Back from the Dead!

Well, not really but every so often I like to be dramatic. Picture that as a jump into the spotlight with jazz hands. Yup, I went there, I included the jazz hands. Deal with it.

So where have I been? Nowhere in particular, I’m sorry to say but a lot has been going on and that’s meant a reshuffle of my priorities. Now, this whole blog is for a couple of reasons. I like to write, and this is an easy way to do something I enjoy. Whether it’s talking about books, stories or other things, it helps keep my writing skills sharp. I’ve developed a style and it’s a big part of me even beyond the blog.

Second, hopefully other writers or interested parties finds it useful – at least sometimes! I hope, through my experiences, I can help you, or others, get started or overcome hurdles that I face too. Writers are solitary creatures. We’re weird and crazy and a little bit eccentric at the best of times but that doesn’t mean we aren’t, or shouldn’t be, connected to the world around us. At least, I think so.

Finally, it’s a vent – and that’s important. We all need to get things out there at times, it can make everyone feel better. Sometimes it’s a long rant, others a more structured post or it can even be creative.

So, that being said, what have I been doing to keep me away for so long?

The book

Outside of work, this is what is taking up a lot of my time. I’m working on the 4th draft at the moment and, honestly, I’m happy with the progress being made – if not the time it’s taking me. I feel like the story is getting stronger with each revision, the world is growing and there’s enough in there to get teeth into, even if it’s not the longest sci-fi book in the world.

I go through phases of productivity and I’m lacking that right now. I stare at pages and my mind won’t focus. I’ve tried working on other stories or free writing, but nothing is coming. I’ve gone back to my games to distract me and I think it helps.

I need a solid block of time to finish the thing. I can’t continue doing an hour here, 30 minutes there – I lose the flow. So, there’s an opportunity coming my way to do that. Late summer will see me spend a full month getting this sorted. I’m hoping by the time this block of time comes, I’ll be working on the 5th draft.

Ideally, I want it finished by the end of the year so I can start submitting. And to start work on book two – of which I already have a full plan ready. Maybe I’ll try writing the 3rd book’s plan…

The day job

So, the opportunity.

I had already decided that I needed time to work on my book but supporting myself financially was always going to be a concern. I live alone, it’s not the cheapest option but it’s done me well. Work offered voluntary redundancy and I applied. After talking it over with my manager, it was approved and I will be finishing my current role at the end of July, just short of 2 years in the role.

Time wasn’t the only factor. The redundancy has a good pay-out and will give me the means to live without working for a while so I can sort the book out. Get some good progress done and advance a goal that I’ve been working towards for as long as I can remember.

I’ve turned down other jobs in the process of making this decision but there are longer implications to this too. It’s all a little scary but I’m feeling calm, hopefully and even excited for what lies beyond the next couple of months.

Future plans

So, what does this mean for me after July? Well, after almost 8 years here, I’m leaving Manchester. Not necessarily for good, but at least for a couple of years. Maybe more. I’ll be heading to Newcastle to live with the parents for six months or so. I’m going to finish the damned book and maybe start the next one (I’m a sucker for punishment, it seems). I’ve covered this above.

After that, going into 2018, I’ll hopefully be heading to Australia. Some of you know I’ve been talking about this for years, seriously trying to save for the last year or two and failing miserably. This opportunity gives me the money I said I needed to do this. And hopefully a little more. The family is very understanding of my plans and while it’s always been a dream, it’s time to make it happen. After my book.

I feel like I need a change. I need to travel, go somewhere else and see what I can find. Grab some adventures and experiences. I’m stuck in a rut here and I’m nowhere near ready for relationships or houses or stuff like that. Maybe an early midlife crisis? I pulled the longest grey hair from my head this weekend. Scary. Anyway, I digress.

I’ll be looking to build some freelance work up for that time at home and maybe beyond – content and social media primarily but also social advertising, PPC, SEO and such. I know it. I can do it, time to make a living from it. Get in touch if you know of anything or have any questions about it – I’ll try and help.

For now, more regular blogs incoming.

My First Trip to Budapest, but Definitely Not the Last

HELLO!

I’ve been quiet lately. Some of you will know that I went to Budapest in February. I took a lot of pictures and had a lot to say but then life. It’s an excuse I keep using. My bad.

Despite it all, I like blogging. And those pictures will waste away on Facebook if I don’t use some of them here so let’s not waste any time. We’ll get the boring bits out of the way first and then look at more interesting things later.

I joined a group of friends and we flew from Manchester to Budapest. Direct flights each way and they took less than two hours. There wasn’t much leg room on our RyanAir flight but even a tall git like myself didn’t feel too much like a canned sardine.

