous been written and by the time I got to the end, which was really nowhere near the end of the real story, I was in tears. Memories of those dark months resurfaced and I could feel depression creeping in on all sides.

I’m not ready to write that manuscript. Perhaps I never will be. I see no reason to put myself through something (again) that tore my life apart. For now, I’ve closed the documents and returned to the edit of Mirror Image – a safe story – because I know now is not the right time.

My Writing Future

Yesterday, I listed fourteen novel length manuscripts that I have at various stages. Fourteen! When added together, that is some word count! Not to mention all the edits and rewrites.

I guess I can safely say the ideas are there. Some of the manuscripts were started many, many years ago and have not progressed in any way since they were put aside. Some of the manuscripts probably never will be improved upon and I’m fully aware which ones they are. But this isn’t about what I did wrong in the past. This is my honest look at what I have and where I want to go in the future.

I printed out the list and studied it. Then I asked myself a couple of questions: Which of these manuscripts (if any) “do something” for me? Which ones do I want to continue with?

My answer:

Kingdom of Marlinor Trilogy

The first book – Whispering Caves – has been written, rewritten and rewritten again. In fact, I think I’m up to version 8. The original manuscript was written in the late 1990’s. I love the characters and the setting. I love the story. However, as I grew as a writer, I could see the problem areas and I believe my attempts to fix them actually ruined the basics of the story. This is called over editing. I didn’t know when to stop.

The second and third books are (very) vaguely planned, but after the last rewrite of Whispering Caves I had an idea that could tie the three stories together. If I use this idea, it would mean I would have to replan and then rewrite from the beginning. I’m not talking about a severe edit, I mean open a blank screen and write the whole thing from the start. I am willing, and I want, to do that. Actually, I have already set the planning of this trilogy into motion.

People of Miu Series

As these manuscripts were originally written in the last three to four years, this series is my most recent work and that is reflected in the quality of writing. Hence, less revisions required. The first two books are ready for submission and I know how book 3 must end, but I’m having trouble planning the rest of the story. That “trouble” might have been me not being able to focus. I think I can overcome that problem now and I want to finish this series. I enjoyed writing it and have had a lot of input from other writers to get the manuscripts to submission stage.

Isle of Cottie

This manuscript is romance with a fantasy setting and has two parts to it. A bit like before and after scenarios. The “before” section is 100% complete. I will probably have to give it another read through just to be sure it’s just right, but I know I wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time on it. The “after” section is a different matter. It’s been written in the first draft, but will change dramatically in the edit as I made major changes when I edited Part 1. My parents read this story (as well as Whispering Caves) and my father couldn’t praise this story enough. He said it’s full of drama, twists and turns and was quite “suggestive”. I was a little embarrassed by that, but if he read the edited Part 1 I think he’d get a shock!

The original manuscript was written in the early 1990’s. In fact, this is the first manuscript I ever wrote. The major edit of Part 1 took place about five years ago. Now I think it’s time to finish Part 2.

Mirror Image

The first draft of this story was written in November 2007 during NaNoWriMo. This means the draft is really bad. I remember changing direction in the middle of sentences, so the edit of this project is going to be a big deal. Anyway, for personal reasons, I didn’t quite finish the manuscript, but there are only about 10,000 words to go.

This is a dark story (paranormal/horror). It sends out a clear message which I feel is important to tell, especially in this day and age when depression is ripe. For this reason, I want to finish this manuscript.

Suicide: A Mother’s Story

This will be another two part manuscript. One of those parts will be hard to write, but much easier than the other part. I realise now that I attempted this project too soon when I originally started planning it in 2006, but it’s another manuscript that needs to be written – for me, for parents, for teenagers.

Mid-Summer’s Day

It’s been fully planned for a couple of years. However, no writing has started. I will write this one day, but not yet. Why start another project when I have so many others that need my attention?

Out of the other four manuscripts on the list, I think only two will get my attention in the future. Then again, maybe none of them will progress. I may decide to ditch these for other ideas instead.

Now that I’m clear on which manuscripts still hold my interest, I have to decide which of them will be placed in the top spot. As I’ve said before, I’m a one manuscript at a time kind of girl, so only one will be chosen. Which one do you think it will be?

My Writing Past

Previously, I’ve mainly written fantasy. I have manuscripts suitable for all ages. However, I specifically concentrated on children’s books – 8 to 12 years of age – over recent years. The only time I ventured into other genres were for short stories, although one of my first novel length manuscripts is romance (but even that has a fantasy setting).

In order to gauge where I’m heading, I have to know what I have to work with. Here’s a list of all my manuscripts, excluding short stories as I don’t intend to write them in the future.

