Baby Steps

I’m not even going to blog about what a crap blogger I am. Not in terms of how good (or bad) my posts are as that’s for you, dear reader, to decide. I’ve always been sporadic with my blogging and I marvel at those who find things to blog about on a weekly basis. Clearly, I don’t find many things in life that inspiring to write about or, maybe the monotony of daily life kills inspiration?

I go to work, I come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, read. Rinse and repeat, five days a week. Weekends have become about recharging, lounging about, watching movies, gaming (I love my PS4) drinking wine, cooking and other than going out for a food shop or the occasional drink in my local pub, I’ve become something of a hermit. This is dangerous territory. I’m a homebody, I love my home comforts. Other than my bed, the sofa is probably my second favourite place.

Obviously, I need to get out of this funk.

2019 was about being a little selfish. My mental health was suffering, work was awful in the first half of the year. I was so exhausted and numb that I barely did any writing, put AmDram on hold and put myself first.

This was all well and good but the lazy part of my nature took over. I stopped exercising, put on weight and towards the end of the year started feeling crap about myself again. For someone with anxiety and depression, this is not good. I ended up living in my rut, desperate to get out of it, not knowing how to and unable to motivate myself.

Christmas was great, no travelling to see family, it was just me, my boyfriend and my cat. Lots of food, lots of drink, nice pressies and for a good week or so I was totally relaxed.

Almost three weeks into the New Year and it was already looking like 2020 would pan out to be another 2019. Ugh.

For weeks, I’ve been telling myself to reopen Horizon Skies and go through the notes from the last beta read. For weeks, I’ve been putting it off. I really am one of the world’s best procrastinators.

Today however, I actually did it. As soul destroying as it is to work on something I technically finished in 2018, I am fully aware of how, NOT working on it means no one else will ever get to read it. Therefore,  that I am cheating myself out of the opportunity of getting it back out there to an agent.

A few niggling edits aside, it seems the story just needs a few more elements added to it to strengthen aspects that haven’t been elaborated on. I have given myself until the end of February to get them done which means setting a little time aside in the evening each day and doing the work. I won’t be getting it beta read again, it’s had five people read it now and I think that’s enough outside opinion 🙂

As for other aspects of my life. Work is better, my new role which I’ve now been doing for 7 months is VERY busy and challenging but for my mental health, has made a massive difference. I’ve been getting back on the exercise bike and making more of an effort to eat properly during the day instead of wasting money on expensive ready meals and shop bought sandwiches.

These are baby steps, I’ve never been on to rush headlong into something but I think I’m heading in the right direction. I’m keeping an eye on AmDram news and if something comes up this year that piques my interest, I hope I’ll be in the right frame of mind to take part.

I still read every day, that hasn’t changed. Books have always been my one constant in life and I still need that escapism.

Creativity Doldrums

Oh dear, four months since I last made a blog entry.

I changed jobs at the end of May which has been great, I’m really enjoying the new role but I am busier than ever. Life is flashing before my eyes.

I still had some crap to deal with from the previous role which is yet to be concluded so that has been a frustrating experience, to say the least.

Mental health has been a bit up and down. I was exercising for a little while but then lost the motivation to do it every day and my weight has started creeping back up again. I’ve become lazy and complacent which is hard to deal with, especially on those days when I feel the tidal wave of sadness looming behind me. I feel sad every day but try and occupy my thoughts with other things as best I can. I treated myself to my first tattoo in June and had my next one Saturday just gone.

So, of course, the writing suffered. Horizon Skies was left to gather dust as the editing process dragged on. I think it’s on it’s 5th or 6th draft now and if it hadn’t been for one of my lovely Twitter crowd asking about a beta reader for her own book, I don’t know if I’d have got someone to take another look at mine. I decided to stop where I’d got to and we did a beta swap. I am so glad I did because it’s taken away some of the stress I was feeling  and I’ve been able to turn my attention back to other WIPs that have been languishing in the dark.

I last picked up Sanctuary of Stone in March this year and whilst I’ve looked at it from time to time, I couldn’t work out the story arc. I’m very much a writer who lets the plot unfold as I write. The danger with that is my stories either wither and die or go off on a wild tangent.

