Category: writing

You Do Write Every Day

You Do Write Every Day

The second bit, anyway.

Write Every Day.

You Should Be Writing.

Why Aren’t You writing?

It’s one of those things that gets shouted at us from all corners of the web, from writing books and podcasts and blogs and collective wisdom.

Write every day, because you’re not really a writer if you don’t.

Jack London wrote 1000 words a day.

Stephen King writes on his birthday, and on Christmas.

Anthony Trollope required 250 words of himself every half hour.

Leo Tolstoy, John Updike, Alice Munro, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou… the list goes on.

And, fair enough. It’s good advice. Writing every day is something to aspire to.

If your schedule allows it.

Well, it’s a nice thing to work towards.

If your home situation allows it.

If your work allows it.

If you’re in the right place to do it, physically, mentally, emotionally.

And – most importantly in my mind, although I’m neither published author nor writing guru – if it works for you.

It’s one of those odd pieces of advice that makes sense but doesn’t at the same time. Because, yes, if you want to be good at something you need to practise. You need to work at it. You need to put the hard slog in at the beginning (and, to be honest, all the way through) so that you can get where you’re going. No argument here. We’re not going to get anywhere through crossing our fingers and wishing on fairy dust.

But it also ignores the fact that we’re all different. That for some of us, life is in too much upheaval to be able to set aside writing time every single day. We might be lucky to get a good weekend in. Maybe it’s so hard to get into that writing mindset, that even if we do get up two hours early, we’re only going to be feeling ready to write when we need to shut the computer down and go walk the dog. Maybe we have so much going on that, this month, there’s no writing going to be done at all, because we don’t have the headspace for it. We can’t. And feeling guilty over that only exacerbates the situation.

This makes me almost irrationally angry. I should be PANICKING? What on earth for?

With one thing and another, I haven’t written for a couple of weeks. Then on the weekend I sat down and wrote a short story. It had been percolating for a while, so it came out pretty much how I wanted it, and quicker than it might have done otherwise (sometimes I start stories too soon, because I know I Should Be Writing, but they’re not ready and run all over the place before they get to the point). It was nice. It was fun. I enjoyed it, and when I was finished I wanted to do more.

But there were no other ideas ready to go yet, so I left it and went on with other things, both disappointed and hearing that admonitory voice reminding me that I should be Writing Every Day echoing in my head.

But then I realised something that, while it hasn’t shut Admonitory Voice up completely, has certainly made him a little less strident (yes, it’s a he – a shouty, mechanical voice like something off a high school PA system. Or occasionally more like the screaming alarms that go through spaceships under attack in low budget movies).

I do write every day.

You do, too.

I write blogs.

I write shopping lists.

I write emails.

I write Twitter posts.

I write texts.

I write to-do lists (so, so many to-do lists).

I write newsletters.

I write Facebook posts.

I write schedules and reminders.

I write Instagram stuff (#prettypicturesareworthmorewithhashtags).

And, every now and then, I write and rewrite and edit short stories and bigger stuff.

But, wow, do I write a lot every day.

Well, it does SOUND like a very pleasant career.

And that’s not even mentioning the very long and complicated stories going on in my head, some of which make it onto paper and others of which I have no intention of allowing out.

So maybe it’s not a case of totally disagreeing with this advice, prescriptive and shouty though it is. Maybe it’s a good thing to actually look and see how much writing we’re really doing when we think we’re getting nothing done. We write all of these things to get a message across (okay, the shopping and to-do lists might be stretching the point a little), to share our point of view with others, sometimes to persuade or inform. We use the same skills (minus emoticons) when we’re writing our masterpiece. Don’t look down on your little bits of writing. They all add up to big bits. It’s like doing short runs in between marathons, or making easy meals as you build towards a twelve-course sit-down dinner. It’s training.

Take writing advice with a hefty dose of salt – after all, we’re the only ones that can work out what works for us.

But if writing daily is how you want to measure being a writer, go for. We’re already there, each and every one of us.

And please, please stop guilting yourself with these silly things. Or just ignore the text bits and look at the (mostly) pretty pictures.
An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I haven’t run out of blog ideas. It’s only the end of January. This is important stuff!

Okay, important might be stretching it, but this was actually really fun. So, without further ado:

The A-Z of the Writer’s Life

(Because you always wanted to know, right?)

This is fine. This is absolutely fine…

A: Authors. That’s us. Even if we don’t feel like that’s what we are an awful lot, and need constant reassurance and regular infusions of chocolate to believe it.

B: Blogs. First because we think we should, later because it gives us an excuse to inflict our thoughts on unsuspecting internet readers.

C: Caffeine. Lots of it. Lots.

D: Drafts. So many drafts. Why are there so many? Why is there never really a final draft?

E: Editing. The word we don’t like to talk about, because there’s even more of it than there are drafts.

F: Fans. What we want. The kind that read our books, not the kind that move air around. Although in summer they’re nice, too.

G: Goals. Those things that shift a lot.

How we hope it works.

H: Headaches. Because our characters do things that we didn’t say they could do, and very rarely do what we want them to do. Also grammar, and real life interfering with our Work.

