Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

Journal

The Last Ditch 1: Word Bullets

Right, let’s get this last ditch year started. For the first two weeks of April I have no dayjobbery to worry about, though it’s Eva’s school break so I’ll be using some of that time to hang with child, as well as the usual immovables. What time I have left is writing time, hopefully at least an hour or two each day.

Later in the month I’ll be breaking my days across different projects, but for this fortnight there’s only one focus, a novella that exists as a 20,000 word partial draft which isn’t working at all. Much of the writing is fine, but the pace is glacial. I’m going to bin it and start again. Plan is to write Monday to Friday. Saturdays are reserved for anything I need to take care of that isn’t fiction. Sundays are days off. I’m going to try hard to resist any temptation to look at the story on the weekend so that my subconscious has suitable time to stew over where things are going.

For people who need too much detail, I do all of my writing in a program called Scrivener. Look it up if you write long fiction of any kind. It’s ace, and opens up a whole range of different ways to get stuff done. I have it on my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone, and projects sync between them seamlessly. At the moment I do most of my actual writing on the iPad, then all the editing and other stuff on the Mac.

The novella I’m working on is intended to be in the region of 36,000 words*. If I could average 3600 words per weekday it would be done by the end of the fortnight, but that’s really unlikely. The writing habit is like a muscle – there’s no point planning an epic workout on day one, and to be honest I’m not interested in staring down the barrel of big, self-imposed minimum word counts every day. I’d rather tap away and see what happens. On my project calendar, I have all of April to wrap up a first draft. The more I can get done in this fortnight the better – but like I say, I’m not expecting big numbers in week one. I will be firing my word bullets one at a time and with care, rather than pumping them out semi-automatic style.

I’ll fill in the next bit at close of play each day, and post it all on Sunday.


Monday

Let myself sleep in a bit – it’s my first proper not-dayjobbery day, after all. Walked the goonballdog to exhaustion, then came back and prepared lunch for Eva and I**. Probably around one in the afternoon before I got to work. First job was to export a copy of the existing manuscript as a Word document that I can cannibalise for scraps, then I deleted everything from Scrivener and switched on the cork board mode. Spent about an hour completely redesigning the story and got to work. In the original the opening is about five thousand words of hard backstory and slow setup before the first actual thing happens, painful to write and painful to read. My new aim is to cannibalise a few bits of the original, cut all of the foreplay, and jump straight to what’s happening now.  My new storyboard gives me a thousand word limit to get the main character established, the location introduced, and the history skipped over. After cannibalising some bits of the original and writing around it with new stuff I ended up with 1216 words by around four thirty. Then it was time to give goonballdog her second walk and get cracking on a beef curry. Later, the season finale of The Walking Dead, and…and…WTF HOW DOES THE TIGER KNOW WHO TO KILL? WHY IS KING EZEKIAL WAVING NEEDLE AROUND DOESN’T HE KNOW WHAT SHOW HE’S IN? WEREN’T THERE ZOMBIES IN THIS ONCE? WHY AM IS STILL DOING THIS TO MYSELF?

1216 words is some way short of what I need to do to finish in a fortnight, but that doesn’t include all of the storyboarding, which might simplify things later. At least it’s started.

Tuesday

At the keyboard for ten thirty, and managed an hour and a half before lunch demands. Another couple of hours in the afternoon, and a little tidying up before bed. Again, I’m mixing some original material with sections cannibalised and rejigged from the previous draft. Because I’ve been stitching together a lot of existing material my words today totalled a pretty hefty 5506, but it’s heavy lifting. I haven’t sat down and forced myself to tell stories, whether the mood is upon me or not, for a long time. Hopefully that’s a habit I’ll get back into. As for the words themselves, it’s difficult to tell whether they’re any good. Between repurposing bits of the old draft and gluing in new stuff I feel more like I’m making a collage than telling a story. I’m concentrating most on the bits where stuff happens, and less on the links and backstory, so there’s a lot of smoothing out to be done further down the line. All in all though, things are moving forward and it’s hard not to be happy with that.

Wednesday

A bit of an implosion today, and no words done. Instead, Eva and I visited the MacIntosh House and the Hunterian Gallery to stroke our beards and nod sagely at the Artsing. When I came back I started rearranging my outline after I was struck by the possibilities of bringing a planned late reveal forward to Act One. Very excited by what that does to the shape of the story, but new words it was not. WRITING FAIL. Sort of.

Thursday

A couple of hours work done in the afternoon, feeling my way into a new section from yesterday’s rejig of the storyboard. It’s a hard bit to stage, an action scene in which I can’t show too much of what’s happening for fear of ruining future bits. I’ve always found action hard to write. Some writers can all but nail fast moving action in a first draft, but I usually have to go through several before I have something that scans properly. Today was no different. Everything I put down today functions, but it’s clumsy and the pacing is off. That’s a second draft problem though. In total, 1028 words done, which using sophisticated mathematical techniques with quantum in them I have concluded is one million per cent more than yesterday.

Friday

Today Eva and I popped down to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to take in the ‘Frank Quitely: The Art of Comics’ exhibition. An absolutely fantastic collection of finished art, sketches, storyboards, scripts, and more that’s tremendously easy to get lost in (and a nice reminder of how much top international comics talent is Glasgow-based). The image at the top of the page is one of those blown up and displayed. I loved it as a layman and longtime comics fan, Eva found much to enjoy as an artist-in-training. It runs through the summer, and I thoroughly recommend it if you’re in the area. Some writing done in the afternoon to finish off the new scene – it points the rest of the story in a completely different direction from the abandoned first draft of yesteryear, so there’s no more cannibalising to be done. It’s all new territory from here. The writing was a little easier, as characters are finally confronting each other. Dialogue, I can do. It’s probably what I’m most comfortable with, and I wonder if that’s related to my early years as an actor, being part of building stories that start with the dialogue and flesh out from there. Anyway, a very reasonable 2039 words of interrogation scene accomplished.

Saturday

As promised, no fiction writing today. My admin tasks today include starting to fish around for a fresh look for my website, which I’m getting bored looking at (and which is starting to do odd things I can’t account for, like shrinking the header image by 50% for reasons that are unclear – if I’m going to put time aside for maintenance, I might as well look at how to rejig the whole thing). Checked and recorded sales for last week, drafted a couple of blogs to finish off and post in the next few days, including this one. Tomorrow, Sunday, I’ll post this up but other than that it’s a day off. I know from long experience that if I don’t make myself take breaks I burn out, so for once I’m building the things in.


9789 words accomplished over the week, and almost the entire first act of the novella done. It’s exactly 9789 words more than I managed the week before, so it has that going for it. Week one has been odd, and has mostly involved wrestling myself to the keyboard and forcing myself to stay there long enough to accomplish anything. The story feels like it’s moving at long last, and although it’s much rougher than the previous version it has a lot more raw energy.

Yeah, I’m pretty pleased.


*  Longer or shorter is fine, but 36,000 is what I’m using for planning purposes. The novella is broken into three acts, each of which I’ve ballparks as about 12,000 words long. Hence 36,000 for the whole thing. And you ignored them when they told you that maths was a valuable life skill…

** I went to McDonald’s. IT’S MY FIRST PROPER DAY OF NOT-DAYJOBBERY. Don’t judge me.

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