I’ve Been A Bit Quiet.

I’ve been very quiet online for the past week and that’s because of the continuation of my massive life upheaval. As some of you know, three weeks ago I moved from my little town in the Highlands south to the big city. As of Monday, I also started my new job. As such I haven’t had much time for anything other than working, commuting and collapsing into an exhausted heap when getting home. New jobs are like that. Loads of information, meeting dozens of new people, new places and being so far out of a carefully crafted comfort zone. On the plus side, I’ve watched a lot of Voyager.

On the downside I’ve missed a whole week of writing from tiredness alone. Good job I used my time off well. Still, I have survived the first week which is usually the worst. I’m hoping that next week I’ll handle things better and be able to actually get some writing done.

It’s a bit of a downer having to neglect the thing that I love because of the day job but in the end it will be worth it. I’m already loving living here and the new experiences and people this opportunity is opening me up to will vastly increase the knowledge I can draw upon for writing with. People and experience are research tools that can’t really be replaced. Plus, I’ve already got a couple of boxes of tea sitting ready for cracking on next week.

Also, since this post is apparently more about my boring life than actual writing, I got a place in a Pokémon gym yesterday, so that was nice. I was knocked out again in the five minutes it took me to get home but I shall treasure that screenshot forever.

Are any other writers out there facing massive upheaval? How do you handle the changes and balance your writing?

World Building Notes, or Lack Thereof

World building is a hugely important part of any story. Whether you’re writing in the real world or creating somewhere completely new and fantastical, a writer needs to be able to paint a picture of the setting they are writing in. The places need to be deep, vibrant and—perhaps most importantly—consistent. Even subtle discrepancies can pull a reader out of the moment and detract their enjoyment from the world you have created and the story you are weaving.

When it comes to creating a new world some people like to create whole worlds and detail things that may not ever make it into a story, where as others create the world as they go, only constructing the pieces of the world necessary for the story being told. Personally, I use a combination of both. Certain parts of my worlds are fleshed out beyond all necessary detail where as other entire continents are just a single word scrawled in a notebook somewhere. Which brings me to my point.

Notes are important for continuity. Especially when writing several different stories all in the same world, as I plan to do with Twyned Earth. Up until I started packing to move, I thought I’d been pretty good at making my notes on the Twyned Earth. I. Was. Wrong.

I had notes. Quite a lot of them. All scattered throughout a multitude of different notebooks and in different states of completion. I had notes on elves on no less than seven books, in photographs of my whiteboard that had been mixed in with cat pictures and in piles of loose leaves of paper, all of varying sizes. There was unique information about them on pages that were scene plans. And that was just elves. The system was… less than ideal. I decided that this would be a good time to start collating everything properly and bringing all my information together. It was while doing this that I made an even more worrying discovery.

A lot of my meticulous world building had never even been written down. Ever.

That’s right. I’d apparently been trusting my years of crafting this world with nothing but my brain. The same brain that makes me walk into a room three times before I remember why I went in there. Needless to say, I was a little spooked. All those ideas that I’d thought about on those long, slow days at work, those great little details I’d come up with in the shower, all those things that I was certain that I’d written down somewhere, I hadn’t. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite so inspirational as discovering you’re an absolute muppet.

Operation: Write Fricken Everything Down And Put It In This One Folder commenced immediately and shall be continuing for quite some time. My writing time now includes updating these notes as I go. So I guess this post is a bit of a reminder or a suggestion. Maybe go and check on your important notes. Some of them might not be as great as you remember them.

For the sake of continuity I’m going to be forcing myself to keep this folder up to date. I love fancy notebooks but it’s time I get all of this information organised and together. Also written down. At lot of the things about Twyned Earth I just know. Let’s face it, I probably spend more time thinking about TE than just E. However, my memory is far from perfect. Far, far from it. Which is why I seriously need a complete set of hard copy notes of my world building. From now on, nothing will be going into an MS without it going into the folder at the same time – or preferably before.