I: Insecurity. Lots of it. Will I finish this horrible draft? Will I make it less horrible? Will other people think it’s horrible? Will they think I’m horrible? Am I a horrible writer, or a horrible person, or both?

J: Jokes. Things we’re sure we tell badly, or else something that we suspect we may actually be. Not sure.

K: Kettle. Vital writer equipment. Enables us to fuel our caffeine habit, make pot noodles, and serves as a fantastic procrastination tool.

L: Laughter. Used as deflection when someone asks us how our little book is coming on. Often has a slightly desperate edge.

M: Murder. What we research more than is probably healthy, and said searches are probably why we’re on FBI watch lists.

N: Nightmares. In which we find ourselves at a writers’ conference, pitching an erotic comedy to an agent who represents only literary fiction.

Yep.

O: Oh. As in oh my god, oh help me, oh hell, oh no what have I done, and other things I can’t print here.

P: Proofreading. Because editing wasn’t enough. Editing is never enough.

Q: Quiet. What we insist we need, then get a little uneasy about when we actually get it. Is there a tap dripping? I think the fridge is coming on too often. I did not know the cat snored that loudly. Wow. All this quiet is distracting. How am I meant to work like this?

R: Research. Where we find out about interesting ways to kill people, untraceable poisons, how to dismember a body, and other titbits that don’t really help us in small talk situations.

S: Sighs. Many, and escalating as the drafts mount up.

T: Twitter. Where we ‘connect with readers’ and ‘build our audience’. Also known as hanging out with other writers, sharing bad jokes and pretending to work.

U: Unclear. Our characters’ motives, the plot, and our own memories of where we were going when we started this piece. Also our motivations for ever getting into this madness.

No, no. We just think it is. Hopefully.

V: Vague. Our behaviour when forced to leave the computer and socialise. Also known as ‘unsociable’, ‘awkward’, and sometimes ‘weird’.

W: Wikipedia. Where we fall down rabbit holes of unrelated research and emerge days later knowing the exact breeding cycle of the lesser red-spotted yak fly, but nothing more about the historical relevance of penny whistles, which is what we went in for.

X: X. Usually written large, in red, across vast swathes of manuscript while editing.

Y: Yowl. The sound the cat makes when we step on her in the dark while going to write down an amazing idea that’s just occurred to us at 3 am. Alternatively: Yelp, the sound the dogs makes, and also the sound we make when we walk into the bathroom door.

Z: Zero. The amount of regret we have about any of this. Most of the time, anyway.

 

 

So let me know, lovely people – any additions to this alphabet? Any substitutions? Tell me your thoughts!

7 Things About Snowboarding, Writing, & Life

7 Things About Snowboarding, Writing, & Life

I finally got my first snowboarding day of the season in yesterday – a friend and I headed up to Auron, which is about 2hrs drive from here. The snow was gorgeous, and, being a Monday, it was lovely and quiet. Which was good, as the first day of the season tends to be… patchy for me. My friend, being French, elegant, and a skier, spent most of the day laughing at me and asking when I was going to learn to ski.

Which I’m considering, but, honestly, controlling one board is about the limit of my coordination. Two skis and two poles? I have doubts.

But something occurred to me when I fell getting off the lift (happens a lot), and my friend and the lift operator were both teasing me about it.

I didn’t care.

I wasn’t embarrassed.

I hadn’t hurt myself, so what did it matter? I laughed as much as they did.

And I’m not as relaxed about most things in my life.

So, because I needed a blog post, you shall now be subject to the philosophy of writing and life, as taught by snowboarding. (Lesson – never think anything is not relatable to writing if there’s a writer in the vicinity.)

 

7 Things Snowboarding Taught Me About Life (& Writing)

1. You will fall. Probably frequently. Sometimes it hurts (sometimes even a lot), sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s frustrating. It’s okay. Everyone else falls, too. Even the ones that go super-fast and have the awesome expensive boards. Often they fall much harder than you just did. Check for broken bits, laugh, get up and keep going.

2. Learn how to fall. Since you’re going to fall anyway, learn how to do it so it doesn’t hurt too much. Learn to lean into the motion of your board (or your writing, or life), so you’ve got a better chance of catching yourself and not landing on your bum in an icy patch and really feeling it. If you want protection, wear it. It’s okay to have a buffer against the bumps.

3. Relax. You’ll fall, you’ll get up, you’ll keep going. So will everyone else. Maybe you feel like you look silly (windmilling your arms trying to stay upright, perhaps, or hopping up and down trying to get yourself moving, or sliding head-first on your back down a slope because you got a little cocky). Don’t worry about it. Everyone looks a bit silly at some stage. And the more you relax, the less that fall’s going to hurt.

4. Know how to stop, and don’t be afraid to do it. Unexpected things are always jumping out at you, whatever form they take – battalions of very small children snaking across the slope in such long lines you can’t get past them, or appearing off snowbanks and dropping onto the piste, or flying past you so fast you need to take a break to re-evaluate if you’re even young enough to be out here (small children on ski slopes scare me. They’re so quick. And small). Or, you know, colds, or unplanned visitors, or needing to know where you’re actually going, or the lure of hot chocolate. Or even just a really nice view that requires appreciating. There’s nothing wrong with stopping. Make sure you’ve got the hang of it. It’s important.

