When I mark a pupil''s work I always give 'Next Steps' - a process which requires me to identify problems and give solutions to those problems. Sometimes I ask pupils to self-assess their work - identify their own problems and solutions. 99 times out of 100 they suck at this. But it turns out I do too. Or, at least, I did.
You see, all these years of writing first chapters - and sometimes second chapters and very occasionally third chapters - I was far too arrogant to realise that I needed help. I thought, "I have an English Literature degree. I am literally a Master of Arts! I know what I am doing." Oh, how wrong I was.
My epiphany came when I found Kate Cavanaugh's YouTube channel. Serendipitously her viral "I tried writing like J. K. Rowling for 2 days" popped up in my recommended videos. And suddenly I was introduced to a whole online world of people who knew so much more than me about writing novels than me. Luckily, I was not so arrogant that I ignored this blessing from the vestiges of the YouTube algorithm. I finally realised that I needed Next Steps if I was ever going to write those two tantalising words - "The End".
By binge watching authortube - thank you Kate Cavanaugh, Alexa Donne, Natalia Leigh to name but a few - I was able to finally identify my own problems and possible solutions. And now I am going to purge myself my admitting my (embarrassing) faults...
The Main Problems
I had absolutely no idea how plot works. The phrase "inciting incident" was a revelation indeed. This one stings to admit given that I am an English teacher with the aforementioned degree. I was trying to "pants" my way to the end of a novel and - as it turns out - I am actually a plotter. Who knew?
This one really hurts to admit so I'm going to preface it with an excuse - my job really does take up most of my available brain power and I do read to my pupils. I wasn't reading. Like, at all. I had lost the joy of actually consuming literature. I know. Bad bad bad.
I absolutely despised everything I wrote and would try to go back and edit it as I was writing which made me just hate it even more. I'm led to believe this vicious cycle is not uncommon.
Research. Research. Research. I binge-watched authortube and binge-read R/Writing. I tried to find writing podcasts to listen to in the car. I bought Save the Cat Writes a Novel and began reading it. I listened, I read and a I learned, banking as much useful information as I could find and filling notebooks full of ideas, draft outlines and character profiles.
I re-developed a reading habit. Right now, I'm comfortably reading one book a week (thank you Lockdown) and I'm reading widely - a variety of classics and frivolous page-turners. I don't have lofty literary aspirations so the frivolous page-turners are important as well as enjoyable!
One piece of advice has really resonated with me. In a video where Natalia Leigh interviewed iWriterly on YouTube (link here), iWriterly says, "the first draft is where you tell yourself the story." This really resonated with me. It's not for consumption by anyone other than yourself. The purpose is to get words on the page. Those words can be sorted out much later! Essentially, my goal changed. Being published - people reading my work - that is a dream. My goal is to simply finish a messy first draft - to finish telling myself a story.
Right now I have a beat-sheet outline and just over 5000 words. But I am better prepared than ever before! Now to stop procrastinating and try to up that word count!