How to Write Without Writing 1 – Sketching!

Following my post on Seasonal Writing, there was a bit of discussion prompted by the fantastic Madicienne on Twitter on things that could be done in this time that aren’t as taxing as actual writing but still help with the creativity and the ideas. And that gave me the idea for a short blog series about how to work on your stories when you’re not feeling like actually writing anything, inspired by the fun things I do to play around with story ideas when I’m either not in the right head space to write, or just straight up procrastinating. 

This week I’m going to start with sketching! I’m not talking about working hard at producing concept art for your stories. I’m talking about rough and scrappy doodles. It’s a great way to think about characters, plan how things should look, or even just a way to keep your attention on an element in your story while doing something else. Headshots help give a feel for a character’s look or personality. Another type of sketch page I like to play around with is a character page, with expressions or items that are relevant to them. I find that doodling these things out can help me round out a character or even work out ways to incorporate additional character aspects into the plot. 

I’ve had a lot of good story ideas while sitting with my sketchbook. So, while I haven’t actually gotten any words on the page, I have given myself a bigger arsenal to fire at said page when I sit down again next. Plus, it’s just good fun, isn’t it?

Seasonal Writing

Have you ever thought about when your best time to write is? No, I’m not talking about morning or evening – I’m talking about which months, seasons, time of year. I hadn’t, and it took me a very long time to realise how much trouble I was causing myself because of it. The seasons have a profound effect on peoples’ headspaces. It only makes sense that it would effect their productivity too.

Every year, roughly the same time, I become almost incapable of being creative or keeping up with blog posts, and I’ll often disappear from social media too. Gone, without a trace. Beloved projects left abandoned and languishing, despite my love for them or the craft never faltering. So what gives? Until last year, I had never really put together that this always seems to happen in the summer. As soon as I did, everything about it suddenly made a lot more sense.

If you follow my account over on Twitter then you will have likely heard me whining about the heat during the summer months. Even when I was back home in the Highlands I would struggle with summer. I really don’t do well in the warm and am prone to heat stroke on the bad days and just general fatigue and headaches on the good days. As such, it makes sense that my productivity in terms of hobbies would plummet. As much as I love writing, it is unfortunately not my day job and I have a 9-5 I need to keep up with regardless of the weather. Using up all my energy for that leaves me with nothing left when I’m done during the summer months. I’m honestly shocked it took me so long to see the connection.

It brings me back to a point that I’m sure I’ve made before and will probably make again. One of the most common pieces of writing advice is “write every day.” I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment but not the phrasing. I believe that it’s perfectly fine to take breaks and often it’s necessary as well. So many times I’ve burned myself out over the summer by pushing too hard after expending all my energy at the day job and I’m sure others do it too, whether they are fellow heat-haters like myself, suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, or any other slumps that occur internally or externally. Punishing ourselves for not keeping up with a set standard isn’t making us better writers, it’s just making the process harder.

So while it is my personal belief that writing often and consistently has made me a much better writer, I don’t think that writing every single day is essential. I also think it’s important to look at how you handle different times of the year and figure out which months are your downtime months and which ones you can push it. For me (excluding any big life things that might pop up), early spring and late autumn especially are where I shine. Figuring out when your best writing months are won’t only help you plan your work, but it’ll help you not beat yourself up when you need the break, help prevent burn out, and help make sure you’re ready when you get back into a good spot.

Do you know when your best time of year to write is?

The Halfway Mark 2021

Well. Halfway through the year already. My goodness.

This year has certainly been a strange one. I didn’t think there could be much more upheaval for me personally than Brexit drama and a global pandemic but life likes to keep things spicy. Who knew that going into lockdown would be a lot easier than coming out again? I mean I, as many introverts did, liked to joke about that a lot at the start but I truly wasn’t prepared for the emotional and mental toll it’s been taking. It turns out as well that there may be another issue contributing to that but I need to get to a doctor first before I’d feel comfortable talking about it (it’s nothing to worry about, just something that might explain a few a lot of things). It’s not been the easiest environment to focus on my writing goals.

So, in the middle of everything that has been going on, how have those 2021 goals been progressing?

