When can you dismiss criticism?

Taking on board criticism is an important part of life. As writers in particular, we need feedback to grow, improve and potentially perfect our craft (as the marvellous Mary @Mary and the Words talked about recently). It’s therefore no surprise that it’s become a cornerstone of modern writing advice to get that crucial reader response.

AND YET, not all of that criticism is going to be worthwhile. Let’s be real: it’s not always going to be constructive or helpful or relevant. This may be an *unpopular opinion* right now, but you don’t always have to listen to it.  

Sometimes you just have to *take the advice from whence it comes*. If someone, however nicely, says that the style is just not for them or that they don’t read this sort of thing- that’s fine! We all know that taste is subjective, so not everyone is going to be the right reader for your work. Heck- there are plenty of bestselling authors that I don’t jibe with. That’s why you have to be cautious with this kind of advice (And on the offchance, as has happened to me, someone doesn’t like the genre/category you write in and wants you to write to suit their tastes… well they can kindly sod off).  

There is also the issue that not all criticism is designed to be helpful. Especially if they rouse a hate mob against you. Call me a cynic- I just don’t think people trying to destroy a career have an author’s best interests at heart. I know there’s a lot of talk about “learning” and “growing” from those experiences- nonetheless it seems the vast majority advice being doled out is to *run and hide* (in far less friendly terms). And, going beyond this specific example, I think it’s fair to dismiss critiques designed as an attack. Insulting, degrading or being downright abusive are not productive (as the wonderful Rain @the Withering discussed on her blog). On the plus side, those kinds of critiques can get you in the mindset of proving the bastards wrong! 😉

I’d also add that sometimes the criticism is coming too late in the day ie reviews. Yes, you could learn from reviews as an author, buuuut at that stage the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. If you read them, you’ll just waste lot of time wishing you’d written that book differently. Best to leave them alone. After all, reviews are for readers– not the author (and thus shouldn’t be sent to them unsolicited).

Ultimately, criticism can add some much-needed spice to your work, though it’s still worth taking it with a grain of salt 😉

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me that there are times when you can dismiss criticism? And are there any other times when you should just ignore the advice? Let me know in the comments!

Writerly Benefits From Reading Widely

As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of genre snobbery. It’s limiting, makes reading less fun and means missing out on whole worlds of experiences. But what about for writers? Surely, if you’re an aspiring writer, you need to focus on reading obsessively in your own genre? Wouldn’t it be better to not get distracted by all those shiny titles outside the category you’re writing in? Well, while reading books in your own genre is *a must*, I’d argue reading widely is also vital for a writer’s development. Each genre has something special to offer and lots of unique lessons to learn. And even if successfully pulling off a technique is not guaranteed by simply knowing it exists, being exposed to a greater variety certainly helps! Let’s break it down by genre, shall we?

lily and jamesRomance– I mean the clue is in the title… romances teach you how to develop a romance. Whether it’s hate to love, friends to lovers or anything in between, all the tropes have been tried and tested in this very broad category. And it’s such a long-standing genre, so there are *countless* classics to choose from (not just harlequin novels with topless men on the covers 😉). If you want more banter and happily ever afters, then you need to be checking this out! What’s more, it doesn’t stop with the romantic relationships. Friendships and family relationships are a strong element of this genre- even if they’re dysfunctional (because, yes, you can learn how to write toxic relationships from this too- even if it’s just an accident of bad writing 😉). Basically anything related to relationships are going to be explored in this genre- so unless you’re writing a book about a hermit, you may want to at least try a romance sometime.

dragon gifFantasy– ahh my genre of choice. I could rave forever about why this genre is *out of this world*. Perhaps just one of the reasons I find it so rewarding is that, in some ways, it’s the purest form of storytelling. With more mythologically based narratives and archetypal characters, it can give an idealised version of reality (if not a real one). Plus, all that magic world building is great inspiration, because even if you’re setting it in the real world, you need to have a sense of place. It also has a great tradition of the pure evil villain or the fascist archetypal dictator- even if it’s not as good at the more human villains (although GRRM is a good example of someone breaking that mould). That said, it’s solid in the anti-hero department these days. If you need flawed, but lovable characters, then this is a great genre for it. 