The trouble with Sanctuary is that it started out as a story within a very contained environment with just one character. I soon realised, this wouldn’t be enough to sustain a story of novel length so introduced other characters as I worked out the story in my head. As the environment in which these characters occupy is a place they can’t/won’t/don’t leave it became apparent that I would have to conclude the story quite quickly, thus, reducing the length to that of a novella. I don’t want to do that though.

Yesterday, I picked up were I left off and added another 1,000 words to chapter 10 which has now clocked in at approx. 1,700 total. I’d like to add another 500 or so as I always try to aim for a minimum chapter length of 2,000.

Today, I printed off all completed chapters and I then had a light bulb moment, something I’ve not had in a long time. A story arc came to mind and I felt inspired once again. For someone who wants to be a professional writer, the last few months of floating in the creativity doldrums had me worried. Is Horizon Skies the only book I’ll ever write?

Hopefully not, I’ve got so many more stories I want to tell.

 

Kick Back and Relax…It’s Really OK!

I’m often very self-critical when it comes to fitting in writing time. Because it’s the job I want to do, I hate not being able to fit it in every day; as I see so many other writers managing to do.

I currently work in I.T. and have been for the last thirteen years. All the jobs I’ve had in this industry are busy in the extreme. I’ve worked evenings, weekends, gone into the office early, worked through lunch – you get the idea.

The past couple years have been particularly difficult for one reason or another and I’ve reached the point where my stress levels are high and I suffer mild anxiety. For someone with existing mental health issues, this is not an ideal situation.

I made a decision after a crazy January that I wouldn’t again get sucked into the vicious circle of working long hours to try and stay on top of things. I don’t get any thanks or recognition for it and I’m only hurting myself in the process.

As a conscientious person, this is actually quite difficult for me to do. I’m a natural helper, I’m good at my job, I have years of knowledge and experience but these attributes have definitely been taken for granted. I’m stepping back. I get into the office around 8.45am instead of 8.00am. I take an hour for lunch away from my desk, I leave at 5.30pm and I do not log on or check my phone before or after those times.

Sadly however, I have had to drop out of the AmDram production I was due to appear in, in June. My mental state, the exhaustion and lack of energy meant I wasn’t enjoying rehearsals, I couldn’t engage with the material, therefore, was unable to devote 100% which was really unfair on the cast and director.

On a positive note, my evenings and weekends are free. I’m worrying a bit less and hopefully, my stress and anxiety will level out to something more manageable. I don’t have much energy in the evenings so writing time is reserved for the weekend and I’m happy with that. It’s better to be doing something than nothing.

Horizon Skies took six years to complete, it’s been almost a year since I first hawked it out to agents so I do need to get my arse in gear to really polish it and get back out there again.

So, if you’re in a similar position to me and are beating yourself up about your progress – don’t. It’s counterproductive, you’ll feel like crap and lose motivation.

It’s ok to re-evaluate where you are, make those changes and get yourself into a more positive frame of mind. I’m a lot happier now for doing so and it means

My weekends writing are something I enjoy and look forward to as opposed to something I have to get done.

Kick Back, Relax and Enjoy!

Revision, Revision, Revision – Please Let This Be The End!

I must admit, I’ve been dipping in and out of Horizon Skies for the last few weeks and realising that, despite all the editing, the book I presented to agents is still not completely finished.

The notes from my editor are incredibly helpful but have raised more questions about my work.

World building and my magic system are two areas that still need expansion. I honestly thought I had built my world quite nicely. Apparently, it reads as rather generic with no unique markers to differentiate the various locations. Weird how, what is in my head has not necessarily translated that well onto paper.

Luckily, she has been complimentary overall about the book, the story and my writing style so at least that’s an affirmation of my ability to write.

After spending a few hours on Horizon Skies yesterday, I achieved very little. I’m focusing on the minor revisions such as, what people look like and adding in a bit of detail here and there. When I get to an area that needs a major overhaul, I’m terrified! In my head, I’m thinking, “I spent YEARS writing this, I can’t face it again!”