  1. Write 1 short story per month – This has completely flopped. I managed two and then it all went wrong. Oh well. I tried! And I’ve not (totally) given up. The “per month” part might be dead and buried but I can still bash some out before the end of the year. There are a few old short stories that I’m planning on refurbishing and posting up here for your viewing pleasure and there are a few that I’ve got ideas for that I may eventually get around to scrawling somewhere. 
  2. Get something beta ready – Actually going well! No one would have expected at the start of the year (especially not me) that I’d stick working on one project for 8 months straight but here we are. Looks like The Halfway House just really speaks to me. I’m about three quarters through what is for me the slowest and least enjoyable part of editing, and then I’m on what normally feels like the downhill. I don’t want to jinx it but this one is currently ahead of schedule.
  3. Read new books – I’ve not kept up with my goal (and I’ve given up on hitting it) but I’ve managed to chalk up a few on this one. Hopefully without any big beta reading obligations for the rest of the year I might increase pace a little but I’m not holding my breath just yet.
  4. Keep Through the Black on submission – Technically yes. A few months I’ve left it a bit longer than was probably reasonable to hear back before sending it out again but I have kept up with sending it out, even if I’ve dragged my feet for a couple of weeks here and there. I’m still classing this one as on track, considering, well… everything.
  5. Keep up blog posts – Whoops. You haven’t heard from me since mid-May, so I think we know how this one’s going. That aside, I haven’t been doing too bad for me and I’ve got a backlog of ideas I just need to get on paper. Then hopefully I can post weekly for a while to catch up. So shaky, but I have hope on this one.

Moving on to some non writing related ones:

  1. Draw 1 piece of art per month – Failed this one too. Currently at four months out of six. However, some of the pieces I’ve made I’m really proud of and I can see a marked improvement on where my art was last year. A fail on paper but not one I’m too broken up about. Again, I’m hoping to ramp this one up again once things become a little more normal again. Just…  just don’t watch the news, okay?
  2. Weight goal – It’s gone in the right direction? That counts. Not enough yet to help with dysphoria but I’m taking that as a win for where we are in the year.
  3. Voice Therapy – I started it, just need to get consistent and then get the courage. I was even relatively consistent for a bit but fell off the wagon. Still, it’s a starting place and I’m building up my skills again. Gonna mark this one down as on course. 

Not the most hopeful midpoint of a year I’ve ever had but I like to think that I’m doing pretty well, considering. It’s been a rough year and I hope you’re all doing well. We’ll get there together.

Character Profile: Rheaos

Portrait of Rheaos at Leigh

Story: The Halfway House

Protagonist or Antagonist?: Protagonist

Name: Rheaos at Leigh

Age: 30

County of Origin: The Abyssal Plains

Occupation: Student/Prisoner

Loyalties: Friends and family

Goal: Freedom

Morals: Kinda shaky lately

Kidnapped as a child and imprisoned in Dr Bracken’s twisted zoo, Rheaos has always had a very narrow view of the mundane world. However when his worst enemy is forced back to the mansion they both call home and hell, Rheaos is forced to face the fact that he knows a lot less than he thought. As the feud between them puts Rheaos’ long bound away powers within his reach, he finds himself for the very first time with the promise of freedom more than a cruel dream. 

The only problem is that with his powers comes his natural instincts, and he’s starting to wonder if the humans are right when they call him a monster…

NaNo Update and Next Steps

I never posted an update from NaNoWriMo! For no other reason than I was distracted and forgot, so apologies! 

NaNoWriMo went well and despite having a tough time through the month, I hit my goal of 25K words. Not only that, but I’ve hit some big milestones on this manuscript which is inching it ever closer to a completed draft. Now, this raises some important questions about said manuscript. 

Throughout the time I’ve been working on this project (The Halfway House), I’ve been keeping it in my Fluff Project folder and treating it exactly like any other personal project, written purely for my eyes only without any concern over what would and would not make it commercially acceptable. This has been fantastic for stoking my adoration of writing back to a roaring fire and my productivity has shot through the roof. Not only am I doing loads of work on the manuscript but I’m also producing accompanying art and other creative ventures. It’s all very fun and exciting.

