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). 

Trusting the Gut

I started writing! Hoorah! I wrote, ooo 250 words? then gave up. Now, that sounds bad. But I had a reason, and the reason was this: all the time I was writing, my gut was screaming at me that I didn’t want to write this book. 

I ignored it as long as I could, then took a break and skimmed through some old projects. One jumped out like a bolt of lightning. I wrote a very scruffy all-over-the-place draft around four years ago, and reasoned that, though it was a good idea, the MS was just too big of a mess to ever return to. 

But after skimming through it, the story now makes sense. I know which elements are relevant and which are not. I know my character’s backstory, and the road she has to travel. All of this makes perfect sense now because the story is far more autobiographical than I’d previously realised. I’ve needed this time to process my own crap in order to fully understand my main character and the journey she has to go on. In other words, I have to write this book and I have to write it now.

Good thing is I have the 3rd person mess to use as a guide, which I’m going to rewrite completely in 1st person. I also know my characters pretty well (and I dreamt about them last night, which is always a good sign). My goal is to write something every day for the whole of April. 

This is the book. This is the one I’m going to complete. I shall call it, Project Mountain. 

PM total: 280.

I have a long way to climb. 

Climbing Out the Hole

I’ve had a ropey last few days. Monday was grand; I came out of A Wrinkle in Time feeling so good, so positive, and then something went wrong on Monday evening. Each afternoon since then has been a drag of lethargy, leading me to the sofa, leading me to Bad Places. 

When I feel bad, I feel like a failure, like I have no control over my life, that I’m nothing but a useless housewife (no offence to any housewives; I simply want a career of my own, and not being financially independent while I chase my goal is intensely frustrating and scary for me). When I feel bad, I also feel lonely, and my life feels empty, and everything basically feels like shit. 

Well, I’ve had 2.5 days of feeling crap, and I’m determined not to have another day like it. I’m just so sick of bad moods, anxiety, depression… So my first step is to not drink alcohol or eat any junk food. I had a wedding at the weekend, where I boozed and ate some bad stuff, and I’ve been eating junk every day since. Funny thing about junk: it makes you want more junk. Today I woke up craving a pastry for breakfast (and not even a vegan pastry), but I forced myself to make my amazing banana milkshake, and now I feel full and satisfied without any guilt. I’ve got delicious sushi for lunch, and something nice planned for dinner. I’m seeing my counsellor today however, and I usually come out of that feeling very emotional and very much in need of wine, so I’ll need to combat that urge. Alcohol-free beer all round!

On the writing front, I’ve crawled forward on my story structure, and now I feel like I’ve done all the planning I want to do before drafting. I’ve had real problems finishing manuscripts in the last year – likely due to perfectionism and a self-generated pressure to make the book right in as fast a time as possible – so I need to constantly remind myself that first drafts are supposed to be crap. I’ve forgotten that. (I’ve forgotten so much in the last couple of years, as I’ve crushed myself under pressure to produce at a crazy rate… Sigh.) To fight this perfectionism, I think I need to get drafting. Get some words down, ugly words, and tell myself on a daily (hourly?) basis that this is fine, and all that fancy stuff about theme and story structure can come in during the second, third, umpteenth drafts. That was how I used to write, before the Great Darkness descended. 

Even as I write this, I’m scared. Terrified, actually, to start writing. I’m scared that what I’ll write will be terrible. I’ll waste words, which means wasting time, and I can’t waste time because- ohgodohgodohgod! I have to face my fear. I have to get over this! Get the words down, then fix the words. Rewrite them, even. But I can’t fix a blank page. 

How is it that seven years in, I’m more scared of writing a book than I was when I started? How does it seem more impossible now, even though I’ve completed numerous manuscripts, and published a few to boot? This is why writers drink and suffer a myriad of mental health illnesses. WRITING A BOOK IS SO FECKIN’ HARD. 

I can’t bring myself to finish this post because when I finish, I’ll need to start the book.

