A Decade In Review

You don’t really think about how much happens in just one decade. It’s hard to think of it like so many posts out there have as one big chunk of time because there were so many different states and transitions. It can’t be thought of as one entire entity, at least for me.

At the start of the decade, I was still in university. I was struggling. I struggled all the way. I only got through it the way I get through most things. With bullheaded determination. I didn’t have a natural talent for chemistry. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I have a natural talent for anything I enjoy. But I fought and struggled and I made it. During this time, since the start of university, I didn’t write. I was too busy or exhausted to write. If I was doing something like writing or reading, it felt wrong if it wasn’t university related. I had barely done any on the build up to to university because I was working so much to save up the money. 

It wasn’t until 2012, five years on (in Scotland degrees take longer than some other places), that I started writing again. I started with a rewrite of a shockingly bad fan fiction I wrote in school. Unsurprisingly, my writing hadn’t improved much. That was the year that a friend told me about NaNoWriMo. I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait for the main event and when I heard about the Camp event in August, I was sold. I thought all day about my story (I worked on a production line at the time, which was convenient for plotting purposes) and when the month came I poured it all out. By July the next year, I had full rough drafts of the Twyned Earth trilogy and a rekindled passion for writing that even the most difficult of periods couldn’t quash – even if they could slow me down. 

home-office-336373_1920

I still have my original drafts of everything. I like to keep stuff archived, so that I can go back and make sure I haven’t removed anything important or otherwise useful for the story. Comparing the original 54k word draft of Through the Black to the current 96k word one, it’s clear to see that my writing has vastly improved (another good reason to keep old drafts, if you can handle the cringe of reading them). It also goes to show that, as with all writing advice, the “cut 10% when editing” spiel is not as cut and dry as it appears. 

Since that first Camp NaNoWriMo event, I have participated in and one every official November NaNo since, along with 7 additional camp events (with 2 participates and misses on top). That feels like I’m missing some as well – the website is a touch buggy at the moment. The 10’s were absolutely the decade where I not only reaffirmed my love of writing but took it to a whole new level. 

It may not be immediately obvious about me, but when I was a child/young teenager, art was just as much a part of my life as writing. I loved it and I was decent enough at it that I even sold a few pictures at school events. That stopped at the same time as the writing, when university just devoured everything that wasn’t itself from my life. That was a lot harder to get back into. My skill level seemed to have plummeted a lot more on the drawing front and I felt too demotivated whenever I tried and failed. It was only within the last couple of years, since 2017, that I started trying properly to push past my insecurities and accept that it’s okay to start from the ground up again, that it’s okay if I spend the next several years just learning how to draw again so long as I wasn’t avoiding something that I loved. Hardware held me back a lot but since getting a new tablet last October, I’ve been drawing and studying and I’ve done more art in that time than I have in ages and it feels great. 

It’s made me think a lot about a silly fantasy I’ve always had, to combine storytelling telling and art. It sounds daft but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually voiced my desire to draw comics before. It’s just always felt so far out of reach – both the artistic and storytelling telling skill required to do comics is immense. Even being able to say out loud that I’d like to try it someday is a big thing for me. 

Since leaving university, I have moved way too often and been through the hardest times of my life. I worked a plethora of jobs before finally landing in the field that I wanted. Some were okay, others were horrendous. I had a severe mental health incident that I’m still not fully recovered from. I finally understood and came to terms with my sexuality and gender. All in all, it’s been busy. 

In the 00’s I abandoned the things that defined me in the pursuit of something that would benefit the rest of my life. In the 10’s, I have taken what I gained from university, my degree and my partner, and clung to those while rediscovering the self I left behind. I am now a partner, a scientist, a writer, and an artist. And coming to that realisation that at the end of the decade I am all of these things, wow, it actually feels kinda good. 

Organisationing

Today I’m going to talk about organising projects. Now, if you’ve ever looked over at my Other Projects page, you’ll see that I’m terrible at sticking to one thing. I get all these shiny ideas and run off plotting them. Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of half written, half edited manuscripts laying all over the place! Y’know, figuratively.

In the computer

It was for this reason (and nothing to do with the fact that I have a massive deadline a week from today that I’m avoiding) that I decided to make a spreadsheet. I started by trawling through my writing folding, ditching the half baked ideas that were terrible and I no longer have any interest in, and sticking all the rest into a list.

