Taking a little break

So, I’ve been a little quiet on the writing front recently. Some of you may have seen that I finished the second draft of my second book, and I felt so relieved that it was done, as at times it felt like a real slog, that I realised I needed a break.

Most of you will know that I’m doing a lot of travelling right now (and if you don’t, feel free to take a look at what I’ve been up to) and this creates some challenging environments and situations in which to focus on writing. That being said, there are plenty of positives, too.

While I tried to keep everything together, and balance the travel, work and different living scenarios, it proved really taxing. That meant that when the draft was done, I was nowhere near ready to do anything else for a while.

Normally, I’ll blog more or work on some short stories, but I couldn’t even face doing those activities, too – despite how much I love writing!

A couple of months later and I’m back to it, so there’s some catching up to do on my regular updates but also a lot of short stories I want to redraft as well as some new ideas to put into writing. I know already what I want to do for the third book of this trilogy and I’m going to start the first draft of that story in January.

Compared to the first book, which I completed fully before starting the second, this is also a little bit of an experiment for me. It will keep the world and characters I’ve created fresh in my mind but in a different part of their story. I’m hoping that when I come back to edit the second book, it’ll be easier to keep track of everything, fixing mistakes and refining the novel without as much back and forth and fact checking. I have a lot of notes, but things do change during the process.

The other reason for doing things this way revolves around my longer plan. I’ve been submitting the first book to agents since late 2017 and I’ve had no luck so far. That’s a shame but I’m not prepared to give up on it, yet. All the reader feedback I’ve had (select friends and some strangers I’ve met on during the travels – not all of which are science fiction fans) has been constructive and positive.

Most of the questions they’ve raised are points I wanted them to pick up on, the story and writing style are enjoyable and the characters interesting. This is enough to keep me pushing ahead with it. If at the end, I have no luck, I’ll consider self-publishing the first book once the first draft of book three is done. Then I can edit book two while pushing that, before editing book three while getting the second book out there.

There is a plan, and while it’s not going as I’d hoped right now, it’s good to have some goals. Over the next couple of months, I’ll have some new stories to send out and post, so you’ll see more of what I’m working on, too.

That’s it for now, ‘till next time!

The hardest parts about writing while travelling

I’ve been backpacking and living in hostels for close to 18 months now, and it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I’ve met some amazing people, seen things that are literally mind blowing and done things I never thought I would (like a skydive, can you believe it?) but one thing has really taken a hit during this period; my writing.

No matter where I go or what I do, I always try and find at least a little time to do some writing, just as I used to do back home. There are some pretty big differences between those two situations, though, and it has slowed me down quite a lot.

With the launch of my new website, and a plan to really start pushing this area of my life forward, I felt it was a good time to lay it all out.

I hope this will be of some use to you!

Not having a dedicated space to write

Every “home” that I’ve lived in has featured a dedicated space to write. Sometimes that comes in the form of a desk, other times it’s a table but it can also just be a corner or area of a room that I can get comfy and sit for hours if need be.

Most of the last 18 months have been in hostels, and if you’ve ever stayed in a hostel, you’ll know what I mean. For those who haven’t; you pay for a bed rather than a room. There are social spaces but not necessarily quiet ones, and since my laptop is a bit old, I need it plugged in constantly. That gets difficult and so I’m confined to my bed.

That’s right, I write in my bed. It’s generally not the comfiest option and these are bunk beds, so there aren’t many ways to get comfortable. Not only that, there are other people to contend with.

Right now, for example, I’m writing this in the dark while others are sleeping.

When you constantly change rooms and hostels, it’s always different and that’s a bit unsettling. It means new people to adapt to (even if you do remain in the same place) and you just don’t know how anyone will react. It’s part of the travel experience I love but it can be distracting.

No consistent routine

Moving on so much means new jobs, and a change to your routine. Sometimes its day work, other times evenings or mornings – hell, I’ve even worked nightshift for a few months while in Melbourne! Switching from different schedules takes time and saps a lot of energy and motivation, which, for me, is counterproductive.