So, giving it some thought this morning and I think I’ve come up with a battle plan:

  1. Work through the minor revisions first
  2. Print the chapters off requiring more of an overhaul
  3. Get the old notebooks out again and revise by hand (I prefer writing this way)
  4. Expand upon the magic system

I think the magic system will be quite hard. The basics are already there but I have to consider the following:

  1. Type of magic i.e. elemental, chemical etc.?
  2. Are magic wielders born with it or is it taught?
  3. Are there levels of magic?
  4. Does everyone have an ability or just a select few?

Elemental magic is a very common trope in Fantasy, mainly because it is an incredibly easy system to write. People with the ability to manipulate fire, earth, air and water are seen quite often in the books we read from this genre.

I’d love to be able to have the ability to create different magic systems the way Brandon Sanderson does. He manages to create something different in all his novels, they are all unique to the planets within the Cosmere (his universe for the uninitiated). From swallowing different metals (Mistborn) to Lashing (The Way of Kings) Sanderson cleverly demonstrates that we don’t have to rely on tried and tested tropes.

I lean towards elemental, it’s in a lot of books I read plus, as a bit of gamer, I’ve seen it’s very common in RPG’s. The earlier Final Fantasy games had characters specifically gifted with one of the elements.

There are some very handy charts and diagrams all over the internet explaining magic systems, some of these are very intricate but I don’t want to borrow from anyone else. Let’s face it, a lot of fantasy stories have very common themes, especially in Young Adult so it’s important that, as writers, we do create something unique. Something that will make the story stand out just that little bit more to an agent.

Here I go again…

Motivation Station!

For the last few weeks, I have been counting down the days to a well earned, truly deserved week off from the old day job.

Work continues to be a cause of high stress levels for me and it’s one of my motivators to purse a career as a writer. I want to dictate my days and hours of work, not have them dictated to me by poor staffing levels, low morale and a workload that keeps getting bigger.

As today is my first day of annual leave (hurrah!) I have started my week as I intend to continue it: writing!

Ok, aside from the usual distractions of Twitter (who knew a thread about tea vs coffee could go viral?) I have picked up my notebooks for a story I started whilst I was writing Horizon Skies.

I usually refer to said story as my 2nd WIP but realised that a working title is needed. For the time being, it is called The Puzzle Box. Previous titles were The Castle and 30 Days and 30 Nights but I felt they were a bit, “meh” and have been scrapped. The working title I have chosen does nothing to conjure up any kind of imagery of what the story is about but, it’ll have to do for now.

The Puzzle Box reached an impasse some months ago and I put it to one side to concentrate on Horizon Skies. Looking at it with fresh eyes was like reading something written by a different person. I read the last couple of chapters I’d written, and realised that they’re actually pretty damn good!

I finished writing chapter 9 yesterday and today is about typing up into New Novelist, the programme I use for writing. (I tried Scrivener but felt like I needed a degree in rocket science to figure it out).

New Novelist is great for just getting the story down in place where I can then copy into Word and fine tune using ProWritingAid for editing. This might seem convoluted but we all have ways of working that suit us and this is mine.

Once all that’s done, I’ll be rewriting the remaining story arc as I feel this book will come in at a shorter length than Horizon Skies; which is clocking on towards 100,000 words with the revisions.

Feeling motivated, feeling excited and looking forward to getting so much more done this week!

Rejection is the Name of the Game

I’ve been fully prepared for the rejection process since I started submitting my novel back in May. I’ve had a few “form” rejections and a few positive rejections; the best of which came from Curtis Brown and Skylark (nice e-mails from these agents too).

So, I have now joined the echelons of writers who have put themselves in the laps of the literary gods, bared my heart and soul to people who hold my future in their hands.

Ok, that might seem a little melodramtic but anyone who knows me, knows that I have a penchant for theatrics!

So far, I’ve clocked up thirteen actual rejections. Next, I have to look at those who simply haven’t responded at all; but, my list is dwindling. I have twenty-four agents yet to respond and whilst I am fully educated in the nature of rejection (ALL writers, published or not have gone through this experience) I am starting to feel ever so slightly despondent.

Being rejected definitely raises questions.

