Should you write what you know?

notesIn which my life experiences are too boring for a novel

I’m not going to beat around the bush, here. I’m a white, middle-class mum with a part-time job and three kids who are equally adorable and frustrating. I have a cat. I read books, moan about how little time I get to spend with my partner, worry about money and dream about doing something exciting with my life. I have an invisible disability or two, true, and my straight-passing household doesn’t mean I’M straight, but is that enough for novel fuel?

Apparently, books about people like me are fairly popular. I gather I should be having a mental breakdown, an affair, a feud with the over-achieving parent governor mum at one of the kids’ schools, or something along those lines.

But I read for escapism, and I don’t want to read about people with lives like mine. I read fantasy and science fiction in all its glorious forms. That’s what I want to write, too. So writing what I know… isn’t exactly an option. I’ve seen the phrase adapted to “write what you read” and that seems a much better fit.

When you really SHOULD write what you know

Then we come to the spectre of diversity. For every person who’s passionate about increasing the range of representation in fiction, there’s another who cries about it being forced, and a third who looks at this very real need and sees a trend they can jump on to promote their own work.

IMG_20181216_172225_539For me, this is where the sage old writing advice comes into its own. You should not be writing a marginalised experience unless you know that experience. And I mean, know it intimately, inside-out in all its messy nuance, not have read a few left-leaning newspaper articles about it and follow a couple of activists on Twitter. You need to have lived it.

You might get away with having lived it by proxy – the parent of a disabled child would probably be able to write pretty authentically about disability – but it’s not guaranteed. Trust me, I’ve seen some very bad examples. And in any case, if you truly care about the marginalised community you’re considering writing about, why would you want to take their seats at the table away from them?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t include marginalised characters in your writing. Of course you should! They should be everywhere, because that is how the world works and because the more we get used to seeing POC, disabled, fat, queer, neurodiverse etc. characters casually existing in our fiction, the better. As long as you do your research; bad, stereotypical rep can be just as harmful as no rep at all.

But if you’re thinking of writing ABOUT a marginalised existence, about what it is to be trans, or autistic, or indigenous and you can’t apply that same label to yourself… maybe think again. Maybe consider that you are never going to capture that experience as authentically as it deserves. Whatever you write will be coloured by your misconceptions and (probably) privileged viewpoint. Step back, and leave it to the people who live it.

The nuance of who knows what

You can probably take a dozen different authors and readers and get two dozen different shades of opinion. Just as a one example, the debate about who writes and reads queer romance, especially m/m, is an ongoing issue. There’s a history of mostly cis, mostly white women fetishising those relationships – does that mean all women authors should steer clear, no matter how well done the story? What about queer women? And non-binary authors? Where do queer POC fit into this argument?

No, I don’t have any answers to those thorny issues. And I’m not going to start up that debate again here. It simply illustrates how one little piece of advice can become very complicated when you start looking at different angles. This is only my take on it.

But I will say again, whatever it is you’re thinking of writing, be sure you read it. Read widely, in and around your genre, from a range of voices, and you’re at least starting on the right track.

April wrap-up – this writing month

Writers Wrap-up (1)In which Camp NaNoWriMo happens

That’s right, April means it’s time for NaNoWriMo’s more chilled cousin. In Camp, you can set your own goals instead of going for the big 50K novel draft. Write, edit, blog, bring forth poetry and screenplays, anything you feel like.

Of course, the downside of all this freedom is that I have no one to blame for the inevitable ensuing pressure of meeting the goal but myself. Sigh.

Speaking of goals

With the lockdown and homeschooling situation – well, it didn’t seem the most helpful atmosphere for creative progress. I wasn’t sure how I’d get on no matter how gentle a goal I set. And the new NaNo website still isn’t up to full functionality; the only way of counting progress is words written. Kinda takes away from the purpose of Camp, if you ask me – and yes, I know no one did, but if I can’t share uninvited opinions on my own blog, where can I? But a few minutes of muttering under my breath as I counted past drafts provided a rough equivalent of 450 words to a page, so the 30,000 word goal I went with would be around 67 pages.

Time for the complication, because there always is one. I was supposed to be continuing the first draft of Curse and Ghost. I’m writing that by hand, hence the pages goal. But as April approached, I still hadn’t finished the first draft of Sparrow. On Scrivener. Where I can count words but not (reliably) pages.

So it was a cobbled-together accounting for the month, but I did meet my goal! It’s the first NaNo or Camp I’ve managed that for some time, so fingers crossed it’s the start of some upwards momentum. I was even pretty consistent throughout the month, no stops and starts and 10K days trying to reach a goal I’d left a bit late. I finished Sparrow, and made a bit of progress on Curse, and I’m feeling pretty good about it.