spaceSci fi– this offers a lot of the same things as fantasy in terms of getting a sense of place… though it’s more rooted in reality (which is ironically very useful for fantasy writers!) I’m not a big sci fi reader, but even I can say it’s amazing for philosophical and existential discussions (not just cos this genre includes dystopias… though that’s a big pull!!). Plus, many space operas in particular know how to pack in *action*.

enchanted castle victorian homeHistorical– for me, this is another genre where the strong suit is the setting. Yet what I also like about historical fiction is how it brings facts to life. I also personally love how lots of historical fiction works so well as genre-crossers, blending lots of different categories into one. I’ve read so many that manage to be historical and a thriller and a romance. While every book should manage to do this, I’d say that I particularly love how historical fiction balances its themes and subplots.  

dr-evilThrillers– for me, thrillers are hands down the best for villains. A lot of the time you’ll have the opportunity to get in the head of some sick mothereffers. Thrillers also allow for sparser writing and occasionally atmospheric reads. It’s also good if you’re looking for some more of that realism (eek if a thriller spins into fantastical territory!). Plus, if you need a clue how to get plotting, pacing and twists right, then boy is this the genre for you!  

read-fastNon-fiction– well, for starters there’s nothing stranger than real life. Given that non fiction is factual (or at least it should be) you can get *actual knowledge* from them to use in your own books. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot about characterisation, people and the nature of evil from both memoirs and psychology books. But obviously, there’s so much more you can discover!

Of course, this was not an exhaustive list, but I hope it was inspiring! Do you believe there are writerly benefits from reading widely? What do you think they are? And what else do you get out of different genres? Let me know in the comments!

How to (Try to) Edit a Book #LikeABoss

am writing

Hello everyone! I think we’re technically in the middle of another camp nano? (hard to keep track to be honest- what is time anymore…) And I’m currently completely failing trying to do a readthrough of one of my WIPs, so I figured now was the perfect time to pass on my (*ahem*) wisdom to other people 😉

I know people have been dying to get some good tips from me over the years… And, well, these may not be that good, but they’re technically tips 😉 I will admit I’m also drawing on my subjective experience (my openings tend to start out pretty weak, so I put a lot of focus on those). Nonetheless, I think other writers could probably distil something of use from this anyway… or else get drunk on my stupidity 😉

Apart from the occasional episodes of weeping, which I’ve left out to save time, this is pretty much my process:

witches over cauldron hocus pocus

Step 1: Pour blood, sweat, tears into a cauldron, bring to a boil, gently simmer for a few years, then pull your deformed baby manuscript out AKA WRITE THE DAMN FIRST DRAFT!

narnia cupboard

Step 2: Shove this little beastie out of sight- it’s not ready to see the light of day! It may protest and bang on the floorboards for attention, but don’t worry, this isn’t book abuse (that comes later). This is just a temporary arrangement for both your sakes.

hug a book

Step 3: Bring your book baby out again after a few weeks/months (when its incessant nagging for attention finally gets on your last nerve). Rock it back and forth in your arms. Try crooning a lullaby in its ear as you open that first page for a quick reread…

monster book of monsters

Step 4: NOPE! That was a bad idea! You were completely wrong to describe this as a baby; IT’S A FRICKIN DEMON!!

don't panic

 

Step 5: Okay don’t panic (and don’t stab it through the heart with a stake and sense this evil creature back to whence it came… as tempting as that is, even baby monsters deserve life). As much as you might wish you’d aborted this project earlier and daydream of other projects, this is a living breathing thing making guttural noises in your arms and you’ve got to take some responsibility. You grit your teeth and make your biggest (human) sacrifice, rereading it from beginning to end and making notes of all the (terrible, terrible) flaws.

really long list 2

Step 6: Well, that wasn’t as bad as you thought… it was worse. The list of problems is as long as an immortal life and you think this thing might be possessed by the devil… but as they always say, the first draft is the hardest part, right?!

