On not writing in order to write better

I finished the last book a couple of weeks ago and haven’t written a word since. I am working on the next one but I can’t just start writing. I do have to do a substantial amount of planning before I start drafting a new story and of course, in this case, I’m actually planning to draft several books back to back, an entire series, rather than just one. That way I get more fun writing in before I have to stop and start planning the next one.

(In case you’re wondering, this particular series is now looking like a quartet, but who knows? At this point I’m still only at the overall story arc stage.)

Planning works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people can’t do planning at all. It stifles the creative spark and leaves a cold dead shell staring at the computer screen. Others have to plan every single little event in their books. It’s a process which can take years. Yes, that’s right. YEARS.

I’m…somewhere in the middle. I start out with notes, and then I figure out the main plot points (the tent poles, as I think Blake Snyder puts it) and then I do a scene list. So, yeah, probably close to the nth degree planning end of the scale.

For one book, this takes a while. For four books… Please send cake and remember me fondly.

When a trilogy becomes a quartet. Or more…

I’ve known for a while that the Scent of Freedom was only the end of that particular story. It wasn’t the end of the story. I always wanted to write more about the Hunters, so I wasn’t surprised when the idea came to me for another Hunter, sent through to the human realm on a mission for her queen. This Hunter’s story was rather long, her search for self-continuing across, as I thought, three books.

Well, actually, to be honest, at first I thought it would be one book. I mean, it’s only demons, right? How much trouble can they be?

Quite a bit, as it happens. So things don’t turn out quite the way any of us planned in the first book and I thought, okay then, three books. Three will do it. It’s a trilogy. It’s a nice, well-known number of books for a story to fit into.

Which was working perfectly well up to yesterday when a discussion with my sweetie about stuff that would happen in these books, particularly the third one, threw an almighty spanner in the works which necessitated the introduction of another book.

So it’s not a trilogy anymore. It’s a quartet. And since I started looking at what happens in that book, the more I’m wondering if it won’t become a…quintet(?). For crying out loud. Is it so hard for the story to just stay the story?

*glares at the story*

*story fluffs its hair and assumes the educational pose*

Well, no, says the story, but it’s not my fault that you just didn’t realize how big this story actually is. It was always going to be five books. It just took you a while to realize it. And really, if you’d been paying attention you’d have realized this a long time ago and wouldn’t now be whining about it. So it’s all your own fault, really.

Yeah. Thanks. *headdesk*

Be a part of Be a Bard history

The first ever online Be A Bard game is currently taking place. There’s a unicorn in the river, being watched by a planet while an old lady and a bunch of moles try and winch the unicorn onto a life raft. And now a hippocampus riding a shark has appeared. It’s not looking good for the unicorn. Or for the moles, for that matter. The axe might be okay, though.

Oh yes, there’s an axe, too.

And this is why I love Bard. Because everything makes so much SENSE.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!

*ahem* Excuse me. I mean, because it’s… yeah, okay, it’s nuts. Come and join in. Just look for the #babg hashtag or follow @BeABardGame or @AMhairiSimpson. As you can probably tell, there’s no requirement for anything to make sense…

Teaser Tuesday – MURDER AT THE VICARAGE

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser for today, from THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, by Agatha Christie, book 1 in the Miss Marple series.

‘Rememember they had a quarrel,’ I said.
‘About Lettice and her bathing dress.’
(18%, ebook edition)

BLURBM

‘Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,’ declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, ‘would be doing the world at large a service!’

It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later. From seven potential murderers, Miss Marple must seek out the suspect who has both motive and opportunity.

This is a recent acquisition, as I’ve been hearing about Agatha Christie my whole life but had never actually got round to reading any of her work. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m enjoying it greatly, mostly because Miss Marple doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her. Great fun!

Writers sell dreams

Writers sell dreams. They are salespeople, sometimes of used cars, sometimes of toothpaste, sometimes of three hundred thousand acre estates with a forty bedroom manor house dating back to the 1400s, woodland suitable for hunting and shooting, a trout stream, three guest cottages and planning permission for a private helipad and animal sanctuary. No one needs that many bedrooms, nor that much land, but how it would feel to have it anyway? To have your own private kingdom or the freedom to hop in a car and go anywhere, or just to have nice shiny white teeth that don’t hurt when you eat ice cream.