Camp secrets

two men with feet up and mugs by a campfire (photo by Taryn Elliott)No, not campfire gossip, though there was a bit of that. I’ve said it before but that doesn’t make it less true now – the key to a good Camp NaNo is your cabinmates. Get an engaged, active group who’ll sprint with you, cheer you on when you’re doing well and encourage you when you’re not. I joined a writers’ group on Discord before April and they’ve been wonderful both through Camp and either side of it. You know who you are, folks – and I’m looking forward to lots more evenings of writing and gossiping to take us through to the next Camp in June.

What’s next?

Well, like any uncooked lump of dough, Sparrow is resting now while it waits its turn for review and revision. This was more of a draft zero than anything else, so there will likely be a lot of chopping around to get it into final form. I didn’t start on Curse until something like the 25th of the month, so while I’m pleased to be moving forward there’s still a looong way to go, and for now that’s my focus. Hopefully the support of a lovely group of writing friends will continue to keep my momentum going, because I could get used to it!

Are you a NaNo writer?

Did you meet your goal? Are you carrying on this month? Let’s chat!

A writer’s history of reading

notesIn which it becomes blindingly obvious why I write fantasy

I was originally planning on listing a few writers who inspire me, but then I realised I was doing a huge disservice to the books I read when I was younger. The authors who first set me on my writerly track. So why not instead track back through my reading history for the writers who’ve had the biggest influence on both my reading and writing since I was a wee young thing whose stories were more along the lines of talking animals and clueless adults.

And what stands out from the list once I’d started drafting it was that it is almost entirely fantasy. All the books that formed me, as a reader and a writer and even as a person, since I was old enough to pick my own, are based firmly in a more magical world.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What mini-me read

DSC_0516~2I went through a phase, from maybe the age of 4 to the age of 10, where I would only read Enid Blyton. Well, that’s a very long phase, and a slight exaggeration. I did read other things, but if given a choice, I inevitably gravitated her way. And with her extensive catalogue, so there was plenty to keep me occupied. Magical trees full of magical creatures and a doorway to strange worlds at the top (hang on, epiphany has occurred – I’m basically describing a very early portal fantasy here!). Children growing up on farms and basically running wild (wish fulfilment, anyone?). Brownies and elves up to mischief, magical chairs that took you wherever you wished, talking animals, running away with the circus. Fast-forward a few years and I devoured Famous Five, the boarding school stories, the Mystery and Adventure series.

As an adult I can see the uncomfortable sexist, racist and classist overtones of a lot of the stories, endemic of their time, but as a child I was simply swept away on adventure after adventure and it’s fair to say that I can thank Enid Blyton for cementing me in a lifetime of readership.

When YA wasn’t really a thing

I’m not kidding; I actually am that old. We did have a small amount of what would now be called YA – teen fiction, as it was called then – but the scope and range of it compared to more recent publishing was, well. Limited.

So what did I read? I had the additional problem of many a prolific reader, that my reading age was too far ahead of me. Books aimed at my age were too simple; I’d blast through them in half an hour and put them down feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Teen fiction and the odd adult book were nudged my way by sympathetic teachers, parents and librarians, and I often loved them. I also often gave myself nightmares, and I suspect if my parents knew exactly what some of my favourite characters were getting up to, they wouldn’t have been so relaxed about supplying my habit.

DSC_0496~2So I turned to another my old favourites, Narnia. And then I discovered Tamora Pierce. (Mum, if you’re reading this, I swear the romance was very understated and the serious stuff happened off-page!). Between the two, I was now officially a fantasy reader. And in Alanna the Lioness, I finally discovered a heroine who I could really relate to. A girl who was badass to the extreme, who dressed like a boy and did boy things, often better than the actual boys, who knew what she wanted and went to get it.

Alanna was the template for the heroines of my early attempts at writing my own books. At the age of twelve, I started an actual full-length novel which was pretty much a cross-over between Narnia and the Song of the Lioness, with a main character who was pretty much me if I was Alanna. Yes, I still have it tucked away somewhere. No, no one will be reading it, EVER.

The lost years

An exaggeration? Actually, no. I gradutated from the children’s fiction and the minimal teen fiction I could find. I was a grown-up now, at the ripe old age of 15 or so. It wasn’t going to stop me reading Tamora Pierce, hell no. But I would have to start reading grown-up books.

