30 August 2014 - 6:46 pm

Random Writing Tip #10: Perfection is the Enemy

(Warning: inappropriate unicorns below)

This is where we would all like to be: an armour-toting rainbow unicorn of awesome. (Picture by snakeman1992)

This is where we would all like to be: an armour-toting rainbow unicorn of awesome.
(Picture by snakeman1992)

Writers are always striving to write better. (Or at least, the good ones are, and that’s who I’m writing these tips for, so let’s stick with that assumption, okay?)

We take classes, read blog posts, buy numerous books on writing by writers, read at least some of those books, write stuff, cry over feedback, write more stuff, entrust our precious work to editors, write more stuff. We are always chasing that better phrasing, the more fitting word, the image crafted so finely that it shines. We try to pin down a character in ways that will really reach people. We search for ways to twist the knife that will make people ask for more.

In short, we are always, always trying to perfect what it is that we do.

This is absolutely the right thing to do. We will never learn or grow if we aren’t constantly reaching for something better.

But there is no such thing as perfect writing. It is a myth, the unicorn at the end of a rainbow we can’t even see. That unicorn is laughing at us.

Why is it laughing? Because we know our work isn’t perfect. We sit and squint at it, and poke, and prod, change a word here, a phrase there, throw our hands up and switch tense in the whole piece, cut a paragraph out there, add another page in here. We primp and stroke and preen. We tear it up because it’ll never be any good. Our hands hover over the Delete key. We tuck it in a drawer because the next one, that’ll be the one that works. It’ll be right. But this one, this piece right here, it’s not good enough, and it’ll never be good enough. We just need to keep working at it, at our craft, at the next four pieces, until we’re good enough.

This is closer to reality. (Picture by Christian Hellman)

This is closer to reality.
(Picture by Christian Hellman)

The thing is, we’re our own worst critics and the whole notion of ‘good enough’ means, for most of us, ‘perfection’. And like I said, there is no such thing as perfect writing. We’re sitting there, brushing and brushing a Shetland pony in the hopes that it’ll magically turn into a unicorn. In the meantime, the poor pony’s going bald and has probably started to eat our shoes.

Magic. Unicorn. You see where I’m going here.

So should we stop trying? No, we should not. Self-improvement is the lifeblood of good writing. But there’s trying to improve something and there’s going beyond all need and reason.

Because too much editing and rewriting can suck the life out of a piece. In chasing perfection, you can write away all the spark and passion it had when it was fresh and raw. Just like with cooking, at some point you need to stop stirring and poking and adjusting, or you’ll overcook it and then no-one will enjoy it. Or like whittling, paring and paring away at a carving until there’s only a nub of wood left.

More than that, it can stop you ever feeling like you’ve finished something. You miss that feeling of achievement.

This is where it becomes counter-productive. This is where it damages more than helps.

If you’re never submitting because that piece ‘isn’t quite right’? If you never show anyone your work because you’ve just re-written the first paragraph for the fifth time? If you never get to the end because you’ve been working on the first chapter for three months? If you tinker until you hate the sight of a piece? You’re chasing unicorns and you need to stop. Right now. Put that pen down; step away from the keyboard.

NO. STAHP.  You see how it can all go horribly wrong? (Picture by Sin Amigos)

NO. STAHP.
You see how it can all go horribly wrong?
(Picture by Sin Amigos)

Because perfection is the enemy of done. Perfection is the enemy of looking at a piece and thinking ‘I’ve done something great here’ or ‘this is ready to go’. Perfection is the enemy of pressing ‘send’. Perfection is the enemy of saying ‘look at what I did’ and being proud of it.

That unicorn is not your friend. I’m telling you, it’s laughing at you.

Do you want to know a secret? The definition of what’s ‘good enough’ is mutable. It’s a line you can move, completely at your own choice. And if your line is pushed right up against your desirable perfection, then you need to move it.

It’s a learning process. Don’t expect to get it right every time. But learn to recognise when you’re starting to beat the horse because it’s not a unicorn and you’re about to end up with a dead horse no-one wants to play with any more. Learn when it’s time to put the tools down.

Take a deep breath. Accept that there is no such thing as perfection. Be brave. Let your writing grow wings and fly to wherever you aim it to go. Let it go.

Treat every submission or publication as a learning experience. Know that you’ll take what you learn from one into the writing of the next, and that each piece brings you closer to really good writing. Share your journey and your stories, because it’s good to be human and imperfect.

Know that, in that one way at least, you’re like every other writer on the planet, and that’s okay.

Aim high, my friends. Aim higher. But don’t be afraid to pull the trigger.

