A Writer’s Wishlist

Not going to lie my immediate thought was quite tongue in cheek. Answers like ”focus”, ”talent” or ”flowing words that don’t suck” etc. But those answers are a) a bit self-deprecating and b) not really what the August WriYe blog topic is after. It says ’gift wishlist’ probably in an attempt to stop joke answers like the one I have above ^^.

So I will try and take this seriously.

#1 A development editor
I worry about not being good enough. It paralyses me with fear. If I won the lottery I would pay someone to teach me to be a better writer. Not just tell me where I’m going wrong with plot/characters etc. but also help me with the words themselves. I feel like I struggle hugely with description and weaving everything in naturally. I need an outside opinion as I am my own worst critic obviously. The problem is that requires a level of money I don’t have (hence the lottery comment).

#2 A writing coach / story sounding board partner
To be honest this one really sounds like I just want a friend. Basically I would love to have someone to talk about my ideas with. Someone who would at least pretend convincingly like they cared and were interested. Someone who I could feel was enthusiastic and like they were eagerly waiting for me to write the thing. Writing is a lonely gig and it is basically screaming into the void. I don’t crave compliments so much as I just want interaction. I want to feel seen, like somebody noticed the time/effort I put in.

(side note: ok this is getting a bit meta again, not quite back to ’focus’ but not really the ’gifts’ in the topic)

Actually I suppose part of the problem with this as a ’gift’ wishlist is that smaller ’gift things’ don’t tend to say on the wishlist forever as over time I save up and try and target obtaining them. I mean sometimes it takes years and years but with writing being what matters most, I try and make it happen eventually. Like a huge thing that has been on my wishlist for close to a decade probably was an actual ‘working space’, rather than also being the place I played video games etc. So that required a ’work PC’ and with moving house that is something I have set up for myself. That is now a reality and therefore not on the wishlist.

I don’t currently have any books about writing on the list (although I’m sure I could add some if I looked). I have 10 writing courses on my ’to do’ list that I have accumulated /cough over the past 14 years so that angle is covered. I bought Plottr with the Camp NaNo discount code and while First Draft Pro looks cool, it doesn’t give me anything I particularly need I don’t think, not for the price it is anyway.

#3 Stationary
Do I have some already? Yes. Do I want more? Always. I think this is forever on a writers wishlist. Right now I’m trying to find a cool looking A5 binder because I signed up for HB90 and I want to do the planner in A5. I stuck it in an A4 binder I had spare so I didn’t have to spend any money but that’s not what I want longterm.

I love stationary shops /sigh.

The Crumbling Edge of the Cliff

The July WriYe blog topic is “Feelings on cliffhangers? Best cliffhanger you have written” and two thoughts immediately spring to mind.

  1. I love cliffhangers
  2. Writing myself into a corner sucks and is to be avoided at all costs

I remember reading Joseph Mallozzi’s blog (he was a Stargate writer) as I think I found the post through googling about the cliffhanger at the end of season 2 of Stargate Universe. Basically his comment boiled down to ”whatever you think is valid because we never thought about it” – they had written one hell of a cliffhanger and they hadn’t decided how they would resolve it. The reason being ”we hadn’t got paid for season 3, so not doing work for free” which is a reasonable point but as a writer myself I was (and am still!) horrified.

The first book I indie published was supposed to be the first in a series of crime/sci-fi novels. I had got a series arc, and notes on the main plots of each of the 7 books. I had written the first draft of the second book before I hit publish on Book One and I was feeling good about it.

Then I tried to revise Book Two.

Oh boy. I couldn’t make it work. It didn’t pass the logic test. I had established these concepts (not quite cliffhangers but for the sake of my point close enough) and they were now set in stone as I had published. I threw Book Two out and tried to start again but that didn’t work either. In the end I was grateful nobody much had read Book One as I just quietly took it down and stuck the entire series in the archive.

Cliffhangers cause suspense

This is a big reason why I love them – in theory they make people want to come back for more so they can learn how the heroes get out of the situation they are in for example.