5. Sometimes it hurts. I don’t mean the falls, although sometimes they do. I mean the seam in your sock rubbing on your little toe, or your calves aching from too much toe edge coming down a skinny trail, or your sinuses playing up, or (nasty new discovery this week) mal de montagne. Things hurt, and that’s just part of snowboarding, or writing, or life. And it’s okay to hurt. The thing is to find the good stuff that outweighs it.

6. Make it fun. You can moan about the hurts and curse the falls and whinge about all the people who are better at it than you, or you can look past it. See the bits that matter – after all, what other sport basically invites you to slide down a mountain on a piece of wood, fall over, roll around in the snow, then go drink hot chocolate, all while bundled up like a five-year-old (well, that’s me. My friend always looks very glamorous and put together)? And writing – where else do you get to make up worlds, play with imaginary friends, then go tell people about it? And said people actually want to listen? And as for life – well, it’s just generally pretty ridiculous, I’d say.

7. The more you do it, the better you get. Don’t let those first few horrible days, where it’s more falling than fun, put you off. Don’t let the rejections stop the stories. Don’t let the stuff that made you stumble at twenty still trip you at forty. Every fall, every rejection, every trip, is one you don’t have to do again. Keep going. It’ll get better. You’ll get better. And the better you get, the more fun it is. Keep going.

Although I still have my doubts that I’ll ever completely get the hang of getting off lifts.

 

 

What’s your favourite activity for getting out of your head? What have you learned from it? Let me know in the comments!


A bit of an update, too, as I know I haven’t done a short story since December (which feels like a really long time ago). I’m going to be making some changes to the website over the next month or so, and one of those will be that there’ll only be one short story a month, the link to which will go out in the newsletter. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep up to the more regular stories, but I’d rather do less and do them better!

The old short stories will also be coming off the website, and I’ve yet to decide exactly what I’m doing with them, so stay tuned – and sign up for the newsletter to receive this month’s short story in a week or so!

Sign up here!

 

Writing Prompts & The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Writing Prompts & The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

A video in which I get over-excited by a book.

Wait – does that describe all my videos? I think maybe.

Okay, so to be a little more specific – I talk about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which is a stunning picture book with a story behind it, as well as all the stories within it. I also show you some of the pictures, so that’s fun.

And, just to justify my picture book fixtation – this book is actually a treasure trove of writing prompts, so it’s really a writing tool. Honest.

 

 

Do you use writing prompts? What do you think of these ones? Let me know below, and please drop a link if you’ve written any stories inspired by these pictures!

 

I Don’t Know What I’m Thinking, Either

I Don’t Know What I’m Thinking, Either

It’s short story week! Jump on over to read Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or read on for a few thoughts about the story itself.


Yeah, and my bedside table is just as tidy as that. *snorts*

I do that writery thing you always read about, where I keep a notebook and a piece of paper by the bed. It seems like a reasonable thing to do, right? I mean, who knows what pearl of genius may rise to the surface in the night?

But this is what really happens:

If I wake up in the night, it’s because I need the loo, and I’m mostly concentrating on not walking into any walls or tripping over cat toys. If I survive that excursion, I sink gratefully back into bed and hope I haven’t woken the cat up. Because if I’ve woken the cat up, then she wants cuddles/play/food, and I have to either provide the first two or ignore the last, in the hope that she gives up and goes back to sleep. This is an unusual occurrence. She’s a very persistent cat.

However, assuming I survive this, I have every intention of going back to sleep myself rather than attempting to pen an inspiring note by the faint light filtering in through the curtains. My writing’s pretty illegible at the best of times. Half-asleep and in the dark, it’s going to look like the local spiders are sending us ransom notes.

Of course, I have tried, because it seems very writery, and I like pretending to be writery. But I’ll tell you now – my 3am dream thoughts are not lighting papers of story. They’re somewhere between a 5-year-old’s Christmas list and the ramblings of someone on a morphine drip. I mean, what do you do with “Rabbit. Green snow – bees. Yeah.”?

Not a lot.

However, I was evidently both relatively lucid and able to hold the pen like a normal human being when I wrote this one down: “Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

I mean, it’s not a story.

But it was a seed.

Read on and enjoy!

 

Yeah, not QUITE like that.

 

Do you write down your dreams, or ideas that come to you in the night? Have they led you down some interesting paths? Tell me in the comments!

 

A Halloween Q&A

A Halloween Q&A

I was tagged by Billy Owens Jr in a Halloween Q & A, so you lucky people get to find out more things about me that you never wanted to know! (Yes, I realise that technically it’s not Halloween any more, or even Halloween month, but it’s still closer to Halloween that Christmas. Not that the shops seem to know that…)

If you haven’t come across Billy yet, his website is here and his Twitter here – he’s a wonderful supporter of all writers and indie authors in particular, and is working on an intriguing-sounding superhero story. Thanks for the tag, Billy!

