The Honest Writer

This blog is an open and honest account of what it’s like to be an author, in the hope it helps others on the same journey feel less alone. I change my mind, I babble, and I occasionally over-share. Please ignore any advice I give (except the advice about ignoring the advice). 

Want More, Do Less

A realisation:

It’s better to stop writing when I want to do more, rather than push myself until the well is dry. That way, I approach the next session eager to continue. And as all writers know, starting is the hardest bit. 

It seems counterintuitive, but the key to doing more is to do a bit less than I can manage. I should be itching to carry on, not drained and out of ideas. 

End of realisation.

Current WIP: 18 pages. 

Writing by Hand

NEWS: The Night Mage is now on sale at Kobo, Amazon, Smashwords, and other ebook vendors. Click here to find The Night Mage in your favourite store.

MUSINGS: I’m writing longhand. Yeah. Three pages a day, usually in the morning. It’s just me, the pen, paper, and a cup of tea. It’s all very calming and peaceful. Yes, it’s slower than typing, but it’s far more enjoyable. Also, there’s something rewarding in finishing a page, ripping it off and adding it to a growing pile. It feels real, like, I’m actually writing a book and not just making random words appear. And while I hate word counts, I like measuring my progress in pages. Maybe it’s because a book is made of pages, therefore it feels less cold? Och, I dunno. All I know is I’m loving this new method, and all this week writing has been a breeze. I’ll report back if it goes belly up. 

The Night Mage

I said a while ago that I was revisiting The Night Mage. The original draft flew out of me in 2016, and it was published in 2017. I loved it from the moment it entered my head – it really was one of those magic books that sadly don’t come around very often. But as 2017 progressed, I recognised a nagging doubt in the back of my mind: in my heart, I knew The Night Mage was not the best I could make it. 

You see, in 2017 I was in a toxic mindset of pressuring myself to write four+ books a year. As a result, I never took the time to polish The Night Mage to its very best. 

Well, I’ve done that now. The story is the same, and many people might not notice a difference between the two versions, but I do, and that makes me feel a lot better. I’ve culled around 9000 words simply by tightening the prose. The latest version is now available on Amazon. Soon, I will be producing a paperback, and selling on other platforms. 

I love this book. I hope you do too. 

 

The Resistance

Related image

Nah, not that one unfortunately.

I’m taking about the resistance to writing. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s more subtle. 

For example, I started a book this week (hurrah!), and on the first day, all was grand. The second, all was less grand. I snoozed in the afternoon, and then on the second night, I couldn’t sleep, therefore ruining the third day. 

Oh, it’s just your sleep patterns, April. Nothing to do with resistance to writing. 

NAW. 

This is my brain being an asshole. After the first day, the writing was difficult because I didn’t know what happened next. In the morning of the second day, I felt really, really sick (nauseous, for all you non-Brits) and so I stopped writing. Then I felt sleepy, and so I snoozed. And yesterday, on the third day, I was so tired I ‘never got going’.

This is resistance. My brain is conjuring up fake illness to stop me from writing. And I want to know WHY. 

I know I’m not completely lazy, because I can point to the million+ words I’ve written in the last couple of years. I can actually get the job done (even though it’s a bloody struggle most of the time). 

So WHY?! 

I love writing. I believe it should be fun. But I think I’ve robbed the fun out of it by taking it too seriously. I’ve conflated ambition with lack of enjoyment. In other words, I’ve bought into the pervasive myth that all hard work must be a struggle. Fun and Work do not go hand in hand (Presbyterianism and the Industrial Revolution saw to that) and because of this societal belief, I think that my work cannot be fun. 

Writing is my work. Therefore writing cannot be fun. 

But here’s the thing: writing is fun! It’s making up stories, ffs! Yeah, sure, the nth proof-read can be less fun, as can expanding rushed scenes or formatting for publication, but all in all, this gig is fun. I mean, if this ain’t fun, what is? And more importantly, if I don’t find it fun, why on Earth am I doing it? Not for the money, that’s for sure! (Or the stability, the pension, the perks, the prestige, or the social interactions…)

know writing is fun. I’ve soothed my Fear, so I know I don’t have to write a gazillion books a year. I know I have time to explore and play and all of that… I KNOW all of this, but the knowledge is stuck up in the airy, cerebral management office, and hasn’t sunk down to the fiery furnace in my brain that actually pulls the levers and gets stuff done. 