BUT (and it’s a big but) cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers are something people get easily tired of and then dislike. I’m going to use Alias as an example here. Every episode ended with a ”oh no it’s going to be baaaaad!” and then the situation was resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode. It wasn’t earned suspense, it was manufactured purely for that ”ahhhh I need to watch the next episode” and it was like that ALL THE TIME. I got fed up with it and stopped caring. I got fatigued I guess with it all.

A good cliffhanger (in my opinion) is where you have a series, and you have these dangling plot threads. It’s not a temporary problem that will be dealt with in the opening act of the next instalment, it’s a real question that will take time to resolve. It’s not a manufactured cliffhanger, it’s part of the plot. A good cliffhanger is remaining questions, not easily dealt with temporary doom, at least in my opinion.

Know (and test!!) where you are landing

Learn from my mistakes. I totally get the ”I do what I get paid for and nothing else” argument but I have a healthy fear of that personally. I would suggest strongly that writing a cliffhanger without knowing the resolution is incredibly dangerous. Don’t just think you know how it resolves either, be sure the solution has been stress-tested. That ”oh shit” and then ”I can’t fix it” is a horrible, horrible feeling.

With that in mind I can’t actually think of the ’best cliffhanger I have written’ as I suppose I don’t feel like I’ve had a really successful writing project yet. So I’m going to say “watch this space” as an answer to that.

Burn it Down: A WriYe Blog Topic

I am very behind with these blog topics. Truthfully though I have been avoiding June’s which is “Some of your strategies to avoid burnout” because what strategies? It feels like I live in a permanent state of burnout a lot of the time. Beyond going “yeah that’s me” I don’t feel like I have much to say on this topic.

But then again because I feel so familiar with it maybe I do have something to offer. I know what I do wrong after all, even if I am incapable a lot of the time of not making the same mistakes over and over.

Tip #1 – Don’t try to run before you can walk

I am impatient. I want to be done. It looks like it should be possible for me to do X amount in Y time and yeah maybe it is – but consistently every single day? I have one good day, decide that’s my metric of what I am capable of and that I should be able to do it all days. Learn from me – that doesn’t work!

The mind is a muscle and it takes time to build habits and form ’thinking grooves’. Jumping from 0-60 in no time isn’t sustainable or possible. So to avoid burnout and catastrophic failure take it slow, build over time, and halve whatever you think you can do to make it more likely it’s actually possible.

Tip #2 – Pressure is counter-productive

I was saying once how frustrated I was that I wasn’t focusing and I didn’t understand why. I was desperate for some help, and the comment was ”if you actually wanted it, you would do it, so you don’t want it enough” and I was incredibly upset by this. That wasn’t true. I’ve brooded on that comment a lot and I actually came to believe the opposite was true – I wanted it too much. I was having panic attacks everytime I opened my writing files because I kept telling myself I need writing to work out, I need to be able to earn money. Which just led to utter terror of never being good enough, complete paralysis, so surprise surprise no actual writing. Not doing it made me angry and upset with myself, which just made it worse.

This is a tricky one because I can’t make it any less true, so how then do I relieve the pressure? I’m not entirely sure. I have tried logic which is ”if I terrify myself and don’t do it, then I have nothing anyway so I might as well try, even if I feel like I’ll never be good enough”. That is having limited success. It’s a daily battle that fear to be honest and the pressure of needing/wanting it so much, is really what fed the beast. So learn from my mistake and try not to pile the pressure on in the first place. Keep it chill and lowkey as much as you can. You’ll get a lot more done that way.

Tip #3 – Beware busywork and unnecessary tasks/limits/restrictions

I love 4thewords. I love the WriYe challenges. I wanted to keep a proper streak by writing everyday. I wanted a ’perfect score’ on the badges. But those things required writing – drafting! – every single day. I remember back in March I decided I wanted to do some writing courses but I couldn’t let go of these streaks/challenges, and so I had to keep up with writing at the same time. But as I wasn’t prepared for an original project I had to keep writing fanfic ’for my streak’ and the whole enterprise was doomed to failure.

Challenges and streaks are supposed to be tools that help/encourage. It is hard to let go of these things once I have decided to do them, but they are hurting me at this point. I had a bunch of other tasks/goals like finishing my TV watchlist, making fandom gifsets, reading my magazine stash etc. Those tasks were on my to do list and I felt like I should do them, as I figured if I didn’t make time they wouldn’t get done. That’s very true but were the tasks necessary in the first place?