But I’ve got to. Fear leads to the dark side. I have to punch fear in the face, by doing the thing that scares me most. I have to tell myself I’m capable of doing hard things. I have to believe in myself. Believe, believe, believe. 

K. I’m going now. I’m going to write some words. And they’re going to be terrible and will probably get cut in revision, but write them I must. 

HERE I GO!

A Guide to Star Wars ‘Fanboys’

Rogue One: Female lead in a cast of men (I think there are seven female faces in Rogue One, all are white, and one is reanimated) whose goal is centred around her father, who loves another man, who dies.

“BEST FILM SINCE THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY.”

The Force Awakens: Female lead in a film that *just* passes the Bechdel test, who looks up to Han Solo yet wins a battle without his help.

“A WEAK RETELLING OF THE ORIGINAL WITH A MARY SUE LEAD.”

The Last Jedi: Female lead in a film with women of colour, women making key story decisions, women in command over men, women rejecting men, no women sexualised, women in command over men wearing long dresses, women taking the Bechdel test and smashing it to smithereens…

“LITERALLY THE WORST FILM EVER MADE.”

Suspicious Pants

*moonwalks onto the page*

I am feeling GOOD about this book. YES! I’ve been working on the main characters and their relationships (and I’m getting somewhere in the lovey-dovey department), and my next task is to cobble together a rough outline of all the stuff that’s going to happen. 

Which brings me to the issue of plotting and pantsing. (Actually, it’s not an issue. It’s just something writers like to talk about when they’re stuck on a problem.)

So, I was wondering how much to plot before drafting. I fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes (like 99.99% of writers out there, hence the lack of Issue), but, in the last couple of years, have drifted more to pantsy waters, the reasons for doing so being, A) I read Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing into the Dark and it struck a major chord, and B) I grew suspicious of outlines that never stick the landing. What’s the point in planning something out if you always veer from the plan? Sounds like wasted effort to me. 

HOWEVER, I’ve had a thought. What if the reason I ditch plans is because I’m doing a crappy job matching my words to my vision? I mean, if I know the character well enough, then what’s the difference between planning their actions in an outline and writing them out in prose? Yes, it’s possible that rushed and shallow planning can result in character actions not making sense when it comes to writing scenes; however, it seems strange to me that, with proper thought, characters behave naturally in my head, then magically try to act another way when it comes to the actual page.

All of this has me wondering: is it more a case of reality not matching the imagined, thus causing me to give up? When I write by the seat of my pants, I don’t have a clue where it’s going, therefore I have no vision to compare it to, therefore there’s a smaller chance of me thinking it’s a pile of crap. Hmm… While I can’t say for sure, I’m certainly suspicious. 

With this in mind, I’m going to sketch out an overall rough skeleton for the book, and plan each scene before writing it. I’m hoping to have my outline done by the end of this month, so I can draft all through April. (Fun fact: I like to do big stuff in April, for the obvious reason. Last year, I made sure to publish The Night Mage in April. For luck? I dunno. It just felt right.)

Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

I like to write romance. Not Romance, but stories with romance at their core. Usually, the main romantic pair come to me as a unit. It’s their relationship that spark the whole book. 

Well, for this book, (I’m gonna call it…Project X), it was four women who arrived as the first glint of inspiration. Four friends. I can see them; I can hear them. I want to write about them. (Yay! Fantastic! Characters that feel real!)

I spent yesterday delving deeper into each of them, before deciding that I had to move on to the romance/antagonism. Great, I thought; now I get to think up hot men for my ladies (well, some of them; not all are into guys). 

Hot men. Boy, do I love ’em…

…Trying to think of some…

…*pictures Adam Driver smothered in oil*…

…trawls memory of all men I’ve ever fancied…

…looks lovingly at husband…

Yeah. I’m out. Stuck again, on the part I thought would be easiest. I can’t crack the romantic side to this book. I can see my leading ladies doing all sorts, except falling in love with a cracking chap. Why? Is it because this book is my celebration of women, therefore I can’t bear to give any power or awesomeness to a man? Unfortunately I need most of the romantic interests to be men, simply because I’m heterosexual and need to imagine falling in love with the characters. I also don’t want a book that promotes women but excludes men. Ugh. Sigh. BUGGER IT. 