That right there? That’s a dream. It’s something you want so badly you can taste it and when the chance comes up to have it, you barely dare hope it’s real, scared it will evaporate before your eyes before you can grasp it.

Sometimes, of course, we’re taking money for another kind of dream. The ones people in this world can’t make real, no matter how much money they make – to ride a dragon, fly a broomstick or fend off a ravening horde of battle-scarred but-curiously-inept monsters with only a sword and witty banter (and rescue the gorgeous [insert gendered noun here] of their choice, of course).

Every word of a book is selling a dream. The difference with books, though, is that, unlike every other kind of copy, a book is itself the dream that it’s selling.

Even if a car has its selling points written all over it, probably in neon purple and lime green tape, those words are not part of the car. You can take the tape off and the car’s awesomeness (or lack thereof) will not be changed. That wonderful three hundred thousand acre country estate is not materially affected by the words used by the selling agents to describe it. Calling it a “fabulous development opportunity” or a “gorgeous countryside retreat” will not change a single roof tile or blade of grass on the actual property. The walls are not made up of a million repetitions of the word “brick”. Changing the words you use to describe what you’re selling will change the efficacy of the story you tell about it, but it won’t change the item itself.

Stories, however, are the dream they sell. A writer’s job is to make the reader want to be there and the more they want to be there, the longer they stick around, living this new dream through the pages. But someone riding a dragon is going to have a very different experience to one riding a unicorn. Changing one word changes the story, which in turn changes the dream you’re leaving behind the reader’s eyes, the dream you’re selling them with every page turned. Who hasn’t wanted to ride a dragon or a unicorn at some point? But which is this a story about – a dragon rider or a unicorn rider? It’s important to know. They’re different dreams, to be experienced in different ways.

Dreams don’t have to be trodden on. They can be hat and coat, fire and shelter, even food and drink. When you create a story, remember: dreams are real and stories make them more so. That’s why sales are full of them. Salespeople aren’t selling an item. They’re selling how it makes you feel and dreams are the most emotive thing. How would you feel if your dream came true? What would you give, what would you do to make that happen?

Writers don’t sell stories. We sell dreams. So watch those threads. Hearts and minds are yours for the weaving of words, and not just for the life of a product, but for the life of a story and stories can last forever.

Knowing what you’re doing

Did you set some goals/resolutions/intentions around New Year’s Eve or the following day?

Have you reviewed your progress yet?

I know at least three people just looked at the date and thought, what the f***, Mhairi, it’s only 7th January!! Give us a fighting chance!!

The thing is, how do you know if you’re moving towards your goals if you don’t keep checking back?

I go through quite an in-depth goal-setting process at the end of each year. It includes looking back at the last year, coming to terms with everything, good and bad, as well as looking forward to what I want to achieve in the year to come. I use Michael Hyatt’s Five Days To Your Best Year Ever course, which includes a bit about how you have to constantly review your goals – it helps you acknowledge every little milestone which in turn keeps you motivated to hit the next one.

You can do this whenever the hell you like, but I know me and I know that I need to do this weekly if I’m to have any hope of sticking with it. Monthly might as well include a date with Neil Armstrong in a cute café on the Moon – it ain’t gonna happen. My review day is actually Tuesday (long story) but hey, I’m talking about it now. I’m sure you’ll cope.

So, I open up my little book – I finally found a use for a GORGEOUS little Moleskine notebook I’ve had since forever and never used because it was just too damn pretty – and look at the goals. When I did Michael’s course, I went through all the stages and the working out of stuff in this beautiful little book.

After I thought I was done I went back through and added an extra layer of “why?” which is, funnily enough, where I ask myself “why?” five times about every single goal to try and get right down to the root of why I want to do that thing. Sometimes it throws up the fact that the goal isn’t actually something I want, but something I feel I should want – one of this year’s goals got scratched because of that. There’s no point in having huge goals that I’m not actually interested in achieving.

In the interests of full disclosure, not all the goals in the book were mentioned in my post on the matter last week. Some of them are private and that’s okay. So I’m just going to talk about the ones I did mention.