DSC_0505~2Trouble was, grown up fantasy wasn’t all that varied, at the time. Raymond E Feist. Terry Brooks. Robert Jordan. Hey, I enjoyed a lot of them. But. They were all variations on the same sort of Tolkein-esque epic quest fantasy. They all had SERIOUS problems with the few female protagonists they included. Basically, young men got to be the hero, and I was left floundering in a world I had loved that no longer seemed to fit me. Eventually I discovered David Gemmell, who at least had a bit more variety, and the occasional woman who seemed like an actual person, even if it was still the Menfolk who generally got to go have adventures. I tried other genres, what was disparagingly known as chick-lit, some historical fiction, a literary thing here or there. Had a feeble attempt to get into classic sci-fi, and failed almost immediately. They all passed the time pleasantly enough, with the exception of the sci-fi, but none of them fired the same enthusiasm as my younger fantastical adventures.

Looking back, I wonder if it’s a coincidence I spent a lot of this time struggling with my writing, putting it on the backburner and thinking of it as a slightly odd hobby instead of remembering it had been my dream.

SJM, The Hunger Games and all the YA

Story time: I was twenty-something. A friend bought me Throne of Glass. I still didn’t know YA was a thing, but it was a fantasy book with a young woman as the protagonist, so of course I was intrigued. But, once a bookworm always a bookworm; I put it on my bookshelf and promptly got on with reading library books and impulse buys and everything else for about a year, before I picked it up again and started reading.

DSC_0449It was okay. It didn’t light up the world, but it was a fun read and I wanted to know what happened next, so I asked for book two for my next birthday. At about the same time, the Hunger Games movie was being massively hyped, and I knew it was based on a book, so I went to my library and found it in the teen section, which was already looking a lot more impressive than the ones I remembered.

The Hunger Games was my entry drug into the world of YA fiction and regaining my love of all things bookish. With a day of finishing the first book, I had ordered my own copy of the entire trilogy, reread the library version, bought and watched the first film and got lost down several internet rabbit holes of fanart, trailers for Catching Fire and bookstagram. Look, I was on maternity leave, ok?

I found more YA fantasy books. I started writing again. I joined the online bookish community, initially as a writer but very quickly as a reader and all-round fangirl, thrilled to have found people who liked the stuff I liked, who wanted to talk and flail and share that love. I plotted out a complicated four-book fantasy series that morphed into the book I’m currently working on (and it’s future sequels). But it was still in the background, something I might concentrate on one day.

And then, after languishing on my shelf for another year or so, Crown of Midnight found its way into my hands.

Now, my relationship with SJM is complicated. Her books are undoubtedly problematic (that’s a whole other post, or maybe several. I’m not getting into it here) and as I’ve read more I’ve realised I don’t actually like her writing style all that much, and the romance tropes she seems to be particularly fond of rub me up the wrong way. But Crown of Midnight didn’t have that sort of romance. It had a glorious, sweeping love affair between two people with every reason to not want to fall in love with each other but who were unable to help it anyway. It was full of action and adventure, danger and heart-pounding scenes. And I fell in love with them too.

It kicked me right up the backside. This was why I wanted to write. This was what I wanted to do. I wanted that magic to come from my mind, my pen, to touch readers the way these books had touched me. Whatever my subsequent views on SJM, however disappointed I was in the way that series turned out, I can’t look back at my reading history without acknowledging the huge impact of that moment.

What I read now

Still fantasy. Still YA, but thankfully adult fantasy has started to catch up and now I know what I’m looking for (thank you again, bookstagram) I can find the ones that welcome me in instead of making me feel like an intruder in someone else’s vision. Add in some (definitely unclassic) sci-fi and historical fiction, the fantastically diverse range of YA contemporary fiction that’s now being published, the odd thing that completely surprises me but comes highly recommended. The writers that have the most influence on me now might not have a lot in common with the ones who got me to this point, and I’ll come back to them in another post, since this one’s got a lot longer than I expected, but I am the product of all these books and authors throughout my life as a reader.

Lifetime-defining books

I’m going out on a limb here to say everyone has them. Maybe not everyone thinks about them in this depth, and maybe some might struggle to put a finger on the reasons, but everyone has that book or two or several that set them on a path. Do you remember yours?

Why I’m still writing poetry

In which mental health is not something to be ashamed of

It should go without saying, right? Mental health IS health. You don’t blame someone for being unable to walk with a broken leg, or unable to go to work with a slipped disc. And yet there’s still this awful stigma attached to admitting you’re not coping because there’s something wrong in your mind.

Well, tough. I’m not coping. Some days I cope better than others. Today is not a good day.

And when my head is full of rubbish, sometimes I write poetry. It’s not a cure. Nowhere close. But like other people might write in a journal to unburden themselves, I write poetry to express the feelings I can’t get out any other way. I figure they’re better out on paper than festering in my head, anyway.