List of Novel Length Manuscripts

Kingdom of Marlinor Trilogy
(fantasy for adults – needs planning as a trilogy and rewriting)

Book 1 – Whispering Caves
Book 2 – Windy Plains
Book 3 – Butterweed Fever

People of Miu Series
(fantasy for children aged 8 to 12 years – first two books written and edited; book 3 needs planning)

Book 1 – Cat’s Eyes
Book 2 – Cat’s Paws
Book 3 – Cat’s Whiskers

Stand Alone Manuscripts

Blood Red, White Fire (fantasy for young adults) – 22 chapters written of first draft

Isle of Cotti (romance for adults) – complete, 10 chapters rewritten in edit stage, second half needs replanning

Westmore Castle (fantasy for adults) – only four chapters written, needs complete planning and rewriting

The World of Jaishree (fantasy for young adults) – written as a short story that should have been a novel, needs replanning and rewriting

Mid-Summer’s Day (science fiction for adults) – fully planned, but not written

Sam & Arden (fantasy for young adults) – 4 chapters written, needs proper planning

Mirror Image (paranormal/horror for adults) – about 10,000 words of first draft left to write

Non-Fiction Manuscripts

Suicide: A Mother’s Story

Now that I know what manuscripts are in the system, I can decide what I intend to do from this point on. That, however, will be discussed in another post. Right now, I have some thinking to do.

Book: Introduction

This weekend I wrote the introduction to my non-fiction project – Suicide: A Mother’s Story. I want the first paragraph to be quite powerful. It has to grab the reader and pull them right in (this is essential for any reader, but especially so if the reader is an editor of a publishing company). I feel I achieved that goal. The words that follow come from the heart. It’s important to get the reasons for the book firmly established at this point. Then…I have a one sentence last paragraph that should leave the reader in a state of “reality” shock.

The introduction is only four (double spaced) pages. This isn’t long, but I believe everything that needs to be said, has been covered. It took me a long time to write. I kept changing my mind and then rearranging the paragraphs, adding this and deleting that, but eventually I was happy.

I’ve made a start. I’m not sure where to go from here. I think I’ll write our story first. The posts from another website whick was used as a diary have been copied into a word document. This will be my starting point. The posts were written at the time everything was happening and are the most accurate account of what happened. Naturally, I plan on expanding on the posts. I also want to write about Barry’s life before I go any further. However, I’m finding this extremely difficult to do. My mind isn’t allowing the memories to come through in chronological order, but I’ll find a way around that.

Reflections on Blogging

Blogging, when we first start it, is addictive. Instead of writing or planning a story, we spend much of the day writing and planning our next post in our heads. There’s so much to say and not enough time to say it.

Or so we think.

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years, we find we do get to say everything that needs to be said. Suddenly, blogging is no longer addictive. In fact, it can be a chore at times. Yet we still try to post once a day, even if that post is complete dribble. In the back of our heads, something is saying a silly post is better than no post.

But is it really?

I’ve been to other bloggers websites and usually don’t bother reading the dribble. I don’t have time and I don’t find dribble worthwhile reading. I’m sure other bloggers come to this site and ignore my dribble too. I understand that. So why do we insist on putting it on our websites?

I’ve been blogging for three years and I’ve had websites that I continually updated for two years before that. I’ve said what needs to be said. I could give daily updates on my writing, but who wants to read that every day (although I know of one website where the writer does exactly that and she has a lot of traffic to her blog each day – thing is, she’s published and she occasionally throws in some valuable information too).

After my recent (and continuing) need to go through the archives and re-categorise all the posts, this need to post – no matter what the content – really became clear to me and I’ve decided not to do it any more. If I have nothing to say, then I won’t post. You’ve probably noticed the decline in posts over recent weeks. This trend will continue. I believe quality should over ride quantity and that will be my aim from now on.

An Update on My Writing Projects

On Saturday I mentioned the possibility of finishing the edit on Cat’s Paw on Sunday. It didn’t happen. The last two chapters need too much work. Actually, they are poorly written and I think I’ll have to rewrite them from scratch.

The non-fiction project – working title Crumbling Walls – is still in planning. After extensive research I have changed the title to Suicide: A Mother’s Story. I think everyone will agree that the new title gives the reader a clear idea of what to find in the book without reading any further, whereas Crumbling Walls could be about anything. I intend to start writing this book when work on Cat’s Paw has been completed.

Failure and Success

It seems the procedure for non-fiction isn’t the same as fiction.

With fiction, a writer spends many months writing, editing and proofing the manuscript until they get it to the best of their ability. Then they send out queries and hopefully receive a request to submit.

With non-fiction, a writer spends months (probably not as many months as fiction) writing, editing and proofing the proposal instead. Apparently, the proposal is done first, along with three sample chapters. There’s no need to spend long months writing the entire project. It seems you should be testing the market first. If you get a bite, then you start work on the actual project. But if you don’t get any bites, you start thinking about another project…or you self publish.

Although I can see the sense in this, being a writer of fiction first and foremost, I will be writing the entire non-fiction project prior to sending out the proposal. When I realised this was my preferred procedure, I had to ask myself why. I thought about it much longer than I wanted too, and actually lost sleep over it, but I came to the conclusion that I prefer the “write then propose” procedure over the “propose then write” procedure because it takes the pressure off as I can work at my own pace.

