Tag: writing

A Writing Space & The Writing Process (& Gratuitous Cat Photos)

A Writing Space & The Writing Process (& Gratuitous Cat Photos)

For years now, I’ve not really been of the opinion that we need a writing space. I mean, it’s nice, sure. And if you live with other people, you definitely need to be able to shut the door on them and get on with your stuff with minimal interruptions. But a dedicated writing space? That’s kind of a luxury.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
I hate to think of the mistakes I could make without the backspace button…

Part of this attitude may be that I have a complicated relationship with chairs. I mean, they’re very nice and all, but I’m not very good at sitting in them. Not in the way they’re meant to be sat in. So any desk chair has to accommodate me sitting with one or both legs folded under me, and most desk chairs are a bit too constrictive for that. Plus I’m not used to sitting, so my back gets sore. I did try the whole balance ball thing, but not only can you definitely not sit cross-legged on top of one, the Little Furry Muse was pretty sure it was The Creature Bringing The End Of The World, and would barely countenance being in the same apartment as it, let alone room. And having a desk with no chair kind of ruins the point.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
Notebooks make excellent beds. Much better than an *actual* bed.

I’ve written a lot while sat on the floor. When I started out on this writing thing in a serious manner, I’d just sold my little bookshop in Australia, and we’d had to move out of our rented apartment because it had sold. We only had a month or so left, so we were living in a cabin on a campsite in Montville, which is in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. It was a nice enough place – a tiny town with a bakery and a pub and not much else, and beautiful views out to the coast in the distance. The cabin had a reasonable kitchen, and a surprisingly big bathroom, and a lounge and bed all in one room. What it did not have was any sort of table or coffee table. Looking back, that was kind of weird. There was room for a table in the kitchen, definitely, but there wasn’t one. We don’t really eat at tables (see aforementioned issues with chairs), so it never bothered us, but for some people it must have been at least a little bit of an oversight. So I wrote sat on the floor, with one of those breakfast trays with legs over my lap, and the cat trying to fit on as well.

Then we went to New Zealand and took a camper from the South Island to the North. Admittedly, I spent most of the time taking photos and clambering around hiking tracks, but when I did write, it was tucked into a corner of the camper, with my notebook on my lap.

After that we did a yacht delivery with my dad. The best writing place there was curled into a corner of the cockpit, with my notebook once again on my lap.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
Coffee tables have the added advantage of floor space being available for planning purposes.

Then it was England for Christmas, and there was a table, but it was downstairs and upstairs was warmer, so I wrote either on the floor at the coffee table, or – you guessed it – on the couch with my notebook on my lap.

And so on. Since we got to France we’ve moved three times, and each rented place has been a mix of sitting on the floor, or using a tiny little rolly desk that was very practical but so wobbly that I thought my typing might actually send it shaking to pieces. I did discover that standing at the kitchen counter (with the laptop on a mini ironing board from IKEA, which is the only use for an ironing board, in my opinion) was really good for my back, and useful for everything except actual writing, so I started alternating between that and sitting on the couch with the Little Furry Muse (she does not approve of me standing. There are less lap opportunities), or on the floor surrounded by cushions for those days that felt a little vulnerable. And, you know, it worked well enough. Except when you’re referring to an outline, a notebook, and probably some bits of scrap paper as well, and still need space for a cup of tea, a bottle of water, and some cookies. Plus you know the cat will make space for herself.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
The little furry muse felt that there was, indeed, room for one cat on the rolly desk.

So, some three years after starting this whole writing thing, I bought a desk. A proper one, not a 30€ compromise just big enough to fit my laptop on. And I bought a desk chair – one that I can’t feel the screws in the base through the cushion, and in which I can tuck my legs up any way I want. And I installed it in the second bedroom, despite the fact that if we ever want to pull the spare bed out into a double, we’re going to have to dismantle the desk (we don’t really do visitors, anyway). I took the pictures down and put up plans and calenders and reminders, and filled the desk shelf with craft books and a pen jar and a dragon painting. It still looks uncomfortably clean and tidy, although the one drawer’s already nicely cluttered, there are post-its everywhere, and there’s cat hair stuck in the joins. I also need to find a better solution to music supply than an old phone with a cracked screen plugged into a pound store speaker, but it’s working for now. And then I went back to the kitchen counter.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
The kitchen counter has its advantages.

Yeah, I know. All that, and I’m back at the counter? Well – it’s kind of serious, having an office, isn’t it? That kind of makes it real. Kind of grown-up. Like I have to actually focus, and not wander off to get a cuppa or a biscuit every few minutes, or to laugh at the cat. I told myself that I’d use the desk just for writing writing, not for making graphics or posting blogs or doing social media or anything else, and that seemed reasonable. Plus standing really is better for me. I should definitely stand as much as I can. Definitely.

It took me two, maybe three weeks before I used the desk in earnest. It made me strangely nervous, sitting down and pulling out the keyboard and telling myself that I was sitting here to write a short story, because that’s what the desk was for. Writing. But – but if I have a place in my home that I go to write and only write, then – well, then that’s like being a real writer. That’s – I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
Layla approves.

But I sat down and did it. And, unlike being on the couch or at the kitchen counter, I didn’t wander off into the wilds of the internet every five minutes. I didn’t get up to grab a quick something (or not even have to get up, as at the counter. The cookie jar is right there.) I sat down and I wrote, and the only distraction was the Little Furry Muse coming to investigate what I was doing in her room, then walking off in disgust when she realised I’d commandeered it. Followed shortly thereafter by her deciding that if the desk was in her room, it was obviously hers…

So here’s a thing I learnt. No, we don’t need a special place to write. We can write wherever we are. All we need is a little time, and a way to put the words down. But – and this is only how it worked for me – having a place we go when we write transforms the sitting down from something commonplace into something that’s a ritual. A process. I go into the room, I sit myself down, and I’m telling myself, here we go. Now is your writing time. Switch off that part of your brain that’s thinking about dinner, or French lessons, or social media, or cleaning, or friends, and just write.

Just write.

And what a lovely thing that is.

Writing Space and the writer's life - writing desk, cats, typewriter, writing, fiction, humour
I think we have a winner.

How about you, lovely people? Do you have a special space for writing or reading or working at home? Do you think it helps to have one? Let me know below!

 

What I Write (Because it’s not what I thought it was)

What I Write (Because it’s not what I thought it was)

Apparently there are these things called elevator pitches, and I should have one. In theory, it’s a quick and hopefully irresistibly interesting way to answer the dreaded question: “So, what do you write?”

My replies, so far, have included:

“Ah. Um. Well. Yes. It’s hard to explain.”

“Well, there’s a, uh, young girl, and some cats, and, well – it’s complicated.”

“I’m not very good at words.”

Not making any of these up, by the way. I still shudder in embarrassment at the last one, although it was about the most accurate of them all. And pretty self-evident by that stage of the conversation.

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
I am bad at the words. Go away.

But I don’t think I’m much better at explaining it with non-talking words, either. There’s all these other people out there, confidently saying, “I write historical romance.” Or, “I write high fantasy.” Or, “I write satirical treatises about satyrs in silk pyjamas treating themselves to spa days.” Or something like that. I don’t know – but they know what they’re writing, is my point.

I have no idea what I’m writing. (This is a separate issue from having no idea what I’m doing on a regular (permanent) basis, just so you know the level of cluelessness going on around here.)