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26 August 2014 - 10:39 am

Random Writing Tip #9: Rent Space

Upload your imagery and action here. (Picture from Wikipedia)

Upload your imagery and action here.
(Picture from Wikipedia)

Often when we write, we see the story like a movie in our heads. Sometimes the picture is complete; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes only certain elements are in focus. Sometimes it all rolls by in a technicolor wave we can’t hope to do justice to with our meagre writer’s hands.

Whatever that picture is, it’s one of our challenges as writers to transplant it into the mind of our readers. We have to write in such a way that they see what we do. Words are the film and the book is the projector, whether it be electronic or paper.

Actually building an image in someone else’s mind is impossible (at least it is with current, non-invasive technology, so let’s go with it as fact for now). So how do we do it?

Easy: we cheat. We make the reader build the image themselves.

One writer described it as ‘renting space in your reader’s imagination’. It’s your reader’s imagination that you need to speak to, because this is what will do all the heavy lifting for you. All you need to do is give it the right prompts.

When you’re describing something, less is more.

Building an image in a reader’s mind isn’t about describing every single little detail, every tiny shift, and all the spaces in between. The brain is an amazing machine and can operate well on shockingly little information. It’s about giving the reader the right details so that they’ll fill in the rest for you. It’s about giving them enough to understand the scene. It’s about clues and nudges and those key things that you need to bring into focus.

Your reader has a hungry brain, ripe and empty, and it’ll slather all over itself to work for you, so use it shamelessly. Don’t waste a single word.

But where do flowery language and florid descriptions fit in? Readers enjoy those too (or some do!). They have their place and the same rule applies: you don’t need to describe absolutely everything. Describing one perfect plant in a garden might take half a page (or four pages), and that might be all you need for the entire garden; you don’t have to describe each and every plant the same way. Again, with the right cues, the reader will do it without thinking.

This rule of thumb doesn’t just apply to descriptions, either. Action can be picked out in its key moments (do we need to hear about every jarring step, or the angle at which the protagonist slid around three different corners, or just that last slither to a stop when the quarry is within reach?) and the reader will assume the whole journey; reactions can be hinted at (especially when the reader knows the characters well); and background information can be inferred from many sources (avoiding the infodump).

Focus on what’s truly important to your story: that’s what should appear in your words. You are renting space in someone else’s head and setting up spotlights. Your reader will come in and turn all the other lights on. They’ll join all of those dots while you’re busy doing something bigger, and they won’t even realise they’re doing it. They’ll paint the walls and tile the floor. They’ll figure out how to get from one spotlight to the other and sort out the plumbing. They’ll draw patterns and pitch the lighting at just the right level. They’ll know how long the character’s hair is without being told, and know what that curl of the lips means. They’ll hear voices in their head without any aural input. They’ll be dazzled by your stars and colour the sky in between them at the same time.

So don’t worry about putting every detail into your piece: worry about putting in the right details. And trust your readers to do the rest.

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22 August 2014 - 6:43 pm

Awesome gifts for writers

So many gifts, so many choices! (Picture by Stephen Depolo)

So many gifts, so many choices!
(Picture by Stephen Depolo)

After reading a list by Chuck Wendig of 25 gifts for writer, (and his additional 10 ideas, omg!) and seeing as it’s my birthday soon, I thought I’d put together my own list of irresistible shinies for those who like to spin stories in their brains.

#1: Things that mark words on other things

You can’t go wrong with a simple, beautiful implement filled with inky possibilities. The options are endless: ballpoints, fineliners, mechanical pencils, wooden pencils, fountain pens, clicky pens, twisty pens, novelty pens, felt-tip pens, pens with fancy barrels engraved with our (pen)name. Us writer-types will grip it and use it and doodle with it. We’ll chew on it and noodle out nuances on napkins. We might even write words down in a story-like format.

A writer can never have too many pens or pencils. Okay, I might have a pencil case or two brimming full enough to prove otherwise, but the sight of a new pen always makes me happy. It makes me want to create an excuse to use it. I might do all of my actual fiction-writing on a keyboard, but I take notes the old-fashioned way; all of my planning is done on paper or notecard. So pens are always welcome.

#2: Things that make coloured marks on other things

Coloured ink. Coloured pencils. Glitter ink. Paint – okay, paint might be going a bit far, but you never know with some writers (they are creative types, after all). Colour is fun! Help your writer-friend make their words sparkle in a non-sucky way* by giving them a something a little different.

Why is this a different suggestion than the one above? Because it’s optional. But changing up the colour you use to write can be good for shaking loose a fresh perspective. I like to colour-code what I write on my notecards when I’m planning a project. I like glittery ink, because it makes the whole process more fun. And it helps me to pretend my writing is nicer than it is because hey, pretty!

