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.

2021 Goals

Hoooooo boy, here we go again. New year, new goals, though a lot of them are going to be veeery similar. Still, I find announcing them makes me more focused and less likely to abandon them. 

  1. Write 1 short story per month – Writing short fiction is not something that I do often, nor is it something that I’m good at. It is, however, a good way to improve your writing and a much quicker way to get samples of your writing critiqued, which is an invaluable thing for developing as a writer. As such, I want to try and write at least one piece of short fiction per month, be it as a random prompt or for specific submissions. 
  2. Get something beta ready – I don’t want to commit to a specific project this year as things happen and the way I feel at the start of the year certainly won’t be indicative of what I want to be working on later on. I want to commit to getting another draft beta ready, but this time around I’m not going to commit to a specific one. 
  3. Read new books – Another in the essential tasks for honing my writing skills. I’ve fallen into the bad habit of constantly rereading old favourites which, while safe and enjoyable, aren’t helping me broaden my skills. I’ve a set number of books I’ve never read before that I’d like to achieve before the end of the year.
  4. Keep Through the Black on submission – Fairly self explanatory. I don’t want to let myself get disheartened or lazy. This is something I need to keep on top of and plan to, no matter how harrowing it gets. 
  5. Keep up blog posts – I know if I don’t keep some accountability for this one is going to go straight out of the window. In 2020 I got more blog views than I have done any other year! Moving into 2021 I want to keep up that momentum and do more interesting posts about writing and resources (for example, my Trello post that got a lot more engagement than I’m used to!) and hopefully some more stories as well. 

Moving on to some non writing related ones:

  1. Draw 1 piece of art per month – This was a success last year and not only made me keep up with my practice and facilitated a real, visible improvement in my art but it gave me an awesome collage at the end, and I’m a sucker for a collage. It also gave me the confidence (lol kinda) to finally bring to the canvas some of my characters(!) which has been one of the main reasons I wanted to draw anyway. Bringing up those skills to give my favourites faces is definitely an end game goal and one I intend to keep working towards this year! 
  2. Weight goal – Yup, the usual one. It’s a lower priority one but one I want to deal with to keep on top of dysphoria and stuff. 
  3. Voice Therapy – Same as above, although this one has been SEVERELY neglected since I moved away from my local GIC. Time to get back on it properly. If I get the confidence to talk over Discord again while I’m gaming before the end of the year, I’ll consider this one a success. 

So there you have it, my goals for 2021! I’ve tried to keep it easier this year so no big, specific goal really, just little things I can chip away at throughout the year. I have a few manuscripts that are close to beta ready and one that isn’t but I’m completely obsessed with currently, so with any luck and a bit of work at least ONE of those will be ready by the end of the year. 

I’m anticipating a pretty rough start to 2021 thanks to the UK handling Coronavirus like a toddler handling Gran’s favourite porcelain and some essential staff at my place of work moving on to better pastures, but after last year I’m moving on with a new attitude. None of this new year “fresh start, clean slate, all gets better from here” nonsense. Going through 2020 was like going through the washing machine, and I’m fully expecting 2021 to be the spin cycle. I’m keeping my head down, eyes on what’s in front of me, and am just going to do what I can.

Happy New Year everyone!

2020 Goals – The Review

Many, many, many people are saying this about 2020 but I have to add my voice asking “what in the everliving fuck was that?!?” Whatever, let’s grab a big glass of vermouth and have a look at how I did on this year’s goals.

1.) Start doing blog posts again – For this one I managed to post 73% of the planned blog posts for the year (one every two weeks) which, in this year of 2020, I’m counting as a win. As Meatloaf would say, 19 outta 26 ain’t bad.

2.) Finish TE1 synopsis (by 28 Feb) and keep on submission – Success! Not only did I finish the full query packet but it’s been on submission ever since and the rejections are piling up! Yaay! I mean, every one of them is a gut punch but I’m treating this like my training montage right before the film KICKS OFF. That’s how you do it, right?

3.) Get Fishperer beta ready – I made a lot of progress on this at the start of the year and then in the second half it kinda went out of the window. Still, it’s a lot closer to being done than it was so that’s something I suppose. 

4.) Complete a Goodreads challenge – Yeah, this one never recovered. It’s not been a good year for reading new books at all. This year was far too much about the comfort zone. Oh well. There’s always next year?

5.) Do enough art to do the end of year meme – I DID IT! I made enough art and made the meme. Despite September to November being very phoned in, I’m still very proud of myself for it. The best thing about this goal is that I can look at my January art and my December art and actually see a difference. I’m hoping to make this one a tradition because I finally feel like I’m making some progress with my drawing skills and I don’t want to lose it again.