Onwards, then, for the spooky details…

1. Are you a scaredy cat or a horror aficionado?
Umm. When I was a kid I devoured anything horror-ish, the more gruesome the better. I adored anything that made me scared to turn out the lights. I didn’t watch a lot of TV or movies even then, but I read anything scary I could get my hands on, the more teeth and gore on the cover the better. I also slept with my light on for quite a while after reading Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, purely because I was too scared to reach across the gap between the bed and the light switch. There was also a small incident when I was about 13 and reading Stephen King’s It for the first time – we were living on an island in Tonga, and I was in a separate fale (beach bungalow type thing) to my parents. I did manage to turn the lights out, but then became so sure Pennywise was watching me from just inside the bathroom that I had to sprint through the night and hammer on their door until they let me in. I think I slept on their floor for about a week…

These days I don’t seem to find a lot of horror I actually like. I don’t like splatter, or gore for the sake of gore, and I seem to be more sensitive to some things than I used to be. Anyone got any recommendations for a good old-fashioned supernatural scare?

2. Would you ever consider writing a horror novel?
Ah, now this I’ve actually tried, when I was younger and bleaker. They weren’t very good. My horror short stories were okay, though.

3. What is your favorite bookish costume you’ve ever worn?
When I was growing up, Halloween really wasn’t a thing in New Zealand, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a Halloween party as an adult. Although I did once wear a snowman costume to teach a Christmas spin class. Does that count?

4. What is the best bookish costume you’ve seen someone else wear?
I saw a small boy in a full Harry Potter costume while I was in London, which I know is hardly original, but there was no one else in costume around, and he and his dad were just wandering down the street as if this was a normal occurrence. I liked that.

K M Watt short story stories blogs writing reading author writer fantasy contemporary urban ya mg5. What literary villain is your favourite?
Ooh, tricky! ‘Literary’ always makes me think of the classics, so I’d have to go with Mr Hyde, as the idea that the villain is part of us is something that’s always been more scary to me than any monster.

6. Will you be visiting a haunted house this year?
Not intentionally. But you never know.

7. Would you rather go to a Halloween party or go Trick-or-Treating?
Go to a party and have to make small talk while explaining an obscure costume to people, or knock on strangers’ doors and ask them for candy? Why is staying home, drinking tea and reading scary books not an option here?

8. What’s the best Halloween song?
I’m putting a video in here because, predictable as it is, I love this too much not to.

9. What scares you the most about the writing process?
Other people reading it. Which is also the bit I love the most.

10. Monster Mash – If you had to say your antagonist was a mix of two traditional monsters what would those be?
I’ll go with my MG book here, so he’d be… a touch of demi-god, a touch of warlock (stretching the traditional definition here a little).

11. Would your MC be more scared of being left alone in a dark forest or an abandoned castle?
At least one of those things does happen to her. And she’s scared, but she’s also not happy with the people who put her in that situation, which helps her out rather a lot.

12. Does anyone in your WIP believe in ghosts?
Kate, the protagonist, does, because she’s just discovered cats can talk, pixies are real, and there really are monsters under the bed. So she figures the rest must be real too. Everyone else knows that even magical worlds have limits.

Do not mess with the cat.

13. What character would last the longest in a scary movie?
Chester, because he’s a scrappy cat with about five lives still left to him. Plus, like any cat, he looks out for himself rather well.

14. Good witch or bad witch – do you enjoy torturing the characters in your WIP or do you feel bad about it?
I thought I was a good witch, and wasn’t that mean to them, but my beta readers rather disabused me of that notion.

15. Pick a love interest from your WIP: would they be most likely to scream like a little kid or punch someone in the face if they were scared abruptly?
There aren’t any love interests in my WIP, because I have the romantic intelligence of a cabbage. But Kate would probably scream and punch them, then kick them a couple of times just in case.

 

Gratuitous Halloween scary black cat shot.

 

And that is it – Halloween Q&A is done! Thanks again, Billy!

What about you – what’s a spooky fact you’d like to share? Have you seen a ghost? Do you write about them? Tell me below!

#Amplotsing? What Happened When A Pantser Tried Plotting

#Amplotsing? What Happened When A Pantser Tried Plotting

And playing in the sandbox IS creating, anyway.

I’m a panster.

And, until recently, I never thought about changing that.

I’ve mentioned previously that it works for me quite well. I get to dive into the story and run around after the characters, waiting to see what they get up to and how they reveal themselves to me. I never know quite what they’re going to do when I start writing, you see, as we’re only just getting to know each other. I know what sort of person they are – young or old, smart or not-so-smart, shy or out-going. But until the monsters actually start coming out of the walls, I don’t really know if they’re going to crack jokes, crack heads, or crack up. That stuff they let me know as we go along, and I’m fine with that. It’s fun, and my experience with plotting has been that I may as well doodle on a page for a few days, then put it in the compost. At least that way the worms’ll get some use out of it.

Less fine is the chaos that ensues once I start editing. Because there was a lot of meandering around while I got to know the characters, a few false starts where I thought the protagonist was actually the antagonist, and a bit of confusion when the cat came in and started ordering everyone about. Plus there was that thing with the troll tea party that was entirely irrelevant, and a subplot to do with mutinous garden gnomes that went exactly nowhere.