Note: you can take TWO carry-on bags with RyanAir. I did not realise this and checked my small suitcase into the hold – that was £50 unnecessarily spent. It meant I didn’t have to carry it, so bonus. Also, I travelled the lightest with that case weighing in at 6.6 kg. Go me…shame on the others.

One of the streets in Budapest

One of the streets in Budapest

The flights were pretty cheap and so was our accommodation – I just went with the flow, much easier. We stayed in Nova Apartments, close to everything. I walked everywhere. No buses used throughout – the only transportation used was the metro once and a beer bike but more on that later.

A different look, a different atmosphere

One thing I love about going somewhere new is you just don’t know what to expect. I took a lot of pictures of the streets and buildings because you just don’t see that style here in the UK – even in the quaint little villages.

I spent plenty of time each day just walking, stopping for coffee or beer regularly, and exploring. With a map in one pocket and a smartphone in the other, I was confident enough of getting back or to a meeting point if needed. There was even a cool little indoor corridor with shops, stalls and eateries. Picked up a little souvenir there!

One of the views of Budapest from Buda Castle

One of the views of Budapest from Buda Castle

The views from Buda Castle, though. They were fantastic. We were lucky with the weather. Yes, it was cold but it was clear and sunny throughout. Brilliant. I took a lot of pictures going up, and it was a long climb!

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

The Széchenyi Thermal Baths was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Thanks to some good planning, we went to this place after our beer bike tour – more on that later – and it was the right choice. All the stress and tension just evaporated in the water.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths at night

Széchenyi Thermal Baths at night

There are other thermal baths in the area but these were the ones to go to, as I’d been told by others and one of the group who had been to Budapest many times.

We went in when it was daylight but it was dark when we left. The baths are outdoor, surrounded by the building which is ring-shaped. The air temperature was just over 0 degrees but the water temp 35ish degrees. The steam came and went. While you might think your head would be cold, it doesn’t work like that. A science-focused person would explain it.

Heroes Square

Heroes Square

The worst thing was getting out. It was bitterly cold – especially when wet – but the changing rooms had heated floors so you run inside and warm up. In the summer, I can imagine this is less of an issue.

If you ever go to Budapest. Go here. Above all else, it’s great. The place is close to Heroes Square, which is a sight itself.

Szimpla Kert

Another of the highlights for me was Szimpla Kert – a ruin bar. There are a number of ruin bars in Budapest and all are different, but, basically, this is the original. It’s full of everything you can think of, which some people would call junk, I guess. Fools.

Inside Szimpla Kert

Inside Szimpla Kert

There’s a real sense of character in this place. A long hallway with rooms to either side with seats and bars and quirky things. Different lighting styles and tones and it should’t work at all but it…does. Really well. There’s a cool area out the back too with more seats and what looked like a BBQ space. I’d love to explore it in the day time. Next time.

I could write a whole blog post and/or story about this place. Anything I say won’t do it justice – just go and check it out.

It. Is. Awesome.

Out back at Szimpla Kert

Out back at Szimpla Kert

Quality without stupid costs

I tried a couple of local dishes and foods out there, some nice and some I didn’t get on with so well. That’s fine, it’s part of the trip. Some of it was really nice – pork with a tangy sauce and donut shaped bread thing with a creamy yoghurt sauce. Can’t for the life of me remember the name but yummy. Try it.

We didn’t go for posh food but nor did we eat badly. There were good options and bad throughout but we balanced the beer with plenty of food. It helped keep us going. Overall, for the quality of the food and drink we had, it was worth the price and keep in mind it’s cheaper than here in the UK. The same meal and drink, on average, would cost about a third more. Did I splurge a little? Sure, who wouldn’t.

Some of the quirks

The beginning of the climb up to Buda Castle

The beginning of the climb up to Buda Castle

It felt a little 90’s when we got there. Some of the clothing played a part in this – I saw more than a couple of shell suit jacket things. Google it and be glad you don’t remember wearing them. The music was also part of it. There was new music (Ed Seeran every. Single. Morning.) but they did like the older stuff. It worked for me.

We went on a beer bike ride and Holy Crap was it hard. I mean, we had beer so that was good but the whole contraption was heavy and took a lot of effort to pedal. It was a good laugh – or good to laugh at those pedalling until the time came to switch. We went down a side lane alongside the main road but had to pull over to let traffic past. We got some strange looks along the way. Going to the Thermal Baths after this was a good plan.

Possibly THE BEST pizza I've ever had!

Possibly THE BEST pizza I’ve ever had!