6.) Hit weight goal – Zero shits given about this one. It’s 2020. I’m just along for the ride. This one will probably be back next year as I want to achieve it for my dysphoria but if we’re up for 2020 2.0 then I’m not going to stress about it too much.

If we include the very shaky “win” for goal number one, that’s a 50% hit rate. Sod it, it’s 2020. I think I did good. Happy New Year everyone, let’s raise our glasses, cross our fingers, and enter the brace position because like it or not, here comes 2021!

NaNoWriMo 2020 Post Mortem

So, how did NaNoWriMo 2020 go? Well, I’ll have you know that I actually wrote a (very brief) post to put up midway through the month but I was so caught up in writing my novel that I completely forgot, despite the post already being written. This year I had my best NaNoWriMo ever. I wrote over seventy thousand words and, for the first time since the very first time I did NaNoWriMo eight years ago, I completely finished the rough draft of my story. This has been the fastest ever that I’ve made it to 50k (made it on the 15th!) and all it took was stubbornness, a story I’ve completely fallen in love with, and bribery by food. 

At the end of October I made the decision not to continue on with the story I was planning on and instead switch to a different project. Given the year 2020 has been, I decided to switch to a project that was going to be pure fun. Full of tropes and nonsense, just something that I was writing purely for myself with no intention of ever showing anyone. This was how I started writing and how Twyned Earth came about all those years ago. I completely let go and just wrote whatever I wanted. I created the project in my “Fluff Writing” folder, where I keep my stories which I have no intention of ever doing anything important with. It was freeing. The project is still living there and yet I already have a bunch of revision plans for it and ideas I want to squeeze in. I’ve even done art of the main character (and have plans to draw his love interest next)! 

I think that at some point, after I had the realisation that I would like to become a published writer, I became too worried about avoiding things that were too tropey or self indulgent. If we can’t be self indulgent in our writing then what is even the point? I need to re-embrace the sacred art of not giving a crap what other people think when I’m drafting again because after just 30 days I have ended up with a whole new, finished draft and let me tell you – I’m in love.

NaNoWriMo 2020

Like so many other people, my year started out on a strong note, creativity wise. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that had gone more or less out of the window by the time May rolled around and the rest of the year has been like wading through treacle. Looking back at my original goals for the year, a lot of them are going to go unmet. Given everything that’s happened, I’m trying not to let that bother me too much but it’s not always easy. It’s been A Year.

No matter how bad things get though, there always seems to be one event that kicks my brain back into overdrive. That’s right, it’s the 1st of November and NaNoWriMo is back, baby! Given the nature of the year, rather than carrying on with a project that I’d already started as I had planned, I’m instead going to be starting on something new. Why, you ask?

This year has been hard and, while Monarch Necrotic is a story very dear to my heart, writing something that has a character severely suffering from the mental illnesses I share with him might have been a bit heavy. I want to have fun this month and pour out words with gay abandon, rather than dissecting myself on a deep emotional level. I want to write something invigorating, not exhausting. So that’s what I’m going to be doing. 

Trashy? Possibly. Tropey? Definitely. Banter? 98% of my word count this November. And I can’t wait!

Be kind to yourself, even if that just means writing disaster monster friends causing chaos in some rich dude’s mansion.

Personal Rejection

Writing can be a hard thing for a number of reasons. Even after we’ve got past all the actual writing and editing and finally have a finished product, it doesn’t get easier. There’s all the query material, the finding of agents, and of course the waiting. Damn, the waiting. 

The places and people that give you a time frame for you to wait are few and far between. The number of responses you receive are only marginally higher than that. Normally, it’s just a form rejection, which is understandable given the load of stories agents have to go through. It might be easy to think that even adding a brief line should only take a moment but that’s an easy rabbit hole to fall down, and keeping on top of things is too important. As someone who’s worked in many fast paced work environments, it’s something I sympathise with. 

That doesn’t mean getting a form rejection is easy. It’s never easy and it’s never fun, though I certainly appreciate not being left hanging. 

The real jewel in the sea of sadness that is publishing rejections is the personalised rejection. So rare it may as well be mythical and carrying the same heavy weight of all the usual rejections, but with a glimmer of hope scattered across its surface. A kind word about the rejected piece is all it takes to turn the discouragement of the rejection into something far more. A clue as to why a piece was rejected can transform the hollow feeling of “I’m just not good enough” into something constructive and tangible that can be worked on. That one simple act can turn the whole thing around. 

Being rejected always sucks, but acceptance letters aren’t the only ones that can bring a little happiness and motivation. 

