I haven’t written a blog post since January for two reasons. First: I reduced the level of my antidepressant to a half-dose. Which resulted in the return of the grey depression which has been a spirit-robbing Dementor in my life. It’s been pitching up on a regular basis since I was first presented squirming to the Child Psychiatrist, Mr. Cheatle, in Romford at the age of 13. Instead of insisting I change the dose, I should have known better.
I mentioned, or howled, this to my current shrink. He was unsurprised. So I’ve now recommenced the usual dose after his ‘good telling off’. Furthermore, as my depression seems worse in winter, I figured I would give one of those SAD lamps a try. Anything to lighten up my spirits. I am now writing in the sunny front room, as opposed to dark dining-room, at least until that promising package arrives. If you see me walking around with green wig, snooker ball nose and giant, floppy shoes, it’s worked. Still, chin up.
Second: my head has been bursting full of the first draft of the novel I created during NaNaWriMo in November. But knowing the old advice was to let the first draft sit for a while meant that I was going through the motions over Christmas and New Year, feeling frustrated and wanting to “get on with it” and yet apparently paralysed (probably by the depression) to write anything much. Lots of ideas for other, later books but no real oomph to blog, plan, outline, or otherwise create much at all. Note to self: get out of self. Help others, wash windows…
What I have been able to manage, at least with my WIP, is to follow instructions laid down by others in some recent and practical books by authors who’ve known just what it is we go through when either (a) trying to write a first draft and (b) what to do with it once we’ve produced it. Being in a low mood meant I needed to have my hand held. These then, have been the books that did it:
- No Plot? No Problem! – Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo saw me through the first 23 days of November and, with this book beside me, I delivered 71,529 “crappy first draft” words in that time. Split into parts, before NaNo and during, I read each part for the appropriate stage and learned to ditch my carping inner-editor, probably for the first time ever. Returning to writing after a break of many years, I doubted my ability and my stamina. I had no need to fear. Baty’s positive book allowed me to get the job done with no doubts. And to “risk making something crappy”. I completed the challenge of 50,000 words on Day 17. Maybe I wouldn’t have without the help of this book and the NaNoWriMo Essex Facebook Group who were such fun fellow scribes.
- Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books And How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence – Roz Morris, I call “The Creative Midwife“. I was already half-way through that pantsy first draft when my next Amazon package arrived. Let me just say here that these were by no means the first writing books I’ve ever owned and some of mine go back to the 1970s and 1980s. I needed fresh voices, people with modern knowledge and experience of the writing process and I found another great guide in Roz Morris. She helped me complete that first draft and to deal productively with the m/s before the rewrite. She taught me how to beat-sheet so that I could see the different strands, colours and rhythms in that first draft, what needed changing, cutting, expanding. I am now at the revision/rewrite/2nd draft stage. But I have a much clearer idea of where I’m going than I would have done without this book. Roz also has a helpful blog of the same name: Nail Your Novel.
- The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson and Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland – Now these two, I’ve bought since finishing that first draft but the process of beat-sheeting (see Nail Your Novel) has enabled me to both re-outline and re-plot, ready for the second draft. Martha Alderson is a great one for stickies or post-it notes and I have them on two walls, currently denoting 49 scenes. So I am mixing it up with Nail Your Novel there. K.M. Weiland’s book is one I am finding useful to read generally and especially when I’m thinking about the details. Of plot, characters, scenes, structure, setting. Again I’m finding these to be helpful in a generous-spirited, practical and current way. K.M. Weiland has a very informative website. And another useful blog from Martha Alderson in The Plot Whisperer.
- Write To Be Published – by Nicola Morgan, aka The Crabbit Old Bat. This came next on my Unconfident Returning Writer’s Wish List and has been nothing but a delight. Nicola is full of sensible, good advice borne of experience about writing and she may be no-nonsense but is not unkind nor lacks empathy. She knows what we go through. Both this and Nail Your Novel have realistic advice about the submission/publication/rejection process and so I continue to use them both with my current WIP. As my only experience of publishing was back in the 90s writing on WordPerfect 5.1 on an Amstrad for magazines – and writing a book is quite another animal – there is always something I can learn. Another generous and helpful blog here: Help! I Need A Publisher!
- Just by the by: Chris, Nicola and Roz know we are some of the most insecure people to have ever wobbled about the planet. For the record, I did once write 40,000 words of a book. Crippling depression, another illness and my mother saying “And who are you to write a book” (ha, ideas above my station) rather put paid to my writerly ambitions for a long while. But I allowed them to and that is the thing. Nicola Morgan in particular recognises that we are all insecure, that there is nothing particularly luxuriant about writing and that’s why we can allow ourselves… chocolate. Now that’s reassuring to know; perhaps it cures depression, too!
Depression isn’t the only creativity-killer and I’m sure I’m not the only writer to have used books and blogs to guide me, goad me or simply help me achieve my WIP. Which have been your particular favourites, and why?