drum fingers

Step 7: At this point you *drum* your pen on the desk, tapping out solutions to all the problems (you created) in morse code. For some reason, this is soothing.

think pen write

Step 8: Miraculously, you begin to answer the questions you posed in your notes and now, look at that, you’re brainstorming!

grave robbing

Step 9: Alrighty then, it’s time to slay the beast resurrect this manuscript from the depths of hell. You plan to begin on the biggest issues (no point trying to cover up the boils when the heart of the story is on the outside of the body and oozing blood). *Crack your knuckles* and get to work!

chaos

Step 10: Skip around the manuscript at random picking out flaws, then switch to chronological editing intermittently (this is the part of the editing process I like to call THE CHAOS). Also, work on that horrible opening!

focus

Step 11: Okay *focus* now- you can get through the other major edits.

read-fast

Step 12: Reconfigure some major plot points, focusing on consistent character arcs and smoothing out the narrative (and other writerly things).

squirrel attention span

Step 13: Get distracted by some simple issue with the prose (that you really shouldn’t be worrying about at this stage).

highlighters

Step 14: Just keep nit-picking and tell yourself typos are obviously the biggest issue you have to deal with (it may not be true, but it’s comforting).

monkey typewriter

Step 15: Time to tinker with that opening again!

lord of the rings writing gif

Step 16: While you’re at it, work on the ending.

solve crime

Step 17: Find that flaw in the middle that’s been bugging you and brainstorm a million ways to change it.

writing

Step 18: Rewrite entire chapters

delete cybermen

Step 19: DELETE! DELETE!!

not a great plan

Step 20: Realise you’ve made a TERRIBLE MISTAKE. Go back to original plan and try and bring the old version back to life!

hide monster

Step 21: Abandon dead idea and quit while you’re ahead! Time to shove this beastly being (that’s looking more deformed than ever) back where no one can find it!!! Quick!!

Congratulations- your book is now a corpse of its former self you have successfully edited your book!

Now just wait a few months until you have to do this all again!

Never Have I Ever Writing Tag!

orangutan tag 2

Hello all! Would you believe we’re in another Camp Nano? I’m not really participating (too much work) but I did find this brilliant writing tag! And you know what they say? “If you can’t write, do a tag!” (yes, that is a thing people definitely say 😉 ) Really grateful to the marvellous Mary Drover for tagging me! I love when she talks about writing and thoroughly enjoyed her writing for this.

This (very cool idea) was created by the Long Voyage- so definitely check out the original here!

never-have-i-ever-tag-writer-edition

. . . started a novel that I did not finish.

I’m not sure I count the ghost story I started when I was seven? It seems a bit harsh to include that! 😂 I feel like, generally speaking, if I get serious about a story, I’m going to finish it.

. . . written a story completely by hand.

lord of the rings writing gif

Yes- and I still (sort of) do? I wrote my first three books completely by hand. Then, when I started working on the trilogy, I realised I wanted to type up every few chapters, so that I could have a clearly overall vision (which led to me developing some edit-as-you-go techniques).

. . . changed tenses midway through a story.

Maybe? I presume I did this when I was starting out, but I’ve not noticed anything like this in a while (actually, now I think about it, I’m so scared I’m going to find an error like this in my writing now or WORSE miss it entirely!!)

. . . not researched anything before starting a story.

guilty judge

Hehehehe oh so very, very guilty! I could use the excuse that I’m a fantasy writer- but most people know that’s not gonna wash. I don’t know why either, cos I love to plan, yet I like to dive straight into the story than get bogged down with details. I do tend to fall down (very specific) researching rabbitholes while I’m writing though. My biggest problem is that- while I like to base a lot of my character’s interests on things I’m genuinely interested in- there are some occasions when I have to include something outside my interests. Let’s just say I can be less-than-enthusiastic about research in those cases… which CAN HAVE DIRE CONSEQUENCES! Moral of the story: don’t be like me 😂

. . . changed my protagonist’s name halfway through a draft.