However, if I keep up the pace that I’ve been going, I’m probably going to have a beta ready manuscript before the end of the year (which was always the goal but I wasn’t particularly confident I would be achieving it with this particular brand new story). I know one person who is very keen to read, but it has made me acutely aware that this story wasn’t written for going through the whole process. It was really supposed to end once I had written it to a point that I liked it. The idea of cleaning it up properly through multiple rounds of edits has certainly been playing through my head, as well as the idea that I may not want this story to exist only on my hard drive forever.

I think for this one, I’m going to wait until I’ve heard back from this one reader (though if I have additional friends interested in reading about my disaster demons, let me know!). That way, I’ll get an idea of whether or not there might be other people out there who this story appeals to. If there is, I might consider upgrading this one from a personal project. If not, then that’s fine too. I wrote this one for me. I refuse to let that go. I think it’s important for creators to create for themselves as much as they can, and I’ll stick by that opinion for as long as I create.

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2021 Update

Well, it’s been a while. My last post was about a bad mental health episode which unfortunately got way, way worse before it got better. But better it has gotten! Kinda. We’re getting there. Anyway, the short version is that I decided I would sign up to Camp NaNoWriMo this month to jump back on the horse, and it’s the halfway point now so let’s do an update. 

This month I set myself a goal of 25k worth of edits on The Halfway House, including finally finishing off those pesky additional scenes I wanted to add in. The good news is that I’ve finished off those additional scenes (though last night had a brainwave over a new one that I’d like to add…). The bad news is that I might have been ambitious signing up with even a 25k goal.

My poor graph didn’t know what hit it.

That said, yesterday I had an EPIC catch up session that left me incapable at performing basic puzzles in the new game I’m playing my way through, but it DID mean that I caught back up to where I should be – and then some. I did over 8k, which was double my total word count for the rest of the month. Phew! Goodness knows what those words actually look like but at least now I have a handful of scenes that aren’t just dialogue and punching.

No wonder my brain was mush.

Life is difficult and sometimes it’s not even possible to hang onto the few things that keep us going. Coming back to them always helps boost me up further though once I start getting my head above the water. I like NaNoWriMo because it gives me a goal to aim for and something to focus on that feels productive while being fun. Signing up might have been ambitious, but I have no regrets.

A Waffle About Anxiety and Pitches

Creativity is difficult to keep up with when you’re struggling with health issues. This past week my anxiety has left me a total wreck, which has been great. There’s nothing wrong, aside from the fact that I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and sometimes get flare ups where things are really bad. That’s why there was no post this last Sunday. I knew one was due but I just… couldn’t. Even thinking about it made me want to throw up. 

Despite this being a rough week, I’ve still managed to make some good progress on The Halfway House, the passion project that’s still living firmly in my “fluff” projects folder for things I write purely for myself, without casting the expectation that this will be for any other audience. This is remarkably therapeutic and I’d highly recommend other creatives who struggle with mental health issues to have at least one project like this. No such thing as too tropey or too much banter in this novel. I can write what I like and soothe my soul that way without thinking “oh, this is bad”. When I am the target audience, I can be as awful as I want. Working on a project like this is one good way to keep at least a tiny bit productive and keep the mind distracted.

There are some things that can’t be easily worked around though. For example, this Thursday brings around another nerve wracking episode of PitMad, the Twitter pitch contest where authors put out their pitches and hope for some engagement from agents. It might not be the smartest idea, but I’m still intending to participate even if I’m still feeling like this by then. I don’t intend to let this hinder me any more than it has to, even if the way I deal with it is by scheduling tweets days in advance for when I’m going to be very busy at work and with a plan to be chugging Kalms all day. 

I’m going to cross my fingers and hope something good comes of it but mostly on the day, I’m going to try and pretend it’s not happening. Sometimes that’s the best we can hope for.

A Dance in the Dark

She twirls beneath the silver moon,
An eve in which grim omens loom.

Ducking, weaving in ways that might,
Distract me from my mundane plight.

Her dance is feral, yet it’s not,
Her moves create a peaceful spot.

