Writing Advice

Writing Cycles

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I tend to be inspired by topics swirling around mental health: I’m interested in mental illness and its effects on people and relationships; I’m fascinated by psychology and states of mind that make people see and believe things that don’t align with reality. And because the maladies of the mind are so often my muse, I thought it was about time I wrote about my relationship with the my own mind as it relates to writing.

Recently I was loosely diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I say loosely because it wasn’t official, just a trend I noticed and spoke to my doctor about, who agreed that SAD could be the cause. The trend? Getting exhausted and depressed in the winter months. For example in the past two months my motivation has been drained and I’ve had real trouble getting out of bed (or wanting to do anything but sleep forever). It’s an awful feeling and in the depths of it quite terrifying because there’s a fear in there that things will never get better.

But inevitably they do.

I’ve started light therapy and that paired with the recent bloom of good February weather seems to have pulled me out of my funk. I’m full of energy now and back to writing (before I was only thinking about writing).

Luckily in the depths of my listlessness I’ve still managed to keep up on some reading I’ve been doing as research for my next book. I’m reading a book called ‘Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament’ by: Kay Redfield Jamison. This book is completely fascinating and I mention it because it doesn’t only touch on manic-depressive illness, but also on SAD and the ‘artistic temperament’-the general trend of writers and other artists to follow seasonal patterns of productivity.

According to the book many artists have seasonal periods of creation that align with the seasons in nature. Artists are cyclical creatures prone to productivity in certain months and less in others. It’s different for everyone when these peaks are, but they are present and have been studied. This idea relaxes me. Curious about the effects of the seasons on my own work I recently looked up each one of my novels to find the date in which I created the document to start writing them. The verdict: Spring and Summer (mostly summer). All of them. Not one of my novels was started in a winter month. Fascinating!

For me, my cycles seem to be even more extreme, as during the times when I am truly active I write like there’s no tomorrow. I have been known to write most of my books in no more than three weeks, sometimes even two and any short stories come out fully finished in an hour or two tops. Pages and chapters fly by when I am in a ‘flow’ period and honestly I love it. I like to get things done quickly and to leave the rest of my time for thinking and planning my next piece.

So what’s the point of me writing all of this?

I want to say I’m relieved. These cycles and seasonal ups and downs can seem strange and confusing when you think you’re alone. But reading about other artists and writers who share this cyclical spirit makes me understand myself a bit better and want to give myself more leeway when I’m not writing or inspired every hour of every day.

As issues of mental health are my muse, they can also be my comfort as I ride the waves of my creative productivity and try to make sure I’m being kind to myself.

I also want this to be a reminder to be kind to yourself too. Give yourself space if you need it and don’t push too hard.

Have you noticed any cycles to your writing life? I would love to hear about them!

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Random

Introducing…my agent!

Conville

The message from London (England) came at 7am right when I was about to step out the door to go take my first science exam in 15 years. I was pumped on nervousness and I did a final e-mail check before I left. There was a message from Conville & Walsh agency in my inbox. The email said that I had won runner-up in their ‘Word of Mouth Prize’ and they wanted to offer me representation for my first novel.

To be honest I didn’t think it was real. I didn’t actually remember entering the competition.

I read the e-mail again.

Then I looked at Ben and started laughing. Then I cried and laughed at the same time.

I shoved my iPad into his hands and said: ‘read this…is it real?’

There wasn’t time for much celebration before I hauled myself out the door to write my science exam (which I totally nailed BTW).

So that is how I came to work with the absolutely lovely and fabulous Carrie Plitt of Conville & Walsh in London. I’m so excited about the agency, Carrie, and the future of my career now that I have such a wonderful champion for my work. I look forward to working with Carrie to bring my books to the world and I’m sure we will have a long and awesome relationship.

Woo!

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Writing is writing

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Things have been crazy because I just started school again and when I meet up with other writers they ask me if I’ve been writing lately.


And I say yes.

But I hesitate. Why do I hesitate? Because I’ve been writing loads, just not fiction. I’ve been blogging a lot about my experiences at school over at my Cosmorphosis blog and it’s been extremely rewarding and fascinating, but there’s some tiny part of me that believes writing = writing fiction.