  1. What wasn’t “quite right” about my story?
  2. Why weren’t they “passionate” or “enthusiastic” enough to take it further?
  3. Am I a terrible writer?
  4. Is it a terrible story?
  5. What’s so wrong with it?

Honestly, I think I could drive myself made with these questions whirling around my head.

I read so many books and sometimes I think, “mine is definitely as good as this”, but what is it about THAT book that made the cut? What made it stand out enough to attract the attention of a literary agent?

I’ve researched that a poor cover letter can be enough to earn a firm “No” but the fact that I am getting responses suggests to me that I must be doing something right. One agent’s response was “Your submission caught my eye so I read it straight away. I enjoyed HORIZON SKIES. It was an intriguing concept. However, I’m afraid I didn’t quite love this enough to take it further.” It was definitely encouraging but obviously not what I wanted to hear.

So, what next? Do I revisit my manuscript, get some new betas, hire an editor? Or, consign my creation to the bottom of the pile and hope that my current WIP makes the grade?

One thing I am definitely sure of in all this; I am NOT giving up on my ambition. I AM a writer, you just won’t see me on the shelves of Waterstones…yet.

Slacking off…again

I feel like, sometimes, I take a visit to my blog and realise I haven’t posted anything in a while. Either through laziness or forgetfulness. Not because I don’t want to; let’s face it, I usually have a lot to say on a variety of subjects 🙂

This time, I’ll put it down to a combination of both the aforementioned excuses as well as the old “life gets in the way sometimes” adage.

Life hasn’t been going so well these past few months, (reasons I won’t go into), I’m battling another bout of depression which has severely depleted most of my motivation and I simply don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve made a return to AmDram after being completely absent from it for almost a year but it was still hard making myself go. I am glad I did though. I’m looking forward to being involved in something with likeminded people. It’s fun and it certainly takes my mind off things.

The one positive, I guess; is that I have finally made my submission queries to literary agents (yay!).

But wow, that’s a whole other ball game!

You can’t just submit your manscript and cover letter to every agent you can think of. Different agents represent different genres and types of writers. They all have a very specific idea of what they want. Also, the submission requirement itself varies a great deal. From agents who want a brief synopsis and the first 10,000 words to those who want a two page synopsis, the first three chapters and a cover letter with a sales pitch. There definitely is no “one size fits all” scenario. Submitting to just three agents, I found, could take up most of a morning.

I have targeted a group of agents from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2018 and narrowed them down into two groups. First and second choice. First choice agents are those whose entry jumped off the page at me, the second choice are those where the entries really don’t give much away. What I have found out however, is that a lot of my second choices are those agents with some rather successful clients on their roster.

It’s not enough just to go by the book though. From there, I visited the websites, read the agent bios, looked at the authors and books being represented, then decided if I should send my manuscript. I’ve had to adapt everything depending on the requirements with those agents so I hope I’ve done everything right.

I have had three rejections so far. Two written and one non-response (their threshold was 4 weeks). My first rejection came back within a week of submitting (I have no idea if that means they were initially interested) and one was from JK Rowling’s agent (I knew that one would be a long shot!) The responses so far have been polite and pleasant, I’m grateful for that because I know there are agents out there who can be very derisive.

So, all that remains now is for me to wait for further responses (or not, as the case maybe) but I am working on my second WIP at the moment. Still untitled but it’s coming along quite nicely.

Patience, Grace!

My book is now in the hands of my alpha-reader. The lucky victim candidate is my other half, the one who has been with me since I actually knuckled down in 2012 and started writing the book.

Now, I don’t know how other writers choose their alphas and betas and I expect they all have different groups of people in which they can implicitly trust their precious manuscripts. I’m going with the “less is more” approach. One alpha and maybe 2-3 betas as I’m worried that too many opinions may muddy the next stage and I really don’t want to get into another round of edits that maybe wholly unnecessary.

I find myself, however, badgering my beleaguered partner to tell me where he is in the story, what chapter, who does he like, is he enjoying it? I think perhaps, I maybe ruining the experience for him somewhat!

