The Exciting Prospect of Failure

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Hello all! Hope you’re having a great Sunday! I just wanted to do a quick personal post today where I talk about how my not-quite-Nano writing month went. Despite my title, I didn’t actually fail with my goal this year. In fact, I exceeded it. I managed to do 10/12 of my planned chapters- and even polished off another chapter yesterday… which brought my WIP to (hopefully) an explosive end.

happy-runningTo give this WIP a little background, it’s taken 8 years since I came up with the idea to come to this point where I now feel like I have a complete story. To put that in context of what it means to me, well, this is not only the last book in a trilogy, but also my sixth manuscript to date. So as you can imagine I’m feeling a lot of *feels* right now: liable to burst out in a happy dance at any moment, mildly shell shocked (that finale was not sunshine and rainbows and kittens, in case you’re wondering), but mostly optimistically nervous about what comes next.

Because, of course, it’s not over. As you’d expect from a first draft, there’s quite a way to go- fragments of the story I forgot to tell and new bits of the narrative to articulate. Before I started on this book, I knew there were issues with the series I wanted to tease out, but while I was writing I discovered sneaky little plot points that really needed my immediate attention. But I couldn’t exactly turn around and fix them- I knew I had to finish what I’d started first.

train crashIt’s an interesting experience to know that you’re working on something that’s gonna need an overhaul. Especially as a compulsive editor like me. Usually flaws like these would make me want to stop what I’m doing there and then. I’m certainly no stranger to hacking away at a manuscript until it feels a little closer to right. But this was like deliberately driving a runaway train into a ravine- with one eye on the prize and one gazing wistfully back at the start and knowing it could all be somewhat more spectacular (and yes, the runaway train metaphor is definitely what I’m  going for- my characters are total trainwrecks and the outcome of their actions is a complete disaster 😉 ).

The strange part of all this was that- even though I knew I was writing something that would inevitably have to change- I wasn’t deterred or put off. In fact, the prospect motivated me. Last year I talked a little about how failing is when you learn the most– and this year I realised it’s more than that. It’s the mistakes that keep you going. I’m looking forward to rectifying all the kinks and details I got wrong and I can’t wait to implement all the thrilling modifications I’ve come up with. Striving for something better is what keeps me on the edge of my seat when it comes to this story; it’s what makes me want to forge ahead with all the new ideas I have for the future. That’s just one of the great things about writing I guess: there’s always something new to explore, even in old worlds. Although, I’ll admit, right now I’m going to shove said manuscript in a drawer and not think about it (much) for about a month.

And that, folks, is a wrap! So did you participate in Nano this month or in years gone by? And if you write, what gets you motivated to write more? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Review – November: A Slightly Spooky Selection

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I can’t believe I’ve only been back a month, cos a lot’s happened! I had an eventful October- I went to Mayerling, life drawing and read *a lot* more. Apart from the ballet, the highlight of the month was my sister’s birthday, when we went to something called Disco yoga- who knew that was a thing, right!?

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Anyway, I don’t imagine this month will be so eventful… cos in November I like to set aside more serious writing time before the holiday season. Now I never properly participate in Nanowrimo (national novel writing month), cos writing 50,000 words in a month isn’t me, BUT I do always feel more inspired at this time of year and like to set myself more challenging goals. That said, this month I’m gonna have less time and where I’m at in my WIP means it’s a bit more emotionally draining to get through. Plus, last year I set myself a target of writing 20 chapters and missed the target by 5. So, my goal is pretty loose (I literally picked a number out of thin air- like “ten, that’ll do right?”) and I’m more concerned about making sure I do some writing every day, since I got out of the habit in the summer.

What does this mean for the blog? Well hopefully nothing too drastic. Like I said, I’m not doing anything too intense. I am still playing catchup at the moment- I’m horribly, horribly behind on comments and bloghopping- but hoping to not fall even further behind (*fingers and toes crossed*). I do want to do a few lighter posts this month, but we’ll see.

