Try try again


So, I sat down ten days ago and started typing and managed to produce a first draft of my newest novel.

It was amazing, I was on a word high and for ten glorious days I was writing between 5000 and 10,000 words a day. When I was done my arms were sore, but I was elated because the thing just flowed.

Sounds lovely and magical doesn’t it? Well it’s not…really. 

Because before I started this book, I spent a long and frustrating chunk of time hacking away at another book, nearly hitting the 40,000 word mark before I wanted to violently hurl it out the window because I hated it so much. It just wasn’t working. I loved the concept so much I was trying to make it work, but it just ended up horrible, so horrible in fact that I had to step away from it completely and not think about it for months lest it make me insane.

So a couple months later I took a look at the concept at the core of the book again because I kept coming back to it, I was drawn to it and I didn’t want to let it go. Then Ben and I went on one of our epic creative beach walks and discussed and I whined about how in love I was with the concept and he finally said ‘so just write a different story’.

The original novel was about a 20-something girl with no friends or family and I was feeling in the mood for a younger voice to I decided to write from the perspective of a twelve year old with a family and a bunch of friends instead. Then I took a step back from my core concept (a mental affliction) and instead of giving it to the protagonist I gave it to her mother and blammo, I was in business!

After months of struggle with a concept I loved too much to walk away from I had finally hit the mark and I wrote like the wind for all the time I’d wasted fretting over a book that was falling flat.

So the moral of this story is that if you have something you love you don’t always have to let it go. If your book kicks you down, sit on your ass for awhile then get up and try try again. Don’t get locked into a single story, because a single concept has the potential to become a million different versions of itself, so if one isn’t working don’t be afraid to toss it in the trash and start fresh.

I sometimes struggle with learning this lesson because of the fear that once I have an idea I’ll never, ever have another one again. But that has never been true, not even once, so I think it’s time for me to get over it and learn that just because a story isn’t working, it doesn’t mean the concept is a flop.


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!


My Year in Writing

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!


The truth about me & NaNoWriMo



My official word count for NaNoWriMo is 53,383.  The first 30k was completed in 7 days at the beginning of the month.  My initial goal was 30k because I decided to co-write a book with my Mother-in-law where we each take on 30k for the month.  When I finished my portion of the thing, I sat around moping for a couple of days – this unbelievably ridiculous state of mind I get into when I have finished one project and lament I will never come up with another idea again – then struck upon a fresh idea for a book and decided to go for the NaNoWriMo gold by writing another 20k on the new project.  

Great success!

I made it, with time to spare, but the differences in the process of two books were astounding.  The first book had a basic outline, a plot element for each chapter, a handful of characters and a direction when I started out.  It went smoothly and I barely batted an eyelash in the struggle to come up with a plot.  The second book started out with a concept and that’s it.  Despite the fact that I know the ending of the book, I still have no clue where I’m going with it and the tension is waning because of that.

So now I’m taking a break to reexamine the plot of book two and I decided to also examine my experiences with NaNoWriMo.  It was more illuminating than I thought it might be.  

So here’s the truth about me and NaNoWriMo.

I heart structure

I never thought I would say that.  I never thought it was true, but it all makes sense now.  My desk is sparse, I hate stuff and clutter.  I work best on one story/project at a time.  I took a test the other day that said I was a bit more right brained (organized/logical) than left brained (chaotic/creative).  After all this time of thinking I was so damn free wheeling and intuitive, here I am hearting the hell out of structure.  

Well shit.

Plotting is my least favourite part of writing a book, but it seems once I have the basics, I can easily string everything together. If left alone to my own devices (with no structure) I will meander like crazy and get nowhere fast.  

Who knew?

I guess I did, a little.  I guess in a way it’s lucky I like structure.  My desire for order has allowed me to be a successful freelancer for years and helps me to organize my thoughts and life easily.  But on the flip side I look to people who are able to be completely free and chaotic with a little bit of envy or at least great admiration.  Unfettered randomness is something I would love to be able to achieve, but I have trouble with it.  I can’t just let things fall as they may, I have a desire to pick them up and organize them if they are just scattered about.  

I suppose the grass is always greener isn’t it?

I’m a competitive bitch

It all started when I was young.  I was a figure skater and I competed fervently for medals.  I loved me my gold.  And when you’re young they say it’s not about winning or losing but I don’t think I ever really bought into that crap.  It is about winning and losing sucks.  

So now of course, every time there is a winning condition set for something, I’m on it like a woman possessed, teeth bared and ready to kick ass.  

Who am I competing with?

