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Words done this month: 6000, ish.

Current total word count: About 18,500.

Current mood: Excited!

April low point: The last few days of the month, when I felt really stuck on where the story was going.

April high point: 21st and the following few days. I pledged to write 1000 words a day. I didn’t manage that, but got a lot written, and was really enjoying it.

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So, Christ on a bike, it’s May 2010 already. This year is absolutely belting along, like a runaway train it sometimes seems. Like Rob, I’m going to keep this brief.

March was a pretty crappy month, for many reasons, let alone the utter lack of writing that I managed to get done. If you read mylast update you’ll know how down I was feeling, after struggling through March. April has been much better. After a bit of a slow start, March still being fresh in my mind, the writing began to pick up towards the middle of the month. Now I’m really in territory beyond that which I normally write. The story is nearly at 20k words now, and besides my NaNo novel, which was written a long time ago, my stories are only ever a couple of thousand words long. So, getting my teeth into something longer is proving really exciting, if very challenging at the same time.

About two thirds of the way through the month the writing was really going strong. I was writing both on the computer and longhand, at different times of the day, long writing sessions and smaller snippets of writing tucked into lunchbreaks and at the end of the day before dropping off to sleep. I was really enjoying it, and was also invigorated by some rather exciting news. Some of you will know what that is, those of you who don’t will find out tomorrow…

Unfortunately, the writing ground to a halt at the very end of the month. I became unsure about the plot of my novel, and found myself writing without really caring what was happening. The ‘jumping’ that happens in the novel is key, and at the moment it involves jumping to another place, another world. Yet I was suddenly unsure as to what this world should be, and my questions about whether I should change it ranged from subtle tweaks to complete overhauls. I have yet to write anything in May, with having a busy weekend away, but I think I have now decided where to take the plot of my novel, and settled on what the jumping in the story actually entails. Hopefully this will mean that when I come to write later today, I will be more comfortable with the story, and it will begin working again.

I am feeling particularly invigorated actually, after talking with my good friend Ben on Saturday. I have asked him to create a cover image for StairJumpers, and he agreed! We had a really in-depth discussion/brainstorming as to what the cover might look like, and he is excited to work out some ideas. Visualising a cover to StairJumpers has really got me excited about the story again!

Let’s see what May shall bring!

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Words done this month: 1,675…

Current total word count: 12,384

Current mood: Pretty crappy, to be honest.

March low point: The past few days – realising that this Duel is a quarter of the way over already, and seeing just how low my word count has been this month.

March high point: Today, now that it’s over! Bring on April.

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So, we are a quarter of the way through the Duel, and my word count was abysmal this month. I don’t know what my final word count will be but I’m aiming for it to be at least 50k words, which means that I’m behind schedule at this point, which I didn’t want to be.

This has been a difficult month, not just with the writing. I haven’t been feeling particularly upbeat, I’ve let some personal things get to me, I had a good go at chopping the tip of my left thumb off, and over the past couple of days I’ve came to a realisation that it looks almost entirely certain I won’t get to start any kind of teacher training this September, which is what I was hoping to do, and that I will have to wait now until the September after to start, which is an awfully long time away, and I’m going to have to try and find something to do in the mean time, besides buck my ideas up on this novel.

I believe that to be called ‘a writer’ it is not necessary to be making a living from writing, or to even have anything published – all you have to do is to tell people that you are a writer and to be able to back it up. This month I definitely cannot do that, which is upsetting. My blog at Never Too Serious! has been updated a couple of times, but nothing for two weeks now, and there were no updates in February. My writing for Fuel Your Writing is only once a month anyway, and I’m pleased with my recent article as I have been with the others, but I should really be knocking several of these articles out at a time, especially the short ones. I have enough ideas to do that, and the time. Obviously my writing on StairJumpers has been very minimal, and most of my words have actually been written in the last few days. I did start writing a short story, for the first time since probably last summer, and was really enjoying writing that, but even that has died a death – probably because I was too worried about not writing my novel. So I ended up writing neither, of course. Which isn’t the way this is supposed to work.

