Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Tag: The Dragon House (Page 1 of 4)

Grey Chinese dragon on roof

New year news

I gave myself some time off over the holidays. As any writer will tell you, the holidays are an opportunity to get so much writing done, have this manuscript knocked into shape in no time. And then, well, The Holidays happen. There’s late nights and lie-ins and family stuff and all that delicious food won’t eat itself, right?

Anyway, I gave myself a pass, and promised I wouldn’t beat myself up if I didn’t get much done for a couple of weeks. Instead I would use the time to rest, recharge and refocus, so I could come out swinging in 2018.

First up, an update on where things stand with THE DRAGON HOUSE.

The headline figure is 120,000 words (so far) on what I hope is the final draft of the book. This is not the end, because I am re-re-re-x10n-writing the last act after realising I’d made a huge misstep. I thought I could write my way out of them, but it turns out I couldn’t, and I should have stopped trying some time ago. Sometimes it really is better to just accept you’ve goofed, tear it down and start again from a firm foundation.

Speaking of which, this 120k is pretty solid, I think. It’s the result of some tough love from my agent, a lot of work and me being in a better headspace. These last few years have not been great but I’ve said all I want to say about that for now.

So, 120k and moving forward. Beta-readers say it holds together, so all that remains is to take a deep breath, and nail the dismount. Wish me luck.

A note on process and progress

Some authors like to post progress meters or word-count totals for the books they are writing. If this works for them to inform their readers and hold themselves to account as deadlines approach, more power to them. That doesn’t work for me. I don’t like (and instinctively mistrust) raw word count alone as a metric for measuring my own progress.

Regular readers will know that my writing process is best described as organic, even free-range. It’s messy. There’s no formula or road map to get to the end, and the only GPS stands for Gut Plotting System. I tend to find out what my books are about by writing them. I also edit as I go, pruning and filling as needed. As the shape of the story comes into focus, I get a better idea of how much more work is required to adjust the lens, as it were.

Not all of this adjustment equals more words, of course. It might mean I need less, or a bit of both. It’s fluid. I do a lot of writing/editing by feel, which is why a hard, arbitrary figure like 186,048/200,000 is not a meaningful measure of progress to me. Nor is crossing things off lists, much as I like doing that. I’m not even disciplined enough to stick to a drafting schedule, except for the last one, where it counts.

So my writing process is linear, until it’s not. My word and character choices are deliberate, until they become instinctive. I know where I’m going but still surprise myself along the way. And I know that I’m done when I get there, because when it’s ready the work sings.

I never said it was a *good* process, did I?

Featured image © creativecommonsstockphotos | ID 84970466 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A vintage typewriter with the text "it starts with one WORD" written on a shee

A needful thing

So this post has been a long time coming. It needed to be written, but I kept putting it off because frankly, I didn’t know how to write it. I still don’t, but I’m going to have a go anyway. I hope you understand.

I’m not a fast writer. I have perfectionist tendencies, which mean I don’t let go of anything until I’m absolutely sure it’s the best I can possibly make it. That goes double for creative work. What it goes for for the Wild Hunt Quartet, the story I have wanted to tell for over 25 years, well. I’m not sure there are enough zeroes in the world. That’s how much it means to me.

I’m also ill, and have been so for a long time. Most of you will already know this, because although I don’t shout it from the rooftops, it’s not exactly a secret. I have multiple sclerosis. Officially, I was diagnosed in 2004, but the symptoms go back almost as far as the origins of The Wild Hunt Quartet. There’s an irony, eh?

MS has approximately the same effect on my nervous system as mice do on your house’s wiring

Anyway, for those that don’t know, MS is an auto-immune condition in which my body attacks its own nerve cells, slowly stripping them of their protective layer of myelin. Myelin works like electric cable insulation, so MS has approximately the same effect on my nervous system as mice do on your house’s wiring, only you can’t call Pest-B-Gone and hire an electrician to put it right. It’s chronic, progressive and disabling.

I’ve mostly come to terms with it, though on bad days I still get angry and bitter when I can’t do something trivial like get the top off a jar, carry a cup of tea without spilling it, or get to the bathroom in time. There’s more, and worse, but that’ll do for today.

When I was first diagnosed, the disease was relapsing-remitting. I’d have flare-ups of symptoms, like visual disturbances or numbness, then periods of no noticeable disease activity. Rinse and repeat. Over time, as the scarring built up on the nerve fibres, symptoms started to stick around. My balance and mobility have deteriorated markedly over the last few years. My fatigue has increased (and fatigue in MS is not ‘feeling a bit tired’, it’s ‘can no longer stand because after a few minutes the axial muscles just don’t work any more’). And the cognitive dysfunction has got worse.

Cognitive problems in MS patients are very common. These can range from poor concentration, difficulty making decisions and general ‘cog fog’ to mood swings, depression and memory issues. Pick one from the list and I’ve probably had it. Certainly depression. Feeling fat and useless, frustrated and foggy and exhausted is pretty much guaranteed to do a number on your mood.

An open book with ribbon marker

© Ingvald Kaldhussater | ID 514554 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

All of which brings me to THE DRAGON HOUSE. Just as a book, it has its challenges. It’s the last one, the conclusion to the series. The one I have the highest hopes and deepest fears for. It’s the culmination of every decision I’ve made heretofore in the telling, the drop-box for all the “I’ll figure that out in the next book”, the firing of Chekhov’s guns, the resolution of every scrap of foreshadowing. As a discovery writer, it’s also the book I knew least about going in.

A big ask, then. And I’m trying to write it whilst dealing with MS that is now secondary progressive. I admit, it has sometimes been overwhelming. I have suffered from creative paralysis. Decision fatigue. Rampant perfectionism and an inability to believe that anything I do will ever, ever be good enough.

If the book’s not done yet, it’s not been because of a lack of effort, believe me. Or any shortage of tears. There simply comes a point where I cannot work any harder, because I simply cannot work. But I keep trying anyway, and that exacts a price.

I will finish this book. This story is my heart-song, my dream; I cannot let these characters down by leaving their tale unfinished. They deserve an ending, and so do all the readers who have come along for the ride. I must just beg your indulgence a little longer.

This story is my heart-song, my dream; I cannot let these characters down

A final few words. I am surrounded with loving support from friends and family. My publisher and agent have been nothing but wonderful. I know I am not alone. This post is not meant to be a play for sympathy, just an explanation. I feel I owe you that. I haven’t kept the blog up to date, despite my best intentions. That’s the thing about missing a deadline; the further past it I go, the less I want to draw attention to myself by mentioning it. The more I’m struggling, the less I feel able to share. My instinct is to hide, to soldier on in isolation. To keep setting myself more deadlines, and keep failing to meet them, so I hide some more.

There are circumstances I cannot change, limitations I will always have to work within, but I will try to do less hiding, going forward.

And I WILL finish this book. You have my word on that.

Sincerely,

Ellie

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