How do I fix this? Form a union, send better memos? I don’t bloody know. 

Answers on a postcard.

 

EDIT: I have since found this article. Problems 1 and 4 most apply to me. I’m going to attempt the solutions…

Paws Aff

So, I was at a social function (gasp) last weekend. I knew very few people, and my anxiety was running high. Unavoidably, I got into a conversation with a man about writing. It actually turned out okay; we spoke about the craft of writing, and I talked about why I like to keep my writing separate from the rest of my life, and he was totally cool with it (because why wouldn’t he be?). 

Then, later in the afternoon, I got talking with another man. And this guy, in front of a room of people, literally demanded to know how many books I’d published – in a borderline aggressive tone – and then asked about my income. This was the first conversation I’d ever had with him. But sadly, it was not the first conversation I’d had of this ilk. 

WHY do some people think it’s appropriate to ask writers about their sales or earnings? And why do some people get so offended if I choose to keep my work private? Is it because they can’t comprehend someone who wouldn’t brag and show off at every available moment? I write for me, not for fame and adoration. This is MY career, MY choice, and anyone who can’t handle that can sling their ‘ook. 

I chose to move to a pseudonym because I was sick of certain people acting like they had a stake in my career, offering conditional support and ‘advice’, and basically sticking their neb in where it didn’t belong. I felt owned, like my success was their success too. Even when I explained that publishing in private removed a lot of pressure and stress, and helped me write more freely, people still couldn’t hack it. One even admitted to trying to FIND me. They had no respect for me whatsoever. I was nothing but a pawn, or a trophy. None of my friends acted this way – they didn’t take it personally when I chose to go private – but others? It was like I’d betrayed them. Like I’m supposed to make career choices FOR them, rather than for myself. 

Sometimes I wonder if I were male would I have to put up with this shit? Some folk can’t help but try and control women, especially when they’re off on their own, doing their own thing. Well, to these people:

over it GIF by STARZ

P.S. Isn’t Michelle Fairley the best?

New Beginnings

Today I started a new book. 

studying hand-made GIF by Philippa Rice

It’s a pretty grand statement, and already I’m thinking nah, you’ll never finish it, but I’m going to drown out those nasty critical voices and push on regardless. 

In the end, with no good ideas coming to mind, I decided to go with the flow and make it all up as I go along. I love planning, but I’ve found that if I plan in advance, I suck all the joy out of writing, get bored, and give up. So, I think the best way for me to work is to plan a TEENY bit in advance – like, the next scene and nothing more – and then do loads of planning/musing in the revision stages, after the first ropey draft is complete. 

The hardest thing (apart from actually writing the bugger) will be ignoring word counts. I can’t allow myself to get drawn back into the mental torture of fixating on word counts, so I’ll need to stay vigilant. I do want to check in every day though, so I never lose the thread of the narrative. It’s especially important when there’s no plan to fall back on…

I also need to sketch out a rough schedule, but I’m a little nervous to do so given my abusive history with deadlines.

Why is writing so bloomin’ hard?

Day 1: Decent bit (half a scene); 10 miles (I’m nearly at Rivendell in my Walk to Mordor!).

Writing Roundup 10th May

I couldn’t think of an interesting title.

Anyhoo, I haven’t been blogging much because everything’s been pretty groovy. However, I have had a few changes I thought I’d share.

1 – Not writing-related, but I’ve decided to finally stop restricting food and drink. No more ‘No sugar, No alcohol, 300 calorie treat per day’ etc. I can consume what I want, when I want it (so long as I can afford it!). I was sick of feeling deprived all the time, and of my thoughts being dominated by weight, dieting and food. I’ve got more important things to be thinking about. I trust my body to warn me if something is wrong, and to tell me what it wants; all I have to do is listen. And I fully believe and accept that my self-worth is not determined by my appearance – despite what society has tried to teach me my whole life. It’s a work-in-progress to let go of all the toxic thoughts, but I’m getting there. I feel free at last. I no longer think along the lines of, ‘I’ll be/buy/feel/do X when I’m at Y weight’. Now, I just do it. I almost feel like life has properly begun – it’s that liberating. 

