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.

How No Man’s Sky Helps Me as a Writer

No Man's Sky
No Man’s Sky

Another tangent this time but this one, arguably, has more of a relevance to my writing. This time, I want to discuss No Man’s Sky, a game I have been looking forward to for many years.

I generally avoid reviews and critics on most things. If I come across something, I won’t run away screaming but I will treat it objectively – I’d rather make my own mind up, even if it’s not ‘popular’ opinion. It goes for games, films, TV shows, books, music – everything. That’s why, even though a lot of people seem to be complaining about No Man’s Sky, it doesn’t bother me. There are specific reasons I want the game beyond just enjoying it for what it is. I want to go into these shortly.

First though, I’ll address some of the elephants in the blog post.

It’s not perfect, by any means

Let’s get this straight right now. This is not the best game in the world, probably not even close. The crafting system is limited, the interface clunky (at least on the PS4) and the lack of direction can be off-putting for some people. There’s also very little in the way of tutorial, you’ve got to try things for yourself and learn as you go.

Look too closely at the graphics and they’re not as impressive as you first thought. The game is very grind-heavy and repetitive, you’ll be doing similar things on each world you come across as you follow the very loose objectives you do actually have.

But, for me, a game doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about overcoming the problems and still succeeding, finding solutions that give the best returns and being inspired. The planets I’ve come across have been awe-inspiring. Standing at the top of a cliff and looking out over the plains with water in the distance. Others are harsh and barren but make me work faster to survive and move on.

As a writer, it has already been a big help

One of the nicer planet's I've found on No Man's Sky
One of the nicer planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky

Now, I’m not just a sci-fi writer, and most of my stories don’t resolve around a being alone and fighting for survival on empty worlds but that doesn’t matter.

The scenery, as I’ve mentioned before, can be great at helping me find the perfect setting for a scene or story. It might only be a small part of it, a section or one particular thing that stands out – maybe on something I’ve been working on before and felt was lacking something.

The emotions I feel as the protagonist can also be applied to stories. As a writer, I draw upon my own experiences and imagination, so anything that can help broaden that is welcome. By immersing myself in these kinds of games, by giving the character a life through role play techniques, I can then use some of what I experience in stories, regardless of genre. It takes practise but over the years it’s become a handy skill.

You need an imagination

One of the harsher planet's I've found on No Man's Sky - with a weird, flying beast
One of the harsher planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky – with a weird, flying beast

Well, you don’t NEED one, but if you want to use the game as I do, then you kind of do, yeah. My character has a background, a story, a purpose (that sometimes goes against the point of the game but it is so free and vast it doesn’t matter) and I use that. It can change each week.

Sometimes I create one specifically for a project I have in mind, while others are existing characters I transfer to this. It’s a big change for them and that’s a good process to explore. It lets me dive a little deeper into their mind and that, in turn – I hope – makes writing that character a better experience for my readers.

I’m actually doing it with a character right now, but it’s all hush hush. Sorry!

So, despite its shortcomings, I still think No Man’s Sky is a decent game for what it is – and for what I expected it to be…like I said above, not one to follow the crowd for the sake of it. The extra value I get from it won’t work for all writers but maybe for some. Hell, any creative may find it of use in the same way I do.

Then again, there are plenty of ways to find inspiration, if we only remember to open our eyes, ears and other senses to what’s going on around us.

Or, you can read this post and get some other ideas from me!

Return of the Writer

Once again, ladies and gents, you have my apologies. I had hoped to get back into the swing of things long before now but the book took a lot more out of me than I first thought. I really needed some time to recover – mentally more than anything – and to be able to look at all three books with a fresh mind.

Now, I feel like I’m finally at that stage. Oh, and I like puns. You should know this by now (and in case you didn’t get it – shame on you – that’s a Star Wars reference at the top. Can’t believe I explained that).

I’ve not been sitting idly by, however. Some things have been going on. So, my friends, join me on what, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a riveting tale. Maybe. Possibly. Okay, probably not but bear with me.

Where have I been?