Anyway, like I said, I did quite a bit more reading in October, so I have a fair number for mini reviews. And as it was October, a fair number were spooky:

court of frost and starlight

A Court of Frost and Starlight– starting with something atmospheric, but not remotely scary… The thing is I didn’t dislike this- I just wasn’t that excited by it. Mostly cos it felt completely unnecessary. There were a lot of recap elements- which took up loads of space- and seemed silly given it was a novella. And there wasn’t anything of real substance- there were no major changes or character development. If anything, in terms of the sisters Elain and Nesta, there was some character regression. On the plus side there were some lovely lines:

To the stars who listen… And the dreams who answered.”

“To the blessed darkness from which we are born and to which we shall return.”

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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one of us is lying

One of Us is Lying– the truth about One of Us is Lying is it was simply okay. The writing was alright. The characters were a bit too cardboard cut out to be interesting- despite the obvious attempt at subverting stereotypes. Some of the people in the story- like Addie’s mum- felt too much like cartoon characters. In terms of the plot, there were some cool twists and turns, however, I guessed quite a few of them because of the hints. As for the ending, you’ll have to *highlight for spoilers* I hated *Simon* so much and thought he had it coming- so I honestly wished that he hadn’t orchestrated the whole thing. The most irksome thing about the ending was the pointless split, because it felt like needless drama tagged on for no reason. Still, it went by fast and there were some nice details.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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girl of nightmares

Girl of Nightmares– well this felt a little directionless and less colourful than the first… until Anna was reintroduced in an explosive scene. It was a cool story- though it didn’t hold my attention the way the first one did. The pace did pick up eventually and I liked it overall. It just wasn’t as good as its predecessor.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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forest of hands...

The Forest of Hands and Teeth– cool title, meh book. I liked the slightly cultish, religious, post-apocalyptic setting… and that’s it as far as the “likes” go. Cass, the protagonist, made very little sense to me and couldn’t fathom for the life of me why she had two boys chasing her. Yup- that’s right- there’s a love triangle. And not only is there a love triangle- it takes over. Yup again- this is the kind of story where survival against zombies takes the backseat to the mc’s love life. Ultimately, that’s not even the worst bit. Cos this committed the worst book sin of all: it bored me.

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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monstrumologist

Monstrumologist– I liked the frame narrative structure and the writing style seemed authentic for the narrator’s age. In fact, it was the strong sense of voice that got me through this. Cos other thann the good instances of foreshadowing and the graphic descriptions of the monsters, there wasn’t much else to write home about. However good it technically was, I simply couldn’t connect with the characters and that got in the way of me enjoying the book.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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city of ghosts

City of Ghosts– this was quick, well written and had an interesting premise… HOWEVER I had major issues with the way the setting was done. My main problem being that I’ve actually lived in Edinburgh and this didn’t make me feel like I was exploring the city. It was like the soul of the city I know so well was missing. So I realise this is completely subjective and I’m sorry for that cos I don’t think it’s a bad book by any stretch of the imagination- feel free to skip this section if you liked the book. For me though, this felt like a tourist shopping list: here’s South Bridge, ooh the Royal Mile, oh look it’s Greyfriar’s. Actually Greyfriar’s was one of the most glaring disappointments, since the way the story was retold didn’t move me in the slightest (when it should have done). None of this felt like capturing the spooky atmosphere- it was more like the sights were pinched by someone that had only taken a cursory glance at a map of the city. This was also jam packed with Harry Potter references- which just made me think “yeah, we get it, you like HP”. Side point: why do people always obsess over the HP toilet in the Elephant House when the chairs are shaped like elephants!! I also cringed at the “oh look the castle’s like Hogwarts”… erm the castle came first? Aside from my griping about how the place was represented, I also took issue with the way there was a stereotype of the snooty English schoolgirl… in Scotland. That’s just lazy. Since we’re on the subject of Lara- why do Brits in American books always say “we British”? Actually, now’s a good time for one last public service announcement: the whole “isn’t it funny that American English and British English is different” is banal. I know this is for children, but think explaining the difference between chips/fries, pants/trousers, and how to actually pronounce Edinburgh is cringey.

