Let’s talk Preptober

I meant to do a series of blog posts during this month. I did not write a single one and now Preptober is pretty much over. I didn’t even announce on this blog how I was planning – ha! – to tackle Preptober. I did write quite a long ‘update’ post on my WriYe progress thread though. That basically went over the summer months that I had lost to moving house. I looked at my goals for the year, and how I was approaching things, decided what was serving me and what wasn’t. Stuff like that.

The upshot was I gave Preptober the theme not just of writing preparation, but also of a search for writing confidence.

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Horror and Scary Stories

The WriYe blog topic this October/Halloween month is ”Your thoughts on horror/gore/scary stories?” and I thought about skipping this month as my thoughts are short – I hate those kinds of stories.

Seriously I am the biggest wuss in the world. I can’t take jump scares of any kind. I get unnerved really easily and once I am freaked out, I am scared for days. Every noise, every shadow, feels like a threat. I close my eyes and I imagine things that scare me are right there, that they are on me. I have nightmares about that.

So yeah I have to steer clear of all kinds of horror and scary stories – or do I?

The Mummy. I didn’t watch this movie or the beloved sequel The Mummy Returns for YEARS because they were listed as ’horror’. I have no idea why. I was more scared of Casper the friendly ghost than I was of either of those movies. They weren’t scary in the slightest. I absolutely adore them and bought the DVDs so I could rewatch them as much as I wanted. I could write an essay on how good those two Mummy movies were but I digress. My point I am making is – is it possible that horror and scary don’t equal the same thing?

Horror and gore aren’t the same. I mean let’s face it CSI could get very gory and I have seen a lot of that. I have never liked the bugs and usually close my eyes to that (I have a bug phobia) but the blood etc. is no trouble.

Maybe it comes down to tone? The Librarians did a ’haunted house’ episode and that had spooky/horror elements but I wasn’t scared. Stargate did a ’horror’ episode called ’The Tomb’ which again didn’t scare me. I think there was supposed to be a pulse-pounding fear of the ’evil among us’ but the vibe wasn’t scary. There was an episode of Dark Matter which had zombies and we see one of them gnawing on a leg I think? And to be honest I found it more funny than scary. How it was shot, or the music, or something, just meant yeah it was ’horror’ but not scary.

I also think that experience plays a role. I think when I was 18 if I had watched The Mummy I would have been really freaked out. Growing up I didn’t watch any fantasy/sci-fi really. I saw a few things and they mostly scared me. We watched Jurassic Park at school and I jumped so hard that I pulled tendons in my arm. I did the same thing with the Chamber of Secrets movie and the giant snake. (Side note: I really do hate snakes. There are a few things that do still bother me a lot, and snakes are one of them. I absolutely can’t take them in any form. If I see a snake or I think about one I am jumpy for days picturing that there’s one lurking going to get me.)

But yeah I am a lot less bothered by ’creepy’ special effects these days. I’m not phased by monsters because I have seen a bunch now and it’s no big deal. So maybe that makes some horror ok, but if it’s intended to be scary then it’s a big no-no. I am very jumpy at the best of times (seriously any unexpected noise and it’s instant panic attack). Same with gore, blood etc. no trouble but animals (bugs, snakes and the like)? And that’s a big nope. Maybe in the end that means horror is what horrifies the individual. Hmm, that’s a thought.

Turns out I had something to say after all 🙂

There is always more to learn

In the Librarians TV show Flynn Carsen says that. The character is a life-long student who loves to learn and while I don’t have the patience for that most of the time, I do appreciate the ethos. I want more than anything to feel confident I guess, and I try not to confuse that with being ’done’. It would be nice to be done, to say I am good, but I do know that there is always more to learn.

The WriYe blog topic asks what are my favourite books, courses, or websites that I like to grow as a writer. What has helped me the most?