I’ve been here and there, keeping busy without exhausting myself further. Or trying not to. I tried reading but that was a little too close to home and I found that even gaming wasn’t as appealing as I’d thought it would be. I did keep up with swimming, other than last week where I had other exercise plans (dodgeball – don’t ask but I do have a medal!). Hell, I even tried quitting smoking.

The one thing that is worth noting is that over the last couple of weeks is that it was the fifth Manchester Children’s Book Festival. I’ve volunteered at every single one to date and this year was no exception, although following the pattern of the previous two, I’m not as involved as previously but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it all the same.

It’s fantastic to see so many children getting involved with reading, writing, performances and much more – anything creative and wacky! It’s been a pleasure to see the festival grow since 2010 and I’m looking forward to next year already.

Expect a more detailed post on this in two weeks. I wouldn’t want to break tradition now, would I?

Finding motivation

One thing that I think has been really lacking for me is motivation. Since finishing the first draft of the most recent novel, I’ve been finding it hard to come back – for whatever reason. Life can work for or against us and we subconsciously associate that with actions, activities, emotions and such. I think when I’m not happy with something big in my life, it stops me from wanting to write as I feel that should be fixed first.

It doesn’t apply all the time but it does have an impact.

I also had a conversation with a friend about writer’s block, which I’m still not convinced actually exists as a thing but yet I’ve yet to encounter a writer who hasn’t used this term when they struggle. That seems to be more to do with ease – we all understand it, from varying sources – so it doesn’t need explanation. Despite that, why is it a thing and is it only a thing because we make it so? I don’t think I’ve had writer’s block as I write at work and generally. Hey, I’m writing a blog post right now! It’s an interesting thought, though.

Actually, I think this is a topic for a full blog post next month. Look out for that!

Putting together a plan

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other
My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have three projects to edit. The novella is first up, and I’ll be starting that at the weekend. I like it’s length but the ‘professional’ feedback (from agents and publishers) suggest it would work better as a novel. I’ll decide that as I go through the draft but I’m not convinced yet. There are other things that need to be fixed, however.

After that, I’ll start on one of the novels. The sci-fi project is up first, as it’s more recent and I think it needs less work. The story is well rounded, it just needs to be padded out in places, with a few more explanations and sub plots, supported by a little character development. That might sound a lot, but it won’t be as bad as you might think. Of course, after that comes the nit-picking of later drafts.

Finally, I’ll work on the fantasy novel. That needs a fair bit adding to it for me to be happy. The good thing is, I know what to add, the big question is where it should go. I have some ideas but the edit will help identify weaker areas and the plot holes that I know exist.

If I can get all that done over summer, I MIGHT just have one ready to send out by the end of the year.

If I’m lucky.

It’s time to…edit!

I hoped to post this last week but, according to my schedule, there are still two weeks until the next post so I’m safe (the glory of a five-week month) for now. I teased previously about why I’ve been so quiet lately, with a lot of things on the go and now I’m finally ready to show you what I’ve been working on.

So, here are my three babies manuscripts. Aren’t they pretty…?

My manuscripts: one novella and two novels - not related to each other
My manuscripts: one novella and two novels – not related to each other

What are they?

From left to right, there’s a novella in third draft, a novel in first draft and another novel in first draft (yes, that’s a long way of saying it but I’m enjoying my words. Hush). I feel like it shouldn’t have taken this long to get this far but then I remembered life easily gets in the way. That’s a whole different topic.

I hope they’re all published one day, obviously, but I’m proud of reaching this stage. I’ve covered fiction, fantasy and science fiction (in that order, respectively) so not completely in my comfort zone but trying something new is always harder than anything else. Maybe that’s why it’s only a novella right now, but who knows what could happen.

If you want to read them – tough! They’re not ready yet but when I’m looking for readers, I’ll let you know.

What’s next?

Editing! The novels are only in first draft and need a fair bit of work. There are plenty of inaccuracies and continuity errors – and that’s not counting the grammatical issues. Who said writing was easy? Then again, I like a challenge. I’ll distract myself with redrafting some short stories in between as there are plenty of competitions to enter. When I find them, I’ll put them up here as normal.