On a postive note, what I have written this month I think is pretty good, brief though it is, and various aspects of my story are starting to flesh out in my mind. If only I had written more they would be coming alive on the page, and they would be coming more real. Also, by not writing I am beginning to realise just how much I do love writing. The same thing happened in February, but from the other side. I was reminded how much I love writing because I was actually writing, mostly in my Moleskine at any time of day: in my lunchbreak at the school where I volunteer, writing away while teachers wandered about and talked and laughed and moaned about the kids; in the early hours of the morning sat up in bed with just my lamp on; or scribbling away in a quiet, cosy coffee shop sipping a cappuccino. I love it.

Which makes the fact that in March I did none of these things all the more frustrating. I realised (and I’m not just talking about writing here) that I get miserable when I don’t do the things that I enjoy doing. Surely that’s obvious, right? Writing, playing guitar, reading, running, blogging – these are just some of the things that I love to do, so why am I surprised that I feel down when I don’t do them?

So, on this April Fool’s Day, I can only declare myself somewhat of a fool. But, this is a whole new month, the sun is shining, and spring may actually be here. To quote H.G. Wells, in what I know is one of my opponent‘s favourite quotes, “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” So excuse me, I can’t stand around here all day being a fool, I have a novel to write!

Like Rob said to me yesterday, this Duel feels a lot more real now that we are sharing our writing with you all! Hope you all enjoyed Rob’s excerpt yesterday – I certainly did, it was just as good as I expected it would be! – and hope it whetted your appetites to keep following and to find out more about The Invention of Steam.

Here is my first offering. Sam has followed his brother, in the middle of the night, to a graveyard. That’s all you really need to know.

I look through, and shiver when I see the four figures gathered amongst the gravestones like ghosts. They are illuminated by a flickering glow that comes from a flame held up by one of them. The flame is a thick piece of wood, a primitive torch. I’ve only ever seen people on television use them, like explorers in films searching deep, dark, scary caverns and ancient temples. I don’t feel like an explorer any more. The figure moves the flame up, illuminating his face more now, and I can see that it is Ollie. He looks slightly mad, covered in moonlight and firelight. Maybe he is the real explorer. And I’m just following in his footsteps.

He is facing across the graveyard towards me, but I don’t think that he can see me. I am deep  in the bushes, and slightly higher than where he and his friends are gathered. The low squat shape of the dog is restrained now, lying down in the snow. The figure holding its lead sits on a headstone, tiny legs dangling just above the dog’s head. The figure looks like a girl.

I look around the others. The one opposite Ollie is a round silhouette, his flat back staring at me. It must be a boy, besides his large shape his shoulders are broad. It is hard to tell from behind, but I think he has got his arms crossed. There is a skinnier boy, definitely a boy, between the big round shape and Ollie, and opposite the girl with the dog. He is the only one that looks cold, hopping back and forward. He takes his gloves off for a moment to blow into his hands, and the gloves dangle from his wrists, tied on strings through this coat. I try not to laugh. Even I don’t have gloves on strings.

Ollie is talking to the group. It doesn’t even look like him. He’s not an explorer, I realise. He is a General. The leader of this gang. But no ordinary gang. An otherwordly, alien gang. And I am Sam the Astronaut, hiding from an alien colony, and its General has shapeshifted into my brother to lure me out, using my weak human mind against me.

None of this feels real.

I realise I have absolutely no idea what time it is. I didn’t even look when I left the house, and that seems like hours and hours ago. It is probably not been that long since I was woken up by the snowballs at the window. I have certainly never been awake at this time of the night before. Let alone outside of the house. I am awake in a new world, watching someone who looks like my brother standing in a graveyard, holding fire and talking to ghosts.

I concentrate on my breathing. Long, slow, silent breaths. I close my eyes, and listen to my heartbeat. That is definitely real, still thumping in my chest. My breathing is real. I touch my arm. Even through thick gloves and a thick coat, my arm is real. I am afraid to open my eyes and look back down into the graveyard. Reality might disappear again.

One last look, just to make sure what I’m looking at is really there, and then I will go.

Something sharp presses into the back of my neck. Somebody laughs behind me.

“Well, well, well….”

There you go… hope you liked it! Please let me know in the comments.

Words done this month: 4,697.

Current total word count: 10,709.

Current mood: Slightly disappointed with my word count, but hey… I beat Rob this month!

February low point: About the 16th, when I realised that I had no idea which way my main character was going to take a major decision.

February high point: About the 16th, when I realised that I had no idea which way my main character was going to take a major decision!

