How to Deal with DOUBT

We all know how doubt can be debilitating. Well, maybe not all- narcissists and less sophisticated primates are never plagued with doubt… so I’ll try again: we all should have some idea how deadly doubt can be… but equally how much we need it in writing. Because we need doubt to propel us to ruthlessly edit our messy manuscripts; we need to pick out our flaws and correct them. I for one like to take all my doubts out the drawer periodically and hold them in my hand until they grow so heavy that I feel like I’m sinking into a quicksand of doom and despair… or maybe that’s just me?

Okay, maybe that’s not the healthiest way to deal with doubt. There are better, tried and tested ways of dealing with doubt, like…

Crying.

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Singing super cheesy anthems at the top of your lungs.

Power through- just hope those little voices inside your head go. away.

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POWER THROUGH EVEN MORE- this means ruthlessly editing a gazillion times, writing more and more and more…

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Read books by professionals and feel bad about it (aka chewing yourself out by convincing yourself you will never live up to those insane standards you set yourself)

pretending to read

Well, that wasn’t so bad. But we can do better than that…

Note that *CONGRATS* feeling doubt is a totally normal part of the process for any creative person.

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Note that books on the shelves have been edited by professionals and it’s okay if you’re not up to that standard (yet).

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Note that it’s a process and you’re getting there (just think about how crap you were when you started and you’ll feel better, I promise 😉).

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Note that there’s always more room for more books in the world. Think of all those libraries and bookshops that need stocking with new stories!

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Note that it’s okay to take breaks- you don’t have to power through all the time- seriously, it’s okay to take breaks!

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And if none of this has helped, then…

Eat ice cream (and bananas) because this will always help. Always.

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Actually, go do that anyway! Do you think any of these will be helpful? How do you deal with doubt? Let me know in the comments!

Heroes of Olympus was a Near-*KNOCKOUT* Success!

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After Percy Jackson, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed more of this fun, middle-grade take on classic mythology. Luckily, I had all of the Heroes of Olympus series to enjoy! With his trademarked humour, Riordan expands on his Half-blood concept, pitting Romans and Greeks against each other. This was a fight I could definitely get behind (though admittedly I’m a little bit biased towards the Greeks 😉). It was a brilliant way to do a crossover!

Before we get too much into how the plot played out, I have to say I was loving the new additions to the cast. As much as I appreciated having Percy & co back, I liked how more gods were incorporated and the exploration of their powers. I particularly took to Jason, Piper and Hazel… which I realise is most of them 😉

Best of all, each of the characters (old and new) were given space to develop. All the existing relationships were expanded upon and personalities were given room to shine. My favourite of which would definitely be Nico- not just cos I love his powers, not just cos I’ve always had a soft spot for Hades, but because he has one of the most sympathetic stories in the entire series.

There was plenty going on in each of the books. Beyond each coming of age story, there were battles with bad guys and the ongoing theme of uniting the warring Greeks/Romans. This made the series *so much more complex* than the first- and I have to admit, I was digging it. All the stories managed to converge and I had the sense that this was more structured than its predecessor. Coupling the drama and emotional moments made for a very satisfying reading experience. The ending, while not mind-blowingly bold, had some really sweet touches that made it work.

My main reason for not being completely in love with it is quite simply that I’m not a kid- I get the feeling I’d have loved this a whole lot more if I’d read it back then. But other than that, I really have only one niggling (and perhaps petty) complaint: why on earth was there nonsense about Italians not eating pizza!

percy jackson pizza exhibit a

And, worse, how can anyone dare call Italian pizza bad?!?!!

percy jackson pizza exhibit b

ITALY IS THE BIRTHPLACE OF PIZZA AND ITALIAN FOOD IS DIVINE (okay technically it came from Naples, but Romans good at making pizza too!) (also every Italian I know eats pizza, I don’t even know what that was about). And, yes, I know this is a minor thing, but whatever, it’s my review and you don’t get to insult Italian pizza on my watch! (to be fair, I would’ve noticed this as a kid too and I’d have been equally irritated!)