It’s also a fun thing to use to write in other people’s birthday cards, too. Why stick to boring blue or black? Fuck no, I’m an artist. Watch me shine. And sparkle. And glitter.

#3: Things to write words down in

I think I have successfully conveyed the important of pens. It’s also helpful to have something to use them on other than a napkin or a receipt from the bottom of our wallet. Notebooks are always good!

Now, some writers will tell you that they have too many unused notebooks already. This is because it is very hard to walk past a nice one, especially if it’s on sale and calling to us. But I’ve yet to meet a writer who isn’t delighted by getting one as a gift. (All of this paragraph applies to me, by the way.)

I suggest making subtle enquiries of the writer to see what their notebooking preferences are. Do they prefer lined or blank pages? Moleskin covers? Ring-bound ones? Something small enough to tuck into a handbag or is big enough for a backpack okay? Must it be recycled or made from panda poop?**

#4: Sticky notes

Continuing with the stationery theme, sticky notes are wonderful! They capture our thoughts so they don’t escape on us, and we can stick them to any surface for later reference (sometimes, I want to use my forehead, but its adhesive qualities are sub-optimal for retaining reminders).

Be creative. You can go with the standard yellow squares of the stereotypical Post-it Notes, or you can look for different shapes and colours. They exist! They’re fun! Writers like fun. (I know, I know: shocking!)

Every writer needs minions to make them coffee. Preferably to this scale. (Picture by renatomitra)

Every writer needs minions to make them coffee. Preferably to this scale.
(Picture by renatomitra)

#5: Caffeinated goodness

I have yet to meet a writer who didn’t appreciate liquid stimulation of some description. Okay, it’s not always caffeine: it might be tea, or hot chocolate, or smoothies, or alcohol-based internal fire.

For the most part, though, it’s coffee. If you cut us, we only bleed red because we haven’t had enough coffee today. Yet.

So think about how you can best support your writer friend’s essential habit. Coffee beans crapped out by a monkey?** A Starbucks card loaded up with enough credit to caffeinate an elephant? (You may wish to check how discerning your writer friend is before trying this one; some prefer to give the lowly stuff to the elephant.) Funky-flavoured grounds?

So many options, so much caffeine to consume.

#6: A receptacle for caffeinated goodness

Maybe you’re not sure what kind of coffee your friend enjoys, or if they can do anything with beans but wish really hard, because there’s no grinder at home. Never fear! Coffee-drinking has accessories (and essential ones at that), and they all make good gifts. Some of them come in funky colours and patterns, so you might even find something in their chosen geeky area (we all have them, let’s be honest here).

So what might it be? A nice set of matching cups and saucers might be nice, but what about a new coffee press? A mug the size of their head? A travel mug so they can never be parted from their one true love? A coffee press in a travel mug the size of their head?

#7: Writing rewards

Some writers need rewards for reaching milestones. It’s both stick and carrot! Sometimes it’ll be that snack they’ve been wanting but are putting off until they’ve finished a full 1,000 words, usually chocolate or cake. Sometimes it’ll be a trip to the bathroom (not something I do or recommend – that can only get messy, but apparently an overfull bladder can be a wicked encouragement).

What about something that they wouldn’t normally treat themselves with? Like a massage, or a facial. A ticket to that musical they’ve been talking about. A trip to see a movie (or even just the popcorn).

Feel free to wrap it in something that says ‘to be opened when you’ve finished x story’. They’ll love it! And possibly hate you a little bit. Sometimes external encouragement and reward is exactly what we need. Be careful, however, of making them time-dependent (like a ticket), just in case they’re a lazy slacker who never finishes a damned thing. No point wasting a perfectly good ticket.

#8 BOOKS (fiction)

I know, I know: how come books aren’t number 1? Suspense is what keeps people reading, you know.*

Writers love books. They love stories. A gift of a book is always, always a wonderful thing.

But how do you know what they’ve got? What they like? What if you choose something offensive to them? Well, you could always ask. Or just guess; that often works, too.

I saw something recently that I think is an awesome idea: give a writer your favourite book. There are so many reasons why that’s a great thing: it means more to the recipient to know that you’re giving something you love, not just something random you picked up. A joy shared is a joy more than doubled.

#9 BOOKS (non-fiction)

Writers must research things. They can be very random things, or scary things, or downright disturbing things. We are magpies, collecting shiny bits of information that might be useless to most, but are golden nuggets for us.

So when thinking about gifts, maybe think about that project that your writer-friend is researching. Have a look around for potential research material that might be related. Even if it’s tangentially related, it might be useful! If it looks interesting, offers handy morsels of information, and is in book form, chances are, your writer will love it.

