Dilemma Update and Thanks

The following is the reply I posted on my message board and writers’ email group. I’m posted it here too, for the same reason I posted A Writing Future? a few days ago – this is an important part of my writing journey and it needs documenting.

First off, I’d like to thank everyone for taking my dilemma seriously and offering advice. I truly do appreciate your time and suggestions. I’ve read all the suggestions/thoughts and I have put a lot of thought into what’s stopping me from writing.

I was asked privately how I would feel if I was faced with the prospect of never writing fantasy again. Admittedly, the question shocked me, but it also helped me put things in perspective.

If I were told that I could never write again, I’d be devastated. I know I would be defiant and I’d write anyway…in secret if I had to. I love writing. I want to write. And I will continue to write. So writing is not the issue.

If I were told that I could never write fantasy again, I’d be upset and probably a little angry. Given time, I would get used to the idea and I know I would find another genre to write in. Not writing fantasy would not end my world and I think, for a while, I believed that writing and fantasy came hand in hand. I couldn’t do one without the other. That is not the case, however, and I think I can see that now.

I have many unfinished projects. All of them have stopped where the major conflict starts. All of them only need a few chapters written in order to see those manuscripts finished (some of them only need a few pages written). All of them are not written in the fantasy genre, although a majority of them are. I understand now that fantasy isn’t my problem, writing conflict is.

I admit that I have a fear of failure and a fear of success. I believe the fear of success used to be the dominant one and that’s why I wanted to use a pen name. My thoughts were that if anything published by me was not well received I could hide behind the pen name and no one need know it was me (especially family and friends). At this time I also need to admit that I kept my writing a secret from the people closest to me. However, I believe that has since reverted to a fear of failure, because everyone now knows I’m writing. As a result, I guess that makes it impossible to hide, so now I fear failure.

Reading this, I wouldn’t be offended if you saw signs of “empty nest syndrome” – a reluctance to finish the project and let all those strangers see my work; or, not wanting to let go of something precious. It’s strange, but I know I can brush this aside without a moments thought. I want these projects finished and out there. How can I be published if they are sitting in a box in a spare room? I’d be pushing my fear of failure to the extreme by having empty nest syndrome too. No, it’s just not me.

My problem is a lack of confidence when I’m writing a conflict scene and maybe a lack of imagination too…if I’m totally honest. As a reader I often skip over the top of these scenes because I find them boring. As a writer I can’t skip over them and that annoys me. However, all stories have conflict of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a huge epic battle scene to put the brakes on, even a two paragraph push and shove gives me the shudders (although I find verbal battles are less stressful). I don’t like confrontation in real life and I guess I don’t want to face them in my stories either. Old habits and all that…

I’ve isolated the germ, now I have to find a cure. Unless I decide to write non-fiction, I’m going to have to face this hurdle in order to move on with my writing. Many of you have made worthwhile suggestions, so what am I going to do to help myself?

The one consistent suggestion was “practice”. On the positive side, I have a lot of work to practice on, but if I think in those terms I’m going to push my brain into overload as it’s too much too soon.

Someone suggested a ghost writer for these scenes. I drooled at the suggestion. Wouldn’t it be heaven to write all the good stuff and leave the conflict/battle to someone else? Yes! The person who suggested this also said that I probably would find that I’d have to edit the scene to make it fit in with my style and perhaps I’d learn from that experience. Maybe after three or four projects I’d feel more capable of writing the scenes myself. Whilst a part of me loves this idea, an equal part of me hates it too. Should the story be published, I would feel as if I’d cheated. I think I’d be embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t write the entire story myself.

Maybe I need a coach instead. A coach would guide me through the scene. I guess they would ask relevant questions to get me going and then coax me into writing a paragraph or two. They would go over the crud I’d write and suggest something stronger, better. Maybe it would build up from there. Maybe those questions that got me started would form a template for future conflict scenes. And maybe the coach would help me with a couple of my projects until I got the hang of it. I don’t really know how it would fall together, but the list of questions to help me get started is something I would definitely like to pursue.

One of you has already provided a list of questions. They are:

1) Whose POV will you be watching the scene through?
2) What is the outcome of the fight? Do several people die? Are some of the goodies/baddies badly injured/killed?
3) Are the goodies going to win?
4) What weapons are involved? Will your POV character have one already? Find one during the fight? Or manage to take the baddy’s?
5) Is there magic? Does the POV character have magic? Does another character have magic and so the POV may only see flashes of light or thunderous sounds?
6) Does it finish with action or dialogue?

Do you have anything else that you think should be included?

In conclusion, I know an extra effort from me is required. If I let a thing like this make me back away from writing, then I have no right in calling myself a writer in the first place. I want to learn how to write these scenes and I humbly request your help. I’m open to how that help is given.