So editing my first draft is rather closer to rewriting.

I’m surprised my face hasn’t frozen like that.

Which is manageable, in its way. Last time, I sat down and did a full outline before I started the edits, threw some things out, put some things in, shifted a few scenes, and managed to shoehorn the manuscript into something that was reasonably coherent. Certainly enough so that I could get my real editing head on for the following drafts. And, eventually, it got to start looking like a book.

But it does take a long time. I’m essentially writing two books before I even get to a real first draft. And there’s a lot of wandering around the house looking confused, and staring at the page wondering what happens next, and throwing frankly rather unpleasant things at my characters to see what they do. Which they should expect, but it does seem a bit unfair when I then cut a load of scenes out. They’re probably thinking, “Jeez, I’d’ve handled that armoured goat attack a lot better, if I hadn’t already been exhausted from fighting off airborne snails with poison darts. And now she’s just throwing that away? My writer sucks.”

So when I decided to write a Beaufort Scales Christmas mystery, I decided that I would try outlining. (Previous writer self freaks out and starts stuttering about stifled creativity and constricted potential. I throw her cookies to distract her).

We’ve been mystery-solving with Beaufort before.

I had two reasons for this. One, I know Beaufort and his various cohorts reasonably well. I’ve already trailed after them through several short stories and a murder mystery (which I really should have outlined, as it was a serial), and I felt pretty confident that I knew how they were going to behave right from the start. Two, I decided I wanted to do this before I went away for a week and a half, which gave me a grand total of 10 days to write it. This did not leave time for wandering about the house or staring blankly into space while I waited for Beaufort to decide what to do next.

I set a goal of 40,000 words, which was ambitious but not too silly, found some outline templates here (I’d previously used Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet for a post-first draft outline, and I liked it, so I used it again), and started. I’d known I wanted to do another Beaufort mystery for a while, so it wasn’t exactly going in blind, plus I had a few ideas already ticking over. Add in a couple of suggestions from a lovely twitter friend (thanks Anna!), and I was off.

The writer at work.

I’ve heard of people having word counts for their outlines and that sort of thing, but I did all mine on paper, so I’m not sure how long it was in the end. I preferred paper because then I just kept my notebook on my desk, and it made it easy to refer back to, plus I still find writing by hand to be easier and more organic than on the laptop. I wasn’t super-detailed – just the major points that I wanted to happen for each beat of the story. It took me two drafts to feel happy with it, and even then there was some ‘and stuff happens’ bits in the middle, but I think that made my pantsy little heart more comfortable.

Then I jumped in.

I was kind of unconvinced at first, because it did take me a day to find the rhythm of the story. But after that, it was actually pretty fun. I still had my slow patches, but because I knew what was going to happen next, it was easier to find out how to get from one scene to another. Of course, being me, scenes jumped around, vanished, or were replaced by different ones, and a character I introduced who was meant to have one line ended up sitting down, making himself a cuppa and staying. Two of them, actually. But I was still always moving forwards, rather than diagonally, sideways and underground, overground, wombling free, which is more my usual style.

*grasp on reality becomes increasingly tenuous as all time is spent with dragons*

And all of this affected my pace. I can usually do a comfy 2,000 words a day, and have been known to sprint to the end with a 10,000 word-er. Obviously, I would ideally have had more time, so I didn’t have to sprint, but, after the first day, 5,000 words was easy and 7,500 a push but doable. I wound up with two marathon days right at the end, the last of which was a 14,000 word-er, which I am boasting about, because I have never done that before and do not expect to do it again (not least because I was a wreck the whole next day, and dreamed about dragons as soon as I fell asleep. Not that the second part is bad). It was a long day. And the whole thing wound up as a bit over 52,000 words written in 8 days. Yay Beaufort!

Could I have done that pantsing?

I don’t think so. While I may have the overall story in my head, I don’t have the details, and those are the bits I need to build the scenes.

Trust me, Snoopy. I’ve written worse.

Could I have done it with characters I didn’t know?

Again, I don’t think so. I know a lot of writers will include character interviews and so on in their planning, but I don’t know my characters until I see them in action. Getting them to tell me about themselves doesn’t work, because as soon as they’re in place, I find out they lied to me anyway.

Would I do it again?

Yes. It was fun, and ridiculously exciting to throw a story out so quickly. And I didn’t find the outline constrictive at all, which surprised me. Of course, I did consider it as a guide rather than a plan, so that might have had something to do with it. I don’t know how I’d do it with new characters, but I think it’d just be a much slower process and require some more tweaking as I went.

And now to wait until the editing starts to see if it actually worked…

How about you? Plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? And would you try changing?

 

 

You’re Doing Brilliantly

You’re Doing Brilliantly

*Sigh*

Everyone’s struggling right now.

Funny how it comes in waves.

Or maybe it doesn’t, but that’s what it feels like – everyone’s struggling. Every writer I know seems to be second-guessing themselves, wondering if they’ve got what it takes. If it’s even worth it, if they do. As if in the shift from summer to autumn (in this part of the world, anyway), from September to October, everyone’s been plunged into self-doubt.

