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Posted on 03 October 2019 10:01

Most writing projects, regardless of genre and purpose, will have some kind of restrictions and/or guidance in terms of length. From novels to novellas to novelettes to short stories to flash fiction to drabbles, the categorisation of stories has a lot to do with word count. And, even within these categories, most publishers and competitions will give a range within which they are prepared to accept pieces.


Because most of my new work is prompted by upcoming submission opportunities, I usually start a story, knowing roughly how long it needs to be. And, over the years, I’ve developed the ability to plot and plan stories to fit a particular word count.


A piece of flash fiction will likely just be one scene, evoking a sense of the wider story but not laying it out in concrete terms. A 2,500 word story will likely follow one series of events from start to finish, tying off loose ends. As stories get longer, they require more characters, additional subplots, more layers of complexity and more comprehensive planning and tracking.


It doesn’t always work out so well, though. For example, what was meant to be my second novel has only just topped 50,000 words in its first draft, which is way too short for a novel and actually a bit long for most novellas. So, at the moment, its future is uncertain while I work out whether it can be expanded to novel length or cut down a bit for the novella market.


And sometimes, I’ll get an idea, independent of a prompt or often coming out of a workshop, that doesn’t fit neatly into a preconceived format. I’m working on a story at the moment, which has been rattling around in my brain for about three years and has not yet seen the light of day. I first developed it at a writers’ conference, over the course of a weekend of workshop sessions. I’ve always liked it and regularly returned to it over the years, as submission opportunities have come and gone that I thought it might fit. But, even though I have a ton of notes, a rough outline and a set of characters I love, I just can’t seem to write it.


Recently, though, a new opportunity presented itself, for a fantasy novella of 20,000 to 40,000 words, with a publisher I like. And something clicked. I think the reason I’ve been having so much trouble with this story is that I’ve been trying to fit it into a box it’s too big for. The scope of the story is larger than I first thought (though not enough to make a novel) and needs more space to develop properly. So, now I’m working on it with a target of a much higher word count and it already feels more possible.


Stories have a size and a shape and it’s important to be able to recognise early on the dimensions of those things. Certainly, stories can be expanded or contracted to an extent, but I think they know how big they want to be, and it’s the writer’s job to listen and recognise that. I’m now hopeful that my story will soon be completed, and I’m excited at having something to submit for what sounds like an excellent publication opportunity.


Posted on 09 September 2019 08:16

A lot of my focus so far this year has been on editing my first novel and finishing the first draft of my second. When I completed both over the summer, I planned to take a break from writing altogether for a few weeks, to recharge and enjoy the lack of deadlines. But what actually happened was that I wrote every day for over two weeks and produced a ton of new stuff.


That intensive creativity has dropped off now, and I’ve mostly been writing reviews for the last few weeks, with only bits and pieces of fiction here and there. What I think happened was that, once released from the obligation of working primarily on huge and complex projects, my brain decided to celebrate its freedom by coming up with loads of ideas for little pieces of a kind it hadn’t been able to produce for a while.


This coincided with me discovering Black Hare Press and Fantasia Divinity, both small presses that regularly publish collections of drabbles. Given a theme and a required word count of exactly 100 words, I went to town and produced over twenty of these little gems in very short order. I’m subsequently going to be included in four upcoming anthologies.


When I’m writing short fiction, I do love a theme and a word count, and I’ve got very good and tailoring ideas to specific lengths. It turns out that crafting a story into exactly 100 words comes quite naturally to me, and it’s tremendous fun.


I do now want to start working on some slightly longer stories as well. Finding a middle ground between drabbles and novels would be good! But I’m definitely going to continue producing drabbles when opportunities arise and I’m grateful to have discovered them at the perfect time when I really needed something quick, easy and fun to do after finishing (temporarily) work on the novels.


Posted on 09 July 2019 13:06

My friend Charlie, who co-runs the Six Month Novel Programme, has a mantra for the writers she helps. When writing a first draft, give yourself permission to be "gloriously craptastic". The most important thing is to get the words down on the page. You can edit later. Because, if you get caught up in doubts, or a desire for unattainable perfection, you’ll never get through it. It’s better to have a flawed thing that exists than a shining masterpiece that only lives in your head.


She’s right, of course. But sometimes, taking this approach is easier said than done. At the moment, I’m struggling a bit with the first draft of my second novel. I have a publisher interested in the first one, which is very exciting, and I’ve just sent the latest version of that back to them for a final decision.


In the meantime, I’m aiming to complete the first draft of the next one by the end of July, as per the Six Month Novel Programme schedule. But it’s dragging. It’s going to be way too short to be called a novel. The middle section is very saggy. The characters have no idea what they’re doing and I have no idea how to get them to the end. And the ending I have planned feels like a cop-out. I’m treading water, putting down words I don’t think are very good, just to be able to tick a few more scenes off on my checklist.


I have so many other things I’d rather be working on. And I’m using the (vital) need for self-care as an excuse not to write.


But, while I may not want to write this novel at the moment, I do want it to be written. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I grit my teeth and get the hell on with it. Once the first draft is done, there will be a month of editing boot camp, and I’ll send the first 3000 words off to Amie (Charlie’s partner in crime) for an editorial review. I have a concrete plan for what happens after that. I’ll take a break from the novel, work on other things and then come back to it towards the end of the year. I’ll apply the editing guidance and Amie’s feedback to the rest of the manuscript, and then ask Amie to do a developmental edit of the whole thing. Then I’ll take another break, and schedule coming back to it to apply the further feedback early next year.


So, the path is clear. The steps are known. Once I get over the hump and finish the first draft, I can employ external help to figure out what to do with this story. But I have to get the first draft done first. And the only person who can do that is me. So I’d better stop writing blog entries and reviews and get back to it!


But what if it’s no good? It’s a first draft - it’s not going to be good. But at least it’ll be there, and I can make it better.


Posted on 13 June 2019 12:54

I’ve talked a lot in various blog entries about finding brain space, not taking on too much and trying not to put myself under too much pressure with my writing. But last week, I had an entirely new experience of taking a complete break from everything.


I went on a retreat at The Sharpham Trust down in Devon, called “Creating Space - a Mindfulness and Creative Enquiry Retreat”. Based on a cursory perusal of the information on the website, I originally booked it back in December because I thought it would combine meditation and mindfulness activities with opportunities to work on my creative projects in a restful setting.


