‘You Had One Job’ by Peter M. Ball

I am utterly thrilled to say that our first guest poster is Peter M. Ball! Peter is a particularly kick-ass writer based in Brisbane, Australia. He’s got a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked mind for storytelling…and a habit of talking about mental health in a way that breaks my heart and reaffirms the entire point of this series: you’re not alone. You can find more of his writing- and links to some rather wonderful books- at his site, Man Vs Bear

1.

I’m about to make breakfast when the realisation hits me: I didn’t put the dishwasher on last night. Because I didn’t put the dishwasher on, there are no clean bowls for porridge this morning. Because there are no clean bowls for porridge, it should be quite obvious I’m a useless piece of shit. Come on Peter, you stupid mother-fucker, you had one goddamn job yesterday.

It takes 65 words to express that moment. Less than a minute of typing to transmute it into the beginning of a journey, a hook I can build around. A moment of anxiety rendered through the filter of a pithy internet meme. The part of my brain that deals with narrative is already looking for what comes next.

Another part of my brain is still dwelling on the dishes. It took three seconds to pull a pasta bowl out of my cupboard and use it instead. That doesn’t matter. I fucked up. One more in a string of fuck-ups that speak to the fact I’m sorry excuse for a human being.

I’m still dwelling on it an hour later, when I come back to this essay. An hour after that, as I’m eating lunch. Rationally, I know I had many jobs yesterday. I spent hours catching up with a close friend I hadn’t seen in months. I wrote a first draft of this essay that will never see the light of day. I obsessed about the flaws that first draft. I ate take-out burritos, which meant there were no dishes to put in the dishwasher, which is how I missed the step where I turned the dishwasher on.

I did not have one job yesterday. I never have one job.

2.

Let’s not fuck around. When Kylie asked me say a few things about mental health and writing, her one request was ‘talk about how you manage your bad days.’

The answer to that is simple: I don’t. The bad days are bad days, and when they hit, nothing gets done.

I plan around them when I can, mitigating their impact on deadlines. I look at the thirty days in the month, and figure I’ll be productive for about twenty-three. The rest will get taken up by other things, some of which will be bad days where my brain sends me into a tailspin and everything’s a struggle.

At worst…well, I sink for a week or two. On the really bad days I do not write, because I do not deserve to write. I do not deserve to eat real food or make sensible choices about how I spend my money. I do not deserve to have ambitions.

To write on a bad day is to acknowledge there’s a future, and the possibility that I will continue to exist. That I will wake up tomorrow and this process of pretending I’m a functional human being will start all over again.

On the bad days, that thought is terrifying.

3.

Today is not a bad day, but it could turn into one.

I didn’t write yesterday, among all the things I was doing. I mean, sure, I wrote a first draft of this essay, but it wasn’t good and it wasn’t finished and besides, it doesn’t really count. Only fiction counts as writing. The same part of my brain that focuses on my failure to turn on a dishwasher comes into play.

It doesn’t matter that I’d planned yesterday as a day off. That I’d specifically set aside the fiction project to write this and hang out with my friend and eat burritos and talk shit. That I cleaned my house before said friend came over, and answered emails that kept my writing career running.

You had one goddamn job, Peter. You had one goddamn job.

The worst part about writing is the speed with which it becomes a stick you can use to flagellate yourself, especially if you’re the kind of person who deals with anxiety or depression or other mental health challenges.

4.

I put a lot of value on being smart. For years it was my defence mechanism against that hollow feeling I wasn’t yet ready to call depression. I tethered my sense of self-worth to the twin docks of I am smart and I can write.

Here’s the real irony in all this – to write regularly and intelligently, particularly now that I’m aware that depression and anxiety will fuck with me, I need to admit that I’m actually pretty dumb. If I want to write consistently and avoid the bad days, I have to embrace all the simple, stupid thing that help manage my mental state.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I get at least seven hours of sleep, which means going to bed at 11 and waking up at 7.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I take my medication, even though my current medication means alcohol is likely to make my liver explode and that completely sucks.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I track my negative thoughts and dismantle them using the toolkit provided by cognitive behavioural therapy, even though it makes me feel like an idiot.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I make use of a CBT app on my phone to track things, and obey its daily reminders.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I start projects early and work on them consistently, instead of trying to burn through them before a rapidly approaching deadline.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I do incredibly twee things, like create gratitude lists. Or when I go out and walk every day and eat healthy meals. Or when I make time to catch up with friends, even if it’s for a half-hour, even when I am reasonably certain that I am too feral to be around people.

Let’s be clear: I hate all of this. I do not want to be this person. I would much rather be a freewheeling, creative genius who shits rainbows and has their brilliance acknowledged by everyone around them.  The fact that I am not that person is frustrating as hell.

It doesn’t fucking matter.

I want to be a writer who makes a living from their work, and I want that even more than I hate being the person who needs to do those other things. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. It’s just what needs to be done

5.

I don’t like writing about mental health, particularly my own. I force myself to do it quite often, but in the back of my mind there’s this lingering fear that this time is the time when someone will finalise realise the truth. That I’m not actually depressed or anxious, but I am a lazy fuck-up too scared of my own ambitions to actively pursue them. You’re not unwell, that voice whispers, you just need to be fucking better than you are. Stop pretending that you’re good enough.

That thought is always with me. Stop pretending that you’re good enough. Stop pretending. Stop. Stop. It’s grappled with every time I sit down to write. Is this story good enough? This book? This essay?

It’s when the voice get something to point to – a failure, however small – that I crash into the bad days and get nothing done. Look, the voice says, see how bad you fucked this up? You deserve this. You suck. Now everyone will know.

Because the bad days are bad, it’s easy to villainize that nagging thought without acknowledging that it can be a positive thing. The need to be smarter and better drives me as often as it sinks me into the quagmire. It led me to take a stupid challenge that became my first book, or write a short story to prove someone wrong that ended up getting reprinted over and over and over.

The line between a good day and a bad day is frequently just having enough bandwidth to recognise that voice as part of a polyphony, not the entire conversation.

6.

I fear having my depression invalidated because…well, for starters, that’s the nature of being depressed, and there is something comforting about the possibility that you, at your worst, aren’t necessarily 100% to blame.

But it’s not just that. At all.

The worst part about the bad days was never the depression itself, because depression didn’t give me the space to care about anything. What really fucked with me was the week just after I emerged from a depressive quagmire, when the internal monologue stopped playing “nothing matters, so why bother,” and I started to give shit about writing and work again.

Suddenly I looked back at the time I lost and felt nothing but shame, panic, and anger. I was lazy and out of control, and I didn’t understand what caused it. Why could I write consistently and regularly for weeks a time, only to sink into this shit for no reason?

And so I would come out of a low period and try to make up for it, putting together incredibly ambitious and quite unreasonable plans to try and make those feelings go away. Often this meant throwing myself at big, public projects where people would validate me. Public displays of productivity are easy, when you’re a writer. You don’t even need to finish projects, just show that you’re working a lot.