I come up with rules about what has to be done before other things. I don’t realise I’m doing it a lot of the time, it just feels like that’s the way it is, but I’m making myself jump through hoops. It makes tasks much harder than they need to be, and it adds a lot more tasks and stress to my schedule. That obvious has a knock-on effect on everything and then I grind to a halt – hello burnout. So the tip is to look at what you are doing and why. Ask whether it’s necessary, ask whether it’s serving you, ask whether it’s time to let it go.

Good luck! Productivity is the monster that we quest to slay everyday and it’s never an easy fight.

Writing the Story Themes

May’s blog topic for WriYe is the question – “What are some of your ‘go to’ themes you like to write about?” – and I’m not sure. I know theme is important, and I’m pretty sure it’s in there somewhere, but I have to be honest I don’t really think about it all that much. I concentrate on the character journey, and on the plot that the characters navigate to learn and grow. I actually had to google what themes might be because my brain went blank.

Character (destruction or building up) is actually on the list. So perhaps that means I have already answered the question. Except that doesn’t feel accurate enough because stories are mostly driven by characters, and not all of those stories are the same. Characters struggle and they evolve but I think it’s what they struggle with, where the theme plays out.

In which case I suspect that one of my ‘go to’ themes is to do with fear. The novel draft I finished last month was very much about fear of love, fear of loss, fear of being vulnerable and opening herself up for heartbreak. However, just like with character I feel like fear is an ever-present theme, that is simply a component of whatever the actual theme is. Characters are afraid they won’t complete their journey, or they are afraid they will, they are afraid of change and the story is always about some kind of change.

So what else do the characters grapple with? I think I like ‘sins of the past coming back to haunt them’ as a theme, if that qualifies. I think I like exploring about ‘power and corruption’, questioning authority and the whether said authority is morally correct – probably tying back to the whole corruption thing. Prejudice and how bloody stupid it is. Equality definitely. How people should be able to be themselves and not be judged for it. The power of choice maybe, and that people often make their own worst enemies. I don’t really do true good vs. evil as I prefer shades of grey. Pain and bad memories being a motivator.

In the end I like to end all stories with hope. I like the characters to be in a better place than they started. A happy ending of sorts. I don’t know if that is a theme but I think it’s important. The world is a dark place where everything is uncertain, but stories can have that certainty and end well. I like characters to be happy. I mean sure sometimes characters have to die but not the main ones. I do tend to operate a “bullet-proof cast” and I’m not even sorry. As a reader I despise character-death, so why would I inflict that on people? As I said the world is bad enough, fiction doesn’t need to be unrelenting misery too.

Self-improvement maybe is a theme? Characters working on themselves, overcoming past mistakes or past trauma or whatever is holding them back, and then making themselves a brighter future. When I put it like that I suddenly see far too much of myself in there as that’s what I ultimately want the most. I’m constantly afraid, utterly terrified of everything, and I want so badly to be better. I also crave the impossible – a certainty of a good ending.

Wow that got deep. Thanks blog topic, I hate it.

My Best Writing Memory

I’ve a feeling I’ve either answered this question before for a WriYe blog topic, or I’ve talked about this before for something else. Either way I’m pretty sure that I’ll have mentioned two specific incidents.

1) The Great Fanfic Crossover of 2009
I’d been in the Without a Trace fandom for a few years but I’d stopped watching the show. I’d sort of drifted. I had basically quit writing fanfic but I missed it. My obsession at the time was Alias and I’m not quite sure what sparked my head but suddenly I had this multi-show crossover just spilling out of me. I merged the aforementioned Without a Trace and Alias, and also added in Numb3rs and CSI:NY for good measure. I wrote almost the entire thing in one day (so it was a 10k day) and I was cackling with amusement for most of it. That was just pure fun. I don’t even recall it feeling like work, I just couldn’t stop writing until I was too tired and finally ran out of steam. I finished it off the next day. So that’s a really great memory because I “wrote with joy” and that doesn’t happen often.