Blogging resumes as normal (I promise) in two weeks. Updates on the editing will come as and when there is something to report. Until next time!

What’s the Deal with Word Counts?

Size does matter when it comes to these books!
Size does matter when it comes to these books!

Word counts. In school, we were told to do a page or two for our assignments. In university, it ranged from 1,000 to 4,000 usually (not counting the dissertation) but there seems to be a much more vague answer surrounding novels.

Over the years, novels seem to have gotten longer. It’s a strange sight; books are getting longer yet web content, which is a huge part of the digital space, is getting shorter – and being portrayed in even shorter paragraphs. The contrast here is interesting and e-books sit somewhere in the middle, not favouring one side over the other – although an e-book doesn’t have to be viewed online, it can be.

As a writer, project lengths can be a bit daunting, as well as throwing up some barriers to completing a project. I figured this was a good time to take a look at a few.

Does size really matter?

Let’s avoid the elephant in the room here and stick to the topic at hand (yes, I know what you were thinking – get that mind out of the gutter!) because there is no simple answer to this, even though it may look like it on the surface.

Is it worth writing more and more just to hit a word count that you or someone else has said? You run the risk of waffling; creating sections that have no relevance and will only serve to put readers off. Do that and your story may never be finished – and it can happen the same way with writing.

So, if you’re writing a story that goes on and on and on, is it worth breaking it down in the planning stage so you know what you’re writing and where each part ends, or should you write it and break it later? That comes down to personal choice, if I’m honest.

What matters more than a word count is quality writing and story-telling. The publishers may tell you differently, that they’re looking for certain things but then, what about self-publishing? Who makes the decisions then? The writer.

How important is it to consider during planning?

Very – and what I mean by that is don’t!

Every time I’ve tried to write something to a certain length, it hasn’t worked. It’s okay to have an idea, something to aim towards but if you fall short or go over it’s not a big deal. This isn’t being graded (I always hated that my essays had to be at a certain length, surely going over would be a good thing!?) so as long as it feels right to you, then don’t worry.

Editing and redrafting will help you cut down on parts that are useless or find gaps in the story you need to fill out so why worry about writing a novel that has 70,000 words?

I’m not going to post the lengths of popular or successful novels here. There’s plenty of posts out there for that and, as you probably know by now, I write sci-fi and fantasy mainly. Those novels can be a hell of a lot longer than other fiction novels but there are always exceptions.

Make your plan, and follow it. Use word counts, targets or thresholds as motivation to keep going, not as a way to stop.

What about short stories and other forms?

The key here is the word ‘short.’ I’d advise you to not abandon the tactic of planning and writing them without a specific count in mind. Just like with a novel, you could end up compromising on what you originally planned.

There are plenty of competitions out there, around the world and throughout the year, that ask for different lengths and genres. Writing for a specific competition is an option but you won’t be as invested in the story compared to writing it for yourself. Once it’s done, then look for where you could submit it to, if that’s what you want to do. That means you’ll always have an amazing piece of writing (in the end) that hasn’t been controlled by someone or something else.

Novellas, poetry and other forms all have other rules but in most cases, write first and edit later down to what you want it to be, or if you absolutely have to, to what it needs to be.

Remember, as I mentioned in my last post, writing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole process. Don’t ruin that by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to hit a specific target because someone else said so. You’ll regret it in the long run – unless it’s for a publishing deal, but that’ll normally come a little later in the process so write first.

If you don’t believe me, try it and see.

Picking Your Audience: How Early Should You Do It?

I’ve often wondered about this. Some of you may be sitting there (or standing, depending on what you’re doing) and screaming at me for even asking such a daft question but is it really that silly?

Identifying your audience early shapes the story

Any story begins as an idea. An acorn, if you will, that will grow into (hopefully) a grand old tree. We, the writers, are the ones nurturing this growth from start to finish – and sometimes beyond, even if no one knows about it! It’s rarely a case of ‘this is my idea, no it’s time to get writing’ although even I find that hard to resist.

There’s the research element, looking at similar stories across a range of mediums and the market itself and the planning stages too, from character creation to settings and more. Then there’s the audience. What audience do you want to write for, is it suitable for your story and how can you ensure the two go hand in hand?