To be able to look back on a bad week and go, “oh, right, I was just depressed,” circumvents a lot of self-loathing. Freeing up the mental resources that used to go into bolstering my ego means it’s easier to get back to writing, simply because I’m willing to cut myself a break.

7.

It occurs to me that I still haven’t put the dishwasher on. More dishes have accumulated on the sink, and there are still no clean bowls if I need them. Do I stop writing and go deal with the problem, or do I keep working while I’ve got the thread of the narrative? I stick with typing, ‘cause that’s what I’m doing right now. ‘Cause taking care of me frequently rates beneath finishing something I’m writing for someone else.

Even though that’s one of the things that I should monitor better than I do.

I’ve almost talked myself into the dishes when I get a notification on google hangouts. My fortnightly writers catch-up is starting, a meeting I’ve forgotten because I didn’t do my weekly diary seven days back. A gap in my process, which I know better than to ignore because it leads to anxiety when shit like this occurs

Jesus, Peter, you had one job…

8.

The worst part about writing about my mental health isn’t the fear. No, the worst part is knowing that you’re still a writer, that stories and essays have structures and conventions. Characters in stories start off broken, and they are made whole by the climax. The problems of the beginning are resolved by the end, all neat and clean.

If you write long enough, this becomes instinct. The reader has stuck with you until the end, and now you owe them an epiphany.

I have nothing for you.  In terms of dealing with writing and my own mental health, I’m a rough draft, not the final product. Everything is very much a work in progress. What helps some weeks helps less a month later; anxiety triggers that send me into a tailspin get worse, or better, or go away.

And yet again, the thought is there: Jesus, Peter, you had one job.

Today, I just have the energy to put that thought in the box marked anxiety, which sits next to the box marked depression, and them aside long enough to do this job, and the next one, and the one after that.

It’s not much as epiphany’s go, but right now it’s the best I’ve got.

Smart People Talking: Jodi Picoult (Part 1.)

Superstar fiction writer Jodi Picoult was in Brisbane recently, giving a talk at Brisbane’s City Hall about her latest novel, Small Great Things, cultural appropriation, and the art of creating compelling stories.

Because this was such a massive conversation, I’m breaking this into two parts. This first one focuses more on the idea of cultural appropriation. The second part will be more writing focused.

I have written so many times as people I’ve never been. But race and racism is hard to talk about without offending someone. So we don’t talk about it. At all.

There’s often a fear about telling stories that encompass cultures and identities not our own, and yet, whitewashing stories to make white characters the only characters readily available is just as problematic. It’s an incredibly fraught issue, and it’s one that doesn’t always get a lot of attention because it’s so uncomfortable for people to try and navigate through without causing harm or offense. But even though it’s hard and awkward work, it’s incredibly important, too. Awkwardness doesn’t, and shouldn’t, trump the need to deal with the ingrained and systematic racism of the world around us. Writers explore ideas. Even the hard ones.

Telling people of colour how hard their life is isn’t my story to tell and never will be. Cultural appropriation is a real issue. Imagine how frustrating it would be to never be able to tell your story, but to see white people getting to.

Originally, Small Great Things was inspired by the shooting death of a black undercover police officer in America. He was shot in the back by white cops. The idea of the white voice on trial was always going to be a part of the story, but Picoult quickly realised that the most honest way she could approach the story was from a white point of view. To her mind, people of colour already know what it’s like to be discriminated against, and put on trial because of someone’s unfair idea of who and what they are. But it’s also not her place to speak the truths for groups she’s not a part of. There’s so many amazing authors of colour doing staggering work around these issues. Picoult is quick to point out that hers shouldn’t be the voice being praised for ‘starting the conversation’- the conversation has been happening for a very long time, led by equally talented voices who haven’t been given the same attention.

One of the biggest calls of the night was for readers to broaden their gaze, and look for authors outside their cultural spheres of influence. If you’re white, cis, straight, and Christian, try reading beyond those barriers. That’s how we learn different perspectives. Not by guessing randomly what other people think, but by listening to their stories.

[Random aside, because that’s how I roll: this isn’t just an American issue. Though Picoult is getting praised for her efforts in promoting this conversation, we’ve got freakin’ phenomenal talents here discussing culture, identity, and racism. Off the top of my head, if you haven’t read Ellen Van Neerven‘s Comfort Food, Anita Heiss‘s Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms, Am I Black Enough For You, or The Intervention Anthology,  or Samuel Wagan Watson’s Monster’s Ink (and probably a heap more- I’m still slowly building my collection of his work) you need to look into them. I’m not even scratching the surface of the list of Australian talent who don’t fit the typical white author mould, and these authors don’t get anywhere near the love they deserve. Go read them. Like, now. This’ll still be here later.]

Cultural appropriation is about the voiceless.

Everyone has a voice. But some voices get a lot more attention and respect than others. That’s why Picoult is so quick to stomp the idea that she’s starting conversations- white people are just respecting the conversation more now there’s a white face attached to it. Which really isn’t fair.

Juno Diaz talks about the making of cultural monsters, saying that the easiest way to make people feel like monsters is to deny them a reflection within the cultural landscape. By promoting a certain kind of voice, we’re (even without realising it) dismissing everyone else’s. And when we’re stamping our own ideas onto someone else’s experience, we’re making it easier to believe the worst about people who haven’t done anything wrong.

 

It’s a balancing act, because you don’t want to create worlds where the only people are white. But you really don’t want someone to read your work and feel like you’ve stolen their story, and their voice, to make a profit. Often, it’s about respect: respecting the story, researching respectfully, and reading authors who are already talking about these issues from a place of greater experience.

People aren’t born racist. It’s a process; a targeted approach to turning people into white supremacists.

Radicalisation is a similar process, no matter which side of the problem you’re on. You find yourself someone who feels like they’re never going to belong in the mainstream society, who feels victimised by the way things are. You give them a sense of belonging, a cause to support (because we all want to be the hero, and saving the world from an evil is pretty damned heroic). You give them an enemy, and a target for their frustrations. And slowly, you normalise ideas that once would have probably (hopefully) caused concern.

In America, is incredibly easy to buy really racist crap. You can buy shooting targets with the faces of Obama, or MLK. You can buy pinatas of hanging victims. You can buy pin the star on the Jew. And over time, that shit normalises racism. How do you teach children empathy for others while they’re shooting the images of actual people? How do you discuss the horror of genocide while mocking it?

There’s a line between laughing with, and laughing at, in the same way there’s a line between solidarity and saviour complexes.

There are things I can do with my privilege. I can use that power for good. How? Easy:

Always centre the impacted- it’s not about you.

It’s easy to focus on how we’re impacted by things, and forget that we’re a teensy speck on the fringes of an issue. Look at #blacklivesmatter vs #alllivesmatter. BLM argues that there’s a social and political skew against black people in America that is actively getting people killed. Their focus is lowering the staggeringly high number of police shootings targeting black people in America. They’re not arguing that black lives are more important than any others, they’re arguing that they’re just as important. Meanwhile, ALM argues that it’s unfair to focus on only black lives when other people have issues, too. Which, if you squint, it’s an idea with merit. But if all lives do matter, shouldn’t we be jumping in and calling out the fact that the justice system in the US is biased against them to the point black people are more likely to be killed by police for ridiculous reasons (black kid killed for playing with toy gun, man shot in the back for allegedly stealing cigarettes…), and more likely to be severely punished while white people committing the same crimes in the same places get lenient sentences, or let off because they ‘made a mistake’?