Daily blogging – I have written five blog posts in the last seven days, which includes this one and the New Year’s Day one – I call this a win! Damn impressive, actually, I hadn’t even realised I was doing THAT well. (this is why we regularly review our goals, folks)

Daily fiction writing – I’ve fictioned two days out of the last seven, although today will probably be a third. I’m going to call that a win. It’s an excellent start, for sure, and that’s what this is all about.

Read 2 books a week – I’m still on the non-fiction book I was on last year and I haven’t read any fiction at all!! I know exactly why that is – it’s because I don’t make time for reading! I need to sit down and sort that out. Reading over breakfast is one idea, as is reading in bed before lights out. That would be a good time to read a dead tree book as the light of an ebook will not help me sleep. So not doing so great on this one but I have a plan and I can live with that.

Exercise – I’ve been walking the dog every day, sometimes twice a day, since Richard went home. It’s not the highest level of exercise I could be doing but it’s consistent and I’m very happy with that. The best thing about it is that there are several other things I can and will be adding into the general routine, Pilates for one, so this will only improve.

Encouraging others in their creativity – I’ve sent out three Daily Drop emails (today will be four) in the last seven days and posted one as a video on YouTube for those as likes that sort of thing. Yesterday I Skyped with a Bard fan about writing, publishing and the creative process. I cut up a couple more decks over the last week and announced a temporary closure of Bard orders while I get caught up on the pre-orders, an announcement which promptly produced another order, or rather an attempt at one. Bless her heart, the lady is willing to wait. Again, I’d prefer the Daily Drop be living up to its name but currently I’m averaging every other day and that’s fine too. Again, we’re going for small steps and consistent progress and the fact that it’s going out as frequently as it is is absolutely fine by me. Getting it up to Daily is the end goal – we’re still on the road!

Likewise, Bard is a journey. Cutting the decks takes a few hours, so technically I should be able to cut several in a day. Unfortunately, it’s hard bloody work and by the end of one deck my right hand is in a LOT of pain, to the point where I can barely move my fingers. This is why the process is taking longer than it should. It’s also why the price will be going up when I reopen the orders. Both these things come under the heading of Self Care.

Now that I’ve broken it all down, I’m really rather proud of myself. I’ve started well out of the gate, albeit not perfectly. I don’t mind that. After all, it is the Shoot For The Moon Challenge. It’s not supposed to be easy or even necessarily attainable. The idea is that you’ll end up doing more than you might otherwise have done, nothing more or less. I can see I need to pay more attention to the areas of reading and writing (and me a writer, too – the irony, it burns) so that’s on my list for today in terms of planning, as well as actually doing! Plans are great but an implementation is better.

So how about it? Where are you on your goals? Still working towards them? Do you think a regular review process might help? Let me know your thoughts!

Pivot points and shooting for the moon

The beginning of a new year is definitely a pivot point, a place you can stand and turn in any direction you please. Personally, I’m not a fan of looking backward but it’s helpful when figuring out what you want to do going forward. Isn’t there a saying about people who don’t study history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past? I can’t remember the exact wording but I know it’s something along those lines. I’m not keen on repeating any of the bad stuff, but it helps to look at it, as well as appreciate the good stuff. So looking back is kind of necessary in order to pivot successfully, I feel.

Hate that.

Oh well.

So, 2015. Most people have already done their posts about 2015 but a/I was busy and b/I kind of like combining the past and the future at this moment in time.

Last year had some major triumphs and some massive challenges.

Triumph #1 – coming off my depression medication

No one told me I had to, although my doctor voiced his concerns when it obviously wasn’t working anymore and I was on such a high dose we didn’t really have any wriggle room. I only set out to decrease the dosage to the point where I could come off it and go onto something else, something more effective. An unusual case of aiming low and hitting a lot higher than anticipated. It took several months, I worked out the reduction plan myself and stuck to it, while making some fairly major changes to my diet, and it worked. I won’t lie and say it’s all been sunshine and roses ever since, but I know the difference between depression and a bad day and since coming off the meds, the bad days were just that – bad days.

There have been a lot of good days too.