These are not easy questions and you may find yourself compromising in one way or another. The risk here is that you may become disillusioned with the entire project because it isn’t what you originally wanted to write, or for who you wanted to write to. That may mean you need to change one aspect to ensure that enthusiasm isn’t going to wane at any point.

The biggest benefit I find working this way is that it gives you a clear goal right from the outset of the process. Some people need that end goal in sight but it can take time nail it down so don’t think you can get past this in just a day.

Your story and writing style determines the audience

The flipside of this, however, is that I firmly believe some writers are better suited to different genres and audiences than others. I’m going to use J.K. Rowling as a partial example; Harry Potter is a phenomenal series but other works, largely adult fiction, hasn’t taken off. I’m not the biggest fan of her writing style, which is down to what I like to read and how I write, but there has to be a reason for that, surely?

I’m not saying she should write more Harry Potter, but maybe that audience is something to consider? We’ll see.

We can all write for different audiences, in different ways and styles but there are some that suit us better, that we feel more comfortable with and everyone, apart from the very best writers, will produce better work in their comfort zone. Even the ‘best’ will be better in their favourite zones but they have found a way to reach a high standard, a believable standard from a reader’s point of view, even outside it.

It’s something I’ve put a focus on over the last few years, writing outside of this comfort zone, focusing on different audiences. I won’t let many people see this stuff right now but maybe one day, I’ll get it to a level that I can be happy with. I’m proud of myself for trying and it does teach me a lot. It’s also why I can understand that some stories and styles just don’t work together.

Some rules are made to be broken but others, not so much.

Conclusion

Like with a lot of topics to do with writing, creative processes and indeed, the Arts in general, it’s all down to personal preference. I don’t think it’s easy to say “I’m going to write a young adult novel” and have it happen – at least not all the time. The project may start out with that intention but if you aren’t able to adapt along the way, I don’t believe that it will get anywhere.

Plans are great but we, as writers, change throughout the writing process. Almost as much, if not more, than the story we’re writing. Another part of this, is also understanding the markets and how they evolve as well. Everything’s connected.

It’s certainly an interesting discussion but not one that’s likely to be settled any time soon. However, that is it from me for 2015. It’s been a year full of ups and downs and I’m going to take a few weeks off over the holidays to recharge and to get ready for 2016. So, whatever your plans and beliefs are, and whatever you have planned over the coming weeks, enjoy it and I’ll see you in January.

Ciao!

How Do You Write?

If you think this sounds like a silly question, then you are right. It is silly on the surface but one thing technology lets us do is the same thing in different ways. It opens up so many options and once you learn to harness those choices, it actually means a lot more people can do the things they want to do than ever before – whether as a career or just for fun.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. You can find some great talent and amazing stories but there’s now so much content being produced that it’s becoming harder and harder to sift through it all, let alone decide what you should spend your time reading (and watching, playing, listening etc).

Writing by word processor/typing

This is probably the most common method in the current world. It’s only going to continue as digital technology grows in importance in our lives.

It’s a lot more environmentally friendly, which is a huge bonus. Being able to make changes to your work easily is very helpful and there are no masses of paper to sort through. Numbering pages is easy, as is making notes and comments. It’s also simple to share with others and get feedback.

If you want to be pedantic about it, this is typing rather than writing but just be glad you don’t have to rely on a typewriter. Sure, some people like it and that’s fine but I’m so used to using a word processor now that it’s hard to think of another option.

Just don’t forget to keep backups. Please keep backups!

Writing by hand

Think about how hard it is to write a book these days. Now, imagine how hard it was to do without the advantages of computers. Scratching out mistakes, crumpling up page after page, manuscripts piled high.

And the wrist cramp. Ouch.

That can’t be just me, surely?

I’m not used to that amount of writing anymore and I do find myself cramping up. It has its uses, definitely. When I’m on the move I always have a pad of paper. Typing it up afterwards is a pain but you do notice little mistakes straight away and that’s useful.

Writing with a quill is also a lot harder than you might think. Seriously.