Leverage your privilege- call people out.

If you hear a racist (sexist, homophobic…) joke, call it out. We’re told to just laugh it off or stay quiet, but instead, speak up. Stop letting minority groups be the punchlines and the punching bags. When you sit silently, you’re making a choice in support of what you’re hearing.

Calling people out can be scary, and can get you in the firing line, it’s true. But it’s as simple as offering the seat beside you to the woman being verbally abused on the bus or train, even if you’re not quite game to tell someone to stfu. It’s taking a photo of the drunk guy harassing the young mother, and passing it on to the police, or wandering off to hit the emergency call button on the train, even if you sneak into another car to do it. It’s seeing a man following a woman, or photographing her, and going up and letting her know. Bullies thrive when the crowd watching does nothing.

Listen.

We all have different experiences, and the quickest way to understand how other people think, live, or behave is to let them tell your their stories. And to listen, without interrupting or judging or defending. Talking about misogyny isn’t saying that all men are scary, but that there’s enough scariness to be a very real problem. Talking about racism isn’t saying every white person is violently, disgustingly racist- it’s saying that there’s enough overt and subtle racism to be a problem.

White people expect to be heard. Amplify other voices. Question why we’re not hearing about heroic people of colour.

Patrick Stewart works to support women escaping domestic violence, because his mother was abused by his father. His argument is that people listen to rich white guys, so he’ll use that status in support of those who don’t have it. Not to be a saviour, but because he’s been given power, and he feels obligated to use it for something of worth.

If you’ve got power, use it.

 

 

Smart People Talking: Queenie Chan

Queenie Chan is a name in manga you should probably get to know if you don’t already. She’s worked with some fantastic authors in creating their graphic novels (including ‘Odd’, the prequel to Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas), as well as illustrating and co-authoring the Fabled Kingdom trilogy. Queenie’s art is staggeringly good (not a shocker). While in Brisbane for Oz Comic-Con 2016, Queenie settled in for the Written, Drawn, Edited, and Published panel to chat about the business of writing and illustration with Kylie Chan.

Staring at a blank sheet of paper has never gotten my juices flowing. Go do something outside of your usual, everyday routine. Change your environment.

Routines are great, for a while. But eventually, the same things at the same time stop being helpful and start draining your creativity. You don’t need to only write with that one type of pen, or drink from that one particular cup. Try new things, stretch beyond the comfort zone, and see how quickly ‘writer’s block’ becomes a distant memory.

The publishing landscape changes. What worked for your heroes probably won’t work as well for you. Don’t worry too much about what others are doing, or have done. Instead, keep an eye out for opportunities. Trends can’t be manufactured. Do what you want to do, and do it well.

Everyone always asks writers how they got their big break, but the truth is that an ever-changing industry means it’s unlikely that same approach will still be useful now. That’s okay. There’s no one right way to get your foot in the door.

We talk a lot about writing to trends, but the truth is that those trends come and go, and especially in traditional publishing, by the time your book has hit the market, it’s highly likely that the trend you were chasing is long since over. Instead of trying to gamble on changing trends and audiences, write the stories you want to write, or chase the illustration work that you want to be doing. Don’t settle- do what you love, and do it well. Do it to the absolute best of your ability.

It’s uncommon for people to have one finished book, let alone multiple, when they pitch. Being able to sell your work is important, but if you don’t have anything to back it up with, you’ve just got a sales pitch.

Elevator pitches are great, but have something you can send to the publisher or agent before you start selling them on the project. Be prolific as possible while maintaining the highest quality of work you can. But don’t expect people to take on your unfinished work, and then chase you up for it into perpetuity. That’s not how the industry works anymore.

It’s great to have a sales pitch, but you really need to be able to follow through when the person you’re pitching to says yes.

It used to be true that self publishing had a taint about it. Publishers these days, if they see an author who treats it like it’s a business, they’re interested.

Gone are the days where writers were nurtured and coddled and begged for their work. These days, there’s an ever-growing community of writers waiting in the wings, their work ready to go. With so many people wanting their work published, a really good way to stand out from the crowd is professionalism. They want to know that you’re taking it seriously, and working hard to keep forward momentum. If they think you’re a diva who’ll need constant attention and chasing up for work? They’re far less likely to say yes to you.

Authors are expected to market their own books as well. Publishers are looking for partners now. If a number of people buy that book, they’re vouching for it.

Gone are the days when all an author had to do was focus on writing a good story. These days, authors need to be working to market their wares, rather than leaving it to those around them to do it for them. It’s one of the grey areas in the indie vs trad publishing debate: if a publisher is selling a hundred different titles, how much time and attention can they really give your book? And at what point is it a better financial decision to sell your book yourself, and bypass the red tape of traditional publishing?

Readers are important, because if you want to move from indie to traditional, they’re an invaluable source of street cred. If people are buying and reading your work, if there’s already an audience there, then publishers know they can market the book more easily.

Putting out work for free can be good, but may not translate into sales. Cons are a great way to test the water. Pitching to people and experimenting shows how popular it can be.

It also teaches you how to market to certain people. What a parent wants from a book for their kid is generally quite different to what that kid wants in a book. You have to target your pitch to your audience. Side note: I spoke to a couple of Con goers at Comic-Con this year, asking them what made a great sales pitch from the writers and illustrators.

For the illustrators, it was easy: a good variety of art from a range of fandoms has a better chance of catching a buyer’s eye.

For the writers, there were a few pointers:

Don’t scare the buyers. Bombarding them with conversation and questions, or shoving the book in their faces isn’t helpful. Be polite, and talk, but pay attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues before you launch into a ten minute conversation.

Don’t give away the entire plot. I’ve had a couple of authors do this when trying to sell me their books- and I’ve never felt the need to buy any of them. Why would I? I already know what’s going to happen. Your pitch shouldn’t be everything- give a taste of what’s to come, without the play by play descriptions.

Please let us leave. If someone says they’ve got to go, don’t try and hard-sell them or keep them there. Let them go. They’ll remember you far more fondly later on. A lot of Con goers said they did the rounds, saw what was on offer, then went back to buy what interested them, but if the seller was pushy, they didn’t go back.

Don’t assume girls want romance and boys want action. Some guys really dig the drama over the fight scenes, and quite a few women aren’t that interested in the romance genre. If someone asks whether or not a certain genre is in your book, answer honestly- you will get shitty reviews online if you’ve told them it’s a love story and there’s not a trace of romance to be found. Bad reviews tend to travel faster than good ones, especially if it’s a case of the author behaving badly.

A lot of people go out of their way to do complex outlines. For me, it sucks the energy away from your story. It can drain your capacity to create your main thing. What goes from page to finished product changes, and that’s a good thing.