#10 BOOKS (other)

Nope, not quite done with the books section of our writery gift-o-rama. But if you’ve done fiction and non-fiction, what else is there, I hear you ask? There’s inspiration: that’s what.

I’m thinking of coffee table books full of gorgeous pictures. I’m thinking of guides to steampunk fashion, fantastical landscapes, strange portraits, or aliens scraped from the inside of an artist’s brain. Inspiration brimming at every turn of the page.

You can match them to your writer’s favourite genre, but entirely random stuff works, too. Don’t underestimate the value of something thought-provoking; it might spark an unexpected idea or even story.

This! I wanna learn to do this! ...or be near this when it's happening! (Pyrotechnics stunt exhibition by "Giant Auto Rodéo", Ciney, Belgium)

This! I wanna learn to do this! …or be near this when it’s happening!
(Pyrotechnics stunt exhibition by “Giant Auto Rodéo”, Ciney, Belgium)

#11 Research activities

Like I mentioned earlier, writers love to do research (and worldbuilding), sometimes to the detriment of ever starting their story. But let’s pretend it’s not getting in the way, for the purposes of this list. Or let’s say that you can help give your writer-friend a kick-start he or she might not be expecting.

So what is the idea here? The idea is to take your writer out to do something they’ve never done before. The more real an experience is, the more research material you’re giving them!

Now, I’m not talking about taking them out to the wilderness and leaving them there for a ‘survival experience’. I’m not talking about hooking them up with drugs or surprising them with a brothel visit (surprise whore! Happy birthday!). Those might be hilarious to contemplate but let’s steer shy of getting ourselves into trouble (or jail).

I’m talking about things like a day at a shooting range, or a stunt-driving course, or flying lessons, or a seminar in medieval blacksmithing, or a lecture on the search for exo-planets. (Incidentally, I would love all of those, and have actually done the last one.)

Some of these will cost a bit; some might cost nothing but time. It’s a good idea to look around to see what’s in your area: for example, universities often offer free lectures for the public. The sky’s the limit! (Though, just so you know, you can buy trips into outer space now. Just saying: the sky’s not actually the limit. But you can go there. Or further. Go further (with me).*)

#12 Inspiration cards

Most of these suggestions have involved some monetary outlay, some more than others. But there are other things that you can do that won’t cost you money. One is inspiration cards: something for your writer friend to pin to the wall above their working area, or carry with them when they’re out and about. Something to look at when they’re searching for words to put down or starting to doubt their abilities. Because as writers, we doubt ourselves a lot. We have crises of faith and convince ourselves that everything we do is shit. Never doubt the value of a reminder that we’re actually pretty crazy (or crazy-good; that would be a nice thing to believe!).

You can probably buy some fun and well-worded cards. I’m sure they exist. They might have pretty pictures on! Or you could print out fun memes from the internet (like the picture of the Avengers with the ‘You should be writing’ caption; that one always works).

But you know what would be even more awesome? If you made the cards out of comments on the writer’s own work. Have a look through places where they might have been reviewed or had comments posted, and note down the ones that are worth waving around like flags. Then make these quotes into the cards, however your skills are best suited.

If their work is not online so much, maybe ask friends who have read their work for quotes. Make some up yourself. Feel free to decorate them. Most of all: make it personal. The more you put in, the more they’ll get out of them.

#13 Stickers!

Writers love stickers. Not just Post-it-style notes: actual stickers with pictures on. Or stars, or letters, or parts of an image. NaNoWriMo has taught me that: above all else, we get great responses for giving out stickers. Not even NaNo-specific ones; any stickers will do. Especially if the writer has to earn them.

Any shape. Any picture. Preferably something fun, but plain is good, too. So go nuts. Get that fun, random set of stickers for your writer friend. Even better: give them a progress chart to stick ‘em to.

Because all writers are secretly big kids who like stickering all over the place.

 

Phew. Is that enough? I think I’ve covered all the writer-specific stuff.

What about you? What do you like to receive as a gift? Tell us! Because if you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Now to wait and see what turns up for my birthday. A geeky writer-girl can hope, right?

 

* You see what I did there?

** Yes, this exists. Who thinks ‘hey, this’ll be an awesome idea!’?

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12 August 2014 - 5:37 pm

Time pressure

It feels a lot like this. (Picture by Lisa Brewster)

It feels a lot like this.
(Picture by Lisa Brewster)

So many projects, so little time. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how much I struggle with my health and fatigue (or at least, it seems that way to me). I work full time to support myself, too, so my available time to write is pretty restricted.

My project list is so long these days. I put the Works in Progress page up recently, and I’m still thinking of things that I should put on there. It’s a page that will be updated pretty frequently, I think.