I mean, I know what my story’s about. It’s a cosy mystery with dragons. And this one over here? That’s about a reaper who prefers baking to hanging out in graveyards, and who has become the reluctant mother to a litter of baby ghouls. That one there is about the problems of entering into the organ trade with gargoyles, and the one in the corner is about what happens when Glenda joins the Apocalypse. I know what they’re about.

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
Maybe it’ll tell me in here somewhere.

But, holy cow. How do you describe that to someone?

I tried out “humorous contemporary fantasy,” but that bored me before I even got it out of my mouth. Cosy mysteries with dragons is closer to the mark, but then what about poor Glenda, and Gertrude the reaper, and Aggie the gargoyle? That’s a bit mean, to just leave them out. And Gothic Comedy, which a writer friend jokingly suggested for the gargoyle story, while wonderful, doesn’t quite fit either.

Which means that I still have zero idea what genre I’m working in, and if people ask my current response is “funny fantasy adventures.” Which still doesn’t sound right, but it ticks a few boxes, so it’ll have to do for a conversation stopper (trust me, no one has asked anything more after that).

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
Stop asking me. I’m not even on the same bench as you.

I used to write horror (I know, let me wait while you laugh. But I did. Honest. Or I tried to). That was easier to classify. But as my writing has evolved over the years (and I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, on and off), I found that horror stopped feeding whatever it was that I needed. I didn’t get desensitised, I got over-sensitised. I mostly keep my news reading to the headlines now, rather than whole articles. I don’t watch gory movies unless there’s a good reason for all that gore (exceptions are made, obviously, for bad horror movies such as Black Sheep. Those are amazing). I still read horror, but I’m picky. Exceptionally so – bloodshed needs to have good reason. Detailed descriptions of disembowelling are more likely to turn me off than scare me. I like creepy stuff still, but I can look at BBC News if I want senseless violence and hatred and anger. So my writing shifted, and became something entirely different, which I’m happy with.

I guess we always write what we need, at some level.

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
Yes, I used to write dark stuff. No, it didn’t ALWAYS devolve into chickens saving the universe. Not always. (Click photo for more on that!)

However, I’d quite like to, you know, be a bit clearer about stuff. Lots of stuff, really, but we can start with writing, because Life is a bit large to tackle in one blog post. That’d take at least a couple. And it seems to me that if I want to start expanding my little universe of snarky cats and fast-talking demons from short stories to books (as is my intention right now), then I need to actually be able to tell people what I’m doing, and preferably in a way that doesn’t make them go, “Really? Huh,” before mentioning that the weather was nice last weekend.

So the other week I did one of those little FB challenges that come around now and then when you’re in excellent writing groups like this one. The challenge was run by a marketing type person who was absolutely excellent, and while I had doubts that I could actually clear anything up in my head in three days, it was worth a shot, right?

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
These days, I think of hordes of the undead, and end up with zombie mice. *shrugs*

This was a freebie challenge, and I don’t know if she’ll run it again, but wow – if you get the chance, and you want to figure out what your stories are actually about, it’s really worth it. It took me maybe twenty minutes over the first two evenings, then time to watch the videos, but if I’d had any idea about who my ideal reader was or what I was actually writing going in, I’m sure it would have been quicker.

And now I can confidently say that I know what my stories are about. That I know what I write, which, for someone like me, who really couldn’t even narrow down a genre, is something kind of wonderful indeed.

So what do I write, after all that? Well, turns out that it wasn’t about the gargoyles or the dragons or even the cats so much after all. Turns out these odd little tales are really about an escape from the general swamp of bad news that we find ourselves in. They’re about feel-good stories and friendship and relationships that aren’t necessarily romantic. They’re about somewhere that may be peopled by unusual characters and even monsters, but where you can feel you’re coming home to somewhere safe. And do you know what? I love that. I love that so much. This is what I want to write. This is what I want to give you. I’m never going to win a Pulitzer or be shortlisted for the Booker, but that’s never worried me (it wasn’t like I thought my horror writing would get me there, either). I don’t want to break hearts with my writing. I want to help patch them up a little. If one person can read my stories and come away feeling even a tiny bit better about the world and themselves, I’m happy.

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
I like feel-good.

I’m more than happy. I’m – I’m made up. That’s not an expression I even use, but it fits here. I’m made up.

So, then – I’m Kim. I write funny, magical, feel-good books. They’re about things like tea-drinking, mystery-solving dragons, and baking-obsessed reapers cleaning up the streets of Yorkshire towns. But mostly they’re about friendship and lifting each other up, and will remind you that life and people can be very wonderful indeed.

And I hope so, so much that they bring you something that helps soothe your heart.

What I Write - cosy mysteries, cozy mysteries, dragons, fantasy, humour, fun reads, easy reads, feel-good reads
And if all else fails, here’s a photo of a cat. That always makes me feel better.

Now, tell me, lovely readers! What genres do you like? Are you picky? Do you read everything? And, lovely writers – what do you write? Tell me below (and link to your blogs and/or author pages – I need new books)!

 

Failing in the Right Direction – the Writers’ Life

Failing in the Right Direction – the Writers’ Life

Warning! Warning! Personal Post Ahead! There will be failing! (And possibly flailing.) Eeek, get it off! Get it off!

Just kidding. Well, not really. But this is actually a post about failing, and having a bit of a rubbish year, and there are less dragons involved than you may have come to expect. Although I’ve added cat gifs to soften the blow.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

My current status in 2018.

Still here? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here’s the thing.

May sucked.

May was a no-good, terrible, horrible month. Lots of things happened, with people I love getting sick and being taken into hospital, and relationship issues, and work issues, and all sorts of stuff. The kind of stuff that makes you just want to cancel the month immediately and request a refund, although probably not a do-over, because you don’t want to risk what might happen if you go through it again.

In fact, the whole first five months of 2018 were actually not particularly fantastic.

I know I wasn’t the only one – not this month, not this year, not ever. Life likes to stick its fingers in the pie and mix things up now and then, and it’s not exactly gentle about it. Stuff happens. As it did.

And a lot of what it did involved failure.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

Some days, life is that ice cream.

So let’s talk about failure.

Ugh.

I think there’s a tendency to shy away from that word. “You didn’t fail. You just didn’t succeed quite the way you wanted to.”

Um, yes. So what I was doing failed, right?

“Yes, but you didn’t fail.”

Which, you know, that’s nice. No one wants to be called a failure. It’s not a nice term. It has the stale taste of wasted time and broken biscuits.

But sometimes we do fail.

And I’ve failed a lot this year.

Which, oddly, I’m okay with. Because each failure put me closer to what I actually wanted to do, or so it feels. It’s like being a mouse in a lab, looking for the cheese and trying a bunch of dead ends before she finds the right one. Even if it does feel like I have a really bad sense of smell and a very grazed nose from bumping into walls at this point, and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t knocked myself out, considering the speed I was going when I hit some of those dead ends.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

Ahahahahaha. Ha. Sigh.

Some of these were small failures – like my 100 days of sketches, which petered out at around the 60 mark. That’s okay. I want to start them again, and I will at some point. They were fun. But life sort of swallowed everything fun there for a bit.

I was going to be more productive, but we all know how that goes.

I was going to go out more, but ahahahaha. I’m an introvert. I know that. I need more time at home, not less.

I was going to get really ahead on my blog posts and social media and be a super-organised amazingly together type person, but I don’t know if that’s actually even in my nature.

I was going to read some actual educational books and learn stuff, but, well, life.

And then there were bigger things.

