Well, it’s certainly been a while.
Yesterday I attended the Penfro Book Festival in Rhosygilwen, a beautiful setting just outside Cilgerran in Pembrokeshire. For the first time in years I took part in a workshop on writing contemporary fiction with Helen Carey. Helen is a published writer who I admit I knew nothing about before going, except what little research a google search brought up. It felt good to be back in the company of writers, to listen and talk with people who share my passion, to realise although I spend many hours (still less than I’d like) at my laptop each week, month, year, alone with my thoughts and my wonderful characters, there are others out there. And this workshop went to show, if nothing else, that they too needed a little help, a little guidance and encouragement. A quick introduction around the group showed that there were a real mix of writers: from beginners, to those stuck at a particular place of a novel, or like me, hovering somewhere between a finished book and finding the right place for it to go.
Helen, the group leader, was lovely. She was open and warm and funny when talking frankly about her background and experiences within the writing and publishing world. She listened enthusiastically and sympathetically to each one of us and then sought to deliver a workshop which gave us the insight, the tools and the guidance that we needed most. I learnt a lot in the 2 hour slot, which swept by like the precious moments of any important and exciting life event which you have been awaiting for months. Most interestingly I discovered that I may have been doing it all wrong. Or perhaps, less crucially, just not been doing it the easiest way. Of course it’s all down to opinion and what works for each individual. But it makes sense, at least to me.
I’ve heard about story arcs and structures ever since I began studying literature and creative writing aged 18, but I suppose I have never given it serious thought, the stop in your tracks and write it all down, outlining everything kind of thought. I had always thought it kind of came instinctively as I wrote. I am the writer type who, when getting an idea, runs to the nearest pen and paper, laptop e.t.c to get it all down, and keep writing until there’s nothing left. I find it hard to go back and edit mid flow, or even a day later, preferring just to get the story down and deal with the consequences later. Which, of course, if you know where you’re going is fine. But as Helen points out, if you don’t at least have an idea where your story is heading, how can you pave the way for the reader, dropping little mysteries and clues along the way? A fair point. I guess up to this point I have been lucky. In my previous work I will admit a lot of the time if you asked me I could not tell you the exact ending, it seemed to happen to me, just as it happened to the reader. I seemed to write to discover, to uncover what was there. And it used to evolve into a story as I wrote, as if it was subconsciously there all along. Writer and owner of Rhosygilwen, Brenda who was at the workshop, talked about wanting to get to an end point and your characters having other ideas, moving off into other directions e.t.c I found myself nodding in agreement, smiling. You get that too! They do often take you on adventures that you didn’t expect, it happens quite frequently with me and it’s hard to say no, to go against what seems to happen naturally. I trust them.
But, my latest new novel, which I started originally about 6 or more years ago (there might lie the problem) is proving far more difficult. Maybe because the plot is far more complex than anything I’ve done before (It’s in two parts and set back to front – I seem to write in the order the reader will experience it too.) Maybe because I’ve gone through quite a transition in my personal life since I first uncovered the idea. But I am 12,000 words in and I am starting to lose the plot. Or rather, it’s coming in bits and pieces like parts of a film reel that aren’t quite running together. Maybe this is just how my mind works, maybe I need to keep writing and figure it out? I love my characters and I love my storylines, they are just fragmented, a bit lost in direction. When I’ve tried to sit down and write out the plot, the story arc before, it’s never really worked. I’ve always had a vague sense of where it was going. But this, as Helen points out, means a lot of editing. And after spending years editing my first book before working with a professional editor at Cinnamon Press, it takes so much time. If there’s an easier way. Should I not just try it? So today, after a lengthy procrastination over this blog, I aim to take a look at my work so far and try and piece together where I am and where it’s going as I just don’t want to lose my wonderful characters and my exciting story. I am also aware, with my first novel ready for publication but not quite a perfect fit with Cinnamon Press (who are helping me to find a better fit) that I need something new and fresh and exciting to entice another publisher or Agent. So, with some hard work and careful planning maybe this can be it. A new start?