What would I know?

Okay, so I thought I had the answers about how to get stuff written. I was wrong. This new, dark novel is killing me. It’s like wading through a cold tar pit in the dark with a blindfold on. I have no idea where I’m going, my progress is slow and it is terribly uncomfortable. I’ve decided that I can’t spend this much time is such a bleak space. It is making me depressed, and this isn’t what I want from writing.

I get the feeling I would need to be in a super-happy place in my life to have the resilience required to write this novel, and something tells me that if I was fortunate enough to find myself in that place I wouldn’t want to write the novel. I really can see that there is a reason why I have only written dark short stories before. If you can’t close the door on the story with a ‘the end’ before you walk away from the computer, it follows you around.

So for the first time in two years I’m going to have to concede defeat; I’m quitting the novel. I have decided it is best for my mental health, and it is much better to make this decision two weeks into the project rather than two months (or more). It also leaves me quarter of the year to finish something else. And after the two weeks I’ve just had, I think it is going to be something fun.

It will be interesting to see how my outlook on the rest of my life changes (if at all) when I start spending my imaginary life in a better place. I think there might be a much bigger crossover between my two worlds than I realised. I’m still not sure what is crossing over which way though. I hope changing the fiction will change the fact. I can’t keep eating this much chocolate.

Project promiscuity

Okay, I know I’m inviting a bunch of really bad spam from that title, but it was the most accurate way I could think of to describe my old approach to writing. I’ve been writing all of my adult life, and until the last few years I was a big believer in writing what I felt like writing. Our moods change a lot, and when you are happy you don’t really want to get bogged down in a depressing or dark piece of fiction. So I always used to have a number of projects on the go at once.

I ended up with a lot of novels that only got to chapter 5. I also had a lot of partially written short stories. What I had very few of was finished pieces. I also did almost no editing because the lure of new words always won.

About three years ago I decided I needed to finish stuff, so I tried to focus on just one project at a time. It didn’t work, as soon as I got to a difficult bit in my story I’d set it aside and start thinking about another story. Thinking turned into writing, and next thing I knew I had another novel that only made it to chapter 5.

Not many people know this, but a few years ago I spent a week believing I had a brain tumor. My doctor prepped me for it with too much conviction, and due to a whole manner of mishaps it took a week between the doctor’s diagnosis, my CT scan and getting the results that the doctor was wrong. I had a bunch of really bad symptoms that gave incredible verisimilitude to my incorrect diagnosis, so needless to say I did a LOT of thinking about the future, and more specifically, how short that future might be.

Above everything else I wanted to finish my novel. Despite my symptoms and stress, every night after work I came home and wrote like a machine. I’d hit a tough bit and I would slog through it to get to the next part where I felt more comfortable about what was happening. I didn’t let any other projects distract me.

By the time I discovered my brain was clear (and disappointingly showed no signs of secret microchips implanted by alien abductors), I had realised that I could force myself to focus. That novel was EveryWere, my pantser novel, and I finished writing it in just over 3 months.

That was a game changer for me. Since then I have picked just the one project at a time and regardless of mood, inspiration, or haunting writing daemons, I work on only that project. I have finished another novel, two novellas and five short stories since then. Probably more completed words than in my entire writing career before that time.

A lot of people enjoy project promiscuity, and they can make it work for them. But if you are like I was, and you aren’t finishing anything, then don’t wait for a terminal diagnosis to get yourself focussed. Try being faithful to just one project. You might go through some tough times together, but you may also find yourself in a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your writing than you have ever had before.

Happy writing.

Adult pantser novel

I loved the process of creating my YA pantser* novel. I loved the abundant writing of it. I loved the wild unknown and the surprises it threw at me. It also terrified me. I had no idea how it was going to end, and at times I thought it wouldn’t.

As great as the full pantsing experience was, I was relieved when it was over. Since that novel I’ve written a novel and a several short stories that had elements of pantsing about them, but I knew how they all ended before I started them.

Another pantser novel has just started haunting me. I can see the opening. Every time my mind goes blank I see the opening. I’m living it, breathing it, feeling it, dreaming it. But I have no idea where it goes after the opening. It scares me.

Not only that, but I’m starting to see it everywhere. It’s like those moments when you spot the cute guy from the bus in the supermarket, or at the coffee shop when you don’t expect it, and you get that little flutter of excitement. Except the pantser novel doesn’t have the disappointing likelihood of actually having a wife and three kids at home. No, the pantser novel is all mine. For better or for worse.