2) The ‘Just Write and See What Happens’ of 2012
November 1st, NaNoWriMo. I had planned to do yet another draft of Perfidy but I wasn’t feeling it. It was Day One and I had no words. The previous year (2011) was the first NaNo I intentionally skipped and I’d failed 2010. I felt so blah, like I wasn’t a real writer. So I said screw it and I opened a blank document and just started typing. I had nothing. Within a few pages I had characters, I had a setting and I had the beginnings of a plot. I only wrote about 5k of this before I did switch back to Perfidy and I’ve never developed it further. However the confidence I drew from creating out of nothing was immense. It was so comforting to think that yes I could create. I wasn’t just a fanfic writer playing in other people’s sandboxes. I didn’t just take ideas and twist them to be ‘original’ I could have my own ideas too. So I’m very fond of this memory as it’s the first time I felt like a ‘real’ writer.

The problem with saying those are my ‘best writing memories’ is they happened a decade ago – over a decade ago, and that’s just sad. Has nothing good happened since? Nothing I can hold onto and say yes, I love it, that’s a good memory?

I guess it’s been a hard decade and the depression tends to colour everything. The lows feel really super damn low but the highs never reach any kind of height, as they are starting from a very big hole. I’m very good at reframing what other people would say were notes of success with a “yes, but” as if those ‘successes’ didn’t stay as successes, then they are just wiped out. Yes I technically have indie published three novels – none of them are available now. I messed up, I didn’t persist, and I wrecked it.

But this blog topic isn’t about what’s gone wrong – it’s about what’s gone right! It’s about the good memories, not the bad. So let’s try this one on for size.

3) The ‘Revival of Obsession’ of 2020
Let’s be real I wrote very little for over three years (and that’s despite technically being at university on a ‘creating writing’ course, yeah I know). I signed up to WriYe with the best of intentions for January 2020 and then I was besieged by panic attacks every time I opened a document to write. I was miserable and frustrated. I thought perhaps I would never write again. Cue NaNoWriMo and cue Sanctuary and my new ship of James/John/Helen. I wrote a long-fic for NaNo, over 60k, and I finished it within the month. I can’t tell you how incredible it felt to type ‘The End’ on anything after so long. To feel that buzz of writing, of crafting a story, of imagining something and making it manifest on the page. I’m not saying it was good writing but it was writing.

4) The ‘Return of Original’ of 2021
More fanfics followed, hundreds of thousands of words by this point and I’m not showing any sign of stopping. However, the point is the floodgates have been opened. In March I did what I had thought was impossible – I finished an original story, working title Fall of Camelot. I’d planned it for it to be 20k and it turned out to be 53k. I love the characters and there’s a lot more story to dig into. One day I plan on turning it into a trilogy. In April for Camp I started another original novel, Carbon Scars, and that went less well (it’s still unfinished, it is my solemn intention to finish it this month). However, there’s about 60k of that. It exists. A whole universe, characters, planets, settings, plots, history. My world building isn’t the best but I can see a lot in my head. I joke that they are the worst first drafts in history but they exist. After years and years of not writing, and then not being able to write, I got it back. Might not be good but it’s happening.

I have my dream back. Sure I doubt myself a lot and I don’t have any faith that it’ll work out. I feel like I’ll never be good enough (this was the source of my panic attacks in 2020). The world is on fire and my life is a mess but I’m writing regularly. Unless something goes wrong I’ll be moving into my own house in a few months. When everything’s settled I plan to dig in and really work on getting novels ready for publication. Perhaps if this topic comes back again next year, I’ll have a new best memory made there.

What kind of planner are you?

With how it breaks down to: planner, pantser or plantser, it feels a bit like filling in one of those questionnaires and getting your personality type. Like it’s one of those identity things that says something about you when you tell people.

Now I’ve written blog posts about planning before. In fact I think it was a topic towards the end of last year on WriYe. I don’t like to repeat myself so I’ll try to say something a little different this time. In the past I’ve talked about the planning process itself and how precisely I do it. This blog topic tacked ‘why?’ onto the end of ‘what kind of planner are you?’ and it’s the why I wish to consider today.

How much I plan differs based on what I’m writing. I think I have said that before. With original novels I plan for more thoroughly than I do with fanfic. Furthermore with fanfic how much I plan depends on the scope of the project. I have written fanfics with barely more than a premise, so completely pantsing basically. Those tend to be short ‘oneshots’ that aren’t very long. Anything chapter-based needs some kind of plan. The question is how much?

