Winding down on study

The Aramis Gothboi project: writing a children’s book

progress journal
DRAFT: 01 | word count: 35,262

Journal entry 27:

These little entries seem to be monthly now. Okay, that’s fine, I guess. But oh, how the time flies when you’re pushing to complete the program. How’s that? Well, the major component of my final uni subject has been completed: 5,000 words of polished material from the manuscript.

As stated in the brief I was given, Chapter 1 was always going to be a part of those 5,000 words—the rest would be made up by excerpts of my own choosing. Ideally, these excerpts would demonstrate the breadth of my writing.

My first excerpt choice was easy: Chapter 5. I’d recently reworked this chapter and run it through the writer’s group to give it the old clean-up. That was a little bit of an ordeal. Interestingly, I felt so damaged by the feedback that I had a crisis of confidence and it temporarily killed my progress on the manuscript. Every little correction or suggestion was yet another knife in the back from my cohorts. I felt like I’d worked so hard applying all the things I had learnt over the semester to this piece that it had to be near perfect. Of course it was not, and I was only able to see that once I’d licked my wounds clean and pulled myself back together again.

Reviewing that feedback, it became clear how much my cohort were correct (because they are amazing!) and what needed to be done, so I set to work on patching it up, and it was only then when the chapter actually began to sing. What I now had on the page was so much better than anything I could have achieved on my own and it became my first chapter that I actually felt was complete (for this drafting phase anyway).

So, then it was back to Chapter 1 to ensure I did the same thing. To my own detriment I didn’t have the time to put it through the same feedback process. After a pass or two with my own editing eyes, I realised that no matter how much I cleaned it up, I would still need another 1,000 words to make up the wordcount—so I chose Chapter 15 for that final excerpt.

Reasons for my excerpt choices:

  • Chapter 1 compulsory, but also introduced my characters and demonstrated my ability to write action.
  • Chapter 5 explored relationship dynamics and conflict.
  • Chapter 15 would let me flex using supernatural elements and also demonstrate how I balance the scary stuff with humour.

Good plan. Solid plan. Foolproof most wonderful plan. The problem, however, was that Chapter 15 was so undercooked that by the time it came to choosing an excerpt from it, I became acutely aware that there was far too much to be written to get it up to scratch. What ended up happening was that a short scene prior to the main action (where the ghosts show up) blew out with character development and grew into its own chapter – and three time longer than what I had for the still-too-undercooked ghost scene.

I was running out of time too. I should not have been writing at this stage – I should only have been editing and refining, so I had to make a decision and took an excerpt from that new chapter instead. It did not feature the supernatural elements but it did allow me to explore the Worm Boys (especially Noodel) and their reactions to Jo’s dragging them into this adventure.

The new chapter ended up being a pretty heavy scene – poor Noodel had gone through so much over the previous week – but I was able to play and get the humour in there to balance out the dirge of Noodel’s breaking point. I gave it some shape, which resulted in a neat little emotional arc for Noodel that fed nicely into the following sequence. I suppose for that, it ended up being a good excerpt – even if it wasn’t what I had intended to hand in.

From there I returned to chapter 1, which still needed work. I had the mental tug-of-war between what I felt was right and what I knew would be asked of me from my teacher. I think I ended up rewriting it three times as I tried to figure out which way to go before reaching the conclusion that it did everything it was supposed to (and would satisfy the both of us). Cannot wait to see the feedback for that one – the whole assignment, actually. That’s the reason I’m doing this anyway. To get that nod of approval that lets me know I’m progressing. I guess I still get a little peacock proud though, and want it to be perfect the first time – even when I know it won’t be. We’ll just have to wait and see.

So the final component of the course is pitching the manuscript to a publisher. I Had a practice run today. It went okay with a few notes given suggesting I add a little more detail on a few points. I enjoy the performance aspect, but I always forget just how nervous I get when I do these things. It’s almost ready to go now. 400 or so words or so that I’ll do well to remember before next week. But again, it’s not the be all and end all – well… it’s the end of the course, but you know what I mean. It’s just a test.