As the time for the retreat approached, however, I started reading more about it and realised it wasn’t going to be what I thought. The pre-travel guidance talked about letting go of all the obligations of normal life, switching off entirely from the outside world and focusing on being rather than doing. I was apprehensive going in, but decided to adhere as much as I could to the spirit of the endeavour.


I duly finished off any projects that would create a sense of pressure during that week, and also got to a good breaking off point with both novels. I deleted all my calendar reminders for the week and decided to try keeping my phone switched off the whole time (I didn’t succeed at this, but only checked it for five minutes once a day to clear my email and I didn’t go on the internet at all).


So, instead of having a plan of all the things I was going to do and all the things I wanted to achieve, I spent four days without a to-do list and with no expectations of myself other than engaging with the scheduled activities.


And it was wonderful!


My inner critic (hi, Winston!) popped up on the first day, to let me know how unproductive he felt we were being and how much precious potential writing time we were wasting. But I calmly acknowledged his concerns and then dismissed them.


I did yoga, I meditated, I was led around the garden with my eyes closed, I danced with a bamboo stick, I drew freeform pictures with crayons, I went on long walks without any digital entertainment, I spent about 40 hours in complete silence, I ate amazing vegetarian food, and I connected on an unexpected level with both myself and the other people in the group.


I filled almost an entire exercise book with reflective thoughts on my experience, but I didn’t work on any of my writing projects, and it felt great. If I’d known when I booked the retreat exactly what it would entail, I never would have gone, but I’m so glad I did it and I enjoyed every minute.


I’ve struggled a bit this week with being back in London, having to go to work, and trying to get back into a proper writing schedule. But I’m doing a good job of maintaining a greater sense of inner calm and trying not to be too focused on timings, goals and productivity all the time. There’s definitely a balance - obviously, there are things I want to achieve with my time and they require effort, attention and planning. But creating more space in my daily life for being rather than doing, and adding reflective and meditative activities to my schedule more, has had a profound effect on my sense of personal contentment.


I hope I’ll be able to maintain this new attitude in the long term. And, if I find I can’t, I can always go on another Sharpham retreat to remind myself of the benefits!


Posted on 29 April 2019 11:00

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been very good at keeping to my schedule for both novels. I intend to send the revised Artisan back to the publisher by the end of May and I’m already two thirds of the way through. The Six Month Novel Programme gives me a detailed schedule for Colours and I’m not having too much trouble keeping up with that. But making revisions to one novel while drafting a second is proving more difficult than I anticipated.


Revising and drafting are two very different writing skills and require two very different writing mindsets. The first needs careful attention to detail, keeping track of what effects changes might have, and the weighing of each sentence to judge its worth. The second needs abandonment of doubt, the ability to forge onwards regardless of quality, and the uninhibited pouring of words onto the page.


On top of that, with two novel-length, multi-strand plots on the go, I also have to be able to switch between very different worlds when I move from one to the other. Artisan has more whimsy and more magic, while Colours is more real-world but with aliens. They have contrasting voices, tones and structures as well.


So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that editing four Artisan chapters and drafting eight Colours scenes per week is a challenge, even though it feels like I’m not really doing that much work at all, in terms of time spent on writing. It generally takes me about ninety minutes to complete my assigned novel-related tasks on any given day, but I then find I don’t have the energy, motivation or focus to work on anything else. So, my short fiction and my fanfic have rather fallen by the wayside during April.


But that’s okay. The novels are the priority at the moment, and I’ll be done with Artisan again by the end of May, which will give me more brain space to focus on the more difficult second half of Colours during June and July. Then, I’ll hopefully be ready to take a break from Colours by the time I get any further response from the publisher about Artisan. It’ll be nice to get back to only working on one of them at once.


I guess this is the life of a novelist! I assume they must always be working on different stages of at least two books at any one time. There wouldn’t be space in a yearly publication schedule for anything less. And I don’t think many novelists publish a lot of short stories as well, though I know some do produce those as well.


Of course, last week my brain decided to go off down a rabbit hole related to the next novel on my list, which I have a certain amount of material for, but which I wasn’t intending to look at again until at least 2020. So my brain apparently has ambitious plans for my writing, and it seems as if novels are what I’ll be mainly focusing on for the foreseeable future (I have a fourth and fifth on my list for eventual development).


And, as ever, it’s all about using the time I have available in a productive and efficient way, without driving myself too hard, and whilst paying attention to my need for pure relaxation time, as well as a busy social schedule and three days a week at my office job. It’s a lot to juggle, but I think I’m doing okay with it all at the moment. The most important thing is knowing when to let go of less important or less urgent projects without resenting the time and energy the novels are sucking up right now. If there’s a short story in my head (and there are at least a couple floating around at the moment), they’ll either still be there when I have time to dedicate to them, or they’ll dissipate without attention. There are plenty of submission opportunities coming up that I’ll likely decide not to take up. And that’s fine, not least because there will always be more later on.


The desire (and potential opportunity) to see Artisan published in the reasonably near future, and the need to have more material to show the publisher once we’ve hopefully established a relationship, are what’s driving me at the moment. It may sometimes feel repetitive and a bit of a grind. But it’s still where I want to be right now and I’m very lucky to have the ability to be able to pursue these dreams.


Posted on 15 March 2019 15:06

I had such a great start to the year, I guess it was inevitable that it wouldn’t last.


In the space of two months, I developed a daily writing habit, wrote six new short stories and two articles, took part in multiple short fanfic challenges, got high praise from someone I respect for my reviewing skills, got a really positive response from a publisher about my first novel, and devised a plan to finish my second novel.


And now I’m struggling to find the motivation to write anything at all.


The Vaults festival is over, so no more weekly shows and reviews. The fanfic challenges I take part in seem to be taking a couple of weeks off. I’ve had feedback from an editor friend on how to revise Artisan and I don’t know what to do with what she’s suggested, or what to do with what the publisher has asked for. Completing the first draft of Colours seems an insurmountable task with deadlines I’ll never meet. I haven’t had any publication acceptances since November. And I’m not feeling remotely inspired by any of the upcoming short story submissions I could write something for.


I’m still just about managing to write every day, though I do feel like I’ve cheated a bit on some days, and it’s starting to feel like a chore rather than something I’m enjoying.


Wow - I’m very whiny!


Maybe it’s time to let go of my attachment to daily writing. I’ve only ever managed ten days in a row before, so 74 is quite a record! And it’s not something I’ve ever felt very strongly about. I think what I’ll do is give myself the weekend off completely from writing projects, and come back to it fresh on Monday, when I have a writing session planned in town, following by a coaching session by my friend, Claire. I can spend the day taking stock of my various projects and making some new plans (I do love making lists!) and then talk about some of these issues with Claire in the evening. And if I come at it from a place of refreshment, rather than forcing myself to carry on with a habit that’s turned unhelpful, perhaps I can find my energy again.


