Good evening, dear readers!
It’s been a busy July. I wrote 13 000 words, bringing my word count up to 45000 for my novel. My goal was to hit 47 000 words by the end of the month, so I came very close to making it. Now I really regret a few of those times I told myself that I was tired after work, so I was going to play video games 😛 (For the record, I’ve been playing Fell Seal and Control; I also read Nightwatch, Tigana, Neverwhere, and Fragile Things).
Unfortunately, I doubt I’m going to hit my September 30th goal for getting the novel to beta readers now. Many of the words I added this month are added details in the previous chapters; talking with my editor, we agreed that the transition between the opening, which is more of a thriller, and the middle, which is more of a mystery, needs more setup. Which also means that the novel is more likely to be something like 70000 words—and there’s no way I’m going to get that done by the end of September. Not in any shape for beta readers to enjoy it, anyway.
So I’m changing my goal to the end of October. It means I won’t get to start sending out my historical fiction book, On the Shoulders of Demons, to agents at the beginning of January like I hoped, but that’s OK. Still, I’m taking two weeks off work to write this month, so maybe I’ll catch up? Here’s hoping!
But what else have I been up to? Summer is always a busy time for me (then again, when isn’t?), but here are some highlights!
July was the end of our regular season of rugby. A shorter season than normal, but that’s because of The Bingham Cup, which is coming up in mid-August. This will be my 6th Bingham, and it’s always a lot of fun.
I was hoping to get my waist down to 110cm or so by Bingham—I’ve got the strength, but it’s no good for rugby if I’m too winded to use it—but instead I’ll likely only be around 114. Still, making good progress on cutting, and it means I should still be in good enough shape to break some ribs at Bingham 2024.
Also, I figured out how to keep my hair in place while I’m playing rugby. This is the real triumph.
I didn’t share any baking photos last month, so this month you’re getting several!
First, I made an ice cream cake for Kale’s birthday. It was really good, with a chocolate-peanut butter top, middle fudge and cookie layers, and a bottom vanilla layer. My piping, however, was… not good.
In my defence, I was busy. I had just played a rugby game, and I also made all this:
But, really, my ice cream maker is the best cooking gadget I’ve purchased. For $50, I got something I use almost every week. Pretty much every desert is made better with freshly-churned ice cream!
This month, I had the idea for my 5th novel. I wrote the first chapter, as I wanted to get it down and have the themes and conflict in my head, absorbing the lessons around it for the next year and a half. I find that’s the best way I write: to let ideas percolate for a while so that, when I’m ready to write, I have lots to say.
But one thing I’m also excited about is that I took elements that were part of a novel I tried to write back in 2008… and failed.
In fact, I had a lot of failed novels from 2007-2013. I have a whole bunch of first chapters still saved on my hard drive, and they all failed. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. When I got my degree in English literature, graduating with the highest GPA in the department, I figured I knew something about stories. And yet I couldn’t seem to actually write a novel.
I understand now how narrow the understanding of stories is in the English literature studies. It’s about analysis. And that makes sense: you’re really digging into the thematic elements of writing, not the craft of it. And when you talk of structure, you talk on a different level than a plot pinch, or an inciting incident. Which makes sense, I think, but also… really feels like you’re not studying literature qua literature. And now that I understand that, I spend a lot more time understanding various plot structures, and it has really helped my writing.
So many of the people who compose books on writing are unbearably self-absorbed. They say that their way is the only way, and other styles of writing are crap—or, at best, making more work for themselves. But I’ve come to think of these structures as a toolkit, ways of thinking about stories and characters that can create ideas and diagnose problems. I’m reading Creating Character Arcs right now, and while I disagree with a lot of it, and think that many other parts don’t apply to any of my works in progress, I also sometimes look at something and think, “Yes, that’s exactly what Samuli needs!”
I think this is the key takeaway: formulas exist because they hit the emotional beats that tell a good story. Yes. But a writer’s first duty is to the story in front of them. They must follow the story wherever it needs to go, and trying to impose a structure upon a story when it doesn’t bring out its hear, when it doesn’t pierce into the very core of what drives the writer to be passionate about it… will just feel formulaic. It will hit solid plot points that don’t quite deliver on the promise of the character.
But having that toolkit of different structures and ideas gives you more tools through which you can find the right plot point for your story.
OK, that went on a little longer than I intended it to. Haha.
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Have a great weekend, everyone. I’ll message you next month with more rugby stories and hopefully a great update about my novel!
All the best,