Phew, sorry, needed to get that out of my system. Other than that, I had a really good time with this series and I don’t feel like I’ve entirely missed the boat.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Okay, so have you read this series? What did you think of it? And have you ever come to a popular series really late? Let me know in the comments!

Creeping Round My Feelings for Queen’s Thief…

So, this is a series I ended up having *mixed feelings* about. All respect to the author for writing such a unique and interesting fantasy YA- but WOW there were some things about the plot in the second book that I can’t get my head round. I’m gonna keep away from spoilers for the most part, and any I do discuss will be hidden from view (you can highlight for them as always 😉 ). Just be prepared for a long one, cos I’m gonna reveal my deep, dark thoughts here…

thief

The Thief– this was by far my favourite of the series and I’d recommend it regardless of the rest of the series. It worked well as a standalone and I just had an awesome time with the audiobook 😊 On the surface, it’s a simple quest story, trying to steal ancient treasure… but it’s so much more than that! As a fantasy, it also reminded me of Cinda Chima Williams- in the best possible way- the fantasy is effective, yet the strength is really the plot and characters. Ahh the characters in this one were *the best*. Each and every one of them. The plot did admittedly have some elements of predictability, however, I *loved* each and every twist and turn. It didn’t matter that I guessed the ending, because I thoroughly enjoyed being proven right. Plus, the way it tied together was TERRIFIC! Certain bits and pieces snuck up on me and were a total surprise! *Applause* all round! I also absolutely love the way the setting and myths are inspired by Greek mythology and by Greece itself, but also manages to be very much its own thing. This is the kind of book that will leave you with a big smile on your face!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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queen of attolia

Queen of Attolia– sooo this one made my *happy feelings* disappear. And I get it, the author wanted to go in a darker direction, but this is SO MUCH DARKER. I rarely get squeamish these days, but this book made me queasy. I’d say it was Game of Thrones levels of dark… except there was a senselessness to the violence that even Martin doesn’t achieve. Worse still, this then meant the book hit some major roadblocks. I did initially think that the trauma was being well handled- it felt nuanced and honest and I didn’t mind that not everything added up to a straightforward recovery story… That was until the story went off in a direction that *made no sense* and dove off a cliff as far as I’m concerned. I’m sorry to say this, because for so many people the romance is what they love about the series, but… WTF?!?! Thing is, there were ways this could’ve made sense for the overall plot and hate to love is one of my favourite tropes, HOWEVER there are limits. And highlight for spoiler: this bitch literally cut off his hand. Because HE SMILED AT HER! Once one party in a romance is flinching away from the other and legitimately terrified, it doesn’t come across as romantic. It didn’t help that the romance came out of nowhere (although I really don’t think there’s any way to make the love interest redeemable). And no, this isn’t the kind of situation where you can play it off as “aww they liked each other all along”. It’s not sweet; it’s demented. I wasn’t crazy about the switch from first person to third person (incidentally moving the series away from being about just one main character). One of the biggest problems is it tried to soften an aforementioned hard-ass, *evil* character- and I just thought that was a tall order in this case. Everything else, like the world building and the writing, was even better than the first- I was just so frustrated with that big plot point. I ended up a bit all over the place with my feelings for this book, because as you can tell there were parts I despised, it’s just… I was still emotionally invested, moved tremendously at times and liked a lot of the story elements. It didn’t hurt that it had a very good final twist too. Because I was split down the middle on this one, I gave it:

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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king of attolia