Just coming up with that approach and writing it down has made me feel better. I know this is just a temporary slump and that my writing mojo will return. And I think it’s a case of being kind to myself for a couple of days and enjoying some relaxation, rather than always thinking what I could be writing in every spare minute.


Now that sounds like a plan!


Posted on 26 February 2019 10:49

I’m gearing up to take part in the Six Month Novel Programme, which starts next week. One of the first tasks you have to undertake is to select what is called a ‘companion novel’ to read. You’re supposed to choose something that contains an aspect of writing you want to work on in your own novel, not for the purpose of stealing ideas from other writers (instructions are to avoid anything that has a very similar plot, for example), but to learn skills and approaches from them that can aid you in your own writing.


I think the idea is to choose a book you love and that you know well, but I went in a different direction and selected one I had been intending to read but hadn’t got round to yet. It’s similar to mine in that it involves a small group of people responding to an alien presence and the protagonist is a woman of colour, but otherwise it goes in a completely different direction.


What I didn’t realise before reading the book is that it also has other similarities to mine. The chapters are very short, the backgrounds to the main characters are revealed in flashback and the action builds up from fragmented pieces into a whole gradually.


I also didn’t like my chosen book very much, which made me wonder if I had made a mistake and should go back and select something else for the programme. But, I decided there is just as much value to learning from books you don’t like as from books you love, and I’ve gained some good insight into potential pitfalls for my own novel.


I recently got some feedback from a professional editor on the opening sections of my novel and one of the things she criticised was me telling the same events from several different perspectives, without adding any new information. This was the thing that annoyed me most about my companion novel because it felt like the same scene was happening over and over again and the plot wasn’t moving forwards at all. So, it was very useful to experience that as a reader, because I can now apply that lesson to my own writing with a much better understanding of the problem.


The extreme shortness of the chapters was also an issue for me, because it felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time with the characters to get invested in their fate. So, this is something else I’m going to be wary of in my novel, working to ensure the action isn’t too fragmented and that the reader has time to immerse themselves in the story before it moves on.


So, while I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience of reading the novel I selected, I think it’s going to prove extremely useful to have done so. I’ve made a lot of notes and feel more aware of the possible problems that could be created by the style and structure I’ve chosen for my own novel. I feel better prepared to continue with my first draft and that, after all, was the purpose of the exercise.


Posted on 03 February 2019 16:51

I thrive on variety. I do my best work when I have multiple projects on the go and can switch between them at will. If I get bored with or stuck on one thing, my brain will likely come up with ideas on how to progress with something else. This helps me to keep working on projects regularly and stops me getting blocked from writing for long periods.


But there is perhaps a limit to how much I can work on at the same time. A range of stuff is good. So, it generally works if I have a novel, a short story, a fanfic and an article on my to-do list at any given time. That way, I can gain satisfaction from a quick win or delve into a much larger project. It also generally means the various projects are at different stages, so I’ll have plenty of choice depending on whether I want to brainstorm, bang words out onto the page or revise.


At the moment, my list is pretty stuffed.


My first-choice publisher has asked for some revisions to my first novel before they make a final decision about whether they want to accept it. Which is awesome, but which is also going to take a fair bit of work. There’s no deadline, but I want to get it back to them by the end of June, or before, if I can.


I’m reviewing at The Vaults 2019 for Fringe Guru, which involves one or two shows per week until mid-March, with short deadlines for the reviews. I’m loving doing this, but it’s taking a significant chunk of my writing time each week, and also taking up an evening a week for actually going to the shows.


I’m writing discussion posts for GYWO again this year, which is a monthly commitment and also something I really enjoy.


I have my usual rolling spreadsheet of submission opportunities, which has me working on two short stories for deadlines at the end of February. And I’ve just started a ten-week online writing course, which is going to involve developing several ideas for short pieces.


I’ve got back into short fanfiction challenges this year, which are great fun but require several new ideas per week, and also often involve reading and commenting on other people’s entries.


I’m still quite keen to work on my idea for a non-fiction book, though starting the research on that has been delayed as I’ve been too busy with other stuff.


And, this morning, I applied to take part in this year’s Six Month Novel Programme, with a view to getting a first draft of my second novel done by the end of the year. This may have been a mistake. I mean, getting a draft done is one of my main goals for 2019 and I could really use the structure and external encouragement/deadlines of the programme. But it’s also a big commitment and really intensive.


I have a plan as to how to fit both novels into my schedule, and I’m currently writing every day, which is unusual for me and going really well so far. I also have a lot of writing sessions booked into my calendar and I’m doing a lot better at writing at home as well.


But I suspect several things are going to have to fall by the wayside as the year goes on. I’m pretty sure I can’t keep up my current output on everything, especially if I get onto the Six Month Novel Programme. I think it will be good for me, though, and certainly help me towards what is probably my hardest goal for the year. If the amazing happens and I get a book deal in a few months, I really want to have something else ready to send to the publisher while the first novel is in production. And, if the first one doesn’t work out, it’ll be even more important to have something else in the works.


So, I’m going for it, and I’ll just have to be aware of the possibility of burn-out. It’ll be sad to give up on the fun/silly/small stuff and I’ll do my best to at least keep my hand in, so I don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger projects. But I’ve got to keep my eye on where I really want to go with my writing and make sure I dedicate enough time and energy to the important stuff. I’ll just have to see how it goes and adjust accordingly.


Posted on 03 January 2019 19:19

It’s a brand new year! And, no matter how arbitrary that may be, that means goal-setting. And I have big plans for 2019. So much so, that I’m going to write them down here for all to see (though I reserve the right to discover they are wildly unrealistic later…).


First of all, by the end of the year, I want to have a concrete publication plan for Artisan. Hopefully, the publisher who asked to see the whole manuscript last summer will contact me in February to say they want to offer me a book deal. The next best option would be for them to offer feedback on revisions and ask me to resubmit once I’ve done them - this would at least give me a direction for rewrites and a reasonable chance of a favourable response later in the year. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ve already made submissions to a few other places, so maybe one of them will pick it up. And I still have others I can try, including Unbound, which seems like an interesting option. If I haven’t had any luck by September, I’m going to look into self-publishing options. So, come 2020, I hope Artisan will be on its way into the world, one way or another.