I thought that if I ignored it that it might go away and find a bit more direction before coming back to me. But it refuses to leave. It is my last thought when I go to sleep and the first thought in the morning. I’m carrying it like a weight around my neck, and I know there is only one way I’ll be free of it.

I have to write it.

There are equal measures of dread and excitement about this prospect, but if I’m honest, the excitement is winning. I am so ready to throw myself completely into a new novel, and I think this one might be the one… for now. Wish me luck.

*Pantsing = writing by the seat of your pants without a plan, you only find out where the story is going when you write it.

Publication!

I have to warn you, this story contains the F-word. Yes, there are farts in it. I was brought up properly, where a lady does not fart (unless asleep, but even then we deny it)… but that got me thinking about when else a lady might fart. And so A Reluctant Zombie was born.

I’ve been warned against publishing this story as it has a bit of a pull my finger quality that is perhaps not becoming of my writing career. I actually sat on it for nearly two years before finally deciding to send it out. There is no deeper meaning and no call to arms to make a difference in the world. It is just a silly story, written by a silly girl in a silly mood. Sometimes I can do that.

The other difference with this story to my usual offerings is that it is unashamedly biographical. The girl starts out watching my TV on my lounge, she lives with my cat, goes to my old office, and shocks my old boss. You could say it was me except for the lack of vegetables, and of course the farting. My mum brought me up right, remember.

So please, if you are going to read it, say no to the plastic bag at the supermarket, take your keep-cup to the coffee shop, and please turn off your standby power equipment at the wall. My story won’t tell you to do that, so it will make me feel better if you do.

I hope you enjoy A Reluctant Zombie, but please, put on your silly hat first. And no, I will not pull your finger.

Top 10 writer things to do – Visualisation

Eye

Okay, I’m not going to go all ‘the secret’ on you, but visualisation is a powerful tool. I’m a qualified hypnotherapist (scary huh?) and almost all of what hypnosis is about is visualisation. The difference is that when under hypnosis you can bypass your RAS (let’s just say conscious mind, look it up if you are interested) and work on your unconscious mind. If that sounds a bit too fluffy for you, then cut out the expert, and work directly with your conscious mind with a bit of visualisation. It takes a bit longer, but can still get you there in the end.

For you scientists out there, who don’t believe in destiny, think of it this way; every day you make decisions that take you in the direction in which you expect to go. Regular visualisation primes your mind to expect to go toward whatever you are visualising. If you don’t visualise, your mind doesn’t really have a goal so it will opt for the decision that keeps the status quo. Fine if you want to keep working in that day job.

Writers, perhaps more than any others, are perfectly placed to make visualisation work, because we are always imagining our stories, so are very comfortable in the imagined world. The problem is that writers also tend to be a bit bad at positive self-talk. I have my own theories on why, but that is best shared face to face over a glass of wine. I know that personally, I’m shocking at making time for visualisation. Even when I add it to my weekly list of things to do, it is inevitably forced out late on Sunday night just so I can cross it off the list. Not an ideal way of going about it.

The key to visualising well is to have a specific event to watch; walking up to receive an award for your published book, a book signing with a line of people going out the door, a room full of people attending a reading that you are doing. Got it? Be specific and be as detailed as possible. Don’t just hold a copy of your book in your hand and know that it has sold well. But be sure to see your book in your visualisation. You have to know what your aim is; success can come from many things, so we want to tie this to your novel.

The next major thing is not just to imagine the scenario, but let yourself feel the emotions of that scenario. Feel the excitement that so many people love your book, feel the relief that you no longer have to go to the day job (hmmm, a bit of a recurring theme for me), revel in the joy of someone else knowing your characters as intimately as you do. When you feel those emotions in the visualisation you feel it in real life too, and your body will want more.

The final key to good visualisation is to do it regularly. Hurriedly imagining you goal on a Sunday night once a month isn’t going to cut it. I would even say once a day is not too often. To this end, I might take my own advice and make it part of my nightly routine, just like brushing my teeth. Let’s see if it helps?

Now I won’t promise that this will get you published, but it might help you to overcome the sloth you feel at the end of long, hard day at work, so that instead of sitting in front of the TV you write. After all, it is getting the words on the page that will eventually get you published, so anything that helps with that has got to be good.

The lows of writing

Every story, no matter how good or bad, has a lot of work in it. Even if you are a total slacker and you send out your first draft, not even bothering to re-read it, you’ve still put a reasonable effort in to get it finished. For me, I edit and re-edit my stories seemingly endlessly. I cannot read them without wanting to change something. A flash fiction story of 500 words can easily take six hours to get to the standard where I think it is ready to send out. That’s a big investment.