Have you experienced a similar scare? How do you organise your writing notes?

Resolutions 2016 – Half Time

We are already—terrifyingly—halfway through the year so here is a half time update on those resolutions I made back in January. Now, I commonly use the phrase “going to sort my life out” when I’m exiting a conversation, normally to mean I’ve got something to get ready for or something important I’ve been putting off that I finally am going to do. This year so far has been a pretty special one for me personally as it is the year where I have finally, actually, sorted my life out. Big, big things are happening in the next few weeks, as you will read below.

 

1.) Diversify my reading – As I’m a slow reader, I set my goal for this at ten books (half of my Goodreads challenge). I have currently read 6 out of 10 of those and am finding some amazing books I might not have found if I hadn’t specifically gone looking for them. If anyone has any recommendations for great diverse sci-fi, horror or fantasy novels I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

Diverse Books

If a book has the phrase “giant penguin apocalypse” in the blurb I’m probably gonna read it.

 

2.) Start leaving short reviews on Goodreads again – I set my goal for this at one a month and I’ve managed to keep that up, which means I’m currently 50% of my way to completing this goal. My reviews are still short and fairly pants but I’m writing them and making myself look more critically at a book than I normally would do. This in turn is helping me think about my own writing, even seeing the same issues in my own writing when I really sit and think about it.

 

3.) Submit more short stories – Submitting stuff is scary and between working on novels and a pretty hectic life at present, I set my goal for this at submitting three times. This is to allow for the time it actually takes to write a story and the time it takes to hear back. So far I’ve submitted one but I have another that’s almost ready to be submitted and the first is due back on the 5th of July at the latest, which will be getting sent elsewhere if rejected.

 

4.) Finish next draft of Through the Black I am currently 27.8 % through this draft! That number might not look great but I’m actually really on track with Through the Black work. I’m 81.6 % through the first sweep which is by far the longest part of my revision process. Thanks to an influx of time (see below) I’m a couple of chapters ahead of where I was expecting to be and have even moved up deadlines so that step two and three have more time for perfecting!

 

5.) Lose more weight – BAM! Mission accomplished. I have hit the number that I was after. The new goal here is to still be at that number or below come the end of the year. Maintenance is tough so I’m going to be working hard to make sure I don’t slip.

 

6.) Get a tattoo – The same tattoo I’ve wanted ever since I first saw Dragonheart when I was seven. Yes, that was 20 years ago and I have been putting it off and off and off. Observe below! Tah daaaaah!

Tattoo

Not Draco but a dragon all my own.

 

7.) Move in with partner – Now this is where things get really exciting (and terrifying). The 17th of June was my last day at my previous job. That’s right – I’ve finally found work down south. Less than a week from today, I am moving. The next couple of months are going to be turbulent as I juggle with a new home, a new city and a new job. It’s going to be scary and stressful but I welcome it with open arms because finally—finally—I will be living with my partner.

 

How is your year and resolutions going? Tell me all about it below!

Boat Trip

Last weekend I was away on a fun excursion on a wildlife spotting boat trip! While we never saw any of the big mammals that like hanging about in the area (bottlenose dolphins, poor porpoises that get battered by the dolphins and a few whales), we did see one confused looking seal that I didn’t get a photo of and lots and lots of birds.

Below are a selection of the photos I took! For your inspiration and procrastination needs.

 

1.) Birds. Here was a big collection of feeding birds taken right at the start of the trip, before I remembered how to zoom my camera. We came over as apparently quite often this can signal a lot of fish under the surface, which attract the bigger mammals.

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2.) Still couldn’t find the zoom but we COULD find some cormorants and a great black backed gull.

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3.) The zoom! Here we have a sea cave tucked into the coast.

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4.) This area has a lot of watch posts left over from the war. Here’s one hidden up in the cliffs.

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5.) This guillemot is clearly hiding treasure in this cave. I just know it.