Triumph #2 – launching Be A Bard

This has been a rollercoaster, so many ups and downs I barely knew where to put myself at times. I started a Kickstarter and cancelled it almost immediately. I’m still very much on the fence about Kickstarter. I know part of it is me not liking to ask for money. In fact, the biggest part of it is probably me not liking to ask for money. There are also other fears, like “what if people don’t like it?” and “what if everyone rips the piss out of my artwork?” but the main issue is me not liking to ask for money. To date, only two people haven’t liked the game and not a single person has been shitty about the art. It’s impossible to please everyone, so I continue to be shocked more people haven’t hated the game but it is what it is. And what it is is a game that about 95% of players love to somewhere near obsession and tell me I should crowdfund. So…yeah.

But it is now a THING. An IN PRINT THING, albeit in a small, limited edition run of pretty hand-cut decks in pretty hand-stencilled boxes. I’m proud. My hands hate me but I’m proud. It even (very nearly) has a home – the website is in the pipeline, just waiting for me to sort some stuff. Hoping to get a buy link up there, so that people can just buy it without having to message me and me send them a PayPal invoice and so on and so forth. Around twenty people did that, though – sent me money for a deck before I got it printed up. In some cases, multiple decks. MULTIPLE. DECKS.

To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement. Ten percent of the run was spoken for before it went to print. Not bad for a completely unknown game maker with a completely unknown game.

Triumph #3 – meeting my fiancé

Unlike the two triumphs above, this was not something I actually put any effort into so I can’t really take any credit for it. I mean, I didn’t DO anything. I was simply sitting there, minding my own business, espousing the unconsidered benefits of chickens in fantasy fiction, and Richard just kind of showed up. And continues to do so. He’s a blessing, not even slightly in disguise, and definitely belongs on this list.

Triumph #4 – consistently attending Pilates

This may not seem like much to you, but (more or less) consistently attending a Pilates class once a week for the last three months (I think I missed three classes out of thirteen) has revolutionised my back issues. I’ve found I can’t sit up in bed for very long, my back still HATES that, but the everyday twinges I used to get, as well as the guerilla sciatica, have almost entirely vanished.

So that’s the list of awesome things. The list of not-so-awesome things (ie, horribly gnarly challenges) can pretty much be condensed down to me being afraid – afraid I wasn’t good enough, afraid I would never be good enough, afraid to believe in myself in case my faith turns out to be misplaced, and afraid of what others might think of me. These are all fears to work on eliminating this year. I discovered a long time ago that acting from a place of fear is never a good thing – the only problem is that when I’m scared, this principle is the first one I forget!

And so we end 2015 and look forward… to 2016!! YAY!!!!!

The Shoot For The Moon Challenge

As befits our yearly tradition, SJ and I sat down on Tuesday and went through our year just gone and established our goals for our year to come. Mine are as follows:

Write fiction every day – even if it’s only a hundred words, it counts. The important thing is the daily practice.

Blog every day – I used to do blog every day. Then I stopped. Recently I started doing morning pages, which became pretty much the same thing as daily blogging. So now the blog will once again be my morning pages.

Read two books a week, one fiction, one non-fiction – the biggest thing missing from my life right now is a regular refilling of the creative well. Both fiction and non-fiction do this, I think, as well as both helping me to learn various things, either about my craft, others’ perception of the world or just how things work.

Exercise – I’m happier and healthier and more productive when my body is physically tested on a daily or near-daily basis. Between rowing (Richard’s rowing machine is now installed in my garage), Pilates, skipping rope and dogwalking, I’m pretty sure I have this covered.

Encourage others in their creativity – whether it’s through Be A Bard, conversations with friends or simply in my interactions with the world at large, this is my most fervent belief: everyone is creative. Some people just need a little more encouragement.

Some of these goals are specific. Others are more nebulous. The principle remains the same. Establish a daily practice. Maintain it consistently. See what happens.

I suspect what will happen is exponential growth. The biggest challenge, of course, will be in maintaining the daily aspect of the practice. But I figure if I could spend my twenties (and part of my thirties) getting myself into offices I hated five days out of seven, I can now, in my own home, work towards goals which will make me very happy five days out of seven. Ideally seven days out of seven, but we’ll see. The daily bit is the key. Actual quantities achieved are not such a concern right now.

This is my pivot point. I used to set a goal and the minute I slipped I would abandon the whole thing and count myself a failure. I was so scared of not being good enough that I never even came close to seeing how good I really was, let alone how good I could be. I would give up at the first blip, secure in the knowledge that I had already failed and there was no point in keeping on.

