Livestream (27/02/2021)

Yesterday I took part in “Don’t Drink and Live!” with Kent Shawn, Bethany J. Votaw and Colin Clark, which was a wonderful discussion of writing topics with some live flash-fiction writing and reading from both the on-screen audience and viewers in the chat.

I was delighted to be included in this and look forward to more of these in the future! It was lots of fun to chat craft with some really talented people and engage with the community!

Check out the whole livestream of three wondrous hours below on the Kent Shawn YouTube channel:

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Articles, Writing

One Track Mind: The importance – and pitfalls of – project monogamy

So far this year I’ve done a great job in implementing some of the ideas I had to re-organise my workflow and keep busy.

An important part of these plans is allowing for the flexibility to change priorities for certain projects. For instance, with my upcoming horror novella Nightmare Tenant, I’d pretty much completed the new draft in January as planned, but I had some things left to do so I’ve given myself some time in February to get that done and then, while that project is beta-read, I can work on something else.

One important thing I have not done is to work on two separate projects concurrently, which is the focus of today’s discussion.

I am openly fearful of working on more than one project at a time – whether that be for a month, week or sometimes even a particular day. I think it’s an issue I will need to keep a close eye on in future if I want to max out the time I have.

First thing to identify is why I am a stickler for strict project monogamy:

  • Splitting my time means neither project progresses fast: I feel a bitty, bit-here-bit-there approach results in precisely why I had to overhaul my writing planning late last year – doing a dab here on one thing, a dab there on something else actually results in very little getting done on either project. This results, ultimately, in wasted time I come to regret later.
  • Each project takes my whole focus: for instance, last month with the Nightmare Tenant edit, that project took all my creative energy as it was an intensive process that required me to make a lot of changes. I needed to be as invested in that project’s world as possible, especially during a crucial first edit. I’ve found that I have a certain amount of creative focus in any given period of time and projects tend to take up most of that when I’m working on them.
  • Momentum must not be squandered: when I was preparing the third draft of my post-apocalyptic adventure novel The Thaw, I got about halfway into the edit, making decent, steadfast progress and then stopped. It took me six months to restart that and I found, after leaving myself high and dry halfway in, I’d lost a lot of the circulating thoughts and immersion in the world. This made rebuilding that momentum a great deal harder. Therefore, I feel the lesson from that is that a project should only be shelved – and a new focus found – when your current work is in a position of done-ness that allows for that. I would never leave an edit half-way through again, which is why I had to be realistic last month and give Nightmare Tenant a few more days to prepare. Months are arbitrary units of time, and if a project needs the time, it should get it.
  • I feel I owe it to my projects: If I know I’m not giving a project the attention it rightly deserves to I execute it to the best of my ability, I become genuinely quite upset. This is because I’m very conscious of what I’m doing, and that it’s hurting the project I want to enjoy working on. Ultimately, it makes the project a lot less fun – as writing, to me, always should be, as this is a passion and a hobby at its most base level – and when writing isn’t fun, I don’t enjoy it. And not enjoying the writing process results in crappy products that ultimately require more work than if I’d not been two-timing them with something else.

I realise a lot of the reasoning here is a bit fuzzy. That’s okay, writing should always have that mysteriousness to it. But I also realise my monogamous nature when it comes to projects is ultimately not fully efficient. I feel being able to switch tracks – maybe not day-to-day but perhaps in a less granular format than my monthly plans (maybe have two projects on the go – and editing one and a writing one, which already feels doable) – weekly or fortnightly – and allow for some creative flex.

I feel too it would be remiss not to mention a significant downside to my monogamous nature to my projects – especially large ones – is that sticking with one project for an extended period of time results in two undesired circumstances:

  • The project becomes stale: sitting in the incomplete world of one project for a long period of time – especially when progress seems sluggish or slow – seems to dampen my excitement for the project; it becomes, for want of a better term, a bit of a slog with no sign of completion.
  • Apprehension to starting something new: if I’m 8 months into an edit or draft that feels never-ending, or that the work to get it to standard seems like an intimidating cliff-face, why would I want to start that process, which has resulted in apprehension, stress and fatigue again from scratch? There’s a definite shade of blank page syndrome there too which is most unhelpful as it leaves ideas languishing in that “I’m too scared to work on you” frame of mind, when the break and sense of wonderment and discovery might just be the ticket.

I like to end these posts with a positive reflection, and initially I wasn’t too sure in this case, but I think this situation requires careful and continual monitoring to get the balance right and get out of perhaps unhealthy writing habits, which I have discussed before.

I would be very interested to see if anyone else relates to the issues above!

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Articles, Writing

Defrosting The Thaw: Analysing Beta-Reader Feedback

For my post-apocalyptic novel The Thaw, I’ve been lucky in that I have recently gained a great deal of useful feedback from a series of beta-readers, all of whom have now completed their reading of the third draft of the book and submitted their reports to me.

These comments are extremely useful and I’m grateful of the time all of the beta readers put in to reading the book and also offering the feedback.

The question I have at this point is, now that I have the feedback, what do I do with it, and how can I make the most effective use of the comments I’ve been given, so I have recently given some thought as to how I can glean from the feedback the overall trends in the comments.

For the second draft, this plan was a lot easier as I only had one beta-reader report to deal with, and drawing up an action plan from that was easier with only one opinion to go from.

To draw up an action plan for the next edit, I quickly realised that this needs to be organised or it won’t be effective, and I think in previous posts I’ve talked about my shoot-from-the-hip approach to planning the story. I don’t want to rely on my intuition as much as it’s unreliable and it provides more of a mental tax on the creative process, which bogs one down.

So, as each of the reports has come through, what have my tactics been so far?

  • Firstly, I’ve been conducting a series of “debriefs” with each beta-reader, where possible. This has taken the form of an unstructured chat about the reading experience, dipping in to the feedback and generally just talking out ideas to resolve issues and points made in the feedback. I’ve already had some great ideas the implement into Draft 4 from these so far and I’ve more to do!
  • All of the feedback I’ve got has been imported from the individual responses into a main feedback spreadsheet. This has helped me, at a glance, view the different responses to each question. I’ve also tried to plan ahead and highlight salient points in the feedback as positive (in green) and things that need improvement (in red). I am deliberately not describing these red comments as “negative” as I think that term has connotations that don’t apply in this situation.

At this moment I have the main feedback form comments imported into my feedback spreadsheet (questions to the left, each beta-reader’s comments get their own column so I can at a glance compare and view different answers to various questions) and highlighted as appropriate. My next task is to add to the spreadsheet the various notes from the online debrief sessions I’ve been doing.

As I mentioned in my previous post about this beta-reading experience, I want the feedback to be all in one place for easy analysis, and this method of logging the feedback in an organised way is going to make my next task – drawing up an action plan for each of the questions, which will then feed back in turn into an overall master plan for the next draft – a lot easier.

Already I feel that I am a lot better prepared to squeeze the most value out of the feedback I’ve got for this book – I’m feeling confident, but there’s plenty of work to do. I’m glad I sent this draft to the beta-readers now as I was confident of its stature but there’s some golden ideas to further enhance it.

I think also looking back, my belated epiphany to the level of organisation is already paying off for this project and other ones. I’m working on a new project which I hope to talk about very soon wherein I’ve learned my lessons from the planning aspect of this story and it’s making the writing process considerably easier and more enjoyable!

I see myself as a “technical writer” so these insights into workflow and how it’s changed over time – for the better, I must add – help me reflect on my own process and how it is constantly evolving and becoming more efficient! Hopefully readers find this interesting too and helpful also.