Creative Break(through)

Given the current circumstances, I’m actually impressed that it took me this long through the year to hit my wobble (though it was just terribly timed right after my “look at how well I’m doing! post. Talk about a jinx). With COVID, a huge amount of work stress, and the death of a very old and beloved pet as just a selection of the things going through my head for the past few weeks, my creative ventures and presence online disappeared for a bit. I’ve had a bit of a recharge though and gotten through it, and hopefully I’m back on track for the rest of the year. 

Creatively, I’ve had a lot going on in my head but a complete inability to put it down on paper. This has been for both writing and art. There were a lot of things I wanted to do, new shiny ideas I wanted to explore as a way to deal with the current state of life. All these attempts have failed though, and I had a reminder over the weekend to keep things simple. Often, simple is the best way. 

I had been struggling with the thought of drawing anything, and when I tried it just wouldn’t work. Eventually, after a month of failing and being frustrated, I decided to go back to my very first passion as an artist. Wildlife. 

Drawing characters and concepts is 99% of what I want to do as an artist. I want to get all these fantastical creatures and people out of my head and into the world in a viewable way. For some reason though, the thing that comes most naturally to me is drawing animals. So I finally threw my hands up in the air and decided to do a quick sketch of an otter. It was the best decision I could have made, and I felt the walls of art block come tumbling down. 

For writing as well, I was convinced that I needed to pour out some personal passion piece to get myself through this time, but it simply wasn’t working. It would have been nice, sure, but the idea that this would help me was actually holding me back. I know now that what I should have done was simply look back and a tried and tested story I still need to work on and keep chugging away at that. 

So that’s what I’m going to do. 

You know, along with trying not to disappear for a month and a half for at least another year.

The 2020 Halfway Post

It’s July, which means it is time to review how I’m doing on this year’s goals! As I’m certain most of you are also feeling, this has been a very odd year. This post feel about 9 months overdue and also about 3 months early at the same time. Seriously, 2020 really needs to get its act together. Anyway, on with the post!

*

1.) Start doing blog posts again – This has gone well so far! Two posts were one day late but aside from that, we’ve been rocking and rolling. I’ve managed to keep this up through some pretty rough patches so hopefully the momentum sticks and we keep going for the second half of the year.

2.) Finish TE1 synopsis (by 28 Feb) and keep on submission – You may have guessed from my last post that the time lines were derailed on this one but good news prevails in the end. I hit the original deadline of 28th of February but then… Just didn’t send it out. Working with my therapist has been really helpful though, progress has happened and as of June 15th Through the Black has officially been on submission! I also have packets ready for the next couple of agents for when this one comes back. There’s a plan in place to keep up this momentum so there’s no stopping me now! 

3.) Get Fishperer beta ready – This is on track! Been working away at it and all of the comments have now been addressed. It’s scene by scene time now, then it’s onto the big print out and check, then bish bash bosh we’ve got a beta ready MS! Just need to keep at it. Handy that a certain Camp NaNo event just started, amirite? 

4.) Complete a Goodreads challenge – This is one that has started terribly but I’m hoping to pick up a little in the second half of the year. I don’t know with so much time wasted if I’ll hit the endgame goal but I’m determined to make a decent dent in it regardless.

5.) Do enough art to do the end of year meme – Some months have been better than others, and at least two have literally only had ONE piece of art, but that still fits the criteria so I’m counting that as a win. What I do count as a big win is that my folder for 2020 art now has more in it than any other year since… well, since before university. And we’ve still got six months to go! Let me tell you, that’s a great feeling and I can really see some improvements with my stuff. I missed art so much. It feels great to have it back in my life. 

6.) Hit weight goal – Not great progress on this one but with everything else that’s been going on in my life and the world in general, I’m not too surprised or worried about that. 

*

Overall and considering the on goings both personally and not, I’m pretty pleased to have gotten to where I am. Some things are going slower than I would like but everything is moving forward. I hope you’re all out there smashing your 2020 goals, but if you aren’t I’m pretty sure there was never a better excuse.

Take care of yourselves and do what you can. Personal progress is nice but in the face of a global pandemic, looking after yourself and those close to you is the number one goal.

Eyes Closed, Head First, Can’t Lose

There was no post yesterday because I intended to make a far longer and more detailed post about my last two weeks. I’ve been flip flopping back and forth but I don’t think the time is right or that I’m ready. Needless to say, I’m going through Some Stuff and have been working with my therapist on some things that are getting twitch-inducingly close to the root of my issues. After several years of trying to get help, to finally be on the right track is great – and way scarier than I was ready for. 

Why am I waffling about this on a writing blog? 