Does it count if they change their name in the context of the story? Either way, I’ve considered changing a character’s name, and have definitely done it to minor characters, but never a main one (as of yet). Once I fall in love with their character name, I’m keeping it, no matter how stupid it may sound (actually, fun fact, I often give characters deliberately awkward names, cos I feel like I was saddled with one IRL and I shouldn’t have to be the only person on the planet to suffer with a name I don’t like!)

. . . written a story in a month or less.

I WISH!

. . . fallen asleep while writing.

you fell asleep

How would this even happen…? Writing is like a total workout, combined with operating heavy machinery, combined with flying… all of which demand your utmost attention! I don’t know how you could fall asleep at the wheel like that?

. . . corrected someone’s grammar irl / online.

guilt

Oh god yes, guilty (like, super, super guilty- I feel so bad about being such a grammar Nazi these days- I try to stick to ranting on my blog and to friends now)

. . . yelled in all caps at myself in the middle of a novel.

NOPE! (that’s just something I do on the blog 😉)

. . . used “I’m writing” as an excuse.

Haha no! Even if I am, in fact, actually writing, I’m scared to tell people! It just puts pressure on me- I’d sooner tell someone I was clipping my toenails than tell them I was in fact up to my elbows in a fantasy world, delivering an 80,000 word baby 😉 (and that’s a gross image you’ll never be able to unsee 😉)

. . . killed a character who was based on someone I know in real life.

Haha oh yes. I don’t know if this is going to make it better, but I based the character on a stereotypical mean girl I knew, then got bored of having them in my book and killed them off…

. . . used pop culture references in a story.

Hmm I think so- I just don’t often keep them in the edits. Sometimes they just feel like a private joke between me and me (I mean, I once referenced a political slogan I wanted to make fun of and it gave me a good chuckle… but no one that read the book noticed!)

. . . written between the hours of 1am and 6am.

Of course! Though (at the moment) I’m surprised to say my hours are more sociable than they used to be!

. . . drank an entire pot of coffee while writing.

mad hatters tea party

I don’t drink coffee, so it’s tea all the way! (and yeah, I can drink an entire pot of tea while writing- who wouldn’t?)

. . . written down dreams to use in potential novels.

it was all a dream

Yup! And I’ve done it as well. Sometimes they literally end up as dream-sequence type scenes, where a character dips their toes in another surreal world for a moment or two, and (hopefully) returns changed. Very useful! Thanks subconscious!

. . . published an unedited story on the internet / Wattpad / blog.

Oh yeah- way back when I was on Figment I put out a novella I was working on (it was pretty useful to get feedback as I worked to be honest)

. . . procrastinated homework because I wanted to write.

Absolutely! I procrastinated classwork with writing, so why wouldn’t I do the same for homework? 😉

. . . typed so long that my wrists hurt.

Yup! Easy thing to do!

. . . spilled a drink on my laptop while writing.

fear

No- and I hope it never happens- the horror, the horror!

. . . forgotten to save my work / draft.

Ahhh no!!! I hope this never happens to me either! (I feel like we’re going through all my worst nightmares now!)

. . . finished a novel.

Yes- it’s a bit complicated to count them (since I’ve rewritten a few), so let’s go with 6 (original works).

. . . laughed like an evil villain while writing a scene.

evil laughter

MWHAHAHAHA! (absolutely)

. . . cried while writing a scene.

I feel so heartless for saying this, but no. Not even when I kill my most precious darlings. I have horrified myself to sleeplessness though.

. . . created maps of my fictional worlds.

Nothing so cool as in Mary Drover’s tag- but I do always like to have some idea where my characters are- so whether it’s a poorly sketched out high fantasy world or a regular map from this world with a few new place names marked on it, I always have something like this. (weirdly though I often make this somewhere in the editing phase, so I can correct my mistakes!)

. . . researched something shady for a novel.

Oh absolutely- I think “world’s deadliest poisons” would give most people cause for concern if they didn’t know I wrote 😉

That was so fun, I’m tagging:

Kat, Marie, Sophie’s Corner, Out of Babel and anyone else that wants to do it! 