Whatever works for you is what you need to be doing. But be aware that for some people, those complex world building exercises can be a way to procrastinate on the actual writing or plotting. They can also drain the motivation to write, because you’ve already so thoroughly explored the world your story is a part of.

For some people, too, having a detailed story bible can make it harder to change the direction of the story if it isn’t working- after all, you’ve put a lot of effort into it, and it can be hard for people to let that time and energy go.

There are good sides and bad sides to any planning system- get a feel for what works for you, and how well you cope with the downsides.

Be confident in your idea and your characters and your ability, and go with it.

This doesn’t need clarification, right?

Go through and highlight the important bits in your previous work before starting on its sequel.

If you’re writing a series, try to go back and re-read the earlier book (or books, if you have time). Highlight the important bits- the story arcs, the elements that need resolution, the character development and relationships. You don’t want to have Mary inexplicably married to Tom when she was married to Jonathan in the last story. If there’s going to be a heap of books in the series, you’re not going to have time to do that. So instead, keep track of the important bits you’ve highlighted with each book, and have a flick through those before reading the last book in the series. It’ll give you the overview without you having to read that first novel a thousand times.

Characters with a life of their own, that are well-developed, are the ones that surprise you.

For Queenie, this is one of those reasons not to get too heavily into the story bible and character profiling elements of writing. When we force our notions of what’s right onto a story or character, we often diminish the story we’re trying to tell. We’re rather controlling beasts, prone to forcing our ideologies onto innocent stories without even realising it. Giving the characters and the story space to grow and change can be the most effective way to tell a meaningful, engaging story.

You often get asked to take on a theme and make it yours. I went through my old stories looking for things that met that theme.

Trying to world build and create characters on the fly with a short deadline can be incredibly painful and stressful. Instead, try and look for established ‘verses you’ve played in before, and what minor characters could be useful in a new story arc. This way you still get to play in the sandbox you love, while building it a gradually widening audience.

You need an emotional connection to develop, but it can make it hard to shift into the concepts you’re asked for by publishers.

You need to care about your work to be doing what you love. But doing what you love with an incredibly niche focus isn’t overly great for the mortgage repayments. So you need to find ways to connect to concepts you’re asked to explore, even if they’re not ones you normally work with.

That’s not saying you have to say yes to concepts you’re morally opposed to, of course, because that’s not doing what you love, either. But finding ways to stretch your comfort zone little by little is incredibly helpful.

The audience has an idea of what they want, and suspension of disbelief can be broken if they don’t get it.

While playing with certain tropes in a genre is fine, even encouraged, there are certain things that need to happen to have it called, say, a Western. You need lawless spaces, rural settings, cowboy styled heroes. Can it work in, say, urban action? To an extent, sure- how many action flick heroes are called cowboys or mavericks by other characters, after all- but it’s an urban action with Western styling, not a Western. There’s a line between bringing something new, and misnaming something. Try to avoid misnaming.

All reviews, good or bad, are publicity. Never argue with a bad review. Do not react to a bad review!

Seriously, if you haven’t already, Google ‘authors behaving badly’. Don’t do what you read about there. Don’t be the writer terrorising readers who didn’t absolutely adore their work. No one is obligated to love what you write, the same way you clearly don’t like what a reviewer has to say.

Readers are smart enough to give books a chance, regardless of a single bad review. Let it go.

Have a professional, well designed business card. Give it out everywhere. Have them with you always. People are a lot more likely to keep business cards because it feels like a business, rather than personal, encounter. And let your website be your calling card. Have a good website, because people come back to it.

We respect networking more than socialising, because it sounds more productive and official. A professional, friendly demeanour can go a long way, and having the right props is incredibly useful, too.

Having said that, do the best you can with what you can afford. If you can afford fancy, and that’s what you want, go for it. If you can’t, work with what you’ve got. You can upgrade as your finances chance, or after you’ve decided that yeah, you’re sticking with this blogging lark a while longer.

 

Smart People Talking: Kylie Chan

Kylie Chan is a best-selling Aussie author well known for her Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang, and Celestial Battle trilogies. Known for her captivating ability to blend fantasy, action, and mythology, Kylie has won a legion of loyal fans with her adventure-filled works. While at Brisbane’s Oz Comic-Con this year, Kylie joined forces with Queenie Chan for the ‘Written, Drawn, Edited, and Published’ panel, where they talked about the art and science of writing.

‘Write every day’ is nonsense. The idea has to be ripe and ready to go onto the paper.

Just because you’ve got an idea doesn’t mean it’s ready to be written. Forcing a story onto the page before it’s ready is painful, and generally ends with a bunch of words you’re not too thrilled with. Give it time to percolate and evolve in your mind. The more time you give yourself to understand the story, the more depth you’ll find in the idea.

Sit in a cafe. It’s scientifically proven to really help the words to flow. Go to a place where people are moving around you but not interacting with you.

When the writing isn’t going well, get out of the rut by physically moving to a new space. If you always write in a particular place at a particular time, try changing it up. The new sounds and vibes will help break through the blocks in place, and help get the story flowing again.

As much as we talk about writing as a solitary pursuit, for some people, the best writing space has other people moving freely within it, making noise.

The best way to get your name out is to write short stories. If you get your short stories out enough, your name will start to appear in more places. If they haven’t heard your name before, it’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere.

Write. That’s how to get your writing career started. Write, and submit your work. Find places that are reputable, and that fit the stories you’re writing, and try getting published. Enter competitions as often as you can. Keep writing, and keep sending out your work. Make it a habit. And when the only answer you’re getting is no, write something new and start again. Don’t quit. Keep trying until you’re published, and then keep trying to get more publishing credits under your belt.

If you’ve got just one beautifully crafted novel, they’ll think twice about accepting it. But if they think you’ll be a cash cow, they’ll say yes.

Being prolific isn’t a bad thing. If you can come to a publisher with a series, rather than a stand alone novel, they’re often more likely to say yes because there’s likely not going to be a massive lag between finished projects. You’re only marketable when you have something to market- and while nostalgia and cult fandom can help, the best way to create a sustainable career in writing is to write and publish as often as possible.

Don’t verbal all over people. Use an elevator pitch.

It’s easy to get nervous before you pitch your work, and it’s just as easy to babble when you’re talking to new people about what you’re working on. So write yourself an elevator pitch, and learn it by heart. Stand in front of a mirror and recite it, say it morning or night- whatever it takes for you to get as familiar with the words as possible. Then, whenever someone asks you what you’re writing, or wanting to have published, you have a polished, professional sounding answer rather than a verbal vomit.

It’s also important to remember to ditch the negative terminology. They’re not gatekeepers preventing you from moving forward in your career, they’re people doing their jobs. If someone says no, don’t take it as a personal insult and don’t throw a tantrum. It’s a small industry in Australia, too small for your career to survive making people want to avoid you.

The only real way to sell books is word of mouth.