It’s natural that I get frustrated by the restrictions in my life. I am brimful of stories and struggling to be able to get them down and share them. I have pieces of my heart I’m ready to give away but no hands to hold them in. Not enough spoons to carve them out with.

Okay, that metaphor might have got away from me there. But you get what I mean.

There’s something that happens to me when I feel this way for a length of time. The things I really want to do pile up and up, and I’m constantly tipping them back against the wall: not yet, not yet, wait your turn. I’ll get to you. Just hold on there.

At some point, that pile gets too high. The sheer volume of things I want to do but can’t becomes too much, and it topples. I’m right in there, standing underneath, and I give up and join in, tearing chunks out of the middle and strewing them around. Fine. Fine.

In my head, something shifts. In my chest, something gives way. I say ‘yes, I feel crappy all the time, and I have all these restrictions on me, and it sucks. And you know what? It’s not good enough. I’m sick of missing out on my own life. I want to do *this* and *this* and this other thing over here. And I’m damned well going to do them anyway.’ My brain is suddenly active, alive with urgency and ideas that are usually so far out of my reach.

Outwardly, I have a productive spurt. I write on this blog again, blurt out a stream of things that have been backing up for some time, and wind up scheduling them over days or weeks to spread them out. I clean my house. I sort papers that have been sitting in a messy pile for months. I throw stuff out that I’ve been meaning to get to. I plan out a chunk of a new project. I write shorts. I do some of those things that have been towering over me, blotting out sight of what progress I might be making with everything I’m missing out on.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky thing. Sometimes this is enough to pull me up for some time – weeks, months maybe. Sometimes it only lasts a short time before my energy dwindles again, maybe a weekend if I’m lucky.

That’s sort of where I am right now, on the up-kick of a productive spurt. I’m not sure how long it will last. It feels more forced than usual, driven by more determination than it has been in the past. I’ve been lower for longer lately, and I’m trying to pull myself up out of it.

Part of it is most likely prompted by some help I’m getting at home, and right now, I’ll eke the most out of every opportunity that I can get. If a door is open an inch, I’ll do my damnedest to kick it wide, or even a foot wider. Every little helps.

Right now, I’m feeling really positive. My day job is going well. Starwalker is a bit of a challenge (which I might talk about in another blog post), but I got last week’s post out on time and that’s a victory in my book. My writing group is going well. I spent last weekend hanging out with writer friends, writing. The Writer’s Retreat is coming along nicely. Now the pressure is off at home, I can spare the mental energy for looking into health options.

And I’m getting lots of ideas for stories. Some existing projects, as well as a whole new one.

I have figured out why Vampire Electric wasn’t gelling as smoothly as it should be for me: the villain is too off-screen and away from the action for too much of the story. I need to go back and rethink how he weaves in with the rest of the story and drives it forward. I’m planning to continue work on the second draft of the novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, and now I’m in a good position to fix it up when I do that.

I’m getting more clarity on some of the shorts I have on my list for Starwalker. I know roughly what I want to do for each character, but some are clearer than others.

I have an idea for a second VVSG vignette. It niggles at me.

The assassin-centric novel I wrote a few years ago is starting to itch again, too. I have a fairly good idea about how I want the rewrite to go, and how I might start to shift it into the Starwalker universe. With some more background work, I might even be able to work in the Fall of Earth, but that would be a sequel (or even two or three books down the track in that particular series).
More and more often, I’m finding that my stories come out as a series. Not serials, necessarily, but standalone novels seem to get bored in my brain and start breeding. Like dustbunnies (or plotbunnies). If I keep turning the idea over in my hands, I seem to realise there are three or four plots in there, not just one. So many books to write!

For example, Tales from the Screw Loose is now probably a trilogy, and much bigger than just a robot brothel (once I get down into the depths of the second, and definitely in the third, book). Again, the events in Starwalker are pushing this into a larger story (and I think it’s a lot better for it, mostly because straight erotica really isn’t my thing). Sexual politics, the automation of industry, the impact of refugees, entitlement, rebellion…

And then there’s the new story. It’s shiny and novel, and the more my brain picks at it, the more interesting stuff falls out. It’s called Splinter Soul, and the basic premise is that, some time ago, someone broke the world in a fundamental way. Souls are infinite and managed to survive being split when the planet fractured, and now people walk around with only splinters of the souls they should have. There’s magic involved, based around how much of their soul a person has managed to rejoin and what form they are most powerful in, so it’s in a person’s interest to try to find all the splinters of who they really are. The splinters are other creatures, some of them mundane, some of them fantastical. They might also be other people, and there might be dragons. There’s a role for reincarnation to play here, but I’m still figuring out the mechanics of that.