Now, if I sit down and force myself to write (or do anything, really) I will. Eventually. However, what I found back home was writing at the same time every, or at least most, days meant that I was able to dive in easier and get more done in a shorter amount of time.

That doesn’t and won’t work for everyone, which is fine, but I did find it worked for me. If I could write full-time, maybe it wouldn’t be as big an issue for me. That’s the dream, and if I get there, I’ll let you know.

For now, I try and stick to a regular time and if I’m not working, I try a couple of times each day so that when my schedule does change, I hopefully have a few options to fall into.

Losing my preferred ‘setup’

As a part of my dedicated writing space, I had a particular setup I liked. Now, I’m not one for listening to music while I write. Sometimes, I like it but, in most cases, music distracts me and I focus more on that than the words I want to put to page.

There are times, especially if a song or genre resonates with me in that moment, that I’ll listen to music but mostly that happens outside of the writing and I use my memories or the emotions evoked when writing.

What I prefer is to have a TV show or movie on in the background. This is usually something I’ve seen numerous times before so as not to distract me but I can glance up every now and then and know what’s going on before returning to my work. Sometimes, I notice something completely new or inspiration strikes or that particular moment helps me solve a problem.

A lot of the time, it’s just noise.

Now, however, I just have my laptop. That means, to create that ‘noise’ I have Netflix or something similar running in the background but to have a glance, I change windows on my screen. It’s longer and disrupts the flow.

Yes, yes, I know; such a lousy problem to have, right?

I agree, but it is a problem. It’s something I’m trying to adapt to and get over but it’s not proving as easy as that so far!

So, what have I done about it?

I wish I could tell you that I found some great secret that let me fix all of this in one go, but that’s not the case. Life doesn’t work like that.

All I’ve done is redoubled my efforts to sit down and write. Some days, I’m lucky to get 100 words done but others I can get a lot more. Even a little helps and I won’t turn it down – especially with what I’m doing right now.

It means not going out or drinking every night like a lot of people I stay in hostels with. It makes me seem antisocial and boring, I guess, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. It might be having a goal, or being a bit older than most people I meet backpacking – it doesn’t really matter.

The important thing is I’m happy with my life and the things I’m doing. That’s just another step on this path.

Writer Problems: A Not So Comprehensive List

We all have problems. Some are serious, some not so much. How big or problematic they are depends on our view at the time and with the passage of time, they seem to get smaller until we wonder why it bothered us in the first place.

That being said, some are more annoying than anything. They can be ironically funny, blindingly frustrating, facepalm cringeworthy or many other colour adjectives. Writers are no different. So, here is a list of writer problems. It’s not extensive or comprehensive but they’re all problems I’ve encountered (and not always solved) as well as those of other writers I’ve met and spoken to.

Hell, they probably apply to many creatives and professions – but you’ll have to tell me that.

Pets like getting involved

Not much to say about this one but any writer with pets will know exactly what I’m talking about – our lovable companions just KNOW we need their help.

My dog 'helping' me work
My dog ‘helping’ me work

I can’t deny it’s true at times, but when I’m on a roll and my dog decides to jump on me or my laptop, that’s more hindering than helping. Still, wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Feeling guilty over a lack of productiveness

I don't work right up here gif
Something’s wrong with my head, I think

I’m starting with one of my favourites. I like to take a break between big projects and drafts. It helps me put some distance between what I’ve just done and what I’m going to do next. It can be a week, a month or even a year – it really depends on the project and how drained I feel.

So, FREE TIME! That’s what I tell myself. I’ll catch up on my favourite TV shows, go to some gigs, tick off a few books in the ‘to read’ pile and get some gaming done. Actually, no. Very little happens because I feel guilty about not writing or editing! So, I find other work to do, whether it’s planning something new – or related – to the current project, doing some redrafting etc. It’s great but everything else listed above, well those piles, lists and such get bigger. Who knows when I’m going to get around to them?

Oh well, I keep up with Facebook…

The anticipation of feedback

I like to think that I’m pretty patient while waiting for feedback. I do understand that people are busy and have their own lives and things to sort. That’s what I tell myself and hope it conveys that way to others.