All the slick social media presences and advertising campaigns in the world can’t trump word of mouth. This ties into the ‘don’t be a dick’ rule- Google ‘authors behaving badly’ and you’ll see that readers have just as long a memory as booksellers, publishers, editors, and agents. Maybe once upon a time authors were able to be egotistical assholes and be forgiven because of their talent. Today, though, there are millions of authors out there, and we’re not so starved for stories that we’ll accept verbal abuse. Be kind, be professional, and be polite. Be generous with your time as much as possible when people want a book signed- but always have limits to what you’ll do and how much time you’ll give. Remember, you’re not owed an audience of readers. Respect them, and they’ll respect you and your work.

Publishers are often looking for self published success stories.

Don’t be afraid to go your own way and self publish. You don’t need one of the big five publishers behind you to make it as an author. Sometimes the best way to get the backing of one of the big publishing houses is to have gone off on your own and proved your mettle without them. It’s more effort in a lot of ways, but it’s certainly something to consider.

Novellas sell well at Cons.

If you’re thinking about scoring some space in writer land at the next Con, think about what will sell, and what you’ll need. Novellas sell well at cons, because they’re a bit lighter and easier to carry around when you’re trying to lug your new merch buys around the area. But novels are always popular, too.

Have a really good plot with interesting characters in an engaging landscape.

That’s it. That’s storytelling. Each element is important. Don’t assume that your characters can hold up a story when there’s no landscape for them to move in, or that characters wandering a beautiful landscape aimlessly will resonate well with readers. You need all three.

Authors are not special little snowflakes.

Writers write, and that’s wonderful and all, but we’re not curing cancer. We’re not building affordable accommodation for the homeless. We’re putting words on the page. It’s important, and at times the words we write have a lot of power to empower or bring change. But get over the idea that we’re special. We’re not.

I have a Moffat list of open threads.When I write a new book, I re-read what I’ve already done.

When you’re working on a series, there’s going to be a lot of plot threads and character arcs for you to keep track of. The quickest way to avoid forgetting an important part of the story is to keep track of the open threads in each successive story. That way, you can go back and see what you’ve resolved, and what still needs to be resolved, and you can add the new elements as they arise.

I’ve written out plot lines, but it’s never been more than half a page. They’re there to remind me.

The best way to plot is whatever way works for you. That’s it. If it’s massively detailed, that’s great. If it’s not, that’s great, too. Whatever works for you.

I am the writer. I am the creator, and they still do things that surprise me. That’s good. If it surprises me, it’ll surprise the reader.

Stories grow and evolve, and characters tend to develop a life of their own as their personalities become more fully formed. Don’t stress when your stories move away from the original idea- they’re meant to.

Sometimes you write a scene or place and you make it really authentic but it doesn’t ring true- it feels like a stereotype. Often, you have to go a bit out there.

The way we think reality is and the way reality is aren’t always the same thing. You can research the hell out of a subject, event, or location, and people who were there may not even see that it’s accurate. Our idea of these things is shaped by our perspective- whether we were in a good mood or not, what was happening in our lives at that point- not just what happened. Sometimes the most out there, factually inaccurate representation is the one that rings true for readers.

Don’t cluster bomb your work. If you don’t follow submission guidelines, it’ll be binned. Do it again and you’ll be blacklisted. Give them what they want- not just what you want to give them. And if you don’t deliver, it’s bad.

There’s only so many times people will give you their time and attention when you’re dismissing their boundaries and making them work harder then they need to. Agents and publishers don’t owe you their time, and doing things that make their job harder is the quickest way to make sure they’re not going to be interested in working with you. First timer exuberance only buys you so much lenience here- so be professional and courteous, and abide by the submission guides.

It should go without saying that if you promise to deliver a manuscript by a set date, you need to have it there by that date. From time to time, things will crop up, but for the most part, no one is going to chase you up for your work into perpetuity. They’ll just give up on it and move on. Don’t give them the chance to do that.

Our books are our babies. Anything less than a glowing review can make us cry for half a day.

Writers can be rather precious about their work. You’ve put your heart and soul into it, it’s only natural that criticism (constructive or otherwise) can be an incredibly emotional experience. If it’s going to destroy you to read the reviews, don’t read them. If you really want to know, consider asking someone you trust (and who won’t flame negative reviewers) to read them for you, and pass on any relevant information.Relevant being the constructive feedback that can help you be a better writer (and compliments, too, because let’s be honest, it’s nice to hear people appreciate your efforts).

Don’t flame negative reviewers. Don’t troll, or buy into trolling. Be professional. If you’re tempted to go on the defensive, Google ‘authors behaving badly’ and have a look at how it’s gone for others (spoiler: it’s gone badly, and cost them a hell of a lot of potential readers). There’s no take-backs on the internet, and no way to buy back reader goodwill once it’s gone.

 

 

Smart People Talking: David Farland

David Farland is an American sci-fi and fantasy author best known for his works ‘Runelords’ and ‘Of Mice and Magic’. David was in Brisbane for the 2016 Oz Comic-Con weekend, signing autographs and presenting talks on the writing life. In ‘In Conversation with David Farland’, David spoke about writing processes, research, and finding your voice in a world already crowded with voices.

Be aware of the logic of magic systems.

All magical systems have limitations, and those limitations are important because they literally make the story possible. If magic can do anything and everything, then it could be used to solve the story’s crisis in a few seconds flat. Knowing that someone could wave a wand and solve the problem in a heartbeat takes the tension out of the story. If there’s an easy fix, why isn’t it being taken?

How do they make the magic happen? Is there a ritual? If so, how does it work in an action filled moment? Think about non-darkside Willow’s magic in ‘Buffy’, for example: she needs to be sitting down, doing the ritual outside of the firing line because she can’t multitask this stuff. It’s not something she can do while, say, running away from an explosion or kicking someone in the balls. She also needs certain items for certain types of magic. The same is true in ‘Supernatural’- rituals to get rid of certain demigods or supernatural beings tend to involve specific ritual elements that can’t be easily ad-libbed. There’s rules and limitations, and usually some kind of sacrifice by the caster (to banish angels in ‘Supernatural’, for example, requires fresh blood).

Which is another important point: there’s almost always an exchange, or sacrifice, for the magic being made. You don’t generally get something for nothing just by lighting some incense. So what will your character have to sacrifice to get what they want?

Einstein taught himself math by staying on the toilet until he solved three problems. Every day.

Because Einsten had a timetable he liked to stick to (bathroom at a certain time of day included), putting himself in the position to have to stay, and throw out that timetable gave him incentive to get the work done. You get better by doing, not by thinking about doing. So how can you add time to your day- every day- to improve your writing? What can you be doing to make yourself a better writer?

The creative side of the brain is awake all night, solving our problems. But it can’t talk to us, so it shows us in vision.

A lot of writers talk about dreaming their stories, or those wonderful flashes of inspiration that seem to strike out of the blue. We’ve got an unlimited amount of creative firepower (at least, when we get out of our own way), we just need to find ways to let the creative side of our brains show us what its got. Being aware of how your brain works, and how your creative side sends you ideas and information. If you get your best ideas in dreams, keep a notebook by your bed, or figure out how to record onto your phone so you can blearily mumble the idea instead. If you get your best ideas in the shower, or while out walking, find ways to make sure you’re recording the ideas that interest you.