Because it’s not easy, is it?

There’s the writing bit, which is, well, variable.

Variable like, you know, English summer weather. Hail one minute, sunburned noses the next. Which is to say, some days there’s nothing I’d rather be doing, and other days the only thing stopping me throwing the laptop out the window is the fact that it has all Layla’s photos on it.

Horribly familiar.

But writing’s fun, overall. Yes, editing can be a pain, particularly when we discover that scene that we absolutely love, and which we’d be prepared to say is one of the best things written by anyone, ever, is entirely irrelevant to the story and needs to come out. That sucks. As does finding we changed a character’s name part way through chapter six, and now we don’t know which name we like better, or indeed which character we’re talking about at any given time.

But other than that, it’s all good. We build our castles in the sand, all spires and gargoyles and fanciful turrets, and we love them, because they’re ours. We get a little Gollum-ish, to be honest. Possessive and protective and terrified, all at once (and often with a similar complexion. Seriously, we don’t see a lot of daylight, and cookies can be argued to cover at least three food groups).

It’s still tough, don’t get me wrong. Uncooperative characters, panic over tropes (are we subverting them or perpetuating them? And who even knew a heavy metal badger was a trope?), vanishing sub-plots and plotlines with more snarls than the M25. It’s hard. But it’s also ours. Our precious. So, as tough as it is, we keep going. We edit, and re-edit, and re-write, and edit again, and re-edit again, and re-write, and take out the heavy metal badger, as much as it breaks our inky little hearts. We persist, because this is going to be good. GOOD, in capitals, and possibly with gold stars.

I don’t want to be a trope.

And finally, finally, we’re ready to share. Perhaps with our loved ones first, because if they want to stay loved they bloody well better tell us we’re somewhere between Hemingway and Rowling. Then, emboldened by the fact that all anyone has to critique are a few pesky typos, we decide to dip out toes into the world of beta readers. They’re going to love it. It’ll be the best book they’ve ever read, never mind the best beta read (okay, if anyone actually has this confidence, good on you and can I have some? I’m actually convinced that every beta read will come back with a “DNF – this is rubbish” tacked to the front. But, dramatic effect etc).

And instead you get, “The penguin did what? I’m confused. This is really unclear.” Or, “I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure triceratops were vegans,” thus destroying your whole storyline about a rampaging, ravenous triceratops. Or, “This dialogue is really formal. I’m pretty sure giant anteaters don’t talk like that.” Or the bits you thought were funny fall flat, and the tear-jerking bits are somehow hilarious, or it turns out that your grasp of certain aspects of the English language may be a little shakier than you thought.

He LOOKS like he’d call someone “old boy”, though.

Talk about a reality shock.

A really, really high-voltage one.

You’ve spent months on this, and someone’s torn it apart in the space of an email! Your precious lies in tatters! Your dreams are destroyed! How dare they? How dare they?

Except, then, you read it again and realise they’re right. Giant anteaters really wouldn’t refer to each other as ‘old boy’ and ‘chum’. And a quick google proves that, yes, triceratops was indeed vegetarian, at the very least.

So then you have two choices. Consign your masterpiece to become chicken bedding, or get out the editing pen. And most of us, persistent little weirdos that we are, choose the latter. We go in again. We edit and re-edit and re-write again, then (with slightly less Gollumness) ask for someone else to pick it apart. And I’m not sure I can really say it hurts a little less each time, but I can say that you begin to take it a little less personally. Call my cat fat and I’ll murder you in my next book. Tell me my story’s overweight, and I’ll probably say thank you.

This is how you do it, right?

So there’s one hurdle. The first thickening of the skin. But it’s like one of those hellish BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE infomercials. Because all through this, you’ve been doing the good author thing, and trying to be chirpy social media person, and keep your blog up to date, and instagram pretty pictures, and do all those things that eat up your days when you’d really rather be writing. You reply to comments, and you re-tweet others, and you try to be witty and clever and cute.

And then someone tells you that they hate what you write, who you are, your cat, and your second auntie twice removed. Or they proposition you then tell you that.

And meanwhile your blog stats haven’t moved for months, your posts wallow in internet doldrums, and every article you see is still screaming BUILD YOUR AUTHOR PLATFORM IT’S SUPER DUPER EASY AND MASSIVELY IMPORTANT! And, really? Re-writing thirty pages of penguins on the rampage was more fun than this.

Im here for the love triangle.

But what do you do? You’ve come this far. You pull your ever-tougher author skin up around your ears and keep going.

Then comes the Big Stuff. Because either we’re going to self-publish, in which case we’re going to be running around designing covers or having them designed, and figuring out how we’re going to promote our book, and who we can beg a review from, and steeling ourselves for the inevitable one-star review by someone who thought it was a penguin-triceratops historical romance, and blatantly didn’t read the description of it as a sci-fi adventure giant anteater fantasy. Failing that, we’re going down the query path, having minor emotional and psychological breakdowns over cramming our magnus opus into a one-page synopsis and crying into our hot chocolate with whipped cream as we wait – and wait, and wait, and wait – for the inevitable form letter rejections.