Next, they have to be organised and prioritised. I decided to come up with three groups: Active, Queued and Not Active. Only a certain number of projects can be Active or Queued, and the only way to move up a priority is dead man’s boots. Or, stage completed man’s boots. That sounds less perilous though. Anyway, once a project has been moved into “Active,” it stays there until the stage it is currently in is completed (or goes up a level, eg first draft –> second draft). I’ve given myself three Active slots, so that I don’t burn myself out on a single work, though one of those slots will ALWAYS be Twyned Earth, until they are done. And as you can see, I only have two at the moment, until after the 28th!

I definitely should have been working instead of making this.

I definitely should have been working instead of making this.

The reason I’ve chosen multiple Active slots is because sometimes project hopping is good for you.

Sometimes you just don’t have the inspiration for a certain project. You have the desire to write, but can’t even look at the story you’re supposed to be working on. The advice online quite often tells you to just fight through it, sit down and power on. I’ve done it and sometimes it works. When I’ve got a deadline, or it’s a NaNoWriMo project, I just sit down and force myself on that project. The thing is though, I’ve found that if I’ve hit a block, stepping back and looking at a different story entirely can help lift that. I know I have a problem as a serial project cheat, but instead of letting it be a problem, I’m letting it be a solution. Sometimes the brain needs a reboot, and what better way than focusing on something else for a while? Similar to how other hobbies are good, for people like myself other projects can help kick writer’s block to the kerb.

I’m taking control of my constant hopping, but at the same time giving myself room for flexibility, because without it I don’t know how much joy I would find in writing. And without that, what’s the point? I’m narrowing my hopping down because I’ve gone too long without finishing anything, but I’ll never give up totally. I love all my stories and they will all receive love!

What about you guys? Are you a project hopper? How do you keep it under control?

Games. Art. Books. PARKOUR!

Last week I wrote all about how it’s important to write often. That very same day, fellow writer Madison wrote all about how you shouldn’t feel bad for not writing. Which you should definitely go and read by the way, because it’s a great post. It was a funny coincidence but it did make me feel the need for a little clarification.

I believe you should write often, keep up the skill, don’t let it get away from you. That does NOT mean that it is all you should ever do and, like Madison says, doesn’t mean you are any less serious about being a writer.

Burnout is a writer’s killer. I know, I’ve been there a good few times. You’re desperate to get something finished, you have Everest height goals. You want to write ALL the stories, and you think if you aren’t writing them right at that second that you are a failure. And the end result has always been me having to take a hefty break from writing, sometimes even up to a month or more. Then you end up further in the guilt hole and it is a vicious cycle.

Writing often is important, but writing once a week is often. There isn’t a lot you’re going to forget in a week. I was away from writing for five years. That’s a long time. A week? You can deal with that. A lot of people say that it is essential that you write every single day but I certainly don’t and have still managed a decent volume of output over the last two years. Sometimes there are deadlines and you have to push yourself. Other times you just have the muse. The rest of the time? Well, making yourself sit down and write can be beneficial, but NOT if it is all you ever do. Not only will you end up headbutting your desk, but you’ll end up hating writing, which is the exact opposite reason why most people want to actually write in the first place.  (Unless, of course, all you ever want to do is write. In which case I will hunt you down and steal your inspiration, because that would be awesome.)

If you want to take a break, do it. If you would rather practice something else, go for it. Don’t have a deadline and you’re dying to play that game? Why not?

My mantra is that writing is fun. Fun doesn’t come with guilt. Don’t feel bad for taking a break. Don’t feel bad for having other hobbies. Just look at Madison. Gamer, artist, parkourist (is that a word?) and a hundred other things – all while managing to write a fantastic story about a one armed magician. Watch that space for Half a Man. It’s gonna be good.

Keep up the good writing, guys! And the gaming. And crafting. And exercising and sitting around watching TV.

However, if the muse has struck, maybe you should wander over to Melanie’s writing games! Check this out, it should be fun fun fun!

Ups and Downs

A bit of a personal post from me today.

Friday was, shall we say, emotional. I had one of those days at work where, very early on in the day, someone completely and utterly trampled over my self-worth. To top that off, as it was their last day on the job, this issue will never be resolved and I’ll never get to know what went wrong. Nothing like confusion, hurt and self doubt to kick off your day. There was only one thing that I could think of that would make me feel better, and that was immersing myself in the fantasy worlds I’ve created. Unfortunately a had a whole day to stew before I could do that though.