It’s exciting though; having someone actually read a book that I have written. Even up to the point when I finished it, I don’t think I ever told him what it was about. I don’t tell anyone, it’s always been a closely guarded secret. I think I’m paranoid that someone might steal the idea from me 🙂

One good thing about my alpha is that he’s not really into fantasy fiction. His taste tends to lean towards auto-biographies and the odd thriller however, he has read a few books from my collection and as 95% of my books are all fantasy he’s read Marie Lu, Patrick Ness and James Dashner who have all written fantastic novels. I’m hoping these will have given him a good grounding in fantasy works from world building to characterisation.

Whilst all this is going on, I have started on my second book which is another fantasy story but is not the sequel to Horizon Skies, and I am now collating information on agents in the UK to approach with queries/submissions. I read a very useful guide written by Patrick Ness in which he provides some very useful guidance on how to find an agent. So, I have bought my copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2018, highlighted agents in orange for my first choice, green for my second. The reason for the second choice? The entries are not always clear as to which genres/authors these agents represent so will take a little more research.

At present, I have 35 first choice and 48 second choice. A grand total of 83. That’s a lot of agents but I have to face up to the fact that writing is a highly competitive business, and I could end up rejected by everyone I approach. I have to be pragmatic. Every agent works differently. They have different guidelines for submissions and queries. Agents will be looking for something specific, something about the manuscript that stands out against all the others. Above all, my research so far tells me, they appreciate a writer taking the time to follow the guidelines correctly, are professional and do not badger them for a response.

I’m still excited at the prospect of getting published even if I don’t succeed via the traditional route, self publishing has paved the way for so many authors and I know that, one way, or another, my book will be out there in the future.

Random Stuff

I stumbled across my first real problematic chapter yesterday in the editing process. In the end, there was nothing for it but to print the damn thing and go over it by hand. I think I’ve cracked it though and will do the digital edit today. At least I am now past the half way mark so the end is in sight!

I did a little baking yesterday and made some peanut butter and chocolate flapjacks. They’re adapted from a recipe in the 15 Minute Vegan cookbook. They’re still vegan but I used Sweet Freedom Chocolate Syrup and agave nectar in place of Flapjacksgolden syrup. They came out beautifully; so much so that I may have to hide them from my boyfriend!

For anyone reading this blog who is into similar music to me (rock all the way!) I would like to mention a band by the name of My Soliloquy. This little known group have a new album coming out on the 14th September by the name of Engines of Gravity. As my aforementioned boyfriend is the creator of this band, I’ve had the privilege of hearing the completed album and can say that it is a stonker of a record. Proggers, metalhead and rockers are all catered for and I invite you to check out this band and their previous endeavours.

That’s all for now 🙂

My Soliloquy Band Page

Man of Much Metal – Engines of Gravity Review

Progressive Music Planet – Engines of Gravity Review

Editing: A Necessary Evil

Since putting my pen down, tidying the notepads away and sitting back with the smug feeling of having written my book; I am now at the stage which has filled me with some trepidation.

Editing.

I follow lots of writers on Twitter, many in the same boat as me, we’ve sailed the river of writing our fast draft but now find ourselves alone, navigating the choppy seas of editing. I must admit, a lot of writers have made no bones about the fact that editing can be a labour intensive, boring process but one that must be done to get the book into a more cohesive, second draft.

I have waited three weeks since downing the pen and revisiting my manuscript and I enter the process as a complete novice. The thought of cutting words, whole paragraphs, characters even is a scary prospect and I must admit, I went gently with the first couple of chapters!

However, today’s editing process felt a little different. Chapter 3, a good chapter (I believe) but which the direct influence of LOTR was screaming out of it, demanded changes and those changes have been made. Maybe not as brutal as it should have been but I don’t want to do anything too drastic and alter the tone completely. The story is still my story and the 3rd draft will provide further opportunity for more changes.

So, for anyone reading this who is perhaps still working through their 1st draft and worrying about it being any good: don’t be. Your 1st draft is the outline, an introduction to the world you’re creating and the characters within it. It’s the first stepping stone on the way to completion.

This is an old article but it is very useful and this is the guideline I’m working with as far as the editing process goes:

Writers’ Digest – How To Edit Your Book

In the meantime, feel free to add your comments about editing here, learning from other writers is invaluable!