I think my only option right now is to Muse a crap-ton. Listen to music. Listen to my fave romantic choons. Perhaps browse Pinterest in the interest of research. Perhaps watch seasons 2-4 of Doctor Who for the same reason. 

Of all the potential problems that arise when writing a book, I never thought this would be one of them. 

 

P.S. I answered my two major questions. 

Crucial Questions to Ask

I’m one week on from hauling myself back on the horse and happy to report I’m still feeling pretty good.  After my coffee sesh last week, it became clear that one of my older ideas was the one I had to work on. It’s the one that came to me in early Feb (though the seeds were planted back in August 2017). The characters have always felt real to me; they’ve always spoken easily in my company. My job now is to develop them, and dig out a story. I’ve done quite a bit of character brainstorming, and also read Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass, which left me with pages of notes and things to mull over while I’m in this preparatory stage. 

Even though I can’t wait to get writing (the itch is strong), I’m forcing myself to take my time in these early moments. True, I’m not going to tie myself down to a tight outline – I veer more to the pantsy side of life – but I do want a clear vision of what I want to achieve before embarking on the long slog of the first draft. Having no true vision is probably why so many of my recent projects have spluttered and failed, so this time, I’m giving myself room to think. Basically, I have two major questions to answer:

  1. What will happen if I don’t write this novel?
  2. What am I trying to say and why? 

If I can figure out the answers to both these questions, then I’m ready to move onto some deeper character work. (And then setting, and then plot, and then, maybe! I’ll be ready to write.

 

Current mood: Optimistic yet antsy.

Current wrist pain: Moderate.

Random aside: How awesome is Black Panther? More of the same, please.

Tomorrow is Mine

Okay. Another day, another day of figuring stuff out. Today, I realised that I need to get back to the keyboard. If I rest for much longer, I’ll allow this bloody Block to grow into a monster. I can’t give it that power. I have to pick up my sword and keep hacking. 

Saying that, I needed a break. It was honestly my first one in years (except five days I spent in New York where I’d written 30k the previous week). I mean, I’ve not written every day all this time, but I’ve always been attempting to write a novel. Always. My brain has not once switched to the off position. And for that reason, I believe this break of two-three weeks has been necessary. It’s also something I need to incorporate into my schedule on a regular basis. 

HOWEVER, I think I’ve been guilty of giving up too easily on projects, especially in the last year. In the past, I’ve had ideas that have walked into my head and then onto the page, resulting in completed books (The Night Mage was one of them). I’ve also had many ideas that have stuttered and failed, mostly resulting in half-finished manuscripts. Because of this, I think I’ve come to believe that I can only finish a book if the original idea dances into my brain on top of a glittery unicorn.

If I believe this, I’m not going to have a long-term career writing fiction. That’s the brutal truth. Funny thing is, I know that writing is a grind – and I’ve been capable of great grinding, believe me – but it’s like I’ve forgotten it. Maybe months and months and months of Failure and feeling like UTTER SHIT has slowly morphed my thought process. Well, this break has given me perspective. Just because some books have been glorious, doesn’t mean they all will be. And if I wait around for the glorious ones, I’m not going to produce enough content to earn a living. #hardfacts

So, I’m getting back in the saddle.  Today I’m going to go to a coffee shop with my notepad, and think. No pressure – simply think. Perhaps one of my previous ideas can be resuscitated, or perhaps I’ll find the spark of something new. 

I’m also making some general changes, to stop myself falling so far down the hole again.

