Endings, Beginnings and Where Nexts

Barring a strong North Easterly, computer meltdown or a distorted sense of conscience, I should complete the first draft of my current Work In Progress Scars & Stripes in the next few days. It has been a strange and wondrous writing journey, raking through the bones and memories (and indeed the odd scar or two) of my past so that I can cook it all up as a fictional stew.

At the moment, the main plot is broadly similar to the original experience: boy splits from girl, boy decides to try a new life in America, boy has interesting adventures and hopefully learns something then boy comes back to Britain again. (Because back in the eighties, we hardly ever said 'UK'.) There's been a little shuffling and tweaking of the actual chronology and some of the characters are finally developing original little quirks of their own, which is all to the good.

My basic rule is to try and keep original dialogue when it's particularly evocative, even if the circumstances surrounding the exchange are altered. Or failing that, the essence of the dialogue. On occasion though, it does feel a little like theft. My writer friend Christine recently reminded me that all novelists must have a shard of ice at their heart (and apologies to Chris if I'm misquoting her slightly ) and I think I know what she means now.

Novel writing, whatever else it is, requires contrast and tone, and above all, conflict. Although I strive to avoid dividing characters into two neat piles of hero and villain, the fact remains that some characters are pro protagonist and some anti. Let's face it, that is in part what drives the plot forwards. In the first full edit, I aim to round out the main characters and personalities, including the one that the book revolves around. Partly to make it a more engaging book and partly so that it is sufficiently different from 'real life'. The last thing I want is for anyone in it to see themselves and take umbrage.

So with Scars & Stripes reaching the finishing post first time around, I find myself wondering what to work on next in my spare time. I have the second Thomas Bladen book Line of Sight at second draft and I already have the first stirrings of the next Bladen book. It's hard to know where to put my time and focus next. And while it's great to have the muse around, maybe she could pop out for a bit and get me a contract!

Wheat, chaff and the golden calf

Writing professionally is based upon three cornerstones: the ability to produce quality material, having the necessary time to do it and getting the money afterwards. The way I see it, take away any one of that trinity and you're left with a very wonky stool indeed - and one that's lying on the floor. Or perhaps a pleasant hobby. Or an unpleasant one.

The Internet is not just a beacon of hope, it's a veritable kaleidoscope of potential, possibilities and paydirt. And some other 'p' words too that we won't go into right now. But there comes a time when even the hardiest and most optimistic of writers (unless they have a private trust fund) has to turn their editorial eye to the balance sheet and cost-justify some of their activities.

On the basis of numbers and probability (see, another 'p' word), there will certain business models on the Internet that work for a certain amount of time or a certain amount of people. Sometimes it's the newness of a thing and other times it's the originality or timeliness of a concept. But it's a wise soul who knows when to get off that bandwagon that you ran so fast to catch up with, even though it was already full of people who were counting their money and quite a few who weren't.

So I'm starting the year off by casting a critical eye over my all-seeing spreadsheet to separate the profitable from the what-if-able. I've waxed cynical in these posts before about the Battle of Craigslist, but despite the occasional skirmish, it is still a fertile site for doing business. Some opportunities are more long-term for payback and it's still a case of keeping your eye on the ball to ensure you're not just wasting your time.

My dalliance with Absence (see what I did there) for example seems to have run its course. I didn't mind the trickle feed so much as the four light years it would seem to take before I saw that trickle reaching my pocket. It could be that I just wasn't writing the write sort of content or it could be that the sites I write / wrote for were more aspirational than operational. In the final analysis, I could be spending the time more productively somewhere else. (I gather shelling peas can be quite popular, for example.)

The two stars in their ascendancy are ghostwriting and copywriting. Each assignment is music to a writer's ears - a brief, a timescale, a pay rate and pay date. And depending on your specialisms, it's a very creative way to turn a buck.

Principally: Green Living; Mind, Body & Spirit; Project Management; People Management; Personal Achievement and Goal Setting; Humour; Relationships; Comedy Writing and Creative Writing - seeing as you asked.

Backwards and Forwards

Some of the writers I know don't pay much heed to Christmas and New Year. There are deadlines to meet and things to be done, interspersed with the occasional mince pie. Plus, you're always thinking ahead - it may be January on paper, but my trusty spreadsheet says it's time to think about summer articles and ideas for Christmas piece pitches.

But, in the spirit of the calendar, it's a good time to pause and reflect on a 2010 writing year.

A fair amount of work came from the US and Canada and of course I was kept busy at A Word with You Press, where the regular writing competitions and ever growing community make for a lively crowd. Notable successes were in writing content for greetings cards and for magazine articles. I also edited a complete novel for a fellow writer, Martin.

Sadly, I still haven't placed my own novels. There were more rejections than ever and more submissions than ever (God loves a trier, as our mum used to say). In general, the lead-time for a response from an agent or publisher was extended from 12 weeks to well over 16. And even then I got the impression on a couple of occasions that writers are nothing more than an inconvenience to them.

I only got ripped off a couple of times - once by a would-be editor who needed some eBook material expanded and then she didn't feel the need to pay for it; and once by a publisher who was in such dire need of stamps and my submitted material (presumably for kindling) that they were unable to respond to a registered letter, after waiting six months. The weird thing is they they were much more attentive when they wanted to contract me to purchase 150 copies of the finished novel myself as part of the deal; funny that.

And the forwards part?
My first priority is completing the first draft of Scars & Stripes, a standalone novel about a Brit living in the US, set in the late eighties. A short tale The Wanderer is on the table for publication by AWwYP in the spring and I'd like to get started on the first draft of another Thomas Bladen related novel. Making some money would also be a positive move, preferably with regular clients (you know who you are!).

So for those of you who read or who write and read, here's to a creative 2011.