I just have a lot of feelings gif
WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?

However, on the inside I’m screaming ‘READ THE BOOK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!’ every day until I get it back. Sometimes I can’t wait and I break my rule and ask. I feel guilty about that too. Thankfully, my writer friends understand that…I think…I hope!

The infamous writers block

I got nothing gif
I relate to this way too much

I could write 1,500 essays on this subject. It. Is. So. Annoying. And frustrating. And has a particularly awful sense of timing. Countless are the times I’ve been on a great role and the one day it just stops. And I end up staring at a blank screen four hours searching for a particular word or phrase.

Sometimes a film, a show, a song, a book, a game, a word or accident can snap me out of it. Other times, I need a good sleep or swim to clear the head. Other times, I think it’s a way for the mind to tell us to take a break. Maybe to organise our thoughts or think about a problem – or just give us a rest. We’re not machines, we do need it every so often.

Knowing what you want to say without having the right words

Use your words gif
How I feel with my mind when it blocks me

Sort of related to the last point but how many times have you had the PERFECT idea for that scene or chapter that’s been bugging you for weeks but when you come to put it on paper or screen, you stall. It’s not a block because you know exactly what you want to say but it just won’t come out. Damnit.

This is a fantastic example of why redrafting is so key. I’m all about the flow of my work and stories but sometimes you’ve got to force past it and just get it on paper. The editing lets you find those parts and smooth them out to match the rest of the story. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear someone’s arms off when it happens, though.

Not being able to stop the inner monologue

Maybe this is just me, but sometimes I wish I could switch my brain off. A CTRL+ALT+DEL function would be amazing. Simply amazing. Someone do this and I will love you forever.

Facepalm gif
There are never enough facepalms for this

I find this more when I’ve been writing for a while or working for a long time on a project; I just can’t stop. I know I’ve got work in the morning or an early start for whatever reason – or I’m supposed to be meeting friends or family or whatever – so I stop writing but that monologue is just going on and on.

The worst part is, whether I cave and get up or return to it the next day, the ideas are gone. Potential writing gold gone for good. That’s when the facepalm strikes.

The conflict of how to tell people what you do

All is good, you’re at an event, seeing some friends and there’s new people around. You strike a conversation and then they ask you one of the worst questions ever; ‘what do you do?’

Why is life so hard gif
Sometimes this is easier than changing words on a computer…

Where to even start with this? I write words and hope it’ll make me money is one option. I tell stories sounds childish. A writer sounds hipster and clichéd. Aspiring writer makes it seem like you’re trying too hard. Author? Not a chance, not till I’m published. Usually, I tell people I’m working on a book. They’ll either be interested and ask more or they won’t. It’s a safe option but why is it so hard?!

Not knowing when to stop

This is another favourite of mine. How do you know when it’s finished? The amount of times I’ve done the final draft of something only to come back in six months and let my inner voice yell ‘WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, THINKING THAT WAS DONE?’ until I cave in and do another draft.

I’m not always convinced the new draft is better. Surely there’s a point where what you started with or tried to achieve has been lost through so many edits you have something new completely. Is it still one story or is it two? If I find an answer, I’ll let you know.

Getting published!

Cats headbutting each other gif
It’s not a brick wall but very cute…and painful

I saved the biggest problem for last. It is one of THE biggest hurdles any writer who wants to make a career out of putting words on paper can and will face – unless you’re incredibly lucky. If you are, don’t forget about this blogger/writer/Scot.

I’ve not explored this much compared to others but even what I’ve experienced I can liken to headbutting a brick wall over and over and over and over. And over. Repeat until brain becomes mush. Hunting down and acquiring an agent is much the same. And yes, I’ve headbutted a brick wall (a lot as a child and once recently to test out this experiment. It hurt. A lot) so take my word for it.

Any other big writer problems I’ve missed? Let me know!