I set up an online personal training and yoga website, which took a huge amount of time and effort, and which I still think is a good idea. But two months in I realised that I’d never have time to write anything for me as long as I was producing content for that site, and that my headspace was completely taken up with it. Not only that, I was already dreading having to come up with ideas for it on a regular basis.

It came to a choice between burpees and dragons. The dragons won. The dragons always win.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

Seriously, how could I not choose dragons?

And then the biggest failure – the BBN (Big Bad Novel) manuscript was out on a rewrite and resubmit with an agent that I was so excited about. Unfortunately, when it came to it, it turned out that the rewrite didn’t work. That one hurt. I mean, I knew the odds. Even just getting a request to resubmit after so few submissions was amazing. I was prepared for it not to go further, and the agent was wonderfully encouraging about everything, but still. I kind of feel like I really fell over on that one.

There were other things, too, that felt major at the time but that maybe aren’t so much in retrospect. But sometimes heaping failure on failure means that even though they’re small, they just build and build until you find yourself lying on the kitchen floor next to the cat at 11am, staring at the ceiling and wondering if there’s anything you’ve got right this month. This year. This life.

And then the cat walks away in disgust, and you spot the missing peas under the fridge from that bag you dropped last week, and now you can’t even clean right, and the cat hates you.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

FINE IT ALL SUCKED ANYWAY

You know, talking hypothetically.

But, failure. It’s part of it, isn’t it? Part of life, and particularly part of the creative life. I don’t think we get the option to avoid it. And, kind of like how saying ‘no’ opens new opportunities, failing can provide us with other options, too.

Having to admit that I couldn’t run a fitness website and write made me choose, and choosing means that (maybe for the first time) I really found out how important writing is to me. I discovered that it matters more to me than expanding the other side of what I do, even if that is the (sometimes) paying side. And it told me that, because I’m lucky enough to have the option of working my life around writing, I need to do that, rather than the other way around.

Failing in my BBN submission (although I do have the option for another rewrite, which I’m still considering), didn’t convince me that my writing sucked, luckily. It could have, considering the way the rest of the year was going, and I’m actually kind of astonished it didn’t. I think that one’s down to super-supportive beta readers and writer friends – if you don’t have them, find them. They matter.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

I think stock images do take the failure thing a LITTLE too far, though. Maybe?

But anyhow – what that failure did tell me was that my story as it is wasn’t right for that agent, or maybe even that market. And it made me rethink. It made me realise that I don’t exactly write what the market wants, which is unfortunate. And while I’m happy to learn, and willing to change my stories to fit, I don’t want to do that with Beaufort. I want to write him as he is, and while I’m going to continue to chase traditional publication for the BBN, I’m not going to do that with him. Not Beaufort, not now. So failing pointed me in a new direction.

All of which is a long way around to saying: stuff sucked. It’s currently a little less sucky. Failure happened. It’ll happen again. It always happens. It’s life.

But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

failing in the right direction - the creative life and writing

This is not failing. It’s just… redirection.

How about you, lovely people? How has your year been so far? What have your wins and non-wins been? Let me know below!

6 Quotes About Writing (plus one I made up)

6 Quotes About Writing (plus one I made up)

This being a writing website (although, if I’m to be entirely honest, there seems to be little enough writing going on around here at the moment *stares at self sternly*), I thought I would share some of the time-honoured nuggets of writing wisdom that I have come across along the way. Obviously this will not be an exhaustive collection, as there’s far too much of it to contain in one blog post, but these are some of my favourite quotes about writing from other people, plus one of my own.

Hopefully by the end of it, one of us will be ready to do some actual writing.


So this is doubly (triply?) wonderful, because it contains three of my favourite things in the world – cats, creativity, and Ray Bradbury. But it’s the sense of the quote that I love so much – the idea that ideas are sneaking all about you on soft little feet, never quite close enough to grab. And, in fact, it’s very important that you don’t grab them, because they’ll only scratch and bite and vanish under the sofa, from where they’ll launch sneak attacks on your feet, leaving you bloodied and alarmed by the whole encounter.

Yes, ideas do this. Don’t argue.

But, if we’re quiet, and respectful, and most of all ignore the ideas – well, then they’ll come curling around our legs and snuggling into our laps, so we can take all the time we want to examine them and pet them and set them on paper. Work is non-negotiable when it comes to writing. We’re going to have to put time in at the keyboard, like it or not. A lot of time. But finding ideas is another art form entirely, and we need to let them grow accustomed to us, to sneak closer and closer until they trust us enough to offer us their ears to scratch. (Not the belly, though. That’s a trap).


But everyone wants to tell you what they are, I notice. So I think the best thing is to make up our own. Because the truth is that, just as no two people see the world in quite the same way, none of us write it in quite the same way, either. Sure, our techniques may have some certain surface similarities, and there are certain things we probably agree on (using words, perhaps. Maybe even having stuff happen in a semi-logical sequence. Although even that’s not a given), we still won’t come at the story in the same way. So while the plotters are sniffing at the pantsers, and the first person-ers are glowering at the third person omniscient-ers, we may as well ignore them all and just go write the story. I think, in fact, that there may be only one rule, and that’s it. Just go write the story.


I adore Amy Poehler. Yes, Please is an odd book, some of which is a fairly average celebrity autobiography, and some of which is full of lovely little observations that make you feel both inspired and warm and fuzzy – like your favourite aunt just gave you a hug and told you how wonderful she thinks you are. And I love this. I love that reminder to set aside all the other stuff. To understand that you just need to go on and write the book. Talking about it and worrying about it is neither going to get it done nor make it easier. If you want to write it, write it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t like the first draft? That’s what the re-writing’s for. We write because we love it, so just go do it. Don’t worry about the rest.


There are so many good Neil Gaiman quotes that it’s hard to pick just one. But this speaks to everything. All those moments and days and hours of uncertainty, where we pour ourselves into our writing, then take what we’ve made and hack it up and put it back together again, polish it and examine it and pull it apart to start over, never knowing if anyone’s actually going to like it. All the risks we take when we put ourselves out there. All the doubts and fears and insecurities – we have to believe in what we’re doing. Otherwise we may as well take up lizard husbandry. It might be more rewarding.


Yes, and yes. There’s nothing more to say, really. Write that horrible first draft. Keep writing horrible first drafts. Write slightly less horrible second and third drafts, then get someone else to tell you what you can do to make them even less horrible. I believe this is something called The Process, which sucks but, hey. Better that than foist your first draft upon the world. *She says, shuddering and looking sideways at her first draft folder, which she’s trying to figure out how to set to auto-destruct if anyone else opens it*


I could pretty much pick up any Terry Pratchett book, open it at random, and find something quotable, but this one always makes me giggle. The fact that it’s true only makes it funnier. You know, like that slowly rotting tooth you’ve been ignoring, hoping it’d fix itself. That funny.


I don’t know if reading this has done anything at all to help you feel more motivated, but writing it has certainly reminded me that if I’m going to have a writing blog, I should really be doing some more actual writing. Because I do miss it. Blog posts are fun, short stories even more so, but some ideas are just too big to fit. And there’s never enough room for the really silly stuff in blog posts, I notice. Really silly stuff requires more room to grow.

On that note, I shall leave you and go get my notebook. Happy writing, lovely people!

But before I go, I did say I’d include one of my own nuggets of wisdom, didn’t I? Okay, here we go:


Okay, lovely people – over to you! What are your favourite quotes are about writing or life in general? Let me know below!