My second goal is to complete a first draft of Colours. I started really strong with this one back in December 2017, and made good progress through to the end of March 2018, getting to 25,000 words. After that, I pretty much didn’t work on it for the rest of the year, apart from a brief spurt in August to add in an extra POV stream. It’s currently with an editor for developmental feedback and I’m expecting to hear back from her soon. I’m hoping this will kickstart me into getting on with it, and also help me with the best way to move on from where I’ve got to. So, come 2020, I should have something reasonable to show whoever is going to publish Artisan, as a follow-up.


Thirdly, I’m going to find another paying market for my non-fiction articles about the creative process. I really enjoy researching and writing these, they’ve had good feedback from the places I’ve submitted them up to now, and I think it would be another good revenue stream for me. I have an idea for a first attempt, in terms of both content and destination, so that’s high on my list for my first proper writing session of 2019.


In fourth place, not to be forgotten - I don’t want to let my short story writing drop by the wayside while I’m focusing on bigger projects. I’m going to keep adding to my rolling submission spreadsheet and try to keep my out-for-consideration pieces around 20. Ideally, I’d like to write an entirely new short story every month for a competition or anthology, but this may end up not being feasible.


Because, fifth and lastly, I have a new major project on the horizon. A couple of years ago, as a result of an amusing brainstorming session to come up with possible titles for Artisan, I had an idea for a non-fiction book. Over Christmas, this idea rose back to the top of my mind and I started getting really excited about looking into it. Now considering in 2018, I decided to learn how to write comics and quickly discovered it was way too hard, this project may well falter before it even gets off the ground. However, I’m currently very keen to research how to write a non-fiction book, and then research the particular subject of the one I want to write. It seems like something that should be possible to work on at the same time as my fiction projects, and also like something that should have a fairly predictable trajectory and process. I suspect it will prove much more complicated than I anticipate, but I’m enthused about giving it a go.


Ambitious? Well, absolutely! And it’s likely some of these goals will be abandoned somewhere along the way. However, I work best when I have multiple projects to work on at once, and I’ve definitely been coasting with my writing in recent months. So, I want to launch into 2019 with a whole load of exciting plans, along with my intention to maintain a better and more rigorous writing schedule. I have all my January sessions booked in my calendar, so here’s to motivation and productivity!


Posted on 03 December 2018 10:33

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fandom. There’s a musical playing at The Playground Theatre at the moment, called Fanatical: The Sci-Fi Convention Musical, which I have already seen twice and will be seeing twice more before it closes on Saturday. It’s about a fan convention for a fictional sci-fi TV show, and it celebrates all aspects of being a fan, not least the creation of fan art and fanfiction.


The song I relate to most is “Hey, Look What I Made”, in which one of the fans says her dad calls her fanart “talent gone to waste”, which is a reaction I have also had towards my fanfiction. But I very firmly believe that fanfiction got me where I am today - nearly twenty original short stories published, and a novel out for consideration by several small presses.


I went to my first fan convention in January 2001, at a time in my life when I had lost all confidence in my writing and in myself.  I suffered from mild depression throughout my university years, during which time I was in a relationship with another writer. I felt as if his talent was so far above mine as to swallow mine whole, and I stopped writing altogether towards the end of our time together.  I should say that this was not in any way his fault, and he would be horrified to learn of it, but that’s what was going on in my head at the time.


Whilst queueing to get into the convention, I inserted myself into the conversation of the two people in front of me, and a wonderful new phase of my life began.  They were both fanfiction writers, and they introduced me to a whole online world I had previously been unaware of. Here, I discovered like-minded fans of all the films and shows and books I myself loved, who were creating new stories within those worlds for others to enjoy.


Fanfiction is often derided, and it’s true that there is a lot of awful stuff out there.  But isn’t that true of most things, including published original fiction? There’s also a tremendous amount of truly amazing fanfiction, if you know where to look for it, and even the dreadful stuff serves an important purpose.


Fanfiction gives the writer an established setting and familiar characters in which to explore their deepest and most outrageous desires, to experiment with their writing, and to gain much-coveted feedback from readers.  I am certain there are many more traditionally published authors who cut their teeth on fanfiction than would be prepared to admit it.


Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey may have produced a somewhat warped view of fanfiction in the mainstream consciousness - but a more recent TV show, Dickensian, shows fanfiction at its very best, in my opinion.  A mash-up of Dickens’ most colourful characters proved truly delightful, and I’ve used it many times since as an example of how fanfiction can be both wildly inventive and simultaneously respectful to its source material.


For me, fanfiction provided a safe space in which to find my creativity again, where I could post my stories and get instant feedback from a friendly and supportive group of readers. It gave me ten years of writing practice before I started trying to write my own stuff, and I know my writing benefited hugely from that. Even though I am primarily working on original projects now, there are two fanfiction events I still take part in, and thoroughly enjoy, every year, and I don’t intend to give them up any time soon.


I completely understand the attitude of writers who do not wish their creations to be warped out of all recognition in the hands of depraved fanfiction amateurs.  However, it seems clear there is little they can do to stop it, and I think they might be better served by embracing the phenomenon than by attempting to quash it.  I, for one, would count it one of my highest achievements as a writer for there to be fanfiction based on my original work posted on the internet. This is because fanfiction comes from a place of passion and enthusiasm, and is a mark of great love for the work it’s based upon.  I can only dream of having fans dedicated enough to spend their time dreaming up new scenarios for my characters, and new stories for my worlds.


I will never forget the joy and confidence fanfiction has inspired in me, and I will never be ashamed to admit that I am a fanfiction writer.


Posted on 05 November 2018 14:47

One of the most important pieces of advice for writers submitting their work for publication is - read the guidelines really carefully and follow them to the letter. It may seem petty and unfair to be penalised for using the wrong font or being a few words outside the word limit. But the quickest way to get rejected is to fail to follow the guidelines, as this gives the editor a very easy way to whittle down what might be an impractically large submission pile.


Up until this past weekend, I thought I had always been ultra careful in paying attention to the guidelines and making sure my submissions fit the bill. It’s very tedious reformatting pieces and preparing the relevant accompaniments, and it takes an inordinate amount of time, but I’ve always figured it’s the price I have to pay for my reasonably high acceptance rate.


Six months ago, I sent in one of my best pieces for an anthology that seemed like a really good fit. The response time quoted on the website went past and I’d heard nothing. I waited a few more weeks in case they were behind in letting authors know about selections, but still nothing. Eventually, I marked it off on my submission spreadsheet as a rejection and sent the piece somewhere else.


