Let’s talk Preptober

I meant to do a series of blog posts during this month. I did not write a single one and now Preptober is pretty much over. I didn’t even announce on this blog how I was planning – ha! – to tackle Preptober. I did write quite a long ‘update’ post on my WriYe progress thread though. That basically went over the summer months that I had lost to moving house. I looked at my goals for the year, and how I was approaching things, decided what was serving me and what wasn’t. Stuff like that.

The upshot was I gave Preptober the theme not just of writing preparation, but also of a search for writing confidence.

Improving my craft
I’ve been actively trying to improve my writing probably for the best part of twenty years. I remember being in high school and seeing a series called ‘Write Great Fiction’ which had I think 4 books in it. There was one on dialogue, one on description, I forget to be honest, but I was enamoured with them and what they represented – hope I could get better. In the last 14 years I have bought a number of writing courses and books, most of which I hadn’t done much with.

(side note: I don’t know about you, but I am great at accumulating resources, and much less good at actually using them)

Anyway, I thought as I needed some writing confidence quite desperately I would spend October immersed in the various courses. I think there was an even dozen I wanted to at least look through. I imagined that I would work through them systematically. I was determined to be a good student and be diligent in doing the exercises… yeah I know, obviously that didn’t happen.

BUT what happened instead was I made informed choices. I did read through ALL of the courses. I looked at what they had, and I decided whether it would be useful for me right now, whether it would be useful in the future, or possibly that I might have made a mistake (but hey it could still be useful in the future, never say never).

The exercise I found the most helpful was the one I picked out to do first. It was basically analysing my favourite book. Writing notes to work out why the hell it was so good, and how the author had achieved that. I wrote a few dozen pages of notes, and then I wrote up some conclusions based on the points I had made. I don’t know if I will be able to put these conclusions into practice in my own writing, but it felt fairly revelatory to me, and I have it written as a checklist for future revision if nothing else.

Another course I found helpful, more as a jumping off point than anything, was Creating a Culture. I used that as prompts to help me do the world building for Novembers novel. I have never planned a world in such depth before and I am hoping it will give my book layers and make it feel more realistic.

I did a few exercises from one of the description courses, and a handful from the ‘writing voice’ course. These actually were quite confidence-boosting as in abstract (in exercises at least), I felt like I could actually describe. It’s something I usually feel like I have major trouble with. Whether I’ll be able to apply it within the narrative of a story I don’t know. I suspect these exercises will be something I revisit when I’m more in the frame of mind to do ‘just exercises’.

Plotting for NaNo
I said above that I used the material for one of the courses to help with the world building. I also used a new piece of software. Using the discount code I got from winning April’s Camp I bought Plottr.

Now why did I do that? I bought Scrivener years ago, whenever they first made a Windows version, and I never got on with it. I eventually used it to help format my ebooks during that brief time when I published, but otherwise it was a waste as I didn’t use it. I like things simple I guess and I use Word Docs (gDocs these days) and that’s it. Only trouble is I was finding the more notes I had on things, like characters, world details etc. the harder it was to find and reference what I needed when writing. I would get confused, I would forget, I would half-remember and then spend ages looking for the actual answer. I got Plottr because I felt like I needed a better way.

I don’t yet know whether it will aid my writing process as I haven’t got that far yet. However, within Plottr I have all my notes on the world, on the characters, and a complete timeline/scene by scene outline. So it’s all contained and there to be referenced. Not in two or three word documents but broken down within the software. I do like the visual aspect. I feel like that helped me with pacing. But as I said only time will tell as to how good this ends up being for me.

What else for Preptober?
October this year wasn’t just ‘Prepping for NaNo’. It was the first full month I have lived in my new house, a place all of my own (I moved in September 13th). It was also the first month in which I attempted to follow the HB90 system for goal/task planning. Those two facts are linked because in moving into my own place I want to make the most of the opportunity of this fresh start.

It’s been my dream since I was a kid to be a published author. I remember when I was around 14 I think, I I told myself it was an unrealistic dream and I needed to pick something that paid the bills. I cried but I did try to do something else – and that something else didn’t stick. I want to publish. I want to try and make a future for myself with my creativity. Mostly through novels but I also want to work on my art. It supports the writing as I could draw my own covers, have things to giveaway on my author site etc. and a real dream would be to draw my own graphic novel. I want to illustrate my stories and bring them to life.

Now my art skills are very poor. I have a long long long way to go before I could ever consider my art more than scribbles. Due to wanting to focus on the writing courses this month I put art to the side. However, it has been very much on my mind and now my outline is done, in the waning days of Preptober, I want to work out a plan for tackling the myriad of art courses I have accumulated, and how I can most efficiently improve my skill.

In terms of time I did the math and I should be able to do my words in the morning, which means I could spend the afternoons on art. That could go horribly wrong lots of ways, but that is the plan. It’s quite how I spend those afternoons that I still need to work out.

I always say that I didn’t achieve enough, but honestly in this Preptober I did achieve what I set out to do. Would I have liked to do more? Always. I feel the passage of time very clearly and always want to move faster, get things done quicker. I have this urgency that I have wasted so much time and I need to make it up. It’s self-sabotage really because I can’t move any faster than is possible, and so it just piles the stress on and makes me sad, frustrated and angry – which usually then makes me quit and waste even more time.

So trying to reframe things into a more positive spin, I could see that by making a deliberate choice not to do art in October (delaying progress), I did successfully fight against the urgency that overwhelms me at times. Every night when I go to bed I feel the adrenaline surge, and this real need to run, because I haven’t done enough. I am behind, I need to do more.

But I did what I did, and I am set up for November. I am ready to start writing on the 1st, I can try to add the art in now as well. I am going to write another post talking about what I want to achieve in November, and then I will do a post at the end of November as a ‘NaNo retrospective’. So watch this space for results I guess.