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). 

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. 

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

Steady Now

OKAY. I was wrong. About being blocked. I don’t have a shortage of ideas; I have a shortage of good ideas.

http://www.poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/an-idea/

I realised this after reading an interview with Philip Roth (well, half an interview, because I’m too cheap to subscribe), and a bunch of other quotes about writer’s block. Ideas take time. Ideas sputter and fail. You can spin your wheels for months. This is all part of the process. 

I’ve been trying to write my way out, going through idea after idea after idea, which seems to be recommended practice. And after my two-week holiday, I’ll get back to the keyboard, hacking away until something catches. 

I’ve decided to believe that all this toil is a good sign. It shows that my standards are rising, that I’m not willing to settle for a mediocre idea. I mean, this might be a load of rubbish, but it’s what I’m choosing to believe. So there 🙂

Obviously, I have a new idea! It popped up late Tuesday night, and I spent all yesterday mulling it over, scribbling in my notebook. I know I’m on a writing holiday, but I honestly couldn’t help myself! The urge to start Chapter One is strong, but I’m going to resist until Monday. I need this break. My plan for the next few days is to keep reading, keep mulling, and with any luck, this latest idea will still be calling to me come Monday morning. If not, then…I’ll keep plugging away regardless. 

Wait For It

Well, I took a week off from everything (and binged on the Olympics). I read The Earthsea Quartet, Beauty, The Last Unicorn, and The Darkest Part of the Forest.  And at the back of my head I thought I could feel a flicker of excitement, not for Beauty and the Beast, but for an older project of mine. I started that book in Spring 2017, had a few false starts, and eventually got to 30k before abandoning. Despite that, I’ve always thought it was a book I’d eventually dust down and rewrite, and I thought its time was now. 

I listened to its playlist; I pictured scenes in my head; I brainstormed (without writing anything down); I even reread the old manuscript (which is nothing more than a rough, scrappy draft – not even a first draft because it’s so incomplete). 

I thought I was ready. 

But then… I don’t know what happened. The flame died. I knew the story I’d written wasn’t right. Trouble was, I couldn’t find the right one. And then I realised I was back to my bad habit of searching hard for the spark of a story, chasing down the Muse. And I realised the book would have to keep waiting.

So, battling the disappointment (and panic), my mind automatically returned to Beauty and the Beast, playing around with the characters, sitting them around tables, chatting, and occasionally making them do interesting things. BUT the story isn’t there either. And I’m worried I haven’t settled on the right tone yet. I’m also worried about starting a series – my attention span is limited – and B&B was always intended as the first in a series of related fairy tale retellings. 

UGH. That sums me up right now. Cos now the Olympics are over and my holiday is over and I’m left with the dark wall of writer’s block and the challenge of filling up my day. Yes, I have a list of things to be getting on with, but I’m finding it soooooo difficult to block out the voice in my head that says you know you really should be writing a book by now

I’ve never, ever, had such a shortage of ideas. My brain used to be filled with them, and now it’s dry and dusty. For a creator, that is…terrifying. 

TL:DR – I am very scared. Please send wine and inspiration.

The Spark

Okay okay okay – there’s a twitch. A wee twitch. I think I do have the right characters, the right world… It’s the right story I need to find. 

The past couple of days I’ve glimpsed glimmers of theme, scenes, a story half-formed. I’ve accepted this project isn’t going to be like any other. I’ve accepted that I can’t scare the Muse. Even though I can sense the spark of inspiration, I’m refusing to write. It’s like approaching a frightened doe – if I move too quick the bugger will run off. I had to stop myself today from sketching too many ideas. I have to let it simmer away in my brain, like sushi rice. If you lift the lid too soon on your sushi rice, you get rubbish sushi rice. I love sushi rice. And I love not having writer’s block. It is very important I treat myself like rice. 

(I’m having sushi for tea tonight.)

Um, yeah. So maybe the fog is lifting. Maybe not. Maybe there’s still a story in me about beasts and beautiful things. Or maybe not.

The Void

Everyone warns you that being a writer is lonely, but nothing can fully prepare you. It’s tough to switch from being with people all day (even people you’d quite like to punch in the face) to just you and your thoughts. The loneliness isn’t so bad when I’m working hard on a project, but right now, with my lack of ideas, the isolation is hurting more than usual. 

It’s rubbish. And I’m not sure there’s a proper solution. I know that working in coffee shops can help a bit, and so can staying busy in the evenings and weekends. I know that exercise can help, as can arranging meet-ups with friends. I’ve done all these things – many times. But nothing changes the fact that most days, for most of the time, I’m on my own. 

It’s the curse of being a writer. 

On a slightly more positive note, I finished my ‘strange photo’ short story, and did a few character studies. I now want to work on a 2000 word freestyle story – about what, I have no idea. (I also want to learn to ski, thanks to my Winter Olympics binge, but know it will never happen because it is a) cold, b) scary, c) expensive, d) full of douche-bags.)