King of Attolia– the good thing about this series is that they feel disconnected enough that I wasn’t totally put off by my negative feelings for the last one… The problem with this book was it wasn’t good enough in its own right to really grab my attention. The main character of this one was a guard and, *le sigh*, I never really fall for the stoic soldier type. Granted there were some entertaining elements- as much as I wasn’t interested in Costis, Gen was quite the performer. This did have clever plotting, but it was a sloooow burn and it didn’t feel like there was enough in it to warrant a whole book. Much of the story felt like build up for later books. I was mostly glad I read it, because I don’t know any other writer who pulls off political conspiracy as well as Whalen- the king could shock and play them off against each other in genius ways. I do think that if you’re more into court intrigue than I am, you’ll love this, so I wouldn’t write it off completely. But it wasn’t really for me. Sidenote though: loved the continued link to classics and the use of “wine dark sea” was the highlight of the book for me- bravo!

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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conspiracy of kings

Conspiracy of Kings– this was MUCH BETTER! I’d safely say, it was a return to the form of the original book. Sophos is, quite simply, more likeable and interesting and pleasant to read about. I enjoyed this immensely and found it far more engaging. While there was a lull in the middle, it picked up towards the end and I couldn’t stop reading. Again, this was about the political shenanigans, not just brute strength, which I have to say I greatly appreciated as an alternative to a lot of other fantasy. The twist was clever as well- and for once I didn’t suspect it! Ironically, my biggest complaint was that it didn’t have the stones to go in a darker direction. That’s right, I’m criticising it for not doing one of the things I didn’t like in the earlier book. There’s just no pleasing some monkeys 😉 To be fair, this was quite a different issue. Highlight for spoilers: this was one of those cases where the dead family members should’ve stayed dead- bringing them back served no purpose and cheapened the emotional costs of his failure. Because in this case there was actually a reason for this loss. It didn’t feel as senseless as the earlier brutality. On a more nitpicky note, I also thought that a lot of the people in this series have bizarre relationships. Too often, people don’t hate the people they should rightly hate. It wasn’t as bad as the issue in Queen of Attolia, but it was still noticeably strange to have certain people being all buddy-buddy. Still, most of the friendships were done well and I actually liked the romance here. RESULT!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Ultimately, this series was unusually up and down for me. I can safely say I’m glad I read it- because it’s so different from a lot of the typical fantasy fare out there- although I still have serious reservations about some of the story choices. And while most of the characters were amazing, there were others I wanted to punch in the face (at the very least).

Phew- that was a long one- thanks if you stuck with it! Have you read this series? Do you plan to? And, I’m curious now, are there any romances you just can’t get behind? Let me know in the comments! 

Twisty Stories Where You Won’t Guess the Ending…

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After finishing up the Impossible Times trilogy, I felt like sharing some more books with UNEXPECTED and EPIC endings! Don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers, but these are some of the most twisty books I’ve ever read:

we were liars

We Were Liars– I have to admit, I was lulled into thinking the BIG TWIST had happened. When it comes- *oof*- it hits you right in the gut. Annnd I won’t say anymore for fear of ruining it… Another one I can’t talk much about…

poison chris wooding

Poison– one of the *best* things about Wooding’s fairy tale is how unexpected the twists are. It’s such a fresh and interesting and unique tale! (in fact, I’d argue there’s still nothing else like it, even though this is over 15 years old at this point!)

evelyn hardcastle

The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle- gotta say this Groundhog Day murder mystery is pretty darn unusual. Even better, this is the kind of book where the conclusion really makes the whole story! I for one never could’ve guessed where this was heading.