There’s a bit more tweaking to do and I honestly believe that if I do manage to do this from memory, the natural energy from performing may very well give it what I think is missing. That will be next week. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know how it goes.

First drafts always suck

The Aramis Gothboi project: writing a children’s book

progress journal
DRAFT: 01 | word count: 32,263

Journal entry 26:

Here’s something! Fellow writer and all-round fantastic person Kylie Orr was recently shortlisted for the Stuart Hadow Short Story Prize 2020. Her cracking piece Second Chance Elodie (credited as Kylie Shearer) is a revealing exploration of the bond between mother and child. Congrats Kylie!

And if that wasn’t enough, she’s also been hard at work gathering contributions for her Beautiful Sentences Series on Instagram. I was lucky enough to be included alongside some fantastic writers with my featured sentence pulled from the Aramis Gothboi project. Have a squizz on Instagram to see the full collection, and why not give Kylie a follow while you’re there

Speaking of short stories, I am neck-deep in the editing process of a short story set for publication before the end of the year, which is quite a nice little footnote. This one is most definitely not for children. Updates will follow when it becomes available.

As for the Aramis Gothboi project, you may have noticed that it has been a little over a month since I last checked in. You may be wondering how it is going. Good I guess, but it doesn’t feel like the work I’ve put in adds up to all that much. If you were to judge purely by word count, it’s been a whole lot of nothing that equates to a little over 28 words per day (don’t judge it that way, you monster!).

Admittedly, my 50,000 word target is about 5,000 words behind schedule and feels increasingly out of reach with every passing moment (that said, I added 500-600 words after I wrote this last night, so perhaps I’m being a tad overdramatic). To catch up, I may have to do another 10K in 10 days challenge or two as this feel like the most effective approach to advancing on that front.

I’ve also been reading and managed to finish Crime and Punishment. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s worth the slog. I loved both the beginning and the end of this book quite a lot. The bit in between, however, sags like an old mare and I’m not convinced that you need to take the whole trip to truly appreciate the ending. Feel free to convince me otherwise, I can certainly see the argument for it.

So that’s one more of the classics I can cross off the list, and now I’m onto Great Expectations. The first few chapters are very much Dickens doing his thing, but it is far too early to give any substantial thoughts on what I think of the story. One thing I can take away from tackling these books is just how far we’ve come in terms of style. Once upon a time it was perfectly acceptable for a writer to ramble on for 500 pages. Audiences lapped it up back then, but nowadays we want it quick and we want it half an hour ago. What has not changed throughout history is that readers want well-drawn characters. As readers we want to feel what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, we want to be surprised by their choices, and we want to learn what they do and why.

In relation to my own writing, I’m becoming more aware of just how important it is to give the reader a satisfying immersive experience and I can tell you now that it’s no easy task. Sure Dickens and Dostoevsky were wont to rabbit on, but they also knew what they were doing. There were no happy accidents in these meticulously assembled stories carefully crafted in accordance to the style of the time.

Today the novel writing process is more streamlined than ever and technology has given anyone who can turn on a computer the ability to be a writer. If you can type up your story and get it onto Amazon, or another similar platform (and absolutely anyone can), boom. Instant writer. To be a successful storyteller using the written word though, that’s not so easy. The skills necessary to do this require time and practice. Did I mention you need time?

Over the last three weeks I have been sweating over a meagre 300 words for a university assessment. The point of this handful of words is to express the plot of my story. I thought I did a decent job, but the feedback I received suggests otherwise. Upon revisiting the text with this new information, I can see what I was missing.

If, as writers, the intention of our work is not there on the page then it is fair to say that we are not doing our job. It doesn’t matter how many words we use, whether it’s a tweet or a thesis, if there is unintentional ambiguity then we have not used the tools we have been given to full effect. If the characters in our novels lack depth, or our dialogue is wooden despite our best intentions to breathe life into every word, then we have failed.