I can’t recall my painful path,
My tears are gone, as is my wrath.

The forest’s danger, a memory past,
Here I stay, my feet stuck fast.

A dark mind had brought me here,
A bleak and twisted wretched fear.

Those thoughts, those feelings, melt away,
And here, forever, I wish to stay.

As here I found her, sprinkled with blood,
Twigs and grass and spatters of mud.

A circlet around, the most subtle clink.
She turns to me. I cannot think.

Now on my neck lays chain of bone,
And from now on I am never alone.

A Non-Writing Related Ramble About Eddie Izzard

I’ve spent a lot of time umming and ahhing about whether or not I wanted to post this. I don’t often talk about The Big Things because I’m not good at it, plus there’s a couple of IRL friends following this account who I’ve never technically come out to (though there’s a really good chance they’ve guessed by now). Anyway, I’m talking about the fact that Eddie Izzard is really important to me. 

I’m someone who is really self conscious about my gender. I struggle to express myself in public and often even in private, and I’m extremely hesitant to label myself with the word that I know is me. I still have so many hang ups where I’m afraid of being derided or told I’m making things up or worst of all that I’m actually harming people with “real” gender identity issues. All this despite it being a doctor and gender specialist who gave me the word “genderfluid” in the first place. 

Eddie Izzard has been a household name in my family since before I was even born. My parents are huge fans of her comedy. There were never any comments made about her appearance (except my mum occasionally mentioning liking her tops). I even remember my dad praising her for the phrase: “They’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes. I bought them.” Eddie Izzard was just Eddie Izzard. There was nothing strange or off about her. She was just Eddie Izzard.

When Eddie came out as genderfluid it was huge for me. To see someone like myself, who would present in wildly different ways depending on the day, to use the same word as me was incredible. It was especially impactful as this was someone who was, and continues to be, a very popular and accepted name in my family’s house. It’s strange how a complete stranger’s gender can have such an impact on one’s own feelings of legitimacy, but it really can. It certainly can’t be said that my parents really understood what being genderfluid meant but they accepted it and that’s really what matters.

I’m incredibly lucky that my parents have always been so supportive (if often very confused) about my gender dysphoria and I’m eternally grateful for that. Though, because we’re a family that tends not to talk too much about deep things such as this and it was such a non-issue for them, I’m fairly sure my dad’s probably forgotten. That’s fine though because now I know that if I ever need any more lifts to the hospital or even a pronoun change, I’m not risking losing my family over it. It’s an incredibly privileged position to be in. In some ways, I really won the parent lottery. 

The point is, it is so amazing and so important to have someone I can look up to, who is out there using these labels and showing the world that we exist and we are real. Though it does make me just a little sad because I know that she probably never had anyone like that when she was young and confused like I was. 

Trans people being out and proud and presenting themselves how they want with the pronouns that are properly theirs does not hurt or take away from anyone. It just doesn’t. But it really does give the world a whole lot. 

Art Share – Rheaos and Blair

Art share time!

This NaNoWriMo I worked on a new passion project which you may or may not have had to suffer listening to me gush about over on Twitter for the whole month (and beyond). Well, thanks to that passion project I finally have some evidence that is suitable for this blog that I am actually working on art! 

Drawing characters from the games I play and the stories I create has been the major driving force for my desire to rekindle that skill. Now, after a year of hard work, I finally put stylus to tablet and drew out some characters from one of my novels!

I still have a long way to go and I can see many errors and areas for improvement but, considering where I started, I’m very pleased with my progress. Hopefully, this is just the start of lots of character art! Huzzah!

May I present, Rheaos and Blair of The Halfway House! (Clicking on the image makes it less blurry – curse you, WordPress!)

Yes, it is hard to shop for clothes when you’re 7ft3 and have a tail.

Rheaos is the rather tall, blue gentleman, our main character and one of the many monsters imprisoned by the heinous Dr Bracken. Stood next to him is Blair, son of Dr Bracken and lifetime enemy of Rheaos. In their own ways, they’re both looking for freedom and it’s only by working together that they’ll have even half a chance at it.