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Death of Mrs Westaway- what’s funny is I came close to guessing the outcome here, yet the author tricked me into thinking I’d got it wrong. Well played, Ware. Speaking of killer mysteries…

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Murder on the Orient Express– of course, this list would have been incomplete without Christie! And, as anyone who’s read her work knows, her endings are to die for!

the young elites

The Young Elites– this has a very different kind of heart-stopping ending. Most impressive though is how it takes the series a completely thrilling and different direction.

thief

The Thief– I really enjoyed this super-smart first instalment in the Queen’s Thief series. I did guess a few of the twists, but I still didn’t get everything and, in this case, I felt a supreme sense of satisfaction seeing how it all comes together.

six of crows

Six of Crows– another super twisty series is the Six of Crows duology. And while the series ender is *emotional* I had to pick this cos of how it turned the tables righhhht when you think you’re safe.

golden son

Golden Son– this entire series was another wild ride- but the reason I picked the ending for the second one is because *WHOA*- it very nearly killed me! Needless to say, I had to grab the next one as soon as possible! (if you try this series, fair warning, make sure you have the finale close to hand!!)

emperor of thorns

Emperor of Thorns– as a series ender, this is so satisfying. Exciting and bold and… I really can’t tell you anything else about it! All I’ll say is I never would’ve expected that!

And on that note… have you read any of these? Do you agree with me? And what books did you find so terrifically twisty that you couldn’t guess the ending? Let me know in the comments!

Dispel Illusion Cast its Spell Over Me!

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for review, but the endless gushing is all me*

That’s right- I’m back baby! Dressed in my Dungeons and Dragons gear, because I’ve been whizzing through time/space/my reads to get to today’s release… (okay I got an ARC, but we can pretend I’m a space-hopping primate, can’t we? 😉) Either way, I am more than ready to review the final book in the Impossible Times trilogy!

Much like the first two instalments, this was a compulsive, dramatic and entertaining read. Unlike the first two, this had interlocking timelines, flipping between Nick’s present and future selves. This worked perfectly. The two stories were layered over each other, taking time to get from point a to b, and yet speeding us to the final destination… I barely had the chance to pause for breath!

From the witty first line to the chuckle worthy last, I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out “how on earth are they going to get out of this one”. There were innumerable twists and turns; the plot closed off loops, only to open up more possibilities. I think it’s safe to say I had no idea where it was heading- even though I knew exactly how it had to end.

Still, this managed to hit BIG EMOTIONAL points. The friendships and relationships were beautifully realised. For all the action, there was real heart to this story. As the plot ticked towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion, I felt the protagonist’s desire to roll the clock back. The story began to feel like a love letter to a former self, the wonderful writing giving weight to the narrative and inspiring a sense of longing for simpler times.

Speaking of nostalgia, one of my favourite things about this series was the Dungeons and Dragons subplot. It reminded me of the “what you study in school somehow lines up with real life” trope- except this was way more inventive and ingenious and appealed to my inner geek!

But that was not all- oh no! Because Lawrence had an ace up his sleeve. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat- I knew it was coming and yet couldn’t see how… until *tada*! Everything came together with a flourish! I’m happy to say, it was one of the best endings I’ve read in a long while and it made me a very satisfied monkey. My reaction to that last masterstroke could only be described as gleeful; my only frustration is that I cannot talk about it for fear of spoilers! Which is why, I’m giving this:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you tried the Impossible Times series? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

The Perfect Book Tag

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Hi all! I’m still thinking quite a bit about writing and I saw this really fun tag over on Sara @the Bibliophagist‘s site and thought it would be fun to do (even if I wasn’t tagged- I know, what a rebel I am 😉 )

The Perfect Genre

pick a book that perfectly represents its genre

Well, obviously I’m picking fantasy, but I feel like this is such a versatile genre I could really pick anything. So, I’m just gonna pick Shadow of What was Lost, because it both epitomises the genre and doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

shadow of what was lost

Still really need to read the sequel!

The Perfect Setting

pick a book that takes place in a perfect place

This was possibly the hardest, because there are so. many. remarkable settings. That’s why it might be disappointing that I’m gonna go with possibly the most cliché answer and saying Hogwarts. But c’mon, this is the perfect book- I can’t really get any better, can I?

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The Perfect Main Character

pick the perfect main character

idiot

Prince Myshkin- a tragic figure with a heart of gold (it’s also been pointed out to me that Dostoevsky has a tendency to make his heroic characters basically Jesus- so make of that what you will).