Writing by dictation

How many had ever thought of this method? How many of you have actually tried it? It may seem like cheating but I think it can be useful – especially if you’re away from a computer/paper – to an extent.

If you have a good dictation machine or recording set up and software to translate audio files into text, you can capture any sudden bursts of inspiration at any time.

Writing a full book this way probably isn’t a good plan, since it’s not so easy to check what you’ve done before and there’s no guarantee wat you say will be translated properly at the moment.

You’ve got to remember, though, that before stories were written down, they were told orally. That’s how stories were told and passed from person to person so there’s some logic to doing things this way. It’s quite an interesting feeling.

Give it a shot.

Any others?

There are probably a hundred and one different ways people write now. Gone are the days when you’re only real option was to use pen and paper. I’ve tried the ones above, with varying and interesting results but if you have any others, feel free to share!

The Joys of Editing

So, as I mentioned last time. I’ve been kind of here and there lately. I lost my job in June and spent the summer getting another one. That’s done and while it’s a very good job and I’m really enjoying it, it is causing challenges.

The time it takes to travel to and from work is much longer now than I’ve been used to since finishing uni…actually, since I started working eleven years ago! This is tiring for me and I don’t want my life to be work, write, sleep and repeat. I’m still trying to get that balance.

One thing I have been doing is writing.

I’ve been putting off editing my novel thus far – I’m just not ready. So, when I’ve finished the draft of my current project (which involves a fair bit of editing) I’ll come back to it and take another look and decide whether the time is right.

After discussions with a few friends and writers, it’s interesting to see the different ways of editing a project so I thought I’d take a look here.

Digital vs print

When it comes to editing, I find it very difficult to do on a screen. I find that my eyes start glazing over after a while, which makes me miss even the most obvious mistakes. When I notice this happening while I’m writing, I know it’s time to take a break since, for me, it’s easier to get on a roll while writing compared to editing. It’s a big problem.

My method is generally a quick once over to spot glaring mistakes and then I print it. In its entirety. I find a pen (of any colour though red is a popular choice) and make notes. Scratch out words and letters, put arrows to rearrange things, make notes to re-write parts and a lot more. I find this is also good to help me escape the increasingly digital centric world we live in.

It’s amazing the things I can spot – and often ask myself how thick I am to make such a silly mistake in the first place!

I’ve found a lot of people actually agree with me on this and do something similar although some handle editing digitally better than me. Kudos to you all.

It leads on to the second part of the discussion, however.

How long should you wait?

This is actually more fascinating and there’s a much bigger divide here.

So, let me pose you the question: how long should you wait upon completing your draft and beginning to edit it again?

Unless I’m faced with a tight deadline (possibly due to being lazy or a change of plans) I try not to edit anything without giving it at least a month’s breathing time. This is because I feel like I’m too close to it. When I read a book and pick up mistakes, it’s because of a fresh set of eyes. The more often I read a book, the less mistakes I notice. I become used to it, and know what to expect.

Editing is a ruthless business and I can’t afford that luxury. Every word is at risk, as is every letter. When I finish a draft, for both writing and editing, I put a reminder in my calendar for a month later as that’s when I can go back to it.

Other people are different. I’ve been told by people who don’t wait and dive straight in. Their minds are still on that level and they feel more comfortable keeping it there. I’ve tried it but it’s not for me. A few people have told me they send it to others after every draft. That can slow things down and I only do that when I’m at a stage where I don’t mind people reading it.

It’s very interesting to find out how we all work.

Going forward

In the end, I know what works for me and that’s the most important thing. Every writer is different but it can take a long time to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new – especially at different times as we don’t stand still for long.

The blog has been left alone recently and I apologise for that but I’m starting to get my act together. Having a plan/schedule makes a huge difference! Be sure to keep checking back for the latest news and thoughts.

I’m writing a lot more short stories at the moment and there are a lot of competitions coming up over the remainder of 2015 and going into 2016. I’ll be sure to share the best ones with you soon so you know what to start working for.

As always, good luck!