Yesterday, I woke up to the following email regarding the original submission:


“This is a beautiful piece.  I dearly loved it. I was re-reading it and preparing to send you a rejection.  However, I just can’t. So if you are up for it, I think this is a strong story.
That said, due to length, I’ll offer you the option of 2 cents a word and a share in the anthology  or an outright $25. Your call. Beautiful work.”


I experienced several emotions upon reading this. Joy and excitement at the prospect of seeing my story in print. Annoyance and guilt that I would have to contact the other publisher to remove the piece from consideration. Confusion and bewilderment at the reference to potential rejection, the length of the story and what was presumably a reduction in the offered pay.


I checked my submission spreadsheet and saw that the requested word count for this submission was “300-5,000 words”. At 650 words, my story is certainly short, but I was confused as to why it wouldn’t get the same pay as any other submission, because it was still within the word count window.


I was telling a friend about this over breakfast and he suggested that perhaps I had made a typo when adding the submission opportunity to my spreadsheet, and that it was likely the required word count was actually “3,000-5,000 words”. And then it all made sense!


The agonising of the editor over a piece he professedly loved. The mention of the length. The offer of a lot less remuneration than had been advertised. It’s no wonder the poor guy was torn, since I had sent in a story that was a good 1500 words too short, based on those all-important guidelines! What an idiot!


But, in this instance, I’ve really lucked out because of my mistake. Because I dearly love this story too, and it suits the anthology it’s going to be printed in so well.

So, the moral of this story is - don’t follow the submission guidelines and it may work out in your favour? I’m not sure I can endorse that message, as editors all over the world would hate me for it, and I’m pretty sure that 999 times out of 1000, it’ll land you straight in the rejection pile regardless of how good your writing is.


But, maybe an honest mistake occasionally deserves to have good consequences. I can certainly live with that.


And besides, as Captain Barbossa says, the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Right?


Posted on 25 October 2018 10:34

I recently read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which is designed to help writers approach and navigate the potential pitfalls of writing characters who are very different from themselves. I would highly recommend reading this book to all writers, but below is a distillation of the most important lessons I learned from it.


People are scared of writing characters who are different to themselves, in case they ‘get it wrong’ and are criticised. But every character you write will be different to you in some ways, so you shouldn’t be scared of writing characters who are very different.


It’s okay to make mistakes:

  • everybody does it

  • you can learn and do better next time

  • even if you get everything right, some people will still find fault with your writing

  • that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try

Difference is not monolithic. Not all people in a particular category will have the same experience or the same attitudes. You should always make your characters individuals, not representatives of their group as a whole.


Various group memberships can influence behaviour. But none of these categories’ traits need have a constant, overriding influence on your character:

  • my age influences my actions and attitudes on occasion, but I don’t spend all my time thinking about my age

  • characteristics will influence a character, but don’t have to be at the forefront all the time


  • when writing characters who are significantly different from you and possibly also your readers, give them some characteristics (habits, feelings, experiences) that are easy to relate to for lots of people

  • build potential connections between your characters and your readers

  • highlight possible similarities as well as probable differences

  • also draw out connections / similarities between characters who also have obvious differences - show their common humanity

Secondary characters usually only have one main character trait:

  • but they shouldn’t be that one trait exclusively

  • don’t have all their illustrated traits be indicative of that one characteristic or group, especially if they are stereotypes

  • making secondary characters unusual but believable makes them much more interesting

Unintended associations and resonances:

  • readers will bring their own interpretations to your writing and this can be good when they imbue it with clever meaning you didn’t know was there - but it can be bad when they make associations you didn’t intend in problematic ways

  • you can’t control what associations readers will bring to your writing, but you can educate yourself to be aware of possible and unintended interpretations, so you can avoid them or prepare for them or disarm them

  • getting a variety of people to read your work before publication is a good way to discover what unintended meaning your writing might evoke - especially sensitivity readers

  • but you have to be prepared to make mistakes, have them pointed out to you, learn from them and do better next time

  • reflect appropriate levels of diversity to fit your setting - no point peopling a story with wildly diverse characters in a real-world setting where that level of diversity doesn’t exist

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • good (white, straight, Christian analogues) vs evil (different to that) - fantasy tropes of all of a different race being evil or stupid or greedy, etc

  • presenting a minority issue (eg slavery) only in terms of how it affects characters from the majority - you can show that as long as you also show how it affects those most impacted

  • straight white male protagonist with a very different sidekick who only exists to make him look good - or including only a few different characters in bit roles, or in more significant roles but who are all killed off

  • having all layered and complex characters but all the ‘different’ ones are victimised in some way or are criminals

  • white saviour

  • fetishising otherness - beautiful Asian love object, noble savage, no gradation of character

  • disrespectful dialect - use of dialect is generally a bad idea, unless you can do it very accurately but without making it hard work for the reader

  • portraying a victim as incredibly saintly in order to make the crime or oppression even more reprehensible - creating a one-dimensional good character is just as much a problem as a bad one - it actually makes for a more nuanced story is a victim has flaws or isn’t entirely in the right (bad acts should still be bad, regardless of who they are committed against)

Being aware of the pitfalls is a very big step towards being able to avoid them, and fearing them shouldn’t stop you from going down the road towards diversity.


The old adage is that you should write what you know. But that doesn’t mean you should restrict yourself only to your own experience. What it means is that you should become knowledgeable about other experiences, and then write them.





Posted on 15 July 2018 12:55

Due to the many demands on my time, my approach to my writing is generally pretty regimented. I schedule writing sessions throughout the week and have a prioritised list of all the writing tasks I want to complete during each one. I have a spreadsheet of all my past, present and planned publication submissions and competition entries, and another that tracks the number of days I write and how many words I achieve across several categories.

This is great for my productivity, ensuring I always know when my next writing sessions will be, what I will be working on, and that my progress will be accurately tracked. But, while I know from past experience that the best way to get writing done is to sit down and do it, such an ordered mindset can stifle creativity.

All writers know the benefits of a long walk, or a meditation session, or just getting on with something else and letting the subconscious have a turn. And writing without really thinking about it, and without a clear plan in mind, can lead you to some unexpected and fascinating places.

So, when I spotted a freewriting meetup starting in London, I went along - and it was great!

The lovely Claire led the session, giving us a prompt and then setting us loose on the page for five minutes of freewriting. We mostly wrote about pens - why we chose the one we chose out of the selection presented to us, and then more specifically about the pen itself. Then we swapped pens and wrote about the new one we were passed. Each of us read out our pieces at the end of each five minute writing slot, and it was amazing the range of thoughts and images that were produced. My contemplation of my various pens took me to some introspective places, both humorous and dark.

