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.

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. 

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.

Living By The Sea

For almost all of my life, I’ve lived close to the sea. It has a special place in my heart and has always been a part of my everyday life, whether viewing out of my window or wandering along its beaches or up its piers. The last year especially, I lived in a tiny little fishing village. The sea was a stone’s throw away; the harbour visible from my window. As much as last year was cruel to me, I will very much miss being that close to the sea as now I’m living far from it. So, for today’s post I have decided to write about what it’s like to live in a tiny seaside village.

Writing a story set somewhere like that? Here are some things that are obvious, and some things that aren’t.

 

The Good Side

 

It’s almost guaranteed to be somewhere beautiful. The sea is beautiful all by itself. Small fishing harbours, cliffs, beaches – they’re pretty hard to mess up. The setting is good for the soul. As a writer, even the bad weather can be fantastically atmospheric. You know in those old films, where the wild literally howls? That actually happens. It’s easy to dismiss as creative hyperbole but there were times where I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or real voices. Between the wind and the haars—thick, rolling fog that devours everything from sight—even the bad days can really put you in the mood to write. And, if you’re a writer writing one of these dark, spooky scenes, you can take solace in knowing that this isn’t the fancy of some old, overly purple prose. Between screaming winds, consuming fogs, misty rains, and every other type of weather you can think of, there’s plenty of scope to put your characters in whatever atmosphere you need.

Even the tiniest, least touristy places are probably going to have at least one great ice cream shop. And, if you’re anything like me, if you live somewhere like this long enough then you’re probably not going to just save it for the sunny days. There’s nothing unrealistic about your character going out for ice cream in the rain.

Not always applicable if the town is more cliff than anything, but there’s a good chance you’re going to have a beach right there. Depending on what route I was taking, I’d have to walk across it to get to the shops. I skipped across stepping stones that crossed the river right where it met the sea as I walked home from dentist. Seaside towns, especially old ones, have weird layouts.

cof

 

In the summer, it becomes dog central. Now, I’m actually pretty timid around dogs but I can appreciate how darn adorable they are. Where do people who can’t afford to take dogs abroad or don’t want to put them into kennels go? The seaside. If soaking in the ambience of strangers’ adorable furry friends sounds like a good time to you, get yourself to the seaside in the summertime. Want a little extra authenticity to your summer seaside scene? Dogs.

There are other critters who are here all year round. Crabs, cockles, fish, jellyfish, sea birds, non sea birds (birds don’t give a damn) – a lot of cool things hang out in and around the sea, including some things you wouldn’t expect. Most people don’t generally consider mallards to be sea birds but you’ll still find them bobbing about close to shore.

 

The Bad Side

 

Winter sucks. And that’s speaking as someone who normally prefers winter to summer. My particular town took the full brunt of the North Sea winds, right in the face. And of course, it was an old town, full of beautiful buildings – which were all listed. That means no insulation, no double glazing, and a very unlikely chance of having decent heaters. We spent as much on heating over the winter as we did on rent, and we were still cold all the time. We lived in one room, because there was no way we could have afforded heating more than that. I couldn’t feel my toes until the end of March.

Every now and then, you’ll wake up ready to face another day, expecting to be gently rocked awake by the soft light of morning. It’ll take you a moment to realise that something is wrong. You frown, confused, and go to open the window. For some reason, you really need to get some fresh air in here. Only when you do, it gets worse. That’s right. We all know it, people are just afraid to say it. Sometimes that great majestic and mysterious body known as the sea quite simply just smells like farts. Often it’s subtle. Other times? It’s not. Just occasionally, it’s so thick you can taste it, like you’re stuck in a lift with that person. The entire town stinks and there’s nothing you can do. You’ve just gotta ride it out.

Another one that is easy to forget amongst the romantic idealistic idea of living next to the sea is that, depending on the town’s layout, there are occasions when the main road and the sea are the same thing. You’ll look out the window and think “wow, the tide’s really in toda- oh.” Good luck catching that bus! Always fun if you really just want to mess with a character’s day.

As mentioned previously, it gets busy in the summer. There’s people everywhere and they’re all in holiday mode. That means they’re walking slowly, taking up the whole pavement, and getting really confused and annoyed when someone is actually trying to hurry somewhere – the same type of people who’d probably kick a granny out of the way to get onto the train on their way to work. Anyone who lives in a holiday destination will probably know this already – people who are on holiday have the amazing ability to forget than not everyone is on holiday. Why in such a hurry, they wonder as they eat their ice cream cone. I wonder whoever sold them it, since everyone is on holiday. If your character is in a hurry in the height of summer, even if it’s getting into the evening, they’re probably going to have crowds to contend with. The town might not even have that many tourists but let me tell you, the older it is, the less it’s going to be designed to accommodate a lot of people.

This brings me to my next point. In the summer, every night is Saturday night. If your character lives between any pubs or restaurants and somewhere people might be staying, they’ll get to enjoy listening to drunks every night. Admittedly, I did have the worst of this as I lived right next to a pub. It was a poor choice.

Your character has a car? Great! They’re going to spend a lot of time swearing and/or parking really illegally. My partner and I used to have a game counting how many illegally parked cars you could spot in one place. The best we got was eleven on one corner. As you can image, this makes getting around—both on foot and by car—more tricky.