Now this makes me wonder how I would cope if I was commissioned or contracted to write a book with a deadline. Could I handle the pressure, the stress? Would I be able to write regularly enough to meet that deadline? The mere thought frightens me. I would like to think that the fact that my work was going to be published would be inspiring enough for me to get a routine happening, and I’d prioritise so that I got the necessary work done in time with room to spare. But would it? Isn’t it possible the contract might have the reverse affect on me? I could freeze and be unable to write. Fear might take control of me.

Oh my!

We often hear the phrase “fear of failure”, but in all honesty, I fear success. I’ve known that for a long time. Are you scared of failure or success?

Non-Fiction: The First Steps

Finally, I’ve found information on writing non-fiction that is written by an author with credentials that look impressive…and she has been published by a number of main stream publishers too.

Jenna Glatzer started a thread in the Absolute Write Forums called Learn The Nonfiction Book Publication Process With Momma Jenna.

Below is an abbreviation of the questions for The First Steps in my own words tailored for my project, please visit the website to read what Jenna has to say.

1. Do you have enough material to write a whole book or would an article suit your needs better?

In this step, Jenna states that a non-fiction book is usually 70,000 words or more. Now this is the kind of information I was after. She also asks if you’re sure you want to be immersed in the topic every day for six months or so and are you qualified to write about the topic. I can comfortably say “yes” to both these things. She starts her planning by writing out a quick outline, the chapter headings and, in point form, what she wants to include in each chapter.

2. Is there an audience for the topic?

This is straight forward. I know there’s an audience for my topic. However, I also know the market is narrower than most non-fiction books. People in my situation will probably want to read the book and some people who have not experienced suicide will read it out of curiosity, but I believe that with the right marketing, the book could be used to raise suicide awareness in unaffected families too.

3. What other books have already been written on the subject?

I visited the library today. The suicide section is small, very small. In fact, there were a total of five books on the shelves (not including the duplicates). The books are worn and well used. I noticed that most of them had pencil marks throughout the pages. I also checked Amazon. In excess of 10 pages of books came up, not all of them were serious suicide books though. I will visit the local bookstore tomorrow and see what is available to buy. I intend to compile a list of the titles and author names for my records.

4. Do you have access to people to interview in order to make the book a success?

In my case, Barry is the subject and my family are the ones left to deal with the grief. However, I have access to a group filled with parents of children who have lost a child to suicide and they have agreed to help me.

Juggling Projects

After several days of research, I’ve discovered that there’s not much information on writing non-fiction to be found on the internet…unless you don’t mind paying for it.

Yes, there is information, but not the kind of information I really want, like how to plan. (If you have links you would like to share, please feel free to do so. However, your comment will probably be marked for moderation as a result, please don’t be offended. I’ll approve your comment as soon as I can.)

I intend to visit the library soon – probably on the weekend – to see what books they have on writing non-fiction. I’ve never looked for this topic before, so I might be in for a surprise. Good or bad, I won’t know until I get there.

Meanwhile, the edit of Cat’s Paw has slowed to a halt. I’ve had a grand total of ten hours sleep in three nights, so my mind refuses to concentrate on words for any length of time. I’m visiting my GP on Friday morning about this constant lack of sleep. I don’t know what will come of that. At this stage, I can’t see me returning to the edit until first thing Friday morning (like 6am before I go to see the doctor), or sometime on Friday afternoon.

Why Write Non-Fiction

Several websites dealing with non-fiction tips ask the same question “why do you want to write the book?” I’ve had several writing friends ask me the same question (not in the “you shouldn’t be doing this” sense). Some people have said that it will take a lot of energy and strength; others have said I will need to be brave, but I can brush those cautions aside. Everything in my life zaps my energy and I have to be brave every day.

In light of the above, I have decided to make a short list on why I should do this non-fiction project.

  • Because there is a market out there, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because the topic is suicide and, in all honesty, I wish books of this kind were not needed. I wish our children, and our elderly, didn’t feel the need to end their lives prematurely for whatever reasons they have. But, in real life, it is happening…much more than any ordinary person realises.
  • Because it’s important to raise awareness about suicide and writing a book about my own experiences will open the eyes of other people…people who had never thought about the consequences of suicide, who also think it could never happen to them. It could.
  • Because writing this book will be therapy for me. Yes, it will make me revisit places I don’t want to go, but it will also make me face issues from all angles and maybe that will help me heal in the long term.
  • Because deep in my heart I know this book needs to be written, and I’m passionate to get the message across – there are always other options. Always. This is the most important reason of all. It drives me on. If I can help another family keep their child, then all the misery and heartbreak I’ve been through will not be in vain.

By turning the emotions I feel every day into something positive and worth while, I believe I will be helping me, but eventually I will be helping other families and that is reason enough to do this project.