I’m not intending to use any of those pieces for another project. They existed in that moment and I’m glad to let them go. They reminded me of the joy of simply writing, going wherever my mind takes me, and not worrying about form, function, content or purpose.

I will definitely be going back to No Grammar Required when I can, and I very much look forward to more random exercises in brain splurging with Claire and the other members.


Posted on 02 April 2018 14:59

As someone who has to fit writing around working four days a week, a busy social life, and lots of trips away, I tend to feel as if I’m shirking if I don’t make use of every minute that’s available to me.


Last month, I went on a glorious, six-day writing retreat, where I had no excuses and all the opportunity in the world to get things done. When I went to the same retreat in February 2017 (admittedly only for three days), I squandered the time and I was determined not to make the same mistake again.


But six days is a long time to maintain focus and keep to a gruelling schedule of working on projects. So, I did find myself taking lots of breaks, going for walks, knitting, listening to podcasts, reading, chatting to the other writers, etc, etc. To begin with, I felt like I was failing again, and I was really annoyed with myself for wasting such precious time.


I found my stride on day three, set myself a challenging task list, and managed to complete everything on it. I felt great, as if I’d really accomplished something, and expressed how pleased I was with myself at dinner that night. I wrote another, similarly intensive list for the next day, and did pretty well, though I did allow myself to knock off quite early and go back to reading.


But, on the last two days of the retreat, I woke up early, with my head full of ideas and enthusiasm. Answers to problems presented themselves, and I found myself eager to get to work. And it was then that I realised I had been making use of all the downtime, after all.


If I had set to work on day one with a plan to work office hours on my writing every day of the retreat week, I probably would have burnt out by day three and spent the rest of the week being really miserable. What actually happened was that I gave myself the time and space to find a rhythm, and allowed my brain the chance to work on things subconsciously, without me constantly looking over its shoulder (as it were).


I got more done overall in that week than I planned, or even thought was possible. And I also had a great time interacting with other writers, and giving myself permission to relax and enjoy other pastimes as well. And the result was far more productivity, progress and inspiration than would have occurred if I’d driven myself into the ground, trying to do too much.


Creativity needs space. The imagination works best if you give it room to breathe. Yes, a schedule is important, and deadlines are helpful, but finding a balance between productivity and self-compassion is vital to success, in my view. It’s not an easy line to tread, particularly in this world of constant distractions and obligations. But your brain will thank you for allowing it some rest, and will most likely pay you back in better and more frequent ideas.




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Posted on 11 March 2018 10:09

The post I wrote for GYWO this month was all about how to approach the dreaded revision:

I hate revision.

With my short stories and fanfiction, I always have good intentions of scheduling additional time to let them sit for a while and then go back to them to revise. But most often, I dash off a first draft, scan over it, declare it done, and hit submit.

However, I know from experience that the stories I’ve spent more time on and revised in more detail are better and have been more successful. And, if I ever want to get my novel published, I know it’s going to require a lot of revision work.

So, I have developed certain strategies and found certain tools and resources to motivate me to revise and help me organise my revision once I get started.

For me, external feedback is absolutely key to revision. I find it almost impossible to reread my own work and identify where it needs work. So, I always try and get someone else to look at it and give me feedback. This also gives me a complete break from thinking about the story, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes later.

I’m lucky because I have helpful friends and family members who are willing to do this, and they have definitely helped with the novel. I try not to overburden them with too many requests, though, so I also use Scribophile for short fiction. This is a website where you can post your stories and get feedback from other members and I’ve found it extremely helpful over the last few years. There are lots of feedback sites out there, with varying levels of commitment (you have to give a lot of critiques to receive critiques on Scribophile), and I would recommend trying some.

Most recently on the novel, I paid for a developmental edit, which proved to be excellent, but obviously this requires some financial investment, and it’s important to check the editor’s credentials before you shell out.

Once I’ve got some feedback, the next stage, of course, is to actually do the work!

Luckily, while I hate revision, I love organising information. So, to ease myself in gently and hopefully get me excited about the project again, I go through all the feedback I’ve received and make a big list of all the changes I think I need to make. It’s important to note that I don’t automatically accept every suggestion that is made - I often don’t agree with feedback comments, though I think long and hard about them if multiple people have said the same thing.

Once I have a bullet point list, I get a whole load of coloured pens (yay!) and categorise each point. My categories are generally: background info, character development, plot points and narrative style. I also rate them as to whether they are quick wins, longer points that I can get to work on, or in need of further thought and development. Then I number all the points in the order I intend to work on them (always quick wins first, to motivate me to get started), and I’m ready to go.

It’s very easy for me to get lost in the list-making and joy of coloured pens, so it’s important to have a clear deadline for getting to work. As my husband says, at some point you have to “do the do” rather than just “talking the stuff”.

This all makes the revision process a lot easier and more fun for me - and helps to make sure it actually happens!


Subsequent to writing this, I've actually launched into my bullet list of revision points for the novel, and it turns out not to be as painful as I thought it would be - though I'm still on the easiest bits. I've also discovered a missing scene and a huge disservice to one of the minor characters, who lost her point of view in the last draft and currently disappears for half the book. I'm in the process of putting all her stuff back in, which I think will make the story stronger - but I may then have to do a whole new raft of revisions to tighten the whole thing up again. It's true what they say - a novel is never done! At some point, you just have to admit defeat. But I'm definitely not there yet...



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Posted on 12 February 2018 11:28

This month's GYWO discussion post topic was debunking writing myths, and I thought I would post my article here as well.

Last year, I finally got around to reading On Writing by Stephen King, and he has a lot to answer for in terms of writing myths. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good stuff in that book, and not all the myths listed below derive from it, but people have taken some of his advice and turned it into very rigid ‘rules’ for writing that can prove both restrictive and discouraging.


So, here’s my take on some of the most popular writing ‘rules’ out there, and why they don’t always apply.


1. Write Every Day


This one comes up *a lot*, with the suggestion being that the only way to get ahead with your writing is to write every single day. Now, I’m sure this works really well for some people, and it’s definitely a good idea to build a regular writing habit. However, writing every single day just isn’t practical for some people, and fitting your writing into whatever tiny gaps your schedule allows throughout the week doesn’t mean you’re not a ‘proper writer’. Also, I tried writing every day for about ten days last summer and absolutely hated it. It became a horrible chore, and my focus narrowed entirely to how many words I had produced, rather than enjoying the process. Three or four times a week, for a scheduled session of at least 90 minutes, is what works for me, and I’m sticking to it.