Your brain is a supercomputer moving faster than we know. You’re only aware of about 0.004% of what goes on in your own brain. Learning how to use your brain well is very important for a writer.

This is why people say to acknowledge a problem, gather together the information you have about the problem, and then stop consciously thinking about it.Letting problems be contemplated in the background tends to help bring new perspectives to the plot tangle. Consciously thinking tends to add emotion and ego, which slows the process down. Once you start polluting the problem with shoulds (‘oh no, I’ve lost my keys again! I should have put them away! I should be better than this!’), it takes longer to find a solution because you’re brainstorming, but you’re also dealing with trying to calm the frazzled nerves. The emotional stuff, especially the negative kind, tends to be dramatic and attention seeking, which doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy for the actual problem.

You need to figure out what works for you. Pay attention to when your right brain is most active and schedule your writing around it.

David, for example, writes better in the morning, while the logical part of his brain is only just waking up. But by about 1-3pm, the creative, problem solving part of his brain needs a nap. We all have different rhythms, and learning when we work best makes it easier to be productive. It’s no use scheduling writing time at 2pm if that’s when your creativity is having some downtime. But maybe it’s a great time to get some editing done. Doing what works for you is 100% more effective than trying to work within a system that doesn’t.

There are hundreds, probably thousands of formulas out there for getting the writing done. The internet is packed with them. But if it doesn’t work for you, ditch it. It’s not bad, just not for you. Don’t waste time trying to fit someone else’s idea of how it should be done, and save your energy for your writing.

If you’re struggling with writer’s block, look at what you wrote the day before to see where you went astray.

Sometimes, you’re just not in the mood to write. But sometimes, you’ve wandered off track, and fixing the problem is much harder than sitting on Netflix for the day. Watch an ep if you must, but figure out where you went wrong and do a quick and dirty rewrite to get back on track.

Truth is truth, wherever it comes from.

People can get precious about where they find their words of wisdom, but the truth is that truth is everywhere. In researching facts, certain sources will always be more reputable than others, but in the search for emotional truth, all sources are equal. Don’t dismiss an idea because the source isn’t literary enough. And don’t for a second believe that only certain people hold control over the truth.

Read what you find interesting.

Don’t feel like you need to love the classics because they’re the classics. If you can’t stand Shakespeare, Tom Hiddleston isn’t going to attack from the shadows one night and beat you to death with a book of sonnets. We all have different tastes- that’s a good thing. It means that there’s a wider variety of authors who can write their stories and tell them to the world.

If you’d rather read about World War II than Elizabeth Bennett, that’s perfectly okay. Don’t let other people shame you into reading books you hate because they’re popular. And don’t shame yourself for liking the things you do, either! When you look at the genres people tell you should be guilty pleasures, it’s amazing how often you’ll see there’s a lot of other people being told to feel guilty for their reading matter, too. Don’t feel guilty. Your life, your choice in how it’s spent.

Try to bring something into the genre. If you start trying to write like someone else, it’s nostalgia, not original.

J.K. Rowling already exists. Those authors that you want to be like? We’ve already read them. Write your story your way, rather than trying to write it the way your literary hero would or could. It’ll make the process a lot easier, for a start, but you’ll also find that readers enjoy your work more. If they wanted to read that author’s work, they’d have done so. They chose yours. Give them what they want: your voice.

Find original thinkers to teach you how to write.

There’s an argument that an increasing number of writing teachers are just parroting the same ‘rules’ in slightly different ways, or just parroting their own ideas of what writing should be and calling it a universal belief. Whether you believe it to be true or not, finding the right teacher is important. Don’t just find someone who loves your work- that’s what your grandmother is for. Find someone who challenges you, and who is happy to work outside of those little boxes around how things should be done. It’s not always an easy way to learn and grow, but it’s infinitely preferable to only ever hearing what you want to hear.

There’s 10,000 right ways to write a particular story, and a million ways to stuff it up.

The rules of writing aren’t perfect.In fact, for pretty much every rule about writing, there’s some pretty compelling evidence that it can work, and really well, in certain circumstances.For David, whenever he’s told a student not to do something, it’s led to him having an idea that requires that rule being broken. After telling a student never to write second person future tense, for example, he ended up writing a horror story that used it. Ask yourself:

Is it wrong always, or just wrong for this particular story?

Chances are, there’s going to be a story that will benefit from that thing you’re never supposed to do.

And that’s why finding the right mentor is important: you need someone who won’t just dismiss an idea out of hand. You need someone who will challenge your idea with more than just saying ‘that’s not how this is usually done’. You’re not here to do it the same way as everyone else. You’re here to put your stamp on the stories you tell.

‘Write what you know’ is bullshit. Learn about it before you try to write it. Do your research. Write it in a convincing way.

You don’t have to be an expert in Norse dialects of the middle ages to write a Norse character in that time frame. You don’t need a degree in psychology to write crime, though it might be fun. Research is really important, because there’s generally people out there who do know a lot, and who’ll be rather unimpressed if you’ve gotten something wrong that five minutes on Google would have solved.

Challenge yourself to learn new things. There’s free courses online for a range of subjects- try one. And learn not just because it might be useful in a story, but because you’re curious or it sounds interesting as well. Look outside genre-specific ideas. Look for fun topics, or challenging ones. You’ll be amazed how many tiny, random facts become the basis for stories.

Write about experiences we all share.

We don’t all know what it’s like to be a refugee struggling to survive a boat trip in wild weather on an old, rusting boat. But we all know fear, and desperation, and hope. Most of us know what it’s like to feel out of control and powerless, even though it’s in a vastly different way. The emotional experiences are universal. The physical experiences? Not so much.

Oftentimes, the really good, compelling, emotionally devastating stories are the ones that find the universal thread in an individual’s experience, so that even though the reader hasn’t known those exact problems or events, they can relate and empathise deeply to the characters and their experiences.

Hemmingway said to wait six months before revising. Bullshit. Do what works for you. Whatever works for you is a great way to write.

Just because someone famous says to do it a certain way doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Besides, if you do twenty edits to a story, and you wait six months before each edit, you’re going to be spending an obscenely long time on any one piece of work.

In truth, the majority of writing advice comes down to doing what works for you and your story. Whatever anyone else is doing is irrelevant. Your process needs to serve you, not someone else’s ego. Let go of writing the way someone else says should be done. That energy is much better spent actually writing.

When you start writing, you start making changes. Your outlines become garbage.

David’s solution is to plan his story, write the first third, and then revisit and edit the plan. Write another third, and revisit and edit the plan again. Stories evolve, and that’s a good thing. But you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to force your evolving story to stay confined in the original plan.

I feel my more successful books were planned. Once you know your plot, it frees up your creative juices for details, and character growth.

Some people can just sit at the page and create a story from nothing. Some people need every detail and scene mapped out fully in advance. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. But knowing some of the key story beats gives you a direction to wander in when the writing gets tough.

For David, knowing the basics of the plot means that he can focus on the details of the story, letting him explore them more deeply because he can better see how they interact with the plot.

