Big Smoke Writing Factory: student blog

Big Smoke students blogging! The Big Smoke Writing Factory provides creative writing courses and workshops at 7 Lower Hatch St, Dublin 2. Existing students: if you'd like access to the blog, drop us an email at, or ask your facilitator.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Reader anxiety

Hello from (thankfully) not rainy Edinburgh! (If you ever want to take a writing holiday for a few days, I definitely recommend Edinburgh--nice places to eat and lots of parks to walk around in while teasing out plot points in your head.) I'm in the middle of running around packing (has my carry on suitcase shrunk? I fitted all this in going over!), but I figured I would write a blog post before heading home.

So my biggest news is that the third draft of the werewolves has now been edited to an inch of its life and my current capabilities. In less pompous terms, I may have stuck the DO NOT DISTURB sign outside my hotel door and spent six hours going through the last of my editing lists. I had three: 'long term', 'short term', and 'arc'. For long term, I had bullet points like 'make sure Z says this because it becomes important six chapters later'; for short term: 'make sure S gets upset during Scene X as her reaction wasn't believable last time'; for arc: 'V reacts differently to scene at end vs scene in Chapter 2 as by now she's been hit by the Empathy stick a couple of times'. (I feel editing lists must have a lot of pathetic humour. It makes it all a little more bearable.)

This is awesome, you would think! A month of going through each chapter, cutting and rewriting and moving things around (I didn't have to do a lot of that last, thankfully, as most of the scene moving happened during Draft Three itself), and now I'm done! Off to readers, and they'll say it's fabulous, right?


I can't quite bring myself to email it to my readers yet. Part of it, I think, is being unable to wrap my head around actually being done for now. I started Draft Three back in late August (I think, somewhere in late summer anyway) and I can honestly say I've spent a lot of time on it. More hours than I care to think about, split between work and sleeping and attempting to have a social life. My brain keeps thinking there must be one more thing I've forgotten to fix, one more subplot I forgot about halfway through. A few of these readers have been there since I mentioned back in May 2008, "Hey, I was thinking about writing this book, and it has lesbian werewolves in it, and would anyone be up for reading when it's done?" (Yeah, didn't think it would be almost two years later. If I'd known, would I have run screaming? Who knows.)

By Draft Three, the book should be good. It should make people want to read more. What if I can't rewrite properly? What if after two years the book still sucks, and I haven't realised yet. What if everyone hates it, which will be horrible as they've followed my writing updates for years, and they will feel cheated and let down and they will never read anything by me again.

Yes, I do know most of the above is irrational to the nth degree. If some of them don't like it, well, nothing I can do if it's down to personal taste. Not everyone likes every book in the world, and a writer could go mad trying to create such a thing. I've worked on most of these drafts with input from maybe three people at most (good input, I shall add!). Even when they've suggested changes, I've been the one who's sat down, stared at the screen, and thought, "Okay, how do I make this better?" To put it simply: it's been two years, and I am way too close to this ridiculous pile of words to have any objective view. Which is why I'm giving it to people to read so they can tell me I have to stand back, get some distance, and look again.

They're not expecting a perfect draft (I hope). They're expecting a reasonably polished one, which I hope it is. I'm sure they'll have feedback and criticism, which will make it better so an agent won't reject it out of hand. I really hope they'll like reading it. I could easily do another month of fiddling (let's be honest: the book could be on a shelf in a bookstore, and I could pick it up and zone in on something I would change.) But until I press send on that email with the attachment, I won't know, and it'll only be my own perfectionist anxieties running around in my head. Not common sense and a healthy dose of detachment.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

The Joy of Colour.

I've decided my week now goes from Wednesday to Wednesday as its the easiest way to measure the shortfall between what I told myself I'd do with a week vs what I achieved. This week I managed 1 and a bit of my promises to myself. So not a great week but one of those one's were random stuff cropped up and got in the way.

I did manage to dust the bookcase and colour code my books after the painters left. None of that genre/alphabetizing stuff for me. Your bookcase is a work of art more personal than most. All those lovely pages are encased in lovely colours. Let your eye run over them and calm the mind. I can't quite fit it all in the picture and discovered I've added about 2 shelf worths since I last did a reshuffle so due to space restrictions I had to double shelve some of them. Its hard to choose who has to live in the dark.For the eagle eyed of you the bottom shelf is hardback art and anthropology books that are too heavy for the upper shelves so the easiest solution was to have a mini light to dark row.

On a side note I finished reading Meg Rosoff's Just In Case this afternoon. I put the book down, turned on the telly and at that precise moment Judge Judy was handing down a judgement to a man named, wait for it, Justin Case. There was nearly a tea disaster. Managed to escape chuckle induced burns and a trip to A+E so all's well.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

POV Woes

I kept waiting for the perfect topic to post here before I realised it probably wouldn't present itself promptly, so I decided to ramble talk about something I've been worrying about lately: Point of View.