Phew- that got into quite the unintentional rant. I know it might not seem it cos of how disappointed I was with the setting, but I did actually enjoy large portions of the book. So as surprising as this may be, I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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horrorstor

Horrorstor– I loved the premise for this. I appreciated the wry humour and pretentious furniture theme. Everything had a silly name- like Muskk and Arsel (my fave)- and came in uppity colours. Plus, the characters were well formed all things considered- I especially liked Basil cos we’ve all met someone who takes their job too seriously and acts like it’s a cult. It was clever to parallel the layout of the shop with a panopticon. Even better was inclusion of the Gruen Transfer concept- deliberately disorientating you to buy stuff- which is such a creeeeepy idea in its own right (goes to show furniture stores are freaky on their own? I’m not alone in this am I?) The scary aspects were so well done- the “products”, like the Kranjk, got creepier and creepier. Even thinking about it right now gives me the heebie jeebies. The only downside was the cliffhanger ending. Now I get why people disliked it, but it did make a certain sense to me. Ghost stories are good when they’re unresolved. That said, even I could have done with a tad more resolution. Also, apart from the killer concept, it didn’t feel too deep and was mostly all for scares. And in that department, it worked for me (though I do scare easily 😉 )

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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sorrows of young werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther– I first heard about this from Liis’ awesome review. Her recommendation made me want to check it out- and I’m glad I did! Now this is all about a character who is obsessed with a girl, but can’t have her and so kills himself. Sound melodramatic? It is. However as over the top as the narrator could be, it had some wonderful imagery. And I also thought of it as a very ahead of its time representation of someone with something like bipolar. I read the beginning as evidence of a manic episode and then watched him dissolve into a depressive state. And instead of reading it as a failed attempt at the redemptive power of love, I saw it as a take on how you can’t really be saved from mental illness. I reckon it’s pretty ahead of its time in that regard. In fact, I liked how the romance was done in general. Some might say that the love interest isn’t given a voice- especially since all she says is in reported speech- but I think that’s half the point. She’s the ideal his mind fixes on and this idea of obsessive love isn’t praiseworthy- it’s an aspect of the human condition and often something for the mc to overcome (much like the object of Eleanor Oliphant’s affections or Gatsby’s Daisy). At the same time, there’s something honest in his desire for her, being attracted to her cheerfulness- which shows that the object of our desire can often be for a quality we lack. I also liked how Werther was given moments of lucidity and even of selfishness- making him more than simply a caricature. I think one of the only pitfalls was how long the investigative ending was- I felt it could have summed up the events after the letters ended in quicker time. Other than that, I thought it was a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Wowee- that was a long one! Thanks for all those that stuck with it! So have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

Caught in the Middle- Nanowrimo Wrap Up

Yes, I know we’re quite a bit away from November now, but I think it’s kinda fitting that I’m late with this, cos this is a post about FAILURE (ooh err, it looks much scarier in all caps). To be fair, it’s no fun to admit when you’ve failed a goal you set yourself. For all who remember, I set aside some writing goals in November… which I didn’t complete. Not even kinda close- my plan was to get to chapter 28- and I only made it to 23.

Now it would probably be easier to slink off and not say anything, because what use is it to talk of failure? Well I think more often than not there are lessons in failure as much as success– so here I am to talk about what happens when you don’t achieve your goals…

Well nothing. That’s the whole point. Not that there’s fanfare when you do succeed, but let’s be honest, you can’t exactly have an “I didn’t quite do it” party. You can just try and figure out what went wrong?

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For me, it was a combination of unforeseen life-always-manages-to-get-in-the-way stuff, being too ambitious with my goals and just not being prepared to deal with some more emotional sections of the story all in one go (I can also probably add end of year burnout to that list too 😉 ). I can pat myself on the back for setting aside time to write every single day, yet when I think of how little that could be some days, it’s hard to get super excited over that little victory.