Regarding NaNoWriMo

I’ve been taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year for the last ten, eleven, twelve years or more. This year, however, I won’t be getting involved. I just don’t have the time or energy to commit to it.

While I would use it as a kick to keep on with my current project, I’m hoping to have it done by November (wishful thinking) and I’m happier going at my own pace now.

I’ve completed it once, back in 2010, and that was a great feeling but since then I haven’t had the same level of motivation, which is a shame. I’m not even entirely sure why yet. Maybe it was the challenge of doing it? Who knows.

If you’ve ever thought about, I’d definitely recommend getting involved. Find people in your area doing it and get involved with the meet-ups. You’ll meet some people you won’t forget any time soon!

Coping with Feedback and Criticism

Apologies guys and gals, I’ve been pretty lax recently. I wish I could say that writing is my priority – I want it to be, definitely – but life likes to throw curve balls. Call it destiny, fate, karma, chance or whatever. It happens.

It happened to me a few months back. I was made redundant, at just what I felt was the worst time as I had just about gotten out of most immediate debt and was making plans going forward. Well, those got scrapped.

Now, fast forward a couple of months and I’m working full time again. Brilliant. However, there’s more travelling and adapting to a new workplace and job and this takes time so while I’m trying to keep up, it’ll take a while until I’m back to ‘normal’ again.

A little inspiration

Before this all happened, I’ve been trying to get my novella out there and hopefully published. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone amazingly well so far. I’m not surprised by this – I expected it and if you read my post on dealing with rejection earlier this year, you’ll know that. If you haven’t, go back and it read it now.

I sent it out somewhere else over the summer thanks to a friend who pointed me to it. With everything that’s been going on, I completely forgot about it but when a reply came, it actually gave me a little hope!

Receiving feedback

Now, I’ve done a post last year on group feedback but I want to go a bit further, and look at this in a different way here.

Whenever I submit my novella I always ask for feedback. Sometimes you’re told not to but if you don’t ask then you don’t get and this time it paid off. Despite the fact that this was, in essence, another rejection it didn’t actually matter. Receiving a reply is good because you get closure on that particular submission but getting feedback means I have something a bit more concrete to go on.

So, what was I told? Well, the first point was the topics that I’m writing about are “really interesting and certainly meaty enough for novel material” and that is a huge boost. While not everyone will like everything, knowing that is like a fundamental thumbs up for what I’m working on. Now, I’ve been doing this as a novella, as I feel it’s a lot sharper and more concise but the “novel material” comment has opened up a whole new can of worms.

I COULD make this into a novel but would I be able to carry over the tension and emotion through an entire book? That’s an interesting idea – and what about my ending? Would that work or would I need something else.

What I need to work on, in this person’s opinion, is making things less explicit and letting the reader, you, figure it out for yourself. That is something I generally agree with but in this case, I’m wondering if I’ll lose part of the character by doing so as he is quite direct and the novel is from his point of view.

There are a few other points but I’m keeping those to myself. You get the idea, however.

Reacting and dealing with it

Dealing with feedback and criticism can be hard at times. When you’ve spent hours, days, months, weeks – maybe even years – on a project, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, a piece of art, music or anything else, the last thing you want to admit to yourself is that there are things wrong with it.

That’s a natural response.

To really improve though, that outside perceptive is essential. I have a couple of people I can count on to proof what I’m doing and offer feedback but even then, I have to weigh up what they say with what I feel, want and know. It’s a hard balance to find.

When an expert gives you advice and feedback, you have to grab it with both hands and really think about it. For every sentence, note, brushstroke or whatever it is you use to create your masterpiece, compare it with what they say. They’re an expert for a reason and if you want to be one, you need to learn from them.

The problem isn’t getting over your pride, though; it’s getting over your fear.

The fear that by editing it further, especially based on the words of someone else, that your project becomes less what you wanted and more of what someone else thinks. You lose the core or essence of what you are trying to achieve. It ceases to be what you want and becomes something else.

It’s incredibly hard and by denying we do this, we give it more power. It’s another wall we don’t need to put up but it’s almost instinctual for any creative person to make sure that we can identify with our work, that others can too and that it represents the best of what we can do in that moment.