And for now, I want to know, what guilty writing secrets do you have? Fess up! 😉

Things I Learned Writing My First Book – My Writing Mistakes (and Some Successes!)

am writing

Sooo a lot of us wannabe writers/aspiring authors/*insert other title* types, like to talk about all the great things we’re writing and how we’re having a whale of a time. And that’s fine- but I’ve never been all that good at having a “fake it till you make it” mentality. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not perfect 😉 Inspired by a video I saw ages ago about things I learned writing my first book, I thought it would be fun if I talked about what it was actually like being (more of) a baby writer- especially now that I’ve moved on from a lot of these projects. Now, I have included a couple positive things I learnt, so it’s not all me flinging banana peels at myself, buuuut it’s mostly gonna be about having a laugh at my expense 😉 And as you can imagine, this is by no means a complete list- I’m sure I’ll come up with plenty more in years to come! For the time being, here’s some of the things I learnt as a newbie writer:

that's all folksFinishing! Let’s start with a BIG FAT positive. One thing I’ve been lucky with when it comes to my writing is that I’ve never had a problem finishing. To be fair, I put a lot of this down to being bored in biology (turns out that’s a great time to draft something as a teen… not that I would ever advise doing this 😉)

not a great planPoor research and planning– I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but I started out as more of a pantser and less of a planner. Way back when, I got asked to write a serialised story for a school newspaper (I know, so professional 😉). I just went for it and didn’t plan much of what I was doing. The result was… interesting. And even when I decided to finish the story, I just had a bunch of bullet points to go off. Many things suffered from this- but especially the world building. I went with the well known technique of make-it-up-as-I-go and the it-doesn’t-matter-it’s-all-magic method- with mixed results. Hopefully, this is something I’ve improved on, at least a little (though, given I prefer soft magic systems, I’ll never say it’s a strong suit).

think pen writeEpisodic writing– as I mentioned, the first thing I ever completed started out as a serialised story, so this makes sense. What I learnt as well is this is a nigh on impossible problem to fix in revision… but ah well, you win some, you lose some!

are we there yetBook wandering syndrome– yeah, I’m resurrecting this term I made up– the way I defined it was: the art of getting so lost in your own story that plot, character and everything else is forgotten in favour of random adventures. And I definitely did this first time round (in fact, I managed to do it again in a much later book- oops!)

 

actionToo much action– I feel like newbie writers fall into two categories: too little plot and too much. I was in the latter camp. Because in case the episodic nature of the story didn’t make the story jolty enough for my poor guinea pig readers, this definitely did the trick! There was A LOT going on. I just jammed in all the action I could think of (which, to be fair, at least made it a fun experience 😉). Thankfully, I’ve moved away from the OTT adventure story and (hopefully) have learned to tone it down!

dramaSo. much. drama. Another newbie mistake, my first couple of books were VERY melodramatic. I think (hope) I’ve toned that down as well, but *wow* those first books were rough going and angsty.

 

 

funny-facepalm-gifBad dialogue– you know how mums are supposed to be all schmoozy and tell you your work is perfect? Yeahhh mine told me on the first draft of my first book that my dialogue was stilted and terrible 😂 Which may give you the complete wrong impression of my lovely mum… but seriously, I’m so grateful to her for *not* being the kind of person that tells me work is perfect when it’s not. Because she was completely right!! (I don’t want to give an example of the kind of stiff, horrible dialogue we all think belong in fantasy as teens… but I’m sure you can imagine it!) And though admittedly this may never be my strong suit, I’ve become better at making my characters sound less like they’ve got a stick rammed up their butt.

whoopsFilter words and repeated words– oh man, I was reminded of this for the millionth time recently when I watched Alexa Donne’s video (seriously love that channel!) Not a great thing to admit, but I was watching and thinking *oh yeah that’s me*. As much as I would like to say I’m immune, like a lot of people, I have my crutch words. Funnily enough, this is something that has gotten worse, not better! Truth be told, while blogging has made me write a helluva lot more (and made me less precious about what I put on the page) the downside is I’ve gotten lax about catching those weasel words!

