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!

Advertisements

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!

Death in Storytelling

I, like many people, love stories. I read books, watch films and television shows, play games, listen to music – all sorts. There are stories everywhere. Growing up, they obviously had a big effect because now I’m an aspiring writer.

One thing I’ve never really considered until recently was death in the stories we read, watch, play, listen etc. It’s always there, sometimes in a small way and others a lot more significantly – even when I was younger. I never had a reason to question it before but now I’m beginning to wonder; are we numb to death in our stories?

Oh, there will be some spoilers coming up but nothing too recent.

Death isn’t unusual

I spent some time reliving a few childhood memories. Purely academic of course, but I found that death is all around us. Despite this, no one raises an eye. Remember, I’m particularly fond of the sci-fi and fantasy genres but death isn’t limited to these subjects. Maybe I expect it more in adult stories than I do children or young adult fiction but nevertheless, it’s there.

Should this be allowed?

Well, it already is, although there are rules to follow, it seems. In adult fiction, there are fewer to follow – and less consequences if the rules are broken. For younger audiences, there are two main rules I’ve identified. Not everything follows this and there probably more but these are two I’ve noticed the most.

Firstly, the death has to mean something. It can’t be an afterthought; it is used to teach a character something – even if it takes a while to do so. It acts as motivation, a turning point, a way to break and rebuild. Ultimately, this is a popular or well-loved character; a mentor, guardian or parent, for example, but not limited to them. It allows characters to reach their ‘coming of age’ stage and then go on to surpass them.

Alternatively, deaths are used to indicate scale. They are minor characters; soldiers in a war, brief acquaintances, villains or monsters that heroes must defeat to complete a quest. They can be likened to an obstacle, wall or challenge that has to be overcome. As we never invest in them, or are made to think of them as evil, their deaths are seen as insignificant. It’s only looking back that I realised just how many there have been.

Beloved franchises

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This happens a lot, so I’m going to list some examples. Again, if you haven’t read/seen/played any of these, spoilers are coming. However, I’ve chosen older titles so don’t blame me.

Harry Potter. I grew up with these books. My feelings are mixed but that’s another story. Harry’s parents are dead before the books begin but throughout the series, key characters die. Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape and Lupin are core characters to Harry and help develop his character. Voldemort is the villain to overcome but wizards, witches, Death Eaters and muggles all die throughout the later books. Pretty grim, really.

Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t escaped. Avengers Assemble killed off a very important character, popular with other characters and audiences alike. This was

Chaos Walking Trilogy

Chaos Walking Trilogy

rectified later, to mixed reactions from what I gathered, but it was a shocking moment. Again, it followed the first rule. Plenty of deaths, both innocent, ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’

Star Wars. Almost every film has an example of this. A New Hope saw Obi Wan die, while in the most recent film, The Force Awakens, Han Solo bites the bucket. The first example is a turning point for Luke Skywalker while Han’s demise will have repercussions we’re yet to fully experience. With war being a common theme, you can see death in all seven films.

I could list some hugely shocking moments here, and I may well do in the future but not tonight. I’d like to point you to Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy as a great example, though. Gamers will probably know the Final Fantasy VII example, which is still a powerful moment almost two decades later. The list is endless. Maybe I will sort something later.

And then there’s A Song of Ice and Fire

ASOIAF - A Game of Thrones

ASOIAF – A Game of Thrones

I left this until the end because it’s one of the most recent, mainstream and popular series around. Unfortunately, that applies more to the TV show Game of Thrones rather than the books. While I could happily and easily dive into THAT debate, we’ll leave it to one side for now.

Death is probably the only thing you can expect in both the show and the books. No one seems to be safe, from minor characters to major, popular to unpopular. George R. R Martin has done well in making readers invest in the characters, even the ones you don’t like, before pulling the rug from under you and killing them.

The series hasn’t finished so we don’t know how it will end but it’s one of the most popular franchises at the moment where death is so prevalent. The deaths are also epic in a lot of cases, which makes them stand out. When I say epic, I mean brutal. Shock tactics galore.

Does this numb us further? That’s something to think on but some people don’t mind it, while others hate it and then the third group love it. It’s always going to divide opinion but that’s just one of the great things about stories.

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!