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.

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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.

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.

So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books

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

You poor, poor fool.

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

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

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

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

You’re a writer. Deal with it

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

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

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

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

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

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

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

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

Writing is actually fun!

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

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

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

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

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

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

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

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

Find real feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

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

Wrong.

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

Publishing, agents and rejection

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

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

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however. For more info on dealing with rejection, check this post out when you get a chance. It might open your eyes a little more.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

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

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

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

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

Good luck!