(Background info: I'm editing the third draft of my teen novel before giving it to the hapless people to read so they can tell me whether it sucks or not, or if it would be better for the world if it mysteriously disappeared. I'm joking about that last part. Maybe.)

Point of View can make or break a book--choose the wrong one, and you might have missed a way to create perfect, gem-like scenes that resonate with the perfect emotion and circumstance that keeps your reader turning pages (I'm exaggerating slightly). I wrote the first draft of the novel in first person, mostly because that was how the first paragraph formed in my head and I went with it. I figured using first person would be a good way to give the reader a glimpse into my main character's head, her motivations, the way she viewed the people and world around her, while also giving subtle glimpses into how the world and people viewed her in return.

Yeah. What I forgot in those wild, heady weeks of recklessly churning out a first draft and worrying about things like plot and sense later (like in the second draft) was that first person is hard. And not suited to every book. As I especially found out towards the end, when everything tied into a lot of blood and violence (I write about werewolves. Blood and violence are a given, no matter how much coffee they drink or what job they hold down. Some things the gene pool just can't get rid of), first person was making all those scenes of blood and violence go in directions I wasn't happy with.

In hindsight, the hints were there early on, but I gritted my teeth and told myself I'd worry about it later.

Something I learned the hard way: when the writing part of your brain is sending you red lights, warning signals, and every Bad Feeling Possible--DON'T IGNORE IT. Instead of just having 20,000 words to fix, I ended up with over 50,000 and an approaching breakdown.

I may have had a couple of beers... and glasses of wine... and wailed at my housemates that this book was terrible, the whole idea was terrible, and I couldn't do it. I couldn't fix it.

These moments are good. But make sure you wail at someone who's not afraid to yell at you. Also make sure you can give yourself a metaphorical kick in the ass.

I went out with a Writer Friend and she let me talk about the book and my POV worries. She agreed that because of Certain Things I Cannot Reveal Because Of Spoilers, third person would probably suit the book better. I took a deep breath, shoved the moping aside, and sat down with a notebook and reworked the outline for third person limited. Then I rewrote the first chapter.

It worked. The third person was limited to Violet, so I still had the benefits of first person, but also the necessary distance I felt had been lacking in the first person draft. I wrote the second draft and felt awesome... until someone read it and quietly pointed out the scene and structural problems I had somehow missed. There may have been more beer before the third draft, but that's another story for another day.

So why did I decide to write a whole post about my POV fears? I got back a critique of the first 50 pages of the book last week (I did a critique swap with another girl) and one of the things she mentioned was that she thought the book might work better in first person.

I admit it: my immediate reaction was to shriek, "Nooooooo!" at the top of my lungs. I am not ashamed of this.

As of now, I'm not too keen about going back to first person in the fourth draft. I don't think it suits, and I think if the critiquer had read the whole book, she might agree with me. I'm going to mention it to my readers when they get the book, and we'll see what they think. If they agree with her, I may need to sit down with a notebook and figure out if I misjudged my POV decision.

Not with beer, though.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Yay blogs!!

You know, I never really saw myself as a blogger, but when you get to blog about writing? How could I possibly resist!!

Just finished writing a little scene that came to me about an hour ago while I was walking home from the train station. It's not so much a scene per say, but a dialogue that will become a scene once I finish my geology assignment. Some say geology rocks - I say that they've been hit by one too many pieces of schist!

Anyway, back to my scene! Very exciting scene actually, because I've been wondering how my main character and this girl (also a main character) were going to approach this topic (very dramatic and ooooh), and it all became crystal clear just now! Imagine if I had actually gone to my four o'clock lecture! The creative world would be in turmoil!

I also had a little brainwave about the living quarters of the werewolves in my book whilst on the train home (has anyone else noticed that even though the head honchos in Iarnrod Eireann are a bunch of crooks, the train is still a fantastic pondering spot?). I recommend just staring out of the window in an empty carriage (or one where most people are asleep) and seeing your characters in all these different locations. It'll open up a whole load of new possibilities for you!

All in all, it has been a very good day for writing and it's not even over yet. Now if I could only get this cat to stop clawing the bejesus out of my leg...

Sunday 7 February 2010

Okay guys! Blog's all yours - go wild! :)

Thursday 31 December 2009

First post!

Hi folks! This is a space for those taking courses at the Big Smoke Writing Factory to share information about writing goals, targets, issues, etc. We're not quite sure how it'll develop yet, but let's see how it goes!