2 – I’m practising yoga again, every day. (I usually do Yoga With Adriene.) But this time, I’m not bothered about strength, calories, core… My only concern is doing what I want to do – and most times that’s restorative, gentle yoga. I’m here for self love and care, not toned arms. Peace, folks.

3 – I’m currently revising The Night Mage (more on that in another post).

4 – I’m not sure what to work on next. The project I dusted down last month doesn’t appeal to me anymore. It draws on very personal issues, but since banishing my Fear, I don’t feel the need to keep exploring them. I want to move on and put it all behind me… Problem is, I have no other contenders at the moment. 

So, despite a mild worry about what to write next, I’m feeling great overall. Since understanding my fear, things have really turned around. I’m more relaxed, more chilled out, more my true self. 

It’s all good. 

I Feel Pretty Pissed

Today I went to see I Feel Pretty. The film wasn’t perfect, but I had a jolly time. I laughed when it was funny, and cried when it was heartbreaking and true. I related to the film in many ways, and left the cinema feeling good about myself. When I came home, I looked up its critical reception. I told myself I was doing it out of interest – when really, I knew what I’d find. And that it would make me angry. 

The film was heavily criticised, which isn’t surprising given it has a female lead who isn’t there simply to be a sex object for men (see similar responses to A Wrinkle in Time and Tomb Raider). I read a few reviews and wondered if the writers had watched the whole film – not because I disagreed with their opinion, but because their take of the film felt so inaccurate. Some made me wonder if the reviewer had simply watched the trailer, or the first hour.  Some of the comments were also quite troubling, such as:

‘This movie [is] premised on the idea that self-esteem trumps physical beauty’. 

To me, this comment implies that the reverse might be true; that there is an argument against self-esteem trumping physical beauty. This is a destructive, toxic, and unfortunately common mindset. I used to think along the same lines, and I’m far, far happier now I’ve seen through this great lie. 

Amy Schumer is also analysed and judged to an inch of her life. She’s too pretty; she’s not funny… Basically, she can’t win. Like most women, she comes under much stronger scrutiny than her male counterparts.

Yes, the film has flaws (as all films do) and can certainly be criticised*, but the criticism is grossly enlarged, revealing how many people cannot accept women who don’t meet male-defined standards of beauty, women who dare to challenge said standards, or anything that is designed to empower women and make them feel good about themselves (whether the film is successful is irrelevant; it’s the intention that counts here).

Now, I know it’s easy to attack genuine criticism with the accusation of sexism. However, compare I Feel Pretty to the recent Avengers film, which is riddled with flaws. Avengers was received positively. It is no coincidence that Infinity War is filled, for the most part, with a bunch of heterosexual white men flexing their muscles and getting/rescuing/escaping from their girl. 

We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.

 

*This is a good review, IMO. 

When Not Writing is Writing

My lack of blogging recently means all’s been good. I’ve been plugging away at a couple of different projects, sticking to my qualitative approach to recording my days, and generally being a happy writer bunny. 

There have been times, however, when dodgy thoughts have crept into my head. One such thought appeared last week, when I was redoing the outline for my main WIP. A voice in my head said, “This isn’t really work.” 

And at first I believed it. After all, I’d done the outline the previous week. So this meant I was messing about, procrastinating, not really putting in any effort. 

But then I thought, “Hey. That’s crap. I am thinking; I am focused. I’m not on the internet, or daydreaming about nothing. I’m working on this bloody book. So it counts, Other Voice, and nothing you can say will make me change my mind!”

(Cue me fist-pumping the air in a busy Starbucks.)

This wee exchange got me thinking about work and writing. I think it’s problematic that one part of the process is actually writing, yet we call all of it writing. It’s also problematic when huge pressure to produce twists writers into thinking they can’t redo anything. In other words, they can’t make mistakes. 

I’m recovering from these toxic thoughts (only typing counts as work/every task must be completed only once), so now’s a good time to present the alternative. My current working model is this: choose the aspect of writing you enjoy most, and do as much learning there as you can. 

So, there are three parts to writing a novel: planning, drafting and revising. My approach now is to spend as much time in my favourite bit (planning), in the hope it reduces my time in the other two. Now, focusing on one area does not mean I’ll not make mistakes in the others. Every single part of the process will incur wrong-turns, errors, and realisations that the current stuff isn’t good enough. But hopefully by putting a lot of leg-work into the planning phase, it should reduce – not eliminate – the time spent in drafting and revising. 