The Perfect Best Friend

loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever

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Okay, yes I’m cheating a little cos I don’t think you can have one without the other and I just think Crowley/Aziraphale are the best fictional friendship ever!

The Perfect Love Interest

pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner

carry on

Gotta be Baz from Carry On

The Perfect Villain

pick a character with the most sinister mind

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Alright, choosing Victor Vale, even if it’s not clear whether he is a villain… which makes him the perfect villain!

The Perfect Family

pick a perfect bookish family

the boy who steals houses

Oh I really, really want the Laineys from The Boy Who Steal Houses to adopt me- so them!

The Perfect Animal or Pet

pick a pet or fantastic animal that you need to see on a book

Well not exactly as a pet… but I *love* dragons!

rhaegal dragon

The Perfect Plot Twist

pick a book with the best plot twist

poison chris wooding

No spoilers- but it’s gotta be Poison by Chris Wooding!

The Perfect Trope

pick that trope you would add to your own book without thinking

I’ve never written this, but I love enemies to lovers. Like in the Hating Game…

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The Perfect Cover

pick that cover that you would easily put in your own book

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Hazel Wood (also an amazing book)

The Perfect Ending

pick a book that has the perfect ending

Okay so I’ve got to admit a few very different endings just popped into my head, so I want to mention them all (just picture them all smushed together, even though they’d probably be a really weird ending). Firstly, Secret Countess is a gorgeous, fairy tale finale, and I love it. I’m also a sucker for the more tragic conclusions like in the Broken Empire trilogy. And I frickin ADORE the highly unique ending of Circe. Dunno what all of those would look like together, so make of that what you will 😉

Only going to tag a few people for this: Sophie, Kat, Katie, Tiffany, Marie, Jennifer, Witty and Sarcastic Book Club and anyone else that wants to do it!

So, what do you think of my answers? And I’m really curious about what trope you would most like to write? Let me know in the comments!

More Writing Advice I Don’t (entirely) Agree With

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Tis the season where writers crack open their notepads and crank out words on their keyboards- because Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is upon us! Well, not for me in any capacity this year, but that’s a story for another time… Either way, in solidarity, I’ve been doing some thinking about writing that I thought I’d share. There’s a helluva lot of writing advice out there- much of which I agree with- and some which I’ve vocally disagreed with in the past (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B). Today, I’m not just going for the advice that I vehemently oppose (like the time when I responded to the *shudder-inducing* advice that “there are writers and then there are readers”). Still, I do think there’s some advice which could be a bit more nuanced. Without further ado, here’s the writing advice I don’t entirely agree with and why:

moneyBooks are not art- they’re purely commercial. This is the piece of advice I’ve seen more of lately and it cuts right through my soul. Don’t get me wrong, there is a commercial aspect to every art form. And my saying books are art doesn’t mean writing can’t be improved or criticised or anything like that. But wow. I dare say if you actually believe this, you’re in the writing game for the wrong reasons. Feel free to spare the world whatever cash grab fic you’ve been writing on your phone and are hoping to foist on us unsuspecting readers- PLEASE! On that topic…

money2If you want to be a writer, write erotica because it sells– this is the only piece of advice on this list I’ve ever personally received (more than once!) and I had to include it because it’s the worst advice in the world. And also, it’s hilarious. No shade at erotica writers, you do you, but do it cos you actually want to, not cos you think you’re gonna make bank.