In addition: I had many writing friends step forward and offer me help. The response was amazing and I’m grateful to everyone. One of those people is currently helping me through this scene. I’ve already learned a lot about myself as a writer, but that will be explained in another post…on another day.

A Writing Future?

This is a modified version of a post I wrote and submitted to two writing communities, where I asked for help. I never intended to include in here, but as I’m at a important crossroads in my writing, I feel it should be documented on my own website.

I have a dilemma and wish to ask your advice/opinions.

I read fantasy novels (young adult and adult). I rarely read other genres, but I am trying to force myself to in order to broaden my horizons.

I write fantasy – young adult and adult in the past, but more recently my target audience has been children (8 to 12 year olds).

Now for my dilemma: Lately, over the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling as if I’m actually writing in the wrong genre. I love fantasy. I love reading it. But that doesn’t mean I’m good at writing it. I hate fight scenes; always have. I’m not imaginative enough for the insertion of magic into my work and often avoid it. I feel pressured because of this and often find I don’t write because my stories should have these elements in them.

That made me start thinking that I’m writing in the wrong genre, but, many years ago I started writing a romance (not the Mills and Boon type, more general romance). The first ten chapters flew onto the page with no effort on my part, but as soon as I reached the part where the major conflict came into play…I stopped writing. I knew exactly what had to happen. I knew exactly how the story would end. But I stopped writing. So maybe it’s nothing to do with genre. I have several other unfinished manuscript because of this too; all of them have stopped where the conflict begins.

Now, I’m rewriting a fantasy short story. I know exactly what happens from beginning to end. I’ve even written the closing scene, with is where the planning actually started. The story was built on the ending. I have written the beginning, but now I’m at the climax and I’ve stopped writing. For heavens sake, I have probably two or three pages to write and the story is finished, but I simply don’t want to write it. I feel as if I can’t write it. I feel as if this is going to make me stop writing. I’m serious.

Someone suggested that I have “empty nest syndrome”, but I disagree with that. I want my stories to be finished. I crave for it. I just don’t like conflict scenes…and I often skip over them when I read books too. I don’t like them and I don’t want to write them. But all stories have them!

I’ve been borrowing and buying writing books and reading them through (partially, anyway). I’ve been writing posts that are meant to inspire (me more so than visitors to the site). I used to see the scenes in my mind, but I simply couldn’t write them. Now my mind gets to that section and skips over the top of it leaving me with a vague impression. I know I’m not interested in that section of the story. I keep telling myself just write the damn thing in point form if I have to and build on it later, but I can’t do it. I had intended to make it a public goal, but I can’t even force myself to do that. I spent all day (on and off) Sunday writing. I don’t have writer’s block. I just don’t want to write the scene. I really want to use a swear word about now. I feel so angry with myself.

Writers write; everyone else just talks about it. I wrote that on this blog. It was meant to be a guilt trip aimed at me, but even that didn’t work. I’m “everyone else” and that is not good enough.

The whole thing is starting to upset me. I love writing. I hate writing the major conflict. This is the section that most writers can’t wait to get to and love to write the most. Why am I shunning it? What can I do to get over this? Am I writing the wrong genre? Is there a place to learn to write these scenes and feel comfortable doing so? If I don’t do something soon, I think I’ll back away from writing altogether…or maybe just go back to writing excessively long manuscripts just for me. At least there was no pressure then.

How to Murder Your Muse

A muse is similar to a witch’s familiar, which is usually associated with a black cat. The cat is a companion to the witch, but it doesn’t do the work of the old hag (although it can be a pair of extra eyes, which I suppose she could find helpful). A muse on the other hand is meant to fill the writer with extraordinary ideas and help the words flow like the gushing waters over a waterfall. In other words, the muse is using the unsuspecting writer and is writing the novel through them.

I’m not sure I like that idea. When I finish my manuscripts I want to know that all that hard work is actually mine, and that I haven’t been something else’s vessel to get the work done.

To be honest, I’m not even sure I believe in muses but if you insist you do have a muse and you really want to be rid of it, how do you murder that pesky presence?

You could try to trap the little devil, but I haven’t heard of anyone being successful in this task. Muses are adept at hiding just when you need them most. In fact, they take great delight in playing hide and seek and will often disappear for days, if not weeks, at a time.

You could fool it into believing you’re not ready to sit down and write, because a muse loves to appear at those times. It knows the writer gets frustrated and annoyed when it’s an inconvenient moment and that gives the muse a thrill. The excitement is heightened when the writer has absolutely nothing to write on too. Oh, how the muse enjoys that.