Mental health affects everything – especially the stuff we don’t want it to. People who have followed this blog for a long time will be sick and tired of hearing about me being “ready to query” or “so close to querying” or “just this left to do!” This has literally been going on for years. Years! It probably came as very little surprise to everyone after the third or fourth time when it was revealed that the Great Querying Event never actually happened. The most frustrating thing for me though was why did it never happen? I was ready. Have been ready. For a long time. It turns out though that there was a very specific mental health thing holding me back.

That thing has been identified. My therapist wants to try treating it with exposure therapy and asked what we should start with. Sod it, I thought, this has been going on too long. Querying has always been such a huge mental blockage for me, especially for this novel. Was choosing something this big a terrible place to start my healing journey? Or did I really need to do something drastic to kick start this process? Honestly, it feels like I did the right thing, even if it’s been a very, very difficult process. 

I did it. I sent the query. I have a list of next-up agents for when the rejects come back. Sometimes, you just need to take your life advice from the wise Jake Perulta*.

Jake from Brooklyn 99 with some life advice.

*I would not recommend this as a regular occurrence. 

Testing the Snowflake Method – The Results

A long, long time ago, I started trying out the Snowflake Method of planning a novel. The original post is here and considering that this was to be a very small side project, it’s somewhat escalated (see Monarch Necrotic). The rough draft of this novel isn’t completely finished yet, but has come far enough that I can make some assessments on how this method of plotting worked for me.

What didn’t work

Let’s start with the bad side of things. Despite all the meticulous planning (in fact, some issues are because of the planning), the novel is going to need a significant amount of restructuring. Due to the nature of the planning, the novel has ended up with a lot of extraneous scenes, many of which are going to end up being cut, with only small portions being shifted into other places. It’s going to take a lot of work to turn this into a streamlined, well paced story. 

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons for me originally trying out the Snowflake Method was to try and minimise the huge issues I generally have with rough drafts and reduce the extent to which I need to rewrite things. This has, unfortunately, not worked. However, like with anything, using this method is going to be something that requires practice. Now that I’m aware of what issues it creates, I can be more aware of how to avoid them during planning and how I ended up making these mistakes in the first place. I’ll be a lot more aware of not reducing each scene to a single concept, and condensing things a lot more efficiently in the future.

So why am I talking about using it again when it didn’t do what I wanted on this try? 

What did work

I had some issues with the method, or rather how I implemented it, but with hindsight I can see where I went wrong and how I could tackle a different project. Even without considering that though, I wouldn’t abandon this method because it came with some fantastic benefits. 

World building is normally something I normally do on the macro scale before starting, then do the small details on the fly as I go. Most of my world building generally occurs after the rough draft, when I know what I need to know and can add in the details later. While this works for me, it contributes to the extensive rewriting I need to do on the second pass. With this method, I knew which areas of world building would need to exist for this particular story, meaning that I could work on those details before starting and meaning that I didn’t need to tweak or twist anything later in the story that didn’t fit. I could fit story points around things that had already been worked into my world. It also meant that I could add more detail to these things on the first pass, creating a deeper and richer world.

The other great benefit I found was with characters. My usual approach to plotting involved just that. Plot and story. Characters were generally bare bones concepts that were allowed to develop as I wrote the original draft and, as with the world building, that tended to lead to a lot of rewriting. Character interactions all have to be altered and more often than not what made sense for a hollow placeholder character to do when I started made no sense for the fully fleshed out actually-having-a-personality version of the character that emerged at the end of the story to do. 

The meticulous levels to the character planning in the Snowflake Method meant that all of my characters had really strong voices and personalities before I ever started writing the stories. The characters can play a far more prominent role in shaping the story, rather than things having to be re-jigged later. It also made it very clear when a character was just there “because” or solely to hold up someone else. I could see these issues and ensure that each and every character there had real drives and motives. It allowed the very story to have more soul to it right from the start, rather than have it crowbarred in later with great effort and anguish. These benefits alone have made me very pleased I tried this out. 

Will I use it again?

While I’m going to try and refrain from starting any new novel projects until I’ve got some of the many I’m still working on in to something resembling finished, I’ll definitely be trying this again in the future. Now that I know where I’ve gone wrong on the plotting front, I think I know how I can eliminate some of the major issues I’ve had in the past. Considering the amount of rewriting I usually have to do anyway, I think the payoffs here have been well outweighed by the benefits. Though it is amusing that it gave me the opposite of my usual problem (having to flesh out an overly short draft vs a draft full of unnecessary bloat). Having relatively recently made my first attempt at truly pantsing a story (writing with zero prior plotting), I can definitely say that this style works better for me. 

Plus, and perhaps most importantly, doing it was just fun.