Tackling Lethargy

Lethargy. It’s something that I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in suffering from from time to time. Yes, that is why I’ve been silent recently. I have the ideas but not the energy or motivation to work on them. Sorry about that.

I’m aiming to change that. I still have the lethargy but the only way to beat it is by getting organised and doing things (I say this while not swimming, which I should be doing right now. One thing at a time.) that I do want to do anyway.

Master of Procrastination

Yes, yes I am. It’s very easy to waste time. Facebook and social media in general is good for this. Fear of missing out (or FOMO) means we’re glued to the news feed whether at home or on the go. We don’t want to miss out on anything that MAY happen. Before you know it, three hours have passed and it’s almost time for bed.

Binge watching TV with the likes of Netflix is another way of losing time. Pottering around the house/flat/home. Basically, anything you do when you know you have other things to do wastes that time. I’m especially bad when I have to do the cleaning. Sigh.

Becoming more organised

As it stands now, I don’t have much in the way of free time during the week. An 8 hour day at work as well as three hours – minimum – travel time means I have about four hours after work to do things. There are the daily chores and tasks that must be done, eating, showering etc.

I swim twice a week, which takes up a good amount of time on those nights too. I like to read and play games too so finding the balance that allows me to do these things, as well as write and/or edit for a while every day.

That means a schedule.

It’s not fun to stick to a routine but it does seem a part of normal life these days. It lets me manage my time and hopefully get the best out of myself. I can appreciate the limited time I have and make sure every day has work, writing and some sort of enjoyable activity.

It does mean some sort of sacrifice. Something is going to have to give. Social media is the first thing to go. It’s still there – you might have found this on Facebook or Twitter and such – and I’ll check back every now and then, but until I can make some sort of progress, it needs to stop distracting me.

The proverbial kick up the backside

Sometimes, we need something else to get back into the swing of things. Whenever I submit any kind of writing to something/somewhere/someone, I always ask for feedback. In most cases, it doesn’t happen but occasionally it does, and it can sometimes be that kick needed.

I was told this particular story had basically no chance of going anywhere without serious work – a complete overhaul of the story. I’m not sure what exactly that overhaul needs yet, maybe I never will, but that’s okay.

There was something positive to come from it. I was told my writing is good. The form, the technical ability, the style etc – overall, I’m a good writer. I know that, or I wouldn’t have made it this far but it’s good to hear, and from a stranger. Every so often, we need that compliment and I know there are better stories in me, already in the works. If I get them done, I may just have a chance to make a real career out of this!

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

After my first swimming session
After my first swimming session

I remember – a long, long, loooooooooong time ago – that I used to be physically fit. I could run for more than ten seconds before running out of breath. I could push myself to do more rather than just get up the stairs. I used to enjoy it.

I used to want to write a hell of a lot more than I do now.

Now, hear me out. I haven’t lost my will or love of writing over the years (although…there have been days…) but I had a lot more stories to tell. My mind would run free and come up with some truly crazy shit, even when I was completely knackered. In fact, sometimes those were the best times to be creative. Then, like now, the hardest thing was finding the time to sit down and get on with it. Only this time, the reasons have changed.

I think exercise is important to a person’s wellbeing but also to a writer’s creativity. I have no proof – though this is the internet, so I’m sure you can find some if you want – this is all from my own experience.

The old days

So, some context.

Back in my younger days, I played basketball at school, and then beyond. I trained four-to-five nights a week, volunteered with the Youth Service, worked, studied and tried to write. It was hard, very hard.

One thing I was never short of was ideas. Inspiration came easily, just not the time to put those words to paper (or screen, for the pedantic among you). I was always busy, and I had a social life. They were simpler days, happy days and that makes a huge difference. As a writer, I draw upon a range of emotions to propel readers through my stories, whether long or short. Happiness is a key part of that – and teenage angst can only take you so far.

Without basketball – or a form of exercise in general – I wouldn’t have had that balance. I was too young to realise it then but looking back now, I’m glad I had it.

The in-between years

Whether through illness or injury doesn’t matter but I stopped playing and training. I replaced it with bar work – and in general jobs that kept me running around a lot so I was getting some exercise. Not only that, I walked everywhere.