And sometimes, I like what comes out enough to polish it up a bit and call it an actual poem. So, since I don’t have the spoons for much else today, here’s a snippet from a bad day a few weeks ago, post editing.

are we all princesses now (a poem)

 

(The feelings and words are mine, but I got a lot of inspiration, and the confidence to try and do something with it, from Amanda Lovelace, so if you like it, you should read her books).

Interview with The Hellion author Harriet Young

The Hellion by Harriet YoungIn which we talk witches, publishing and writing

Welcome to the first of what I hope will become a frequent feature on my blog – an author interview!

Today I’m talking to Harriet Young, whose debut book The Hellion is out soon. Before we dive into the questions, here’s the synopsis to whet your interest:

August 1612, Pendle, Lancashire. The most infamous witch trials In British history have just taken place, leading to the execution by hanging of eight women and two men. Most of the accused were members of two families from the local area, with a long, animus and intertwining history. The star witness was a nine-year old girl, Jennet, and her evidence led to the deaths of her sister, brother, mother and grandmother.

June 1537, Whalley, Lancashire. After the razing of Whalley Abbey, young Elizabeth is an orphan. She is taken in by her friend Annie’s grandmother, where she learns secret charms and incantations. In a time when your religion can be as deadly as poison, everything is treated with superstition, and everyone is suspected.

Hellion quoteGrowing into adulthood then marrying and raising a family in an impoverished household, the notorious Malkin Towers, Elizabeth does the best she can with what she has. But the more things go wrong, the more Elizabeth has to rely on her wits to survive. And wits in a woman are deeply disturbing.

Elizabeth and her family experience unlucky blow after unlucky blow, in a time when illness and poverty were rife. And it doesn’t get easier for the future generations, either. Elizabeth’s grandchildren, Alizon and James, struggle through life; James as a labourer and occasional thief and Alizon as an unpaid scivvy for her family.

The whisper of witchcraft had always hung over the family, but when baby Jennet is born – Alizon and James’s sister – everything seems to get much, much worse.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? And it’s based on a true story, as well. By coincidence, I’ve just read a non-fiction book about English witch trials – though not the Pendle ones, so I’m definitely in a witchy mood.

Q&A time

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of your first novel! That’s a huge achievement! Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write The Hellion?

Thank you so much! I first got excited about the story of the Pendle witches when there was an increase in news stories around the 400 year anniversary of the trials in 2012. I stumbled across a story about the star witness – nine year old Jennet Device – and my attention was grabbed. I was hooked by the legal (I have a law degree and this sort of thing never fails to fascinate me) and human stories that made up these trials. I had to learn more, and when I learned more, I wanted to give them a voice.

That must have taken a lot of research?

Oh yes! A really hard part of using people who actually lived in a novel is ensuring that you’ve done your research well enough to give them justice. To be honest, I think you never feel as though you’ve done enough research. These were real, living people whose lives were never in the public eye – until they were thrust into the most notorious witch trials in English history.  A certain amount of poetic license is inevitable!

What was the most interesting thing you found while researching?

What a great question! It has all been interesting, but I think the most fascinating thing has been the cyclical and coincidental nature of child witnesses in trials. I don’t want to give too much away ahead of the book, but it is truly incredible to believe that so much weight was given to this evidence (and not just in one or two witch trials!)

You’ve gone down a very non-traditional publishing route with Unbound, who publish books by crowdfunding through pre-orders. How have you found that so far?

Crowdfunding has been an amazing journey of highs and lows. Now that I have done it once, I would definitely do it again. It means that all of the fear of my book not selling has been erased, I have an audience already. BUT I cannot understate the hard work it has taken. The constant selling! And of course I am now terrified that everyone who reads it will hate it. But still, the biggest benefit of using Unbound is that you don’t need an agent, those gatekeepers of publishing, you can find your audience your own way. I’m so excited to have my book published with Unbound on the spine, and I’m so thankful to everyone who chose to preorder!

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

I work best in bursts, so NaNoWriMo works well for me. I wrote The Hellion over the course of two Novembers, 2017 and 2018, with pretty much no writing occurring in between. The idea of a deadline is what spurs me on. Editing has to happen in the morning, with a coffee. Preferably in front of the fire. Comfort of the body helps with sharpness of the mind. Or so I tell myself.

What’s the single best bit of advice you’d give to fellow writers?

JUST DO IT! For years (almost decades) I told myself that although I could write, I didn’t have any good ideas for stories. And you needed a story to write. To get out of this funk I used my love of history, and here we are with The Hellion. You do have something important to say, you do deserve to use your voice. It doesn’t matter if people don’t listen today; just keep on going.

The evil question – what is your favourite book (or three!)