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My Shipper Heart: The Role of Romance

This month, likely in honour of Valentine’s day, the WriYe blog topic is about the role of romance in the fiction I write. Well, actually the topic said “in your novels” but I write all kinds of stories, and actually the role of romance changes depending on the type of story, which I thought could be interesting to explore. I’m talking of course about fanfiction, hence the use of the term ‘shipper’ in the title of this post.

Having said it changes, as I was considering how to begin, I realised I’m not sure it does change. With my stories I consider them all to be character-centric. I’m telling a tale of a journey and yes cool stuff happens in cool places but it all comes back to character. Now obviously journeys can take multiple forms – it isn’t all about romance! Personally I’m ace/aro and so romance plays zero part in my life personally. However, I probably do write a lot of romance. It’s a very rich story vein because romance at it’s core is love. Now love can be family and friends obviously, but a lot of what I come up with is romantic love. To be honest until I started writing this post I don’t think I’d quite realised how much.

I was going to say that I never write pure romance, there’s always something else going on, but I don’t think that’s true. Not if I consider fanfic where sometimes there’s a plot (and the relationship weaves around it) but sometimes the relationship is the plot. I remember years ago saying I could never write pure romance, that I couldn’t think of anything more boring, how do you even move the characters across the page without a crime to solve? or some kind of gun battle? But I wrote a 50k arranged marriage fanfic last year and managed just fine. There wasn’t a gun to be seen.

So what role does romance play in my novels?

Let’s go through a couple of examples. My sci-fi thriller where the former agent turned mercenary is framed for murder, and goes on the run with her ex-girlfriend (who happens to be a PI) and has to dodge her former colleagues while trying to clear her name. Obviously the ‘ex’ is not such an ex by the end, as part of the character journey has her realising she shouldn’t push away those she loves just because she’s scared. A leap of faith kind of thing. So there’s lots of running and shooting and intrigue (hopefully) but the romantic relationship, and working out the issues between them, is a big part of the book.

Then there’s my Arthurian retelling about the Fall of Camelot. There’s no relationship drama in this as Mordred and Galahad are firmly in love, but that actually forms the bedrock because they have such a strong bond, and they can seek support from one another. This will contrast with Arthur’s grief at Guinevere’s death. It will be an important thread given their immortality. Promising someone a lifetime is one thing, but spending eternity together? What relationships crumble and what relationships deepen, and navigating that.

With the fanfic that I write I have ‘ships’ like Helen, John and James from Sanctuary, they are my OT3 and current major obsession. I’m also shipping Bering and Wells from Warehouse 13 really hard right now, and to be honest Artie and MacPherson too. That ship doesn’t even really exist (I think there’s less than 10 fics on AO3 and one of them is mine) but on my last rewatch I couldn’t unsee it, and it’s a thing now. On my fanfic WIP list I have a combined total of 10 ideas at the moment, across three fandoms (Sanctuary, Warehouse 13 and the Librarians). Some of the ideas are AU, some of them are canon-divergent. All of them have happy endings with the ships making a life together. Interestingly the sole Librarians fic doesn’t revolve around a ship, though of course I will write Flynn/Eve into it, and wherever the fic ends they will still be happily together.

So in summary…

I’m circling back to what I said at the start of this post – my stories are character driven, and romance plays a much bigger role than I think I’d appreciated until now. Therefore I would class romance to be something of a cornerstone of my stories.

WriYe: Impossible Year

So I recently did the retrospective on how 2021 went, and now I get to make the world laugh by dreaming about 2022. I said last time that I really didn’t want to get to the end of the year and be disappointed again – but I was. However, really that is my dream. I want to feel like I’ve made progress, as most of the time I feel like I’m getting nowhere and that time is running out.

BUT (and it’s a big but!) I am going to be aided in my quest for progress this year by a big life change – I’m moving house. I’ve said this before, I said it in my retrospective because once it was decided early October everything tanked as the chaos consumed me. We still haven’t sold and I don’t know when we will (but I hope it’s soon) and so we don’t know where we’ll be moving (as there’s no point in looking at houses that sell before we can buy). However, I think it’s a reasonably safe statement to make, to say that by this time next year I will be writing this post in a different house – my own house. I have big hopes that having my own space will make a lot of difference to me, but I’ve got to get there first which means surviving the process.

