“A Plot Should Not Be Where the Writer is Buried … ?”

Thus states Chapter Three’s title in Donna Levin’s ‘Get That Novel Written’, one of the writerly self-help guides on my shelf. Sadly, I clearly haven’t succeeded in what the book encouraged me in 1996 to accomplish. This lack of success is despite the desire I’ve had since my late teens to write novels, and in spite of the writing courses I’ve undertaken and the countless hours I’ve spent in trying to realise my ambition.

I have managed publication of  non-fiction feature articles for magazines, but success in fiction has long remained my true goal. To this end I devoted a huge amount of time, effort and imagination into planning, plotting and completing the first draft of a children’s fantasy trilogy – ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. However, two years ago I became blocked – the writer’s curse. I mothballed the project and am only now contemplating  doing something constructive with it, and just maybe achieving what I set out to do in the first place – write a novel.

Exciting 1st Novel by Eamon Griffin

The recent wish to rekindle my writing has coincided with the discovery a couple of days ago that one of my writing tutors, Eamon Griffin, has succeeded in having his first novel published – a historical novel set in 1666, the time of the great fire of London. I know that this story is one that Eamon has been working on for some considerable time and I’m thrilled that he’s not only completed the work but had it published, too. The book, entitled ‘The Prospect of This City’, is now among my collection and I can’t wait to read it. I’m a big fan of C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series set in Tudor England, as well as Rory Clements with his Elizabethan equivalents, and although these will be hard acts for anyone to follow, I’ve read some of Eamon’s previous work and I’m sure ‘Prospect’ will stand up well against these two heavyweights.

Two heavyweights of historical fiction
Two heavyweights of historical fiction

My discovery of Eamon’s work has come at the end of a week in which I’ve resurrected my old writing projects and in which I’ve tried to marshal my enthusiasm, inspiration, resources and creativity to complete what I set out to do. His success has helped inspire me to buck my ideas up and knuckle down to some real work. As Stephen King states in his (excellent) memoir ‘On Writing’:

… if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well … ”

For those (like me, perhaps) who have sat around waiting for a sudden spark to trigger inspiration, King also says:

There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station.”

So, if there is a muse (and I know there is as he once visited me – and, indeed, stayed awhile) there is also optimism. I just need to seek Mister Muse out – and that’s what I’m doing right now for, make no mistake, writing is writing, whether it be blog, journal, fiction-manuscript or shopping-list. Well, maybe not the last one. Writing, whatever the form, is the greasing-of-the-wheels by which our creative motors keep ticking over, ready to ramp up once our eyes glaze over and we trip into the zone once again, fingers a-blur on the keyboard.

But where do I find inspiration. Perhaps Stephen King has the answer again with his view that:

Not just a memoir but a superb guide to the craft of writing
Not just a memoir but a superb guide to the craft of writing

… most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: ‘I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this!’ What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff.”

With this in mind and to help spur me on to great things I’ve pulled a book out of our local library. It’s one of Shaun Hutson’s offerings, Shaun being an author with many successful horror/thriller titles to his name. I’ve read some of his books before, and each time I have, the “I can do better” thought crosses my mind. I’m not saying he’s a bad writer – he certainly produces page-turners for his target audience and no doubt earns a decent living by it. But he’s no Booker-Prize winner and my view remains … I’m sure I can write better. That’s why I’d rather read his work for inspiration than something by a master wordsmith, as the last thing I wish to do is sit here, hands poised above the keyboard, crushed by inferiority even before I commit one word to paper.

Clearly, if I’m to succeed in completing my project I have to first of all realise what’s gone wrong previously – aside from giving up, of course. Possibly Donna Levin has the answer in her chapter header. You see, my approach previously has been to outline my story and its plot structure to the minutest detail, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Okay, wayward characters sometimes switch points and head off down a slightly different track, but the tale isn’t derailed. It’s simply adopted a slightly different route to get exactly where I wanted it to go in the first place. Outlining isn’t for everyone, I grant you, but I’m comfortable with it. However, maybe I’m not allowing sufficient spontaneity and am losing interest – or even reaching ‘burn-out’ due to the convoluted process I’ve adopted.

A useful tool once you get past the infuriating format
A useful tool once you get past the infuriating format

But what should I be doing instead? I’ve already stated that Eamon was the tutor on a writing course I attended. The subject was novel writing and it was held at Grimsby College. On the course Eamon introduced me to ‘The Snowflake Method’. It made sense at the time but I’d already embarked on the outlining process for my project using my ‘New Novelist’ software. New Novelist, you see, has a very structured approach – ideal for an anal retentive like me. Or, maybe hindsight has proved that it wasn’t so perfect after all. So, here I am re-assessing ‘Snowflake’ and have even bought Randy Ingermanson’s book on the subject; clearly written but having the most infuriating approach possible. I mean, Goldilocks? Why?

NN v.1 - Now in the bin
NN v.1 – Now in the bin

Finally, having decided that ultimate outlining isn’t for me, and having tossed New Novelist (version 1) in the bin – it wasn’t compatible with Windows 8 anyway – I’ve opted for an alternative writer’s software package with which I may order my plot-lines, character profiles, research findings, notes etc. The package I’ve chosen is ‘Write It Now 5’. It appears to have the bells and whistles to allow even the most complex tale to be ordered and crafted, yet provides complete freedom in its structure. It is certainly ‘user friendly’ and I look forward to putting it to the test.

Write it Now - just what I should be doing
Write it Now – just what I should be doing

So, with dark nights looming, trash on the TV and the continuous buzzing of plot-twists and the constant chatter of character dialogue in my brain I think it’s time to have another go at trying to become the novelist I’ve long wanted to be.

Here goes …

3 thoughts on ““A Plot Should Not Be Where the Writer is Buried … ?”

  1. I can totally relate. Thank you for being so open with your journey.

    I listened to (as opposed to reading) Pressfield’s, “The Authentic Swing,” yesterday evening. The whole thing. Ba Boom! It’s an insightful book talking about the writing of his first novel. I came away with the feeling that my “muse” connects with me the same way his connects with him. I felt encouraged. He’s Jewish and I have a hope that I might be part Jewish. (My dad’s mother’s last name.)

    Pressfield works with an amazing editor, Shawn Coyne, whose book, “The Story Grid,” makes the best case I’ve ever read for structuring plot according to the reader’s expectations for each genre. It’s quite complex and detailed. The exact sort of thing that’s “too much work” for 74% of aspiring fiction writers, too far beneath the 3% who look down dismissively (from on high) at genre fiction, and too much the opposite of “creative” for 22% of the remaining 23. Therefore it’s the key to success in this business. 😉 I’m only half kidding.

    My characters are undisciplined and have always refused to follow any of the outlines I’ve ever written for them, but they’re gradually coming around. I hope to have the self-discipline to learn to use the complex, sage advice in The Story Grid, without losing that essential feeling (essential to me) that my characters are real people somewhere in a multiverse.

    By the way, I’ll reply to your interesting and kind email soon. I wanted to get over here and read more of your thoughts first, that’s all. Wonderful website! Very interesting.


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