Tuesday, 5 March 2019

It's Been a Literary Few Months

   It's been a quiet year so far on the blog. My last post, Project Tarot, probably gives some insight, but I have been absolutely and utterly consumed with work these past 2 months aside from that.
   Early January, I was accepted onto the project immediately to write 2 short stories for Frenone's book of tarot cards - which provide the story motive - and to help compile a list of suitable mythical creatures for those cards - which provide the story's subject. Eventually assigned to writing a story for one card at one page, and for the cover image at three pages (!!!) I have been working on them solidly.
   But I also finished writing the second book of my trilogy early January, too, and for the past six weeks have put all else on hold and have absorbed myself in reading and editing.
   I always redraft a chapter after I write one, fixing what doesn't work, improving diction (word choice and use) and syntax (the sentence structure), shortening unnecessary drivel, and so on before moving on and writing the next chapter. When I've finished the book, however, I go back to the start and read through and edit the whole thing from cover to cover, and in order to make sure that the whole book makes sense, that things aren't accidentally repeated, that the passage of time is properly conveyed and that I've answered all the question I needed to, I have to chain myself to it. It's the only way to spot the problems - though that doesn't mean I'll get them all.
   So for the past 6 weeks I have spent several hours every day reading, editing, cutting and pasting, deleting, staring and chin-tapping. I finally finished editing the second book last weekend, and, if I'm honest...it's not bad at all. I didn't need to edit as much as I thought I did - though there were a few chapters that needed a complete overhaul.
   I also did some work adjusting the original book cover and I'm so happy with the result!

   In between my writing and editing, however, I also enrolled into an online writing class - or, rather, storytelling class. I spotted a sponsored post on Facebook from Neil Gaiman talking about his 'The Art of Storytelling' class on Masterclass, a platform I'd never heard of before. But I clicked it immediately - the title and the teacher suggested that it was going to be more than just a creative writing class - and investigated the website, online reviews and so on.
   I signed up the next day for a measly £85.
   Because of my editing, I've only managed to spare the time for one class a week, usually on a Saturday, which involves about 20 minutes of watching a video of Mr Gaiman telling me so many wonderful things, and then 15 minutes reading through a PDF summary, and then between 30 and 90 minutes of a writing exercise.
   I've done only 9 lessons (out of 19), and a few have left me in tears because, so far (with the exception of technical work on short stories, which I had never tried to write before last month), everything else he's taught me, I've already been doing. But I was unaware I was doing it.
   An example: Gaiman talks about sources of inspiration, and that most young/new writers will just list off other writers who do similar things. And, while that's not wrong, it's not honest. His wife is a musician, and so she lists off other musicians. He said it took her a long time to realise that novelist Judy Blume had always been a big source of inspiration for her. And just as Neil Gaiman will list off other writers, he doesn't often talk about musician Lou Reed, whose honesty in songs showed him that he could be honest in his art, too, and that he was and is a massive influence, because, as he said, 'words in songs matter, because you don't get many of them. You have to make them count.'
   I can list off Sapkowski, Eddings, Tolkien - and I always did when submitting to literary agents. But only upon watching that video did I realise that, actually, they don't inspire me that much. Not actively. I just enjoy reading them the most. No, my inspiration comes from a passion for anthropology, for nature and natural sciences, from folklore, from Lindsey Stirling and Two Steps From Hell, from archaeology and  history. These are the things that shape my stories.
   When that was drummed in, I realised that, actually, while I've been doing it right (ie not trying to copy other writers), I've been presenting myself all wrong. The inspiration was there, my own individual influences, but I never noticed them even while I applied them. And just listing off other writers doesn't do anything for publishers or literary agents because all it shows them are your reading habits. It doesn't show them who you are or what you write. They don't want to know what's in your bookcase, they want to know what's in your heart.
   This has been the case with every lesson so far, and while I've not necessarily learned anything I can apply to my work (please don't think that I'm boasting!) I have learned that, if I were to resubmit my work to agents, I might actually have a better chance because I'll be giving them the insight into me and my work that they actually want, not what I think they want.

   I also finally got my eyes tested. Staring at screens as rigidly as I have been has left me with gradually increasing eye strain, and my husband suggested a while ago that I get them checked. I refused, adamant that I was fine. Well, I finally got around to it last month, and while my eyes are in perfect health, there is a weakness in my left eye, and my mid-range isn't great - mid-range being computer-distance. So they recommended concentration glasses to wear whenever I'm using something at that range for more than 20 minutes, and since I got them, I've definitely noticed that my eyes shake less, my vision doesn't blur as much and I've not gotten any headaches at all.

   I admit, I've always wanted glasses, but not if I didn't need them. I was never going to buy clear glass lenses just as an affectation. But the fact that I have some now for computer work, well, that's kind of cool. And I won't need them all the time, because when I actually write, I only tend to look at the screen for five minutes before staring out of the window at the trees outside in thought, or looking up to the TV if my husband is playing a game.

   So it's been a heavily literary two months, and now that I've finished the concentration-editing (all that's left is formatting, spell check, word alterations and replacements) I'm moving on to the book cover. That's still going to take a lot of time, but it is what it is, and I'm going to study The Art of Storytelling more closely. I don't want to do a lesson every day because nothing will sink in, but two a week should be good. I usually listen to the lesson again at some point a few days after the first watch to recap, refresh and really let it sink in. It seems to work for me.
   I plan to resubmit The Zi'veyn in May, so I'm hoping to have the course finished by then so that I can apply as much to my presentation as possible, and be able to say that I've done it (they want to know about courses, too). With 10 lessons left, I can be done in 5 weeks, by the end of April. That can work.

   I've been planning the third book in between all this work, of course, and I think I could be ready to start writing it in a few weeks. I've been planning on paper, so I have to get all my notes typed up and arranged, but the plan is coming together quite well. I wanted the second book to feel different to the first, but I'm not sure that it did. The third book, however, should be quite different.
   I'll update again when I actually make a start - and when book covers are done!


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