I have to be honest I accumulate courses a bit like art supplies. I think it’s because I am always hoping for that ’magic bullet’ that will make me feel like I am good enough. This does lead to a lot of dead-end paths when I do eventually look at courses and realise that they aren’t all I hoped they would be. I always read the description, and I look at reviews, and I sign up with hope in my heart. Clearly the courses work for some people but they don’t always work for me. Whether that’s a problem with how the material is delivered, or that I am not at a place in my writing process where it’s helpful, I don’t know.

This is a very appropriate blog topic as this month, (October as it happens, I know this was September’s blog topic), I have been looking at my dozen or so accumulated courses and trying to gain the confidence from them that I sorely need. When I started at the beginning of the month I envisaged being the ’perfect’ student and going through the various courses systematically. Very quickly I realised that wasn’t actually going to help me. There are parts of courses I may return to in the future but as this ’prep for first draft in NaNo’ process, it just wasn’t right now.

I first started actively trying to ’improve my craft’ back in 2009 or thereabouts. Back then I stumbled across Holly Lisle. I am not sure how as I don’t remember but over the subsequent decade I have bought most of their courses. I have to be honest, not many of them really hit the spot with me. Some of them might yet come into their own so I am not bashing anything, just being honest. I think as the internet has grown there is a lot more out there these days, so I am interested to see what other people recommend. For now…

What do I recommend?

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I got into Beta!

The last beta I was in was Mists of Pandaria. I believe from looking back at the blog posts for that time that was because of the ‘annual pass’ blizz were running. I think they did some kind of ‘get a beta key’ incentive. Honestly it was so long ago I don’t remember. Anyway this time I just won the luck of the draw. The moment beta is announced I always check that I am opted-in but expansions have come and gone and no invite has come my way. I totally wasn’t expecting one and then Friday, Spetember 30th – boom! What an email to wake up to! I’ve been drafting this blog post ever since. I intended to do my blogging about it but time has just flown and now it’s looking like pre-patch might drop next week. The expansion is releasing end of next month and with the number of bugs…

Anyway! How has beta gone?

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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.

The Librarians: Adventure Card Game (Review)

The Librarians, my comfort show, something which makes me smile now in board game format – how could I resist? This went up on kickstarter around September 2020 I believe? It’s so long ago I don’t really recall. It was supposed to ship for May 2021 and I eventually got it this week (so early-ish July 2022). Was it worth the wait?

Well! I have never played anything like it before so the learning curve was steep to say the least. I had a stab at playing it with mum and spent more time paging through the rulebook and being confused than playing. I think we had a half-hearted go at a couple of rounds before we gave up as it had got too late. Today I had some spare time (and it is supposed a game for 1-4 people, so solo play is possible) and so I had a good whack myself. I think I know how it is supposed to go now and so I figured review time!

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Musings on Warcraft in the Waning Days of Shadowlands

It’s probably a bit premature to call them “waning days” as there’s probably best part of a year (minimum) left in the expansion. However, we’re into the last patch and I have some swirling incoherent thoughts, that I’m going to try and make sense of and write down.

There have been eight Warcraft expansions thus far. I start off with this fact because I don’t feel like I can really evaluate Shadowlands without also referencing what came before it. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the very real impact outside factors have. I first started playing Warcraft at the end of January 2010 – over 12 years later I’m still here, but I’m 12 years older and a lot has happened in those intervening years. There is always the question when the ‘rosy-tinted glasses of nostalgia’ come out, as to whether the game was better back in the day, or whether it was the place I was in my life that influenced how I viewed it.

So what did I think of Shadowlands then?
I phrase it as ‘what I thought’ because this is a highly personal evaluation. It’s not what was objectively good or bad – it’s how I felt about it. I said to someone yesterday that what I thought sucked, might have been what someone else thought was the best part – and this is probably why blizz struggles so much. They literally can’t please everyone. Quite often I feel that then leaves them pleasing nobody, as they try to find the middle-ground, but I digress.

It is absolutely no secret (except to this blog because I haven’t done a post about Warcraft since 2019 apparently) that I haven’t vibed with Shadowlands. But why is that? Let’s take points one by one.

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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.