Courage for Creatives (or, a love letter to my online friends)

Courage for Creatives (or, a love letter to my online friends)

Courage, my friends.

I know I say this as if I’m some brave adventurer, standing atop a convenient outcropping with one hand on my hip and the other either shading my eyes as I gaze dramatically off into the uncharted distance, or waving a sword around in a vaguely threatening and assertive manner.

I don’t feel much like an adventurer or a swordswoman.

Although the pen is apparently mightier than the sword, so there is that.

And I don’t think there’s too much danger of being marauded by barbarians, devoured by non-Beaufort-type dragons, or lost in unmapped and surely monster-infested wilderness this particular evening. Unless there’s a sudden reality shift, but so far so good.

Which begs the question: what, exactly, am I talking about? Why am I wishing people courage like some deluded explorer?

Well, life.

The creative life in particular, but also life in general.

That stuff’s scary.

This was the first image that stock photos had for ‘writer’. Really. This is why we need other creative friends.

And I have so much, honest-to-goodness, hand-on-heart, sword-presented-hilt-first respect for all of you, whether you think you’re nailing it or not.

Because you’re doing amazing.

I mean that.

Some of you are so on top of this life thing, looking after little people and running businesses and having your clothes on right-way-round, and somehow not even wanting to murder anyone – you’re amazing. You also scare me, and I’m not sure you’re not at least a little bit magical, but you’re amazing all the same.

Some of you are debating the wisdom of getting up today, let alone showered or dressed – and some of you will decide that the only course of action is not to. You’re amazing, too. You’re getting yourself through this illogical confusion of life the best way you know how, and that’s something to be proud of. Incredibly so.

Some of you are alternating between days that make no sense whatsoever and others where things seem to be coming together (only to fall apart again by 4pm the following day), and I’m right there with you. You’re amazing, too. You keep pushing through the what-the-hell days, and making the most of the almost-making-sense days. That’s not easy. You rock.

Life is hard. It’s complicated and confusing and scary and wonderful all at once, and we don’t all have the same armoury to deal with it. Sometimes we gain weapons as we go along, and supplies, and companions to help keep the monsters back, but sometimes we lose them, too. Sometimes we don’t have anything except ourselves and our own small voices, walking unpleasant roads alone.

How it feels when you first start putting your work out there. THEY’RE ALL LOOKING AT ME.

But isn’t that amazing? That we keep walking anyway? Sometimes it’s very slow, but we keep going.

And then, on top of all that, people quietly put themselves out into the world, with writing and drawing and painting and music and so much beautifully honest creativity. And they bear the fear of it, the anxiety of what others will think, not just of their work but of them, because what are our creative efforts but parts of us, held out for others to see? And they take the knocks, the sneers and the condescending advice, the being ignored and the being noticed by people that have nothing good to say to anyone. But they persist. And they find each other.

I find it astonishing. I’m reminded of this over and over as I lurk about the place on social media. All these amazing people that are not only finding their way along the paths of their own lives, arming themselves against the monsters as well as they can, but who are forming bands against the darkness, communities of other travellers that wash up against each other in the depths of twitter and discover common goals. And how wonderfully supportive they are, these people that shout back the monsters for each other, defend each other and share firesides (and often a very peculiar sense of humour).

Or friendship, which is the same thing 🙂

Anyone that thinks online friends can’t be real friends should spend a little more time in the creative wilds of social media. It’s beautiful. And maybe in real life we wouldn’t even be very good at having a conversation together or even looking at each other, but that doesn’t matter. We do just fine online, where we can be open and honest and a little (or a lot) weird. And we can find each other.

So when I say courage, I mean carry on. Carry on all you wonderful, beautiful people. Carry on creating amazing things and putting them out there. Carry on standing up for each other, and speaking out for each other, and loving each other’s work and telling other people about it. Carry on getting through life the best way you know how, and showing others how you manage it. Carry on exploring the wilds of the world and finding your way around the swamps and cliffs and dark places of it. Carry on even when you’re down to your last match and you can’t find any dry wood. Carry on because you’re wonderful, and amazing, and astonishing, and I’m in awe of every single one of you.

Carry on being brave and creative and confused and lost and strong and hopeless all at once. I think that may be, after all, what it is to be human.

 

 

How about you, lovely people? Have you found good friends on social media? Do you sometimes feel like being creative (and life in general) is a tough old business? Let me know in the comments!

Glenda & the Horsemen Are Not Sure – A Short Story

Glenda & the Horsemen Are Not Sure – A Short Story

Between one thing and the other at the moment, I’m not getting a lot of what I term ‘my’ writing done. That is, writing that’s not blog writing or work writing. And while I still enjoy my blog writing and work writing, it’s all rather closely related to real life, which is not an area that I like to spend too much time in. In case it’s, you, know, catching or something.

But a lovely online friend who writes some wonderfully nasty flash fiction suggested to me that trying something similar might be a good way to feel I was still doing ‘my’ writing, in bite-size chunks. Which seemed like a wonderful idea, although I’m fully aware that my last attempt at writing a short story under 1000 words (let alone 100) resulted in an almost 6000 word monster. So I didn’t expect it to be short.

I didn’t expect it to be this long, though, either.

But it was most certainly fun, so thank you so much Jimmie for the nudge to jump back into my short stories!

For those of you that have been around a while, you may remember Glenda, who had some rather unexpected visitors (one of whom gave her cat fleas). If not, you may want to jump over and read Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse before you start. Otherwise, read on and enjoy!

 


 

 

The sky was low and heavy, fat with thunderous clouds and the sort of determined rain that makes umbrellas futile. The road that trailed across the face of the hills between the post and wire fences was awash with muddy water, and the few sheep standing morosely in the fields looked thoroughly put out. It was heading on for midnight, and was, in fact, a very dark and stormy night indeed.

Flickers of lightning lit the angry underbellies of the clouds, and thunder rumbled like cosmic indigestion, threatening something more explosive at any moment. Col pulled his hat down more firmly over his ears, for all the good it did. He was soaked through.

“Jess!” he bawled into the teeth of the wind that was skirling threateningly around him and flinging rain in his face. “Seek! Seek, girl!”

The bedraggled mongrel trailing at his heels gave him a pleading look, and he waved vaguely at the field, his quad bike abandoned on the farm track behind him. The fields were rapidly becoming swamps, and he had no intention of getting stuck out here.

“Get away back!” he yelled at the dog, and she heaved an enormous sigh and launched herself across the slick grass, squinting against the rain and casting about for a scent. Damn lambing season. Why did they always lamb in the middle of the night, during a storm? It was like clockwork. He’d brought most of the ewes into a field closer to the house this evening, but of course there was always one he couldn’t find, and of course she’d be out here, and he was too bloody soft to just leave her, out in the cold with the roar of the sea pummelling the shore at the bottom of the cliffs fighting with the steadily increasing howl of the wind, and – and. He frowned. Was that engines? Who the hell would be out here, in this? And they sounded like motorbikes, as well.

Col stood there with the rain running down his face and back and through the holes in his jacket, and listened to the sounds of the engines increase, a doubtful look on his face. He couldn’t see any lights on the road, and the sound seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. He jumped as a wet, anxious nose shoved into his hand, and looked down at the dog. She nipped his sleeve and tugged anxiously.

“What?” he said, more sharply than he intended. He could feel the engines rumbling in his chest now, shaking the bones of his legs as if the very land was reverberating beneath him.