It’s still mostly a world right now, a setting with lots of fun pieces to play with. I’m having fun working it all out, and the mists of a story are forming in the background. I think, for once, I’ll have the antagonist before I have the protagonist nailed down. Maybe I’ll wind up making the villain the protagonist… now, there’s an idea. Ooo.

Just writing out those two paragraphs has given me two or three new ideas I can work in. It is unfolding.

This is how the mind of a writer goes. Right now, mine is firing on… maybe not all cylinders, but let’s call it five out of six (instead of the usual two or three).

I have to be careful not to push too hard. Not to throw too many balls into the air, lest they all fall down. I have to pace myself, at least a little, try to keep things reasonable. I don’t want to push myself into some kind of collapse.
But I do want to push. I want to enjoy this. I have so many toys and I mean to play with them. I want to make the most of this up-swing in productivity while it lasts.

There’ll be a price at some point. I’m borrowing spoons. But hell, I’m going to make it worth it.

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9 August 2014 - 11:42 am

Random Writing Tip #8: Write your Heart

Let your heart tell the story it wants to, even if it's unconventional. (Picture by vampiredragongirl66)

Let your heart tell the story it wants to, even if it’s unconventional.
(Picture by vampiredragongirl66)

It’s so tempting to look at the book market and think ‘ooo, stories about albino baboons finding their one true banana are selling well, I’ll write one of those!’. It’s also very easy to think ‘I have this wonderful story in my head, but no-one will be interested in it’.

Both of those thoughts are wrong. They will lead you to a sub-optimal outcome and, most likely, a weaker story.

Because that wonderful story in your head? The one that is scrabbling to be written, whispering to you when you least expect it (or are trying to sleep), or growing every time you trip over something in your day-to-day life? That’s the story your heart wants to tell.

When you write it, it’ll be full of all the passion that is pushing it into your consciousness. It’ll carry with it the love you feel for it, even if the story itself is dark and painful, or disturbing, or tortured, or sappy, or playful. It will carry those emotions with it all the way to your readers, like a heady scent.

When a story is forced and not felt, it shows. It lacks the fire of true purpose, and if you don’t believe in it, right down to your core, neither will your readers.

If it makes you laugh and cry and hide under the bed, it’ll do the same for your readers.

Does it mean you can’t experiment and try something different? Does it mean you shouldn’t try to write something marketable? Of course not.

But if you want to write the best story you can, fall in love with it. Find a way. Build in the things that move you. If it touches your heart, that’s a good start. If writing it spills your insides out onto paper, even better.

Writing what moves you will move others, and they will love it even when they’re crying.

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7 August 2014 - 5:30 pm

Random Writing Tip #7: Write for One

Is this the reader you're writing for? Because Stitch is adorable but his tastes might be a little alien. (Picture by calling_all_angelz)

Is this the reader you’re writing for? Because Stitch is adorable but his tastes might be a little alien.
(Picture by calling_all_angelz)

Crap is relative. One man’s flower constructed of perfectly-selected words in lyrical proportions is another man’s unnecessary navel fluff. One woman’s riveting background full of juicy details is another woman’s journey down a random tangent full of annoying barbs that get stuck in her hair.

What does this mean? It means you can’t please everyone (just like with everything else in life), so don’t try. Trying to please everyone is simply setting out to fail.

So what do you do? How do you know if you’re writing the right stuff?

Write for one person. Make it the best that you can for that single person; make it their literary diamond.

Chances are, the one person you should write for is you. Writing what you want to read is a great place to start. You might be the only reader you ever write for. But considering all the different types of things that you like, is that a problem? No, not at all. It’s a focus. It’s a way to know that your story is the right one for the right audience.

What if you’re writing for an audience that you can’t represent (for example, children)? Then pick someone who represents the type of reader you want to aim your story at. Understand that person. Know what they love and what they hate. Know how they read and what and why, and all of those juicy things that will help you craft a wonderful nugget for them to love.

Write for that single, solitary reader. Speak directly to them through the words you wrangle. Make your story a conversation they can get engaged in.

And the rest? They’ll like it or they won’t, and that’s okay. The right people will like it: that’s what’s important.

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5 August 2014 - 8:34 pm

What am I up to?

Look! It's a tiny writing dragon! (Picture by jrrhack)

Look! It’s a tiny writing dragon!
(Picture by jrrhack)

In an effort to be more proactive about self-promotion, I’ve been thinking about the resources available on this site and upgrading them.

Truly, what I should do is build a new author website and move all this content over there. I already have the domain (melanieedmonds.com), but getting it built is going to be a chunk of work. I’ll need to hire an artist to do the banners I want (I already know what I want to do there). I’ll probably need to learn some more CSS to make it look the way I want, too (or hire someone to do that, and that’s beyond me at the moment, too!).