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6.) Some more caves over on the other side of the firth. They thought they were being stealthy under all that gorse but we found them. It was here that we stopped in the sun for juice and biscuits. Delightful!

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7.) A view of two more watch posts in the cliffs.

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8.) Some lovely Highland coastline.

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9.) An old decommissioned oil rig, which was apparently pretty revolutionary in its day. It was close by here that we stopped next to the marker for the resting place of the crew of the HMS Natal and remembered the tragedy. Moods were lifted by the appearance of a curious seal.

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10.) Back at the harbour, some wildlife! There were hundreds of these little guys all over the shop.

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11.) And finally, a jellyfish. I had to take a photo of it because I’m so used to seeing them washed up instead of happily splotting through the water.

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Anyone been on any fun or inspirational trips recently?

Beta Readers and the Next Project

You may recall that this year I’ve been working on my horror story The Deconstructor as my primary side project to help avoid burnout as I continue to chip away at Through the Black. Well, at the end of last week I got the first draft finished! Woo hoo! So what now for it?

I was originally planning on it being put on the shelf and sitting, since I didn’t think there would be much interest for it yet and I’m focusing on other things. However already I’ve got a couple of volunteers who want to beta it – a promising start. So I’ve decided to see if anyone else is interested and then send it out with questions in a few days’ time. This will be useful in the long run as when it’s time to look at it again I can start right away.

As you can see from my projects page, I’ve got a good few open and a bunch of them that I’m excited to work on right now. Continuing with my theme of trying to tie up loose projects—let’s face it, I’ve got more than enough!—I’ve decided to work on The Fishperer. I’ve got a full rough draft which puts it next in line as most complete. I’ve let my list of open projects pile up way too high and for my own peace of mind I really want to work on at least getting them to beta ready stages. That way they feel less of a loose end, ready to be sent out when the time feels right.

The Fishperer doesn’t have its own page yet but I will be changing that before the next post is due out in two weeks, so you’ll be able to read all about it! It’s a project I’m very excited about, set in an ocean world where it’s not uncommon for people to be able to talk to fish and an aging, hydromancing bounty hunter is chasing the score of a lifetime. And it comes with a nice change in tone from working on The Deconstructor, easily the darkest and most serious long work I’ve written. It does however also require an obscene amount of rewriting. The joy of NaNoWriMo drafts! At least it’ll keep be busy?

If anyone else is interested in being a beta reader for The Deconstructor, either send me a message on Twitter or leave something below in the next couple of days and I’ll get back to you!

Programs For Editing Part 3: Paper

It’s time for the third and final part of my editing theme. The last program in my editing essentials isn’t a program at all – it’s the good old pen and paper. Some things really are just irreplaceable. So why, despite all this fancy technology and stuff, do I still rely so heavily on the tools it all started with?

The honest answer to that one is I really don’t know. There are some awesome benefits that I find when I give up on technology and just start writing but I could not tell you empirically why certain things are just easier with a pen and paper. There’s just something about it that gets the brain in gear, at least for me. So, what specifically do I get out of working on a hard copy?

My first comment would be that it’s pretty therapeutic. The feel of the paper under your hand, the glide of the pen, it’s all very soothing. More often than not I find it much easier to focus when I’m working like this rather than on a screen. Plus, I defy you to find a laptop that looks as good as these.

 

Notebooks

Be still my beating bank account.

 

When you’re reading along a sheet of paper, it’s super easy to quickly scrawl in a note or fix a typo and then keep going without losing too much of the flow of things. My poor, slow brain can keep up with scribbling down a note far better than when navigating a computer to fix an error. It keeps me in the moment and that allows me to work faster while still keeping sharp.

 

Commas

I still don’t know.

 

Another benefit I find is that I tend to read it more like an actual story that I’ve picked up off the shelf and that helps my brain pick out bits that aren’t right. Think about reading a novel – typos and errors are often glaring and obvious, and that’s partly due to not having read the piece a hundred times before. You become blind to these things and I have found that a printed out version can help to minimise this effect. As you can see from the below, I’ve a lot of issues – issues that I’ve completely glossed over while looking on a screen. Trust me, this is not the first time I’ve gone over this section. And still all the red.

