Saturday 15 May 2021

On rhino hides and marmite toast - by Rowena House


Implausibly, the time allocated to writing this month’s ABBA post got gobbled up at the last minute with actual writing of actual words for the work-in-progress. Glory be! Not, I should add, actual words for Chapter Three, completing which has been my writing target since Noah first spotted a cloud in the sky, and which this month I spiked in its entirety (sob).

            No, the new words were extra layers added to Chapters One and Two.

            Yup. The two chapters supposedly put to bed weeks ago. Nay, months ago in the case of Chapter One. Eye roll emoji.

            Other highlights of my not-writing-this-post week included two online excursions into the world of books: first to explore Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (thank you, Cardiff Book Festival) and second, craft tips for hooking readers (hat tip, Arvon masterclasses and this week’s splendid tutor, JP Flintoff).

            Mr Flintoff gets the credit for there being a post here at all today.

            His advice (which I can’t remember how it links to hooking a reader but noted it down anyway) ran along familiar lines, the gist being: don’t be afraid to write something average. If you write often enough, even a first draft won’t be that bad.

            Trust your first instincts, he said, and get on with it.

            This advice is hardly new. [See ‘get it writ, then get it right’ and its permutations.] Nor is it advice I can take to heart for long, being a committed procrastinator/perfectionist. But it did pull me out of the doldrums whence I’d been dragged by a comment about my first three draft chapters on which, as mentioned a gazillion times, I’ve been working for a ridiculous length of time.

            Turns out the wound-proof rhino hide is thinning as the years go by.

            Or maybe it’s morphed into dragon hide: hard as tempered steel, except for a crack or two in tender spots. And this ‘critique’ had found a v. tender spot.

            Basically, I was told my opening places were generic.

            Generic!!! [Insert choice expletive.] I’d spent months scouring online archives for details about the place for Chapter Two. It’s Beth’s home, for pity sake. A real place. She left it to a female relative in her will. (Well done, her.) She wouldn’t describe it. She knows it inside out. A description would be totally out of character.

            Reluctantly, I conceded (to myself) the castle in Chapter One is a wee bit generic, the place in question having been closed down due to Covid19 and on the to-do list to visit. But, hey, what’s a pandemic between friends? Anyhow...

            Smarting, I gave up writing for a week in order to sulk. And to return to the comfort of research. In bed. With books all around me, eating marmite toast, with the dog chewing toilet rolls next to me and shedding black fur all over my borrowed white Egyptian cotton duvet cover.

            It was lovely.

            I didn’t take down a single note all week. I just read and sulked. And read some more until real life demanded I get up and do stuff. (Yay for early dawns and a lazy morning before nine am.)

            Bit by bit, fresh words arrived that might (just might) make Beth’s place more specific without being out of character.

            And that paragraph in Chapter Three which had been worth saving might (just might) fit into Chapter One. At a pinch.

            And a simple device of framing the chapter headings with their exact time and place might, just might, pin the whole thing down for a picky reader.

            Or any reader.

            And thus the story got the tiniest bit better and the tiniest bit longer.

            So that’s it, this month’s average words. I’m going into the garden next because the sun is shining and it’s May, one of the most beautiful months of the year here in Devon. It’ll nearly be the longest day when I’m blogging again.

            Scary, huh, the way time slips away.


@HouseRowena on Twitter


Occasional writerly words on RowenaHouseAuthor on FB


Penny Dolan said...

Glad you got past your great sulk - but some WIP's really do desrve a good sulking at!
Well done with the word count.

Becca McCallum said...

"And thus the story got the tiniest bit better and the tiniest bit longer." Love this!

Well done on working your way out of the sulk! I've been struggling with writing over the lockdowns but find having a daily word target of 200 helps. It's not too scary a word count to stop me from starting at all, and I frequently end up writing more.

Anne Booth said...

That's such a familiar and accurate snapshot of the writing process!

Rowena House said...

Thank you, Penny, Becca & Anne. Little by little! Good luck with yours, and 200 seems a good target. It really does add up as/When it's possible to stick to a word count target. I really must try it again.

LuWrites said...

Fabulous you got some words done! Speaking as someone with no deadlines (like many writers who keep writing books that go nowhere) it can be tough making the effort. Now keep going - write the rest and worry about what people think of chapters one and two later. Or unfriend/block your critics later... 😈

Rowena House said...

Good advice, Lu. As you say, tough to make the effort when the motivation is largely instrinsic. I think I'm writing this one as part of a PhD to generate some external 'demand'for it, otherwise it would be too easy to shrug and say, Who cares? Snuggling down in the comfort of research atm, but new words will get writ. One day. Good luck with yours.