Rather than hang around and wait for ‘one day’ when I might get to all that, I decided to go ahead and build out this site. At least the content will be easy to transpose, should I get the full author website sorted.

Hence, we now have a handy My Writing section here on this site. What is it? Go take a look, lazy!

…I’m kidding; of course I’ll tell you. It lists the stories I’ve done that you can access right now, with links to my ebooks on every store they’re available as well as the original websites. I’ll be working to expand the links available as I find my way into different stores, libraries, and subscription services.

Under that, the Works in Progress page lists, predictably, the things I’m working on at the moment. I’m hoping to keep this up-to-date as I work through stuff (I change projects so infrequently that it shouldn’t fall behind too often).

You may also note that stuff I’m not actively working on is listed on that latter page, too. This is stuff that I have in the works and mean to get to… sometime. Some of it’s old, some of it’s new, some of it I have talked about before to varying degrees. Most of it is ticking over in my brain in some capacity or other.

Maybe these pages will be a kick up the arse for me to get moving with some of this stuff. Fingers crossed, right?

What do you think? Is this worth doing? Of interest?

Got any comments about the projects that are listed there? Suggestions? Requests? Reactions? I’d love to hear them!

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31 July 2014 - 5:26 pm

Narrowing focus

Sometimes all you want is more spoons... (Picture by Harlwim Keese)

Sometimes all you want is more spoons…
(Picture by Harlwim Keese)

So, I’m not dead. I know it might have seemed that way from this blog, and for that I apologise.

The truth is, this year has been kinda hard on me. My health continues to struggle along and my ability to juggle multiple distractions has shrunk drastically.

For those familiar with the spoon theory, I’ve had fewer spoons to spend lately and I’ve had to manage them ruthlessly. (For those unfamiliar with the spoons theory, go take a look! It explains so much.)

When I get challenged for time or energy (or as things have been lately, for both), my focus narrows down. I cold-bloodedly prioritise the moving parts in my life. It’s the only way I can cope.

The truth is, this blog isn’t at the top of my list. Not even close. It’s pretty well up there, but I have several more important things. Work, paying my bills. Writing and posting Starwalker. Keeping my house in a liveable state. Making food. Taking care of the family cats while my folks are away. Running the local writing events I’m responsible for. Getting organisation started for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Over the past year, I have stumbled with all of those things. I have taken days off work to rest and try to recuperate. I have used holidays from the day job to catch up on cleaning my house and other various things that have fallen by the wayside. I’ve missed Starwalker posts. I haven’t missed any events yet, but they are a lot more last-minute than they usually are. Organisation is a long, slow process, where it used to be quick and relatively easy.

I have been trying to get myself into a more stable position. That, in itself, takes time and energy away from something else. It’s all about prioritising those spoons and off-setting current stress and effort with future benefits.

Some of those things have been worth it, from something as simple as replacing a failing laptop to avoid having to work around unreliable technology to reorganising whole sections of my house to condense the mess (and required cleaning) into smaller areas. Having a dishwasher installed has helped immensely (and I’m aware of how ‘first world problem’ that sounds, but it’s a godsend to me!).

Some of the things I’ve tried haven’t worked out. A recent disaster has been hiring a cleaning agency to take care of the heavy lifting involved in keeping the house clean. Four visits, three different cleaners, varying levels of competency, culminating in a lovely incident where the cleaner managed to lock me out of my own house entirely. That endeavour probably wound up costing me more stress and sickness than doing the damned work myself would have been.

I live and learn. I push on, because forward is the only way to go. I try to keep picking my feet up, day after day, week after week, fighting for each and every damned spoon in my arsenal. I fall, I fail. I get angry with myself and try to do better. I wrack my brain for better options. And I just keep pushing onwards.

It’s an ongoing struggle. Are things better yet? Maybe a little. I’ve got some more help at home again (and I can’t say how grateful I am to have my dad back), and that’s helping to take the weight off. With his help, I might have a chance to catch up. Overall, I’m not really feeling any better, not yet. I might not be slipping behind a little more every day, but I’m still barely treading water.

So why am I writing in this blog again? Because I’m not done. I have more options to try and I’m sick of missing things. I’m trying to do better, even if I don’t feel it.

Every now and then, I stop and think about how lucky I am. It’s easy to feel worn thin by everything I’m trying to deal with right now, but perspective is important. On a scale of CFS, I can still function from day to day. I can get up and leave the house when I need to (and occasionally when I just want to). I am holding down a (pretty demanding) full-time job. I’m still a mainstay and a driver of my local writing community. I’m bringing in enough money to support myself and pay all my bills, and to treat myself to the stuff that matters to me. I have awesome readers who are understanding of my occasional flakiness.