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Yes, my high and low points this month were the same moment! The scene which I was writing was a major one, in which Sam takes part in the StairJumping “ritual” in order to be accepted into his brother’s gang. I kept writing and writing, hoping that inspiration would come and that Sam would make his decision for me, but he wouldn’t! Which is unsurprising really – he is a fairly weak-minded character, who is unsure of himself and very nervous given the situation he finds himself in. So I began to get very frustrated, wanting to finish the scene but finding it impossible to get over this hurdle. This caused several days of not writing anything, until the point where I made a concious decision to leave the scene behind for the time being, and write some different scenes happening later on in the story.

This was a tricky point for me, but I also rather loved it! It was the high point of my month’s writing because it reminded me why I love writing, and why I write the way that I do. I don’t like to plan things, and prefer to write and see what happens as I go. Because, as I see it, writing is a living, breathing thing – characters and places come alive as the words appear on the page. Sometimes I will be writing and a character will do things differently to how I may have planned it, or will bring things to the story that I won’t have anticipated. When I realised that I didn’t know what Sam was going to do in the scene, I also realised that Sam didn’t know either. He wasn’t making a decision, and hopefully this uncertainty will show through in the final written scene. Writing is magic, and alive, which makes it incredibly fun, if also incredibly frustrating and challenging at times. But these are the reasons why I love it so much.

My word count is also lower than I expected this month – lower even than January’s word count, which I had thought was quite low in the first place. February’s writing was mainly done longhand, in my Moleskine, which I find can be a more relaxing and inspiring way of writing. The feel of my fountain pen across the page, the sound of the nib slightly scratching as it releases the ink, the look of the words on the page and the feel of my notebook in my hands. All of these things contribute to the magic of writing. However, it does make it harder to keep track of a word count, so it was only when I wrote up my longhand onto the computer on Saturday that I realised how much (or little) writing I’ve done this month.

Despite this, I am pleased with the way I have been writing in February. Although I didn’t write as much as in January I have written almost every day, whereas last month I wrote the bulk of my word count over about three days. This more regular writing is encouraging – I am finding myself more in the writing habit, which I have struggled with in the past. Throughout March I am sure I will keep up this regular writing, but hopefully I shall increase my daily word count.

So, bring on March! Although, like Rob said to me a few days ago, I feel like I could do with an extra month of “Smarch”  in order to get this novel written this year, but that’s not going to happen! Look out for Rob’s excerpt tomorrow, and then mine on Thursday, to give you a taste of our stories and our completely different styles.

Hope you’re all enjoying the Duel as we enter our third month. Keep reading!

I find plot hard to come by.

Luckily, in the beginning stages of writing a novel, plot it not essential. I do know that a lot of novelists, like my opponent for instance, like to plot  and plan their stories in advance – so that before they start writing they know (in the main) how and when things will happen in their stories, and how one thing will lead onto another and so on.

This, I really cannot do.

I am quite lucky in that I have never struggled to find ideas and inspiration for stories. The central idea for StairJumpers came to me very easily, without me even thinking about writing a story. So the initial premise was set very early on, and the main characters sketched out, but other than that I did not know where the story (or the plot) was going to go.

I still don’t. I have no idea how my story will end, and no idea how it is going to get there (wherever “there” is…)

Currently, Sam (my main character) is standing in a snow-covered graveyard with his older brother Ollie, and Ollie’s friends, in the early hours of the morning. Around them, I can feel ghosts watching them.

Note: I can feel ghosts watching them. I haven’t written about the ghosts. And I’m not even sure I’m going to. Y’see… if I write about the ghosts, my plot is going to go one way. But then, where will it go from there? I don’t know! I’m not even sure if I want it to go that way.

Besides the ghosts, I have several other plot ideas that are trying to form themselves into some cohesive form in my head. At the minute they are lurking just out of view and just out of mind, like the ghosts themselves, waiting to see whether I will turn and look at them, and make them real. None of the ideas that I have, for where to take my story next, are very fully realised. So, I am scared that if I start down one of these paths, and take my story in that direction, that I will write my way into a dead end – that I will write my way into a story I don’t like or to a place that I can’t write my way out of.

This all comes from not planning, of course. But, like I wrote earlier, I find planning a story (beyond initial brainstorms and ideas) to be nigh on impossible.