thinking monkeyWrite what you know– which, hello, fantasy writers can’t exactly do- unless you happen to know a dragon personally, in which case I’m very jealous, can you introduce me? 😉 The other problem is that stories shouldn’t just be purely autobiographical, as I mentioned the other day. And, as Rebecca Alasdair mentioned in her amazing post on writing advice she doesn’t follow, it really limits creativity. We can’t just be stuck in our own heads when writing, we have to explore the world a little. Sometimes that means going places in your imagination that you’ve never been before. And yes, that can mean writing things you’ve never experienced. Personally, I’ve found more sensitive writers are totally capable of doing this! (for instance, Terry Pratchett did an amazing job of getting in the head of a great ape 😉 ) All of which leads me onto…

popeyeYou need to toughen up to be a writer– generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea to toughen up and grow a spine. But… the problem I have with this advice is that you kinda need to be sensitive to be an artist. So, my version of this tough love advice would be to say: don’t be so tough that you can’t write something emotionally compelling. Similarly, I disagree with…

bad writing gigIf you’re insecure, this is not the field for you. Writers and artists are insecure (there’s that sensitivity issue again 😉). Personally, I think this makes writers more open to criticism, because if you think too highly of yourself, you won’t want to improve. More importantly, *everyone* has insecurities and I hate to think of brilliant people never sharing their work just out of fear. That’s a really sad thought, cos we’re all missing out. Bringing me onto…

shoot for the moonIt’s not possible to be the next *insert genius writer here* and no one can write like *insert famous writer here*. Okay, I agree in the sense that you should never be so derivative that you sound like another writer. HOWEVER, you never know who could be the next famous/genius writer in their own right. I mean, genius writers are evidence of this 😉 I’ve said this before, but I truly believe there’s real talent out there, striving for greatness. The implication here is you shouldn’t even bother to try. My thought is that it’s awful to put people like that off (even if we do have to deal with a bunch of pretentious wannabes searching for them 😉)

peter pan robin williams flyingWriting is hard– well I’m actually being cheeky with this one because I actually agree in the sense that it is definitely work. BUT every time I hear it I half-nod, half-shake my head, cos I feel like this one should come with a disclaimer (hey, I did say this list would be more nitpicky!). Truth is, there are days when it feels like all the gears are grinding and still nothing’s moving forward, yet there are other days when the words are gliding and new worlds are spinning on the page and I swear there’s no closer feeling to flying. Nothing compares to being in that zone. Granted it’s the soaring joy of Icarus- but I’ll take it, if only for a moment. So yeah, I would just rephrase this to writing is work, yet it’s the best kind of work, because no other work can give you superpowers! 😉

winners podiumWriting is competitive– now, this is something that could be more of a personality thing, so no judgement if you’re motivated by competition. That said, logically speaking, it’s hard to make this into a competitive sport. As much as traditionally published authors are subject to the whims of the market, for example, the fact is there’s always room for good writing and good ideas. Someone else getting published doesn’t mean you won’t be. Each writer is running to their own finish line- independent of everyone else. And I know some people will point out that you can be beaten to an idea, but *whispers* all ideas have been done before anyway, so that race is kinda run. The uniqueness you bring is usually in the telling.

writingWrite every day– well for one thing, I have a day job (and this blog), so that just isn’t possible. I do completely understand and think this is a great practice… it’s just completely impractical for most of us. I think scheduling it into your week is so important, but for some writers, who write in intense bursts, this won’t work. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get burn out (which is a bummer, but it happens). Sometimes, it’s okay to take breaks.

chill slothWrite in order that one day you won’t have to write so much– kinda coming full circle, but this attitude seems to come back to the people who are in it for the BIG PAYOUT (I feel like there are better fields than this for that, but whatever, some people really believe publishing is a giant money tree). I’m gonna be real, I don’t write to relax. That’s never been the point of it for me. And I feel like even if your ambition is to be a full-time writer, the whole point of that isn’t so that you get time off… it’s actually about aspiring to write MORE. So, yeah, if you have visions of chilling out by the pool with famous authors (as Matthew Wright wrote in a hilarious piece on this recently), maybe this isn’t the write field for you…

Oof- that was a little harsh there at times- but we got through it. What writing advice do you disagree with? Or maybe just aren’t entirely on board with? Let me know in the comments!