I kept this up through university. I had every intention of packing in smoking and joining one of the sport societies but like all best laid plans – it didn’t happen.

I convinced myself that since I was young-ish, my metabolism was high and I had other ways to exercise, I’d be okay. One day I’d sort it. Besides that, my studies kept me writing. Not what I wanted but I was determined to finish this degree and get a good result. Since graduating, I had other priorities (finding a job, mainly) and now, I am trying to balance work, a social life and travelling time with writing.

I ended up with a desk job, public transport and plenty of cigarettes smoked each day (but not as many as others) so, yeah, I had lost the physical exercise. Over the years during university and beyond, this has had a knock on effect. I don’t feel physically worn out, no matter how tired I am mentally. When I do sit to write, I get itchy feet and have to move about quite a lot. It’s hard to find that balance. I knew then that something had to change.

And now, I’ve started swimming

The key word is ‘started’ as I’ve only just (literally) finished my second session. I could barely get through 22 lengths in an hour in the first session but I doubled that tonight. Not for one moment do I expect another jump like that next time but I can already see the difference – see the picture above of how I looked after the first swim last week!

I have to be careful as to what exercise I do. My knees are dodgy and swimming isn’t weight bearing. There’s still a burn but it’s better for me than running, I think. Maybe one day, I’ll try that. Oh, and I’m trying to get rid of the cigarettes. That’s helping too.

Through all that, I can feel the ideas returning. That can only be a good thing – I just need to balance the rest of my free time to make use of it.

Keep an eye on this space!

So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books
Some of my favourite books – I’d love for my name to be here one day. Don’t you want the same?

You poor, poor fool.

I’m just kidding. Kind of. Regardless of how old you are, where you’re from or what you currently do, you’ve got a burning desire to tell stories and that just isn’t being fulfilled right now.

Maybe you’re writing something in your spare time; novels, short stories, poems, scripts and such. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. Well, I can’t tell you I’m an expert on the subject since, you know, I’m (at this stage but if you read this years later I may be) not a published author right now.

What I do have are experiences, insights and tidbits of information that may help in some way. I’m going to share these with you here. They won’t make you a writer but if it helps you pick up that pen or open that word processor, I’m counting it as a win.

What a better way to start 2016’s blogging than this? Precisely.

You’re a writer. Deal with it

Not everyone has a problem with this but it can come up every now and then. Calling yourself a writer – or having someone else call you it – is fine, but actually feeling like one is something completely different.

Maybe it brings a sense of pressure to produce or do something. Perhaps you feel guilty because it doesn’t feel like a job or bring the same stability other careers do. Or, you might just find it frees you and you can relax at last.

Whatever it is, you’re going to have to deal with it. It comes down to feeling comfortable with who you are, maybe not your entire being but this aspect of it. It might strike early on or later, but just remember, you’re not alone. Proof of being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tolkien, King or Rowling – far from it. Just be yourself, write the way you want to and, most of all, enjoy it!

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s mind numbing.

Sound familiar? Then you’re doing it wrong. Planning your work is the first step of a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable process. I love writing books but at the same time, short stories and blogging are hugely enjoyable. Each needs different levels of planning and it’s different for everyone.

My novels need a lot of planning. I develop characters, settings, plots and subplots usually before writing anything (although sometimes I write little extracts that do or do not feature in the story later). Once I understand the world I’m writing in, I start. My plan is usually a list of points per chapter and I play connect the dot. Whether you storyboard, mind map (or whatever the PC term is for it now) or use audio notes, it helps keep you on track.

Short stories need less planning but just as much research. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. On the flipside, if you get a flash of inspiration, go with it and then come back to your plans later, then work out how to use it.

Writing is actually fun!

Yes! Yes, it really is. It’s the most enjoyable part of it, but if you’re doing this solely to make money, turn around right now and pick another career.

Don’t get me wrong, we all (those of us who choose this) want to earn a living as a writer but if you’re writing for money, your writing will suffer because it’s not what you want to do. People are smarter than you think and they can see through the façade, so write honestly, about something you like and are passionate about, and the success will come.