The more important thing I’ve learnt- and something I think about every time I fall into a rut or get blocked- is that perseverance is key. Because, yes, I didn’t quite get as far along as I hoped. And yes, I’ve had months where I’ve got stuck on a story and just can’t. push. on. Yet, every single time I’ve fallen into a rut, or been disappointed with how a project turned out, or just can’t find the time, I’ve managed to find a way to pick myself up again and press on. Heck- book 2 was such hell for me to write that it took 6 months to write 2 or 3 chapters in the middle, followed by a massive overhaul. It happens.

So am I disappointed that I didn’t complete what I set out to do last month? Yes, of course. Is it going to affect how I go on? Only in that I’ve returned to my usual “weekly goals” mindset instead of monthly. And on the plus side, I’ve continued with the “writing every day” mentality.

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I did have a lot of fun while writing in Nano and said some very weird things like: “Zombies are harder to write than I thought” and “I can’t talk now I’ve got to write about a dead cow.” Although, now I think about it, the gloomy subject matter is the crux of the problem- I gotta keep promising myself that the next book will be cheerier. Somehow I just need to tell my brain to switch it up a gear– because that’s where all the grim ideas are coming from…

why so serious 2.gifAnd you know, I think that’s where I’m gonna leave this post, because it’s probably best not to take myself too seriously. Otherwise I might end up like this guy…take yourself seriouslyAnd no one wants to end up like that guy- at the very least, you don’t want that hair.

 

The Writer’s Tag

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Hello!! First of all, I want to say thank you for the awesome comments yesterday, I was not having a terribly productive day (*cough* to say the least) and reading everything you wrote was a great pick-me-up 😀 ❤

Secondly, I saw this awesome tag over on Kat@LifeandOtherDisasters’s wonderful blog and I thought it was perfect for this month! Do check out her post cos her answers rock!! (and it’ll lead you to discover her brilliant WIP!) Okay, let’s get this party started!

What genres, styles, and topics do you write about?

I ❤️ fantasy. Seriously, everything I’ve ever written is fantasy and I don’t plan to change that. I’ve written a YA fantasy duology, I’m working on a dystopic fantasy trilogy, and I’m planning some high fantasy series for the future. Oh and I have an idea for a gothic novella… which is basically old school fantasy 😉 You get the idea, fantasy’s my jam 😉

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How long have you been writing?

Hard to say when I went from just making up stories to play and when I started writing them down… If you count all forms of storytelling, then forever

Why do you write?

I loved Kat’s answer here- basically in short: I HAVE to. It’s a compulsion.

When is the best time to write?

Night-time!!

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What parts of writing do you love and hate?

Lots of things…

LOVE:

  • Endings!!
  • When characters get a mind of their own- I mentioned this to Kat cos she had this on her list, but the best time this happened to me was when one of my characters came out as gay halfway through the aforementioned trilogy- it was a bit of an “ohhh” moment cos it was unintentional (that character and I get on so much better cos he’d been a bit of an enigma to me before)
  • When I’m on a role and the words are just flowing and you’re not too worried about what’s getting put on the page
  • When you read over said words and it’s not half bad

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HATE:

  • When you read over said words and it’s the worst thing you’ve ever read and you should probably scrap it all, but it was a lot of work so you don’t want to scrap it all, but arghh it’s crap, so you end up scrapping it all :/
  • When you’re book doesn’t like you very much and needs a million and one edits
  • When you’ve been working on the same thing for years and there’s no end in sight
  • Fear of showing people and guilt about not sharing it with people

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How do you overcome writer’s block?

I write something else. Like I said it’s a compulsion and I always have to be writing *something*

Are you working on something at the moment?

Yes indeedy- that aforementioned trilogy. Annnd I’m trying to figure out what I can say without giving anything away. Hmm… I think I traumatised my bestie the other day giving her book 2- so that was good… Sort of 😉

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What are your writing goals this year?

Well it’s near the end of the year, so a lot of my targets for 2017 are done- namely finishing book 2. I was actually pretty wiped out after completing it back in the summer and was gonna leave it there for a while…. But no time like the present, when I realised Nano was coming up and that I’d have a shot at doing something for it, I decided I wanted to press on with book 3, cos why not? So my plan is to get a reasonable amount of the way through by the end of the year (hopefully so that next year, I’ll be able to write that elusive “The End”- that’s the dream anyway 😉 )

Annnd now I think I’ve prattled on enough- I tag Daley Downing, Sophie Li, Marie, Eve Messenger, CharlotteDani and all the writers that are reading this!