As a thought experiment I worked through what my process would look like if I favoured any of the three parts.

Planning: I spend a lot of time refining outlines, building the world, checking the underlying structure, and fixing the foundations as much as I can, until I reach the natural point where I should begin drafting. Whenever I hit a snag in the drafting or revision phase, I immediately stop and go back to planning, and then continue where I left off. In theory, I shouldn’t draft too many wasted words, and revision shouldn’t be too hefty – dealing more with words and sentences than the underlying story.

Drafting: I spend a minimal amount of prep (if any) before diving into my story. I draft far more words than I need for manuscript, and learn about the story by writing it out. I read back every day, checking where the story has gone stale or off-course, and needs to be rewritten. By the time I reach The End, I’ve got a decent draft, thanks to all my rewriting along the way. Revision will be focused on little details. 

Revising: The typical Nano method. I spend a short amount of time on a plan, enough to get a general feel for the book, and then I vomit out a draft, not reading back, not correcting, but simply getting to The End no matter how hard it is. I turn off my inner editor and fly on momentum. Then, the hard work begins. I spend a large amount of time pulling the book apart and fixing it through revision. New scenes will need to be written, but drafting will be kept to a minimum. My job here is to fix what I have already. 

I favour planning, so my method looks more like the top description. I wish I favoured drafting, because I think that’s the best way to learn about your story. However, it doesn’t fit with my process. I certainly tried for a lot of the last couple of years to be the writer who explores everything through drafting, but I get stressed when I know I’m writing a mess, and then I get so deep into the book I can’t see where it’s gone wrong. I need to see the structure of a book from up high, usually in the form of many (many) spreadsheets. 

The point of all this is to demonstrate that every stage counts, and even if you’re not a lover of drafting, there are ways to get around it. Doesn’t make you any less of a storyteller. 

Fear

Nazgul. These dudes always scared the crap out of me. It was the idea of always being hunted, always being chased… I remember watching Fellowship for the first time (seriously the day my life changed) and being utterly terrified throughout as old memories stirred up (I started LOTR when I was a bit too young and stopped at the Prancing Pony). 

On a related note, I’m at 33 miles in my Walk to Mordor challenge, which means I encountered my first Black Rider yesterday. Think I might run today… Get them off my tail. 

Yesterday was an important day for Fear; not only did I brush past one of those scary mofos, but I also had a major breakthrough in understanding my own fear. I decoupled, at long last, the childhood survival-mode Fear from the adult me. Childhood Fear (which I picture living on the back of my neck at the base of my brain) was formed at a time when I was alone, afraid and unsure of my surroundings and relationships with others. It is terrified of failure for reasons that are no longer relevant. It’s terrified of dependency, not knowing that I need never be dependent again. I’m an adult now, and I can look after myself and my Childhood Fear. If we fall, I will catch us – no need for anyone else. 

This is relevant to writing because my Fear had latched onto writing, wrongly assuming that writing was associated with survival. It believed that if I fail at writing, we will Fail, and therefore have to rely on other people – people we can’t trust, or rely on to be kind and gentle and unconditionally loving. When in reality, my goal of becoming a successful writer is a privileged, top-of-the-pyramid dream, akin to attempting to become an astronaut or leader of a country. If it happens, awesome; if it doesn’t, well, it was a lofty goal to begin with, and I’ll learn to enjoy another path. But my Childhood Fear didn’t know the difference, therefore wreaking havoc on my mental health and leaving me in an almost-permanent state of stress, anxiety, fear and panic. It left me feeling like a child. 

But now I’ve cut the connection. I recognise the base Fear, and appreciate its role and the good things it’s given me (hey there, creativity, autonomy and tenacity!), and I’ve also gently removed its fingers from issues it’s not concerned with. If I don’t make it as a writer, then that’ll suck, but I’ll survive. I’ll find a way to make the most of life through other means. I’m an adult, and now it is my choice whether I rely on others or not. Childhood Fear can relax knowing I’m in charge, not other people, and that I have its back always. Unconditionally.

I can’t tell you how liberating this is. 

(But now, I must flee the Black Riders. Engage, Childhood Fear – you’re on!)