To anyone who isn’t a writer, using fiction to forget your problems might not sound like the healthiest thing in the world. The thing about writing that non-writers have to understand is that to a whole lot of us, it isn’t a job. It’s a hobby, it’s our fun, it’s how we unwind and, very frequently, it’s our therapy.

Some people like to explore their trials and tribulations in their writing. Other’s like to use fiction to forget about them for a while. Whichever works for you, it beats the hell out of sitting there with a tub of Häagen-Dazs and is more productive too. On Friday though, being a writer helped me deal in a new way.

First of all we were nearing the end of the day, all of us in the lab being silent, when suddenly my co-worker turned to me with a humongous grin on her face and said “thirty six days” with more than a modicum of excitement. I peered at her, confused. Thirty six days? I spent a few panicked moments trying to remember what happened in thirty six days. Was her granddaughter visiting? A particularly significant footie match? A holiday? Eventually, I had to ask. My memory had failed me. Her grin only widened. “In thirty six days I get to read your book!” Talk about a confidence boost. Not only was someone excited to read my book, they were literally counting the days until they got to do so. Not even one of the writing community, because we all get excited at getting to beta each others’ books. I couldn’t help but join in her excitement, especially when I checked my emails later that evening.

A few weeks ago, I sent off the first 20k of Through the Black to a friend who needed stuff to critique for experience for a course. On Friday, I got their feedback. While I couldn’t get feedback on the overall plot or character arcs, what I did get was hugely positive. It was so validating and almost completely erased the woes of the morning. I was excited and delighted, grinning at my screen so much it hurt. Then I wanted to cry, overwhelmed by the fact that someone was actually enjoying the novel I had poured so much of my time and soul into. Then I was grinning again. This went back and forth long into the night, and it felt amazing.

Sometimes real life is awesome, and that energy gets channelled into writing.

Sometimes real life completely sucks. That energy goes in as well.

Because writing makes everything better, and I might be starting to think that sharing that writing is awesome too.

Why?

When I tell people I’m writing a story, the first question they always ask (aside from “What? Really?”) is “are you going to publish it?” Which I guess is fair enough. I would love to be a published author someday – I really would. However, my answer at the moment just has to be “I don’t know.” This brings me to two points. My reason for saying this and their response to this answer.

Approaching the latter first, the most common response I get is one that has begun to really annoy me. More often than not, people will respond by saying “If you aren’t going to publish it, then what is the point in writing it?” Cue my blood starting to simmer. Without turning this into a rant, I would like to pose these people a question in response – what benefit do you gain from your hobbies? What benefit is there from playing computer games all day aside from the sheer fun of it? We can’t all be Park Sung-Joon, getting paid to play StarCraft all day. What benefit is there to watching television or films? Aside from a wealth of hilarious quotes applicable to any conceivable situation, that is. Are you training to be a critic? Oh right, it’s just fun. It’s entertaining. This is why I write. It is my hobby. Even if a respected critic read my work, laughed and told me I should never put fingers to keys again, would I listen to them? No, because I’m doing this for other people as much as people watch TV or play games for others (ie. I’m not).

Even if my sole purpose for writing was to become a published author, I would still continue to write stories I have no intention of trying to get published. Writing well is not a skill one just picks up and away they go to the publishers. Writing well is hard and it takes a lot of practice. I think it’s a bit of a tall order to expect that every idea that comes out of someone’s head is nothing short of genius. People have bad ideas but they can be ideas that they still love themselves. So why shouldn’t they write them? Aside from the sheer enjoyment, every story written teaches the author something about writing.

Now, onto point two. Why would I, someone who would love to be an author, not send away the works I have shed blood, sweat and tears into? The simple answer is that I just don’t think this is what publishers are looking for. When reading the criteria publishers look for in novels, one of the big mentions I see coming up frequently is an issue of genre. I don’t think the particular stories I’m writing at the moment really fit into predetermined genre expectations and I don’t have any intention of changing them that dramatically. To fix my concerns the alterations to the story would leave it unrecognisable and then they wouldn’t be the same stories that I love, would they? Obviously, I am not referring to small changes here – anyone getting published has to resign themselves to those. I just don’t want to have the very fabric of the story removed. (Not what I’m talking about here but as a slight aside, here is one shocking request some authors have been given.)

I think I’ve managed to avoid ranting. Maybe. Anyway, the gist of what I’m saying is – writing is fun. I do it for me and if I ever churn something out that might be publishable, you bet your bottom that bad boy is getting sent to a publisher. And, if that never ever happens, I’ve still had hours and hours of fun and what have I lost? That’s right. Nothing.