  1. I’m adding more activity into my life. Maybe some people can write all day every day, but I’m not one of them. As I said in my previous post, my Muse is a vampire. It needs rest and darkness, and my well of ideas needs refilling. I also need to do something about the horrible loneliness I feel throughout the day, so hopefully a wee volunteering gig will help.
  2. I’ve found a little pocket of the internet where I like to engage with writers. I’ve been searching for a space for so long and think I’ve found it at last. This should make the daily slog a little less gruelling.
  3. I’ve acknowledged that I’m way too hard on myself, and that needs to change. Hopefully, with the help of a counsellor, I can learn to be kind to myself while maintaining my ambition. 
  4. I’ve given up caffeine and refined sugar (for the most part) because they make me ill/mess with my mood. Hopefully this will alleviate the dreaded afternoon slump. 
  5. I’ve accepted that books take a loooooong time. I can’t write a book a month or anything like it. I think my range will be one-three books a year, depending on the project(s). 

Lastly, I’m reminding myself that I’m not a failure. I am a fighter (wooyeah! I’m blasting the Bayonetta soundtrack as I write this) and I AM COMING FOR YOU, BOOK. 

Bloody Fangs

While on sabbatical, I’m learning more and more about writing and myself. The latest realisation is this:

MORE TIME ≠ MORE WRITING

When faced with lots of time, I don’t get more done. What happens is I beat myself up for not writing eight bajillion words a day, and therefore live in a constant state of guilt, panic and anxiety (sounds fun, doesn’t it). So, right now I’m thinking of all the things I want to do (exercise, other forms of art, volunteering etc) and slowly building them into my day. I want to practise committing to other activities, and then fitting my writing in around them. Basically, my Muse shrivels up if I shove it under my full beam of focus. My Muse prefers to skulk in the shadows and work when I’m not properly looking. 

My Muse is a vampire. This is what I’ve learned. 

In general, I’m feeling okay, but there is this voice at the back of my head that’s always whispering you’ve broken yourself bravo all is lost. I have, essentially, become a meme.

Big Bag of Nope

I’m out. My brain, at last, has emptied the last of its creative reserve and now I’m left with nothing but painful childhood memories and random character names from Game of Thrones. 

After a decent day on Monday, I found on Tuesday that I couldn’t write. No, I really couldn’t. I’ve been at this gig for nearly seven years now and have been through my fair share of ups and downs (which have been mainly downs and slightly deeper downs) so I know how to write through self-doubt, laziness, and compulsive urges to binge Netflix. Yesterday, however, was something new. 

Before, I thought I was blocked because no idea would stick. Well, HA!, now I have no ideas. At all. Like I said: I’m out. The well is dry, the cup is empty. Tumbleweed has blown in and somewhere in the corner, an old man plays a doleful tune on the harmonica. I don’t know what to do.

Here We Go Again

I started writing again yesterday, attacking this new idea that’s been bubbling in my head for a week. The morning didn’t get off to a great start (coffee problems), and then when I began to type, a chorus of self-doubt echoed in my ears. Like, it was so loud it was almost funny. I didn’t think I could write anymore; I thought I didn’t know how to tackle a novel. I’d forgotten how to have fun. I believed I was getting worse instead of getting better… Ye know, all that sort of rubbish. 

Anyway, I battled through and got a couple hundred words down, and then the nasty voices got a bit quieter. Then I actually enjoyed myself a little, and managed 1636 over a couple of hours. Not bad, folks, not bad. 

So here I am facing Day 2. I’m going to write a little bit, but I’m also aware that these characters are strangers to me, and the world is empty. From experience, I know that this will probably derail me before the 10k mark, so I need to invest time building the characters and setting. If I’m at my desk for seven hours a day, I think it’s reasonable to expect 1-2k on top of research, brainstorming, and other bits and bobs I have to be getting on with.

After my two-week break, I’m determined to make this version work, and to do that I need breathing space, and a constant reminder that first drafts are meant to be abysmal. 

*takes deep breath* 

I can do this. 

 

Current WIP: 1636