Wuthering Heights! Easy! I love the darkness and the way the bleak landscape is so intertwined with the story. In fact, it reminds me of Pendle in a way. My second favourite is Rebecca. I have a place in my heart for gothic literature with women at the forefront.

Do you have a favourite character from The Hellion?

Alizon Device is by far the loudest voice in The Hellion, but I cannot say that she is my favourite character. I think I would have to say that it’s Old Demdike. She was an eighty year old matriarch, and life had really been awful to her. You’ll have to read the book to find out more!

Finally, if you can tell us without spoilers, what was your favourite bit of The Hellion to write?

I know it’s a cop-out, but I really enjoyed writing it all. It is an ignominious story for those in charge, those men who led the trial, but there are so many levels to dissect. Do these families believe they were witches? Did any of the murders happen? Why did Jennet say what she did in court? I can’t guarantee that The Hellion will answer these questions, but it will certainly give you a lot to think about!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Harriet!

If your interest is piqued (and why wouldn’t it be) there’s still time to pre-order The Hellion from Unbound and get your name in the back of the book (eBook or hard copy) as an early supporter, together with a range of pre-order incentives. As for me, I’m very excited to get my hands on my copy once the publication date is confirmed!

The perfect writing playlist

notesIn which I make grandiose claims with no scientific backing

But, y’know, they’re my OPINION, so they can’t technically be wrong. Perhaps I should have caveat-ed by calling this the perfect fantasy writing playlist. But if I was writing contemporary (spoiler: never going to happen) I suspect I’d go down a similar route. Maybe with less epic battle scene and creepy monster inspiration, but you never know. A high school romance/angst-filled journey of self-discovery might benefit from a few rampaging goblins. Note to self, plot that one out later.

Match your music to your writing style

Do you need something to increase focus and give you a creative spark, or do you need your background sound to fit the mood of your current scene? Some people need total silence to write. Personally, I can’t imagine trying to keep my head from filling itself with internal noise if I did that. But if music is too distracting, you could go for soundscapes; there are whole playlists of natural ambiences, cafe sounds, or even fantasy location soundtracks (fancy writing in The Leaky Cauldron or Rivendell, anyone?)

I’ve always appreciated a bit of heavy rain veering to thunderstorm, if I want focus rather than inspiration. Others swear they can trick their brain into writing mode by always listening to the same playlist at the beginning of a session – or even get into the frame of mind for multiple projects by having one each. I wish it was so easy for me!

My preference is to organise my playlists into mood-based soundtracks. I have an epic playlist for action scenes, battles, frantic rooftop chases and fast approaching deadlines (for the characters, not me!) Another for scenes that need to hit some heavy emotional notes, usually romantic or sad. Or both, because… Just because. A third for creepy, monster-ridden scenes or dark deeds in dark back streets and sneaking around the enemy’s lair with the possibility of capture waiting round every corner. I even have a playlist of uplifting music, though – fair warning – that one doesn’t get used very much!

Book by book

As well as the mood music, I have playlists for each individual WIP. They tend to be shorter, and there’s often some overlap, but sometimes if I’m completely stuck being able to switch over to tunes that take me instantly to my city under siege, or my criminal’s lair, or my terrifying forest which is most definitely not full of beasts and evildoers, no thank you. I know of some authors who go a lot further than this, and plot out the musical mood beat by beat and scene by scene, listening to one track over and over if it’s the one that fits.

Where to find the soundtracks

Funny you should ask, because my go to is… well, soundtracks. Movies (LOTR, Harry Potter, pretty much the entirety of How To Train Your Dragon, and anything by John Williams or Hans Zimmer), video games (Dragon Age Inquisition – never played it, but damn it has a good soundtrack) or TV shows (Game of Thrones. More Game of Thrones). Sometimes a piece of music strikes me and it goes straight on the list. Sometimes I don’t know quite where it fits but I know it’s got something special there, so it goes on a holding list until I figure it out.

Then there’s the instrumental music that’s not linked to a specific film or game. Not your grandad’s classical music, let’s say (nothing wrong with your grandad’s music, just to be clear. I probably listen to that as well, but not so much for drafting) but if there’s a writing playlist out there with no Two Steps From Hell on it, it’s not a real writing playlist. Other favourites include Audiomachine, Hidden Citizens, and E.S. Posthumus. Thank me later.

You might have noticed there’s a certain lack of mainstream music in my list so far. I find it difficult to write to, simply because having two sets of words in my head doesn’t go so well. But every now and again I stumble across a song that just fits one of my characters so well it could be their theme tune. I don’t tend to listen to it while I’m working, but if I need to get into their head, it does the trick every time.