And then, whichever path we’ve chosen, we’re going to have to pick ourselves up and start again. Because if we’re in the lucky elite who land an agent, they’ll probably want the penguin written into the giant anteater love triangle, and if we’re self-publishing someone’s going to send us a private message asking if we realised that penguins don’t actually live at the North Pole, and the next thing it’s back to edit, re-edit, re-write, repeat.

So, yeah. I get why so many people I know are having a hard time. I get why some days I think I’d rather go be a cashier at Poundland.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, there are hurdles that can’t help but feel personal. There are criticisms we must take, if we want to get better, and sometimes they hurt. And there are things that are so far out of our hands that all we can do is shrug in despair and promise to sacrifice a Lesser Green-Splattered Butterfly to Lady Luck.

Some days we want to give up.

Maybe one day we will.

But this is my shout out to all the writers out there, whether I know you or not.

I know it’s hard.

I know it can suck.

I know sometimes it doesn’t even feel worth it.

I know sometimes it feels like it’ll send you mad, but that it’s too late, because you must’ve been mad to even start.

I know that sometimes you swear to yourself you’ll punch the next person who says “You write? How cute!” (And I’m absolutely behind you if you do. I’ll even be an eye witness to the fact that it was self defence).

But if there’s still enough joy in it for you to keep going (and answer this honestly, because if not, if it’s become something so horrible and draining that you find nothing but horror on the page, you stop. Maybe you’ll start again, maybe you won’t, but remember this – there must be joy. It’s too hard a thing to keep going if there isn’t, and bollocks to anyone who tells you otherwise), if there’s still enough pure pleasure in the knit and punch of words and scenes and characters, then I’m cheering you on. If you’re earlier on than me in your writer’s adventure, if you’re further on – I love your indomitable little heart, and I’m cheering. And waving pompoms and blowing curly whistles and throwing confetti.

And if not, I understand that, too.

But either way – you’re doing brilliantly.

 

I send you cupcakes, confetti, and cute little rodents.

How are you doing at this whole writer’s life thing?

 

 

7 Mildly Interesting Things

7 Mildly Interesting Things

A mysterious looking island, because it’s prettier than an award, anyway.

The wonderful A.S. Akkalon nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award, which is both very nice of her and very confusing as I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to be versatile at. Writing about cats, dragons and cake with equal enthusiasm, perhaps?

Oh, wait – there are details.

“The Versatile Bloggers Award is an award given by bloggers to other bloggers whom they believe deserve recognition for their high quality standard of writing, uniqueness of content, passion and love displayed throughout the site, and amazing photos.”

I think it’s possible that she may have me confused with someone else, especially on the amazing photos bit (although Layla-cat is terribly photogenic). But I’m just going to take it and thank her very much, smile graciously and refuse to give it back, ever.

The rules of the award are that I must thank A.S. Akkalon (thank you again, lovely hat-wearer!), link to her blog (which is funny, clever, and you should read it now. Well, after you read mine), then nominate up to 10 other bloggers, link to their sites and inform them. You’ll find those talented people at the bottom of the post.

Finally, I need to tell you seven things you don’t know about me. I decided to ask Twitter about this, because it is, after all, the font of all knowledge, and my favourite muse after Layla. And thanks to the wonderful people on there, here are seven things you may or may not know about me.

I must have been banned from reading for the photo.

1. When/Why did you first become interested in writing? What was your first story about? – Michelle Winkler
I actually can’t really remember. I was an absolute bookworm as a kid, to the extent that I used to sleep with books under my pillow in the belief that the stories would seep into my dreams. I was also an only child, growing up on a boat, so spent a lot of time telling stories to myself, and having Adventures, either on my own or with a battalion of stuffed toys. Writing was just an extension of those stories, I think. My first clear memory of writing was when my correspondence schooling hadn’t arrived, so I decided that writing a book of short stories would cover most of the missed lessons. I was probably about eight, and they were ghost stories. Which I illustrated. Naturally. And no, even if I find them again, I’m not showing you.

The bits that take the time.

2. Why are you a #turtlewriter? – DrewMichaelsWrites
#Turtlewriters, for those of you that don’t know, is a wonderfully supportive twitter group for those of us that aren’t exactly speedy at churning out the words. For the record, I can actually be pretty speedy. I’ve been known to have a 10,000 word day (okay, it was a really long day), and writing a 5,000-plus word short story in one sitting isn’t that uncommon for me. But it’s all the stuff around it that makes me a #turtlewriter. I tend to let ideas sit for a while before I start digging them up, and it can take me a few attempts before the story starts to sit right on the page. With a short story, once it’s ready to be written I might not have an awful lot of editing to do. For a longer work, however, things are not so simple. I’m a pantser, so what I end up with at the finish may not be anything like I had intended. Which means going back to the beginning and starting over again, after which the end may have changed. And while the middle’s looking okay, because the end changed the beginning is once more out of kilter. So back I go and try again. Now the beginning and the ending are solid, but the middle’s all upside down. Back again, only to find the ending’s impossible now I’ve re-written the middle, and now I don’t like the beginning anyway, so…

You get the picture. And yes, I’ve tried outlining. That’s kind of hilarious in its own right.