2. Show, Don’t Tell


This is the idea that ‘showing’ what’s going on in your story, through dialogue, character action and direct scenes is always better than ‘telling’ it through bald statements, summary and exposition. And for the most part, showing is better. Demonstrating that your character is unsettled by having a shiver go down their spine (cliche aside) is more effective than stating that they’re scared. However, this rule is often taken to extremes, with people suggesting that ‘telling’ should never be used. And that’s just plain not true. You do want to avoid pages and pages of explanations, and dialogue tags other than ‘said’ are generally a bad idea, but sometimes you just need to cut to the chase and spell something out, or summarise a lengthy period of time when little of significance happens. Be aware of this one, but don’t let yourself be a slave to it.


3. Never Use Adverbs


As with the example above, this is another ‘rule’ that shouldn’t be taken to extremes. Yes, there are often better ways to describe things than by using an adverb, and they are best avoided when explaining how dialogue is spoken (usually, you should dispense with this altogether - if your dialogue needs explaining, rewrite your dialogue). However, adverbs are not wholly the enemy, and a few sprinkled around where it really is the most expedient and expressive way of conveying something is fine.


4. Write What You Know


This is a ‘rule’ that’s often misunderstood. If all writers only composed material based on their direct experience, it would all be very self-indulgent and lacking in creativity. As writers, we have active imaginations and we should absolutely use them to make stuff up. You’re not likely to have actually met an alien, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put aliens in your stories. What this ‘rule’ is trying to say is that you should draw on your experience and emotions to inform your writing and make your characters’ reactions more credible. It doesn’t mean you can’t imagine them in a weird and wonderful situation you could never experience in real life.


5. You Can Only Write When the Muse is Willing


I fell foul of this ‘rule’ for a long time, always waiting for the ‘right frame of mind’ so that my writing would flow with ease and grace. Sometimes, that would happen and it was amazing. But the rest of the time, I just didn’t get anything done. I spent years, wishing I had more time and more energy to dedicate to my writing - but my most prolific writing periods were always when I was busiest with other things. That was when my juices were flowing and I had to cram my writing into tiny spaces. More recently, I’ve discovered that if I just sit down and get on with it (starting with a clear, itemised list, of course) I can always get *something* done, even if it isn’t my best work. But small progress is still progress and it’s important to get into the habit of just cracking on with it, even if you don’t feel that enthused. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time waiting for divine inspiration that probably won’t arrive.


6. Writing is a Solitary Passtime


Look at where we are. This community itself tells us that this one isn’t true. And some of my best writing has come out of interacting with other people. I love bouncing ideas off friends, getting feedback on my writing, collaborating on projects, or just getting together with other writers to exchange experiences and moan about how difficult our chosen craft is. I always come away from contact with other writers more energised and more enthused. So, don’t lock yourself away in an attic, under the impression that you have to be alone to write your magnum opus. Get involved, make friends, share your writing life - it will only improve the experience.


7. Real Writers Find Writing Easy


This is just plain ridiculous. I can guarantee that even the most famous and successful writers have days when it’s almost impossible to get any words down and even contemplating writing feels like dragging themselves and all their worldly possessions through sucking mud. And generally, they’re not shy about letting the world know it. I think every interview I’ve ever read with a professional writer has referenced the difficulties they’ve faced with their writing. We’re all in this together, and it’s always going to be tough at least some of the time.


8. A Debut Novel is A Writer’s First Novel


The automatic thought when a book is advertised as a ‘debut’ is to assume it’s the first thing the author has written. But that’s very unlikely to be the case. It just means it’s the first novel they’ve managed to get published, and invariably there have been failed attempts and many rewrites before that publication happened.


9. Writers are Born, Not Made


Following on from the above, every single writer has to learn their craft and spend time improving it. If it happens at all, it must be incredibly rare that someone would dash off a first attempt at writing, and have it turn out perfectly first time. Every writer has a folder somewhere with their earliest painful and embarrassing efforts (assuming they haven’t burned them) - and if they claim that isn’t true, they’re just plain lying. Some writers are more talented than others, but techniques can be learned, and everyone has room for improvement (and the ability to work to achieve it).


10. Writing Method X is Better Than Writing Method Y


If you take away anything from this post, it should be this. Every writer has different techniques, rituals, work ethics, routines. No one method of writing is going to work for everyone. The most important thing to do is experiment, be creative, find out what works for you, and then rock it, no matter what anyone else says. There are no hard and fast rules that are set in stone and unable to be broken. If you find you compose best dictating into your smartphone while water-skiiing, then go for it. Nobody can tell you how you should approach your writing - it’s yours and nobody else’s and you should go about it in whatever way best suits you.





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Posted on 24 January 2018 18:08

I’ve recently been gaining a lot of benefit from the concept of the presupposition of success. I first came across this a couple of years ago, in a session on self-hypnosis at a writing festival.


In that context, it was about introducing a statement into your subconscious, assuming an answer to a particular question would come you at a specified time. I have used this often since to make progress on writing projects, by repeating a statement like, “When I sit down to have my lunch on Wednesday, I will get an idea for this week’s fanfiction prompt.” And it really works.


I have been developing this technique in other ways, without realising it, and it only came to me when I started writing this post that that was what I’ve been doing.


It started with my Self Journal, which is where I’m planning my scheduled writing time for 2018. At the end of each writing session, I confirm the date for my next one, and complete the task list on the next page with what I want to achieve next time. This means I know exactly when I will next be working on my writing projects (allowing me to relax and enjoy my free time in between) and it gives me a framework for that scheduled time, which helps me focus and provides me with a target for success. I certainly haven’t completed everything on my list at every session, but I’ve definitely achieved more than I would have done without a concrete plan.


Even better is the way I’m using my Weeknotes as a motivating tool. Instead of writing them at the end of each session, summarising what I’ve done, I’ve started writing each paragraph before embarking on the task I’m writing about. So, I’m actually predicting what I’m about to do, rather than recording what I’ve just done. I only do it one task at a time, so I’m not getting too far ahead of myself and making my presupposition of success unrealistic. But, I find it very motivating, and hugely helpful in keeping focus if I state each task as if I’ve already completed it, and then start.


And thus far, I’ve never had to go back and change my Weeknotes entry afterwards because I haven’t achieved what I’ve written.