Deep stuff, huh?

So, what’s the answer?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have an answer to that. I’m not sure I ever will.

What I do know is that one person’s opinion doesn’t mean that you should abandon everything you think or feel. What I do know is that sometimes there are people who know more about what you’re trying to do than do you. What I do know is that you need to be able to adapt to anything that happens, in life, love, work – anything.

I’m not saying that I’m going to change my entire novella based on one person’s feedback but I have to take on-board what I’ve been told. I’ve gone to them because they’re the expert and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some real advice. I’d be a fool not to consider everything carefully before going forward, right?

Sounds like a good life lesson in general, if I’m honest.

‘Till next time!

Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?

I’m back – again! I lost internet access for a while, making posting the new stuff I let you know about last time a bit harder but I’m back now and kicking off as I mean to go on!

Inspiration is something we all need from time to time to get ourselves motivated. That’s quite a broad and vague statement, as the kind and amount of inspiration we need depends on the project or task at hand. As a writer, one who likes to explore different genres and mediums, I find that the inspiration I want, or need, changes too. It might sound obvious but how often have you thought about it to try and influence where the inspiration comes from?

Now is as good a time as any to think about it.

Inspiration comes from all around us

We take inspiration from everything, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Someone we meet, something we see, things we here and anything we do – literally, it comes from anywhere. It might not surface for a long time but there comes that moment, like a lightbulb being turned on above your head from a cartoon, where something clicks and everything makes sense.

At least, in that moment.

Delain's We Are The Others album
Delain’s We Are The Others album

I take a lot of inspiration from the books I read, games I play, television and films I watch and the music I listen to, like countless other people. I find it hard to work in silence, I like background noise so there’s always something on when I’m writing but over the years I’ve found that if I’m in the mood or trying to write a certain genre or form, it helps if that noise matches that.

I’m not saying I have to watch fantasy to write fantasy, but there has to be something there that encourages me. If I’m reading (or watching) The Lord of the Rings, for example, it makes me want to work on something just as epic, even if it’s not a fantasy piece.

Turn up the music

Nightwish's Highest Hopes: The Best of Nightwish album
Nightwish’s Highest Hopes: The Best of Nightwish album

Music is a big one though, and while I enjoy listening to a lot of different genres and artists (save a couple I’m really not keen on) it’s the lyrics that hit home the most. The music adds to the effect. Much like poetry, there are different meanings you can take from them. You can find out what the artist intended and what was behind it for them but everything like this is open to interpretation.

Recently I’ve been working on two short stories – neither of which is the one I uploaded a few days ago, The (Long Overdue) Journey. One is fantasy and the other is a bit more of a gritty realism piece. Music has helped me focus on both pieces but figuring out what artists and songs was a bit trickier.

Within Temptation's Hydra album
Within Temptation’s Hydra album

For the fantasy piece, I wanted it to start a bit slower and slowly work into something triumphant, epic and uplifting. I’ve always associated the powerful vocals of bands like Nightwish, Delain and Within Temptation with this genre. The voices are powerful and the music adds to that but it’s the voices which I tune into. Watch or read any fantasy and songs are usually sung at some point but there’s no band with them. That makes the words the most powerful thing about them and there are three songs, all a little different, that helped me. These are:

I’ve included links to the best YouTube videos I can find so you can take a look/listen.

Does the genre or form change what inspiration you need?

Quite simply, yes. You may have your favourite go-to songs or films when you need a boost – I know a lot of people who run and work out have a specific playlist they’ll listen to for a good number of their sessions but it never works that way for me. I had so many different playlists it became easier just to change a couple around based on the projects I was working on at the time.

I can quite happily – to the bafflement and annoyance of others at times – listen to the same few songs over and over and over again while I take from them everything I need or want. This can be before I start writing and during it, even after at times. It really depends. I only do this through the initial writing/drafting phase. When it comes to redrafting and editing, I’ll generally avoid anything I used to inspire me while I refine it – unless I feel something is missing.

So, what do you think? Do you think about what inspires you for each project and act accordingly or do you have a go-to? I’d love to hear from you!