So, what can I do about this? Simple really: I just have to keep writing. If I let the fear of the unknown get the better of me, I’ll carry on stressing over which direction to take my novel, instead of writing the damn thing, and I’ll never get anywhere. Instead, if I just sit on my arse and WRITE  (which is by far the best single piece of advice I’ve heard to any aspiring author) then my story will take on its own shape. If I trust in my characters, and in my own skill as a writer, plot will (or should) begin to happen naturally. I know the kind of things that I want to include in my story, and the kind of story I want it to be.

I can feel the ghosts, and the plot, closing in. I just have to look at them, not be afraid, and figure out which of them are real.

Here we are, 1/12 of the way into the New Year Novel Duel! January has been and gone, we’ve had uncharacteristic snowfalls of epic proportions, and some rather more typical dreary greyness. Both me and Rob shall be posting an update at the end of each month, and for the January update it’s me to go first.

For me, it’s been a difficult month of writing.

Current word count: 6012.

Current mood: Excited! Looking forward to putting a difficult first month behind me, and grabbing this novel (and 2010 in general) by the balls.

January low point: The middle of the month. There were two days when I did… nothing. No writing at all, and nothing else of any merit whatsoever. I was feeling really down, not just about StairJumpers and the Duel but about lots of things.

January high point: The past few days. I’ve been working primarily on one major early scene, where Sam meets the titular ‘StairJumpers’. My antagonist is fleshing-out in my head too, and becoming real on the page. At least, he seems to be.

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I feel like I haven’t got off to a very good start. I wrote very little in the first week, and then absolutely nothing for a while. Although I was thinking about the novel a lot, jotting down notes and brainstorming ideas, I wasn’t writing. This is an affliction that has always cursed me, not just with writing but with everything I do – thinking and planning far too much, instead of actually doing.

There are several factors to my slow start, I think. One of the reasons is the fact that I haven’t written any fiction for so long before starting the Duel. Going straight from a long dry patch into writing something of novel length and scope, when I’ve never even written anything of this length before (the longest piece I’ve ever done being 50,000 words) is very daunting, especially as I only have a year to complete it. There were times, especially in the second week of January, when I just felt completely overwhelmed by the task ahead of me.

Secondly, I think I found it rather difficult to return to ‘normal life’ after the Christmas break, where (even though I was still working) the normal rules of day-to-day life cease, in many ways, for a few weeks. Getting back to normality, with other things as well as my writing, was hard, and led to a lack of motivation that, again, I seem cursed with, even for things that I like to do.

So, 6012 words in the first month. If I keep up that pace I’ll be able to write 72,000, which is probably about right, if rather long actually for a children’s novel. However, my novel seems to be pacing between the areas of middle-grade children’s story and young adult, so we’ll see where things go. Plus, I’d like time to edit of course, and need to anticipate any major changes or re-writes that I might have (or want) to make, which may drastically put my word count back.

What’s interesting is that my January word count in comparison to Rob’s is tiny. I’m not going to tell you how many words he has written, but suffice to say it lives up to his wordy standards! However, Rob’s novel will be longer than mine, that’s just the way it is, to the both the types of stories that they both are, and our very different styles as writers. That is partly what makes this Duel so interesting.

Still, all that said I don’t think I have written enough this first month. No where near. I certainly did not write every day, which a writer always should. I would blame my job for this, but it would be a poor excuse so I’m not going to. While it does mean around 35 hours less time per week I have to write than Rob does, still I have not made use of the free time that I have had. Besides, plenty of people write novels and hold down full time jobs, often with jobs a lot more demanding than mine.

So, no excuses now. The latter third of the month has been excellent. I have written every day of the last week, and I am feeling motivated and really excited again, like I was just before the Duel started.

1 month down, 11 to go! Hope you are all enjoying following along with our Writing Duel, and look out for Rob’s first month update tomorrow!


***Note: alliteration in title caused by too much time spent in the company of my fellow Duellist. It’s an infectious disease, but I am receiving medical attention. I promise the novel is clean.***

While writing StairJumpers, my biggest problem so far has been perspective and narrative voice. Many writers always write from the same point of view (either First or Third person, or Second if you’re a maverick!) and either in the past or the present tense. I find it very difficult to settle on one combination of these, and usually when I come to write something new I just start writing in whatever feels comfortable for the story, and I don’t have any problems.