PIZZA! I have had one of the best pizzas ever in Budapest. Seriously, I would happily fly over, go to this pub (Pointer Pub FYI), eat a pizza (as big and bigger than a car wheel!) then fly home. Totally worth it. It wasn’t a pizza place, it wasn’t a small local – it was a sports pub. Nice staff and we watched the Six Nations there. The pizza was supposed to be a snack but it definitely impacted on the evening meal. No regrets though, so good!

Even better, everyone is really nice and friendly. That makes everything better.

Too long; didn’t read

Good food. Friendly people. Stunning buildings and views. Cheap cheap cheap. I’d recommend it to solo travellers or groups of friends. Go and explore, see the sights, and do things you couldn’t at home. Money comes and goes, friends won’t always be there for you and a house will belong to someone else one day. The only thing we truly own is our memories and experiences. Creating them shouldn’t be a chore. Enjoy it.

In the end, what else is life for?

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!

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 just have a lot of feelings gif

WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?

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.

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

Facepalm gif

There are never enough facepalms for this

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.

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

Why is life so hard gif

Sometimes this is easier than changing words on a computer…

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?’

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!

2017: The Year Ahead, in Writing

Get it? I do like a pun – even the bad ones. Sometimes, those are the best (admit it, you agree).

So, welcome to 2017. Anyone interested in horoscopes? I am. I don’t follow them but I am curious as to what they say. It’s strange. Without them, you go about daily life and that’s that but with them, you can’t help looking for what they say and even the loosest connection is formed. Our minds are marvellous, no?

With the Chinese New Year at the end of the month, I had a quick look – and a lot of laughs – at what’s in store for me. Needless to say, I don’t care about that. I know what I need to do and it begins with a look at what’s come first.

A (not so) critical reflection

Damn, I hate this part. I’m either too hard or too soft; never seem to find the right balance. Even all of the reflections and analyses at uni didn’t help me with this. However, I’m going to give it a shot – but only about the current project.

So. I started this in September 2014. I needed a break from other work and I had a flash (ahhhhhhh! In the style of Flash Gordon, you nerds) of inspiration and that ended with me writing about 30,000 words to end a novel. Great! Fantastic. Now, what about the rest?

Well, back in 2008, I had started a novel. It was light-hearted, for a younger audience and a lot of fun. A side project. I got about 30,000 words in and stalled, other work taking priority at college and then uni. So, I have an ending and a beginning that don’t match. Only one thing for it: take the beginning and rewrite it to match. So, I did.

That left the middle. That took a while but I got it done. FYI, that’s a horrible way to write a book. Try not to do it that way if you can…or, if you do, have a plan. I did not have a plan.

So, by the end of May 2015, I had an 83,000 word novel. Fantastic. Nine months of writing after work. I took three or four months off and then went to do the second draft.

My. God.

I was happy to get the first draft done but it was horrible. Really, really, REALLY horrible. Only when I was editing it did I realise. This is why no one should see your first draft. Ever. However, after three months – hard months, I didn’t think they’d be that hard – I’ve finished the second draft on the 8th January 2017. Almost 18 months after starting this project, I’m only on the second draft. If I could do this full time, I might have gotten here this time last year but that’s life.

Speaking of which, I’ve not stopped it. I’ve done things I wanted to do, socialise, game, read, play games, watch films, learn things and, most of all, work. It stops me getting bored but it also disrupts my flow and motivation. Catch 22.

I could have been more focused, sure. I could have turned off Facebook and knuckled down. Turned the phone off, the music off etc etc etc. The fact is…I didn’t. I don’t regret that, even though I’d have to knock points of my productivity for it. I’m glad to be at this stage now.

What’s worse? I’m already planning the next books even though this one isn’t finished. Damnit.

Getting ready for the third draft

So while I’m taking a few weeks off – other than planning the next books and blogging – to recharge, from March I’ll be working on the third draft. This and any subsequent drafts will hopefully be a lot smoother. Now that the biggest issues are (hopefully) resolved, I can get down and gritty with the details, the subplots, the niggles and just the bits that I think are a little awkward.

If you know anything about me, it’s that the flow of a book is incredibly important to me. The story needs to work!

I’m not the kind of writer who can focus on one thing per draft. One for grammar, one for spelling, one for subplots, one for plots – I can’t do that. Intentionally ignoring one thing to find another would drive me crazy.

Perhaps that’s what took me so long with this draft; I noted everything I found, no matter how big or small, significant or not. I fixed A LOT, though not everything.

While editing is the bane of my existence right now, I think the next drafts might – MIGHT – actually be enjoyable.

Dealing with life

Life can be a pain in the ass. I’m trying to save some money, have been since July last year. It hasn’t gone well so far. I had to buy a new laptop in November and a new phone today. That’s seriously dented my finances but no point crying over it – although I will complain and rant and you can’t stop me.