I must hang my head in shame, because I’m not able to tell you how to actually “murder” your muse. I wouldn’t want the authorities knocking on my door and accusing me of being the mastermind behind such an act. I believe the best line of attack is to go the other way – ignore it completely. Every time it shows its ugly head, push it to one side and don’t listen (and you’ll feel a certain amount of enjoyment after doing this for a while). The muse, however, will find this treatment intolerable. A word of warning, muses have a temper and it’s quite amusing to watch them stamp their feet and shout profanities so you’ll have to keep your own amusement in check. If you are strong enough to do this for a prolonged period (a couple of weeks should do it) then the blighter will pack up and leave.

You see, a muse wants everything its own way. It’s not interested in your plans (especially fast approaching deadlines) and it certainly doesn’t care about the assorted ideas you have. The muse looks down at its vessel as being inferior and…well, to put it bluntly…stupid. The writer must do as the muse directs or all Hell breaks out. It’s that simple.

However, we writer types know we are not inferior and we certainly are not stupid. If we sit down and think about it carefully, we don’t need the muse. All the muse is doing is dictating when we can write and what we write about. We have our own ideas and once we rid ourselves of the fearsome muse, we’ll be able to write whenever we want…and what’s more, we’ll be able to write in peace.

How to Get More Writing Done

No Plot No ProblemThis is another topic that is inspired by Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

Chris said that after the first year of NaNoWriMo he discovered an urge to seriously write the next best seller. He quickly arranged for three months off work so that he could dedicate himself to the edit of the manuscript he’d written during NaNo (which he describes as a very bad rough draft). If he was able to find time to write whilst working ten hour days, meeting friends for dinner a couple of times a week, and still fitting in the house cleaning, laundry and all those errands we just have to do each day, then imagine how much he’d get done if he had all day to write!

I bet you can guess what happened.

He found it hard enough to get out of bed before 2pm, let alone sit down and write. He did everything (including building a squirrel run) but what he planned to do in those three months.

I can relate to this. Every single time I’ve had time off work, I have hardly written a thing. I always feel guilty if I just sit down and start writing, so I talk myself into doing the washing or vacuuming first. That should make me feel better. But it never stops there, because then I feel as if I have to do the dusting and clean the bathroom. Hey, I’ve done just about all the house work by this stage so I may as well finish it off. I won’t have anything to feel guilty about then. Right? Then I’m feeling tired and figure I’ll sit and stare at the wall for ten minutes…while I rest. I end up taking a nap and before I know it the sun is setting and evening has arrived and I’ve wasted the whole day…again. The next day I find some other reason(s) to feel guilty.

The reason for this is: When we are complaining there are not enough hours in the day as we successfully juggle family, work, home and the thousand other things we have to do each day, every second we spend writing is precious. It’s a reward. It’s our special time, just for us. As humans we enjoy precious rewards and make the most of them. But when we have eight hours a day, every day, in which to write, the pressure sets in and writing becomes a chore. We have to produce something great. We have to come up with lots and lots of ideas; there’s no excuse, is there, as we have plenty of time to think of them. We have to prove how good a writer we are. The result is that we find it difficult to write.

For some of us, to be productive, we have to be busy, busy, busy. If you are one of those people, you are out of your mind to try and take all those other chores away. My most creative writing period was when my sons were young and I worked full time. I was only able to snatch a few hours writing time late on a Friday and Saturday night, but I managed to write two manuscripts with word counts of over 200,000 words each in that time. That’s a total of about 450,000 words in two years.

Now I still work full time, but I have most evenings to myself these days. In the last couple of years, I’ve written less than 100,000 words. That’s a huge difference. Granted, back in the “olden” days there was no internet to distract me, but that’s no excuse.

Writers write; everyone else talks about it.

Enforcing a Deadline

No Plot No ProblemOn Friday night I actually started reading No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

Chris Baty, the author, is the founder of NaNoWriMo and starts off by telling us the history of the project. He wrote about the first year NaNo came into existence and how there were only twenty odd people taking part. Then he went on to tell us what he learned that month and how it sparked his interest in writing a novel…for real.

Chris writes No Plot? No Problem! tongue in cheek – but there are some inspiring comments to be found in the book (and I’ve only read the introduction and first chapter so far).

One statement that got me thinking was what he said about the most important ingredient in writing. He claims it’s not coffee and it’s definitely not character, plot or setting. The most important ingredient in writing is having a deadline.

Without a deadline, we sit back and take it easy. We relax and procrastinate. Why shouldn’t we? There’s plenty of time to get the job done so why not leave it until tomorrow and do something else today – like sleep in, or read, or watch the TV, or play a computer game. We can always write tomorrow.

This attitude never allows a writer to finish a project. After several months of working half-heartedly on a story, we get sick and tired of the characters and the setting and start on something fresh. This cycle can be never ending. And this only provides the writer with several half-finished stories and no enthusiasm.