This is clearly a flawed thought and I have no idea where it comes from. Non-fiction is obviously a valid and important form of writing, from news to memoirs, sharing stories of the real world and our own lives is extremely valuable.

But it’s not fiction.

I think the moment I really committed to writing fiction was the same moment I officially committed to being a writer. Even though I had been writing non-fiction and travel memoirs for years, for some reason I only decided to take the moniker of writer when fiction was my focus.

It’s not a good, healthy thought. Writing is writing and all of it is great.

Whether it’s tweeting, blogging, writing a book, a poem, a single line or even a lab report (which I did for the first time ever this week), writing is important and meaningful because it’s all just various forms of expression. I can find the joy in any one of those forms, as evidenced by the fact that I loved writing the lab report.



I don’t want to limit myself to the form of fiction for my expression and I don’t think anyone should. As a writer, a creator of art, my focus will change throughout my life and as someone who considers herself open-minded and well suited for change I want to embrace that and proudly proclaim my love of self expression, no matter what form it comes in.

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Stop doing what you think you’re supposed to!

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I’ve written two novels and a novella so far and I am currently working on editing a fourth book.  This new book (What it means to be a man) is a little unusual though because it’s a blend of non-fiction essay style Q&A intertwined with a fictional story.  The idea came to me because I wanted to write the fictional story but I found that it mirrored my real life (specifically my marriage) so I wanted to stir some real life juice from my relationship into the mix.  I’m really excited about it because I love both the real life parts and the fictional parts, but I’m also a little nervous about it because it’s a departure from the norm.

When it comes to publishing there seems to be this idea of writing in your genre, sticking to a single style and building an audience that way, but to tell the truth every time I think about doing that it gives me an existential crisis.  Who am I (style wise)?  What kind of writer do I want to be?  What if an audience would be unwilling to follow me on my journey though the different landscapes of what I want to try?

I started my fifth book (Nil) after I wrote my first draft of the one I’m currently editing (What it means to be a man) and I started out writing it in a pretty traditional way, I had an idea for a fictional story and I wrote it the way I had written the first two books.  But halfway through I started to lose steam and then the whole thing started to depress the crap out of me because I hated its guts.  So after flailing uselessly and trying to restructure it and being seriously depressed over the whole damn thing I eventually gave myself permission to walk away and a weight lifted.

I went back and focused on What it means to be a man and writing a few short stories and started thinking about diving into my travel memoirs from ten years ago to see if that is something worth pursuing (I even struggled through Eat, Pray, Love to try and see what a popular travel memoir looks like).  But then, today, as I was writing some of the non-fiction for What it means to be a man I had a brainstorm.  I found a way to fix the dreaded Nil.  It will require a lot of research and some serious exploration of the concepts of the book, but it could be really cool.  It could be really cool, but what it wouldn’t be is a traditional novel.

Cue the worry about building an audience and marketing etc…

So I bounce into the land of concern over doing the expected and then I think: stop being fettered by what you’re supposed to do!  My biggest passion in stories is the intersection of the fantastic into everyday life.  And what is more of an intersection then merging non-fiction with fiction?  I love the idea of exploring story concepts in real life so why shouldn’t I think that other people might love it too?  I love exploring new and unusual formats, styles and genres, so why shouldn’t I?  I’m not saying I’m doing something completely crazy or totally unique here, but it’s just that it doesn’t follow the format of a traditional novel (of which I have already written two).

But I don’t want to be tied down to traditional concepts of novels just because I think I’m supposed to.  There are plenty of people who have successful careers writing whatever moves them, so why should I be any different?  I find the idea of being tied to one format of book very limiting and on the flip side I am intensely excited to think of all the ways I could branch out and approach a story differently!

So if you are ever stuck on a story, or stuck in a rut, why not consider ways you could alter the style, genre or narrative of the story to embrace your passions and find a new direction?  Because finding your own way of writing and trying new things is so important and you shouldn’t be limited to what you think you’re supposed to do!

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Font Size Matters

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Font size matters to me on a weird, emotional, subconscious level.  Really it does.  When my words are smaller, like 10pt or 11pt or something, I like them better, I take them more seriously, find them more beautiful and think they are more clever than they probably are.