Then again, I have a holiday in Budapest next month! That’s going to be incredible. Expect a lot of pictures from my shiny new phone. That’s another hit to the finances but as I said above, life doesn’t stop and nor do I.

2016: A Round-up

I actually can’t believe we’ve almost reached the end of 2016 – I still want to write/type 2015 half the time! It’s been a year of up and downs, like most years are, but I’m not talking about the wider events of the world, just the personal ones for me.

I’ve been quiet over the last few months. I mentioned this previously but I’ve had a lot on. It hasn’t been easy but there are good memories in there too. I figured now is a good time to do a little round-up of 2016 and where I’m up to now – as well as where I’m going.

The last three months have been ridiculously hard. Nothing ‘bad’ has happened but I didn’t expect the redrafting to take so much out of me. I was ill during this period and there was work to contend with, among other things, but I’m hoping future drafts will be easier to manage. It’s hard to describe but writers will probably get it – and maybe when people read the book they’ll understand why it took so long. Maybe not.

The book

This is probably my biggest ‘thing’ of 2016. I started writing this story in 2008 and got about 30,000 words in before stopping. It was a filler project and it fell away when other projects took over.

Last year I had the perfect ending for it – so I did what any writer would do and got to work. It was only when that was done that I realised the ending did not match the beginning at all, so that needed to be rewritten. From there, it was obvious to write the middle. What started as a side project was now a main project.

I finished the first draft in May this year and I needed time away. I took the summer off, it reminded me of when I finished uni, and didn’t touch a single story or draft for months. Writing it took a lot out of me and I don’t know why but I expected the redrafting to be easier.

Nope. Not a bloody chance.

Working on the second draft

So, after a few months off, I came back to the novel at the end of September. I printed the whole thing off and got to work when I could. Juggling this between work and social activities was hard, and if I’m totally honest, I slacked off a little at times.

What I’ve also realised is this story is a lot darker and heavier than I planned or expected. Reading through it and editing the thing has made me realise just how much it’s changed from it’s very first iteration back in 2008. It’s not a bad thing but it does mean I need to re-evaluate the trilogy’s plan.

The second draft is essentially done. I’ve made revisions throughout and written two new chapters. All that’s left is to transfer this into one new document and then I’ll take another month or two before going on to work on the third draft.

It’s not glamourous but it is necessary.

It took a lot out of me, I won’t lie. It’s heavy. Very heavy. There are much stronger themes than I ever planned originally. What was going to be a light-hearted story now isn’t. That’s not a bad thing, and I think it better reflects my writing style and the genre now. I was aware of the changes as I made them – they were planned in the first draft. Their full impact only hit me when I read it all back together.

The holes are being filled in, strands being tied together. That makes the hard work worth it but…it was damned hard. Now, in future drafts, I think it’ll get harder as it takes more effort and energy to spot and then correct issues.

Working on some shorts

While I’m doing that, I have three short stories I’ll be working on and editing. I’m hoping to send off at least two of them for submission somewhere early 2017. The third will probably make it onto the blog, and is the first of a trilogy of shorts that I’ll hopefully finish next year. I’m not sure how that’ll pan out but it’s something I’ve never done before so, personally, it’ll be interesting.

If no one else agrees, hopefully they’ll still be decent stories on their own!

Whether I submit to comps or find some magazines, I haven’t decided yet. I’ve not had much luck with the former in the last couple of years but I’ve never tried magazines or anthologies so maybe I’ll have more luck? Always worth a shot.

Playing a new game!

Noctis in FFXV

Noctis in FFXV

There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll spend A LOT of time playing Final Fantasy XV. It’s exactly my kind of game: RPG, big open world, a good story, stunning visuals and much more.

 

I tried to tell myself I wouldn’t start until I had compiled the second draft of my novel – ha! That was never going to happen but due to that project and work, I only got a small amount of time on it. That’s already changed now I’m off for Christmas. It’s REALLY not disappointing me. I’ll do an in-depth look at it next month because, story-wise, it’s got a lot to offer and unlike past titles, it makes a lot more sense.

Weird, right?

2017

So, next year. More blogging, more writing, more editing and, hopefully, submissions. I want to send the novel out next year. It’s a big ask as I’m not sure how many redrafts it’s going to need just yet. I can already tell the story is much better after the first round of edits and my readers have been fantastic. I’ll try to keep more regular updates coming despite the editing next year but I make no promises.

I’ll be going on at least one holiday, maybe two, as well. New sights and experiences! I’ll put them here too. I want to read more, keep swimming and manage my time even better than I do now.

Time is the biggest challenge I face and I want to make the most of it.

Until next year, have a great festive season wherever you are and whatever you do. Ciao!