 

Paper Edits

This isn’t even its final form.

 

So I’ve covered the print outs but often way before I even get to that stage there is already a notebook full of editing plans. Plans are good. Having them all in a handy notebook makes it easy to flick through them while you’re at your computer going through things. And as I mentioned before, there’s just something nice and also inspiring about them. They’re great to take about the place for when you’re thinking about your novel when you’re supposed to be interacting with the real world. Pfft. Reality.

 

Notebook Edits

Fear my amazing Paint skills.

 

So that’s me and my editing tools! I hope you all enjoyed hearing about them and I’d love to hear your methods in the comments below!

Programs For Editing Part 2: Word

Carrying on from last time, today I’m going to be talking about the features I like to use in Word while editing and revising my writing. Today I’m talking about Word 2013, just in case you notice any differences with features or how to access them.

Long before all the fancy stuff I’ve used like Scrivener and Storify, there was Word. Ever since I had my first computer it’s been an essential for me. No matter what new fancy programs come out I’m fairly certain that Word will never be replaced. If I’m writing anything that isn’t a novel, it gets written in Word. Short stories, blog posts, you name it. In my experience it has the most useful and comprehensive spelling and grammar check, has a good layout and most of the features feel fairly intuitive. Probably worth noting that I said none of these things while writing my dissertation but nowadays I don’t need to worry about tables, graphics or citations so the rose tinted glasses have gone back on.

As with Scrivener, discussed last time, Word has the feature of comment bubbles and again as mentioned last time I make liberal and possibly excessive use of them. They serve the same purpose and benefits as discusses last week. Big thumbs up.

Now, UNLIKE Scrivener Word also has the track changes feature which I love for so many reasons. Track changes does exactly what it says on the tin – it shows you in a different colour what has been added, deleted, moved, and so on. This is especially good for if you’ve sent it out to someone and they have suggested certain tweaks and changes, you can see exactly what’s being proposed. It’s awesome. It can be great for identifying problem zones and for making sure what you’re changing is actually an improvement before doing any final changes.

Track Changes

On most of my short stories, pretty much all of this is normally red.

Not only does Word let you see changes as you look through the document, it can also collate all your changes and comments into a revision panel at the side (or the bottom, if you prefer) of your screen. This can be used to quickly jump from one change to the next if you’re reviewing your alterations. I also like to use it to judge how ready a story is for viewing by others. Lots of changes and I know it needs at least another pass. Just a handful and it’s probably ready for a second opinion.

Reviewing Panel

This is just the first paragraph. Editing is important.

Possibly my absolute favourite feature of Word for editing is the ability to combine documents. Send a short story out to multiple people and want all of their notes and adjustments in one place? No problem for Word. This was a feature I had no idea existed until last year and I have no idea how I stumbled across it but my goodness I’m glad I did. And what’s best is that it’s so easy to do. Sent out your document and got it back from people? Great! First step, open any document. Just any one. Then go to Review –> Compare –> Combine. Into “Original Document” I select one of the commented upon files, and into “Revised Document” I put another. This first time I tell it to create in a new document and hit the go button. BANG! All the comments are in this new document. If you have more to add, just repeat but make sure the new document you’ve made goes into “Original Document” and that you change the Show Changes option to “Original Document.” You don’t have to but it saves you ending up with lots of docs to delete after. This is just brilliant because it means you’re just working from a single document and all of your changes and feedback are right there. It makes things much easier to keep track of and decreases the number of times you have to go back over the same bits.

Combining

This is the combining screen. Very simple, just browse for required files.

In the new document, at first you get a scary scene with a window for each document. You just need to close those until only the combined document is left and you should be left with a standard looking page with all your comments there for you. Quick, easy and super handy.

Are the any features I haven’t mentioned that you consider essential? Have you forsaken Word all together for another program?