 

 

Smart People Talking: Marianne de Pierres

Marianne de Pierres is a kick-ass Aussie author with a love of genre and helping other writers find their voice. Marianne writes crime and sci-fi, has a growing reputation as a powerhouse storyteller, and has written for children and young adults. Like I said- powerhouse. While at Brisbane’s 2016 Oz Comic-Con, Marianne joined Isobelle Carmody and C.S. Pacat in the ‘Writing As A Day Job’ panel, where they discussed the realities of a life in literature.

Don’t send to publishers while trying to find an agent, because the agent will want to send them there. Agents won’t take you if they can’t sell your work.

If you want an agent, focus on getting one before you focus on shopping around your work. Far too many writers taking the approach of sending their work everywhere all at once- and it rarely works well.

The best way to go about getting published is to be focused and precise in the way you go about it. First and foremost- finish your novel and have it polished to the point you’d be happy to have it published. Half finished first drafts aren’t helpful, because you want to show people your best and most professional work. Let’s say they love your blurb and the first pages: what can you honestly show them in a timely fashion?

If you want an agent, research them before approaching them. List the agents you’d most like to work with, down to the ones you’d tolerate working with. Then slowly move down the list. It’s the same if you just want to find a publisher- research who is publishing the genres you write in, and who you’d most like to work with, and start moving down the list.

Also? Always give them time to get back to you. There are a lot of people sending work through at any given time. You need to remember that they’ve got a lot to read through (and the more rudely you pester, the less likely they are to want to work with you).

The Australian voice doesn’t always translate well. However, you have to tell the story you want to tell.

Don’t try to force an American accent in the hopes it’ll be better received. Tell the story you feel compelled to tell, in the way that feels right for the story. Just write, and let the publisher or agent worry about the marketability of a voice.

Marketability is an ever-changing idea. The Australian voice is getting more and more recognised and respected, certainly, but trends in writing mean that Aussie writers have phases of being popular in certain areas and genres. Write the story how it demands to be told, and worry about selling it later.

If you want to be published, do the right thing. Obey submission guidelines.

One of the biggest things writers do wrong is not paying attention to submission guidelines. Publishers and agents have a constant stream of work coming into their hands, all looking to be published. They can’t take everyone, so they’re looking for ways to thin down the list of potentials. Obeying submission guidelines is an easy way to keep your name on the list- it’s a show of professionalism and respect, which helps them see that you’re not a raging diva who’ll leave them grey-haired and exhausted well before their time. Same with being courteous. Don’t spam their email account with demands to know when you’ll hear back, and if their submissions are closed, don’t send them work unless they have specifically asked you to. They’re little things that don’t take much time, but they can have a huge difference.

Don’t worry about having your work stolen. If you’re dealing with reputable publishers, your pretty safe. Theft of ideas is more common in film and TV, not fiction.

Always do your research before sending your work to someone else. There are websites out there that keep an eye on scam publishers, so check in regularly to see what new spaces aren’t as great as they sound. But don’t think that a publisher or agent is going to steal your work. It’s financially impractical to do so- they then have to hire someone else to do something that’s going to take a while- something that you’ve already handed them. It makes more financial sense for publishers to work with the original writer rather than pass the idea to one of their writers.

Sometimes, two people do have the same idea, and it can be the case that another writer has just gotten their work to the right hands ahead of you. As long as you’re working with reputable publishers, it’s highly unlikely it’s a set up.

If you’re published, don’t read fanfic (based on your work). You open yourself up to being accused of stealing ideas.

Fandom is a wonderful part of the creative industries, but it can have a dark side. Reading fanfic based on the work you’re currently writing can open you up to legal challenges, and unfairly influence your work. When the universe you’ve created is done with, sure. If you feel you need to read it, go ahead. But while you’re still playing in that sandbox, stay away from looking at what other people are doing in there.

It can also be good to avoid reading in the genre you’re working in, too.

When you write, you don’t write for anyone else.

Write for you, not for an imaginary audience. Edit for a genre or audience in mind, sure, but when you write, don’t sit there wondering if a 45-60 year old woman is going to fully identify with the tropes inherent in your protagonist. See how that sucks the fun right out of writing? Your eyes probably just glazed over reading that. It doesn’t matter what that woman thinks- it’s about writing the story the way it needs to be told. Worry about the opinions of others later. Don’t bludgeon your drafts with the expectations of others until they’re old enough, and strong enough, to cope with the pressure.

All I want in life is to feel like I connect well to people. The way people respond to my work never ceases to amaze me and humble me.

Writing is a way of connecting with others. But you can’t write with that connection in mind. People connect to the honesty and vulnerability of your writing, so don’t try and manufacture sincerity and vulnerability- it really doesn’t work.

It’s an amazing privilege when people have a profound emotional connection to your work- it’s an honour to have people feel changed or empowered by your writing. Never forget that. Writing is about connection, not competition. Don’t let your ego make corrupt that moment. Be grateful and humble about the impact of your work on the world, because then you won’t try and manufacture the same results in your next work.

Writers tend to fatigue near the end of the book. Sometimes you need to go away from it, and come back when you have energy. Sometimes you’ve gotta take a deep breath and step away from it.

It’s okay to step back. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s only so much running you can do with a stitch or a pulled muscle. Stop, breathe, and step back until you’re in a place where you can do the work justice. Then jump back in. Destroying your physical or emotional health won’t help keep your career going, so meet your needs and take care of yourself while writing.

I’ve learned to trust that my brain will work through even when I’m not. I have to trust myself.

The beauty of the human brain is that it works on problems behind your back. Remember when your Mum would tell you to stop trying to remember where you left a missing possession, because the information would come to you naturally? It’s the same as that. When we’re focused and stressing about trying to make something work, we’re actually blocking our ability to get things done. We’re making it harder on ourselves. It’s like sitting beside someone who’s trying to take a test and yelling ‘tick tock’ at the top of our lungs. But when we give our subconscious the chance to think about ideas without being pestered by our conscious mind, we’re likely to come up with a better idea in a quicker time frame. Even when stepping away feels like a misstep, it’s often an important part of the process.

Smart People Talking: C.S. Pacat

C.S. Pacat is an Aussie author making a global name for herself with her ‘Captive Prince’ trilogy. The trilogy started as a web serial which went viral, and caught the eye of Penguin USA.  While at Brisbane’s 2016 Oz Comic-Con, C.S. Pacat joined Isobelle Carmody and Marianne de Pierres in a panel conversation about the writer’s life and the issues within, called ‘Writing As A Day Job’.

Be strategic about the publishers or agents you approach. Don’t send to all your top choices at once.

It’s also important not to spam every publisher or agent. Be selective. Figure out who works in the genres you write in, decide who you think best fits with your work and your career goals, and gradually work your way down the list. Remember, though, to give them time to get back to you- and do it without constantly harassing them. If you seem like you’re going to be a lot of effort to work with, it’s not really going to help your cause.

I really love fanfic. I think it’s a really vibrant art form. It’s still underground and still feels taboo. You learn a lot in that forum.