I’m a great believer in the best job is the one you love doing, day in and day out. If you enjoy writing, whether its books, poems, web content, blogging – whatever – you’ll write better, build a bigger and more genuine audience and achieve the goals you want.

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

It’s the ‘p’ word again – no, not publishing/ers. Pressure. It’s one of the biggest killers to any good story or project. If the pressure mounts up and you can’t deal with it, you’ll come across that infamous writers block.

I’m no believer in ‘writers block’ although I do use it as an umbrella term. There are a number of reasons why you might suffer from it. Pressure is one, tiredness and stress are others. A lack of focus or concentration, illness and many other factors can all stop you in your tracks.

Social media can be a big one. Too much time mindlessly clicking on Facebook’s timeline or Twitter’s newsfeed can destroy hours and days and – whoops – you’ve lost a week, then a month. That’s when the pressure builds. It’s a vicious cycle but if you put small steps in place to build a routine, you’ll get there.

Don’t get me wrong, some days you’ll write 20 words and others 5,000 but that’s okay. I try to write for at least one hour every day. The routine helps.

Find real feedback

This is tricky. Real, constructive feedback is essential to help you grow as a writer, and to develop your work. Other writers are great but they can often be busy. Readers are good but a reader doesn’t always make for good critic.

AVOID family and friends. They’ll have the best of intentions, no matter what you say to them beforehand, about what you expect and would like from them. You’ll get a “it was really good” or “I really enjoyed it” and that’s about it. Occasionally, you’ll dig and dig and dig and get a little nugget but it’s not worth THAT level of effort.

Find a writing group, in person or online – they exist everywhere. Follow the rules and be respectful. You won’t always like or agree with what they say but it’s for you to decide how to use that criticism. Throwing it back in someone’s face and going in a huff won’t help you and you’ll find feedback disappearing.

There are rules. Follow them or don’t – it’s your call

Every genre of writing has rules. So does every medium or format. Some people will tell you to stick to them at all costs while others will tell you not to worry and break them whenever you want. In the end, you have to decide.

It depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your writing, the genre, context and so much more – it’s why planning and research are important. It will help you figure out which rules to follow (if any) and feedback will help prove or disprove your decisions. Be willing to adapt to meet the story and expectations of your reader to an extent. It’s a very fine line.

At the end of the day, it’s your call.

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

However, it’s essential. You’ve written your book or script or poetry collection and you send it off straight away, so proud you’ve done it. Now you just have to wait for the phone to ring for hours on end with publishers offering you deals. Right?

Wrong.

You’ll make mistakes – spelling and grammar included, no matter how hard you try to spot them – and there will be plot holes, lines that don’t make sense to anyone but you. This is why you need to edit your work. Read it over and over and over again, and then get someone else to proof it as well. The repeat. Iron out those mistakes BEFORE you send it anywhere. It might take a full year to do this. Be patient.

Publishing, agents and rejection

There’s so much to say on this but you are going to face more rejection than you are success – at least, early in your career. The worst thing is, it’s not always just plain rejection. Sometimes you hear nothing at all in the months you’re waiting. It’s awful but that’s the way it is.

Get used to ‘no.’ It might be in a nice way but that’s what it is. Dust off and try again. It takes many, many tries to get someone to even acknowledge you. So many writers have what could be successful books or stories and give up after a few no’s.

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

There’s so much reading you can do, from people like me to the ones who have done it. It’s important to remember that you’re not me, and you’re not them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else so don’t get caught up on an idea if it doesn’t work out.

That being said, it can’t hurt to know about what people have gone through and use it to help, if you can. I’ve started you off, or given you some encouragement (or maybe I’ve put you off entirely – sorry!).

Either way, it’s a long and hard journey ahead of you. Stick with it and you’ll get there. Honest.

I read this article recently, on how to smash through seven writing roadblocks writers come across at various times. It’s quite interesting and worth a read, either now or later.

Good luck!