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WriYe 2021: Year in Review

Another year has come and gone again
Look around and think where have you been
Can’t believe it’s that time of year again
Can you believe the life you led?
Did you achieve the goals you set?
Did you lose your mind?
Another year has come and gone again
Look around and wonder what happened

Sick Puppies – That time of year

This year I called my WriYe progress thread ‘Try Everything’ as to be honest I was that desperate to make some progress, that’s what I was willing to do. When I made my yearly goals I tried to be realistic, and I put as a subheading ‘starting small and dreaming higher’ because that was my intent. I had to balance what I wanted in my heart, with what was possibly practical (and I have never been good at judging that).

I set my initial WriYe target as 75k because that was the bare minimum. I knew I was going to be writing fanfic but I wanted 75k (aka a full length draft of an original novel). I also wanted to make progress with my art and – yet again – I set the goal of doing a drawing a month. If I look back at the goal post I made and quote myself, I said “What I want the most from 2021 is to make progress, to move forward, to finally get somewhere. There is nothing I want more than to get to the end of December in 2021 and type up a yearly review, and to list all the things I accomplished. I want that glow of satisfaction, of being able to feel like yes I did something good. I don’t want to get through another year and feel like I wasted the time again. Like I said I really want to feel like I made progress.”

So did I meet those goals?

Yes and no is the simple answer.

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Fail to plan, plan to fail?

That’s a cliché and I think it’s an unfair one. Everyone needs different amounts of information before they begin and I don’t judge. Anyway, as you can probably tell this months WriYe blog topic is all about planning.

Explain your planning process. Do you write a detailed outline or are you more of a bare bones only writer?
Ok I start off with an idea. This could be a scene, a character, a general concept, a world detail – something. I then do a lot of brainstorming, which is basically free typing where I write down everything that comes to mind as I think about the idea. I ask myself questions and try and reason out the answers. I do this until I have answered all the questions. This results in a very long and messy document.

So I then need to pull out all the relevant information and put it into various documents. I’ll have a world building details file. I’ll have a character detail file etc. Then I’ll have the explaining the plot file where I edit the rambles and put it all in order, but it’s still very much long paragraphs. So I’ll create another separate file and make up bullet points for each scene described, so there’s a brief list for reference and not just the long descriptive document.

Ultimately I guess that makes me a detailed outline person – at least when it comes to novels. I don’t tend to go that far with fanfic. I’ll reason the story out and sometimes write up scene lists but I don’t do a scene-by-scene outline, and I’ll add as I go with what feels right and sometimes straight up change things. I’m a bit less flexible with the novel because I plan it more in-depth.

Are you happy with the way you plan currently?
I guess? Sometimes I think maybe I over-plan when it comes to novels and it sort of sucks all the life out of it. Essentially I’m just fleshing out the story, in many ways I’ve already written it. That doesn’t mean I’ve written it sensibly though. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of process I put my plan through, in an attempt to check that I’ve not been dumb – I’ve invariably been stupid somewhere and something doesn’t make sense.

End of 2019 I made a ton of notes on structure and applied them to the outline of the novel I should be writing at the moment (it’s not going so well). As I’ve not finished the draft yet, and thus haven’t attacked it in revision, I don’t know whether that has helped or not.

To be honest I’m kinda set in my ways. I’ve been planning by brainstorming and then pulling it into an outline for well over a decade now, possibly closer to two. It’s just how my brain works. Am I happy with it? I don’t know. I think so but at the same time I’m not happy with the novels I write from it, but then would those novels be any better if I planned another way? I don’t know.

Are there things you would like to try that are different or new to you?
Yes. I don’t do details very well. I need to think more deeply about my world building, and then plan/record those details in an easily referenced document. With the novel I’m currently writing I was struggling to get started and so a friend tried asking me questions, to sort of get my head ‘into the scene’. I didn’t know most of the answers because I couldn’t remember if I’d decided about these details before, or what I’d put if I had. I struggle with description at the best of times and not thinking about the details until revision hurts me.