thumbs upEditing– I want to add something a little more positive towards the end of this list and that’s the fact I’m not afraid to brutally edit my work. Sure, I may have difficulty killing off the odd darling sentence or unnecessary character, but I usually come around- especially if I’ve executed a whole chunk of that story anyway!

writingPerfectionism– of course, the downside to this willingness to edit is that I can get stuck on a perfectionist train of thought. I can easily work and rework something to death… literally in the case of some books I’ve shelved! But ultimately, I think that’s a positive anyway, because you learn along the way to be less sentimental about keeping ideas alive that have gone stale. Better to move onto something else, I say! (just provided I don’t do this forever! 😉 )

And that’s all for now! Do you share any of these bad writing habits? What were your first writing mistakes? Or successes? Let me know in the comments!

Dusting Off Old Projects

thoughts orangutan

This time last year, I talked about shelving old projects and letting dead projects lie. Now I’m resurrecting the topic… to turn it on its head. Because, unexpectedly, one thing I came away thinking is that maybe sometimes it’s a good idea to step back into bad old writing.

it's aliveBurnt out from editing and not ready to start a new project, I decided to go back to an abandoned story. I knew that there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t. To put it simply, I took a duology, cut, hacked and stitched it together to make one Frankenstein MONSTER BOOK. Now, this isn’t a fairy tale (after all, we’re talking about some serious necromancy here!) I doubt me and the book will wind up happily ever after 😉 I may end up having rewritten it just to shelve it again.

monster book of monstersHowever, what I am happy to say is I had fun with my little fling. Playing around with it reminded me why I wrote it in the first place and made me want to write more. I realised I could take time out to work on something just for me (just as long as it doesn’t devour all my time 😉 ).

grave robbingMost surprisingly of all, it was a learning curve. Not only could I see the massive development in my writing, I realised I could still learn new tricks from old projects. I ended up thinking how much I could ransack from the project for future stories and where I could improve elsewhere. Sure, this may seem like graverobbing (cos it is a bit), but I also saw this as an opportunity to create a whole new life aka more stories! 😉

I’m not completely turning my back on my previous post. Not every story is meant to see the light of day buuut maybe it doesn’t have to be shut up in the dark either. So, I guess the message here is that you don’t write anything off…

What do you think about dusting off old projects and old ideas? Do you like to resurrect bits here and there? Or do you think you should let dead things lie? Let me know in the comments!

What to do when you’re burnt out from writing?

am writing

Sooo I did plan to do a few *very* different pieces back in November. After finishing most of my editing goals for the year in August, I hoped I would have something new to work on by now. Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), this year, seemed like a promising time to start drafting my first new project in *years*… but as you might have guessed from the title of this piece, that’s not what happened. Not only is my WIP currently off slumbering in the Chamber of Secrets, but I couldn’t seem to look any new project in the eye without getting petrified. So not much writing happened in Nanowrimo. It turns out, I’m experiencing a little thing called burn out.

candle burning down

I shouldn’t really be surprised- it’s kinda the natural ebb and flow of creativity- but at the same time I often find myself at a loss when I find a loose hour here or there that I’d normally love to fill with some writing. Which is why, I thought I’d put together a fun list of what you can do when you’re burnt out from writing (or anything else for that matter):

See friends– yes, they might have forgotten what you looked like. You might have to remind them who you are- but I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you now you’ve emerged from your writing cave and can say something more than *grunt* *edit* *grunt* *must. write. now*

friends hug

Watch *all the TV*- granted I haven’t tried this yet- but I think a good binge could solve all most of my problems.

watch tv

READ– I mean, obviously. And it’s probably nothing new, since you may have used this to procrastinate from working on your WIP. But at least now you won’t have any pesky writing-goblin perched on your shoulder making you feel guilty about it!

matilda books

Do something else that’s creative– for me that often involves drawing (mostly monkeys 😉)- but it could be anything from crocheting, knitting or building a bird house… whatever floats your boat.

painting

Blog about how you’re burnt out– (ooh meta). You could also blog in general, catch up on comments and hop around the blogosphere 😀

writing

Stare into space

stare into space

Dream of doing something with your WIP (but also not just yet cos you need to breathe and that ish is scary)

daydream.gif

Dust off an old project– *stare at it intently*, promise to plan it soon, maybe start planning it, scrap plans, *stare some more* like you’re in a Twilight movie, lather, rinse, repeat.

stare

And finally…

*Give it some time*- yes, my final piece of advice (to myself and everyone else going through this) is that it’ll come! You can try and force it, but the best thing I’ve always found is to take a breather and just let it come.

breathe

So, have you experienced burn out before? What did you do to get over the hump? Let me know in the comments!