A lot of writers and artists are anti-fanfic and fanart, calling it plagiarism and artistic theft. And there’s a grain of truth to that, if we’re honest. After all, at its heart, fan works are borrowing someone else’s toys for a brief, unpaid play date. But allowing fans to explore the work in their own way has far more benefits than issues. The more a reader connects and invests in the universe you’ve created, the more likely they are to keep returning to it when you release the next book. The more likely they are to talk to other people about your work passionately and often. And sooner or later, fic writers and readers create a community around the work.

Increasingly, fanfic is the starting point for successful stories- after all, 50 Shades Of Grey started life as a Twilight fanfic, and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter world began its days as Harry Potter fic. Fic writing is a safe space to hone the skills in an established world, and a form of writing education that we can’t dismiss out of hand. It may not be the most popular of art forms, but that doesn’t change that it is actually an art form.

In a lot of ways, fanfic is better placed to discuss taboo issues and themes. There are stories that traditional publishers won’t touch due to their controversial nature, and yet fanfic can go wherever it wants so long as there are a few trigger warnings in place.

When you’re writing fanfic you only need one idea. In original fic, you need to make the audience care. I was shocked to my core at how little the lessons I learned writing fic worked in my original work.

Fanfic takes away the need to design characters and universes. You already know the characters, the politics, the fashions, the verbosity- fanfic takes all the nitty-gritty elements out of your hands and lets you gambol about with nothing more than a story idea. It’s fun, but it’s very different to writing original fic.  In fanfic, chances are good that your readers will already care about the primary and secondary characters, because they already know and relate to them.

In original fic, you need to make the audience care about people, places, and experiences that they haven’t had before. You need layers of story, rather than a single thread. It’s a vastly different experience for the writer.

Ideas can take literally years to gestate.

Ideas take work and time to come to life, but part of that work is sitting back and giving yourself permission to contemplate it, rather than leaping in and trying to beat an idea into submission.

There’s a reason so many people liken the creative process to giving birth. There’s a whole bunch of stuff happening under the surface that you need to let happen without interference.

When you start out, you have good taste. When you work, your work is way less good than your tastes. That taste gap is really disheartening. You have to persevere and learn through the struggle.

We start off with dreams of being amazing writers, and skills well beneath where we want to be. That prospect sees a lot of writers quit- the vision doesn’t survive the reality, because the reality can’t compete with the vision of what it was meant to be. A lot of writers, no matter how popular or successful they are, can easily rattle off a list of the things they’d change in their first novels.

The more you write, the better you write. So write. Then write some more. And more and more until you can look back at your early works and see just how far you’ve come.

There are two options when you’re told that this imaginary space doesn’t include you: change yourself, or the world. We’re writers- we can write the world, we don’t have to accept it.

As a child, C.S. Pacat read ‘The Hobbit’, and realised that although she wanted to be out in the action, as a girl and a child, she’d have been relegated to the background, hidden safely in a cave while the menfolk sorted out the problems. It didn’t sit well.

There are a lot of issues with representation in literature, even now. And Juno Diaz has a point- the easiest way to make someone, or a group of someones, feel like a monster is to deny them a reflection in the cultural landscape. Far too often in movies, TV, and even books, the bad guys are the ones that fall outside the scope of the cis, white, able-bodied, hetero-normative ideal. Or those groups and many others simply don’t get mentioned.  Whitewashing is lazy writing- don’t be lazy.

Writing is about exploring the world and its stories. That can’t really happen if only one group gets their stories told. Even though it’s a harder prospect to write outside of your own sphere of experience, it’s a part of writing that needs to be more fully embraced by a lot of writers. Having said that, don’t just assume you can guess how someone else experiences the world. If you’re writing character from a different social or cultural sphere, then at least give a realistic, fair portrayal. Talk to people in that group, and look at the ways to respectfully include those characters (it’s called respectful research. Learn to love it.)

Also? As a reader or a writer, do your bit to support writers outside the mainstream (mostly white male writers) lists. Read outside the mainstream, and talk about those books. Help celebrate the voices from within those ‘other’ groups that are doing their bit to shape the stories our societies tell.

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s quite a grueling endurance activity. There are all these tempting drop out points where things get really tough. You’ve gotta not be one of the people who quit at them.

Nanowrimo is a fantastic opportunity to push through and learn how to carve writing time into your daily life, but you’re not going to get to December 1st with a novel ready to send out to publishers. It’s a long-term investment in time and energy, and it’s easy to get disheartened when it’s not going your way.

Surrender control. If it takes longer to make the best work possible, it takes longer. All you can do is keep working daily. A lot of writers hold themselves up to a standard that gets shot to hell the second something goes wrong. Be flexible in your routines and remember that there will be times when your best laid plans will fall apart on you. People get sick, work gets busy- there’s countless moments where life has to come first. Besides, the more time you spend panicking that you’re not getting your novel written fast enough, the less time you’re spending actually writing.

So breathe. Remember that the work you do isn’t easy- and it isn’t meant to be. Good stories take time and energy. Step back for a moment when you need to, but always step back into the fray again after you’ve caught your breath. You’ve got this!

I’m starting to learn that I need to transform myself from someone who can’t write a book to someone who can. You have to change yourself to get it done. There’s a lot of things you have to change.

A lot of people say they don’t have time to write- and sometimes, it’s true. But often, there’s an underlying issue at play. Do you have bad time management skills? Do you need to research but don’t know where to start? Are you scared of failure or success? If there’s not an immediate crisis stopping you, think long and hard about what’s actually stopping you getting your writing done. Then figure out a couple of ways to try dealing with the problem.

If it’s time management, or fear or failure or success, there’s a wealth of resources available to show you how to better manage your time and your fears. If there’s research, break it down: time periods need info on lifestyle, fashion, food, technology, transportation- the things you need to know for your character to get from point A to B without screwing up too badly (unless, of course, you want them to screw up badly. But even then, how will they know they’ve screwed up if there’s no contrast with the people around them?). Figure out what elements you need to know to get through the scene. If knowing the technical schematics for the car ferrying your kidnapped hero to the abandoned warehouse isn’t going to serve the story (and let’s be honest, it’s probably not), you don’t need to research it.

Writing was what I did when I had a scrap of time. I had no hobbies beyond writing, so I had to learn to switch off at times and refresh.

If you ever make it to the point you’re writing for a living- congrats! But remember that your life can’t be just about writing. Have hobbies outside of your writing. Carve out time to socialise, or to take time to do the things that make you happy. It honestly will make you a better, more productive writer.

The tyranny of solitude is not good for mental health.

We like to pretend that writers are solitary creatures, but that’s not actually a healthy way to live. We need friends, and time away from screens or pages. We need to laugh, and breathe fresh air, and fall in love, and do all those things that are part of living a full and social life. Yes, it means less writing time. But there are only so many stories we can create without external stimulus. The best way to find stories is to go out into the world and live in it.

This sucks if you have social anxieties, of course, and there’s a massive addendum about doing what’s safe for you, rather than what you think you should be doing. We’re all different- do what works for you.

But also? Writing groups are your friend. They let you spend time talking with other writers, or picking their brains to help figure out a plot point, or sit around writing with them. Writing can be a social activity, even if it’s just the kind of social that means sitting in the same room as someone else.