After so much work it is hard to forget about it once it is out in the big wide world. You are so eager to see if it is going to get a chance to be read by the public. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that when I have a story out, every time I check my emails the first thing I do is skim the subject headers to see if there is a response. 99% of the time there is nothing. It is not unusual to be waiting over six months to hear back from a publisher, even for a short story, and that’s if they respond at all.

This part of the process is the one that most undermines my desire to get published. I don’t mind rejection, even form letter rejections (a generic response sent to all rejected stories), but hearing nothing, that’s disheartening. You can’t help but speculate that the story got lost, or wonder if anyone read it at all. What’s even worse is when it was ahead of the pack months ago when you sent it, but now everyone is subbing stories on that topic. That’s the main reason why I try not to write topical stories anymore.

A particular low for me was when an editor announced on social media that they hadn’t received any stories of a certain category that were up to standard for their anthology, so they wanted more of that category. My story fell squarely in that category and I had subbed it a month earlier. So I knew it was rejected, but the editor didn’t send me a formal rejection for another two weeks.

I know editors get inundated with subs, and they often have day jobs, not to mention their own stories that they are trying to write. But I wish they wouldn’t give indicative response times on their sites if they don’t meet those. I also really hope the public rejection before personal rejection doesn’t become the norm.

The whole thing has inspired me to write a story specifically for self-publication. This way I control the timelines and if nothing happens for a while, it’s because I’ve dropped the ball. I’m pretty excited about it too. It’s wonderful knowing that I will be able to count on it being out in the world by a certain date, instead of waiting, potentially for years, for others to reject or accept it.

Travel Journal – 1998 – True love lost

I read a lot of Bill Bryson when I was travelling, as a result I was inspired to make my own travel journal a bit more colourful. So while I rarely commented on the weather, or exactly where I was, the stupid things I did featured large. I’ve transferred some of my hand-written travel diaries (complete with ticket stubs and other holiday paraphernalia) into digital format so I don’t lose them. This snippet is cut from my US holiday diary, from the day my sister and I visited Six Flags Magic Mountain (the setting for Wally World in the movie ‘Vacation’). It made me laugh, so I thought I would share:

 

We were told the Batman Ride was terrifying. Strapped in, your feet were left dangling as it spun you through loops and barrels at breakneck speed. Naturally that put it at the top of our must do list.

It was while we were in the line-up to the ride that I spotted the guy. He looked like Val Kilmer from Top Gun, with cropped blond hair and a cheeky sparkle in his eye (okay, he might have been too far away for me to really make out the sparkle, but I’m sure it was there). Thanks to the back and forward snaking of the line I kept getting to glance at him from different angles. Then it happened; our eyes met and he smiled! Swoon! As we snaked further along the line we kept catching each other’s eyes. Suddenly I loved America.

The dark side of this tale came from the snippets of other people’s conversations I kept hearing. They talked about how this was the scariest of all the rides at the park. Some were even saying that they didn’t know if they would go through with it. The screams coming from the patrons who had made their way onto the ride definitely had more of a note of terror about then than fun.

Then I saw the first sign: No bag storage. It’s like when you spot the first cat hair on your pants and then suddenly you can see hairs everywhere; there were signs at every turn warning us there was nowhere to store our bags. I had a bag! As we drew closer to the ride I could hear a pre-recorded message telling us that whatever you had on you, you had to carry on the ride. I looked around, NO ONE ELSE HAD BAGS! Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner!?! My whole world was in my bag.

It was at this moment I missed perhaps my one chance at true love. Lost in that vague world in which only I seem to reside, the snaking line brought the boy who I thought was beautiful within touching distance. He walked past me and asked ‘How you going?’

I  DIDN’T  REALISE  HE  WAS  TALKING  TO  ME  BECAUSE  I  WAS  PANICKING  ABOUT  MY  BAG!!!!!!!

My sister looked back at me and said, ‘What did that guy say to you?’ at which point I finally broke out of my lonely weird world (where I’m apparently forever destined to live) and asked ‘Who? What guy?” She pointed to him. It was THE GUY!

He didn’t look at me again and the line did not bring us closer as he was swallowed by the ride that was sure to rob me of my bag and all my worldly possessions. I wanted to scream out to him that I was sorry, that I didn’t realise he was talking to me because I was too busy worrying about where to put my bag, but I never got my chance.

So if someone ever reads this who knows a guy who looked a bit like a young Val Kilmer and rode the Batman Ride on November 21st 1998 please let him know that I’m not a snob, just stupid!

