The most difficult part of my writing process is right at the beginning.
Actually, that’s a lie.
Right at the beginning a lot goes on between my ears… Characters tell me funny one-liners, plots start to unfurl into the hazy distance and I get a very rough (and I mean ‘waking up the morning after a hen night’ rough) idea what the book is going to be about.
It’s the angle into the whole story that proves difficult for me, and I procastinate like mad to avoid deciding on a starting point.
But why is it so hard?
I, like all writers, was a reader first. This makes me acutely aware that if my latest offering is worthy enough to be published,then the whole book will likely be judged on the first few paragraphs.
So… no pressure then.
Last night I set a reminder on my phone for this morning.
It said: ‘Start writing book.’
So I did as I was told, and plunged into chapter one.
I started writing an upper middle-grade book last year, but as it progresses I’m beginning to question whether it’s actually YA.
After lots of research on the subject I’ve come to the (slightly uncomfortable) conclusion that it probably sits somewhere in between both camps, but as there is no ‘Somewhere between MG and YA’ shelf in my local bookstore I realise I’m going to have to commit to one or the other.
So I have been asking myself some questions (and you can ask yourself these too if you’re in the same predicament as me)…
1. Word count.
It looks like it’s going to be around 50K words when complete, so more of a YA word count than MG, but factor in that it’s a fantasy, and it may fall a little short…
Complexity of language is probably more YA than MG, but I’m an advocate of encouraging young people to increase their word power, so… meh.
I guess it’s more YA in that key characters change throughout the story, but the themes are trust and false pride, which could be appreciated by older MG readers
No sex or overly bad language, which is suitable for both MG & YA (Tick!)
All in all, I’m leaning towards YA, as I think younger readers who are interested in the premise would read it anyway.
I love to learn, and feel it’s important as a writer to stretch myself, as my imagination is like a muscle which strengthens with exercise.
Which is why my interest was piqued when a friend recently told me about ‘MOOCs’, or ‘Massive Online Open Courses’.
They are offered through universities across the globe in a vast range of languages and subjects, and more importantly they are FREE!
I’ve signed up for a MOOC called ‘The Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe’ offered by the Australian National University. It will take me around 10 weeks to complete and covers astrophysics such as the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show!), redshift, quasars and dark matter.
The maths involved is pretty hairy, but I’ve taken my scientific calculator out and dusted it off, and seem to be keeping up so far.
The subject matter is about as far from my current w.i.p. as you could get (upper MG fantasy) but I love bouncing from one to the other on my computer screen.
So if you love to learn, sign up for a MOOC today — it’s free if you don’t require a certificate, and even if you do, it’s only a nominal fee.
I’m watching Game of Thrones at the moment — I started at the beginning of Season 1 in December and am up to the middle of season 4 now.
It is absolutely riveting — in a rather rude and bloodthirsty way — but has set me thinking about self-set boundaries in writing.
George R.R. Martin obviously has no qualms about writing scenes of graphic torture, but although I can read/watch this knowing it’s fictional, I would feel uneasy writing about it.
It would still be fictional, so what’s my problem?
If I’m honest, I do feel that my writing reflects my soul in a way. I’d worry others would view me as some sort of monster to have such thoughts, and yet I don’t view those who write horror and such in this way, so my feelings must be nonsense!
Yet they are my feelings, and I must be true to them, however silly they may seem — even to myself.
Is there anything YOU couldn’t bear to write?
One positive trait of a comedy writer IMO is the ability to laugh at yourself.
Yes it can be painful and sometimes embarrassing, but appreciating humour — even if it’s ego-bruising — is a valuable character writing tool. How are you going to write about your own protagonist’s catalogue of fails convincingly unless you too have been on the receiving end?
Once I came out of a supermarket carrying a full bag of shopping in each hand.
As I headed for my car I tripped on a kerb, and had to keep the momentum going by running forwards to prevent myself from falling over head first.
After gathering a fair bit of speed I was eventually halted by a 6 foot chain-link fence, into which I face planted.
Immediately I heard children laughing, and looked around expecting a group of kids poking fun at my misfortune. I was somewhat relieved — and amused — to discover that as I’d gone racing past a kiddie’s 50p ride outside the shop, I’d activated a sensor, causing a recording of children giggling to emit from within.
I chuckled to myself all the way home, imagining what I must have looked like to an observer, and marvelling at the coincidence of a machine ridiculing me.
So next time you do something foolish, remember that it’s simply your turn to be on the receiving end of the Universe’s wonderful sense of humour.
Writing can be an anxious process. Your w.i.p rattles around in your head and you desperately want to share some of the good bits, or test out some of the ‘unsure if this will work’ bits, but your muse yells “No! If you speak of me I will send your story crashing to the ground!”
This may sound cray-cray (okay, it so does, now that I’ve written it down) but in my experience that’s exactly what’s happened every time I’ve shared too soon. Other people’s reactions (or lack thereof) have sent doubts pinging round my brain and the emergency ‘Abort Mission’ button has been pressed, leaving me with as much enthusiasm for the project as I have for defrosting my freezer*.
So now when people ask what I’m working on I tend to be vague, or if I’m feeling devilish may make something up on the spot.
Pen Avey is currently writing a dystopian PB featuring robotic gorillas.
*My freezer is currently holding enough ice to build a small igloo.