It is all about communication, clear and simple.

If you stop reading this blog before its conclusion, because you are bored or simply not on board with what I’m trying to say here, I have failed. Should I then walk away with my tail between my legs? We humans are constantly making mistakes, but by doing so we are also learning and evolving.

We do not learn by thinking I tried and I failed. Only when we add, so where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time? are we able to make progress.

The Aramis Gothboi project will not be finished any time soon and it would be shortsighted of me to think that when the first draft is completed, I’ll be able to shop it around and get a book deal.

A first draft is most certainly an accomplishment, but it is only the first step. I think that as writers we should look at first drafts as a personal victory and proof to ourselves that we can do this.

The second draft, in which we interrogate all those misplaced words and flimsy plot lines that we worked so hard to get down on paper is when we prove to our peers that we can do this. With the help of our editors and writer friends, this second step in the process does much of the groundwork toward ensuring our intention is clear on the page.

From thereon, each additional draft is rinse and repeat until our manuscript is ready for us to prove to the world that we can do this (this could take a while).

First drafts always suck. We will try and we will fail, but it is not the end of the process. Receiving critical feedback is the only way we can analyse our work (and ourselves) so that we might ask, so where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time?

Aramis Gothboi – Progress Journal: Treading water

Progress Journal for Aramis Gothboi: Book One

Mog’s ongoing account of completing the first draft.

Total word count: 30,736


Twenty-fifth Post:

It’s been a while since I did one of these. I keep putting it off because I don’t think I’ve been doing enough work on the manuscript as of late. Sure, I’m two weeks into my final university subject, I’ve been reading, and have also done a fair amount of workshopping with other people too, but I haven’t quite nailed the writing routine just yet.

I have, however, finally managed to review the full manuscript and now have a plot point summary that I am yet to review for structural purposes, but can even now see holes that need patching and chapters that require rearranging, so I guess that’s something.

Seeing as there’s not much to talk about in the progress department, I might as well digress into a little book talk and what I’m currently reading.

On the recommendation of my teacher, I’ve managed to add a few classics to my reading list, you know, to expand my literary knowledge and challenge myself. Tell you what, with the volume and density of these titles, there is no time for messing around. I felt slightly proud that I was already two-thirds of the way through Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment even though it’s taken me the better portion of the year to slog my way through it (and it sat on my shelf for almost five years before I even attempted to read it).

If that’s not enough, I’ve also added Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in there too. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll get through all of these before the end of November.

On a lighter note, I’m halfway through Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow, the second book in Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series. I really enjoyed the first instalment and positively zoomed through it, but have found myself getting a little side-tracked with this one and am still yet to finish it.

I’m chipping away at M is for Magic, a collection of short stories suitable for children by Neil Gaiman. Some of these shorts previously appeared in his 1998 collection Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions (certainly not for children). I’ve liked some of these stories, Troll Bridge for example, and then there are others that I feel don’t quite hit the mark for me, but as Neil states in his introduction,

“There’s another good thing about a book of short stories: you don’t have to like them all. If there’s one you don’t enjoy, well, there will be another one along soon.”

I’ve also got It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, both of which I am very much looking forward to reading soon.

If there’s anything here on my list that you’ve liked, loathed or are wanting to read for yourself, why not let me know in the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Till next time.

Aramis Gothboi – Progress Journal: Back on the source (of inspiration)

Progress Journal for Aramis Gothboi: Book One

Mog’s ongoing account of completing the first draft.

Total word count: 30,306


Twenty-fourth Post:

Righto, so here we are back in the driver’s seat after about a month’s worth of break. Do I feel better for it? Yes.

Did I feel good the whole time? No, not at all. Should I feel guilty for it? …I don’t think so. It wasn’t as if I was sitting around doing nothing the whole time.

I did manage to get another chapter reviewed with my writer’s group chums who are turning out to be a pretty solid group. It’s still online only, especially with the return of the COVID-19 Lockdown in Victoria, but it’s working out the best it can.