 

Funnily enough I wrote that last paragraph as you read it. So no idea how I thought anyone else would be able to read my diary. Maybe he’ll get the chance now? 🙂

 

Top 10 writer things to do – learn to touch type

I have a lot of friends who write by hand and I know, for some people, that is how they connect with their ‘muse’. There is something enticing about going out to buy a new notebook and knowing that you will fill it with your next story. If that is your thing and you need or enjoy it, that’s fine.

For many others of us, handwriting means cramp in our hand after two pages, never being able to find the right angle to write comfortably, and finding our hand cannot keep up with our brain. If that’s not bad enough we can go back to edit what we clearly remember as being spectacular writing, and we can’t make sense of our messy scribble.

I clearly fall into this latter camp.

I learned to touch type when I was 21. I remember the experience distinctly because my flatmates were paying to do a course that I was too tight to join them in. So from the moment they walked out the door to when they came home, I jumped on the computer and played a touch-typing game. Those few weeks took me from having no idea to a typing speed of about 70 wpm (or 90 if I don’t mind making a few typos).

I can type at a far greater speed than I can manually write. When typing, I never find myself having to slow down my thoughts to get it all down. Even better, I don’t need to look at the keys, or even the screen, so I can blur my eyes and actually watch everything happening in my imagination. And when it comes to editing, nothing compares to having a file you can cut and paste, compared to several notebooks of illegible writing (as is the case if I try handwriting).

In the previous two years I have written two novels within a three-month period. I would never have been able to do that if I couldn’t touch type. Also it is one of the most transferrable skills I’ve got. I’ve been able to use typing through all my many and varied careers. I use it every day and often think how grateful I am to my two more cashed-up flatmates for doing the course all those years ago.

I don’t know why everyone doesn’t learn to touch type, but especially authors. Even if you write by hand, eventually you have to transfer it to a digital format. Yes, you may be able to get quite a good speed up with your three-finger method, but if you are that quick with three fingers, I can almost guarantee you will be even faster if you use all your fingers (and don’t need to watch where they go).

Publication! – Sea Canaries

This is a flash fiction story which I wrote immediately after completing my novella earlier this year. It felt weird not sitting down to write after work each evening, but I knew I wasn’t ready to jump into a novel yet. Sea Canaries was my answer to winding down the writing spring of creativity that was still coiled too tightly.

As soon as I read the call for submissions this story appeared in my head. I wrote the first draft in one sitting (as one would expect of an under 500 word piece) but I edited it over a period of two weeks before I was happy with it. My main issue was that the version of the story I first wrote was about 615 words long, and I had to get it under 500. I was very attached to the excess 115 words.

Without giving too much away, the submission called for horrors of the deep. I wanted to write a story where the horror was coming from the deep, but the monsters were much closer to home. Later this year I’ll publish the full 615 word version on my website so you can read it as I first experienced it. I’m proud of this story and really enjoyed walking around in these skins for a fortnight, as much as I never want to live it for real.

Sea Canaries appears in the Anemone Enemy and is available in both print and ebook formats. I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

AnemoneEnemyCover

Most basic communication

Anyone who follows my Twitter account will know that I’m nearly a crazy cat lady. I spend a lot of time talking to my cat. In the past 12 months she has started talking back to me a lot (in meows, not words – this isn’t one of my stories). We have had many very satisfying, nonsensical conversations.

This has really got me thinking about the non-words side of communication. We all know how important body language and facial expressions are when it comes to talking to people, but when it comes to animals that all stops having meaning.

My cat is a rescue cat, and for some reason I can’t explain, it seems morally wrong to me to change her name. The problem is I don’t really like her name. As a result I can call her one of up to about twenty different names; Puss, Pussums, Baby-Doll, Snookums, Honey-Cakes, Baby-Cakes, Babe, Bubalicious etc. (apologies to any ex’s who recognise their own Monika’s in there, I didn’t steal them from you, they were bestowed upon my high-school cat long before they made it to partner level). The funny thing is, she always seems to respond as if I am saying her name.

I can only conclude that it all comes down to my tone when I speak. Interestingly, tone of voice is one of the few things I don’t comment on when writing dialogue. It can be hard to write tone into text without sounding like author intrusion, but when done well it can lend your story more depth and emotion. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to add it in future.

Just an aside; I often trip over the cat because she likes to smooch around my feet. Shocked, I can’t help by yelp ‘Sorry!’ each time I do it. Only recently have I realised that because of the loud and urgent nature of my apology there is every chance the tone sounds more like ‘Got ya!’ to my poor cat. Now I give her and apologetic pat instead.

My cat looking wistfully at the birds outside.
My cat looking wistfully at the birds outside.

The journey of a spec fic writer.