 

gull

 

That’s right. These bastards. They sit on roofs and squak, swoop down and steal your food, sometimes they just stand in the way and refuse to move. It’s even more annoying than you’d think to walk around a stubborn seagull. Like sure, I’m probably sixty times your weight but I’ll walk around you, bird. Great.  Stories of seagulls aggressively swiping things out of your hands or just point blank ignoring you as you try to walk past it aren’t exaggerated. They’re used to people. They don’t fear you. They don’t fear your character. Not even that cold blooded assassin of yours. They’re watching. They’re waiting. And, if you’ve got a poke of chips, they’re coming for you.

Musings on Pitch Contests

With the completion of Through the Black looming ever closer, I’ve been thinking more and more of how and where I want to get my MS out there. Traditional querying will almost certainly be my number one method, but these days online pitch contests are also a hugely popular way to get your short pitch seen by agents and publishers.

The downsides of these are that you only have a very limited amount of characters to make yourself stand out. The upside is that there’s no quicker way to get huge swathes of publishing professionals all at once.

Of course, you might attract the attention of agent who aren’t the right fit for you or you might not attract any at all. The thing is, if you don’t put yourself out there then you’ll never know. The best that can happen is that you find someone requesting a query. The worst is that you’ll have honed a neat, concise pitch for your work.

I actually tried my hand at one very recently. The creative industries festival XpoNorth held one this month and, as they were accepting pitches for manuscripts that weren’t 100 % complete, I decided to have a go. Unfortunately I didn’t have any success with that but I didn’t have much time to prepare my pitches. What it does mean is that I now have a couple of them that I can work on and polish well for when more roll around, and hopefully be more prepared for. Mostly it was good practice for not obsessively staring at my phone or refreshing my internet browser.

There are a few lined up for after my deadline, so I’m hoping to have some nice polished pitches and a finished manuscript all ready to go by the time they roll around!

 

Paper

Day and Night

Another short from the writing classes. In this exercise, we were tasked with studying sound in two contrasting things.

 


 

When the sun is high, the world is full of the babble of laughter and voices. Cars rumble past in a persistent, growling stream. Little bells jangle as the shop doors on the street open and close, the crinkling of shopping bags constant.

Only twelve hours later and those sounds are gone. The babble is replaced by a cool silence to those who do not wish to hear the night. My steps are gentle footfalls on the concrete. A soft rustle to my right – just a cat inspecting a bin. At this time, my breaths are loud and the soft breeze whispers to me. Just as I feel peace in this serene nightscape, there are footsteps behind me. I turn quickly. But behind there is only empty space and the footsteps remain. When the sun is high, the world is loud and I am safe from the sound. But it isn’t.

It is dark and it is cold and still the footsteps remain.

 

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Aurora Borealis

A few weeks ago I promised that I’d start posting some of the flash fiction from my writing class exercises! So here is the first one. This came from an exercise about describing a setting with the senses, using a place from a childhood memory.

 


 

Icy air gusted softly by as we stood beneath the stars, staring upwards past the looming grey pillars of the hilltop monument and into the crisp night sky. Specks of silver glistened in the void above us, stiff bristles of heather rustling by our feet. A couple of snowflakes twirled on the salty air, the very first of the fall. It wouldn’t be long before the encroaching grey clouds obscured our view and snuffed out our chances.

Dad held his camera aloft, hoping for those eerie green lanterns to splash across the sky. They never did. Never on the nights we tried. But we always went. And tonight, deep between those twinkling dots of light in the sky, something moved. We both tensed, excited, my numb hands clenching tight. This was it, our time. The thing that moved did shimmer with emerald wonder but it did not spill across the night. It moved closer, growing larger. I held my breath, the crunching of my raincoat falling silent as I stood stock still. Drifting up high was a perfect viridian disk.

My mouth fell agape, breath misting on the air. I glanced at my dad, the camera clutched white knuckled in his chill burned fingers. His brow furrowed, disbelieving and almost annoyed by the object above. Whatever it was, it drew nearer, silent as the snowfall. The quiet drew out long enough that the gentle whispers of the wind became unnerving.

The sudden click of the camera startled me and the haunting thing rose so swiftly upwards it was a dot within a second. It became a pinprick among the starts and then it was gone. I stared a long while, just in case it returned, while Dad scowled at the little preview window of his camera. The display showed perfectly the eerie form of the green glowing UFO, proof that the incredible spectacle we’d witnessed was real. He muttered under his breath and shook his head.

“We’re never gonna see those bloody lights.”

A NaNoWriMo Confidence Boost

It’s over! November 2017 is done and dusted. THANK GOODNESS. With the 30th came my sixth consecutive win of the official NaNoWriMo. It was, by a long shot, the hardest year yet and I’m going to need a few days to recover. I never got that safety buffer and every day felt like a real struggle.

NaNo2017

Between my current situation and the addition of family visits, plumbing problems and a whole dental saga (really, wow) it has been an uphill battle from day one. But I have succeeded. It’s one of the few things I can cling to right now as an achievement. NaNoWriMo certainly isn’t for everyone, and even if it is something you try, if you write any words at all you’re still a winner really. The whole point is to get words on a page and not to discourage people for being unable to hit some arbitrary number within a month.

That said, after everything this year and everything else that’s happened this month, getting that 50k was a big boost for me. One thing after another has just been a defeat after defeat after defeat. I really needed a win on something. Anything. And I’ve got it. So now I’m going to cool it on the writing for the weekend and then, on Monday, Through the Black revisions begin.

It’s on. March 31st, here I come. I’m gonna be ready for you.