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.

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.

Making Sacrifices

I’ve been quiet again. Sorry. Not really, though. Those of you in the know will be aware of how hard early October is for me. That’s not the reason though. Well, not entirely.

The last five weeks or so, I’ve been working on redrafting my novel. It’s been difficult, especially to get into the swing of things. Now that I have, work is progressing at a decent pace but the problem is, it’s taken a lot (read: most) of my time. That, and work – and travelling to work – is a bit of a killer. It means I’ve had to make some tough choices.

Beyond the birthday plans, it means cutting back on social events, gaming and even swimming (I’m annoyed about this one the most!). As such, I’ve missed Halloween and all the fun parties and gatherings.

It’ll be worth it.

Editing is not easy. At all

To edit effectively, all distractions need to vanish. I’ve got the TV on but on shows and movies that I’ve seen many times before. It’s the noise I want. Working in silence doesn’t appeal to me.

I need to be objective and, at times, brutal. Some pages are covered in red ink while others have only a few corrections. It’s weird, going through three pages you think actually work well and don’t need many amends (this time around) but then you read eight pages that have so many changes it might have been easier to just rewrite them from scratch.

I exaggerate but hopefully you get the point.

Thankfully, I’ve been editing projects, both creative writing and marketing focused, for the last ten years or so. If all goes to plan, I’ll be working on the digital file by the 12th November.

The sacrifices

As mentioned, gaming has gone out of the window (despite having plenty of games to play!). I’ve turned down a lot of plans with people. Partly due to money but also because they’re a distraction and if I break the run I’m on, it could take even longer to get it done.

Swimming has gone as well. There was an injury followed by illness and now this. It’s been about six weeks since my last swim and I’m suffering withdrawal! I know that I’ll lose some of the fitness and progress made over the last five months but I’ll get it back. By then, I might be able to step it up and do something else. Maybe I can start running a little.

Forgive me

If I’m quiet, or distant, or constantly saying no to your plans to do something, give me a little time. It might seem like I don’t care but I do – possibly too much – just about my writing right now. It does take priority. If I did this full-time, it would be different.

We’ll get through it. Maybe I’ll appreciate these activities more once I can do them again. If it helps me publish this book, it’ll definitely be worth it.

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!

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!