Jess whined, darted away, circled back to snap at him, then darted off again.

Could he hear – could he hear voices? In this?

Jess gave a short, sharp bark, growled, and nipped at his boots. He waved her off ineffectually, feeling exposed despite the rain and darkness, still looking for the machines that those massive engines were driving so recklessly into the heart of the storm, his heart pounding in some terrible double-time in his chest, sure now that there were voices, snatches of conversation riding in on the wind.

“…any left?”

“…don’t be…”

“…but he had…”

“Honestly, I just…”

Jess was barking hysterically, her ears flat to her head and the whites of her eyes showing, the sound continuous and harsh, and all but lost under the roar of those dreadful, inhuman engines. Thunder smashed over the hills, so close that Col let out an involuntary little scream and stumbled backwards, tripping over the dog and sprawling into the mud and sheep dung.

There was a moment of startling silence, and a woman’s voice said very clearly, “Are we here for him?”

“Hm. No,” another voice said, deep and musical.

Col blinked as a woman’s head appeared above him. She had bobbed grey hair and was wearing a pearl necklace over her pale blue cardigan. He felt suddenly and inexplicably guilty for leaving it so long since calling his gran.

“Are you sure?” she said. “He doesn’t look well.”

“Death is always sure,” the deep voice said, and a new face, all high sharp cheekbones and dark eyes looked down at him. It was joined by two others, one round and flushed, the other grinning like a toothpaste model.

“I thought you were going to give that a rest, D,” the toothpaste model said.

“I cannot change who I am,” D said, straightening up and looking across the fields. “Why are we here?”

“Not so sure, then,” the model said, grinning even more broadly, and the woman frowned at him.

“Behave yourself, Pest,” she said. “Don’t think I didn’t see you drop chicken pox in that town we came through.”

The young man rolled his eyes, and said, “You never want me to have any fun.”

“Your sort of fun tends to end in diseases of the unmentionables,” the woman said, and put a grease paper packet on Col’s chest as the round-faced man staggered off laughing, Pest following him with an aggrieved look on his face. “There you go, dear. You’ll feel alright again once we’ve gone.”

Col made a squawking sound that set Jess barking again, although she kept her distance.

“They’re good boys, really,” the woman said. “Well, as long as they’re not here for you. And I don’t think anyone knows why we’re here, so you’re safe.” She patted his shoulder reassuringly, then walked off.

Col spluttered as the rain started falling again. It had stopped while the strange little group had been crowded around him, the wind falling to nothing, but suddenly it was howling in his ears again, sending tight bands of coldness around his head. He sat up and watched the strangers trailing across the field. The toothpaste model – Pest – had taken the woman’s arm to help her across the uneven ground, which made sense, because she appeared to be wearing those little slip-on house shoes older women seem to like so much. The tall man called D was standing with his hands on his hips, staring around in the perplexed way of someone looking for a new doctor’s office, the round-faced man standing next to him with his hands folded over his ample belly, rocking on his heels.

And Col could see them. It wasn’t bright as day, but it wasn’t moonlight, either. The field was washed in a cold pale light, like a night scene in a black and white movie, and if that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing he’d ever imagined, then he didn’t know what was. Col investigated his head carefully, looking for broken bits. Everything seemed to be where it should be, so he got up and trailed after the strangers, unwrapping the grease paper packet as he went. It smelt of mushrooms and blue cheese, and Jess whiffled hopefully after him.

#

“D, seriously, why are we here?” Pest asked. They’d drawn into a little huddle around the tall man in his skinny jeans and Panama hat.

“It’s not clear yet,” Death admitted. “But this is where we were drawn.”

“Is this New Zealand?” Glenda asked. “It seems like it could be New Zealand.”

“It is,” War said. “I remember it. Great warriors down here. Wonderful.”

“I thought it’d be sunnier. It’s very muddy.”

“We’re in the middle of a storm,” Pest pointed out.

“Still.” Glenda peered across the hillside. It just looked grey, and there was gorse ranging along the fenceline. “It looks like Scotland.”

“Ooh, don’t tell them that,” War said. “There’ll be trouble!” He sounded gleeful, and Glenda frowned at him. She still hadn’t quite adjusted to how much pleasure the horsemen took in their jobs. Although – she’d given that poor man a pasty, hadn’t she? It had just seemed like the right thing to do. A bit of food always helps you get over a shock. She looked around, wondering if he’d recovered yet, and saw him squatting on the the grass trying to look inconspicuous, sharing the pasty with his dog and watching them with an expression that was somewhere between disbelief and terror. She gave him a little wave, and he ducked like she’d thrown something at him. Poor thing. He seemed like quite a nice young man.

“Over there,” Death said, and strode off through the stubbly grass, surprisingly graceful with his long scarecrow limbs.

“Come along,” War said, offering Glenda his arm.

She scowled. “You don’t have to treat me like your gran. I’m your colleague.”

“I don’t have a gran,” War said. “But suit yourself.” He strode off after Death, leaving Glenda to flounder along behind them, cursing her house shoes and wishing she’d had the foresight to die in her hiking boots. She was sure there must be a way to change your outfit, but she hadn’t figured it out yet. She certainly hoped there was – she was already quite sick of her blue cardigan.

“Plenty, love,” Pest said, appearing next to her. “You still have such an endearing human trait of thinking you’re actually walking on the ground.”

“Glenda or Mrs Holt,” Glenda said sharply. “I don’t need an extra name.”

“It does lack a certain ring,” Pest said, pursing his rather perfect lips. “But as you wish, Glenda. Now let’s go.”

And just like that, the mud and rabbit holes and sheep dung were gone, and it was rather like walking barefoot in a deep and luxurious carpet, like the one that had been in that hotel she and the late Mr Holt had stayed in on one of their rare weekends away. She’d always wanted a carpet like that. It had been like walking on air.

“I do need how to learn to do that,” she said.

“You do,” Pest agreed, releasing her elbow as they stopped next to Death and War. “I’ll start thinking you’re pretending you can’t just so I’ll hold your hand.” He winked at her, and she gave him an exasperated look, then turned her attention to the others.

There was a long pause, while the sea and the sky raged against the land outside their little bubble of stillness, and the darkness beat itself against their pool of light. Glenda could smell crushed grass and seaweed and the wild electrical smell of the storm, and somewhere she thought she heard a gull crying.

“Um, D?” War said eventually.

“Yes?” Death’s attention was on the figure in the grass in front of them. It was struggling weakly, still clinging to life, but there was too much blood, and the scent of something final in the still air.

“That’s-” War hesitated, glanced at Pest and Glenda.

“It’s a sheep,” Glenda said. “We came all the way to New Zealand, in a storm, for a sheep?”

“It would appear so,” Death said, sounding mildly interested.

“Are you sure?” Pest said.

Death didn’t look away from the sheep. “Death is always-”

“Always sure, yeah, I know, but – a sheep?”

“So it would seem.”

War grunted, folded his arms, unfolded them, then blurted, “First Glenda – no offence, Glenda, but you’re not exactly a Horseman – now a sheep? Doesn’t it just seem – I mean – well – I just -” He faltered to a stop as Death finally looked away from the sheep. “Guys? Back me up here?”

“I’m very good at my job,” Glenda said, offended. “I got that whole sugar-free raw cooking class eating Dunkin Donuts last week.”

“But a sheep!”

No one said anything for a moment, and Death watched War until the round man put his hands behind his back and hung his head like a scolded toddler. Then he admitted, “It is odd. But remember the butterfly that can start the hurricane. Or Twitter, if you want a more modern example. That’s one you’re quite fond of, War.”