However, with a deadline, we will knuckle down and get the job done. Of course, we can set our own deadlines, and for a disciplined writer that works well, but for most of us we know we can change the deadline if “life” throws other issues at us. Although this isn’t a sin, it does mean that projects still don’t get finished because the deadline is self imposed and flexible.

But a serious writer who is given a real deadline, that is not flexible, will soon discover that inspiration and the need to produce something submittable will force the writer to lock themselves away from the world and get the job done. Having a solid deadline means we will write everyday until the story is complete, polished and submittable.

I agree with this and now I challenge all writers who set goals for themselves to think of those deadlines they give themselves as solid, no excuse acceptable, deadlines.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

There are no spoilers in this post.

Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsMy eyes are so heavy. My mind is vague. I’m plodding along on the morning after, trying to work as normal and act somewhat human, but it’s difficult. I mustn’t complain though, because my condition is self inflicted. It was my choice to stay up and finish reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I had a choice: Put the book down right at the start of the climax and spend the night and all today wondering what was going to happen. Or, keep reading. I knew I had about an hour and a half of reading to go. I knew it would be well past midnight when I reached the last page and that is a very late night for me. I knew that I’d suffer today if I continued on with the adventure.

I put the book down. I got ready for bed. I said goodnight to my family and then…

I climbed into bed, picked up the book and continued to read. I had to know what was going to happen. I couldn’t wait another 24 hours. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep because of it, so I felt I may as well keep going. It’s what any normal person would have done…isn’t it? 😀

It was worth it.

Whilst young readers of Harry Potter were growing up as they read the books, J K Rowling was growing as a writer. She has done extremely well and, as a writer myself, I learned a lot from reading her series.

I especially admire Joanne’s ability to weave intricate threads together, giving hints throughout the entire series, and then pull everything together and leave the reader feeling satisfied. She did a marvellous job and she should feel proud of herself.

There is a lot of talk on the internet questioning Joanne’s ability and whether or not she’ll be able to produce something other than anything Harry Potter related. I truly hope that she can. I believe she has the ability to tell a good story. I just hope the public will give her a chance and not compare everything else she produces with Harry Potter. I realise it will be hard, but readers must open Joanne’s future books, especially the next one, with fresh eyes and an open mind.

Now that I’ve finished the Harry Potter series, I find myself looking at my own children’s series and feeling as if I must put more into it – more imagination, more excitement…and more of my time. I think that’s called inspiration.

Right, now I have to find someone to “chat” to, because I want to discuss the details of the book…

Russian Roulette or Author Guidelines

The last month has seen me increasingly busy over at Speculative Realm (which has now moved to its own website). The submissions are pouring in, which is great, but I’m seeing a pattern with the submissions which concerns me…yet also gives me (as a writer) hope.

I’m noticing that quite a few of the authors who have submitted have not read the guidelines. It’s frustrating for me and the other staff, as we are wasting time on stories that don’t even fit the theme. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it has to be rejected because it’s not what we are looking for. The guidelines are not that long and would take only a few minutes to read, yet the author can’t be bothered and submits anyway. No wonder so many rejections are being sent out (I’ve calculated it to be 95%).

Not all rejections have been for that reason, of course, but I’d have to say at least 50% of them have been and that’s way too many. Every website that offers writing tips will clearly state “read the guidelines”. This is important and I would have thought it was common sense to do so. Obviously, I’m wrong.

Honestly, to ignore the guidelines is like playing Russian roulette. You are taking a huge chance with your manuscript; not to mention the time you are wasting while the manuscript is tied up with a publisher that may not even want that type of story. Editors receive so many submissions that they can be ridiculously horrid in the way they sift through the pile. For example, they can think to themselves “I don’t like green, so all manuscripts bound in anything remotely green will be rejected instantly” or “all emailed submissions received on an odd numbered day will be rejected”. You should be doing all you can to improve your chances.

I have received submissions with no cover letter too – not even a “here’s my submission”. Two submissions have been blank emails with an attachment. I feel that’s not professional and actually thought about rejecting both on the spot…but didn’t. However, I really do feel that sending in a submission like this is not good enough and will reject future submissions for that reason alone.

As a writer I have visited many published authors’ websites and have been told over and over again, that if you want to stand out from the crowd then you must treat your submission like you would treat any business transaction. Being naïve, I assumed everyone did this already, so how would that make my submission stand out from the rest of the slush pile. Now I know that a high percentage of submissions are done unprofessionally and that my manuscript would shine next to them. That gives me hope.

If you write and you want to be published, then take this one piece of advice and remember it always. Read the submission guidelines and give the editor what they want. The editor might be fussy, but that doesn’t matter. Do what they want. They will see that you’ve taken the time to read their guidelines and that might convince them to take the time to read your manuscript.