Well in this case no one in particular, but I still feel that thrill of competition which – if I followed it to it’s fullest extent – would probably allow me to tear down anyone in my path to get to the finish line.  It’s brutal and bloody in my mind.  It’s a chaotic mess of stress and holier-than-thou thought patterns.

Holier than who?

I don’t know…thou.  Whoever thou is in the moment.

I’m not proud of it but in a way I don’t want it to change because it really drives me to get shit done.  When engaged in competition I become a brutal bitch of a doer.  Definitely productive, if not completely healthy.

I have carpel tunnel

Never has it been more apparent then when typing around 4,300 words a day.  

Damn it sucks.  

Deadlines stress me out

For mostly the entire week I was writing my 30k I was stressed.  It’s possible it’s because my MC is a psychopath of course, but I think it was more than that.  I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to see just how fast I could do it.  So literally every moment spent now writing I felt stressed.  I felt like I ought to be writing.  

I feel that way just naturally when I’m not working on a project (or even sometimes if I am) but in the case of NaNoWriMo it was massively amplified.  Now in a way it’s good, because I know I will work like hell in the future when I have actual real deadlines, but I kind of wish there was a way to magically undo the stress of it all.  

I’m not satisfied with less

I think I would be kicking myself if I hadn’t done the full 50k.  I’m not satisfied with halfway to the prescribed goal of a thing.

I felt compelled – even if I didn’t realize it at first – to push my word count forward.  It got me a good head start on my new book admittedly, but in retrospect it might have been good to figure out an actual plan before I started it.  Luckily I’m not too far in that if I have to slash and burn a little, I won’t be completely heart broken.

So there you have it.  The truth about me and NaNoWriMo.

I learned a lot more than I thought I would.

So the question is: will I do it again?

I’d like to say the answer is no.  I mean when I have an idea for a book it rarely takes me longer than a month to write the thing.  Plus I’m hoping to get my actual career as a published writer going soon which will give me all the incentive I need (as if I’m lacking).  

But in the end, I might just concede that my competitive nature will flare up when word of next year’s NaNoWriMo hits the twitterverse and I might not be immune to the allure of something I can potentially ‘win’.  

Because even if it’s not a real competition, I certainly found a way to make it one in my mind this year and I can’t see that part of me changing anytime soon.


How I plan


The truth is, I’m not much of a planner.

I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal.

I think I’m too impatient for planning most of the time and sometimes it’s gotten me into trouble, other times it’s led me on the greatest adventures of my life.  I flew to England a while back with the single goal of going to Stonehenge for the summer solstice and the rest I left up to the winds of fate.  I ended up living in Brighton, making friends and hitchhiking around Europe.  Hooray for no plans.

When it comes to writing I have difficulty planning as well.  Having a vague idea for a story constitutes a plan for me.

My most recent completed novel (in beta reading now) started out as an idea and I didn’t really start plotting until later when events unfolded that needed to be explored.  It was an adventure to be sure, but still a little unnerving as it left me wondering, is this going to work?  As it turned out it did (at least Ben and I think so, we’ll see what other people have to say), but after that writing free-for-all I thought it might be a good idea to try the next book with an actual, full out plan.
Ben and I started that process yesterday.  After a bumpy start (sitting there staring at each other), we went for a walk (apparently the only way we can actually think) and worked out some ideas.

So here’s how the planning is going so far:

Step 1: Idea – the idea for the book came from a short story I wrote (which is how it seems to go for me) and I told Ben.  Ben said…‘hmmm…interesting….’ and off we went.

Step 2: How to plan as we’ve never officially done this we had to work out how to plan, which basically consisted of a discussion about the best way to approach the idea.

Step 3: Characters/research – as many of the characters are based on gods of various pantheons we had to do some research, so we spent some time on good old Wikipedia.

Step 4: Define characters – as this more of a character study than an adventure, the characters seemed more important than the plot.  The plan is to create the plot around the characters but first they all need names, backstory etc…

Step 5: Define the world – as the world has limitations we needed to make some decisions about what it is and how it operates.

Some basic ideas about all of the above is as far as we’ve gotten, but it seems to be going well.  The next steps will involve plotting and more fleshing out of the backstories so that they connect with the main plot and create a little drama.

Ben is perfect for me for a million reasons and one of them happens to be that he loves plotting and planning stuff like this.  We’re essentially planning the story like it’s a D&D game, but instead of playing it, I’ll be writing it.  Personally, I love the writing part most, making the words go together and sound beautiful and interesting and meaningful.  I like to live in the now, minute by minute.  He’s a bigger picture kind of guy which works for me perfectly, because without him, I’d probably just write a lot of rambling novels.