“Well, yes,” War said. “It’s very handy. You can whisper in a lot of ears, all at once.”

“Then may I do my job and reap this sheep?” Death asked, his voice mild.

“It just seems a little – beneath us,” War mumbled.

“This is too weird,” Pest said. “Since when have you reaped animals?”

“Animals are never beneath you, Pestilence. They’re your weapon of choice.”

“I- but that’s different. You’re Death.”

“Oh, honestly,” Glenda snapped. “The poor creature is suffering. Someone do something!” The Horsemen gave her a startled look. “What? My feet are wet, and I want a cup of tea.”

“You can’t have wet feet, Glenda,” Death said. “Horsemen don’t get wet feet.”

“This one does.”

“You see?” War said. “Everything’s gone weird since Famine quit.”

“Don’t you be trying to put the blame on me, young man-”

“I’m not! I just said he quit!”

“Famine was such a bore, anyway,” Pest said. “And he never had Jammie Dodgers.”

“Do you have any Jammie Dodgers?” Death asked. “I’d quite like one. To keep the chill off.”

“Excuse me?” a small voice said.

“Of course I have Jammie Dodgers,” Glenda snapped. “But we need to work first. Honestly, how have you boys ever managed to get anything done? You can’t have your tea before you’ve finished the job!”

“Aw, Glenda-”

“Excuse me?” the small voice said again.

“Surely we could have one Jammie Dodger. For sustenance.”

“Excuse me!”

Glenda had her mouth open to point out, yet again, that you had to do the work before you got a treat, and War was still mumbling about things not being right, when the rather alarmed voice finally registered with her. She turned and looked at the farmer, his dog shivering behind his legs, the grease proof paper still clutched to his chest.

“Oh – hello, dear,” she said, and nodded in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. “Can we help you?”

“That’s – that’s my sheep,” the man said. “What are you doing with my sheep?”

“I’m going to reap it,” Death said.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” the man said. “She’s a great mum. Always get good lambs from her. Good wool, too.”

“I think she’s nearly gone already, dear,” Glenda said gently.

“She’s not. The lamb’s stuck. He’s probably gone, but I reckon she’ll be just fine if I can get to her.”

“I’m quite sure I’m meant to reap her,” Death said, sounding not very sure at all.

“Well, can I get the lamb out first? Then we can see.”

“Er. Well. Yes?”

“Right then.” The man skirted the little group warily and went to his knees in the mud and muck next to the sheep, the dog watching anxiously from a few metres away as he pulled his jacket off and pushed his sleeves up. “There go, girl,” he said. “Let’s get you sorted, shall we?”

There was a collective “Ew!” from the the watchers as the man rather unceremoniously stuck his fingers into the bloody mess hanging from the sheep’s hindquarters, and War turned a strange colour but couldn’t seem to look away. The man kept chatting away to the sheep, his voice low and crooning, and a moment later he pulled two sharp little hooves into sight, eliciting an “oooh” from everyone except War, who gagged. “Legs were folded back,” he explained, still digging. “Pretty common.” He tugged at something, and a moment later a small nose edged into view, followed rapidly by the rest of a lamb, spilling motionless and bloody onto his lap.

“Poor thing,” Pest mumbled, and War retched onto a thistle.

The farmer wiped the muck off the lamb’s nose and blew on its face while the ewe raised her head wearily, giving a faint bleat. “I’m trying,” he told her, and picked the lamb up by the hind legs, shaking it gently.

Glenda had both hands pressed over her chest, and when the lamb twitched she gave a little scream that made War stagger away from her in fright. “Famine wouldn’t have screamed,” he mumbled, but no one paid him any attention. They were all watching the lamb intently.

“Come on,” the farmer said. “Come on, come on.” He blew on its nose one more time, and it wriggled, gave a choking cry, then started to struggle weakly against the man’s grip.

Glenda, Death and Pestilence cheered. War rolled his eyes and tried not to look at the blood, and the farmer placed the lamb next to the ewe’s teats. She bleated weakly as the lamb latched on and started to feed, little tail beginning to work.

The man rocked back onto his heels and wiped his hands on the grass, not looking at the Horsemen. “You really going to reap her?”

Death squatted down next to the sheep, petting the lamb’s little head with skinny fingers while it ignored him. “No,” he said. “It seems it wasn’t the sheep after all.”

“What, then?” the man asked, then looked suddenly alarmed. “Jess! Jess, get in behind!” The dog ran to him, and he grabbed her collar. “What do you want?”

“It’s done,” Death said, still petting the lamb. “Glenda, feel how soft it is!”

“It’s so gross,” War said. “It’s all sticky and gross.”

“It’s adorable,” Glenda said, crouching down next to Death. The sheep didn’t seem bothered by them. “Pest, don’t you dare go near it!”

“I’m not, I’m not,” he said, sighing. “It’s so unfair, though. I want to pat the lamb!”

“Don’t touch the lamb,” Death said severely.

“What’s done?” the man demanded. “What did you do?”

Death pointed without looking up. “There.”

There was a pause while everyone looked at the small body on the ground.

“A rabbit?” War said finally. “All this way for a rabbit?”

“It would seem so,” Death said, giving the lamb a final scratch behind the ears and standing up.

“That’s stretching, D.”

“No more so than a butterfly.” Death helped Glenda to her feet. “Now may we have tea?”

“I wish we could take him with us,” she said with a sigh. “But yes – now we can have tea.”

“And Jammie Dodgers,” Pest said, falling in step on Glenda’s other side.

“Is no one going to mention that we came all this way for a rabbit?” War demanded, not moving. “Apparently?”

“I may even have scones,” Glenda said.

“Scones? With cream? Not that I’m forgetting this, but – clotted cream?” War hurried to catch up with them, and they walked together across the sodden grass without touching it, the three Horsemen and one Horsewoman of the Apocalypse.

#

Col watched them go, his heart pounding in his ears, wondering what the hell he’d been thinking. Why hadn’t he run? The sheep shifted next to him, rolling upright as the lamb drank its fill, and he heard those vast engines start up again as the rain began to fall around him, and the wind dragged wild fingers across his drenched clothes. He waited where he was, wondering what sort of terrible horses the riders had, for them to make a sound like that. He was still watching when they passed him, Glenda waving cheerfully, both there and not there as the storm raged around her sky blue Vespa, while Death led the way with a tea in one hand and a Jammie Dodger in the other, his own Vespa white and gleaming, and Pestilence followed on a black one that sparkled with chrome, and only War still rode something huge and red and monstrous that could have been a horse from some nightmare realm. The effect was spoilt somewhat by the scone he was spreading carefully with clotted cream as he rode past in a thunder of too many hooves.

Col waited for a moment, but they didn’t come back. Then he crouched to tuck the lamb in his jacket pocket and to pick the sheep up, staggering under the weight of her sodden wool, and stumbled up the hill to his quad bike, Jess following close enough to his heels to almost trip him more than once. He didn’t mind. He was going to go home, put the sheep and the lamb in the garage with the wood burner on, and make himself a fry-up. He deserved it after a night like this.

Besides, he was starving.

 


 

Apologies for any inaccuracies in sheep midwifery – it’s been a long time since I delivered a lamb (and I only did it once or twice, but it was so cool! No wonder Death couldn’t bring himself to reap them…).