I really don’t know why this is and I never really thought about it before, but today I was writing a story and I wasn’t 100% feeling it so I tried to make the font size smaller and viola, I was in love.

I just did it while I was writing this blog post too, I reduced the size two points and all of a sudden I felt like I was saying something more important.

I wonder if this is unusual?

I just did a cursory and completely not thorough search on ‘the psychological effects of font size’ and found an abstract for a study that suggests negative responses to written words start earlier and last longer for larger fonts (assuming I’m interpreting the abstract correctly).  But other than that it’s mostly hits for the effects of different kinds of fonts, not size.

So what is it about the size that matters?

Well I guess a good question would be: who reads books with bigger fonts?  Answer: children!

It makes sense in a way, children’s books have these big, cartoonish fonts.  Tween and young adult books have pretty big fonts too.  Then we get to adult stuff and the size seems to matter there too.  Have you ever picked up one of those densely packed ‘cerebral’ novels where the font size is minuscule and the words just seem packed onto the page?  Those kinds of books always seem super intimidating to me, but at the same time super important.  Like if I conquer those thick, unbroken paragraphs I really must be smart.  I’m willing to bet Harlequin romance novels or commercial fiction don’t use that tiny font size because they want their fiction to seem more accessible.

It always shocks and amazes me how many things we subconsciously perceive and use to navigate the world and form opinions.  I wouldn’t even have noticed my odd respect for smaller font size if it wasn’t for my own observations while writing.

So is this a thing publishers know about and use to their advantage?  Does font size really play a part in the perceived intellectual value of a book?  I’m willing to bet it does.  I really think font size matters.

If you haven’t noticed how you feel about font size try it now with a story you’ve already written then tell me your thoughts and emotional responses to font size.

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Other People’s Words

ImageI just read The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

Now this isn’t a book review—as I haven’t quite decided whether I want to do any of those on this blog—but there was something about the book that got me thinking.

In the book Mr. Green uses many poems and quotes from many different authors of all stripes and there is some stunning poetry sprinkled throughout the story that often made me take pause.  But after the pause of awe at the words in these poems by other people I felt kind of cheated.  These were not the author’s words.

It’s been done before of course, people often reference history and past literature in their works of fiction.  And although I can understand doing it a little bit, once in awhile, in The Fault in our Stars I felt I was saturated with other people’s words to the point of distraction.

In retrospect I have seen this happen before, where people try to inject a certain level of gravitas into their work by throwing in a little Shakespeare or quoting someone else’s poem.  But overall I’m not sure I love it.  I’ve done it before myself of course—little bits and pieces, a line here or there—but I think I would feel like I was cheating if I started throwing in whole stanzas of another writer’s poetry or prose.  It just wouldn’t feel right to me as a writer, just as it didn’t feel right to me as a reader.

As a writer I feel it both a privilege and an obligation to arrange words in new combinations on the page and so I think we should try to do that as much as possible.

This isn’t to say that the poems and quotes in Mr. Green’s book weren’t well chosen and placed—they were.  They evoked exactly the right feeling at the right time.  It’s just that in the end I felt cheated out of the full experience of the author’s words.  I understand that the characters are smart and exceedingly literate teenagers, I understand that they reference works of poetry and literature because it’s only natural given their personalities.  But those particular arrangements of words were the stuff of another voice, so in essence I got less of Mr. Green and more of other people’s words.

I am fully willing to admit that my position here isn’t rock solid and that I am reacting out of more of a feeling than a logically formed thought, so I would love to hear other people’s ideas on the subject.
What are your thoughts on using other people’s words in a work of fiction?

Do you do it yourself?

Do you like it when you see other people doing it?

You can also check out this cleverly titled response to my post written by my friend Elmowrites!

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My Year in Writing

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It’s been a crazy year.

I was shocked the other day when I checked the date I made the first document for the first draft of my first novel because it was March 2013—not even a year ago.

Starting A Girl Out There for me meant committing to being a writer.  I had written some stuff before then of course, fiddled around with it and loved it from a distance, but I had never actually said: ‘I want to be a writer’ out loud or even in my head.