There are some people who aren’t sick and aren’t that lucky. Who struggle to find a job; any job, let alone one they kinda enjoy or feel valuable in. Who can’t imagine driving community stuff the way I do. Who can’t see themselves committing to writing a web serial post every single week of the year. There are some people who are so sick that they can’t dream of doing any of those things, who struggle to make it out of bed at all, who have hurdles far over and above anything I have to deal with.

A friend of mine wrote a touching piece about her situation with her health recently. I’m in a similar place emotionally, though my condition isn’t as serious or life-altering as hers. Perspective matters.

I’m doing okay. I’m coping. Sometimes all I’m doing is coping, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. As hard as it all feels, I am pretty lucky. I’m trying to remember that.

I can’t promise this will be the first of a stream of new posts. I can’t promise anything at this point except that I’m still here. I’m still pushing. I frustrate myself, I try different things, and I keep trying to be better. Maybe one day I’ll get there.

In the meantime, the world moves around me and I hate feeling like I’m being left behind. Starwalker rolls on towards the end of its fourth book. The publishing industry is flexing and shifting. This world of writing that I love and life for is changing and I have things to say. I mean to say them, when I can.

Please forgive my silences. Understand that sometimes it’s all I can do to get each week’s serial post up, and sometimes that’s too much. Know that I mean to speak more.

I dream of taking a sabbatical from work: taking a year off to write. I dream of everything I’d be able to do. I know I’d sleep for the first three months, and after that… watch out. There’d be no stopping me, and you don’t want to know how long my to-do list is. But oh, the stories I’d tell…

Sadly, reality intervenes, but dreams are nice. They keep us going. For now, reality.

One thing at a time. One spoon after another. Such is the life with chronic illness. Such is a busy, modern life.

I am here. I am, I breathe, I write.

I write.

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12 April 2014 - 5:20 pm

Altered Perspectives: Epilogue

Time to close your eyes and return to whatever sanity you call home. (Picture by Pixabay)

Time to close your eyes and return to whatever sanity you call home.
(Picture by Pixabay)

The end of the Asylum is nigh. The locks are opening and doors are ready to release you back into the world.

You have spent the day in inhuman heads, writing from alien perspectives. You’ve given a voice to the silent, and told unlikely stories. It’s time to return to your own head now.

I hope you had fun today. I hope you did something new, maybe gained some inspiration you can take forward into something else. I hope you surprised yourself.

I’d love to hear what you thought of the Asylum. Which one did you find the easiest to write? Which one was the hardest? How would you improve the experience for next time? Is there something you would like to have a go at next time? Any feedback, please let me know.

Thank you for taking part. The Asylum couldn’t happen without you. Feel free to take the madness away with you and have fun with it.

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12 April 2014 - 4:20 pm

Altered Perspectives: Challenge #5

Picture someone who travels a lot. They might travel for any number of reasons. It could be their work, as a businessman, or a long-distance courier, or a cargo hauler, or any number of other mobile professions. They might be in the military, always being posted in different places. They might be a habitual traveller, someone who is simply happiest when going to the next new place. They could be a happy backpacker, working random jobs or relying on the kindness of others as they make their way between locales. They could be one of the wandering homeless, drifting between camps and shelters. They might live on a ship of some kind.

It this person male or female? How do they afford to travel all the time? What led them to this particular kind of life? Do they love to travel, or hate it? What is the first thing they do when they reach a new place? What is the thing they most like to do in a new place?

This person has been travelling for years, one way or another. What is the one thing they never travel without? Why? Is the attachment emotional, or practical, or sentimental? What is important to this person?

What kinds of places has this person travelled to? What sort of people have they met? What sort of conditions have they travelled through, stopped in, or dealt with? Do they travel alone, or with a group, or does it vary?

In all of their years of travel, this person has carried the same piece of luggage with them. It has survived countless trips, possibly been repaired a few times, and is still going strong. What kind of luggage is it? Is it big or small? Is it a case, a duffle bag, a sack with a rope around its neck, a purse, a pouch? What’s it made of? What does it look like? What colour is it? What does it smell like? Do its many journeys show, in scrapes or stickers, stains or scars? Is its value obvious?

Fast forward to your traveller’s last journey. How old is your character now? Where are they going? Why is this their last journey? Is it planned to be their last, or does something happen to force it? Where does the character end up – do they make it to their destination?

Tell us the story of the end of this final journey from the point of view of that piece of luggage the character carries with them. Tell us what happens to the luggage after that journey is over.

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