So do you write? What’s your genre of choice? Let me know in the comments!

The Obligatory Piece Where I Talk About Doing Nanowrimo… But Not Really

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Okay I know we’re already a bit into November so it’s a bit late to talk about my plans for Nano, but my organisation skills are the BOMB (okay, they suck, but whatever) As you might be able to tell I’m sort of doing Nano this year… Well I’m doing what I do most years- which is to set myself an easier target and write my little heart out 😉 . This year though, I did have a bit more of an internal wrestle over whether I should try and win Nano for reelz (spoiler alert: that’s not what I decided to do 😉 ). Here’s where my thought process was at…

Reasons to do Nano:

  • What a great month to write! I mean it’s miserable out and I want to be indoors as much as possible. Plus I’m not in uni anymore so I’ve not got the excuse of deadlines as I did in previous years.
  • I’ve got a ton of writing to do– so I may as well go bananas with it. I really want to finish my damn trilogy. I first conceived of this idea *7 whole years ago*. I was writing something else at that time and had lots of mishaps in between… but now I’m finally on book 3 (yay!)
  • All of the lovely motivational people online!! There’s just so many great writing posts about during Nano that I’m being totally conformist *ahem* I’m feeling inspired.
  • It’s very satisfying to set yourself a goal and then complete it– especially when it comes to writing!

Reasons not to do Nano:

  • Buuut I edit a lot as I go (I know *shock horror*- don’t worry, I edit after as well) so 50000 words is not really doable if I’m gonna end up writing a lot of it twice.
  • I’m fairly consistent with my writing, fortunately, BUT I’ve never written more than c20000 words in a month– more than that just doesn’t seem terribly doable to me.
  • Plus I *never* use word count goals– they just don’t work for me- I tend to count chapters instead
  • It can be completely draining to write this series– honestly, my characters do shitty things and living with the consequences of their actions can be pretty exhausting (yes, I talk about them like they’re real- I’m totally sane 😉 )
  • Doing a more casual version of Nano has worked for me in the past– last year for instance I decided to edit an old novel AND I DID IT! (which brings me back to how satisfying it is to complete a goal)

So I’m compromising!

My goal is to write to chapter 28- which considering I was already at chapter 9 before the month should be both doable and a challenge (also since this is the beginning of the book, I’ve a few nice, short set up chapters that I can whizz through- don’t think I didn’t know what I was doing when I set myself this target 😉 ) Currently, I’m on 16 and to be honest right now even this target might be a little out of reach- we’ll see how this goes!

Anyhoo- are any of you participating in Nano? Do you write in general? Let me know in the comments!

I love endings!

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I don’t think I ever properly explained what I was doing this month for Nano. Basically, I had an 85000 word manuscript I wanted to overhaul– of which 20,000 words were edited. I was feeling ambitious so I decided I wanted to do the rest… and I did it! I finished last night!

Honestly when I stopped for the night on 29th and had 4 whole chapters left to go, I never thought I would make it. But as luck would have it, I got off work an hour early. And then- even with all my best procrastination techniques- I still managed to pull it off!

(Okay, I sort of finished. Right now I’ve got all my track changes on and it’s pretty much every colour of the rainbow. And I may have 5 chapters that I edited by hand and need to type up. But who cares- cos I completed the challenge I set myself! Even though I never thought I would!)

Most importantly of all, I am finally, finally happy with the story- so yay!! After hacking away at it, the plot is now streamlined (3 chapters and 5000 words lighter), the protagonist is now my bestie and the story just feels more real (well, as real as fantasy ever gets).

As I was writing the last few lines, I began to feel the euphoria of it all clicking together began to sink in and it struck me that I loved endings most of all. Nothing really beats that moment when you get to tie all the stray strands in place, nothing makes me happier than playing out that last cathartic note, and nothing is more satisfying than writing “the end”.