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Posted on 13 January 2018 15:42

I was reading the latest issue of Mslexia the other day, and came across a quote from Gretchen Rubin, which says: “The reward for a good habit is the good habit, and that’s the reward to give yourself.”


This has certainly been the case for me recently with my writing. I’m still submitting to competitions and anthologies, but less often now I’m focusing on my two novels. And I do have plans to try and get those novels published, at least one of them later this year. But, at the moment, the writing itself is the point.


I’m also trying to cultivate better habits with my writing, helped along by my 120 habit pledge for Get Your Words Out this year. My plan is to do a significant amount of writing on 3-4 days each week and, so far, it’s not proving difficult. That’s because, given a free day, or an evening opportunity, the thing I most want to do is pack a bag full of writing supplies, repair to a cafe that does good tea, and spend a few hours working on my various writing projects.


I’m not forcing myself to write, with a view to getting the reward of publication, or even to reward myself with a treat once I feel I’ve done enough for the day. Meeting up with a good friend, and sharing table space while really getting on with stuff turns out to be a treat in and of itself. And this is very much a good thing, because it means writing doesn’t feel like a chore, and it makes the inevitable rejections that much easier to bear, since publication is just an added bonus on top of an activity that is already an achievement just because I’m doing it.


My biggest problem now is remembering to schedule in some relaxation time. Even though I’m enjoying my writing, it still takes effort and energy, and I’ve found it can be very draining if I spend several hours on writing projects on every free day I have outside my day job. So, if I want to keep my good habit up, I need to pace myself and acknowledge that I do need some time off every now and then, as well.





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Posted on 29 December 2017 14:38


The end of December is always a time for reflection and for looking forward, so I will stick with tradition and do both, in terms of my writing.

This year, I've learned that scheduling writing time and sticking to it is always the right choice. Even when I'm feeling low and exhausted, I can still get useful stuff done - and spending the whole day at a cafe, making progress on writing projects has become my favourite thing to do.

But I've also learned that I shouldn't restrict myself to working on writing only during scheduled time. I can and should do it in odd moments at home and at work, as well. I’m really glad that GYWO has introduced Habit Pledges for next year, whereby you track the number of days you spend working on writing projects, rather than the number of new words you write, as I’m hoping this will help me to maximise my writing time.

However, most of all, I've learned that writing is something that will always be a part of my life, in one way or another. At a particularly low point this year, I actually decided to pack it all in and stop writing, because life would be so much easier and less stressful that way. That plan lasted about half an hour. This is not something I can give up, no matter how tough it gets. But it’s important that I’m clear about why I’m doing it and what I’m getting out of it.

Yes, my ultimate ambition is to get a novel published, and I’ll be working hard towards that goal next year. But if my planned schedule turns out to be unrealistic, or I find trying to whip my first novel into shape is more of a chore than a pleasure, then I may have to rethink. I’ve had a lot of enjoyment in writing and submitting short pieces over the last couple of years, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

So, next year is going to be about making detailed plans, maximising the amount of time (and number of days) I spend working on my writing, but also trying to keep a balance between different types of projects, as well as making sure I have time to rest and do other things. Easy, right?

I have a new planning method (Self Journal) to try, I have a tentative plan to get Artisan ready to submit to Winchester Writers Festival, I’ll attempt to get a first draft of Colours done by then too. But my daily writing task lists will also include journalling, GYWO discussion posts, reviews, Hour of Writes and/or Fandom Weekly, revision/creation of short fiction, fanfiction exchange events, and reading reference books about writing. That’s a lot to keep going all at once, and may well prove impossible. But I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.

And, if it turns out I’m being way too ambitious, I’ll have to re-evaluate, decide on my priorities, and either cut some things out of rotation or extend all the deadlines so I can keep working on everything all at once.

Regardless of how things work out, here’s to many more writing days at Good and Proper, and a productive and joyful writing year in 2018!




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Posted on 06 December 2017 18:41

The plan was all there. I spent a month brainstorming, outlining and cogitating. I felt excited about the story, and confident that I could make it good. I booked a writing retreat in the middle of nowhere for the first weekend in December, ready to crack on with the first draft of the new novel.


And then it hit. That awful, sinking, nauseous feeling that flows over me whenever I contemplate actually starting. I imagined being holed up in the cottage, with all the time in the world over three days, to write and write and write. And I couldn’t see myself doing it.


So, I got my trusty tablet out of my bag and made myself start writing on the train. I managed a scene, knew where I was going next with it, and felt more confident about making progress over the course of the weekend. But it was hard and it was painful.


The weekend unfolded in much the same vein. I made myself write two scenes at a time, then gave myself a bit of time off to read or watch TV and knit. But even though the scenes followed one after the other, and the writing flowed pretty well - I had to make myself do it. At any given moment during the weekend, I would rather have not had to do it.


And, when it comes right down to it, I didn’t have to do it. The only one creating this schedule and forcing myself to get words down on the page is me. So why do I do it to myself?


Of course, it’s not always as hard as it was this weekend - though I do generally find it tough to do more than a thousand words of new material in a day, even if I have the whole day free to do it. And I was incredibly pleased with my amassed count of 10,164 words overall for the weekend. And I love the story I’m writing. So maybe that’s why I do it. The product is worth the pain of producing it.


I did have about half an hour, a couple of months ago, when I contemplated giving the whole thing up. Just not writing any more. Kaput. Nothing. Ever again.


It had a certain appeal. I could do whatever I wanted with my free time, without that voice always nagging at me that I ought to be writing. Maybe I wouldn’t resent my day job so much. I’d probably be more relaxed. I might get more sleep.


But it didn’t happen. I don’t think I even took a whole week off. Because the ideas were still there, and they weren’t going to go away. And the excitement was still there, bubbling up through the fatigue and the uncertainty to take hold of my brain.


For example, today I had a mental health blip. I went back to my desk after lunch, and it felt like I was hauling myself uphill through hip-deep sludge. I really struggled to achieve anything all afternoon, and had to force myself to do the smallest tasks, in a much more aggressive way than I had with the writing at the weekend. All I wanted to do was crawl home, curl up in front of the TV and eat chocolate.


Then, just before I left work, my subconscious crew came through like heroes, right on schedule, with the next two scenes of the new novel. I had been thinking most of the day that I had no idea where I was going next with it, and suddenly the path was clear. I can’t say I exactly skipped out of the office to meet my friend for our writing date in the cafe round the corner. But I went. And I sat down and I wrote my two scenes. And I already know what the next two are.


So, it doesn’t look like I’ll be quitting any time soon. But, wow, have I picked a tough hobby!




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