So when I sat down in March to write my first book, I said: ‘I’m going to do this, I’m gonna be a fucking writer.’  And here I am…a writer.

Since writing A Girl Out There I have written three other books (A Memory in the Shape of Delilah, What it Means to be a Man & By Any Other Name) as well as getting a good start on my fifth book (Nil).  I’ve published a short story (in Grim Corps) as well as being a winner of the Fringe contest for Eden Mills Writer’s Festival for which I was asked to read on a gorgeous stage at the festival with a bubbling brook and a heron flying majestically by behind me.  I joined and quit one writing group and joined and stayed in two (Ashdale Writers Group & Eggs).  I’ve submitted a load of stories and received a bunch of rejections (which I’m told is a big part of writing).  I’ve written some websites for corporate clients and I’ve met a director who wants to make one of my short stories into a short film (coming soon).  And finally (and possibly most excitingly) I’ve recently had a promising phone call with an agent.

So in short, I’m a fucking writer.  Yeehaw!

So in this very short and very sweet burst of time what have I learned?

Let’s see…

Make Time

I love writing and when you find something you love, you just have to grab onto it and rock it.  I’m kind of an all or nothing gal.  I like to pour every bit of myself into what I love, whether it’s a relationship, an activity or in this case a new career.  I have noticed a lot of articles on writing websites talking about making time for writing and I have to say that’s one of the most important things I have done this year.  I just crammed everything else around the edges and wrote like there was no tomorrow and thanks to that I’ve come out of the year with a bunch of different projects under my belt.

Learn To Let Go

There have been a couple of times this year when I have started projects that fizzled out miserably because I just wasn’t feeling them.  Although I’m loathe to let things go unfinished sometimes you just have to admit you hate a book’s guts and toss it to the side.  And frankly, the sooner the better.  Why waste time on shit you hate?  You should…

Be Passionate About Your Project

If you like pulling teeth, go be a dentist.  Sure, sometimes there are hiccoughs, moments where you loose clarity.  But if the passion is gone ask yourself: was it ever there in the first place?  Some projects just suck the life out of you and seriously…what’s the point?  If you don’t feel excited about your story it’s very unlikely your story is going to feel excited about you writing it.  If it doesn’t set you on fire (or at least light a little flame) then toss it to the curb and find something that does!

Take A Break, But Always Go Back

I have two problems:

1) I am impatient
2) I like to finish things and move on (and not look back)

In some ways these things benefit me, because they allow me to slam through things.  But in other ways it makes going back really hard.  I like things to be neat and tidy—then gone.  So going back to my first novel was a bit painful in the beginning.  I was tempted to erase and re-write the whole damn thing.  But that wouldn’t do, so I had to take it slower than I usually do.  The key here is that taking a break from the story really helped my look back with perspective (especially after having written a bunch of other stuff in the meantime).

So definitely take a break, walk away and do something else, but never be afraid to go back and take a fresh look.

Really Listen To Feedback

Feedback is awesome.  Just release the ego (I know it’s there, but try to ignore that asshole for a bit) and get to the listening.  Find some people who give good advice and let them have at your work—the more the merrier.  You are ultimately the final arbiter of your own words, but listening to others will give you a whole new outlook you didn’t know you had and if you can just get over yourself for long enough to listen it will help you.  Really.

Love It

Every single day I feel so lucky to have found something I love so much and to be allowed to do it.  I never, ever take it for granted.  Life is short and I wish everyone, everywhere could have the opportunity to do what they are passionate about because it’s just awesome.

I’ve heard a diverse range of opinions about writing as I’ve explored websites and forums and had different discussions with writers.  From time to time I come across people who bitch about writing, say how hard it is and how they hate it but just ‘have to do it’ and I want to shake them.

As a writer I feel privileged to be able to compose every sentence and share my words with people (hopefully sometime soon to lots of people) and I can’t imagine hating it.  If I did, I’m sure I would do something else because what’s the point if you don’t love what you do?

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m lucky and I think it would behoove all writers to stop for a moment and consider how lucky they are too.  I love writing because I feel I have something important to say and I have finally found a way to say it.

Why do you love it?

Happy New Year!