All it needs now is a little proofread and a polish- and that’s not too daunting. Wish me luck!

So did you do Nano? Did you win? (Cop outs like what I did totally count!) Let me know in the comments!

The One Where I Disagree with Everyone

Aka Publishers, Editors, Creative Writing Professors, Your Pet Cat, Anyone That’s Ever Said Anything… Basically EVERYONE!

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As you may know, I’m not normally the kind of blogger that gives writing advice, and I’ll be the first to say there’s a lot of good guidance out there, but I have also seen a lot of rules bandied about over the years that are just plain wrong. So cos I’m currently feeling the spirit of Nanowrimo- today and today only- I will be addressing some of these cardinal writing sins:

  • “No Purple Prose!”– this has to be one of my least favourite pieces of writing advice. The anti-metaphor police have been brandishing this one for years and I find it laughable. I mean, are they truly saying that Fitzgerald, for instance, wrote terrible books because they were too flowery? Of course not! Their basic premise is that it’s old fashioned and *we* don’t do it anymore. Of course, the 20th century was a revolution in popularising literature for the masses, partly by paring down and simplifying writing styles… but who says that has to be everyone’s purpose? Do we all share this goal? Since when were the rules of writing so linear? And who is this “we” anyway? Sorry, but this isn’t a communist dictatorship- *go away*. Not every writer is the same and not everyone has the same tastes! Basically, blanket rules never work.
  • “Never mix omniscient and third person limited” (or “no head-hopping!”)- this one’s a little trickier. Because, yes, if you get this wrong it can be confusing. If, say, an author skips between perspectives in the middle of a scene it can be very disorientating. However, good control over your writing overrules this- and actually employing more than one point of view can be the difference between a novice and a master. Frankly a brilliant author can slip from one perspective to another without you even noticing. Heck- plenty of the best authors did this all the time- take Austen, Hardy and Dickens. Are you seriously telling me that they didn’t know what they were doing? Or are you just saying “oh no, they were on such a high level that no one in this generation could hope to aspire to”. Either way, it’s a stupid thing to say. It’s dumb to suggest this to writers, because it’s encouraging them not to even try to write great literature, because they would never succeed. Also it’s patronising to suggest all readers would be confused by this change of perspective and wouldn’t be able to keep track. Instead I would correct this advice to: only do it if you have a lot of control- if you don’t, it’ll show up if you try this and fail.
  • “Absolutely no adverbs!”– People have been obsessed with this ever since Stephen King said “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”. Personally, I’m not a fan of his anyway. I’m sure his plotting is great, cos I’ve enjoyed films I’ve seen based on his books. *But* I’ve never been able to get past his dull writing style- so clearly he’s not for everyone. Plus I’ve seen some convoluted examples out there that are just plain ludicrous. For example, if “quickly” is the word you want to use, use it. Don’t faff about saying “at a pace that was quite a bit faster than usual”. Still not convinced? Check out Matthew Wright’s awesome piece on why we really do need adverbs. (PS if you want excellent writing advice in general I would highly recommend checking out his blog- it’s second to none on this!)
  • “Show don’t tell”– I’ve wondered for a long time whether this one is true- and yet I have to think of many times when a character has just had to express what they’re feeling so that I actually know what’s going on. I can see why this is important at times- just not always! Plus, this one truly irks me for the number of times I have seen people using it incorrectly against work that is showing not telling.
  • “Don’t info-dump”– there is a fine line between info-dumping and giving valuable information. It’s not info-dumping when Hagrid tells Harry about Hogwarts, now is it? So why is it info-dumping when someone explains the basic premise of their world? It’s just informative. Like all the other examples on this list, there are always times when it’s totally fine to do this. (Just try not to make it too clunky and overwhelming!)

So don’t “kill all your babies” and sometimes it’s okay to tell people what’s going on- it’s not always worth being cryptic! Not every piece of advice is stellar- you learn more by writing, reading and analysing than you ever could by just getting advice. The important thing to remember is rules are made to be broken!

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!