3. Which fictional character (not your own) would you like to be? Would you have acted differently? – John B and Rosetta Yorke
Ugh. I don’t know why I chose this one, because it’s really hard. Except two people asked it, so it must be important, right? Right. So – I would be Little My from the Moomintroll series by Tove Jansson, because she does exactly what she wants, says exactly what she thinks, and is small enough to float around a flooded theatre in Moominmama’s sewing basket, using needles as weapons on anyone unwary enough to approach her. (I may have made the needle bit up, it’s a long time since I read them). And the only thing I’d do differently is to be a little bit less direct in the offering of opinions.

Vavau, Tonga. Pretty idyllic, really.

4. Billy Owens Jr, A.S. Akkalon and Tamara R. Bower all asked about the places I’ve travelled to and lived in, plus what it’s like to be a pirate.
I’ve lived almost three-quarters of my life, and all my adult life, out of New Zealand (although I AM still a kiwi, and if anyone says different I’ll force-feed them Marmite). In that time, the longest I’ve spent in one country is three years, although that may be stretching it a bit – I’m not sure I ever actually made it that long. This is all entirely accidental – I took a gap year after my first year at uni, went to work in a dive shop in Tonga, and somehow kept falling from one job into the next. Best job – either diving in Tonga (while it’s very unspoiled still, in those days we were the only dive operators. Plus humpback whales mate and calve there, so we got to swim with them pretty regularly), or teaching sailing in Greece, because Greece and sailing and being 21. Worst job – either working in a commercial kitchen in Greece with a stereotypical screaming, pot-throwing head chef, or certain parts of working on a superyacht (i.e. the parts where I was the smallest member of the deck crew and had to crawl into the bilges to sponge out stale water riddled with weird bugs that gave me sores on my legs for a month).

It’s all fun and games till someone starts vomiting.

Most incredible experience – either the aforementioned swimming with whales, or a perfectly moonless night in the Bay of Biscay, sailing downwind on a delivery with dolphins covered in phosphorescence playing across the bows. Worst experience – probably in the Caribbean, cleaning an absolute lake of seasick vomit off a bunk, two walls and the floor while everyone else was on deck having a fantastic sail, including the vomiter. Scariest experience – being on the bridge in a superyacht with a steel superstructure, doing a crossing to Barbados in the middle of a massive lightening storm. Which is also up there with most incredible. I can’t name a favourite place, because I love all of them for different reasons. Same with worst place – they all had certain things that weren’t great, but I didn’t hate any of them.

And I can’t tell you about being a pirate, because I might incriminate myself.

Mmm. Not actually brownies, because I didn’t have a photo. But still.

5. Favourite meal and favourite dessert? – Sandra.
This ties into Anna’s question about what my last meal would be – although hers was preceded by asking how I’d kill someone, and what I’d do with the body (I’d get the cat to knock a hairdryer into the bath, then add piranhas once the power was off. Obviously.).

This is really hard, because I like food. A lot. But probably veggies on the barbecue – red onions, aubergines, corn, red peppers, courgettes and baby gem lettuce. Take them off, chop roughly, and toss with homemade veggie ceasar dressing, then eat immediately with warm fresh bread and butter. I could eat that every day and not get bored. Dessert? Brownies, nice gooey ones that are barely cooked in the middle.

Now I’m hungry. Hang on while I go get some chocolate.

6. If you could be an instant expert at anything, what would it be, and why (not writing)? – M.L. Moos
I feel the exclusion of writing is kind of unfair. Okay – I would be an expert at not being distracted, so my every glance at wikipedia to check a minor sub-sub-plot fact wouldn’t turn into an hour-long trawl that ends up on the eating habits of elderly female gnu. And so I’d actually stop checking twitter every time I get stuck on a tricky sentence, resulting in falling down the rabbithole of the #cats and #amwriting hashtags. (Have you tried that? Cats! Writery cats!)

Don’t mess with the penguin.

7. A penguin wearing a trilby walks through the door. What does it say? – KitchenCounterAuthor
“Evenin’. I’m lookin’ for a penguin. About so high, black and white, flippers to die for and webbing on her feet like you never seen. She been through here?”

You apologise, admitting that one penguin looks much like another.

The penguin slides his hat off, fixing you with one narrowed yellow eye. “Seriously?” He looks around, as if playing to an audience. “You believe this?” he asks the invisible watchers, then re-seats his hat, shaking his head in disappointment. “Learn some manners before someone learns you them,” he says, surprisingly threatening for a small aquatic bird.

As he leaves, he takes a sardine from the display. You don’t stop him. Some birds are nothing but trouble.

Super bonus question: What do you do with a drunken sailor, and are there sea monsters that deal with those? – A.S. Akkalon and Anna
Yes, there are sea monsters, but they normally like sober sailors. Which is why the sailors are drunk. Didn’t we watch a movie about this?

And that’s it for me. Thanks again A.S. Akkalon for the nomination! Now, The Recipe Collector, AJ Watt, Billy Owens Jr, Lisa Sell and Debbie Jinks – tell us your secrets!*
*Only if you want to, of course.

And ask away if you’d like to know anything else!