To be honest, I was a little sceptical as to how well this group would work. Previous experience suggested to me that it was the process of being in a room together that nurtured the workshopping process. There’s something about seeing the visceral reaction to your work in that setting that I feel helps to build trust and cohesion. Yes, we’re all in different parts of the world at the moment – and will remain so for at least another month – but I feel like we’ve made some kind of progress and I find that I’m always looking forward to the next session.

Speaking of sessions, I’m back at uni this week for my final semester, and yes, that’s all online too. I’ll be working on this book for the next 16 weeks as part of a course called Towards Publication that, you guessed it, is all about reaching for the goal of getting the manuscript published. Again, the online element will be a challenge, but I’m very much looking forward to returning to structured study. I’m also very much looking forward to completing my degree, but that’s neither here nor there.

Over the last few days, I’ve been slowly working my way back into a state of productivity. Manuscript work, where I left it before my break, was at the point of completing the first draft.

To recap, this includes:

  • Editing and refining the 10 roughly-drafted chapters to a satisfactory degree (this is basically cleaning up the prose and making sure every scene is actually complete – no summaries, dot points, or vague descriptions)
  • Tracking the beats of each chapter for structural purposes
  • Redrafting the synopsis to match current version of manuscript

Today I redrafted two chapters in preparation for the next workshopping session. Returning to this earlier work has reminded me that I’ve still got so much to do before it will be ready to publish. So rough! So much to fix! I’ll give both chapters another pass before I let my workshopping people pick them apart, I do think.

As mentioned, I tried to keep the productivity ball rolling for a while during my break period, which was ultimately the wrong decision.

Here’s an excerpt from the only journal entry over the course of the month:

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

There have been no updates as there’s been no progress. Is it important to be tirelessly working? A routine is awfully important, but if it’s burning you out, perhaps reassessing the parameters of your routine is a good idea. Not that this is what I’m going through at the moment as I’m still on a break from the project. Occasionally I’ll open the manuscript and think about tinkering with bits and pieces, but it all feels a little too huge right now. I’ve got two chapters sitting there that have been workshopped, which require changes to be applied and suggestions to be considered. I just can’t for the life of me, keep my attention on the work at hand. I end up reading a few notes and then going off and doing something else. I really ought to treat this as a break and resolve to not look at the work at all over the next week. Perhaps this will help. If I set a date to resume work next week, that will give me something to look forward to – and I won’t have to feel guilty about doing nothing until then. Monday 29th June is that date. Guess we’ll see how it’s all going sometime after that.

As you can see, the date I set to recommence work zoomed by two weeks ago, but I really did need the break. Not that I had much of one as I did what the heart wants and took on a second project instead.

For those of you that know the genesis of this blog and the whole “Potato Revolution” part of the title, it will come as no surprise for you to hear about the podcast where it all started. It’s been almost ten years since Andy Mai Mai and I recorded that pilot episode way back in 2010, and almost nine since our first episode with Mr Kieran Eaton.

Speaking of Kieran, it was he that contacted me out of the blue one day with the idea to do a new podcast. A little trial and error over the past few weeks has brought us to episode five of Plague Talks.

This little show is at its core about three friends refusing to let distance and current circumstances get them down. We originally intended it to be a sort of documentation of our individual pandemic experiences by sharing our perspectives on the crisis from across the country where we each live (Perth in WA, Orange in NSW, and Melbourne in Victoria). It seemed like as good a premise as any for a podcast (and an excellent catalyst to engage and reinvigorate our minds).

With the second wave taking hold in Victoria (and now threatening NSW), this thread is still there, but the show has evolved somewhat into an opportunity to not just check in on how we’re all surviving from week to week in these challenging times, but to also talk about current events and have a good laugh too. With a strong focus on mental health, the show has made the transition from audio to video (which is a whole new ballgame for the producer in me).

Here’s the latest episode (available on Facebook with two more episodes), and if you’re keen, the first two audio-only podcast episodes can be found here. By all means, have a look or listen and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

Stay safe.