That’s the theme for Dennalise Wildhaven, if you were wondering. She’s the main character from my adult fantasy WIP Abriny. What does it make you think of? If you said a fierce military strategist, determined to step up when no one else will and save her city and her friends, fighting through her vulnerabilities to do so, well done – you’re on the right track.

What’s on your playlist?

Any recommendations for me to add? Are you a music writer or a must-have-silence writer? Have you listened to Two Steps From Hell yet? Let me know in the comments.

NaNoWriMo Prep – week 1

tumblr_pynwv9hilj1qd8ab4o1_1280

In which I am astonishingly organised

Oh yes, it’s that time of year again. When writers and authors of all ages and experience start looking nervously at the calendar and wondering how many social engagements and basic life requirements can be cancelled for the month of November. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, head on over to the NaNoWriMo page for a quick summary of what it’s all about.

Now, I’m no stranger to turning up on the 1st of November with nothing more than a blank document and a few scribbled ideas. It’s been my modus operandi for three out of the four years I’ve participated, and indeed for most of the April and July Camp NaNoWriMos, too. But this year, folks, this year something astonishing has happened.

I have started October with a clean slate. My second draft of Abriny was finally put to bed at the very end of September. While it rests, stewing away until my head is ready for the next stir, I can start a brand-new project for NaNo with no guilt and a WHOLE MONTH to get myself prepared.

What does week 1 prep look like?

Well, it might look like not doing much at all. If – like me – you’ve been working more or less constantly on one project or another, it might be worth giving yourself a few days or even the whole week to relax, rest, recharge and refill your creative well. Read, watch, and browse all the things you’ve been meaning to get to. Make sure you’re ready to face the hectic month of November with as much enthusiasm as possible. Because oh boy will you need it!

If you take this route, it doesn’t mean you’re doing nothing for your project. Letting your head have time to simmer ideas is a luxury not all writers have, especially not if they’re on contract and deadline, but it’s a crucial step of the creative process. You can shortcut it, sure, but if you have the chance to simply daydream and mull over your early germs of a story, why not take it?

Ok, but I’m ready to get something on paper now

Well, if you prefer to pants your first drafts, maybe you don’t want to note down anything more than a title, character names and a brief synopsis. No two writers have the same process, after all. Maybe you don’t want to note down anything at all, and we’ll just pretend the whole concept of that doesn’t terrify the bejeezers out of me.

My NaNo project this year is one I’ve had on the backburner for a number of years, so I don’t have to worry about the really early stages of working out exactly what the hell story I’m trying to tell here. It’s even had a title – The Last Flight of the Sparrow – that’s stuck for almost that whole time. I like to use snowflake plotting to make sure my early shiny ideas get a little bit of structure, so this week I’ve done the first couple of steps from that: going from a single-sentence summary of what the book’s about, to a paragraph, to a side of A4 with the beginning, middle and end all separated out nicely. Because we know that’s how they’re going to stay once I get writing them, right?

I’ve also been Pinterest-ing. Which was maybe a mistake, because it doesn’t matter where I start searching and browsing, I always somehow end up in a Wolfstar, Snowbaz or Shades of Magic rabbit hole. But in the periods of time where I manage a little focus, I’ve been slowly building up a board for my project, getting a feel for what my characters look like which is going to be a huge help when I have to actually start describing them, and trying to get a tone for settings and atmosphere.

Hands up who’s NaNo-ing this year

Pantser or planner? What does your prep process look like? And isn’t bejeezers a horrifically underused word that needs more love and attention?

So apparently Blogtober is a thing

notesIn which I start as I mean to go on – by rambling

I mean, I’m all for prompts and challenges and anything that makes it easier for me to blog more regularly (read: at all). But I’ve probably posted once in the last five months. Yes, I know I could go and actually check that statistic, but I don’t actually want proof of how unreliable I am, thanks. Either way, thinking I’m going to somehow magically be capable of posting every single day for a month is – well, I’d call it hubris, except I think that only applies when you actually believe you’re going to do it.

But hey, we can only try, right! I’ll count myself successful if I manage every other day, and reasonably successful if I manage twice a week. Realistic expectations are the way to go, here.

But what to actually blog about?

Ah, I thought we might hit this little snag.

You may be right to point out I struggle with topics for blogging on a standard month, let alone thirty-one straight posts. I think my problem stems from the fact this isn’t supposed to be a reading blog. I could talk about books until I was blue in the face. But then I feel like I’m pretending to be something I’m not. I’m a writer. It’s there in the title: J Rose Wordsmith. Yes, I read as well, and I challenge you to find a writer who doesn’t. I don’t mind posting about my reading some of the time. But I’m going to try and maintain a reasonable mix.

blogtober prompts

Apparently I’m not the only one with the issue! Reading-based prompts for the month were a lot easier to find than writing-based ones. Well, that makes at least half of my life easier, so I’ve picked a set of those to start me off. Step forward Anniek of Anniek’s Library and Hâf of The Library Looter. Thank you, folks! Also, they’re both lovely, and read and blog a lot more than I do, so you should probably think about following them while you’re here.