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.

crying orangutan

Singing super cheesy anthems at the top of your lungs.

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

writing

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

bad writing gig

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.

thumbs up

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

choose books

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 😉).

think happy thoughts.gif

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!

book love belle

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!

orangutan on a beach relaxing0003

And if none of this has helped, then…

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

banana split

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!

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

am writing

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!

The Obsession with Making Writing Real

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One thing I have to make clear before I get started is that I’m not saying “realism sucks”. Every genre or style has its time and place. As much as I love fantasy, I’m open to all forms of the genre and I also adore classics/literary/contemporary fiction etc (not to mention the fact I like my historical fiction as realistic as possible). So, let’s just begin by saying yes, realism rocks just as hard as fantasy. Glad we could get that out of the way 😉

What I do mean, however, is that sometimes striving for realism takes over. While glaring errors can take you out of a story, sometimes criticism of contemporaries can get a little nitpicky (like, whether or not a particular school has a netball team or whatever). And I’ve written at length about why I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for fantasy. More recently, there’s even been a particular obsession with real experience. Which, you know, can be a problem since not every book is (or should be) an autobiography.

atticus finch quoteFor starters, writing is often about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s kind of impossible if you’re never allowed to think outside your own bubble. And while I’m not saying poach anything you like, or that everyone is capable of doing this, some people really are amazing at putting themselves in the mind’s eye of someone totally unlike them (one of the best examples being Rowling’s depiction of abuse, when, as far as I know, she hasn’t experienced this herself).

The other huge problem is how subjective this can be. While one reader might give you the go ahead, another might say you got it totally wrong. This can be even more troubling when you consider the fact that even if you have the same experience, it doesn’t mean you relate to it the same way. It’s frankly horrifying to see authors attacked for writing about their own experiences- which happened to Leigh Bardugo recently over Ninth House. I’m gonna be real: I lean heavily on my own experience in my writing, so it strikes a nerve to see people lashing out at writers over this.frieda-norris-quote-sisterhood I shouldn’t have to point this out, because it is fairly obvious, but here we go: you can’t make claims about someone’s experience without knowing the individual intimately (and even then, it’s pretty rude).  In fact, I’ve had people do the “ugh you don’t know about this, so shut up!” routine to me over things I *definitely* do know about (though, of course, they don’t know that). I’d say it’s safer not to assume you know a stranger’s life story, but that’s just me 😉

What’s more, even if I’ve been critical of a book for being unrelatable, I find it really helpful to hear why other people got something out of it. Not everything can be relatable for everybody– so it’s cool if you disagree with me on something. It gives me a chance to hear another perspective.

Plus, a huge amount of this simply comes down to personal taste. That’s what I tried to get across when I wrote the post “Don’t Write X”- it’s just not possible to appeal to everyone- and that’s okay! I can accept, for instance, that some readers are into fantasy for the world building and complex systems- ergo hyper-realism is important to them. Just because it isn’t the case for me, doesn’t mean I get to rain on their parade and decide all books should be super fantastical. There’s room for both hard and soft magic systems! Similarly, I’ve heard one writer say they find it pulls them out of a contemporary if the names don’t match up to modern trends… whereas I’m all for the quirky names! Barring huge illogical inconsistencies and glaring errors, these things will always be hit or miss. It’s about finding the right readers for a particular book.

For me, books aren’t all about how precise they are; they’re about the endless possibilities they contain. And so I’m not going to obsess over the realism (especially cos even complex magic systems basically come down to *because magic* anyway 😉).

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So, what do you think? Is realism the be-all and end-all for you? If not, where do you draw the line? Let me know in the comments!