With StairJumpers however, I’m finding it very difficult. I started writing in First Person Present, which I began experimenting with during my Creative Writing Masters, when we looked as some of the work by Raymond Carver. Besides from inspiring me with his sharp, clear writing and gripping short stories pried from the mundane lives of his very ordinary characters, I took to the narrative voice and perspective that he used. I began to write in this style more and more, and the last thing that I wrote, a fairly lengthy short story of about 10,000 words, was in Present. I really like the style. It is quite contemporary, writing as events in the story occur, and it gives the story a natural sense of immediacy and a faster pace.

However, as I began to write more of StairJumpers I had a crisis of faith a couple of days ago (as those of you following along with the Duel Twitter feed may have noticed) in which I was finding it an increasing struggle to put myself in the shoes of my young narrator Sam, and I really felt like a rewrite of what I have done so far, to change it into Third Person, was on the cards.

Tentatively I tried writing the next part of the story in Third Person, but it wasn’t working either. Writing became like stacking bricks for a wall, time-consuming and laborious. And the words weren’t even laying straight. I think it was something to with the combination of Third Person and the Present tense; they weren’t working so well together for me. Plus, I had planned to write StairJumpers from two First Person perspectives – Part 1 as Sam, Part 2 as Ollie, and then back to Sam for Part 3.

So, I ditched that idea, and went back to First Person. However, I decided to switch to Past tense, a little safer I felt. I began to write, longhand, this morning, and everything was going great. Pages of writing were flowing out of me, it was working! Then I stopped, look down, studied the words. Something wasn’t quite right. Then I realised what it was. Suddenly I was writing in the Present tense again! Without any conscious decision, I had somehow changed from Past tense back to Present, and I had been writing along for several pages oblivious of the change. My mind had decided all on its own, and not told me.

Either that or the story chose it.

So, it seems that, at the time of writing this, I’m back where I began, in First Person Present. Let’s hope it stays that way, for my sanity at least.

DISCLAIMER: Apologies for the rather boring post for those of you who aren’t writers. Narrative voice issues, while annoying, are perhaps not the most interesting topic to read about. Next post will be more frivolous, I promise!

Good day. I’m Chris, the skinnier but more agile Duelist, and I’m here to talk to you about my novel – the story that will be my ally and my weapon in this year-long writing Duel against my friend (and now mortal enemy) Robert Smedley. My opponent has put forth his novel to you (and an awesome, steam-powered adventure it sounds too!) so it is time for me to outline my own offering.

The novel is titled Stairjumpers’ – a title that (like Rob’s) may very well change as the story develops. I haven’t quite fallen in love with it yet. I really like the way it sounds, but I am unsure on how it looks. Some words look better than others, and the aesthetics of a title are, in my opinion, as important as what it says.

Anyway, before I lose myself (and you) further down this tangent, my story begins thus:

“The room is dark and silent, and out of nowhere my brother tells me that he can fly.”

I hope (given my recent article) that this has you sufficiently intrigued! I’m not really one to give to many details of my stories away before it is finished, but I felt I should share my first line with you all, especially after Rob did the same. Besides, this Duel (and this blog documenting the fighting and the writing) is all about the stories, and about generating an interest and a following, so I’m going to have to share more than I would normally.

‘Stairjumpers’ is the story of two young brothers, Ollie and Sam. Ollie is growing up fast, his teenage years are upon him, and as the only male role model in the family, he is a huge influence on his younger brother. A pretty bad influence, as it turns out. What follows is a children’s fantasy/horror story involving boyishness, bullying, flight, domestic violence, guilt, and a Project Mayhem-esque group of adolescent anarchists. Oh, and an alternative Universe inside a coma.

Other than that, I haven’t really planned how things will happen and come together, if I’m honest. Which sounds a lot like Rob’s approach to this, which is comforting. Although knowing Rob, I’m guessing he has more of an idea what will happen in his story than I am. This is also natural given that his story is a mystery/crime novel (in part), so it will be much more plotted than my story. Plus I have no idea how my story will end. But therein lies a lot of the fun, I think. I am planning on writing in at least two viewpoints, which should be interesting, and the story is currently written in present tense. I haven’t settled on this; the story will soon let me know whether this is right or not, so don’t be surprised if it changes. Take nothing for granted, as this Duel is sure to throw a lot of surprises into the air!

I am really looking forward to writing this story, and I hope you are all as excited as I am to find out what happens!