And as for the writing posts? Well, I’ve already got a few fun things planned, including a couple of interviews with some fellow bookstagrammers who have their first books coming out soon, so watch this space for those, and cross your fingers for me that I can find enough other ideas to fill my busiest blogging month EVER.

Wish me all the Blogtober luck!

Are you taking part as well? Good luck if so, and please share you tips for coming up with enough content for the whole month! Or, if you’re a reader, what sort of writing posts would you want to see on here?

Hello June

Brightly coloured notebooks with pinecones and coloured pens in the background, with a caption reading #amcurrently - read, write, etcHello and welcome to summer! If you’re in the northern hemisphere like me, at least. Though I’m looking out of my window right now at miserable grey skies and I haven’t yet retired the fluffy socks and big jumpers, so I guess even here that’s questionable.

Do you have big plans for June? Or small ones? I’m great at making plans – yearly, monthly, weekly – and not so great at sticking to them. But June is the month when the looming halfway point of the year reminds me I need to pull my finger out with all those big goals I set back in the optimistic mists of January. I’m doing alright with the reading – in terms of numbers, anyway, and my goal to read more adult fiction has been a lot easier to meet than I expected. I think when I set it, I forgot how many queer romance novellas I get through in a year!

#currentlyreading

Right now I’m halfway through an audiobook of Echo After Echo, which is like nothing else I usually read. I’m not even sure if it’s YA or NA or adult. It’s part mystery and thriller, part coming-of-age story, part romance… And it’s pretty damn good, actually. After adoring The Brilliant Death (also way back in the mists of January) I immediately went looking for Amy Rose Capetta’s back catalogue, and what do you know but Audible had this one with a decent narrator just sitting there waiting for me. It took a while longer to get to it – I had commitments to audiobook sequels and so forth and had to be in the right mood – but I’m going to be finishing it off this month.

And… I’m reading King of Scars! Finally, you all cheer, and TBH so do I. I had every intention of reading it straight away, since Grishaverse is always a win and Nikolai is Nikolai, but a combination of overflowing bookshelves and nerves about the hype got to me and it’s taken me this long to steel myself to pick it up again. Early thoughts – intrigued by goings on, loving Nikolai’s scheming and sass, loving Zoya’s scheming and sass, and not sure how I feel about Nina minus the Dregs. Watch this space.

IMAG4559~2My TBR for the rest of June has got a tiny bit out of hand. With June being Pride Month I wanted to make an effort to fit in LGBTQ+ books and authors, and then there were a few readathons I felt like joining, and then one of my fave authors announced a readalong for a book of hers that I happen to have sitting and waiting…

And before you know it there’s fourteen books on my virtual June shelf and I’ve gone and piled on all the pressure. Again.

#currentlywriting

Ah yes. It may have been a while since I posted about the writing, but I’m pretty sure the last time would have been when I had not long started my first draft of the still-not-exactly-named Sleeping Beauty retelling. It’s currently called Curse and Ghost until a proper title comes along. And that would still be what I’m currently writing. I’m about a quarter of the way through the first draft. Mental health, work commitments, family commitments, sheer bloody laziness and pathological procrastination… They’ve all had a part to play.

Curse & Ghost quoteBut, leaving aside the general shittiness of first drafts, I’m pleased with what I’ve got so far. Snowflake outlining and a hefty pinch of flexibility have kept me on track. In previous drafts by this point I’d have written at least 12K unnecessary build up words working myself into the story, and would be realising exactly how unnecessary they were and how much cutting I’d have to do. This time, though, I’m actually approaching the first quarter turning point at roughly the wordcount I wanted to be. So three cheers for trying new outlining methods and remembering that writing is always about learning what works best for you.

This month I’m aiming for a relatively modest 5K added to the draft. If I do more, brilliant. If not, well, I can build on it next month. I am definitely more tortoise than hare, but I can still hope for the same end result…

#amcurrently …

… Doing a few other things that actually have nothing to do with books. I know, what even is this? But I’m determined that this will be the year I don’t neglect the rest of my life, and I want to be a bit more real both here and on my social media about it all.