So planning.  I’m still trying to work it out, but it seems to be going well and I know the more we plan now, the smoother the process of writing will be and that will make it even more fun in the long run.

How do you plan?  Have any hints or tricks you use to plan effectively?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!


Growing as a writer


I started writing fiction again after a long hiatus about a year and a half ago.  The very first thing I wrote was a short story that morphed into a novel comprised of interconnected short stories.  The novel was called The Major Arcana.  It took me a year, but when I finished, it was 140,000 words and I breathed a huge, happy sigh.  I did it, I wrote a book.  It was a great feeling and completely liberating after years of repressing my writing.

Once I was done, I decided to put the book away for awhile and wrote some short stories to develop my skills.  I always intended to go back to The Major Arcana and edit so I could try to publish it.  As I was writing more short stories though, I came across another idea and ended up writing another novel called A Girl Out There.  This one only took a month and had about half the word count.

This brings me to yesterday.

We were in the midst of editing A Girl Out There, when I got a message requiring me to revisit The Major Arcana for a submission from long ago.  So I pulled it out of Chronos (my back up drive) and read one of the stories.

The story I chose was one of my favorites at the time, about a circus full of super heroes…awesome stuff right?  Wrong.  It was crazy.  Ben and I both read it, then sat there staring at each other with wide eyes, mouths agape.  What a piece of shit.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, some of the language and ideas were really nice, but overall it was crammed full of words and practically nothing happened through the whole damn thing.

The most nutty thing about it was the difference between that story and my current novel.  A Girl Out There is lean, quick and to the point.  Major Arcana is a lumbering beast, a dinosaur.  It’s quite shocking to see the difference and really fascinating.  It needed such a massive overhaul (maybe half the words cut and an entire story arc re-work) that I ultimately decided to leave it where it lay for awhile longer (possibly even forever).  The editing needed would take an eternity that I’m not ready to invest.  It was a first try at something I needed to do and a totally important step in my writerly development, but at the end of the day I’m not sure it’s much more than that.

The point is, I love being able to look back and see how much I’ve grown in such a short period of time.

I’ve stopped feeling the need to write so many words – how many do you really need anyway?

I’ve moved (mostly) from passive to active phrases.

I’ve learned (I hope) to get to the point and have a full and satisfying story arc, as opposed to just rambling about pretty things.

Overall, although I was shocked at the state of my previous work, I’m pretty happy to have come so far and I can only imagine how I’ll feel looking back on my current work in a couple of years.

Why not dig out some of your old writing and compare with the new?  It will give you a good idea of how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned along the way.

Tell me about your experiences with looking back!


The Importance of Words


I love words.

I fucking love words.

Isn’t it wonderful how the two sentences above mean exactly the same thing but feel so different?  It’s all thanks to one word.  Just the addition of one little word can make a sentence feel different, it can tell us something about the writer and change our entire perspective.  It’s a bit like magic, isn’t it?  By adding the word ‘fucking’ to my love of words, I’ve increased the boldness, maybe added a little shock and told you I’m not afraid of using words some people might find offensive or distasteful.  That’s a lot of information crammed into seven letters.

Here’s some examples of more words that change meaning:

Murder vs. Slaughter  

I love the word slaughter.  I think it’s so evocative and tells us something more specific about the death in question.  Murder is almost mundane, it’s the tame sibling of slaughter.  Murder is broad and sweeping, less perverse and savage.  To me, slaughter evokes images of a killing floor, a sociopathic, willful and gruesome act.  It adds to the gravity of the death and makes it something more than it would be if it was simply murder.

Making Love vs. Having Sex vs. Fucking

This is an exciting trio because each choice can say so much about the individual.  If you have two people and one refers to sex as making love, while the other calls it fucking, you immediately learn about both personalities and even the status of the relationship.  The dynamic possibilities are so rich despite the brevity of the terms.

Dirt vs. Earth

Earth is epic.  It’s vast, elemental and evocative. Dirt is small, local and simple.

“I can’t” vs. “I can not”

Words can also make a massive difference when it comes to dialogue.  The difference between an abbreviation and two separate words can tell us so many things about the speaker.  Perhaps it’s education or social status, maybe it’s time period or situation.  The choices we make for our character’s speech patterns can vastly restructure their personalities based on the smallest tweaks.

I fucking love words.  They are so important that just one (or the lack of one) can change the entire meaning of a story.

Tell me how you feel about words.

What are your favorites?

How do you use words to change meaning and character?