Are you a reader or writer of flash fiction? Let me know some of your favourites below – or yours, if you write them! I’d love to read more, and still hope that one day I may write something under 1000 words. I’m not aiming any lower than that for the moment 😉

Beaufort Scales & Characters That Are More Than They Seem

Beaufort Scales & Characters That Are More Than They Seem

Here’s a thing that happened to me the other day.

I’d been having a lot of trouble with my shoulder, and attributed it to overdoing things on the weights, even though the problem appeared (weirdly) on a day off, while I was sat on the couch (conclusion: sitting on the couch is dangerous, kids. Don’t do it). I put up with it for a bit, popped some ibuprofen, did some stretches, but eventually decided enough was enough and that I should get it looked at. I’m marginally sensible in my old age.

My lovely friend, who’s a body psychotherapist, poked my back in a few places, laughed (laughed harder when I told her I’d done a one-armed workout that same morning, so now the other shoulder hurt too), and told me she’d fix it.

This consisted less of massage, and more of finding out what was stressing me enough to make my shoulder try and turn itself inside out.

She found it, and the exact details aren’t as important as the bit I want to talk about. I had to articulate some things about myself that were difficult for me to say, and it took me a while to get to it. And while I was struggling, she said, “You don’t have to say it to me. Say it to anyone that makes you feel comfortable. Say it to one of your characters.”

So I did.

I said this thing that was so hard for me to say to Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and tea-drinking barbecue fan.

Because I could. I couldn’t say it before, but once I thought of Beaufort, I could. Which was awesome, and my shoulder’s been fine since then (not so much the other one that I did the one-armed workout on – that one took longer to clear up). But isn’t that a strange thing? That I could say something to a dragon that I couldn’t say to my friend? (That whole sentence is probably a little strange, but let’s just go with it and move on.)

And it made me look a little closer at Beaufort, an odd character who appeared out of nowhere, helped himself to a scone, created a little friendly disruption, and appears to be here to stay. My friend said that we don’t create our characters for no reason, and while I’m not sure this is always the case (hello zombie mice), I think she has a point with Beaufort.

I love writing his stories. I love seeing the world through his eyes. I love that he’s endlessly curious, and full of wonder and joy and compassion. And I love – I love – that he speaks to others. But I never really thought about it that much. He was just a lucky accident, a product of a misread tweet and a bizarre-as-normal conversation with my dad.

But people relate to him, somehow. People like him, not in a ‘he’s a cool character’ kind of way, but in an ‘I’d like to know him’ kind of way. More than one person has drawn him, in full detective mode or attempting to build a snowman before his breath melts it away, and it makes my heart terribly full with the sheer amazing-ness of it. That he’s alive for someone other than just me. One person said that he knew he could draw him because it was Beaufort, and it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t good. Even I drew him, and I’d believed since school that I couldn’t draw anything. And all of that was okay, because it didn’t have to be good. Because Beaufort would think all of it was wonderful. He would think all of you – all of us – are wonderful.

So maybe he’s more than just another character. Maybe he’s exactly who I needed, someone loyal and dragonish and amused and supportive. He was certainly who I needed to be talking to when I had to say something that challenged long-held beliefs about myself. Only he is me, too, so I guess that in a manner of speaking, I’ve found a way to talk to that part of me that sees the best in everything. In everyone.

Which is both wonderful, because I like to think that maybe I have the ability to do that, and disappointing, because I’d really like to have a cuppa and some cake with Beaufort, in front of a warm fire while the snow falls outside. Boo for not being able to jump into other worlds.

But there’s always the stories.

And that’s okay, too.

This is how I imagine it going.

So, lovely readers – what characters have you found over the years that you’ve particularly connected with, that have talked so clearly to you that you can’t forget them? And, lovely writers – what about you? What characters have you created that show you a different way to see the world? What characters have you learnt from? Let me know below!

And if you’ve missed the Beaufort stories – there’s only one to be found on the website menu at the mo, but you can find the rest through this link, because some days we all need a little Beaufort in our lives 🙂

Patience, Writing, & the Long Game

Patience, Writing, & the Long Game

writing patience old typewriter
This was brand new when I started writing.

Writing takes time. We all know that. We do know we need patience. It’s not like we can sit down and whip off 70,000 words in an afternoon (or however many your particular genre’s asking for). Well, okay, maybe some of you can, but I’m deliberately not talking to you, because you scare me with your efficiency.

And then there’s the editing. Probably some rewriting. Which is all good – we were ready for this, we were prepared, we knew it’d take time.
But no one mentioned the waiting.

It starts quite reasonably, with the setting aside of the masterpiece that is our first draft (snort), so that we can come back to it with clearer eyes. Common wisdom says we need to ignore the wailings of our abandoned book baby for at least a month before we start playing with it again, preferably more.

So we wait.

And it’s hard at first, but we have a date in our diary that we can count down towards, and finally, finally we get to throw ourselves back into it, half terrified that it’s going to be about as enticing as a seagull’s leftovers, half certain that it’ll be immaculate and perfect and the bestseller of its generation.

Patience is hard.

Of course, it’s neither. It’s a work in progress, so back in we go for more editing, and more rewriting, and re-rewriting, and re-editing, and agonising over the placement of commas, and should the rain gleam or glisten, and holy cow, who put all these adverbs in? But at last, when we can’t stand the sight of the thing, we get to send it off to beta readers.

And then we wait.

This is the beginning of the really agonising waiting, the waiting we can’t control. Once again we entertain fantasies of beta readers coming back gushing about the perfection of our prose and the depth of our description, while at the same time expecting to receive an email that just says, “please stop.” It’s scary, having other people reading our work. I like to send one copy to my dad, because he’ll say good things even if he had to purge the manuscript from his Kindle to stop it infecting his other books with purple prose. The rest I send to people who I trust to tell me if it should be buried in an unmarked grave.

And then I wait.

No one ever reads fast enough for a waiting author. You could get it back to us in the same afternoon and we’ll huff and ask why you didn’t finish it before lunch. We’re impatient. We want to know you loved it, right now.

Of course, if you didn’t love it, we want to know that too. Sort of. As long as you’re nice about it.

And eventually the notes do come back, and we love every suggestion and correction, whether we agree with them or not, because beta readers aren’t just telling us where we’ve missed the mark – they’re giving us a road-map to find those bits. They may not be able to tell us how, but they absolutely tell us where the repairs need to go, and it’s the most amazing thing ever. Because by this point we could’ve written a couple of chapters in ancient Greek and never noticed, because we’re far too immersed in our own story. So if you have beta readers, go tell them they’re amazing. I’ll wait.

Come ON.

Then the next stint begins – adjusting and correcting, maybe even some pretty major rewriting again. And editing after that, of course. And if the rewrites were really big, well – we’re going to need more beta readers.

Out the book goes.

We wait once more, wondering how long it’s going to take and remembering every mistake we made with perfect clarity, and only just resisting emailing the beta readers a new version every Tuesday.

Finally, back it comes.

And now, if we’re really, really lucky, and have listened to our beta readers, and used our judgement, and been brutal with what we carved out of the story (kill your darlings also means being pretty free and easy with major book surgery), and maybe replaced them or not, and stitched the edges up again, tighter and shorter than before, then maybe we’ll have something that looks like a book at the end.

Amazing! We’ve done it!

Well, almost.