I’ve so far failed to join a gym (again) but I’m still planning on getting to that. Don’t expect any pre- and post- workout selfies or poses on the running machines, though. I’m joining for the swimming pool and the pilates classes. Don’t I sound grown up? Realities of life with a disability – swimming and aqua aerobics are weight-bearing so my stupid knees don’t end up worse than they started, and yes I was the youngest person in the aqua aerobics class by a good 25 years last time I went. Pilates is doctor’s orders to try and strengthen the core muscles that are currently failing to hold my back in proper fashion. Fun times.

Working towards living plastic-free and zero-waste living has slowed right down, after we knocked out the easy wins last year and are now wading through the sludge of things that are a lot harder and/or more expensive to replace or do without.

three star-shaped cookies next to a stack of books

Children persistently come home from school or birthday parties or Grandma’s with plastic packets of sweets, plastic-wrapped boxes of cakes and biscuits, cheap plastic toys that won’t last two weeks before they too end up in the bin. But I’ve converted all of them (and the husband) into scouring charity shops for secondhand books, toys and clothes so we’re cutting down on our impact and packaging there, and my list of recipes to work through to replace manufactured and mass-packaged food is going pretty well. Homemade yoghurt and granola have been on the menu for a while, homemade soups, biscuits and cakes are just tastier anyway, and May’s big and largely successful experiment was homemade Nutella, after I realised the commercial stuff is packed full of habitat-destroying palm oil.

Related was my plan to have a fruit and veg garden overflowing with delicious plastic-free bounty, but that’s… well, not really happened. Still time to get some summer produce in, but it’s not going to be the amount I was hoping for. At least I can partially blame the awful weather this spring. And there’s always next year, right?

The Big Question

Am I going to have a productive June? Will I slay my TBR, find my groove with Curse and Ghost and spend many happy and productive hours growing salad and swimming laps? Or is my mid-year wrap-up post doomed to become a morass of self-pity and missed opportunities?

Encouragement below please! And share your own mid-year goals and thoughts – do you go big and ambitious or try to stick to something you know you’ll meet? Or are you a seat-of-the-pants take things day by day sort of person (if so, I envy you!)

When you want to write, but don’t know what about

notesI wrote that title thinking about blogging, about how I’d promised myself I was going to keep to a regular schedule of posts this year. Maybe not as frequent as I’d tried for last year, but consistent. Being so far out of the habit of blogging regularly, I don’t have a pattern of posts or topics to fall back on. If this was a straight-forward book blog, I could fill the space with reviews, but since I’m trying to make it more of a balance between my reading and writing selves, I’m not keen to go down that route.

And then it occurred to me, the title applies just as well to my writing. I’ve got 3 WIPs at various stages, plus the snippets of ideas I’m storing away for future use, and a couple of short stories I’d like to have a go at. I wanted to make a habit of writing exercises to work on the craft side and help keep me from getting blocked so badly again. I’ve been doing a little bit of journalling and free writing for the same reason. But then of course I have the problem of where to spend my limited time and energy.

Pick a priority

Well, yes, that’s the obvious answer. But HOW? How do people do it, when so many things are competing for attention? And I’ve only listed the writing part up there, not the books I want to read or the day job I actually get paid for, or the various projects around the house, or the time I should be spending with the kids…

If anything, you’d think that makes it more important to prioritise. If I can only devote 10% of my time to writing in any given week, I need to be extra careful not to spread myself too thin. So it makes sense to focus on one of my proper WIPs, the ones which are supposed to end up as an actual book one of these days. And then to narrow it down to the one that’s nearest to being done, so I can skip ahead to the next stage and clear it off my desk to make room for the rest.

Except, the one that’s closest to being done is the one that seems least sale-able, for a debut author with no reputation. A too-long, adult/crossover fantasy that’s the start of a series of indeterminate length (four or five books. Probably).

The one that’s closest after that is a no-go. A second draft of a YA fantasy. I’m completely and utterly stuck on it and I need to give myself a good long break to come at it fresh and hopefully figure out what the problem is and if I’m lucky, how to fix it.

imag3934~2

So then there’s the one I am actually working on, theoretically. Another YA fantasy, but at early first draft stage. Oh, and writing by hand, because why would I make my life easy? It is very good for suppressing the inner editor though; no going back and rewriting a clunky paragraph when it’s like this!

I broke 17K words last week (woo!) but I’m really not closing in on the first quarter yet. Yes, I’m an overwriter, so that’s to be expected. But if I pick this as the most realistic project to work on, I’m pushing all my long-term goals back by however long it takes me to get the first draft done and ready to revise.

Help!

So, any advice for a floundering writer? How do you pick what project to prioritise?

And the floundering blogger wouldn’t mind some help either! What sort of posts do you want to see on here? Do you want to see rough (very rough) extracts of what I’m working on? Life and thoughts rambles like this one? More bookish stuff or weekly memes? Let me know!