I’m not going to do that anymore. Consistent daily action is the only thing I am really going to work at and if one day it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. I’ll just get right back on it the next day. The fact is, I know I can do something towards at least one of the above areas every day, so the chances of a completely dead day are almost nil. And those are odds I can live with.

What about you? What’s your pivot point? More importantly, where are you going to go with it?

Creative consistency

When I’m low, I don’t write. I know this. When I’m ill, I also don’t write and I know that too.

Currently, I am neither ill nor low, so I should probably write. But it’s getting on for 6 pm and I’m expecting my sweetie in the next hour or so, which makes it hard to settle for anything. I’m looking forward to reinstating the daily morning practice that had me writing well over thirteen thousand words in three days back at the beginning of October. Then everything changed. Again. That happens a lot in my life.

So it occurred to me that putting all my eggs in one this-is-how-I-consistently-access-my-creativity basket is probably a fail, as ideas go. I am, if nothing else, NOT consistent. So it’s silly to think that I can stick to one practice, one routine and that will be the key to everything.

(I’m always looking for keys to everything. You’d think I’d know better by now.)

And consistency is *so* not me. I’m the Queen of Inconsistency.

(It’s awesome there, by the way. The sky is never the same color two days in a row. And sometimes the pigs fly, but they also like to row around in little boats.)

So it’s probably time to try other things. Like just opening up a damn doc in Word and flipping well writing in it. *sigh*

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Who gets to label you?

Anyone can be crazy (/ˈkreɪzi/)
Anyone can be creative (/kriːˈeɪtɪv/)
Anyone can be labelled.
Anyone can label you.
Anyone can define you.

But why let them?

Instead of asking how others define you, ask yourself.
How do you define you?

No one knows you better than you. After all, you’ve been you all your life. You’ve spent an entire lifetime (and counting) in your body, your mind, your heart. You know what you like and what you don’t, what you love and what you hate. You know what you’re good at and what you could do better, if you wanted to.

You even know if you want to.

And if you don’t.

The hardest truths to find can be the ones about your own self. They can take a lifetime to discover but once you find them, you’ve found your story.

[Totally irrelevant sidenote: Please note the correct use of ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ above.
Moving on…]

Once you know who you really are, you don’t need to worry what anyone else says about you, how they define you.

You don’t even have to know.

The only person who can truly define you (ie, in terms of what is true about you) is you.

So do it.

Decide who you really are, what you really are and own it. Be proud. Tell the world the truth about you.

You’re the only one who can.

Bye bye, boxes

Fifteen minutes ago I opened up a blank Word document and started typing. Two hundred and fifty-six words later, I know I’ve made yet another huge change in my life. These are the first words I’ve written since the beginning of October.

There’s something to be said for picking up a character who isn’t yet part of anything you’re actively working on. This girl, this superhero, is a first for me. Haven’t done any superheroes before. There are a few waiting in the wings but this one is the latest addition to the tribe of projects-in-waiting. There’s probably some jealousy back there that she’s getting a story before the others. Sorry, guys. That’s just the way it is. Had to work on someone I hadn’t already started writing about and she was it.

That said, as I sit here and think about what the point of this post is, I realize that I’ve always been writing about the same thing and this one page of words has reinforced that. It’s about being trapped. And by extension, about my own life. Society expects certain things of its members and it seems that artists of any stripe are generally least able to fit into the required boxes. I’ve struggled against those boxes for a long time, or rather I struggled to fit myself into them. Tried a few different ones but nothing worked. Money boxes, job boxes, property boxes, relationship boxes.

Maybe all stories are, on some level, about being trapped. Trapped by what you should do and what you need to do, what you’re expected to do and required to do. What people around you need and what you need. Hollywood endings are all about ignoring the boxes, but how many of us choose to step out of them and/or ignore them entirely on a daily basis?

Considering my network, most of the people reading this probably ignore the boxes anyway. Which is good. They enable me to do the same. I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes. But hey, I’m here now! Ignoring the boxes. Or rather, walking past them on the other side of the street, carefully not making eye contact…

Bye bye, boxes. I have writing to do.