Because if we thought that that waiting was bad, we’re on to the big stuff now. Maybe you’re trying the traditional route, in which case you have the fun of wrestling with a synopsis (often squeezed onto one page, and holy cow, does my story sound dull when stripped down to that) and a query letter, which get sent off either alone or with a few chapters trailing after them. After which you wait, and you know it’s going to be months, but you’re still checking your email obsessively just in case, because you never know, right?

Unfortunately, when you do know, the odds are good that it’s a polite note saying your query doesn’t suit their needs. So you send out some more lonely little letters and keep on waiting.

But even if you’re going self-published, you don’t get to skip the waiting. Now you’ve got cover designers to wait on, and editors, and the back and forth of emails as changes are made and details are tweaked, and maybe you’re waiting to hear from book bloggers too, or marketers, or…

Yeah. I’m getting more and more convinced that we’re waiters as much as we’re writers. That the actual act of creation is only a very small part of one very big whole. And unfortunately we don’t even get to control all our waiting – a lot of it is waiting on other very busy people to get to our one small book.

But, honestly? If I take nothing else from my experience of writing than the understanding that creativity is as much patience as it is anything else, I’ll be okay with that. Patience is a wonderfully underrated thing in these days of instant downloads and same day delivery. And it makes for a different perspective, the realisation that for every day the writing just won’t work, or there’s no time to sit long enough to find the words, there are more days to come. And plenty of those will be spent in waiting that I can’t control, so what’s one day where I don’t get a scene down? There’s time. Writing has no age limit, no best before. We’re playing the long game, lovely people. Settle in and make yourselves comfortable.

I’ll put the kettle on.

 

This is a stock photo for ‘patience’. Yeah. I’d like to know what’s in their tea, too…

 

How do you find the waiting part of writing? Are you patient about it, or do you find it frustrating? Let me know in the comments!

 

What You Believe You Know – Talking Mindset

What You Believe You Know – Talking Mindset

Stuff. Lots of stuff.

What do you know about yourself? What do you believe? What are you good at? What things leave you bewildered? What’s your mindset?

We’ve all got those preconceptions – I can do this, but not this. I’m good at this, but not this.

But what if it’s not that clear cut? What if what we believe is less fact and more habit?

What if we can change it?

I read a very interesting article the other day. Well, interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. You know – the oddities of human behaviour and all that fun stuff. It was about mindset, and specifically fixed versus growth mindset. Odds are, you’ve heard those terms before. Maybe you know all about them, which is all good, and you can now go and read about cats and time machines, because you’ll learn nothing more from this blog post (although send me the link to the cats and time machines. That sounds good).

I knew a lot less about these things than I thought. Fixed mindset = not open to new ideas, growth mindset = open to new ideas, right?

Yes and no.

And solve for purple playpuses (platupi?). Or something.

Yes, that’s part of it. But not in the clear-cut way I thought. See, I like learning stuff. I’m getting increasingly less concerned about feeling (or appearing) silly as I get older, so that makes learning stuff ever-easier. I believe that if we set our minds to things, and work hard, we can achieve most things we set out to achieve. So, growth mindset, right?

Eh. Not exactly. I’m also very, very good at telling myself all the things I can’t do. Such as:

  • I’m not good in social situations.
  • I can’t draw.
  • I’m clumsy and uncoordinated.
  • I’m not good at maths.

You know, all the stuff I just have no talent for, right? And here’s some other things I tell myself, about what I can do:

  • Writing’s just one of those things I can do, like some people can draw.
  • I’m lucky because I find it easy to work out every day.
  • Watersports are just natural for me.
  • It’s in my nature to be self-disciplined, so working from home’s fine for me.
Yes, that is me, in my happy place. I recognise the fins.

Okay, so. Things I can’t do, and things I can. Facts, right? Just being honest about my abilities, right? I mean, obviously I have to consider these points, because there’s no sense trying to achieve things in areas I’m no good at, right?

Again, eh.

Turns out I actually have a pretty fixed mindset about myself. And I doubt I’m the only one. I think a lot of us look at our abilities – and the abilities of others – and just think, wow, she’s good at that! Or, hmm, I don’t think that’s really his thing.

This is something I’ve become more aware of since I started sketching. One of the facts I absolutely knew about myself was that I couldn’t draw. I was useless at art – I mean, jeez, I failed it at school! Who can actually fail art? (We’re not talking advanced here, either – I was about 15) But due to a dearth of tea-drinking, acrophobic dragon pictures, I decided I’d try drawing anyway.

Turns out, I’m no Chris Riddell, but I can draw. With some practise. And youtube tutorials. And laboriously copying other people’s pictures to start me off. And a lot of trial and error. And when I put my pictures online, suddenly people were laughing at me and saying, of course you can draw! Don’t be silly – you’re natural at it! And quite a few people were telling me that they wished that they could draw.

Early attempts – a very toothy dragon who has seen something he can never, ever forget, no matter how he tries.

But I’m not natural at it.  And a couple of weeks earlier, I couldn’t draw. But the wanting to grew big enough that it outweighed the knowing, so I tried anyway. I shifted my mindset, and decided that I could learn, and I did. It’s never going to be super-easy for me, and I doubt it’ll ever be anything more than a bit of fun, but that’s okay. Because it means more to me than just, oh, I can illustrate my short stories, now. It means I can do things I was quite sure I couldn’t.

There’s two sides to this – one is the negative beliefs, that stop us doing so many things. Drawing, for me. Maths and science is my other bugbear – which are also subjects I did pretty badly at in school (except biology. Biology was cool). So I’m trying to rephrase things. If I can learn to draw, what’s to stop me learning to maths? (Yes, I just used maths as a verb. I am a writer, and I do what I want. On this blog, anyway.)

Okay, so this is cool and exciting! I can take all these beliefs about what I can’t do, and turn them into possibilities. I’m not good at maths now, but if I study it and put the work in, I can learn it. I mean, odds are I won’t, because maths, but still. I could. Less exciting is the possibility that with a bit of work I could become, if not comfortable, at least adept in social situations, thus having no excuse to hide in the kitchen looking busy at every party I go to. Somehow even maths feels easier than that.

So what about the things that I can do? Am I to believe that I was not, actually, born swimming in words and sea water? Surely not! Surely I didn’t actually just put a lot of time in and learn those things, just like everyone else?

Not talent. I just became obsessed with arm balances, because they’re FUN.

Sadly, yes. And I can even point at one of them – working out every day – and remember that I was desperately bad at PE at school, and only really took up working out when my very active lifestyle became a not-very-active-at-all one. And that the whole moving every day thing only became a habit when yoga was my way of keeping my head on straight. So I learned to make it part of life, and now I get itchy if I miss more than a day.

*Sigh*. So I’m very unspecial. I’ve worked for all my ‘natural talents’, and if I worked on my non-talents I might be able to turn them into talents too. Boo?

Not really. How exciting that is! How dragons and popcorn fun to imagine that we can try pretty much anything, and if we put the time and effort in, we can master it! How – how freeing. How astonishing to realise we are a sum of our experiences, and by opening ourselves to something new, we can become something new. We can learn. We can change our preconceptions of ourselves. We can grow. We can take all those things that we (and other people) have been saying we can’t do, and do them. You know, as long as they’re legal and physically possible and no one’s going to lose an eye.

And now I have to go have a little sit-down, because all that potential is making my head swim.

Although I’m still not sure about the social skills. But, y’know – I could.

My favouritest Beaufort picture so far, because this IS Beaufort.

How about you, lovely people? What are some beliefs about yourself you’ve challenged? What beliefs would you like to challenge?

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.
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